Friday, December 27, 2013

Bullies, School Shootings, Social Rejection thoughts


Very interesting article/video I came across today regarding being bullied. It is about a girl who is bullied because her looks do not conform to what others have deemed "acceptable".

My Thoughts...

When a school shooting or teen suicide occurs we like to focus on issues like gun control. Rarely, do I hear people bring up the topic of social rejection and social isolation and how these two factors are almost always present in the lives of those who have resorted to killing themselves and/or their fellow classmates.
The fact remains, people rarely go out on killing sprees if they are feeling good about themselves, if feelings of happiness and high self esteem are bubbling up from their subconscious and friendship opportunities abound. It is unlikely that a popular student surrounded by a group of accepting peers would have these suicidal or killing tendencies. These factors buffer the growing teenager from the impact and tremendous changes that occur in the brain.

During youth, the prefrontal cortex of the brain is still in its development phase and teenagers are, at the same time, constructing their own identity.  More than any other time in their lives, a teenager is seeking acceptance and approval from their peers. Furthermore, their brains tend to have a heightened level of sensitivity to rejection, to being ignored and excluded by their classmates. Combine this with the fact that the developing teenage brain is more prone to risk-taking, impulsive behavior. While most students will have little difficulty merging into and being accepted by one of the plentiful cliques that high school offers—jocks, nerds, geeks, skaters, musicians, pet enthusiasts—there is bound to be a few stragglers and loners.
My thought is that the stragglers/socially rejected individuals have made countless efforts to fit in with a group, to reach out and find a group of students who accepts them, a group of people who approves of their own emerging identity but… they have been rebuffed and rejected on numerous occasions. This process of seeking acceptance isn’t new for them, it probably started during their grade school and junior high school days. It was during these years that they encountered an impasse to achieving basic peer approval. Perhaps their looks, attire, tastes or mannerisms were deemed “wrong” or “inferior”. At this point, the seeds of despair were planted. If junior high or high school doesn't bode well for friendships or acceptance into a particular clan, these individuals begin to lose hope.  They begin to ruminate on suicidal thoughts, or, their thoughts may take them down the path of action and aggression. This is where school shootings come in.
Human beings have an almost desperate need to belong, to be approved of and accepted by their peers and to form connections with other members of their social sphere. When these basic human needs are not fulfilled, psychological disturbances arise.
Drawing from personal experience related to social rejection, I’ll never forget a girl in my junior high school years. This girl was called names like “fat” and “ugly” repeatedly—almost every day, right to her face! I even remember a very poignant day in 7th grade where one of the most popular, good-looking jocks in school began kicking her until she fell to the ground. He was even surrounded by a group of very popular boys and girls who were all cheering him on as he kicked her. I happened to be walking by at the time, on my way to the next class. I remember being suddenly overwhelmed with shock that I stopped and began watching this incident unfold right before my eyes. I don’t think I ever felt so depressed for someone in my entire life. Even to this day, I still feel guilty for not jumping in and shielding her. 

 A few years later, I, too, would encounter the effects of the mean, cruel—albeit popular students myself. On the school bus one day in 9th grade, I was quietly minding my own business reading a book. I was always the quiet, shy sort without a group of comrades at my side.  All of a sudden, one of the popular boys sitting behind me made an announcement to the entire bus about how “I was an ugly crater face and shouldn’t be able to ride the bus because I was so scary.” Everyone on the bus laughed and even chimed in. People began to taunt me and laugh in a sadistic fashion.   I’ll never forget how terrible I felt. I was fully aware of how bad I looked—but being flatly reminded that you are ugly by another group of very popular classmates was almost too much to bear—especially during the teenage years.
On top of this experience, I had a litany of social rejection and isolation experiences. While my thoughts didn’t lead me down the militant path of aggression and violence, I repeatedly entertained thoughts of self hatred and even suicide.  Instead of blaming the group of sadistic peers that surrounded me, I would blame myself and try to change myself to gain some degree of acceptance. These experiences of repeated rejections ultimately turned me into an isolated, introverted person who probably suffers with unnecessary anxiety.
I am almost certain—confident—to suggest that the socially rejected, isolated individual will often go down one of two paths. These are: depression/suicide and/or violent aggression towards others. Being a loner allows for the perfect storm, the perfect place for a mind to brew self-loathing thoughts or intense feelings of anger for those who have caused you such psychological distress.
We as a society help create these monster-mentalities who go on to commit suicide and/or take the lives of others with them. The popular teenagers who reject and ignore the “loner types” are major contributors to this phenomenon. It might be difficult for those who have never experienced the full dimension of peer rejection and psychological pain to understand what such an individual may be feeling. The teenage years are a hard enough time as it is. Add on to this the aspect of rejection and ostracism and we are bound to see some negative consequences.
Studies have shown that once rejected by their peers, a child will have a nearly impossible time in school ever becoming popular or even simply “accepted” again. They are forever blighted with this stigma.
Perhaps we should focus on bullies—not just the “classic” bully-type but also the throngs of popular students who use their powers not to integrate with all students but to form exclusive, catty, even sadistic groups.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Poverty and its Consequences (excellent link!!!)


                 Poverty and its connection to depreciating health and criminal behavior is an ongoing interest of mine. Before I stumbled across a very pertinent article today, I was already in the throes of writing this short blog post. Such thoughts have been brewing.
              It always kind of bothers me when I hear people with top-notch, executive and managerial jobs or those with successful careers complain about how much stress they have. I always wanted to say, “Try being unemployed” or “Try working laborious hours as a janitor or cashier where your brain is literally drying up and you’re barely making enough to survive and you have no chances of advancing.” Now that is a stressful life situation. 
             Having a thriving, successful career—even when the pressure is on and you have a tower of tasks to manage and delegate—is still far, far better than being part of the working poor or unemployed. At least when you are higher up on the socioeconomic ladder, you have a better, more cogent sense of being “in control” of your life situation. That is, because you have a better job, you more likely have the funds at your disposal to alter your situation than if you were poor.  Those who are farther down on the socioeconomic ladder are more likely to have feelings of helplessness. Scientific studies are demonstrating that it is exactly this feeling of helplessness that is ultimately the cause of real Stress.
              The lasting effects of poverty on health are being more thoroughly examined. It is incredible how strongly poverty is associated with a variety of human ills. The article below offers a comprehensive view of what I’m attempting to suggest here. It is definitely worth reading in its entirety.  
             Thinking about poverty and its link to a plethora of problems brought my mind to thinking about crime. For instance, last night I was driving by a gas station and saw the bright flashing lights of a police car, and beside it, 4 young, able-bodied males being handcuffed.
               It made me think about crime and criminal behavior and what combination of life events (or genes?) results in people choosing a life of crime vs. a life of well-intentioned planning, legal productive work and other socially beneficial pursuits.
              I sometimes think that life can be a very hard experience for many of our species (consider global poverty rates). This might surprise you, but many people are not seeking out the fulfillment of their every hedonistic wish, but simply, to survive.
              I think that a person’s motivation to work hard and achieve survival and success within the legal boundaries of society can be chipped away at and ultimately forsaken. If you started out poor with an unstable family environment with less access to educational and employment opportunities and you try a few times to make a  legal go at life (whether it be at a job, starting a business or learning a new skill) and you fail, the motivation to keep on going and pressing forward begins to wane.  I think that this can also lead to a feeling of helplessness and can result in a criminal life-style.
                 As mentioned in the article, the sense of helplessness (brought on by poverty) can be a very pervasive feeling that can result in much life-long distress. A life of crime and diminishing health may just be the results.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


“Both extremely high and extremely low levels of psychopathy may be maladaptive. High levels are maladaptive for the trouble into which clinical psychopaths often get themselves. Low levels of psychopathy are maladaptive—this stems from the common observation of the role of anxiety in psychopathy: psychopaths do not seem to show any anxiety. The debilitating function of high levels of anxiety hardly needs to be stressed. In a normal, non-institutionalized population, therefore, their (psychopath’s) immunity from anxiety may give psychopaths an advantage.”
Kevin Dutton, The Wisdom of Psychopaths

       My learning binge this week involves the nature of psychopaths. While my learning attempts are typically short-lived and often superficial, this one will continue to gnaw at me as I seek to learn more.  Psychopaths have never really piqued my interest until I came across the book “The Wisdom of Psychopaths” (2012, by Kevin Dutton).
        The common public perception of psychopaths is that they are execrable prison-deserving slop, whose recidivism rate is higher than any other criminal. While this is usually true, let’s take a moment to glorify psychopaths and relish their positive strengths.  Remember, nothing in this world is entirely black and white. As thinkers in the modern world, we must seek to investigate the gray.
        Some of us tend to fall on the extreme opposite side of the psychopathic scale. We are the humans who lack psychopathic traits and have a hard time even contemplating the mind of a psychopath. We are the people who writhe with daily levels of fluctuating anxiety. We feel the guilt and shame to even the slightest of our trespasses and we often over-apologize.  We heartily empathize with others, understanding their human frailties as similar to our own and we have a difficult time maligning others for our own personal gain.   We do not readily discern the vulnerabilities of others, even when the manifestations are dangling right in front of our faces.  After reading this book, I’m starting to wonder if having a higher psychopathic score might actually prove beneficial in certain areas of a person’s life.
         Psychopaths tend to be unique in their inability to experience anxiety. This translates to a superb ability to be more present-focused and less distracted than those scoring lower on the PCL-R (Psychopathic Checklist-Revised). While many of us low on the psychopathic scale have minds stuck in the past or reeling towards the future, psychopaths have a present mindfulness that is enviable. Psychopaths have a fascinating aptitude to spot the vulnerability in others (research in this area is delineated in the book). Less self-conscious and not worried about their own performance—and usually scoring higher on the narcissistic scale—these individuals spot the weaknesses and vulnerabilities in others much faster than those scoring lower on the psychopathic scale. With this ability, psychopaths are better equipped to exploit other people, to take advantage of them and possibly murder them if the convenient time or desire arises.
         True, many psychopaths go down the path of creative killing or raping sprees that often brings them into a prison cell. Still, others pursue the much softer, less-offensive path. These individuals end up with careers like company CEO, stock trader or politician.  Notice how these careers require mental toughness, ruthlessness, fearlessness, mindfulness and action—characteristics that come naturally to psychopaths.  Psychopaths are adept at controlling their emotions when the pressure is on. Whether this is because they have this natural discipline within or because they feel emotions less intensely, is still being researched.
         This book was a mind-bending read! It will widen your perspective on psychopaths and start to make you see the broad continuum of personality (and personality disorders). Indeed, we are all a smidgen psychopathic, some of us more so than others.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Are religious (or atheist) people delusional? Musings tonight...

              The specific religious meme you believe in was passed down to you from your parents which was passed on down to them from their parents and on and on. Thus, the type of religion you have was primarily given to you by your genetic lineage (your parents). This is one important way how memes function. Memes can also operate in a more horizontal manner. They are pieces of cultural data that are transmitted from one mind to the next by way of language or behavioral imitation. There are exceptions to this rule, of course; in the case of religion, some people converted to a different religion from their parents and some religious individuals relinquished religion, entirely. (I tend to focus on trends, because trends usually offer more predictability than looking at exceptions.)
          Compared to other memes, I think a religious meme is a very strong, infectious piece of data. I say this because religion has the power to rearrange a person’s entire way of thinking and perceiving the world around them. It so strongly modifies their thinking to such a grand extent that they literally become trapped inside a delusion.
              How does one know that it is the religious individual trapped in a delusion and not the atheist? Perhaps it is really the atheist confined within the real delusion and God really does exist and accurately impinges himself upon the minds of the religious.
            Anyone can be trapped in a delusion, so how do we know who is affected by it? Is the religious mind more likely trapped in a delusion or is the atheist mind? Is this a false dichotomy? Are there more than these two possibilities—perhaps both the atheist mind and religious mind are trapped inside delusions? Or, maybe there exists a delusion continuum and one of these world-views is measurably more delusional in degree than the other.
             Again, how can we tell? To say that the religious mind is suffering from delusion is a tacit suggestion that the atheist mind is not, or, is less so. It would be difficult to propose that both an atheist mind and religious mind are equally right at the same time; these two would negate each other due to possessing claims that are in diametric opposition to each other.
           We are right back to where we must decide. Which of these—the atheist or the religious theist—is more delusional than the other? One of these has got to be more delusional because the claims that are acknowledged by one of these views are opposed to the claims acknowledged by the other view. In other words, they contradict each other. More clearly, ask yourself whether god(s) can and cannot exist at the same time.
            Whether we like to admit it or not, there are some minds following a set of ideas and beliefs that are false—ahem, delusional. Some people may not like this statement. The notion of labeling some minds more delusional than others is a very offensive declaration. How can anyone person’s line of thinking and believing be superior to anyone else’s?
            A good way to think more about this is to look at reality. Of course, this is assuming that there is an objective reality that exists outside and independent of human minds and human senses.  I happen to think there is—or else, what now?  Also, if one says that “Reality is really a subjective experience”, are they not making an absolute statement here? It ends up defeating itself.  Where can we even go from there if we don’t at least make this fundamental assumption that we can all agree on?
        There must be some kind of absolute, objective reality that exists in order for us to contrast and measure delusion against. From another angle, if reality is ultimately subjective, how can we even begin to propose that someone is suffering from delusion—maybe such delusion would be that individual’s reality? In other words, we can’t reproach anyone for being delusional if no universal reality exists.
          Next, if we agree that reality is objective, we can look for evidences of delusion. We can look at which of these views (atheism or theism) offers an overall position that is reflective of this objective reality. We can begin to sift through the purported claims of each. Are there more false claims offered by religion (e.g. Christianity) or atheism?
            Atheism would seem to be a rejection of the claim that god(s) exist(s). A religious/theistic view might say, “A non-physical, god(s) exists and that he rules the world and has an eternal plan for each human being—not for other mammals, and certainly not for icky bacteria.” Notice how this is a densely loaded, non-vague assertion.
           An atheist (non-religious) stance would say that humans and other life forms are the result of a materialistic, physical process that can be explained through DNA, evolution and rewound back through time. There are many preceding physical steps that gave rise to human beings (and other life-forms) existing. Where there are gaps in this physical history, they are not explained by something that transcends nature (as far as I know). If all the other gaps we have ever come across throughout history have been explained by a physical mechanism, why, for a new knowledge gap would we resort to a non-physical one, such as god(s).

Those are just some quick thoughts tonight...

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Reflections on "The Problem of Evil/Pain"

“Christianity is called the religion of pity….A man loses power when he pities. Through pity that drain upon strength which suffering works is multiplied a thousand fold.  Suffering is made contagious by pity; under certain circumstances it may lead to a total sacrifice of life and living energy”    Friedrich Nietzsche, The Anti Christ

I was recently skimming over the book, “Has Christianity Failed You?” by Ravi Zacharias.  There is a point in the book where he discusses the "The problem of pain"/"The problem of evil" and he responds to this problem by suggesting that through the pains and trials of our lives, we end up drawing closer to God. He even quotes a friend of his in India who often prays for America, “It must be hard to trust in God when you already have so much.”

What I’m gathering here is that the underlying theological response to “The Problem of evil/pain” is that it exists so that one might become more dependent on God. A person’s faith in God would end up strengthening their lives as they experience trials, tribulations and persecutions. Thus, the Christian response to the Problem of evil/pain is that yes—it obviously exists, but it is here to improve our relationship with God—to recognize our own weakness as we consider the big picture of our plight through this earthly experience that will one day usher us into eternity.

Now, in a way, they are right.  In a way, the Problem of Pain might end up making a Christian believer turn inward and reflect more upon the faith that they have. There is no reason why a person’s belief wouldn't act as a type of placebo effect—where the individual could draw positive strength from it.  This might help improve their situation and provide them with the mental fortitude to keep going (instead of kill themselves or resorting to “life is meaningless”.

I want to suggest that while there are pains in the world, one doesn't have to have faith or belief in God to get  through the rough times. There are plenty of individuals who have made it through without any particular faith. To assert that a person requires a deep faith to get them through a tough circumstance discounts all of the testimonies of all who have made it through the rough patches without deferring to god, or, belief in god(s).

You can draw strength from your own self—through the recognition that you have the power and will get through it. To quote Nietzsche again, “Pity stands in opposition to all the tonic passions that augment the energy of the feeling of aliveness: it is a depressant.”

There are many individuals who have taken this journey and succeeded. They recognized that indeed, they could dredge up a sense of power and responsibility in themselves. Once you feel you have that power, wouldn't you now be more apt to go about taking physical steps to improve your situation?

I would think that when you defer your sense of power to an authority (or anything outside yourself)—while it might strengthen you to some extent to know that you have a guide—it might actually weaken, or obstruct your sense of strength that you can derive from yourself. Tethering your self worth to a non-existent being might not be the best approach either.

Friday, June 14, 2013

How I make Money on the Internet, (Satire)

 "How to Get Rich on the Internet"
(Satire Advertisement)

Tired of slogging through your days working long, arduous hours as a janitor or cashier? Are you sick of being financially dependent on your girlfriend or parents? Have no fear! Research has shown that due to the insatiable human craving to be rich, simply writing up a “Get Rich” advertisement on your blog will dramatically improve your odds of becoming rich. Why? Inside everyone is a mathematically-challenged lottery ticket consumer. Everyone naturally wants to become rich.  Once they spy your catchy blog post, they’ll inevitably click on it, hoping you can offer them advice on becoming rich. You won’t of course; you’ll just proceed to taunt them with what you’re trying to sell. Also, you’ll make a passive income by way of people clicking on your blog.

For the sake of this advertisement, let’s consider the history of all these “Get Rich Quick” gurus and how they’ve acquired their own wealth. What’s their secret, you ask? The secret behind all of these get-rich-quick gurus is that they’ve written books about getting rich or conducted seminars offering “Strategies on becoming rich”.  Here’s the clincher: every “Get rich quick” book is a cleverly disguised way of helping the author get rich, not you, silly. After all, whose the one buying the book or piece of software that will inevitably be stowed away in the crevice between the sofa cushions?

So how can you achieve your goal of becoming rich by simply writing up a simple blog advertisement about becoming rich? Here’s where the trick comes in. Instead of offering your potential patron advice on becoming rich, point them in the direction of your best selling book. The book doesn't have to be anything witty or densely packed with a step by step plan for wealth attainment. Instead, it should have lots of vague verbiage with heapings of obscure jargon where you blather on about “positive thinking” and “reframe your thinking” and “look at every failed opportunity as a learning lesson” and “diversify your stocks” and “make everything automated” “develop a passive income” and "find ways to achieve a positive net cash flow with rental properties” and “start a budget”…you get the picture.  In no time at all you’ll have penned out a novel that you can transform into $29.95. Give the consumer enough of the same tripe they've already heard from every other “get rich” book they've ever read and they’ll instantly credit you as being a financial guru in whom they can trust.

 What's next, you ask? The rest we leave to the glorious placebo effect. The person feels better after they've read your book, making them feel as though “They've done something” and “They’re on the road to wealth”---and you just made $29.95 off their desire to become rich.

Get rich today! Make sure to purchase our book entitled “How to write a catchy blogpost about becoming rich” for $29.95!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Christian man shortage? Should Christian women follow the command to not be unequally yoked?

Another problem with religion is that it has social implications…social taboos that can negatively impact the quality of your life if you follow them to the letter. I was thinking about this recently…

I’ve noticed an intriguing phenomenon occurring in churches across America. Walk into any church, and I can pretty much guarantee you will notice the disparity in the MALE to FEMALE RATIO. There appears to be far more practicing Christian females than there are practicing Christian males. This has resulted in an interesting cultural phenomenon, an odd shift of sorts, namely, there are far more single Christian women than single Christian men.

Even when I was a believing, practicing Christian, I encountered this at my own church. All the 20-something males were partnered and married off quickly while a sizeable number of Christian women in the same age group remained single.

In fact, whenever I go back to my childhood church I see that many of these Christian women have thriving careers, have kept up their appearance and their spirituality—yet they can’t seem to find a Christian mate. Conversely, I don’t think I can name a single Christian male past the age of 25 that I grew up with who is currently single.  Yes indeed, Christian males get married off very quickly. Even in the Christian world, with decreased supply, comes demand.

 Amidst this imbalanced ratio, there is still the ever quoted Bible verse (2nd Corinthians 6:14) “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers…”.  Considering the disproportionate ratio of males to females in churches these days, this Bible verse seems to benefit Christian males more than Christian females. The options that many Christian women are left with is either to disobey this command and yoke-up with an unbeliever, or, to live the rest of their lives happily single. This is not to suggest that being married is an endlessly sublime experience without trials and tribulations. Nor is this to mean that being single for the rest of one’s life is the epitome of all existence—far worse things could happen, sure.  I just happen to know very few women who say their ideal life is “remaining single and going through the entire rest of their life by their lonesome….err, with Christ as their husband”.  

A number of studies seem to show a correlation between marriage and health and overall happiness. Some studies even show that married people live longer Finally, married women are also better off financially than single women There are truly many advantages to being married that married people probably take for granted that many singletons are profoundly aware of.

Some of these unmarried Christian women I know do initially seem to think that it is much better to remain single than to marry a man who isn’t a Christian. They talk about the “consequences” of entwining their lives with such a person.  This is easier said than acted upon, long-term. It is hard to go through one’s entire life fighting off one’s natural urges to find love and companionship simply because the Bible commands “Do not be unequally yoked”. For instance, I have one single Christian friend who struggles when being asked out by a particular non-believing male—she wants to get to know him, but realizes he “isn’t spiritually available” and “isn’t a Christian” so she declines the invitation and chooses to wait for the right Christian guy. Like many other Christian women, she follows advice like the kind in this blog

One of the first pieces of advice offered to the single Christian woman is “You have no business yoking a redeemed soul with an unregenerate one, even if he seems open to change”. (per blog above)   Aside from the fact that this statement exudes divisive, black and white thinking and uses tribalistic language to describe the entire non-Christian male population, does this actually make sense?  Is this a factual, evidenced based account of the average non-Christian male? Should Christian females abstain from forming relationships with non-Christian males simply because the Bible says so?—especially when there are so few Christian males to begin with? Should Christian women simply wait for the right man to come along when studies show women’s relationship options actually become fewer over time?

While there is already a marked decline in male church attendance, I predict that with the internet and this constant access to science, information and other forms of accessible entertainment, this trend will only continue.  Why would this not affect female church attendance too, you ask? I’m sure it will, but my view is that it will not be to the same extent that it would affect male church attendance and male religious affiliation.  Females tend to be generally oriented towards community and social events. A church membership can help fulfill these needs. Also, many studies seem to show that instead of spending time on scientific sites and philosophical debate-type sites that encourage examination and reconstruction of one’s world-view (and abandoning of one’s religion), user demographic data seems to indicate females generally gravitate towards sites like pinterest, and other social media sites, as well as sites that involve fashion, d├ęcor, clothes shopping and anything that involves food and recipes.

From a practical standpoint, Christian females can only expect the Christian mancession trend to continue. Perhaps single Christian females should be more open to forming a relationship with a non-Christian male. Perhaps they should consider objective qualities that matter in reality—like how kind the man is, how he treats you, whether he shares your interests (aside from church) and whether he is a hard worker, is committed, has integrity, honesty and is loyal and caring. Perhaps single Christian women should just abandon their alliance with superstition and magical thinking, realizing that being “Married to Jesus” ends up making you feel lonely in the long-run—because Jesus is the quintessential absent husband and father.

In the end, relationship formation is based upon common interests and traits that you deem important for your partner to have (and vice-versa).  Thankfully, these traits are human traits and can be possessed by both Christian and non-Christian males alike.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Are Atheists less biased than Christians?

"There is an asymmetry: atheists in general welcome the most intensive and objective examination of their views, practices and reasons. (In fact, their incessant demand for self-examination can become quite tedious.) The religious, in contrast, often bristle at the impertinence, the lack of respect, the sacrilege, implied by anyone who wants to investigate their views."  Daniel Dennett, Breaking The Spell

Many times I have been admonished by my family and friends about “Going down the wrong path” or "becoming an apostate". Often, the conversation begins in the form of a question, “Why do you reject Jesus?” and “Why are you choosing the path that is going to lead you to hell?” The tone of the questioning is typically condescending. It is coming from an individual who assumes they have most of the correct answers about reality, and that I, a fallen ingrate, needs their assistance in understanding things correctly. After all, they only want to eschew me out of my faulty thinking and my path towards everlasting torment.

I sometimes wish to say back, “It seems so easy for you to just assume that you are right about all this. Have you noticed how I refrain from employing this same tactic? I do not accept any assumption I make with pure ease. I hold assumptions loosely…tentatively, and I do not proceed to go further and create dogma out of them.  I patiently listen to all the Christian CD’s that you have made me. I read every Christian book that you get me for Christmas and I read your unending bible passage texts and the constant stream of email devotionals that you send me. Yet, you can barely tolerate 30 seconds of a debate between Dan Barker and Dinesh D'Souza. If this were a game of fair-mindedness with regards to the other person’s ideological position, there seems to be great deal of imbalance going on.”

Many Christians that I know are unwilling to expand their thinking to include thoughts that are secular in nature (i.e. thinking about events as if there was no god). So, while they want you to read through all of their homemade tracts and listen to their sermons, they will not bring their mind to your side of the fence. The reason, I suppose? They are afraid of doing so. Many Christians think that this act alone—this simple shift in perspective— is moving into satanic territory. This is one reason why Christian leaders often warn their devotees to abstain from reading books by atheists. They truly believe that demonic powers have invested such atheist minds so that they can beguile and corrupt other minds, ultimately bringing their readers to the lordship of Satan.

Unlike the Christian, the atheist/skeptic has no reason to refrain from considering the other person’s perspective (in this case, the Christian perspective). There is no atheist creed with warnings of “Loosing one’s beliefs may result in atheist hell” or “You can be blinded by Christians”. There are no pejorative labels equivalent to “backslider”, “apostate” or “infidel” to slap on former atheists who have changed their minds and have become religious.

While atheists might have logical problems with religious view-points, they won’t be tempted to disown their friends and family members simply for having a “change of mind” (To an atheist, a change of mind carries no spiritual/moral implications but it does for a Christian). To the atheist, actions carry far more weight in the grand scheme of things. For Christians though, a change of mind…a change of thinking or “heart”— is ultimately what determines your place in the afterlife.  This is why the traditional Christian view allows absurd things to happen…like Ted Bundy getting to go to heaven, and Einstein, to hell. (i.e. one of these people changed their mind about Jesus and made a decision to believe in him while they were alive.)

The skeptical position says, “Go ahead; check out all the other world-views! There is nothing inherently diabolical about doing this. In fact, doing so expands your mental horizon so that you can be better informed about different view-points and why certain groups hold them. Furthermore, learning about other views is a good way to avoid the temptation of misrepresenting them.”

My point is that the atheist view is less biased. That is, the atheist is on a less biased thinking platform. If you think I’m wrong, ask yourself, are atheists ever advised not to read Christian literature? Are atheists warned to NOT read the Bible, NOT learn about creationist ideas and to NOT read apologetic books written by Christians? It seems to me, that some of the most informed people about creationism are atheists. These individuals don’t shy away from their “opponent's” position, but instead, seek to learn all about it and then make an assessment about whether it is more or less reasonable than the current position they hold.

Unlike the religious view where the mind has a very deep emotional attachment to a predetermined set of infallible, immutable beliefs,  the skeptical view attempts to make commitments only to reason, reality, logic, truth and evidence. If a piece of evidence appears to disrupt a former idea, that idea can be changed. All ideas are subject to change based on new information.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Need for cognition?

“If you think humanity is high minded, just check out google’s zeitgeist archives for the top ten search terms. Movie and pop stars, bands, top athletes, and current political events are the perennials, with nary a scientist nor scientific discovery among them (and this is after the most popular search terms, those that relate to sex, have been screened out).  
                     Christof Koch, “Consciousness” (neuroscientist, Caltech)

Some people like to have involved conversations about religion, atheism, skepticism, philosophy and science. Many of these people have an easy time tolerating ambiguity, enjoying abstract thinking or entertaining themselves with controversial subject-matter. For such individuals, thinking itself is an artful endeavor that becomes its own reward. These are the kinds of people who relish being in the throes of a florid argument--provided no individual is being personally attacked. An intense need for cognition is a prevailing theme in these people's lives.

 I’ve noticed that people who engage in the above style of thinking, discussion and debate are often reprimanded with the following criticism:  “Stop wasting your time thinking or talking about this” or “Move on to something else” or “This isn’t changing anyone’s mind anyways” or “No one cares” or “You’re just a novice anyways, save the attempted thinking for the professors”.

 Clearly, there are many people who feel uncomfortable or apathetic about conversations that involve the philosophical realm or the pursuit of inquiry to gain knowledge. This type of person has a very low need for cognition. What would they prefer to talk about? Their dog? The reality television show they watched yesterday? The weather? That funny scene in a movie or television show that they just watched? These are fine things to talk about (and everyone already talks about them INCESSANTLY)—but what makes them appreciably more worthy of attention?  There is an endless deluge of concrete minutiae people talk about, but, for some reason, NONE of it receives the same kinds of rebuke and “You’re wasting your time!” that an attempted philosophical or intellectual discussion receives.  It’s as if having a philosophical discussion is the ultimate waste of time—but talking about your favorite celebrity or music artist is NEVER reproached—this is just expected.

Perhaps it is just “normal” to have water-cooler discussions about celebrities and their latest escapades; it is “abnormal” to initiate a Socratic dialogue with a stranger at a bakery (or anywhere else, I guess). If one of these scenarios above is considered “wasting your time” isn’t the other one too? How many times in life have we heard conversations about the first subject? How many times have you seen two people going-at-it in full-fledged Socratic dialogue?

I see it like this: a person is inevitably going to spend their time thinking or talking about certain things in this life. We choose the content that we discuss, that which arouses our sense of intrigue or passion, and this ultimately feeds and programs our brains. The time we spend having a discussion about that person we think is stupid or about our favorite celebrity—could also be time spent thinking about or discussing a scientific principle or philosophical idea.

If you are an individual with a high need for cognition, you get far less pleasure having discussions about events and other people. Instead, you thrive on ideas and how they have sex with—how they merge with other ideas forming new tiers of thought—novel possibilities to better understanding reality. Every invention or theory starts with a trail of thinking—and many times it requires abstract thinking generated from a philosophical or intellectual dialectic. Many people are perfectionists so they say “Why bother if I’m not very good at this kind of foreign thinking?” It doesn't matter if the initial thinking is rudimentary, naive or marked by flaws in reasoning. We all have to start somewhere, and sometimes we struggle in the same spot for  years—even the most brilliant people in the world were once three-year olds. At least here, we are at a place to learn and expand intellectually.

Chit-chat is a kind of rubbish talk; it really cannot advance the mind—or conversation— to new possibilities. While we all participate in this kind of daily drivel, it does take the place of excruciatingly fascinating conversations that we could be having.

We can only hope that more and more people apply their minds to new ideas and to innovative thinking.  With this method, more solutions and possibilities can be explored.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I Don't Have any Friends (Friendship musings...)

 Unless a person lacks a theory of mind, there is a fairly good chance they desire a social dimension to their existence.  Being human, it seems, we have biological needs to interact with and form bonds with other members of society. Many people seem to glide through life, easily forming a variety of meaningful relationships, many times, taking these for granted.

 I am an outside observer to the friendships of others. I notice that many of these connections are intricately woven, laced with rich memories, and they offer the person an escape from the doldrums of life, from the despondency of the sole-self. Friendships might have been formed with co-workers from prior years, classmates from high-school days, quirky neighbors who gave you ice-cream cones, or with roommates from your college days. Perhaps, you have a family. In this case, you are immersed in the interactions and concerns of your children and partner and your social needs are met within this family dynamic.  

As life goes by, I am noticing that it becomes increasingly difficult to form new, in-person female friendships. It seems like females already tend to be more social, and as they approach their mid 30’s and beyond, they have already amassed a variety of friendships from their high-school and college years. They have enough friendships to satisfy their friendship needs (and time constraints) so it becomes difficult and unnecessary to add new friends to their current mix.

Another difficulty with forming friendships is that many people are very discriminating about who they allow into their friend-circumference. Ever notice how humans only tolerate certain kinds of people? Shockingly, people tend to allow friendships to form with individuals from the same race, religious (or non-religious) affiliation, educational background and socioeconomic status.  In other words, humans tend to feel more comfortable around individuals with whom they share commonalities. Is this inherently selfish or simply pragmatic?

Personality seems to be a factor in the formation of friendships. My guess is that people who have more common personality types have an easier time attracting friends. Why?  First of all, if you have a common personality type there is a greater chance you will find another person with your personality type. The number of potential candidates is in your favor. Someone who shares your personality will also have more in common with you…they will naturally be able to relate to you, respond and think in a more similar manner than someone with a very different personality type. People simply get more out of relationships when they feel like they can connect with the other person.

For instance, if you like to ponder intellectual ideas and you’re comfortable with high-spirited, argumentative discussion, but the person you’re befriending feels most comfortable talking about concrete subject matter—like what they did yesterday or about a brand of shoes they like—well, the chances of you striking up a lasting friendship are low. Unless one of the two people in this potential union decides to compromise to the other person’s petty concerns, a friendship will be difficult.

Most of us desire friendships but we also want to maintain our authenticity. That is, we don’t want to have to trade aspects of our personality and preferences just to win the affection of a new, potential confidant. In the end, a relationship built on this kind of self-duplicity will not last; our true personality and beliefs will soon emerge and destroy whatever burgeoning union we thought we had.

Yet, it still seems for almost any friendship to form, some degree of compromise has to happen. I have two female friends. One of them I consider to be a very good friend despite the fact that we have very different world-views. She has views about the world—about religion, medicine and health etc—that are diametrically opposed to my own. I have learned to tolerate her constant bible quoting, her unyielding appeals to naturopathic medicine and her short-sighted quips against the use of vaccines.  Yet, whenever she dives into a subject that I clearly disagree with her on, she always makes an effort to acknowledge the fact that I disagree with her.  She never trudges on with the conversation, taking it for granted that I agree with her.  This means that she asks what I think about her particular view and then she goes on to offer whatever possible support she has for her particular claim. I’ve also seen her willing to consider views that are different from her original views. This makes me realize that she is a good friend to have—despite the fact that our views are so different.

Due to the busyness of life and the fact that many people already have a surplus of friends to take up their time, the marketplace for establishing long-term, in-person friendships is dwindling. This means that if you do want some sort of connection with society, you will be the one who has to compromise. You might even have to go out of your way and seek friendships from such places at Walmart check-out lines. I met a very friendly woman there yesterday. She may have little in common with me, but she does seem to be in need of a friend, just as much as I do.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Myers-Briggs Personality Test, What is your personality type?

I was very pleased to take the Myers-Briggs personality inventory in class.  My personality type happens to be the rarest of the 16 possible personality types in the human population. I am an INFJ (Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling and Judging) personality type.

While I am not a staunch advocate (haha) of personality tests rendered by astrology (Forer effect, anyone?), I think tests provided by the psychological sciences such as Myers-Briggs, are AMAZINGLY accurate. Once you take the test, go to Wikipedia for your personality type (e.g. type in INFJ or whatever your four letters are) then, you can read about who you are! It’s actually a little scary how accurate the description is.

 I was further impressed by a depiction of my personality type on another random site:

“INFJs can often be found holding down jobs as AM radio talk-show hosts. They can also be found driving taxis in the greater Washington, DC area. Other common jobs often held by INFJs include vagrant, loony, whacko, and writer/director/producer of the television show "Seinfeld." INFJs can also be found feeding that crucial bit of information to determined FBI agents just before they are brutally murdered.”    Okay, just kidding….(I hope)

A great site to read about your personality and how it matches up with someone else’s personality is provided below. Are the two of you compatible? Which personality types pose problems in a relationship? Remember, you can’t alter your personality a great deal, so you’ll have to accept it and find someone else who happens to work for you and/or accepts you for who you are. Also, if you are one of those people who keeps giving everyone else advice on "how they should act" stop, because it won't work. Personality seems to be very ingrained.

Also, what about least common and most common personality types? See site below:

I know there is plenty of information about personality types and relationships but I wonder, what about friendships (and social experience, in general?)? Are some personality types more naturally “loners”? Are some “more accepting of everyone” while others are more gregarious, cliquey and group-thinky? Are there certain personality types who are naturally more popular with people or certain personality types who are naturally smarter?  Also, I noticed that Wikipedia focused heavily on the more positive traits when discussing the various Myers-Briggs personality categories. What about the more negative side? Are some personality types more prone to overconfidence, road-rage or being a clown at the circus?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

What is the internet doing to our brains?

Could the greater portion of the internet be operating like a fast food restaurant? Offering quick, tasty bites of data and entertainment that really ends up providing nothing beneficial to the brain? insight, no thought provocation, no improvement in mental acuity?

Could the presence of the internet be rewiring the circuitry of human brains to want to jump around from one piece of information to the next? The internet may be making it more difficult for the average brain to focus on any particular topic for a protracted interval of time. No one can say whether the human brain has evolved to deal with this constant, instantaneous access to information and entertainment. Are more and more individuals disengaging from reading lengthy books to instead jump from site to site on the internet?

I think that some brains may be more equipped to handle the presence of the internet than others. People who naturally have the ability to be disciplined and delay gratification, individuals who tend to not procrastinate in their projects and pursuits and don’t jump down rabbit trails of inanity (web surfing) will be more able to use the internet in a beneficial manner (that is, use it in ways that help them achieve their goals).

The internet may be acting as a giant selecting mechanism that hinders many individuals (that already have an innate tendency to be more impulsive or have a decreased attention span) from completing their life’s goals. How could it do this? Perhaps it is sucking copious quantities of time from such a person—time that could have been spent exploring more innovative and creative pursuits, inventing something or exercising.

On the contrary, the internet offers many individuals an enhanced means to be creative and explore opportunities that would have been inaccessible to them otherwise.  The internet allows many to make a passive income which aids their survival. Perhaps, without the internet to diminish the sense of boredom, some individuals would be off pillaging, raping, watching reality television shows, or going to church.

The internet is still a very new phenomenon in human history. It will help many and hurt many. Like the technology of genetically modified organisms, the internet is a technology—a tool—that can be used for good and bad purposes. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

What are the components of a good memory?

Many of us would love to have a better memory. I surmise that a strong, focused attention span allows for the development of better memory.  Yet, what causes a person to have a strong attention span in the first place? What makes a person pay stronger, longer attention to some phenomena and not to others?

I want to suggest that phenomena that relates to your person and identity, things that you find peculiar or interesting, things that aggravate you and things that you despise, will entertain your attention span longer than other kinds of phenomena. Perhaps it isn’t just the length of the attention span but how deeply (thoroughly?) we embed the information in our brains and how much wiring our brain devotes to a specific piece or collection of data.

The length of one’s attention span seems also to be important because if you can have a longer attention span for a particular area of knowledge, you will be able to encode and store more of the information about the topic; this results in enhanced memory retrieval.

Furthermore, it seems that anything that evokes a fiery emotional response will also form a more trenchant, recallable memory. One of the problems for developing a better memory in other domains of knowledge (that are entirely new) may be that instead of generating an emotional response, they elicit an indifferent response.  If you find an area of knowledge, say, politics, to “boil your blood” you probably have a better grasp on this subject than someone who has more of a flat, indifferent response to the subject.

 Perhaps the material you are learning bores you or doesn’t pique your interest or excite your thought processes enough to establish focus.  This past quarter I’ve experienced just that. As I reflect on the current subject matter, I see that it doesn’t interest me and it doesn’t relate to any experiences I’ve ever had so my focus and memory (and thus learning) capacity is negatively impacted.  Passing the class matters—and so far, I’m doing that, but for me, longer-term retention is always the ultimate goal

If only there could be a method (or pill) to make us more interested (or more emotionally affected or rewarded?) by a subject so that focus and memory were better played out.