Lunar Comedy

There are a lot of people out there who believe that the future of the human species relies on getting us to live in places far, far away. Not just in Hawaii, but on the Moon, or Mars. Or even further away than than.

The Moon seems like a good place to start, though, because it’s so close. Close is relative. It’s not as close to me as Florida, but it’s the closest thing that is not Earth. So let’s pick on the Moon for now, as being the next best place for people to live.

What should we call people who live on the Moon for their entire lives? Mooners? Moonies? Lunars? Lunies? Lunarians? For now, I’ll call them Loonites. No reason, except that it sounds funny for now.

Funny. That’s a hot topic. Funny wasn’t always hot. There was a time, not so long ago, before television, where funny was something that people saw once in a blue moon. Only the richest people could afford live funny time, in the form of a court jester.

Being a court jester wasn’t an easy job, either. If you were a court jester, you had an incredibly tough audience of one person, the King. If the King liked you, you had a good night’s sleep on a full stomach. If you had a bad day and the King didn’t like you, there was a good chance you’d be dead!

Nowadays it’s not as tough to be a comedian, but sometimes it feels that way. The difference is that comedy is the King, and comedians have become Kings in their own right. The best of them can make millions of dollars a year. In many ways, we can consider today’s society a society of comedy.

Which brings us back to the Moon. Lunites are going to be very busy. They will be working hard to survive, mining minerals for the people on Earth, working solar energy farms sending electricity back to the home planet, and continually digging new tunnels in order to expand their cramped living conditions. What will the Lunites do for fun?

It’s a good question. We don’t know. We do know that there were people just like the Lunites, living in the Boston area a few hundred years ago. They didn’t do much for fun because they were busy trying to survive for many decades. The Pilgrims were a pretty “grim” people for quite a few years. If you read some of the things they considered funny, you probably wouldn’t even crack a smile.

My guess is that the Lunites are going to be even busier than the Pilgrims. They won’t have as much free time, let alone time to spend having fun. They will have to spend more years making sure they can survive, because of several things. First, they won’t have other natives to help them, like the native Indians helped the first Pilgrims. Second, their mother country isn’t a few thousand kilometers away to keep sending more people or food. The Lunites’s mother country will be almost half a million kilometers away. Thirdly, the Moon won’t be full of resources that the Lunites can harvest easily. Vital things like water and air are going to have to be pulled by force from the Lunar soil. The Pilgrims were able to easily breathe the air, find a nearby fresh-water stream, and hunt fish and birds for food.

So, what will the Lunites do for fun? I don’t think they will do very much. I think they will be known as a very boring and busy people for many generations. Earth people will make fun of them for being different, and this will start a process where the Lunites truly become a society different from Earth.

These are my thoughts. What are yours?

 

Stories Must Die

I love a good story. Everyone loves a good story. Story-telling has been a profession for a long time, starting with Homer. [1] It’s one of the defining features of our species. There is good evidence that storytelling and social cohesion are strongly related. [2] So what’s with the title of this essay?

There is a great danger in story-telling. For one, story-telling is designed to appeal to our emotions: love, fear, remorse, regret, hopes, dreams, deep longing, even gratitude, to name only a few. The problem with emotion is that it’s not a good basis for collecting facts. Facts are best for understanding the real world. Emotions are good for feeling the world, without worrying about accuracy. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with feeling the world instead of collecting facts. Like I said, everyone enjoys a good story.

Let’s get back to the danger. In the so-called social sciences there is a tendency to rely on the story as a form of both data collection and justification. This is in addition to having almost no rigor with respect to their definitions or methods. Go to any two social scientists within any specialization, and ask them to define any term. It’s almost certain that you’ll get two different definitions. And there’s almost as good a chance that each of them will have a story to go along with it.

No story, no matter how riveting, can rise to the level of quality we must expect in a true science. No physicist, no chemist, no biologist would rely upon a story to advance their knowledge within the scientific community. Absolutely none.

Now, that’s not to say the story doesn’t have a place within the hard sciences. A hard-nosed hard scientist may use a vignette as a way of following an interesting lead. Perhaps there is a grain of truth that can be tested, verified, repeated, such that it meets the standards of science and can therefore be published to the rest of the scientific community. Perhaps the story makes the research more interesting for her colleagues. But there it ends. So many stories end up being only that, a story designed to entertain for a short time.

What’s the big deal, you say? What exactly is my problem with a good story? Why can’t it be chock-full of fact? Maybe I’m a story-hating geezer with hollywood issues? Perhaps you’re right. However, I can sum up the problems with a single word, muddy. Stories are entertaining, but they are never specific, so that too many things may be going on at one time. And when too many things happen at one time, it becomes impossible to point to any one and say, ah-ha, this factor is important for me to understand what’s going on. This brings us to the second fundamental reason stories shouldn’t be used; nothing is ever that simple.

What’s that you say? Gentle Reader? You would like a story to illustrate my point? Honestly, I’d prefer to not dirty up my argument here with some story. Rather, I’d like to try and convince you using an illustration of stories in general. Lately I’ve been doing research into our society’s attitudes towards hate. How we define hate is rather cloudy because we use the term very loosely nowadays, and the people that claim to be professionals in this area don’t help because it’s not in their best interests to refine the definition or their methods. They make their money writing books or being an expert on the newsy entertainment shows. However, since I’m neck-deep in hate, this could be the best place to find some recent examples about why stories are terrible sources of knowledge.

In the books that I’m reading, the stories they use tend to fall into two general categories. The first category is that of great atrocities perpetrated during wars. Of course there are many wars to choose stories from. You could say that there is always a war going on somewhere, and so there are many atrocious stories going on all the time. True, and sad. So the first example of stories within a whole class of war is the one that has to do with the formation of our great Union, an event that is collectively known as the “Trail of Tears.” In a long-standing confrontation between mostly European settlers and the much longer settled natives of the Eastern North American continent, the stronger European settlers were able to dictate many terms to the natives. Many of these terms revolved around access to land, and the ultimate conclusion was that natives were to leave their ancestral lands of the East for the great unknown of the West – a walk of several thousand kilometers.

Now, it’s hard to argue against the feeling that here is evidence for hate on the grandest of scales. An entire society, its government, its armies, and all its citizens were working against the natives of North America. And this newly formed government stood as a single entity attempting to eliminate not one, but many native cultures. They vilified the natives in print, stole from them when they could, cast them as red and inferior, and ultimately moved them from East to West. They even described them with their own words in ways that were meant to hurt. [3] Many thousands perished during the forced marches. [4] One can imagine the old and the young dropping off the side of the trail, or being carried away by raging streams or rivers. Those who were sick or unprepared, starved away. There were those who were wounded, and unable to obtain rest and care, left at the side of the trail, unable to be sustained by their families. Is this not all the product of hate? Who in their right mind would argue that this was not the product of hate? Who?

Well, me. And I should hope, you, as a believer in learning methodically and rigorously. We have to be able to know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that what we are looking at is a fact, no matter what angle we look at it from. How in the world can the Trail of Tears not be looked upon as a great product of hate? Consider the following.

It is the rare story about the Trail of Tears that reveals the greater changes swirling about all those participants. There was the opposing world view of Europeans and Natives. The European believed they were chosen to take the land, had religious justification, and were motivated by great and omniscient powers. The Natives were weak, fought among themselves, and had not mastered technology to the level of the European. Add to all that these basic facts. Natives could not ‘hold’ their liquor. They were susceptible to strange maladies that often took their lives. They even looked very different, in ways that Europeans could only understand as being related to evil. It was for many of these inherent qualities that Europeans rationalized their own superiority over the native, further justifying the atrocities they perpetrated upon innocent people.

Today we have learned enough to know that because someone looks differently from ourselves, it does not mean that they are necessarily weak or inferior. We also know that someone’s genetic makeup does not mean they are less or better than ourselves. We also realize that most technology is relatively easy to master. The process of centuries of scientific inquiry can be passed to an open mind within a few years, such that it becomes as familiar to them as it is to us. And the reasons the natives couldn’t withstand the evils of alcohol, fell victim to a wide variety of diseases, and even looked differently from the European is because they were of a different genetic heritage. For millennia the peoples of the Americas had lived in biological isolation from the rest of humanity. The scourges that ravaged many in the Old World weren’t known in the New. As a result, the lessons of smallpox, mumps, and other relatively minor ailments to a European proved deadly to the native. The survival of the fittest was in full force, and only those natives who had immune systems robust enough to withstand the European germs survived, hopefully passing those innate talents onto their children.

In addition, each side of this conflict looked at the world very differently. For the native, the land was enjoyed passively; for upon it they hunted and gathered what was needed. For the European, the land was something to work, to harvest from, to change to their needs, and carve away from others in order to protect and pass those assets from one generation to the next. Europeans wanted to own their land to do whatever they pleased. Natives only enjoyed the land, leaving it untouched for their children to do the same. So, not only was their a clash between groups of different technologies, different genetic makeups, but also different ways of looking at the world.

Is there more that we can find to try and understand the conflict between Europeans and Natives? Of course. Technology, genetics, world views, these are great forces, and they are not all there is. There are more, and they are always influencing us. It’s important to realize that though there is great pain and suffering, though there is what we perceive to be great injustice in the world, it is not always something that can be simply categorized as hate. We must be careful in our understanding, otherwise we will not truly know the subject.

And here is the whole point of this story, oops, essay. Stories will entertain you, but they rarely teach rigorously. They are used by expert writers to make a point. Many successful business writers use stories exactly for this purpose, and business-people are quick to consider the writer an expert because of the quality of the story. But even a few questions about all the other great forces involved can shred the best story in minutes. Stories can’t teach the truth.

Only facts teach truth. Facts that you and I can verify independently of each other. Facts that hold up over time. Facts that stay facts for as long as time itself. And that’s the kind of stuff that we as students of behavior should insist upon.

And that’s a fact.

 

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Fagles I’ve read several versions, and Fagles translations are spectacular. They make modern literature and drama pale in comparison. And the audio versions read by professional actors are riveting. Check them out!

[2] http://www.capetownpartnership.co.za/storytelling-for-social-cohesion-a-message-from-professor-njabulo-ndebele/ There are so many examples where people claim exactly what I state above. Of course, as a true scientist, you are skeptical – we can’t take someone’s word about a fact, any fact. And that includes me!

[3] http://www.nativeweb.org/pages/legal/squaw.html

[4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trail_of_Tears

 

Double Spaced

Time for another less serious than fate-of-humanity stuff.  And what couldn’t be less serious than discussing the fate-of-humanity?  Not sure about that.  But what has set me off this time is an essay I came across in slate the other day. [1]  Now, that essay was a few years old, but the subject is relatively timeless.  Or should I say, spaceless?  How many spaces should we type after the end of a sentence?

Now, if you’re an old fart like me, you were taught to type on a manual typewriter that used courier font.  This is a font that has uniform spacing.  It doesn’t matter if you’re typing a period or the letter W, the space that they take up on the page is the same.  This is the way I was taught, and it’s exactly the method that I’ve been practicing for the last seventy years.

Now, suddenly, I come across a barrage of experts claiming that I’m doing it all wrong.  Not only that, but the official society of typesetting professionals agree that I’m doing it all wrong.  What am I to do?  This is quite the quandary, because I’m set in my ways.  The eyes are going, my joints are creaking, the ears don’t hear, and I’d much rather complain than have to learn a whole new method of typing.  Part of me wishes that there were some way to know, without a shadow of a doubt, that the pain and anguish of changing my ways would be worth it.  Then I would know exactly what to do, because I would also know the benefits and drawbacks of my decision, no matter what I would decide.

And there’s the issue!  It’s all well and good for some highfalutin typesetting society to come out and say one space is sufficient, but why is that?  It’s not like the world is running out of extra spaces.  It’s not as if we can use those spaces somewhere else for the good of mankind.  I don’t waste a whole lot of time with those spaces, and it certainly doesn’t use up extra toner on my printer.  So what’s the problem?

The problem, according to the “Two too many spaces after sentences is bad” society, is that we don’t need them.  One is enough, and the idea of having two spaces only arose when we started using the manual mono-spaced font typewriters of the twentieth century.  They also claim, although I haven’t tested this for truthiness, that typesetters of old used slightly bigger spaces after sentences in the way back.  That’s because they could set spaces very easily, since the bit of metal that represented a space didn’t have to be cast with a letter.  It was just a space!

The problem I have with all this is that it’s arbitrary.  Not just seeming arbitrary, but all of it’s terribly arbitrary.  And to see how arbitrary this all is, let’s set the wayback machine to somewhere around five thousand years ago, just about the time writing was invented.  Yes, writing was invented.  It didn’t evolve, it didn’t get sent to us by aliens or get etched into stone by some great power.  We, people, your great great grand parents, invented writing.  They invented it because it helped them communicate with others over distance.  It even helped them communicate with themselves over time.  Those of you who are losing neurons daily will know what I mean.

When writing was first invented it started out as a bunch of lines.  And pictures.  Well, kind of pictures.  Then those picturey-kind-of-pictures turned into symbols.  Then they became the letters we know today.  Not all the letters, just the capital ones.  When the ancient greeks wrote books, it was in all capitals.  And they didn’t have spaces.  And they didn’t have punctuation either.  Those books were really hard to read.  So what did mankind do?

We, mankind, invented small letters.  Because sometimes we wanted to convey more emotion in our writing, we needed something like today’s “emoticons.”  These special original emoticons were called punctuation.  The period.  The question mark.  The exclamation mark.  These are all inventions.  There was one other thing that we invented that relates to my whole rant here, and that is the sentence.  I’m saying one thing.  I said it.  I’m done.  What I said all in one breath is one sentence.  But how do I tell you, the Gentle Reader, that this is one sentence?  Again, I had to invent ways to do this.  So I started the sentence with a capital letter.  I used all little letters after that.  Mostly.  Then I finished with a period.  Usually.  Now you know where a sentence starts and where it ends.

But what happens when we put a whole lot of sentences together?  Then we invented the paragraph, a collection of sentences that attempt to support a single unifying idea.  This particular paragraph is trying to promote the idea that when you have a whole lot of sentences stuck together, you can use as much help as possible telling them apart.  The capital letter at the beginning is helpful, but with today’s rules there are usually LOTS of other words that may be capitalized, for various reasons.  There’s a period at the end, but as we know, there are lots of other puctuation marks nowadays; such that the period could be easily mistaken for something else: a colon, a semi-colon, a comma, and maybe even an exclamation mark or question mark.

Which brings us to the real crux of the matter.  The double space at the end of the sentence help you, the reader, find the sentences when a bunch of them are stuck together.  And in my simple world, anything that helps us communicate more efficiently is a good thing.  Anything that makes our lives more confusing, like burying sentences in a paragraph, is a bad thing.

If the TTMSASIB society wants to argue that it’s time to fight for the one-space rule, I say bring on the evidence.  Do some science. Some BEHAVIORAL science.  Show me that people can comprehend a single space separated paragraph better than a double spaced paragraphed, and I’ll be a believer.  Show me that it works for all the major fonts.  And show me that it makes life better in some other way, just to be thorough.  If they can’t do that, then too bad. I’m sticking to my double life.

 
[1] http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2011/01/space_invaders.html   Space Invaders, or, Why you should never, ever use two spaces after a period.   It’s by Farhad Manjoo, and it was posted Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2011, at 6:00 AM.

Science of Shaving

It’s time to study behavior again. But this time, it’s time to stop being so serious. I know I bore most of you, if not all of you, because no one really reads these entries. Who wants to know more about love, hate, or the economy? No one, actually. No, interest lies in what is truly the most important to our selfish selves, maximizing personal pleasure and minimizing pain.

One source of pain is making ourselves look as attractive as possible – it takes work! And money. Lots and lots of money. The beauty industry is billions and billions of dollars large. In fact, if you take a look at the global economy, last estimated to be around 40t USD, I’m willing to bet about a trillion is devoted to beauty in one of its many forms. [1]

One of the many things men and women do to appear more beautiful is remove hair – shaving. Now, why is hair removal considered beautiful? That’s a subject for another day, but one that resides smack dab inside the study of behavior. For now, my fun-loving science oriented reader, let’s take it as axiomatic that hair removal (sans tête) is beautifying.

And painful. You have to take the time to prepare the bath, or shower, or sink. You have to buy equipment, then scrape that blade across your naked flesh. Time, money, energy, all add up to pain.

Adding insult to injury, that equipment you’re using? It’s not getting any younger. Every time you scrape that thin edge of stainless steel across your tender flesh, you’re tearing a few atoms away from the exposed fragile peaks comprising its surface.

What? Did you think that steel was flat and featureless? Hah! Shrink yourself so that you harbor an atom’s eye, and you’ll see what our best technology is capable of. A chunk of steel, yes, but with two sides coming together at a five degree angle or so. The actual edge looks like the trunk of a tree, and nowhere we look can anything be called smooth.

Relative to one of our hairs, this crudely shaped barbaric axe is sufficient, because your atomic eye sees even the finest hair as a huge, roundish stalk of asparagus. Its top reaches beyond our sight, and our axe is hard compared to the soft protein forest. This is why we are able to tear and cut the hair tree forest down.

In the process, some of our less well attached, more exposed pieces of atomic steel have also been removed, or shuffled around. We call this wear and tear. Our blade is becoming blunt.

Which brings us back to behavioral science, and how it relates to something as mundane as shaving. Shaving is a behavior, although a miniscule behavior in light of us trying to understand the big picture. Yet, shaving is something we do often, regularly, and think about too much. How then can behavioral science help us shave?

First, we have to understand the physics and chemistry. Don’t worry, we don’t have to understand too much. We talked about how the blade cuts the hair already. That’s the physics. Another wear factor is how the blade glides across your face or legs. Reducing those cutting and gliding forces reduces the force necessary to cut the hair – resulting in a closer shave and longer lived blades. There’s your chemistry.

For this to happen, you need two fundamental components – a hydrating / lubricating substance, and time. Time is a huge factor because simply adding water to hair helps soften them, but it takes about a minute for hair to be fully wetted.

Then there’s the substance. Many of us use special preparations and buy billions and dollars of various products, and have developed our own rituals. But what’s needed is a substance that is both highly lubricating and an effective hair moisturizer.

Here’s where the science comes in; how do you know you’ve improved and maximized your shaving style? The method or test that I’ve been following for the past year uses this simple metric – how long does my blade last before it needs to be changed? In the interest of science I’ve decided to publish my raw data here [2].

How do I know when my blade needs changing? Good question, a great question. I used to change out my two-bladed cheap razor once a week, without fail, on Sunday morning. So, every Sunday, I’d have a brand new blade so that I’d get the most perfect shave to be able to impress my wife.

Well, I started a new system. Not just a new soap (which rocks by the way [3]) but a new method of preparation. What’s my method? Again, in the interest of science, I’ll share these personal shaving behaviors with you.

First, start with wetting the face. Then, with a drop of my super-soap, I’ll wash my face. Wash the soap off my face, then squirt a full squirt [4] into my hands. I spread the soap on my hands a few times to lather it up, then apply it to the shavable part of my face. Then I look at myself a second to make sure I’ve got everything covered, then get the razor from the cupboard. I know, I should have done that at the very beginning, but I always forget.

Wait, I almost forgot another step. Right after I’ve lathered up, I rub off the excess soap on my hands onto the sink. Our sink seems to accumulate this hard and rough surface scale from toothpaste and makeup. I don’t know how it gets there, but normally my wife spends weekends scrubbing the sink so that it’s nice and shiny and smooth. Guess what? By rubbing my soap on the sink, it cleans it up just as if she scrubbed it. Yes, I know this isn’t directly relevant to shaving, but it’s what I do, and in the interest of full disclosure, well, there you have it.

So, getting back to the shaving thing. I rinse my hands one more time, pick up the blade, and start cutting away. No difference there, just start scraping, washing the blade off, and scraping some more. A closeup look to make sure I didn’t miss something major, and I’m done.

Overall, it takes me about as long to shave using this new method as it did with canned shaving cream, gel cream in tubes, and even fancy soap disks in a shaving mug complete with beaver hair brushes. There’s one big difference.

My blades. My blades last almost four weeks now! Truly. The blade I used this morning was new as of August 22, 2013. That’s almost a month ago, and that’s for a two bladed razor. I don’t know about you, but every time I’m asked to pay $50 for a few razor heads it makes me gasp. So knowing that a set of twelve is going to last me a year is a great solace to my wallet.

Time for a confession. I read one of those glossy superficial articles on-line a few days ago. [6]  The expert was someone who’d started a store in Manhattan selling $50 soaps for closer shaves. He sold the store to Proctor and Gamble, and he’s been kept on as the figurehead entrepreneur and spokesman. His secret to everyone was the exact same advice as what I’ve described above, time and lubrication. Here’s the difference. His purpose is getting publicity is to drive people to his store, where they can buy a solution without having to think about it in any way. Why think? It’s hard work. It’s so much easier to simply trust this nice guy in the article, give him $50, and shave away. [5]

The reason we have to think is exactly because of that assumption; we can’t trust a corporation trying to make money off of us. We have to be skeptical, that’s the backbone of science. That’s why we have to measure our success, and our failures. And we have to share them with each other. Replication and validation are the two pillars that hold up all of our scientific knowledge today.

So please, analyze yourself! That’s the behavioral science part of this exercise. You’ll be surprised how many of our own behaviors can be subject to analysis, just like shaving. Something we have been taking for granted all these years can be approached in new ways. Who knows? You might stumble onto something even greater! Feel free to add your ideas below.

Thanks for reading. Pardon me now – I have to go shave.

[1] And I’m talking many many forms of beauty. Not just cosmetics, eye shadow, blush, and lipstick. It includes underarm deodorant, fancy shampoos, teeth whitening, cosmetic surgery, hair coloring, nail cleaning, wigs, haircuts, and a lot of things we simply take for granted. All of these behaviors, however, have one fundamental purpose in mind; they are ways to make us more beautiful.

[2] Here’s my raw data in spreadsheet form, to date:

Soap type

Blade type

Start date

End date

total days

UE-brand Bar

G-brand 2 blades

Jun 3, 12

Jun 18, 12

15

UE-brand Bar

G-brand 2 blades

Nov 13, 12

Nov 24, 12

11

UE-brand Bar

G-brand 2 blades

Nov 27, 12

Dec 8, 12

11

UE-brand Bar

G-brand 2 blades

Dec 9, 12

Dec 30, 12

21

UE-brand Bar

G-brand 5 blades

Jun 19, 12

Sep 2, 12

75

UE-brand Bar

G-brand 5 blades

Jan 3, 13

May 13, 13

118

UE-brand Bar

G-brand 2 blades

Dec 31, 12

Feb 6, 13

37

UE-brand Bar

G-brand 2 blades

Feb 7, 13

Mar 16, 13

37

UE-brand Bar

G-brand 2 blades

Mar 17, 13

May 7, 13

51

UE-brand Bar

G-brand 2 blades

May 8, 13

May 26, 13

18

UE-brand Bar

G-brand 2 blades

May 27, 13

Jul 13, 13

47

UE-brand Liquid

G-brand 2 blades

August 22, 13

still going strong!

29+

G-brand Cream

G-brand 5 blades

Sep 3, 12

Oct 4, 12

31

G-brand Cream

G-brand 5 blades

Oct 5, 12

Nov 1, 12

27

[3] Really, my soap rocks. It started out as being a strong natural soap for men in factories, but after three months their WIVES asked them to bring it home. Why? Because the women noticed how soft and healed their men’s damaged skin had become. It seems that this is the most powerful natural soap on the market. Read more about this soap at Uncle-Earls.com.

[4] For the bottle I use, a squirt is about 1.3 milliliters.

[5] More true confessions here. Our company makes this super-soap. That’s one of the reasons why I’ve gotten so technical about shaving. But that’s the whole purpose of this article. You don’t have to ‘trust’ me like the guy who started those P&G stores. Does our soap outperform yours? Test my statement yourself. Replicate! Validate!

[6] Finally found the article, a few days after writing this entry, at … http://www.mensjournal.com/health-fitness/grooming/the-perfect-shave-20130827

Tools of Love

You’re probably tired of me beating around the bush instead of going for the meat of this particular subject, and I don’t blame you. Impatience is part of our culture, it’s a part of our computerized age, and perhaps most importantly, it’s expected of your generation. So here’s a summary of the tools that will help you understand and capture the big ‘ell.’

The first tool is an understanding that the pursuit, capture, and life-long maintenance of a loving relationship has rules. These are not rules that allow for a winner among players. No, it’s a set of rules that should help remind you that you are a participant. More complexly, there are rules that always apply to you alone, rules that apply to both you and your partner, and rules that pit both of you against the world. You must be aware of where you are, where you’re going, what’s important, and what’s not. The rules can change quickly with unknowns hiding in a new place every day. But if you understand the rules and respond skillfully, the rewards include more pleasure and productivity in your life than you can achieve on your own.

The second and third tools involve knowing yourself, and should be familiar to anyone who undertakes any intensely serious endeavor. A related aspect of this is that you absolutely must collect a set of life goals. You won’t have to keep them if you don’t want them, but if you choose well, it’s likely that they will be your goals until death. And it’s important that you have them, because they represent yourself to the rest of the world.

One of the more critical aspects to understanding yourself is developing an appreciation of your own ability to be flexible, knowing it for what it really is, knowing your limits, and knowing how to use them. Or if necessary, knowing when to hold fast and influence others to flex instead. This tool is a two-edged sword, because as you become more knowledgable about your own flexibility and your ability to use it, the more you will realize others may not be as flexible and don’t know how to exercise self-control. One of the life-long tasks of lovers is to teach the other about your own flexibility, learn about theirs, and work together so that neither of you is taken beyond their comfort zone.

The fourth tool is almost the opposite of the second and third, and can appear counter-intuitive to many, so I’ll include a few more words about it here. Don’t worry about understanding or explaining your partner, for this is something that will be revealed to you over the years. Many of us try to fit other people into convenient molds for us to understand their actions. Men and women have been characterizing each other as opposites ever since we started paying attention to Love, and if any of these systems would have worked we would know. Divisions such as hunter versus gatherer, or Martian versus Venusian is easy to talk about, but make no sense. Working hard to create such an understanding, especially in the beginning of a relationship, only makes your work harder.

Not understanding someone does not mean that you should accept what they do with a blind eye. This is extremely important, and is one of the most visible mistakes young lovers make. One can be so taken with the other that anything they do is rationalized away. It won’t matter if these differences are political, ethical, or even minor inconveniences. Thinking that someone will change in ways to benefit you almost always prove wrong. That we all change is true, and it may be that your lover will change to your liking. But it’s also possible that they won’t, and unless your situation is so constrained that you must accept the risk, it’s better to say goodbye.

There is a large difference between trying to understand someone, and knowing what you can expect them to do in the future. What they do today they will probably do tomorrow. What their parents did at any particular age is probably what your lover will also do at that age. Accept this, and don’t expect it to change. Most importantly, and fundamental to this tool, don’t try to explain it. Accept it, and understanding will come in its own way.

The fifth tool has to do with looking at yourself in a new way, as a link in a chain. You and I, even as you read these words, exist in this moment. As some serious philosophers have argued, it may be that everything else is a dream – both past and future – while this moment alone has any meaning. This isn’t the place to worry about that, but the hard truth is that we are the culmination of a thousand thousand generations of fighting, survival, and loving. All that came before us can only be passed on in one way – through us. As a link in that chain, you can choose what you pass on to your lover, and eventually your children. Not everything that came before today was constructive, and you can choose whether or not your lover must be exposed to those things. Did your ancestors like to philander? Did they indulge in food and drink? Did they have fits of violence? Or did they practice subtle versions of domination, verbally and psychologically? Every family has skeletons in the closet; you can choose to close that door, forever. Your lover may never know it’s there, and that’s alright – if you can keep a secret. If you can’t, and your lover knows it’s there, that’s alright too. You must never let it out of the closet, for trying to live with your skeleton may be more harmful than anything you imagined. And the link moves forward. Choose to break the chain, create the Love you dream about, and leave your ancestor’s skeletons where they belong.

The sixth and final tool also has to do with looking at yourself in a new way. Instead of looking at yourself as a link in a chain, you must see yourself as a traveler in this world. Only you don’t walk on the ground alone, but also above the trees, among the clouds, and finally, floating above the planet. All of you are present all the time, walking through life together and separately even though you may not be aware of your other selves. This tool will help you recognize and understand your alter-egos so that you can appreciate and switch among them at any time. It’s this ability to move between different planes of existence that will help you navigate through life, and achieve Love.

Some of you may say that these don’t look like tools; after all, there’s nothing to buy and no website to visit, no catchy mnemonics, and nothing to play on the computer. When you think long and hard about everything around us that we call ‘tool,’ like a hammer or a car, they all come down to a different way of looking at the world. As long as you have the concept of ‘hammer’ in your head, you will never be without a hammer. It won’t matter if you didn’t buy one at the hardware store, because you can use a rock if necessary. The true tool is not material, it exists as a concept within your mind.

At the same time, your mind is much greater than what’s between your ears. It includes resources around you, the internet, your relatives, and possibly even this book. You don’t have to ‘remember’ all these things, you only have to know where to go to get the information you want. So don’t underestimate the usefulness of the tools we’re about to discuss. They may be better than a hammer.

 

Fiery Fears

Pains real. Fears not.
Pains denied, Fears alive.
Pains accepted, Fears rejected.           (anon)

There’s a pair of decent books tackling the tricky subjects of hate and fear. [1] I’ll say more about them later, but Rush Dozier makes one particularly provocative statement; humans are the only species that isn’t innately afraid of fire.

Is it true? An internet search doesn’t tell us very much. Maybe it’s one of those universal truths that modern science doesn’t deem interesting enough to verify. Scientists, like the rest of us, assume that it’s true because everyone else since the beginning of time has also assumed it’s true. I don’t want to make any waves, so let’s agree. Humans are the only species on Earth that isn’t afraid of Fire. We’ll take this as a fundamental truth, and call it axiom number one.

What I mean by innate is that there is nothing about not being afraid of fire that isn’t learned. In fact, what I’m saying is that babies like fire. I’m pretty sure that most parents teach their toddlers to avoid fire. It’s pretty, it’s red, it’s inviting, it goes snap crackle pop, it’s warm, and – WATCH OUT! You’ll get burned! Did this ever happen to you?

This is yet another statement that science should check into, using the same tried and true methods that have gotten us into skyscrapers and airplanes. Since it’s not a scientific fact, let’s make another bold statement; humanity’s lack of fear of fire is totally due to nature. This means that nurturing, or learning, has nothing to do with it.

Any behavior that is one hundred percent nature comes from our program. Our program is something we all know with no training required. Sucking mother’s nipple for food is something we want to do as soon as we get shoved out the birth canal. One hundred percent natural. And there’s axiom number two.

Biologists know that our program is written in DNA. That’s like saying this essay is written using letters of the alphabet. Our DNA program is extremely large, so it is divided into subroutines and extra apps, called genes. These are like the paragraphs and concepts in this essay. We have about thirty thousand genes, and they probably all work together. On top of this our genes have preferences, just like the apps on your phone. The settings are somewhat randomly chosen for us as soon as we’re conceived. There’s about three million settings for each of us. The professionals call these settings SNiPS – for single nucleotide polymorphisms.

Somehow, shared among all people, is a combination of genes and SNiPs telling us not to be afraid of fire. It’s one of the biggest things making humans totally distinct from all other animals. The same DNA, written differently, tells chimps, mice, birds and snakes to fear fire. We lack this trait, and all other animals have this trait. Yet, if you go back far enough in time, we will find an ancestor that links us to all other animals. Somewhere along the line, a bizarre combination of genes and SNiPs gave rise to us, modern man, with a new type of strange behavior. Biologists call distinct behaviors like this, phenotypes.

Here’s the craziest thing about fire. It’s powerful. It cooks meat and veggies so we can digest them more easily and stay healthier. Fire keeps bad animals away. Fire allows us to work when it’s dark outside. Fire changes ordinary Earth into extraordinary tools, like arrowheads, pottery, glass and steel. We are a species and a society born of fire. Yet, we take fire for granted. That’s too bad, because we should appreciate it for the great abilities it gives. So, the first step is to think back in time, to a period when we didn’t have this ability.

Go back far enough, say two hundred thousand years ago, and you’ll see our distant ancestors, hiding in trees, eating fruits and dirt, probably hanging about in small groups. They very likely acted much like today’s chimpanzees – our closest cousins. Let’s call this particular tribe ‘the standing up people,’ or Homo erectus. [2]

Now, as happens in successful tribes, there are babies. One particular baby was born with a set of genes and SNiPs that were very different from all the others in her tribe. It was a difference no one could see, but it was still there. She grows up, safe, sound, and happy. Then comes that fateful day.

The tribe is taking shelter from a storm, lightning and thunder surrounding them. They huddle together. Suddenly, nearby, a bolt of lighting ignites a pile of dead wood, bringing fire to life. The thunderclap, the light, the flare, and the living combustion of wood makes the tribe hoot, holler, and run away. That is, all but one. Our heroine has no fear, and has not learned to be afraid of fire. Instead of running, she gingerly approaches the bonfire rising before her.

She advances, observing everything in wonder. She picks up a long stick whose end is engulfed in flames, noting how it has acquired a smoldering sharpened point; the first hardened spear. Or she may have found a cooked squirrel, the first fast food.

Or, and this is the truly most wonderful moment in our ancestry, perhaps she looked up from her smoking spear and roasted squirrel and sees, across the flickering and snapping wood, another Homo erectus. He’s not from her tribe, and he, too, is not afraid of fire. The moment is right, she and he spend time together. And eventually you, I, and everyone we have ever known throughout history comes into existence.

In that moment, that Promethean portal gave birth to their love, their offspring, and an entirely new species. It’s quite possible that a single blaze sparked the rise of ‘people who think,’ or Homo sapiens. Our heroine was, in fact, Eve, the mother of all humans today.

What makes us so special? Our laugh? Dogs laugh, so not quite that. Our brains? Dolphins are bigger yet, and birds are proving to be pretty darn smart. Wars? Watch insects duking it out sometime. Our tools? Nope, birds and even some insects have those. Our high technology? There’s something to this. Where does all that technology ultimately come from? Fire.

We are a species forged in fire. It never would have happened if we hadn’t evolved the phenotype that describes not being afraid of fire. So, assuming that only one species, Homo erectus, isn’t afraid of fire, and assuming that behavior is one hundred percent natural, then we must conclude that this behavior is one of the most critical factors in differentiating us from all other life. Therefore, what made Eve so special was that she wasn’t afraid. It may be two hundred thousand years too late, but thank you Eve.

Think about that the next time you have to confront one of your own fears. Perhaps YOU could be the start of a whole new species.

[1] Fear Itself – Origin and nature of the powerful emotion that shapes our lives and our world.
and
Why we hate – understanding, curbing, and eliminating hate in ourselves and our world.     Both books by Rush Dozier. Published by McGraw-Hill, 1998 and 2002 respectively.

[2] Sequencing Y Chromosomes Resolves Discrepancy in Time to Common Ancestor of Males Versus Females, G. David Poznik, Brenna M. Henn, Muh-Ching Yee, Elzbieta Sliwerska, Ghia M. Euskirchen, Alice A. Lin, Michael Snyder, Lluis Quintana-Murci, Jeffrey M. Kidd, Peter A. Underhill, and Carlos D. Bustamante. Science 2 August 2013: 562-565.
and
Y Weigh In Again on Modern Humans, by Rebecca L. Cann. Science 2 August 2013: 465-467.