“So Of Course I Didn’t Even Think to Ask!”

(About a 1 minute read)

Jennifer was the first person to befriend me after I moved to Colorado in my late 30s.  One day she showed up at my work, looking for a job in response to an ad I’d placed.  Our rapport was instantaneous, and I quickly hired her.

Unfortunately, she didn’t like her new job and quit within two weeks.  She kept in touch, though, and we became casual friends.  I soon learned that Jennifer harbored a number of eccentricities.  Not the least of which was her enjoyment of sexually teasing me.  However, I was able to quickly realize that she wasn’t seriously coming onto me, because she would tease me in such blatantly funny ways.  So, I would just sit back and enjoy her humor.

But about a year after we’d met, she left the city to live up in a small mountain town with her mother.  We lost contact with each other, and I gradually accepted the fact I probably would not see her again.

However, one winter’s day I walked into a convenience store near my apartment and was astonished to discover her clerking there.  It was her first day on the job.  After enthusiastically reintroducing ourselves, I wrote down the directions to my apartment, and left them with her.

The next day was extremely cold, and the night even colder.  Around eleven o’clock, there was a knock on the door.  I was happy to see it was Jennifer.   We kissed “hello”, and then sat down on the couch together.

Immediately, she turned herself towards me, broke into a wide, brilliant grin, and without a word of warning, plunged her hands down the front of my pants!  Then she quite cheerfully rushed out an explanation as rapidly as she could,  “I’m so sorry Paul!  But my fingers are freezing!  And I figured your crotch would be warm.  And you’re such a humane man I just knew for sure you’d want to help stop my fingers from getting frostbite, so of course I didn’t even think to ask!”

We both broke out laughing.  Jennifer was back.

Experiencing God the American Way

(About a 4 minute read)

From:  Paul Sunstone
Subject:  What’s up?
To:  Christine Andrews
Date: Fri, 30 Jun 2017 10:07:41 -0600

Hey Chris!

How’s it going?  I’ve been thinking of you and wondering what you’ve been up to?  Are you still the insufferably brilliant businessperson that you were here in Colorado, or has California change you?  😀

I’m doing fine.  Actually, I’m pretty happy these days.  I’ve been tutoring a young university student from Australia via the internet.  She’s an enthusiastic learner, which keeps me motivated.    Mom turned 99 this year.  Can you believe it!

It’s been ages, Chris.  Eight or nine years by my count without a word between us.  Why’d we let that happen?   I miss our trips to the hot springs.  I hope all is well with you!  Please drop me a note to let me know how you’re doing when you get a chance.

Paul


From: Christine Andrews
Subject: re: What’s up?
To: Paul Sunstone
Date: Tue, 4 Jul 2017 16:14:22 -0700

Paul! Gold to hear from you!

What have I’ve been up to?  Great things! Paul, I’m excited, really excited!  Here’s the nutshell. First, I’m out of the turnaround industry.  Totally.  I formed a new company awhile back, and we’ve been working our butts night and day on a franchisable “spiritual system”.   Huge potential!  Certain to capture up to 80% of the rapidly growing market for salvation and enlightenment!  Screw capital acquisitions, I’m finished with that crap, money’s in religion. I just closed the alpha tests and I got to say I’m very pleased with the results.

We’re positioning to be very competitive.  Churches, temples, mosques, they’ll be history.  Had their chance for 1000s of years and blew it fighting religious wars.  The first dozen franchises are all opening their doors between November and mid-December, Paul, just in time for the Holidays.

I’m absolutely confident customers will flock to purchase our God experience.  We’re rolling out no less than the most competitively priced, the most reliable, and above all else, the fastest  (no annoying waits!)  God experience on the market!  And totally drug-free.  That’s key to capturing the health segment.

We are going to steamroll the competition.  I actually feel a little sorry for them.  But not too sorry.  Research shows the big complaint, the number one complaint the market has with our competitors services are their long long wait times.  Typically years, decades, even lifetimes between order placement and fulfillment.  And that’s If our competitors deliver at all.  Paul, you would NOT believe how lax their fulfillment controls are.  We are poised to kick ass!

But you know what?  Looked at financially, the REAL secret’s in the spiritual mix. Tests prove there’s no difference in what the market will pay for a 100% God experience and a 70% God experience.  So we’re rolling out the 70% experience at the 100% price point, and pocketing the difference.  Breakeven is a mere six to nine months, and return on investment is conservatively projected to be astronomical!

But enough about me.  So, Paul, what have you been doing? Still painting?  I love your portraits, man!


From: Paul Sunstone
Subject: re: re: What’s up?
To: Christine Andrews
Date: Tue, 8 Jul 2017  04:15:17-0300

It’s so good to hear you’re doing well!   I’m stunned by what you’re up to.  It sounds BIG!  I’ve got a thousand questions, but I know you must be pressed for time, so I won’t ask all of them.  If you get a moment though, please let me know how you got into the God business. How did you come up with the idea for it? I just got to know!

Hope all is well with you!


From: Christine Andrews
Subject: re: re: re: What’s up?
To: Paul Sunstone
Date: Sun, 13 Aug 2017  22:28:18 +0000

Sorry about not getting back to you sooner.  Been working 18 hour days, but no complaints about it. I love the work.  It’s all coming together faster every day.  We’re going make this happen, Paul.  Me and my team.

So here’s my story.  I hope it answers your question.  I was lonely after my move to Cali.  Met a man and we become friends with benefits.  He introduces me to his spiritual group.  They’re the first people I meet out here, so I spend a lot of time with them.  But the more time we spend talking about God, enlightenment, nirvana, salvation, and other things, the more I feel something nagging at me.  Nagging and nagging, only I don’t know what it’s trying to tell me.

One evening Jessica, my new best friend, and I are in a restaurant, just the two of us.  She confesses she’s leaving the group.  I ask why.  She says, and I remember her words, “Look at me! I just turned 32 last month.  I don’t have forever to find God and it’s like it totally will take forever.  I’ve made my decision.  I’m dropping religion and taking up CrossFit.  I want you to come with me.”

Right then, Paul, it came together in a flash.  All of it.  Everything I ever knew or ever heard about religion instantly rearranged itself in my head until I could see clear as day everything! Everything important about religion at once.  The market. The service. The competition.  The challenge.  And most important of all the Opportunity!

Cut to the chase.  I’ve written the plan, raised the capital, put together the very  best team of R&D neuroscientists ever to work in private industry.  For awhile it’s all dead ends. We lose some people.  But I myself never lost faith.  That paid off when the break through came!   Simply the easiest, safest, most reliable means to enlightenment ever devised, Paul.  And most of all, the quickest!

You know Paul, this all really means something to me. It really does.  But I don’t know,  did I ever tell you?  I’ve always had a spiritual side.  Never wore it on my sleeve, so maybe you never noticed it. Most people don’t.  I’ve been told all sorts of things about myself, but never has anyone talked much about my spirituality.  I’m not complaining, just saying that’s how it is.

This is going big, Paul.  What I’m doing is going to go big.  First North America, then India, then the world.  The Indian market alone is estimated to be worth a trillion dollars over the next decade.  I feel good about it.  Hell, I feel excellent.  For me, making all this happen is a spiritual experience.  A true spiritual experience. Probably the biggest spiritual experience of my life.  Even bigger than the God experience itself.  Even bigger than that.  Do you get me, Paul, I’m right on the verge of realizing the American Dream!

An Important Message From the Monotheism Relief Fund: Please! We Need Your Help Now!

TRIGGER WARNING: Be advised that some of the words in this post may conjure up disturbing images of the profound misery and suffering that can be caused by Abject Theistic Impoverishment, or ATI.

Dear Soul,

Over seven billion people are alive on our wonderful planet today, and for most of us, religion is a rich source of wisdom, security, and comfort. But did you know that is not true for everyone?

Sadly, there are people on this earth who at this very moment live in horribly abject theistic poverty. Decent people. Good people. Perhaps even neighbors of yours. People who mostly through no fault of their own were born into religions that have but a single god! Yes, just one — and only one — god!

Hard as it might be for those of us who are better off to imagine, literally billions of unfortunate people at this very moment are forced to survive their day to day existence living as monotheists! Each night, these poor souls go to bed with only one god to pray to.

Yes, as unimaginable for most of us as it is, billions of theists today exist merely one step away from no gods at all, and the dire heartbreak of atheism! Atheism!  Humanity’s oldest philosophical scourge!  No one deserves to be but one step away from it.  No one!

Can you help?

Here at the Monotheism Relief Fund, we are passionately dedicated to providing blankets, warm clothing, shelter, food, and vital copies of polytheistic literature to the world’s abjectly impoverished monotheists. But we cannot do it all by ourselves. We need your help.

Please donate generously to the Monotheism Relief Fund by calling, 1-800-ANOTHER-SUNSTONE-SCAM now! Have you credit or debit card handy!

Act now and with every donation of $25 USD or more, we might or might not send you a precious four volume copy of Joseph Campbell’s The Masks of God — which is veritably an encyclopedia of deities through the ages!

You CAN make a difference! Act now!

Could Star Trek’s Mr. Spock Really Exist?

(About a 5 minute read)

Like most sensible people, I am firmly convinced that around 2,400 years ago in Athens, Greece, Plato invented Mr. Spock.

Of course, I do not believe that Plato invented all the details of Mr. Spock right down to his curiously arched eyebrows and pointy ears.  So far as I know, those details were worked out by Gene Roddenberry, Leonard Nimoy, and their band.  But the essential notion that a hyper-rational person would have few or no emotions — that was Plato.

In Plato’s view, emotions and thought were clearly distinct, and the only connection between the two was that emotions could mess with thought.  That is, while emotions could cause us to reason poorly, they had little or no positive impact on reasoning.  Apparently, Plato was the first to come up with those ideas — ideas which went on to become commonplace assumptions of Western thought.  And Roddenberry, etc seized on those assumptions to create Mr. Spock.

Of course, there are some rather obvious ways in which Plato was right.  Most likely everyone has had some experience with their emotions overwhelming their capacity for reason.  Every child is cautioned not to act in anger or other strong emotional state, least they do something irrational.  And many of us — perhaps even most of us — know that we tend to be more gullible when listening to someone present their views with a great deal of passion than when listening to someone present their views coldly.  “I don’t think Snerkleson is quite right in his views, but he’s so passionate about them that he must honestly see some merit to them.  Maybe there’s at least some truth to what he says about dog turds replacing petroleum as the fuel of the future.”  There are clearly ways emotions can interfere with thought, as Plato knew.

As it happens, though, the notion that emotions only have a negative impact on thought is not borne out by the evidence.

In the early 1990s, a man — who has come to be known as “Elliot” — was referred to Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist, by his doctors.  Elliot had applied for disability assistance despite the fact that, “[f]or all the world to see, Elliot was an intelligent, skilled, and able-bodied man who ought to come to this senses and return to work”.  His doctors wanted Damasio to find out if Elliot had a “real disease”.

Damasio found that Elliot tested well when given an IQ test and other measures of intelligence.  His long-term memory, short-term memory, language skills, perception, and handiness with math were unquestionably sound. He was not stupid. He was not ignorant.  Yet, when Damasio started digging into Elliot’s past job performance, he found that Elliot had often behaved as if he was indeed stupid and ignorant.

For instance, Elliot had at least once spent half a day trying to figure out how to categorize his documents.  Should he categorize them by size, date, subject, or some other rule?  Elliot couldn’t decide.  Moreover, he had been fired for leaving work incomplete or in need of correction.   And when Damasio studied what had happened to Elliot after his job loss, he found the same pattern of poor decision-making and incompetence.  Elliot had gotten divorced, then entered into a second marriage that quickly ended in another divorce.  He had then made some highly questionable investments that brought about his bankruptcy.  He couldn’t make plans for a few hours in advance, let alone months or years. Unable to live on his own, he was staying with a sibling. His life was in ruin.

When Damasio looked at Elliot’s medical history, he found that the turning point for Elliot had come about when he developed a brain tumor.   Before the tumor, Elliot had been highly successful in his business field.  He was even a role model for the junior executives.  And he had had a strong, thriving marriage.  Although the brain tumor had been successfully removed,  Elliot had suffered damage to some of the frontal lobe tissues of his brain having to do with the processing of emotions.

Damasio began testing Elliot for his emotional responses to things.  In test after test, Elliot showed little or no emotional response to anything.  He was, Damasio concluded, cognitively unaware of his own emotions.  Then Damasio had a revelation.  “I began to think that the cold-bloodedness of Elliot’s reasoning prevented him from assigning different values to different options,” Damasio wrote.

Damasio went on from Elliot to look at other case studies of people who had suffered brain injuries preventing them from being cognitively aware of their emotional states.  He found the same pattern over and over:  When emotions were impaired, so was decision-making.

The findings of Damasio and other scientists have largely revolutionized how scientists view the relationship between emotion and thought.  It now seems that emotions are, among other things, the means by which we sort out information: The relevant from the irrelevant, the high-priority from the low-priority, the valuable from the worthless.

And Mr. Spock?  Well, a real life Mr. Spock might spend hours trying to figure out whether to set his phaser to stun or kill.  Without emotions, decision-making becomes extraordinarily problematic.

Late Night Thoughts: Ice Cream, Reasoning, Robots, Wisdom, and More

(About a 6 minute read) 

The other day I woke up feeling pretty much under the weather.  I stumbled onto my blog bleary-eyed and somehow deleted a whole post while trying to fix a mistake in grammar.  After that, I spilled half a pound of coffee beans on the floor while getting almost not a one of them into my grinder.  Not yet recognizing that it wasn’t my day, I wrote 500 words for a blog post before realizing I wasn’t making any sense even by my lax standards.  This time the delete was intentional.  A sane man would have gone back to bed at that point.  Naturally, I didn’t.

Instead, I somehow got it into my head to catch up on what’s going on in politics.  I was still catatonic when the paramedics found me two days later After reading three or four articles the thought occurred to me that any sensible and informed person these days must feel a whole lot like I felt that morning: Our hopes and intentions are so far out of line with the bizarre reality of the times.  It almost seems as if the feeling, “This isn’t my day”, has become expanded to include most of the world.

◊◊◊

It is sometimes said that a difference between liberals and conservatives is that liberals are more concerned with humanity than they are with individuals, while conservatives are more concerned with individuals than they are with humanity.  As Dostoevsky put it in The Brothers Karamazov,  “The more I love humanity in general the less I love man in particular”.

It seems to me that — regardless of whether one is a liberal or a conservative — those two extremes are both inadequate in and of themselves.  The liberal position leads to treating the people one knows like dogs, the conservative position leads to treating the people one doesn’t know like dogs.

Now, the older I get the more I expect to find such “twists” in life.  That is, I have come to largely agree with Immanuel Kant:  “Out of the crooked timber of humanity no straight thing was ever made.”

What could our human nature not accomplish if our human nature did not stand in our way?

◊◊◊

I recently came across an article stating that eating ice cream for breakfast improves brain performance.  I immediately began dancing around my cottage for half an hour in gratitude to whatever deity or deities had arranged the world such than eating ice cream could be thought of as a duty.

Even since, I have been eating ice cream for breakfast, but alas!  With no discernible results.

Still, this is not something to be lightly dismissed.  One has a duty, you know.  I must redouble my efforts.  Obviously, the problem is I have not been eating enough ice cream to see any results yet.  Obviously.

◊◊◊

I think it was W. Edwards Deming who used to begin his graduate seminars with an experiment.  He would place a large glass jar full of marbles in front of the class, which typically numbered about thirty students.  Then he would ask the students to guess how many marbles were in the jar.

Their individual answers were typically wildly off the mark — either way too high, or way too low.  And yet — consistently in class after class — when their answers were averaged, the result was within 5% of the actual number of marbles.   As a group, the students were always more accurate than most of them were as individuals.

◊◊◊

It seems to me quite possible that how people reason might be almost as subject to fashion as how people dress.

The rules for what constitutes good reasoning might not change much, but certainly what constitutes “acceptable” reasoning can change quite a bit.   By “acceptable” I mean what a majority — or at least a large minority — of us think is good reasoning.

I suspect many of us don’t learn how to reason from a competent instructor so much as from media figures such as talk show hosts and their often questionable guests.  Even advertisements teach a form of reasoning.  It might not often be a sound form of reasoning, but it’s a form nonetheless.  It would make an interesting study to see if the popularity of certain kinds of arguments changed from one decade to the next.

◊◊◊

It seems possible that robots will at some point become sophisticated enough that someone will start making “lovebots”.  That is, artificial lovers.   At which point one wonders when sex education classes will become as hands-on as instruction in tennis or driving?

I have no idea whether such a thing will become commonplace in public education, but I can certainly foresee special academies for it — private schools that use robots to teach love making.

Then again, I think it’s only a matter of time before genetics advances to the point that we have pets with glow in the dark fur.  I am, quite obviously, bonkers.

◊◊◊

Is chocolate also good brain food?  Might be.   Better eat some just to be on the safe side.  Is duty.

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According to Barry Lopez, the Inuit word for “wise person” literally translates as, “one who makes wisdom visible [through their behavior]”.   If we in the West had a corresponding translation for “wise person” it would doubtlessly be something along the lines of, “one who speaks wisely”, for we typically assume that someone who says wise things is actually wise.

◊◊◊

Often enough, great intelligence, or great wisdom, is shown less by what someone says or does than by what they do not say or do.

◊◊◊

An inability to laugh at oneself can be as creepy as showing up in a clown costume at a funeral.

◊◊◊

We so often blame our emotions for the bad behavior of our psychological self.  We say, for instance, that our anger at Smith got out of hand.  But before there was our anger, there was our ego’s perception that Smith slighted us.   Without that perception, we would not have been angry at Smith in the first place.

Speaking Ill of the Dead

(About a 3 minute read) 

The death this morning of Roger Ailes prompted someone to ask why it is customary in the West to not speak ill of the dead, and whether there was still any merit to the custom.

Ailes, the co-founder of Fox News who for decades was a leading force in conservative politics in America, died this morning at the age of 77.  You can find The New York Times report here.  He was, to put it mildly, a controversial figure, one who is certain to be spoken ill of in many quarters today, custom notwithstanding.  And, of course, many people will scold those who do speak ill of him on the grounds that it is neither customary nor seemly to do so.   But is the custom justified?

Like so many Western cultural traits, the custom of not speaking ill of the dead seems to go back to the ancient Greeks.  Around 600 B.C., Chilon of Sparta — one of the “Seven Sages” of ancient Greece — is reputed to have said, “Don’t badmouth the dead”.  Around 2000 years later, during the Italian Renaissance, his words were popularized by a humanist monk as,  “Of the dead, nothing unless good”.  And thus the notion comes down to us today.

I have heard it said that we should not speak ill of the dead in order to honor them, or at least to honor the good they did in life.  But I don’t buy into those notions.   I think there are people who were so vile that honoring them is borderline immoral.  And to honor the good they did amounts to a species of dishonesty in light of the evil they did.

If there is today still some reason not to speak ill of the dead, that reason might have more to do with us than with them.   Death is one of the most poignant and powerful reminders that, in the end, we are all human.  It seems to me that a brief period of grace — perhaps only the time between one’s death and one’s burial — during which we do not speak ill of the deceased would drive home the lesson of our common humanity.

We live in an age in which nearly everyone is at risk of having their humanity denied by other people at sometime or another.  All you need do to see the truth of that is go on anyone of tens of thousands of websites and announce a political opinion that’s unpopular on that site.  Sooner or later thereafter someone — perhaps many people — will vilify you, demonize you, dehumanize you.  And that is a dangerous situation:  At a minimum, it is not conducive to liberal democracy, which rests on compromise; and at worse, wars and genocides are made of such things.  A society — or world — can only hold together when it is widely recognized that our commonalities outweigh our differences.

The remembrance that we all have in common the same ultimate fate would help, I think, to put things in perspective for many of us.   Moreover, a few days in which we do not speak ill of the dead might go far in reminding of us of that.

Having said all that, I think remarkably controversial figures, such as Ailes, present a special problem.  Their deaths almost invariably become political occasions.  There is a rush by politicians, pundits, and others to make use of their passing in order to further agendas.  It might be noble to refrain from criticizing the dead under such circumstances, but certainly, it is not always practical to refrain.

In general, though, I think the practice of not speaking ill of the dead is a good one.  But what do you think?  Your comments, views, thoughts, and feelings are welcome.