The Brights' Bulletin

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Issue #155

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Death –If You Think about It

Societies and individuals differ in how they handle the “inescapable fact of life.

Cultures may range from death-phobic (generally keeping death reminders largely separate and out of sight, as does much of Western custom today) to those which infuse memento mori into traditions of art, symbol, and ritual.

Thinking about death, many individuals “turn to things they believe will give them immortality, literal or otherwise.” Clinging “more intensely to the institutions they're a part of, and the worldviews they hold” is hardly exceptional.

Some individuals may “distract themselves with life” while others “think about death regularly, over time.”

In experimental psychology, Dostoevsky’s “white bear problem” (currently rendered in many forms, such as “Don’t think of an elephant”) refers to how the process of trying to quell a thought may actually increase the likelihood of it appearing!


Sightseeing “Death Talk”

If you do think much about death, or discuss the topic with others, then you may be interested in exploring the many routes people in the United States take to avoid direct language about death. Have a bit of fun with the topic and explore some regional differences.

• Map of Most Distinctive Obituary Euphemism for “Died” by State (Mental Floss, April 4, 2016)

• 101 Euphemisms for Dead, Death or Dying (About Health, June 2015)

• Map of Most Distinctive Causes of Death (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, May 2015)

Might it be said that Brights would be able to be forthright about the topic of death and less likely than supers to utilize euphemisms? Who knows? 

But it can generally be said that persons with a naturalistic outlook hold that there is only one life per human, and give no credence to the many-varied afterlife schemes. 


Religious Participation and Beliefs, 1972-2014 (USA)

Americans have become slightly more likely to believe in an afterlife.”  (Ed. Yikes!)

A new study offers this fairly disquieting conclusion about the general population (at least from the perspective of a Bright supportive of the aims of The Brights’ Net).  Along with it, however, come some rather intriguing departures from prior conclusions of recent research into American’s religious beliefs, perhaps since this new analysis gives more scrutiny to the Millennial generation.

A March 21 news note (reporting the study and summarizing it briefly) quotes the team’s lead researcher as saying: “Most previous studies concluded that fewer Americans were publicly affiliating with a religion, but that Americans were just as religious in private ways.”  That's [being just as privately religious] no longer the case, especially in the last few years."

The research team analyzed data from 58,893 respondents to the General Social Survey (a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults administered between 1972 and 2014). It examined changes since the 1970s, but “with a particular focus on the years since 2006 and on 18- to 29-year-olds.” 

Also of interest to Brights might be the study’s attention to variables like “spirituality” and the “secular” stance.

The study itself (SAGE Open, published March 23, 2016) is readily available.


Advocacy Days – Speak Up! (USA)

As a part of the Reason Rally 2016 being held in June, advocacy opportunities are being arranged so that secular Americans can visit with their representatives in Congress. The two Advocacy Days on Capitol Hill take place on two days leading up to the main Reason Rally gathering on Saturday.  Thursday, June 2nd's lobby visits are to the Senate.  Friday, June 3 will be the House.

The Rally itself will be held June 4 and a conference will be held Sunday, June 5.

If you go, you will be joined by speakers, entertainers, top-level scientists, political leaders and the tens of thousands of other participants who want to celebrate their secular, humanist and other nonreligious identities and promote the goals of the gathering.


Thank you!  Thank you! …  And you?

Many thanks to the Brights who responded to last month’s fund appeal and provided some financial support for the nonprofit that maintains the organizational activities of “the Brights”! 

The Brights’ Net does such a direct appeal for financial support twice a year. It is at those two times (the equinoxes) that we urge people to consider how they might play a role in supporting this initiative.

Please recognize that The Brights’ Net is an educational/charitable endeavor.  It is a 501(c)(3) organization, and so your workplace may present you with a matching opportunity.  Now would be the time to arrange for its involvement. Ask! We would be pleased to complete necessary paperwork.  And remember that individual contributions are tax deductible in the United States.

It is through the help of the Brights who do donate that the hub of activity is sustained and its promotional and educational materials developed. So, please play a part in our positive efforts to elevate the naturalistic worldview through our priority projects. Make a single donation or, even better, a small monthly subscription.

Review: the March fund appeal.

To donate right now:


Drawing a Copernican Parallel

An infographic recently developed by Andy Norman of Carnegie Mellon (with illustration by Winston Yin) in conjunction with the Area D “Reality about Morality” team is now available for perusal and sharing.

In his infographic presentation, Dr. Norman takes a novel approach to the topic by pursuing a parallel between today’s “new understanding” (what has become known scientifically about morality) and that other “new understanding” (heliocentric model).  He asks, “Is ethics ready for its Copernican revolution?


Rebuking “Anthropodenial”

Emory University’s Frans de Waal is far better known for his research with bonobos, chimpanzees, and other primates than for his brief service to the Brights’ “Reality about Morality” project.  Nonetheless, he has written a fascinating article in the New York Times that indirectly links the two. 

What I Learned Tickling Apes” is as enjoyable to read as it is edifying (relevant, too!).

In the essay, Dr deWaal introduces his invented term “anthropodenial” to serve as a positional opposite to anthropomorphism.  He does this while pointing to conduct in some animals that signifies thinking and moral sense.  

“Relabeling a chimpanzee kiss ‘mouth-to-mouth contact’ obfuscates the meaning of a behavior that apes show under the same circumstances as humans, such as when they greet one another or reconcile after a fight. It would be like assigning Earth’s gravity a different name than the moon’s, just because we think Earth is special. Unjustified linguistic barriers fragment the unity with which nature presents us.”

Scientific frowning on anthropomorphic interpretations divides humans from other animals. Ranking cognition on a scale with humans at the top has many implications. Educational ones, too. Explore with some children: “Are people animals?” Check into the extent to which their understanding points to a separation from nature, or unity with nature.


Updated Evolution Poster Ahead

Uh oh! – Kelly reports that the previous supply of 5 ½ foot wide classroom posters in hand has dwindled to zero!

The good news, however, is this:  Thanks to accumulated donations from Brights who have sent financial support earmarked to this project, Brights Central is in the process of negotiating printing costs for another round of dissemination efforts by “the Brights.” The print order is ready to be placed, except for awaiting this one “last call” via the Brights Bulletin for added support! (More on that, below)

The even better news?  The developers have revamped the poster’s splendid 2012 image with a 2016 version to show the latest scientific understanding.  All the new posters will bear that updated “big, but detailed, picture” along with a QR code leading teachers and students to additional resource information.

Worthy of note:  So far, through its agreement with the developers, the Brights have enabled over two hundred thousand youngsters to garner a deeper understanding of the geological, atmospheric, and biological events and processes involved in changing our world.  Such understanding by citizens and future public leaders is becoming ever more crucial to wise civic policy in the face of climate change and other global challenges


Did You Know?

For those of you unfamiliar with this project, Earth and Life: changes over time is a multifaceted image that combines physical science and life science events on the same time scale. With it, the viewer can see connections not seen in other timelines of evolutionary change. This unique pictorial representation of evolution on earth reaches from current time all the way back to the “Big Bang” event.

The Brights’ Net has, under agreement with image developers, been disseminating these posters free to high schools to augment their teaching more seriously about evolutionary change. To qualify, a science teacher who applies must be conducting a course in which students are adequately prepared to deal with such a detailed graphic image.  Teachers who receive a poster appear thrilled with the majesty of the presentation and how well the visual resource assists them in helping students see connections not seen in other timelines of evolutionary change! 

This project is such a positive way to illuminate a naturalistic understanding, so please help us to expand the number of recipient schools if you can see your way to doing so! (Note: The per poster printing costs can possibly be reduced in accordance with an increased number to be printed.) 

By the way: small monthly subscriptions are also welcome, as they can begin another accumulation for a subsequent printing!


“Science vs. Religion” Resides in Our Brains?

Research published March 23 in PLOS One examined the relationship between belief in God or universal spirit with measures of analytic thinking and moral concern.

News Report:

Actual Study:

The researchers had conducted eight different experiments and consistently: “the more religious the person, the more moral concern they showed.” Seven studies with adults provided compelling evidence that religious belief is positively associated with various measures of empathy and negatively associated with analytic thinking. Findings are consistent with the opposing domains hypothesis, according to which brain areas associated with moral concern and analytic thinking are in tension.

"Because of the tension between [neural] networks, pushing aside a naturalistic world view enables you to delve deeper into the social/emotional side," Tony Jack [the lead researcher] explained. "And that may be the key to why beliefs in the supernatural exist throughout the history of cultures. It appeals to an essentially nonmaterial way of understanding the world and our place in it."

Also of likely interest to many Brights: “Like other studies, these experiments showed that analytic thinking discourages acceptance of spiritual or religious beliefs. But the statistical analysis of data pooled from all eight experiments indicates empathy is more important to religious belief than analytic thinking is for disbelief.”


International Forums

A study has shown that when people are under surveillance, they are less likely to espouse minority opinions, while governments and employers increasingly utilize invasive surveillance to superintend people in their ambits.  This may be of interest, as it almost goes without saying that Brights are a minority of a minority.  What do you think?  Is the new surveillance state justified by a modern need for intense security, or does basic dignity require a measure of privacy?  Drop in and take a position at the Forums.

Registration is quick and confidential.  Post a Status if you have any difficulties.  See you there!

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