The Brights' Bulletin

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Issue #168

(Note that links in archived Bulletin issues may no longer be valid.)



Predicting the Future

Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.
—Niels Bohr

Even a scientist experienced in extrapolating from accumulated data in experiments finds that using the past to project forward to the future is a higher order hindrance.

Difficult enough in his day, it's made especially so when conditions are rapidly changing all across the globe. No doubt that rapid change is the contemporary situation. Hence, we all must act today without knowing the future.

We Brights have a lens through which we envision what may come. It is our worldview. As defined by Wallace (Culture and Personality, 1970), a worldview is “the very skeleton of concrete cognitive assumptions” on which the flesh of our conduct is hung.

A Bright's ethics and actions are based on a naturalistic worldview, free of supernatural and mystical elements.  What each of us does now, in the face of current conditions, hinges very much on it.

Perhaps our actions can be fortified when those concrete cognitive assumptions we have are closely examined.


Four Pillars of Action

As you consider what you might do in life to make your own impression on the future, consider first these “Pillars of Action”!  They are choices of conduct and activity that will blend with support of the Brights’ civic vision.  The Brights’ Net encourages Brights to try their hand at departing the religion arena, the vocabulary of which places them into an unhelpful frame.



Constructive Engagement

Principled Participation

In sum: Brights who can safely do so will speak openly about the full scope of their worldview and participate fully in the range of opportunities available in the civic arena. Brights will use civil, secular, and affirmative ways of communicating with other citizens, minimizing modes that tend to divide the civic fabric.

Footnote: These four mainstays of action were identified by Brights planning involvement as Brights in the first Reason Rally.


Stigma Complicates the Count (USA)

Q: Are atheists just a tiny segment of the population, as so many widely-cited polls (e.g., Gallup, Pew) suggest?  Or do they actually constitute something more like 20% to 35% of the U.S. population?

It’s hard to tell the actual prevalence of atheists.

There’s such a heavy stigma against disbelief, that the single digit percentages reported in telephone polls are hardly surprising. Stigma leads to people being hesitant to divulge their lack of belief over the phone to a stranger. Two University of Kentucky psychology researchers have tried an indirect measurement method to get around the reluctance.

Their study was described May 16 in as “Atheism might be more common than assumed...but it's complicated.” The actual study "How many atheists are there?" (appearing in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science) found atheists to be a severely underreported portion of the electorate.



But You Don’t Really Mean It!

"Luster" contributor Leyden Marks is taking another look at how schools educate youngsters. This time his attention goes to the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance routine.

His gripe departs from the usual one that fixates so many Brights (the 1954 wording change adding “under God” to the text). This protest (What Does the Pledge of Allegiance Teach?) comes from quite a different direction.


Space Fan Exploration

His previous posts make clear that Adam Manning, our “Science-Minded Citizen,” is a die-hard space enthusiast. This month he posts about a recent on-Earth adventure. He attended a day-long event at an exciting venue where a rich diversity of leading academics and practitioners were speaking. Says he when recommending that pathway to experiencing science: “Attending events of this sort are not only a great way to learn more - they can inspire a feeling of being involved, of being an active participant….


Bright Pride! (Sweet or Sour?)

At Brights Central we’re in the process of replenishing the supply of what seems to be the favorite swag of Brights everywhere: the bookmarks

Shown here is the side of the bookmark with its QR code leading to our mini-site. Last month we showed you the side with the civic message urging Brights to “Step Forward for Civic Equality” and invited your advice about what new statement we might put there. (The first bookmark version had simply carried the definition of a bright.) We asked: What should come next? We got a range of suggestions.

Sort of Sour?  Some of the offered slogans were less about expressing pride than voicing derision. Example: “Religion Insults Intellect!”  Sorry. That just wouldn’t convey what “the Brights” are all about. Although thanks go to those of you who sent us ideas in that vein (we appreciate your participation), please see again the Brights’ Vision Statement and especially Principle 8!  This initiative just isn’t an “us” vs. “them” ballgame! 

Somewhat Sweeter?  Other suggestions were fun to read, because they evidenced some of the creativity we’d sought. Example from Andrew (OR, USA):  “NOMO: No One Mything Out”). The vision is inclusive, and it carries a bit of a twist. Rather intriguing. Thanks, Andrew!

Just Right!  The recommendation we liked best came from Linda (UK), who reminded us that the bookmark didn’t carry the actual tagline that Brights had voted on in the past. What!? It doesn’t?  She’s right. The tagline is all over the website and atop each bulletin and message outward, but it’s not on the bookmark.  So we at BC have settled on:  Illuminate and Elevate the Naturalistic Worldview!  That is exactly what Brights try to do, and we can spread that upbeat message with the bookmarks, now on order. Thank you, Linda. 


From the International Forums

In the age of Brexit and Trumpism, it’s fairly obvious that the political Right are resurgent, but is there also trouble brewing on the Left?  In Canada and the United States, several controversies have boiled over into the news.  In February there was conflict at the home of the American free speech movement to prevent a controversial presenter. In Canada an academic philosopher endured much condemnation for his contentions with respect to gender norms.  More recently, activists at Evergreen College demanded the firing of an evolutionary biologist for an email he sent.

How should one think about the clash of worldviews unfolding in a world in which technology enables the most extreme views to come to prominence, and which evinces legacies of Marxism and post-modernism? 

If interested in the conflicts, you can learn more and weigh in at the forums.  Participation requires only a brief registration. Hope to see you there.


Want to Live Long and Prosper?

Allostatic load (AL) is a physiologic measure of stress. It’s well known that repeated or chronic stressors in daily life are not helpful to health.

Maybe getting some religion would be helpful? 

Whether religion might play some role in alleviating your stress and improving your health has not been settled despite the fact that there have been numerous studies examining the association of religiosity with assorted dimensions of physical and mental health. While reporting on their new study of religiosity and health outcomes in PLOS ONE (“Church Attendance, Allostatic Load and Mortality in Middle-aged Adults”, the authors summarize some of the background on the topic.

Authors of the current study examined the relationship between church attendance and all-cause mortality in middle-aged adults, finding an association. Of course, they also report on other mediating factors (a healthy lifestyle? social cohesion? etc.). Best to read and critically analyze the study before deciding to head out to church/mosque/synagogue/temple!


The “A Little Brightness” Project (USA)

It’s been a year since the Bulletin mentioned a small project that The Brights’ Net has for several years conducted. It’s a little project to “embrighten” prison cells.

The “A Little Brightness” newsletter is mailed to interested prisoners in 46 different states. Although some ALB subscribers were imprisoned for violent offences, a great many appear to have been incarcerated with lengthy sentences for prior years’ illegal drug use.

Central to the prisoner project is Joel, a volunteer Bright in Texas. He edits/truncates content of monthly Brights’ Bulletins (considering the unavailability of Internet to prisoners) and then supplements it with added material intended to address prisoner interest. The final “A Little Brightness” newsletter requires just a one-ounce stamp. BC handles duplication and dissemination to a mailing list of incarcerated subscribers that Joel maintains. Here’s how each prisoner gets on the subscription list:

A [generally very polite] postal request for information arrives at Brights Central (California) from someone who, despite incarceration, has “heard about the Brights”. Kelly will respond with BC’s introductory information about The Brights' Net and a enclose a sample ALB (the latest).

She then passes along the original letter to Joel, who maintains a P.O. Box specifically for the purpose of communicating directly with interested prisoners. Joel mails his own “welcome” and the prisoner is on the subscriber list to receive subsequent issues.

Financially, this little project gets a morsel of help from Joel’s corporate employer, who values any employee’s contributions to 501(c)(3) nonprofits and annually credits up to 50 hours of his time, verifying the work before sending $500 to BC. Duplication and postage as well as processing require more than that, of course. If you like this project, you can request that a donation to The Brights’ Net be earmarked accordingly to help continue sending “A Little Brightness” to prisoners.


Letter from “the Darkness…”

The latest prisoner letter received at BC (postmarked June 2) is not unusual. It comes from someone who saw an ALB sent to someone else.

The letter begins with “Dear Brights: I am writing to you from the darkness of the Texas state prison system. I have been perusing your newsletter or bulletin, “a little brightness,” and I am in love with it! I want to make certain that I get to read them in the future thus this my request to be put on your mailing list please!

After imparting confinement details (and a promise to share with other prisoners), the reqiest ends with: “I want to thank you for your time and consideration to my request. Keep up the good work. You are making a difference.


Choosy Elephants (A Hotline Story)

These little tales from nature by a Danish Bright might interest you if you find animal behavior fascinating. They aren’t your classical Aesop fables, but some aspects of these wee stories may remind you of them. (Available in both Danish and English languages)

This month’s quite tiny story tells about how a very large animal handles his mating choices. A male elephant “phones in to the hotline” with his particular issue. If you want to check out the peer-reviewed scientific article from which it is drawn, the link to the abstract and its fascinating pictures is provided at the story’s ending.

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

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