Open Thread – July 5th, 2020

After I posted The Myth Of Arabian Paganism, And The Jewish-Christian Origins Of The Umayyads, several people suggested I read Muhammad and the Empires of Faith: The Making of the Prophet of Islam as somewhat of a corrective toward my views. I am now over halfway through Muhammad and the Empires of Faith. I went and re-read my post after being 60% through…and I would hardly change anything I wrote. Perhaps the last 40% will have some revelation, I don’t know.

To review: I think Islam as a distinct post-Christian/Jewish religion really has two phases. First, the one after 690, when the Umayyads recovering from an intense civil war seem to intensified adherence and specificity of the royal cult. The inchoate and unformed nature is evident even in Muhammad and the Empires of Faith, as there was an initial coinage which depicted the physical form of the Caliph, in sharp contravention of the later Sunni Muslim norm against depictions of humans. Second, the period after 750, when the Abbassids shifted the focus of Islamic culture and politics to the east resulted in a massive expansion of the religion from one for the Arabs to a universal faith.

Some people seemed to have thought I rejected that the Prophet Muhammad existed. I did not. Rather, I think he was a different figure than the one depicted in the form of Islam that firmed into coherency after 800 AD ( Muhammad and the Empires of Faith confirm this).

Jerry Coyne has the best round-up of the attempted defenestration of Steven Pinker. As Matthew Yglesias observed on Twitter: this isn’t about Pinker, he will stay rich and prominent. It’s about younger academics. It seems clear that this battle is going to be lost for the anti-Pinker camp, but I think they will win the war. Academia will transform itself in the next few years and purify itself. It’s up to the American public whether they want to fund the sinecures of people who believe their job is to engage in an eternal struggle session (or, more accurately, look the other way as a minority of their colleagues go hunting for heretics).

Elk Return to Kentucky. Kind of a feel good story. Nature healing?

As Coronavirus Slams Houston Hospitals, It’s Like New York ‘All Over Again’. I’m hearing bad things from a friend who is an E.R. doc in Texas.

The 17-member family that lived together, ate together and got coronavirus together. Indian “joint-families”.

A North Korean Defector’s Tale Shows Rotting Military. It’s interesting (sad) that this regime can survive, because it’s internal policing is so good, even though the society is literally starving to death.

Fine-scale Population Structure and Demographic History of Han Chinese Inferred from Haplotype Network of 111,000 Genomes. Hard to follow this paper. No great surprises.

Genetic ancestry changes in Stone to Bronze Age transition in the East European plain. I blogged this at Brown Pundits, The Arctic home of the Aryans.

Peopling of Tibet Plateau and multiple waves of admixture of Tibetans inferred from both modern and ancient genome-wide data. Pretty unsurprising. Note the ancient “Onge-related” layer. This is probably where the Denisovan haplotype comes from.

Family Analysis with Mendelian Imputations. This is a good preprint! King Kong!

Deep ancestral introgression shapes evolutionary history of dragonflies and damselflies.

Checked out Amazon Kindle deals for July. Here are some I thought looked good:

The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward, and Delusion on Wall Street. Read this 10 years ago. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

The Four Chinese Classics: Tao Te Ching, Analects, Chuang Tzu, Mencius. I can never get through the first and third. Everyone should read Analects. It’s very short.

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness. I don’t read science books often anymore. Mostly I read papers in fields that are professionally interesting/of note to me. Perhaps should change (I do read a fair amount of cognitive neuroscience still).

Has China Won?: The Chinese Challenge to American Primacy. The author is of Indian background, so I suppose somewhat neutral?


17 thoughts on “Open Thread – July 5th, 2020

  1. Since no one replied to this comment of mine in an earlier OT thread, allow me to ask again:

    Since this is an OT thread, does anyone here watch the German sci-fi series “Dark” on Netflix and, if so, can you elaborate on the implications of [recursive] inbreeding depicted in the series?

  2. It’s the most mind-bending TV show I have ever seen. The first season is engaging, the second season is impressive in its scope, and the third season is just insane. I went just about crazy trying to reconcile the ancestry loop.

    People who time travel should not engage in sex. 😉

    I’d love to read your analysis on the genetic implications, particularly of the third season.

  3. Here is a great example of Pinker’s a lexical version of Gresham’s Law (“bad meanings drive good ones out of circulation”):

    Don’t know whether it makes me to cry or laugh. For some people geographic terms like “Asian”, “Siamese” or “Oriental” seem to be just racial slurs. Are these really non-polite words in today’s USA?

    And then the “Rapeseed” (Brassica napus, never heard of homonyms?) or “Faggot worm”:
    I thought this was related to the musical instrument, but no, it’s from even older strata of the English language:

    Found the list via this article in Science:

  4. Along with the Denisovan haplotype I also suspect that the Tibetan specific ydna D also comes from that component, just like the Japanese D which comes from Jomon.

  5. Per the early Islam stuff…

    I read up on all that recently, and I’d agree with you about that Islam, not entirely, no hadith’s as of then, but recognizably like it is today, was the creation of the Abd al-Malik in 690 or so and the story and Islamic doctrine was created, or heavily rearranged, to unite the Arabs under said caliph, who it seems to me invented the title and notion of ‘caliph’ itself.

    What one can piece together from what I have read and find convincing isn’t complete though, since the critiques of Islam’s story of itself seem convincing, the alternative story leaves one big whopping unignorable historical fact unaccounted for, the cause of the Sunni/Shia split. Did Abd al-Malik’s story from 690 or so contain a large number of bones thrown to the losers of the recently concluded civil war, like moving Muhammad, if he existed as I’d say he probably did, from Petra to Mecca obviously is, to bring them back into the fold that didn’t entirely succeed?

    When was the oldest account in it’s present form of the traditional story of the cause of the split written? Are there any critiques about that particular historical issue? I haven’t found one, but I’d like to read one.

  6. “The Four Chinese Classics: Tao Te Ching, Analects, Chuang Tzu, Mencius. I can never get through the middle two. Everyone should read Analects. It’s very short.”

    I am having trouble understanding the sentences above. FRom what you wrote, Analects and Chaung Tzu are the middle two that you can never get through. But then you tell us we should read one of them.

    Very confusing.

  7. the lack of literary production from persians before the arab conquest is pretty weird. that being said, turanian iranians are not really persian (the dialect of fars originally).

  8. “the lack of literary production from persians before the arab conquest is pretty weird.”

    Perhaps it is like the story of the little boy who never spoke. His parents figured he was mute, but they loved him anyway and took good care of him. One night at dinner, the boy said: “Please pass me the salt”. His mother looked at him and started to cry. The boy said: “Why is Mom crying”. The father said, we thought you were mute and could not talk, she crying because she is so happy to find out that you are not mute. They boy replied: “Until now, there were never any problems”.

    There was literary production in Sassanian lands. The Jewish Community produced the Babylonian Talmud, which was its most important work ever, then and there.

    Subordinate communities have to produce literature. Dominant communities can live off the fat of the land.

  9. A potentially interesting result from Markus Bastir (one of the guys who tends to put out some of the more interesting morphometric papers on ancient Homo) –

    One of the popular (within and outside science) ideas is that Homo Erectus had a gracile, modern human body… but a relatively small brain and robust face, while Neanderthal had a large brain… but had diverged from their Erectus ancestor in developing a very robust body, with a “barrel chest”, while H. Sap retained the ancestral gracile Erectus body form. So no dice, Sapiens is different from each, but in a different way.

    (My first encounter with this idea was in science fiction via Stephen Baxter’s Origin).

    It looks like Bastir and co-author have completed an analysis which rather contradicts this in favour of the following: “Our own body shape with its flat, tall chest, and narrow pelvis and rib cage likely appeared only recently in human evolution with our species, Homo sapiens … Actually, the ribcage of Homo erectus seems more similar to that of more stocky human relatives such as Neandertals, who would have inherited that shape from Homo erectus”

    Thus, Neanderthal – and probably the Denisovans from what little we can reconstruct from methylation maps and their general phylogenetic position relative to Neanderthals – quite possibly simply retained Erectus’s bodyform in the same sense they largely retained the cranial form (albeit that in proportion with increased brain size)… They were possibly closer to being simply large brained Homo Erectus than we may have thought…

    This might be fairly significant in understanding our own species; modern human craniofacial gracility (reduction in facial size relative to brain volume, basically) could then simply be a facet or a side consequence of an overall evolution towards gracility for other reasons (possibly simply for endurance hunting), rather than as much of a separate facet alone uniquely distinguishing H Sap from the Erectus ancestor, to be explained uniquely.

    There also isn’t necessarily as much of a need to explain Neanderthal body proportions through adaptation to cool/cold Eurasian climate. There was perhaps a bit of that (Allen’s rule isn’t junk), but those proportions weren’t necessarily the result of a gracile African species adapting to cool Eurasia, but simply more of a slight cool climate adaption of the stocky Erectus form… (Possibly just as the changes in body form we see for even the most cool climate adapted Homo Sapiens are fairly secondary to the overall shift to gracility in our species?)

  10. Yeah; China’s won. The imperialist countries killed hundreds of thousands of their own people for no literally no reason at all. They have no standing from which to criticize China.

  11. “The revolution must be beaten; do the math” | by Hugo Gurdon, Editor-in-Chief | July 08, 2020 |

    “A teacher named Brittany Marshall recently tweeted, “The idea of 2 + 2 equaling 4 is cultural and because of western imperialism/colonization, we think of it as the only way of knowing.”

    “She describes herself, among other things, as a “scholar,” a “social justice change agent,” and as a “wannabe math person” and notes her undying adherence to Black Lives Matter.”

  12. Brittany Marshall is no doubt completely unaware of how arithmetic was invented by Babylonians, taken up by Indians, who rendered it in numerals and added the concept of zero, and transmitted by Turanian* Muslims. It really is neither cultural, nor specifically Western.

    *Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī was born into a Persian family in Khwarezm (part of Modern Uzbekistan). The term algebra itself comes from the title of his book.His name gave rise to the terms algorism and algorithm. His work “On the Calculation with Hindu Numerals” written about 820, was principally responsible for spreading the Hindu–Arabic numeral system throughout the Middle East and Europe. It was translated into Latin as Algoritmi de numero Indorum.

    Woke = AEIOU which is an initialism for “About Everything Ignorant & Obstinately Uninformed”.

  13. “A Minneapolis Neighborhood Vowed to Check Its Privilege. It’s Already Being Tested: Blocks from where George Floyd drew his last breaths, residents have vowed to avoid the police to protect people of color. The commitment is hard to keep.” By Caitlin Dickerson | Updated June 26, 2020 |

    “MINNEAPOLIS — When Shari Albers moved three decades ago into Powderhorn Park, a tree-lined Minneapolis neighborhood known as a haven to leftist activists and bohemian artists like herself, she went to work sprucing it up.

    “… After the death of George Floyd at the hands of the police, Ms. Albers, who is white, and many of her progressive neighbors have vowed to avoid calling law enforcement into their community. Doing so, they believed, would add to the pain that black residents of Minneapolis were feeling and could put them in danger.

    * * *

    “Mitchell Erickson’s fingers began dialing 911 last week before he had a chance to even consider alternatives, when two black teenagers who looked to be 15, at most, cornered him outside his home a block away from the park. One of the boys pointed a gun at Mr. Erickson’s chest, demanding his car keys. Flustered, Mr. Erickson handed over a set, but it turned out to be house keys. The teenagers got frustrated and ran off, then stole a different car down the street.

    “Mr. Erickson said later that he would not cooperate with prosecutors in a case against the boys. After the altercation, he realized that if there was anything he wanted, it was to offer them help. But he still felt it had been right to call the authorities because there was a gun involved. Two days after an initial conversation, his position had evolved. “Been thinking more about it,” he wrote in a text message. “I regret calling the police. It was my instinct but I wish it hadn’t been. I put those boys in danger of death by calling the cops.”

    “What about the fact that the boys had put his life in danger? “Yeah I know and yeah it was scary but the cops didn’t really have much to add after I called them,” he replied. “I haven’t been forced to think like this before. So I would have lost my car. So what? At least no one would have been killed.”

  14. Today I happened to talk to my mother on phone after some while and our conversation, as it usually tends to do, drifted off into the domain of existential probes about the inherent value of certain types of lives – majorly angstful assertions on my part on why there is no inherently positive value to many types of lives because of the predominantly wrong behaviours that people having them engage in, etc. My mother is very much less quarrelsome than me and usually tolerates me out of despair mostly when I bring up those kinds of discussions with her. Today when the same happened, she sort of in a knee-jerk way made the comment that me or her are not the ones to decide the value of another person’s life: it’s the person up above (referring to God; she’s a typical middle-class Hindu person who used to be a bit dreamy and worldly (in that I heard she did not study as hard as my grandmother would have wanted her to and instead spent time reading fiction and stuff) like me in her youth, but is getting more and more hardened in comfortably harmony with a Hindu sort of thinking with age).

    It never fails to amaze me how centrist religious people of all types in all places seem to have this very deep basal intuition about important existential questions like these – I don’t know if I ever had this instinct in the past myself too but I certainly don’t seem to do so now. For whatever reason, my strongest intuitions currently are that many people and their (often misguided and harmful) behaviours are deeply fixed and immutable. Maybe I never had this religiously inculcated instinct I’m talking about, given that my memory of why I was drawn to liberal humanism during certain early stages of my life is that I wanted to believe in a deeply affirmative thesis that all human lives are inherently valuable and with this thesis also firmly rooted in a secular, worldly, materialistic tradition and something better not via any metaphysical claims of religion – maybe my instinct related to these things was always anti-religious, though you may believe it or not, I used to be one of the most outwardly religious people in my entire family during my childhood. But later on, I have come to be obviously incapable of sustaining my secular-liberal-humanist type of a belief for much long and came more and more to think that there are at least some types of lives in the world that are not inherently valuable. In this entire idiosyncratic course of personal history, I might have totally skipped the view that a certain type of liberalism is also possible majorly arising out of the religious tradition (though it probably still would not appeal to me very much, just as it does not seem to do to me now too) – recently I read a thread by Shadi Hamid on twitter too where he seemed to explain how his individualistic liberalism majorly arises out of his theism and is associated with a view in many theistic traditions that people are answerable majorly to God and God alone and deep judgements are not appropriate when meted out on people by other people and better always deferred to be handled by God. My impression from whatever little I read might be wrong but even the Puritans of Massachusetts (and other Calvinists too?) don’t seem to have dwelt so much thinking about the condition of the reprobates though they seem to have sort-of actively tried to identify the elect as much as possible and form communities majorly containing them (and thus trying to minimise the nuisance that comes from having to manage a lot of reprobates in the midst of them that would jeopardise a quality religious life?). Who knows, lol, historically even liberal humanism probably had religious roots deeply though I would personally like it very much if it had majorly anti-religious roots sorta.

    I recently came to know by glimpsing through an anti-eugenics website explaining the history of eugenics and all that Immanuel Kant also seemed to have rationally justified (I apologise if I’m misrepresenting him here) a middle-of-the-road anti-eugenic position that the convention not to do anything hasty and physically harmful (in the least agonising way physically possible, of course, like before birth, etc.) to the lowest of the low is a worthy one in that the conflict that arises in the naturally centre-focussed world because of the presence of the lowest of the low is an important lifeline itself for the moral progress of such centre-focussed species as a whole. Though I personally see this type of a justification supported on a selfish-looking goal ascribed to the progress of the species as a whole achieved by continuously letting live the lowest of the low and not alleviating their misery actively (ideally by allowing them to be not born) because of a certain very radical atomic individualism I seem to have stupidly locked myself into intellectually by virtue of my stupid nature, it overall seems a sensible explanation and the moral compromise involved in it might be a reasonable and not very bad one. Channeling a certain type of a radical moderationist though (it seems I cannot be anything other than something radical, can I, lol. I once read that low-IQ people tend to be more radical because of the ease of obtaining surface-level emotionally satisfying radical thoughts and high-IQ people more moderate (because of the difficulty involved in the careful consideration of all thoughts before making a decision)(but possibly moderates could be more dumb too, in addition to having high IQ? bimodal distribution?) so maybe that got something to do with it), I just hope that even this Kantian dictum is better not treated with absolute sacrosanctity and immutable authority and if conditions become fairly favourable in the world in future to be able to alleviate lots of misery in the world by simply not letting things with the potential of generating misery happen, then people should do it, and in significant amounts, ideally in a libertarian milieu where no strong coercion of any kind exists regarding this and things are entirely up to individual families (as Mr. Razib Khan also once said in one of his posts IIRC; I sincerely apologise if I have misrepresented him here). Even though this all probably comes ultimately from a sort of inherently not very attractive and respectable flight-response and escapist-type thinking, I believe this is one very moral and legitimate way to reduce misery in the world if done in significant amounts.

    But at the same time, as I once said on Brown Pundits too, I seem to be practically a centrist in behaviour with respect to this in that I simply don’t know what to do with all these kinds of people currently before the singularity sort of situation of widespread genetic screening for predispositions to abusive and anti-social behaviour and such comes about. I find that I cannot in my conscience justify any active and significantly bloody killing and harming, especially not a collective-mob-driven sort of social witch-hunt thingy without any respect of rule of law (very tight and restrictive social norms themselves might be okay and probably even useful in the case of some types of wrong behaviours in that their actualisation can be a bit forcibly limited because of the societal pressure but only provided no physical harm (at least a very bloody one) takes place at least to the person who potentially commits the immoral act by a potential mobilisation of a mob against him or something). I am recently beginning to question this and wondering if active physical violence on the part of society is also permissible but I don’t think it is – a certain respect for tradition still tells me that perhaps people in the past routinely faced this problem and through generations of efforts and tweaking to existing systems landed at the current system of trying to avoid immediate justice dispensation through physical violence by mobs and such and handling things at a very slow pace in the deliberations of courts and such, and that this system genuinely works better than the alternatives, though it is not perfect, of course. And at least for the time being it seems I have to stick to Immanuel Kant and others like him, and blatantly and grudgingly put his centre and collective on a higher pedestal than the (lowliest of the lowly) individual. And wait for my “singularity” that I am hoping for.

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