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How Far Should We Go to Manipulate the Genetic Code of Human Life?
Humans already know how to manipulate animal genomes through selective breeding, but there has been no appetite to try on humans what is the norm for dogs. That's a good thing, says Dawkins.
Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist and the former Charles Simonyi Professor of the Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University. He is the author of several of modern science's essential texts, including The Selfish Gene (1976) and The God Delusion (2006). Born in Nairobi, Kenya, Dawkins eventually graduated with a degree in zoology from Balliol College, Oxford, and then earned a masters degree and the doctorate from Oxford University. He has recently left his teaching duties to write and manage his foundation, The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, full-time.
RICHARD DAWKINS: I think it’s - I’m a believer in the precautionary principle as I’ve just said, and I think we have to worry about possible consequences of things that we do, and the ability to edit our own genomes is one thing we ought to worry about. I’m not sure it’s so much an ethical problem as a more practical problem. What would the consequences be? Would the consequences be bad? And they might be.
I think it’s worth noticing that long before CRISPR long before it became capable of editing our genomes in anyway we have been editing the genomes of domestic animals and plants by artificial selection, not artificial mutation, which is what we’re now talking about, but artificial selection. When you think that a Pekingese is a wolf, a modified wolf, a genetically modified wolf—modified not by directly manipulating genes but by choosing for breeding individuals who have certain characteristics, for example, a small stubbed nose, et cetera, and making a wolf turn into a Pekingese. And we’ve been doing that very successfully with domestic animals like dogs, cows, domestic plants like maize for a long time, we’ve never done that to humans or hardly at all.
Hitler tried it but it’s never really been properly done with humans I’m glad to say. So if we’ve never done that with humans with the easy way, which is artificial selection, it’s not obvious why we would suddenly start doing it the difficult way, which is by direct genetic manipulation. There doesn’t seem to be any great eagerness to do it over the last few centuries anyway.
A lot of people have problems with what they call designer babies. You could imagine a future scenario in which people go to a doctor and say, "Doctor, we want our baby to be a musical genius. Please edit the genes so that we have the same genes as the Bach family had or something like that to make them into a musical genius." I mean that horrifies many people.
It’s got totally obvious why that’s anymore horrifying than parents who are ambitious for the musical future of their child forcing the child to practice the piano three hours a day. There are differences, of course, forcing it to practice is maybe unpleasant for the child but it doesn’t go into the next generation, changing the genes does so there is a difference there. But at least people who shudder with horror at a designer baby who’s a musical genius, people who shudderat horror at that, why don’t you shudder with horror at forcing a child to have music lessons when it doesn’t want to or practice music when it doesn’t want to?
I think although there is an analogy between technological evolution and biological evolution, it’s dangerous to push that analogy too far. I’ve just been decrying the view that everybody is an expert. And I’m not an expert in technology and I think that every scientist needs to admit when they don’t know. The analogy is there, things change gradually, the evolution of the airplane starting from the Wright brothers in the beginning of the 20th century until the present, it’s been spectacularly fast but it is gradual evolution and it looks, to some extent, like biological evolution. But whether it occurs by natural selection that’s open to argument. You could say that it does occur by a form of natural selection, but it’s not the same kind of natural selection. So I don’t regard myself as a biological evolutionist as qualified to talk about technological evolution. I’m interested in the analogy but I think it only is an analogy and it doesn’t go too far.
The announcement of CRISPR technology, which allows precise editing of the human genome, has been heralded as the future of individualized medicine, and decried as a slippery slope to engineering individual human qualities. Of course, humans already know how to manipulate animal genomes through selective breeding, but there has been no appetite to try on humans what is the norm for dogs. That's a good thing, says Dawkins. The results could well be dangerous. Does technology as a whole represent a threat to human welfare if it continues to evolve at its current rate? Not so fast, warns Dawkins. Comparing biological evolution to technological progress is an analogy at best. His newest book is Science in the Soul: Selected Writings of a Passionate Rationalist.
Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?
- Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
- It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
- COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
What conditions of the new normal were already appreciated widely?<p>First, we understand that higher education is unique among industries. Some industries are governed by markets. Others are run by governments. Most operate under the influence of both markets and governments. And then there's higher education. Higher education as an "industry" involves public, private, and for-profit universities operating at small, medium, large, and now massive scales. Some higher education industry actors are intense specialists; others are adept generalists. Some are fantastically wealthy; others are tragically poor. Some are embedded in large cities; others are carefully situated near farms and frontiers.</p> <p>These differences demonstrate just some of the complexities that shape higher education. Still, we understand that change in the industry is underway, and we must be active in directing it. Yet because of higher education's unique (and sometimes vexing) operational and structural conditions, many of the lessons from change management and the science of industrial transformation are only applicable in limited or highly modified ways. For evidence of this, one can look at various perspectives, including those that we have offered, on such topics as <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/digital-learning/blogs/rethinking-higher-education/lessons-disruption" target="_blank">disruption</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/20/education/learning/education-technology.html" target="_blank">technology management</a>, and so-called "<a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/sites/default/server_files/media/Excerpt_IHESpecialReport_Growing-Role-of-Mergers-in-Higher-Ed.pdf" target="_blank">mergers and acquisitions</a>" in higher education. In each of these spaces, the "market forces" and "market rules" for higher education are different than they are in business, or even in government. This has always been the case and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p> <p>Second, with so much excitement about innovation in higher education, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that students are—and should remain—the core cause for innovation. Higher education's capacity to absorb new ideas is strong. But the ideas that endure are those designed to benefit students, and therefore society. This is important to remember because not all innovations are designed with students in mind. The recent history of innovation in higher education includes several cautionary tales of what can happen when institutional interests—or worse, <a href="https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/09/apollos-new-owners-seek-fresh-start-beleaguered-company" target="_blank">shareholder</a> interests—are placed above student well-being.</p>
Photo: Getty Images<p>Third, it is abundantly apparent that universities must leverage technology to increase educational quality and access. The rapid shift to delivering an education that complies with social distancing guidelines speaks volumes about the adaptability of higher education institutions, but this transition has also posed unique difficulties for colleges and universities that had been slow to adopt digital education. The last decade has shown that online education, implemented effectively, can meet or even surpass the quality of in-person <a href="https://link-springer-com.ezproxy1.lib.asu.edu/article/10.1007/s10639-019-10027-z" target="_blank">instruction</a>.</p><p>Digital instruction, broadly defined, leverages online capabilities and integrates adaptive learning methodologies, predictive analytics, and innovations in instructional design to enable increased student engagement, personalized learning experiences, and improved learning outcomes. The ability of these technologies to transcend geographic barriers and to shrink the marginal cost of educating additional students makes them essential for delivering education at scale.</p><p>As a bonus, and it is no small thing given that they are the core cause for innovation, students embrace and enjoy digital instruction. It is their preference to learn in a format that leverages technology. This should not be a surprise; it is now how we live in all facets of life.</p><p>Still, we have only barely begun to conceive of the impact digital education will have. For example, emerging virtual and augmented reality technologies that facilitate interactive, hands-on learning will transform the way that learners acquire and apply new knowledge. Technology-enabled learning cannot replace the traditional college experience or ensure the survival of any specific college, but it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale. This has always been the case, and it is made more obvious by COVID-19.</p>
What conditions of the new normal were emerging suspicions?<p>Our collective thinking about the role of institutional or university-to-university collaboration and networking has benefitted from a new clarity in light of COVID-19. We now recognize more than ever that colleges and universities must work together to ensure that the American higher education system is resilient and sufficiently robust to meet the needs of students and their families.</p> <p>In recent weeks, various commentators have suggested that higher education will face a wave of institutional <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/scott-galloway-predicts-colleges-will-close-due-to-pandemic-2020-5" target="_blank">closures</a> and consolidations and that large institutions with significant online instruction capacity will become dominant.</p> <p>While ASU is the largest public university in the United States by enrollment and among the most well-equipped in online education, we strongly oppose "let them fail" mindsets. The strength of American higher education relies on its institutional diversity, and on the ability of colleges and universities to meet the needs of their local communities and educate local students. The needs of learners are highly individualized, demanding a wide range of options to accommodate the aspirations and learning styles of every kind of student. Education will become less relevant and meaningful to students, and less responsive to local needs, if institutions of higher learning are allowed to fail. </p> <p>Preventing this outcome demands that colleges and universities work together to establish greater capacity for remote, distributed education. This will help institutions with fewer resources adapt to our new normal and continue to fulfill their mission of serving students, their families, and their communities. Many had suspected that collaboration and networking were preferable over letting vulnerable colleges fail. COVID-19's new normal seems to be confirming this.</p>
President Barack Obama delivers the commencement address during the Arizona State University graduation ceremony at Sun Devil Stadium May 13, 2009 in Tempe, Arizona. Over 65,000 people attended the graduation.
Photo by Joshua Lott/Getty Images<p>A second condition of the new normal that many had suspected to be true in recent years is the limited role that any one university or type of university can play as an exemplar to universities more broadly. For decades, the evolution of higher education has been shaped by the widespread imitation of a small number of elite universities. Most public research universities could benefit from replicating Berkeley or Michigan. Most small private colleges did well by replicating Williams or Swarthmore. And all universities paid close attention to Harvard, Princeton, MIT, Stanford, and Yale. It is not an exaggeration to say that the logic of replication has guided the evolution of higher education for centuries, both in the US and abroad.</p><p>Only recently have we been able to move beyond replication to new strategies of change, and COVID-19 has confirmed the legitimacy of doing so. For example, cases such as <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/03/10/harvard-moves-classes-online-advises-students-stay-home-after-spring-break-response-covid-19/" target="_blank">Harvard's</a> eviction of students over the course of less than one week or <a href="https://www.nhregister.com/news/coronavirus/article/Mayor-New-Haven-asks-for-coronavirus-help-Yale-15162606.php" target="_blank">Yale's apparent reluctance</a> to work with the city of New Haven, highlight that even higher education's legacy gold standards have limits and weaknesses. We are hopeful that the new normal will include a more active and earnest recognition that we need many types of universities. We think the new normal invites us to rethink the very nature of "gold standards" for higher education.</p>
A graduate student protests MIT's rejection of some evacuation exemption requests.
Photo: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images<p>Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we had started to suspect and now understand that America's colleges and universities are among the many institutions of democracy and civil society that are, by their very design, incapable of being sufficiently responsive to the full spectrum of modern challenges and opportunities they face. Far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted. And without new designs, we can expect postsecondary success for these same students to be as elusive in the new normal, as it was in the <a href="http://pellinstitute.org/indicators/reports_2019.shtml" target="_blank">old normal</a>. This is not just because some universities fail to sufficiently recognize and engage the promise of diversity, this is because few universities have been designed from the outset to effectively serve the unique needs of lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color.</p>
Where can the new normal take us?<p>As colleges and universities face the difficult realities of adapting to COVID-19, they also face an opportunity to rethink their operations and designs in order to respond to social needs with greater agility, adopt technology that enables education to be delivered at scale, and collaborate with each other in order to maintain the dynamism and resilience of the American higher education system.</p> <p>COVID-19 raises questions about the relevance, the quality, and the accessibility of higher education—and these are the same challenges higher education has been grappling with for years. </p> <p>ASU has been able to rapidly adapt to the present circumstances because we have spent nearly two decades not just anticipating but <em>driving</em> innovation in higher education. We have adopted a <a href="https://www.asu.edu/about/charter-mission-and-values" target="_blank">charter</a> that formalizes our definition of success in terms of "who we include and how they succeed" rather than "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2019/10/17/forget-varsity-blues-madness-lets-talk-about-students-who-cant-afford-college/" target="_blank">who we exclude</a>." We adopted an entrepreneurial <a href="https://president.asu.edu/read/higher-logic" target="_blank">operating model</a> that moves at the speed of technological and social change. We have launched initiatives such as <a href="https://www.instride.com/how-it-works/" target="_blank">InStride</a>, a platform for delivering continuing education to learners already in the workforce. We developed our own robust technological capabilities in ASU <a href="https://edplus.asu.edu/" target="_blank">EdPlus</a>, a hub for research and development in digital learning that, even before the current crisis, allowed us to serve more than 45,000 fully online students. We have also created partnerships with other forward-thinking institutions in order to mutually strengthen our capabilities for educational accessibility and quality; this includes our role in co-founding the <a href="https://theuia.org/" target="_blank">University Innovation Alliance</a>, a consortium of 11 public research universities that share data and resources to serve students at scale. </p> <p>For ASU, and universities like ASU, the "new normal" of a post-COVID world looks surprisingly like the world we already knew was necessary. Our record breaking summer 2020 <a href="https://asunow.asu.edu/20200519-sun-devil-life-summer-enrollment-sets-asu-record" target="_blank">enrollment</a> speaks to this. What COVID demonstrates is that we were already headed in the right direction and necessitates that we continue forward with new intensity and, we hope, with more partners. In fact, rather than "new normal" we might just say, it's "go time." </p>
In his book with Richard Clarke, "Warnings," Eddy made clear this was inevitable.
- In their 2017 book, "Warnings," R.P. Eddy and Richard Clarke warned about a coming pandemic.
- "You never get credit for correctly predicting an outbreak," says science journalist Laurie Garrett in the book.
- In this interview with Big Think, R.P. Eddy explains why people don't listen to warnings—and how to try to get them to listen.
<p>If only we had a warning.</p><p>Well, besides this <a href="https://cmr.asm.org/content/20/4/660?fbclid=IwAR2veUWlXE0ydoFEzl0PoHPPwcQQkNk1zTncJt4GleZ_whDZi9_xcCCHJyk" target="_blank">2007 review</a> from a team at the University of Hong Kong warning about a pandemic coming from a wet market in southern China. Or President Obama <a href="https://www.cnn.com/videos/politics/2020/04/10/barack-obama-2014-pandemic-comments-sot-ctn-vpx.cnn" target="_blank">warning</a> about the potential for a pandemic in 2014. Or journalist <a href="https://www.lauriegarrett.com/about" target="_blank">Laurie Garrett</a>, who has been covering diseases since reporting from Africa in the late seventies, where she noticed that measles killed way more citizens than war. Her <a href="https://www.lauriegarrett.com/the-coming-plague" target="_blank">1994 book</a> was aptly titled "The Coming Plague."</p><p>Garrett is what Richard Clarke and R.P. Eddy call a "Cassandra" in their 2017 book, "Warnings." The term honors the Greek priestess who was cursed to utter prophecies that no one would believe. A Cassandra, they write, has "the ability to detect danger from warning signs before others see it." Their book covers seven warnings we should have seen—Hurricane Katrina, Bernie Madoff, Fukushima, ISIS—and seven that are coming. </p><p>Well, six. </p><p>True story: a few weeks ago, I finish reading Sam Quinones's exceptional reporting on the opioid epidemic, "Dreamland." The next book on my desk is "Warnings," which I planned on re-reading in order to cover the chapter on pandemics. I open Twitter to find a private message from R.P. Eddy randomly sharing their chapter on pandemics. Either my laptop is listening a little too closely or it's a fortunate coincidence. I choose the latter and request an interview with Eddy, which he <a href="https://www.earthrisepodcast.com/politics/92-with-r-p-eddy/" target="_blank">graciously accepts</a>. </p><p>If anyone knows how governments respond (or don't respond) to crises, it's Eddy. The CEO of global intelligence firm, Ergo, Eddy previously served as Chief of Staff to Richard Holbrooke, Senior Adviser to Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson, and Senior Policy Officer to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. He was an architect of the Global Fund to Prevent AIDS, TB, and Malaria. He's lived, breathed, and studied pandemics for decades. He is the man that, if we had a functional government, would be helping lead us through this mess right now. </p><p>When I mention COVID-19, his first reply is not reassuring: "We're at the most foreseeable catastrophe I can think of."</p>
EarthRise Podcast 92: Predicting the Pandemic (with R.P. Eddy)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c1ce45635344c89d8213291842d947db"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/tlcoXGNDlhE?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Being a Cassandra isn't about assurance, but taking a broad look at the facts—he champions <a href="https://interactioninstitute.org/orthogonal-thinking-and-doing/#:~:text=Orthogonal%20thinking%20draws%20from%20a,to%20see%20what%20might%20emerge." target="_blank">orthogonal thinking</a> in "Warnings"—and piecing together a story. Eddy says it begins by noticing the "invisible obvious."</p><p>He mentions a 1970s-era conference designed to address the role of women on Wall St. The highly-touted gathering took months of planning. Hundreds of people were in attendance. It wasn't until everyone was on stage that someone noticed not a single woman was invited to speak. Once pointed out, no one could unsee it. </p><p>The invisible obvious. </p><p>In every "warning" chapter—the rise of AI, the challenge of sea-level rise, the dangers of gene editing—a Cassandra is detailed. Garrett fulfills that role for pandemics. She claims public health experts are placed in an impossible situation. "You never get credit for correctly predicting an outbreak." When they implement effective countermeasures that stop the spread of a virus, critics believe "that you exaggerated the threat." </p><p>Eddy is talking to me from Idaho, where his family is sheltering. He noticed something odd while driving across America. On the east coast, everyone was vigilant about distancing and masks. As the Eddys encroached upon the heartland, even they started loosening up the rules. No human is distinct from their environment. Eddy speaks about the pandemic daily—Ergo is behind the highly-regarded <a href="https://ergo.net/covid19" target="_blank">COVID-19 Intelligence Forum</a>—yet even he was being lulled into a false sense of security while stopping in communities that believe the coronavirus is a hoax, or at least not as dangerous as it is.</p><p>I ask why we're so prone to disbelieve the science behind public health efforts. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Humans have 130,000-year-old computers stuck between our ears. We are designed for a world much less complex than the one in which we find ourselves, and we are driven by biases and heuristics. We make mistakes all the time because we use these shortcuts that worked really well 100,000 years ago, but don't work well now."</p><p>Shortcuts that served tribes, not nations. Shortcuts that cause us to rely on the quick satisfaction of hearsay, not the slow complexity of science. Shortcuts that cause people to believe an invisible god has a plan for everyone and disbelieve a visible virus is ravaging our nation's broken health care system. Shortcuts that cause tens of millions of Americans to vote the worst possible person to the presidency when a pandemic was inevitable. </p>
Eddy attends an event hosted by GLG to welcome Richard A. Clarke and R.P. Eddy, authors of "Warnings: Finding Cassandras To Stop Catastrophes" at GLG (Gerson Lehrman Group) on May 30, 2017 in New York City.
Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for GLG<p>I mention conspiracy theories. Eddy sighs—an appropriate response. We compare anti-maskers to anti-vaxxers, which are often cut from the same cloth. We both know plenty. He says it's best to first identify and acknowledge the base fear behind their "anti." Consider the idea that vaccines are a mechanism for microchipping the population.</p><p style="margin-left: 40px;">"Conspiracies are all based in some healthy place. These people are probably concerned about government surveillance and personal freedom. They believe every aspect of the Edward Snowden story; they believe this microchipping story is the next step. They're not wrong that we should watch and be aware, but they're wrong in thinking that we're falling for it right now."</p><p>Because we should be aware. Our government is corrupt to the bone. The challenge is distinguishing between incompetence and malfeasance. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"I don't believe in government conspiracy theories because I don't think government is that competent. I've had every security clearance anyone could ever want in the U.S. government. Way above top secret. We do not have the capacity to pull off a 9/11 conspiracy or to microchip people. Everything leaks, especially in this era." </p><p>We've reached this strange era of mass hypnosis, where elected officials like Rand Paul can actually <a href="https://www.forbes.com/sites/tommybeer/2020/06/30/rand-paul-to-federal-health-officials-we-shouldnt-presume-that-a-group-of-experts-somehow-knows-whats-best/" target="_blank">state</a> during congressional testimony, "We shouldn't presume that a group of experts somehow knows what's best." Then who to actually trust? An <a href="https://www.thedailybeast.com/rand-paul-ophthalmology-certification-scandal-why-it-matters" target="_blank">uncertified ophthalmologist</a> playing an epidemiologist on TV? </p><p>We're in serious trouble when people that have spent years studying and decades working in public health are usurped by charlatans at YouTube University. But here we are. </p><p>Sadly, optics matter. Cassandras aren't necessarily charismatic. They're concerned with data, not adoration. Then they run into animals with 130,000-year-old operating systems being exploited by captivating characters. Truth becomes secondary. Suddenly, <a href="https://www.nutritionist-resource.org.uk/memberarticles/germ-theory-vs-terrain-theory-in-relation-to-the-coronavirus" target="_blank">germ theory isn't real</a>, masks are a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/jul/03/covid-19-masks-men-masculinity" target="_blank">sign of indoctrination</a>, and the virus will "<a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/trump-still-believes-coronavirus-will-just-disappear-as-cases-rise-2020-7" target="_blank">magically disappear</a>." </p><p>Eddy's advice is important. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"You need to recognize when you're out of your depths and find an expert. It's not the blowhard on Fox News. It's probably, by the way, someone who probably does not have good presentation skills. But they likely have answers."</p><p>This is always true, especially during times of crisis. Times like now, when we need a unifying message and expert guidance, both of which America lacks. At least this much we know: we've been warned. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Human brains evolved for creativity. We just have to learn how to access it.
- An all-star cast of Big Thinkers—actors Rainn Wilson and Ethan Hawke; composer Anthony Brandt; neuroscientists David Eagleman, Wendy Suzuki, and Beau Lotto; and psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman—share how they define creativity and explain how our brains uniquely evolved for the phenomenon.
- According to Eagleman, during evolution there was an increase in space between our brain's input and output that allows information more time to percolate. We also grew a larger prefrontal cortex which "allows us to simulate what ifs, to separate ourselves from our location in space and time and think about possibilities."
- Scott Barry Kaufman details 3 brain networks involved in creative thinking, and Wendy Suzuki busts the famous left-brain, right-brain myth.
Iranian Tolkien scholar finds intriguing parallels between subcontinental geography and famous map of Middle-earth.
- J.R.R. Tolkien hinted that his stories are set in a really ancient version of Europe.
- But a fantasy realm can be inspired by a variety of places; and perhaps so is Tolkien's world.
- These intriguing similarities with Asian topography show that it may be time to 'decolonise' Middle-earth.
Mental decolonisation<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM0OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDU4Mjg3N30.pKS1PLxKYeJ6WDPAcleg7NCxzDn7Pddcg9rSJaul6no/img.png?width=980" id="56ee5" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1d2ba98946accd12f7e0070c8d10154d" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Menu page for Arda.ir, the website of the Persian Tolkien Society." />
Menu page for Arda.ir, the website of the Persian Tolkien Society.
Image: Arda.ir<p>Where on earth was Middle-earth? Based on a few hints by Tolkien himself, we've always sort-of assumed that his stories of "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" were centered on Europe, but so long ago that the shape of the coasts and the land has changed. </p><p>But perhaps that's too easy and too Eurocentric an assumption; perhaps, like so many other things these days, Tolkien's fantasy realm too is in dire need of mental decolonisation.</p><p>And here's an excellent occasion: an Iranian Tolkienologist has found intriguing hints that the writer based some of Middle-earth's topography on mountains, rivers, and islands located in and near present-day Pakistan. </p><p>As mentioned in a previous article – recently reposted on the <a href="https://www.facebook.com/VeryStrangeMaps" target="_blank">Strange Maps Facebook page</a> on the occasion of the death of Ian Holm – Tolkien admitted that "The Shire is based on rural England, and not on any other country in the world," and that "the action of the story takes place in the North-West of 'Middle-earth', equivalent in latitude to the coastlands of Europe and the north shores of the Mediterranean."<br></p>
Non-European topography<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1MC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NTQ4MzcyMX0.891LPW42L78fdrwUhXdgOab7cbhs3YOqZK4ukIQx-Rw/img.png?width=980" id="6741c" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2b50c57cb3b8a3a1cc8a4696c89ad954" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Map of Tian-shan, the Himalayas, and the Pamirs" />
If you look at it like that, yes: that does resemble Mordor...
Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission<p>Extrapolating from the location of the Shire in Middle-earth and from other clues dropped by Tolkien, geophysics and geology professor Peter Bird matched the geography of Middle-earth with that of Europe (more about that in the <a href="https://bigthink.com/strange-maps/121-where-on-earth-was-middle-earth?utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Facebook&fbclid=IwAR0ZFYK1EXrf4J3B3X5_U4hSAgidgBs24ZNTYV9QEFbz2qI34OA_DpZsn70#Echobox=1592583835" target="_blank">aforementioned article</a>).</p><p>However, seeing Middle-earth as a mere palimpsest for present-day Europe is to place an undue limit on the imagination of its creator. As Tolkien also said about the shape of his world: "[It] was devised 'dramatically' rather than geologically or paleontologically."</p><p>In other words, certain parts of Middle-earth may very well have been inspired by other places than European ones. It is telling that it took a non-European connoisseur of Tolkien's topography to find some examples. <br></p>
"Seen that map before"<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1MS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTQ3Njc3NH0.azDO1_NWm9q9FwMpmqBOV2troOX0ajAXS4lP2bLstJI/img.png?width=980" id="1b193" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="21c3d38b14503ba8edac18c0ef1cceb0" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Map of Indus river" />
The Indus river is a prominent geographical feature of Pakistan. Its course is similar to that of the Anduin, the Great River of Middle-earth.
Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission<p>In an article published on <a href="https://arda.ir/" target="_blank">Arda.ir</a>, the web page for the Persian Tolkien Society, Mohammad Reza Kamali writes that during several years of cartographic study, "I found that maybe there are real lands [that] could have inspired Professor Tolkien, and some of them are not in Europe."</p><p>Around 2012, Kamali's eye stopped when it came across a Google Map of Central Asia that showed the mountain chain of the Himalayas, the peaks of the Pamirs bunched together in an almost circular area, and the huge, flat oval of the Takla Makan desert, bounded to the north by the Tian-Shan mountains. </p><p>"I had seen that map before," he writes. "This is of course Mordor, the land of Sauron and the dark powers of Middle-earth, where Frodo and Sam destroy the One Ring." </p><p>In <a href="http://lotrproject.com/map" target="_blank">Tolkien's world</a>, the Himalayas transform into Ephel Duath, the Mountains of Shadow; and the Tian Shan into Ered Lithui, the Ash Mountains. And the circle-shaped Pamirs "are the same shape and in exactly the same corner as the Udûn of Mordor, where Frodo and Sam originally tried getting into Mordor, via the Black Gate."<br></p>
Similar shapes<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1Mi9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxMDQyODMzNX0.KHrY7rDCNNaKKJQz-xn431APM2TqxGPCaMsqNvBe1xA/img.jpg?width=980" id="7a9fa" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e87f1af97902201abc042640255606b2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Marine Corps helicopter flying over Tarbela Dam" />
A US Marine Corps helicopter flying over the Tarbela Dam on the Indus river in Pakistan. At its center: a former river island which may have been the inspiration for Cair Andros, a ship-shaped island in Middle-earth's Anduin river.
Image: Paul Duncan (USMC), public domain<p>Mulling over these similarities, Kamali became convinced that Tolkien's map work was heavily inspired by Asia. Looking further, he found more evidence. Consider Anduin, the Great River of Middle-earth, in whose waters the One Ring was lost for more than two thousand years. </p><p>On Tolkien's map, the Anduin bends toward the sea in a shape similar to that of another great river: the Indus, which runs the length of Pakistan. Like the Anduin, it flows to the west of a major mountain chain. A prominent feature of the Anduin is the river island of Cair Andros, just north of Osgiliath. Its name means 'Ship of Long Foam', a reference to its long and narrow shape, and the sharpness of its rocks, which split the waters of the Anduin like a prow. <br></p><p>Kamali is not entirely sure, but proposes that Tolkien may have been inspired by a similar-shaped island in the Indus. Now integrated into the Tarbela Dam, which was inaugurated in 1976, it would still have been a separate island in the 1930s and '40s, when Tolkien dreamed up his map.</p>
Kutch as Tolfalas Island<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1NC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwOTU5NjcyNn0.869W8iiowQb9_T3laFKOUe5o5UMXuMlSITb1VxRlC2g/img.png?width=980" id="9c49e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="548bafc6042cc7515e07f77657aa161c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Map of Kutch" />
During the rainy season, the coastal region of Kutch, near the mouth of the Indus, turns into an island that resembles Tolfalas Island, near the mouth of the Anduin.
Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission<p>Turning our eyes to the mouth of the Anduin and Indus, we see another pair of islands, and Kamali is more certain about the real one having inspired the fictional one. The fictional one is Tolfalas Island, the largest island in Belfalas Bay. <br></p><p>At first glance, it doesn't seem to have a real-life counterpart near where the Indus joins the Arabian Sea. But take a look at the coastal part of the Indian state of Gujarat. It is known as <em>Kutch</em>, a name which apparently refers to its alternately wet and dry states. In the rainy season, the shallow wetlands flood and Kutch becomes an island – the biggest island in the Gulf of Kutch, and not too dissimilar to Tolfalas Island. </p>
General knowledge<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1NS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYyMDIwODkyOH0.aInJedv3tiQo1LmW-M6D5LV699oeWNltxeYcVKWwtF0/img.jpg?width=980" id="9bc6e" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="01d97d3941f9ba732b4df35c3aedd977" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="British Indian Empire 1909 Imperial Gazetteer of India" />
1909 map showing British India in pink (direct British control) and yellow (princely states). Circled: Kutch, clearly recognisable as an island.
Image: Edinburgh Geographical Institute; J. G. Bartholomew and Sons, public domain<p>But are these similarities really more than coincidences? Why would Tolkien, who was based in Oxford and steeped in English lore and Germanic mythology, turn to the Indian subcontinent for topographical inspiration? Perhaps because cartographic knowledge of that part of the world was far more general in Britain then than it is now. Until the late 1940s, the countries we know today as India and Pakistan were part of the British Empire. Detailed maps of the region would have been standard fare for British atlases. </p><p>Kamali is convinced that the topographical features on Tolkien's map of Middle-earth are not mere fantasy, but derive from actual places in our world, and were 'riddled' onto the map. In that case, we may look forward to more discoveries of Tolkien's real-world inspiration. <br></p>
From Frodingham to Frodo<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMDM1Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTU5NzgzMzE2OH0.uMd43VxS9WQSWr1Z0IQ-UxIhBYkERhxTU7hoPvNachk/img.jpg?width=980" id="05037" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ff9aace7fc7c111df3639a276cedf63c" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Photograph of J. R. R. Tolkien in army uniform" />
J.R.R. Tolkien in 1916, when he was 24. Around that time, he was stationed near the village of Frodingham, which may have given him the inspiration for the name of the main protagonist in Lord of the Rings.
Image: public domain<p>Here's one example of Tolkienography—if that's what we can call the effect of actual geography on this particular writer's imagination—which I gleaned myself, some years ago in East Yorkshire. A local historian told me that Tolkien had been stationed in the area during the First World War, and had apparently stored away some local place names for later use. The name Frodo, he said, derived from a town where he had attended a few dances – Frodingham, a village across the Humber in northern Lincolnshire, not far from Scunthorpe (<em>Scunto</em>? We dodged a bullet there). </p><p>Whether that story is entirely true or not is beside the point. As fantasy fans know, any grail quest is ultimately about the quest, not the grail. In fact, to quote Mr Kamali, the treasure is important only because it's well hidden, "by a clever professor who enjoys riddles."</p><p><em>Unless otherwise indicated, illustrations are from Mr Kamali's <a href="https://arda.ir/the-tale-of-the-annotated-map-and-tolkien-hidden-riddles/?fbclid=IwAR3RmtU0ZdyzQGlK-iCsUjho4LA2W279fwO9dt8vv90FX2IeO3zrfMuMToU" target="_blank">article</a> on <a href="https://arda.ir/" target="_blank">Arda.ir</a>, reproduced with kind permission. </em><br></p><p><strong>Strange Maps #1036</strong></p><p><em>Got a strange map? Let me know at </em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a><em>.</em></p>
With the most common form of female sexual dysfunction impacting 1 in 10 women, this important study dives into how to keep a relationship going despite having different needs and wants in the bedroom.
- A new study highlights the difficulties faced by women who struggle with decreased sexual desire, and explains how to navigate desire discrepancies in long-term relationships.
- Hypoactive sexual desire disorder is one of the most common forms of female sexual dysfunction, impacting an estimated 1 in 10 women.
- Finding other ways to promote intimacy in your relationship is one of the keys to ensuring happiness on both sides.
The study<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMzcxOS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMzA2NTgxM30.Au-HmSRnSeN86ZGU7qeZJzq50LPM0LxjvUUU6_y2XVs/img.jpg?width=1245&coordinates=0%2C52%2C0%2C52&height=700" id="2bb9b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2af6156aff63fba2146746ae150f490e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="sad woman sitting on the floor at the foot of a bed" />
An estimated one in ten women experience female sexual dysfunction.
Photo by fizkes on Shutterstock<p><a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00224499.2020.1743225?scroll=top&needAccess=true" target="_blank">This 2020 study published in the Journal of Sex Research</a>, led by Dr. Avigail Moor and her colleagues Yael Haimov and Shaked Shreiber, focused on 15 women between the ages of 25-59, all of whom were in committed, heterosexual, long-term relationships (with a median relationship length of 3.5 years) to better understand decreases in female sexual desire. Approximately half the women in this sample had children.<br></p><p><strong>During this study, the women were asked various questions about:</strong></p><ol> <li>The quality of their relationship</li><li>How their relationship has been impacted by their decreased sexual desire </li><li>What they believe could have caused a decrease in their sexual desire over the course of their relationship</li><li>What impact they felt this had on themselves and their relationship </li><li>How they dealt with the decreased sexual desire themselves</li><li>How the couple dealt with and/or navigated the decrease in sexual desire together</li></ol><p><strong>There are a number of reasons why women, in particular, could be going through a libido decline, including:</strong></p><p><strong><br></strong></p><ul><li>Job stress</li><li>Family stress</li><li>Self-confidence struggles</li><li>Declining hormones or hormone imbalances</li><li>Relationship issues</li><li>Health conditions </li></ul><div></div>
Navigating low sexual desire and desire discrepancies in your relationship<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQzMzcyMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MTYzNjE5N30.oec9wuuxd9MEVkqmappsngN2nVmMxF3sIi9AlL9Q5SE/img.jpg?width=980" id="e246b" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="ebf8cdebd54a0b26ee181320e756bff4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="couple hugging in a bedroom" />
Even if you are struggling with differing sexual desires in your relationship, there are still countless ways you can show affection to your partner.
Photo by fizkes on Shutterstock<p>Assistant professor at Harvard Medical School <a href="https://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/features/loss-of-sexual-desire-in-women#1" target="_blank">Jan Shifren</a>, MD, explains in an interview: "One of the first things I do speaking to women who come in with sexual concerns is let them know that there is no normal frequency or set of behaviors and things change with times. If it's working for them and/or their partner, there is no problem."</p><p>Shifren goes on to explain that when the decreases in sexual interest begin having a negative impact on her life and cause distress in the relationship, this is when it's considered a problem of low sexual desire. </p><p>If it is believed to be a problem, there are a few things this study, in particular, has highlighted. </p><p><strong>Love doesn't equal desire, and a lack of desire doesn't equal disaster. </strong></p><p>Participants of this study explained that their sexual desire (or lack thereof) never made them doubt their relationship or the feelings they had for their partner. They saw the sexual desire and love for their partner as two very separate things. </p><p>Over half the participants said they didn't believe their <a href="https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/low-sex-drive-in-women/symptoms-causes/syc-20374554#:~:text=Women's%20sexual%20desires%20naturally%20fluctuate,low%20sex%20drive%20in%20women." target="_blank">decreased sexual desire</a> had a negative impact on their relationship, explaining that they have more intimate, deeper connections with their partner that went beyond sex. Many women who felt this way cited the fact that they were navigating life's ups and downs, things like parenthood and job stress, with their partner, which made them feel closer to their partners even if the sexual desire wasn't there. </p><p><strong>This is an extremely isolating problem even if it impacts the whole relationship. </strong></p><p>In order to make sense of the rapid changes in their desires or the complete lack of sexual drive, many women in the study claimed they looked inwards, often blaming themselves. Instead of thinking that this is a common thing many individuals (and many other women) struggle with, many of these participants felt guilty about their low libidos, thinking it must be their problem. </p><p><strong>Among these women, feelings of guilt and self-blame were frequent over the course of their interviews. </strong></p><p>Even in situations where there was very minimal negative impact on the relationship, desire discrepancies still caused some tension. </p><p>While over half the women involved stated they did not feel desire discrepancies in their relationship negatively impacted their relationship, many women still did describe feeling some sort of "pressure" to have sex more often. </p><p>Despite having relationships that were described as loving and healthy, some of the women in the study indicated that they have, in the past, still experienced conflict with their partner over how long it had been since they had sex. Some women also stated they were worried that their partner took their low libido personally. </p><p><strong>How can you navigate desire discrepancies in long-term relationships?</strong></p><p>This is one of the first studies to focus so specifically on female sexual dysfunction in long-term relationships, so there is still a lot of research to be done. What we have learned from this study, however, can help us better understand how to navigate these difficult challenges of intimate relationships. </p><p>Strategies that can be used to address the problems in the relationship that are caused by having a low sex drive can be things like: </p><ul><li>Creating an honest line of communication. Participating in conversations that allow each person to be open and honest about how they feel can promote intimacy and bonding as well as a deeper understanding of what the other person is going through. </li><li>Compromising. This doesn't mean simply having sex when you don't feel like it, but it can be other things that promote intimacy such as a date night or incorporating other forms of physical affection into your relationship. </li><li>Treating this like any other relationship problem. Relationships take work, and just as you navigate difficulties due to chores, finances, and responsibilities, you can navigate the struggles of low sexual desire by creating an environment of understanding and having a desire to make things work. </li></ul>