To Explain the World: A Conversation with Steven Weinberg

World Science Festival: In this program, Nobel Prize-winning physicist and revered public intellectual Steven Weinberg speaks about science and history, drawing from his book “To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science.” Beginning with a short account on where science and intellectual thought rank in modern society compared to other modes of thought, Professor Weinberg goes on to paint a new and compelling picture of the development of scientific thought and exploration in a conversation moderated by Peabody Award-winning journalist John Hockenberry.

This program was presented in collaboration with the New-York Historical Society.

The Great Debate – Can Science Tell Us Right From Wrong?



The Great Debate – Can Science Tell Us Right From Wrong?

On November 6th, 2010 a panel of renowned scientists, philosophers, and public intellectuals gathered to discuss what impact evolutionary theory and advances in neuroscience might have on traditional concepts of morality. If human morality is an evolutionary adaptation and if neuroscientists can identify specific brain circuitry governing moral judgment, can scientists determine what is, in fact, right and wrong? The panelists were psychologist Steven Pinker, author Sam Harris, philosopher Patricia Churchland, physicist Lawrence Krauss, philosopher Simon Blackburn, bioethicist Peter Singer and The Science Network’s Roger Bingham.
Recorded live at the Arizona State University Gammage auditorium.
“The Great Debate” was sponsored by the ASU Origins Project in collaboration with the ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law Center for Law, Science and Innovation; the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge; and The Science Network.


The Great Debate Panel

The Great Debate Panel

Speakers: Steven Pinker, Sam Harris, Patricia Churchland, Lawrence Krauss, Simon Blackburn, Peter Singer and Roger Bingham

Run Time: 42 minutes

A lively panel discussion between Sam Harris, Patricia Smith Churchland, Peter Singer, Lawrence Krauss, Simon Blackburn, Steven Pinker, and Roger Bingham. If human morality is an evolutionary adaptation and if neuroscientists can identify specific brain circuitry governing moral judgment, can scientists determine what is, in fact, right and wrong?


Sam Harris with an introduction by Roger Bingham

Sam Harris with an introduction by Roger Bingham
Run Time: 19 minutes

Speaker: Sam Harris is the author of the New York Times bestsellers “The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values,” “The End of Faith” and “Letter to a Christian Nation.” “The End of Faith” won the 2005 PEN Award for Nonfiction. Harris has a doctorate in neuroscience from UCLA and a degree in philosophy from Stanford University. He is a co-founder and CEO of Project Reason, a nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society.

Talk: Sam Harries claims that there is no gap between facts and values. Once evolution gave us beings with experience which can vary within the limits of biology,the upshot was morality. Moral Good could simply be defined as the well-being of conscious beings (humans and animals).


Patricia Smith Churchland

Patricia Smith Churchland
Run Time: 14 minutes

Speaker: Patricia Smith Churchland is a Professor Emerita of Philosophy at the University of California, San Diego. She is also an adjunct faculty member at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Her research focuses on the interface between neuroscience and philosophy. Her books include “Brain-Wise: Studies in Neurophilosophy,” ”Neurophilosophy: Toward a Unified Science of the Mind-Brain” and “On the Contrary: Critical Essays 1987-1997,” with husband Paul M. Churchland. Her newest book, “Braintrust: What Neuroscience Tells Us About Morality,” is due out in spring 2011.

Talk: There is one end of the spectrum where it is easy to make value judgments based on facts, but there are scenarios where it is much more difficult. Having more facts might help but in some cases it is just a difference in value rather than facts. For instance, interventionist approach to do good which might actually make the situation worse, academic arrogance might lead to silliness etc..


Peter Singer

Peter Singer

Run Time: 14 minutes

Speaker: Peter Singer is the Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University. He is also a Laureate Professor at the University of Melbourne. Singer first became well-known internationally after the publication of “Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals.” His latest books include “The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part to End World Poverty” and “The Life You Can Save: Acting now to end world poverty.” Singer was the founding president of the International Association of Bioethics, and with Helga Kuhse, founding co-editor of the journal Bioethics. Outside academic life, he is the co-founder and president of The Great Ape Project, an international effort to obtain basic rights for chimpanzees, gorillas and orangutans. He is also president of Animal Rights International.

Talk: Peter makes the case the science can’t tell us right from wrong, though it does provide us with information which helps in making moral decisions. If Darwin is right, than it is a proof that might is right, one said. But we as humans don’t want to stick to the moral inclinations which are a result of evolution, rather we want to transcend them. Moreover, science cannot give us moral premises.


Lawrence Krauss

Lawrence Krauss

Run Time: 14 minutes

Speaker: Lawrence Krauss is a Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and Department of Physics in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. He also is director of the ASU Origins Project. He is the only physicist to have received the highest awards from all three major U.S. professional physics societies. His popular publications include “The Physics of Star Trek,” “Quintessence,” “Atom,” “Hiding in the Mirror,” and due out in 2011, “Quantum Man: Richard Feynman’s Life in Science” and “A Universe from Nothing.”

Talk: It is not possible to tell right from wrong without science, because it provides the crucial information required to make these decisions and it is the only method to explore the actual world. We can ask actual questions like does putting a woman in bag makes her more happy and get answers.


Simon Blackburn

Simon Blackburn

Run Time: 12 minutes

Speaker: Simon Blackburn is the Bertrand Russell Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge and Fellow of Trinity College. He is also a visiting distinguished research professor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Blackburn has written extensively on the philosophy of mind, language and psychology. Among his latest works are “Practical Tortoise Raising and Other Philosophical Essays,” “The Big Questions: Philosophy” and “How to Read Hume.”

Talk: Science can inform us in making moral judgments but it cannot answer our moral questions. It can’t tell us whether Buddha is right in giving up all desires. It can’t tell whether to take our kids to holiday or denote to save lives in Africa.


Steven Pinker

Steven Pinker

Run Time: 12 minutes

Speaker: Steven Pinker is Harvard College Professor and Johnstone Family Professor of Psychology at Harvard. His research is on visual cognition and the psychology of language. Among his books are “The Language Instinct,” “How the Mind Works” and “The Blank Slate.” He has been named Humanist of the Year, and is listed in Foreign Policy and Prospect magazine’s “The World’s Top 100 Public Intellectuals” and in Time magazine’s “The 100 Most Influential People in the World Today.” His latest book is “The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature.”

Talk: Religion cannot tell us right from wrong. Dogma, scripture, authority or subjective certainty are pathetic reasons to believe in something to be good. Such dogma has caused a lot of suffering like human sacrifice prevalent in religious societies, witch hunt, harsh punishments for petty crimes etc.. Reasoning tells us what’s right and wrong, which is not part of science as the term is generally understood, but could be included in science if we take a broad definition.

Last four hundred years of history shows us that there is definite in progress morality due to the raise of science.

‘Science, Faith and Religion’ dialogue at World Science Festival 2009


Date: Saturday, June 13, 2009
Time: 03:00 PM-04:00 PM
Venue: Tishman Auditorium at The New School
Moderator: Bill Blakemore
Participants: Colin McGinn, Kenneth Miller, Lawrence M. Krauss, Guy Consolmagno

Public debate, pitting atheist against believer, typically yields a polarized picture. Might a more nuanced conversation that transcends simplistic assertions, and weaves insights from physics, biology, and psychology provide a more fruitful exchange of ideas? Bill Blakemore hosts scientists Lawrence Krauss, Ken Miller and Guy Consolmagno, and philosopher Colin McGinn to find out.




ABC News Correspondent

Bill Blakemore became a reporter for ABC News 44 years ago, covering a wide variety of stories. He spearheaded ABC’s coverage of global warming, traveling from the tropics to polar regions to report on its impacts, dangers and possible remedies. Overseas, he has covered a dozen wars or major conflicts including the Black September, Bangladesh, 1973 Arab-Israeli, Iranian and Beirut Civil Wars, as well as the Iraq wars (from Baghdad), and the Afghan/Taliban war. On 9/11, he reached Ground Zero before the towers fell. He was ABC’s Rome bureau chief 1978-1984, traveled extensively with John Paul II and wrote several documentaries and the Encyclopaedia Britannica article about him. Since 1984, he’s been based in New York, where he also served as education correspondent. He began focusing on biodiversity, extinctions and global warming in 2004, as well as the emerging sciences of play behavior and animal intelligence, and hosted ABC’s Nature’s Edge until 2012. He has won most major broadcast journalism awards. He currently writes and lectures on the journalistic profession, the “Many Psychologies of Global Warming,” and the cinematic art of Stanley Kubrick.




Colin McGinn is a professor and Cooper Fellow at University of Miami. In 2006, he joined the UM philosophy department, having taught previously at University of London, University of Oxford, and Rutgers University. He was the recipient of the John Locke Prize at Oxford University in 1973. His research interests are in philosophy of mind, philosophy of body, philosophy of language, philosophical logic, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of physics, philosophy of film and literature, ethics, metaphilosophy, philosophy of sport, and Wittgenstein. He has published many articles, and is the author of 20 books, including: Mental Content; The Problem of Consciousness; The Character of Mind; Ethics, Evil and Fiction; The Mysterious Flame; Logical Properties; Consciousness and Its Objects; Mindsight: Image, Dream, Meaning; and Shakespeare’s Philosophy.


Cell Biologist

Kenneth R. Miller is Professor of Biology and Royce Family Professor for Teaching Excellence at Brown University. A cell biologist, he serves as an advisor on life sciences to the NewsHour, a daily PBS television program on news and public affairs, and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Miller is coauthor, with Joseph S. Levine, of high school and college biology textbooks used by millions of students nationwide. In 2005 he served as lead witness in the trial on evolution and intelligent design in Dover, Pennsylvania. His popular book, Finding Darwin’s God: A Scientist’s Search for Common Ground between God and Evolution, addresses the scientific status of evolutionary theory and its relationship to religious views of nature. His latest book, Only a Theory: Evolution and the Battle for America’s Soul addresses the continuing struggle over how evolution is to be understood in American society. His honors include the Presidential Citation of the American Institute of Biological Science (2005), the Public Service Award of the American Society for Cell Biology, the Distinguished Service Award of the National Association of Biology teachers (2008), and most recently, the AAAS Public Understanding of Science and Technology Award (2008).


Theoretical Physicist, Cosmologist, and Author

Internationally known theoretical physicist and best-selling author Lawrence Krauss has focused his research on the intersection of cosmology and elementary particle physics. Krauss’s work addresses questions about the origin of matter in the universe, Einstein’s theory of general relativity, astrophysics, the future of the universe and the properties and description of the dark energy that is thought to account for most of the universe’s present energy content.

A fervent advocate for science literacy, Krauss has written nine books for a general audience, including the bestseller The Physics of Star Trek, and most recently A Universe from Nothing, which appeared in January of 2012. He was recently awarded the National Science Board’s 2012 Public Service Award for his contributions to public understanding of science. Krauss is Foundation Professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and Director of the ASU Origins Project at Arizona State University.



Brother Guy Consolmagno, SJ, earned undergraduate and masters’ degrees from MIT, and a Ph. D. in Planetary Science from the University of Arizona. He was a researcher at Harvard and MIT, served in the US Peace Corps (Kenya), and taught university physics at Lafayette College, Pennsylvania, before entering the Jesuits in 1989.

At the Vatican Observatory since 1993, his research explores connections between meteorites, asteroids, and the evolution of small solar system bodies. He observes asteroids, moons, and Kuiper Belt comets with the Vatican’s 1.8 meter telescope in Arizona, and curates the Vatican meteorite collection in Castel Gandolfo. Along with more than 100 scientific publications, he is the author of a number of popular books including Turn Left at Orion (with Dan Davis), Brother Astronomer, and God’s Mechanics, and editor of a popular account of astronomy and the Vatican, Let Stars Delight.

Dr. Consolmagno served as chair of the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society; is past president of Commission 16 (Planets and Satellites) of the International Astronomical Union, and presently serves as secretary of its Division III (Planetary Systems Sciences) as well as sitting on the IAU Working Group on Planetary System Nomenclature.

TED: What the people of the Amazon know that you don’t (by Mark Plotkin)

“The greatest and most endangered species in the Amazon rainforest is not the jaguar or the harpy eagle,” says Mark Plotkin, “It’s the isolated and uncontacted tribes.” In an energetic and sobering talk, the ethnobotanist brings us into the world of the forest’s indigenous tribes and the incredible medicinal plants that their shamans use to heal. He outlines the challenges and perils that are endangering them — and their wisdom — and urges us to protect this irreplaceable repository of knowledge.

Claire Prentice’s ‘Lost Tribe of Coney Island’

Source: NYT Book Review



Claire Prentice’s ‘Lost Tribe of Coney Island’ –

In 1904, two years after America’s victory in the Philippine-American War, the United States government tried to put the best face on its colonization of the archipelago of more than 7,000 islands. Thirteen hundred Filipinos from a dozen tribes were put on display at the St. Louis Exposition, in replicas of their home villages, intended to reinforce an underlying message that our “little brown brothers,” in the words of William Howard Taft, were not ready to govern themselves. The most popular exhibit in this “human zoo” were the Igorrotes, who ate dog meat and hunted heads. The man in charge of the Igorrote village, Truman Hunt, had served as a medical doctor during the war and stayed on, eventually rising to become the lieutenant governor of Bontoc Province.

When the exposition closed, Hunt returned to the Philippines to audition his own band of dog-eating headhunters and bring them to America to tour venues around the country for a year. Comprising 51 men, women and children, the group eventually made its way to Coney Island, where they became the hit of Luna Park in the summer of 1905. The Igorrotes performed countless shows for thousands of day-trippers: mock battles, dog feasts, sham weddings, dances and craft displays, all in their makeshift compound, ruled by a chief appointed by Hunt, and outfitted with a “headhunters’ watchtower” and a quarters for a “medicine man.”

Hunt’s evil genius was in dreaming up one exploitive and sensational publicity stunt after another to keep a novelty-­addicted public titillated. He hatched a scheme in which the Igorrotes would throw a dog into their stew pot, to provoke his elephant companion to break her shackles and tear apart the village in a bid to save her beloved. The public didn’t witness the scene, of course, but the newspapermen who toured the aftermath of the destruction gladly sold it to them.

In the months that followed, Hunt made hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Igorrotes — on top of ticket receipts, enthralled bystanders threw coins at the feet of the performers. Instead of allowing the Igorrotes to keep their tips from the crafts they sold, as he had promised, he insisted that they turn over the proceeds for safekeeping. He withheld their salaries as well.

What followed over the next year and a half, as chronicled by Claire Prentice in “The Lost Tribe of Coney Island,” was the enslavement of the Igorrotes by their self-­appointed benefactor. Ignoring the fact that they ate dog meat only under prescribed circumstances, Hunt insisted they slaughter dogs and eat them on a daily basis, which brought them to the brink of illness and despair. He split the group against their will and farmed them out to equally unscrupulous confederates across the country, moving them whimsically and forcing them to remain in America well past the year he had promised. Today, we would call it human trafficking.

In short order, Hunt grew increasingly violent, as his lavish spending and drinking diminished his fortune, and he took to physically attacking the Igorrotes and robbing them. In turn, they tried to hide their money, wadding it up and sticking it in their ear canals and between their buttocks. While this wasn’t the spectacle of the century, as the subtitle proclaims in carnival barker fashion, Prentice brings to life a shocking story of exploitation and degradation that should not be forgotten.

What’s best about the early chapters is the full portrait of Coney Island that emerges as backdrop to the Truman Hunt debacle. Less convincing are the author’s attempts to embellish emotions and motivations. The thoughts she attributes to the characters are so obvious (such as Hunt’s gaze following a pretty woman, or his desire for a drink after a difficult episode) that they read like an amateur fiction writer’s strained efforts at dramatic tension, sagging with flabby prose and the telegraphing of plot points: “Truman was about to encounter his nemesis.”

But the second half of the book is engrossing. We follow the determined pursuit of Hunt by the government agent Frederick Barker, assigned to track him, free the Igorrotes from their bondage and bring Hunt to justice.

Americans gone rogue, as Prentice puts it, have long been a part of the Philippines’ landscape, but Truman Hunt, an inveterate liar, a bigamist and a slave driver, seems nearly unparalleled as far as scoundrels go. In some sense, this slick-talking charlatan becomes a stand-in for America itself, or a certain version of America in its more opportunistic historical moments, blind to its own faults and willing to do anything to turn a buck. As Antoinette Funk, Hunt’s lawyer, declared at one of his trials: “The government set the example of exhibiting the people. The government was the first to bring them to this country for show purposes.” She had a good point, if not a defense.


Headhunters, Luna Park, and the Man Who Pulled Off the Spectacle of the Century

By Claire Prentice

Illustrated. 388 pp. New Harvest/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. $26.

Sex appeal: Is it wrong to use it to get what you want?

Is there anything ethically or morally wrong if an adult consciously, independently wishes to use their sex appeal to get what they want, for example to further their career?

The question is more complex than it seems and is deeply connected to the power structures in our society.

In 2011, on the pages of the Daily Mail writer and producer Samantha Brick admitted using her physical allure to get her own way, claiming that “so does any woman with any sense”.

She supported her case by citing sociologist Catherine Hakim’s book Honey Money: The Power Of Erotic Capital, which argued women should capitalise on their erotic side to get on in life. Predictably, some disagreed.

More at the

I AM documentary

Watched ‘I AM’ documentary made by Tom Shadyac. He is an American film director, famous for films like Ace Ventura. He had a tragic bicycle accident after which he suffered from the post-concussion syndrome. After months of tribulation, his symptoms finally started to subside. With changed outlook to life, in this documentary, he sets out to find answers to two questions: what’s wrong with our world, and what can we do to make it better? Shadyac conducts interviews with scientists, religious leaders, environmentalists and philosophers including Desmond TutuNoam ChomskyLynne McTaggartElisabet SahtourisDavid SuzukiHoward Zinn, and Thom Hartmann. It is about “human connectedness, happiness, and the human spirit”, and explores themes including Darwinism, Western mores, loneliness, the economy, and the drive to war.

Documentary is also recommended by Hamza Yusuf. Following words are from

“If you watch documentaries, this is the end-all. Tom Shadyac is a proof against all of us who cling to “stuff.” He discovered what’s wrong with the world (hint hint: in the title) and what we can do about it.”

Documentary Website:


The great bank robbery

For the American economy – and for many other developed economies – the elephant in the room is the amount of money paid to bankers over the last five years. In the United States, the sum stands at an astounding $2.2 trillion.

Such transfers represent as cunning a tax on everyone else as one can imagine.

Mainstream megabanks are puzzling in many respects. It is (now) no secret that they have operated so far as large sophisticated compensation schemes, masking probabilities of low-risk, high-impact “Black Swan” events and benefiting from the free backstop of implicit public guarantees. Excessive leverage, rather than skills, can be seen as the source of their resulting profits, which then flow disproportionately to employees, and of their sometimes-massive losses, which are borne by shareholders and taxpayers.