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Archive for August, 2011

Facts

Is there anything more promising than a child’s curiosity? Can anything discourage it faster than a barrage of facts? Facts are epitaphs to curiosity. They immobilize further inquiry…pretty much as intended. Endless facts have taken on the roll of biblical chapter and verse of earlier times; putting paid to independent or misdirected thinking; ensuring inquiring minds don’t wander from the path of the master. Conversational facts – always scientifically proven, always irrefutable, always with equal and opposite facts available but to be ignored – are tools, not truth.

In the most obvious cases – food, pharmaceuticals, money – we choose not to notice the vulnerability inherent in the execution of the scientific method even though there are inevitably alternative studies disproving most studies. Our determination in selecting the ‘true’ study is driven more by our conditioning and beliefs than a pursuit of truth. The scientific method is the best tool in our research arsenal but falls prey to our unfailing subjectivity. Recorded scientific events are always expressed through the beliefs of those doing the interpreting. It is inescapable. The best we can hope for is a researcher driven solely by curiosity; that selfsame natural wonder we discourage with our dedication to facts in the first place. Curiosity strong enough to survive the gauntlet of learning unfortunately does not have deep enough pockets to fund studies and market the results as fact.

Even at the highest levels scientific results are subject to questionable interpretation. We discover alphabets and think we understand the entire language and all the mystery it contains. Watson, of DNA fame, is a good example of things going seriously wrong. Beyond the dark cloud of the Rosalind Franklin and Raymond Gosling debacle Watson went on to state about Africa “all our social policies are based on the fact that their intelligence is the same as ours—whereas all the testing says not really”. His take on women (“People say it would be terrible if we made all girls pretty. I think it would be great.”) – one woman, one beauty – also displays a singularly minded approach to a world some thought may be improved by eugenics akin to the kind popularized by Nazis. He was part of the long process of identifying a living alphabet but unfortunately vanity may have reduced his faculties to such an extent he believed he could read wetware like tea leaves.

The scientific method is our greatest research tool but as a religion to advance one’s own agenda by a power greater than all of us it fails in all the old familiar ways – and that’s a fact.

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The connected world, operating at the speed of light, raises simple anecdote instantly to myth of biblical proportions while ensuring everyone ample choice. The speed is slow compared to gossip but its range eliminates all competition. Electronic communications over the last century has helped move western culture from a long entrenched monotheistic society to one with a cornucopia of gods and rituals sufficient to make the proliferation of Hindu gods seem complacent. We have sports gods, music gods, authors, etcetera. Simple rules for eating like don’t eat pork, shellfish, or neighbors have given way to health-felt concern not only for the food but the process of getting it to the table. Source, method, manpower, energy consumed, distance traveled and content such as protein, mineral, salt, fat and trans-fat are all factored in before food is served. Pleasure is precarious – data tells us so.

Serving dinner for other than like-minded friends demonstrates our new enlightenment. What was once a simple matter of rarely mentioned don’t likes and even a possible allergy or belief-based restriction has mushroomed into a fascinating assortment of can’t, won’t and canned lectures. Courtesy hasn’t a leg to stand on when food knowledge enters the room. This while the vast chasm in the world between those who suffer from available food and those who suffer from a lack of it gets wider.

If anything in any discipline requires irrefutable proof or disproof by fully qualified facts established through scientific studies you’re only a couple of keystrokes away from more information than anyone would ever read on the subject. The entire world has been modeled in words and even better it has been done in a manner suitable for every fanatical and financially viable variation. If you find one missing, check again in an hour or start a blog, it’s free and easy.

There appears to be a competition between practicing believers and preaching atheists for the most non-commercial content on the web. Atheism, the long form, is odd – it dedicates so much time and space to say the subject of all of this does not exist. Is there anyone more rigorous in their beliefs than an angst atheist? The message is delivered with a vehemence once reserved for doubtful but determined believers; which makes sense as it uses the same texts and beliefs with the exception of one external loop of authority. The text says God says has been shortened to the more comprehensive text says or studies prove.

Imagine if the same vitriol reserved for God was applied to Anne Shirley or Sherlock Holmes; you would quickly conclude the person was nuts; yet they are all only as real as the text makes them, they all influence the thoughts of millions of people profoundly. If I were going dedicate time to railing against an influential book character I would probably use one from Dickens. He really breathed life into his kinder-than-candy villains. Maligning Mr. Pecksniff has proven to be a satisfying and cleansing waste of time; he represents so many reprehensible people. You can’t say that about God unless, of course, you are exposed to a lot of environmentalists.

Who really gives a damn if people pay good money to join the Arthur Conan Doyle society or pay too much for a straw hat with red braids for their children or pets. More people seem to have recovered from the damage done to their families by traditional beliefs than by the promotion of a warm and enthusiastic embrace of greed. All things considered they have bigger fish to fry. They deserve a low-fat, low-sodium break today.

Maybe it’s time to try out a few new myths. You don’t have to make a commitment. Presently there are lots of great opportunities for divining your financial future; just watch your email or let your fingers do the walking on the web. The only things you have to remember is don’t take them too seriously and don’t send money. If you are going to invest in your future consider lowering expectations and raising an eyebrow for offers too good to be true. Don’t take everything you read as gospel and don’t email money to unknown ladies in distress (really fat men in underwear) who promise to dance with you at the end of a rainbow.

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Choices

If a few guys decide to gather in the vicinity of a government office, church, mosque or synagogue dressed in military fatigues, boots and berets just to chat and watch people come-and-go a mean-spirited, unenlightened fellow might think they were ill-willed; a paranoid, mean-spirited, unenlightened fellow may think them terrorists or a group of paranoid, mean-spirited, unenlightened fellows might misunderstand that innocent choice as an overt threat requiring a solution.

It is unfortunate but there are those who think the way a person dresses is a statement; and that statement involves them directly.

If a man with an eclectic wardrobe, caught out short on laundry day, appeared in public in a style popular at the time of the American Civil War there would be those who’d think he had a strong, maybe overpowering or warped sense of history. He too might attract those who would take up the cause to treat him in a manner to make him understand; to have him fit more comfortably into a very narrow mind – toe the line, fall into place, be as he must be.

Some hold their view of reality as the only true reality; they are destined to live lives of perpetual indignation and anger and we must share the planet with them by tolerating or joining them.

If a man wears a bathing suit on a beach, the few given to noticing probably would think he was going swimming. If he thoughtlessly walked three blocks into town dressed only in that same bathing suit there would be some think his motives untoward. They may well take the opportunity to yell at him or hurt him in some way that would improve the herd by driving off outliers.

The point is, no matter the differences (fat, skinny, tall, short, barking mad, quietly mad, clothing that covers too much, clothing that covers too little), there are those who take pride in their prejudice, presenting it as a redeeming quality and personal accomplishment. It confirms their membership in the pack. For them a spark of difference challenges their dreary darkness by forcing the unfamiliar sensation of a thought and it is doubtful they would be subject to a second one before acting on their first. They do not reason, if they did they would be more reasonable. Theirs is not a world of thought, it is a world of reaction. It is often a world of rejection where others are thought to get together for the singular purpose of excluding them. You won’t change their world, you can only take it into consideration as you go about in yours.

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Living in the present is fraught with problems; the cost for one thing. A quick trip around the Internet assures me I can learn what my dog knows for quite a reasonable price; unfortunately I never seem to have a reasonable amount of money. In fact, I don’t know anyone who has. Besides if I order a book now about living in the present, presumably my intention is to read it in the future; as the future doesn’t exist I don’t want to buy books for when I get there. If there is one thing I’ve learned in the past it’s to control my spending so I won’t screw up my present in the future.

Change is another sticky bit. How would I know if living in the present helps if I can’t compare it to how things were in the past? I might be completely miserable and tell myself that’s life. The past is a gift, it informs me of my good fortune so ignoring it would be an unfortunate choice.

I can see living in the present for a moment or two now and then but as a long term commitment it is just too bewildering. It would be like watching the movie Groundhog Day day after day. Just precisely how long is the present? When I am in the present, or at least mindful of being in it I try to see how long it lasts but the next thing I know, it’s gone. If I’m enjoying myself I think I’m enjoying this but then that’s living in the past and I am definitely not one for living in the past. Now starts off just fine in the present but reverts to the past so fast I think; hey hold on, I was enjoying that. I just can’t seem to get into the present properly anyway because the moment I arrive it’s gone. If living in the present means arriving too late for everything I would be a nervous wreck. I’d spend the rest of my life going in and out of regression therapy like instant replay just to understand why I am where I am…or at least just was.

Descartes, who contributed greatly in the past about how we deal with the ‘here and now’, said “I think, therefore I am” or words to that effect. Well, the conundrum is obvious, if I’m thinking about living in the present than I am but it isn’t (the present that is)…at least not for the length of time it takes to think a thought coherent enough to confirm my existence in it. It’s quantum metaphysics – I’m forced to make a leap of faith with no interim state from mindless existence to mindful non-existence even though there is no time for such a non-state to exist. That makes me feel uncomfortable and let’s face it, it’s not the kind of thing you can resolve through conversation. Hi,  I can’t stop thinking about living in the present even though I know the two conditions are mutually exclusive. That’s the kind of introduction that would ensure you always meet strangers wherever you go.

I’m going to stick with the hopefulness of false prescience for the moment rather than move to the hyperactive, non-existent world of now. It’s interesting though; I might buy a book on it in case some time in the future I decide to try living in the present. Maybe I’ll just ask my dog, he knows stuff like that.  He’ll just tell me I’m a procrastinator and will never get around to it anyway and then he will look at me for a time, which for him is just a long series of now.

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Plagiarism in the information age may not be as it appears; it may just be successful marketing. Lines between information and personal thought are being blurred to such an extent in some cases they have been eliminated altogether. Entire articles are paraphrased with no hint of embarrassment or acknowledgment of the source even when features of general interest. What at first seemed odd has become commonplace – no distinction between new personal ideas and data – information and thoughts being treated as the same entity. That would be frightening if it wasn’t terrifying. Individuality, the ability to think for oneself, is being overpowered by electronic brainwashing selected for – not by – the unsuspecting victim; usually those just trying to find their place in a world too busy for them. It means our most personal thoughts, our deepest beliefs can be intentionally seeded, nurtured and harvested by those who control media. As oft been noted, big brother isn’t watching, he’s programming.

Ardent beliefs injected straight into our minds with little or no thought-filtering coupled with a concentration of media ownership could explain much about the polarization of our society. Like alcohol breaching our digestive system defenses to alter the brain, electronic sounds and images seem capable of penetrating our minds undetected to take control of the core of our being – beliefs. It has all the known signs of a bad habit (e-diction?) with the added attraction of low cost and no immediate hangover. Corporations couldn’t find a better addiction for the masses, it keeps us shopping and yet perky the next morning. To think it’s all brought to us by that same very exclusive group who own the media. (In the case of the United States, that same one percent of the American population with more financial control than ninety percent of the rest.) In the terms of Robert C. Tucker’s statement in 1992, “We have to recognize that cults are successful with techniques now being borrowed by other successful organizations: corporations and others in the power structure interested in how to get people into working for free, and totally motivated.” If it can be used as an alternative to drugs why can’t it be used to reduce stress and cure much of what ails us. Would that be too much of a community ideal with too little corporate coddling?

On many levels we become what we witness. With people spending their waking hours under the influence of programmed environments, greed may be accomplishing in wetware what seems dubious in software, artificial intelligence – eliminating discern-ability between programming and thinking. For those of us in a perpetual sea of electronic stimuli our biological systems may well be on their way to working like a computer BIOS, once booted up for the day, instructions are loaded that make us function as the programmers intended – a Turing machine where a mind should be.

The next time you feel the urge to reprimand someone wearing the latest in electronic fashion for plagiarism you may want to consider an offer of deprogramming instead; under all that data there just may be a thought.

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