Chapter 2.a

January 6, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

CULTURAL EVOLUTION

Let’s reflect together; if we think of the times when we were at school, we’ll remember that history books were a succession of wars and sovereigns, but also customs, beliefs and technical progress, scientific and economic interests.
The existence of biological evolution and the discovery of the mechanisms that regulate it were discovered very recently; cultural evolution instead is known to historians from many centuries. The phenomenon of cultural evolution has also strongly manifested to everybody during the twentieth century: throughout their lives, the latest generations have been able to observe significant cultural changes like, just to mention a few of them, dissemination of public  education and the consequent decline of illiteracy, the advent of democracies at the expense of monarchies and dictatorships, the emancipation of women and universal suffrage, the diffusion of radio, cars, television, computers and mobile phones.
Each of us is aware of cultural evolution, but it is not also known that it follows laws similar to those of biological evolution. For understanding how the development of culture has happened as an integration of genetic heritage, and therefore that cultural evolution too is subject to natural selection, it is good to analyze in depth the similarities between the physical and cultural characteristics.

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2.a.1 – Does culture depend on natural selection?

January 7, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

lavagna

Does culture depend on natural selection?

Everyone knows that some individual physical characteristics are inherited by the offspring. This phenomenon is due to those microscopic material elements, called genes, which are transmitted from parents to children.
Similarly, certain behaviors, such as the use of simple tools by some animals, are taught from parents to children becoming one of their features. These cultural elements are transmitted from generation to generation and may affect the reproductive success of next generation exactly as genes do.
Similarly to genes also the cultural elements, that are beneficial in a particular environment, increasingly spread in the population to become a common feature. It follows then that the cultural elements are subject to natural selection just as physical characteristics and this analogy is so close to define the components of cultural heritage as cultural genes.

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2.a.2 – Culture is an individual or collective heritage?

January 8, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

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Culture is an individual or collective heritage?

The culture of an individual as a whole is unique and, as such, is therefore comparable to the genetic heritage of the same. Two human beings, although brothers, may not have inherited the same genetic sequence and similarly can’t have exactly the same knowledge, beliefs, traditions, etc.…
As the genetic heritage, also culture is clearly an individual heritage.
If we do not consider the genetic heritage as a whole, but examine a partial sequence of it, we will identify a high number of individuals who possess this sequence: in this case we speak of collective heritage, common to a family or a particular local population (e.g. the many stretches of similarity between cousins or the case of a whole almond-eyed population).
If we consider ever smaller parts, until we get to a single gene, we’d probably discover that this is a gene shared by all humanity and even by other species. It is necessary to know that over 90% of human genes is common to all great apes.
Likewise, the cultural heritage can be divided into small parts as well, and the smaller is the considered part, the greater is the population that shares it (think of the profession of a given religion and of the habit of  wearing trousers).
Therefore, if it is true that each of us has unique cultural characteristics, we must also recognize that a significant part of our cultural heritage is collective.

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2.a.3 – How does culture help to survive?

January 9, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

saldatore

How does culture help to survive?

Normally the puppies learn many things from their parents, such as how to search food, how to take it, how to behave with their own kind, etc.., we human beings have a similar behavior with our children, to whom we teach to speak, the relations structure and how to gain their independence.
It was noted that cats, like lions, teach their puppies hunting techniques in progressive stages: when they are very young, their parents slaughter the prey for them; then they no longer do so, letting them do it on their own; then they bring the prey still alive, although seriously injured, in order to teach how to bite to kill and, when finally reaching the right age, the parents take the young felines to hunting with them as observers; after this stage, the puppies, now grown, are ready to learn to obtain food in complete autonomy.
The animals therefore not merely teach their children useful things but they are able to do it with a rather complex internship. Hunting is not a simple thing: chase, attack and kill are all complex activities and expecting that the puppies learn everything on their own means exposing them to the risk of dying from hunger. The predators who do it are forced to make many more children in order not extinct.
The young cats bred in captivity show an inclination innate to chase, fight and bite, but they must work a lot on these activities to combine the best and execute them effectively. What is defined hunting instinct is actually a complicated combination of several different instincts (chase, fight, bite, eating), individual learning (due to past experience) and cultural learning (transferred from parents). The role of culture is therefore clear in the animal world: it helps personal learning and instinct.
As the various organs of the body cooperate with each other to carry out physiological activities, so instinct, experience and culture contribute together to form the behavior suited to survival.
To understand if in the animal world a particular course of action is an instinct or was culturally learned, scholars sometimes use to separate the pups from their parents and from any other similar to their birth, taking care of them personally; in this way puppies will not have a way to learn the culture typical of their species and present only instinctive attitudes or learnt from experience. The results of these experiments were surprising: for example, it was discovered that the nightingales grown in this way, instinctively sing, but in very different ways from their kin living in freedom; every nightingale species has a characteristic way of singing that is therefore learned culturally, while the tendency to sing is innate. As the hunting of lions, the song of nightingales is the result of collaboration between instinct and culture.
The complicity between genetic and cultural heritage goes further, however: it is clear that the nightingales could not sing without a voice apparatus genetically evolved for this purpose and the same can be said of human language. To this point, it is important to note that these organs are so important and specialized that may not have evolved in this form either before or after the appearance of singing or language, as earlier they would have been unnecessary, and it is impossible they have developed later in the functions that depend on them. Language and vocal apparatus must therefore have evolved together, mutation after mutation, influencing and perfectly interacting with each other.
Similar experiments with monkeys have shown that their way to communicate, to manage social relationships and to take care of offspring presents a very strong cultural component; grown in isolation, they would refuse to join a flock, to mate and take care of offspring. More accurate experiments have showed both in monkeys and in humans, social and sexual behavior have not only a genetic but also a cultural source.
In the animal world, genetics and cultural evolution therefore are not only similar but also inextricably linked, so that seeking to distinguish them can be misleading. This also applies to humans, but not always: there are cases, as we will see, in which it is essential to consider the two evolutionary types separately, for a proper examination of the phenomenon.

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2.a.4 – What is the true purpose of biological evolution?

January 10, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

rugby

What is the true purpose of biological evolution?

By examining the mechanism of natural selection, it can be seen how the environment favors those genes that can be more easily transmitted. For genes, to be transmitted means to duplicate and spread throughout the population.
Genes do not independently reproduce by each other, but all together during duplication of the DNA molecule. To promote their dissemination, they must therefore facilitate the multiplication of DNA where they are inserted; this is a sort of teamwork in which players must win the game of reproduction competition with other teams. Each team consists of players specialized in its role and almost all teams have the same players for different roles, which occurs precisely because the genes that are more suited to play a particular role are those longer able to duplicate and spread, i.e. the most popular players on the market of natural selection, those who win the championship and will be promoted to future generations. These are very numerous teams, composed of thousands of genes, in which there are subgroups with specific roles. To build a complex organ as an eye, it is necessary the association of many different elements, i.e. the collaboration of many genes.
Winning the game means to produce offspring, win competitors means instead be present in as many teams possible to cover its role. In any case, to overcome natural selection are individual genes or groups of them, not all the team, which is slightly modified to every game, thanks to sex intercross. All the players common to all teams are the genetic heritage of species, the remaining part is the species internal genetic diversity, which adds to the common heritage increasing the adaptability and then the survival of other players in future generations. The selection naturally tends to form the best team to play on a specific field, which is the ecological niche.
Underlying all this, there is then the survival of individual genes and not of the offspring; this is confirmed by the observation of populations of animals such as the bees. The worker bees are in fact the specialized populations within their communities, that is called beehive; they are all sterile, not ever reproduce and yet not cease to exist: their genetic heritage does not disappears. The new generations of bees, as we all know, are generated by the queen bee who carries out the function of reproduction organ for the whole hive, which in turn is a kind of body where the workers bees play the role of cells. The genetic heritage of bees, as well as that of our cell, is  handed down even without the direct descent and that means that then it is only one of the possible ways to achieve the survival of genes.
If the genes of an individual are handed down to their direct descendants, survival is equivalent to the survival of offspring; the case is far more common, but not the only one: all species of ants and bees use an alternative system.
It is worthwhile to emphasize that the survival of offspring is therefore subordinated to that of genes.
Similarly, we can say that the survival of the individual is at its turn subject to the survival of offspring; any mutation that helps the ability of individuals to live without increasing its reproductive success, will not have Indeed way of spreading. The individual must live enough to generate an adequate number of descendants and to make them independent, it is exactly what happens in the animal world, natural selection does not require anything more.
According to the logic of natural selection, we living beings are therefore just more complex machines for the conservation, transportation and duplication of genes. This logic also justifies the generation of new species or varieties, since the greater is the evolutionary success of the original species, the greater will be the number of species that derive from it and the lower the probability that the common genetic heritage disappears. The chimpanzees share about 98% of genes with human beings; if they should happen to extinguish, 98% of their genes would survive thanks to the human  beings (and vice versa …).
The real purpose of biological evolution is the survival of selected genes, while the survival of the individual, of the descendants and even of the species are secondary phenomena and not always necessary.
This vision of human nature, subordinated to the survival of genes, is certainly contrary to our vanity, that leads us to consider ourselves as the highest expression of creation to which all other forms of life must submit; however, nothing obliges human expectations to coincide with those of natural selection: even the legitimate aspiration of man to protect his individual survival is based on natural instincts and we must be aware that nature not always works for our own good: we all know that old age, diseases and predators always existed and that we all always do our upmost to defend ourselves from these natural evils, considering this as something also natural.
Understanding what is the purpose of biological evolution should not therefore depress man in the new awareness of its role in nature but rather must be an important lesson in humility that incentives him to work with all his forces to focus first and then pursue all those objectives that are necessary to live and to live better as an individual, as descendant and as a species, celebrating what the biological nature considers secondary. Human beings should draw inspiration from behavior of genes and decide to play with the same team, with more synergy and, accordingly, with greater speed in achieving those objectives.

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2.a.5 – What is the purpose of a greater complexity of the species?

January 11, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

pavone

What is the purpose of a greater complexity of the species?

While accepting that the purpose of biological evolution is the survival of genes and that the spreading of these in many different species represents a strategy to achieve that end, we may ask why this trend has led to forms of life not only different but increasingly complex. The answer can be found using again the metaphor of the teams championship: when teams are balanced but always in competition, they will seek to develop new strategies to beat the competition. Sooner or later a team will develop a new technique of play, more choral, faster, more imaginative, however often more complex; if this technique will be successful, soon will spread into other teams to re-establish the balance; it will be then necessary to develop further and more complex techniques that will encourage competitors to do likewise and so forth. The teams that fail to recover the disadvantage are destined to disappear or to survive in another league to play with teams having their same level but in an interdependent system between all levels.  It is therefore competition that moves the mechanism of evolution from bacteria to humans, leading to the synergy between all living species.

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2.a.6 – Culture always favors survival?

January 12, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

frate

Culture always favors survival?

We have said that culture was born as integration of genetic heritage and that it is subject to natural selection too; considering that, for natural selection, survival of the individual, of descendants and of the species have minor importance compared to that of genes: it would be the same for cultural genes.
The above leads us to reverse the normal concept of culture as an instrument for our lives and yet, even in this case, the important thing is to know that not always culture, as selected by nature, works for our good because in that way we could adequately defend ourselves.
Let’s see now how culture evolves in human society considering a borderline case: in some religious traditions, priests make a vow of chastity that prevent them from reproducing and yet they do not cease to exist. For millennia special schools form new generations of priests who are not the genetic descendants of earlier, but that are their cultural descendants; the new priests are born as such thanks to the teachings received by their professors, who play a role similar to that of the queen bee, i.e. that of organ for the reproduction, in this case cultural, giving rise to a new generation of priests; the latter in turn will not reproduce, just like workers bees, but some of them will cover the role of new teachers who will ensure the future of the category.
This phenomenon is not restricted to priests only: today it is extended to almost all categories of complex human society, so that every year schools and universities form new generations of professionals. For example, doctors often are not children of other doctors and at the same time, not making a vow of chastity, have children who in turn will choose the trade they will prefer. The same can be said of accountants, policemen and any other professional category.
Turning from the animal world to that of human society, we are therefore obliged to distinguish between genetics descendants and cultural descendants as they often do not coincide.
In the animal world, the two forms of offspring almost always coincide and therefore genes and culture complement each other: natural selection rewards genetic reproductive success and this success allows to hand down the family culture, such as various techniques of hunting; culture handed down in turn facilitates a new breeding and so on in perfect harmony.
It is then possible to conclude that in the animal world the cultural components play the same game and in the same team of genetic components: they produce the same offspring that will be accordingly selected to perfectly integrate. Since both components have always the same aim, together they will always support in a consistent manner survival of both the individual and the species.
In the case of man, when the genetic offspring is different from the cultural descendants, synergy can fail: for example, an increase in fertility of Engineers could not support technological progress and in turn an increase in technology might not encourages the fertility of engineers. These banalities, while undoubtedly laughable, must make us reflect on how, in human society, the cultural components may break the original ties with the genetic ones and have other purposes; one can even come to a stark contrast between the two reproductive needs, as in the case of priests whose cultural tradition requires the blocking of genetic reproduction.

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2.a.7 – The spreading speed of culture affects its relation with survival?

January 13, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

fumatore

The spreading speed of culture affects its relation with survival? 

 When the culture is not passed along the line of family descent, but freely spreads in the community, the natural selection of culture will encourage the proliferation of single cultural descendants, which is independent from the genetics descendants; also, depending on the speed of culture dissemination, the bond with physical survival of the cultural descendants would be dissolved.
We already know that, from a genetic point of view, natural selection requires that the individual specimen lives enough to generate a good number of descendants; living longer may be useful to have more children and similarly, to spread a complex cultural tradition that involves long learning, such as martial arts; the lengthening of life of the teacher increases the number of cultural descendants. In this situation, natural selection will facilitate all those cultural variations that foster the life of teacher in order to expand the cultural descendants. If one considers a simple and trivial innovation, easy to imitate such as the use of a new type of perfume, then the news will spread to the whole group in a short time and a long life will be useless to increase the followers of the new fashion.
In case of cultural components having a rapid expansion, natural selection will have no reason to favor those components that foster life of an individual; in some cases may even help those that lead to death of individuals to ensure the spread of a given cultural component that, being disconnected from the purpose of genetic survival and reproduction of the same, tends to pursue by every mean its survival and dissemination. Let’s consider the case of smoking: man smokes for mental and physical dependence, but he starts smoking because of a cultural component that identifies with cigarette the concept of passage to adulthood, of belonging to a group, of rebellion to the imposed prohibitions etc.. ; the aim of the culture of cigarette is to survive and spread without worrying about statistics on deaths from smoking. Here it is an example in which culture is not subjected and at the service of our survival, but is our life which is predicated and at the service of spreading a particular culture.
Fast spreading fashions have a bond with our lives similar to that of illnesses: they need that ill people are alive but only for the time needed to infect other people. For an antelope, a virus of influenza can cause death in a few days because it make the animal more vulnerable to an attack of predators; this does not prevent anyway the virus to spread, considering the fastness of its contagious; the dreadful virus of AIDS instead needs much longer times to infect the same number of individuals and this explains its period of incubation of more than ten years: it cannot afford to kill us any faster or it would immediately extinguish as a straw fire: it wouldn’t have the time to spread.
In the human society, culture can expand like an epidemic, its success does not depend on the success of its reproductive genes: it does not play in their same team. Actually everything proceeds as if these habits had a life of their own but the analogy with virus and epidemics, although very fit to explain the spreading mechanism, shouldn’t make us think that this phenomenon is always negative. The fast spreading of a particular culture can be noxious to human survival but another type of culture can be innocuous or also beneficial; everybody knows that the habit of using drugs can lead to a premature death, that a change in the dressing style is a fundamentally innocuous cultural fashion and that a daily hygiene of the teeth is an healthy habit but in all cases these cultural components have spread with success and above all very quickly, independently from their impact on the survival of the individual or of the species, to prove the complete autonomy with the biological purposes.

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2.a.8 – What directs the rapid dissemination of cultural news?

January 14, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

tatuaggi

What directs the rapid dissemination of cultural news?

Since the cultural customs have a life of their own, in order to study the influence of the same on natural selection, we should examine their living environment and not ours; in the genetic evolution, the environment is what determines the success or the failure of biological mutations and similarly, in the cultural sphere, it is still the environment that determines the success of innovations in customs.
By definition, the success of a new fashion is the rating that meets in the population; in other words, if people like the new custom there will be a success in its spreading. It is interesting to note that our choices, as well as our own behavior, depend on both genetic factors, on personal experience and on cultural heritage. For example, the use of air conditioning has spread through the instinctive desire to escape the oppressive heat of hot summers; who had a bad experience in air travel will prefer the train, a Muslim, choosing food in a restaurant, would reject the pork as required by his religion. So we have identified the environment where the human customs and habits live: it is the socio-cultural context to which we belong.
It is important to note that we do not collectively make an intentional selection on culture, but we operate personal choices to meet the individual needs and, this way, we partake unaware to natural selection.
The case of artificial selection of modern farmers is quite different: they make their choices on the basis of clear final objectives and then operate the selection with consistency and continuity to achieve their purpose. The artificial selection is not the combination of random choices, perhaps made only once, of many different farmers, but exactly the opposite.
We must anyway recognize that from here to a genuine artificial selection of culture, the pace is decidedly short: it’s what the campaigns of sensitization against smoking or against the use of spirits on Saturday evening try to do; it is what has been always done by advertising in trade, that is trying to spread the use of new products. Numerous studies have been made by psychologists to make advertising more effective and there is no doubt that to launch a new product, a good technique is to leverage on primordial emotions such as sexual attraction, fear, vanity or even altruism ; it is to be noted however that these techniques can sell both products of excellent quality and those of poor quality.
The same emotional factors naturally influence the success of the new cultural variations: the use of cigarettes and spirits is based on the natural tendency towards social ritual of the human being, and the use of antibiotics on the fear of death and sorrow, the phenomenon of long distance adoptions is based on the sense of protection to children. It is interesting to recall that in past centuries, many medical practices had no effect on disease or could even make the situation worse, but they were accepted because they still helped to find comfort and hope against the fear of death, fueling the placebo effect. Even cultural variations that spread through the instinct of self preservation and the desire for prosperity can be harmful to the survival of the individual.
In many cases, however, these variants properly fulfill our aspirations; the current medical science treatment and the countless technological innovations that have elevated the quality of our lives prove it; in these cases we can truly say that culture is at the service of our lives, but we must remember that this is not a general rule and always valid.

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2.a.9 – Is culture linked to the group?

January 15, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

alveare

Is culture linked to the group?

Let’s examine the case of a population of herds of monkeys and suppose they are culturally isolated; a new cultural variant appeared in one of them, as a new signal of danger, could expand quickly throughout the group, but at this point will stop for their cultural isolation: for further expansion, we should wait until the flock, becoming increasingly large, splits into two smaller groups. A negative variant lead the group towards extinction while a positive change foster its growth and multiplication. This case is the combination of two modes of transmission of culture we have already dealt with (the family tradition and the free dissemination) and deserves to be considered separately because these genes are linked to cultural survival of the group: they are not independent, they play in the community team and not in the individual one; they are a social patrimony but do not care about the individual if not in relation with the community. The genetic equivalent is given again by bees and ants: they do not hesitate to sacrifice their lives to protect their community at every hint of danger, they reproduce by indirect way, their genes play everyone in the team of the community and pass to the next generation when the hive is reproduced: the bees live for the hive and not vice versa, and for the same reason, the same is true for our cells. This form of culture can be defined as culture of subordination to the community.
A total cultural isolation is a very rare case; it is very frequent instead that a cultural component can’t easily leave the group, so that its spreading is mainly entrusted to the community reproduction; in this case, it will be subjected to a selection similar to the case of total isolation.
For most of its history, mankind has lived in tribes with a significant cultural isolation and even today the culture of subordination to the group is an integral part of our cultural heritage: the patriotism and nationalism guide us towards the ultimate sacrifice for the homeland; the hero is a warrior figure honored in the vast majority of cultures. In the industrial age, things seem to be even worse: in the Nazi period, the culture of citizen who lives for the State was so taken to the extreme that, for the good of the State, i.e. its production and war capacities, it was politically settled that doctors had to suppress the German children of poor health, obviously without their parents knowing it, to avoid riots and protests harmful to the State itself. Conceptions of this type are actually very old: it is known that in ancient Sparta babies were examined to determine if they were promising soldiers, and if not, were eliminated. After this selection, the whole life was still conceived on the basis of servicing the homeland as military.
But the culture of subordination to the community has developed also for economic as well as military needs: the first industrial development soon did lead to the theory that the exploitation of the workers was a necessary sacrifice for the welfare of society and the country’s economic development; slavery in the United States was justified in a very similar way.
A similar model of cultural diffusion can be found even in small subgroups of a great community: the development of a new technology will support the company that has produced it, which in turn will spread it for commercial purposes, a technology that does not increase the business volume does not help the company and it will not be spread; here it is a cultural phenomenon, the new technology, linked to the survival of its company and vice versa.
Companies are small communities, who defend their own survival by fierce competition in the environment called market and then it is no coincidence that in the successful companies there is a common culture of dedication spread through the employees. This culture is rewarded by natural selection made by the competition and, in its evolution, leads to the exploitation of employees and, after that, even of the owners: it is now a classic the figure of the successful entrepreneur that devotes his life to work, sacrificing leisure and family; he has identified its survival with that of its business: entrepreneurial success has therefore taken the place of the genetic success, and personal welfare has been replaced by the company welfare.

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2.a.10 – What is the role of human consciousness?

January 16, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

analisi

What is the role of human consciousness?

There is a considerable difference between genetic and cultural evolution in humans: the necessary involvement of human consciousness in the second one; innovations are often not random mutations, but reasoned responses that an individual has given to the problems he has; the success of these innovations depends then on the voluntary choices, although not very aware, that other human beings do.
The accumulation of knowledge, although a natural tendency of humanity, is also culturally encouraged: knowledge, science, studies and education are now consolidated values of our cultural tradition. Today the scientific progress allows us to better understand the evolution of culture, and the awareness of its dependence on our choices gives us the opportunity to lead it easily to our advantage, working a kind of artificial selection.
Using culture to satisfy personal needs is a practice as old as man and perhaps even more: today we know with certainty that the hominids had developed a technology to a certain level, although now it seems rudimentary, with the exaltation of the appropriate ideals, such as patriotism, religious devotion, racism and parochialism, with the political leaders always trying to drive culturally their own people to strengthen their power and wealth: wars of conquest in the name of religion, national prestige and, more recently, democracy are an example of it. Even the experimental scientific method can be seen as a voluntary choice between several theories to correctly describe nature.
The higher level of education that has gone spreading after the industrial revolution, in particular the study of history, philosophy, biology and psychology, may allow today large sections of the population to choose between different cultural models, in order to protect their personal interests, and also to study new ones, but the frequent wars, the lack of real democracy, the pollution and the economic exploitation of poor countries show that the culture of subordination to the community is still dominant on the personal well-being.

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2.a.11 – What are the routes along which cultural evolution develops?

January 17, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

pompieri

What are the routes along which cultural evolution develops?

We can say that we have identified four main ways on which cultural evolution develops:

– family tradition, which brings culture to perfectly integrate with the genetic heritage and to protect with it the survival of offspring;
– social spreading of epidemic nature, which brings the cultural components to live their life as a cultural virus;
– tribal spreading or subordination to the community, which leads people to dedicate their lives to social group;
– conscious use or artificial selection of culture, which can exploit the culture for any purpose, including the individual welfare (or the evil of others…).

Knowledge of these four basic tracks on which evolution runs can help us to understand for what team our habits, our beliefs and our ideals play and then to operate in our turn a selection with knowledge of the facts, to take care of our personal interests too.

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Chapter 2.b

January 18, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

 CULTURAL HISTORY

Let’s look backward once again; if we try to make a historical reconstruction of cultural evolution, as we did for biological evolution, we’ll discover with surprise even greater difficulties, because culture leaves no fossils or genetic trace. To understand how this heritage, so important for our lives, has developed, can help us to understand its nature, its role, its limitations and its potential for the future.

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2.b.1 – What are the origins of culture?

January 19, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

imitazione

What are the origins of culture?

By observing the cultural transmission in animals, we may develop some hypotheses about the birth of our cultural history: we know that animals learn from the world around them, the puppies of mammals also learn from their parents and this can be done because the mother, and sometimes even his father, spend much time with them after birth, for feeding them and protect them. The parent-child relationship, born for protection and nourishment needs, then took an educational role.
It is known that in family traditions, the genetic and cultural heritage evolve together, perfectly integrating; over time this has led to develop a genetic predisposition of puppies to learn from their parents and of parents to teach children.
By the innate curiosity of puppies, by the desire to play (drilling movements, fight  etc..), by the instinct to explore the world and the need to follow their parents in search of safety, new behaviors have developed: exploring the world under the guidance of parents, looking at what they do and then imitate them.
The development of imitation was not a simple step; many animals, even with good learning ability derived from experience, are in great difficulties to imitate the strategies of others, which suggests that imitation is an activities much more complex than it appears and therefore requires the development of new capacity by the brain. Some studies also show that in the animal world, imitation is usually combined with a strong component of personal experimentation, it is imitated the minimum necessary to then proceed alone, which demonstrates how imitation is for animals a very challenging and costly  activity that should be limited as much as possible.
When the first herds of mammals developed, new frontiers for imitation and development of culture opened: since then, in fact, the puppies had the opportunity to learn from all the members of the herd and not just from their parents; this opportunity, which, in most cases, is used only occasionally and is therefore a resource remained marginal in the animal world, lays behind many developments in human culture.
Even in parents some changes developed: to the loving parental care directed to the puppies, new teaching capacities were added; mammals in fact often play with their kids making the game even more instructive; during the game, parents have the opportunity to show, show off indeed, the right attitudes and behavior, as the father playing ball with his children or helping them in the construction of buildings with plastic bricks; should also be reminded the all-important ability to reward or punish those puppies according to their conduct: rewards descended directly from the cuddles of parental care; punishments stem instead from aggressive attitudes, typical of fights between adults, appropriately and substantially modified in order not to seriously injure the children.
For what concerns monkeys, the babies live the first part of their lives perpetually clinging to their mothers; during this phase with a so intimate and fixed contact, the puppies can learn many things: how to interpret the behavior of the mother and of the members of the flock, how to manage public relations and coexistence in the community, what are the best fruits, how to build a shelter, how to use certain tools, how to recognize and produce signals typical of their species, up to use a real language made of gestures and sounds, although not articulated in such a way as to form a complex speech.
The animals that show more ability to imitate, more communication skills and greater intelligence, such as parrots, dolphins and monkeys, are all social animals, and this indicates that the social and flock life are important and necessary, although not sufficient, for the development of the above mentioned abilities. These abilities are also closely linked: in community, communication is often achieved through a conventional code, culturally transmitted, which requires some form of imitation and intelligence.
By observing today’s world, we can’t see the later stages of our cultural history as all our closest relatives, the hominids, are extinct long ago.  

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2.b.2 – What has changed moving from animal to human culture?

January 20, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

espressione

What has changed moving from animal to human culture?

Even if we are unable to accurately reconstruct the evolutionary steps of human culture in the prehistoric era, it is of paramount importance to reflect on cultural peculiarities that distinguish us from the animals, with particular reference to our closest cousins, namely the monkeys:
–  innovations in human culture easily accumulate; for example, the first light bulb was the fruit of the genius of Edison, but also of those who invented and perfected the working of glass and metal, and those who discovered electricity; all this knowledge, accumulating, have allowed Edison to create his most famous invention. A specific and fundamental aspect of human culture is of being a cumulative culture; in animals this phenomenon is an unknown or exceptional event;
– in man, the physical development of children is much slower and this requires the parents to take care of them for many years; during this long period, however, children have the time to learn the great and complex cultural heritage accumulated by their community; for teaching is also used specialized personnel outside the family;
– human communities are much more numerous than those of monkeys and in these we find numerous forms of cultural specializations that form a very complex system based on collaborative work;
– the social structure of human group is very different from that of monkeys; this is not one big family, but a cluster of small nuclei, usually made up of one male and one female with limited number of children .
– an important aspect of human culture is the creation of sophisticated instruments in constant change; it is to be reminded that this is possible thanks to the ability to manipulation;
– a considerable part of human culture is made up of abstract concepts such as numbers, honor, justice and responsibility;
– human beings communicate with words; language is the main transmission channel with which the human cultural heritage, made of complex and abstract concepts, is transmitted;
– another form of particularly developed communication is the one based on facial gestures; the human face has been modified to be used as a reporting tool: the human eyes show the whites around the iris and this allows to follow the look and nuances of expressions also at a considerable distance; the eyebrows, thick and isolated on the skin without hair, are used as a visual warning sign in a thousand expressions; the same goes for the lips that have a border and a clearly marked color and can enhance their every little movement .
Currently no evolutionary needs that have caused these changes are known, we can only make conjectures on the basis of the use currently done, or done in the recent past, of these innovations.

 

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2.b.3 – Which culture had the first hominids?

January 21, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

savana

Which culture had the first hominids?

 A complex social structure usually corresponds to some forms of complex communication and these in turn stimulate the development of capacity for imitation and intelligence. Also in equal number, a small human community appears more complex, socially speaking, than a flock of monkeys: indeed, it is formed by several separate families, the leader of the pack does not coincide anymore with the head of the family; males and females form fixed pairs and cooperate in parental care during the long childhood of their children; dominant males, both while maintaining a certain rivalry, regularly cooperate with each other in various activities such as hunting or work. During the evolution of hominids, occurred then a genuine social revolution.
The oldest fossil remains of hominids indicate that their development could have separated from that of apes after a radical climate change in the Rift Valley in Africa; from a forest of tropical type, a savannah was formed and, despite the presence in that area of some large lakes, which attenuated the problem of drought, a food change and therefore a change in behavior was inevitable, and the presence of lakes in a region relatively poor of water could also have led families of hominids to concentrate around them, but this forced cohabitation may have caused a lesser availability of food and originated a subsequent reduction in the size of families and a cooperation among them to better exploit the available resources, starting with the group hunting. By observing their teeth, we can deduce that they were omnivores and then managed to eat everything, while the discovery of splintered stone tools, dating back to their age, confirms the hypothesis of their attitude to the use of instruments; anyway, we know nothing about their hunting techniques or their social structure; we can, as above, only make fantastic assumptions, but at present not verifiable.
The use of simple stone tools is also attributed to the homo habilis, whose oldest remains date back to almost two million years ago and who represents one of the first hominids of the kind homo. From the shape of the skull, we can deduce that his brain was greater than that of australopithecus and that, perhaps, he already had some brain areas dedicated to language. If we accept the idea that intelligence and language are linked to cooperation and to a complex social structure, it is plausible that the homo habilis made group hunting and lived in a typically human multi families community; once again, these are all hypotheses to be verified.
By the fossil remains we know that the two other human species, slightly more recent, the homo ergaster and the homo erectus, had both developed various anatomical adaptations for running: longer legs and Achilles tendons, an appropriate plantar arch, a bigger heel and a nape crest for the stability of the skull during the race. Their stone tools are more refined, thanks to a long and challenging process and it also seems that the homo erectus could control the fire. Their brain was much larger and their face was much more similar to that of present man, having lost many of the monkey like features. It has been also possible to establish that the development of children In the homo erectus was much slower compared to australopithecus, although faster than it is now. All these data suggest that many of the social cultural changes that we mentioned have been historically verified between the first hominids and the homo erectus; this latter  had already the physic and tools to be a good group hunter; the length of childhood and the size and shape of his brain suggest that he had a significant cultural heritage to learn and a complex social life to manage; the bone structure of his face, similar to ours, suggests that he also had a similar facial expression and this would be a further confirmation of very complex social relations. In addition to group hunting, also the need to defend the territory by rival groups may have fed the need for greater collaboration within the group.
In the homo erectus there is also another feature in common with the current man: its geographical distribution, which spreads from Africa to China while, as we know, the previous hominids lived in regions much more limited, like the current apes; even this can be considered a confirmation of the high level of efficiency of these ancient human societies. The close cooperation that should have existed within these tribal groups made more useful and easier the spreading of culture within the community and from this basis developed the type of culture that we consider today as typically human.

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2.b.4 – The development of cumulative culture is due to climate instability?

January 22, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

ghiacci

The development of cumulative culture is due to climate instability?

Dated about 500 thousand years ago, we can find the first traces of tools much more complex of precedents, as consisting of several parts (like spears having the tip of stone or axes with an handle); these tools are also different according to the region and the time when they were produced and this shows that they were the result of a succession of changes made by different artisans. The accumulation of cultural mutations, a phenomenon first absent or exceptional, from then seems to become a fixed rule in human culture.
It  is ignored the cause of this very important change, but we know that hominids of this period show a further development of brain mass and changes at the base of the skull, making plausible a shift of the larynx and a modification of the voice.
 By an examination of the polar ice, it is also apparent with certainty that this historical period was characterized by great instability in the climate; relatively rapid changes alternated glacial to temperate periods and even within these periods there were great fluctuations in the average temperature; these sudden changes in the climate may have been a decisive impulse to fully exploit the cultural adaptability, much faster than genetic.
We can, however, note three important features of cumulative culture:
– it allows a more convenient and quick cultural adaptation, because changing existing instruments and customs is easier than creating new ones;
– the combination of simple cultural elements can form a wide variety of new solutions to new problems, just like the letters of the alphabet can compose a huge number of words, the evolutionary advantage is huge and brings cultural heritage to become, from a simple integration of the genetic heritage, the basis of later evolution;
– cumulative cultural innovations depend less and less by genetic mutations and increasingly from the accumulated previous cultural history; there is a tendency to greater autonomy compared to genetic heritage.
All this also had a cost: from the study of the bones we know that in the considered historical period, the time needed to reach maturity further lengthened to reach, with the Neanderthal man and today man, twenty years or so. This long period of apprenticeship requires to parents a greater sacrifice in terms of time and energy.

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2.b.5 – The rituals and words are cultural instruments?

January 23, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

rituali

The rituals and words are cultural instruments?

The growing importance of transmission of knowledge has stimulated the development of two key instruments: the rituals and verbal language.
The anthropologists of the ninetieth and twentieth century have conducted numerous studies on oldest human communities, namely those with an economy still based on hunting and gathering of fruits as the tribes of North America, of the Amazon rainforest, Indonesia and Australia. It was noted that a common feature of these cultures was the organization of celebrations rituals which involved the whole community; although every people has its own particular way of celebrating religious festivals or ceremonies, all of them they did it with a huge variety of rituals, prayers, dances, songs, banquets and sports competitions.
Modern psychology tells us that these rituals strengthen the group identity and help to develop solidarity, cooperation and administration of social life. Their importance is such that often they take on a sacred character.
Many rituals require considerable talents of cohesion, imitation and learning skills that we know essential to life of human beings; for example, the group dances can show these qualities together with other physical qualities like strength and agility. Besides being entertaining shows, useful to strengthen social relationships, often play a role in courtship.
The ritual involving the whole community have mainly a social role and are precisely called social rituals, but in any human activity we can find some little rituals that we can call working procedures: a chef who prepares a plate of spaghetti, according to a precise recipe, repeats basically the same proceeding, i.e. makes a kind of ritual work; the same would do the masons to build a wall or peasants to cultivate corn or harvesting olives. These activities are mainly handed down through direct imitation, exactly like the social rituals; the language holds a secondary role like in all activities based on movement: we all had the experience to find ourselves in difficulty with written instructions to install a new television or other electrical appliance and we all know that the instructions are clearer if accompanied by illustrative drawings in which a balloon shows us how to do things, although a person would be even better.
The verbal language, instead, becomes the main instrument when it is necessary to recount experiences or past events, or when you need to pass abstract concepts. The appearance of the word marked a milestone in culture: experience could now be told and not only displayed, with the word we can express abstract concepts, ideas, opinions; thanks to word, the movement of ideas was much easier and culture had a new instrument, extremely precise, transmitted and preserved.
The current language is another typical example of cumulative culture: it continuously varies from region to region and from generation to generation. It should be remembered that even in the animal world, particularly in monkeys, there are social rituals, voice signals and tool-making and certainly existed even in the most ancient of hominids; cumulative culture has only led to a further development, both cultural (variety of forms and applications) and genetic (changes of the voice apparatus, logical and imitation capabilities).

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2.b.6 – What forms of culture have left a tangible track?

January 24, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

preistoria

What forms of culture have left a tangible track?

Unlike the rituals and verbal language, there are forms of cumulative culture that have left a trace: one of them is the production of tools, in which it is possible to observe a gradual evolution; another one is the art, such as painting and sculpture. In tribal cultures it is documented a significant artistic activity: tattoos, body paint, drawings on skin or tents, bracelets, necklaces and various ornaments up to statues in stone, wood, horn, bone and so on. Each tribe has its typical signs and objects that acquire the symbolic value of belonging to the same tribe.
The use of symbols to show the membership to a clan, a family, a caste or a particular social group is very common in many cultures as well as religious symbols are common in ceremonial functions; it is a veritable language made of symbols: the wedding ring indicates that a person is married, the priest during the religious ceremony wears particular cloths, at funerals people wear blacks clothes, the crown and scepter of the King show his kingship and so on. In all human cultures we find this kind of symbolic language that has ancient origins. Particularly interesting is the use of painted or carved symbols that may have given rise to forms of art that today we call painting and sculpture. The remains of the oldest painting and sculpture are from Africa and date back to about 70 thousand years ago, but also considering modern times, tribal art makes a moderate use of stone, it is reasonable to suppose that the ancient painters and sculptors used perishable materials also in much earlier times. The art of painting and symbolic drawing are the basis on which, long time later, writing developed.

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2.b.7 – What distinguishes us from the first homo sapiens?

January 25, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

dubbio

 
 
 

What distinguishes us from the first homo sapiens?

The oldest remains found of homo sapiens date back to 195 thousand years ago; since then our skeleton has not substantially changed, but this not applies also to the rest of our anatomy and, in particular, possible changes in our intellectual capacity would be very difficult detectable by the shape of the skull. Considering that our species has begun to spread out from Africa about 125 thousand years ago, one can deduce that the current ethnic differences should have been necessarily formed after that time. Since these differences can be observed in facial features, hair color or stature but not in the intellectual capacity, we can say that this latter had already been developed before the migration in the continents. Given that every human generation feels much more intelligent than previous ones, starting with that of their parents, it is difficult to imagine ourselves sitting on a bench in our jacket and tie, with a mobile phone in our hand, aside of a homo sapiens of 125 thousand years ago in wolf skin, with a cudgel in his hand and being convinced he has a brain with the same genetic ability; the truth is that differences are only the result of cultural evolution, of that cumulative culture that distinguishes our species and that, increasingly quickly developing, can now really lead to a significant differentiation between two successive generations.

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2.b.8 – War is a prerogative of human culture?

January 26, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

War is a prerogative of human culture?

A very old phenomenon in human cultural history is war. War requires great organization, cohesion and group identity and the studies on people that in the past two centuries were still living by hunting and gathering, show that in all of them there was the cycle use of war to settle territorial disputes (even four times in one year).
This war activity is different among the apes, where fights between groups are exceptional, unlike those between individual dominant males; war seems therefore to be a typical human need. In nature the animal populations remain stable, despite the large number of children, because of predators, diseases, accidents, drought, cold and hunger; being killed by his own kind is a rather rare event, however, becomes more common in artificial conditions of overpopulation as may happen in the zoo.
In humans, the development of the war conduct is due in all probability to the lesser impact of the so called stabilization factors, the resulting increase in population and the subsequent decrease in the availability of food that inevitably leads to an increase of territorial conflicts.
In the animal world two basic types of struggle can be observed:
– struggle between predators and prey, whose purpose is to kill or be killed; this is the most violent form of struggle for survival;
– fight between rivals; the most classic case is that of males who fight for the possession of females, which aim is not the death but the submission of one’s opponent (which could also be a member of his flock and perhaps a close relative).
In the first form, a predator, if he wants to eat, can’t avoid killing the prey and for the prey, on the other hand, no defense is too risky, considering the danger; in the second form of struggle, instead, killing one’s opponent is not only not necessary, but if he is a member of the same group it would be even harmful; it is also clear that, even for the loser, it is convenient to retreat before getting really hurt or risk being killed.
The teaching that once again we must draw from nature is the following: in the fight between rivals the clash, even violent, is a test of strength, not an attack to the other’s life, who usually comes out a little hurt, but alive. Moreover it is to be noted that in nature often there are precise rituals, according to which it is avoided, when possible, physical confrontation.
In human communities of all types, including tribal, we find these two forms of struggle: the prey is killed without mercy as all predators do, and their spoils are divided among the hunters and their families, while within the community there are also clashes, even very violent, but governed by specific rituals, in which it is avoided to kill the enemy.
If we now consider a war, it is evident that the two sides do not fight as rivals in love or opponents in sports, but as if belonged to different species; in war you fight to kill or you will be inevitably killed. The cannibal people even ate their defeated opponents, dividing the remains as it is used with the animal preys; in less extreme cases, the defeated were still stripped of clothes, weapons and anything that could have a value; the same predatory attitude is found then during the looting of villages or cities enemy.
So many are the attitudes that indicate that the relationship with the enemy is man-animal type (meaning for animal both a prey and a predator) and not man-man.
Continuing to demonstrate how war is a typically human phenomenon, where it is possible to see all the cultural and evolutionary strategies, a problem arises: how is it possible that the man, selected by millions of years of natural evolution for a sociable living in the community, has fought and continues to fight many bloody fratricidal wars? The answer must be sought in the nature of human culture and in the different ways in which it is expressed. To drag a nation at war it is needed to develop a system that inhibits his natural social instincts; the simplest system, that has always been practiced, is to identify enemies with animals of a different species, or with dangerous animals anyway. For this purpose are utilized all possible cultural variations: the enemies are not like us, in fact they speak a different language, have a different color, wear a different dress, practice a different religion, and so on; and hence, it becomes of fundamental importance the exaltation of what can be used for the identification with group: for this reason each tribe soon develops a particular accent, its colors of war (or a currency), its religious symbols, its special hairstyle, its characteristic tattoos etc.., people who have not these signs of recognition are considered as animals to be killed.
War exploits all the basic strategies of man: the organization and harmony of the community are essential elements for any war activity, the specialization of some members of the community as warriors is also necessary, as it is the manipulation aimed at achieving increasingly powerful weapons.
The cumulative culture has always given his contribution to the war: over time, the communities have grown in size and soon formed alliances between different communities; within the specialized community of warriors have formed increasingly specific subgroups (archers, knights, artillery etc.); in the case of arms, the contribution of cumulative culture is even more evident, as in short relatively time they passed from  the sword to the atomic bomb.
The discovery of remains of Neanderthal men with the tip of spear stuck in the skeleton suggests how the war has accompanied and influenced the cultural evolution of man.

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2.b.9 – Agriculture and livestock: two milestones?

January 27, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

aratura

Agriculture and livestock: two milestones?

About 12 thousand years ago, the last ice age ended; today we know that, until then, deep and abrupt climate changes were the rule and that the living beings, including humans, had always been accustomed to it; the period of stability which followed the last glaciation, and which still continues, is therefore a short and exceptionally quiet parentheses in the long history as turbulent climate history. The climate became warmer, more rainy and with fewer differences of temperature between winter and summer. The distribution of vegetation and wildlife changed accordingly, the ice disappeared from temperate areas and these radically changed their appearance; this gave to all men and animals new opportunities of nourishment. Our species had long been widespread throughout the planet, but never before that time there was such a regular availability of plants and herbivore animals.
It is very likely that the new situation led to an increase in population, until it reached a new equilibrium: quantity of food per capita equal to the time of glaciation, but with smaller spaces available. Then there were two possible routes to go to improve the living conditions: either to extend the territory with the war or to use more effectively the new wealth available, taking maximum advantage from the stability of climate: both ways were followed.
Looking at modern tribal societies, especially those of rainforests, less affected by the end of the ice age, we can assume that hunters always protected the game of their territory from other predators, including hunters of other tribes who trespassed their territory, and always practicing forms of aid to edible plants against so-called weeds. From these bases developed, in various tempered places in the world, the first forms of farming and agriculture.
It is plausible that the ancient tribe of hunters, linked by bonds of kinship or derived from the same tribe of origin, had agreements of mutual aid in times of famine or war, which led to the division of the game and to formation of joint armies, just as happens among modern tribes; from these customs developed the large armies of the great agricultural civilizations.
The development of agriculture and livestock led to a radical change in human society, only comparable to the descent from the trees of the first hominids; the availability of food increased considerably, especially when cultivation of cereals like wheat, barley, rice started: these plants, in fact, produce very nutrients seeds that can be stored for years and therefore, cultivated in large-scale, allowed to accumulate large reserves of plant food. Similarly breeding cattle allowed to rely on a continuous source of animal resources and strengthen the culture of stocks; having available stocks have meant the possibility to conduct a sedentary life: this led to the formation of the first urban centers. The fields, cultivated using increasingly accurate techniques, produced much more than was necessary to maintenance of farmers who cultivated them, and the same happened with the big herds of livestock; this revolutionary situation led to the development of savings culture, which allows to utilize at a later time not consumed resources, and allowed people not only to grow but to be able to devote themselves full time to other activities, specializing in various forms of crafts; there had been then primarily carpenters, blacksmiths, potters and weavers, to whom soon traders added.
In the tribal community there was a clear separation of duties only between males and females, with men dedicated to group hunting, to war and to works connected with these activities, like the construction of weapons, while women were dedicated to gathering plant food and caring for children. In the new urban areas developed rather different tasks and knowledge, not only on the basis of sex, but also on the type of work. From small villages of hunters with 60 or 70 individuals, people passed to cities of 7,000 inhabitants.

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2.b.10 – What role has the trade in cultural development?

January 28, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

merci

What role has the trade in cultural development?

The great variety of agricultural products, livestock and crafts led to an exchange of goods within the community and favored it outside the community; the category of full-time traders was then formed.
The trade consists in an exchange of goods, that in its first applications took the form of barter, namely the exchange of goods one wants to give to someone else who wants to buy; goods to be sold were initially plants, animals or craft that exceeded their consumption requirements or in stock and then the first barters were done among producers. The limits of this type of barter are immediately obvious, as circumscribes the possibility of exchange to what was offered by the communities one belonged to or those nearby, but soon the figure of the merchant appeared, i.e. one person who bartered with others goods which he did not personally need, but intended to exchange in more remote communities where these goods, as deficient, assumed greater value. In the barter, the value of the property to be exchanged is considered equivalent by the parties on the basis of quantitative and qualitative considerations on the properties in question; these considerations are of course influenced by the need that someone has of these goods and by the difficulties one encounters in obtaining them.
Even in indirect ways, namely through traders, however, the barter presents some major limitations: the perishable goods such as food must be consumed in short time and then not be the subject of numerous later trades; other goods, such as live cattle, are indivisible and must therefore be shared with amount of other goods higher than what is necessary (forcing the person who gave these goods to further exchanges of what obtained in exchange). The barter can therefore be applied only in simple economies and a restricted basis.
The new economic environment that had formed, which is based on trade, obviously caused some adaptations by man, who made more usable the related opportunities and, in particular, we must remember the invention of the coin, that is an object that at the same time has both the role function of quantification of value and to be a medium of exchange, a medium that could be also accumulated without problems of perishability, space and divisibility.
The development of intense commercial traffic resulting in the advent of currency led to further economic development: every city, to import products typical of another, had to exchange them with their own, making beneficial the increase of production, otherwise useless, and increasing the wealth of communities; this phenomenon also brought to the interdependence of cities, first economically and then politically, encouraging alliances, mergers or invasions.
Through peaceful alliances or violent conquests, starting from 6 thousand years ago, large human communities formed on a large territorial scale, i.e. the great empires of ancient civilizations: the Egyptians, the Sumerians, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians, Romans and Chinese; all these civilizations are distinguished for their wealth fueled by prosperous trading, to promote which large networks of communications and transport were built: roads, bridges, ships, canals, lighthouses and even postal services. The larger cities such as Rome or Carthage had more than 700 thousand inhabitants and the population growth, combined to the need to distribute a large amount and variety of goods, explains the growth of difficulties in administering these cities.

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2.b.11 – Writing has allowed a leap in quality?

January 29, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

ideogrammi

Writing has allowed a leap in quality?

Among the first forms of writing, it is important to remind the pictographies, i.e. the systems of representing by a drawing more or less stylized what we want to communicate. For being effective, pictographic writing needs that the context and materials objects to which they relate images are known (a man running below an arrow is not synonymous with emergency exit for everyone and everywhere), but when this happens, the understanding is immediate and goes over the problem of diversity of languages (think of the signs used in railway stations, in stadiums etc.).
The oldest traces of writing date back over 6,000 years ago; it seems that the transition from a symbolic language based on drawings to the designs of representing words is due to the need to make accounts for the trade or other bureaucratic needs typical of large agricultural town. As a complex social life has helped the development of articulate speech, an intricate bureaucracy has required the development of a language of symbols equally efficient than the words.
Writing was therefore a necessary tool for archiving accounting data related to the inventory of stocks, the taxes collection and commercial transactions , but was then used for other purposes such as witnessing the strength and power of kings; this happened with public and solemn records, made so that the shape, materials and the size could be preserved over time, as a perennial symbol of the power which they came from (think of the inscriptions on the gates of the towns or to the celebratory wordings on monuments or on facades).
Over time, to the original records made of images, in which every symbol was a word and where the signs had an essentially mnemonic function, were added the phonetic writing, that writing systems that mirrored the spoken language. The phonetic writing has allowed the creation of a system made of a few signs, but that could be put together in countless combinations: the alphabet.
The latter, being much easier to learn and to manage, was also essential for the development of printing in much more recent times.
Writing allows to set the words on a material support, which becomes so an expansion of human memory that can store words, thoughts and knowledge for centuries. By writing, the human cultural heritage can be deposited in a more reliable safe than the mortal and sometimes inaccurate human memory. Writing made thus human culture even easier to be stored, so that the experience of an individual could overcome the limits of his personal life.
We said that the reconstruction of cultural history is difficult and imprecise because culture leaves no fossils or genetic trace, but this is true until the invention of writing; with the discovery of the oldest written texts, our knowledge of the past takes a huge leap in quality: writing marks the transition from prehistory to history.
The symbolic written language had in the same period a second major evolutionary branch; the development of mathematical symbols: basically it’s always a form of writing, not representing words but abstract concepts of measuring and quantity of objects: the numbers. So we must recognize to writing the credit for having permitted the development of the fundamental operations of calculating (that can’t be developed beyond a certain complexity without a written support). The writing also allows the construction of tables with two or more columns, i.e. the formation of a visual scheme that cannot be done verbally.
The possible applications in commerce and administration are easy to imagine and still in use, but there is an application even more closely linked to agriculture: the measurement of fields that led to the development of geometry in ancient Egypt; in Egypt, after each flooding of the Nile, since all borders were deleted, it was necessary to  redesign them and this environmental peculiarity made the Egyptians masters in geometry and mathematics.
Currently, the ability to write is not only widespread, but it is always more frequently common to write with machines, the advent of computers, with their countless fonts, with the different formatting of the pages and even the possibility of spelling and grammatical corrections, automatically makes it difficult to conceive how much effort has cost the implementation and development of writing, but according to a  ancient Persian Treaty, the calligrapher must have a delicate hand, acute eye-sighted spirit, refined senses, a pure soul and a superior intellect. In ancient times the writing was anything but a normal phenomenon: it was so exceptional in its conception, implementation and enforcement that people could not avoid to give divine origins to it. On the other hand, also in previous eras men have been seeking directions from Gods in particular signs (a special position of bones, a sequence of pebbles, etc.) and then the divination of writing, as well as its highest form, the sacred books, was a natural phenomenon.

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2.b.12 – The development of the sciences is due to specialization?

January 30, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

numeri

The development of the sciences is due to specialization?

The proliferation of so many different activities, each with its unique knowledge, led to the formation of a huge development of technical knowledge; to new problems and
new needs that were facing agricultural civilization, cultural adaptation replied with specializations and cultural development of the sciences. In particular, it is to be reminded important progress on:
– Math: for the accountancy of trade and governments, and the calculations of geometry and astronomy;
– Geometry for the division and irrigation of fields, for architecture and astronomy;
– Hydraulics: to irrigate the fields, for the aqueducts for supplying the large cities, up to the famous hanging gardens of Babylon;
– Architecture for the construction of monumental temples capable of receiving and striking the imagination of large numbers of citizens, for building roads and bridges for trades;
– Mechanics: as support to architecture, to move large weights during the monumental buildings like the pyramids of Egypt and, later, for building war machines such as catapults;
– Nautical engineering: for the great merchant ships;
– Astronomy: for the measurement of time and seasons and for guidance in the sea.
The development of knowledge in all these historical era, after the advent of writing, was such to arise the question of how to order and catalog them; the technical wonders aroused admiration even among the common people and often philosophers and scientists were held in high regard by the whole community.
The progress of science and technology of a people was as fast as this was rich, being able to maintain more scholars. A contribution was also crucial from the commercial economy, which, in addition to goods, allowed to import even the knowledge of other ancient civilizations, allowing to catch up or at least not having to start from scratch in every field. Progress was also proceeding as long as its civilization could survive the competition and the invasions of neighboring peoples; the richer and more long lasting civilizations then reached the higher levels of science and it is an example the classical Greece that with Pythagoras and Archimedes brought mathematics to levels never seen in Europe until then. To remember also Heron of Alexandria at the time of Imperial Rome and Leonardo da Vinci in Renaissance as top representatives of engineering of their time and finally Pythagoras, Democritus, Aristotle, Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton as the most famous theorists, whose works led to the gradual creation of the scientific experimental method currently used, which allows to study the natural laws with a precision and accuracy comparable to those of mathematics, marking the end of philosophy of nature and the beginning of experimental science which, not having more rivals, today we call simply science. Finally we must mention, for later cultural development, the invention of printing mobile characters of  Gutenberg, which allowed a huge increase in production of books and then the distribution and conservation of culture; the invention of printing, from this point of view, is second only to that the writing itself.

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2.b.13 – Slavery is similar to rearing?

January 31, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

schiavo

Slavery is similar to rearing?

With the emergence of farming, a new type of relationship developed between man and animals: from man-prey, we passed to the men and livestock relationship. In rearing, the animals are forced to a cohabitation with the man in which they lose any chance of escape; they are fed by their breeders, but it is a benefits paid a high price (the possibility of escape); is not therefore appropriate to talk about symbiosis with mutual benefit because the animals do not increase the chances of survival. Often the livestock is made up of social animals such as sheep or horses, that normally live in a pack led by a chief but now are led by farmers, are then replaced the chief. The reared animals are a valuable asset and are treated as objects of value, are bought and sold as such and are often marked indelibly in order to certify the property title.
The animals bred are not only preys without hope: after the appearance of agriculture they were in fact used as pack animals, giving a fundamental contribution to its development. We have seen how men, to start a war between them, need to identify the enemy as an animal of a different species and then, in case of capture of an enemy, it was natural to use it as animal for work. In slavery, the man-slave relation has the same characteristics that we have noted in the animal breeding: slaves were prisoners of war or their descendants, were not free to leave and remained perennially prisoners of their masters, could be bought and sold, in certain cultures were also marked with fire; the slaves worked in the fields like animals like donkeys, oxen and horses.
We know that even in tribal societies, the enemies in war, or potential enemies, as belonging to historically hostile tribes, were always considered and treated like animals, but that type of societies could not maintain a large number of slaves and a prisoner was more likely to be sent to the pile of torture rather than becoming a slave, although occasionally it was possible. In the agricultural era, instead, there were the resources to feed a large population of slaves, which was very useful for the hard work the fields, and therefore prisoners of war became a precious commodity as working animals. The slaves were not properly therefore the lowest rung in the hierarchy of society, but were livestock outside of it. In a hierarchy, either human or animals, it is possible to change the level going up or down, or it is possible to remove one from his position or to be removed, but to slaves this certainly was not granted as it was not for any reared animal. In a city then it was possible to find two well distinct human populations: the dominant one with its internal hierarchy and that of slaves to which it was not even granted a hierarchy because if they would have had their social organization, they could use it to rebel, and the maximum to which a slave could aspire was to form his own family, but more numerous social aggregations were out of the question.
In this farming era therefore social classes were born, or populations clearly separated without the possibility of switching from one to another. Throughout history, with a similar process often formed societies with three classes: the noble (dominant class), the people (dominated class), slaves (working animals, living robots). Indeed a population of nomadic raiders could plunder a city and capture slaves and then sell them, but they found more practical to expect a regular tribute in exchange for peace and perhaps for protection from other predators. Appeared then another relationship of parasite-host type in which the dominant population did not enslave the subjected one, but simply replacing the dominant group whose role now was reserved to the new rulers who formed a separate class (the noble). The profound difference compared to slavery is that the dominated were not bought and sold and did not completely lose their social structure, their hierarchy was anyway beheaded. This social structure has spread and strengthened during the millennia until a new phenomenon brought about a profound change: the Industrial revolution.

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2.b.14 – How did we arrive to industrial revolution?

February 1, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

fabbrica

How did we arrive to industrial revolution?

The agricultural revolution was developed following the end of glaciation, i.e. a climate change: the industrial revolution took place instead following a set of propitious historical, political and economic circumstances; there was no change in the climate or in the ecosystem, but a normal evolution of human society; the conditions that led to the industrial revolution have been, after all, a product of human culture.
In 1700 A.C. the British Empire, the greatest of all time, was in full expansion and its trade routes reached every continent; England was powerful, rich and a huge quantity of goods poured into its cities. This situation had already occurred several times with other empires such as Mongolian, Roman or Persian, but now the empire territories were made of colonies mainly situated in the wild territories, where the agricultural civilization was uncommon or absent; it followed that large quantities of raw materials were mainly imported from these territories, that were then worked at the home country; the finished product could then be sold throughout the great European market. Previously, in the Roman Empire, there was already a commercial network extended throughout Europe, Roma was very rich, but had no reason to import only raw materials, or to work them to sell them to the rest of the Empire. The colonial economy , both English and European, had a productive system dramatically different than in the past: European states, particularly the small and powerful England, were the centers for the processing of goods imported and exported worldwide.
It is important to note that the materials were not only worked for meeting local needs, but also those of the entire European market and of the same colonies; to carry out this huge amount of work required changes in the working organization: from small groups of artisans. larger assemblies of workers followed, working in vast farmhouses called factories, within which there were one or more workers doing a single stage of processing and only one, and then pass the product to another group for the next step: this way, series production was born.
It is likely that this technique is not entirely new, but was never applied on such a large scale; working in series gave the possibility to produce on equal time, a much higher number of pieces than the artisans could; in previous times, in the limited local market, this whole production would remain unsold.

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2.b.15 – What are the main consequences of the industrial revolution?

February 2, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

locomotiva

What are the main consequences of the industrial revolution?

The emergence and spread of the model of production in series (or industrial) caused deep economic, social, technical and scientific changes, some exceptionally positive, some tragically negative:
– series production led to lower production costs and therefore, to an equal sale price of the product, a very high profit was obtained by the industrial entrepreneur; industry proved to be a highly profitable activity and soon a fierce competition developed;
– one of the strategies adopted to defeat the competition was to lower the cost of the product; those who adopted this strategy, not only survived the competition, but triggered a virtuous circle in which the price fell, increasing the number of clients who could afford to buy; the turnover increased, profits for the same number of workers increased, the possibility of still reducing costs increased. Selling to the masses as well as to the rich became a very good business;
– to lower the costs, a portion of the profit could be waived on each item sold, it could be reduced the wages of the workers, it could be decrease the number of workers, buying more modern machines and the market and production could be broadened without increasing the fixed costs; all these techniques were adopted with mathematical precision and efficiency;
– the general lowering of prices on industrial products made them accessible to large masses of the population that previously were not able to buy them, increasing then the purchasing power and average wealth for large sections of the population;
– fierce competition in industrial production quickly took the place of craft production in many sectors such as textiles and metallurgy. The craftsmen, remained without work, had to be converted into low-cost laborers;
– to reduce the cost of the product is sought to reduce the maximum salary of workers to reach the minimum necessary for survival, condemning them to an extreme poverty, while the rest of the world was becoming richer thanks to them;
– large profits allowed big investments, especially in buying large industrial machinery, designed to have an increasingly high efficiency and require a small number of expensive workers; therefore, in time workers passed from poverty to unemployment and extreme poverty;
– investing in machines proved to be very beneficial to industrial entrepreneurs, but for engineers and scientists as well, who saw their profits and their prestige increased. The result was a scientific and technological development never had before: sometimes, after only few years, the machines appeared to have become obsolete, especially those utilizing the steam power, that gave a great contribution to industrial production; various branches of the science, having industrial applications such as chemistry, mechanics, thermodynamics (for steam engines and then motors) developed, but also sectors not directly involved could take advantage of this moment of grace enjoyed by sciences such as medicine, biology and electrotechnique.

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2.b.16 – What were the technological and economic fallout in other areas?

February 3, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

telegrafo

What were the technological and economic fallout in other areas?

The industrial revolution caused an unprecedented economic expansion that involved all components of society and all sectors of production; in particular, it was strongly encouraged the commercial sector, both by sea and by land, making very appropriate the introduction of steamboats and trains; using new technologies, during the nineteenth century, increasingly large and stable ships were built and a railway network extended throughout Europe and the United States of America. The technological revolution in transport continued in the 1900 with the spread of cars and motorized vehicles in general and with the invention of the airplane.
A similar development there have been in the communications sector: first postal services improved, thanks to new motorized transports, then with the telegraph in 1844 began the era of telecommunications that continued in 1860 with the phone and in 1897 with the radio. These instruments were based on a completely new use of electricity that now was used to send signals; this new technology today is called electronic and led, in 1925, to the first experimental model of TV.
Profound changes also affected the traditional agricultural sector, where machines increasingly sophisticated and efficient were introduced, as well as fertilizer and chemical pesticides for industrial products.
The new industrial power and the wider scientific and technological knowledge inevitably led to the production of increasingly deadly weapons and increasingly bloody wars, fought also competing for the colonial territories that, as we have seen, represented a source and a market for the industrial production. Even the war needs, as well as industrial exigencies, gave a big boost to research and science; many inventions, made possible by largely financed military purposes, then had wide diffusion and application in civil context as reaction aircraft, in the GPS and in the internet.
The expansion of typically industrial technology, outside factories influenced the lives of ordinary people even in their free time: in big cities of the nineteenth century, it was possible to travel by train or bicycle, to wire a message, take photographs and, at the end of the century, even to go to the movies, to fly with a balloon or an airship. As we know, this phenomenon was then growing throughout the twentieth century and today, in developed countries, in every house there is a washing machine, a vacuum cleaner, a radio, at least one television, personal computer and a number of mobile phones.
The rapid spread of technology among the population caused the spread of a new way of conceiving the world: a world in constant evolution, dominated not only by technological but also civil and economic progress; the vision of a static and cyclic world was universally abandoned, everybody saw with his own eyes the marvels of new technology and it was clear that the world would have never been the same. It is no coincidence that the theory of evolution was conceived and accepted this period and the same can be said of the appearance of science fiction as a literary and cinematographic genre.

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2.b.17 – There were also political and social consequences?

February 4, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

monarca

There were also political and social consequences?

The rich industrial bourgeoisie soon became a social class apart, destined to be separated by the dominated people and to enter into direct competition with the nobility, mainly formed by wealthy landowners who held political power as a ruling class; industrialists were now richer than nobles and did not bear the traditional subordination to them. In the past, in case of political crisis, a king or a duke could be deposed by a popular uprising or a coup d’etat, but was then replaced with another king or a duke; now the supremacy of the nobles was instead contested in principle and considered a arrogance rather than a divine right; in short, there was the need for a new socio-political model and the new industrial culture supported democracy in opposition to aristocracy. This irreconcilable rivalry for the domination of society led to a series of uprisings and wars that covered Europe with blood, the most famous of which is the French Revolution of 1789; it was a troubled period during which the bourgeoisie came out a winner, albeit with considerable effort, and several nations took democratic Governments and institutions.
Another important result of the industrial economy was the sunset of slavery and serfdom. The category of workers culturally descended from that of craftsmen who always, good or bad, were paid for their work;  was also interest of the industry that the operators at the machines had a minimum education to be able to handle increasingly complex equipment and to specialize in specific tasks. The slaves, like those of the United States, were not paid, but maintained; the cost was roughly the same, but first they had to be bought at a price determined by previous owners, while the workers were engaged at no cost; slaves could not be dismissed, but only sold to another master and this was paradoxically beneficial to the slaves as assured survival, while it was inconvenient for owners who had to find a buyer (a form of dismissal even existed for slaves and was the killing of the same, but involve a significant economic loss); slaves were necessarily have an educational level equivalent to zero and their instruments were to be particularly simple and robust as many tended to damage them to vent their anger against the work and this made it difficult use them as laborers. With the serfdom, consisting of the masses of peasants at the service of the noble landowners, the situation, although improved, was very similar; peasants were not bought or sold, but otherwise had the same role of slaves and retained similar characteristics, were therefore also part of a very old economic system, which was now seen as an obstacle to progress.
The result of this incompatibility was the terrible war of secession in the U.S. around 1860, as a result of which slavery was abolished, at least formally. To the ancient agricultural economy, it was  sought to replace an industrial agriculture based on industrial model, the fields too were flooded by machinery therefore, the need of peasants was reduced and these had to convert into workers, similarly to artisans. The world of work was so shocked by the industrial economy and with it all the society and culture, just think of the great migration and the rapid and disorderly creation of large urban agglomerations.

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2.b.18 – Did public education mitigate the class struggle?

February 5, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

scolari

Did public education mitigate the class struggle?

During the nineteenth century science and education became almost sacred values, and a manner consistent with the liberal Enlightenment thought, it began to introduce public education for all or at least for a wider range of people. The growing dissemination of education allowed a greater specialization and hence a greater variety of activities and products; the value of the individual worker, his working ability, increasingly depended on his professional training which, by making increasingly difficult to replace the worker himself, made the levels of wages consequently increase.
This helped to offset the tremendous social tension that was built between the new ruling class, that of industrial capitalists, and new subject class i.e. the worker proletariat. Modern industrial slaves in fact soon understood that they might be crushed by the gears of progress and that their conditions were quickly getting worse instead of improving; being included in production process just like machines, they were treated as such: the relation human-animal now become man-machine. Like their masters, they reacted in a violent way, with riots and occupations of factories, both producing or embracing a new culture, such as the socialist thought or one of its evolutions, like the anarchist or communist ideology. The workers of factories did what was impossible to slaves: to get organized to obtain a greater political weight; the result was a slow and suffered improvement of the life conditions of workers, who obtained, for example, the right to form trade unions, then the right to holidays, weekly day off and retirement. Therefore, if the first hundred years of industrial economy were tormented by the ideological war between liberal and aristocrat thought, the following hundred years were torn by a conflict between socialist and liberal thought: on this regard, we can recall the Russian Revolution of 1917, the war in Vietnam and the Cold war.

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2.b.19 – The emancipation of women is a consequence of industrialization?

February 6, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

pilota

The emancipation of women is a consequence of industrialization?

To the liberation of the working class from economic oppression followed the emancipation of women. If the scientific exploitation of the workers was a recent phenomenon, the social oppression of women was a far more ancient tradition and therefore deeply rooted in culture; a culture related to agricultural civilization in which, in general, women had social and working roles well separated from those of men. In industry, however, women were workers like men, although paid less, and once the idea that workers could and had to claim rights through class struggle spread, by analogy was simple for women to identify themselves in a new class that was exploited that had to fight to be emancipated. The analogy was simple, but very difficult to be implemented: it had to  stop a millenary tradition of a male-dominated culture.
During the French Revolution yet, following the new principles of freedom, equality and brotherhood, in 1792 Olympia de Gouges wrote the Declaration of Rights of Women and Citizen “, but the new social system based on these principles, obviously not revolutionary enough to extend even to women, made sure that the author of the landmark of Women’s Empowerment was promptly guillotined. The process of empowerment of women is still ongoing as there is no country in the world that treats women just like men, although the western states, at least on paper, recognize equal rights. The same also applies to other types of discrimination such as racial and religious.
Today, in Italy, smoking in public or wear trousers is for a woman absolutely normal and is not conceivable a different attitude, but we must remember that in 1965 these behaviors were still regarded as transgressive.
Even the right to vote for women is a more recent conquest than people might think: in Italy for example, that right has been recognized since the end of the second World war, in the very civil Switzerland only in the seventies.
To the right to vote followed the approval of two other fundamental rights: the right to education, which only began to assert itself in late nineteenth century, and the right to the economic independence, which spread only in the second decade of the 20th century. Previously, universities were totally closed to women and wages, although earned by the women workers for their job, were managed by the men of the family, first by fathers and then by husbands.
The crumbling of traditions, so deeply rooted in millennia, in a few generations must teach us how a new culture, even deeply innovative, can spread quickly and make immediate consequences; it is up to us to believe in the possibility of a change, to work together for its implementation and to make sure that that the effect are beneficial for the individuals and the community.

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2.b.20 – Tertiary and third sector, two phenomena to be distinguished?

February 7, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

mensa

Tertiary and third sector, two phenomena to be distinguished?

Tertiary is the  largest economic sector in which services are provided, i.e. all those complementary and ancillary activities of the primary (agriculture) and secondary (industrial) sector. This division in three economic sectors with their names, although universally popular, does not reflect the real and dynamic economic structure and creates confusion: the tertiary sector is not less important than the secondary, as well as this latter is not subordinate to the primary; numerical designations of sector not even reflect the sequence in which they appeared in the economic development because, while it is certainly possible to say that the industry has developed after agriculture, so one cannot say the same regarding the services sector compared to industry (just think of the advent of commercial, banking and catering services). Anyway, are we really sure that the economic sectors are three? Some distinguished the traditional by the advanced service sector and people starts talking about a Quaternary sector, but perhaps it would be better to abandon any numeric name (spread like a fashion) and return to call the various sectors with their name, i.e. with the one that reflects the economic activities that are grouped in it.
With the third sector is meant the sector of non-profit bodies, i.e. voluntary organizations, cultural associations, NGOs, etc., as defined in opposition to the public sector institutions and the private sector of business (in this additional fictitious tripartition, nobody wants to know what the first and Second sectors are).
The non-profit organizations operating in the socio-economic context are private organizations but produce goods or services on behalf of the public or communities. From an economic point of view, we must distinguish these entities from the business operating in the market because they do not have commercial purposes and, at the same, time we need to separate them from public institutions for their private nature. From a sociological point of view it is important instead to emphasize the cultural, ethical and motivational aspects that imply a deep personal involvement of the members.
Once clarity is made on definitions, it is important to note that in the modern or post-industrial western countries, a growing number of people find employment in the services sector with a decrease in both agricultural and industrial sectors; this phenomenon, following the criticized naming of sectors, is commonly defined tertiarisation of the economy.
Also the non-profit association phenomena are largely spread in the western countries; they tend to compensate the shortcomings in social services by the public institutions through the spontaneous self-organization of citizens and that, if on one hand partly alleviates the needs of the population, on the other increases the perception of tax pressure (which does not turn into public services) and the mistrust in institutions (unable to play their role).

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2.b.21 – Can a factory of immaterial exist?

February 8, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

design

Can a factory of immaterial exist?

Since the sixties, in Western countries, began a period of fast economic expansion due to the reduction of economic inequality between the social classes; there was a general enrichment, witnessed by the increase in demand of both agricultural and industrial goods and services, which led to a great development in all economic sectors. It is immediately clear how the maintenance of such a prosperity is necessarily subject to a continuing expansion of demand for goods and services and therefore to the consumption of the same.
This phenomenon, called consumerism, led to a surplus of production compared to the needs of the population, despite the pervasive advertising persuasion that constantly induces new needs to feed the insatiable production apparatus. Whatever the positive consequences (like the increased availability of goods at decreasing prices) and negative ones (such as environmental pollution) caused by consumerism might be, now what creates value and competitive advantage in a good no longer consists only in its functional characteristics (the comfort of a garment, the taste of a drink, the versatility of a cellular phone, etc.) but increasingly in its ability to raise a rewarding emotion. When buying a new coat, probably we do not do it because the old has become worn or because the new one is warmer, but simply because we are attracted by a new line of fashion that gratifies our desire to strut with something wrapped around us. If the production of the coat material utilized by the manufacturing producer is only 15% of the item price, this means that the remaining 85% is represented by an intangible set of design, brand and status symbol; most price does not consist in the income of the material clothes factory, but in what we pay to the intangible factory of rewarding emotions.
Another phenomenon to be observed is that even within the manufacturing factory the intangible working is increasingly a more important work than material good processing. The physical processing of goods is less and less done manually by humans and entrusted to increasingly complex machines; machinery must be designed with new technologies, feed with new sources of energy, managed by new coordination flows, funded by new contractual models etc.. The work of man is therefore moving from the physical processing of goods to the production of knowledge that, through the designed machines, the discovered sources of energy and the designed ancillary services, will lead to the transformation of goods. Here a new kind of capitalism takes shape: the cognitive capitalism.
Knowledge is surely an intangible but also very particular good: it is a very easy to reproduce (with modern means of communication, its cost tends to zero), but difficult to produce the first time. We have seen how we have accumulated knowledge over time, but currently, given the importance of knowledge in all economic processes, also developing faster and faster, we need a new approach to adapt to the environment that changes: knowledge sharing. With this strategy it is created a genuine cognitive chain leading to the formation of a knowledge multiplier that supports the increasingly frenetic socio-economic development of man.

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2.b.22 – There is a revolution in progress?

February 9, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

internet

There is a revolution in progress?

Today our economy is undergoing a profound structural adjustment based on new competitive principles such as openness, outsourcing, knowledge sharing and action on a global scale. The new concepts of collective cooperation and self-organization proceed alongside those of traditional hierarchy and control; new visions of the world and new economic models are imposing, introducing a new era in which, in addition to changing the rules of game, the nature of the game itself is changing.
It is surely the evolution of the Internet that allowed the advent of this revolution in progress, the development of a network that already connects more than one billion people and in which communities are continually strengthening, participative collaborations develop, experiences based on the concept of equality are shared, experiences among peers. All this should not be confused with altruism, nor with the non-profit or hobbies; to apply these new concepts often means developing new business ecosystems that further to generally develop innovation and growth, also produces huge profits for traders. Multinational companies like IBM, BMW, Boeing and Lego, to mention only some names, have accepted the new challenge and have already achieved great results. The involvement of consumers in the production stage (through the new tools represented by the chat lines, forums, blogs and wikis, as well as according to new criteria for opening proprietary resources, once kept secret by companies) has, for example, led to production of goods more fit to the needs of people and developed a sense of belonging to the involved community, which inevitably led to a significant increase in sales.
The transformation of companies providing components in partner companies of a joint production project has also enabled a significant compression of both cost and the times for the design and manufacturing of the product, although this takes place in different states of different continents, in a sort of global assembly line.
The generation of children born in the nineties is growing being accustomed to the interaction allowed by the Internet, instead of being just passive viewers of television and passive receptors of consumerism: the boys of the ” I generation” (I as I am, as Initiative, as the Internet) grow making researches, searching information, personally verifying the sources, cooperating with each other and creatively organizing anything. We cannot turn back: as for the other key events that characterized the cultural history of man, even now the new changes are spreading in the society, changing the way of thinking and behavior of people and may lead to a new social order and new institutions. 

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2.b.23 – What is the history of milestones?

February 10, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

orologio

What is the history of milestones?

In order to be able to easily compare the periods of time that have passed one after the other in our history, we are going to repeat the game of comparing the duration of the whole path to a day and then insert the historical moments of interest:

00:00 hours the oldest traces of cumulative culture appear

14:38 hours the time the remains of the oldest homo sapiens are dated back

23:25 hours the end of last glaciation

23:37 hours emergence of agriculture

23:42 hours emergence of writing, the end of prehistory and birth of history

23:58:49 hours beginning of the industrial age

23:59:42 hours invention of the radio

23:59:58 hours spread of the internet and mobile phones

It therefore follows that until the last minute of our day, we lived hunting and gathering fruits as the last hominids that came before us; what we call history corresponds to about 18 minutes and the industrial age to 1 minute and 11 seconds. Also, if we consider that the oldest remains of our species date back to about 200,000 years ago, while the first intensive forms of agriculture appear about 6,000 years ago, it results that humanity has lived in tribes of hunters for 97% of its existence; finally, the period related to the industrial economy occupies the 0.15% of the history of our species. It is to be noted that cultural evolution had a sharp acceleration in the period of greater stableness of the climate and the ecosystem.

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2.b.24 – What is meant with evolutionary emergency?

February 11, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

competizione

What is meant with evolutionary emergency?

When the life conditions of a species change, the same tends to evolve because of natural selection; this is due to the changes of environmental conditions that select genes in a different way; those that were irrelevant Individual characteristics are now valuable resources for survival.
A sudden environmental change, for example the end of a glaciation, causes a kind of evolutionary emergency for the species involved; there is a need to change, evolve, being subject to a new selective pressure. This period of discomfort, in which natural selection appears particularly hard, tends to end with the spread of genes adapted to the new environment; proceeding with adaptation, the selective pressures will decrease and, with it, the speed of evolution too. New positive mutations may appear, but this possibility will more and more decrease, evolution will slow down and the environment will appear less hostile; in time a new balance will be achieved.
Through the study of the animal world and of our history until the end of the last glaciation, it appears that this process can also be found in cultural development. The human being, through culture, has adapted himself to most different environments developing various types of lifestyles, devising the most disparate techniques for hunting, to protect himself from inclement weather and predators and so on, finally reaching a stable equilibrium with the environment; Eskimos, the Indios of the Amazon, the Kalahari Bushmen and all other tribal cultures that have survived over millennia with small changes, corresponding to the minimum mutations of the environment, are an example of it. Maintaining any other condition unchanged then, in the presence of a sudden change, evolution has its maximum speed when the emergency appears but decreases  in a more or less regular way in accordance with the emergence of new mutations. Why then the human cultural evolution is currently increasing its speed instead of slowing down? What happened from the emergence of agriculture onwards? Why we behave as if we were subjected to a perennial and growing evolutionary emergency?
All studies on the climate of the past tell us that cultural evolution has paradoxically began to accelerate in a period of particular environmental stability, a time when no new predators, new preys nor new competitor species appeared and when the climate was mild and more stable than ever. So what drives our cultural evolution when the environment where we live is always the same? To find the answer we just have to look around us: we now live in cities made up of many thousands or millions inhabitants, made of cement, asphalt, glass and steel; motorized vehicles moving anywhere and without them we don’t go anywhere; the main dangers to health and for survival are traffic accidents, accidents at work, use of drugs or spirits and the various diseases related to the thousand forms of pollution.
Are we sure we can say that the environment where we live is always the same of about 9-thousand years ago? We must admit that a village of made huts with 70 – 100 inhabitants living on hunting, gathering and rudimentary forms of farming or agriculture is an environment quite different from the present cities. The climate has not changed over the past millennia, but the environment where we live did; it has very deeply changed and shows no signs of stopping. Are we therefore really subject to a perpetual evolutionary emergency? The answer is Yes, because of cultural evolution of human environment.

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2.b.25 – Does cultural evolution influence the human environment?

February 12, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

grattacieli

Does cultural evolution influence the human environment?

The environmental changes that have affected us after the last glaciation are not a consequence of climate, but of our own culture and of the ruthless competition between our peoples to contend the resources of the planet, a planet always smallest for a humanity ever more numerous.
We said that in recent times new preys or novel predators, or new competitors species have not appeared: this is not completely true and can be very misleading. The emergence of new preys in the ecosystem means in fact the availability of new food resources that increases the chances of survival, disturbs the old balances and involves then in various ways the whole environment; what is then the spread of the farming if not the appearance of new food resources? Their impact on our lives was much bigger than it has ever been the consequence of the introduction of a new prey or a new wild plant in our usual menu: colonizing the entire planet we have found countless times before new plants and new animals to hunt, but the agricultural revolution has done more than just increasing the food resources: it has profoundly changed our lifestyle and our economy, always been based on hunting and gathering. From this point of view the emergence of agriculture and farming are a more radical change of all earlier climate changes: nothing made us abandon before the tribal life, that had always accompanied our biological evolution.
So profound a change implies a great developmental thrust, i.e. the need to a fast adaptation, and we, according to our nature, have culturally adapted ourselves.
However, it is still to be explained why, after the spread of agricultural civilizations, cultural evolution has begun to slow down. As we have said for new preys, even the appearance of new predators or new competitors is particularly important for the development, as also affects our chances of survival; anyway, we know well that, from immemorial time, the various human populations, when not closely related to each other, consider and treat each other as if they were of different species; it has been always existed for humanity a kind of cultural speciation, even within the same community, where different social classes or castes clearly separated even sexually, through appropriate laws and conventions prohibiting mixed marriages, often appear. The old saying “homo homini lupus” means that man is the predator of other men and then shows us a sad and well-known fact: in the course of history new predators and new competitors actually appeared, only that they were cultural human species. Among different peoples there isn’t a total genetic and cultural isolation but it is enough to encourage behaviors typical of the relations between different species, such as predation and fierce competition.
Today we know that farming and agriculture are cultural changes that have caused further and even larger changes, as the abandonment of tribal life, triggering a chain reaction that feeds on its own; cultural evolution has begun to rotate on itself with increasing speed, like a dog that bites its tail.
From the agricultural revolution onwards, our life was separate from the old ecosystems and our environment has become increasingly artificial, i.e. increasingly dependent on our culture; the environment therefore evolves together with culture and the same goes for our predators and competitors who, being human, have our own capacity and speed of cultural adaptation.
There is something profoundly true when they say that man is separate from nature, if by nature we mean our original environment; anyway, in the new environments that we have generated, we are still subject to the laws of nature as the merciless struggle for survival and natural selection; the rules of the game remained the same, only now the game is played on the cultural rather than genetic field.
To win the race of survival, the adaptation speed is important, especially when environmental conditions are rapidly changing and if there are competitors to beat; this leads us to take maximum advantage from our ability to adapt culturally, causing anyway equally rapid changes in our artificial world and in our competitors, who are as good as we are in adapting to them. We can therefore conclude that from some millennia we really live in a state of perpetual and growing evolutionary emergency, fed and strengthened by our internal competition.

 

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2.b.26 – Does history really naturally moves towards the progress?

February 13, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

gas

Does history really naturally moves towards the progress?

If it is true that cultural evolution is one frenzy top running always faster, we must do the following disturbing considerations:
a)    the emergence of evolution is growing, and requires increasingly quick and deep adjustments through a natural selection increasingly demanding, hard and changing; we have reason to believe that cultural post-agricultural evolution has resulted in time in worsening the average quality of life. Actually, life of slaves was probably much worse than that of their free ancestors and, considering that slaves constituted a significant percentage of the total population, the average quality in total significantly lowered; the same can be said with reference to workers of the first industrial revolution and today in relation to the people of the Third World, not to mention the Native Americans who, in the name of progress, were even exterminated. The books of history, originally, were born with a celebration of the deeds of kings and emperors and the successes of major military and economic power; these purposes, at least in part, are still present today, but we must not confuse progress achieved by one part of humanity, the dominant party, with the progress of all humanity; this of course unless you consider the slaves and the inhabitants of the Third World as if they were not human;
b)    What we usually call progress often is nothing but the solution to problems created by the previous progress. The real cultural progress really exists, obviously, and the progress had in medicine, in the human rights and in those of workers, are obvious examples of it but they represent only a small part of cultural evolution, which often occurs in isolated and occasional form, and nothing proves that is permanent. Examples of civil and cultural regression are not rare in history, it is enough to recall the Greek and Western Middle Ages;
c)    When we talk of progress, we often mean that of the group, the people or nation that grows in term of economy and territories, but not for all individuals that compose it.
d)    That the competition between human groups is the engine of cultural  evolution is confirmed by the fact that many of the most important technological innovations, as steel, radar, atomic energy and artificial satellites, were born to military applications and most of the others were made for industrial purposes, driven by economic competition;
There are therefore good reasons to question the assumption that history spontaneously tends towards progress; to the above considerations, other biological, demographic and economic then add: our cultural ecosystem, extending, has taken more and more space to nature, causing environmental disasters around the globe; the industry consumes non renewable resources, such as coal, and the renewable sources such as wood, are consumed too quickly, making them de facto non-renewable and then exhaustible; the demographic increase, increases earlier problems, fueling new consumption, causing growth of pollution and more frequent wars, with larger and more technologically efficient and ruthless armies; the two world wars of the twentieth century are an example well known to everybody; it was said then that, after so much horror, man had learned to appreciate peace and that those two wars had been a price to pay for having no more wars, but it was a short-lived illusion: in the next 50 years many wars have been fought, smaller in number of nations involved, but as inhumane and with even more terrible weapons.
Once again it is important to distinguish between evolution and progress: progress is a positive development, an improvement in a context that is rarely combined, as is usually lost in a different environment; evolution instead is not always positive and therefore is not required to accrue improvements: technology produces medical progress, but if this latter would regress, evolutionary developments would still continue; a negative evolution or regression is however, an evolution that proceeds forward in time, because no one dreams of saying that those birds that have lost the ability to fly, like ostriches and penguins, are less evolved of their ancestors; the evolution, either negative or positive, always goes on,  progress doesn’t.
The theory of natural selection applied to culture tells us that the evolution tends not to human progress: it may do so in some cases for survival, but the natural tendency of history towards a better future appears to be objectively only a myth, a fable, a hope and nothing more.

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2.b.27 – Culture is nowadays a problem or a resource?

February 14, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

gabbia

Culture is nowadays a problem or a resource?

Cultural evolution is a natural phenomenon and may be benign or malignant as nature is; from the agricultural revolution it has been inserted into it a negative spiral path; now even in the rich and big cities, where the privileged of industrial economy live, those who have a right to see their progress in recent history, the overcrowding is in fact causing a number of psychological and social problems, crime is always growing, as well as stress, isolation and the alienation of the individual, depression and local pollution. Some call the current metropolis “asphalt jungles” to highlight some of its cruel aspects, others compare them to human ant hives, for their population density, but the famous zoologist and adviser Desmond Morris, who has long been the director of the zoo in London, has noted that animals in the jungle, which is their natural environment, do not suffer from nervousness, do not subject themselves to self mutilations, don’t have explosions of aggressiveness, let alone killing their own kind; when instead the same animals are forced into captivity and stored in surplus in the same cage, you found all these behaviors; in the case of animals that are forced into isolation instead we find depression, apathy and even sexual deviations. Coercion in an unnatural habitat leads in short animals to keep the same behavior found in human societies and this happens for the same cause: the reduction of living space or overcrowding and social isolation living in a city of strangers.
Therefore, to define a great city like a jungle of asphalt is definitely improper, it is much better to define it as a human zoo. We, the segregated of the human zoo, also added some aggravations: we close ourselves in a cage and often consider us free; we can improve our cage but instead we make it worst or devastate it, we are the cause of our problems, we are one the jailer of the other and do not realize this.
The modern zoo managers, knowing these phenomena, avoid to store too many animals in a small space or depriving them of social relationships; we do not have the same respect for ourselves, or rather it is our cultural evolution that doesn’t have it.
It is then possible to escape this downward spiral? With our number, our degree of specialization and our dependence on the community are also increased; citizens of today would not be able to survive if suddenly placed in a forest and even if someone taught them how to do, they would be too many, there aren’t as many forests to house them all; we can’t absolutely go backwards, we must go on making the most of our resources, including cooperation in a great community. Considering that the world is changing more rapidly than ever, for solving the problems of the future, including those related to cultural evolution, we have less and less time; it follows that the only hope of salvation, paradoxically, is a rapid cultural adaptation of both individuals and communities.
Culture is our only available resource in this situation of rapid changes, the source of all the major problems mentioned above, on the other hand, is a cultural evolution outside our control; from these two premises, we see that crux of the problem is not culture, but the lack of control of the evolutionary process, which proceeds abandoned to himself, only guided by pitiless laws of competition and natural selection. But we must remember that now there is a component of evolution which is under our control: it is the part due to our conscious and systematic study, led by science and reason, the one we defined as the artificial selection of culture that generally realizes the true progress for humanity. This component has already done much to mitigate the adverse effects of the vicious spiral in which we find ourselves, so that we confused it with the real progress, but is not yet strong enough to stop this spiral; the world continues to change at increasing speed and the negative aspects can no longer be ignored.
Fortunately for us, the progress of natural sciences, other fruit of cultural evolution, today allows us to understand the mechanisms of evolution itself and gives us the opportunity to be able to manage them to our benefit; today we have the opportunity to reinforce the positive part of evolution to block the negative aspects, we just have to learn to better manage our culture. Only when we succeed in this operation, having understood the mechanisms of evolution, this frenetic evolution will focus in the right direction and finally slow down.
In other words, noting that spontaneous progress is a myth, we must concluded that to achieve a better future we must work for it, deliberately and rationally caring for our interests, starting with the individual welfare. Again, culture comes as our main resource, as the view for the hawks and the smell for dogs, we cannot and must not do without it.

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Chapter 2.c

February 15, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

THE MANAGEMENT OF CULTURE

Let’s look forward. We discovered that it is of primary importance to learn to manage our culture and its development; albeit with a certain degree of unconsciousness, in part, we are already doing it and then we must not start from scratch; whatever objective we choose, we know from experience that to reach it we must make the most of the tools that nature has made available; to go against nature is like swimming against the tide: we do not get anything and we consume many energies. First of all, then, let’s see what natural tools we have to manage our cultural heritage.

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2.c.1 – The brain is our command bridge?

February 16, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

sinapsi

The brain is our command bridge?

The brain is the organ deputed to the production of culture, is the home of intelligence, of will, of fantasy and memory; the human mind consists of a set of brain activities: such activities produce the thoughts, receive and process the external stimuli, recall the memories; when we think we all “feel” in our mind our thoughts, as if there was an inner voice, but it is important to note that this does not always happen; there are numerous experimental tests that show us that only a part of our thoughts is heard and the same is true for the reception of stimuli. In other words there are some thoughts that we know that we think and others we do not, some things we know that we have seen or heard and some that we do not know; all our thoughts that are perceived are told conscience, while the unaware thoughts are called expression of the “unconscious”; please note that the mind is one, but only a part of it is perceived by us; unconscious and consciousness are thus separated only to our perception, but generally have a common work to carry out with harmony and consistency, since they are parts of the same mind, which is also the result of biological evolution that, as we have seen, has grown by creating organs and bodies increasingly complex, but always based on the symbiosis and on the specialization and always equipped with well determined and selected features.
We all, when we draw any figure, guide our hands full with conscience of it; if we talk instead with a friend during a walk, we do not think what our legs do: they seem to move alone and the same goes for all automatic movements, many of which often we don’t even know to make; anyway, legs can’t walk alone, these movements are controlled by the brain, but not in an aware way.
It is important to note that the concept of automatic movement is very different from the innate or instinctive movement: we can let ourselves be absorbed by the speech with a friend even when we drive a car or a bicycle and surely they are not instinctive movements provided by nature: they are automatic, but learned, not innate; this reveals that the hidden part of our mind is able to learn, both directly and through culture. To use an analogy with informatics, the unconscious is able to perform functions in parallel while we are focused on an activity which in that time is considered a priority, but this functions will not only be managed by a service software that does not require updating as those instinctive, but also by increasingly complex software and in addition overlap with continuous updates.

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2.c.2 – Do we have a mental archive?

February 17, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

archivio

Do we have a mental archive?

It was shown that in a given situation, our mind chooses automatically between different types of behavior previously learned and that these choices are carried out according to criteria such as moral values, in turn learned culturally; it follows that the unconscious plays a key part in the management of behavior and culture, we all have in our head a sort of archive in which we keep the models of behavior and reasoning, as well as an automatic management system culturally programmed. A natural instrument essential for the management of culture therefore exists and it is an automatic system for the memory management based on learning.
Science now tells us that we are able to do almost everything without notice: we can move, communicate, feel, remember, react, decide, learn; the unconscious is able to do what the conscience does, the only limit seems that it is not able to do projects; if we think about it, anyway, we see that consciousness develops any project on the basis of wishes originated by the unconscious and then this function is a delegated and subordinate prerogative.
Even now it is a broadly shared view that consciousness is the most noble part of man, having the task of controlling our ancient bestial instincts, but experimental data show us a very different reality: in most cases the conscience has a subordinate role compared to his occult counterpart, which coordinates instincts, desires and emotions, even the most noble of them like love, altruism, manages the judgment criteria, including moral values, which are imposed on the consciousness as a product already finished, in the form of orders to be executed or directives to be observed without discussion.
The main role of consciousness seems to be to meet the unconscious identified needs and therefore it is not in his nature to criticize the orders received by it; is not reasonable to rely on conscience to recognize and change bad habits or wrong attitudes because it will always consider them right or at least acceptable; it is necessary an aid of cultural type, a form of education of the unconscious because, as we have seen, learning is the basis for setting the automatic management.
We have to well consider, however, that educating the unconscious does not mean doing the brain washing, conditioning a person against his will or his knowledge: when we learn to drive the car we are perfectly aware, but in the end we guide without thinking; to educate or receive an education remains a conscious act even when the unconscious is involved, and it is this one that always stays hidden, not the teaching.
There remains the problem to acknowledge or refuse that wrong attitudes we are used to accept; even in this case, to find the solution, we must to refer to our past experience and to our nature; to all of us has happened in life to change opinions, habits and tastes; the unconscious is able to correct itself, it is also a form of learning, a response to environmental stimuli. We can therefore conclude that the mechanism of learning must be understood to be better exploited in its natural function.

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2.c.3 – Do we live in a real or imaginary world?

February 18, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

immaginazione

Do we live in a real or imaginary world?

A newborn of a few months brings everything to mouth to study and explore the world around him; when is one year old, grabs and touches everything and it would also be able to put the fingers into a socket; when we grow, our behavior changes: we are still curious, but of new things, the experiences of early childhood are now settled and consolidated; when we are grown, we do no longer need to touch a wall to know that is solid or ice to know that is cold. A good part of the world that we perceive is therefore made by our memories, but the experiences are not but a simple memory: to learn from experience means not only remember the feelings had, but also to have assessed them, associating them with relations such cause and effect, and so on, and these associations and evaluations are undoubtedly the result of our ability to imagine. A part of our world is then made up by our fantasy and proof is the fact that for many centuries we have lived with the conviction that the Earth was the center of the universe and that everything revolves around it, or the that the Earth itself has always been considered flat and not spherical.
When one of our certainties falls, we realize that the world is not like we had imagined, we understand that, at least in part, until that moment we were living in an imaginary world, but on the other hand our imaginary world seemed to us absolutely genuine and consistent, gave no problems, therefore why doubting?
Why look for the real world, complicated and difficult to know in details, when there are hundreds of them more easy to imagine, understand and master? To imagine a reality consistent with our personal experiences can make us save time and efforts in long, complicated or even prohibitive research, and thus allows us to determine how to act with speed, safety and minimum effort. Indeed, sometimes there is the possibility to act the wrong way, but the alternative is not to act in time or not acting at all. How could we live as adults if we had to re-control everything all the times, tasting and touching everything like little children?
The imaginary world that is being built is then a tool for survival that allows to move in a world difficult to understand; it is therefore one of our major evolutionary strategies.
If we consider that:
– the reach of our senses is limited and allows partial, sometimes insufficient, knowledge of the world around us;
– a careful study of the world is long, arduous and sometimes futile, as it doesn’t allows to act promptly;
it seems plausible the hypothesis that nature has designed and selected our mind not to understand the real world, but to imagine an equivalent that is the most suitable possible to meet the demands of daily life. The main purpose is to allow a suitable behavior for survival, using the minimum time and saving energy, according to the principle of a healthy mental economy leading to maximum efficiency.
Biology shows us that experience is based on feelings received from the organs of sense stimulated by the world around us; in this case it is called direct experience and It is certainly the most ancient form. From contacts with parents, friends and teachers, then, we indirectly obtain also the outcome of the experience of the others, acquiring the so-called cultural tradition.
We also know that every experience is a mixture of memories, associations and personal assessments and that the memory of the experience so structured, forms in the mind a model of the same that can be recalled at will. Repeatable experience, accumulating, forms a model of the world that allows us to predict events so that we can enjoy them if positive or avoid them if negative. Learn from one’s experience means then having made a representation of the world and having used the same to determine our future, as we do with a map to determine the route of a journey. This is an automated process started by experience.
It is good to highlight that, once created a good model, this can be used several times and for different purposes; the representation of the world is not so linked to a particular scope, but it is good to a thousand uses and therefore it is appropriate to dedicate to that representation as an activity for its own sake. It is no coincidence that nature exploits this principle by curiosity, that is through an instinct that leads to explore the environment without an immediate practical purpose, and it is still no coincidence that this instinct is deeply rooted in the human soul.
At this point, once understood the origin of mental models is intrinsically linked to the development of appropriate behavior for survival, it should be noted that an error in the model that does not compromise this behavior, may be considered acceptable by our nature. Leading this reasoning to its extreme development, even a model completely wrong but leading to the right behavior can be accepted for survival purposes and be equivalent to the perfectly correct model; after all, it is one more valuable opportunity to find the right way. Finally, if a model is better suited to the development of such a behavior, though more distant from reality, this model will be even better for survival compared to reality.
From the above it follows that there we must not be surprised if the human mind is programmed to satisfy its curiosity with fantasies that have little to do with the real world. What our curiosity seeks is not a true representation of reality, but an equivalent model that leads to maximum effect with the minimum effort.  

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2.c.4 – Mental closure is a natural phenomenon?

February 19, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

chiusura

Mental closure is a natural phenomenon?

Our life is based on the vision that we have of the world, that is the mental model we have built to orient ourselves among the laws of nature, to entertain human relations, to decide what is good and what is bad, to define our role in family, in society and in the universe: this is a real mental map for moving in the real world. As we cannot have a magic crystal ball telling us how the world works, we must make it with our senses and our capacity of imagination; what we get is not the truth, but a model that is equivalent to the proper behavior for survival.
This model is created slowly over time; from early childhood it begins to form in our minds, based on personal experiences to then integrate with cultural tradition; in our minds, the image of the world, society and even of ourselves must be consistent with both our experiences and with what we have been taught at home and at school and what we have been told by our relatives, friends and television. To arrange in a consistent manner all this impressive amount of data, i.e. creating a mental map that is reliable, is a work as complex as fundamental to our lives, but that is likely to be destabilized by every new experience.
When in the early seventeenth century, the famous astronomer Galileo Galilei said that the universe does not run around the Earth, as we believed then, but that it is the Earth that rotates on its axis like all the planets, there was great scandal and Galileo was forced by the strength to retract his theories. What was so shocking in the new model of the world? What was so difficult to accept? The news was supposed to be totally irrelevant to anyone who was not an astronomer; no carpenter, farmer or blacksmith would have seen his life changing if the new theory was accepted and the same can be said of the nobles and priests, since neither in the Bible nor in the Gospels was written anything in contrast with it, but the appearance in this case is deceiving us; the centrality of the Earth, the fact that everything revolved around it, was the main objective confirmation of the centrality of man in Creation, and therefore of our importance in the eyes of God; it was an indirect evidence of the same existence of God and thus justified both the religious and the political authority, at that time based on the divine Law. What should be a simple astronomical discovery risked to undermine the faith and political stability of entire nations, since demolished the model of the world which they were based on and that nobody dared to question. What happened in general can happen even at the individual level; a proud and self-assured man for being estimated for his work, with which manages to maintain his family and to say to himself to be a good father, can psychologically go in pieces in case of loss of work, although no due to a fault of his, and feel to be a looser. If each novelty may raise doubts on our precious view of the world, if this is really so fragile, why there isn’t a crisis every week? How do we avoid this danger? The answer that nature has given to this problem is a incredibly simple: at the introduction of new experiences, also cultural, our brain strives to update its vision of the world with minor modifications in order to always keep it consistent with all the experiences made up to that point; but when small changes are not enough, because it is difficult to enter the new experience in the old context, we unconsciously evaluate if it’s worth to accept the news, threatening to topple our system of beliefs and consequently put our lives in a crisis; if to accept the new experience is not essential, the same is therefore refused, giving rise to the so-called closed-mindedness, the refusal of the evidence of the facts, the obscurantism. This is, after all, a further application of the mental economy principle; to completely or in large part revise a model that took years to be built and that was effective and functional, can be very expensive and risky because there is no guarantee of finding a better one in short time;, in terms of survival is therefore logical that our mind stubbornly refuses to change its system of beliefs and hence its attachment to it is only seemingly irrational.

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2.c.5 – Does a psychological pollution exist?

February 20, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

inquinamento

Does a psychological pollution exist? 

When we see that beliefs are totally unfounded, we call them superstitions, if they relate to natural events and magic or religious practices, or prejudices if they relate to human nature and society. However, we are aware of the groundlessness of beliefs only when we judge those different from ours, since each of us is not usually able to assess his own beliefs.
Superstition and prejudice are traditionally considered fruit of ignorance, but according to the above it is evident that they are natural phenomena, due to the amazing process that produces human knowledge starting from a few sensations and a lot of imagination (or intuition); if we recall that most of our beliefs are not due to direct experience, but to our cultural tradition, we must admit that prejudices and superstitions are often the result of our culture and not of ignorance. The examples are many: discrimination for women or religious minorities, the various forms of racism and beliefs in the various magical practices are clear signs of cultural origin ranging from people to people and over time.
The false beliefs seem real to us until it is proven otherwise, and often even later, if there are no better alternatives; they have been accepted because apparently create no problems to our lives, but the negative consequences may arise even after many years when they are deeply rooted in our mentality. It is not easy to revise the consolidated convictions, but in a quickly changing world, the updating of our system of belief becomes a necessity more and more frequent, because it is increasingly easier that in our minds there are ideas not only wrong, but even harmful in the new formed context.
The widespread belief that drinking alcoholic beverages is a real man attitude has brought to very serious consequences ,especially after the use of the car has become common, since the number of deaths in motor vehicle accidents caused by alcohol is very high every year; this custom caused serious problems even before, for example cirrhosis of the liver, but people had to drink a lot more and longer in time for risking their lives. As another example, we can cite the belief that rulers always, or almost always, act in the interest of the homeland and citizens, a belief that always brings the masses to die in time of war for others’ interests.
We must then distinguish between false beliefs and harmful convictions: the first are part of our nature, are unavoidable, but generally do not give problems, the second are those that bring consequences of a certain gravity. According to the logics of nature, when an idea involves too much trouble, the same should be replaced with a better one, but this happens only if our mind perceives the real cause of these troubles; for example, standards of hygiene are rationally distributed only after the discovery that diseases were caused by bacteria. Sometimes though, not even the awareness of the case is sufficient: the lung cancer has been associated with cigarettes, but as it is a relatively rare phenomenon, is perceived by smokers as a misfortune that hits more unfortunate smokers; for them the real cause is bad luck and not the use of cigarettes; a similar reasoning can be done for the excess of speed or alcohol abuse.
Our tolerance levels about the problems that afflict us are too high; we must improve the processes by which freeing us from bad habits and harmful beliefs because our mind is increasingly full of harmful ideas that, together, form a sort of psychological pollution that leads us to move against our interests. This mass of rubbish ideas, which may result from our cultural tradition or incorrect personal assessments, sometimes can have a positive function: the belief in the evil eye, for example, helps us to overcome fear of the unknown, identifying a fictitious cause against whom there is a remedy; however, after that the magician in turn has taken away the evil eye, we can deal with renewed security and overcome a difficult period, a thing impossible before, without a cause to be eliminated to solve our problems; similar superstitions become harmful only when we go to magicians to cure a disease, for the rest, against misfortune, it works well and would be a mistake to remove them without replacing them with something else.
We all know that high speed is the main cause of accidents, but the incident is a rare event that happens only to the most unfortunate; it follows that when we go out and run with our car, we think that the incident will ever happen to someone else. At our first incident, however, even if slight, our attitude will change and for a long time, sometimes forever, we’ll drive more cautiously remembering that this problem can happen to us. As we said, learning of unconscious depends on the experience: our conscience was aware of the risks of high speed even before the accident, but the unconscious, the dominant part of our mind, had the need of a good scare to fully realize it and change the perception of danger. It is therefore clear that to combat psychological pollution is often not enough to rely on our conscience, no matter how well informed, it becomes necessary to improve the perception of reality through appropriate and controlled experiences.

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2.c.6 – Does philosophy have a biological function?

February 21, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

filosofia

Does philosophy have a biological function?

An ancient tradition dates back to the famous philosopher Pythagoras the first definition of philosophy; he shows how philosophy is a continuing endless search of wisdom, a perfect wisdom to which we can bring close, but which in its entirety is reserved only to the gods.
Over time, changing the way to classify the different fields of knowledge, the term philosophy has had many variations of meaning; anyway the conception of Pythagoras retains its relevance because it is easy to understand, and because it is consistent with the modern naturalistic concept based on biological finalism that we’ll now introduce.
The human being is by nature curious and that curiosity has a biological function; indeed, it impels us to know the environment around us and accrue experience that will be useful during their lifetime. The information we gather are ordered, associated and interpreted; all this work leads to design the well-known mental map by which we orient ourselves both in everyday life and in long-term projects. Even if we are not aware of it, our curiosity and our imagination have therefore a practical purpose.
The development of the mental model is normally done in a spontaneous, not intentional manner. This work is not based only on personal experiences, but also on a cultural baggage that the community transmits to us. It thus happens  that our vision of the world heavily depends on our cultural environment and that in such environment everybody sees everything in a way similar to others. The formation of this image of the world is then the result of a research both collective and individual, and this research is basically the philosophy, according to the thought of Pythagoras. From a biological point of view, philosophy is therefore an effort to understand the world in order to be able to live better, is an evolutionary strategy with a clear biological function.
With the term philosophy we often mean also the result of the above research, i.e. the created image; then we can say that a certain philosophy consists in a particular way of seeing the world, a particular mental model.
We can bring together the two previous meanings in the following definition: specific study, intentional or not, meant as a search and form of knowledge about the nature of the world, of man and of their relations, aiming at an overall view of reality.
This concept, as it is formed, expresses a naturalistic vision of philosophy and proposes itself as one of the possible solutions to the secular problem of giving a definition of philosophy.
It should be remembered that in the study of this discipline, two basic approaches are used:
• the historical one, which follows the evolution of thought under consideration over time;
• the one based on fundamental issues or problems.
As in a map there are the cardinal points, so in our ideal map we have some truths, some basic concepts which are particularly important to guide our behavior: what is good and what is evil, what role we have in the universe and life, why this role was assigned to us, why nature sometimes is cruel, and so on.
To locate these basic concepts is equivalent to finding an answer to the so-called key questions that every man asks: Who are we? Where do we come from? What is the meaning of life? What is our role in the universe?
These questions can best be summarized as follows:
• What is our role in life and in the universe?
• What should we do accordingly? 
It is important to remember that it is possible to obtain a good behavior, correct and functional for the survival of the species even with absolutely incorrect answers. The  same can be said of any successful behavior that meets the favor of a population; this may explain the proliferation of schools of thought so diverse and in perennial disagreement.
Although the real purpose of our curiosity and our imagination is the creation of an imaginary but functional world, we have to remember that for being functional, a model must have a degree of consistency with the experience; the truth is therefore generally regarded as a supreme good and shown as a main or unique object of research, even if we should normally be satisfied with some surrogate. 

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2.c.7 – What binds the philosophy to religion?

February 22, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

religione

What binds the philosophy to religion?

We know that our cultural environment affects the way we see reality; Indeed, one of the ways in which this happens is through religious education, in fact with it are handed down behavior patterns and values, it is justified the social practice with its roles and often it is also established a relation with nature, maybe turned into a god; in religion therefore there are answers to fundamental questions of philosophy. It is then possible to conclude that in religions there is generally a major philosophical component with the peculiar feature of not being criticizable as contained in a sacred tradition.
The presentation of the universe that we find in religious philosophy seems to be crystallized in the sacred tradition; in fact, history teaches us that even the religious models evolve, but in very long time, so there are no major differences from a generation to another. Faster changes create scandal, social disorder and generally are branded as heresy. Religions provide some basic references for formation of a basic mental model common to everyone; then everyone will do the personal integrations that will not overturn the original model, except in exceptional cases.
At this point we may ask why there is a philosophy as discipline of study separate from religion and sometimes in conflict with it but, as we said, religions tends to set their own models, keep them, but they don’t change them and then the philosophical inquiry, namely the development of new models, is an activity external to the religion.
On a large population of believers, there is often a small percentage of dissatisfied people that accept with difficulty the religious education received. These religious misfits develop a personal belief, a model that will diverge in a more marked way, compared to the others, from the common religious model; in other words they will do a philosophical inquiry without the usual sacred constraints. Their intellectual work can make a great contribution to the evolution of traditional models in case this is absorbed in a the second time by the dominant religion or, otherwise, may give rise to a non-religious philosophical tradition.
It is also known that certain philosophies independent by religion have with time acquired a sacralization process, thus becoming real religions.
We can conclude that religion and philosophy are closely linked:
• religion enhances and transmits the results of philosophical research
• philosophy contributes to the historical evolution of religions
• philosophy meets certain religious needs of the human psyche, like that of having a mental model having the function of  moral reference and psychological support.

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2.c.8 – What binds philosophy to science?

February 23, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

scienza

What binds philosophy to science?

The word science has two basic meanings:
– a type of knowledge, a discipline that studies a particular subject;
– experimental science, a discipline that uses the experimental method for its research.
Clearly, philosophy is a science according to the first meaning, but there are Important links with experimental science:
The role, and accordingly the value, attributed to experimental science is a problem arose in the philosophical context.
The validity of the sciences in general is a philosophical question.
The experimental science today provides the largest contribution to the study of nature, which  is an essential part of philosophical research.
Once again it appears how the study of nature and its laws is the real key for understanding the phenomena, including cultural ones, that affect us, to be able to govern them to our advantage, and how disciplines considered distant like philosophy and science, have indeed very close connections, connections that are easily identifiable among the fumes of psychological pollution.

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2.c.9 – The experimental science differs from superstition?

February 24, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

superstizione

The experimental science differs from superstition?

For experimental science is meant all the amount of knowledge obtained using the experimental method; at present its validity is universally recognized, but not many people know what is its value; what distinguishes science from superstition? If we ask to a man why he daily reads his horoscope and why he believes in the validity of astrology, he will probably answer giving the two following basic reasons:
– because it works, as generally, according to his personal experience, the predictions made come true;
– because everybody reads the horoscope and then we all believe in it, is not just a personal opinion, but there is something objective and universally recognized.
If instead we ask why he believes in modern science, the answers will be of this type:
– because it works, because generally, as the direct experience confirms, the forecast of science come true: bulbs light up when the switch is pressed, the cars start moving when we turn the key;
– because everybody does, it also taught at school that we can trust science and therefore is something objective and universally recognized.
What then distinguishes science from superstition? For our average man nothing, absolutely nothing: science seems to be one more superstition and in his mind it is actually the way; in fact we know that every person lives in a world which is in large part imaginary and is then naturally superstitious and also is influenced by the public opinion as he is a highly social animal; the common people do not know why science is better than the old beliefs, but has no problems in accepting it like any new superstition even only vaguely plausible
This situation helps us to understand why many forms of superstition continue to survive despite the spread of scientific knowledge and how false beliefs that are attributed to science itself also spread: all of us have heard that in case of premature birth, it is better that the baby born in the  seventh month rather than in the eighth; most of us are convinced that this is a scientific truth confirmed by modern medicine, but it is not so; all the experimental data deny it and no doctor has ever tried, in reality it seems that it is an ancient belief dating back to the ancient philosophical school of Pythagoras, where the number seven was considered a lucky number. How come in these cases we can’t see the difference between a scientific assertion and one that is not? Simple, because we never do it, in fact to us only superstitions actually exist.
The difference between experimental science and more or less possible beliefs exists instead, it is substantial and is located in the famous experimental method, of which we talked so much, but that nobody knows; there are, however, also significant similarities due to their common origin i.e.  is the natural process by which the human brain produces knowledge. 

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2.c.10 – What is the experimental method?

February 25, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

laboratorio

What is the experimental method?

The experimental method was designed for studying natural phenomena and is structured in three phases that make it truly special.
The first phase is that of observation and measurement; the phenomenon to be studied must be observed; the exam should not vary by changing the observer and must therefore be independent from the person who observes; in this case it is said that the observation is objective. In order to be objective and accurate, it is searched in the phenomenon all that can be measured. If you ask ten people if a table we chose is large or small, it is very likely that some will say that it is large and others small, because everyone compares with his own table at home or to the large one their grandma had; if we ask them instead how big this table is and we give them carpenter meters to measure it, all of them will give the same answer, except for measurement errors, of course. The use of measuring tools, further to making the  observations objective, all referring to the same units of measure, makes them even more precise and accurate, in accordance with the precision of the utilized instrument.
It is appropriate to mention the fact that the accuracy of the instruments is always limited, as there is inevitably a margin of error; for example, with a normal tailoring meter we cannot see differences of a tenth of a millimeter, but for the tailor this type of imprecision is irrelevant; it is however important to highlight that there are methods to know how is the error extent and therefore how our instrument is precise; this way, we know of how much the error was and if such error is relevant or not. The scientist, like the tailor, knows that his measures are not infinitely precise, but they are enough accurate; even if from a geometric or mathematical point of view they will always be a little wrong, the competent scientist always knows of how much they are inaccurate and can evaluate whether the error is small enough to be negligible.
A new element of this method is therefore the accuracy and a more rigorous objectivity.
The second phase consists in developing a mathematical or ideal model. For taking the measures you need to know what to measure, but a natural phenomenon often involves several different factors (temperature, distance, weight, speed, area, volume and many others); a scholar from the first observations must therefore make an analytical and schematization work, identify all the different factors / units involved in the issue and the relations between them, until he finds a main cause to be isolated to study the effects on the measures linked to it. A classic example is the fall of heavy objects in which the main cause is weight, while the effect is the movement, the speed, the acceleration and so on; the secondary components will be after added, like the force of friction, the irregular shape of the object, the mechanical constraints and other factors. 
During the observation therefore there is already an interpretation of the facts and a simplification of reality that tends to form a model in which only one cause acts, and in which one effect at a time is examined. In this way the phenomenon is studied a piece at a time, step by step, gradually finding the appropriate units to be measured.
At this stage, the phenomenon is represented through the variations in its characteristics, whose measures are listed in appropriate tables and whose relations are now those between numbers (measures) usually represented with mathematical formulas called functions. The result is a mathematical model of the phenomenon, a sort of geometric representation, as precise as the measures on which is based are; this model becomes progressively more complex as new measures are added (both related to causes and effects), but it still remains a model in which something may be missing, although something secondary if the model has been well constructed.
From simple observation, as accurate as it can be, then we moved to something which is the fruit of our mind, a mental model having mathematical precision; this is the second step of the method and there is no doubt that this is an improved version, more rigorous, more objective, of the natural process that we all use in forming our personal mental models. The purpose is basically the same: to form in our mind a picture, a description of reality, that is understandable and that tells us how nature works, to satisfy our curiosity and take all possible advantages.
The third phase is the experimental verification. We saw that the observations are objective, while for forming a mathematical model we spoke of scholar intuition through which are assumed relations of cause and effect between the variations of the different factors; there is therefore a subjective contribution that may give rise to two incidents:
– by the same observations, several different models can arise, born by interpretations of the various scholars;
– further observations may deny the assumed relations.
In the first case, the different models are all consistent with the observations made and then perfectly equivalent in describing the nature; we have already seen a classic example in astronomy: is Earth rotating on its own axis or are the stars that revolve around the Earth? In both cases we’d see the Sun, the Moon and all the stars moving from east to the west, then how things really are? How to determine which is the right model or the closest to the truth? The scientist has to add new observations to the starting ones that are consistent with a single model and deny all the others; for this purpose, various models are used to make predictions about what should happen in situations not yet observed, and when the various models lead to different estimates in a specific situation, then a test is designed, called experiment, to verify which forecast is the right one; this is the experimental verification, the third important step of the method, on which outcome depends the choice of the best model.
Anyway, nothing guarantees that later a new model, consistent with the new observations, would not appear, in which case new verification experiments will have to be devised for selecting the best model.
In the second case suggested above, it might happen that appear, perhaps during the experimental tests, new observations that deny even the latest model left; in this case we must admit that the model is not valid at all times, but only for a limited number of cases and therefore we must start again searching for a better model, perhaps by changing the old one.
In any event, the refining and validity of the models depends on the number of cases observed, i.e. on the number of experiments made; the experimental verification leads to two important results:
– it allows to select the best models;
– it allows to determine the extent of its validity, or under what circumstances is valid, waiting for a better model.
It follows that if the research has produced only one model, and it is always subjected to experimental verification, because scientists know that its validity may however be limited, that it is not an indisputable truth and that it is better to verify as soon as possible whether there are cases for which this model cannot be used.

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2.c.11 – What are the advantages of the experimental method?

February 26, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

osservazione

What are the advantages of the experimental method?

To summarize the above, the method consists of three steps: observation of the phenomenon, creation of a mathematical model and its experimental verification. In the development of any belief, we find instead: observation of a phenomenon, creation of a mental model and, occasionally, the research of some confirmation to the thesis.
The path that our mind follows to produce new knowledge is basically the same, it is probably the only one that our mind can do, but in experimental research, observation is much more accurate and precise thanks to the use of measuring instruments and to the analysis by grades of the phenomenon, it is furthermore objective and therefore has general validity; the same can be said of the creation of the model that is much more detailed and accurate through the use of mathematics and measures; the main difference is anyway in the experimental verification: it is always (not occasionally) applied and allows to immediately find out if the model is wrong; its aim therefore is not to confirm our thesis to reassure us on the validity of our idea, but to see if it exactly reflects reality and to what extent; the goal is to refine the model or replace it with a better one and the consequences of this aspect of the experimental verification are very important:
– models are replaced with new ones when they have a greater accuracy or broader scope of validity; the models of science therefore always improve, while opinions, beliefs and superstitions change, adapting to the new socio-cultural contexts, but the beliefs of today, true or false they may be, are no more accurate and no more valid than those of a thousand years ago; in other words, science doesn’t only evolve like any cultural form, but develops with always positive mutations, in every age and every place.
– all models are valid in a certain number of well-known cases, namely those where the experimental verification has been successful, and will always remain so even when they are superseded by better models; so if the new models are valid in a larger number of cases or are more precise, but at the same time are more complicated and difficult to use, it would be still possible to use the old models, for convenience. This is a new application of the principle of mental economy, which in this case, however, does not affect the research with reactionary attitudes.
Speaking of progress, however, it is appropriate to distinguish between science and technology: the science is the study of nature, while the technology is the study of how to build tools using the knowledge provided by science. The two concepts are closely tied, but it is important to note that scientific progress is always a progress for humanity, as increases its capacity to understand the nature and then to live into it, while we cannot say the same of technological progress, which can be used for the good of humanity, but also against it: war technology and polluting industries are an example. The confusion between scientific progress and technological progress is another source of psychological pollution that has to be removed.

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2.c.12 – Is science truly rational?

February 27, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

razionalità

Is science truly rational?

Stating that science is rational is a triviality; however, saying that it is as rational as every belief and superstition leaves the interlocutors at least puzzled, but the validity of this statement is proven by the many philosophical schools that, basing only on reason and starting from not experimentally verified hypotheses, have rationally supported a huge number of absurdities, as the philosophy of Parmenides and Zeno, which denied the existence of the movement or the medieval scholastic that claimed to rationally demonstrate the truth of religious faith.
Normally by rationality we mean the use of deductive logic, but this unfortunately leads to accurate conclusions only if deriving from true and complete assumptions as the theorems in mathematics; making false assumptions, these theorems lead to absurd arguments. By studying the nature, there is no way of knowing, through reasoning, if our assumptions are true and especially if they are complete, since there can always be the intervention of an unknown phenomenon. It is therefore necessary to rely on evidence of facts through observations and experimental tests, and these procedures are what makes the difference, not the reason; we should not make confusion between science and experimental mathematics, which instead is based on deductive logic. While it is true that science makes great use of mathematics and hence of logic, rationality alone is not sufficient to overcome the superstitions, indeed in many cases it was used to confirm them; on this regard we might recall all the philosophical theories based on metaphysics and various economic theories, as the absolute liberalism or communism, in which logic and mathematics were used to demonstrate what people wanted to believe.
The differences between science and superstition are then significant, but it should be reminded that the logic which they are based on, is the same i.e. to create a mental model consistent with certain experiences. When it comes to a conflict between science and superstition based on a conflict between the rationality of the first and the irrationality of the second, we feed a commonplace which is a superstition itself:  superstitions are not irrational, the logic upon which they are based, is the very essence of science and the contrast is due to a simple rivalry between different beliefs and cultures. What may seem irrational is the attachment that human beings demonstrate against their superstitions when they are denied and overtaken by science, but today we know that it is a natural consequence of the mental logic imposing to defend our system of belief as long as the same is useful to our unconscious. Reason is an instrument of our mind that is dominated by thoughts and desires of which we often do not notice the existence; it is therefore at the service of what we want, of wishes that sometimes are unconscious, and not of the truth; without the experimental method, reason is a tool in the service of superstition.
The experimental method of science is enormously more accurate and reliable of the natural process of beliefs, but is also enormously more expensive in terms of time, resources and human resources and therefore does not meet the usual criteria of mental economy; to confirm what we have seen, there is the fact that the experimental method does not plan to ignore uncomfortable observations, but rather uses them as an important opportunity to produce new knowledge. All this shows us that there is a different fundamental purpose: science objective is not to provide a common mental map to navigate in everyday life, it would be too tiring, but to create a detailed description of nature for the whole community, which will receive it more or less unconsciously. The scientific research is an extension of human curiosity, aims to build a wealth of knowledge to exploit later in the various activities of the human community rather than in those of the individual, and hence its importance and joint use of many men and means. In the creation of a normal opinion, our mind searches instead a simple model that costs little time and effort and that is consistent with experience; this belief should not be criticized except in cases of extreme necessity; in science things work differently, scientists are at the service of the community, not studying nature to solve the problems of their daily lives but seeking a knowledge as perfect as possible to be used by successive generations and for this reason scientific theories are to be criticized at every opportunity in order to refine them.           

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2.c.13 – What are the limits of science?

February 28, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

limiti

What are the limits of science?

What are the weaknesses of experimental science? Looking at the first step of this method, namely observation and measurement, we can see how it can only work if we know the right dimension to be measured; how could we explore lightning without knowing quantities as electricity, electric charge and electric field? The physics of electromagnetism has begun to develop only with the introduction of these concepts. If it is not clear what to measure, it is necessary to wait for someone to clarify it and until then we will remain in a stalemate, as it happens with very complex phenomena as biological, in which it is difficult to identify the main causes of the many existing ones. More than real limits, those cited above are some factors of delay as they are generally solved over time.
The product of scientific research is only a mathematical model, idealized and in the best of possibilities simplified, of reality but even this is not a real limit because although it is true that scientific theories are not the perfect truth, we know that the error is small enough so that everything goes as if it were, indeed any simplifications make it easier to make mathematical calculations and models easier to use.
A real limit of the scientific method is that this method is too slow and challenging for the needs of everyday life: the common man cannot use it to interpret the personal experiences, it is a tool for specialists of the study of nature.
Human being therefore continues to produce beliefs in a little rigorous manner, both because it’s in his nature and because it is a still essential activity; science made obsolete many old beliefs by replacing them with its models, but these have been accepted as new superstitions, not according to a new scientific mentality; for example, the astrological model, according to which the stars revolve around the Earth influencing people’s lives on the basis of the date of birth, was disregarded by many in favor of the model of universal gravitation, which states that the stars are moving by inertia or by the force of gravity and have no influence on lives of individuals, but those who have accepted the new model almost always completely ignore the scientific basis which form the foundation of it and therefore do not know why it is better than the previous one.
Also science cannot replace the system of beliefs in human beings since Its purpose is to describe reality, but reality does not interest us much, we know that our mind has other needs than the search for truth, our imaginary world doesn’t have to be true, but functional for meeting the needs dictated by the unconscious like the mental economy, the desire for prestige, for security, conformism, love, etc..; the truth is not always able to meet these needs rooted in our genes and therefore the scientific truths sometimes are refused or modified: remember the attempts to scientifically prove the superiority of white on black race, on the basis of the theory of evolution or on the slight differences of cranial shape. The superstitions are therefore a natural phenomenon deeply rooted in the human being and, like sexual desire, this is a phenomenon that can be managed but not eliminated; nature provides that our personal belief is updated, but to replace a belief with a truth often is not sufficient, the truth is not enough, the replacement must be done with a new model consistent with the scientific model, but also with human psychology, otherwise it will never be an appropriate model.
The foregoing considerations lead us to another limit of science that is the humanity of scientists; as human beings they tend to reject what is uncomfortable, suffer the influence of political or religious ideologies and consequently can make non objective interpretations and judgments about the experimental data; in recent time began to spread rumors on concealment or manipulation of experimental data to favor the economic interests of large pharmaceutical or oil companies: perhaps this is just rumors, but the risk for the future is certainly real as scholars cannot all be immune to corruption.
Speaking of corruption of scientists as a limit is not entirely correct; indeed it is a real danger, a disease that can paralyze one of our most precious resources, the only method available to us that pushes us toward a real progress.
Science is finally a study restricted to natural phenomena and this is a limit intrinsic to its nature; the attempt to apply the experimental method to the laws of economy has produced a large number of failures; this is because the laws of nature do not vary over time while those of the human community do with remarkable speed, being linked to cultural evolution. The experimental method cannot be used profitably to represent some laws that vary in a few years, because even the best models become unusable with the same speed.
It is not excluded that new methods may appear with features similar to the experimental method; we know that the strengths of science are: precise observations, accurate models and continuous improvement; we can find these three characteristics in the qualities management systems that had so much success in Japan since the eighties of the last century; it may be the first step to bring progress beyond the limits of the study of nature.

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2.c.14 – What binds advertising and unconscious?

March 1, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

pubblicità

What binds advertising and unconscious?

We said in our minds that there is a management system that can automatically update according to the experiences we do in our lives; in other words our unconscious is updated by itself following criteria of its own and, in particular, the new ideas are accepted only if they do not destabilize the system of beliefs that is already formed; another aspect of that principle is that the old opinions, well consolidated, will not be put into question if it is not really necessary, but how do we evaluate when it is necessary? One of the key factors seems to be the level of satisfaction or dissatisfaction that such beliefs bring when used: we have all accepted, or at least it seemed to make sense, the theory according to which man is a being superior to animals, being more complex, more evolved, the most recent and modern product of evolution; but if someone proves that there is an insect or a worm appeared from few millennia with a much more complex anatomy of us, here the juxtaposition of complexity -superiority would now look less reasonable, because it should recognize the superiority of the insect and this would absolutely not be gratifying; we’d immediately afterwards say that the superiority depends by intelligence or any other thing lacking in our rival. Here’s how an old cliché may be immediately removed when it is unsatisfactory for our self-esteem.
Another important factor are the emotions; we all know that a big fear had during a car accident can compel us to review the value of prudence and confidence in ourselves at the wheel. Strong emotions and strong feelings remain engraved for long time in our memory, often forever.
The basis of learning, experience, it is more or less incisive according to the intensity of emotions and feelings; it was shown that this effect is also given by the repetition of the same experience and in fact all of us are pretty good at what we do every day; the awareness of the repetition of experiences leads to reassess the educational meaning of rituality.
The modern psychology has deepened these arguments showing that process can also be culturally activated by telling fictitious experiences, narrating frightful or romantic stories, describing exotic places and giving interesting material to our mind to build its models of the world. The results are in all forms of advertising that beset us every day: If we look with a critical eye TV commercials, we will see that they tell us little about the product and even less about what makes it different from rival products, but then what is the use of all those elaborated pictures and complex soundtracks? Why seeking the best directors for these movies? We need to communicate, but not with our conscience; sounds and images are a language of sensations, a language understandable directly by the unconscious because advertisers and their psychologists know that this is the dominant part, the seat of our will, the party to convince; once met the goal of stimulating an unconscious desire, the purchase is warranted, because our conscious part, as always, will execute the order; this is why advertisements are full of beautiful women, people smiling, beautiful landscapes with harmonious music; the association product-good life must be formed, an association that to our minds seems more secure with greater frequency of repetition, here’s why advertising is so obsessive, it is a subtle manipulation of our hidden mind, that in modern language is so simplistically defined persuasion.

 

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2.c.15 – What binds religion and education?

March 2, 2010 — Riccardo Sabellotti - Giacinto Sabellotti

tradizione

What binds religion and education?

The fundamental principles of advertising, however, are always used also for the purpose of education: in all places and all ages there have been mothers and grandmothers who told tales to their children; these are not just techniques to make the descendants sleep, they represent a tool to communicate instructive messages on what is good and what is evil, what dangers lie ahead in adult life and how we should behave; a typical example is the tale of Pinocchio, which teaches that we should not tell lies, do not be disobedient, we must not trust strangers or appearances. The tales narrate fantastic and unreal but very stimulating stories, evoking magnificent images and strong sensations, unforgettable for children who, not having yet developed to their full their rational capacities, have particular need of this type of language. The same technique is used by religions around the world: in fact all of them have their own mythology made of fantastic tales that is used to introduce and justify their moral principles, customs and criteria to distinguish a good behavior from a wrong.
From the mists of time our mothers and our religions apply what psychology has only recently discovered; these applications haven’t been intentional, however, they are the result of cultural evolution of our species. The tales may also be improvised, exaggerating experiences of people’s lives, while religions are much more deeply rooted in the collective culture: they offer models of common behavior for the whole community on the basis of the same vision of the world; without religions, everybody would have a mental map significantly different from that of the others and would be much more difficult to live in society; the educational and social function of the ancient religions is much more important and profound that we might imagine until recent times; they are the instrument that evolution has produced to manage culture in a collective and unconscious manner, training and educating a kind of common unconscious, ensuring a significant uniformity of desires, values and behaviors.
It is historically proven that religions evolve with the society to which they belong and probably do so since words exist; several clues suggest that the human brain is genetically prepared to take on religious attitudes, it follows that religion is part of human nature and, as we have seen for sexuality and superstitions, can be managed but not eliminated. The man naturally produces beliefs and superstitions, and if we try to replace them with science, the result is that the science will be accepted as a common superstition; for the nature of our minds, a belief must be supplanted by another belief and it is a logical thing because the new conviction must play the same role of the old one, like a religion can at most be replaced with another religious doctrine; the secular policies and even atheistic doctrines as communism have been absorbed by the population as religious doctrines, resulting in typical attitudes of devotion to the symbols characteristic of the party or to the charismatic leaders, fully comparable to the prophets or saints with a statue and commemorative portraits to hang in celebrative places; many events appear as religious processions and like these have generally the only effect of strengthening the sense of belonging to the group. Religions have the natural function of spiritual leader of society, and anything that leads the society and has a charismatic role in it takes accordingly in our minds a religious role; this is true for the political leaders, but also for celebrities like famous singers, actors and footballers, whose clothes or fragments of them are preserved as precious relics belonged to a saint or even sold at auction at incredible prices; similarly to what happens with the sacred images, the children hang the pictures of players in the room and the girls do the same with the singers, having clearly divinized them.
The man is a naturally religious animal, both on genetic and cultural basis; the genetic aspect is the result of natural selection that has privileged human beings with a religious establishment as it is a powerful social glue between individuals who, as we know. have in socialization one of the main resources for survival, while the cultural aspect has taken steps to strengthen this predisposition by structuring and organizing it. The path followed by religions for education, consisting of mythology, moral values and behavior patterns, is therefore the natural path for the education of the human being, what we have to follow to manage our culture in a conscious way. If we want to update our culture based on new needs, we must partly rebuild our mental map from representation of nature and putting it in the appropriate benchmarks to develop models of behavior.
With regard to the representation of nature, experimental science provides us models already more accurate than we need, in television documentaries it is also already made a very impressive presentation, sometimes too spectacular, but suited to be understood and to involve all our minds; on this basis we must now do the second step, which is to establish that what is good and what is bad for us, identifying benchmarks for the right behavior, traditionally called moral values.

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