Field Notes of a Cosmic Anthropologist

"The universe is not only stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine." - J. B. S. Haldane

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an anonymous tipster wrote to me and turned me onto this cheeky bit of naughtiness in Dawkins’ bestseller, The God Delusion. In Chapter 5 the professor muses upon the ‘cargo cult’ phenomenon, which was so crucial in the life and work of Erich Von Daniken:

"In The Life of Brian, one of the many things the Monty Python team got right was the extreme rapidity with which a new religious cult can get started. It can spring up almost overnight and then become incorporated into a culture, where it plays a disquietingly dominant role. The ‘cargo cults’ of Pacific Melanesia and New Guinea provide the most famous real life example."

After recounting how these cults arose out of tribal peoples’ contact with advanced technology they had no exposure to, Dawkins starts to get quite cheeky indeed:

"The entire history of some of these cults, from initiation to expiry, is wrapped up within living memory. Unlike the cult of Jesus, the origins of which are not reliably attested, we can see the whole course of events laid out before our eyes (and even here, as we shall see, some details are now lost). It is fascinating to guess that the cult of Christianity almost certainly began in very much the same way, and spread initially at the same high speed."

Now, it all undoubtedly slid past his readers, but Dawkins is saying here that Christianity “began the same way” as the cargo cults. Which, as he exhaustively explains in this chapter, arose from native peoples’ exposure to superior alien technology (the aliens being Europeans in this context). As he says here:

"It seems that in every case the islanders were bowled over by the wondrous possessions of the white immigrants to their islands, including administrators, soldiers and missionaries. They were perhaps the victims of (Arthur C.) Clarke’s Third Law, which I quoted in Chapter 2: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’"

Now isn’t that a fascinating little juxtaposition? Quoting the author of the the world’s most acclaimed Ancient-Astronaut narrative (2001: A Space Odyssey, for those new to all of this) shortly after claiming that the cult of the god-man Jesus “began the same way” as the cargo cults! As Eric Idle once said, “Nudge, nudge, wink, wink. Say no more, say no more.” And just in case you missed Richard’s inference the first time, he repeats it:

"Fourth, the cargo cults are similar, not just to each other but to older religions. Christianity and other ancient religions that have spread worldwide presumably began as local cults like that of John Frum."

The cargo cults which- and I’ll state this until the cows come home- began when a primitive people encountered a technologically superior civilization. After making quite a bit of the cargo cults, Dawkins then writes:

"I don’t want to make too much of the cargo cults of the South Pacific. But they do provide a fascinating contemporary model for the way religions spring up from almost nothing."

Which, as Richard goes to great pains to explain, were the result of contact with a technologically-superior alien civilization.

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It could be that at some earlier time somewhere in the universe a civillization evolved by probably some kind of Darwinian means to a very very high level of technology and designed a form of life that they seeded onto perhaps this planet. Now that is a possibility and an intriguing possibility and I suppose it’s possible that you might find evidence for that if you look at the details of biochemistry or molecular biology you might find a signature of some sort of designer.
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As work progressed, a portrait of [9000 year old] Kennewick Man emerged. He does not belong to any living human population. Who, then, are his closest living relatives? Judging from the shape of his skull and bones, his closest living relatives appear to be the Moriori people of the Chatham Islands, a remote archipelago 420 miles southeast of New Zealand, as well as the mysterious Ainu people of Japan.

“Just think of Polynesians,” said Owsley.

Not that Kennewick Man himself was Polynesian. This is not Kon-Tiki in reverse; humans had not reached the Pacific Islands in his time period. Rather, he was descended from the same group of people who would later spread out over the Pacific and give rise to modern-day Polynesians. These people were maritime hunter-gatherers of the north Pacific coast; among them were the ancient Jōmon, the original inhabitants of the Japanese Islands. The present-day Ainu people of Japan are thought to be descendants of the Jōmon. Nineteenth-century photographs of the Ainu show individuals with light skin, heavy beards and sometimes light-colored eyes.

Jōmon culture first arose in Japan at least 12,000 years ago and perhaps as early as 16,000 years ago, when the landmasses were still connected to the mainland. These seafarers built boats out of sewn planks of wood. Outstanding mariners and deep-water fishermen, they were among the first people to make fired pottery.

The discovery of Kennewick Man adds a major piece of evidence to an alternative view of the peopling of North America. It, along with other evidence, suggests that the Jōmon or related peoples were the original settlers of the New World. If correct, the conclusion upends the traditional view that the first Americans came through central Asia and walked across the Bering Land Bridge and down through an ice-free corridor into North America.

Sometime around 15,000 years ago, the new theory goes, coastal Asian groups began working their way along the shoreline of ancient Beringia—the sea was much lower then—from Japan and Kamchatka Peninsula to Alaska and beyond. This is not as crazy a journey as it sounds. As long as the voyagers were hugging the coast, they would have plenty of fresh water and food. Cold-climate coasts furnish a variety of animals, from seals and birds to fish and shellfish, as well as driftwood, to make fires. The thousands of islands and their inlets would have provided security and shelter. To show that such a sea journey was possible, in 1999 and 2000 an American named Jon Turk paddled a kayak from Japan to Alaska following the route of the presumed Jōmon migration. Anthropologists have nicknamed this route the “Kelp Highway.”

“I believe these Asian coastal migrations were the first,” said Owsley. “Then you’ve got a later wave of the people who give rise to Indians as we know them today.”

What became of those pioneers, Kennewick Man’s ancestors and companions? They were genetically swamped by much larger—and later—waves of travelers from Asia and disappeared as a physically distinct people, Owsley says. These later waves may have interbred with the first settlers, diluting their genetic legacy. A trace of their DNA still can be detected in some Native American groups, though the signal is too weak to label the Native Americans “descendants.”

Whether this new account of the peopling of North America will stand up as more evidence comes in is not yet known. The bones of a 13,000-year-old teenage girl recently discovered in an underwater cave in Mexico, for example, are adding to the discussion. James Chatters, the first archaeologist to study Kennewick and a participant in the full analysis, reported earlier this year, along with colleagues, that the girl’s skull appears to have features in common with that of Kennewick Man and other Paleo-Americans, but she also possesses specific DNA signatures suggesting she shares female ancestry with Native Americans.

Kennewick Man may still hold a key. The first effort to extract DNA from fragments of his bone failed, and the corps so far hasn’t allowed a better sample to be taken. A second effort to plumb the old fragments is underway at a laboratory in Denmark.

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In Kubrick’s own words:

[Extraterrestrials] may have progressed from biological species, which are fragile shells for the mind at best, into immortal machine entities and then, over innumerable eons, they could emerge from the chrysalis of matter transformed into beings of pure energy and spirit. Their potentialities would be limitless and their intelligence ungraspable by humans. These beings would be gods to the billions of less advanced races in the universe, just as man would appear a god to an ant.

They would be incomprehensible to us except as gods; and if the tendrils of their consciousness ever brushed men’s minds, it is only the hand of god we could grasp as an explanation. Mere speculation on the possibility of their existence is sufficiently overwhelming, without trying to decipher their motives. The important point is that all the standard attributes assigned to god in our history could equally well be the characteristics of biological entities who, billions of years ago, were at a stage of development similar to man’s own and evolved into something as remote from man as man is remote from the primordial ooze from which he first emerged.

permalink magicmeetsmachines:

District 12

magicmeetsmachines:

District 12

permalink Technology surrounds us and is an integral part of our society.  It is a tool, and it can be used for both good and bad. For me, technology is very important and most helpful – for instance I do all of my illustration on a Wacom Cintiq Companion. My general stance on technology is cautious optimism – I’m reminded of Carl Sagan who said something like: we can use our technology to destroy ourselves, or we can use it to carry us to the stars. And to continue on the Carl Sagan line of thought – my real concerns about technology is how society is increasingly depending on it yet there’s no corresponding curve in people’s understanding of it. Technology must not become this kind of magical force that people use without understanding the basic concepts that governs it. Then we have this kind of booby trapped society. Now think of what Jacob Bronowski said about science forty years ago: “Fifty years from now, if an understanding of man’s origins, his evolution, his history, his progress is not in the common place of the school books, we shall not exist”.

Technology surrounds us and is an integral part of our society.  It is a tool, and it can be used for both good and bad. For me, technology is very important and most helpful – for instance I do all of my illustration on a Wacom Cintiq Companion. My general stance on technology is cautious optimism – I’m reminded of Carl Sagan who said something like: we can use our technology to destroy ourselves, or we can use it to carry us to the stars. And to continue on the Carl Sagan line of thought – my real concerns about technology is how society is increasingly depending on it yet there’s no corresponding curve in people’s understanding of it. Technology must not become this kind of magical force that people use without understanding the basic concepts that governs it. Then we have this kind of booby trapped society. Now think of what Jacob Bronowski said about science forty years ago: “Fifty years from now, if an understanding of man’s origins, his evolution, his history, his progress is not in the common place of the school books, we shall not exist”.

(Source: blogs.scientificamerican.com)