Putting Humanity on a Pedestal

The history of the human species is, as Carl Sagan put it, a series of great demotions. Prior to the scientific age, humanity believed that we were the crowning glory of creation, and that all the universe existed merely to pay tribute to us. But the advances in understanding brought about by the dawning of the Age of Reason steadily undermined this belief, and though the partisans of superstition fought viciously against every new piece of knowledge, they have been steadily losing ground.

The first of these demotions, the Copernican revolution and the subsequent findings of astronomers, revealed that the Earth is not the center of creation, but is merely one planet among others orbiting our sun, less than a speck of dust when compared to the terrible vastness and majesty of the cosmos. The forces of religion fought against this for a long time, but they have at last, for the most part, come to accept it.

But the next blow cut against our sense of exalted specialness more keenly: the Darwinian revolution revealed that the human race is not the apex of life, specially created and separate from all other species, but rather one product among many of the process of evolution, deeply and intricately related to all other living things. Worse, the process that produced us was not one of intelligent and planned foresight, but of blind trial and error, forging species in the cauldron of random chance and ruthless natural selection. Some religious believers have come to an accommodation with this, but very many of them are still fighting fiercely against it.

And finally, in the modern era, the findings of psychology and neuroscience have revealed that our minds and personalities operate due to comprehensible, material causes, not due to divine influence or demonic possession. For the most part the forces of religion have not even felt this blow yet, though glimmerings of an emerging understanding can be seen in, for example, the furious denials among the religious right that homosexuality could have any kind of genetic basis. However, when the full import of these facts becomes clear, I believe it will cause an upheaval in the religious worldview even greater than that caused by the theory of evolution.

Today, the iron grip that the churches once had on society has been broken, and in its place flourishes a diverse marketplace of ideas. Competing with traditional religion is a wide variety of superstitions, pseudosciences and other popular delusions. However, despite their surface diversity, I believe that all these belief trends share two remarkable similarities. One, of course, is the privileging of faith over reason and the rejection of evidence-based methods as the appropriate way to learn about the world. But the other, which I have observed that a remarkable number of superstitious beliefs have in common, is anthropocentrism – that the universe regards us as special, that human beings are in some sense built in to the laws of physics. Despite the successive scientific revolutions that have revealed progressively more of our true place in the grand scheme of things, uncritical thinkers the world over continue to cling to the belief that the cosmos holds us in special regard.

The pseudoscience of astrology is without a doubt the most glaring example. Astrologers advocate the outrageously arrogant belief that a whole galaxy of stars exists only as a backdrop to our daily lives. It is easy, from our limited perspective, to forget that the stars we see in the night sky are not just tiny twinkles of light but massive nuclear furnaces of unimaginable size and power, cosmic engines far older than our solar system next to which human beings and even the whole planet Earth are insignificantly tiny. Yet astrologers would have us believe that the suns are somehow united in concern about the lives of people.

Claims of psychic power also suffer from the anthropocentric fallacy. There is no basis in the ordinary laws of nature for such a phenomenon (the garbled versions of quantum mechanics often put forward by true believers notwithstanding). The only way such a thing could work would be if mind and consciousness were somehow special phenomena, singled out by the laws of physics and qualitatively unlike everything else that exists. But, again, there is no basis in the facts for this anthropocentric special pleading. All our scientific investigations of the mind have revealed our thoughts and our emotions are physical, neurochemical processes, no more capable of directly influencing distant events than striking a ball with a pool cue can cause another ball on the other side of the table to spontaneously jump in sympathy. We are not in a class of our own when it comes to the laws of physics; our minds are constructed according to them just like everything else.

Even certain kinds of alternative medicine, I would argue, are fallacious in this way. In particular, I would point to those varieties of non-evidence-based medicine which assert that there are “natural” cures for every possible health ailment. Only the arrogantly anthropocentric view that nature was created for our benefit, that it “owes” us cures for the things that afflict us, could lead to such a belief. Although there are many natural compounds that have beneficial effects on humans, it is unreasonable to believe that every illness can be cured by raw natural substances without significant effort or processing.

Finally, many kinds of fundamentalist religion take part in this same delusion. It is particularly acute in, for example, the young-earth creationists who literally believe that the entire universe was created for the sake of human beings, and that all it contains matters only in relation to us – that all the distant galaxies, massive stars and nebulae light-years across are significant only as “lights” for our use and admiration, and that all those stellar entities will be destroyed on our judgment day, when “the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll” (Isaiah 34:4). It is as if all the history of the cosmos is irrelevant, a prop to be waved aside as soon as our needs take priority. How can such a worldview not be described as prideful and arrogant? How can it not be described as giving a supreme importance to humans that is not supported by any evidence?

The number of times human beings have declared themselves the center of the universe, and subsequently been proven wrong, should give us a healthy skepticism of any new hypothesis that considers our existence as somehow special. Since pseudoscience and superstition are primarily about wish fulfillment, it is no surprise that many outgrowths of that basic credulity would in some way elevate us to privileged status.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • Interested Atheist

    Nice article!
    Have you ever thought of writing a book, Adam?

  • SpeirM

    Just for your reading amusement and my lasting shame, here’s the opening paragraph of an essay I wrote a number of years ago as a Christian:

    I’m always amused when I hear the modern scientist or philosopher belittling early religionists for their quaint belief that man is the center of the universe. You see, foundational to their own thought is the notion that man is the judge, the focus, and the end of all things. Of course, that’s not the attitude they want to project. They’ll insist they’re just men; and men are nothing more than happenstance on a smallish planet of an insignificant star system in a galaxy which could hardly be called special when compared to the billions of others in the unending vastness. “If that doesn’t make you humble, what will?” they ask. But dare to suggest that there are things to know which their methods of investigation can’t uncover and which their minds couldn’t comprehend anyway, and you’ll soon see how arrogant a speck on a speck on a speck on a speck in an endless cosmos can be! Their haughtiness arises not from their natural desire to understand, but from their assumption that truth must fit within the bounds they prescribe. Without that tenet as a premise, their conclusions would be unidentifiably different.

    I wrote a lot of such drivel back then. And you know, I remember as I was writing thinking, “Gee, I couldn’t support this!” So many times that was true. I was writing something that I either knew very well wasn’t true or suspected might not be true. And yet, I wrote anyway, and always in terms that expressed the utmost certainty. I see now that all this was an attempt to make myself believe what I was finding increasingly unbelievable. I wonder how many other Christian apologists are doing the same thing.

  • Lillymon

    “Even certain kinds of alternative medicine, I would argue, are fallacious in this way. In particular, I would point to those varieties of non-evidence-based medicine which assert that there are “natural” cures for every possible health ailment. Only the arrogantly anthropocentric view that nature was created for our benefit, that it “owes” us cures for the things that afflict us, could lead to such a belief. Although there are many natural compounds that have beneficial effects on humans, it is unreasonable to believe that every illness can be cured by raw natural substances without significant effort or processing.”

    This is something I’ve wondered about myself with regards to food. Some people simply state that certain food is more ‘natural’ than others, and imply that this makes it better than regular foods. What I wonder is why is it better than regular food? What about it makes it better? The ‘natural’ food is normally more expensive too, so I’d want a bloody good reason to spend the extra money. We have such a fantastic scientific understanding about the human body and what it needs, surely this supposed benefit can be quantified!

    So far I’ve heard nothing about why added vitamin C in orange juice is such a horrible thing (I actually saw an advert that seemed proud that their drink had less vitamin C than the alternatives!) so I go for the regular stuff. We don’t have much money here, and we’re not going to spend extra without good reasons.

  • Lillymon

    Oh, and to add on to my last message, I saw another advert which said that the orange juice they were advertising used jucies from the actual orange, while competitors added water to orange pulp to make theirs. I just had to wonder, why does this matter? Water is water, why should I care where it comes from? It tastes about the same either way, and as long as the water added is pure (which I would expect it to be) then I don’t see any disadvantage.

    Was I just supposed to see the more ‘natural’ method as somehow superior and hand over the extra money for it? I don’t get it.

  • SpeirM

    Nothing more natural than crude oil, is what I always say.

  • Alex Weaver

    I suspect it’s less a sense of being “owed” by nature than the ludicrous perception of nature as a benevolent “mother” figure combined with a strong suspiciousness of corporations and science/technology, producing a rather knee-jerk reaction which seems to be closely related to an attitude I’ve dubbed “Bio-Luddism” after reading a Dean Koontz novel featuring one power-crazed mad geneticist too many.

    At any rate, it tends to manifest as a rather knee-jerk opposition to anything suggestive of synethetic chemicals in food, such that I recall joking about seeing how many of the “natural food” devotees I could turn off it by informing them that “organic” vegetables contain substantial residues of adenosine triphosphate…

  • ex machina

    With regards to what you said about natural medicine. I’ve hung out with a lot of supporters of natural medicine and I count myself as one of them to a reasonable extent. The attitude I found most among them is less one of superiority but of equality. Meaning: they dont’ really feel that nature owes them a cure, but that humans are not so complicated that we can’t find treatment from “the earth” in a relitively unrefined way.

    They do, however, believe in a lot of garbage that puts their health at risk and I worry about them sometimes. I’m just saying I don’t think it’s the ego trip you propose. (as for how special they feel for “figuring out” all this natural stuff . . . oh man . . . don’t get me started)

  • http://dominicself.co.uk Dominic Self

    ‘Organic’ is an even more annoying tag than ‘natural’ – I’ve taken to congratulating people for eating carbon compounds (which certainly haven’t been selectively bred and selected over many generations, oh no, they just appeared naturally out of the ground.)

    On the content of the actual post, it’s certainly true, but whilst religion may appear to put humanity at the centre of the universe the practical effect of what it says, should it be true, would remove any importance from humanity’s efforts or decisions. We might be a mere player in a vast universe, but at least we don’t have a boss that checks down the corridor every often to see if we’ve sacrificed enough virgins. Oops, sorry, I mean lambs. Lambs. Organic lambs.

  • Alex Weaver

    And hopefully virgin lambs. x.x

    Eh. Still, the fact that the boss would be so concerned with us is kind of arrogant. The attitude apparently behind it reminds me of the stereotypical kid who misbehaves to get attention.

  • SpeirM

    Of course it displays arrogance. That’s why we invent gods that are unimaginably big and impossible to defy. Pride revolts against submission; so it makes us feel a little better about ourselves when we can make ourselves believe we have no choice but to submit.

    We’d hate to think we’re submitting to mindless forces of nature. That would take us a step down in that we’d have to admit we’re helpless before lesser things than ourselves. Let’s anthropomorphize volcanoes and tornadoes and lightning and earthquakes and whatever. Then let’s blow these contrived intelligences up bigger than ourselves. That takes some of the sting out of the insult to our pride.

  • Jeff T

    How can anyone not be full of shame when we rejoice that we killed Zarqawi and turn a blind eye to the death of the 8 year old girl who was with him as the bomb dropped.

    Put us on a pedestal? As a society we behave as primitive apes ranting and raving in violence and stupidity.

  • Archi Medez

    “The history of the human species is, as Carl Sagan put it, a series of great demotions.”

    —Adam

    Yes, I agree with your and Sagan’s point. Humans, most notably in the west, have been brought, by the sciences, closer to level with the rest of nature…basically we’re the brightest of the apes but apes nonetheless. Yet there is another sense in which humans—i.e., the individual humans—have been elevated, and that is relative to social authority. Dethroning religions and other autocratic schemes, we in the west now generally believe that the individual, not the gods or the rulers, are the authors of our own experience. Our knowledge has expanded through disciplined inquiry; and spirituality is, over the past several decades, increasingly a do-it-yourself endeavour.

    “…that our minds and personalities operate due to comprehensible, material causes…”

    —Adam

    Might be more accurate to say physical causes (includes space, time, energy, etc., which are not captured by the word “material”). It is scientifically meaningful (as well as eminently meaningful in day-to-day life) to say that thought also causes physical changes in the brain. Consciousness does exist (whether it is real or illusion is of little consequence to science; either way, it needs to be explained, understood). Emotions, beliefs, and intentions cause actions. This is not a complete statement, but neither is ‘neural activity causes thought’. The causal arrows go in both directions—the operation of the physical substrate causes thought and changes in thought, and thought causes changes in the physical substrate. This is not dualism, unless we say that mind and brain are separate, and hold on to the outdated erroneous idea that brain is a part of nature whereas the mind is in the realm of supernatural.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    Nice article! Have you ever thought of writing a book, Adam?

    Thanks! I won’t deny that the thought has crossed my mind, although I don’t know who would dare publish such a book. Then again, with the success of books like “The End of Faith”, I suppose it’s not beyond the realm of possibility, and I would welcome the chance if an opportunity came my way. If any readers know of a publisher who might be interested, by all means send them along.

    SpeirM: We forgive you. :) Though I realize you no longer believe this way, I know there are many theists who do, so I’d like to offer one remark and I hope you won’t see it as picking on you:

    “If that doesn’t make you humble, what will?” they ask. But dare to suggest that there are things to know which their methods of investigation can’t uncover and which their minds couldn’t comprehend anyway, and you’ll soon see how arrogant a speck on a speck on a speck on a speck in an endless cosmos can be!

    The fallacy in this argument is this: If there are some things that ordinary methods of investigation can’t uncover, then how exactly does the theist know those things? It’s like saying, “There are some things that people can’t know, and we know them.” If a theist claims to have access to a superior means of obtaining knowledge, it is up to them to explain what that method is and prove that it works. At this point, the standard appeal to mystical “knowledge of the heart” usually comes around – but just point out that Muslims know in their hearts that Allah is real and Hindus know in their hearts that Krishna is real, and see how testy those supposedly humble Christians can get!

    Some people simply state that certain food is more ‘natural’ than others, and imply that this makes it better than regular foods. What I wonder is why is it better than regular food? What about it makes it better?

    And let’s not forget that anthrax, blinding trachoma, and poison ivy are as “natural” as you get. There are plenty of natural plants that produce all manner of deadly poisons and toxins.

    I’ve hung out with a lot of supporters of natural medicine and I count myself as one of them to a reasonable extent. The attitude I found most among them is less one of superiority but of equality. Meaning: they dont’ really feel that nature owes them a cure, but that humans are not so complicated that we can’t find treatment from “the earth” in a relitively unrefined way.

    I don’t think most supporters of natural medicine consciously think of themselves as superior (although I reserve the right to make an exception for Kevin Trudeau), and I realize that there are some natural compounds that are highly effective as medicines. But the idea that every disease or illness can be cured by quote-unquote natural products – how could that possibly work unless the earth was, in some sense, made for us? It would be a truly remarkable coincidence if such an outcome occurred by chance.

  • SpeirM

    “I hope you won’t see it as picking on you”

    If you’re picking on me, it’s only the old me. Believe me, the new me picks on the old me worse than you ever could.

    I agree with you. Allow me to quote from a letter where I tried to explain my deconversion:

    “Can we use emotion in this examination [in search of Truth]? I used to say the emotions make up a kind of vestigial spiritual sense organ. Of course, that was an altogether fabricated supposition. I had no proof to offer. But even granting the assertion could be true, what reason do we have to suspect this organ would be any more reliable than our other senses? Even at best our emotions would only allow us to grope uncertainly through the murk of the spirit world; a realm in which we are foreigners and, therefore, singularly unskilled. Would the results of this fumbling confer the right to utter otherwise unqualified pronouncements as to people’s eternal destinies? If we wouldn’t threaten another with Hell, for instance, because of something we’ve seen, heard, smelled, tasted, or touched, why would we do so because of something we’ve felt? Why should anyone believe us if we were to try?”

    And later:

    “Neither is the subjective inner witness of the believer adequate to make Christianity believable. In the first place, that kind of thing is not exportable. You have to take the “experiencer’s” word for it. Is there any good reason to accept his interpretation of it? Isn’t he likely to stage it within the confines of a cherished world view? That’s not necessarily dishonest, but he could very well be wrong. I myself have had mystical experiences that I thought were very real and that upheld my faith. It was disconcerting to learn that those of other religions have too. Naturally, I dismissed these as deceptions, but for the life of me I couldn’t justify that. Basically, they were deceived because if they weren’t, I was. I wasn’t defending the Faith. I was defending me.”

    And to bore you one more time:

    “Maybe evil has sent my judgment awry. In the first place, that’s not an established fact at all. Should I just yield to the unverifiable opinions of others for fear of it? It remains that my own reason is all I have with which to separate truth from falsehood. However skewed it might hypothetically be, I would still have to depend on it to decide which hearsay “truth” I should adopt. I would still have to evaluate the evidence for and against each competing witness according to my own lights. There is no escaping the responsibility to judge for oneself without simply falling mindlessly into the grip of whichever doctrine lies most conveniently at hand. Who would advocate such a thing?”

  • http://www.stop-the-tyrants.com David

    I must disagree with “Interested Atheist.” This is not a good article.

    The author asserts that “findings of psychology and neuroscience have revealed that our minds and personalities operate due to comprehensible, material causes … All our scientific investigations of the mind have revealed our thoughts and our emotions are physical, neurochemical processes.” But these conclusions are not the findings of scientific studies at all. They are the interpretations given to scientific discoveries by those with an a priori commitment to materialism.

    It is true that materialism is the dominant paradigm in cognitive science, but cognitive science’s attempts to explain the mind in wholly physical terms have failed.

    Think of an everyday reality: a mirror. When you observe your own reflection in one, what you are seeing what cannot exist without the mirror. But the reflection never partakes in the mirror’s substance. The reflection consists entirely of light.

    To assume that because to have a mind requires that you have a brain means that minds and brains are the same thing makes no more sense than to assume that mirrors and reflections are the same thing because reflections do not exist without mirrors!

  • SpeirM

    Wow, David! Can you demonstrate that one’s face in the mirror is any kind of accurate analogue of the mind and the brain? An analogy is useful for showing how one conceives of things, but not very useful as an argument unless the analogy can be shown to be an accurate illustration of the thing under discussion.

    “It is true that materialism is the dominant paradigm in cognitive science, but cognitive science’s attempts to explain the mind in wholly physical terms have failed.”

    Science has failed to completely explain a lot of things yet. How does that argue against what it has explained? Unfortunately for those who would see consciousness as evidence of a soul, the more science discovers the less it looks that way. Has science proven we have no souls? Not to everyone’s satisfaction. But it sure seems to be moving in that direction. Have you followed Adam’s link to “The Ghost in the Machine?” You should read through that. For an even more in-depth analysis, take a look at Keith Augustine’s “The Case Against Immortality” (http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/keith_augustine/immortality.html).

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    It is true that materialism is the dominant paradigm in cognitive science, but cognitive science’s attempts to explain the mind in wholly physical terms have failed.

    David, really. The brain is an enormously complex organ, and our ability to watch it in action is only a few decades old. Even most of the techniques we have for doing that are still very crude, and for the most part, our knowledge of what specific brain regions do comes from observing people who have suffered injury to that region. Our attempts to explain the mind have not “failed”, they’re only just getting started.

    Even so, however, these studies have already produced an enormous wealth of information about the specific physical and neural correlates of certain types of behavior and cognition (as SpeirM said, I strongly recommend my essay “A Ghost in the Machine“), and there is every reason to believe that new discoveries will continue to flood in. Your attempt to declare all this progress a “failure” is a glaring example of shallow god-of-the-gaps thinking, where believers demand that science must produce a complete explanation for every aspect of a phenomenon all at once or else concede that God did it all. If you can get past this fallacious argument from ignorance and produce positive evidence that a supernatural soul is in any way responsible for human cognition, by all means, do so.

  • Ernie

    Thanks to your website and several others like it, not to mention books and a couple of magazines, and of course pointofinquiry.com I can now accept the fact that I am an atheist and can tell people that without feeling uncomfortable about it.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blog/daylightatheism/ Ebonmuse

    That’s wonderful, Ernie! I’m glad to hear it. We atheists have a long way to go before we’re fully accepted by society, but we’re never going to get there except by the efforts of many individual atheists who are willing to come out of the closet and speak out about who they are and what they believe in. It takes courage to stand up for your principles in the face of the religious majority. Bravo!

  • The Vicar

    Waaaaay out of date, but what the heck, I’m reading the archives backward.

    This is something I’ve wondered about myself with regards to food. Some people simply state that certain food is more ‘natural’ than others, and imply that this makes it better than regular foods. What I wonder is why is it better than regular food? What about it makes it better? The ‘natural’ food is normally more expensive too, so I’d want a bloody good reason to spend the extra money. We have such a fantastic scientific understanding about the human body and what it needs, surely this supposed benefit can be quantified!

    Actually, a preference for natural — and even organic — food can be derived from an acceptance of the theory of evolution via natural selection. Ready?

    Substances which are toxic to an organism are toxic because they were not present in the environment experienced by the organism’s ancestors. Tolerance for a substance is selected over intolerance for it. (For example: arsenic is extremely common on earth, but is highly toxic to most organisms on the earth’s surface, because it’s mostly underground.) In the terminology of logic, “if A is toxic, A did not come in contact with ancestors.” (This is stating things a bit loosely, and doesn’t count overdoses: water is not toxic, but that doesn’t mean you can’t drown, or even die of drinking too much water — it’s called “water drunkenness”, and can be fatal.)

    It obviously does not follow logically that “if A did not come in contact with ancestors, A is toxic”. However, it does follow that “if A was significantly present in the immediate environment in past generations, A is not toxic.” (It’s the rule of modus tollens in formal logic, if you must know.) Or, to put it more simply, “your genetics — barring spontaneous mutations in very recent generations — will allow you to safely eat anything your ancestors safely ate, safely breathe anything your ancestors safely breathed, and safely drink anything your ancestors safely drank.”

    This does not mean that artificial food additives are necessarily bad for you — although some are — but rather that consuming an artificial food additive constitutes an act of faith: you believe that the additive will be non-toxic to you. To a certain extent, you will have evidence to support this: these days, food additives go through a certain amount of testing before they are unleashed on the public, at least in developed countries and legally. However, there’s toxic and there’s toxic. Thalidomide, for example, is non-toxic in the sense that taking it won’t kill you. It happens to cause a much higher incidence of birth defects if taken by a pregnant woman, but is it toxic?

    The tests required for new food additives (and medicines) are also very limited in scope, compared with the semi-guarantee of ‘natural’ food. The tests required are all short-term, and are not required to track interactions between multiple non-’natural’ substances. A food additive might very well dramatically increase your long-term risk of colon cancer, or might cause your liver to degrade when consumed with alcohol (as one of the over-the-counter headache remedies was found to do). Or it might only be unsafe after reaching a certain threshold in your diet. (An interesting example of the latter is high-fructose corn syrup, which was invented and found to be non-toxic in the 1960s. Since it was non-toxic, cheap, and increases shelf life of baked goods, it became used very heavily in the industrialized world. It wasn’t until the 1990s that someone finally thought to examine the digestion of the substance in detail, and discovered that it takes a different route into your metabolism than the sucrose it mostly replaced. Because it is metabolized differently, high-fructose corn syrup is much more likely to be stored as fat in your body than sucrose is — one of the major dietary factors behind the obesity epidemic in the industrialized world.) In these senses, when you eat almost any artificial food additive, you are having faith (in the sense of having faith in god) because nearly all currently-used artificial food additives have not been around long enough for long-term studies, and therefore the long-term effects must be considered unknown.

    There’s another step to the “faith” notion when dealing with genetically modified food, instead of merely conventionally-grown traditional species (as opposed to organically grown species). This has to do not with diet, but with environmental concerns. Existing species are known to fit into the ecosystem, not to be toxic to any species that feeds on them, and to have resistance to at least most of the common pests and diseases. A genetically modified species, however, may not have any of these properties; furthermore, there is no way to test for all the possible combinations in any realistic way. In fact, when assessing risk factors for GM species under most countries’ laws, damage to the ecology is not considered at all — it is merely assumed to be negligible. There is suspicion (currently not determined to be true or false) that the recent mass deaths of honeybees in North America may be because of GM species having pollen which cannot be metabolized by the bees, leading them to starve to death even while collecting food. As I said, not proven — but the phenomenon is there, and is in search of a cause. (This is further complicated by the fact that most of the companies which produce GM seeds have track records of poor quality control at best, and deliberate abuse in some cases; there is often no way to know what testing has been done without trusting the word of people who are out to make money…)

    Whew, long comment!

  • The Vicar

    Oh, after rereading, one thing I meant to bring in and didn’t: our ancestors (pre-nineteenth century) lived in an environment in which the level of lead in the atmosphere was so small by modern standards that it might as well not have been present at all. It is now something like 300ppm on average around the world if I remember correctly (in part because, although outlawed as a gasoline additive in first-world countries, it’s too cheap for third-world countries to ignore). Lead is a neurotoxin — lead paint is outlawed because it can cause brain- and nerve-damage in small children going through pica. Lead from gasoline additives is known to raise levels in the blood. (When it was outlawed in the U.S., the average blood level dropped 37% within a decade.) Are we all under the influence of mild lead poisoning? There’s no way to tell — you’d have to raise at least two generations in a cleanroom environment to tell, and there would be too many other variables to count. It’s still a thought, though…


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