Multae Sententiae is Latin for "many thoughts". Free thinking leads to Enlightenment. Enlightenment leads to happiness...

Monday, April 24, 2006 CE

Are we witnessing the Sixth Mass Extinction?

The title sounds alarming and catastrophic. Many people will dismiss it right away and would say that I am exaggerating by insinuating that something like that is actually going on. I cannot say for sure that it is happening, that is why the title of the post has a question mark, however, I am going to present some facts in an objective way.

The world has undergone 5 mass extinctions of species. The first is called the Ordovician-Silurian extinction and occurred around 439 million years ago. 25% of marine families and 60% of marine genera were lost. The second one is called the Late devonian extinction and happened 364 million years ago. 22% of marine families and 57% of marine genera disappeared. The third, and the worst of all, called the Permian-Triassic extinction, occured about 251 million years ago. 95% percent of all specias died out, 53% of marine families, 84% of marine genera and 70% of land species also were gone. The fourth one is called the End Triassic extinction and happened 200 million years ago. 22% of marine families and 52 percent of marine genera disappeared. The fifth one is called the Cretacous-Tertiary extinction and occured 65 million years ago.. It is famous because it included the death of the dinosaurs. 16% of marine families, 47% of marine genera and 18% of lnd vertebrate families became extinct.

Extinction occurs all the time. Species disappear at a rate that oscillates between 1-10 species per year. This is called background extinction rate. Mass extinction occurs when this rate markedly increases causing great number of species to disappear in a short period of time. We have to remember that short period, in a geological scale can mean a couple thousand years.

Mass extinctions occur due to a major disruption in the Earth's ecosystems, either by internal causes, e.g, melting glaciers or volcanic activity; or external causes like asteroid impacts.

Currently, and for some years now, species are disappearing at a rate of 30000 per year. It this rate continues, 50% of all species will have disappeared in 100 years, enough to call it a mass extinction. There is a major disruption of Earth's ecosystems going on, due to global warming and due to the space that humankind is occupying as its population keeps to grow.

The solutions are not easy and will have to include a limitation in the increase of the population and the stopping of global warming. Both processes would take tens to hundreds of years, so in my opinion, there is little that can be done, except to try to minimize the effects of our own activity. There is another pathway. In the event of the collapse of civilization due to lack of fossil fuels or lack of food to feed the billions of people that will be born, war, famine and disease will take care of the human population and would be the means of nature to restore the equilibrium that has been broken.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006 CE

Importance of the Peruvian presidential elections

I decided to write about the presidential elections in Peru, my home country, because Diane S, asked me to in a comment about another post. Sometime ago, (March 2005 and June 2006) I wrote posts regarding Latin American politics, however, I found that the topic was not of the interest of the regular crowd that reads my blog.

There has been a concern for the US that Latin America, specially South America, is electing left wing governments, with policies that are at odds with the USA's plan for the region. The most significant example is the government of Chavez in Venezuela. Currently, out of the 10 major countries in South America, 7 have left wing leaning governments. Of them, Venezuela's goverment is the most anti-US, as opposed to Chile's goverment which, in spite of being socialist, is at good terms with America. Only Peru, Colombia and Paraguay do not have leftist governments.

Peru had presidential elections on April 9th. The winner with about 30% of the vote was Ollanta Humala, a former commander of the Army who became notorious after he led an uprising in 2000 against the corrupt goverment of Alberto Fujimori. Unlike what many people believe (including an article in Wikipedia), he is not a left-leaning politician. He embraces a nationalist, populist ideology with elements of Indian supremacy ideas. The second place and third place in the elections have not been decided yet, because the count shows a very slim difference between the center-left politician Alan Garcia and the center-right candidate Lourdes Flores, who would be the preferred of the US. Ollanta Humala will compete against any of the 2 mentioned candidates in a run-off to be held in May.

I am open to questions regading the topic, hopefully some people find it interesting.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006 CE

Root of all Evil

Finally, and thanks to Kristine, I was able to watch Episode 1 of the documentary by Richard Dawkins called "Root of all Evil", named "The God Delusion". So many truths were said in the short duration of it. The only thing with which I would respectfully disagree with Dawkins is the treatment of all religions as completely negative. I think that religions that claim to have the unique truth and that claim to have the only real god are the ones who are to blame. Those are the religions portrayed in the documentary, the Abrahamic religions. However, there is no mention to more tolerant philosophies that do not carry the arrogant and pernicious idea of the "real god".

I enjoyed very much watching it, specially his interview with a Evangelical Christian religious leader in the American Midwest and the interview with a Muslim religious leader in the Middle East. You cannot miss it. Click on the link and take 45 minutes of your time to watch it. Comments will be welcomed of course.

For my theist friends, I would understand if you do not want to watch it, however, it is always good to have criticism from the "other side". I am sure that the most open minded of my theist friends will take their time and watch the whole documentary so that they can form an opinion about it.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006 CE

Hypatia of Alexandria

Hypatia of Alexandria was a Hellenized Egyptian female, philosopher, mathematician and teacher who lived in one of the worst times for a person with all the credentials I have just mentioned: The start of the Dark Ages. Although Egypt, as part of the Eastern Roman Empire escaped to the collapse of the Western state, it did not escape the destruction of knowledge and the thousand years of scientific stagnation brought up by the victorious Christian faith.

She was born in Egypt, either between 350 and 370 C.E. She was the last fellow of the Museum of Alexandria, associated with the once Great Library of Alexandria. She lectured in mathematics, philosophy and became head of the Platonist School circa 400 C.E. She is famous for commentaries on Diophantus's Arithmetica, on Apollonius' Conics and on Ptolemy's writings. None of those works have reached our times (I wonder why)

Hypatia lived the conflict between the dying Hellenistic culture and the rising Christian faith. The days of Julian were long gone. Theodosius "the Great" became emperor in the East in 379 C.E and of the unified Empire in 392 C.E. In 380 C.E. he decreed the end of religious diversity with the Codex Theodosianus 16.1.2. In 381 C.E. he started a campaign to end the remnants of the Arian Christianity. When he finished them, in 391 C.E he ordered the destruction of all hellenistic temples. Patriarch Theophilus complied with this request in Alexandria. Soon the Hellenistic temples and the libraries associated with them were looted and destroyed to its foundations to build Christian churches on top and with their remains. How many people died during those events? No one knows, we do not have records of that (I wonder why). The 95-year-old hierophant Nestorius predicted the "predominance of mental darkness over the human race"

Hypatia, corageously defended the remnants of the libraries and constantly was at odds with the Christian Patriarch Cyril of Alexandria. In 415 C.E., a Christian mob, tolerated by Cyril, killed her. According to John, Bishop of Nikiu, a 7th century author "a multitude of believers in God arose under the guidance of Peter the magistrate – now this Peter was a perfect believer in all respects in Jesus Christ – and they proceeded to seek for the pagan woman who had beguiled the people of the city and the prefect through her enchantments. And when they learnt the place where she was, they proceeded to her and found her seated on a (lofty) chair; and having made her descend they dragged her along till they brought her to the great church, named Caesarion. Now this was in the days of the fast. And they tore off her clothing and dragged her through the streets of the city till she died. And they carried her to a place named Cinaron, and they burned her body with fire. And all the people surrounded the patriarch Cyril and named him 'the new Theophilus'; for he had destroyed the last remains of idolatry in the city." The Catholic encyclopedia describes the death like this: "and tore her flesh with potsherds till she died."

In these days, in which conservative Christians claim there is a "war" against them, we have to remind them of their history and what they did to humanity 1600 years ago. We should not let them silence the voice of knowledge to be replaced with the spider web of superstition. Let Hypatia be the hero and lets not forget her. As she taught: "Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all. To teach superstitions as truth is a most terrible thing."
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