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Friday, October 28, 2016



‘The very private drama of mother and son began on May 12, 1965, when O’Mara gave birth to an illegitimate child, the product of a brief liaison with actor David Orchard.’ This was part of an article that was printed in a major British newspaper recently written by a writer who has not caught up yet with the 21st century or the more enlightened healthy norms that are associated with it. The article was about the life and death of a British actress called Kate O’ Mara. He is not alone of people who write like this; many writers for the Catholic Church and other “Christian’ faith propaganda news sheets do too. It is the word ‘illegitimate’ that inflames any reasoned free thinking person of the past, the present, and hopefully always the future.

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines the word illegitimate as this: (1) Not recognized as lawful off spring; specifically: born of parents not married to each other. (2) Not rightly deduced or inferred: Illogical. (3) Departing from the regular: erratic (4) Not sanctioned by law (5) Not authorized by good usage.
Please note: some other dictionary definitions define the word illegitimate as 'bastard'  

There is more but you get the point, though how can a child be associated in part or in full with such a word that is more intentioned to define fraud and white collar crime is beyond me, or that the miracle of birth of a truly innocent is a crime, or of the parents that committed that natural act of lovemaking have it classed as a heinous act? 

It is all about power and indoctrination that is religion, any religion, where the only proof asked and given is that you be one of the faithful from a long tradition that was founded on fear. That tradition is the only proof that is offered for such a twisted morality on the miracle of birth. Religious right is driven only by the might of numbers, much like politics, and mercifully those numbers are falling fast even with the die hard members of the major mainstream occult religions that can brand any baby as illegitimate.

For the many children abandoned, and given away for profit by religious groups that were in involved in ‘illegitimate’ adoptions just in this small country of Ireland alone; for those who were buried in secret here by shamed mothers because of the scaremongering of the local Taliban priest; for those hidden on remote islands and hilltops less they assail the purity of thoughts of the faithful or spoil the view of the countryside, may this never happen ever again. 

To those yet to be born, or their parents, may they never again be stigmatized by a word that is so misused to describe them as that word called ‘illegitimate’ that started the destruction of many children and their parents down through the ages before and after the darkness; and may Philomena Lee yet be reunited with her beloved 'illegitimate' son somewhere in the light beyond just above the clouds and the fear.

Barry Clifford 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

The conundrum of mind and matter: what is consciousness?

Mind control: Inside Out is set in the brain of a girl, Riley, with her emotions played by five different actors.

It’s early in the morning and still dark outside. Your heart rate has dropped to a single beat per second and your blood pressure is the lowest it will be for the next 16 hours. Your respiration has fallen to 12 breaths a minute, while your blood glucose is at rock bottom. Despite the ingenious physiology remorselessly at work in all your organs, you sleep on, oblivious. In this state, your brain and body are preventing entry to a private inner universe that poses one of the biggest challenges in science – but any minute now, when the alarm buzzes, this special place will be all yours, exclusively.

However close you are to someone, however articulate, poetic, musical or compassionate you are, you will never, ever, be able to share your direct subjective experience with anyone else. But right now, for just a little longer, you are unconscious – “dead to the world”.
Without consciousness, life would indeed be pretty much the same as death. The conscious condition makes life worth living. But what is it, this insubstantial, intangible inner… what, exactly? Across the centuries, our predecessors have struggled to define and understand how to grapple with what is so intellectually elusive yet so familiar that we take it for granted day after day. Over the past 40 or 50 years, the issue has been thrown into ever sharper focus with the ascendance of neuroscience and the massive increase in our knowledge of the brain. But with this wealth of insight the problem becomes ever more glaring. How can your individual, subjective experience, within your physical brain, be translated into squirts of chemicals and electrical blips, and vice versa? What would prove definitive insight into consciousness?

However close you are to someone, you will never ever share your direct subjective experience

Perhaps the answer can be discovered in a brain scan. Or will the experience be pinned down in a mathematical formula? These “solutions” would never account for how objectively observable events turn into the first-hand feeling of a private experience. Somehow, a subjective perspective is generated – we could almost say “conjured up” – but no one has been able to explain how this apparent miracle takes place.

This tension between the objective and the subjective has seemed insoluble ever since the great philosopher RenĂ© Descartes first raised it in the 17th century, when he chose to segregate a conscious mind from the biological brain. This conceptual chasm is tough to cross. When we describe a human being, or any animal, as having “perceptual experiences” or “conscious states”, we are talking about some of the most basic features which distinguish living from non-living things. A stone is not “about” anything and neither does it have subjective properties, but a perception is “about” what is seen (or experienced), such as what it is like to see the colour red.

These features are obvious to us from our first-person view, but when we shift perspective to the third-person stance of objective science we find ourselves in difficulty. We can speak of brain states, which may be reduced to neurons sparking and pulsing out chemicals, but it is hard to see how this neurobiological maelstrom relates to the features of consciousness that are so apparent in everyday experience – the taste of chocolate melting slowly in your mouth, the sunshine on your face, the sound of crashing waves. Small wonder that the black night outside your bedroom window is as nothing compared to the intellectual darkness that gives rise to this conceptual impasse.

A Day in the Life of the Brain by Susan Greenfield 

Proud man or angry ape?

Do humanity's fantastic tricks make the angels weep or Darwin laugh?

What did a 29-stone gorilla do when he escaped his London zoo enclosure? He hit the juice boxes. The silverback guzzled five litres of undiluted blackcurrant squash before being sedated and put back in his cell. It might be behaviour worth of an unruly toddler, but primates fascinate us. Another of our evolutionary forebears, an orang-utan, stole the headlines this week after being snapped hunting for figs in the jungle of Borneo.
As it happens, I’ve been to another part of that jungle and seen orang-utans there. While visiting a friend in Jakarta after university, we took a boat trip down a river in Kalimantan (Indonesian Borneo).  The first day was spent listening to the sounds of chainsaws as the rainforest was hacked down around us. On the third day, we turned up a smaller tributary

A protective mother Orangutan shoos away a wild boar with a stick in Borneo CREDIT:  YULIA SUNDUKOVA/ YULIA SUNDUKOVA

Why? I asked our guide. It turned out that much of the river was downstream from a goldmine, which regularly dumped its waste into the waters, turning it cloudy. We’d finally reached an unpolluted part of the watercourse. The orang-utans were strange and interesting – swinging and falling their way from tree to tree in a movement both athletic and lumbering.

During the sunset boat ride back, I looked up into the trees and was astonished to find them filled with dozens of monkeys, visible as far as I could see along the river. They weren’t chattering and fighting, but sitting peacefully in little groups on the longest branches overlooking the water, their long, bluish tails hanging below them as they gazed into the dusk.

Male western lowland gorilla; London Zoo’s Kumbuka CREDIT: HEATHCLIFF O'MALLEY
Food: Fruit, supplemented with grubs
Habitat: West Africa, centred around Gabon, Guinea and the Republic of the Congo
Size: (male) 5' 1" tall, 25st.; (female) 4' 5" tall, 12st. 12lbs
Conservation status: Critically endangered, with about 170,000 individuals worldwide
Chief threats: Ebola, poaching and deforestation
Notable western gorillas: Koko, Harambe, Guy (immortalised as a statue at London Zoo)

Monkeys, we were told this week, can produce stone tools that archaeologists had, until now, always credited exclusively to humans. The monkeys don’t actually use the tools, but make them as a by-product of smashing rocks whose dust they like to eat. This humanlike behaviour by primates has thrown into doubt widely accepted tenets of evolutionary science.

This keeps happening. Some years ago, geneticists at the Harvard/MIT Broad Institute (one of whom, I should disclose, is my brother-in-law, David Reich) discovered DNA evidence suggesting human and chimp ancestors might have interbred for thousands of years. This challenged the idea that humans and chimps split off from each other cleanly on different evolutionary tracks, as had been previously assumed.
A few years after that, another genetic study by the same scientists further challenged our idea of Homo Sapiens as uniquely clever beasts. The data suggested that, after moving out of Africa and coming across Neanderthals, humans had interbred with them too. And there’s a growing body of evidence that Neanderthals weren’t the dumb, grunting creatures of Hollywood lore, but were capable of conceptual thought and possibly even religious rituals involving mysterious piles of stalactites.

Our surprise at these discoveries just goes to show how attached we are to the myths of creationism, even if we think we’re modern. Darwin’s theory has been accepted in the West, but we keeping searching for that moment, that line in the sand, when humans stopped being animals and became instead that special creature made in God’s image. Was it with the appearance on earth of a strange alien monolith that apes suddenly picked up and used tools, as Stanley Kubrick imagined in 2001? Was it when we finally stood fully upright and donned loincloths? Was it when we invented sponge cake?

Or perhaps evolution isn’t a linear, teleological story, but a messy, chaotic process full of dead-ends, switchbacks and lulls, arriving at the modern juice-swilling gorilla and his cousin, the juice-guzzling toddler. Humans are unique, of course, but only in being a particularly advanced breed of animal. I find it helpful to remember that when I witness the strange, imitative mating rituals of the flirting couple, the prowling, chest-thrusting postures of the presidential candidate or the vicious squabbling of young children. The wonder is not how far we’ve come. The wonder is how savage we still are.
Juliet Samuel