Wikipedia:Reference desk/Archives/Humanities/2008 March 22

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March 22[edit]

Cult Definition[edit]

Why isn't Christ and his disciples considered a cult?

Max Weinreich famously said (on the difference between a dialect and a language) that "a language is a dialect with an army and a navy". I think the same is true for cults versus religions. I'm sure that after 1000 years of recruiting the cult of Xenu will seem as respectable as the cult of the zombie that's given me the day off today. --Sean
A famous saying goes, "The difference between a cult and a church is how many members it has." -- Kesh (talk) 00:15, 22 March 2008 (UTC)
Alternatively, one could define cult a little narrower, to not mean so much "unpopular/fringe religious sect" but rather religious sects that require extremely high degrees of investment (cut of all ties to your family, divert all resources to the group, pressured or coerced to conform to group expectations, not allowed to leave the group). I'm not sure if the original relationship between Christ and his disciplines would fit into such a definition, at least by the New Testament account—participation seems to me to have been pretty much voluntary, and if anything Christ was a little contemptuous of his disciples deciding to follow him around, if I recall correctly. Perhaps someone who has read the book of Matthew more recently than I (it has been about ten years for this agnostic) could share with us their perceptions on how well this definition fits or does not. --Captain Ref Desk (talk) 00:23, 22 March 2008 (UTC)
Christ was not at all contemptuous of being followed. He told many of his disciples personally: "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men". He asked them to follow him. Wrad (talk) 00:36, 22 March 2008 (UTC)
I seem to recall—and it has been awhile—him occasionally making disparaging remarks about how irritatingly dense they were at times. There were some times he seemed positively pissy. But again, it's been awhile. --Captain Ref Desk (talk) 03:18, 22 March 2008 (UTC)
I once saw an episode of a well-respected TV quiz show where the question was something about which religion some famous person belonged to, and the answer was supposed to be "Christianity". The answer given by the contestant was "He was a Roman Catholic", which he was. To the contestant's anguish and the viewers' amazement, it was marked wrong, and the explanation was that the religion is considered to be Christianity, but Catholicism and all the other varieties of Christianity are considered separate cults of the overall religion, and they weren't asking about the person's cult but their religion. Not sure how many complaints they had about that one. -- JackofOz (talk) 00:31, 22 March 2008 (UTC)
Wow. Muslims would say he was Muslim. Wrad (talk) 00:37, 22 March 2008 (UTC)
Since Jesus went to synagogue, his group was probably a sect in those days, with teachers commonly being accompanied by followers. Julia Rossi (talk) 02:51, 22 March 2008 (UTC)
A functional definition of cult is not based on the success of a cult, but on information control, use of fear, emotional manipulation, isolation from outside influences, power structuring, etc. Any gestures towards such definitions are routinely reverted at Wikipedia, a symptom of cult information manipulation in itself. --Wetman (talk) 09:29, 22 March 2008 (UTC)
Christianity was originally considered a cult (by the romans), and persecuted. See Christianity#Early_Church_and_Christological_Councils87.102.16.238 (talk) 12:42, 22 March 2008 (UTC)

Moral philosophy of evolution[edit]

Is there a moral philosophy which posits evolution as the source and answer to ethics questions? If so how would this philosophy answer the following paradox? (Is there a name for this paradox btw?)

An old lady and the Mona Lisa (or some great work of art) are in a burning art museum. You have time to save only one. Which do you choose?

Thanks, --S.dedalus (talk) 05:50, 22 March 2008 (UTC)

You could take a look at bioethicist Peter Singer especially this section[1] to do with evolutionary biology. Singer is an evolutionary atheist by the way. Now I hope to push the little old lady out of the way of the crowd rushing towards the mOna Lisa. Julia Rossi (talk) 06:54, 22 March 2008 (UTC)

PS I like your conundrum about the two little old ladies. The value placed on either of these is fraught. JR

I can not speculate on the legislation in other countries, but in the EU you would be charged with "gross negligence leading to the death" of Ms X, if you were to have saved Ms Mona Lisa. I think the US term is "criminally negligent homicide". --Cookatoo.ergo.ZooM (talk) 13:50, 22 March 2008 (UTC)
In most places in the U.S., criminally negligent homicide wouldn't apply, as there is no legal duty to put your own life at risk to rescue others, and as neither Ms. Mona nor Ms. Biddy are in your care. - Nunh-huh 14:09, 22 March 2008 (UTC)
Altruism is considered to be a mechanism which has affected evolution (or the other way round). Sorry if this is Weasel-speak, but I can´t find the reference I have stumbled across some weeks ago.
If my memory serves me right, these scientists (anthropologists ?) argued that altruistic behaviour may have been instrumental in the survival of tribe X whilst a less community oriented and selfish humanoid clan, tribe Y, may not have survived.
Maybe somebody else knows what hypothesis I am referring to ? --Cookatoo.ergo.ZooM (talk) 19:11, 22 March 2008 (UTC)
I think you are referring to group selection as the proposed mechanism of the evolution of altruism. - Nunh-huh 19:59, 22 March 2008 (UTC)
Personally I'd be very skeptical of any attempts to base a moral philosophy on some independent foundation, and in particular one from the natural sciences. There have been adherents of the theory of Social Darwinism who viewed this theory not as a descriptive, but as a prescriptive theory, legitimizing the elimination of "social misfits". I have no idea, though, how such people would have solved your conundrum.  --Lambiam 20:22, 22 March 2008 (UTC)
You could also look at Porphyry (philosopher) arguably Springer's forbear. Julia Rossi (talk) 03:30, 23 March 2008 (UTC)

There is an entire field known as evolutionary ethics. Unfortunately such attempts often fall into the naturalistic fallacy at best, and a projection onto nature at worst. Every ten years or so we have a totally different idea about what sorts of conclusions we should draw from our evolutionary lineage (were our predecessors more like the carnivorous chimpanzee, the noble gorilla, or the sex-crazed bonobo?), and science has, in my opinion, proven itself quite unsuited to the normative, or prescriptive, task when it comes to ethics. It tries to base it in nature, but nature doesn't boil down to simple answers or maxims—nobody looks more out-of-date than the ideas of a scientist who has proclaimed ten years previous that they understood how nature says human behavior should regulated. --Captain Ref Desk (talk) 04:46, 23 March 2008 (UTC)

Thanks Sdedalus for subjecting cleverly us to the false dilemma otherwise known as "the lesser of two weevils". Not the fastest bull in the arena,[2] I learned a lot.  ; )Julia Rossi (talk) 07:48, 23 March 2008 (UTC)
I would save the old lady, since I don't much like the mona lisa. What about everything else in the museum. surely it would be much better to just put the fire out?HS7 (talk) 20:51, 23 March 2008 (UTC)
Ahh, evolutionary ethics is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks! As for the “dilemma” I believe it’s actually intended to be a Value theory question. It considers the value of art over life, but in this context it is made more complicated by the fact that the woman is over the age of reproduction. (Sorry, that’s a pertinent factor when considering evolutionary value.) Thanks for the help folks, -S.dedalus (talk) 21:51, 23 March 2008 (UTC)
Based on my limited understanding of his work, I think the "biological ethic" of Herbert Spencer might also apply. User:Jwrosenzweig, not logged in 03:41, 24 March 2008 (UTC)

Burma, Laos, Cambodia, and Thailand: Indosphere or Sinosphere?[edit]

Our Indosphere article places those countries in that orbit. Is this clear cut?

Lotsofissues 06:45, 22 March 2008 (UTC)

Countries often fall into numerous spheres of influence - some of the countries you mention also fall into a 'sino-sphere' of influence. (talk) 12:40, 22 March 2008 (UTC)
All four countries currently use a writing system derived from Indian alphabets (as opposed to Vietnam, which used a writing system based on Chinese characters before going over to the Latin alphabet in the late 19th-century). However, active ongoing cultural influence from India may not have been too significant in recent centuries... AnonMoos (talk) 20:05, 22 March 2008 (UTC)

These nations could be said to be the middle of the Indo-/Sinospheric Venn Diagram. Ninebucks (talk) 15:35, 24 March 2008 (UTC)

Princess Anastasia[edit]

I saw a cartoon on tv yesterday about Anastasia. My mum says she thinks it was about a real russian princess. She dosent know any more. She says I should ask here. What happened to the real Anastasia. What happened to her family. Yours sincerely, Julia Mackenzie (aged 8)

The cartoon was probably Anastasia, which is based on stories told about Grand Duchess Anastasia, the daughter of the last reigning Tsar of Russia. The Tsar and all his family were killed in the Russian Revolution, but many people hoped that somehow Anastasia had survived, and many women later claimed to have been the long-lost Anastasia. Unfortunately, the stories were false, and the women, like Anna Anderson, Eugenia Smith, and Nadezhda Vasilyeva, were impostors: Anastasia had died in the Revolution with the rest of her family. -Nunh-huh 08:26, 22 March 2008 (UTC)
My great-aunt, who died not so long ago, happened to be a playmate of Anastasia when she was about the same age as Julia. Small world.John Z (talk) 09:07, 23 March 2008 (UTC)

I think I've seen this film. It really is a very offensively revisionist piece of propaganda. The achievements of Leninist Russia are completely overlooked, and the Romanovs, some of the worst tyrants in history, are portrayed as fairy-tale characters. Ninebucks (talk) 15:40, 24 March 2008 (UTC)

Does the Christian celebration of easter have its origins in the Hindu Bahagavad Gita ?[edit]

If so, what is the relationship?

Easter festival was originally a pagan festival - search for "easter pagan" for more details.
See eostre for more details.
I don't know if the link goes back further - do hindus have an 'easter festival'? (talk) 12:38, 22 March 2008 (UTC)
This page gives a little more info I can't find a direct link though. (talk) 13:20, 22 March 2008 (UTC)

The answer is "no". And "Eostre" only gives the name of Easter in English -- the actual religious observance of Easter goes back to the Jewish passover (the word for Easter is usually a variant of "Pascha" in most European-derived language). AnonMoos (talk) 19:32, 22 March 2008 (UTC)

Not the whole story. Nearly all Old World, northern hemispheric civilisations celebrated some kind of spring festival, as a pagan celebration of the annual rebirth. These ancient pagan celebrations were quite universal, having counterparts spreading from India to the Middle East to Northern Europe. After millenia, people start to make up bits of religion to superimpose over these ancient festivals - thus, Passover. The celebration of Easter within Western Christianity today is a synthesis of the purely Christian story of Jesus' death and rebirth (having, itself, Jewish roots), and pre-Christian spring-tide festivals throughout the Roman world. Christian Easter, Jewish Passover and Hindu Bahagavad Gita are all essentially divergent festivals from a much more ancient style of rebirth celebration. Ninebucks (talk) 15:56, 24 March 2008 (UTC)
That's an opinion, but not necessarily the correct one. Unlike Christmas, where the date was fixed pretty much arbitrarily and probably to coincide with previous pagan festicals, Easter's date is tied to Passover. So to show that Easter is 'derived' from pagan festicals you have to show that Passover was. As for modern Easter practice (bunnies, eggs, chocolate) etc.) yes a lot of that is derived from Spring festivals. But none of those are that closely tied to the Christian festival of Easter. DJ Clayworth (talk) 19:17, 24 March 2008 (UTC)

Philosophers Wealth[edit]

How did the great philosophers throughout human history- Plato, Aristotle, Descartes- earn a living and become considerably wealthy ? Surely all they had to offer were opinions and ideas about the nature of the world and time, where is the money in that ?

Descartes inherited sufficient wealth that he never had to work for a living. I believe Plato and Aristotle were in the same boat. Algebraist 15:49, 22 March 2008 (UTC)
As to antiquity: A significant number were, in modern terms, teachers of patricians. Have a look at our article on Academia which has a section on Plato, Plato´s Academy and Ancient times. One of his students, Aristotle, later took on a pupil by the name of Alexander, who presumably paid hefty fees before embarking on a spot of empire-building.
--Cookatoo.ergo.ZooM (talk) 18:38, 22 March 2008 (UTC)
There are basically four ways to make money with philosophy: 1. already have it, 2. teach, 3. find a beneficent donor, 4. go to law school and become a lawyer! ;-) --Captain Ref Desk (talk) 18:48, 22 March 2008 (UTC)
Some of them were poor homeless bums, like Diogenes. Adam Bishop (talk) 22:43, 22 March 2008 (UTC)
Diogenes of Sinope, in (simplified and loaded) modern terms, was an anti-social anarchist drop out.
Societies, then and now, protect themselves from those who dare to question the dogma. The methods vary (legal prosecution / mental institutions / public ridicule et al).
Those who misunderstand the meaning of the much maligned term cynic may still wish to read it up. --Cookatoo.ergo.ZooM (talk) 01:27, 23 March 2008 (UTC)
Does that make professional philosophy a leisure pursuit? Looks like Socrates brought it down to earth a little without leaving his name to a syndrome. Julia Rossi (talk) 07:55, 23 March 2008 (UTC)


How can any organisation be even close when estimating the human population of this planet ? Surely as people are constantly dying and being born at only roughly equal rates, one can never be certain of the population. There must be no way of ever knowing how many of us there are, or if anybody's estimations are anywhere near the truth. Wikipedia states that on January 25th, 2006 the estimation was at 6.5 billion, but what is the margin of error ?

This website has information on methodology. Carom (talk) 19:03, 22 March 2008 (UTC)
Population counting itself is not a unique statistical problem—statisticians have been dealing with exactly these sorts of issues since the dawn of statistics as a discipline (it was, at the name implies, the science of the state, that is, the science which tells you about the nation-state itself, about how many people are in it, who they are, how they are doing, etc.—what might today be more specifically called demography). In anything where you are tallying people you have to make certain assumptions about how reliable your models are, who you are missing, how much you can extrapolate from a small sample size.
The silliness comes in when places like the US Census make it look like their estimates are valid all the way down to the individual person. This is a display of false precision. I wish I could tell you the margin of error in such things but it is likely that the last four—and probably even more—digits given are just false precision, statistical junk that nobody has bothered to filter out. --Captain Ref Desk (talk) 19:45, 22 March 2008 (UTC)
(after edit conflict) Demography and population statistics are specialized fields. If you count all people in a given area during a certain period, say a single day (as is done in some countries when census is taken) the effect of the difference between the birth rate and the death rate will be small. If the annual growth rate is 1.18%, the growth rate per day is only 0.0032%. The main error is then in not counting people who are away (or possibly hiding) when the census taker comes. Given the growth rate, which usually will not suddenly change dramatically, such numbers can be projected to dates like January 1. By counting some parts more precisely, it can be estimated what the undercount is in general. Using standard statistical methods, the variance can be estimated, and can further be checked with differences between projected and counted results. When summing estimates of different areas to obtain a global estimate, just add up the respective variances as well. The main issue for global estimates is that problems such as civil war may make it impossible to take the census of some countries. Such disturbing aspects are much larger than uncertainties related to the constant going on of births and deaths.  --Lambiam 19:58, 22 March 2008 (UTC)

Art Work[edit]

What is the difference between G/P and S/N on a Thomas Kinkade painting?

I can't find a GP. The prints listed for sale on the Thomas Kinkade website [3] are marked "S/N' and "A/P". S/N stands for "Standard Number" which places it in the Kinkade inventory somewhere; it is also the number written on a brass plaque that accompanies the print. "A/P" stands for "artist's proof" which seems to mean, in this case only, that is is slightly larger than the rest of the print run and is basically just another shorter run of the same "S/N" print. The "A/P" costs more than the "S/N". Please note that Kinkade print runs tend to number in the thousands, and even if an "A/P" is a shorter run, it still may be longer by far than the full run of most other artists' numbered print. (I once attended at a framing lecture given by Kinsler where she said that any print run longer than 250 copies was not "limited" in any realistic sense." ៛ Bielle (talk) 02:19, 23 March 2008 (UTC)

Stalin's father[edit]

I read that there may be some doubt over the exact parentage of Joseph Stalin, not shown in your article. Is any more known? Rigsby's Cat (talk)

Only the doubt that seems to spring up about the parentage of many famous figures.... AllenHansen (talk) 11:05, 23 March 2008 (UTC)
See Nikolai_Przhevalsky#Przhevalsky_and_Stalin; our article calls it an urban legend. BrainyBabe (talk) 14:03, 24 March 2008 (UTC)

What do interest rate cuts have to do with inflation?[edit]

I'm trying to understand the US Economic policy, with its interest cuts and Economic Stimulus Package. I heard a few arguments on why interest cuts would increase inflation. Is this because more money will be able through credit? I thought the fed did a good job controlling inflation. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Legolas52 (talkcontribs)

This is an involved topic. Here are some articles for you to peruse to get an overview: money supply#Link with inflation, inflation#Controlling inflation, monetary policy. –Outriggr § 00:20, 23 March 2008 (UTC)

The Devils[edit]

How, and to what extent, does Dostoyevsky's novel reveal an understanding of the inner workings and philosophy of The People's Will? Yermolov (talk) 21:06, 22 March 2008 (UTC)

Do you mean the Volonté generale? ... AnonMoos (talk) 22:16, 22 March 2008 (UTC)

No, sorry. I mean Narodnaya Volya, a political movement in tsarist Russia. Yermolov (talk) 23:13, 22 March 2008 (UTC)

Is there no answer? Yermolov (talk) 17:34, 23 March 2008 (UTC)

According to our article on The Possessed, another name for The Devils, the novel is from 1872, while the terrorist activities of Narodnaya Volya's seem to date from 1879 onwards only. So perhaps Dostoyevsky had a general intuition of the mindset of extremist revolutionaries of his day and age that also was valid for N.V. (Or, an interesting hypothesis, they may have been inspired by his novel.) However, I don't know anything about "the inner workings and philosophy" of N.V., and I'm not qualified to comment on the degree of similarity. You can read something of what a mixed bunch it was here.  --Lambiam 01:33, 24 March 2008 (UTC)


Hi, im looking for books on 'how can i know/understand myself better', 'how to study people's behavior', 'how to deal/behave with people'..etc. Could anyone suggest me some good online library along with the titles of the books, where i can find my need. Thank you in advance.

For a starting point or guide, have you seen our list of Self-help books? Please sign your posts with four of these ~ to avoid confusion. Thanks, Julia Rossi (talk) 07:59, 23 March 2008 (UTC) Oops, fixed the link so you can try again, cheers. JR

Depression in students[edit]

In universities, are students majoring in arts more likely to have depression than those majoring in sciences? NeonMerlin 23:55, 22 March 2008 (UTC)

Statistically, whether they are students or not, arts-persons are more likely to suffer from depression that science-persons. Wrad (talk) 00:00, 23 March 2008 (UTC)
Perhaps it is the other way round: depressed people tend more to like art than not depressed people. If the correlation is true at all, of course. Mr.K. (talk) 01:40, 23 March 2008 (UTC)
This 2008 article in the New York Times science section[4] about the work of neuroscientist Dr. Jack Pettigrew is worth a look. Julia Rossi (talk) 08:05, 23 March 2008 (UTC)
Nice source, but this article is not from 2008, but 1999.WikiProteus (talk) 14:47, 25 March 2008 (UTC)
So it is, thanks, WikiProteus. I looked at the wrong header. Julia Rossi (talk) 09:33, 27 March 2008 (UTC)