Saturday, December 29, 2007
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
This is my great grandfather. He was a Lithuanian Pollack. This is the only picture I have of him. My grandfather never really knew him well and what memories he had of him are unknown to me. This is all because when my grandfather was very young, his father put him on a boat and sent him to a Catholic school in America for a better life. At some point later, I understand they met again, and neither could understand the others language at all.
Grandpa Joe at Catholic school. I think it was in Boston. Now that I think back, it really is sad how little I know about the specifics of his life. We never were really close. He had two sons and a daughter (my mother). My mother was his pride and joy. Before she was born, my grandfather got drunk, walking along a dock in the harbor (I think in Boston), and decided to name my mother "Cara-Lou" after a nearby bar. Fortunately for mom, she was easily able to switch it to Carole.
I can't believe how skinney he is in this picture. Luckilly I didn't get his pecs. Joe was on the U.S.S. New York during WWII. From what I have been told, the New York saw some of the heaviest fighting of any battleship in WWII. That could be my brother bullshitting again though. What I do know is that the New York got kamikaze attacked by surprise. Joe was on the deck when it happened trying to repair something. Someone fired the 20" gun right above his head. It blew his eardrums out and knocked him unconscious. An astute sailor saw Joe and dragged him to safety. He related a story once about how his ship ran out of food and they rationed the crew to the point of starvation. Joe said the hunger he endured was the worst pain of his life. I wouldn't be surprised if this picture was taken soon after that.
I've always thought this picture belongs on the cover of some book or chapter heading about WWII. Joe "Big Dick From Boston" posing on his ship. When I was a kid, Grandpa Joe came to visit and we took him to the U.S.S. Missouri which was stationed at the Bremerton naval shipyard here in Washington. There is a monument on the deck of the ship which marks the exact place where the Japanese leader signed official surrender to the United States. My grandfather cried on that spot and wanted some time alone.
He married my grandmother Dorothy after the war. They stayed together for the rest of his life, raised three kids, spoiled their grandchildren, and had many good times together
I think Joe lived a very full life, and was at peace and ready to go when he did. The slow progression towards death took a toll on my 80 year old grandmother, and was probably somewhat humiliating and demeaning. First the fall and the broken hip, then the pneumonia, then the congestive heart failure with the regular lung drainages, the pneumonia again, and then the nursing home, and then the pneumonia one final time that you just can't shake off. If there is a typical way to die in America this was it.
My lasting memory of Joe was when we were alone together watching the thoroughly depressing movie "Leaving Las Vegas". My grandfather fought and risked his life and gave all he had to save the world. After being victorious, he lived a long life watching the societal corruption develop around him, the fruits of his incredible sacrifice amounting to nothing but another generation of corrupt, wisdomless, gutless, hedonistic, usurping human beings. Saving one generation did nothing at all to save the next. The seed of the greatest generation was not another "Lamarckian style" great generation. It was merely a clean slate with the same old human nature set up to run free and corrupt once more from scratch. So my grandfather sat watching Leaving Las Vegas like the Buddha sat next to the river at the end of Herman Hesse's book "Siddhartha", resigned to his own enlightenment and unable to teach his son anything he struggled so hard to learn himself. Resigned to the eternal insignificance of everything.
We talked about this in mumbles after the depressing as hell movie. He shook his head back and forth and said a few times in a row,
"Nothin' means nothin'.
Ain't nothin' means nothin'."
And I'll never forget it because I know he really meant it.
I didn't agree at the time, and I took it as a sign of his old aged bitterness.
I agree with him now. And I am young, and I am not bitter at all.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Just testing to see if the videos from this new camera are worth fooling with. This is the first white Christmas for at least 26 years in this area, as long as my family has lived here. I tried looking up when the last white christmas was in Seattle and found no information. Wikipedia gives a list of cities with odds of there being snow on the ground on Dec. 25. Seattle gets 8% odds. This is probably higher than reality if you only go by the last twenty years here. It was notably colder in this area in the mid to early 20th century. When I was a kid, you never saw rabbits or racoons around, and now they're everywhere. In the 90's my dad (being a nature buff) was astonished that we were seeing different species of birds and animals along the coast where he went fishing that normally didn't travel this far south (this was before anyone said anything about global warming, and everything was just blamed on more and more frequently occuring El Ninos). Over time he was particularly proud that his garden seemed to bloom earlier and the growing season was a bit longer (his excellent gardening skill of course). There was a periods of 2 weeks when I was a kid that the temperature didn't get above freezing here. This doesn't come close to happening anymore. There are photos in the local shops of our harbor taken from the earlier 1900's that show it completely frozen over thick enough so that cars could literally drive across it. Modern locals look at the pictures with amazement because we know that it never comes remotely close to getting cold enough to freeze salt water *that* thick (admittedly there is a fresh water stream that helps out a bit). Even this white Christmas, the temperature was actually 34, and it was only snowing at the top of our hill. It was almost all melted within hours, but we got about 3/4" and it might snow again tomorrow.
Monday, December 24, 2007
Sam Harris sets up "The Reason Project". Sounds good. In the "culture wars", victory is assured for science and reason, because it is the only thing that ultimately works. The only question is, how long? How much suffering? And how much bullshit? Where Christianists claim historical successes, it is only because they rob from the fruits of science and reason and claim credit for the results.
The Reason Project (From Sam Harris)
The Reason Project will soon be a 501(c)(3) charitable foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. The Reason Project will draw on the talents of prominent and creative thinkers in a wide range of disciplines — science, law, literature, film, journalism, information technology, etc. — to encourage critical thinking and wise public policy. It will convene conferences, produce films, sponsor scientific research and opinion polls, award grants to other non-profit organizations, and offer material support to religious dissidents and public intellectuals — all with the purpose of eroding the influence of dogmatism, superstition, and bigotry in our world.
If you want to be notified when The Reason Project officially begins its work, or receive information about its future activities, please join the email list on this website.
Saturday, December 22, 2007
Won the Nobel prize in literature in 1930. Ron Paul recently quoted Lewis on Hardball, probably from his book "It Can't Happen Here" (1925), a story about a fascist elected as American president (something which actually was a hair away from happening in the U.S. at one time).
"when fascism comes to this country, it will be wrapped in a flag carrying a cross."
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
"If moderate Muslims believe there should be no compassion shown to the girl from Qatif, then what exactly makes them so moderate?
When a “moderate” Muslim’s sense of compassion and conscience collides with matters prescribed by Allah, he should choose compassion. Unless that happens much more widely, a moderate Islam will remain wishful thinking. "
Saturday, December 08, 2007
It's been awhile since I read the book, but I was shocked to noticed how everything looked just about how I pictured it. I don't know how McEwan does it, but reading his books is visual without reams of descriptive text. In ways he is minimalist with his setting descriptions but you never feel need of more description. The movie scenes were ripped straight from the book almost completely.
It could not have been made any better. Well one way. We could have seen knightly's boobs more clearly. All we get is a wet T-shirt image.
The brilliant directing scheme has the story told through Briony's eyes, misinterpreting events from afar, then flashing back to the events from Celia and Robbie's eyes at which point what really occured is revealed to the audience. It works perfectly and is believable, even more believable than the book for me.
The girl next to me was literally weeping and the ending had not even come yet. I was in a jammed packed audience in a small artsy theater. When the devastating hook came I could feel the people around me turn white. The weeping college student was now choking with her head between her knees. When the credits rolled people sat in stunned disbelief. The people around me said "that was so beautiful" and "that was so amazing".
The plot of this movie is incredibly original. It is important that it is set in WWII because one of the side-themes of the story is how much is lost in war. How war takes complex lives and relationships and rends them undone. Not just undone, but unsatisfyingly cut-off from their resolution in messy meaningless ways- a reality we avoid in our polished documentaries and reminisences of these grotesque historic events. But the audience has no idea exactly how cut off from the resolution the truth really is until McEwan lets go the molten wrecking ball right to the head.
The movie, like every McEwan thing I've read is an illustration of nihilism- the part we don't acknowledge about the truth of our lives that makes them livable. Of course you won't see that told anywhere or described that way anywhere, but that's exactly what it is. My favorite McEwan short story involves a very kind fat women who takes it upon herself to raise a couple of children who are neglected by their immature parents. The women is teased and ridiculed about her homeliness. McEwan delves into the psychology of the obese woman, her loving care for the children, the sadness and cuelty of her life and the trag and unfair way she is treated, despite her saintliness. In the end of the story, she takes the children for a leisurely boat ride. At some point they start laughing at a joke or something, I can't remember. But the fat women laughs so hard that the boat begins rocking. Her sheer girth creates havoc and as chaos erupts in the boat over her fit of choking and laughter, the balance is disturbed, the boat tips and the children drown because nobody had taught them how to swim. The end.
Atonement is much like this. And so is raw life, before a human mind comes along to organize it into patterns which don't exist.
"Atonement" by Ian McEwan- the atheist's response to Paulo Coehlo's children's story "The Alchemist"
It comes out today, but only in a handful of theaters. I may have to drive 50 miles to see it today, if it isn't sold out.
This is one of the year's best films, a certain best picture nominee. -Roger Ebert
It ranks with the best novel adaptations of recent times. - Hollywood reporter
Atonement is so good it redeems our faith in intelligent drama.
As close to perfection as mere mortals can aspire to - Killer movie reviews
As good a film as one could imagine having been made from a great work of contemporary fiction. -Wallstreet Journal
Atonement is everything a true lover of literature and movies could possibly hope for. It is unquestionably, without any reservations, my favorite film of the year.
-New York Observer
Friday, November 23, 2007
Monday, November 19, 2007
Monday, November 12, 2007
Sunday, November 04, 2007
If you've really read all this and care about my life enough to do so, I say thank you. This really is what I have been doing these last 10 years.
I remember going to this website full of ex-Chiropractors and a few still practicing Chiropractors who speak out about everything they went through. Many of their stories were very similar to mine. I was choked up to read a thread about ex-Chiropractors commiting suicide this morning as I researched these posts. I was fortunate enough not to have been married or with children and other responsibilities. I can only imagine the pain they went through as they began to realize they were living a lie. Here is a typical rant from a student who went to "life university"
"The threads i see here about suicides in the profession don't do the truth justice. Look back to 1984 I knew one personally. He had quit his profession as an air traffic controller to become a chiropractor. The last thing he said to me during exams before he killed himself was I feel kind of funny. It is so true that if you decide to get out so many of the people you care about will turn against you....Another was when my friend told me we had fallen for a bunch of bull shi### before he killed himself. We were young in our 20's and thinking our motives were pure we thought we had a chance. We never had a chance. Chiropractic is a circus tent. Where are the clowns?"
Eventually I was forced out of Chiropractic by a lucky event which only cost me about $2,000. I had rented an office space and was going to hire an old friend who had cerebral palsy to be my front desk person. Due to her condition she couldn't maintain her job in an ER because all the walking put too much stress on her knees. I could not afford to start the practice and she stated she had a trust fund that she would never be able to use unless she went off disability benefits. So she was going to help me out a few thousand dollars from the fund. She paid for much of the office furniture, the advertising and insurance. Looking back it wasn't much, but it seemed like it at the time. After a couple of months I started receiving bill after unpaid bill for things she "paid" for. She had lied, and I was swamped. I confronted her parents and she turned out to be a confirmed pathological liar. This was the greatest thing possible for me. I was forced out of practice. Forced to move on. I sublet the space.
Most people who I've known, if asked, would say "Aaron failed in practice, and because he couldn't be a successful Chiropractor, he got out of the profession". No string of words could be more false.
Most importanly due to this experience, it began to help me realize that there is no God. There is no plan for my life. All my tears and prayers and begging for guidance was just me talking to myself. It took a couple more years for me to say "I am an atheistic materialist", but at that moment I lost my ability to take spirituality seriously, and this opened the floodgates to the pressure cooker of the cognitive dissonance. It was an Aha! experience which brought the epiphany that no god or "Universe" or spirit, or life purpose is desiring me to save the world through Chiropractic. Over time it sunk in and I began to heal from the madness.
When I was a spiritualist I was frequently depressed. Suddenly I found myself going several weeks at a time without experiencing more than a day or two of depression, whereas before it would be classified as clinical. Although I was financially devastated, I could pull my foot out of this bear trap and start limping forward finally. I finally understood why I couldn't immerse myself into the belief systems several of my other friends accepted. I figured out why I had so many problems with what they believed and said. It wasn't because of something bad about me, it was something good! I was critical and analysing and I saw through all of their bullshit beliefs. Once I quit blaming myself for "not getting it", I felt so much better, and ceased to be depressed.
I look back at where I was and it is inconceivable that I believed many of the things I did. It was an entirely different life. After some time I became fascinated with why people believe such weird things. The people I once hated or thought were delusional- Dawkins, Shermer, Dennett, Sagan, etc... Became my heroes.
I became humble. I realized how incredibly stupid I am. I lost the ability to really take myself seriously in some ways after having fallen so deeply for things that are so demonstrably ridiculous. But I felt good about this. Being stupid and seeing clearly is better than being brilliant and delusional.
This account is nowhere near complete, and is quite lazy, but that's what blogs are for right? There is much here that is missing, and I have skipped over troubling aspects of Chiropractic that are more major than what I've remembered, but truth be told I don't think about Chiropractic much anymore until someone brings it up. As I said in the beginning, it is like having had a divorce. But in this divorce, no matter how far you have grown apart from your spouse, she always returns and someone always has to bring her back up again. You can be sitting sround a dinner table anywhere at any time enjoying your meal and someone can say something like "Now why did you divorce her again? Can you explain it to me? I would have never let someone like that slip through my fingers. Pass the mashed potatos."
Oh well. I am getting better at dealing with it, but that minimum monthly student loan payment for 22% of my monthly income never ceases to make my veins pop out. Ya, no shit. And funny thing is, if there weren't money in Chiropractic, nobody would give a shit. It's all about money and power.
I'd like to thank Chiropractic for teaching me that there is no god, no spirit, and that everything about us as human beings, from our most base and violent qualities to our most noble altruism, is purely Darwinian.
I bring up my father because his response to the adjustment convinces him beyond a shadow of a doubt that I am the stupidest human being alive for not being a Chiropractor. It eats me up, and I could never make him understand.
My mother and brother have major spinal issues as well, but receive only palliative results from adjustments and no lasting aid. And this is what you get from Chiropractic- a handful of people really do have a dramatic positive result. Many people have a palliative temporary relief of pain due to the release of endorphins and the subsequent muscle relaxation following the adjustment, many receive no benefit and a few get worse. When you add the very powerful placebo effect in the mix you get all sorts of interesting anecdotes. Patients will often tell the Chiropractor that they have gotten dramatically better even though they haven't and time tells that eventually. Most back and neck pain is self limiting anyways, so going to a chiropractor and receiving a temporary endorphin release by stimulation of the mechanoreceptors in the spinal joints will give the false impression to people that the adjustment helped solve the problem, even though the pain was self limiting. As they say, back pain takes a weeks to go away laying in bed and only 7 days with chiropractic.
All in all people like their chiropractors. They stay in business because they are gregarious and work on their patient care skills. They understand that making people feel good is what brings people in more than the actual adjustments they sell. This is missing in the medical field, and just the nice environment makes people love their chiropractor.
There are probably hundreds of different Chiropractice techniques, or maybe a different one for every Chiropractor. Some are hard and forceful and some don't require touching the patient at all. There is a woman in Seattle who vibrates her hands over her patient's neck without touching it. She was on Evening Magazine (a local T.V. show). She has patients lined up out the door and people who have experienced *dramatic* results from her awesome Chiropractic expertise. It must have taken her years to master this skill.
One friend of mine does a technique almost identical, but it uses a metal stylus. This is called "atlas orthogonal" technique (above picture). Using x-ray analysis, you position the stylus on the 1st vertebra just so. Then a tiny impulse imperceptibly pushes the stylus against the vertebra. You can't even feel it. Turning your neck or coughing puts more stress on the 1st vertebra than does this adjustment. This friend of mine also does traditional forceful popping style adjustments. When asked why he still does the non-force atlas orthoganal adjustment his reply was "we still do AO because it gets the best results of any of the adjustments we do".
So, if you live in my universe, this statement can be rearranged to say "generally speaking, doing absolutely nothing at all gets better results than popping the vertebra for most people".
This picture is of the "subluxation station". It looks fancy but is utterly worthless.
In Chiropractic College, you take a business class which tells you how to market yourself and how to do what is called a "report of findings". After doing your x-rays and whatever you do, you sit down with your patient and answer these questions: What is wrong? How does it get fixed? How long is it going to take? How much is it going to cost?
What I experienced in business class, sitting in the auditorium with about 200 of my classmates listening to the instructor, was the full transparent awareness that not a single one of us had an honest answer for any one of those questions, and we all knew it. And when you add to this the total known fraudulence of the analysis methods I mentioned, it becomes clear that the "report of findings" is nothing at all but a salesman's gimmick. And that is exactly what it is by it's very definition (as it includes findings which have been demonstrated to be invalid). Of course, there are some people who actually *believe* what they are telling their patients during these sessions and alot of these people are fundamentalist Christians or spiritualists involved in certain groups with names like "Body by God". Needless to say, these people are divorced from the need to explain anything rationally.
But can't you just practice Chiropractic like a medical doctor practices medicine and take in hurting people and help them? No. Because there are almost as many hurting people as there are Chiropractors nowadays and not enough of them just walk through your door. You have to market hard. You must be a salesman. And if someone else has an approach which scares the patient shitless and makes them feel they need to come back again and again, that bird will get the worm. Marketing includes giving talks, going to malls with booths, going to marketing groups and advertising yourself, making connections, incessantly explaining what it is you do and why. Eventually after years of this you may end up with a word of mouth practice where you can stop all the marketing.
Now for a couple more common deceptions.
One leg is shorter than the other- This is an absolute joke. I almost puke evertime I hear someone tell me this. just stand on one leg and bend it a couple of time and lay down. One leg appears shorter because the muscles are contracted. It doesn't last. Most Chiropractors know this is bullshit. Patient's don't.
Ongoing wellness care- If you get regular adjustments you will "add life to years and add years to life". There's no evidence that people who get adjusted live longer. People who care about their health certainly are healthier, so you can't make the correlation that people who decide to get regular adjustments are healthier because of it. The ongoing wellness care is certainly a good marketing tool. I don't get adjustments anymore. I have no desire to at all, and it doesn't feel natural to me.
I could write a book about all this, but why? Most of the practitioners it would be aimed at already know this stuff and simply don't care.
Chiropractors use three methods to find spinal misalignments:
Palpation- Feeling the spine and moving the joints. This has been shown conclusively by studies not to be effective and has no interexaminer reliability.
Intrumentation- The most common being heat sensing equipment or EEG equipment that measures and graphs heat and electrical activity of the paraspinal muscles, looking for imbalances. Chiropractors market this as a perfect science. I actually worked in an office that used this. All 3 of the Chiropractors working there agreed that it was perfectly worthless. But we charged for it, and we rationalized it all by saying that it is "good for patient education". Every Chiropractic friend I have agrees that these machines with names like "subluxation station" or "myovisions" are perfectly worthless. The studies on them are pointless and fruitless. They provide no value at all to the practitioner. The value is merely in giving the patient an artificial visual aid to show them that their body is assymetrical, and to lead them to the false assumption that this is pathological and Chiropractic care is going to improve their lives by fixing this. One practicing friend I have is irate that Palmer College (where we went to school) has incorporated these junk machines in their student clinics.
X-rays- One of the most common strategems Chiropractors are trained to use is to show a "normal" spine in comparison with an x-ray of the patient's slightly crooked spine and then claim that we can help you make this better. False. Almost nobody has a straight spine, and no amount of adjusting is going to make an adult spine straight. To make matters worse, the chiropractor telling you this knows it! It's just more "patient education". Needless to say, the x-ray analysis has been shown in studies done by Chiropractors to have a worthless degree of interexaminer reliability. Reading x-rays for pathology such as disc herniations, degeneration, fractures etc... is a different issue and is not what I'm discussing here.
When taken as individual things- X-rays, Instrumentation, and Palpation have been shown in research done by Chiropractors to be virtually worthless at informing the Chiropractor what to adjust. But Chiropractors maintain that if you combine all three worthless detection systems together, they make a good system of detection.
Since most of the Chiropractors I know are intelligent enough not to "give a shit about subluxations" anyways, it doesn't much matter. "Being a subluxation fixer is like being a deaf piano tuner", I heard one person say.
Chiropractic was started by D.D. Palmer (left) near the turn of the century and developed by his son B.J. Palmer. Palmer was a spiritualist who thought that misalignments in the spine blocked the life force from the brain to the rest of the body.
Chiropractic followed the route of the typical placebo effect. It started by focusing only on the upper cervical vertebrae. Initially, like most new placebo therapies, people claimed dramatic miraculous results. Then, like most placebo therapies, the results began to wane and the technique was tampered with again and again. Each time some change was made to the upper cervical adjustment, results improved and then waned as it became old again and the hope and expectation that drives the placebo effect diminishes. This went on and on until the placebo effect waned to the point where people decided to start tampering with the whole axial skeleton from occiput to coccyx. The idea was to restore the flow of the nerve impulse from brain to body by removing vertebral subluxations (tiny misalignments of the vertebra). Up until this point, there wasn't a word about neck or back pain. It never originally had anything to do with neck or back pain.
But by the 1950's, Chiropractors noticed that there was an effect on pain from adjusting the spine. The original placebo miracles of D.D. Palmer's adjustments were too rare now to provide effective marketing, so there was a campaign to start selling the profession based on musculoskeletal pain relief. Since then, there has been enormous confusion between the metaphysical/life force/placebo effects of Chiropractic and the musculoskeletal therapeutic effects of the adjustment.
Many Chiropractors want to focus on the metaphysical aspects of original Chiropractic while many see the metaphysical ideas of original Chiropractic as bunko and want to focus on pain relief. Most combine the two ideas and hope to draw as many patients as possible into their net.
Insurance companies hate Chiropractors. When Chiropractors bill for insurance, they mark subluxation codes no matter what the patient is coming for and no matter what the Chiropractor is doing. There is not the slightest bit of reliable evidence that tiny subluxations have any effect at all on anyone. As most of my practicing Chiropractic friends have told me personally, "I don't give a shit about sublxations". Old time Chiropractors who have been getting regular adjustments to fix "subluxations" for most of their lives are currently dropping off like flies, dying before their time.
It is like a divorce process that never entirely goes away. It lingers with me due to a gigantic student loan burden, and the inability to explain to people why I would choose not to practice Chiropractic. In any social situation I am absolutely guaranteed to be met with a crowd of astonished people who force me into admitting that I was once a Chiropractor and who ultimately think I am insane for not practicing Chiropractic- primarily because of the pay-cut and nothing else. There is not a word I can say to make them understand. In fact, there may not be a human being on this planet who really knows why I am incapable of practicing Chiropractic, because it can't be explained briefly in a way people would understand.
The next several blog posts will break down this issue in detail, allowing me to explain things and hopefully giving me a chance to refer specific people here to read this.
Let me start by saying that it is humanly impossible for me to practice Chiropractic. My goal in this series of posts is to give some idea why.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Monday, October 22, 2007
The power of the mind has been overestimated when it comes to fighting cancer, US scientists say. They said they found that a patient's positive or negative emotional state had no direct bearing on cancer survival or disease progression.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Saturday, October 20, 2007
1. He rejected most of religion around 18 but then struggled for the next 25 years within spiritualism trying to find a way to transcend the human experience. He tried all sorts of meditation techniques, yogic techniques, out of body projection. Eventually he realized, as did I, that every single experience he had was because he *had* a physical brain and body, not because he was transcending it. Tabash has a sympathy for people who rejected traditional religion but tried to find a way to transcend normal experience for spiritualism. I think all of humanity is constantly trying to transcend whether it is through technology, drugs, exercise highs, achievement gratification, power, dominance, and immortality etc....
I look at someone like Ken Wilber as a genius of our times who is flawed in major ways like all other geniuses. I think he has a tremendously desperate drive to believe in the supernatural in order to uphold self-preservation and to uphold the idea that self-improvement can be infinite. Imagine the futility of the spiritual human potential movement if we don't survive death and get reborn, carrying with us all that we have learned. Imagine the futility of spending all your time in life maximizing your potential only to spend 20 of years growing old and eroding slowly like an ornate sand castle. Despite the vast power of Wilber's intellect and his extraordinary gestalt vision, he still thinks that a guru can transmit spiritual power to a disciple and other such claims which I am incapable of taking seriously, and often amazed that he believes. When a friend of his received a grant for ESP research and asked Wilber to design the perfect experiment that would prove the non-local mind once and for all, Wilber declined and told him to invest in a PR firm. He said ESP was already 100% proven.I would love to believe this. But there has been a spew of non-local healing ("prayer")research and non-local healing ("prayer")research corruption. When asked what his favorite two prayer research studies were, advocate Larry Dossey cited two studies which have since been defamed due to poor study design and outright corruption. I see people who have left the field of ESP research despite a beginning where they wholeheartedly believed it was real, only to realize by looking for themselves that there is no ESP. Wilber is more optimistic for reasons I can't understand anymore. He needs to believe.
2. I think Tabash covers the missing element of our secular campaign which is never covered by Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens or Dennett. This missing element is that there is no good evidence for anything transcendent of the body, and that all the evidence seems to point out that consciousness is in the brain. These arguments are lost in debate about a religious god because people are interested in arguing whether a god exists, and missing a subject which is just as key- what evidence do we have that any of our experiences are not entirely body based? What about actual spiritual experience? Sam Harris is the only "enlightened" one on this issue and the atheists don't understand what he is talking about, unfortunately.
I pointed out a comment recently by a Christian commentator after a Richard Dawkins debate where the Christian could not comprehend how Dawkins could possibly suggest that evolution gave humankind a lust for doing good. This lack of knowledge base is revealed again and again in news articles in major publications. The public at large is completely unaware of evolutionary psychology, which was one of the primary things that led me personally to non-belief. People literally have never heard these arguments before, and they are some of the most powerful arguments for atheism. One problem is that believers don't have the knowledge base to understand how powerful these arguments are. I can't even think of a believer I know who would have the slightest idea what I was talking about if I brought up arguments from evolutionary psychology. I suppose that understanding this is partly a definition for not believing anymore. But it is not all that difficult to gather the knowledge base. The problem is that it requires an openness to consider the ideas before they settle in, and as can be seen, believers are not willing to do that. The second problem is that the these people don't understand how well subscribed these arguments are. These are not just some hazy opinions pulled out of the imagination, but generally agreed upon by anyone who is anyone in this realm of scientific inquiry. If you even bothered to begin arguing with a believer about how morals were designed by evolution, you would likely just be cut off midstream and be told how much a mother loves her child. At which point you would quip "like a prairie vole?", and then you'd see a deer in headlights.
We are not using all the tools at hand to combat religious superstition yet. As the believers become more familiar with atheist arguments, they will begin to be capable of absorbing the bigger and more important argument of whether we survive death. As Tabash says, religious people are more concerned with living forever than whether or not there is a god. And so am I. God is the easy part.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Hitchens has been doing some exercise and has had spa treatment. He even combed his hair. Shit, he even bought a new suit for the first time since the publication of his last book.
This is the single most one sided debate I've seen I think. Hitchens lays forth his arguments so solidly that his opponents has little desire to continue talking after awhile and even the moderator seems mesmerized and subservient to Hitchen's desire to hog the floor as he always tries to do. The simple and obvious thing here is that Hitchens wants to keep talking and his opponent has nothing really to say.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Wow! Daniel Dennett rips it apart at AAI. The man not only still has it, he's got all of it. After listening to Dennett I realized that of all the critics of religion, he really gets into the mind of the believer and dissects it from a behavioral and psychological vantage point like no other. Dennett is deep, stick with him and he will take you on a journey through the human nature of belief. You have to sit through Julia Sweeney's jubilation for a few minutes before it starts.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Saturday, October 13, 2007
Why We Lie: The Evolutionary Roots of Deception and the Unconscious Mind by David Livingstone Smith
This book was a disappointment to me. With a title so compelling I thought it would be full of great insights and examples similar to "The Blank Slate" by Steven Pinker. Instead, it is mostly a rehash of selfish gene ideas and the introduction of a supposedly new pet theory from the author which turns out to be as provocative as a cup of tea at noon in England.
Scientists have their hands tied behind their backs. They aren't allowed to state the obvious if there is no data to back it up. That's why every once in awhile you'll see some sort of headline like- "dramatic new study shows that believing in an afterlife and gathering in social groups makes people happy". Wow. Stop the world. I never would have guessed.
Smith discusses the processing of the unconscious (an idea universally accepted now and backed by neuroscience), "Social Poker", and what he calls the "Machiavellian Module". An interesting conjecture in the book is that the development of the large human brain is parallel with the use of language for social deception (social poker). With the advent of language came gossip and social maneuvering which led to a mental arms race which gave obvious Darwinian advantages and quickly led to large brains. One thing is certain- the human mind did not evolve to favor those who had the most accurate perception of reality. We are dependent on self deception to deceive others. The easiest way to deceive another is to not know you are doing it. No nervous ticks or shaking or looks give it away, when you yourself believe your lies. It would seems that our brains are so constructed to bend over backwards making sure that we believe what is most convenient to believe. Thus, somewhere in a dank paleolithic cave, the first politicians arose.
As For Smith's personal theory, it is merely the idea that certain observed events and statements lead to later conversations which involve "Coded Narratives", which are the mind's subtle ways of suggesting things safely to others without revealing the entire hand. For instance, if you think your girlfriend is cheating, you may subconsciously mention something in front of her about infidelity, without really realizing where the urge came from. That's it. Hardly earthshattering. It becomes interesting in it's window into the unconscious however, because you can put people into groups, give them various promptings and observe how the course of the conversation parallels the promptings.
"Human nature stands in the way of understanding human nature"- Smith
Monday, October 08, 2007
Forget "atheism". About 6 years ago I started to open my mind to the possibility that the brain and the soul were one and no little god connector was in there. 3 years ago I decided I did not believe in an eternal soul. I decided to reflect on the journey and describe some books and things that changed my mind.
1. The Bible- Read it when I was 15. Reading it alone, with no social group telling me *how* to read it, led me to a shocking conclusion- people were lying about what was in this book or they were ignorant about it. This helped me to understand that human beings were liars, and they lie about religion out of fear.
I grew up watching NOVA and Cosmos on PBS. I learned about evolution there and understood that it was true. I never debated that much even as a believer because I saw it with my own eyes. My highschool biology class taught nothing at all about evolution. My 4 college biology classes also taught nothing at all about the mechanisms of evolution, only the classifications. The final book we were required to read in college biology was "Klamath knot". The moral of the book is that evolution is a myth which provides meaning. I only wish I could go back in time and speak to the class about how only an incomplete understanding and ignorance of the process can provide a sense of meaning. The book is not really bad, but my teacher's intent was to soften the contraversy between creation and evolution, so people could leave the class with their religious pants still on. For shame!
My spirituality phase lasted 7 years. I read countless books displaying the abject ignorance of nuage writers concerning the natural world as they discussed the "non-physical" as an alternative way of understanding the mind/body/consciousness, without ever seriously acknowledging what already *is* known about these things in a naturalistic context.
By age 27 my disillusionment with spirituality had reached a zenith. I had begun exploring the truth about the various holy men, yogis and spiritual leaders. Going to groups of people who were spiritual was like going to a museum of ignorance, superstition, and unresolved personal issues. Flashback-
2. The Path- This book is a chronicle of the life of my favorite Indian Guru Paramahansa Yogananda from the perspective of one of his students- Kriyananada (Donald Walters). I went to Kriyananda's yoga service in Seattle one day to check it out. I participated in the service and listened to the talk. When I went out into the forum, I noticed how everyone eyed me suspiciously. I asked "where is Kriyananda". The people were uncomfortable with the question, but one red haired man told me that he had moved to Europe. I went across the street to the bookstore the religious group owned and bought "The Path". From the book I learned that Yogananda was a fallible, often ignorant human being who had disdain for intellectual examination of life. This did not phase me too much, as I had become the same way at age 26. Then I had a profound experience. I looked the book up on the internet. Turns out that Kriyananda fled the country after sexual abuse to numerous students. Thats why he was in Europe. As I studied more, I found that neary every spiritual leader is corrupt. The one's that aren't are good at hiding it. I began to realize that the idea of "liberation" was impossible. Even the best were never liberated. It was a fantasy.
By 27 my mind was open to the possibility that all these brilliant rationalist people who did not believe in souls may be correct. I had trained myself over the years to stop being skeptical, as is the case with spiritualists. I started playing chess, to force myself to recover my satisfaction with pure logical calculation. If one is checkmated, they are checkmated. One cannot merely say "Bishops don't move that way in my world, maybe they move diagonally for you, but that's not my truth." What made it easy for me to leave the absurd post-modernist relativism of spirituality was my lack of comfort around people who were like this. I'm somewhat proud that I knew better.
3. The Blank Slate by Stephen Pinker. Admittedly I have not finished the book yet. I wasn't ready for it at the time, and now I know so much about what it says I haven't forced myself to actually finish it, but I own it. This book argues persuasively using empirical evidence we come into this world already having a disposition. An idea we spiritualists do not allow ourselves to comprehend. I realized I had been living in ignorant denial. I had always been a reflective, introspective, thoughtful, peaceful, equinimitous person. I did nothing to achieve this. Whereas my brother is hyper-active, unplanning, addicted, uncritical, and impulsive. I realized eventually that I could not take spiritual credit for my nature. My genes are what caused my nature, not some mystical soul. I was not more "evolved" than my brother due to some experience in some past life. My genes were different. There are no "wise souls". Violent animals such as foxes and certain dogs can be selectively bred over mere decades to produce docile, loving, and shall we say, "more spiritual" dogs, merely by getting rid of some bad apples. No, I did not earn my good nature. Neither did my brother magically deserve all the problems his demeanor caused him. Shit happened. It's not fair. Life is... absurd? I began to wonder.
4. Nature versus Nurture- Matt Ridley. A more digestable book explaining how genes and environment cooperate. What I realized reading this book is that all of our nature is not determined by our genes. Our behavior is a result of our own genes interacting within a social environment created by the actions of other people's genes which influence our own. Which is my way of saying that genes don't account for everything, only the things that are important to any discussion involving human nature. It began to dawn on me that it isn't necessary to even bring the concept of free will into the discussion.
5. The Problem of the Soul- Owen Flanagan. I was mostly not ready for this book at the time. But what I got out of it is that someone who spends all their life studying this issue can explain exactly why there is almost perfect certainty that there is no such thing as a soul. He could not answer the question of consciousness, of course, but the concept of an autonomous free wheeling soul imbedded in the brain is squarely shot to shit.
6. Zen and the Brain- I never read the book and probably never will. But the existence of the book and it's author- an atheist who does not believe in an immortal soul yet has had Kensho and Satori experiences, eradicated my misconception that authentic spiritual experiences are all that is necessary to persuade anyone of an immortal soul. Not so.
7. Into the Silent Land: Travels in Neuropsychology- A man falls out of a tree and hits his head. Everything about him is basically the same except for one thing- He can no longer experience love. Love is caused by neurons. This is a direct assault on my accepted idea in East Indian spirituality and NDEs that consciousness/love/bliss were one and were the Godhead. Not so. I also learned that temporal lobe excision destroyed people's ability to feel that sense of spirituality they once had.
8. Moral Animal- Robert Wright. I think this was the single most devastating piece of literature for me. And many others like me agree. This book is a damning endictment on the human animal. It was here that I learned that I am not only an animal, but that my entire journey through my spiritual pursuit was guided by impulses which were blatantly Darwinian. If I had free will of any kind regarding my pursuit of enlightenment, it was nowhere to be seen.
I was already an atheist before Harris, Dawkins, Dennett and Hitchens published their latest books. But these books helped to create an identity set with which to define myself openly. I must say that "Selfish Gene" was good for providing a more mathematical basis explaining the evolution of altruism and cooperation which really solidifies the idea that the human "soul" is merely an arbitrary survival mechanism which evolved through natural selection.
In closing this long winded post, I must note on how incredibly ignorant people are of the most powerful arguments for atheism. The most powerful arguments are not indictments of God, but endictments on the human soul and free will. I just finished listening to a debate between Richard Dawkins and a theist from Oxford. It was sponsored by a church group, so at the end of the radio broadcast they had commentary by a couple of Christians. One of the Christians said that he was astonished by the terminology that Dawkins used. He remarked that he could not understand how Dawkins could possibly say that Darwinism had instilled in humanity "a lust to do good". This concept flew entirely over the man's head so high that he was ignorant enough to admit his own ignorance over the air. His partner offered no clarification.
The Selfish Gene was published over 30 years ago. The ideas in the book are older than that. The idea that evolution instilled a "lust to to good" and that the sense of morality evolved to protect genetic replicators is an idea accepted by every serious biologist the world over. It is one of the cornerstone arguments for atheism. Yet it flies right over their heads.
<--- This is the future, like it or not.
Saturday, October 06, 2007
This was one of the best books I have ever read in my life. Probably in my top 3. When it comes to my understanding of Islam, from here on I will count time based on before and after reading this book.
There are plenty of things on youtube about Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Here is a great video book report on Infidel.
She gave a speech at AAI which will be posted soon.
Reading this book takes you on a vivid journey through an incomprehensible culture, and how a devout Muslim women adapted to Western society, realized atheism, and became a member of Dutch parliament. She is only 37 now, so who knows what is in store for her future.
"When people say that the values of Islam are compassion, tolerance and freedom, I look at reality, at real cultures and governments, and I see that it simply isn't so. People in the West swallow this sort of thing because they have learned not to examine the religions or cultures of minorities too critically, for fear of being called racist. It fascinates them that I am not afraid to do so."
This is an example of her crystal clear writing and thinking. When I first discovered Ayaan, I wrote on this blog that she was the soul mate of Sam Harris. On Sam Harris' website there is a huge list of recommended reading, and he recommends INFIDEL if one were to choose anything on that list. I haven't read half of what he has, but I know it's a good choice.
Friday, October 05, 2007
Man I love living in the 21st century. Just twenty years ago, you went to the library and searched for hours through microfiche. Now you can sit in your study and watch seminars by PhD's on a vast range of topics all day long if you want, and never run out.
This speech given at the recent AAI by Andy Thomson is awesomely enlightening. It has been posted on the Dawkins website. Soon I think all the speeches will be posted, and I plan to view all of them.
I seriously plan to attend this event next year. They plan to have tickets available for over 1000 people next year, and I think there were around 600 sold this year. If you are interested in attending let me know, maybe we can get a group to go together.
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Though I don't think people will stop using the term, I hope they choose to use it sparingly and focus more on the argument at hand. One of the great strategems of religious people in these debates is to avoid the meat of the discussion by picking on the connotations of the word "atheism" and not addressing the actual criticisms of their beliefs.
It's much like talk radio where the host can choose to side-track a meaningful confrontation of his baseless argument from emotion by resulting to name calling or some form of spurious and weasely rope-a-dope technique that has nothing to do with the point. He comes out the winner at the end not because he refuted the challenge, but because he defamed the opponent or undercut their credibility with some false association with Mr. Straw man. Example: "But Stalin, Hitler, and Mao were atheists". To many people this is just the be all and end all of the argument. They can stop right there and wallow in their victory over the "atheist". Nevermind the rest of the discussion. Case closed. They never allow themselves to admit that these people were not rationalists by any means under the sun, had no interest at all in open debate, and carried their regimes out as if they themselves were THE LORD just like in a religion.
North Korea's system is not a religion for instance, but in every noticeable way but a God, it is JUST like one, centered around a leadership figure. In fact, the leadership figure is Kim's dead father, if that's not spooky enough. Where is the infallible leadership figure of atheism who singlehandedly calls all the shots? But this point takes more than 3 seconds to explain, therefore it is immediately cut off on talk radio.
It would not hurt to point out that Einstein and Bill Gates are/were also complete atheists. It would really piss Bill Oreilly off to mention that genius Alan Turing- considered by many to be the single most important person involved with defeating the Germans because he was the one who cracked their naval code... was an atheist. He was gay to boot.
Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, did not believe in Christianity. Yet they were key in setting up this nation.
The concensus at the convention was that it is too soon to be throwing out the term "atheist". Of course, Sam is always on the cutting edge and thinking forward.
Monday, October 01, 2007
I wish I could have gone. If they have a convention like this next year I want to go. Here's the ABC news piece on it.
Rational Response Squad had a blast and got to interview Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris in their private room and will likely have the videos up soon. They have a little bullshit session about it on the RRS website.
Sunday, September 30, 2007
This is so funny. Theists and liberal extremists are irrational. Oreilly forgets that ultraconservatism is just as bad as liberal extremism, and ....oh, he's a theist also and protects and supports their irrationality. Funny how he doesn't apply his rules to himself. Reminds of the speech recently by Ahmadenejad- guy sounds like a lunatic... but without doubt really believes he is an honest and thoughtful man who cares about the truth.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Democratic Party Maintains Solid Image Advantage Over GOP
Public Prefers Democratic Party to Republican for handling terrorism, military security
by Lydia Saad
GALLUP NEWS SERVICE
Sunday, September 23, 2007
Finished it. There are parts of this book which were amazingly well written. The chapter "Convenient Untruths" should be mandatory reading.
I am deeply biased in my assessment. Come to think of it, I can't even understand what the counterargument would possibly be. Would it be something like this?-
1.) No Mr. Gore, one-way media where one debator is also the moderator and the controller of the volume switch is good for the marketplace of ideas, and promotes a reasonable citizenry.
2.) No, the internet is bad because then more people learn facts and have dialogues and that's not good for ultra-conservative propaganda. The internet supports terrorism.
3.) No Mr. Gore, just because there is overwhelming scientific concensus on certain major issues doesn't mean there isn't a heated debate still raging and that we should carry out rash actions right away.
4.) No, I think it's great that oil companies fund the president's version of climate research because they have the most at stake.
5.) Wrong again Gore, the founding fathers bent over backwards trying to provide the executive branch with unlimited power.
6.) And of course, everyone knows that giant corporations are themselves "persons". Duh! Didn't you read the constitution?
7.) What do you mean watching TV is bad for your mind? I wouldn't know anything about Brittany, OJ, Peterson or Paris, let alone other major world developments if it weren't for 24 hour news.
Admit it Mr. Gore, Bush is the best president ever. If it wasn't for you liberals, we'd have owned Iraq long ago.
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Monday, September 17, 2007
I think this was his first novel. McEwan started his career gaining a reputation for Macabre stories which daringly explored human nature. This was certainly one of those stories.
The plot centers around a 15 year old, his attractive 17 year old sister, a 6 year old brother, and a 13 year old sister. Their father dies of a heart attack. Then their mother gets sick and eventually dies. In order to avoid being sent to an orphanage and having the family split apart, they bury the mother's body in a chest and fill it full of concrete in the cellar. They continue to live in the house together, keeping their mother's death as a secret. The 6 year old boy has a desire to become a girl so kids at school will stop picking on him. He begins to cross dress. The main character is the 15 year old who is sexually attracted to his sister whom he eventually has incestual relations with.
Some have likened it to "Lord of the Flies", but I don't thikn this was the author's intent really. But it is in part, an examination of unsupervised human behavior.
All this talk of human evolution in the new age community as if it were synonymous with our biological evolution. But send a group of infants to mars to be raised by robots and you'll have a colony of religious savages in no time.
Why did they do it? It felt good.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
Thursday, September 13, 2007
It is very difficult to find someone who was once immersed in the New Age culture that has publicly recanted and adopted a science and reason point of view.
Karla McLaren has been a member of the metaphysical/New Age culture for thirty-two years. She has authored nine titles in the genre, including Emotional Genius, Energetic Boundaries, and Your Aura & Your Chakras: The Owner's Manual.
After thirty two years of having magical powers, she decides she never really had any after all.
As a former new-agey healing arts practitioner myself (just admitting that fills me to the brim with embarrassment and makes me want to crawl under my desk) I can certainly recognize Karla's voice as my own. I just finished reading her wonderful 2004 expose in Skeptical Inquirer where she announces the end of her new age career. Then I read her 2007 website article describing what has happened since. It's amazing how much I have forgotten about my sojourn through the land of fairies and nymphs. Living through that was one of the key reasons I can be staunchly atheistic today. If McLaren isn't an atheist yet, it is only because she is in the middle of the progression towards it. It's like a whole new life since I abandoned that world-view. I just can't believe that was ME!
McLaren came to the same conclusions I did. The new age community rejects and abhors critical thought. It is filled with people who have untreated mental illnesses and who enjoy being victimized, and none of the methods and practices it proposes actually works in any way better than something available on non-mystical terms.
"We love to say that we embrace mystery in the New Age culture, but that's a cultural conceit and it's utterly wrong. In actual fact, we have no tolerance whatsoever for mystery. Everything from the smallest individual action to the largest movements in the evolution of the planet has a specific metaphysical or mystical cause. In my opinion, this incapacity to tolerate mystery is a direct result of my culture's disavowal of the intellect. One of the most frightening things about attaining the capacity to think skeptically and critically is that so many things don't have clear answers. Critical thinkers and skeptics don't create answers just to manage their anxiety. "
"My challenge to anyone who is concerned about the reduction in critical thinking in America, and the seemingly overwhelming movement toward magical promises is this: Instead of haranguing people who are trying to soothe their pain, do something to relieve it. Fight not against the myriad opiates. Fight against the things that make them necessary. It's a much harder job, but in the end, it's one that will actually make a difference. Research shows that in countries with adequate social support networks (such as most of Western Europe), religious observance is very low. It's not the educational levels that make the difference, though proper education is certainly a factor in adequate social support. It's the fact that people don't require as many opiates because their social structure is more functional. "