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What is the greatest threat to human civilization?

In short, what do you think is the greatest threat to human civilization?
Anything from nuclear war, to global warming to alien invasion will be accepted as an answer. Note that actually causing humanity to go extinct in the process is not a requirement.
I would however prefer concrete answers, not abstracts like "lack of wisdom".

I'd have to say plague myself, though whether artificial or natural, I wouldn't know.
We're more interconnected, and travel faster, easier and more prevalent then ever before, and the rapid response and forceful quarantine infrastructure and personnel that would be required to prevent it are simply not in place.
It doesn't help that the vast majority of nations today are too slow to respond to emergencies and/or too softhearted to properly enforce a proper quarantine in the early stages when its still effective.

Seeing as I have some characters left, let me list off other common answers and why I don't think they're as dangerous:
--Global nuclear war simply doesn't seem very likely since the end of the Cold War and the gradual stripping down of arsenals. Localized cases like the India/Pakistan standoff are still there, but they don't threaten global civilization as a whole.
--climate change, man made or otherwise, simply isn't as apocalyptic as people make it out to be. Human civilization has existed for more then 5000 years in a wide range of fluctuating climatic conditions, and in many ways, we've actually grown more robust to their sudden change, not more vulnerable. Don't get me wrong, there is room for tremendous damage, but its not at "deathblow to civilization" levels.
--Zombies would be quickly wiped out by the military. For an army used to fighting against people with guns, zombies would be something of a vacation.

But back to being serious, what do you think is the greatest threat to human civilization, and why?

    • Feb 16 2014: Bingo....... You winner the lottery.
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      Feb 16 2014: Kudos, Brendan! If you want two words - HUMAN NATURE.

      In the near future, anthropogenic extinction scenarios exist: global nuclear annihilation, total global war, dysgenics, overpopulation[1] or global accidental pandemic; besides natural ones: Meteor impact and large scale volcanism; and anthropogenic-natural hybrid events like global warming and catastrophic climate change. Naturally caused extinction scenarios have occurred multiple times in the geologic past although the probability of reoccurrence within the human timescale of the near future is infinitesimally small. As technology develops, there is a theoretical possibility that humans may be deliberately destroyed by the actions of a nation state, corporation or individual in a form of global suicide attack. There is also a theoretical possibility that technological advancement may resolve or prevent potential extinction scenarios. The emergence of a pandemic of such virulence and infectiousness that very few humans survive the disease is a credible scenario. While not necessarily a human extinction event, this may leave only very small, very scattered human populations that would then evolve in isolation. It is important to differentiate between human extinction and the extinction of all life on Earth. Of possible extinction events, only a pandemic is selective enough to eliminate humanity while leaving the rest of complex life on earth relatively unscathed. Wikipedia
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    Feb 18 2014: Flash of Insight:

    The greatest threat to human civilization is the belief in a "life hereafter," that only us Pan sui fallenda/Self-deceiving apes are capable of!

    Suicide bombers usually yell,"Allahu Akbar! - God is Great" before blowing themselves and everyone around them to hell, imagining that 77 virgins anxiously await them in heaven, right? Same thing with Christian Crusaders being pre-forgiven by bishops for all and any sins and murders they committed while wearing the Crusaders' Cross, or even old Fred Sanford dramatically collapsing in a fake heart attack, yelling, "I'm coming, Elizabeth!" to his deceased wife, when his son Lamont caught him in a moral transgression. Ironically and interestingly, soldiers who died more slowly on all the battlefields of history most often called out for their Mothers, once they realized there was no god willing to rescue and repair their torn and dying bodies.

    Only a Pan sui fallenda who really, deeply believes that 1) There is a life hereafter and 2) He will be rewarded for his viscous act could unleash a Game Over plague/weapon upon our Beautiful Blue Planet, Nadav.

    In many less sudden Game Over scenarios, believers in a "life hereafter" often tend to disengage themselves, consciously or unconsciously, from Earthly realities and threats, confident that their morally/ethically lazy butts will somehow be exempted from the Laws of Nature!


    I will shamelessly ask TEDsters for thumbs up here, to see if ya'll are awake. Far too many folks don't use thumbs up in these great chats, amigas and amigos!
    • Feb 18 2014: An interesting insight, but its far from the complete picture.

      People may be less inclined to start killing and dying if they don't believe in an afterlife, but they don't cease completely. Case in point, militaries around the world have atheists in them, and the famously "godless" communist block did a fair bit of fighting while they were still around.

      Nationalism and other political ideologies actually serve just fine as religious substitutes when it comes to motivating fighters.
      The trick is to get people zealously believing in them to the point they stop thinking straight. This might sound like a tall order, but I can tell you from experience that its depressingly easy right up to the point the bodies start piling. Especially considering that there's no shortage of people that already don't think straight without any further encouragement.
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        Feb 18 2014: Good points, Nadav, except for your exaggerated and more than slightly egotistical "far from the complete picture" blow-off - Unless thou art Methusalah who trod ol' terra firma for 969 years.

        So many Pan sui fallenda idiots and so few "cure-alls" for our evolution-and-epigenetically-twisted brains! Perhaps if we include idiot false-alpha human leaders in my "theological blanket" of false gods and false hope in an afterlife, we can see eye-to-eye on this. Nationalism, for all intents and purposes might be considered a theology, since Pan sui fallenda betas and gammas so readily surrender themselves to false alpha small "g" gods' hollow, histrionic and hypocritical pulpit/rostrum-thumping, pernicious and poisonous manipulations in crying, "Patriotism!" Pure, idiotic tribal xenophobia with many tribes having nukes now.

        But Nadav, how many nations do not strongly incorporate their theological beliefs with their nationalistic ones? US is hugely and idiotically Christian- based. Please name 3-4 true world powers that are not faith-oriented at heart and do not include God (never the Goddess!) in their national mottos? Name one nuclear power that is free of theological insanity. Only truly Communist/atheistic country I am aware of is Vietnam.

        Click on my name and read my Abstract, TEDsters. Many brain catastrophes highlighted there, with no solutions listed, but I'm shopping for loose-cannon freethinkers to help me out with that! And Nadav is thinking, "Oh, oh... Here he goes again with his 'defective brain' thesis." But I must ask you all, "What drives human events more than our brain?" So I have been a sly devil indeed by slowly leading TEDsters here to my conclusion that the sick and unbalanced human brain is by far the most dangerous threat we face on any and all fronts... But only Keith Henline immediately saw that in his response to the very first comment/answer you received from anyone (me) in this chat: "Humans."

        Peace Out!
        • Feb 19 2014: From what I've heard, the Chinese (or the ruling majority anyway) consider themselves to be good godless communists. Well, they're most capitalist at this stage, but still anti religious, even if superstition is more prevalent then they like to admit.
          The Russians have also completely separated church and state since their communist days, and haven't really reversed the trend since (though they did grow more moderate when they stopped actively prosecuting religious groups--moved onto homosexuals instead recently; it would appear a Putin needs an enemy to unite the people against).

          While France and Britain still retain a fair bit of religious traditions and rhetoric, they're slowly turning more secular as time goes by, as is standard in most developed nations nowadays (the US has been traditionally more religious, so its taking longer in that regard).

          Of course, where religion goes, secular ideas must take its place. When we're lucky, its science and philosophy. When we're not, its nationalism or some other political ideology.
          When we're really unlucky, its a combination of nationalism and religion intertwined in inseparable cesspool. This particular variant is more popular in the Muslim world, where there has been traditionally no separation of church and state. While some are growing out of it, other regions like Syria have only seen an increase in this brand of fanaticism.
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          Feb 21 2014: Human stupidity and apathy are the greatest threats---religious fanaticism included. We can even say that it's religion alone since at the end of this world, the final war will be religious.
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        Feb 19 2014: Great reply below, Nadav!

        You are very astute indeed, and at the end of a long career in aerospace engineering you might consider a role in Israel's Knesset. Not joking- you are mentally and philosophically agile and limber and those talents will only increase with age. A Sepphardic Israeli friend of mine here in the States, after listening to me rant about the two-party politics here, told me that our politics are child's play compared to the complexities of Israeli politics.

        When you are Prime Minister of Israel, I hope you look back fondly upon this old American hippie who gave you so much crap, pushing the envelope and giving you so many 'opportunities to excel,' my man! Valhalla, Odin's Great Mead Hall is only accessible to the clever, strong and brave!

        P,S. - Take a look at all the thumbs up on my very first reply to you here - this chat was big fun, but I'm outta here- made all my points. See you down the TED road!
        • Feb 19 2014: Something to consider in distant future perhaps.
          Problem is, I don't fit in any political party, and probably never will unless by some freak occurrence I start my own. I'm a dead set pragmatist--I find most ideology to be counterproductive and detached from reality.

          Most people don't follow political pragmatism. It involves too much thinking, and being too flexible in both your morals and state of mind. You actually have to consider all your actions instead of mindlessly turning to a rigid pre-established ideology or dogma--madness I tell you!
          It simply not built for mass appeal. Its the same reason the more rational philosophies and more philosophical and abstract religions tend to fade away and take a backseat to more ritualistic and dogmatic alternatives. Thinking is hard; someone else doing the thinking for you is easy, especially concerning issues of a grander scope.
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        Feb 20 2014: Re your future career in the Knesset, Nadav-

        Check out this new TED chat here, and I bid you with every fiber of my being not to blow it off and to explore the links I provide and Jacob's comments and my own. Save for later, perhaps, but don't blow it off. Share it with as many of your beleaguered fellow Israelis as possible.


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      Feb 20 2014: Brendan, where and how do you get all these ideas?
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        Feb 20 2014: Hi, Rodrigo, mi amigo!

        My father was a voracious reader - 5 books a week and had 7-8 high-brow magazine subscriptions, so learning was unavoidable in our house, with those magazines stacked by the toilets, right? Then I started reading self-taught two-time Pulitzer Prize winning historian Barbara Tuchman's wonderful books that focused on we men's "wooden-headedness" that has caused so much strife in our world.

        By age 20 I was convinced that there had to be something or a number of things physically wrong with our over-large brain. It took me 40 years to accumulate my data, which included patiently awaiting the creation of new sciences like epigenetics that generated that data. I could not have done this in the cannibalistic "publish or perish" academic world that forces scholars to crank out theses that are often weak and untested, and then defend them for years after... sheer insanity.

        So I did my carpentry and woodworking for a living and studied several fields in my time off work. Main trick is to read much more widely than deeply- acquire a working knowledge of a field and move on to the next one so you can synthesize a thesis from several fields that can survive assaults from single-field scholars and withstand the test of time. Scanning this EurekAlert! website often is also quite helpful.


        It also helps to be balanced-brained or more right-brained than left brained, Rodrigo, which I happen to be through no talent/effort on my part. Here is a fun RB/LB test/exercise in link below. Watch dancer spin a while, then look below her for a while, consciously commanding her to change directions before looking back up at her, and see if she obeys you. With practice I am able to make her change directions at will about 80% of the time.

        • Feb 28 2014: Awesome.

          "Main trick is to read much more widely than deeply- acquire a working knowledge of a field and move on to the next one so you can synthesize a thesis from several fields that can survive assaults from single-field scholars and withstand the test of time"

          Reading widely and deeply is the key to understanding the truth.

          "I could not have done this in the cannibalistic "publish or perish" academic world that forces scholars to crank out theses that are often weak and untested, and then defend them for years after... sheer insanity."

          Most of the theses cranked out by these scholars see things in bits and pieces and also in a isolated way rather than in a holistic way.
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      Feb 20 2014: Brendan,
      You say...."The greatest threat to human civilization is the belief in a "life hereafter,"...."

      Is it the belief that is a threat? Or is it how some people choose to act/react to that belief that is the threat?
      It goes back to people making choices....does it not?
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          Feb 20 2014: No problem Brendan....it is an open forum....no obligations...nothing to be sorry about:>)
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          Feb 20 2014: Brendan
          Regarding your edit...
          "Why don't you ask atheist Nadav that question... it is his chat, after all, and I'm sure he would have very similar replies."

          You are the one who wrote the comment. It makes no sense to me, to ask someone else to respond to your comment. It's perfectly ok for you not to respond if that is what you choose:>)
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        Feb 20 2014: I'm awake now - second cup of Joe kicked in-

        Belief in a 'life hereafter' that is a mainstay of every religion I am aware of is so pervasive, and to me, ego-enticingly perverse, that only the strongest of freethinkers can pull up and out of that self-destructive tail-spin. It is such a long-and-deeply-held belief that it has acquired a life of its own, presenting humans with philosophical road blocks nearly everywhere they turn.

        The "choice" you promote is usually only available to folks who are "self-actualized" in the term of sociologist Abraham Maslow. If you were born a poor, burka-clad woman in Teheran, shuttered away from the world and likely illiterate as well, how much choice would you have? As I said, only the strongest minds can free themselves, even here in the US, the 'Land of the Free.'

        Re my frequent edits: I am a picky SOB and need time to examine what I have written. Not a good idea to reply too quickly like a kitten pouncing on a ball of yarn.
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          Feb 20 2014: Welcome to the day Brendan:>)

          I am aware that the idea of an afterlife is a mainstay of many religions, and I do not agree that it has a "life of its own". I believe that how one acts/reacts to that information is a choice. There are quite a few people in our world who believe in an afterlife and are not destructive or violent.

          I do not perceive a belief in an afterlife as a threat to human civilization. I believe it is how one uses and/or abuses that information.

          And it's certainly ok if we do not agree:>)
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        Feb 20 2014: Colleen-

        The key to my position re an afterlife is that only self-actualized humans can make truly informed choices. Yet you ignored that main point in your reply. Will you go on your merry way, continuing to do so? I thought these chats were intended for enlightened interactions/mutual learning experiences, not just platforms for espousing long-held personal dogmas. But I have been wrong before, and no doubt will be again.
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          Feb 21 2014: Hi again Brendan!
          I think I understand your main point, and sorry you feel that I ignored it. I simply do not agree that "The greatest threat to human civilization is the belief in a "life hereafter," .

          My point, is that a belief cannot be a threat until/unless it is acted upon, and while many people in our world believe that there is an afterlife, there are many who do not adversely, destructively, violently act on that belief.

          So, in my humble perception, the belief itself is not a threat. Those people who act violently against others because of their belief are a threat, and I don't perceive that to be the majority of people who believe in an afterlife.

          Are you suggesting that I have "long-held personal dogmas"? For your information, I do not practice a religion or believe in a god. I am however, open to both sides of an issue, and I probably will go on my "merry way" continuing to be open to information.....thanks for noticing:>)
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        Feb 21 2014: Great points, Colleen!

        If you take a peek at my abstract in my profile- and you may have already - you will see why I think/believe the things I do. If you email me via TED, I would be happy to send you my 3,676-word illustrated paper, "Brain Catastrophes by the Numbers: Mental Minefields We Must Traverse to Survive." Pictures worth thousands of words and interesting video lectures as well.

        Granted, it takes a fair amount of work to explore it, but it took me 40 years to produce it, most of that time patiently awaiting data, of course... no sense in running off at the mouth until I really had something to say. I am looking for help in producing a right brain symposium, so if you have any input re that, I would be grateful. Once enough "monster" scholars might be assembled, I would love to approach the talented daughter of my late friend/mentor Leonard Shlain (author of The Alphabet Versus the Goddess), Tiffany Shlain who had two of her films shown at Bob Redford's Sundance Film Festival a few years back. No right-brain symposium could exist without great visuals!
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          Feb 23 2014: Thanks Brendan,
          I looked at your profile when we had our fist conversation, as I usually do when a new person appears on TED, because I like to learn about people, it gives me a sense of the person I am interacting with, and I've read many of your comments.

          Thanks for the offer of your illustrated paper, and I will pass. I did my own research regarding "mental minefields we must traverse to survive" after a near fatal brain injury years ago. I appreciate the information I explored, as well as the practical applications:>)

          Although I was right brain dominant most of my life, the injury seemed to encourage new neural pathways which interconnect the right and left sides of the brain, and now there seems to be more of a balance, using right and left interchangeably, which I LOVE!
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    Feb 23 2014: IMO, the greatest threat is the human ego’s endless & desperate need for recognition and what this need leads to. This need, which incessantly seeks ways to gratify itself, creates immediately the endless desire in our minds to find ways towards this gratification. This desire finds its expression in the diverse forms of the humanity’s endless greed for power, money, fame, acquiring materialistic possessions, acquiring Facebook friends, overpowering the fellow person in various competitive scenarios in order to be recognized as more capable than the others….etc. The need for recognition creates also a counter-reaction in case one feels that he//she has less than others the above objects of recognition (power, money, fame, possessions, capability….etc). This counter-reaction, due to having less than others (interpreted as being less capable than others), is expressed in the forms of jealousy, frustration, hatred, bitterness.

    I have read the discussion hereby between Brendan and Nadav about god, religions and what actually god is. But IMO there’s even more basic question which should be asked and that question can also be related to the human ego’s need for recognition.

    The question is, why there has been such a universal need for external god and deities ?? It does not matter which religion or which type of religion (monotheistic or polytheistic) we choose to look at. IMO, this universal need is originated from the human ego’s basic desire for recognition – a recognition by some intelligent entity with superpower in the human existence and in the human mundane needs. This also explains why and how the humanity has always placed itself at the center of any divine creation, no matter what’s the religion. The various religions are the mean for the human ego to be and remain universally and eternally at the focus of whatever universal superpower’s attention and thus actually attain the highest possible recognition in its (the ego’s) existence.
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      Feb 23 2014: Wonderful Stuff, Yubal!

      That being said by a man with no small ego... from my last here:

      "I still hope more stridently religious adherents to The Book from the world's Great Religions will deeply examine the name Isra-El, right? If you are gonna believe in a god(s), as studies have shown that so many people's brains are hard-wired to do, why not consciously choose the sane creator gods El, Atherat, and Rahmayyu that historically preceded and ruled over usurper war gods like Yahweh/Jehovah?"

      Some scientists think there may be a "God gene" in our overlarge and complex noggins.This is why I so deeply study our brain and the genes and epigenetic switches that activate/deactivate genes, Yubal. There seems to be some serious "hard-wiring" at work here, my dear sir... Check out this brief video narrated by Jane Goodall re her Gombe chimps reacting in very human-like ways to the mysterious and otherworldly (godlike?) power of a waterfall! I think alpha male chimps sometimes incorporate the water's power to strongly enhance their own dominance displays, just like human priests do!

      Quick note: Many mentally well-balanced people, standing directly above mighty Niagara Falls feel a strong urge to throw themselves into the water and lose themselves in its fatal chaos! Yubal, to me, this indicates that two phenomena are at work: An ego boost from religion and a need to surrender that ego, Not surprising when we realize that we possess both an egotistical left and holistic right hemisphere in our noggins. Many mysteries and no easy answers, I guess. Best!

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        Feb 23 2014: Very interesting points. I saw the video and it all makes sense.

        In the line of my original comment I would say that the humanized external god is the creation of the human mind which is fooled by its own lunatic ego.
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        Feb 26 2014: Hi Brendan,

        This is a reply to your last comment, "Good points, Yubal- We are expanding the topic here,....."

        The Human Epigenome Project you are introducing looks very intriguing and promising. The search for scientific Hard-Wiring solutions must be kept on as science has been proven until now to be very successful in giving practical answers and reaching practical solutions to vast many specific problems.

        But the question is, whether the project is going to touch the root cause for the main question raised in this discussion. Suppose this project indeed succeeds very well and somehow a cure is found for the over-growth of the left (masculine) side of the brain. But will this annihilate the basic and deeply rooted nature of our ego ?? Perhaps the project will reduce the aggression, as aggression is more associated with masculinity. But I doubt the project could delete the ego’s need for recognition. One does not need go far to see this. For example, even today, if we take the women, who we agree are less aggressive than men, the women possess equally the same need for recognition like men. The feminine ego is not less demanding to whatever concerned with self-gratification. One can find a lot of examples for this.

        Besides this, there are other factors than just aggression which are related to the need for recognition, that I had specified in my original comment. All these make me think that this and any other scientific project or cure will not be capable of annihilating the root cause which risk us. I think what Colleen calls “Mindful Awareness” or I call “Self Awareness”, in their highest capacity, can be the real cure for the problem raised at this discussion.
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          Feb 26 2014: Hi, Yubal-

          I can see why you thought otherwise, since I tacked on my brief aside re the Human Epigenome Project to a paragraph re the brain plasticity and malleability that allows us to mentally embrace both Gandhis and Hitlers, but I did not mean to imply that the Epigenome Project would give us all the answers to the topics in this chat. It will be "merely" a grand, synthesizing, cross-referencing compendium from which we will make of it what we will, for good or ill... just like the Genome Project.

          I think this would be a great time for you to explore my full "Brain Catastrophies by the Numbers: Mental Minefields We Must Traverse to Survive" paper that I sent you my dear sir. In 15-20 minutes you can explore what it took me 40 years to learn. Then I have no doubt that we could take this chat and many others to a higher level.

          Somewhat paradoxically, you and I and Nadav are well versed in warplanes and their development and use, yet we are philosophers, too. Obviously a manifestation of left/right brain conflicts, agreed? One of the world's largest Temples to the Left Brain this side of the Pentagon is two miles from my door: The National USAF Museum, which I know like the back of my hand, since more than 30 of the 47 aircraft my father helped develop are in it.

          May I respectfully suggest that we "physicians" (philosophers) heal, or at least thoroughly examine ourselves a bit first, before prescribing remedies for all of mankind? I find myself at war with myself constantly, with my "evil twin" Nadnerb inspiring me to do all sorts of questionable things in the course of my long life. Please read my paper, Yubal - but you might want a stiff drink before you do... though I do provide some comic relief to help open readers' "third eye" of awareness.

          In a far less humorous note, please view this brief, awe-inspiring observation by Manhattan Project Godfather Robert J. Oppenheimer:


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          Feb 27 2014: I agree Yubal, that Mindful Awareness/Self Awareness, in the highest capacity, can be the real cure for the challenge raised in this discussion.

          I don't like making this a gender issue, or a right brain/left brain issue, because the question is...."What is the greatest threat to human civilization?" We are all humans, with some of the same capacities, and some different.

          Society has instructed us for years regarding male and female roles. Boys/men were supposed to be the financial supporters, and in that regard had to be more aggressive and competitive. Girsl/women were taught to be the emotional supporters.....it was ok to cry and show emotions.

          As we evolve with a different paradigm, we are learning that women are just as capable of math and science, which are generally thought of as motivated by a stronger left brain, while the new "stay at home dads" are strengthening more emotional components, which are generally thought of as right brain dominant.

          We CAN ALL find a balance, which may contribute to us being less of a threat to each other and our civilization......I like this article:>)
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          Feb 27 2014: I just watched this DELIGHTFUL TED presentation. What do you think? Is she left brain, or right brain dominant? My guess is that she is using BOTH hemispheres of her well nurtured, balanced brain:>)

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        Feb 27 2014: Amazing…… as I too live very close to the IAF museum, around 10 KMs drive from my home. I had visited there several times. I have seen pictures of the USAF museum. It’s very huge containing thousands of even very old airplanes from WWII and on. I wish and hope someday I would visit it.

        Yes, it looks paradoxical that technical guys discuss philosophy. But IMO, it’s only seemingly paradoxical. It looks paradoxical from the traditional view of differentiation and categorizing which is dominant for centuries in the western thought. You call it the domination of the left-side brain. But in this era we are going through, it’s becoming increasingly clear that everything is intertwined together. I think that those who are capable of mastering numerous fields and view things from various and seemingly unrelated perspectives, have much better chances to get closer to the truth.

        About fighting and having conflicts with certain sides within us, have you seen the TED talk “The voices in my head” ? If not, it’s here: http://www.ted.com/talks/eleanor_longden_the_voices_in_my_head.html

        And my TED comment relating both this and one another talk:
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          Feb 27 2014: Hi, Yubal -

          Perhaps you weren't aware that my city of Dayton, Ohio, is "The Birthplace of Aviation," where Orville and Wilbur Wright, two bicycle-builders, invented the first powered-flight airplane in 1903. Displays in the USAF Museum go back even further, showing the evolution of powered flight.

          You are correct about technical folks often being fine philosophers, and I think the "I am become Death, the Destroyer of Worlds" quote from Robert Oppenheimer is an excellent example of that. But his wisdom didn't stop him and others from building the Atomic Bomb. It just made him deeply regret it afterward, to the point where his security clearance was voided and he was suspected of leaking atomic secrets to the Soviets in order that no one nation have nuclear weapon hegemony over the world.

          Thus he is the perfect example of the unbalanced male brain problem: The linear, sequential, abstract, "We have the technology, so let's build it!" forever at odds with the holistic, concrete, synthesizing " Why on Earth, or any other planet, would anyone in their right mind want to build a Game Over weapon?"

          This is the type of argument I have going on within me, Yubal - I am not schizophenic - I am merely balance-brained. My late super-achieving father often considered that a problem, since I don't have a lot of goal-oriented (linear) drive, and I am content with very little money and few possessions. 90% of my life takes place between my ears, and I have only recently discovered TED Conversations... a scary/fun thought, indeed!

          Here is a fun little brain test that I use as an exercise. I watch dancer spin a while then look just below her a while, letting my eyes loose focus. I then consciously command her to change directions before looking up at her again. With practice I can make her obey me (switch brain hemis) 80% of the time. My wife is apparently locked in her holistic right hemi and only sees her spinning in one direction.
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          Feb 27 2014: Dear Brendan,
          That is a very old "brain test" which has been circulating around on e-mail for a very long time, and is fun to try.

          You "command" her to change? Make her "obey" you? That is funny!

          From the first time I saw it, I observed the dancer turning in one direction a couple times then switching directions back and forth....that is what I continue to observe without any commands or obedience! Perhaps it is proof that I am using both "brain hemis" simultaneously! Cool!
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      Feb 24 2014: Your comment has some Interesting points which make sense Yubal.
      As I wrote in my first comment in this discussion..."I think humans are the greatest threat to ourselves". Any threatening behaviors or practices I can think of are initiated by humans.

      I agree that the need for recognition and the fear of not having "enough", often fuels many underlying emotions, which manifest into threatening behaviors against others.

      I have also read the comments about a belief in a god/religion in this comment thread and many others on TED, and as I stated in another comment, a belief is not threatening until/unless it is acted on in an aggressive, threatening way.

      There are many people in our world who believe in a god, religion, afterlife, etc., who do not behave aggressively or threateningly toward others. Perhaps those who are not aggressive do not have fear of not having enough, or need for recognition? As we know, there are many who are aggressive toward others.....they say....because of their belief in a god/religion.

      I agree with you when you say...."The various religions are the mean for the human ego to be and remain universally and eternally at the focus of whatever universal superpower’s attention and thus actually attain the highest possible recognition in its (the ego’s) existence."

      This might help explain why fundamentalists or extremists like to tell us their religion/god is the one and only, they are "blessed" because they know this (sense of recognition by their god/religious leaders, etc.), and they are going to heaven (they will finally be recognized and have enough of everything) while the rest of us go to hell and suffer for not embracing THEIR belief! This concept suggests that they are better and more intelligent than the rest of us, and need recognition for that?
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        Feb 25 2014: It’s definitely true that NOT the belief by itself in god or in whatever else idea (like science) causes the trouble, but the misuse or the misunderstanding of them by the humans IS the source of all the troubles. Humans are the doers of both the good & evil. This is very important to remember and remind each and every possible opportunity. That’s why I gave you twice Thumbs Up for 2 of your comments below.

        Definitely the fundamentalists crave the recognition. Their ego is intoxicated by their certain deep understandings and they lose control of it. Their minds do not pause to ponder about the comprehensive picture which those certain deep understandings lead to, which actually should lead them towards mental modesty and tolerance. Their ego runs wild due to certain spiritual and intellectual insights they gain, as this is the very nature of every ego. But their minds or mentality is not strong enough to restrain their own exhibitionist ego. They lack the sufficient presence of the very important thing called Self-Awareness.
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          Feb 25 2014: Good points, Yubal-

          We are expanding the topic here, of course, but that should be expected because after pretty much exhausting the list of man-made and natural threats to our survival, the rational mind seeks explanations and solutions. Yubal, as the son of an engineer I tend to seek "hard wiring" in our incredibly plastic and changeable brains that fortunately (Gandhi) or unfortunately (Hitler) can be altered/re-wired by epigenetic DNA snippet "switches" activated by thousands of environmental stimuli. Human Genome Project child's play compared to forthcoming Human Epigenome Project!

          Re Hitler: Germany was the most alphabet-literate nation (most scientists, too) before WW II. One would think that literacy might impart wisdom, but Marshall McLuhan proved in the 1960s that "The Media is the Message," and l-i-n-e-a-r a-l-p-h-a-b-e-t-s are interpreted by and very strongly stimulate the linear, sequential, abstract and usually male-dominant left brain; creating millions of new neurons and pathways in that troublesome hemisphere! Thus Germany's high literacy provided an already plowed and fertilized field for Hitler to sow his insane male-dominant super race philosophies in. McLuhan also wrote a sequel thesis: "The Media is the Massage," which Hitler certainly knew all about, too!

          Hey- I just listed another dire threat to humanity, I guess... linear alphabets! For those TEDsters who have an hour to spare, here is a superb lecture by my late friend and mentor Leonard Shlain, M.D.:


          Re Yubal's observations, here is a wonderful link to 16 studies of the differences between the brains of liberals and conservatives, which I think has huge implications/applications for examining religious beliefs as well. It really doesn't get any better than this:

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      Feb 24 2014: Ego can be a good thing; it depends on if the need for recognition comes from rather if "you value yourself as others see you", or if "you desire others to see you as you value yourself."

      For example Richard Branson values himself highly and wants others to see his value, and I think that is a good thing.

      As to faith and religion; we really need to keep in mind the egos of the leaders are not a reflection of the egos of the followers. You can say science has no ego, and yet its faithful has a variety of egos.

      Imagine being raise with others seeing as having no value, you’re just a peasant, lower class, untouchable, at this point it would be unlikely for you to learn to value yourself. Then imagine you find god and he is saying you are wonderful, at this point it would be Likely for you to learn to value yourself.

      Personally my value comes from within, and my spirituality is a boost and a shield against those doesn’t see my value.

      For those who value is external, I’m glad that there are good religions to help them.
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        Feb 24 2014: I agree Don, that the ego is neither good or bad. It is part of us for a reason.

        As defined:
        "the self esp. as contrasted with another self or the world; one of the three divisions of the psyche in psychoanalytic theory that serves as the organized conscious mediator between the person and reality esp. by functioning both in the perception of and adaptation to reality"

        I perceive that like anything in the life adventure, mindful awareness is important to keep things in balance....including the ego. Understanding our "self" and how the ego impacts us as individuals is the important piece. As you say....does our value or perception of our "self" come from within and "knowing" our self, or do we depend on external influences to sustain and nurture our "self"?

        If the ego has an "endless & desperate need for recognition", as Yubal says, I suspect that one is seeking that outside oneself.
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        Feb 25 2014: I completely agree ego can do both good and bad things. I had written according to this theme at: http://www.ted.com/conversations/15125/should_we_feel_gratitude_for_o.html?c=571960

        At this forum I had given just the trait of ego which may cause serious harm (the craving for recognition), as this was the initializing question of this discussion. I did not argue that the entire ego is bad.

        As Colleen says above:
        "mindful awareness is important to keep things in balance....including the ego. Understanding our "self" and how the ego impacts us as individuals is the important piece."
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      Feb 25 2014: After reading all the above replies I’m thinking it would be best to say the greatest threat is emotions that are out of control, ether extremely too strong or extremely insufficient will do harm.

      *Too much ego will blind you to the harm you do, too little can make you unproductive and vulnerable to abuse.

      *Too much Spirituality will enrage you to the harm others, too little can make you uncaring about the needs of others. (By spirituality I include faith in goodness of mankind, god, angels, science, nature, the 9 noble virtues/Odinic Rite, or if you’re like me a blending of them all.)

      *Even too much happiness can make you reckless, too little and you’re depressed, unproductive and suicidal.
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      Feb 27 2014: Yubal-

      Please read my latest comment at top of discussion. Perfect example of what you are saying about ego and power!

      So many folks are clueless about the undercurrents of power that are not publicized by mass media. Case in point: from 1900 - 1940 US newspapers and magazines routinely used the terms "corporatism" and "fascism" interchangeably. The American Socialist Party was quite strong back then and created the trade unions that in turn created our now-vanishing middle class. In 1905, 53% of the citizens of my hometown of Dayton, once the "town of 1000 factories" where more patents once came out of than the rest of the United States combined, voted for the American Socialist Party!

      This was because at the same time super capitalists/corporatists were buying off dictators/fascists with vast sums of money. Auto magnate Henry Ford gave Hitler $70 million in the late 20s when that was a truly vast amount of money. Ford also put anti-Semitic notions in young Adolph's head: 6 pages of Hitler's "Mein Kampf"were copied verbatim from Ford's earlier tirade of a book, "The International Jew."

      Can you imagine mass media news reporters almost anywhere in the Western World today equating corporatism with fascism? They would be fired so fast it would make their heads spin, whether they were speaking the truth or not!

      Re women's egos, if you read my latest at top, you should clearly see that under most conditions - Israel's understandably over-stressed women / Sabras being a notable exception - woman simply do not do the flat-out insane sh** we men do. This is why I will argue with anyone alive that we Pan sui fallenda male idiots are Public Enemy #1 and I will never be deflected from that deep conviction.

      Yes, there is new evidence that boys/men are becoming disempowered and confused these days, but that is a small price to pay for a world in transition where women are re-acquiring power they had in several periods of history. A new balance should restore order.
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        Feb 27 2014: Brendan,
        I suggest that boys/men are not becoming disempowered, but rather understanding real power in a different way. When we begin to understand something in a new or different way, it sometimes feels confusing.

        Women throughout history have known their/our power, and have bowed to society, which insisted we were/are the weaker sex:>)

        I wholeheartedly agree on the idea of balance:>)
    • Feb 27 2014: This has turned out to be a great conversation, very thought provoking stuff. I'll add my $0.02 by saying that not all religions have been ego builders. The "primal"religions, at least in my uneducated understanding , focused on the connectiveness of human to the "natural world" or as Huston Smith put it "as for the tribe, it is embedded in nature, and again so solidly that the line between the two is not easy to establish. ... The contrary of embeddedness is is a world of scissions and segregations, so we will approach the embeddedness of primal life by noticing the relative absence of these in its world." I think you are right though that the anthropomorphisized "God" is definitely a creation of vanity. I agree also (if I understand you correctly) that being a slave to our egos and the misidentification of ourselves with these egos is dangerous and very often leads to destructiveness. The "ego" is a powerful tool, but we have not yet learned how to use it wisely. It is a navigation tool that relates past experiences to future possibilities, but we are taught to believe that we are our egos and once we are convinced of this we are no longer in control of ourselves.
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      Feb 28 2014: Hi, Yubal and TEDsters!

      From this Wiki article on the premier US Boys Club, The Bohemian Grove, where the creation of the Atomic Bomb was first discussed!


      The pre-eminent [Bohemian] camps are:

      Hill Billies (Big Business/Banking/Politics/Universities/Media/Texas Business);
      Mandalay (Big Business/Defense Contractors/Politics/U.S. Presidents);
      Cave Man (Think Tanks/Oil Companies/Banking/Defense Contractors/Universities/Media);
      Stowaway (Rockefeller Family Members/Oil Companies/Banking/Think Tanks);
      Uplifters (Corporate Executives/Big Business);
      Owls Nest (U.S. Presidents/Military/Defense Contractors);
      Hideaway (Foundations/Military/Defense Contractors);
      Isle of Aves (Military/Defense Contractors);
      Lost Angels (Banking/Defense Contractors/Media);
      Silverado squatters (Big Business/Defense Contractors);
      Sempervirens (California-based Corporations);
      Hillside (Military—Joint Chiefs of Staff);
      Idlewild (California-based Corporations)

      "The Bohemian Grove, that I attend from time to time—the Easterners and the others come there—but it is the most faggy god**** thing you could ever imagine, that San Francisco crowd that goes in there; it's just terrible! I mean I won't shake hands with anybody from San Francisco."—President Richard M. Nixon on the Watergate tapes, Bohemian Club member starting in 1953.

      "If I were to choose the speech that gave me the most pleasure and satisfaction in my political career, it would be my Lakeside Speech at the Bohemian Grove in July 1967. Because this speech traditionally was off the record it received no publicity at the time. But in many important ways it marked the first milestone on my road to the presidency."—President Richard Nixon, Memoirs (1978).

      1909 photos from the Grove show child sacrifice


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    Feb 20 2014: THE MIGHTY NATURE - it nourishes and destroys, beyond human comprehension.
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    Feb 19 2014: We are our enemies
    We are the threat itself
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    Feb 15 2014: The merger between Comcast and Time Warner.
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    Feb 18 2014: A super caldera eruption rarely gets mentioned but is more likely than most other threats that get more press.
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    Feb 16 2014: The failure to learn from history.

    I find it ironic that the ancient Greeks and others have made observations and documented events that continue to face nations today ... yet even knowing this we continue to follow inadvisable paths. We know that nothing is free yet we seek free stuff ... we know that the bigger the government, the more it costs ... we know that to continue printing money will cause inflation ... we know that unfunded social programs cannot survive ... we understand all of these things and history has shown us the problems each will envoke ... yet we continue.

    Man is by far the greatest danger known ... with all of our knowledge we persist in doing stupid things and fail to learn from history.

    Be well. Bob.
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    Feb 16 2014: Environmental degradation.
    • Timo X

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      Feb 16 2014: Environmental degradation or, as I would put it, destruction is the most important issue facing humans right now. Climate change is just one of the signs and catalysts of environmental destruction, but one thing on the list containing deforestation, desertification, overfishing, poaching, extinction, pollution, et.c

      Sure, these disasters can happen naturally too. Ice ages, solar flares, supervolcanoes, meteorites, etc. have killed thousands of species and made large parts of the world uninhabitable. Environmental degradation is not exclusive to human beings, but does that make it acceptable? Are small differences in financial wealth worth a degradation of our environment? Would we be happier in a world filled with pollution, disaster and death?

      Another thing you hear is that tackling environmental issues gets in the way of economic progress. I'm an economist, and I can tell you that it doesn't: a negative externality is not a free lunch. Simply because we don't pay for environmental resources doesn't mean that nobody does. If we're using a resource, someone, somewhere, at some point in time, will pay for it.

      For example, imagine a company that pollutes a stream by dumping its toxic waste there. That's nice for the company, because it doesn't need to pay for getting rid of the waste in an environmentally friendly manner. It's not so nice for the fish in the stream who die as a consequence, or the fishermen who now lose their livelihoods. It's also not so great for those who, unwittingly, swim in the lake and develop rare cancers 50 years on. But the company saved some money, so at least the economy is better off, right?

      But who will support the fishermen in their unemployment, who will pay for cancer treatments? Effectively, the company sent its cleaning bill to future victims and the taxpayers. The costs are transferred, but no smaller or less real. And who would prefer wealth over disease and unemployment? Who would possibly call thát economic progress?
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    Feb 21 2014: I think it is debt.
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    Feb 20 2014: Hi Nadav:>)
    I think humans are the greatest threat to ourselves. A nuclear war would be created by humans...yes? Global warming is influenced by human practices....yes? If aliens visited us, we do not know their intent, and how we act/react to that situation might make a difference in the outcome.

    Plague.....mmmmm.....I tend to think that we are getting better about response efforts, and our continued efforts toward interconnecting are helpful for that.

    GMOs have been mentioned as a possibility. We humans have choices regarding what we consume....do we continue to buy foods that may be detrimental to our health? Or do we buy and grow foods for ourselves that are more healthy?

    As you say..." Human civilization has existed for more then 5000 years in a wide range of fluctuating climatic conditions, and in many ways, we've actually grown more robust to their sudden change, not more vulnerable".

    I certainly will ponder, and at this time, I believe we are our own greatest threat. The choices we make for ourselves as individuals and as a global society greatly impact how we live our lives and our ability to survive.
    • Feb 20 2014: If anything, plague containment efforts have gotten worse, not better. The measures haven't changed, its still the same basic quarantine, but travel has gotten faster and easier nowadays, meaning response must be swifter.
      The problem is, a quarantine is a pretty harsh measure. Doing it properly typically involves military personnel with orders to shoot anyone trying to break it, and there are always people trying to break it. Its not the sort of measure you employ lightheartedly, which means it usually takes time before leaders realize its bad enough to give the order. Problem is, its only effective if you place it early and ruthlessly--which means the plague is probably going to break out beyond anyone's ability to contain while everyone was still debating what to do.

      Worst case scenario on a plague is something like what happened to native groups when Europeans with old world diseases came along, especially smallpox. 90% of the population dead within a matter of months. Its virulent illness that won the new world, not steel or horses or even gunpowder.

      Its also a fair bit more likely then a nuclear war, seeing as not only can on occur naturally, but the list of groups with the capacity to produce bio-weapons is much, much longer then the nuclear club.

      Though to end on a lighter note, GMO's are mostly beneficial, not harmful. Most of the people deriding them simply don't understand how genetics work, and have been fooled into thinking that being natural automatically makes something healthier.
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    Feb 19 2014: Other than Lawren"s answer below the next biggies are the flipping of the poles which is imminent going by the weakening of the Earth's magnetic field and on a much longer scale the next ice age which will kill us all unless we prepare for it. And before anyone jumps in, both these events are scientific certainties. It's just a matter of time.
    • Feb 19 2014: All we'll have to do with the poles is switch a few parts on all our magnetic compasses. I doubt the change will be sudden enough for the magnetic surge to fry any electronics.

      As for oncoming ice ages, seems like something you can prepare for if you see it coming. And as damaging as it is, it doesn't sound at quite deathblow to civilization levels.
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        Feb 19 2014: Unless, of course, you know what the last Ice Age was like. Where are the world's 10 billion people gonna go, Nadav? The last Ice Age glaciers in North America stopped about 6 miles south of my house, in Moraine, Ohio. 'Moraine' a geological term describing small undulations in ground - everything north of Moraine was scraped down to bedrock by glaciers 1.5 miles thick.

        Re magnetic pole flip that has happened many times, I thought I read about possibility of magnetic field actually disappearing for a while. Not a good thing unless you enjoy extreme doses of radiation. Thing is, we really don't know, but hey- its great to see there are folks who do know everything, Nadav... now I can sleep much easier!
        • Feb 19 2014: I had read many years ago that it is believed magnetic pole reversal occurs every twelve thousand years and this was what occurred to create the evolutionary changes we can't explain. Like where we come from when our best guess is primordial ooze. I had forgotten about this. Thanks for bringing it up.
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        Feb 19 2014: The biggest threat of flipping of the poles is the massive cancer increase due to the weakening and holes in the magnetic shield not blocking solar radiation. In both humans and animal life, I’m not sure if or how plant and sea life will effect but it safe bet they will be affected.
        • Feb 19 2014: Its a problem to be dealt with when it shows up, but it doesn't seem to be on the same caliber as some of those other issues people have raised.

          Seeing as its supposed to happen fairly often (on a geological timescale), we at least know its survivable without too much fuss. As far as I'm aware, pole shifts don't correlate with any mass extinctions or bottlenecks in the gene pool suggesting large die offs.
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        Feb 19 2014: There is a possible complication regarding the poles flipping. If there is a large solar flare or CME during the weeks or possibly months during which there will be no magnetic field, there could be massive disruption of power grids. If the whole of the US mainland had no electricity for a week, how many people would die? Remember the same would be happening in Europe and Asia.
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        Feb 20 2014: Sorry, Nadav, I'm baaaack....

        May I recommend more deep reflection on your part before replying to many of these posts?

        Re the possibility of a vanishing magnetic field that is the only thing that shields us from solar and other cosmic radiation, except for a way-too-thin atmosphere, you said,

        "Its a problem to be dealt with when it shows up, but it doesn't seem to be on the same caliber as some of those other issues people have raised."

        Excuse me? How on Earth, or any other celestial body, can we possibly "deal with" such a catastrophe, especially considering the vast armada of catastrophes/fire-ships already upon us? You simply cannot left-brain this kind of stuff, assuming that the Great God Science will "deal with it," my man. Increased age will teach you, hopefully, the wisdom espoused by the great Spaghetti Western philosopher Clint Eastwood: "A man's gotta know his limitations."

        There are times when ego-surrender is inevitable, and though you claim to be an atheist, you also once asked me, "Why shouldn't I want to extend my lifespan as long as possible?" when we were discussing lifespans in excess of 200 years? Learn to "let go," Nadav - there are times when we adults must realize that there are situations utterly out of our control and the best thing to do is accept that and contort our precious egos enough to bend over and kiss our rosy-red butts goodbye.
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        Feb 20 2014: Nadav,
        The last Geomagnetic reversal occurred 780,000 years ago, so we simple don’t know for sure how much fuss it will cause.
        Sure it will not be quick and painless, but considering they do last an average of 450,000 years not being quick and painless is not the issue.
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      Feb 20 2014: Geomagnetic reversal is a process that takes millennia, and the risks to the biosphere are inconclusive and somewhat suspect. In any case, it's hard to classify it as a threat to civilization.

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        Feb 20 2014: Yes it takes millennia for a complete reversal, that is the problem. The chaotic period between produces a magnetic field that isn't organised enough to protect us from ionising radiation from the sun
        From your reference.
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          Feb 20 2014: Again, from my reference, there is no conclusive evidence that detrimental effects have occurred in the past or will occur next time. Life on Earth has quite nicely survived several of these events without a major disruption to the biosphere. I can't see how an organized, cooperative technological civilization would be impacted by a phenomenon that we will have several milennia to adjust to.
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        Feb 20 2014: The point is we have no data on how it will effect the electrical systems we now rely on. Previous events are no indication as the technology didn't exist then. A scrambled magnetosphere may allow atmospheric ionisation to levels that make it impossible to operate any electrical device or even at a much lower level shut down power grids. No electricity means no traffic lights, no sewerage, no tap water, no refrigeration, no internet or cell phones and no air traffic control.
  • Feb 17 2014: As far as man made catastrophies go, maybe the biggest threat to the survival of our species is "civilization" itself. Civilization may(or may not, depending on where you are born on this rock) be beneficial to individual humans but as a species we are walking down a dangerous path.
  • Feb 16 2014: I feel the greatest threat to human civilization is overpopulation. The Earth has a maximum capacity, and I think we'll reach that before any other threat can take place. Unless we as a global community innovate ways to create natural resources, we may reach maximum capacity in only a few more generations.
    • Feb 16 2014: The only thing with a real hard cap on it is food production. Everything else can be scaled back at the cost of quality of living--an oil crisis for example will hurt your wallet, but it won't kill you.
      Of course, the civil unrest might, but that just hurts civilizations, it doesn't kill them.
      • Feb 16 2014: I think the natural resources play into safety from the elements. If you're unable to have adequate shelter, a strong enough storm, tornado, hurricane, any natural disaster, could kill you. If theres no more natural gas, a cold enough winter could do you in. But food and healthy drinking water would be the the most threatening factors of overpopulation.
        • Feb 16 2014: You're thinking too small. The question deals with global civilization; localized problems like lack of drinking water, as problematic and even potentially lethal as they are for the locals, don't threaten global civilization as a whole.

          Food shortages do however, because nowadays, the entire world's food supply is heavily interconnected, and as a result large parts of the planet import and consume much larger amounts of food then they can realistically produce.
          It'd still need to be a hell of a food shortage to bring down global civilization, but it is possible with the right (or perhaps wrong) combination of natural disasters and maybe the odd virulent crop disease. And yes, a larger population does make us more vulnerable.
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        Feb 16 2014: Overpopulation Problem #1. We are the Plague that you fear most, Nadav!

        Problem about wars that will - not may - occur when oil, food and potable water supplies get very short is that many countries have nukes these days and will - not may - use them when they are really pushed to the wall.

        Vanishing glaciers in Himalayas that supply both China's and India's vast populations with their drinking water will -not may - have very ugly repercussions for every Pan sui fallenda (Self-deceiving ape) on Earth. Please don't argue the "survivability" of major nuke missile exchanges with me, since all my sibs and I were born with birth defects after my American father, who died of cancer at age 54, spent a lot of time in Nagasaki a month or so after the A-Bomb was dropped in WW II... such theoretical talk is cheap.

        "Survival" at what cost... an ear growing out of your face where your mouth should be, putting an end to linear-thinking oral debates? You simply cannot left-brain this stuff, my friend, and find the answers you are looking for. The answer to Biggest Threat? in this rhetorical exercise is, given enough time, "Any and all of the above." But except for extra-terrestrial events, Pogo the Possum is right on: "We have met the enemy... and he is us!"

        Peace Out
        • Feb 17 2014: There's a big difference between running around ground zero and being some one hundred kilometers upwind of a nuclear blast.

          If you find yourself in the midst of a nuclear war, you're more or less done for if you're in a major city, but it is survivable in the countryside.
          Chances are you won't exactly be enjoying yourself, seeing as EMP will wipe out most modern electronics, and civilization will be done for in that region for quite a while yet, but it is survivable.

          However, since the end of the cold war, a global nuclear exchange simply doesn't seem very likely geo-politically speaking.
          That may change in coming years, but for now, I'm more afraid of a scenario like the native Americans had when the Europeans came and accidentally gave them small pox and other assorted diseases they had no natural immunity to--a 90% fatality rate and the utter collapse of society. By the time the Europeans got to conquering, all they had to do was kick down the door and the entire structure fell down more or less on its own.

          All it takes to do to our modern society is a single virulent illness that we don't have a natural immunity to, or a working vaccine for. It doesn't exactly help that biological weapons are a poor man's nukes, and that the artificial stuff makes natural diseases look like the common cold.
      • Feb 16 2014: Fresh Drinking water would pose a similar magnitude of threat as food storage, if not greater. We can survive without food longer than we can without water. Come to think of it, during very hot summers, some smaller towns in my area have already been close to running out of water.
        • Feb 17 2014: True, but a lack of water is a local problem--an acute and pressing local problem, but still local none the less.
          Lack of food in today's interconnected market is a global one.
      • Feb 17 2014: If you look at it that way, food also could be taken care of on a local scale. For those who don't live in a metropolis, raising cattle and chickens isn't as hard as it looks, and a garden is even easier to tend to. Creating clean drinking water? Not every average person knows how to do that.
        • Feb 17 2014: And yet hardly anyone raises their own food.
          Its a lot of bother, and economically, it makes no sense. It doesn't even make much sense from an environmental standpoint, as you'll never be as efficient as someone mass producing the food, even taking into account transportation costs (both economical and environmental).

          Disaster preparation just isn't very high on people's priority list. Plus, stocking up on canned goods is is cheaper and easier then starting an urban farm.

          By the way, creating clean drinking water isn't that hard if you happen to live close to the ocean or some similar salt water source like most of the world population. It takes a fair bit of energy to do so, meaning that its not something you'll want to do from a financial or environmental standpoint if you can avoid it, but its a handy backup to have.
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        Feb 20 2014: Nadav-

        Re your comment about local water shortages being merely a local problem:

        In the all-embracing Systems Theory that posits that the only thing that defines anything is that thing's interactions with other things, there is simply no such thing as a truly "local problem." They always expand outwards and often in quite unexpected ways. One would think that an Israeli, surrounded by enemies, would be far more aware of that than most inhabitants of Earth. Is the "Palestinian problem" just a problem for Palestinians in your world?

        Re that particular "local problem," here is a famous photograph of my former Athens County neighbor, the late, great pacifist Art Gish, who had a farm a bow-shot from a nice cabin I built. He is bravely and fearlessly obstructing an Israeli tank that was enforcing Israeli construction of one of many illegal new settlements in Palestinian lands. Thanks to heroes and heroines like Art and his activist wife Peggy, the localized "Palistinian problem" has become an international issue, as it should be, since many nations/brains are better than one self-interested one, right? Or do you - and Israel by extrapolation - exist outside the Systems Theory? Quick note: Believers in an afterlife think they are exempt from the Systems Theory.


        For the 10th time: You simply cannot left-brain this kind of stuff and find solutions. But maybe solutions aren't in your repertory? I sometimes have a hard time with them myself, since I am so often the Prophet of Doom trying to wake so many sleep-walking humans up, I guess.
  • Feb 28 2014: Me and Myself is the biggest threat to human beings.
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    Feb 27 2014: Hi, Colleen!

    Yes, the spinning dancer brain test I provided is a "golden oldie" but certainly is applicable here.

    Re your ridiculing my stating that I can command her to change direction at will 80% of the time, it was a simple statement of fact on my part. Yes, if I watch her constantly she will often change directions.

    But that is an entirely random and uncontrolled switching of my brain hemispheres. By looking away, and yes, by consciously commanding/telling/willing/ordering her to change directions before looking up at her again, I am consciously/deliberately/intentionally switching my perceptions from one hemisphere to the other, as opposed to settling for a mere random occurrence of that phenomenon.

    Understand it now? There is quite a difference. By all means try it and see if you, too have the "Right Stuff!" It takes 10-15 minutes of practice. Big fun.... maybe if enough of us get together we can make nuclear weapons disappear by willing them to!

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      Feb 27 2014: Brendan,
      You posted the same comment again, so here is my response again....

      Sorry you feel like I was ridiculing your statement....it is kind of funny:>)

      I understand that you are explaining how you consciously/deliberately/intentionally switch your perceptions from one hemisphere to the other, as opposed to settling for a mere random occurrence of that phenomenon.

      As I said in a previous post....from the first time I saw that exercise, I naturally observed the animated "dancer" changing directions back and forth, and I am aware of using both hemispheres of the brain most of the time....it is not a random occurrence for me. Understand it now?
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          Feb 27 2014: That is correct Brendan. I do not deliberately have to switch hemis....it is natural for me to use both hemispheres simultaneously. Since you replied so swiftly, which is YOUR habit Brendan, I suspect you are not paying attention. No Brendan, I do not take your advice.

          The question for this conversation is...
          "What is the greatest threat to human civilization?"

          That being said, I suspect one threat to human communication, which impacts civilization, is some folks not genuinely listening to each other:>)

          Sorry you feel puzzled.
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        Feb 27 2014: I believe that your different experiences in this regard may be gender-connected. I am certain I have read that because of differences in how early the part of the brain develops that connects the two hemispheres, women are more likely by nature to use the hemispheres in an integrated way and males in a switching way.

        I am sorry not to have a reference at hand to link, but it cannot be hard to find. At this point this is easy to test with MRI.
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          Feb 27 2014: I think you are right Fritzie.....women tend to have more neural pathways connecting the right and left hemispheres of the brain.

          The other thing for me, is that because of the brain injury years ago, we (me and my brain) created more neural pathways with the healing process, which seemed to create more connections.

          While I seemed to be more right brain dominant prior to the injury, after the injury, the left hemisphere seemed to be more active. The injury was in the right hemisphere, so perhaps that caused more development and connections in the left hemisphere. I certainly have had more than my share of MRIs and scans!!!

          Anyway, I like to say I had my brain "fixed" so it works better now...LOL:>)
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        Feb 27 2014: I had forgotten about your traumatic brain injury. You may indeed process many things via different pathways than you did or than others typically do.
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          Feb 27 2014: Brendan,
          Yes, I am perceiving life with both hemis at the same time, which is why I often say I "think/feel". It is not so unusual to use both simultaneously Brendon.....lots of people do.

          I'm finished with your preaching...I didn't come to this site for an on-line analysis, and this is way off topic!
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    Feb 27 2014: i probably think someone dropping a nuclear bomb on someone, one country on another country. Might not destroy the whole world, but it's so sad and strange to think of hundreds of thousands of people dying in an instant?
  • Feb 26 2014: Money.

    And here's why.
    It's something we've invented that provides incentive to the individual over all else, including the world we live in. It's something we've created, and we have the technology to make it better, so why don't we change the incentive?

  • Feb 22 2014: Frankly, it is the runaway global warming that signals the end of most life on this planet by the end of this century..unless something totally unexpected happens. Perhaps a killer virus that kills off most of us soon might be the only thing to save us as a species and most life on the planet..if it isn't already too late...I will NOT hold my breath waiting for a technological miracle to save us, because if I want to believe in pipe dreams, I'll smoke a bowl and daydream..the end result will be the same. I think we have already activated too many feedback loops though, and that the end is already pretty much a foregone conclusion: http://www.ecoshock.org/transcripts/McPherson_121102_notes.html
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    Feb 22 2014: My Dear Nadav-

    The prolonged silence after my last comment re the war god Yahweh in the currently most active TED Conversation was instructive, as I hope the rather radical comment itself was, of course. "Strong medicine" is often required when dealing with a world gone mad, as ours unquestionably has; and that situation certainly has been exacerbated by both our creation of and then all-too-often unquestioning belief in gods that are flat-out murderously insane.

    For those TEDsters brave enough to read and contemplate the "Drunk with blood" link I provided re Yahweh/Jehovah, I must ask you quite seriously, "If Yahweh was a mere mortal, would you trust him alone with your children, sisters or wives? Would you even let him cross the threshold to enter your house?" The answers are quite obvious, unless you, too, might be a raving homicidal lunatic, of course.

    Luckily, deep freethinkers realize that man creates god(s) in his own imagine and likeness, not the other way around. I am sure my fellow atheist Nadav knows this, too. "False alpha gods" like Yahweh were obviously created by human false-alpha males. Humans are the only species cursed with false alpha leaders, by the way... ain't that just peachy? Early Hebrews arose in a period of "Mad Max" chaos towards the end of the declining Canaanite Empire, a typical phenomenon, since all empires fall, eh?

    In that chaos, early Hebrews/pastoral Canaanites forgot the earlier balanced-brain creator gods they created from their own balanced brains in more peaceful times... El, the Father of Gods, and his wives Athirat and Rahmayyu. Three brains are always better than one for problem solving, and two of these were female right brains... Capisce?

    So here I call upon all adherents of "The Book," Jews, Muslims and Christians, to re-examine your most ancient theological/philosophical roots and deeply contemplate the name, "Isra-El!"

    Peace Out, warrior Nadav!

    Start at "Ugarit" in link
    • Feb 22 2014: I don't really see the monotheistic concept any better or worse then the polytheistic one. Seeing how widespread the monotheistic religions are nowadays despite their relative newness, it could be surmised they're more virulent in terms of their spread, but that's about it. As far as I'm aware, they don't inherently preach towards any more or less violence.
      Essentially, its the difference between people killing each other over a myriad smaller local religions, or a smaller number of more widespread religions. The first option generates more conflicts, but the latter generates worse conflicts (mostly because larger factions are involved).

      Its also important to remember that because those polytheistic conflicts were on the one hand smaller and on the other earlier and therefore not as well recorded, they're pretty easy to miss despite their prevalence. The monotheistic inspired conflicts are fewer, but usually grander, and better documented.
      Our historical narrative gets blurrier and blurrier the further we go back. Without proper care to factor in this variable, this may give the wrong impression concerning the past. The general trend in history is actually reduced violence the more modern you get, not the other way around, even if individual wars grow in scope.
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        Feb 22 2014: Excellent points, Nadav!

        But even in prehistory/early historical times, there is evidence that there was a somewhat sudden surge of defensive wall-building and turning plowshares into swords, so to speak, since metal plowshares didn't exist then. I am guessing, as so many others have, that the advent of male war gods had something to do with this. Since the very earliest figurines and etchings of deities were female, with much smaller, less-potent males sometimes depicted, possibly reflecting their minor roles in fertilizing the Mother Goddesses, I hope you might more deeply consider the Yin as well as the Yang and truly see the importance of balanced-brain humans and gods/goddesses.

        Once again in typical youthful exuberance you have replied far too quickly to my comment. How many older men are you acquainted with? I suspect not too many, at least ones you spend a lot of time with. 24 hours passed before I sent my "El" comment.

        When I was a boy and then a teen, at large family gatherings I often ignored my fellow young siblings and cousins that I played with often. I was irresistibly drawn to the group of older men that inevitably formed, and basked in their stories and laughter. Both most importantly, I paid heed to their anxieties and fears and the possible solutions they shared among themselves. I loved playing young bartender to them, mixing drinks and pouring beers to keep their tongues fluid and the relaxed accumulated wisdom flowing over me like a warm spring rain.

        Please, Nadav - walk away from your computer, fellow students, and young, cocky Kibbutz/Commune members (just guessing there, but you did mention farm work in another post) and seek out men and women with deeply wrinkled faces, and old, scarred warriors for company, and listen far more than talk. Wisdom cannot enter through an open mouth. Granted, my mouth is often open, but I may be old enough to be your grandfather.

        • Feb 22 2014: If there's anything my time in the military taught me, is that seniority and wisdom have less to do with each other then you'd think. Experience is very helpful when you've encountered a similar situation before, but in a new scenario, it may not be relevant.
          I've never spent any time farming though. Don't know where you got that idea.

          Back to our original conversation though, I think you place too much important on the nature of the gods people worship. Oftentimes, especially in the smaller local religions, the nature of the gods is a reflection of the nature of the worshipers. War gods are the result of bloody thirsty followers, not the other war around.
          Rome's war god, for example, one of the most important in the ancient world, was originally a god of agriculture with some war thrown in on the side. As Rome grew more militant, it gradually came to place more emphasis on the war aspect of the persona, until the agriculture aspect became secondary. Also worth noting, is that according to the Romans themselves, they did not go to war because Mars told them or some such; their reasons were typically unapologetically secular (economics more often then not, conquest used to churn a profit in the ancient world), Mars was just the god of that waring thing they planned to do anyway.

          Either way, it pays to be good at war, whether you like it or not. Even if you don't seek it, it may yet seek you.
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        Feb 22 2014: Nadav-

        I can't help but notice that you did not reply to my earlier "I will make my arrows drunk with their blood!" Yahweh/Jehovah comment that still sits there ticking like a time bomb for a day and counting with zero replies from anyone. You deftly avoided it by slipping around it and addressing my much less confrontational "El, Athirat and Rahmayyu balanced-brain creator gods" comment.

        The "genocidally insane Yahweh" time bomb is still there, my brave young friend... but by all means, take a lot of time to consider replies before/if/when you pick it up. A full bomb-squad suit, or even better yet, a radio-controlled demo robot, might be advisable.

        • Feb 23 2014: That's actually an example of what I was claiming earlier. Small local gods are a reflection of their believers. Reading the bible, it doesn't take long to realize the ancient Israelies were warlike tribals without much to differentiate them from the other warlike tribals except a rather special monotheistic deity as opposed to the more popular polytheistic model. Its no coincidence that deity is a militant one, or at least, that's how the tribals thought about it, even if some modern interpretations vary.

          And its still very much involved in politics, this god of my people. Our mere nationalist nutjobs are a small minority--most of our fanatics are religious-nationalist nut jobs, much worse, with two different fundamental ideologies wrapped in one to make them more zealous.
          Thankfully we also have enough atheists, agnostics, and those that plain don't want to mix politics and religion that we have more moderates then nut jobs. For now, anyway.
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        Feb 23 2014: Another great reply, Nadav-

        Things are looking up for your future Knesset and Prime Minister posts! And don't I wish we had fewer religious nut jobs here in the US, the nation with the most nukes, by far. The only thing is that with no serious external enemies except Russian mafia super-hackers, and battalions of Chinese hackers, and all the various nations we have stolen natural resources from, and... Well, anyway, our bored war hawks are now looking inward and waging war on several fronts against We the People. You have perhaps seen a few of my posts about that fun topic.

        Oh- its 3 A.M. and I'm not really awake - I still hope more stridently religious adherents to The Book from the world's Great Religions will deeply examine the name Isra-El, right? If you are gonna believe in a god(s), as studies have shown that so many people's brains are hard-wired to do, why not consciously choose the sane creator gods El, Atherat, and Rahmayyu that historically preceded and ruled over usurper war gods like Yahweh/Jehovah?

        In modern political terms, to let war gods run rampant is as insane as a nation letting it's military arm rule the nation, without any civilian control, right? Actually, this foray into "Yahweh with Nukes" was a bit of a psychoanalytical side-track from my very first candidate for "worst threat": "Humans."

        Here is a wonderfully fun 1-hour video of the incomparable loose-cannon Jewish comedian Lewis Black... "Red, White and Screwed!", in which he has brief fun with war god Yahweh but longer fun with false alpha male US leaders, which are more dangerous than pre-Babylonian Captivity Yahweh was, by far.


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    Feb 20 2014: Yahweh/Jehovah with Nukes?

    Nadav, I'm curious about how many miles you live from Meggido, the site of Armageddon prophesies neither you or I believe in as atheists. Google Maps will tell you in 15 seconds. Just a fun exercise for Prime Minister prospects here:

    Now, correct me if I am wrong. The second-string Canaanite god Yah, a warlord who served at the whim of his king Baal and queen Inanna and was important to Canaanites only in times of war, was adopted as their one and only god by early Hebrews, who were in fact rural, pastoral Canaanites themselves, who then followed Yah-weh into battle as they ransacked the richer cities of Canaan that had been falling into decline for hundreds of years. In fact Yahweh, showing his rural Canaanites how it is done, threw down his king Baal, and took Baal's wife Inanna "to wife" for himself (raped her, in other words). So Yahweh was never a creator god, but a usurper god.

    After leading his rural Canaanite/early Hebrews on city-ravaging-and-raiding expeditions in person - exhorting his followers in the first person as he lay waste all around him for about five generations, he and they ran smack into the Babylonian army and were destroyed and the survivors taken into captivity. A strange thing happened immediately after that: Yahweh no longer speaks to us in the first person, nor does he lead Hebrews into battle at their head thereafter. The official story is that Yahweh turned his back on his people, but since man creates gods, I believe he can fire them, too. Since it was clear that Yahweh was not invincible, he was put on the bench by his followers, and has remained there ever since, only being henceforth referred to in the third person.

    Okay... but what if modern Hebrews are pushed to the wall and decide to pull Yahweh the war god off the bench? Do we really want this guy in the following link to have nuclear weapons?

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    Feb 20 2014: Although it would not completely end human civilization, the Yellowstone Supervolcano is unquestionably a big threat. Just considering how much of the world’s most productive farmland will be taken out of production, worldwide mass starvation is a real possibility.

    Also the fact we are doing zero to prepare for something we know definitely will happen, does not help.

    FYI: To see the scale of damage image search “yellowstone super volcano ash map” it covers over a dozen states ranging Canada to Taxes and Southern half of California to the Missouri River.

    Now that would be what I would call a really bad day. ;)
    • Feb 20 2014: Actually, its potentially very civilization ending.

      The effects of ash and debry fall might be local (if you can call an area the size of North America local), but the real damage would be done in the form of ash, sulfurous gasses and other materials thrown into the upper atmosphere.
      They have the exact opposite effect of greenhouse gasses, but are much more acute in both time frame and intensity. They gradually fall back down over the course of several years, but during those years, global temperatures plummet dramatically.

      Plain old regular volcano eruptions are well documented to cause global temperature drops, and there's no reason to think a super volcano would be different. A few straight years of crop failure will shut down civilization just fine--they say its three meals away from anarchy, and some say that's an optimistic assessment.

      Worse still, yellow stone is just one of six active super volcanoes, if I remember the number correctly. An eruption of some other one 70,000 years ago is archeologically documented as almost causing humanity to go extinct. And that was when our ancestors were living in Africa, and the eruption took place half a world away in modern day Indonesia.
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      Feb 20 2014: What would you suggest we do to prepare for a super caldera eruption which will occur somewhere in the world in the next 10,000 years or so? What could possibly be done?
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        Feb 20 2014: Imagine countries creating disaster response forces equal to their armies. Than advance them hundreds of years of experience responding to natural and man-made disasters; hurricanes, earth quacks, floods, tsunamis, nuclear plants disasters. Replacing USS hope with high speed rescue air craft carriers with civil eviction aircraft, and then the power and water restoration forces could step in.

        Plus research should be done, look at sea oil spill containment advances done in to past few years. The same could happen to ash cloud containment, mankind is an inventive bunch when motivated.
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          Feb 20 2014: A super caldera eruption would likely result in a global nuclear winter lasting a few years, so it wouldn't be a containment issue like the other disasters you mention.

          One thing that can, and has been done, is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in northern Norway.

      • Feb 20 2014: I've heard people claim that praying helps, but have yet to see evidence to support the idea.

        Not much to be done, really. The way to prepare for it would be emergency food stores, but they'd need to be absolutely massive in scope. Far more then anyone's willing to invest, honestly.

        Maybe the volcanoes themselves could be manipulated into not erupting. Considering their scale, its probably just wishful thinking we could engineer a solution to something that big and unapproachable, but you'd need to ask a geologist to know for sure.
  • Feb 20 2014: It all comes from a core source those are inventions which are done by humans themselves !! and development to the existing ones . Even if you take the Nuclear bomb people have started to try to develop new things in too , from the range of the missile to the effect of the missile . I completely agree with Brendan Maloney saying we are the biggest enemy of ourselves
    • Feb 20 2014: And what would you say if you learn tomorrow that a large asteroid is heading towards earth, and the only way we could realistically stop it in time is using a re-purposed nuclear warhead?

      Every coin has two sides.
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    Feb 20 2014: Nadav,
    Many of your respondents have accused us of being the death of us. Mr. Maloney even quoted one of my favorite philosophers... Pogo.
    I read a article by a PJ Watson who makes a good case that masculinity is being erased from the human physic. He sees humanity evolving into a genderless society. He notes falling birthrates worldwide, lower sperm count, "metrosexuals" . He claims women secretly scorn them. He noted many modern foodstuffs and products effect hormones that generate masculinity. In theory, we can reduce almost half the world population as unnecessary. Since one male can generate enough sperm to deal with thousands of women, only a few would be needed until humans evolve into another species where reproduction is self generated or a farming method.
    Yes, Pogo was right.

    OK, ants do it and bees do it.
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      Feb 20 2014: Great stuff, Mike!

      In my shameless cut and paste job from another chat below (I often get severe hand cramps at night from typing that prevent me from enjoying one of my favorite male preoccupations... well, never mind!), I propose that we ain't got nothin' on ants! Re bees, they have shown the amazing ability to recognize and respond to different human faces and retain memory of them for about two days. Granted, they are bribed to do that with sugar-water rewards, but that discovery should surely make us Pan sui fallendi a lot more humble in our consideration of our place in the Systems Theory, eh?


      "Modern worker/drones are the problem, not the solution. Amerindians who considered the next seven generations in their councils were appalled at the white man's Euro-centric work ethic that denuded Europe of vast forests for buildings, furnaces, ships, etc. and then was transplanted here, doing the same incredibly destructive thing. Only one of many, many examples, of course.

      The alarm clock was invented by monks who had to get up and pray several times a day/night, but was quickly adopted by the power elite to get their servants and workers up before daylight to attend to their needs and profits. Gas lights and then electric lights vastly expanded the worker/drone/clone population into 2nd and 3rd work shifts. We have become ants, not people!"

      But now that I think upon it, Mike, while we humans so often respond to major crises by running around like chickens with their heads chopped off -headless chickens armed to the teeth, here in the US - ants get together without hesitation and meet a disaster like a flood with ease and aplomb... no big deal to them, at all. Notice that they gather their eggs and put them in the center of the raft they build out of their bodies? What astonishing altruism from a "mere insect!"

    • Feb 20 2014: Its actually not a very good case, for the same reason pacifism doesn't work.

      Say you wipe out all your overly aggressive members of society. Well and good, your quality of living during peacetime is now higher. But what about that other society that didn't? Why, there's nothing stopping them from marching on over, stealing your property, taking your women, and even ending your life at the edge of a sword.
      You'd normally stop them by waging a war, but all your overly aggressive members were done away with, you don't have anyone who's any good at war left.

      There may be a biological case for the removal of the males, but you'll always need an attack dog on a chain held in reserve for other reasons. There's really nothing preventing that hound from being female so long as its gets the job done, but you need one none the less.
      There's also the problem of keeping it properly chained, but that's a different matter altogether.
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        Feb 21 2014: I wasn't just speaking of the USA., men are failing world wide. Women are rejecting motherhood world wide. We really are not keeping up with the birth/death rate according to some researchers.
        The article I read checked out with other sources.
        Worse, I read some biologists say the best societies are bees and ants.
        What can I conclude,,,
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    Feb 20 2014: If any of the apocalyptic religions are correct then one or more gods or goddesses might end human civilisation