A&O – LEVELS of ORGANIZATION

ART and ORGANISM

 

notes on

DEEP ETHOLOGY

Levels of organization

 

“Hierarchical organization on the one hand,

and the characteristics of open systems on the other,

are fundamental principles of living nature”

(von Bertalanffry, Problems of Life 1952)

 

 

 [note: this page needs to have its several entries organized and integrated]


Levels of organization refer to phenomena of relative complexity where it appears that more complex phenomena are composed of hierarchically subordinate units: so biochemistry is organized in organelles and cells which are organized into tissues or organs which are organized into organisms or even societies.   The human disposition to characterize unknown entities by interpolating or extrapolating from better known phenomena –that is characterizing the unknown in terms of the known—can even extend these hierarchical relationships upward to ecosystems and the earth itself (Gaia) and the cosmos — or “downward” to progressively smaller units such as atoms and sub-atomic particles.  In both cases–looking up or looking down– our search for connections can rapidly lead to levels about which we can only speculate.     

 

The embedding of one level within another led to Arthur Koestler’s concept of the holon (discussed below).     

 

The unpredictable –or at least unexpected—natures of higher orders of organization are characterized as emergent phenomena.    This appears to increase complexity and give a direction to levels.  Seeking insight by discovery and description of the  presumed less complex phenomena is termed reductionism, and those phenomena that could not have been predicted from our most complete knowledge are regarded as emergent


 The study of constituent parts as an indissoluble whole is termed holism.  

George Henry Lewes, the 19th-century English philosopher of science, distinguished between resultants and emergents—phenomena that are predictable from their constituent parts and those that are not (e.g., a physical mixture of sand and talcum powder as contrasted with a chemical compound such as salt, which looks nothing like sodium or chlorine). The evolutionary account of life is a continuous history marked by stages at which fundamentally new forms have appeared: (1) the origin of life; (2) the origin of nucleus-bearing protozoa; (3) the origin of sexually reproducing forms, with an individual destiny lacking in cells that reproduce by fission; (4) the rise of sentient animals, with nervous systems and protobrains; and (5) the appearance of cogitative animals, namely humans. Each of these new modes of life, though grounded in the physicochemical and biochemical conditions of the previous and simpler stage, is intelligible only in terms of its own ordering principle. These are thus cases of emergence.” (Encyclopedia Brittanica on-line)


“Levels” encourages a systems approach to the flow of information in living systems.  The level of organization of the problem you choose to solve affects the specific questions you ask, the methods used to answer them, and even standards of evidence. [More on RESEARCH METHODS]

 

“Bertalanffy [1967] applied general systems theory not only to biology, but to psychology, economics, and social science as well. In his view, old-fashioned science “tried to explain observable phenomena by reducing them to an interplay of elementary units investigatable independently of each other.” Contemporary science, on the other hand, recognized the importance of “wholeness,” defined as “problems of organization, phenomena not resolvable into local events, dynamic interactions manifest in the difference of behavior of parts when isolated or in higher configuration, etc.; in short, ‘systems’ of various orders not understandable by investigation of their respective parts in isolation.” And this remains an effective definition of systems biology as practiced today with the integration and application of mathematics, engineering, physics, and computer science to understanding a range of complex biological regulatory systems. (excerpted from Chong and Ray 2002) [More on SYSTEMS BIOLOGY]

  

 

Ecologists: looking from the outside in,

  • considering contexts;
  •  evaluating costs and benefits of alternative  forms in the same habitat, alternative habitats for the same organism
 

Physiologists: looking from the inside out,

  • considering maintaining stability of organism
  • evaluating costs and benefits of alternative strategies when the context changes or when the organism changes

 

 

..

 


SOCIAL LEVELS of organization:  

Me against my brother, my brother and me against our cousins, we and our cousins against the enemy,” Pashtun saying[ii] (cited by Isabel Hilton New Yorker Dec 03 2001 p59)


  

)  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The HOLON

 

in Arthur Koestler’s (1969) view, looking at hierarchy as a “ladder” of complexity is misleading — a tree-like “multi-leveled, stratified, out-branching pattern of organization” is more accurate.

“The term holon may be applied to any stable sub-whole in an organismic, cognitive, or social hierarchy which displays rule-governed behaviour and/or structural Gestalt constancy. Thus biological holons are self-regulating “open systems” . . .” (Koestler 1969:197)

 

.

Can’t see the forest for the trees! (or is it the other way around?)  We frequently contrast seeing the forest or the trees — it is a common observation that all levels of organization cannot be simultaneously perceived at the same level of resolution.  It recalls an optical illusion where our mind shifts from one interpretation to another.  I’m always concerned that there a phenomenon might better be interpreted in terms of an alternative I never really perceived.  In nature, organisms struggling to survive must often make “snap” decisions.  Considering alternative interpretations in pursuit of the “best one” for a given situation is a luxury enjoyed by science and its system of open sharing of information and bringing many minds to bear on possible interpretations. That is one of the reasons that scrupulously detailed and precise DESCRIPTION is so valued.   

 

WHY we should respect each level:  It is often assumed that any particular level represents either a deconstruction of a more complex level or an assemblage of units from a less complex level.   BUT AT EVERY LEVEL there may be unique (“emergent”) properties that questions and methods cannot address.

The whole is greater than the sum of its parts?  An emergent phenomenon or property is one that could not have been predicted even if one had a perfect knowldege of the individual causes that converged on evoking it.  Epiphenomena are also hard to predict but the chain of causation is it principle accessible.  Generally it is a medical term referring to “something that appears in addition; a secondary symptom (e.g., fever) –a collateral or incidental consequence. BUT in psychology it has (since Henry James 1890) referred to consciousness “as a by-product of the material activities of the brain and nervous system.”  Conscioiusness or even life itself seems trivialized by regarding it as a by-product of one or more other phenomena, buteverything came from something, and once constituted, often develop their own machinery of self-perpetuation.  It can even create an evolutionary context –new selection pressures– in which it its development as a favorable trait would be progressively selected for. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

LEVELS of ANALYSIS.  “Confusion over explanatory levels and ensuing inconclusive arguments nag all branches of biology, and the literature is full of examples.  A classic is the so-called ‘nature-nurture’ controversy (e.g. Lorenz 1950 versus Lehrman 1953), which arose over whether certain behaviours of chicks are innate ‘or’ acquired through experience.  After two decades of unenlightening debate, it became apparent to Mayr (1961), Tinbergen (1963) and Lehrman (1970) that the lack of consensus was mainly due to semantic and conceptual issues, rather than to discrepancies of fact.  In his 1961 paper, Mayr observed that life scientists conceptualize research questions in two ways: functional biologists study ‘proximate’ causality, and evolutionary biologists concentrate on ‘ultimate’ causes.  Proximate factors operate in the day-to-day lives of individuals, and ultimate causes derive from evolutionary history.  Tinbergen (1963) suggested that each of these categories should be subdivided.  Thus, proximate or ‘how?’ questions require investigations of both individual ontogeny (e.g. effects of age and experience) and physiological substrates, including neuronal, hormonal and biochemical mechanisms.  Ultimate or ‘why?’ questions require understanding both evolutionary origins and current adaptive value.  Answering the former entails unravelling the history of phenomena in geological time, while the latter involves comparing the fitness consequences of naturally occurring variants in ecological time.” (Paul W. Sherman. 1988:616)

Sherman correctly characterizes some of the conflicts in terms of semantics but seems only to be relating to “explanatory” levels — in fact, attention to the levels of DESCRIPTION of the phenomenon of interest — the temporal or spatial scales in which the question or problem is framed — would probably go a long ways to resolving these hollow quarrels.

 


LEVELS of ORGANIZATION.  (from A&O – DEEP ETHOLOGY)  it is worth keeping in mind that a behavioral pattern  is a biological phenomenon at the ORGANISMIC level and there are levels below and beyond.  Tight correlations with phenomena that cause behavior and others that are likely consequences work together to create a narrative: a story that starts (someplace) has action (more-or-less) and ends (someplace).  Taken together, “causes” (such as activity in a set of muscles controlled by cells in the brain) It is the key set of CONNECTIONS that organizes our conscious awareness and it can be exquisitely sensitive to conditions of the surrounding environment within the body and in its “outer” environment.  The interaction of the body and the brain in causing behavior is the topic of EMBODIED COGNITION.  

The term “embodied cognition” celebrates the fact that cognition cannot exist apart from a nervous system and its immediate context, the physical body in which it resides and with which it interacts closely in a multiplicity of mutually influential—even defining—processes.  A further level of mutually influential processes is the environment in which the physical body resides.   Like nesting dolls, layers of causation and consequence are at different levels of organization  (as in from cell to tissue to organ to organism) and can be identified and separated for closer individual scrutiny, particularly considering that there are different resources needed to enable communication within and between levels. 

Relentlessly followed to all possible levels of organization of causes and consequences leads, ultimately, to metaphysics.   Our understanding is good at our organismic level, but the deeper or further we go, the more we approach the imperceptible and questions.  for scholars of the infinitesimal (physicists) and of the vast (cosmologists) .  Both will ask whether the information we seek in unknown or unknowable  (and raise issues that are most likely in the realm of metaphysics).  The opt-out for some biologists is that we do not really have to know it all, just enough to meet  ultimate biological need for self-actualization . The problem with opting out is that historically (and intuitively) the mere pursuit of such knowledge has led to many unanticipated inventions and discoveries that have dramatically improved our potential for self actualization.  

Page Initiated Feb 22, 2005 / updated July 30 2017


A related idea, “supervenience, is a relation that is used to describe cases where (roughly speaking) the upper-level properties of a system are not determined by its lower level properties. Some philosophers hold that the world is structured into a kind of hierarchy of properties, where the higher level properties supervene on the lower level properties. According to this type of view, social properties supervene on psychological properties, psychological properties supervene on biological properties, biological properties supervene on chemical properties, etc. That is, the chemical properties of the world determine a distribution of biological properties, those biological properties determine a distribution of psychological properties, and so forth. So, for example, mind-body supervenience holds that “every mental phenomenon must be grounded in, or anchored to, some underlying physical base (presumably a neural state). This means that mental states can occur only in systems that can have physical properties; namely physical systems.”[1] However, mental states cannot be reduced to physical properties.” (Wikipedia)


“The physical world is “largely ­illusory,” an editorial in The New York Times announced on Nov. 25, 1944. Wishful thinking on a depressing day? No. Had The Times gone mad? Not quite. It was discussing the ideas of Sir Arthur Eddington, an eminent British astronomer and popularizer of science, who had just died.

Eddington began his best-known book, “The Nature of the Physical World,” by explaining that he had written it at two tables, sitting on two chairs and with two pens. The first table was the familiar kind: It was colored, substantial and relatively long-lasting. The second was what he called a “scientific table,” a colorless cloud of evanescent electric charges that is “mostly emptiness.” Likewise the two chairs and two pens. Only the scientific objects were really there, according to ­Eddington. Hence the idea that our familiar world is a deception on a grand scale.

Anthony Gottlieb recently (2016) reviewed Sean Carroll’s “THE BIG PICTURE: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself” and pointed out that    … phenomena may usefully be investigated at many levels. You can consider the individual atoms in a box of gas, for example, or you can instead treat the gas as a liquid and study its fluid properties. Similarly, the actions of a person may be described psychologically, in terms of his or her desires and beliefs, or in terms of physiology. Underlying all these scientific stories, there is, he insists, a rock-bottom level of description: “a quantum wave function, or a collection of particles and forces — whatever the fundamental stuff turns out to be.” But Carroll rejects the sort of reductionism that says all valid descriptions can be deduced from fundamental physics. That venerable idea seems to have been a mirage.”

Instead, Carroll defends what he calls “poetic naturalism.” “Naturalism,” because there is nothing above and beyond nature. In particular, there are no gods or spooks to transcend or interfere with natural laws. So Einstein’s dice are rolling themselves. “Poetic,” because “there is more than one way of talking about the world.” True enough, but “poetic” is a bit of a stretch. Carroll might just as well have called his position “romantic reductionism” or “fragrant physicalism,” since what he’s trying to convey is a stance that is hard-nosed yet soft to the touch — a kinder, gentler, more capacious science.” (Carroll 2016)[i]

 

 


Notes from “The Phenomenological Ethologist:”

Levels of Organization.  The complexity and diversity of processes that occur  …   Beneath the surface of cognition and action, is bewildering not only because it often uses unfamiliar language and concepts, but because it embraces multiple levels of organization, the navigation of which is an inexhaustible source of difficulty and which, when followed as far as possible leads us to metaphysics.[i]    From molecular processes through behavior (and below and above for those of us with an adamantly reductionist or integrative dispositions) our dueling congenital biases for the simplicity of holism or the imagination of reductionism tend to see remote levels of organization—as in anthropomorphism—in terms of familiar ones.  (Boroditsky & Ramscar 2002)[ii],[iii]

      Putative causal factors can regress from the immediate (“proximate”) factors through progressively subordinate layers of connectivity of information and causation.  For example (common in introductory biology), the levels beneath the organism may be organ systems, then organs, then tissues, then cells, etc.  Arguably one can “drill down” to levels that might be irrelevant for understanding the phenomenon of interest, although there is a profound bias based on the belief that there is always a cause (Hume[iv])[v] and that all things are connected (Greenberg A&O website on CONNECTIONS). 

     In a cascade of levels, we may arguably find ourselves enjoying the challenges of the inaccessible expressions of deep metaphysics and first causes. It is this disposition that drives the human pursuit of first causes and unified theories.  Further, it creates an essential tension between the real and the ideal, the existence of Sartre’s existentialism versus the essence of his philosophical predecessors (l ‘existence précède l’essence)[vi].  Issues of cascading causes are ancient and are regarded as irresolvable (“turtles all the way down”)[vii] or irrelevant.  The idea that there are unsolvable problems likely inspired Browning when he wrote, “Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, /Or what’s a heaven for?” (1855)[viii]

     The more deeply one goes, the more likely common denominators for diverse phenomena can be discerned.  (“If you prick us, do we not bleed?”) Going “deep” refers to examining the contributions provided by or framing of subordinate levels of organization.

     Going more deeply involves tracing the paths of communication within – but especially between levels.    

     The accessibility of these paths to scientific scrutiny is very variable; In some cases, we may emphasize the now-known chemical influences on epigenetic phenomena [that control or suppress gene activation], the chemical products of gene activity, and the effects of these products on the structure and processes manifest in overt, adaptive behavior.   These are often discovered in the context of dysfunctions of physiological or behavioral processes that we may recognize as a clinical disorder, thereby recruiting our attention and interest. 


 


[i] Metaphysical:  Derived from the Greek meta ta physika (“after the things of nature”); referring to an idea, doctrine, or posited reality outside of human sense perception. In modern philosophical terminology, metaphysics refers to the studies of what cannot be reached through objective studies of material reality. Areas of metaphysical studies include ontologycosmology, and often, epistemology.

Metaphysical – Longer definition: Metaphysics is a type of philosophy or study that uses broad concepts to help define reality and our understanding of it. Metaphysical studies generally seek to explain inherent or universal elements of reality which are not easily discovered or experienced in our everyday life. As such, it is concerned with explaining the features of reality that exist beyond the physical world and our immediate senses. Metaphysics, therefore, uses logic based on the meaning of human terms, rather than on a logic tied to human sense perception of the objective world. Metaphysics might include the study of the nature of the human mind, the definition and meaning of existence, or the nature of space, time, and/or causality. (from Glossary for Faith and Reason, PBS, 1998.  https://www.pbs.org/faithandreason/gengloss/metaph-body.html )

 

[ii] The Roles of Body and Mind in Abstract Thought.   Lera Boroditsky, Michael Ramscar  (2002) The Roles of Body and Mind in Abstract Thought. Lera Boroditsky, Michael Ramscar (2016) Psychological Science Vol 13, Issue 2, pp. 185 – 189. First published date: May-06-2016  10.1111/1467-9280.00434First Published March 1, 2002

Abstract. How are people able to think about things they have never seen or touched? We demonstrate that abstract knowledge can be built analogically from more experience-based knowledge. People’s understanding of the abstract domain of time, for example, is so intimately dependent on the more experience-based domain of space that when people make an air journey or wait in a lunch line, they also unwittingly (and dramatically) change their thinking about time. Further, our results suggest that it is not sensorimotor spatial experience per se that influences people’s thinking about time, but rather people’s representations of and thinking about their spatial experience.

REFERENCES

Boroditsky L. (2000). Metaphoric structuring: Understanding time through spatial metaphors. Cognition, 75, 128. Google Scholar CrossRef, Medline 

Boroditsky L. (2001). Does language shape thought?: English and Mandarin speakers’ conceptions of time. Cognitive Psychology, 43, 122. Google Scholar Medline

Clark H.H. (1973). Space, time, semantics, and the child. In Moore T.E. (Ed.), Cognitive development and the acquisition of language (pp. 2864). New York: Academic Press. Google Scholar

Gentner D., Bowdle B., Wolff P., Boronat C. (2001). Metaphor is like analogy. In Gentner D. Holyoak K.J.Kokinov B.N. (Eds.), The analogical mind: Perspectives from cognitive science (pp. 199253). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Google Scholar

Gentner D., Imai M., Boroditsky L. (in press). As time goes by: Understanding time as spatial metaphor. Language and Cognitive Processes.

Gibbs R.J. (1994). The poetics of mind: Figurative thought, language, and understanding. New York: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar

Holyoak K.J., Thagard P. (1995). Mental leaps: Analogy in creative thought. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Google Scholar

Lakoff G., Johnson M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Google Scholar

Lakoff G., Johnson M. (1999). Philosophy in the flesh: The embodied mind and its challenge to Western thought. New York: Basic Books. Google Scholar

McGlone M.S., Harding J.L. (1998). Back (or forward?) to the future: The role of perspective in temporal language comprehension. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 24, 12111223. Google Scholar CrossRef

McTaggart J. (1908). The unreality of time. Mind, 17, 457474. Google Scholar CrossRef

 

[iii] Abstract knowledge can be built analogically from more experience-based knowledge…. People’s understanding of the abstract domain of time, for example, is so intimately dependent on the more experience-based domain of space that when people make an air journey or wait in a lunch line, they also unwittingly (and dramatically) change their thinking about time. Further, our results suggest that it is not sensorimotor spatial experience per se that influences people’s thinking about time, but rather people’s representations of and thinking about their spatial experience.” (Boroditsky & Ramscar 2002)The Roles of Body and Mind in Abstract Thought.   Lera Boroditsky, Michael Ramscar  (2002) The Roles of Body and Mind in Abstract Thought. Lera Boroditsky, Michael Ramscar (2016) Psychological Science Vol 13, Issue 2, pp. 185 – 189. First published date: May-06-2016  10.1111/1467-9280.00434First Published March 1, 2002. 

Abstract. How are people able to think about things they have never seen or touched? We demonstrate that abstract knowledge can be built analogically from more experience-based knowledge. People’s understanding of the abstract domain of time, for example, is so intimately dependent on the more experience-based domain of space that when people make an air journey or wait in a lunch line, they also unwittingly (and dramatically) change their thinking about time. Further, our results suggest that it is not sensorimotor spatial experience per se that influences people’s thinking about time, but rather people’s representations of and thinking about their spatial experience.

REFERENCES

Boroditsky L. (2000). Metaphoric structuring: Understanding time through spatial metaphors. Cognition, 75, 128. Google Scholar CrossRef, Medline 

Boroditsky L. (2001). Does language shape thought?: English and Mandarin speakers’ conceptions of time. Cognitive Psychology, 43, 122. Google Scholar Medline

Clark H.H. (1973). Space, time, semantics, and the child. In Moore T.E. (Ed.), Cognitive development and the acquisition of language (pp. 2864). New York: Academic Press. Google Scholar

Gentner D., Bowdle B., Wolff P., Boronat C. (2001). Metaphor is like analogy. In Gentner D. Holyoak K.J.Kokinov B.N. (Eds.), The analogical mind: Perspectives from cognitive science (pp. 199253). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Google Scholar

Gentner D., Imai M., Boroditsky L. (in press). As time goes by: Understanding time as spatial metaphor. Language and Cognitive Processes.

Gibbs R.J. (1994). The poetics of mind: Figurative thought, language, and understanding. New York: Cambridge University Press. Google Scholar

Holyoak K.J., Thagard P. (1995). Mental leaps: Analogy in creative thought. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Google Scholar

Lakoff G., Johnson M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Google Scholar

Lakoff G., Johnson M. (1999). Philosophy in the flesh: The embodied mind and its challenge to Western thought. New York: Basic Books. Google Scholar

McGlone M.S., Harding J.L. (1998). Back (or forward?) to the future: The role of perspective in temporal language comprehension. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 24, 12111223. Google Scholar CrossRef

McTaggart J. (1908). The unreality of time. Mind, 17, 457474. Google Scholar CrossRef

 

[iv] In all matters of opinion and science “the difference between men is … oftener found to lie in generals than in particulars; and to be less in reality than in appearance. An explanation of the terms commonly ends the controversy, and the disputants are surprised to find that they had been quarreling, while at bottom they agreed in their judgement.  (David Hume,  Essays, Moral, Political, and Literary (ed. T. H. Green and T. H. Grose, 1875) Of the Standard of Taste (1757))

[v] “Hume argues that, although “it be too obvious to escape observation, that different ideas are connected together; I do not find that any philosopher has attempted to enumerate or class all the principles of accociation” (EHU 24). His introduction of these “principles of association” is the other distinctive feature of his empiricism, so distinctive that in the Abstract he advertises it as his most original contribution: “If any thing can intitle the author to so glorious a name as that of an inventor, ‘tis the use he makes of the principle of the association of ideas” (T, 661-662).

The principles required for connecting our ideas aren’t theoretical and rational; they are natural operations of the mind that we experience in “internal sensation.” Hume identifies “three principles of connexion” or association: resemblance, contiguity, and cause and effect. Of the three, causation is the strongest:

there is no relation, which produces a stronger connexion in the fancy, and makes one idea more readily recall another, than the relation of cause and effect betwixt their objects. (T, 11)

Causation is also the only associative principle that takes us “beyond the evidence of our memory and senses.” It establishes a link or connection between past and present experiences with events that we predict or explain, so that “all reasonings concerning matter of fact seem to be founded on the relation of cause and effect.” Causation is also the least understood of the associative principles, but “we shall have occasion afterwards to examine it to the bottom, and therefore shall not at present insist upon it” (T, 11).” (from The latest version of the entry “Kant and Hume on Causality“:  De Pierris, Graciela and Friedman, Michael, “Kant and Hume on Causality”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.) https://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2013/entries/kant-hume-causality/  Winter 2013 (substantive content change)   EHU= An Enquiry concerning Human Understanding  from the Tom L. Beauchamp edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999); T= A Treatise of Human Nature (David Fate Norton and Mary J. Norton edition, New York: Oxford University Press, 2000)

[vi] The proposition that existence precedes essence (Frenchl’existence précède l’essence) is a central claim of existentialism, which reverses the traditional philosophical view that the essence (the nature) of a thing is more fundamental and immutable than its existence (the mere fact of its being).[1] To existentialists, human beings—through their consciousness—create their own values and determine a meaning for their life because the human being does not possess any inherent identity or value. That identity or value must be created by the individual. By posing the acts that constitute them, they make their existence more significant.[2][3]

The idea can be found in the works of philosopher Søren Kierkegaard in the 19th century,[4] but was explicitly formulated by philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre in the 20th century. The three-word formula originated in his 1945[5] lecture “Existentialism Is a Humanism“,[6] though antecedent notions can be found in Heidegger’s Being and Time.[7] (from Wikipedia)

[vii]Turtles all the way down is an allusion to “the infinite regress problem an endless cascade of putative causes in cosmology , an example of the problem of infinite regress in epistemology to show that there is a necessary foundation to knowledge.[1]  (from Wikipedia) (or that there is not—David Hume,  Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion 1779).

In his 1988 book A Brief History of TimeStephen Hawking writes, “A well-known scientist (Bertrand Russell, William James?) once gave a public lecture on astronomy. He described how the earth orbits around the sun and how the sun, in turn, orbits around the center of a vast collection of stars called our galaxy. At the end of the lecture, a little old lady at the back of the room got up and said: “What you have told us is rubbish. The world is really a flat plate supported on the back of a giant tortoise.” The scientist gave a superior smile before replying, “What is the tortoise standing on?” “You’re very clever, young man, very clever,” said the old lady. ‘But it’s turtles all the way down!’”   (see Pradeep Mutalik’s New York Times blog, Numberplay: Turtles All The Way Down (October 10, 2011)


[i]ANTHONY GOTTLIEB  NYTBR on-line JUNE 10, 2016 Review of  THE BIG PICTURE: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itselfby Sean Carroll    Illustrated. 470 pp. Dutton. $28. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/12/books/review/the-big-picture-by-sean-carroll.html?_r=0

[ii]. From Isabel Hilton’s “The Pashtun Code” in the New Yorker, December 3, 2001: 59-71 The Pashtun have always felt themselves rulers of Afghanistan, validated by the British who accepted them as the ruling tribe in Afghanistan since 1747.   Their homeland is a large area west of where the Kabul and Indus rivers converge.