Archive for the ‘Africa’ Tag

“Here’s looking at you kid” by Andrew

Via Flickr:

I often wonder when I look at this photo whether or not it is the first time he has ever seen his reflection!

Posted June 1, 2015 by dranilj1 in Landscape

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Sunrise Balloon Ride

Sunrise Balloon Ride

Sunrise Balloon Ride

Posted February 7, 2013 by dranilj1 in Science and Universe

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Development of Human Intelligence

Image Credits:  Buck Shreck:  Well caught in the height of action!

Image Credits: Buck Shreck: Well caught in the height of action!

To summarize development of human intelligence, it is clear that as a species, Homo sapiens exhibits a broad range of intelligences, of which heritability can account for 50 percent. The fact that there are genes which control intelligence provides a platform for evolution and natural selection to act upon. During the early development of the human race, there would have been many more challenges in finding food and reproducing than we face today, which would have made the mechanisms of natural selection much more important. In today’s society, nearly anyone can survive and reproduce, which negates the principles of natural selection, which only function if there are more individuals born than a given environment can support. In essence, since we have effectively eliminated hunger and disease, we have removed any pressure from the environment to keep adapting and become more fit.

Instead, since we have removed ourselves from the "native" landscape and challenges of Africa, we have become more dependent on the psychological mechanism of general intelligence than previously in the history of mankind. While there have been definite changes in the brain that account for increased intelligence of humans over apes and other mammals such as the presence of more gamma-aminobutyric acid receptors and brain growth genes, much of the intelligence that we use is partially due to environmental factors. Since we are removed from the environment in which we evolved, the general intelligence region of the brain is forced to account for much more than it would otherwise have to. For example, if a caveman were to walk into a modern kitchen, he would have no idea what to do with anything in the room. None of the other psychological mechanisms are designed to deal with microwaves or toasters; only general intelligence is adapted to handle situations that are new and abstract.

Although, thousands of years have passed since mankind migrated from Africa and populated the vast expanses of the world, there has been insufficient time for evolution to take effect and modify us to better fit our new environments. Some people believe that in the future we will evolve so that our brains are larger and our cognitive abilities will dramatically increase. The chances of evolving to this level are slim because even if we were given sufficient time to let genetic changes accumulate, there is no pressure to weed out the less intelligent individuals, who actually procreate more than individuals with high intelligence quotient. Since we are now in a state of limbo where there is no evolutionary pressure, unless there is a dramatic change in the environment, or we are not able to support as many people living on the earth, I believe that the evolution of human intelligence will cease.


Development of Human Intelligence II

Image Credits: Tom Sloan

Image Credits: Tom Sloan

Origins of Dedicated Intelligence

Dedicated intelligence is ability of the computational system to solve a predefined target set problems or domain specific evolved psychological mechanism. Reverse engineering in the context of evolution, is the attempt to infer the ancestral conditions, called the environment of evolutionary adaptation, that would have made certain genetically inherited behavior-inducing modules increase their bearers’ reproductive success. It has been inferred that prehistoric man originated in Africa based on archeological evidence. In this primitive environment, there would have been certain physiological traits that would have been more favorable to the bearer of the trait. One such example that survives to this day is the taste preference for foods that are higher in fat and sugar. It can be assumed that during the origin of man, people who had taste buds that would have made them more inclined to eat fatty foods would have been much healthier and had a better chance at surviving and passing on their genes than individuals that had a predisposition to prefer foods low in nutrition.

Prehistoric man evolved during the Pleistocene epoch (a time during which extensive ice sheets and other glaciers formed repeatedly on the landmasses and has been informally referred to as the Great Ice Age), about 1.6 million to 10,000 years ago, a period characterized by constancy and continuity. Our ancestors were hunter-gatherers who would have spent their whole lives on the African savannah. Not only this, but for many generations, the environment remained stable, which is why evolution was able to take place. Evolution is a very slow process, which occurs over a long period of time through the mechanisms of natural selection and sexual selection.

The consistency of the Pleistocene epoch would have promoted evolution in a specific direction without much deviation. One key aspect of this era was that more children were being born than were supportable by the environment. There had not been the advent of modern agriculture to mass produce food, and there was no domestication of animals. It is primarily because of this aspect of the Pleistocene epoch that evolution was able to shape the human race through natural selection. Since only some of the population was able to survive and reproduce each generation, it follows that the individuals best suited to the environment would survive and pass on their traits, since most traits are at least 50 percent heritable.

However, in the past 1000 years, we have come a long way from our roots in Africa. It is safe to say that not even the most basic thing in our lives, the natural landscape, resembles the landscape that our ancestors lived in. This means that many of the psychological mechanisms that evolved over the backdrop of an ever constant savannah environment are now useless given the modern environment. For example, in America with the large abundance of food that we have, the inborn predisposition to foods high in sugar and fat is no longer an adaptive advantage, but might actually shorten the life span of an individual by increasing the risk of obesity and heart disease.

Not only has the availability of food changed, but many other aspects of life, including personal interactions have changed. The business related society we live in fosters many different types of relationships and interactions that primitive man would not have dealt with and would not have had a mechanism to cope with. These interactions include short encounters with strangers and relatively unknown people, which the business environment relies heavily upon. The fact that we were not adapted to deal with impersonal relationships like this explains why some people have better people skills, since it is not a universal adaptation.

Since we live in an environment that is far abstracted from the African savannah, even the simplest of things that we take for granted relies on our function of general intelligence. Changes have been made so rapidly in society that the natural selection mechanism of evolution has not had a chance to catch up to the progress we have made technologically. Thus, the part of the brain that is able to process abstract thought is used to help us navigate and cope with our "foreign" environments. There is no physiological mechanism for humans to know how to operate an elevator or how to travel through a city filled with skyscrapers, which is why general intelligence has become increasingly important over the past millennia; we have further developed general intelligence through our dependence on it.

A study was done which supports the idea that intelligence can develop over time. Newborn chicks which have small brains are able to correctly perceive partially occluded objects as one object. However, human babies were likely to perceive it as two separate objects. This study demonstrates that intelligence develops over time, and if intelligence can develop over time in one individual, it is possible for intelligence to develop over time for an entire population. Since intelligence can develop and because popular views on intelligence and types of intelligence are changing, there has also been increased pressure to revise methods of testing intelligence; for which the most common measure is currently modifications of the Wechsler Intelligence Test.

Big Male Lion Relaxing

Lion Relaxing

Big Male Lion Relaxing in Ultimate Tall Dark Forest of Wild Africa, not Safari!

Image Credits:  GREG DU TOIT

Posted January 27, 2013 by dranilj1 in Photography

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Small Shift Huge Effect


I am recalling a story that I once read about a woman who goes into a cafe one morning to have a cup of coffee. She’s glad that she brought her bag of cookies along with her. She gets a newspaper, sits down, and starts enjoying the morning by reading the paper, picking up a cookie and eating it, having a sip of coffee. There’s a guy at the counter next to her doing the same thing: having a cup of coffee, reading the paper. He reaches over and takes one of her cookies out of the bag, and she thinks, “That’s kind of strange—he didn’t even ask.” She takes another cookie, and soon he takes another cookie too. They don’t say anything to each other; they just keep reading their papers. Now she’s getting kind of annoyed because she really wanted to enjoy her bag of cookies, but every time she takes one, he also takes one shortly afterwards. She was getting more and more annoyed; she can’t believe he doesn’t even say anything. She can’t say anything at this point either; it’s actually become too weird. Finally it gets down to only one cookie left, and he quite casually, while still not looking up from his newspaper, breaks the cookie in half, eats half, and gently pushes the remaining half toward her. She’s totally enraged at this point and can’t believe somebody could do such a thing. She eats the remaining half cookie, finishes her coffee, throws down the newspaper and leaves the cafe. She gets in her car, reaches in her purse for her glasses, and there’s a bag of cookies there. The same kind she was just eating, in an unopened bag! She’s stunned. Her angry mind totally dissolves and she feels completely silly that, not only was she getting upset about this guy eating her cookies, but she was eating his cookies and he was even so kind as to split the last one with her!

This is a kind of elementary “mind-only” story. It demonstrates the basic principle that what we think is going on is not really what’s going on, that what appears to be happening is only our own mind’s creation. The actual situation is quite different, even though we are completely convinced it is the way we think it is. We are so convinced that we don’t even bother to question it; we just assume it is so and yet our normal, unquestioned sense of reality is seldom—we could even say never—what we think it is. So this simple story is about how believing what we think leads to suffering.

The mind-only goes even further. It presents the view that not only were those not really her cookies, but also that they were not his cookies either. In fact they were not really cookies at all. Or to say it from the mind-only point of view, cookies as they are experienced, which is the only way we can ever possibly know about them do not exist external to mind. They are a mental fabrication, constructed by mind out of mind-made color, smell, taste, touch, and concepts. Everything we experience, whether conceptual thoughts or direct sensory perceptions, is a manifestation of mind. This theme runs throughout Buddha’s teachings, but it’s highlighted and emphasized by the mind-only school, which was one of the major traditions out of which Zen emerged. As Dogen Zenji says, “Mountains, rivers, and earth, the sun, moon, and stars are mind.”

The practice is about not believing our stories about what is happening, and the mind-only teachings get into very, very subtle stories, stories we don’t even notice we are telling ourselves, stories like, “This piece of paper I’m looking at actually exists apart from my mind, external to my mind.” When we hear about not believing in very subtle stories like this, we might think, “So what does this have to do with my day-to-day suffering and problems? To say that the paper is not even apart from mind – why bother with this level of investigation of experience?” If we can really start to open to the way that all our thoughts and even sense perceptions of the world are distorted by this basic duality that the mind creates, the duality of what the mind-only calls the separation of “grasper and grasped,” that kind of understanding can apply to all our problems. Even though it may be quite challenging to do so, if we could realize that everything we experience is only a manifestation of mind, and thereby stop believing in an essential separation of the experiencer from what is experienced as an external world, then all of our basic, run-of-the-mill, day-to-day problems could be seen in a very different light. We would not be able to take so seriously the grasping of something that is actually not separate from the grasper, something that is merely a mental creation. Grasping or clinging to an idea, belief, or object that we think is real is the definition of suffering in Buddha’s teaching.

When we hear of the mind-only view we might think, “Well, if there’s really nothing out there apart from mind, then there really are no suffering beings.” It might feel like this kind of view is undermining compassion, and undermining our helpfulness in the world, because if the world is not apart from mind, if it’s really mind-only, why would we care about how it goes? In a dream, why does it matter what happens, if we know it’s just a dream? I think it’s important to keep looking at these questions and examine them from different angles. For one thing, if what we experience as “other” beings is really not separate from this mind, and the same is true of their experience of us, this experience is incredibly intimate. We are literally creating each other each moment, in a very dynamic and totally personal way. What could be more intimate? Opening to such intimacy of mind-only, we may feel a deep love for “others” and the strong wish for them to be free. Also, if everything we experience really is just like a dream, a mind-made creation for each of us, then when we see others appearing to suffer in this dream, we can deduce that it’s because they are taking the dream too seriously; they are reifying it as something existing independent of mind; they are thinking it’s not just a dream. Suffering beings, like us, are taking the dream too seriously. Therefore our motivation can become stronger to help dream beings become free from believing the dream that they’re in. Our wholehearted compassion and wish for others to be free from suffering is based on the inspiration that actually situations are workable, people really can be helped and people can actually be free from suffering. Even the worst situations no longer seem completely hopeless.

Our aspiration to help can be strengthened because we can see that the suffering of the world is just a hairbreadth’s deviation from freedom and joy, just the difference of this shift of vision. If every­one could see the kind of dream-like quality of our experience, and how we attribute reality to the dream, then we could be completely freed on the spot. There is such potential. It may be quite difficult to realize, but the beauty is that it’s a small shift with a huge effect. One teacher says that our basic delusion is “like stepping onto the wrong airplane.” It’s like there are two different gates to two different airplanes next to each other in the same airport; stepping onto this one is not that far from stepping onto that one. But the result is huge, because this airplane is going to Africa and that one’s going to Australia. A very small misstep creates a huge, huge difference. The more we’re open to this potential shift, the more we can see that everybody has this same potential, and the more it seems that this little step has the potential to quite literally save the world from suffering. Buddha’s great compassion is expressed as helping all beings, including ourselves, to shift our vision and to see the world differently. An essential part of such a process is to first meet so-called “others” with sincere kindness and to wholeheartedly try to take care of the problems of what appears to be an external world, so that people will feel basically comfortable, at least settled enough to start looking into how this mind creates suffering.

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