The Brights' Bulletin

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Issue #171

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



Impromptu Experience: Totality

NOTE: Last month at Brights Central, there was a bit of “eclipse mania” operating due to the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse, and so we will close the bulletin with additional segments touching on that topic.

The diagram at right links to NASA’s animated presentation of the path of “totality” across the United States.

BC’s location in northern California proved just too close in proximity to that pathway for Dr. Futrell, who made a close-to-the-last-minute decision to drive to Oregon to view it. Originally planning to skip the opportunity, she found it just too-o-o much to resist, and so she went after all. (No, she did not fall under the sway of the moon!)


“Being Watched” Keeps Us Moral?

Will people do bad things unless they fear punishment from all-seeing gods? 

Apparently many people across the world think exactly that, at least according to a recent study reported in the journal Nature Human Behavior

According to researchers, the results of their study covering 13 countries indicate the prevalence of deeply ingrained pro-religious norms, even in places that are currently quite overtly secular.

The surprising fact, say the researchers, is that some atheists also appear to perceive religion as a moral safeguard!  

To access a brief and interesting study narrative:

To access the study abstract and/or download the report (PDF):


New Educational Efforts (Russia)

Perhaps giving a nod to Brights Central’s urging Brights everywhere to work to illuminate naturalistic understanding, the community cluster has entered into quite an ambitious effort.

They are hoping to produce and disseminate a series of colorful and instructive educational banners in support of science education. Scientific and artistic help has been engaged. Accompanying English versions are forthcoming.

The first banner, which illuminates in Russian language “The Journey to the Cenozoic Era” (the Age of Mammals) has neared completion (sample portion shown; click to preview the entirety).


Crowdfunding Challenges & Needs (Russia)

Shown here are images from the two T-shirt versions (black, or white) offered by the Russian Brights as premiums in a crowdfunding campaign to produce their educational banners. 

Eugene, cluster leader, envisions that Kickstarter campaigns could help financially with these efforts, although he reports to BC that the recent plummeting of the Ruble exchange rate is driving them toward collecting funds in euros or dollars. Given that they may encounter difficulties with Kickstarter/Russian banks (etc.), any Brights in the US or Europe who can volunteer to provide expertise or organizational/technical help on such matters would be welcomed. Can you advise? If so, contact Eugene


Brand New in “Books by Brights”

Sharing Reality: How to Bring Secularism and Science to an Evolving Religious World

This new volume is hot off the press (August 25)! In it, co-authors Jeff Haley and Dale McGowan point out how religions have been evolving all along and then present their notions of how to be helping that evolutionary process move in the direction of greater acceptance of science and secularism.

These authors acknowledge that the essential value that persons find in religious identity and community need not be lost or rejected, even though religions (themselves a natural outgrowth of the intuitive ways of knowing that have evolved with human culture) have been increasingly bested by the more effective scientific way of understanding.

Haley and McGowan urge Brights et al. to be “sharing reality” with friends and family in a means/manner that would aid religions in evolving to become more benign.


Teacher Explains Evolution Poster’s Value

What a wonderful tool to organize and emphasize this often disputed and controversial subject in our science classes. I share this resource with another teacher and we both value its details and current information. Our challenge is working in a small (city pop: 5K, school district pop: 2.2K) rural public school in a community with many splinter Protestant churches or faith communities who often dispute evolution and some refuse to send their children to public school because of this subject.

The Wisconsin (USA) teacher who wrote the above is, like the other high school science teachers who have applied for, received, and used the unique classroom wall poster (5.5 feet wide), highly qualified to teach about evolutionary change. He has reported utilizing it when teaching biology, ecology, and environmental science classes. Despite the adverse factors he has mentioned, his students will garner a genuine naturalistic understanding of Earth and Life: changes over time: no supernatural necessary!

Many thanks to you generous Brights who are supporting this project so that more teachers and students can benefit!


Adult Cleaner Wrasse (A Hotline Story)

The latest wee tale of nature from a Danish Bright involves an experimental comparison of cleaner wrasse with primate species in terms of decision making about a foraging task. Who can best delay gratification?

Despite primates renowned dietary complexity and social cognition, including cooperative abilities, capuchin monkeys, chimpanzees and orangutans are up against competition when adult cleaners learn optimal decision rules from experience.

As with other “hotline” stories (each a spin-off of experiment), this one is available in both Danish and English languages)

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


Eclipses Not So Well Understood - Still?

The NASA diagram that heads this month’s bulletin has proved a useful explanatory aid in several instances in which we have encountered (quite surprisingly!) otherwise well-educated individuals who, while fascinated by the media buildup to a cross-USA totality experience, simply weren’t clear on what made a solar eclipse!

Littmann and Willcox in their 1991 book, Totality, look back at the history of “eclipse explaining” before science clarified the phenomenon and could predict occurrences and pathways. They write about the various myths inspired by solar eclipses, and in a brief digest of their work, we can read this of the cognitive challenges of comprehension:

"Within these myths is a great truth. The harmony and well-being of the Earth are dependent on the Sun and the Moon. Abstract science cannot convey this profound realization as powerfully as a myth in which the celestial bodies come to life."


Reflecting on the “Millennium’s Eclipse”

OBSERVATION is the most fundamental of scientific process skills, and as we’ve stated previously, it's a skill that a "Science-Minded Citizen" like Adam Manning will take to heart.

Having observed the 11th August 1999 solar Eclipse from his viewing position in Portsmouth, England, Adam recalls numerous descriptive details about that “millennium event”.

Besides summarizing the occurrence in a post written just prior to the American experience, Adam offers a brief lesson in how a solar eclipse comes to be. Pondering the experience today, he states:

“[I]t was easy during these moments to understand how terrifying an eclipse might have been for people of earlier ages, bereft of our clear understanding of the Solar System’s mechanics and with only their imaginations to play out on what might be happening.


Venturing to View the Totality

Dr. Futrell, having decided quite close to the August 21 solar eclipse to travel to view the “totality”, knew she’d have no lodging and would be sleeping in the car. An influx of Californians traveling north into Oregon was predicted to present many challenges to the traveler (e.g., overwhelming of available services), and so she chose to take a more far-flung route, heading northeast toward a more remote part of that state. The destination (about 585 miles away - see arrow) was selected merely by map viewing.

Setting off solo with her dog, the route took her through desert landscapes of northern Nevada and, as she later discovered, out of range of her mobile phone service (no cell usage anywhere within a hundred miles of the destination). Oh, but a marvelous rural viewing experience awaited!  Just fabulous! It was awesome in the more powerful non-contemporaneous use of the word. Abandoning regular duties proved well worth the venture. Her phone captured an array of changes in the scene before she set it aside and shifted her vision skyward. 

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