28. April 2011 17:57
First it was Amazon with the infamous “one click” patent, and later the dubious ‘i4i’ lawsuit against Microsoft’s use of XML. Along the way, numerous trivial and obvious user interface or data preparation methodologies have been patented and protected by an out-of-control patent system.
Microsoft was often the victim of such manifest injustices, but now it is perpetrating the same type of morally reprehensible litigation on Barnes & Noble’s “Nook” e-reader. Trying to patent the tabbed dialog or cut-and-paste should be like trying to catch the wind. These facilities are everywhere, and have existed in one form or another for forty years.
Personally, I can understand Oracle’s Larry Ellison playing fast and loose with Java licensing, or the owners of the Novell patents trying to milk (i.e. bilk) the system. But Microsoft? Granted, Microsoft has never directly espoused Google’s “do well while doing good” mantra, but at least its actions have rarely been based on such market-driven submarining as the Barnes & Noble suit. I guess MS’s failure to achieve a position in the tablet market has led it to trying to hold successful tablet vendors for ransom.
Shame on you, Microsoft. After releasing .Net for open specification and quasi-embracing open source, you had to pull this one. Just develop a better product and let the market decide. The unpleasant truth is that IP lawyers have enough work to do in our litigious culture without meritless lawsuits from multi-billion-dollar corporations.
22. July 2010 22:42
I began this book with great expectations. As a long-time atheist and former Catholic, I have always been fascinated by the ubiquity and complexity of human religion, theology and religious practice. Unlike many of my co-non-believers, I do not deprecate or malign either religion or the instincts that give rise to it. My personal credo is that religion is the highest form of art yet produced by the human mind.
Dr. King’s thesis is clear and compelling, even if it is not, in today’s climate, a particularly revolutionary one. In her view, the origins of religion are rooted in centrality of the human (or mammalian) need for belonging, both in family and in the larger social context. I have no dispute with this. In particular, her view that the core of religion is not belief but ritual resonates deeply in me. The yearning I feel for connection and membership in a larger, transcendent entity is always with me. Atheism, lacking any central precepts or structure, fails utterly to guide me. Instead, I turn to science.
And there lies my primary problem with Dr. King’s approach. She understands the primary urge that gives rise to religion, but fails to explain or even approach the secondary but urgently important issue of the content of religion. In an effort to keep this critique short, I will summarize.
Everywhere on earth one can detect a philosophical direction to the evolution of religion. Along with evolving rituals come evolving conceptions. From the Maya to the builders of Stonehenge, from the Greeks with their Eleusinian Mysteries to the Epic of Gilgamesh the path is relatively clear. Ancient man created ritual that recapitulated the rise from cave (earth) dwelling to migration to the stars (heaven). The advent of the Neolithic age challenged millennia-old belief systems and gave rise to dramatic increases in knowledge about the stars, planets and other celestial phenomena.
When I was in college, I took a course in Ancient History and thereafter remained pleasantly stuck in the Middle Bronze Age for about twenty years. My quest was to answer one over-arching question. If anatomically modern humans had existed for between 40,000 and 200,000 years, why were the traces of “civilization” limited to the last 10,000 years? The answer, finally, came in a paper published in American Antiquity in 2001. Entitled “Was Agriculture Impossible During the Pleistocene but Mandatory During the Holocene?”, its authors, Richerson, Boyd and Bettinger, resolved the dilemma. Expanding on the theories of Toynbee, W. H. McNeill and, more recently, Jared Diamond, they showed that the reason was not a lack of knowledge. Rather, it was a conscious response to the challenge of climate, which was highly variable during the Pleistocene and then stabilized dramatically with the advent of the Holocene, for reasons which are still unclear.
Given the vast amount we know about the past, it is surprising how often the same lesson must be learned. The ancient Greeks did not invent logic, nor did the Babylonians invent astronomy. Such information had been around, like the knowledge of agriculture, for millennia, albeit in weaker and less cohesive formulations. The difficulties were utilitarian: the absence of free time, writing and well-defined need kept such information limited and volatile.
Ancient people did, certainly, want to bond together in community celebration and affirmation. But they also wanted to understand. The key item, for me, that is lacking in Dr. King’s elaborations is an appreciation of the truly key element in human behavior. Not language, fellow-feeling, or tool-using-- the key element is the ubiquitous desire to understand, to have a system, be it operational or symbolic, that gives meaning and comprehensibility to the realities of being human, living and dying.
The “mantra” I hold about the evolution of religion as well as ancient knowledge is this: “On Earth as it is in Heaven.” This phrase, drummed into me by years of Catholic education, means far more that it appears. Long after my Jesuit education ceased, I was still driven to understand the implications of the interplay between religion and early human science.
At this point I must mention the two books that I believe contain the keys to orienting a modern mind to the viewpoints of the ancients. The first is Hamlet’s Mill, by Giorgio de Santillana and Hertha von Dechend. The second is The Secret of the Incas by William Sullivan.
Hamlet’s Mill is a terrible book—periphrastic, pedantic, conceited and, at times, obtuse. Its thesis is that the quest of the ancients was to understand the heavens, and that quest culminated in the discovery of the precession of the equinoxes. This is a disputed idea, but an idea that resonates with anyone who has studied ancient belief systems.
The Secret of the Incas is altogether more cogent and convincing. Based on a deep study of the beliefs and paleoastronomy of the Inca, Sullivan demonstrates how this people, of whom we have significant written records, created a cosmology that integrated life, behavior, belief and science.
Dr. King borrows the phrase “Axial Age” from, I believe, Karl Jaspers. The definitive changes noted by Jaspers and others between 800 BC and 200 BC certainly grab attention. The influence of writing in this thesis should not be underestimated; along with the technology necessary for Neolithic systems and the leisure time created by class-based society, philosophical systems flourished, both inside and outside of religion. From the standpoint of archaeoastronomy, certain epochs in human culture are expected to be ‘axial’; namely, times when the precession of the equinoxes brings a new equinoctial constellation into dominance at the ‘corners’ of the year—the equinoxes and solstices. Having read widely on these subjects for forty years, I am convinced that many so-called experts in anthropology and archaeology suffer greatly from an ignorance of astronomy and its uses.
From my point of view, the development of Greek philosophy is only one of many writing-based systems that effloresced during this period. However, most of these were not philosophical but religious. The works of Zoroaster, the Pali Canon, the Rig Vedas, the Jewish testaments and others were the beginnings, in the historical era, of humankind’s attempts to grapple with understanding our role on earth and in heaven. Again, the drive to understand coupled with the most immediate factor in daily conceptualization, religion, to create a period of remarkable fecundity.
The tenet “On Earth as it is in Heaven” was concretized during the earlier equinoctial epoch into the belief that the true model for all earthly reality was to be found in the heavens. The pyramid complex at Giza is now recognized as being entirely based on the apparent symmetry of the constellation of Orion. Sullivan, in Secret of the Incas, shows that a rich metaphorical language arose in several places in which the Milky Way, the major stars and planets gave direct impetus to the systems of mythology and religion that are still widely read and appreciated today. Much of what seems strange and inexplicable in the legends of Hercules or Wotan merely represents deep knowledge that has been lost to us.
As physics has its notion of a “Grand Unified Theory”, religious thought began, during the Axial Age, to become more abstract and simple. The great “opener of the way”, Akhenaten, gave voice to the desire to remove the intermediary incidentals of mythology and belief in order to focus directly on a single, all-sustaining life essence. Buddhism arose through a similar desire to reduce Hinduism to a logical structure wherein the previous system’s icons became philosophical mnemonics for true enlightenment. The well-documented struggles of the Hebrew peoples reduced tribal Judaism to a monotheistic bond between an omnipotent deity and its pledged people centered on a chosen land. The tragedy of the diasporas eliminated even the land as an essential element.
To summarize, then, the missing element in Dr. King’s thesis is any real effort to explain or encompass humankind’s universal desire to understand. Agriculture, navigation, military advances, and city building all created unprecedented demands not only to understand but to actualize: convert the theory into operation. Theology is, in many ways, an “operationalization” of de facto religious ritual.
The quest for knowledge everywhere occurred in a religious context, primarily because religion was ubiquitous. We humans have not only the reductionist mentality necessary to derive information from example, we also have the overarching need to do so. This instinctual curiosity or need is as much a hallmark of what we are as our herd orientation. As well as the need to belong, we must understand that to which we belong. As T. S. Eliot wrote,
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
We shall not cease from exploring and knowing because we cannot. We very much would prefer to pursue our quest in the warm company of a community we love and in which we are loved. But we will explore nevertheless.
22. May 2010 16:23
Well, I just completed rebuilding Bonnie's web site, http://groupwyse.com, and adding a blog and a forum. The blogware is the same as this blog, BlogEngine.Net; the forum is the same as our forum, AspNetForums. The real learning was about using LunarPages 'plesk' and the 'mylittleadmin' tool for SQL Server 2005.
Plesk does let you do a lot. Indeed, I keep finding new things I really can control as administrator. However, the overall documentation is very poor (as usual), and some things remain elusive, such as controlling redirection.
MyLittleAdmin, on the other hand, is so much like the SQL Server 2005 Enterprise Manager that it usually only takes me a little poking around to find exactly what I want. I'm so used to being able to control EVERYTHING that it's refreshing to have something so similar available to me.