How To Stay Sane

From time to time I just take a stroll around town and just look around me.  Other times I just browse the internet at random reading news, or watch people’s videos on YouTube.  I find one thing which is almost always lacking – critical thinking.  People lack the scientific method.  Their opinions are not rooted in empirical evidence and rigorous thought.  Instead it’s based on intuition and emotional feelings.  People base their views on intuition and it plagues this world with irreconcilable conflicts.   The scientific mindset tells us to withhold belief absent empirical evidence.  Every belief has to be proven by observational data.  We need things like fossil records, data from careful experiments, inferences from proven scientific laws, and so forth.  It’s like a court of law where everything has to be proven by the most stringent standards before we’ll believe it.

Take when I open up my email inbox.  I receive all kinds of conspiracy related emails, most of which I read for entertainment.

That’s so awesome… lol.  Or how about this?

I get all kinds of conspiracy stuff in my email.   Some of it comes from David Icke so I was watching a video of his.  As I listened I just thought to myself, “David, what is this?  You’re drifting further and further from reality.”  And that’s what everyone seems to do – drift in their mind somewhere far far from this reality.  Very few people are actually knowledgeable about this world or how it operates.

Here’s the video I was watching:

As you listen to him go on and on about “consciousness”, reptilian beings who live under the Earth’s crust, how the moon is actually a space-base similar to the Death Star in Star Wars (George Lucas of course knowing all of this because he’s an ‘insider’), you can’t help but think, “What evidence do you have to prove all these claims?”  He repeatedly says, “This is just what I’m feeling.”  I think in this video he talks about his experiences with a psychic he visited.  I can’t remember.

He feels the human race was created by the reptilians 30,000 or so years ago.  They’ve modified our brains so they could transmit their thoughts into us in order to make us slaves of theirs and so that they can harvest some sort of low vibrational energy from our emotional cycles.  It’s pretty out there.

I’ll refute all this very quickly.  The pressure under the Earth’s surface is so great there’s no way there can be tunnels or a hollow Earth.  Such structures would be crushed immediately.  But if that’s not convincing enough, we have very sensitive detectors placed all along plate boundaries of our crust and every time an earthquake happens we measure all the waves and how they propagate.  We’ve modeled the interior of the Earth, and it’s not hollow.

If you read say a textbook in biological anthropology you can see all the detailed fossil record evidence showing our evolution.  And as for the brain structures which the reptilians supposedly implanted into us, neuroscience textbooks, as well as studying comparative neural anatomy of say that of chimps, show no signs for any of that.

But you know, people would say, “Yeah, well that guy’s just nuts.”  But how would you classify “nuts?”  How would you define insanity?  Insane people lose touch with reality.  If that’s the case most everyone I know is insane.

Take the fourth of July, when I went to a family picnic with relatives.  My family is very religious and at the park where we all gathered many church folks were invited as well.  Some of the musicians got out their guitars and started singing worship songs.  There they went singing about how they love the Lord, and how they’re clay in His hands, and on and on and on.  I just thought, “Who is this ‘Lord’?”  … “It’s faith brother.  You have to believe.”

I can see people saying David Icke’s crazy talking about reptilian aliens. I mean, what evidence do we have for such creatures?  Well, what evidence do we have for the ‘Lord’?  If you think about it, it all falls in the same category.  I love these people, but I mean, isn’t the stuff in the Bible just as crazy?  God is pure love, but creates a rather hellish universe, forces us to endure all kinds of hardships, then comes down and embodies himself in Jesus to undergo a suicide mission, nails himself to the cross in a bloody crucifixion to forgive people of their sins so they’re not given to Satan (a demon with horns) to be thrown into a pit of fire for all eternity… But God is pure love… yet if you do one small little sin, even the smallest sin, you’ll be tortured without end.

The leaders who run our world believe that.  Here’s Richard Dawkins talking with Ted Haggard who has been a top advisor to many of the world’s leaders, such George Bush, Tony Blair, and Ariel Sharon.

I don’t even know how you talk to someone like that.  He certainly isn’t interested in Potassium-Argon dating methods.  How would Haggard explain the fossil record?  Dinosaur bones?  How these tests date these fossils back millions of years?  What about cosmology and the redshift of galaxies receding away from us?  What about the cosmic background radiation seen at the outermost edges of the universe – that fog from 400,000 years after the big bang?  I mean, you can’t deny irrefutable evidence.  How can you just ignore DNA?  Does he know that the sun will eventually burn out?

All you have to do is just start asking questions and look around you.  But their problem is they don’t look around.  They’re disconnected from reality.  They’re plugged into a self-referential loop with their imagination.  They’re not plugged into the universe around them.  Reality is what the television, their political party, or their holy book tells them is reality.

I oftentimes like to tell people that’s it’s easy to devote your life to something and go out preaching your beliefs to people.  It’s much harder to know whether your beliefs are worthwhile and true.  Pastor Haggard spends so much time giving sermons and running all over the place teaching people all this stuff, when really he’d be better off if he just stopped for a while, locked himself up in a room and read some biology, cosmology, anthropology, astronomy, neuroscience, and other textbooks.  I think if he did this he’d quickly realize that what he’s been teaching is not the truth and he’d think, “Oh my gosh.  I’ve been teaching people all these mistaken beliefs for so long.”  He’d then resign.  But as you can see, you can’t even talk to him.  But to be fair, Dr. Dawkins isn’t exactly the most tactful individual out there.

But strange thing is, if you try to confront people with reality they say you’re arrogant.  They come at you with the strangest arguments.  I don’t think there’s anything you can do.  It’s like the situation Galileo was in.  He tries to tell them, “Just look out of this telescope.”  But people won’t look through the telescope.  They’re not interested in the world as it is.

Religious beliefs are just as crazy as talk of reptilian aliens.  I mean, there is a giant talking snake in Genesis, and people believe that literally.

There’s no limits to the amount of craziness people can dream up.  You have to keep your mind sharp and precise, constantly sifting through all the bullshit people come up with, always demanding evidence.  It’s the only way to stay sane in this insane world.  If you don’t, you’ll quickly drift off to who knows where.

It’s not just religion or conspiracy theories.  Just read the news.

Why are we at war in the middle east?  Do you know?  Does anybody know?  Is it about nuclear weapons?  They’ve done searched and there wasn’t any.  Is it about the Taliban and Al’Qaeda?  They’re no longer in Afghanistan… yet we’re still there.  Iraq?  Who knows.  But young men and women in uniform march out there to fight a war.  Why?  Don’t they ask that simple question?  They could die out there, and for what?  “Fighting against these crazos who hate our freedom!”  *Shakes head*

If insanity is people being disconnected from reality, then I’d say over 99% of people are totally insane.  They have no clue about human origins, the origins of the Earth, the formation of our solar system, what causes the seasons and weather, climate change, the consequences of their actions, the galaxy… hell, most of them can’t even identify their country on a map, must less anyone else’s.  They’re clueless about any culture other than their own, and most of the things they do they’ve never thought about.  They don’t know how their body processes the food they eat, or even why they eat.  They don’t understand animals or insects or why they’re there.  They don’t understand money nor the economy.  They don’t know the history of human civilization or what that even is.  They don’t understand science or remotely comprehend how all the technology around them operates.

I sometimes just want to run outside grabbing people saying, “Why is this grass here?  Do you know?  Why are all these bugs here?  Have these bugs always been crawling on the ground?  Why is our body made out of mostly water?  Why do you go to your job everyday?  Have there always been birds?  Plants?  Trees?  Has the sky always been blue?  What causes the weather?  Why does the wind blow?  Why is the sun orange?  Why does it hurt your eyes to look at it?  What is light?”

My younger brother used to work with a guy who did things like this to his coworkers.  He’d grab them and ask, “What are the three branches of our government?”  Sadly, hardly anyone could ever answer his simple questions.

Saying people are insane is bit harsh though.  Living in a box might be a nicer way to put it.

What people do know is the details of the consumer culture.  What most people consider social awareness is really an intricate knowledge of the bubble.  They know all about mass consumerism and the bubble reality created for them by the big corporations.  They know about movies that are coming out.  They know the latest sports statistics.  They know all about the celebrities and the big bands and when their new cd will come out.  They know the menu at the big chain restaurants they eat at.  They know about new TV show lineups.

Maybe that’s what happiness is for a lot of folks.  Who am I to infringe on people’s lives?  But I feel that people would find it much more fulfilling learning about the amazing, incredibly vast universe we all live in.

But you guys want to know a secret of mine?  It’s not known to anyone but my closest friends, but really I have this big thing for the Black Eyed Peas.  Yeah.  When I hear they’re going to be in concert near where I live I think, “Are you KIDDING ME!  I’m SO there.”

Sometimes they open with that one.

Let’s get retarded in here

And the bass keeps running, running
And running, running
And running, running
And running, running
And running, running
And running, running
And running, running
And running, running
And-

In this context there’s no disrespect
So when I bust my rhyme you break your necks
We got 5 minutes for us to disconnect
From all intellect
and the let rhythm effect

To lose the inhibition, follow your intuition
Free your inner soul and break away from tradition
Cause when we beat out, girl it’s pulling without
You wouldn’t believe how we wil’ shit out!
Burn it til it’s burned out
Turn it til it’s turned out
Actin’ up from north ,west, east, south

Everybody! (Yeah?)
Everybody! (Yeah?)
Let’s get into it! (Yeah!)
Get stupid(Come on!)
Get retarded! (Come on!)
Get retarded! (Yeah!)
Get retarded!

Let’s get retarded ha!
Let’s get retarded in here!
Let’s get retarded ha!
Let’s get retarded in here!
Let’s get retarded ha!
Let’s get retarded in here!
Let’s get retarded ha!
Let’s get retarded in here!

….

Let’s get ill that’s the deal
Out the gate, we will bring a punked Eye thrill (Just)
Lose your mind this is the time
Y’all can’t sit still just to bang your spine (Just)
)))))))))))))Bob your head, like Epilepsy ((((((((((((((((((((((
Up inside your club or in your Bentley
Get messy
Loud and sick
Your mind past normal on another head trip
So, come dumb now do not correct it
Let’s get ignant
Let’s get hectic

….

– Black Eyed Peas – Let’s Get Retarded

This is my guilty pleasure.  I disconnect from all intellect, follow my intuition, and get retarded in here! I like to punk an eye thrill (wtf?) then bang my spine and bob my head like I have epilepsy up in the club!  lmao.

Ok, I wasn’t serious, but you guys probably guessed that.  Yeah, and they’re making millions while school teachers struggle to get by.   That’s where the truth is people.  Intuition and disconnecting from your intellect.  Whatever your mind thinks up, go with it.  Imagination is reality!

The other day I was with my father and we went to a rural hardware store.  Beside the big “Cowgirl Up” and “Welcome To Our Barn” wooden signs there was a shelf of refrigerator magnets.  One had a little kitten, all cute and cuddly, and it said “I trust my instincts.”  So did George Bush when he sent us into Iraq, after his phone call with Pastor Haggard who probably confirmed that his intuitive feelings were a good idea.  Hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis dead, thousands of our own men and women in uniform lost, trillions of dollars wasted in a needless quagmire… *brushes hands together* “Job well done guys.”

Let’s get retarded.  HAH.  Let’s get retarded in here!

Let’s see.  Are there any other wise sages out there telling us the follow our intuition?  Sarah Palin tells us time and time again about living by faith and following your inner convictions.  Or how about Rush Limbaugh?  Start watching at time 6:00.

“Also for those of you in the drive by media watching, I have not needed a teleprompter for anything I’ve said. *Pumps fist*  And nor do any of us need a teleprompter because our beliefs are not the results of calculations and contrivances.  Our beliefs are not the result of a deranged psychology.  Our beliefs are our core.  *Points to heart*  Our beliefs are our hearts. We don’t have to make notes about what we believe.  We don’t have to write down, ‘Oh gee’  *scribbles on podium*  We can tell people what we believe off the top of our heads, and we can do it with passion, and we can do it with clarity, and we can do it persuasively.”

– Rush Limbaugh, CPAC 2009

There’s no need for notes because there’s no need for things like facts and statistics, or worrying about accuracy.  It’s all in your heart!  Don’t worry about critical thinking, questioning your beliefs, or consistency.  Speak your mind with passion and tell people what you intuitively know is the truth!  And notice the certainty that all opposing views are instances of ‘deranged psychology’.  The world is black and white.  You’re good and they’re bad.  You’re perfection, and they’re completely evil, on all counts.

This would be a good time to que up the Black Eyed Peas song and play it at full volume while listening to Limbaugh’s speech.  “Our beliefs are not the results of calculations and contrivances.  LET’S GET RETARDED  Our beliefs are our core.  LET’S GET STUPID Our beliefs are our hearts  LET’S GET RETARDED IN HERE!”

The more time that goes by, I really don’t belong in this place.  I come across a sane person here and there in this rather difficult life of ours, but they’re few and far between.

I’m sorry everyone.  I love you all.  If you believe in aliens ruling the world, or are religious, or think the war in Iraq was to defend our freedom, I still love you.   Come over here, give me a hug.  I don’t hate you.  I really do love everyone out there.  I really do care.  It’s just from my perspective, I’m seeing people waste away in needless wars, wasting their lives serving imaginary deities, and conjuring up conspiracies of aliens and it’s all such a tragedy. I hope I can help share the truth with some people and help them see the world as it is, so we can then get on the same page and start fixing the problems we face.  If I can help even just a handful of people realize their folly, and keep them from falling into these traps, that’s good enough for me.

So Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh, the Black Eyed Peas, Pastor Ted Haggard, the conspiracy theorist telling you about aliens ruling the world, and the good ol’ boys at the country store tell you to follow your instincts and believe what’s in your heart with unwavering faith.  What would someone like Albert Einstein say?

“The important thing is not to stop questioning”

“Question everything”

“A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.”

“To raise new questions, new possibilities, to regard old problems from a new angle, requires creative imagination and marks real advance in science.”

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

– Various quotes by Albert Einstein

Do you notice the difference?  Remember to question everything, be critical of everything, think about everything, and never believe anything without sufficient evidence.  That’s how you stay sane and connect with the world around you.  And if you feel everyone’s crazy, you’re not alone.  Einstein felt the same way:

A question that sometimes drives me hazy: am I or are the others crazy?

– Albert Einstein

Meet Your Meat

Yesterday I talked about the mega-farms, how they destroy the environment and the cruelty the animals must endure there.  After reading my post a second time I see that I didn’t even get into a small fraction of what these animals endure.  This sort of thing is best shown through video.

Beef:

Pork and Bacon:

Chicken:

This is why we have to eat organic food, or even better, become vegetarians.  If you eat the normal beef, chicken, and pork found in your supermarket, you’re guilty of supporting this cruel and terrible industry.  Sad thing is, without these cruel techniques a significant portion of our population would starve.  Food prices would go way up and most couldn’t afford them.  As David Attenborough said at the end of his Life Of Mammals series, it’s time for us to control our population to save the environment.  The more humans we hatch out, the more this sort of thing will go on.

If we continue business as usual, the only species which will survive are our pets and these domesticated farm animals who endure this harsh and terrible treatment.  Natural habitats are being ravaged and destroyed all to make room for farms like these and to build us more homes.

I had to turn my head when they jammed that blade into the animals’ necks as they hung there then suffocated on their own blood.  I can’t imagine what that feels like.  Then that pig fell to the ground squirming around, bleeding to death.  At the start of the first film you see that cow being castrated, no pain killers, just whacking off its testicles.  It’s trapped in those bars writhing in pain.

It’s so strange that we have animal cruelty laws regarding our pets, such as dogs and cats, but then treatment such as this is completely ignored and brushed away.  This is far worse than anything most dogs and cats endure.  Thing is, there’s money in beef, pork, and chicken sales.  Since that’s the case, this sort of thing is ignored.

Just watch the films.  They’re so gruesome I don’t even want to talk about them.

When I study neuroscience, it’s amazing that you find the same sorts of brain structures in animals as we have in humans.  In us, our outer 6 mm of neo-cortex is where consciousness resides.  It’s where we see, feel, taste, smell, and so on.  Read my introduction to the subject here.  Those pigs and cattle have the same structures.  I’m not sure about chickens as I’ve never examined their brains. I assume they have some of them as well.  When you’re jamming that blade in their necks, there’s consciousness residing in those animals.   They’re just as alive as us humans.  There’s a living being there, suffering and in pain.

Animals are just as alive as we are.  It’s only our mistaken beliefs, many originating in our superstitious religious systems, that disconnect us from the true nature of life.  We can’t allow this sort of treatment to continue.  This is just as important an issue as torture and human rights.  These are crimes against life itself.

Mega-Farms Have To Go

Sometimes I feel like a stuck record, raving on and on about how we’re destroying the environment and need to change the way we live.  Even so, I’m sorry; I just can’t help it.  Only 5% of our farms in this country are “mega-farms”, which may sound like a small number, yet they produce 50% of our animal produce.  So what’s a mega-farm look like?

These cows are unable to move freely, stuck in metal cages.  Giant hoses spray their little concrete cages to clean out the manure.  Disease can be rampant as there’s so many animals unnaturally crammed so close together.  These animals have to be pumped with all kinds of antibiotics just to be able to live in these conditions.  All the manure is shipped off to waste lagoons which are disease breeding grounds.  Millions and millions of flies gather breeding in the nastiness.

These cows produce 23x the waste of a human being.  Combined, the amount of waste involved in one mega-farm is equivalent to that of a city with 186,000+ people.  Yet, unlike a city where the waste is treated in sewage plants, this waste is just thrown out onto the countryside as fertilizer.

Soil tests around the mega-farms surrounding area show dense concentrations of e. coli, salmonella, listeria, cryptosporidium, and other pathogens, all of which are disease causing pathogens.

And you want to know how they kill these cows?  They herd them up in a line and then lead them into this room with a swinging iron bar, which is sort of like a pendulum.  Then they bash the cow’s head against the wall, crushing its skull and splattering its brains all over the wall.  It saves them the cost of a bullet.

Cows aren’t the only animals treated this way.  Chickens and pigs are subjected to similar treatment.

Families who live near these places complain about the hydrogen sulphide, which is a gas given off by these places.  It causes nausea, neurological damage, and unbearable odor.  You’ll hear stories about families where the children keep getting sick and they visit the doctor.  The doctor then tells them they need to move because the child’s immune system can’t handle living near the mega-farm.  When these farms move in, everyone who lives in the area tries to move off as the air becomes unbreatheable, but they’re never able to sell their homes.

But you want to know the bigger problem?  There’s too many people on this planet.  Where do you think all those Hardees cheeseburgers and McDonald’s chicken nuggets come from?  This is where all that cheap meat and chicken comes from.  Hardly anyone buys organic food, so where does the non-organic stuff come from?  The majority of it comes from mega-farms. We couldn’t even support our population without using these cruel and terrible techniques.

And you know what’s so ironic?  I’ve planned never to have children because I feel ethically convicted about the Earth’s over-population.  But, I was with family over the fourth of July holiday and I was talking with some family friends and relatives.  One guy was talking about a distant nephew of his who has seven children.  SEVEN.

Sometimes I just want to throw my hands up in the air and just yell out, “Whatever…” and walk off.   Honestly, I feel like I’m living in that movie Idiocracy.

I spent today watching a series of lectures on the physics of the impossible.  Some of the lectures were on chaos theory and talked about how difficult it is to predict the future.  Even in a deterministic universe, just small degree of imprecision in starting condition measurements can lead to major inaccuracies in distant predictions.  Predicting the future becomes impossible because we can never measure our starting conditions with infinite accuracy.  You get things like the infamous ‘butterfly effect’, where a butterfly flaps its wings in a jungle somewhere in Brazil, which eventually leads to tornadoes in Texas.  Other lectures were on quantum mechanical effects experienced at absolute zero.  Another lecture was on statistical mechanics and the extraction of energy from heat engines and reflections on whether it’s possible to beat the efficiency of a Carnot engine.

Then I go out for a walk to exercise and listen to economics lectures and history.  Then I come back inside and study some Cosmology.  I feel connected and one with the universe, reflecting on it all.  The problems of this world become clearer and clearer to me each day, even though I still have a lot to learn.

Then I start to get too tired to study further.  I open up Firefox and start reading the news, or looking around YouTube or go out shopping.  Everything around me is mindless.  When you go to the store, whether it be the books or the magazines or the newspapers… it’s all dumbed down for people with an IQ of 20.

This world is absolutely insane.  People are blowing each other up over religious superstition.  They’re watching UFC fights on their television for entertainment.  They listen to mindless propaganda, hatred and racism from the mainstream media.  They go to the movies and it’s all violence and blowing things up.

Our culture is just depraved and empty and no matter how hard I try I can’t escape it.  I’ll be in the waiting room someplace for an appointment, or out buying groceries and I hear music like this:

Shawty had them apple bottom jeans (jeans)
Boots with the fur (with the fur)
The whole club was looking at her
She hit the floor (she hit the floor)
Next thing you know
Shawty got low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low
Them baggy sweat pants
And the Reebok’s with the straps (with the straps)
She turned around and gave that big booty a smack (hey)
She hit the floor (she hit the floor)
Next thing you know
Shawty got low, low, low, low, low, low, low, low

I ain’t never seen something that’ll make me go
This crazy all night spending my doe
Had the million dollar vibe and a body to go
Them birthday cakes they stole the show
So sexual
She was flexible professional
Drinking X&O
Hold up, wait a minute, do I see what I think? Whoa

….

– FLO Rida feat T-Pain, Low

I feel like a prude, but man, this music belongs in a dumpster somewhere and doesn’t need to be polluting young people’s ears.  It certainly doesn’t belong in waiting rooms.  Whatever happened to say John Lennon’s Stand By Me, or Fat Domino’s Blueberry Hill.  What happened to popular music?  It’s degenerated into mindless trash.  Just compare that video to popular music not too long ago.

When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we see
No I won’t be afraid
No I won’t be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me

And darling, darling stand by me
Oh, now, now, stand by me
Stand by me, stand by me

John Lennon, Stand By Me

I found my thrill
On Blueberry Hill
On Blueberry Hill
When I found you

The moon stood still
On Blueberry Hill
And lingered until
My dream came true

The wind in the willow played
Love’s sweet melody
But all of those vows you made
Were never to be

Though we’re apart
You’re part of me still
For you were my thrill
On Blueberry Hill

– Fats Domino, Blueberry Hill

The last movie I watched, just to try to stay somewhat in touch with society, was Iron Man.  It was terrible, especially compared to a much better film like H.G. Wells The Time Machine, the 1960 adaptation.  Iron Man is mindless action, no thought, and all special effects.  The Time Machine delves deep into the problems mankind faces.

In The Time Machine, similar to Iron Man, the story focuses around a brilliant inventor.  Unlike Iron Man however, where Tony Stark is an egotistical idiot, the main character of The Time Machine is a concerned scientist disgusted with war and the age in which he lives.  The government is trying to enlist him to create weapons and he just wants to live in a world where humanity lives in peace and harmony.  So he plans to build himself a time machine and warp out of there.  He then warps himself 20 years into the future, to 1920.  There’s more wars and destruction.  He then warps to 1960.  He finds atom bombs and wars.  So he keeps warping further and further into the future, hoping to escape humanity’s madness.  Eventually he ends up in the year 800,000 AD.  I won’t ruin the plot.  You’ll have to watch it for yourself.

And I can see people now, “Oh Jason, you just don’t know how to have a good time…”  No.  Humanity is messed up in the head.  I’m not the one messed up.  I entertain myself peacefully, reflecting on quantum mechanics, thinking about time travel, wormholes, the origins of the universe, and other meaningful things.  I hope to help contribute toward research in clean energy and superconductors.  I don’t watch violent films and don’t think about violent things.  You shouldn’t either.  There’s better ways to entertain yourself that don’t require violence.

I did see one film which had a good theme behind it – Avatar.  It was pretty good.  I just saw it the other day.  It actually somewhat reflected on the things modern neuroscience is pointing to.  I think nervous systems of animals can be linked together, just like in that film.

I really get depressed thinking on all of this.  I’ve had a lot of ambitions in my life, wanting to accomplish this and that, but nowadays my primary concern is advancing science and just helping bring awareness of the dangers we face in the future.  These mega-farms just being one of many things we need to change, not to mention a restoration of decency and basic morality.

We must disarm nuclear missiles.  We have to stop using these pesticides on our crops.  We can’t keep using these antibiotics and other chemicals which we’re pumping into our livestock.  CO2 emissions have to cut back dramatically or we’ll be facing massive crop failures with climate change.  We have to stop deforestation of the Earth, and stop burning coal, which acidifies the oceans killing the plankton.  Well, that’s not the only thing killing the plankton.  They also face increased UV exposure with decreased ozone and oil spills.  Without the greenery, the trees and the plankton we all suffocate.  Keep that in mind guys.

Is It True We Only Use 10% Of Our Brain?

I’ve had people tell me many times that the average person only uses 10% of their brain’s full capacity.  Is this true?  No, it’s nonsense.  Quoting from a Biological Anthropology textbook of mine:

We have all heard the myth that we humans use only 10% of our brains.  Indeed, it is apparent that not only have many people heard it but they believe it.  Psychologist Barry Beyerstein (1999) has spent many years researching the origins of this mistaken idea.  Although he cannot pinpoint its origins with precision, he has shown that it has been around for quite some time.  One of the first groups that latched onto and spread the myth was the early self-improvement (“positive thinking”) industry.  For example, a 1929 advertisement states that “scientists and psychologists tell us that we use only about TEN PERCENT of our brain power” and that by enrolling in the course being advertised, a person might tap some of that brain that is not being used.  The advertisement uses the 10% figure as though it were common knowledge.  This indicates that the origins of the myth must date to significantly earlier than 1929.  Although Beyerstein has tried to identify the “scientists and psychologists” who may have said something like this, he has so far failed to find any specific reference to it in the literature.

Even if the 10% figure came from a scientist working at the turn of the twentieth century, the state of the art of neuroscience was not particularly advanced at that time.  Most people would agree that any sweeping scientific pronouncement, based on little empirical research, is eventually due for some reconsideration.  Indeed, there is plenty of evidence from neurology and psychology that the 10% figure is wholly untenable; it is basically neuro-nonsense.

One of the most compelling arguments against the 10% myth comes from the perspective of energy and evolution.  The brain uses a lot of energy.  In humans, it accounts for about 2% of the body mass but uses about 10-20% of the total energy and oxygen consumed by the body.  It is an “expensive tissue” (Aiello and Wheeler, 1995).  The brain cannot store significant energy reserves, and is extremely vulnerable if the oxygen supply is cut off.

From an evolutionary standpoint, maintaining such an expensive organ only to use 10% of it does not make any sense.  When you consider that there are other costs associated with large brain size (such as birth difficulties; see Chapter 17), if we used only 10% of the brain, there would have been substantial fitness benefits in reducing the brain to a more efficient and less costly size.  This did not happen, of course, as brain expansion has characterized evolution in genus Homo.

Leslie Aiello and Peter Wheeler point out that the brain is not the only expensive tissue in the body.  The heart, kidney, liver, and gastrointestinal tract consume at least as much energy as the brain.  Human bodies use energy at about the rate that would be expected of a mammal our size.  Given that our brains are much larger than would be expected for a mammal our size, how do we maintain the expected energy consumption rate?  Aiello and Wheeler argue that a tradeoff with one of the other expensive tissues has occurred.  Specifically, at the same time as the brain has increased in size in human evolution, it appears that the stomach and intestines have decreased in size.  These size reductions presumably have been accompanied by a reduction in energy use.  The smaller gastrointestinal tract also indicates a reliance on higher-quality, easier-to-digest foods (such as meat).

The complex relationship between behavior, brain size, diet, and gut size is one of the most fascinating problems in the study of human evolution.  Although it is tempting to see brain size and gut size as engaged in a neat tradeoff, the situation probably was a bit more complex than that.  Nonetheless, Aiello and Wheeler make clear that we have to pay for what we have:  a large, energy-hungry brain.  And a brain that wastes 90% of its volume could never have evolved.

Some Thoughts On Economic Competition

Just yesterday Yamin and I were discussing some economic issues and I brought up the difficulties inherent in becoming a competitor in our modern economy.  I laid out some reflections on how difficult the barriers to entry can be and related my experiences from my years as an entrepreneur.

When I woke up I laid in bed for a moment and was thinking about these problems some more.  Then funny enough, as I went for my normal walk outdoors I was listening to Ludwig von Mises Human Action on my mp3 player.  I just happened to come to his chapter on the market economy and within it there is a section dedicated to economic competition.  I thought, “What great timing!”  He discusses the same issues and makes some great points.  I figured it’d be a great thing to just reproduce the contents of that chapter here and bold various important points.  So, here it is.

5. Competition

In nature there prevail irreconcilable conflicts of interests. The means of subsistence are scarce. Proliferation tends to outrun subsistence. Only the fittest plants and animals survive. The antagonism between an animal starving to death and another that snatches the food away from it is implacable.

Social cooperation under the division of labor removes such antagonisms. It substitutes partnership and mutuality for hostility. The members of society are united in a common venture.

The term competition as applied to the conditions of animal life signifies the rivalry between animals which manifests itself in their search for food. We may call this phenomenon biological competition. Biological competition must not be confused with social competition, i.e., the striving of individuals to attain the most favorable position in the system of social cooperation. As there will always be positions which men value more highly than others, people will strive for them and try to outdo rivals. Social competition is consequently present in every conceivable mode of social organization. If we want to think of a state of affairs in which there is no social competition, we must construct the image of a socialist system in which the chief in his endeavors to assign to everybody his place and task in society is not aided by any ambition on the part of his subjects. The individuals are entirely indifferent and do not apply for special appointments. They behave like the stud horses which do not try to put themselves in a favorable light when the owner picks out the stallion to impregnate his best brood mare. But such people would no longer be acting men.

Catallactic competition is emulation between people who want to surpass one another. It is not a fight, although it is usual to apply to it in a metaphorical sense the terminology of war and internecine conflict, of attack and defense, of strategy and tactics. Those who fail are not annihilated; they are removed to a place in the social system that is more modest, but more adequate to their achievements than that which they had planned to attain.

In a totalitarian system, social competition manifests itself in the endeavors of people to court the favor of those in power. In the market economy, competition manifests itself in the fact that the sellers must outdo one another by offering better or cheaper goods and services, and that the buyers must outdo one another by offering higher prices. In dealing with this variety of social competition which may be called catallactic competition, we must guard ourselves against various popular fallacies.

The classical economists favored the abolition of all trade barriers preventing people from competing on the market. Such restrictive laws, they explained, result in shifting production from those places in which natural conditions of production are more favorable to places in which they are less favorable. They protect the less efficient man against his more efficient rival. They tend to perpetuate backward technological methods of production. In short they curtail production and thus lower the standard of living. In order to make all people more prosperous, the economists argued, competition should be free to everybody. In this sense they used the term free competition. There was nothing metaphysical in their employment of the term free. They advocated the nullification of privileges barring people from access to certain trades and markets. All the sophisticated lucubrations caviling at the metaphysical connotations of the adjective free as applied to competition are spurious; they have no reference whatever to the catallactic problem of competition.

As far as natural conditions come into play, competition can only be “free” with regard to those factors of production which are not scarce and therefore not objects of human action. In the catallactic field competition is always restricted by the inexorable scarcity of the economic goods and services. Even in the absence of institutional barriers erected to restrict the number of those competing, the state of affairs is never such as to enable everyone to compete in all sectors of the market. In each sector only comparatively small groups can engage in competition.

Catallactic competition, one of the characteristic features of the market economy, is a social  phenomenon. It is not a right, guaranteed by the state and the laws, that would make it possible for every individual to choose ad libitum the place in the structure of the division of labor he likes best. To assign to everybody his proper place in society is the task of the consumers. Their buying and abstention from buying is instrumental in determining each individual’s social position. Their supremacy is not impaired by any privileges granted to the individuals qua producers. Entrance into a definite branch of industry is virtually free to newcomers only as far as the consumers approve of this branch’s expansion or as far as the newcomers succeed in supplanting those already occupied in it by filling better or more cheaply the demands of the consumers. Additional investment is reasonable only to the extent that it fills the most urgent among the not yet satisfied needs of the consumers. If the existing plants are sufficient, it would be wasteful to invest more capital in the same industry. The structure of market prices pushes the new investors into other branches.

It is necessary to emphasize this point because the failure to grasp it is at the root of many popular complaints about the impossibility of competition. Some sixty years ago people used to declare: You cannot compete with the railroad companies; it is impossible to challenge their position by starting competing lines; in the field of land transportation there is no longer competition. The truth was that at that time the already operating lines were by and large sufficient. For additional capital investment the prospects were more favorable in improving the serviceableness of the already operating lines and in other branches of business than in the construction of new railroads. However, this did not interfere with further technological progress in transportation technique. The bigness and the economic “power” of the railroad companies did not impede the emergence of the motor car and the airplane.

Today people assert the same with regard to various branches of big business: You cannot challenge their position, they are too big and too powerful. But competition does not mean that anybody can prosper by simply imitating what other people do. It means the opportunity to serve the consumers in a better or cheaper way without being restrained by privileges granted to those whose vested interests the innovation hurts. What a newcomer who wants to defy the vested interests of the old established firms needs most is brains and ideas. If his project is fit to fill the most urgent of the unsatisfied needs of the consumers or to purvey them at a cheaper price than their old purveyors, he will succeed in spite of the much talked of bigness and power of the old firms.

Catallactic competition must not be confused with prize fights and beauty contests. The purpose of such fights and contests is to discover who is the best boxer or the prettiest girl. The social function of catallactic competition is, to be sure, not to establish who is the smartest boy and to reward the winner by a title and medals. Its function is to safeguard the best satisfaction of the consumers attainable under the given state of the economic data.

Equality of opportunity is a factor neither in prize fights and beauty contests nor in any other field of competition, whether biological or social. The immense majority of people are by the physiological structure of their bodies deprived of a chance to attain the honors of a boxing champion or a beauty queen. Only very few people can compete on the labor market as opera singers and movie stars. The most favorable opportunity to compete in the field of scientific achievement is provided to the university professors. Yet, thousands and thousands of professors pass away without leaving any trace in the history of ideas and scientific progress, while many of the handicapped outsiders win glory through marvelous contributions.

It is usual to find fault with the fact that catallactic competition is not open to everybody in the same way. The start is much more difficult for a poor boy than for the son of a wealthy man. But the consumers are not concerned about the problem of whether or not the men who shall serve them start their careers under equal conditions. Their only interest is to secure the best possible satisfaction of their needs. As the system of hereditary property is more efficient in this regard, they prefer it to other less efficient systems. They look at the matter from the point of view of social expediency and social welfare, not from the point of view of an alleged, imaginary, and unrealizable “natural” right of every individual to compete with equal opportunity. The realization of such a right would require placing at a disadvantage those born with better intelligence and greater will power than the average man. It is obvious that this would be absurd.

When you look at nature, everything is always diverse and different.  It’s a survival technique.  For example, every one of us has a slightly different DNA sequence, slightly different immune system, different temperaments and personalities, and so on.  Evolution tries out all kinds of combinations and those best suited to survival live on.  I think our social system is also based around this diversity.  Our species is evolving (albeit very slowly) into a complex social structure, with different people preparing for different roles; kind of like how termites have a soldier class which defends, whereas others are workers and take care of the queen.  I think in time our social structure will have a biological underpinning where each person enjoys his or her role in society and wouldn’t have it any other way.  Society is just such a new thing for mankind that the complex system has yet to fully evolve and develop.

Economic competition as opposed to central planning takes advantage of this same diversification strategy.  If you’re living under a regime of central planning, and those plans enforced fail, all hell breaks lose.  Take when the Soviets implemented unorthodox farming techniques, hoping to make their seeds survive the cold by freezing them.  Some of their quackpot scientists theorized that they’d be more likely to endure harsh weather and didn’t want to believe genetic research going on at the time.  This led to massive crop failures and starvation.  But if they’d had a more “anarchic” farming model, with each farmer doing his own thing, that diversity would’ve protected them from this.

I think people’s personalities are different so that society can progress in this way.  Adventurous types would have been willing to try the new farming model and would’ve failed.  More cautious personalities would’ve looked at it all with skepticism demanding proof before attempting it.  That being the case, their crops would’ve came out just fine and society could fall back on them for food.  This diversity allows society to try new things yet not be destroyed when something fails.

So whatever type of person you are, embrace your uniqueness.  Love who you see in the mirror, regardless of how you look, your personality type, your dreams, etc.  It’s ok to be you.  I think nature made us the way we are for a reason, even though most of us are too shallow minded to see beyond our own personality type.

We live in a world where everyone’s divided.  You’re less of a person if you don’t hold a college degree.  Anyone who doesn’t believe our religious inclinations is a “heathen” and immoral.  We’re scared of people with different sexual preferences and ethnicities.  We need to let go of all that.

Mises points out that the free market tends to push us into positions where we’re better suited to serve the consumer.  Each of us being unique, we’re each better suited to serve one area of the economy than another.  Even though in this model we’re pushed around by consumer demand, I’d far prefer this to state planning with the government telling me where to work and what to do.

As for the arguments I made about difficult barriers to entry, Mises believes this tends to push investment and capital resources into new areas which would be more productive to society.   Unfortunately, as he also points out, creating something new requires “brains and ideas”.