Concrete is one of those technologies that was used for centuries—in this case, by the Romans—and then had to be invented again centuries later. But once we rediscovered it, we were hooked. The only thing that humans consume more of, by volume, than water is cement, concrete’s key ingredient. We use so much of the stuff that the cement industry is responsible, all on its own, for 5 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.
I am often asked what will replace organized religion. The answer, I believe, is nothing and everything. Nothing need replace its ludicrous and divisive doctrines — such as the idea that Jesus will return to earth and hurl unbelievers into a lake of fire, or that death in defense of Islam is the highest good. These are terrifying and debasing fictions. But what about love, compassion, moral goodness, and self-transcendence? Many people still imagine that religion is the true repository of these virtues. To change this, we must talk about the full range of human experience in a way that is as free of dogma as the best science already is.
Say you have ten choices for a word to begin a sentence. Ten choices for the second word yielding a hundred and two word beginnings. Ten choices for the third word yielding a thousand three word beginnings, and so on. Ten is in fact the approximate geometric mean of the number of word choices available at each of assembling a grammatical sensible sentence. A little arithmetic shows that the number of sentences of twenty words or less, not an unusual length is about ten to the twentieth power . A one followed by twenty zeroes, or a hundred million trillion. Or a hundred times the number of seconds since the birth of the universe. I bring up the example to impress you not the vastness of language, but with the vastness of thought. Language after all is not Scat singing. Every sentence expresses a distinct idea. There are truly no synonymous sentences. So in addition to whenever ineffable thoughts people might have, they can entertain something like a hundred million trillion effable thoughts.
Steven Pinker: How the Mind Works (via liquidnate)
In suggesting that patriarchy is dead, I am not claiming that sexism is finished, that men are obsolete or that the triumph of feminism is at hand. I may be a middle-aged white man, but I’m not an idiot. In the world of politics, work and family, misogyny is a stubborn fact of life. But in the universe of thoughts and words, there is more conviction and intelligence in the critique of male privilege than in its defense, which tends to be panicky and halfhearted when it is not obtuse and obnoxious. The supremacy of men can no longer be taken as a reflection of natural order or settled custom.
Although the claim seems to annoy believers and atheists equally, separating spirituality from religion is a perfectly reasonable thing to do. It is to assert two important truths simultaneously: Our world is dangerously riven by religious doctrines that all educated people should condemn, and yet there is more to understanding the human condition than science and secular culture generally admit.