In my previous post, I presented updated estimates of trends in average religiosity and religious values for 110 countries using latent variable analysis of data from the World Values Survey and European Values Study [1-4]. The map below plots these countries according to their latent variable values for modernity (horizontal axis) and religiosity (vertical axis) in the year 2020. The colours indicate culture zone and the shading roughly indicates the main domain of countries in each culture zone. Moving downwards to the right on this graph indicates increasing modern values and decreasing religiosity. The inspiration for this map presentation was the culture zone maps produced for earlier waves of these surveys by the political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel . The culture zones are defined in a previous post here.
Apart from the uncertainty in these values resulting from survey sample size limitations, differences in the ways surveys were administered, and differences in translation and cultural understanding of questions, there is also statistical uncertainty in the latent variable estimation process. Not too much should be made of small differences between countries, and I focus on the broader patterns.
The degree of premodernity of religious values is fairly similar for the Islamic East and Sub-Saharan Africa, but the African region is somewhat more religious than the Islamic region. The Indic East has higher levels of premodern values than either of these regions. One manifestation of this is the current rising level of Hindu nationalism in India along with the violent persecution of Indians of other religions. The degree of modernity of values is similar for the majority of Latin American countries and the former Soviet bloc countries, but religiosity is significantly lower in the latter, where religion is largely a marker of national identity and most are non-practicing.
The North America culture zone includes only two countries, the USA and Canada. It is clear from the map that Canada belongs with the Reformed West countries in contrast to the USA, which sits in the Old West zone close to Italy, and also not far from three South American countries: Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. Malta and Cyprus are also outliers for the Old West culture zone, with higher levels of religiosity and less modern values. Along the decreasing religiosity-increasing modernity axis, Qatar is at the top end and Sweden at the bottom end. China is an outlier to the lower left, with the lowest level of religiosity of all the countries, but also a modernity value towards the middle of the scale between modern and pre-modern.
It should be emphasised that this map reflects national averages for individuals and may not be reflected in laws and form of government. Increasingly authoritarian regimes across the world are imposing values that a substantial proportion of their population do not accept. The USA has a growing proportion of the population rejecting democracy in favour of minority rule and the restriction of various rights particularly for women and minority voters. Unhappiness with the results of neoliberal economic and social policies over recent decades has been successfully redirected into “values wars” rather than addressing the real causes of declining average incomes and reductions in social safety nets along with the reduction of taxation and regulation for high income individuals and companies.
Inglehart, R., C. Haerpfer, A. Moreno, C. Welzel, K. Kizilova, J. Diez-Medrano, M. Lagos, P. Norris, E. Ponarin & B. Puranen et al. (eds.). 2014. World Values Survey: All Rounds – Country-Pooled Datafile Version: https://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/WVSDocumentationWVL.jsp. Madrid: JD Systems Institute.
Haerpfer, C., Inglehart, R., Moreno,A., Welzel,C., Kizilova,K., Diez-MedranoJ., M. Lagos, P. Norris, E. Ponarin & B. Puranen et al. (eds.). 2020. World Values Survey: Round Seven–Country-Pooled Datafile. Madrid, Spain & Vienna, Austria: JD Systems Institute& WVSA Secretariat[Version: http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/WVSDocumentationWV7.jsp].
Gedeshi, Ilir, Zulehner, Paul M., Rotman, David, Titarenko, Larissa, Billiet, Jaak, Dobbelaere, Karel, Kerkhofs, Jan. (2020). European Values Study Longitudinal Data File 1981-2008 (EVS 1981-2008). GESIS Datenarchiv, Köln. ZA4804 Datenfile Version 3.1.0, https://doi.org/10.4232/1.13486.
EVS (2020): European Values Study 2017: Integrated Dataset (EVS 2017). GESIS Data Archive, Cologne. ZA7500 Data file Version 3d. WVS. Archived from the original on October 19, 2013.
When I studied physics at university in the 1970s, I became interested in the nature of time, particularly in light (pun intended) of its role in both special and general relativity. I also read The Direction of Time by Hans Reichenbach (1891-1953) regarded as the leading empiricist philosopher of the 20th century, as well as other philosophers and writers. Later, in the 1990s I became a student of Zen Buddhism with Hogen Yamahata, who emphasised that the only reality is what is experienced here-now. This certainly describes my experience of time but is also fundamentally at odds with the usual understanding of the implications of modern physics.
So I read Carlo Rovelli’s fourth bookThe Order of Time (2018) with great interest. Unusually for a physicist he gives an accessible and very readable overview of the main findings of physics but also discusses the human experience of time and tries to integrate our common experience with the insights of modern physics. See here for my previous review of his first book Anaximander.
It’s a short book and is written for a lay audience, written in a very readable and accessible way. Its been criticized by some for not having enough hard science exposition and too much speculative stuff, particularly in the third section. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the mix and wholeheartedly recommend it if you are at all interested in the nature of time.
Rovelli opens with the claim that the nature of time is perhaps the greatest remaining mystery. I’m inclined to think that consciousness and the fundamental constituents of reality are equally great mysteries, and indeed these may all be interrelated. The introductory chapter identifies a number of key questions about time:
Does the universe unfold into the future, as time flows? Does in fact time “flow”?
Does the past, present and future all exist in the block universe of relativity, with our consciousness or perhaps the “present moment” moving through the blocks?
Why do we remember the past and not the future? Put another way, why does time flow only in one direction, when the fundamental equations of physics have no preferred time direction?
Is time a fundamental property of the universe in which events play out, or is time an emergent property, perhaps emerging only at a certain scale or degree of complexity?
The rest of the book is divided into three parts. In the first part, Rovelli summarizes the understanding of time in modern physics, and how this is radically at odds with our normal perceptions of time. Special and general relativity have conclusively shown that there is not a single universal time. Time passes at different rates at different places (faster where gravity is lower) and at for observers travelling at different speeds (slower when velocity is greater). Additionally, there is no longer a single universal “now”. Between the past and the present there is an expanded “now” in which different observers will see events occurring with different time differences and possibly in a different order. The direction of time, the difference between past and future, does not exist in the elementary equations of the world and appears only in the second law of thermodynamics (entropy of a closed system can only increase or stay the same).
The second part, The World Without Time, delves into the fundamental nature of reality, drawing on Rovelli’s own field of research, loop quantum gravity in a shorter section. He argues that the fundamental constituents of reality are events (interactions) not things, and that space and time are emergent properties from these interactions. This is controversial, quantum loop gravity is but one of a number of contenders for the ’Theory of Everything’. There are physicists such as Lee Smolin (The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time) who have argued the opposite: that time is indeed a fundamental property of the universe. And more, like Sean Carrol, who conclude that neither he nor anyone else has a clue whether time is fundamental or emergent.
The third and final part attempts identify the sources of time and to understand how the non-universal time of relativity and the non-time of fundamental physics are consistent with our experience of time: “Somehow our time must emerge around us, at least for us and at our scale.” This to me was the most interesting and inspiring part of the book, though there are many reviewers on Amazon and Goodreads who really did not like it. Rovelli is up-front about the speculative nature of his “possible” answer. He is not sure it is the right answer, but it’s the one that he finds the most compelling and he doesn’t think there any better ones.
As have many before him, Rovelli locates the arrow of time in the second law of thermodynamics, that entropy can never decrease. Entropy is a macroscopic property of systems and essentially associated with the number of microscopic configurations that are consistent with the “blurred” macroscopic view. Rovelli repeatedly uses the idea of “blurring” to explain the emergence of time at the macroscopic level. You have to read him to (possibly) understand it. He also identifies another potential source of temporal ordering in the quantum uncertainty principle; that the values of variables such as speed and position depend on the ordering of their measurement. He then states that Alain Connes has shown that the emergent thermal time and quantum time are aspects of the same phenomenon. Time emerges from our ignorance of the microscopic details of the world.
Although I studied statistical mechanics, I never understood until reading Rovelli that entropy was a relative quantity, determined not only by the state of a system but also by the set of macroscopic variable with which it is observed. Rovelli addresses the issue of why the universe started in a low entropy state (allowing the emergence of time) by suggesting that the universe has pockets of high and low entropy by chance, and necessarily it is only in the regions with low entropy that time can emerge so that life is possible, together with evolution, thought and memories of past times. He is arguing an astonishing variant of the weak anthropic principle, namely, that the flow of time is not a characteristic of the universe as a whole but necessarily associated with local region(s) in which entropy is initially low. This suggested to me that perhaps there might be sentient life forms evolve in local regions of the universe which are not in initial low entropy state according to the macro-variables by which we and other earthly life interact with reality, but may be low entropy for life forms which interact via a different set of macro-variables.
Rovelli goes on to speculate that the emergence of time may have more to do with us than with the cosmos per se. Is this dangerously close to putting humans back at the centre of the universe? He then discusses how causality also is a result of the fact that entropy increases. This is what allows past events to leave traces in the present, and that we remember the past but not the future. Evolution has designed our brains to use the traces to predict the future. Causality, memory, history all emerge from the fact that our universe was in a particular state of low entropy in the past. That particularity is relative, dependent on the set of macroscopic variables with which we interact with the world.
And in the final chapters of the book, Rovelli turns to us, and the role we play with respect to time. This for me was the most fascinating and inspiring part of the book. Rovelli argues that humans (and the rest of the biosphere) have been hard-wired by evolution to accept and use the concept of time. The changing interactions are real, but the time in which all this seems to occur is a manifestation of the human (and probably animal) mind, which has evolved to make use of the memory traces of the past to predict the future. The movement is real, the changing is real, but the time in which all of this seems to occur is nothing more than a manifestation of human (possibly animal) mind and the illusion, in turn, is supported by the entropy generated in the functioning of our brains.
From his discussion of the three sources of time, he draws a number of conclusions about the implications for us:
The self is not an enduring entity, but an emergent construct of the brain and memory, time is the source of our sense of identity.
Reality is made up of processes or interactions not things. Things are impermanent.
Being is suffering because we are in time, impermanent. “What causes us to suffer is not in the past or the future: it is here, now, in our memory, in our expectations. We long for timelessness, we endure the passing of time: we suffer time. Time is suffering.”
Rovelli explicitly notes how these are also some of the key insights of Buddhism: suffering, no-self, emptiness and impermanence. Rovelli here is NOT doing what people like Fritjof Capra and many new age gurus do: to use the strangeness of reality at quantum level as a justification for believing in macroscopic-level things like telepathy or clairvoyance. Rather, he is arguing that his understanding of time is consistent with what I consider some of the most important insights of Buddhism. I have also realized that the lack of a universal present moment is not inconsistent with the Zen insight that only the present exists. My teacher Hogen-san has always used the phrase “here- now” to describe our only reality, not just “now”. So there is no conflict with the time of relativity.
While Rovelli addresses my key questions about the nature of time, I am not convinced of all his arguments and explanations, or even that I fully understand them. But it is an immensely thought-provoking read, and I will read it again and hopefully my brain will hold off hurting long enough for me to clarify my own thoughts and speculations on the nature of time. In the meantime, I have been paying attention to the present moment as much as I can during my daily zazen, trying to simply experience here-now without thoughts about the past or speculations about the future.
In a recent post, I presented revised estimates for trends in the prevalence of atheism and religiosity for 110 countries over the last 40 years. This was based on a new analysis of the 2021 release of combined data for the WVS and EVS in the Integrated Values Surveys (IVS) 1981-2021 [1, 2]. The main revision to the dataset was to correct an error in the data for the USA. This post summarizes my updated analysis of modern and pre-modern religious values and for the first time I have also carried out an analysis of time trends from 1980 to 2020. See here for full details of the construction of a revised latent variable for modern values and the analysis of time trends.
My earlier post discusses in some detail the conceptualization and operationalization of modern and pre-modern religious values. I here give a very brief overview of this in terms Kohlberg’s three stages of moral development. Stage 1 moral values focus on absolute rules, obedience and punishment and an individual is good in order to avoid being punished. In stage 2, the individual internalizes the moral standards of the culture and is good in order to be seen as a good person by oneself and others. Moral reasoning is based on the culture’s standards, individual rights and justice. In stage 3, the individual becomes aware that while rules and laws may exist for the greater good, they may not be applicable in specific circumstances. Issues are not black and white, and the individual develops their own set of moral standards based in universal rights and responsibilities. As moral values evolve through the three broad stages, the size of the in-group (“us”) with which an individual identifies typically expands from tribe to ethnic group or nation to all humanity.
As in Europe, the US is currently experiencing a surge in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations driven by transmission among the unvaccinated. Two days ago, health officials in Vermont noted that 90% of Covid cases in Intensive Care Units are unvaccinated. Currently 74% of the Vermont population is fully vaccinated. This information allows us to do a simple calculation using only high school algebra to estimate the difference in risk of severe Covid infection among vaccinated compared to unvaccinated.
In two earlier posts (here and here), I examined global, regional and country-level trends in religious belief and practice, and the prevalence of atheism. The analysis was based on data from the World Values Survey (WVS) and the European Values Study (EVS), covering the period 1981 to 2020. Earlier this year, I discovered that the World Values Survey dataset has been updated. Some data collected using a mobile phone app in the most recent US survey was incorrectly coded and this mainly affected the religiosity categories. Comparison of the US prevalences for religiosity show that the coding errors resulted in an overestimate of the atheist and non-religious categories as shown in the following table:
Comparison of religiosity prevalence estimates for USA in year 2020
I have now updated the previous analyses using the 2021 release of the combined data for the WVS and EVS in the Integrated Values Surveys (IVS) 1981-2021 [1-3]. In carrying out these updates, I also addressed some definitional issues which have resulted in mostly slight changes to estimates for other countries. The details of the updated analysis are described elsewhere.
Switzerland is now offering a covid19 booster shot to to the 65+ and at-risk who has had their two covid19 vaccinations at least six months ago. It may soon be extended to all adults. I had my third shot last Thursday with no side effects (not even a localized sore spot) and was surprised to receive a Pfizer booster after being fully vaccinated earlier this year with the Moderna vaccine. The mRNA in both vaccines encode the same S-2P protein which differs from the covid19 spike protein by two amino acids only. These stabilize the spike protein so that it can train the immune system before it enters the host cell. I’ve been reading up on booster shots and will try to provide a brief summary below. If you want citations and more detail on the studies, see my professional blog here.
A large study of 1.14 million Israeli adults, aged 60 years and over who had received two Pfizer doses at least 5 months earlier, found that a third shot reduces the risk of infection by the dominant Delta variant by a factor of 11 compared to fully vaccinated people who have had two shots. Receiving a different vaccine type as I did, further reduces the risk by around 30% or more. The booster shot lowers the risk of severe illness even more, by a factor of around 20 compared to those who have had two shots only.
Covid-19 cases rose by 7% and deaths by 10% over the last week in Europe, as it enters a fourth (or fifth) wave and currently accounts for about two-thirds of infections reported globally. Belgium and the Netherlands, which have fully vaccinated 73-74% of their populations, have the highest new case rates in Western Europe, almost double those of Britain. The fully vaccinated rate is Switzerland is 64%, higher than the USA at 57% but lower than Australia now at 69%.
Watching scenes from Kabul airport recently felt like déjà vu for me. The Vietnam War ended in eerily similar scenes. I’ve been astonished to read more than one article that has described the events in Afghanistan as an unprecedented military defeat for the USA, or as a sign that the era of neoliberal intervention in foreign countries was over. If the USA did not learn anything from Vietnam, why would we assume it will this time when facts and evidence are even less valued than in the past. Several commentators have noted the intersection of the US war on terror and the war on drugs in Afghanistan. I have been engaged for nearly 20 years now in work to update global estimates of conflict deaths and global estimates of deaths attributable to drug use. I was curious to look a little more closely at relevant statistics.