Archive for the ‘science’ Category

During a long and pleasant conversation with Tom yesterday, we covered a bit of the territory involving the latest palaver over the … dumb da dumb doomend of the world, which according to some nut case in Oakland should be rolling around a week from Saturday.

May 21, 2011, is the latest attempt to get a jump on Judgment Day, courtesy of Oakland, Calif.-based Family Radio, a nonprofit evangelical Christian group.

Apparently, this particular flavor of nut has cracked before, but this time is really sure.

Family Radio, whose president, Harold Camping, predicted the End of Days before: Sept. 6, 1994. Camping had been “thrown off a correct calculation because of some verses in Matthew 24,” a company spokesman told ABC News this month.

The Christian radio broadcaster is apparently more confident this time around, spending big bucks on 5,000 billboards, posters, fliers and digital bus displays across the country.

And why not? Spend, spend and spend some more, I say, as what the hell else would one do on the last days?

Really. What?

Say the end really is nigh, there’s a week or a month or a year left before the planet explodes, implodes, offloads … whatever … and we somehow know this to be fact.


What do we do differently?

Okay, we spend time with our loved ones, touch all the bases that need touching, convey all the emotions as best we can. Depending on the time allowed, perhaps we watch the sunset from a pyramid or ride to the top of the Eiffel Tower or swim the English Channel or otherwise check off bucket-list items.

Some might choose to get in all the get-backs they’ve been venomizing over for years. but the idea of taking an enemy out loses impact when we’re all in for it, dunnit? Why do some asshole the favor of an early checkout?

And there’s the point … we ARE all in for it. Sure, probably not at the same time under the same circumstances in the same conflagration or whatever, but the fact o’ the matter is, none of us get out of this alive so we might as well live as if we’ll die someday, somehow, somewhere.

That, of course, is hardly the point of the predictors of pending extinction, however, and maybe … just maybe … they’ve got the better handle on the big picture: End of the World = money in the bank.

Those who buy into the idea might very well run up their credit cards in what they are convinced is a “live for today” frenzy, but there’s hell to pay if they’ve been sold a bill of goods that doesn’t deliver.

For some, though, it delivers well enough …

Edgar Whisenant didn’t get it right the first time, either, when he predicted a mid-September 1988 Rapture, even publishing the books “88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988” and “On Borrowed Time.” No Apocalypse, no problem. The former NASA engineer simply pushed his predictions off to three subsequent years and wrote books along the way, none of which reportedly sold as well as the first two.

Interestingly, there’s no little advice on stuff you should have on hand to … and this I so don’t get … survive the end of the world.

Here’s just one list:

# Canned food something that does not need refrigeration
# Canned meats, spam , chicken, tuna etc you need at least 3 ounces of protein per person per day.
# Water can be stored in the 2 ½ gallon containers with the pour spout which are sturdy and easily stackable. Other sources of emergency water are discussed in the water section.
# Blankets should be available for all
# Water filter Brita or pump type
# Sugar cubes for energy, breakfast bars
# Small grill , propane barbeque or camping grill ( power is likely to be out)
# Cash for purchases if the power is out using small bills because change may not be possible.
# Parachute cord 100ft 550 pound test
# Duct tape one roll to seal around doors and window, tape bags together for emergency shelter or rain gear, and general mending.
# Needles and thread just sturdy thread clothes will need to be mended and occasionly a cut will need to be sewn shut as well
# Survival manual one that has a lot of pictures and information in it several are recommended on this site
# Plastic tarps with grommets at least 2 of 10 ft x 10ft each.
# Plastic coated playing cards
# Battery operated radio preferably crank type rechargeable and two changes of batteries
# Dishwashing soap and clean dish towels 2 or paper towels water can be scarce
# Manual can opener either the ecko hand crank type or the smaller survival type
# Trash bags 30 gallon or larger two for each person with twist ties. They can be used as emergency ponchos, trash bags, emergency toilets ( the plumbing may not work)
# Buy a 3 gallon paint bucket, one cheap toilet seat $5 and use the seat on the bucket and deodorise with aqua chem, an RV tank sanitizer to control the smell. Otherwise twist tie the bag closed it will smell bad in a confined area.
# Some sturdy dishes metal plates work fine and can be found at camping stores. A family sized mess kit will have pots plates and cups inside along with some silverware usually but check it.
# One or more really good flashlights. The new LED lights use a lot less power and last longer than regular bulbs.
# Bug repellent larger size since bugs will come in out of the rain as well
# General medications like aspirin ibuprophen, pepto bismol, mouthwash,
# Deodorant you may be living cramped for quite a while and a couple of washcloths and towels.
# Air matteresses are good but blankets and bedding are a must for sleeping.
# Candles the power is likely to be out a long time and it gets real dark without it.
# Box of wooden matches in plastic with the striker so they do not get wet
# Butane lighter at least one more is better one of the long ones to light the candles and stoves
# Coleman lantern and Coleman stove
# Two gallons of the liquid fuel they are interchangeable and it can be used to start a barbeque pit or wood fire later if the wood is wet.
# Prescription medications at least enough for two weeks lots of times you can get a 30 day supply for travel etc and just rotate it out to keep it fresh.
# Towels and wash cloths with a bar of soap
# Diapers and extra trash bags if you have infant children any lotions or powders you may need and dry or canned formula.
# Several changes of clothing which are comfortable and right for the season
# Tooth paste and brushes
# A portable toilet seat and extra 20 gallon size trash bags with wire ties for your shelter if indoors.
# Handy wipes or baby wipes, water may make cleaning up difficult.
# Sanitary napkins for any women likely.

Well, that could push the edges of the credit envelope, but if the 22 of May dawns there’s always next year … Yikes! 2012! … to fall back on if MasterCard comes a knocking.

Think I might just put together a series of eBooks on fun stuff to do in those last 48 hours of Earth …

Amorous Armageddon: End of the World Sex That’s Out of This World ($9.99)

Ashes, Ashes All Fall Down: Entertaining Kids In the Final Hours ($9.99)

Sudden Death: Fun Games for Judgment Day($9.99)

… and an iPhone app that will send and manage goodbyes, last wishes, apologies and excuses in 4,000 languages. ($1.99)

Better get on this before the world ends, or I do …

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Still pondering that David Eagleman article I wrote about the other day on time, and will eventually get to the bit on drummers I found interesting, but tonight it’s a different angle that has me twisting in the wind when I should be sleeping.

That bit about time going faster when it’s the familiar around us makes sense in ways I’m feeling these days. Maybe it’s the fact I have a birthday in a couple of months. Perhaps it’s the time I spend with Sam and Cj. Who knows? But what it’s boiling down to is a linking of age and time and how that makes it go so bloody fast.

Does it not make sense that time is relative, and not only to the spinning planet and ancient universe, but also to each individual? Sure, in geological terms a human life is an eye blink, as how could any of us even begin to comprehend the eons needed to carve a Grand Canyon or push India up against the Himalayas? We barely have the patience to wait to see how our own little dramas play out, so how the hell can we incorporate the truly slow grind or non-linear time that has the grind happening ahead as well as behind us?

I’m beginning to see life as through a telescope. When we’re young, we put the “wrong” end to our eye so everything seems so far away, beyond the chance of touch and so densely crammed into the picture that details are difficult to make out. As we age, it’s the other lens we gaze into, the one that brings things closer, and as we become progressively more familiar with what we behold, we begin to range wider for new sights to examine.

Time, it seems, telescopes as well. At ten, one year is a tenth of life. By 50, that percentage is so greatly reduced that there’s no wonder one Christmas seems to follow another with barely enough time to put a shopping list together in between.

At twenty we’re rushing toward life, anxious to get started on whatever path our feet might find. At sixty we’re wishing we hadn’t run those gamuts so quickly and have grown too aware of the speed the ground is passing under our feet.

Can’t we all … all of us of a certain age … recall the huge abyss that lay between eleven and twenty-one while wondering where the hell decade between thirty and forty got to? For sure Mick Jagger sings “Time Is On Our Side” with a far different take on the lyrics now, and I won’t even mention how “When I’m Sixty-Four” feels as that decade looms. (That was, after all, “many years from now … “)

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
~William Shakespeare

And tomorrow comes just that much faster the more you’ve had …

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If you’ll give me a minute or two, I’m about to go off on yet another tangent about time, all in my good time, of course.

The fact that my time is very likely different from your time is the grabber here, and not just different now, but variable depending on your circumstances and mine.

WTF is this woman on about now? (Yes, I can hear you … )

It’s this from the New Yorker that gave me pause … and led my paws to the keyboard of my poor, dying Mac … on time spent and discussed with David Eagleman, one of the more interesting people around these days, a thirty-nine-year-old assistant professor of neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

He is a man obsessed by time. As the head of a lab at Baylor, Eagleman has spent the past decade tracing the neural and psychological circuitry of the brain’s biological clocks. He has had the good fortune to arrive in his field at the same time as fMRI scanners, which allow neuroscientists to observe the brain at work, in the act of thinking. But his best results have often come through more inventive means: video games, optical illusions, physical challenges. Eagleman has a talent for testing the untestable, for taking seemingly sophomoric notions and using them to nail down the slippery stuff of consciousness. “There are an infinite number of boring things to do in science,” he told me. “But we live these short life spans. Why not do the thing that’s the coolest thing in the world to do?”

As head of a department that has most showing up wearing watches that haven’t worked for ages, Eagleman has a take on time I’d like to wrap my head around, but the second I feel I’m grasping an idea both the thought and the second are beyond me. The concept, for example, that time is a dimension, or that which asks, ” … how much of what we perceive exists outside of us and how much is a product of our minds?”

According to the guy at Baylor “brain time” … that’s our reality, not microseconds or millennia, since we don’t actually get either of those at any level that’s helpful … is subjective:

“Try this exercise,” he suggests in a recent essay. “Put this book down and go look in a mirror. Now move your eyes back and forth, so that you’re looking at your left eye, then at your right eye, then at your left eye again. When your eyes shift from one position to the other, they take time to move and land on the other location. But here’s the kicker: you never see your eyes move.” There’s no evidence of any gaps in your perception—no darkened stretches like bits of blank film—yet much of what you see has been edited out. Your brain has taken a complicated scene of eyes darting back and forth and recut it as a simple one: your eyes stare straight ahead. Where did the missing moments go?

Rather like the fact that one’s nose is always in the vision path but edited out of perceptions, it is true that we miss an awful lot of what is right in front of us. There are, of course, reasons our brains leave out many salient details, but it’s important we realize this happens, and happens all the time.

All the time being non-constant, as it is, some of the time shifts things around a good deal … like when you’re scared shitless and time slows in that aggravating way that allows perception of every little article of terror and laminates all.

I can still distinctly recall every detail of a car accident I was in when I was 14 … the images out the window as single frames of spinning world, the sound of metal under force, the smell of black rubber smoking across tarmac, the realization that my head was about to hit safety glass and the hope that I wouldn’t end up a bloody mess and that my father wouldn’t kill me for being in a situation I was so not supposed to have set myself up for. The whole experience took less than a few seconds, but I could easily manage a couple of pages of description that would feel about the same duration if read … slowly.

Eagleman studies this.

In one story, a man is thrown off his motorcycle after colliding with a car. As he’s sliding across the road, perhaps to his death, he hears his helmet bouncing against the asphalt. The sound has a catchy rhythm, he thinks, and he finds himself composing a little ditty to it in his head.

“Time is this rubbery thing,” Eagleman said. “It stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, ‘Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,’ it shrinks up.”

Being a wimp when it comes to things like jumping off high places, this goes far to explain what it is about that sort of nutso stuff appeals. Although the idea of having the sensations seem to last longer is nothing I’d vote for, I can almost understand why others would like that.

One of the seats of emotion and memory in the brain is the amygdala, he explained. When something threatens your life, this area seems to kick into overdrive, recording every last detail of the experience. The more detailed the memory, the longer the moment seems to last. “This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older,” Eagleman said—why childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by while we’re dozing. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.

There is more to this, but I seem to have run out of time. I may need to find something to scare me to slow things down a bit, but for now I’ll near the edge by trying to post this blog as my Mac heats up and meltdown threatens.

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Being I’m neither new nor a scientist, it could well be that I’m spending too much time reading New Scientist these days. I know the story about wind farms suggesting wind and waves are not renewable resources confused the shit out of me, and if anyone bothering to click on that link and read could please explain the content I’d be grateful.

There’s no doubt I like a challenge and trying to wrap my head around sciency stuff is a pastime I enjoy whether that be grasping toward black holes in efforts to understand dense gravity or trying to incorporate an inner clock to include time travel.

Something I did not expect to run across in my daily perusal of Stuff Science, however, was this article on religion.

What form would the ideal religion take? Some might argue that instead of redesigning religion, we should get rid of it. But it is good for some things: religious people are happier and healthier, and religion offers community. Besides, secularism has passed its zenith, according to Jon Lanman, who studies atheism at the University of Oxford. In a globalised world, he says, migrations and economic instability breed fear, and when people’s values feel under threat, religion thrives.

For starters, the unsubstantiated “information” contained in the piece feels decidedly un-sciency for New Science with few links and no backup. Attribution given to Mr. Lanman … who “studies” atheism … doesn’t cover the postulation that “religious people are happier and healthier and religion offers community”, so is therefor “good”.

A bowling league offers community fercryinoutloud, and manages to do so without prompting any genocides I’ve heard of. As for the “happier and healthier” … well, someone’s obviously never seen the impact of Catholic guilt.

I do get that this article is fluff even though quoted sources apparently attend Oxford … ooooooh! …

Today’s religions come in four flavours, according to Harvey Whitehouse, also at Oxford. First, the “sacred party”, such as incense burning, bell ringing and celestial choral music in Catholicism. Second, “therapy”: for example, the practices of healing and casting out devils among some evangelical Christians. Third, “mystical quest”, such as the Buddhist quest for nirvana. And finally, “school”: detailed study of the Koran in Islam or reading the Torah in Judaism.

Okay … a “sacred party” where all but a few are relegated to the sidelines, “therapy” that encourages people to grow even wackier, a “mystical quest” that could just as easily mean a search for Atlantis, and “school” where the only study is some really old books.

On what level does that make any sense, except perhaps to an undergrad needing to fill pages? The fact that the piece gets even more graphic lets down the side even more discouragingly:

Numerous festivals, holidays and rituals would keep followers hooked. “Rites of terror” such as body mutilation are out – although they bind people together very intensely, they are not usually compatible with world religions (New Scientist, 19 December 2009, p 62). Still, highly rousing, traumatic rituals might still feature as initiation ceremonies, because people tend to be more committed to a religion and tolerant of its failings after paying a high price for entry.

The everyday rituals will focus on rhythmic dancing and chanting to stimulate the release of endorphins, which Robin Dunbar, also at Oxford, says are key to social cohesion. To keep people coming back, he also prescribes “some myths that break the laws of physics, but not too much”, and no extreme mysticism, as it tends to lead to schisms.

So, body mutilation is out, but dancing and chanting lead to social cohesion? Can’t help but wonder what’s going on at parties at Oxford these days, but whatever is happening seems to have the effect of leading attendees to assume their thoughts have more merit than they do.

With many gods and great tolerance of idiosyncratic local practices, the new religion will be highly adaptable to the needs of different congregations without losing its unifying identity. The religion will also emphasise worldly affairs – it would promote the use of contraceptives and small families and be big on environmental issues, philanthropy, pacifism and cooperation.

Yeah … that’ll do it.

Of course, there are those fiddly bits concerning money and power that root religions before they flower, tax-free status and a whole bunch of non-negotiable rules, but if you attend Oxford and get your papers published in New Scientist, coming up with “Utopianity” must seem an accomplishment.

The thought that humans need a new religion is, in itself, an excuse not to have to think much further than the end of the block … upon which stands a church most likely … as developing more effective ways of fostering the human in humanity would take a lot more creativity.

Since science should be all about creativity, I will be sending a link to this post along with my subscription cancellation.

(Apologies: this post was slapped together during infrequent minutes of Internet access and while babying my computer. Conducive to good writing? Not so much …)

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kägˈni sh ən
the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses.

It seems science is well on the way to proving that, yes indeed, thoughts actually are things, but not in ways many like to consider them to be. Creative visualization for example, the process of wishful thinking that is said to have the power to produce desired results, could now be touted as little more than a molecule doing the backstroke in chemical soup.

It’s this article titled “Evolution of cognition might be down to brain chemistry”, in New Scientist that’s stirring the chowder this morning:

“Brain metabolism probably played an important role in evolution of human cognition,” Khaitovich says, “and one of the potentially most important changes was in glutamate metabolism.”

Glutamate is the “brain’s main energy metabolite”, he says. “And as the main excitatory neurotransmitter it is responsible for virtually every possible cognitive task, including learning and memory.”

Apparently glutamate is not thought, but rather the chemical that “that energises brain cells and ferries messages between them” — the grease on the wheels, so to speak — but there’s no doubt a search is on for the chemical … a combo of chems, perhaps tweaked with a jolt of electro-juice? … that is ideas and concepts.

How much of who and what we are is simple biology — not “simple” in an it’s-easy-to-grasp way, but will someday be a cinch to quantify — is a question I ponder often these days.

David Kingsley of Stanford University in California was not involved in the study, but his team recently revealed genetic differences accounting for humans’ larger brains. “It’s clear that humans have accumulated some interesting differences in the thinking regions of the brain,” he says. “It will be interesting to see how such differences arise from changes in our genomes and those of our closest relatives.”

Are we nothing more than a link on an evolutionary chain with reactions dictated by a dollop of this and a drip of that? Do we fall in love because the smell of someone trips a switch that floods our brain with a feel-good bisque? Is art created out primal dictates to pass along DNA? Are dreams just random spurts in some electro-chemical tango that hears sleep as a beat? Is thirst for knowledge simply an inner empty road we’re primed to navigate for the heck of it?

If this is all we are, biological beings at the mercy of meat and related juice, then … well … the point would be … ?

As meat au jus with glutamate, and whatever else has yet to be identified … My Self Glutamate sounds tenderizing … perhaps all these thought things are merely distractions; jingling keys that draw attention away from the tedious process of living only to eat, shit and reproduce, the true mandates if there is nothing more to us.

What we are has longed seemed to me a waste of evolutionary energy, however. If a hummingbird developed speedy wings and a long beak to fit a niche … if mandrills grew glorious asses because dense jungle habitat favored those who could keep track of others … if hibernation preserved life in cold climates (and, yes, all that did happen) … then why, oh why, did humans become so over-engineered in the thoughts/dreams/creation department instead of growing thicker hair and perfecting the art of arboreal living?

Why must the chemicals in my head put words into verse? What is the evolutionary benefit in concertos and cubism? Where does a broken heart fit into the picture? And why is there any picture at all?

If all this thought stuff is just a series of shiny objects grabbing our attention for a while as we plod, perhaps they’re what keep us plodding. Maybe the chemical for ego is the difference between offing ourselves out of sheer boredom and sticking around long enough to eat, shit and reproduce.

Given the state of the world, however, that prospect seems an evolutionary shot that backfired since just about everything else on our planet would be better off were we not so wrapped up in what we think are our thoughts, and may very well result in us doing ourselves in.

Awash in MSG as I am at the moment, I can’t help but go back to the combo of chemicals that has me asking again:

And the point would be … ?

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A jar of miracle ... make do

“All the tales of miracles, with which the Old and New Testament are filled, are fit only for impostors to preach and fools to believe”
~ Thomas Paine

Growing up as I did with spells of Catholicism constantly cast in my general direction, the idea of miracle cures seemed … well … reasonable for a while. The film version of St. Bernadette’s escapades at Lourdes did much to solidify images of the manifestations made possible by just enough faith to draw the attention of the Man Upstairs toward the suffering of those who jumped through the right hoops and deserved to be healed.

I was probably about ten when it dawned that such concepts pretty much left anyone unhealed in the shit pile of undeserving, a concept contrary to all those warm fuzzies created through the magic of Hollywood and the smoke and mirrors of Rome, and although I will to this day still acknowledge occasional unexplainable restorations of health and the sometimes-effective wonders of modern medicine the idea of miraculous cures seem nothing but more marketing of snake oil in various flavors for the obvious benefit of those collecting the profits.

I do understand the motivation behind the desperately ill, the hopelessly condemned; when there’s nothing left to do but grasp at straws the option can seem sensible, but since none of us get out of this alive, perhaps more than a bit futile or at most a temporary reprieve.

When a miracle can be bought at a reasonable price … a trip to France, maybe, or some set amount of hours on the knees while fingering beads X number of times … it’s a viable option for passing the time. Waiting for the magic to happen isn’t a bad way to spend that eleventh-hour, unless by doing so those last bits of life are sacrificed in the process.

When, however, attempts at intervention come in a jar labeled “Utter bollox at great cost”, the evil of canned hope becomes apparent, as evidenced in this article:

A Tanzanian pastor has asked people to stop going to his remote home for a “miracle cure” after thousands flocked there, causing chaos in the surrounding area.

Rev Ambilikile “Babu” Mwasapile, 76, says he does not want any new arrivals until after Friday 1 April, to let the crowds die down.

Local media report that about 52 people have died while waiting to see him.

A BBC reporter says the queues to see him stretch for 26km (16 miles).

Belief in magic and the powers of traditional healers are widespread in Tanzania.

Some witchdoctors say that the body parts of people with albinism are effective when making magic charms, leading to the killing of dozens of albinos in recent years.

The retired Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania preacher is sick and tired of the crowds of people who are yanking loved ones out of hospitals and making the trek to his village … while dying both before and after spending time and money … as “medical experts” investigate and debate the intrinsic value of his snake oil.

Yeah, sure … this is Africa and such mumbo-jumbo is part of the culture in many areas, but it’s not the only place claptrap flies to the detriment of others.

Although Africa is presently one scene of devastation in the name of remedy, that’s only because one cornucopia of crap has been virtually wiped out in the parts of the world that insist there’s a cure in them thar hairs.

Rhino populations in Africa are facing the “worst poaching crisis for decades,” say conservationists.

Over the past three years, gangs are said to have killed more than 800 rhinos for their horns, which can fetch £22,000 per kilo on the black market.

Experts fear the rise in poaching could undermine recent efforts to stabilise black and white rhino populations.

… t is estimated that 333 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone last year, with a further 70 being shot dead so far this year.

Conservationists suspect that most of the illegally harvested rhino horn are destined for the traditional medicine markets of South-East Asia, and the growing demand and high prices are fuelling the sharp rise in poaching.

We’re not even talking hopeless desperation here, since murdering a magnificent animal seems a fair enough tradeoff for comfort:

Rhino horn is a time-honored component of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). For thousands of years, TCM has credited rhino horn with the potency to cure an unusually wide array of maladies, from headaches to pus-filled boils–and even devil possession.

… Rhino horn has been an essential ingredient in traditional chinese medicine for centuries. An unfortunate proximity to China explains why the combined total of the three Asian rhino species (Javan, Sumatran, and greater one-horned rhino) is still smaller than Africa’s critically endangered black rhino population.

Despite China being a signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and banning trade in rhinoceros horn and its derivatives in 1993, current rhino poaching levels suggest that the use of rhino horn continues unabated in traditional medicine markets.

According to Bernard Read’s 1931 translation of Li Shih-chen’s 1597 materia medica Pen Ts’ ao Kang Mu, rhino horn was prescribed for nearly everything: “To cure devil possession and keep away all evil spirits and miasmas. For gelsemium poisoning. To remove hallucinations and bewitching nightmares. Continuous administration lightens the body and makes one very robust. For typhoid, headache and feverish colds. For carbuncles and boils full of pus. For intermittent fevers with delirium. To expel fear and anxiety, to calm the liver and clear the vision. It is a sedative to the viscera, a tonic, antipyretic. It dissolves phlegm. It is an antidote to the evil miasma of hill streams. For infantile convulsions and dysentery. Ashed and taken with water to treat violent vomiting, food poisoning, and overdosage of poisonous drugs. For arthritis, melancholia, loss of the voice.”

Since rhino horn is made of the same stuff as fingernails … agglutinated hair … hiring nail biters to spit shards into a collection plate would make as much medical sense and perhaps save a species.

Of course, it seems our species … we furless bipedal wimps that we are … calculates our worth in profit-per-head, and it matters little if it’s grinding up albinos, raping child virgins or ridding the world of rhinos … tigers, bears, whatever … that generates income as long as someone can make a buck and others are so easily convinced to hand over their money for snake oil.

Perhaps there’s a way to turn this inborn stupidity to the advantage, however …

How about we try pushing the notion that powdered brain of greedy people will make one rich?

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Thinking is fun and good for you, but … OY … does it make me dizzy! Good thing I’m a long-time fan of dizzy. I have a scar to prove it, too … the result of a gash on my forehead sustained at about age four when living room twirling to achieve total dizziness set me plummeting toward the sharp corner of an end table.

I no longer twirl much, but can achieve the same desired state by reading lots of news. The present situation in Egypt, for example, sets me spinning, and throw in a suicide bomber or two and I’m well confused over wtf peeps are thinking.

Those aren’t fun rotations, although interesting and necessary meanderings for anyone feeling the need to keep abreast, but there are no few coils presenting opportunities for attempted unraveling that are a total hoot.

It’s science and technology that can always get a mental pirouette going in my head, and the faster it goes the dizzier I get and the more I like it.

Yesterday’s post on the new iPhone app for seeking appsolution from the god-of-practicing-catholics set me off down a line of thought that cracked me up all day.

And this morning what to my wandering eyes did appear but this story about an NYU professor who sports a “head-cam”!

Late last year, Bilal had the digital camera inserted into a two-inch hole drilled into the back of his head. According to The Chronicle of High Education, the body-modification artist who performed the surgery also installed three posts between Bilal’s skin and skull to root the setup in place.

Bilal intended to wear the camera around for a year as part of an art project, titled “The 3rd I,” commissioned for the opening of the Mathaf: Arab Museum of Modern Art, reports the AP.

Just the thought of spinning with two eyes toward the front and a camera eye implanted into the back of my head creates dizzy hilarity I can’t stop smiling over, and when I let myself swivel around the questions over why the fuck anyone would be so into where they’ve been or who’s talking behind their back I go positively vertiginous.


Not done yet, however, as a read through a story in Time Mag ramped up the speed on my internal whirligig exponentially, and I’m sure I’ll never look at life in quite the same way I did before this go-round.

The topic is Singularity. From the Wiki:

A Technological singularity is a hypothetical event occurring when technological progress becomes so rapid that it makes the future after the singularity qualitatively different and harder to predict. Many of the most recognized writers on the singularity, such as Vernor Vinge and Ray Kurzweil, define the concept in terms of the technological creation of superintelligence, and allege that a post-singularity world would be unpredictable to humans due to an inability of human beings to imagine the intentions or capabilities of superintelligent entities.

It’s Kurzweil the Time article features, and oooh, do I like it when a science guy gets me going in circles, even when the spin is uncomfortable.

The difficult thing to keep sight of when you’re talking about the Singularity is that even though it sounds like science fiction, it isn’t, no more than a weather forecast is science fiction. It’s not a fringe idea; it’s a serious hypothesis about the future of life on Earth. There’s an intellectual gag reflex that kicks in anytime you try to swallow an idea that involves super-intelligent immortal cyborgs, but suppress it if you can, because while the Singularity appears to be, on the face of it, preposterous, it’s an idea that rewards sober, careful evaluation.

According to Kurzweil, we’re not evolved to think in terms of exponential growth. “It’s not intuitive. Our built-in predictors are linear. When we’re trying to avoid an animal, we pick the linear prediction of where it’s going to be in 20 seconds and what to do about it. That is actually hardwired in our brains.”

Here’s what the exponential curves told him. We will successfully reverse-engineer the human brain by the mid-2020s. By the end of that decade, computers will be capable of human-level intelligence. Kurzweil puts the date of the Singularity — never say he’s not conservative — at 2045. In that year, he estimates, given the vast increases in computing power and the vast reductions in the cost of same, the quantity of artificial intelligence created will be about a billion times the sum of all the human intelligence that exists today.

One result of these vast increases, according to Kurzweil, is immortality, the reason he takes daily doses of supplements in an effort to last stick around long enough to transfer the him that is him from an aging body to a “sturdier vessel”.

I don’t quite get the desire to live forever, but relate well to the W.B. Yeats description of man’s fleshly predicament as a soul fastened to a dying animal.

Questions coming to mind are entertaining, too.

Kurzweil admits that there’s a fundamental level of risk associated with the Singularity that’s impossible to refine away, simply because we don’t know what a highly advanced artificial intelligence, finding itself a newly created inhabitant of the planet Earth, would choose to do. It might not feel like competing with us for resources. One of the goals of the Singularity Institute is to make sure not just that artificial intelligence develops but also that the AI is friendly. You don’t have to be a super-intelligent cyborg to understand that introducing a superior life-form into your own biosphere is a basic Darwinian error.

It seems obvious that we’re heading toward things truly dizzying, and it’s not only head-cams and downloadable sacramental apps …

Five years ago we didn’t have 600 million humans carrying out their social lives over a single electronic network. Now we have Facebook. Five years ago you didn’t see people double-checking what they were saying and where they were going, even as they were saying it and going there, using handheld network-enabled digital prosthetics. Now we have iPhones. Is it an unimaginable step to take the iPhones out of our hands and put them into our skulls?

Already 30,000 patients with Parkinson’s disease have neural implants. Google is experimenting with computers that can drive cars. There are more than 2,000 robots fighting in Afghanistan alongside the human troops. This month a game show will once again figure in the history of artificial intelligence, but this time the computer will be the guest: an IBM super-computer nicknamed Watson will compete on Jeopardy!

Now I’m wondering if Watson picked that nickname.

“The cosmos is a gigantic flywheel making 10,000 revolutions per minute. Man is a sick fly taking a dizzy ride on it.”
~ Henry Louis Mencken

Hop on!

Thanks to Dania for sharing the Time piece!

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A: Just one — but he has to wait for the whole world to revolve around him.

Yesterday’s post on negotiating the junction where narcissist meets liar brought further investigation on the condition known as Narcissistic Personality Disorder and had things jumping off the page and many thoughts popping up in the process.

With no too few sites and forums set up by and for victims of relationships with narcissists, I’m wondering how any of these folks ever manage to even get a date, much less a commitment out of anyone.

Sure, they’re charming as anything and don’t break out the devious shit for a while, and that certainly baits the hook, but in reading how uniformly narcissists conform to their disorder, it seems most would be more clued in to spotting trouble and running like hell.

Of course, red flags are often ignored early in togetherness, and with the bag of tricks any decent narcissist has available they could be looking more rosy than red when used to divert attention or cover up. And who wants to let their mind run to such dire conclusions at the beginning of what seems to have so much potential?

Letting those flags wave about and wrap around a person can be dangerously smothering, though. Here’s a selection of what there is to look forward to if those annoying little quirks you’re noting get time to bloom:

Common Behaviours of a Narcissist

* ‘Me versus You’ mentality;
* Competitiveness;
* ‘Tit for tat’ retaliations;
* Striving for the ‘spotlight’ and attention;
* Excessive generosity to outside people;
* Uncomfortable when others are incurring attention or praise;
* If can’t be centre of attention will either discredit or leave the experience;
* May fake illnesses or problems to procure attention / sympathy;
* Abusive verbal behaviour when angered or insecure;
* Tendency toward violent and even criminal behaviour;
* Inappropriate and inapplicable language in front of women and children;
* Dark moods that affect others;
* False promises;
* Glorifies and falsifies achievements past and present;
* Expects to be recognised and praised;
* Finds others not complying with wants intolerable;
* Extreme sensitivity to criticism;
* Extreme defensiveness when confronted;
* Pathological lying;
* Disdain for rules, regulations, decency and morality;
* Childish outbursts and behaviour;
* Very little consideration for how behaviour affects others;
* Extreme lack of compassion or sensitivity towards love partners (and others’) problems;
* Grossly unsupportive to familiars in times of need;
* Brushes incidences under the carpet;
* Uses allies real or imagined to back up claims and arguments;
* Uses guilt and manipulation to influence love partners;
* Doesn’t trust love partners;
* Tendency towards unreasonable jealousy and possessiveness;
* Capable of sexually degrading name calling;
* Can steal, harm or hide property to sabotage love partners;
* Uses vengeance, threats and intimidation to control ;
* Uses excessive charm and manipulation to control;
* Little (if any) sense of conscience;
* Discredits love partners to gain attention / sympathy from others;
* Will ‘attack’ when confronted or questioned;
* Emotionally punishes love partners when feeling insecure;
* Emotionally punishes love partners when they are struggling with issues, losses, grief or challenges;
* Employs unpredictable and unaccountable behaviour;
* Capable of ‘disgusting’ behaviour to gain the upper hand and control a situation;
* Feels powerful and fulfilled when creating powerlessness in another;
* Gross failure to apologise or have sympathy after creating tears, distress or trauma to the love partner.

As mentioned, the web is rife with accounts from people who’ve come out the other side of relationships with narcissists, but what I’m not finding is anything from folks who’ve found some peace with their totally self-involved partners, but it must happen. Certainly not every narcissist ends up alone, although strings of short-term attachments are the most common form of connection for them.

Is it possible to have some version of happiness when linked with someone so self-centered as to think their partner little more than a serviceable appendage?

I’m guessing there is.

Although a two-narcissist combo could be disastrous, with enough resources it might work. Some Hollywood marriages may function this way when both partners are getting the strokes they require from a wider audience and there’s money to feather both nests in the style each demands. Keeping whatever balance is required to have both partners convinced they’re ahead of the game would be tough, but it seems possible given the excesses available.

Another good match for a narcissist might be the masochist. Some do need to be needed, and if that means one is driven to serve as both an audience and a doormat perhaps some folks can find fulfillment with someone who requires both. There are those who enjoy living the life of Trilby and seek out their own Svengali, forever more relinquishing control while contentedly hunkering down in the back seat.

What better setup could there be for someone looking to give everything, yet get nothing back than this?

These people are geniuses of “Come closer so I can slap you.” Except that’s not the way they think about it, if they think about it — no, they’re thinking, “Well, maybe you do really care about me, and, if you really care about me, then maybe you’ll help me with this,” only by “help” they mean do the whole thing, take total responsibility for it, including protecting and defending them and cleaning up the mess they’ve already made of it (which they will neglect to fill you in on because they haven’t really been paying attention, have they, so how would they know??). They will not have considered for one second how much of your time it will take, how much trouble it may get you into in their behalf, that they will owe you BIG for this — no, you’re just going to do it all out of the goodness of your heart, which they are delighted to exploit yet again, and your virtue will be its own reward: it’s supposed to just tickle you pink to be offered this generous opportunity of showing how much you love them and/or how lucky you are to be the servant of such a luminous personage. No lie — they think other people do stuff for the same reason they do: to show off, to perform for an audience. That’s one of the reasons they make outrageous demands, put you on the spot and create scenes in public: they’re being generous — they’re trying to share the spotlight with you by giving you the chance to show off how absolutely stunningly devoted-to-them you are. It means that they love you …

The trouble, however, comes when normal, reasonably well adjusted people find themselves attached to a narcissist … sooner or later, they’re going to want something in return. When that shit hits the fan things get ugly.

Demanding honesty or recognition or appreciation or respect … demanding anything … is nothing less than unreasonable under the circumstance as it’s beyond the scope of the narcissistic personality to deliver.

As explained here:

There’s only one way to get decent treatment from narcissists: keep your distance. They can be pretty nice, even charming, flirtatious, and seductive, to strangers, and will flatter you shamelessly if they want something from you. When you attempt to get close to them in a normal way, they feel you are putting emotional pressure on them and they withdraw because you’re too demanding. They can be positively fawning and solicitous as long as they’re afraid of you, which is not most people’s idea of a real fun relationship.

Nope … not most people’s idea of fun, but perhaps it does work for some.

Anyone can fall into a relationship with a narcissist, but it seems only by finding either some equality in dueling egos or giving up and in completely will keep it going for long.

Apparently, Alanis Morissette did, at one time, fall in, then climb out, since she sums it all quite nicely in her song “Narcissus” …

I wonder if the guy she wrote this about knows that, for once, it really IS all about HIM …

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Pants on Fire

“I love you, and because I love you, I would sooner have you hate me for telling you the truth than adore me for telling you lies.” ~ Pietro Aretino

I’m prompted today to do some research into lying … reasons for, roots of, ways of dealing with … and have come across some interesting material.

I’m not surprised by the huge number of lying-related sites online since sooner or later almost everyone finds themself trying to cope with a liar, but the consistency in the various reports has been eye opening.

Seems that lying should be easy enough to suss out and lead one to twig early on that you’re dealing with someone who has a very casual relationship with truth. The problem is, however, that honest people never quite get how deep the lying thing lies.

There are several diagnostic terms for types of liars …

A sociopath is typically defined as someone who lies incessantly to get their way and does so with little concern for others. A sociopath is often goal-oriented (i.e., lying is focused – it is done to get one’s way). Sociopaths have little regard or respect for the rights and feelings of others. Sociopaths are often charming and charismatic, but they use their talented social skills in manipulative and self-centered ways.

A compulsive liar is defined as someone who lies out of habit. Lying is their normal and reflexive way of responding to questions. Compulsive liars bend the truth about everything, large and small. For a compulsive liar, telling the truth is very awkward and uncomfortable while lying feels right. Compulsive lying is usually thought to develop in early childhood, due to being placed in an environment where lying was necessary. For the most part, compulsive liars are not overly manipulative and cunning (unlike sociopaths), rather they simply lie out of habit – an automatic response which is hard to break and one that takes its toll on a relationship (see, how to cope with a compulsive liar).

The terms Pathological Liar, Habitual Liar and Chronic Liar are often used to refer to a Compulsive Liar.

Not that attaching the correct ID is helpful:

Ultimately, making this type of distinction may not be that useful. Because in either case, the outcome is typically the same: dealing with a compulsive or pathological liar is very difficult to do. And unfortunately, sociopaths cannot be changed.

Although having a liar in your life is annoying at best … soul-crushing is more often the result … it seems there’s little anyone can do to change the situation, and that includes the liar.

And like any behavior which provides comfort and an escape from discomfort (i.e., alcohol, drugs, sex), lying can become addictive and hard to stop. For the compulsive liar, lying feels safe and this fuels the desire to lie even more.

Making matters even more complicated, compulsive lying is often a symptom of a much larger personality disorder, which only makes the problem more difficult to resolve (see, narcissistic personality disorder and borderline personality disorder).

As a manifestation of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, lying is a foundation stone and a basic in relationships and there’s no way to avoid the fact that involvement with a narcissist will mean being lied to.

Another symptom of narcissism is pathological lying. Purposeful lying is narcissistic and is born from a need to manipulate in order to control. This characteristic began at a very early age. The narcissist never matured to the level where he accepted essential emotional truths: lying creates distrust and separation with others. It destroys relationships.

To be honest (and therefore vulnerable) terrifies the narcissist. He fears this will equate to being controlled by others. He needs to uphold lies so people don’t discover the truth of who he really is. The narcissist finds comfort in not being pinned down, and not being accountable. More lies are necessary to cover up a previous lie. The pathological lies become malignant and the high-level narcissist scripting an illusionary life begins to believe his own versions. This is why pathological lying is so hard to detect, and may even pass a polygraph. Additionally the narcissist doesn’t suffer a guilty conscience. He believes he’s entitled to lie. It’s the only way he knows how to operate in a world of ‘me versus you’ without the emotional resources to trust. The tragic thing is: narcissists genuinely believe everyone else thinks and feels exactly the way they do. They don’t trust anyone. The narcissist makes sure he gets you before you can get him.

The quotes refer to “he” because it’s reported that 75% of narcissists are men, but knowing a few females who wear the assignation proudly … or not … it’s not an attractive quality in either sex, although they certainly wouldn’t see it that way.

That research into lying led to narcissism is interesting and the two do dovetail in disturbing ways. It makes too much sense that one who lies lives in a self-centered circle in which others are meant to be drawn into an orbit where gravity is controlled through whatever means available, and lying, to a liar, is an easy method of control. There’s no doubt that the person on the receiving end of lies stands on ever-shifting ground, and that imbalance works to the advantage of the one in charge of the circle.

“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you>” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

So, after a lot of reading I’m left with a sense of sad futility. There’s just no helping some or fixing broken people who have no idea how visible their fractures are to the rest of us. Of course, not caring one whit what others think or how much damage can be done is pretty handy, but I still find it heartbreaking.

That humans are flawed is a fact no one can ignore. That flawed people do damage is another. That this particular flaw is so prevalent is most disturbing.

I do hate being lied to and knowing I’m just one of many hearing the same bloody lies doesn’t make me feel any better about it. (Classically, narcissistic liars insist their behavior is specific, although this is far from the truth. Everyone gets the same treatment since it’s never about YOU, but always about ME.) At least I have the good sense to recognize the lies and understand it’s not my reflection glaring, and that helps a bit, although it does little to relieve the frustration that comes with endless strings of useless lies.

Still makes me sad, though, and especially sad for the liar who just can’t stop. It must be a very stressful and disappointing way to live, and although it’s easy enough to say, “Just stop lying and start telling the truth, FFS,” it’s apparently not that simple for those so hooked.

As with any addict, consequences can be dire, the damage spreads beyond the individual and there is no dignity in a life of lies … which is why, I suppose, the word shameless fits so well with liar, although shameful works, too.

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Yesterday’s post on You=tube and being all DaDaDandy needs a follow, and although I’m far from growing wings and going chirpy I may possibly have something percolating between synapses that offers other than gloom for a Tuesday.

When in discussions with folks who subscribe to Life is Short and Then You Die and That’s All She Wrote line of thought, one question that pops into mind is: Why?

Not, “Why do you think this is all there is?”, because that actually makes a lot of sense, but “Why?” as a broader issue.

Although I do understand the biological imperative we carry to find meaning to life in our efforts to figure out what’s going on and therefore somehow protect ourselves with the result being we stick around longer, that doesn’t feel quite enough to get us to the point of doing so so well.

In the course of evolution, changes in species arise because something new and different works, and works well enough and is repeated often enough to have those with it make more others than those without. Many new adaptations are very costly involving trade-offs in expenditures of energy.

Bright coloring in male birds, for instance, takes more energy, but results in breeding opportunities, so it works and is worth it.

Humans stand rather than crawl after developing big ass muscles, an improvement on mobility allowing us to use our hands which led to tool making and a decent living for manicurists. The ability to use tools made killing big stuff possible so we starting living in groups … which spread the cost a bit as the society as well as individuals anted up … and talking to each other so we could manage to deal with mammoth leftovers.

Fine. DadaDandy, even.

Where the evolutionary sense runs off the rails for me, however, is where we got so bloody smart.

Where is the biological imperative in moving from beating on a log while blowing through a reed to Mozart? For that matter, why did we start blowing on reeds in the first place? Chimps have been around as long as we have and done well without making music, so what is it in us that needs it to soothe the savage breast?

What good has it done our species to build extra brain making it possible to turn completely effective grunts to poetry, to develop compassion to the point of giving the shirts off our back to help another in need and the determination to go where no one has gone before even when we well know there’s a dearth of fruiting trees in them thar hills?

Big brains need a lot of calories to form and to work. Why go that way when longer arms or wings or bigger lungs may have served better?

If there’s one thing going on making me suspect there’s more than one thing going on, it would be that we’re over-engineered for what’s needed for survival in this world. Because that over-engineering is so expensive, it seems there must be a better reason for it than simple process of effective mutation explains, and because of that there just might be more to us.

So, from a Monday to a Tuesday, and from Kierkegaard and Nietzsche to a philosopher of our time, Yoda …

Luminous beings are we, not this crude matter.

Perhaps …

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