Thursday, December 20, 2012

More "Personal Relationship with Jesus" thoughts

To say that one can have a personal relationship with Jesus is vague because what does this mean? If you have a personal relationship with someone you typically use one of your sensory apparatuses: your touch, your ears, your eyes, your nose and most importantly, your tongue. You use these to learn more about the other person and to “experience” them.

If you are not using one of your senses to interact with someone surely the experience you are having is inside your brain (perhaps a hallucination or just a strong, irrational case of wishful thinking).

“Ahh, but your brain is ultimately responsible for any and all of the senses you experience in the first place; a faulty brain can render certain fake experiences—that is, generate seemingly real experiences”. The religious individual might say this in an attempt to denigrate our reliance upon the human brain as a standard to draw accurate conclusions about reality (this seems nihilistic from my perspective).

The above is most certainly plausible. Perhaps the brain isn’t a reliable medium to gauge and represent the world around us.  However, since science has a comparison of a functional brain to a faulty brain, we can readily distinguish the difference and thus draw accurate conclusions about a functional brain and the results that it should produce (and vice versa). We don’t have to jump into the grand descent towards nihilism and “What can we know then?”

We know that a functional/healthy brain requires physical stimuli (physical (i.e. reality-based, drugs are physical too, remember) to respond—if Jesus is immaterial, how can the brain respond to him? Thus, how can you have a personal relationship with him?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Christmas satire advertisement I wrote a few years back...

Christmas Package Picker
By Renee

 Those of us at Christmas Package picker understand the difficult experience of picking out acceptable presents for loved ones during the holiday season. Needless to say, most of us experience anxiety and panic attacks just thinking about furnishing that thoughtful, just-right gift for that special someone.  Nobody wants to contribute to friendship destruction, divorce or sudden death. Considering the extreme importance of material possessions this season and the bearing your special gift may have on your long-term future with your spouse or friend, Package Picker offers an easy way to avoid interpersonal family or friendship conflict.

Because bad gifts are usually the start to bad years, Package Picker makes extensive efforts to get the results you’re looking for by providing you with outstanding gift-giving options, most of them unsurpassed in originality.  We also have many thoughtful insights to offer you in all your gift hunting challenges.

Our reliable search engine will offer pointers on good gift giving vs. bad and also make creative, practical and highly laudable suggestions “Have you thought about getting her the plastic monkey that screams “I love you” when squeezed?  What about getting him that puzzle of a Christmas wreath? Everyone loves a mass-produced knitted Christmas sweater with snowflakes, Frosty and/or angels, so we offer one that has all three!  You could never go wrong here.

Instead of going for that cute purse, jeans in the brand she’s always wanted, modern musical electronic gizmos or a useful kitchen gadget, most women are fond of highly caloric, edible treats--especially during this holiday season where such edible goodies are often scarce.

Don’t forget about those fun, dangly Christmas tree earrings that can be worn for several weeks each year.  What about a pair of red socks with bells and little encrusted--albeit painful to walk on--sparkly sequins woven throughout the fabric?  Practicality and comfort is something we strive for here at Christmas Package Picker.

What about a deliciously aged, non-alcoholic fruit cake, studded with scores of nuts and fruits that are sure to get caught in your recipients teeth? When presenting this gift to a friend or loved one, make certain that they know the time and effort you spent making it and letting it age.  Ask them to brew some Folger’s coffee so the two of you can enjoy your fruitcake creation immediately.

Fake flower arrangements are a must during the holiday season.  Red and white silk carnations go well with plastic holiday ivy all made into one lovely bouquet. For a fun and exciting change, consider ordering a mauve or neon pink bouquet of silk carnations for that special someone.  These can be used all year and usually won’t wither.

Homemade gifts such as cards with cutouts and heapings of glitter, bath accessories or Christmas jellies that utilize your precious and limited “thoughtfulness” or “goodwill” are not your friends this season. Instead, Christmas Package picker presents a concoction of more original, heart-warming ideas. Consider getting your friend one of our enormous selections of impersonal gift cards to their favorite department store, such as Walmart or from any fast food restaurant that they haven’t complained about recently.

Christmas Package Picker also offers a wide selection of hip hop holiday tunes for that holiday bash you’ve been planning for decades.  We’ve made certain to include all your favorite Christmas classics and reformat them into more inviting, fashionable tunes, such as a nice medley of rap and country for your listening pleasure.  Only the coldest of hearts can resist a blend of Christmas country and rap.

Presenting 6 or 7 dozen Thomas Kinkade Christmas cottage paintings is sure to delight any scrupulous connoisseur of art.  Make it clear to your recipient that you’d like to see the paintings up year round.  Explain how the lovely pastel colors work well for the seasons of spring and summer too.

Did you receive a hideous gift last year and want to exchange it for a few quarters or put it towards a gift picked out randomly by Christmas Package Picker? Contact us!  We have a recycling program that is unparalleled in its efficiency and success.

If you like my "satire" is another WEIGHT LOSS SATIRE ADVERTISEMENT I wrote. Follow the link here:

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

How Anxiety Effects the Brain

“Being under pressure alters how different areas of the brain communicate. In a nutshell, the prefrontal cortex works less well and decouples—or stops talking to---other brain areas that are important for maximal cognitive horsepower.  When a particular brain area stops communicating with other areas, this can have dire consequences for our thinking and memory capabilities.” Sian Beilock, Choke 

Some people are more prone to worry, anxiety and self-doubt than others. As if these vexing feelings of inadequacy and lack of competence were not enough, the mental performance of these individuals is also negatively impacted.

According to Sian Beilock, an expert on cognitive science at the University of Chicago, a person suffering from worry will have diminished cognitive function. Specifically, the working memory of the self-doubting individual will be impaired, simply because they are perplexed with worry and anxiety.

When a person is overcome daily by worry, fears of failure and self-doubt (stressors to the brain) the prefrontal cortex of their brain is less able to communicate with other regions of the brain when performing cognitive tasks. It’s as if just the mere presence of worry shuts down the normally fluid connections between the various portions of the brain and the individual ends up with fewer mental reserves to draw from when performing intellectually demanding tasks. The anxiety-riddled person is truly at a disadvantage.

Sian Beliock discusses a very interesting study. Generally speaking, students with higher working memory tend to be more prone to worry and anxiety during tests whereas students with lower working memory experience less anxiety and worry during tests

It isn’t clear why people who score higher on tests of working memory are more prone to worry (especially during test-taking situations).

Could it be that individuals with higher working memory take things more seriously, internalizing test scores as diagnostic of their ability, which ends up creating an influx of worry? These students unwittingly create a “do or die” situation in their brain and worry intensifies. Once worry and self-doubt enter the brain, cognitive performance declines.

For those of us who are chronic worriers…self-doubters…it is very crucial to make efforts to work through this.  The book highlights the importance of venting—verbally expressing how one feels or, even better, writing down how you feel.  You need to find a way to prevent feelings of worry and inadequacy from entering. Because, once these feelings arise, they direct mental energy away from important cognitive functions—like coming up with a creative idea, performing well on a test, or playing a musical piece to perfection.

It is also a very good idea to avoid and actively ignore negative, critical people if you are a worrier. After all, you already have to deal with the harsh criticisms regularly generated by your own brain, you don’t need additional help from other people.

What's the good news? According to Beilock, for those of us continually plagued by worry, we are not performing at optimum cognitive capacity and there is GREAT room for improvement. (However, if you are not a worrier, you are probably already performing at your optimum cognitive capacity.)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Happiness is...Lowering Your Expectations?

“The amount of pleasure and satisfaction we derive from experience has as much to do with how the experience relates to expectations as it does with the qualities of the experience itself.”   The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz, 

Are many people unhappy these days due to the surfeit of choices? Developed nations are richer and offer their citizens more choices than at any other time in human history.  The internet offers us access to unlimited information, entertainment and things to spend our money on. Arranged marriages are becoming increasingly rare. Some grocery stores offer as many as 30 different types of jams and jellies.  Yet, despite so many choices, depression is on the rise in developed nations and people seem to be remarkably disappointed by many (or most) of their daily experiences and the choices they make.

As Barry Schwartz puts it in his book “The Paradox of Choice”

“If I’m right about the expectations of modern Americans about the quality of their experiences, almost every experience people have nowadays will be perceived as a disappointment, and thus regarded as a failure—a failure that could have been prevented with the right choice.”

Choices for education, careers, kitchen appliances and partners abound. Having many choices increases a person’s expectations of what is possible for them. This may set the individual up with such high expectations that almost any choice they do make, ends up being a disappointment in comparison to that amalgamated mental expectation that they had derived from all those choices they were exposed to.

I see it like this: When you have a lot of choices it results in you inadvertently summing up all the good qualities from the gamut of those choices.  At this point, you have the expectation that someone or something (job, career, education, mate, sex, kiss, hobby, dinner, fluffy cat, etc) will amount to your new, heightened expectation of it. If the person/thing/event is even just slightly less than your expectations, you experience emotionally negative feelings of disappointment and sometimes, bouts of depression.

If you live throughout every day with such high expectations, don’t plan on ever being extremely happy; plan on being regularly disappointed. The key to happiness is lowering your expectations and relating your experience to a situation that could be worse (not better). This action creates gratitude because then you are happy about your situation, realizing it could be much worse.

Happiness doesn't necessarily require fewer choices, but it does require the ability to modulate our expectations of those choices.  If you are one of those people who frequently says, “I’ve heard/seen/had better” you probably have high expectations and frequently experience disappointment/boredom/and/or lack of contentment in your life.

The more choices you have the more opportunity costs come at you, assault you, and niggle at your mind.  You may have been okay or happy with the one choice presented to you—but, when you have a bunch of choices presented to you and you make a choice, the choice that you do end up making becomes difficult (and less wonderful) because you are evaluating this choice in light of the other choices that were also available. You begin to reflect upon what you lost from not choosing any of those other choices. Disappointment ensues. 

According to the Barry Schwartz, high expectations (due to choices) and disappointment is very common--most people think in this way. The good news is that we can change this kind of thinking by resorting to downward couterfactuals. Downward counterfactual thinking is conjuring up states of existence that are worse than reality. So...basically...lower your expectations?

Thursday, October 18, 2012

In Group vs. Out Group thoughts...

“If an out-group member steps on my toes, I am more likely to say, “He is an inconsiderate person” though, with an in-group member I will describe the behavior exactly: “He stepped on my toes.” In contrast, an out-group member acting nicely is described specifically—“She gave me directions to the train station.”—while an in-group member is described as being “a helpful person”.The Folly of Fools, Robert Trivers, PhD Professor at Rutgers

In-Group vs. Out-Group behavior isn’t just found between differing religious/philosophical groups, differing socioeconomic backgrounds and differing ethnic groups, it is found in almost any setting where a “group” can form.  Consider how children “group up” in elementary and middle school. Consider the labels of “popular” and “unpopular” that children give to each other to serve as identification markers of who’s who.

 When you’re a child (between the ages of 8-16) and you are socially excluded from the popular students and their cliques, you start to make observations about group behavior. Of course, you, yourself, are not entirely dispassionate or free of bias, but you can definitely start to notice more things about group behavior from the outside. I would wager that these observations are more transparent and less affected by bias than from an in-group perspective. Why? Well, for one, you are less fraught by an emotional, irrational attachment to the group when you are on the outside. Being a loner, you have less reason to maintain cohesion with members.

As a child, what I noticed—often repeatedly---was how unfair and capricious the popular group members behaved and how inordinately arbitrary their responses were depending on who they were talking to.  For instance, I remember being talked to in a derogatory tone for asking a certain question, yet, if one of the in-group members asked a roughly similar question, they would elicit no such response. Instead, their questions were often acknowledged with kindness and a noticeable level of respect. Sometimes, the in-group member might try and rationalize that “my question was actually more stupid than the in-group member’s question” but in all reality, the difference of my question was insignificant compared to the difference in how they responded to me. The critical difference seemed to be that I wasn’t part of their group, thus, their response to me differed.

If you look carefully, you will start to notice this behavior exhibited by many people.  We all do it from time to time—irrationally treating our close friends’ ideas as superior to the stranger who proposes a similar or even identical idea. We might latch onto the “slight” difference in the stranger’s idea to justify our alliance to our in-group member (friend) instead.

 To observe this behavior among humans, pay special attention to how people respond to their friends ideas/behaviors/suggestions compared to how they respond to their acquaintances/strangers/homeless people/ people they’ve met for the first time/ comments, behaviors, and suggestions.   We all know that our close friends make mistakes—the question is, do we treat their mistakes with less harshness than we treat the similar mistakes of strangers or “out-group members”?

The in-group bias is one of my biggest pet-peeves because it interferes with truth and the acquisition of knowledge. It adds an extra layer on top of what is actually needed to examine. More specifically, the person—not what they’re saying—is factored into the equation. If your friend said something stupid and then a homeless guy said a similar thing, you may very likely treat the homeless guy with more derision than your friend—and that is irrational, not to mention obnoxious. 

 If you consider yourself a rational person your critique should be on what the person is saying—the objective facts being presented.  This is very hard to do.

Since the studies show that we are biased towards treating our friends and kin (group members) more kindly than outsiders, we must exert considerable effort to avoid doing this. We should always ask ourselves, is this individual being ridiculed because the facts he/she presents are anathema to current scientific analysis?... or because he/she isn’t a member of “our group” or maybe because we personally find this individual to be annoying?

 I would prefer that people treat each other equally. It doesn’t matter what they look like, whether they’re male or female, whether they are annoying or aloof, what they’re wearing, what they’re socioeconomic status is, whether or not they are friends with that person or what kind of cultural or ethnic background they have.  What matters is the claims that are made.  A person’s choice of words will always be unique, so what needs to be focused on are the specific claims presented.

If you don’t like the person you don’t like the person—but don’t try and twist it into a case of the other person (most-likely someone not in your group) being “stupid” or “unreasonable”--especially when your own group members are saying very similar things and receiving credit for very similar things.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Mechanics of Lying

“The results have been remarkably consistent. When it comes to lie detection, the public might as well simply toss a coin. It doesn’t matter whether you are male or female, young or old, few people are able to detect deception with any degree of reliability.”
          Quirkology, Richard Wiseman

I’ve never accepted---nay, I’ve resented the common sense understanding that “Liars can be spotted by their lack of eye contact or their nervous body language, mannerisms and/or posture”.  While I don’t want to make this into a case of “I knew it all along” I have to say in this particular area, I’ve always questioned this notion. Thankfully, the studies reveal that body language and lack of eye contact are NOT strategies that a typical liar will resort to or employ subconsciously.

In his book Quirkology, author Richard Wiseman highlights a study conducted by Psychologist Charles Bond.  Bond wanted to find out why so many people tend to inaccurately predict when someone is lying by determining what the typical person thinks of as the best strategy of how to detect a lie.  So, what does the average person think of as the best way to “detect lies”?

“He asked thousands of people from more than sixty countries to describe how they go about telling whether someone is lying. People’s answers are remarkably consistent. From Algeria to Argentina, Germany to Ghana, Pakistan to Paraguay, almost everyone thinks that liars tend to avert their eyes, nervously wave their hands around and shift about in their seats.”

In fact, when examining the liars in the study, it was found“…liars are just as likely to look you in the eye as truth-tellers, they don’t move their hands around nervously and they don’t shift in their seats (if anything, they are a little more static than truth-tellers).”

Bond’s conclusion is that most people are unable to distinguish lies from truths because they base their criteria for duplicity on behaviors that are not associated with real deception.

How, then, does one spot a liar? Bond suggests that there is actually a language of lying.  Anyone can control their body language and their quantity of eye contact; what is more difficult to control Bond says, is “the words we use and how we use them.”

“Liars often distance themselves psychologically from their falsehoods, and so they tend to include FEWER references to themselves and their feelings and their stories."

Lies tend to be SHORTER and LESS DETAILED than truths. If you are lying, you are more likely to incriminate yourself if you add too many details and speak on and on about your story.  While liars tend to speak BRIEFLY and are less detailed in their descriptions, they do tend to memorize certain necessary (non-random) details to maintain their lies—details that non-liars wouldn’t bother memorizing.
"The most reliable signs of lying are in people’s voices and in their unconscious choices of language: THE LACK OF KEY DETAILS in their descriptions, the increase in pauses and hesitations and avoiding the use of the word “I."

Cognitive Load?

Another interesting facet of lying involves the nature of cognitive load.  In the book “The Folly of Fools” author Robert Trivers posits that cognitive load is the most important variable playing a role in deception.  

What is meant by cognitive load?  In the activity of lying, the brain must consciously attend to many important operations at once.  This takes a considerable amount of effort. Think about it, to lie successfully you must be able to suggest a plausible alternative to the actual truth, speak in a tone and manner that convinces the other person, remember certain important details of your story as it unfolds, say things that do not contradict information that the listener is aware of and you must have your story memorized to recall when the need arises.

What about blinking and nervousness?

Triver’s mentions another study regarding blinking and its response to cognitive load when one is deceiving another: “Recent studies of deception suggest that we blink less when we are deceiving—cognitive load rules.  Also, contrary to usual expectation, people fidget less in deceptive situations. While someone is nervous they will fidget more, but cognitive load has the opposite effect. ”

 In other words, since the brain has so much more to attend to while lying, there is less effort put out to perform the actions of blinking and feeling nervous. Nervous energy often comes from undirected “extra energy” that one has. When you are concentrating, that extra energy is focused towards the activity at hand (i.e. lying) instead of transpiring into nervous behaviors.  

My personal “take-home” lesson from these books on spotting liars.

1.  Look for brevity in their response—an avoidance to elaborate on the subject being questioned about (liars would rather change the subject—people telling the truth don’t have a problem discussing the issue at hand and the more words they use won’t increase the chances of contradictions or incoherencies in their story).
 2. Look for fewer details in their descriptions
3. Look for fewer self references—liars tend to avoid the use of the word “I”
4. Look at the particular kind of language (and lack thereof), and language pattern that the person chooses most always trumps their particular body language and quantity of eye contact.
5. Liars blink LESS often while deceiving.

Books I refer to in blog post:

Book: Quirkology, 2007
Author: Richard Wiseman, PhD—Professor of Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire
Chapter: Trust Everyone but Always Cut the Cards (discussing lying)
Page: Starting at 57

Book: The Folly of Fools: The Logic of Deceit and Self-Deception in Human Life, 2011
Author: Robert Trivers, professor of Anthropology and Biological Sciences at Rutgers University, Winner of Crafoord Prize
Chapter: The Evolutionary Logic of Self Deception
Page:  11

Also, please read “Lying” by Sam Harris. Fantastic read!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Characteristics of Over Confident People (link at bottom)

We have all heard the studies that suggest over-confident people are generally less competent than those who tend to be more modest (and less confident) in their evaluation of their abilities (Dunning Kruger effect). 

As someone who is reminded on a daily basis from co-workers, bosses etc who know me personally that I “need to exhibit more confidence and pride” I’ve always wondered, what exactly are those specific qualities that over-confident people exude? What kinds of behaviors and actions do these individuals display that give them an edge? Yes, according to the article, over-confident people are socially rewarded for simply being over-confident.  This is not to suggest that problems do not arise from our human tendency to elect the over-confident (possibly less competent) individual over the less-popular (likely more competent) individual.

It appears that over-confident individuals tend to exhibit the following:

“…videos revealed that overconfident individuals spoke more often, spoke with a confident vocal tone, provided more information and answers, and acted calmly and relaxed as they worked with their peers. In fact, overconfident individuals were more convincing in their displays of ability than individuals who were actually highly competent.

 I guess this means we should never allow someone’s convincing display or “presentation” (smooth talk free of glitches and a “calm relaxed” way of handling oneself) trick us into thinking that they are automatically more capable or qualified (according to the studies, they are usually LESS competent).
One more fact discovered: Surprisingly, overconfident people were the most socially admired; these individuals were NOT thought of as narcissistic but instead, “beloved”.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

My Alpine Dreams! (pictures)

I am very sorry if you've sent me a message or wrote a comment and I didn't respond! Please know that I appreciate your kindness and continued support. I've been away for a couple weeks. During part of that time, I went on a little backpacking excursion with my Father and his friend.  Here are a few photos from our adventure!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Positive Thoughts

I apologize for my last blog post. I was very negative.  I really do have a lot to be thankful for. Sure, I don't have a car right now, but things could be worse.

My boyfriend took me to a viewpoint at Mt. St. Helens a week ago and here are a couple pics. Life is short, enjoy it!

Negative Thoughts....

 I’m pissed off for many reasons.

It could be because I had a tumultuous break-up from a seven year relationship 3 months ago, or, perhaps, because I lost my cat Nephe which I gave so much of my time and love to.

 I could be angry because I’m now forced to live in the section of town with the highest crime rate—right next to the $35 dollar a night, Horizon “Whore-Risen” hotel (that, according to the owner, happens to be “free of bed-bugs”, thank you very much!)

I become rabid when I hear the sound of a text message, thinking it might be from my new boyfriend, only to be greeted by a Bible verse text message from my mother.  This has been happening every morning for the past month and I don’t know how to handle it.

I could be angry because I have to go to a Starbucks or McDonalds to access the internet or because I lost one of my jobs a month ago. I could be angry because someone stole my car yesterday.

All of this has occurred within the last 3 months. I have many reasons to be enraged right now, but I choose to simply be pissed off.   Did I “cause” any of these misfortunes to happen to me?  Am I getting what Karma must issue out to me? No, I honestly haven’t done anything to deserve this, other than be born and step on the occasional crack. Karma doesn’t exist. It’s simply called, “Life just sucks, deal with it”. 

I just need one more bad thing to happen to me for this to be perfect.  Perhaps my boyfriend of just over a month will break up with me tonight…or, I’ll be diagnosed with cancer or maybe I’ll become paralyzed. I guess the options for pain and destruction are still unlimited—even if your life already seems to suck.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

How to Convert Anyone to Christianity, (Satire)

“Witnessing On An Airplane”
A Free testimony manual for creative evangelizing techniques
By Renee (Satire)
December 21, 2010

Handing out tracts or witnessing to lost souls can be a daunting challenge for any true disciple of Christ. Getting people to give you two or three hours of their day to preach at them and announce their imminent fall into a fiery, eternal abyss (unless they accept word for word everything you say) may not bring them glorious sensations of joy.

And that is why we have devised an entire course entitled “Evangelizing On An Airplane” suitable for any Christian novice.  In ordinary circumstances your convertee will not tolerate your threats of impending hellfire and will simply walk away or impudently tear up the tract you’ve handed them.  On a airplane however, options to escape or avoid an altercation are considerably limited.

Choosing a long flight from Seattle, Washington to, say, Madagascar, will give you enough time to belabor your fundamentalist ideology into your targets brain.   While your airplane neighbor may be mentally reveling in a lusciously tropical vacation in Madagascar, an offshore ferry ride to Mauritius, petting wild lemurs in rainforests or lackadaisically sprawling on beaches, it only seems fair to make him “work for it first” so to speak. You can do this by strong-arming  your fellow passenger to listen to long, drawn out scriptural oratory, recited by yours truly, of course.  Only then can your airplane aficionado enjoy their vacation more fully once they arrive.

Why does this method work so effectively? To begin, the individual you are attempting to convert has very few places he can go.  He may not like it, but for safety reasons which we won‘t elaborate on here, he is forced to remain in the plane throughout the duration of the flight.  Since the cabin of the plane is limited in space, there are only so many places he can hide.  Remaining locked in a lavatory throughout the flight will not be tolerated by flight attendant staff or by other passengers.  Your fellow flight neighbor will be forced to remain in his seat for the majority of the flight.

You may want to start your session by covertly placing a large, black, KJV Bible on the tray table in front of you with several sheets of clean paper, pencils, and a thick stack of printouts entitled “How to convert someone on an airplane”.   You obviously don’t want to scare your fellow passengers so doing this in the most discreet manner possible is preferred.  The hellfire video depicting graphic scenes of sinners burning alive should be saved towards the latter half of the flight, or, you may find it convenient to switch on when the plane is passing through heavy turbulence.

To begin, you will want to greet your fellow flying mate with a friendly handshake and a warm, foreboding smile.  Offering little hints such as these are sure to put your fellow plane passenger at ease and give you an aura of credibility and sincerity.  He or she will automatically think “This person can be trusted” etc. If your neighbor appears a bit resistant or seems to smile through clinched teeth, he may need a bit of warming up before any intense bursts of preaching should commence.  You may want to break the ice by asking a few, small, but harmless questions or telling them a little about yourself “My name is John and I attend (insert your church denomination here). Getting info on their blood type or whether they are an organ donor isn’t necessary at this stage.  Save your “What do you think would be the worst way to die?” questions for at least 5 or 10 minutes into the conversation.

Before exchanging a plethora of stupid niceties, it may be wise to ask your friend which church they belong to.  This one question alone can guide the course of your conversation for the rest of the flight.  If your neighbor says “I don’t go to church.” You can rest assured and begin your mantra into the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ--(or else).

 If, at any time you find your neighbor pivoting from your original  topic of discussion to other trivial, insignificant banalities such as his family, children or the prevailing illness he is dying from, you will need to reread our tactical guide on “Getting back on topic”.   You don’t want to find yourself in a discussion learning about his views on things or who he is as a person.  Remember, the whole point of this discussion is you discussing your views and creating a slightly awkward, mildly pressured environment for him to listen to you and what you have to say about the gospel of Jesus Christ.

If your neighbor explains that he is already part of a church that happens to not be denomination of your choosing, you can sometimes gently let it slide, agreeing to disagree.  However there is some virtue in finding a couple topics that the two of you vehemently disagree on such as areas of scripture that your neighbor has interpreted incorrectly or intentionally to fit his sinful lusts.  At that point you can start a healthy, much needed dialogue to even out creases in your neighbors basic hell-bound misunderstandings.

A good thing to ask your flying mate is “Do you think you are a good person?” He may initially flinch, wondering why such a question is being asked.  He may be under the delusion that he is generally a good person. There is extreme utility in this important question. It is a very sneaky way to get your friend to admit that he isn’t perfect, and then, in his weakest moment of desperation, loudly and fanatically call him on it, preferably in front of nearby flight passengers.  You can ask him if he has ever lied or looked upon a woman with lust.  You can ask him if he has ever said a curse word.

The goal is to find where your friend is a failure and then point at him and laugh uncontrollably. Using childlike mannerisms and tone, you may want to explain that his character defects are blatantly offensive to both yourself and to God.  Making people feel bad about their sinful lifestyle is a good way to segue into “their need” and then offer a solution to the need you’ve created--that only you (or the people you know) can offer.  This is, perhaps, as simple as marketing 101.  When people realize that you’re trying to market an idea to them and not simply trying to be a friend, they tend to respect you even more.  You are obviously coming from a sincere starting place, free of bias or passion with the goal of trying to bring about truth.  No coercion is ever necessary.

After you have done this, bringing out the video “Hell-fire testimonials”--from people who have been to hell and back--we’ll often seal the deal.
Notice the rise in anxiety, blood flow and perspiration that accompanies your friends face as the fidgeting begins. “Finessing your sales pitch with a little Fear” as we like to call it, is an excellent way to bring them towards your ideology.

As your flight approaches its end, you will want to finish your session with prayer, communion and baptism.  Ask your local flight attendant for several pitchers of water and some croutons.  When the flight attendant gives you a disapproving look, loudly remind them that religious intolerance will not be tolerated on a cross-continental flight.  You are an American citizen with certain unalienable religious rights and the ceremony you are about to perform will go on, despite flight staff disapproval.

Hosting communion followed by baptism on an airplane is always a very creative experience for everyone present. First of all, it shows your sincerity about your religious stance and makes it publicly known to others that you are willing to take whatever risk is necessary for your faith--donning a very reassuring feeling to the other flight passengers.  As we all can attest, few people can resist the well-meaning intentions of a religious zealot aboard an airplane.

Dumping two or three pitchers of chilled water over your flying mates head will suffice for a baptismal experience.  Later, after he has dried to completion, and shook his wet hair off like a wet dog, begin communion. Offer him a crouton and announce “I break this bread as a covenant unto you” continue with the communion oratory.  Finally, you can end your session with a long, dull prayer. Ask everyone on the airplane--including pilots and flight attendant staff--to bow their heads, close their eyes and join you in prayer.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

"Design" thoughts

The process of evolution has to use what is naturally available. DNA, the replicating material that started life (well, they say it was RNA first, right?, but going on…), is going to be used in all future replications throughout the evolutionary tree of life. Thus, we find that DNA is the common denominator in all life-forms. It would seem that a God would not be constrained to one particular replicating molecule—DNA. A God could use any particular molecule and any particular combination. That is, every life-form on planet earth wouldn’t necessarily have to be carbon based if an all-powerful, all-creative agent designed life. Wouldn’t we expect an all-powerful, all-creative mind to utilize creativity in the genome of living creatures? Wouldn’t we expect evolution to be restricted to the materials and replicators that are available?

What we will next hear from the theistic perspective is “God designed the laws of chemistry in such a way that of course we would naturally live on an earth with certain physical parameters which would necessarily be followed by a specific chemical make-up of life-forms.” Okay, there you have it. The reason why things flow the way they do is because Zeus ordered them to.

Just because life appears to be designed doesn’t mean it was the product or result of some higher, governing intelligence. If we look closely, life appears to have an intrinsic design for survival and reproduction. This perceived “design” is entirely natural. This design is formulated by physical forces that are part of this world we observe.

When you observe the complexity and design of a kangaroo or a leopard or of a human you realize that the complexity and design of these organisms does not have its purpose in some supernatural concept but instead, in natural concepts such as survival and propagation of genes.

Just because a zebra or any other mammal is complex and appears to be designed doesn’t mean these creatures come from an intelligent being who has a supernatural plan for their temporary existence on earth. What we actually see is that physical properties that are part of these creatures are explained in natural, material ways. Why wouldn’t we extend this to humans as well?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

How to be successful on Youtube, How to be successful on your blog!

Think of your site on the internet (i.e. blog, website, youtube channel etc.) as your virtual real estate.  How valuable your property is will be based on an objective measure.  In regards to virtual property, you can check the number of daily site views and comments as well as viewer engagement. These, I’ve heard, factor into Google’s search engine algorithm as to how likely your virtual real estate (website etc) is going to pop up when someone searches for words that are connected to the specific content you provide. The higher your daily numbers, the higher the value of your virtual property.

Spend less time trusting the advice or criticism of those whose online real estate is measurably less valuable than yours. Always look to those who have higher objective measures (#’s) than yours for advice. Next, seek ways to emulate them in some ways while also trying, to some degree, to remain original in the content you provide. You have something to offer that someone else does not—by virtue of being YOU. You have unique experiences, style and ideas that can be translated into views, more ideas, learning experiences and opportunities…even money (well, possibly).

If you think someone else has terrible content (has bad ideas, is a terrible presenter etc etc) then use this as a catalyst to make your own virtual content and compete.  Everyone has the “I don’t have enough time” issue, so please don’t use that as an excuse.  I personally work two jobs and have been going to school for the past two years to get into a nursing program and was just recently accepted into a program.  I’ve gone through a terrible break-up and have lost so much time these past few months. Time is an issue for EVERYONE. If you are one to criticize, this obviously means you have better ideas/are a better presenter, so create the content that you know is superior.  Then, sit back, and let the numbers tell the story.

When I think of monetarily valuable online real estate, I think of someone like Jenna Marbles. The content Jenna Marbles provides the world is spreadable and sticky. Her appeal strikes a wide audience. People that view her videos have a memorable experience and will come back to her. I’ve read several comments about “how addicting her videos are” and “I can’t wait for Wednesdays!”. She now makes a decent living on youtube and her blog gets regular visitors as well. Not everyone can be a Jenna Marbles in their overall expression of personality, presentation, comedic display and her generation of original ideas. This doesn’t mean you don’t have something to offer the world though! You just need to find your niche.

What makes a piece of property valuable in the real world? We might consider:  How close is the property to desirable land features? Is the property close to a beach or lake… does it have a view of the mountains? What is the upkeep like on the property? Is it in good condition? The list goes on and on.

What makes online property valuable is slightly (or, considerably?) different.
While space is limited in the physical world, it doesn’t seem so in the virtual world. The bifurcating nodes of the internet seem to spread out in a never ending fashion—there is clearly enough space for everyone here!  In the virtual world, you can easily create a website, youtube channel or sign up for a blog.  The limiting factor in the virtual world seems to be users. (?) That is, there are a limited number of people on planet earth. On top of this, there are only a small number of people on planet earth who will be intrigued by the content you offer—even if you are stellar.

The key is this: You give the user an incentive to come back. The more people come back, the more valuable your online property becomes. Advertisers will consider your site to be more valuable as well. You add value to your property by making it “sticky”. Make some aspect of your virtual property plant a seed in the user’s mind making them remember you in some way and possibly want to return. 

The internet has exploded this past decade and its network will continue to expand ad infinitum.  It is time for you to create your virtual space.  If physical property becomes more valuable with time, why wouldn’t virtual property? “User disengagement”, you retort. That could be true but it doesn’t hurt to try. What do you lose?

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Thinking with a deterministic perspective

One thing I’ve noticed is that people like to feel that they have control over their situation. People love to feel like they have correctly assessed their lives and have taken the necessary steps to make beneficial decisions. I sometimes sense an attitude of complacency, even arrogance from some people.  Some of us like to pat ourselves on the back, realizing that we’ve avoided the pit-falls that the unsuccessful masses have succumbed to.  “If only these losers would make better choices.” we readily lament with an air of judgmental ostentation.  “Just World Phenomenon” comes out in our thinking.

 I do accept determinism. Well, to a degree, I guess. It is true that we don’t yet know how much quantum randomness would effect the deterministic prospect. While I do think that for the most part choice is an illusion—I still believe that education opens the door to improved decision making. Furthermore, when a person is given the opportunity to experience motivation, their outlook may change which might increase their perception of options which they could then pursue. This succession of events might end up benefitting their lives—taking their lives down another pathway that they wouldn’t have come down otherwise. I don’t think the free-will vs. determinism debate is even roughly solved, but I do lean more on the side of determinism.

The reason I’m even spouting this half-baked response is because I’ve seen an abundance of information claiming that “If only people pulled up their pants and slapped on a positive attitude, if only they would make the effort to seek a higher paying job, by all means, they could attain it”. We commonly hear, “It’s all in the attitude. It’s all about keeping a positive outlook.”  Also, there seems to be an unbridled obsession with “Karma”.  Books like “The Secret” abound. There seems to be so much emphasis on the personal choices of the individual as if such choices and “positive energy” would decrease the expansion of the Sahara.

While such “positive thinking” advice might have its place, it certainly does seem like these hackneyed phrases prevail. Simplistic, black and white thinking emerges. Empowered by these platitudes, financially successful, healthy people can smugly think that they are better than other people. They might look at other people through the lens of their own circumstances and simply assume “the poor masses make bad decisions intentionally and therefore deserve their plight of poverty and a destitute life”.

Let us never forget the fact that our financial success as a human being first and foremost depends upon which geographical location on planet earth we were born—a factor we had absolutely no choice or influence upon in the first place.

Another factor that you had no control of was the family that you were born into and whether they were wealthy, poor or middle class. These factors would influence how you were raised—whether your nutritional needs were met and whether your basic physical development was healthy. Of course, we are not even addressing psychological and intellectual development here—which are taken for granted by those privileged to be born with parents who have psychological health and have had the opportunity to obtain a college degree (education).

There are so many variables to the quality and experience of your life of which you have absolutely no control of. It seems simplistic, limited thinking that takes for granted this enormous number of variables that exist outside one’s control—that exist outside the ambit of one’s sphere of choice. Only a cocky, arrogant person would attribute the successes in their lives to their own doing, to the appropriate choices they’ve made “independently”—I hate that word because really, we are interdependent.

We all like to analyze the choices someone else has made and think, “If only so and so would have done X instead of Y they would have gotten so much farther along, they wouldn’t have made this or that blunder (which would have been presumably worse than another blunder that they also could have made had they made another decision).

I think it is extremely critical to have a modest level of self confidence in oneself and one’s achievements. Too high—but rarely, too low—throws you off balance and gives you an inaccurate representation of yourself and of the world you actually live in.  It is easy to inflate the self and the self’s accomplishments, but never forget the litany of assistance you had.

Did your parents go to college and achieve degrees so they had more knowledge to dispense into your brain as you grew up —especially during those formative childhood years? Mine didn’t and I remember feeling—quite often actually—like  I had to struggle to learn so much on my own and that I missed out on information that could have been sealed in my brain years I had so many gaps in my understanding compared to the other children. Speaking of ignorance, I had to explain to my Mother this evening what "R & B" music stands for.

This all doesn’t mean I was disadvantaged. I still lived in America with plenty of access to libraries and I had the opportunity to attend a public school for free (primary and secondary education costs money in Africa). ! Did your parents pay for your college tuition?    My parents did not pay for mine or my brother’s college education but that still doesn’t mean that I’m not privileged. Again, I was born in America—a first world nation with extraordinary opportunity and access to loans, grants, and scholarships (and jobs to pay off our debt) compared to other developing nations.   

While we might be relishing in our achievements, we really should be thinking how lucky we are that the natural order of events unraveled so remarkably well for us. We should find ways to extend a hand to others.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Power of Belief in getting over a break-up? I'll try it.

Thank you Mr. Sutton and to everyone else for your encouragement on a previous blog post, I do appreciate it. As you know, my 7 year relationship has recently ended so I have been googling information related to “getting over a breakup” and “getting over someone” and I stumbled across this site.

I discovered that there was a book entitled “How to get over anyone in a few days”.  I also read a little bit of the information on this page and immediately noticed the very large number of views this site has received. Next, a weird thing occurred.  I suddenly noticed a positive change in my state of mind. I started to instantly feel better just knowing that there were obviously millions of other individuals having the same kinds of issues and searching for content related to the same situation.

While my X was able to move on quickly and replace his thoughts of me with a new woman he met, I’ve been having major struggles. I would keep on thinking of him and all the memories.  I wouldn’t let go. The sudden nature of the breakup paralyzed me. I had absolutely no expectation that this would happen.

As I searched the site of “How To Get Over Anyone in a few days” I began to feel a deeper sense of tranquility and my thought process was exactly like this, “If others can move on and get over someone, maybe I can make it through this too.” What I did, was I started to believe that I could do it. My thought process shifted and I temporarily started to feel differently. I felt noticeably better for the rest of my work-day.  It is important to recognize what, exactly, causes your thinking to change and, as a result, your feelings and behaviors. Once you do that, you can implement that same strategy (pattern of thinking) in your next emotional battle or even for that “bad habit” you have ingrained.

The other day I was at a local bookstore skimming through a book entitled, “The Power of Habit” by Charles Duhigg.  I came across a couple paragraphs that seemed to concur with my experience of feeling better after thinking a certain way.

“In 2005 a group of scientists affiliated with UC Berkley, Brown University and the National Institutes of Health began asking Alcoholics anonymous about all kinds of religious and spiritual topics. Then they looked at the data to see if there was any correlation between religious belief and how long people stayed sober. Alcoholics who believed that some power had entered their lives were more likely to make it through stressful periods with their sobriety intact. It wasn’t God that mattered the researchers found out.  It was belief itself that made the difference.”

“Once people learned how to believe in something, that skill spilled over to other parts of their lives until they started believing they could change. Belief was the ingredient that made a reworked habit loop into a permanent behavior.  You don’t have to believe in God but you do need the capacity to believe that things will get better.  Alcoholics Anonymous trains people in how to believe in something until they believe in themselves. It lets people practice believing that things will eventually get better, until things actually do.”

Although these are very simple “no-brainer” thoughts, not often are they considered as paramount to the healing process of a breakup or to any other habit or bad situation. This wasn’t the direction my mind had been going all along. I was expressing my feelings to anyone who would listen, I was writing my thoughts down. Since I’m not gregarious and therefore don’t have a robust social life, I would call my 2 female friends whom I’m sure were quite annoyed with my grieving. I wasn’t exercising, I wasn’t eating and I was indulging in the painful feelings associated with the breakup. Also, I couldn’t wait to go to work each day to escape.  Never was I telling myself “I believe I can cope. I believe I can get over him.” I never thought of “believing” as a skill.  I never thought that simply by believing can I let go of him.  

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Personal Relationship With Jesus?

“We need to be willing to risk embarrassment, ask silly questions, surround ourselves with people who don’t know what we’re talking about. We need to leave behind the safety of our expertise.”  Jonah Lehrer, “Imagine: How Creativity Works”      random quote of the day...

These are simply speculations…informal, unguided postulations about the nature of “A personal relationship with Jesus”.

If one could have a personal relationship with God/Jesus/Holy Spirit (or maybe just a Holy Trinitarian threesome), how are we to know that it was a relationship with them and not simply the individual’s thoughts bouncing around inside their brains? It appears to me that we cannot falsify this claim that one can have a personal relationship with God. More clearly, in what circumstances do we know that it was the individual being influenced by a psychological expression or disorder and not “Jesus” or vice versa? How can we differentiate between these experiences?

Today I’m going to suggest that a “Personal relationship with God” is really the individual’s mind as it reflects upon the various views and philosophical positions of their faith and the decisions they make in response to it.

A personal relationship with God always requires 2 components: a faith structure (religion) and a mind. The unique expression of the individuals mind as it considers the sundry elements of their faith is the “personal relationship” part. The fact that an individual will usually weave in their own personal preferences to synchronize with their faith seems to underscore the fact that the Christian religion is based on an individual’s preferences and emotional style rather than on reason---or even a strict adherence to dogma. There is great flexibility in the Christian faith.  This is evidenced by the diversity of denominations—and all of these denominations probably appeal to slightly differing mind-sets along a conservative (mind?) continuum.

I think that the “Personal Relationship with God” strategy endorsed by a large number of Christian theists is really just an emotional proposal that coaxes over individuals’ who have no interest in science, reasoning or empirical evidence. Instead of bringing up factual claims about one’s faith, how Biblical doctrines are verifiable or how living the Christian life offers a distinct advantage (are divorce rates really lower?) they latch on to this easy, unfalsifiable strategy of   “A personal relationship with Christ”.

If one is going to fully believe that they have a relationship with an invisible entity who offers advice and direction throughout the day, who guides them in their every decision while others starve to death, who unfolds a plan for their life path… well, there should actually be stricter, higher standards of evidence for the existence of this entity.

Someone might suggest “Whether or not an idea is falsifiable cannot be employed in a variety of daily life circumstances so therefore it shouldn’t be used in the case of a personal relationship with God”.  Um, this is a God we’re talking about. This is the ultimate Creator Being who, from it, came everything else. Thus, the evidence for God should be overwhelming and the criteria to determine the existence of God should be crystal clear, not full of convolutions in logic. There shouldn’t be hundreds upon hundreds of unanswered questions or attempts from both the Biblical text and its followers to suppress and demonize questions and honest inquiry.

Ideas that are extraordinary always require more consideration of the evidence and more subjugation to higher standards of criticism—not less.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

I joined a philosophy group!

I went to a philosophy club the other evening. While I have read or engaged in philosophy discussions on the internet over the years, I’ve never physically gone to a group.  The topic was on “After-birth abortion".  I will not go into any detail regarding the various positions in this blog post. This is more of a descriptive account of my experience and a couple thoughts that have emerged from it.  

I went in, thinking that I was sufficiently aware of both sides of the issue: the nebulous concept of personhood and the sanctity of life endorsed by the pro-life side, and the mother’s rights as well as the arbitrary, slippery-slope nature of when an abortion was permissible wielded by those in the pro-choice camp.  This was my superficial thinking anyhow. I was pleasantly amused by the gaping holes in my knowledge as I listened, transfixed, by quite possibly some of the most scintillating minds I think I have ever been around.

The room seemed to be pulsing with thought and ideas. Concepts and thought experiments volleyed back and fourth between participants with undue ease. I didn’t know that discussions like these were almost akin to watching a sports event. There was this kind of intense competition between ideas going on.

For once in my life I felt “at home with my mind”. I really felt comfortable in this group even though their brightness of mind was orders of magnitude beyond my own. No one was disparaging or condescending but very interested in making the points clear and resolving misunderstandings. The discussion went on smoothly enough for me to follow.  There was always a response that clarified a previous point or teased it out further or one that examined a hidden assumption in an argument that an individual didn’t know they had.

Over the years I’ve heard plenty of people say, “Discussing abstract ideas does nothing to help or change society”—but I think this is where the battle is being fought.  What is going on right now is a war of ideas.  People who choose to simply follow ideas that they haven’t examined—or worse, people who are apathetic of them—haven’t participated in one of life’s most valuable experiences—the application of one’s mind.  Cue in the famous Socrates quote: “The unexamined life is not worth living”

The universe is intelligible and that is remarkable quality.  We should make extraordinary use of this. Furthermore, your time to examine the world that surrounds you is very short.

Sure, most of us are pathetically ignorant as we consider all the knowledge that currently exists, but no one person can tackle all ideas or download all knowledge. It is going to take a lot of us who are interested in learning or who want to devote our time to some area of research that might be fundamental to society’s progression.

Couldn’t we suggest that sitting around talking about our comical drinking binges or the events on a reality television show are LESS valuable than pursuing a deeper, more nuanced understanding of concepts?  I can’t wait to attend more philosophy discussions. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Tylenol for psychological pain?

When someone stubs their toe or twists their ankle, no one responds to the individual’s ensuing expression of pain with, “Just be strong, you can endure it!” We quickly recognize that such experience is truly painful and the person’s physiological and emotional response to the painful experience is involuntary and expected.

 I do notice, however,  that when an individual experiences some particular instance of social trauma, perhaps being excluded from a group or rejected by a loved one, many times they are quickly reminded to “Be strong” and “Don’t react” or “Don’t get too emotional” or “Don’t let other people affect your feelings so much.”

In the book “Subliminal, How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior” author Leonard Mlodinow mentions, “It is fascinating that the pain of a stubbed toe and the sting of a snubbed advance share a space in your brain.”

Our brain really does seem to go through a similar process when we experience psychological pain as when we experience physical pain. Many times though, we are chided for expressions of emotion when it relates to psychological pain when such reactions are equally involuntary as emotions resulting from physical pain.

I am going through intense bursts of psychological pain right now. The pain can get so bad. Feeling rejected by a loved one and losing my cat Nephe—and so suddenly—can be absolutely devastating. Words become futile as I attempt to describe what I’m feeling—what I’ve gone through the past couple of weeks. I am under no delusion that others haven’t gone through similar…or worse.

In my efforts to find a solution to my pain, I’ve often thought, “They have pills to quash the pangs of physical distress, why not for acute, psychological triggers?”  As it turns out, Tylenol actually deadens psychological pain. A study is mentioned in the book referenced above that seems to suggest Tylenol’s ability to reduce pain among individuals who have been socially excluded. Hmm, I’ll have to try it.    (read the book for further details, its one of the best one's I've skimmed in a while)

P.S. Please don’t suggest alcohol. I almost never drink.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Is Christianity based on natural human desires?

Christianity offers plenty of reassuring thoughts to one’s natural, human desires.  Heaven, for instance, offers the believer a place where they can enjoy both creative and leadership pursuits for the rest of eternity (highly-valued human activities you may notice).  A place where one can luxuriate in the sheer bliss of perfect harmony amidst the love of their Creator together with their loved ones. This seems nothing less than utopian; a scenario no one in their right mind would want to forego.  We are told that we can fix our eyes on the seen—this finite, ragged, squalid, morally and physically wretched life down here (which, by the way, we have created ourselves, due to our sinful nature), or, we can fix our eyes on the unseen—the eternal life and world that is to come after death (2 Corinthians 4:18).  Once we escape this temporary life here, we have another fantastic life waiting for us in heaven, provided that we only believe and remain faithful throughout our earthly lives.

Almost every Christian I have known or met seems to want to enjoy this life to the fullest as well as enjoy a blissful existence in heaven too; they want to have their faith and eat it too.  Although they always go off in monologues about how “their hope and true happiness is not in this world” their hidden desires betray their words.  Their true desires of wanting to find happiness, peace and contentment on earth will usually surface in one way or another.

Achieving comfort is a purely human, biological motive.   When talking to a Christian, you’ll hear that one of the main reasons given so that you convert to their belief-system is because “You’ll be so much happier and fulfilled…you’ll gain a new peace and purpose and perspective…a relationship that will guide you throughout your life here on Earth”.  They go further, insisting, that whatever predicament you are in, you’ll always have an invisible friend at your side there to console you.

The fact that a Christian desires a happier, more contented, more peaceful life here and now, shows that they are just as much seekers of earthly happiness as everyone else on the planet.   On the other hand, if you don’t hear a Christian’s sermon on happiness and purpose, you’ll often hear Christians say it’s “not about finding happiness and contentment, but a relationship with Jesus is the act of ‘taking up one’s cross and following Jesus". They mean if life’s not always about peace and contentment and experiencing the changed life, it’s about trials and tribulations, persecutions and periods of temptation, unhappiness and suffering.

What they’re really saying is that dedicating your life to Christ will have ups and downs.  How is that for an answer? An answer that entertains all possibilities is not an answer! The simple answer is “life has its ups and down”--we need not invoke a supernatural cause to this. It’s superfluous.

Whatever life-style one chooses to embrace, there is a possibility for contentedness and peace and there is also a possibility for struggles and pain.  Christianity offers no more and certainly no better answers to life’s situations than any other religious or non-religious stance.  Although all religions have aspects that are good for society to embrace, (e.g. a self-less lifestyle, willingness to help others in need) there are aspects to it that are far more deleterious and threatening to the progression of society.

We are affected by our genes and our genes interaction with the environment we were born into.  Of course, some of our life experiences are shaped by our choices, but, for the most part, we do not specifically choose the most influential contributors of our comfort (or happiness levels?), like whether or not we: suffer from a mental disorder, have a healthy body, loose a child to suicide, have a high (or low) I.Q., inherit lots of money, or are born in a poor country.   These factors, as well as many others influence our lives and our relative levels of comfort and contentment many orders of magnitude beyond our particular choice of religious belief.  Granted, religious belief can delude us into a form of happiness.  Though, such is not based upon reality.

It is a very crucial and humbling to recognize this fact—that so much of our lives are based primarily on the luck of where we were born and our general health—not so much on how hard we applied ourselves and certainly, not how much we prayed or trusted in an invisible deity.  There are known--though not always accessible-- ways to increase our relative levels of comfort.  We can improve our health and education levels and both of these will have a direct impact on our level of contentment.   Increased knowledge, of course, appears to bring us more opportunities and an ameliorated rational for making the best of a plethora of daily choices.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Red Headed?

I keep on having people ask me this question so I thought I would address it in a blog post (I normally hate talking about myself as I would rather discuss philosophy or science but since I KEEP on getting this question asked, I'm going to address it).

I know the hair-dye and hair care industry is a multi-million dollar industry. Furthermore, I know very few women who haven't played around with their hair or had it colored/highlighted or professionally styled or cut at some point in their life-time.

No, I do not naturally have red hair--though some of the strands are naturally strawberry blonde in color. I started playing around with my natural color (more of a blonde color) in early 2011. Most everyone who knows me personally, thinks of me as a blonde so I don't feel the need to come up to random strangers in public and declare, "By the way, I dye my hair red sometimes but I'm natural everywhere else".

Anyways, I like the color and if famous movie stars and celebrities can get away with dying their hair, why can't those of us average folk in the mass population? Christina Hendricks dyes her hair red (she has a naturally dish-water blonde color) and no one thinks anything about it (link below). I say, do what works for you. People tell me that the color works for me though.

All this being said, there are plenty of red-haired genes in my family however.

For example, here is a picture of my naturally red-headed Uncle (my father's brother) and his family.  Nathan (the dark haired man) married one of my cousins. My Aunt is the dark-haired woman who has noticeable lighter highlights in her hair.

more blonde

 more red

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Psychological needs for God?

I see another reason why God must have been created by the human mind. The emotional and physical duress that some humans experience in their lifetime is so horrible that the idea of God as an everlasting, sustaining force—a friend that sticks by closer than a brother—is something powerfully satisfying and calming; a cure or antidote for life’s constant imbalance.

Also, the idea that Jesus was convicted and killed despite his innocence resonates with many who have been wrongfully accused, sent to prison or jailed, when they are actually innocent of the crime. One of the most painful feelings to have in life is to be accused of something when you know you’re innocent—yet no one else believes you. You become ENTIRELY alone. You might as well be dead. It is worse though, because you have to live with this knowledge and understanding.  To have a deity affected by a similar circumstance? Well, that means he's traveled in our shoes and can understand our most trenchant pains.

When you think of the number of people in your personal life that you have been willing to interact with and give the time of day to—yet who are willing to give up on you after a certain point… when you think upon all of life’s tumultuous moments, almost dying of a disease or being currently plagued by one, perhaps a loved one is battling a disease…when you reflect upon all of life’s pain, break-ups and divorces, being ripped apart and insulted for every quark of your person on a literally daily basis, all the mistakes made, all the times your honest intentions have been misrepresented and misinterpreted, friends of old have turned against you—perhaps your mind needs to fabricate a succor.

Alas, we see the creation of a force that is forever unchanging, always there for you—a presence who cares for you. Whilst the rejection from old friends or relatives and the death of loved ones, you still have God. You still have someone who knows your situation and understands what you are going through and is there by your side. This person will always love you.

It is as if you created a copy of yourself in your mind that can identify with you in every way—someone who will always be there for you. Religion only adds more structure (i.e. doctrines) to this nebulous human desire.