Becky, Belief, Delusion, Education, Eric, Friends, Knowledge, Life, Logic, Makyo, Observation, People, Physics, Reason, Science, Scientific Method(s), Skeptical Thinking, Spirituality, Subjective Verification, Thinking, Truth, Wisdom

Becky’s Belief in Spiritual Energy

(About a 5 minute read)

Eric is an online friend who took his doctorate in physics.

I don’t know if he took his doctorate anywhere other than that, but I think he really should take it to a movie or fine restaurant every now and then.  I mean, presumably Eric has mounted his degree by now — he might as well show his degree that it means more to him than a mere quickie.

I’ve told Eric as much, of course, but his phone must be one of those older models that barely functions because the line has always gone dead on me when I’ve encouraged him to be more considerate of his physics degree’s pheelings.

Continue reading “Becky’s Belief in Spiritual Energy”

Art, Biology, Cultural Traits, Culture, Eric, Internet, Life, Miscellaneous, Physics, Poetry, Quality of Life, Science, Values

Late Night Thoughts: Humanity, Tragedy, Poetry, and the Origins of Life (July 28, 2018)

(About a 3 minute read)

Was it in high school when I began to see humanity as both tragic and comic?

Yes, I think it was first in mid-adolescence that I noticed humans could be both tragic and comic at the same time.  Do others first notice it around that time too?

Ever since then, it seems the sense of it has been strongest when I have been least judgemental — I don’t know why.

Now a man or woman who believes themselves safe and secure from having an injustice done to them simply because they are without any fault or flaw that might justify an injustice being done to them — their nativity is hilarious to me.  It can also make me fear for them.  But is that an example of a tragicomic situation?

I think it is.


I once posted on a popular forum both what “tragedy” meant to the ancients, and why Americans typically do not grasp or understand the concept of tragedy in the way the ancients did.  Not only did my audience — very large American — fail to understand what I was talking about, but I myself failed to realize that, of course, they were quite likely to fail.  I mean, I thought the concept — once explained — was something anyone could “get”.

You who for a moment doubt the power of a culture to blind people to some aspects of reality is just as effective as its power to reveal other aspects, should try explaining tragedy to an American audience in a manner in which they can at least see it as possibly real.


You could not easily have found a poetry blog a bit over ten years ago, when I began blogging.  Of course, nowadays you cannot avoid them, should you even want to.


Two laws of poetry?

Most people began composing poetry before they begin reading other people’s poetry.

As a rule of thumb, the younger you are, the more profundity you will find in sad and grotesque things.


At the end of a long life, are you more likely to find profoundity in a sunrise or a skull? Perhaps in both?

I would suggest that an answer to the question of whether you will find the positive or the negative more profound depends in part on how much “finding profoundity” relies on us (rather than on its actual existence), and on our willingness to assert our values against an indifferent nature.

To find more profoundity in either a sunrise or a skull would suggest to me that one is looking to find more in one or the other.  But as for me, I’d want either to find both equally profound, or failing that, to enjoy a good sunrise.


It seems so easy for most of us to confuse a truly nice person with a person who is not truly nice, but is merely too scared to be unpleasant.

Is that somehow evidence that many of us do not know any genuinely nice people?


Now and then someone will argue that life cannot have arisen by from non-life, usually on the false grounds that to do so would mean life had arisen from chance alone.

In fact, if it did indeed arise from non-life, then it was by — not only random chance — but according to the laws of chemistry, and ultimately physics, that it arose.  My friend, Eric, studied just that sort of thing for his doctorate in the physics of biology.

What Eric and his colleagues found was that non-living molecules have several ways in which they organize themselves in primitive configurations that could nevertheless be precursors to the ways living things organize molecules.

Life arising from non-life seems to be suggested by such findings.


Which is more important to you — the fact you are alive, or the fact you will someday die?

Which is more important to you — to love or to be loved?

I want to conduct a poll to see if there’s any correlation between how people answer one of those questions and how they answer the other.  For instance, do people who think life is more important than death also think loving is more important than being loved?

Authenticity, Education, Eric, Ethics, Fantasy Based Community, Free Spirit, Intellectual Honesty, Internet, Learning, Morals, People, Reality Based Community, Teaching, Values

What the Hell is Wrong with Eric?

Every now and then, I try to learn patience from Eric.  I’ve known Eric since he was an underclassman in high school habitually sneaking out of his parent’s house at night to visit a friend.  Eventually, the friend became his wife.  The two of them combined have enough brain power to light a small city, but what really marks the couple in my opinion is something that marks a lot of less intelligent couples — they are fundamentally decent people.  Kind, compassionate, open-minded, and honest people.

If there is any significant difference between Eric and his wife, it might be that Eric is significantly more patient than her.  I wouldn’t bet my last dollar on that, but Eric is significantly more patient than most people.  So, it seems possible he might even be more patient than his wife.

As it happens, Eric needs every ounce of patience he can get, because he has a trying hobby.  Eric likes to go online to engage Creationists, Climate Change Deniers, and many other often willfully ignorant people in rational, evidence-based debate.  And he’s amazing to watch.

The “Deniers” — for they are all deniers, in a way — inject whole oceans of nonsense into the threads.  Stuff like Darwin recanted his Theory of Evolution on his deathbed.  There is no consensus on climate change among climatologists.  Or, public health care systems are more expensive than private ones.   I no longer bother with such folks other than — at times — to demand they cite peer-reviewed sources.  When they refuse (often enough in a huff) to cite peer-review sources, I ask them to drop the subject or move on.  But now and then, I wish I had Eric’s patience.

He is all but unfailing polite — even courteous.  He sticks to well grounded evidence woven together by hard logic, and he does not indulge himself in personal attacks.  He does not condescend, but treats everyone with dignity.  He looks for what little common ground he can find.  When he makes a mistake — as we all do — he readily admits it.  And he does that stuff almost regardless of how inane his opponent’s points or reasoning become.

Don’t take away from this the notion Eric is perfect.  He is not.  He screws up now and then.  He sometimes betrays his own values. But I’m pretty sure he’s more often like I’ve described him than not.

In other words, Eric has so many of the virtues of a gentleman that I am left with no other option but to conclude he’s nuts.  The man is bonkers.  A lunatic.  Almost no one behaves like him anymore, and by 2015, he threatens to be the last true gentleman left on the internet — the last one of us able to hold his own while showing an appalling generosity of spirit.  Like any true gentleman, Eric is no push-over, but in light of today’s hyper-aggressive society, he appears to be…unusual.

Which raises the question, are his values really increasingly rare? Are there more or fewer people who practice those values today than there were, say, a few decades ago?  And were those values ever widely held to begin with?

Last, can you learn such values — can they be taught — or are you born with them?

Authoritarianism, Belief, Biology, Emotions, Eric, Intellectual Honesty, Learning, Physics, Pleasure, Psychology, Reason, Science, Thinking, Values

Why is it Often so Difficult for Us to Change Our Minds?

One of my pet peeves with certain values and notions is they encourage us to do (or in some cases, not do) the sort of things we need little encouragement for and which are rather “base” — to use a vague term from another day and age.

The other day, for instance, a preacher in Arkansas put up a sign declaring “reason is the greatest enemy that faith has”.  Yet it hardly seems necessary in many circumstances to encourage people not to reason.  Usually, the more difficult thing for our species is to reason and reason well.

Again, a friend once asked me what I did that day, and when I told him I had sat quietly in a park observing the day, he replied that sort of “unproductive activity” was “laziness”.  It was for kids, but not grown-ups.  Yet, most of us don’t — or at least, I don’t — need much encouragement to ignore what’s going on around us.  The more difficult thing is to be aware of all that’s happening and the attempt to practice that can be arduous.

Then, too, I’ve heard several times in my life that jealousy is a sign of true love.  But so far as I know, jealousy destroys love and either replaces it with emotional dependency or is itself a symptom of emotional dependency.  Whatever the case, jealousy comes easily and naturally to our species and does not require much encouragement.  The much more difficult thing is to deal with jealousy in such a way that it does not suppress or destroy the love we have for someone.

I confess one of my greatest pet peeves, though, is the encouragement we so often receive to be of firm and unchanging mind.  That strikes me as an encouragement to be intellectually lazy, and it is advice unwisely taken by anyone who ever wants to learn something new. But more than that, it’s like approaching someone in the habit of living a sedentary lifestyle and cheering them on to sit on a couch.  In at least many circumstances, our species seems to find it far easier to stick with a long held opinion than to change our minds even in the face of overwhelming evidence that our long held opinion is wrong.

Yesterday evening, Eric — who is a graduate student studying biophysics — wrote:

We all have trouble changing our minds, even when our reasoning is destroyed by others, or [when] we learn new facts that seem to decimate our assumptions. Usually a significant change of opinion or worldview takes time even after we realize we are wrong. But why?

Why, indeed.  Eric’s answer to the question firmly depends on his understanding of the mind as a physical thing — an understanding that he and I ultimately share, although as a biophysicist, I suspect Eric knows much more than I do about how the mind is a physical thing:

I think this is yet another fact about ourselves that indicates our minds really are physical things. Our thoughts really are constrained by the connections among physical neurons. And those connections can’t be broken and re-formed in an instant, any more than you can wipe out your hard drive or patch some software in an instant. It would be unphysical if that happened. [emphasis in original]

Eric, incidentally, goes on to draw a humane lesson from this (something rather typical of him to do):

And of course this means we can’t be too hard on people if they seem stubborn in their beliefs, even when their reasoning/evidence is completely shattered in front of them….they might not be stubborn, it’s just their brains are not physically capable of re-wiring some highly reinforced circuits in an instant.

Thus, if Eric is right, one of the key factors determining how hard it is for us to change our minds is the speed and ability of our neurons to rewire their connections to other neurons.  I suspect there are numerous things that influence the speed and ability of our neurons to rewire themselves.  For instance: nutrition, age, health, sleep, practice, and so forth.  But whatever the case, I think Eric is correct.

Of course, there must be other factors at play in addition to the time it takes to rewire our mind.  To me, one of the more interesting of those factors has been revealed by Robert Burton.  According to Burton, who is a neurologist, it’s possible we can become physically addicted to the feeling of being certain:

Stick brain electrodes in rat pleasure centers (the mesolimbic dopamine system primarily located in the upper brain stem). The rats continuously press the bar, to the exclusion of food and water, until they drop. In humans the same areas are activated with cocaine, amphetamines, alcohol, nicotine and gambling—to mention just a few behaviors to which one can become easily addicted.

It is quite likely that the same reward system provides the positive feedback necessary for us to learn and to continue wanting to learn. The pleasure of a thought is what propels us forward; imagine trying to write a novel or engage in a long-term scientific experiment without getting such rewards. Fortunately, the brain has provided us with a wide variety of subjective feelings of reward ranging from hunches, gut feelings, intuitions, suspicions that we are on the right track to a profound sense of certainty and utter conviction. And yes, these feelings are qualitatively as powerful as those involved in sex and gambling. One need only look at the self-satisfied smugness of a “know it all” to suspect that the feeling of certainty can approach the power of addiction.

In so far as we are addicted to the feeling of certainty, we might be reluctant to do anything — such as change our mind — that would threaten or destroy that feeling of certainty.

I’m reminded here of something the psychologist and researcher Robert Altemeyer notes about people with authoritarian personalities (.pdf). In researching how such people think, Altemeyer discovered they, like everyone else, sometimes doubt their beliefs.  When that happens, folks who score high for authoritarian personality traits tend to seek out people and information that will reasure them they were right all along.

Yet, folks who score low for authoritarian personality traits, when facing the same challenge of doubting their beliefs, tend to investigate alternative views.  That is, they look for something better than the beliefs they doubt, instead of merely trying to reassure themselves.

If Altemeyer is correct, then authoritarians might be seeking that rewarding and possibly addictive feeling of certainty that Burton speaks about.

Besides the factors mentioned by Eric and by Burton, I think there must be others that taken together account for why it is often so difficult for us to change our minds.  So what are those other factors?  At this point, I think I’ll open the floor to your views on that.   And I would also be quite interested if you have any advice you wish to offer on techniques that can help us meet the challenge of changing our minds when doing so is warranted by reason and evidence.