November 29, 2015
You’ve probably all heard about the recent attack on Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs. A 57 year old man went into the place, gunning down three people and injuring nine others. We all wonder to ourselves, “How can this happen?” Well, if you watched the Republican debates, you probably saw the candidates attacking Planned Parenthood, telling crowds of people that the organization is chopping up babies and selling their body parts for money.
Where they come up with this stuff, I have no idea, but media outlets like Fox News have been playing this up for months now. What better way to get their base stirred up? Abortion is an issue dear to most conservatives, and they were using this sort of rhetoric to make people believe that Hillary and Obama support an organization guilty of these atrocities. In his statement, the shooter specifically told the police, “no more baby parts.” He felt this was a holy cause and he was defending unborn babies.
We all know this is terrible, but I want use this incident to point out how there is double standard progressives use when criticizing religion. Progressive websites like the Huffington Post are railing on about how Colorado Springs is “America’s Christian Mecca”, and these backward beliefs can be linked to this sort of violence. The article rightly points out,
Local politicians have also been vocal about speaking out against abortion. In March, state Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt (R-Colorado Springs) said that God had cursed America for its stance on abortion after a stranger stabbed a Colorado woman and ripped her baby from her womb.
“This is the curse of God upon America for our sin of not protecting innocent children in the womb,” Klingenschmitt said at the time. “Part of that curse for our rebellion against God as a nation is that our pregnant women are ripped open.”
So ok, backward religious beliefs can cause a minority of people who really believe in their faith to act on those beliefs. It’s a real problem. I’m in complete agreement.
But how come when different intellectuals, such as Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, or even the talk show host Bill Maher criticize Islam for a lot of similar backward beliefs, they are “Islamaphobic”. They’re labelled as bigots, racists, and anti-Semitic, and all debate on the topic is shut down. When we see videos like the one below, are we not allowed to discuss them? The leader asks his congregation if they believe that women who commit adultery should be stoned to death. They all raise their hands. He asks them if women should be isolated from making any decisions within their society. They all raise their hands. He asks them if they agree that all gays should be executed there on the spot. They all raise their hands. Then he goes on to say, “We all believe this way.”
There are a lot of backward beliefs floating around in Islamic culture which must be criticized. People who address these issues, fighting for gay rights and women’s rights are not bigots, racist, or Islamaphobes. Religion should not be immune from criticism.
You know what Huffington Post, you’re a Christaphobe! Christians everywhere, it’s time to rise up and scream, “Not in my name!” How could you possibly link this atrocity to Christian dogma? Millions of Christians live peacefully everyday, and now you’re going to associate this backward stigma on them, that they’re violent and liable to terrorist like acts due to their religious beliefs? Shame on you! Where’s Ben Affleck?
Ok, I’m not being serious. You’re not a Christaphobe. You should rightfully criticize backward, irrational religious beliefs. Just go a little further. Criticize Islam too. You can do it. There’s just as much stupidity in the Quran as is in the Bible. Culture is something that must be open for discussion and debate.
But progressives don’t view it this way. They are motivated by cultural Marxist beliefs. They stick up for Islam because in the U.S. Muslims are a minority. There are no Christaphobes because Christians are perceived as the majority in power. There’s no need to protect them with social taboos. They stick up for people who they feel don’t have a voice. This includes transgenders, gays, blacks, or whoever else is a minority. They feel they must run to the aid of any minority and protect them from criticism. It sounds noble, but it’s a poisonous set of ideas. Whoever perceives themselves as a victim or a minority comes to believe that their ideas should be immune from criticism. Anyone who criticizes them or their ideas gets some evil word attached to them and society is supposed to shun them. Everything becomes racist, sexist, and bigoted; the words lose their meaning. Any idea, no matter who believes it, is subject to criticism.
November 15, 2015
I often look into the eyes of animals and think, “This animal is conscious and alive, just like I am. It feels emotions, it has an awareness of its surroundings and where it is, and it knows hunger and pain.” This is definitely true of higher order primates, like chimpanzees. The question is, how different are we? Well, let’s take chimpanzees. Our genetic makeup is 98.9% the same. What makes up the 1.1% difference?
Half of that difference has to do with our sense of smell. Chimpanzees can smell far better than we can. What about the rest? Well, there’s some genes which account for our difference in pelvic arch, allowing us to walk upright. There are genes for growing hair (their fur), and we find some minor differences in our immune systems. All in all, that pretty much makes up the entire difference between us.
But wait. If that’s the case, why are we so much more intelligent? In short, we’re not, but the little intelligence difference we do have is based on a few genes which cause our brain cells to divide several times more during fetal development, leading us to have three times the number of neurons. That’s it.
It’s probably not quite this simple, but if you flipped those few genes in a chimp, we’d have a chimp with a human brain. I’m guessing it’d be able to do calculus, compose music, and write novels. It’s something to think about.
November 8, 2015
I have no idea who will win the Republican nomination, but the Democratic party seems to be split between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. I wanted to highlight some important differences between the candidates and why I think Bernie Sanders is far more principled.
In the video posted below, you’ll see that Hillary changes her positions whenever it’s convenient. She was for the Iraq war , but now that we the people realized it was a fiasco, she now claims it was a mistake. She was staunchly against gay marriage, but now that gay rights is an important issue for many people, she has flip-flopped. Now she’s claiming to be a gay-rights champion and that she’s always been. She was for the Patriot Act until Edward Snowden exposed it and other programs for what they are; now she acts like she’s always been opposed to these unconstitutional programs. Hillary used to be anti-immigration, not unlike what you see in the Republican debates. Now she portrays herself as their new champion (and claims she’s always been on their side). As for the war on drugs, Hillary supported it, but now that people are fighting for marijuana’s legalization and have become aware of how many people are incarcerated for non-violent offenses, she has changed her position. Hillary licks her fingers and feels the political breeze and then says whatever she has to say to get elected. Then when she gets into office, she votes for any bill which serves the powerful interests who fund her campaigns. If you visit opensecrets.org, I encourage you to look at Hillary Clinton’s top donors. Who do you think she’ll represent?
Bernie Sanders was always against the Iraq war. He was against the Gulf War. He was against all the wars. He was against the Patriot Act, and was (I believe) the only senator to vote against it. He’s always championed universal healthcare and fought against big financial interests. He’s always argued that a college degree is now the equivalent of a high-school diploma, and that college tuition should be paid for in full. He’s always been against the war on drugs. He’s always been a champion of gay rights, even when, in his early career, it completely ostracized him from his peers. His positions have been the same throughout his entire career. As for Bernie’s supporters, they’re all individual people who donate, on average, $33.00. He does not even have a SuperPAC.
I was moved watching him deliver his speech to an empty room, warning against the wars in the middle east, how much it would cost us, and how it would destabilize the region. I like people who are consistent and principled. I don’t have to agree with them on every issue, but I like knowing who I’m voting for and what they’re about.
Why do I feel Bernie is the best candidate of all of them? I know this guy will help the poor get health insurance, will help young people pay for their college, will end the wars, will focus our resources toward our failing infrastructure, end the government’s programs spying on all of us (and the world), will end the war on drugs, and most of all, he would get money out of politics. Considering he’s the only one without a SuperPAC, he seems just the man to do it.
August 13, 2015
Beauty is a strange thing. I’ve often wondered why human brains are so concerned with it. There was an old song I loved as a teenager by the band Counting Crows called Mr. Jones. In it they sing,
“I was down at the New Amsterdam staring at this
Mr. Jones strikes up a conversation with this black-
haired flamenco dancer
She dances while his father plays guitar
She’s suddenly beautiful
We all want something beautiful
I wish I was beautiful”
When most people think of beauty, they think of sexual attraction and I guess I’ll talk that for now. If I were to ask most people why we feel this sense of beauty in the opposite gender (or if you’re gay, same gender), they’ll say it evolved to stir us to reproduce. Men and women are drawn to one another so that we’ll procreate and have babies. There’s no doubt that’s true, but that doesn’t explain most of it.
If you look at the animal kingdom you see some rather bizarre mating rituals. For example, to impress a female, male hippos will stick their rear end in the female’s face, defecate, and then sling their feces all over with their tail. Giraffes will dip their long necks down to one another’s rear ends and pee on one another’s faces to drink and exchange urine. The classiest of all may be the birds of paradise, who build elaborate, colorful nests, sing songs, and perform articulate, graceful dances for their partners.
What does any of this have to do with survival? What does any of this have to do with anything?
The other day I had someone recommend I watch a show on MTV called Catfish. It’s about people who fall in love online but they’ve never met in real life. Along with the hosts, they track one another down, meet up, and oftentimes find out the person they fell in love with isn’t who they say they are. Anyways. I wanted to share my state of mind watching an episode.
One episode began by showing this absolutely beautiful woman and her Instagram account. She was a young, twenty year old woman, who was working as a waitress. Her hair, face, body, she was just perfect. As I stared at the screen, I found myself wondering, “Why am I attracted to this woman as opposed to others.” There was nothing interesting or compelling about the young woman’s personality. She didn’t seem particularly intelligent. Yet here my mind was saying, “Now this woman here. That’s someone to mate with. Right there.” People often say that woman just won the genetic lottery.
The show featured her trying to get in touch with another guy she met online. He was in a band and looked like Justin Bieber. He was wearing gold chains, wore his hat backwards and to the side, had stylish hair, and six pack abs. He was a sort of singer/rapper who played guitar, and when these two met up he sang her a corny love song about how nervous he was and how bad he wanted to meet her. He was apparently cool and this lovely woman was mesmerized. Hippos sling feces, we make squealing voices, strum on a wind instrument, and look into one another’s eyes while wrapping ourselves in dead plant fibers.
It’s particularly interesting to note that when we perceive beauty, nothing supernatural is going on. Neuroscientists have narrowed down the exact areas of the brain which judge beauty. I’ll show you.
When the Counting Crows told us that we all want to be beautiful, they were saying we all wish we could look at ourselves in the mirror and those little red areas of our brains would fire with just the right sort of electrical storms. In fact, neuroscientists have identified the exact sort of electrical patterns needed to create a subjective sense of beauty, and ugliness too.
So when I was looking at that young beautiful woman on the screen, my medial orbito-frontal cortex was pulsing with just the right voltages and patterns, leading me to say, “Wow, she’s pretty.” If this brain area of my head was damaged, I would lose an important planning network of my reward system. I would become hypersexual, swear excessively, become a compulsive gambler, and likely fall into drug use.
What I find interesting about this is that I could rewire this brain area and make anything beautiful or anything ugly. I could make a fat, old, ugly woman the most beautiful creature you’ve ever laid eyes and that young pretty girl hideous. In fact, I could make you completely mesmerized by an old dirty shoe in a junkyard. You’d look at it and think you’d seen an object from heaven. I could make you love the smell of vomit and hate flowers. It’s just a complicated neural network of electrical signals. It would be hard to change, but not impossible in theory.
Earlier today I was thinking about how this applies to religion. Christians dream of dying and going to heaven, which is supposedly a beautiful realm without pain. Well, why do we think this world isn’t beautiful? Why do we need mansions, open fields filled with flowers, and angelic clouds? It’s our medial orbito-frontal cortex and the ways our sensory systems are wired into our amygdala and limbic systems. The universe evolved to become self-aware and as certain emotional and sensory systems developed they wired themselves into emotional systems and the human organism came to look at itself and its environment in strange ways, telling itself it needs to change the natural order of world into some other form.
Every other animal is fine walking around naked. They’re fine with nature as it is. They build structures to escape the elements, protect valuable turf, and provide for their young, but that’s it. Most other animals (besides the birds of paradise, say), will mate with any appropriate member of their species. They’re not picky. If the female’s body is symmetric, a gazelle will mate with another gazelle. Same with seals, dogs, and gophers. Humans are just quirky.
Take that young boy singing to that pretty girl with his guitar. What’s going on here? Why this bizarre mating ritual? Well, as humans were evolving, we were developing a sense of language by uttering sounds to one another and gestures. We all know that various grunts and utterings carry emotional contexts. Someone may be angrily yelling or whimpering in pain. They’re totally different sounds and our brains slowly evolved to process sounds in a way and interpret the emotion behind them. These sound processing systems were slowly and gradually connected up to our emotional centers.
Music is a form of emotional communication through sound. It probably started out by our brains evolving processing systems for emotional grunts and other things, but certain components of the sounds began to be processed in universal ways, and so certain types of sounds changing over time became linked directly to certain emotional centers. It was intended for speech and grunts, but we started singing and banging instruments and found we could induce emotions through playing instruments. And so, music evolved in humans right alongside language.
I’ve been studying all of this a lot lately. There’s a lot of research into why we find art beautiful. What draws us to certain paintings and what happens in our brains when look at a work of Picasso? Why do we like music? I’ll have to share a lot more of what I’ve found out another time. I want to more deeply understand beauty and aesthetics in the human mind.
August 3, 2015
Human beings often fail to think about what they’re doing. Even when we have children, very little planning or thought seems to go into it. I’ve been studying meteorology all morning and I came across an interesting blurb.
“The blizzard of 1996 was an awesome event. Lasting three days in January, the storm dumped huge amounts of snow over the east coast of the United States. Winds swirled the snow into monstrous drifts that closed roads and left many people stranded in their homes. Nine months later, during October, a second blizzard of sorts took place—a blizzard baby boom. Hospitals began reporting a sudden surge in baby births. West Jersey Hospital in Pennsauken, New Jersey, for example, delivered 25 percent more babies in October, 1996, than during the same month in 1995. Other hospitals throughout the northeast reported similar increases.”
– Essentials of Meterology: An Invitation To The Atmosphere
People get snowed into their homes, husbands and wives seem to have nothing better to do, so they look at each other and get busy making babies. A random snow storm can lead to a huge swell in our population. This also seems to shed light on many couples’ sex lives.