Social networks spread happiness

Happiness is infectious. It spreads through social networks, infecting people that you don’t even know. And it spreads more strongly than sadness does. That’s according to a recent study that examined the happiness of almost five thousand people over twenty years from 1983 to 2003.

The study was compiled by professors James Fowler of the University of California in San Diego and Nicholas Christakis of the Harvard Medical School. They examined records from a long-established heart study that included details of the emotional states of families and friends.

They found that, when you become happy, any friend of yours who lives within a mile becomes 25% more likely to also be happy. Amazingly, they also found that a friend of that friend becomes 10% more likely to happy, and a friend of that friend’s friend has a 5% increased chance of being happy.

They also found that people at the core of a local social network are more likely to be happy than people at the periphery. And they say that the reason seems to be that being at the core of the social network increases your happiness. It is not that being happy brings you to the core of the network.

Here are more details of this fascinating study:

Medieval faith vs reason Part 2

Triumph of St thomas Aquinas by Benozzo GozzoliReligious Medieval philosophers tried to use reason to do three things: to support their belief in a god, to prove their belief in a god, and to develop a unified theory of all knowledge, divine and human.

They partly succeeded in the first of these aims, and failed in the other two. To understand why, we must remember the context of Medieval times. Tradition was very important. Philosophy was considered an art (or a craft in today’s language). Philosophers were expected to first learn existing knowledge, and only then start to develop their own ideas.

Medieval Christian, Islamic and Jewish philosophers each faced different problems in trying to reconcile their faith with reason and logic. In Part 1 of this article, I described how ten of them attempted to do this. Here, I examine why they failed to do so.

Medieval faith vs reason Part 1

Triumph of St thomas Aquinas by Benozzo GozzoliMany medieval philosophers tried to reconcile their belief in a god with the logic and reason of Greek philosophy. In this article, I outline how ten of them tried to do this:

Augustine (354-430), an Algerian Christian.
Boethius (480-524), a Roman Christian.
John Scotus Eriugena (810-877), an Irish Christian.
Psuedo-Dionysius (6th Century), a Syrian Christian.
Al-Farabi / Abunaser (870-950), a Turkish Muslim.
Ibn Sina / Avicenna (980-1037), a Persian Muslim.
Anselm (1033-1109), an Italian Christian.
Ibn Rushd / Averroes (1126-1198), a Spanish Muslim.
Moses Ben Maimon / Maimonides (1135-1204), a Spanish Jew.
Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), an Italian Christian.

In part two of this article, I will look at how successful they were in their attempts to reconcile faith and reason. First, here is a summary of their efforts:

Atheist and humanist groups

Godless Americans March on Washington - photo by Anosmia (cc)

Most atheists and most humanists share most of the same fundamental beliefs and values. We reject the idea that gods exist and all that follows from that idea, and we usually support rational enquiry into the nature of reality, mutual empathy as the basis of ethical relations, and secular equality as the basis of civic government.

So how do Atheist groups differ from Humanist groups? In this article, I examine the aims of American Atheists, Atheist Alliance International, the International Humanist and Ethical Union, and ten Atheist or Humanist groups in various countries around the world.

Specifically, I examine: What is atheism? What is humanism? How do atheism and humanism differ? What do Atheist groups want? What do Humanist groups want? How do Atheist and Humanist groups differ? And how can we best work together to promote a rational, ethical, secular society?

Did the historical Jesus exist?

Christus Statue by Midiman (cc) If Jesus existed as a human being and did so many amazing things, surely somebody at the time would have written about him? Well, actually, no. The first time Jesus is mentioned outside the Bible is sixty years after he supposedly died. By then, Paul had already spread the myth of a Jesus that he himself had never met, and the first gospels may have already been written.

After these sixty years of silence, there are five ‘early’ independent reports that Christians most often quote:

  • A discredited fourth-century attempt to insert Christian propaganda into a first-century history book.
  • A passing second-century reference to the death of Christ, which gets Pontius Pilate’s job title wrong.
  • Two uncontroversial second-century records of the existence of Christians in Rome and Asia Minor.
  • A claim, made in the ninth century, that somebody else wrote, in the third century, about somebody else writing about a solar eclipse in a lost first-century document.

There is no independent record, in all of recorded history, of any of the following: his alleged bloodline from Abraham and David, his alleged virgin birth, his parent’s alleged flight from Herod, his alleged baptism by John the Dipper, his alleged preaching to large multitudes, his alleged miracles (walking on water, reviving corpses etc), the nature of his alleged trial or death, or his alleged return from being dead to being alive again.

Here are the details of the earliest independent records of the possible existence of Jesus:

Reality is basically as it seems

Faces of the City by CW Buecheler (cc)This is the third article in a series about why I assume that reality is basically as it seems to be. In the first article, I explained why I believe nothing can be objectively known. In the second article, I described five possible theories of reality. This third article examines the patterns in the five theories of reality, and concludes that:

1. Each new scenario seems closer to the evidence of my experience.
2. Each assumes the existence of extra things that cannot be known to exist.
3. Each seems increasingly functional as a working assumption of reality.
4. These apparent patterns contain a key ‘on/off’ reason-switch.
5. This leads me to assume that reality is basically as it seems to be.

And here is the detail of how I arrive at this assumption…

Five possible theories of reality

How? by Not So Good Photography (cc)This is the second article in a series about why I assume that reality is basically as it seems to be. In the first article, I explained why I believe nothing can be objectively known. This second article deals with a sequence of five possible theories of what reality might consist of:

1. All that seems to exist, even what seem to be thoughts, may be an illusion.
2. Only independent thoughts exist. No separate being thinks them; the thoughts just exist by themselves.
3. Only one thinking being and its thoughts exist. The thoughts only exist when the being is thinking them.
4. Several thinking beings and their thoughts exist. The beings can interact with each other telepathically.
5. Real physical objects also exist, in conjunction with any of the above scenarios.

Here is an overview of each of these possibilities, and how each one fits in with my experience, my use of reason and the practicalities of living my life…

Nothing can be objectively known

The Thinker by Brian - Progressive Spin (cc)This is the first article in a series about why I assume two things about reality: (1) that nothing can be objectively known, and (2) that reality is basically as it seems to be. This article is about the first of those assumptions – that nothing can be objectively known. Here’s a summary:

1. I seem to interpret the universe, and make assumptions, using my thinking.
2. But I can never know if any of my interpretations or assumptions are correct.
3. It is possible that this assumption may itself be incorrect.
4. However, that possibility does not prove that anything can be known.

And here is the detail of each of these points:

The pretend Vatican State at the UN

Vatican Postbox by Dear Barbie (cc)The Vatican is by far the smallest State in the world, being just over a hundred acres in size. It plays at being a real State by issuing its own stamps, but it has no proper citizens (just transient employees of the Catholic Church), few public services (Italy provides it with police and water) and no real economy (though it does have a novelty ATM machine that issues instructions in Latin).

But that does not matter, because the toy Vatican State does not generally interact with other real States. Instead, an entity called the Holy See, which is the central government of the worldwide Catholic Church, masquerades as a State and deals with actual States from its base in the Vatican.

This distinction is very important. It is the openly religious Holy See, and not the theoretically civic Vatican State, that swaps diplomats with actual States, and that has Permanent Observer status at the United Nations and other bodies. But the Holy See does not have any citizens, or any defined territory, and all that it governs is the religious affairs of some citizens of actual civic States…

The unelectable atheist President of the USA

The White House by David Paul Ohmer (cc)An atheist running for President of the United States today faces roughly the same level of prejudice from voters as a female candidate would have faced in the 1940s while women workers were being sacked to make way for returning soldiers.

Or as a black candidate would have faced in the 1960s while Martin Luther King was delivering his ‘I have a Dream’ speech. Or as a gay candidate would have faced in the 1980s while many of the straight community were blaming gay men for an AIDS epidemic…