THE COMMON READER--FIRST

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Date of publication: 2017-08-27 08:03

In Climate of Hope , Bloomberg and Pope offer an optimistic look at the challenge of climate change, the solutions they believe hold the greatest promise, and the practical steps that are necessary to achieve them. Writing from their own experiences, and sharing their own stories from government, business, and advocacy, Bloomberg and Pope provide a road map for tackling the most complicated challenge the world has ever faced. Along the way, they turn the usual way of thinking about climate change on its head: from top down to bottom up, from partisan to pragmatic, from costs to benefits, from tomorrow to today, and from fear to hope.

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Technologies with this property of perpetual self-accelerated development--sometimes termed "autocatalysis"--create conditions that are unstable, unpredictable and unreliable. And since these particular autocatalytic technologies drive whole sectors of society, there is a risk that civilization itself may become unstable, unpredictable and unreliable.

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Finally, Dr. Wathey considers the hypothesis that religion evolved to foster reproductive success, arguing that, in an age of potentially ruinous overpopulation, magical thinking has become a luxury we can no longer afford, one that distracts us from urgent threats to our planet.

Genetic modification and genetic determinism

Upon opening Spinoza's masterpiece, the  Ethics , one is immediately struck by its form. It is written in the style of a geometrical treatise, much like Euclid's  Elements , with each book comprising a set of definitions, axioms, propositions, scholia, and other features that make up the formal apparatus of geometry. One wonders why Spinoza would have employed this mode of presentation. The effort it required must have been enormous, and the result is a work that only the most dedicated of readers can make their way through.

N eo-Darwinian and neo-Lamarckian mechanisms both drive evolution, and they appear to be intertwined.  Indeed, because environmental epigenetics can increase trait variation within a population, it empowers natural selection, which works by promoting adaptive traits over others.  Classic neo-Darwinian evolution involves genetic mutation and genetic variation as the main molecular mechanisms generating variation. Add to these mechanisms the phenomenon of environmental epigenetics, which directly increases trait variation, and you enhance the ability of the environment to mediate natural selection and evolution.

So do religious and cultural factors. Radical new technologies are often seen as moral threats by conservative religious groups or as economic and cultural threats by political groups. Powerful single-issue voting blocs like the antiabortionists could arise. Or terrorists like Theodore Kaczynski.

Another major epigenetic process discovered in recent years is ‘histone modification’. Histones are proteins that attach to and alter the structure of DNA, which in turn wraps around the histones like beads on a string. The combination of DNA and histone together has been called ‘chromatin structures’ – and the coils, loops and twists in chromatin structures in response to environmental stress can permanently alter gene expression as well.

The question at the end of the preceding section (Could we have free will even if determinism is true?) is a helpful way to differentiate the main positions regarding free will. Compatibilists answer this question in the affirmative. They believe that agents could have free will even if causal determinism is true (or even if near determinism is true. In what follows, I will omit this qualification). In other words, the existence of free will in a possible world is compatible with that world being deterministic. For this reason, this position is known as "compatibilism," and its proponents are called "compatibilists." According to the compatibilist, it is possible for an agent to be determined in all her choices and actions and still make some of her choices freely.

In line with his rejection of classical theism, Spinoza famously identifies God with Nature. Nature is no longer seen as a power that is distinct from and subordinate to God, but as a power that is one and the same with divine power. Spinoza's phrase ' Deus sive Natura ’ (‘God or Nature’) captures this identification and is justly celebrated as a succinct expression of his metaphysics. In isolation, however, the phrase is relatively uninformative. It tells us nothing about how Spinoza, having rejected the creator/creation relation posited by the classical model, conceives of the relation between God and the system of modes.

More recently, researchers have documented ‘RNA methylation’ in which methyl groups attach to the genetic helper molecules, in the process altering gene expression and subsequent protein production for generations down the line. Likewise, the action of so-called ‘non-coding RNA’, small RNA molecules that bind to DNA, RNA and proteins, also alter the expression of genes, independent of DNA sequence.

Having laid out representatives of the two most prominent arguments for incompatibilism, let's consider arguments in favor of compatibilism. In considering these kinds of arguments, it is pedagogically useful to approach them by using the arguments for incompatibilism. So, this section begins by considering ways that compatibilists have responded to the arguments given in the preceding section.

This result is of utmost importance. Because any idea that follows from an adequate idea is itself adequate, these ideas, appropriately called common notions, can serve as axioms in a deductive system. When working out this system, the mind engages in a fundamentally different kind of cognition than when it engages in any of the various forms of imaginative perception. In all forms of imaginative perception the order of ideas mirrors the order of bodily affections, and this order, depending as it does upon the chance encounters of the body with external bodies, is entirely fortuitous. By contrast, the derivation of adequate ideas from common notions within a deductive system follows a wholly different order. This Spinoza calls the order of reason. The paradigm case is geometry.

By this time Spinoza was in a state of failing health. Weakened by a respiratory illness, he devoted the last year of his life to writing a work of political philosophy, his Political Treatise. Though left unfinished at his death, Spinoza's intention was to show how governments of all types could be improved and to argue for the superiority of democracy over other forms of political organization. Following the lead of Machiavelli and Hobbes, his argument was to be non-utopian, based on a realistic assessment of human nature drawn from the psychological theory set forth in the  Ethics. In the part he did finish, Spinoza showed himself to be an astute analyst of diverse constitutional forms and an original thinker among liberal social contract theorists.

Herein lies the explanation of the excellence of the human mind. The human body, as a highly complex composite of many simple bodies, is able to act and be acted upon in myriad ways that other bodies cannot. The human mind, as an expression of that body in the domain of thought, mirrors the body in being a highly complex composite of many simple ideas and is thus possessed of perceptual capacities exceeding those of other, non-human minds. Only a mind that corresponds to a body of complexity comparable to that of the human body can have perceptual abilities comparable to those of the human mind.

That being said, Spinoza consistently opposes imagination to intellect and views it as providing no more than confused perception. To use his preferred terminology, the ideas of the imagination are inadequate. They may be essential for getting around in the world, but they give us a distorted and incomplete picture of the things in it. To understand why, it is useful to begin with sense perception. This is the most important form of imaginative perception, and it is from this form that all others derive.

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