Do what you want to do … but …

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My buddies often challenge me on my position on free speech. I am very open to people speaking their mind, and they come up with examples where I too find what that particular speech would entail to be offensive. But just being offensive to me I don’t feel is a reason they shouldn’t be permitted to speak their mind and to let others hear it. However, if someone is going to give a rant, and they know that they will be offensive to some portion of the public, then they should give a reasonable warning that would permit those people who don’t want to participate to depart. A physical example would be for a nudist beach to have a sign at 300 hundred meters out such as NUDIST BEACH 300 YARDS, and another at 100 meters and another at the beginning. ENTERING NUDIST BEACH AREA. That gives people a fair warning, so they can avoid being offended, but it also gives nudists the freedom to behave as they wish.

Do what you want to do, but give others fair warning if it might be offensive.

A similar problem arises with the use of experimental drugs, because the drug companies need to follow elaborate procedures to assure that their new drugs are safe, effective, and have no unexpected long-term side effects. This should be balanced with people who are diagnosed by a panel of doctors who agree that you have only a short time to live. For example if one has a disease with no effective cure, such as pancreatic cancer, then the patient should have the right to proceed with any experimental procedure they choose. In Oregon people with a deadly situation have the right to die in a dignified and peaceful way at a time of their own choosing. But, if they have the right to die voluntarily, it seems only reasonable that they should be given absolute rights to do anything possible to prolong their lives. The only limitation is that it must not hurt other people, and that they leave careful records of what they have done, so others may benefit from their experiment. Such things as the drugs they have taken, what the dosages and timing were, and how their body reacted. That way even their death could be a guide to what others might try, and even their failure to survive would be a success, because now we know that procedure didn’t work in that case.

Do what you want to do, but give others the opportunity live healthier lives.

In the shadows of unknowns

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There are a series of Probaway posts on unknowns and unknown unknowns, with the effort being to isolate the factors that might be helpful in discovering knowable things within the presently unknown areas. This is a meta science, an overview of a search strategy. The idea of shadowing volumes as a way of revealing unknown things within their umbras may be useful. It consists of blocking the brilliance of sources so the more delicate things may be viewed, and then blocking second and third sources covering a given area with their brilliance, and that are creating obscurity because of their brilliant noise. Some unobserved things may simply be too small to reflect much illumination or cast a shadow, or not big enough to cast a shadow or too transparent to be seen or cast a shadow. These unobserved objects might be tiny or very big, but too diffuse in the ordinary glare of various typical illuminators to be seen. All the same they may exist, and may have interesting or perhaps useful properties. Perhaps the usefulness of this technique would be in discovering places where there isn’t anything, in case the absence of something is valuable. This is a kind of Karl Popper-like search for the negative of tested observations, in that it is using falsifiability as the starting point, as opposed to using it as an ending point proof of the not quite rightness of a theory.

What do you want?

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What do you want? versus What do you need? Those questions come up occasionally, and my first response inclines toward covering my basic needs and then upgrading. That has been my relationship with physical things, including money, and it has served me well for nearly eighty years. Sometimes the frugality that attitude entails scoots over into being cheap, but rarely into stingy, and never into theft of other people’s stuff. That attitude means I am never in debt, and never compelled by the system to comply to situations I can’t walk away from with a pleasant smile, and a no thank you.

Today the idea “What do you want?” came up and was eloquently developed from the point of view of someone counseling a person in emotional distress. It appears that people often confuse the idea of what they need with what they want, and perhaps I am one of those who have put too much of my thoughts and efforts into making certain that my needs were covered and secured. I never worry much about what I want because my needs are covered, and thus my wants are modest and easily satisfied. But are they being satisfied?

The counselor was mentioning the painful problems that sufferers of anger, anxiety, poverty, meaninglessness and rejection were subject to, and I was thinking, am I hallucinating? I haven’t felt any of those emotions in a long time. Oh sure, I do have to wait my turn to speak sometimes, but it doesn’t feel like rejection, just a wait. Some people might consider driving a nineteen-year-old car to be poverty, but it runs perfectly and is comfortable, so I’m happy. Others complain of the meaninglessness of life, but I enjoy almost every moment, and when the blahs do appear, I find something meaningful to do within a minute. The only anger I ever experience is from other people expressing that my driving only five miles per hour over the speed limit is impeding them, and they glare at me.

Life becomes easy when we expect things to proceed as they are probably going to do. That became even more apparent after my ongoing conversations with the garden gnome Samumpsickle . He is reputed to be able to grant any wish I could request, and yet after several not particularly pleasant encounters with him, I came to my wish: “to let the world progress as it was going to do without my suggestions or his help.”

A Dictionary of New Epigrams – Success

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A Dictionary of New Epigrams

Success

To be successful in your goals means accomplishing some major portion of your goals’ tasks.

Just thinking about goals and never doing anything toward accomplishing them will bring on a slowly growing depression.

To leave the world a better place than we found it is a worthy goal, but it does require some thought as to what a better world would be.

In a Darwinian sense you have succeeded when your offspring have offspring.

Many of life’s tasks are worth doing even if you do a lousy job of it.

Many things are not worth doing, even if you do them exquisitely well.

Is it success to own many tons of gold in a hole in the ground?

If everything you do is perfectly successful, it is time to try a few things that are more difficult.

Success creates enthusiasm in ordinary people, but failure doesn’t dampen enthusiasm in great ones.

The secret of success is choosing goals you can reach, preparing the path for reaching them, and then going forward with enthusiasm.

Great successes are founded on the acceptance of many failures.

Most people will run away from risk, so to chase people away from some silly thing they might want, just expose the risks to them of trying to get it.

Success is founded on a conception of the future condition, followed by thoughts of the things necessary that need to be done, and then doing them.

All success is the result of completed actions.

A certain way to failure is to avoid success when it’s available.

A certain route to success is to create a need that only you can fulfill.

You can cultivate a successful personality by making promises to yourself and then keeping them.

Success helps wise people to be kind, and foolish people to be cruel.

The easiest road to personal success is found in being kind to others.

My sad change of opinion

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The question arose earlier today, “What belief have you changed, because you got more information?” Things like your attitude toward gays, lesbians, transgender, or vaccinating your kids, or changing religion, or an opinion about global warming, or what hit me most, the belief that our government was trying to help the majority of the people live better lives.

I think I went through college and my years in the military believing the American government, and the state governments, and the more local governing bodies were basically honest and trying to make our country a wonderful place for everyone. Of course there were some greedy people who were trying to use the system to scrape off as much money and other privileges for themselves as they could, but I believed they were rare, and that the other members of those governing bodies kept them in check. It doesn’t seem that way nowadays, and it becomes more apparent that I was living in a fantasy world to ever believe that it was ever thus.

I believed that our American government was as Lincoln said in his concluding line of the Gettysburg Address, “A government of the people, by the people, and for the people, that shall not perish from the Earth,” but it has become apparent in recent years that the definition of who the people actually are has changed. Or perhaps it hasn’t changed, and it was always the rich, white men who were the people. I grew up thinking the “people” were the voters who represented the majority, and who placed the politicians in office. That no longer seems accurate, because it has become obvious that money buys votes in a variety of ways. Money buys advertising, money buys influence with politicians, and money buys the rights to write the legislation that gets rubber stamped into law. And, now that corporations are people they can put any amount of money into the political process, and now that there are super-funds with unknown money sources there are no longer any controls on who or what is buying the legislation. The common person’s votes are controlled by invisible secret money.

It appears the super-rich people, whoever they really are, are creating a clear-cut underclass, and it has become strikingly obvious the middle class has become slaves because of the way the new college loans are being manipulated. Fifty years ago the government was essentially paying any promising youth to go to college, because their new talents would be helpful to society. The tuition was low, and it was possible to work one’s way through college while in school and graduate debt-free. It took a chunk out of one’s time and energy for study, but it was easily done. I know for sure that it was possible because I did it. But now it appears that working one’s way through college is impossible, and the government is now forcing a middle-class kid to graduate with a huge student-loan debt, and it’s a debt they will have great difficulty in ever paying off. The loans are intentionally expensive, and the one making money off of the students is the government itself. What they have intentionally created is a slave state of indentured servants.

The update on Lincoln’s famous words would be –

A government of the entrenched  rich, by the entrenched  rich, and for the entrenched rich that shall never ever perish from the earth.

The Unpersuadables by Will Storr – review

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Why do we believe what we do? We all appear to be driven by our inherited predisposition to confabulate reality to conform to our need to be the self-conscious hero at the center of the whole universe. Because we all follow this same routine we each become “unpersuadables” when subjected to new information that doesn’t conform to our preexisting reality, and we have remarkable abilities to twist things to fit what we already know to be true. Even scientists are subject to these processes, but their methods of checking each other’s published works allows the scientists as a profession to challenge assumptions and perform tests of physical reality that affirm or deny each other’s ideas. It is a self-correcting process that has created modern high-tech society. However, individual scientists are as prone to confirmation bias as are other people.

In The Unpersuadables: Adventures with the Enemies of Science, author Will Storr literally goes to the ends of the Earth to find remarkable people who have astonishing stories to tell about the hows and whys of their unique world views. We visit with creationists in Australia, climate change deniers, UFO abductees, an Australian aborigine painter, performers of past life regressions, Morgellons itchy-skin sufferers, Swami Ramdev, schizophrenics, a Hitler holocaust denier, a researcher of the extrasensory perception of dogs, and the magician/skeptic James Randi. Mixed with these visits are chapters about hard science and the analysis of how beliefs form. Below are some quotes to give you a flavor of these chapters.

Once your mind has made its mind up, “From then on, its treatment of any new information that runs counter to those views can sometimes be brutal. Your brain is surprisingly reluctant to change its mind. Rather than going through the difficulties involved in rearranging itself to reflect the truth, it often prefers to fool you. So it distorts. It forgets. It projects. It lies.” (p. 76) “It makes us happy. It has even been demonstrated that depressed people, with their dysfunctionally gloomy predictions about themselves and the world, are more accurate in their outlook than the mentally ‘healthy’. The world, and your life within it, is far bleaker than you have been led to believe.” (p. 90) “We look for evidence that supports our hunch. The moment we find some, we think ‘Aha!’ and happily conclude that we are, indeed, correct. The thinking then ceases.” (p. 85) “‘All decisions we make are based on whether to approach or withdraw, including our moral decisions.’ Without emotions, we would be incapable of making these decisions.” (p. 184)

We are all unpersuadables – and once you realize that, you can be more comfortable with yourself and kinder to all those other foolish people.

 

Our habits are magnetically attached to confirmation bias.

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Yesterday this post was about the big-life questions, and a short-term variation on what we should be doing now was, “Is our life just being attracted to the most magnetic question of the present moment?” Perhaps that is what life is all about, just doing what feels right at the moment, and what feels right at the moment is dependent on what happens to attract our attention at the moment. Much of the time our attention is attracted to something positive, and other times it is attracted to something painful or potentially painful.

The analogy of the magnet is appropriate because magnets attract at a small distance and when touching it clings tightly. The magnetic idea is a good representation of the more accepted psychological term confirmation bias, which is the idea that we are attracted to and cling to things and ideas that agree with what we already like and believe. If you have had some experience with a smooth flat magnet pressed against a smooth flat iron surface you are aware of how surprisingly strong they can be. To remove such a magnet from its surface can best be done by sliding it across the surface and off the edge. Pulling straight up is impossible, sometimes.

With an idea locked onto one’s habitual processes it may also be impossible to simply try to eliminate a habit directly, that is, to simply say no to a habit and try not to do it. Last month I did a simple experiment where I tried setting my eating utensil down between every bite. Even after weeks of attempting to squelch the normal habit of holding the utensil between bites I would frequently fail. If so seemingly simple a thing can’t be modified, there must be powerful things driving the habit to exhibit itself. The idea here is that a long-term habit is like a magnet clinging directly to an iron surface. I have tried experiments where I try to watch for the stimulus that comes right before the action, and at that moment choose to do the alternate action. That sounds good, but it does require being conscious of the expected stimulus, and then conscious of the intended new action, and then doing this new action to that stimulus many times before it becomes automatic.

Is it possible that there might be a way of sliding the habit off to the side, instead of trying to remove it by pulling directly? What would sliding to the side consist of when trying to change a habit? One possibility is to only do certain things when in the presence of certain people, like when I am with old people I behave differently than when with young adults or children. Or another example could be, when eating using utensils as in the experiment above, only eat when the utensils are placed on the opposite side of the plate from their usual position, and then using the opposite hands for the usual operations. That would remind you to do the new action, in this case putting the utensil down between each bite. This experiment isn’t intended to create a good habit, but only to illustrate how difficult it is to change or extinguish a habit. I can write about these things and they will mean nothing, but do the experiment for a month and you will probably discover things about yourself.

We are driven by our habits of proving we are right in what we are doing.

What is the question we should be asking about our life?

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This evening our Socrates Cafe group chose to discuss, “What is the question we should be asking about our life?” It was such a general question that it took a while before it began coming into focus for each of us, but after two hours we all departed having clarified what our individual life trajectory was all about. Or not.

We hit solidly on the concepts “Is the unexamined life worth living?”, and “Is there any meaning of our physical existence within the vastness of the Universe, both in time and space?”, “Where did we come from, and where do we go after we die?”, “Is what we do as important as who we are?”, “Does what we do define who we are?”, “Is our ultimate concern our objective reality, or our subjective relationship with it?”, “Isn’t the ultimate question simply, Why?”, “Isn’t it okay if we don’t get an answer, but participate in the journey through the questions?”, “Is our proper career making money or our avocation of discovering our true self?”, “Is our life just the filling in of our personal confirmation biases?”, “Should we shy away from truth, because we can’t handle the truth?”, “Is our life dominated by terror management of our coming death?”, “Are we seeking to replace why with reason, what with purpose and how with being kind to others?”, “Is our life just being attracted to the most magnetic question of the present moment?”, “Is our action dominated by our subjective self, and inaction forced upon us by our objective reasoning?”, “Does serious philosophy degenerate into meaningless statements of X = X?”, “Is a life well lived one that ends with pleasant thoughts of no regrets?”, “Do I want to live forever in a computer?”, “Is the best we can hope for to live the Serenity Prayer of simply doing what we can?”, “Is it enough to be one’s authentic self?”, “Should we follow the philosopher Nietzsche and strive for power, or Sartre and admit the meaninglessness of everything, or Kierkegaard and leap into faith, or Heidegger, or Steiner, or … who?”.

“Must we admit our question was unanswerable?”, “Was our question only a distraction from living our lives?”, “Did the question go deeper than rational thought can explore?”, “Does my life ultimately depend on asking the right question?”, “Can’t I simply live for personal pleasure, free of these worries?”, “Can’t we just live as the classic Roman stoics?”

I wasn’t, I am, I won’t be, and I am content with all of those?

Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot (OVER) – review

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Overdevelopment, Overpopulation, Overshoot (OVER) is such a powerful book that I was shedding tears of desperation at the end of it. I am still reeling from last week’s suicide of the most energetically positive person I have ever known. But that was a single human death, and when I read this book I was overwhelmed at the looming tragedy of seven billion humans and innumerably more other living beings. This book has photos that will astonish you, and overwhelm you if you let them, with the vastness of the human overpopulation problem.

I have blogged about the population problem many times, but my posts are more abstract and more grim than this book. This book is about the living and is positive in proffering the feeling that a solution can be found. I doubt that conclusion, because of the non-inclusion, or at least the soft-pedaling, of environmental degradation and major wars in their population projections. The official population projections that are published here and elsewhere are based on business-as-usual projections, the rationalization being that it is a projection of hard data of human population growth rather than speculation about the carrying capacity of the Earth. I would contend that the loss of natural resources like soil, coal, oil, air, water is predictable hard data and predictable continuing loss of them should be calculated into the population projections. But the inclusion of these factors creates an ugly picture of a major population collapse at some point within the life expectancy of newborn children. Realistic population projections are off the table for consideration in political discussion because it would lead to obviously untenable conclusions of what must be done. People are driven by confirmation-biased motives of a hopeful future and avoid facing ugly problems, like famine, until they are actually involved in their consequences.

In the book we see many beautifully done photographs of human over-success. The photo of a Beijing, China’s three-layer deep freeway interchange with  ten lanes on top of each layer, and all of them packed with cars, it’s shocking. The photos of vast cities of compacted people are eerie, because sometimes they are stacked vertically, and sometimes they are squashed horizontally, and sometimes they are squeezed on a flat island in the ocean, and sometimes hanging off a mountain hillside.

The over-success of humans is ultimately created by the super-success of the production of food, for without food to feed these seven billions of people they wouldn’t exist. That problem isn’t really developed in this book; instead they stress lowering the total population thru the emancipation of women, educating them and convincing them it would be better for humanity for them not to have children. Preaching to these people seems preposterous to me, because these women compressed into horrible living conditions have a constant reminder of over-population pressure. Also, the population reduction pundits have been saying these things for two hundred years, ever since Malthus, and it hasn’t worked yet. We have had a nonstop population explosion ever since he published. Wars and disease are temporary population reduction events and –

The only thing that consistently reduces population is lack of food, and starving is a terrible way to die.

A pleasantly tranquil walk in downtown Bend, Oregon

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As I left Dudley’s bookstore after my Tuesday morning meeting I was feeling what most people would call happy. That was a bit of a surprise because as I approached this meeting two hours earlier, I was worried. The previous Tuesday had been an emotionally wrenching experience, because one of our most beloved members had committed suicide two days before we met. We were all still in an emotional and intellectual ping-pong world of coping with our new realities. What would happen today? Would we go deeper into grief, or would we each have begun to recover our composure and find a new meaningful relationship with ourselves and our external reality?

As I looked around our group I noticed that three people were missing, and immediately wondered if they didn’t feel comfortable being with us; however, within a few minutes those present were all conversing normally, and two hours later as we were all leaving I realized that no one had gotten choked up a single time. The week before everyone had manifested some form of strong emotion, but this week, although many powerful events were discussed, not one person lost their composure. We were all discussing our various life stories, and our coping strategies, and what seemed to be working best for our personal needs. I mentioned that I had just slept soundly for the first time in a week, and the others seemed to agree. As we departed I noticed everyone’s primary emotion seemed to be very positive, even if our time together had had some dour moments. While walking to my car I noticed the emotional expressions on the passers-by, and I felt far far happier than any of them, but probably just average for those with whom I had just spent the previous two hours.

Many years ago I had driven some thirty miles along the rolling wheat fields of Washington state to attend a dance where there would be lots of girls. There were only three girls there and some thirty guys. Hm. When I left the band was playing, “Live fast, love hard, die young, and leave a beautiful memory“. I was singing that song driving home alone, a little faster than normal, when the thought occurred to me of what would happen if I went off the road and got killed. Would I be remembered, as in that romantic song, echoing down through the ages as a beautiful memory? Or, more likely, remembered by my buddies saying something like this; “Did you hear that Chuck got killed in a wreck last night?” “No? …uh… What’s for dinner?” And, that would be the end of me and my beautiful memory. Well, that was sixty years ago, and I have enjoyed almost every minute of those ensuing years. Okay, given the chance I would cut out maybe five individual minutes, like the time I hit my head on the bottom of a swimming pool. But, having survived that, I would leave it in. It was an important learning experience. But suicide is such a stupid thing, especially for someone who is making many other people’s lives happier.

Did you hear the joke about the Jonestown mass suicides? They had a fine choice of Koolaid-flavored drinks, Orange, Lime, Banana and the favorite, Tropical Punch.

If you can look forward to helping someone live a better life you are needed and wanted.

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