The Brights' Bulletin


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Issue #170

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BRIGHTS BULLETIN -- AUGUST 2017 


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Employing Nature (As Teacher)

A resurgence of interest in early childhood learning over the last decade has been accompanied by active debates about the most developmentally beneficial approaches to helping young children learn.

For Brights who are parents intent on “opening doors to their children to learn,” one methodology not to be forgotten in this day of tech and media is that of direct experience with the natural world. There’s much to be said for youngsters experiencing what that teacher has to offer.

Besides guiding children informally in safe circumstances (e.g., engaging them in close observations using some observational tools and “coaching” inquiry), there’s lots more that can be done. Typically, identifying and controlling variables will be key to valid investigation results and concept development. On that score, one needn’t re-invent the wheel. There are resources with helpful ideas. For example, the Elementary Science Study (one of several National Science Foundation-funded curriculum projects of the late 1960s and early 1970s) was notable for its hands-on experiences with simple items like liquid drops, shadows, ice, clay, etc. Other programs came along with uncomplicated activities that can be done at home with children of most any age. Some useful products from these hands-on programs are still commercially available, but for the creative parent to model open inquiry, an activity title alone can be both enticing and sufficient openings to learning.

When children experience nature’s conduct through direct observation, nature can teach!

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Not God, But Maybe UFOs? (USA)

According to Clay Routledge of North Dakota State University, writing in the New York Times, Americans are becoming less religious only if you use a particular definition of “religious.”  Mere measuring of things like church attendance or acceptance of doctrine doesn’t capture what he terms “the religious mind.”

With numerous studies showing a strong link between religiosity and existential concerns about death and meaning, Professor Routledge suggests that the “religious mind” is demographically persisting even as faith is lost in the traditional religious beliefs and institutions.

There’re still ghosts, for example (a third of Americans believe in them).  Plenty of so-called “spiritual ideas” too. There’s feeling someone’s presence, even after the person has died. And then there’s “two-thirds hold[ing] supernatural or paranormal beliefs of some kind, including beliefs in reincarnation, spiritual energy and psychic powers.” 

Reporting on survey research, Routledge puts forth some interesting assertions in the article. Is it true that “the less religious people are, the more likely they are to endorse empirically unsupported ideas about…?” Whoa. Maybe you can check that out?

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Bookmarks – Always Handy

The new Brights’ bookmarks are substantial! They won’t wrinkle! They’re even waterproof!

Bookmarks are an easy way to gently guide others to the website. With bookmark in hand, the recipient can see the home page URL (on the reverse of the side shown) and come have a look at the website. It also bears a QR code leading to a small mini-site that offers “the flavor” of the Brights movement.

You can order a "batch or two” (5 or 10 bookmarks) to have on hand and pass along to any booklover you know. Actually, those folks just may be brights! (Brights of all stripes are often readers!)

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An Anthology of Singular “Brightness”

A word like “soul” may rarely appear as a teammate to “science” in a book, but both terms are standing front and center in the title of the latest volume from Richard Dawkins.

Science in the Soul: Selected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist is an anthology consisting of a diverse collection of this notable Enthusiastic Bright’s essays, commentary, lectures and letters (items mildly edited).

Despite diversity across the 41-piece array, in the combination Dawkins is issuing a resonant tribute to the power and the glory of science.

Said one British reviewer, having had an early reading of the pieces in the new Dawkins book:
Breathtaking, brilliant and passionate, these make an unanswerable case for the wonder of scientific discovery and its power to stir the imagination; for the practical necessity of scientific endeavour to society; and for the importance of the scientific way of thinking - particularly in today's 'post-truth' world.” 

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Ups and Downs / Back & Forth for Dawkins

Some Enthusiastic Brights (James Randi, Daniel Dennett, and Michael Shermer) had early opportunities to read and issue advance blurbs about Dr. Dawkins’ latest book. Not so surprisingly -- all positive.

Still, not everyone welcomes Dawkins’ views. He was recently disinvited from a planned-for speaking engagement to discuss the book. The reason? Event organizers, a radio station in Berkeley, California, USA, alleged that his comments about Islam had offended and hurt people.

KPFA, the radio station that had invited Professor Dawkins to speak about his new book, defends its perspective. The manager states that it “supports free speech” but not “hateful speech” and does not consider the cancellation “censorship.”

Professor Dawkins responded to the “de-platforming” in direct fashion, first lauding KPFA for attributes he recalled from his earlier time living in Berkeley, then closing his written response with the following:

“I am known as a frequent critic of Christianity and have never been de-platformed for that. Why do you give Islam a free pass? Why is it fine to criticise Christianity but not Islam? You say I use ‘abusive speech’ about Islam. I would seriously – I mean it – like to hear what examples of my ‘abusive speech’ you had in mind. When you fail to discover any, I presume you will issue a public apology, which I will of course accept in a spirit of gratitude for what KPFA once was. And could become again.”

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Teller Tells of “Irrational Magic”!

The familiar form of magic is based on guile and being sneaky. But in collecting old magic books and tricks, the quieter half of the Penn & Teller magician team has seemingly discovered a different sort of magic: the "magic of contagion!” 

We learn this fact from a recent issue of AARP-the Magazine, which features notables of the over 50 variety, and Teller, age 69, is shown to be an avid collector. The featured column is titled “Houdini’s Handcuffs,” and in it this Enthusiastic Bright explains that he finds “something magical” in connecting with the history of his craft.

Image: Houdini Museum of New York

When you touch Houdini’s handcuffs, you feel magically charged, like there’s a connection, a meeting of then and now. It’s completely irrational, but I’ve spent my entire life playing with logic and sense.

Is it that Teller really shouldn’t be a Bright?  No. Other Brights recognize, and often share, such a feeling. As Teller states: “A letter is just a letter, but it holds great power if someone you cared about wrote it.”  It’s not something supernatural or numinous or mystical or miraculous or unnatural.

It’s natural!  It’s that weird and sometimes intense and captivating magic that can come to us - compliments of our human brain. 

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An Atheist Podcast “Train Stop”

An interview request came in at Brights Central: “We have a very new, high concept, highly produced show which follows the subway map of a fictional train line making stops at places named for components of the secular movement.  The next stop is ‘Brighton,’ so the theme will be all things bright, hence our desire to interview someone from the Brights.”

"Atheist Underground” conducted a Skype interview (its Ron Moore with Dr. Futrell) and edited a lengthy exchange into a 15-minute conversation. It appears a fifth of the way into AU's June podcast, bookended by several minutes of the creators’ atheist-inspired material.

Has “Atheist Underground” gone so far underground it can’t be found? We're not sure, but at least the interview itself is accessible on the web, offering some personal as well as organizational information.  So, if you have 15 minutes to spare and are interested in getting background (on Dr. F, the Brights organization, or U.S. secularism), you can head to this link (at about 6:45 in, where Monty Python is singing “The Bright Side of Life”).

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So That’s How Life Came About?

It’s not fake news ­– It’s not revelation. It’s simply what science has to say us about the natural evolutionary changes across the existence of this planet that has brought us to the current era. And students are benefitting!

So… Thank you, Brights! -- you who are supporting the Earth and Life: changes over time poster distribution project with your donations.  By helping more classrooms acquire this unique resource, you are aiding more teachers in developing in their students a genuine naturalistic understanding.

• “I teach at Hillcrest High. Thanks so much for the free poster; it's great!! We've been able to use it as a reference throughout our evolution unit and students love being able to look at it and reference it… Thanks again! Zoya”

• “I am a teacher at West Creek High School. I use this poster when we study evolution, classification (phylogenic trees and cladograms) and energy transfer. It is laminated and on my wall. It is also great at starting discussions and peaking my student’s interest and creates questions. Thanks so much!”

More teachers like these await. So, if you haven’t contributed, please think about playing a part in this featured project of the Brights.

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Mirror-Neuron Activity (A Hotline Story)

This latest in a Danish Bright’s series of little tales from nature is different from all those before because it doesn’t focus on an actual creature. This time "the hotline conversation" is with a brain neuron.

The wee story (referenced to experiment) carries a message for musicians and non-musicians alike: “Neurons that fire together, wire together!” (Available in both Danish and English languages)

Enjoy the "Bright-Moral-Animal-Hotline"!

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