The History of The English Language (a diagram)

History_of_EnglishWhile researching for future posts, I ran into issues related to the development of the English language. To aid in illustrating those coming posts, I decided to make this graphic to capture, in one picture, the information I found scattered over several diagrams and sites. Diagrams are great memory tools for me, and I hope this helps some of you.

With gratitude, my main information source was this website: The History of English.

Question to readers: Any corrections, suggestions or thoughts?

Can prejudice ever be eliminated?

Stephen Eric Bronner, the author of "The Bigot", discusses the defining features of bigotry and how it can be tackled.

The joy of changing one’s mind

James Miller reflects on a particular privilege of those who base their opinions on evidence.

This article will end with a question for you all. But first I want to talk about something that I’ve found to be one of the most mentally rejuvenating experiences one can have: changing your mind.

Despite a reputation among my peers as an inexorable foe when debating, a rock in the river that none of their ideas cling to, many of my opinions are radically different now to how they were five years ago.

To name a few: I was against the 2003 invasion of Iraq until I learnt more about Saddam Hussein; I was much more sceptical of climate change before reading more studies and reports; I supported more ‘terror laws’ until I learnt more about civil liberties. Animal rights? Didn’t really give two hoots until I thought about what it really meant. The ever-controversial Hijab? I was very against it, until I realised that I was holding it to a different standard to Christian nuns’ headwear. (The niqab – covering the face – I still think is degrading and disempowering).

All of these things, you’ll notice, were basically ill-thought out opinions that I moved beyond by learning. I’ve voraciously consumed book after book to find out more about the world and the people in it, and it’s such a rewarding experience.

Much like the tipping point when putting together a jigsaw, the true picture of things starts to appear. And while the final piece of the puzzle will never slip into place, because (sadly!) you can’t know everything, the feeling that you’ve just arrived at an informed, supported and well-reasoned opinion about the world is almost dizzying. Especially so if it contradicts something you once held to be unshakeably true.

So why don’t we see more people changing their minds? I was astonished a few months ago when the former Archbishop of Canterbury changed his mind in the ‘right-to-die’ debate. It was the first time I’d seen someone in the public eye with a previously-entrenched opinion change their mind so radically. I couldn’t stop talking about it.

But that’s one case. It’s just one instance where someone has come out and figuratively said: ‘I now disagree fundamentally with the opinion I held previously.’ It almost seems brave, doesn’t it?

I think that perhaps there are two facets to why we don’t see this happen more. There’s how we receive ideas, and also how they’re linked to notions of identity.

The majority of us learn our first ideas from our parents, teachers, and friends. We all know that most Christians had Christian parents, most Muslims have Muslim parents etc. (I’d wager that most Conservatives, Labourites or Lib Dems have parents who instilled those views into them too). And in our younger years opinions are like fashions – you want the ‘right’ ones to fit in with your peers.

It’s only as we get older that some of us really start to look to the world – rather than the people we’re close to – to inform our views. My own anecdotal experience suggests that not everyone does this. It seems that often people accept points made on the basis of authority, or tradition, and don’t have an internal drive, or mission, to find out what they themselves actually make of things.

Which leads on to the second point: ideas as identity. It’s hard not to bundle the two things together sometimes. We hear sentences that start: ‘As a Christian…’, ‘The Conservatives think that…’. or ‘A socialist view would be…’. These constructs are allowing ideas or ideologies to govern who we are, rather than using who we are to form our ideologies.

And it’s something that we’re all often guilty of. I’ve caught myself before saying ‘As a humanist…’ at the start of a sentence. This is limiting – it’s suggesting that my view is couched in a set of values that are prescribed by a group. What I really mean is that I have taken a particular view point, and that view blends in with the backdrop of humanism.

Tying together ideas and identity can dangerous. It can be allowing oneself to be absorbed into tribalism, or group think. A desire to conform to the rules or lines of thinking set down by others: ‘I believe x, because x is what a Christian/Buddhist/capitalist/feminist should think.’

Just as silly, and equally lazy, is imposing such constraints from the outside-in. Racism, sexism, homophobia – these are all things that only persist because we marry ideas and identities. A racist viewpoint is largely saying ‘I don’t like Black/white/Asian people because I believe x, y and z to be true about all Black/white/Asian people.’ It’s a patently absurd view to take, but it persists nonetheless.

I’ve been personally riled up by it on a few occasions. Seeing articles or videos that lump atheists together, or suggest that ‘atheism is turning into a religion’ boil my blood. Does anyone seriously think that a lack of belief in something is enough to successfully predict what that person does believe?

These are the kinds of things we need to deconstruct. We need to untie ideas from identity, and encourage people to question their own views. Gently remind someone that believing something because their parents told them to, isn’t a particularly good reason to believe something.

What people need is to experience changing their minds on a topic that’s bigger than them. It does two things. It reminds them that most ideas don’t dictate who they are, and (for the most part) how to act each day. Changing your mind doesn’t shatter the earth beneath your feet.

But it also brings the unique delight of opening up new realms of thought and discovery. When a scientist is proven wrong, he or she goes down another avenue. We need that mentality to be more pervasive across society.

Let’s discuss concepts and ideas without cultural baggage. Let’s promote the joy of learning and seeking truth. Let’s get rid of the notion that changing your mind is a weakness, or a betrayal of your identity.

Because ultimately, ‘free thinking’ means being free to dissent, free to be sceptical, and free to change one’s mind. Your ideas might have labels for them, like humanist or Christian ideas, but I think that those labels aren’t for you as a whole.

So here’s the question I promised you at the beginning, and I’d really love to see some interesting answers: on what topic(s) have you changed your mind, and why? You never know, you might change the mind of someone else in the comment section too.

James Miller is an in-house writer for a public organisation and proud supporter of the BHA.

India's High Court rules that people have the right to "no religion"

The Wall of Silence Around Michael Shermer

Earlier this month, I wrote about the serious allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault made against skeptic “thought leader” Michael Shermer by three women, who agreed to be named in an article published by Buzzfeed. That article, as you’d expect, has provoked an enormous amount of controversy and outrage. But what I find more [Read More...]

The city and the sublime

Today, are we more awestruck by our own scientific and technological achievements than by the glory of nature?

When you’re bored why not turn to physics to entertain...

When you’re bored why not turn to physics to entertain you? 

#ScienceEveryday   #Physics   #ScienceGIFs  


Just another peaceful Sunday afternoon.. #nature #clouds #sky

Just another peaceful Sunday afternoon.. #nature #clouds #sky

Stunning kinetic sculpture “Kinetic Rain” in Changi...

Stunning kinetic sculpture “Kinetic Rain” in Changi Airport, Terminal 1, Singapore. by German design firm ART+COM

Speaking at Sunday Assembly NYC

I’m very pleased to announce that next Sunday, October 5, I’ll be speaking at Sunday Assembly NYC! This month’s topic is mythology: why we create it, what purpose it serves, and what (if anything) it’s good for. Do humans still need mythology? If so, how does it fit in the modern world; and if not, [Read More...]

Sunday Poetry: Les Murray


Poetry And Religion  (by Les Murray)

Religions are poems. They concert
our daylight and dreaming mind, our
emotions, instinct, breath and native gesture

into the only whole thinking: poetry.
Nothing’s said till it’s dreamed out in words
and nothing’s true that figures in words only.

A poem, compared with an arrayed religion,
may be like a soldier’s one short marriage night
to die and live by. But that is a small religion.

Full religion is the large poem in loving repetition;
like any poem, it must be inexhaustible and complete
with turns where we ask Now why did the poet do that?

You can’t pray a lie, said Huckleberry Finn;
you can’t poe one either. It is the same mirror:
mobile, glancing, we call it poetry,

fixed centrally, we call it a religion,
and God is the poetry caught in any religion,
caught, not imprisoned. Caught as in a mirror

that he attracted, being in the world as poetry
is in the poem, a law against its closure.
There’ll always be religion around while there is poetry

or a lack of it. Both are given, and intermittent,
as the action of those birds – crested pigeon, rosella parrot -
who fly with wings shut, then beating, and again shut.


About the Poet: (be sure to read the poem first)

Les Murray was born to a dairy farm family in Australia in 1938. His mother died when he was 12 years-old. He was bullied with “a plethora of fat-names” as a child. He later married and had five children, one later diagnosed with autism which helped Les to realize he himself had mild autistic traits (Aspbergers).

Raise Free Presbyterian (with parents who hated Catholics), at 24 years old he married a Catholic woman and converted to Catholicism (which he had been entertaining for a while). He calls Catholicism “the best and only reliable Big Poem”.

At 58 years-old he suffered a three-weeks coma secondary to a liver abscess. Amazingly, after emerging from the come, he found his lifetime curse of depression (his “Black Dog”) had lifted.

Finally, from the Guardian: “Murray has been garlanded with prizes – TS Eliot (1996), Queen’s gold medal for poetry (1999) – and tipped for the Nobel, but he has often been cast, as much by himself as anyone else, as an outsider. His poetry, and more so his politics [he helped form the Australian Commonwealth Party], have married a reverence for bush wisdom with an instinctive distrust of metropolitan life in general, and what he sees as the received opinions of liberal elites about such issues as modernism and secularism in particular.”

My impressions & thoughts:

“Religion”, “God”, and “Poetry” are all words that stir hearts in different ways. Judging these words by strict definitions rarely reveals the complex, vibrant webs we’ve woven to support our lives.

A victory for universality: UN Human Rights Council adopts resolution protecting LGBTI persons

Amelia Cooper reports again from the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where she speaks on behalf of the British Humanist Association

Amelia Cooper reports again from the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, where she speaks on behalf of the British Humanist Association

‘There is no justification ever, for the degrading, the debasing or the exploitation of other human beings – on whatever basis: nationality, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age or caste.’

This statement was made by the new High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, in his introductory remarks to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva: a powerful, timely reminder of the universality of human rights. Notable in this statement is the inclusion of ‘sexual orientation’, which has faced numerous attacks and denunciations as being outside the remit of the Council, despite the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ emphasis that there will be no distinction ‘of any kind’ in the application of human rights. However, it is with great pleasure that I write to say that last night, following fierce debate, tense votes, and years of global advocacy, the Human Rights Council adopted a resolution based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI), only the second of its kind.

The past year has been a tumultuous one for the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or intersex (LGBTI) people, with great successes regarding equal marriage taking place in the US and the UK, while elsewhere, such as in Russia, Nigeria, and Uganda, a spate of anti-homosexuality legislation has criminalized certain types of love, or made it impossible for LGBTI people to live openly. The global increase in homophobic aggression led one gay man to remark that ‘a hunting season is open, and we are the hunted’[1].

Without direct experience, however, it is easy to forget the rampant homophobia, both state-sanctioned and carried out by vigilantes, that permeates every aspect of daily life for LGBTI persons throughout the world – including in Europe.

Last week, I attended a side event hosted by ARC International, a leading advocacy group focused on achieving equality for LGBTI, and was shocked and heartbroken in equal measures to hear of the brutal violence that individuals suffer because of who they love.

Jabulani, from the South African Iranti Organisation, detailed innumerable cases of corrective rape and attacks carried out with impunity, ending by saying ‘The fact is that loving someone of your same sex is a direct threat to your bodily integrity’.

In Latin America, there are ‘curative clinics’ where LGBTI people are taken, abused and violated to ‘normalise’ their bodies. In the psyche of the perpetrator, this is not sexual abuse: it is a method by which people be ‘cured’ of their identity. The suicide rate among LGBTI youth in Latin America is 50% higher than their peers; in Central America, the life expectancy for transgender individuals is 24-28 years old. Transgender people do not have the benefit of ‘the closet’, due to their gender expression, and are therefore visible and oft targeted.

In Europe, Nori Spauwen of COC Netherlands said that the protection of LGBTI persons remains ‘a patchwork of national policy and Council of Europe recommendations’, and emphasized that having a legal, pro-equality framework is an indispensable precondition to elimination discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. In the EU, more than half of all lesbian women have faced violence or verbal abuse in the past year, while crimes committed against LGBTI persons continue to be grossly underreported, due to the victims’ belief that nothing will change, or because they fear a homo/transphobic police reaction.

Any of these cases, on an individual basis, would suffice to show that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity must stop; when together, they illustrate that this is a global scourge that must stop now.

Yesterday’s adoption of the resolution ‘combating violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity’ is a critically important achievement in upholding the universality of human rights and creating a global framework to combat discrimination against LGBTI persons.

Introduced by Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay, and subsequently co-sponsored by an additional 42 states, the resolution expresses grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination suffered by LGBTI, calls for an updated study to be carried out by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and ensures that the issue will remain on the Human Rights Council agenda.

The resolution faced a number of hostile amendments, including a proposal by Egypt (on behalf of ten states) to delete all references to sexual orientation and gender identity from the text. The Brazilian ambassador remarked that ‘Deleting all reference to sexual orientation and gender identity from this resolution would be the same as eliminating all references to women from the resolution on violence against women’. However, given that Egypt formed part of the core group who proposed the pernicious Protection of the Family resolution in June, their hostility to this resolution was hardly surprising.

A number of states spoke during the voting process, with impassioned statements from the resolution sponsors, including Chile’s statement that ‘this resolution does not seek to create new rights…there are some whose rights are more violated and need more protection’. Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Conference, framed LGBTI equality as a danger to the country, saying ‘The wider connotations of the term ‘sexual orientation’ can be extremely detrimental and inimical to our Muslim societies in particular, and to our youth as a whole’.

Thankfully, the resolution survived the persistent attempts to undermine it and was passed with by a vote of 25-14 (with seven abstentions, including from China and India) to huge smiles, happy tears and close embraces in a rare moment of emotional diplomacy.

While the resolution alone will not bring an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, it is a remarkable achievement in enshrining LGBTI equality as part of the international agenda, and provides a framework for further discussion of the issue. As the final regular session of the 2014 Human Rights Council has now closed, the resolution is an enormous step forward in terms of LGBTI equality, undermining the national legislation that criminalizes love and proving that human rights are truly universal.



For further information, see the joint NGO statement following the passage of the resolution.

[1] Dima, a Russian man who was left blind in one eye after an armed group stormed a gay community centre. Quoted by Channel 4, and featured in their documentary ‘Hunted’.


Need something to keep you calm this Friday? Here’s some...

Need something to keep you calm this Friday? Here’s some never-ending  #longform   #ambient   #music  for you! 

      #generativemusic   #ambientmusic

Wow.. these are pretty amazing.▼ Reshared Post From mark harris...

Wow.. these are pretty amazing.

▼ Reshared Post From mark harris ▼

A 5-Year-Old Girl With Autism Creates Remarkable Paintings That Belong In A Gallery
Iris Grace is learning to communicate through her remarkable talent.

Atlas Shrugged: Ad Baculum

Atlas Shrugged, part II, chapter V Hank and Dagny are returning to New York after their trip to Colorado. Hank’s wife Lillian, by now, has come to suspect that these “business trips” are about more than just business, so she arranges to be waiting for him on the platform: Her first sight of Rearden in [Read More...]

Weekday Coffee: September 25

I’ve been taking a breather this week, but never fear, my Atlas Shrugged series will resume tomorrow. In the meantime, some quick links: • Help atheist blogger and ex-Quiverfuller Vyckie Garrison save her house! She’s in financial trouble caused largely by her divorce from an abusive husband, which in turn happened because she lost her [Read More...]

+YouTube ContentID is not my friend lately.Apparently ...

+YouTube ContentID is not my friend lately.

Apparently #ContentID  does not work very well when it comes to #ambient  music. I’ve already had to file 2 separate claim disputes for my Complex Symbioses 1 video since releasing it just last week. I even sell the song on Google’s own +Google Play music store which was uploaded through their Artist Hub service using the same Google account as my YouTube account.

In just five days, it’s been flagged twice for three different copyright claims. Apparently the system thinks my video contains , first one song, and then two different songs even though the entire piece is built using a single, simple generative chord system.

The fact that I sell this music in Google Play (and more specifically, that I uploaded it through Google’s Artist Hub service) raises an odd concern as a musician and internet user.. Apparently, you’re more likely to get into trouble for uploading a video with someone else’s music in it than you are for attempting to resell someone else’s music by passing it off as your own. I guess what I’m curious about is.. if ContentID works so well, then why isn’t it being employed in the one situation where it is actually needed?

Hearing the Islamic Call to Prayer encourages Muslims to cheat less

People placed in religious environments tend to act more morally - but what, exactly, triggers this behavioural shift? There’s been a few recent studies which I think are really interesting, because they begin to reveal the importance of culture.

In the first set of studies, Mark Aveyard at the (American University of Sharjah, United Arab Emirates) tested Muslim students on their cheating behaviour.

The students were asked to undertake a computer-based maths quiz. Unfortunately, the computer program had a bug, so that it would automatically show the answer after a few seconds had passed -  unless a key was pressed. They were alone in the room, so Aveyard had to rely on their honesty to press the key and so not see the answer.

This was all a set up, of course. In fact, Aveyard really wanted to see if religious priming would affect how honest the students were.

What he found was that a priming task involving words (the subjects had to unscramble a sentence with either religious or secular meaning) had no effect on honesty.

Then he tried something different. In a follow-up study (shown in the figure), Aveyard played the students an audio recording of a busy street before they took the maths test, asking them to count the number of car horns they heard.

For half the students, the recording also had, in the background, the Islamic call to prayer (athan).

Listening to the call to prayer dramatically increased honest, as shown in the figure.

Why should a call to prayer work as a religious prime when a word task did not? One possible reason, Aveyard says, is that the religion and context matters. Maybe word primes work in the post-Christian West, but not in the Islamic Middle-East.

In the next post, we'll take a closer look at that from a Western perspective
Aveyard, M. (2014). A Call to Honesty: Extending Religious Priming of Moral Behavior to Middle Eastern Muslims PLoS ONE, 9 (7) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0099447

Creative Commons License This article by Tom Rees was first published on Epiphenom. It is licensed under Creative Commons.

Those who can’t preach

‘Teaching is personal – it has to be,’ says Emma C Williams

My first novel contained a thought experiment in which a somewhat inept RE teacher finds herself out of a job. Her demise came as a result of one well-meaning but thoughtless response to a vulnerable student, and as I crafted the tale I felt sympathy with that character, even as I fashioned her downfall.

As a teacher, I fear it’s impossible to keep your thoughts, emotions and biases out of the classroom completely, however hard you might try. Teaching is personal – it has to be. We throw ourselves into it and, if I believed in the soul, I would say that teaching is a part of mine. It’s also immediate, and it’s not like the construction of a carefully-worded article. It’s us, in the flesh, on our feet, all the time: as an educator, a guide, a philosopher, a fool, a blagger, a gatekeeper and a showman. Speaking as a teacher and indeed as a person who could probably benefit from closing her mouth on occasion, I felt a certain sympathy for my ill-fated creation, even though her views differed wildly from my own.

But there is a darker story behind the tale that I told, a real version which dates back to the early 1980s, when I was on the other side of the desk. You know, the good old days when some schools still had corporal punishment and teachers could say whatever they liked? I share the real incident now as an illustration of the sort of thing that can happen when preaching is allowed to enter the classroom.

In my final year at a Church of England all-girls primary school, the headmistress took it upon herself to give us a talk on ‘the facts of life’ or ‘body matters’ as she called them. There was a general sense of excitement and trepidation amongst most of the girls, but I remember being bored during much of the talk; it was pretty tame stuff and besides, I already knew ‘the facts’ from home. Despite my disinterest, I have a hazy recollection of zoning back into the room as the head was intoning her views on abortion.

Abortion was wrong. Fact. If we had ‘sinned’ (by having sex before marriage), and in doing so had gone and got ourselves pregnant, then that child must be born. Something told me that her views were a little extreme, but before I had even had time to make sense of them in my head, I suddenly heard my name and then realised that everyone was looking at me. In her eagerness to make her point, our headmistress had decided to cite me as an example of someone who could ‘quite easily’ have been lost to the world as a result of a termination.

Head swimming, I tried to make sense of what she was saying. My parents were happily married, so how did my home situation fit with the den of iniquity she had been describing thus far? As far as I could gather, due to the fact that I have a mild version of a condition called Goldenhar syndrome (which does not, by the way, affect anything other than certain aspects of my appearance) my parents might have decided not to have me. Now, there was a thought! But the headmistress put her hand on my shoulder, warmly and benevolently, and turned me to face my classmates. ‘Wouldn’t that have been terrible?’ she asked them. They all nodded, dutifully.

Now it may not surprise you to know that my ten-year-old self had not exactly contemplated my own termination as a possibility before. I was blessed with loving parents, who made me feel like the most important thing in their lives. Why on earth would the idea have occurred to me?

Quite why this headteacher felt it her place to introduce me to the idea seems impossible to fathom – until, of course, one remembers her convictions. I’m quite sure she thought she’d done a marvellous deed, and I wonder to this day to what extent she succeeded; did she persuade the majority of girls in that room of her beliefs? I do hope not.

My objection to her tactics, speaking not as the person affected but as a teaching professional, is this: it was clearly more important to her to preach her morality than it was to consider the individual welfare of a child in her class. And that, I believe, is the biggest danger with preaching.

I’m very honored to be a part of "Moments of Silence" .....

I’m very honored to be a part of "Moments of Silence" .. an #ambient  benefit compilation album featuring 34 artists from around the globe supporting #ChildrenOfGaza  ..  #SaveGaza   #UNRWA  

"Families devastated by heavy shelling and violence in Gaza are in urgent need of safe drinking water and food. And as always, children are suffering most. Our aim is to help raise support for the rebuilding of schools and provide clean drinking water. With your support, every little counts."

Please check it out & grab a copy. 

For more information about the UNRWA, please visit