Forward this, three.

These last few weeks I’ve pointed out the increasing prevalence of “forwards” based on fiction.  At the same time, there seems to be a lack of active skepticism in our society.  All of this is being undermined by one incredible force; the momentum of entertainment.

In the beginning, there were gods.  Many gods.  Gods existed in the wind, the fire, the tree, and the sun.  We have gotten smarter and more sophisticated since then, and today we have fewer gods.  Some religions claim to only have one, but that’s a topic for another day.

Yet, in all practical terms, our society worships many gods.  These are the gods that appear on the altar we call TV.  They are beyond beautiful.  They are beyond reach.  Their words are music to our ears.  And we believe everything they say.

In reality, these are entertainers.  They are chosen from the ranks of many beautiful people based on their ability to talk, to look attractive, and to mesmerize us with any words it takes to make us feel better about ourselves.  If you’re a “bleeding heart liberal” then you’ll want to listen to someone who makes you feel better about your taxes helping families in need, or children getting vaccinations.  If you’re a “freedom loving gun-toting conservative” you’re going to want to hear about the evil socialist president and his equally evil sidekick, Hillary, and how the military is being decimated.

The point is that we believe their words, all their words, without digging deeply into what are facts and fiction.  It’s very possible one family is being helped by our taxes, but is it the best way?  How many families are there, and are we indeed teaching them skills and values necessary for them to become self-sustaining?  It’s also likely that the military is being decimated, but is this a surprise?  Our two-war military has been on a buildup schedule for many years, and Pentagon planners have known a draw-down is inevitable.  Is it a bad thing?  Our military spends a lot on very dubious programs.  Are they the first to go, or is it a form of corporate welfare meets pork barrel?

If you bow to the TV on a regular basis, and believe the words of your idol, then that is your god.  As a serious student of behavior, step out of your body and watch yourself.  Is that entertainer the god you want to follow?  Or would you rather follow your own conscience?

So take a bow.  To yourself.


Breathing? $1 please.

How crazy is this? Someone charges you for breathing. You, right now, breathing. You can’t deny it, Gentle Reader, for I know you breathe. My theory of biology says that if you’re alive, you have to breathe. Biology predicts that you will continue to breathe as long as you’re alive.

Prediction is the hallmark of science. I like to think that any discipline becomes a true science once it has acquired the ability to predict. This makes chemistry and physics true science. It also means that economics and sociology aren’t quite there.

Let’s try to make a behavioral prediction, based on prior experience. One experience that our society has had over the past several decades is this simple fact; bottled water has become popular. Water, one of the hallmarks of our advanced civilization, has been provided abundantly and cheaply to the entire population. Someone took the same water (fundamentally), put it in a bottle and sold it. We bought it.

As an observer, I’m not being judgmental. This is only an observation. You probably buy bottled water. I have also bought bottled water. But I don’t own any stock in bottled water companies. There. Full disclosure.

Now, back to being a student of behavior. We’ve seen this development of people buying bottled water in the face of an abundant cheap substitute. What’s next?

Bottled air. How much longer (not if, but when!) will it take before people in general are afraid of breathing the air? Pollution, bugs, and maybe the fact that it doesn’t have the right scent or right mix of gasses?

Or think of it this way. Our society enforces clean air standards on automobiles and factories so that our collective air is clean. What if they started passing those costs onto us in a direct form? So with your chicken comes a separate bill for clean air. Every time you buy a car you pay a clean air charge.

And in the most extreme, how much longer till you sign up with a bottled air company to come and plug in a new bottle of air for your home once a month? Pure, clean, mountain air from the Himalayas brought to you fresh.

Sounds crazy, today. But what about tomorrow?

I’m going for a drink.

Two “p”

Every little thing we do is still behavior.

When we pee it comes out of us in a certain way.  Most of us never think about it.  We assume that it comes out of us exactly the same way for every person on the planet.

A doctor of pee (or a urologist / urogynocologist) probably thinks differently, because they get to see pee in many people.  For me, you see, pee can come out in two separate streams!  How is that?

How common is it?  How many variations are there?  That’s behavior for you.  It’s small.  It’s kind of gross.  But it’s the kind of thing we should pay attention to.  Especially when it comes time to clean the toilets!



On this typical day of worship, let us all rejoice in that greatest of all forces in our part of the universe, the Sun.  On the day I’m writing this, I started out feeling quite gloomy.  So did the day.  Cold, gray, fog, snowflakes.  Yuck.  A bit of a downer, I’m afraid.  Did I have a bug?  Was it something I ate?  Perhaps.

I got up from yet another nap, and looked outside.  Sunlight!  Immediately my mood is brighter!  I’m feeling alive again.  I can write again – if you’ll allow me to call this blog, writing.  At any rate, there is a definite connection between my mood and sun!  Why is that?

Well, there’s the chemical reactions that have been well-studied.  Our mood altering hormones and other neurotransmitters seem to be influenced by light.  When it happens during our day-light cycle is also important.  We started to notice this sort of thing when people began jetting about the globe, hence the term, jet-lag.  (Yet another way aviation has shed light on our behavior!)

But why else?  What is it about daylight that would make this particular animal feel better?  And that I’m not sure about.  It should give us an evolutionary-reproductive advantage over the uninfluenced beasts, but why?

Yes, it’s one of the many mysteries of behavior?  Any ideas out there?  I have to cut this short, because I’m going outside to catch some rays!



Welcome to Yoga. Prepare to die.

Scared?  Don’t be.  This is the attitude you should have when you walk into a yoga class.

In fact, this is the best attitude to have when you get on an airplane, drive a car, or even walk across the street.  Our lives only come with one guarantee, you see.  At some point in time, we’re done.  Everything we do leading up to that time is called living!

I absolutely love to fly airplanes. Small ones, single engine types.  Most fun you can have by yourself, incredibly liberating.  But one of the most surprising revelations during my flight training was learning that good pilots spend a lot of their time thinking about what happens when things go wrong.

When we fly, we are exhibiting one of the newest and most revolutionary forms of behavior mankind has ever exhibited.  We are defying the law of gravity.  But reality intrudes, and every pilot who has flown enough knows that at some point something will go wrong.  It’s how we respond to that emergency that counts.  So the next time you meet a pilot, remember that they may look optimistic on the outside, they are really thinking morbid thoughts on the inside.  The best pilots are well balanced optimistic pessimists.

Now, welcome to yoga.  We warm up our bodies, we twist and turn, plank and invert.  It’s fun in many ways.  But what we’re thinking on the inside is that, someday, something is going to go wrong.  After all, our bodies have a trillion parts to them.  It’s how we deal with that bad part that counts.  We push the edge of our ability, and hope that when the time comes (it will come!) our yoga practice makes us better able to handle the health emergency.

Optimistic pessimism.  Or is it pessimistic optimism?  Yoga and aviation.  Who knew?


Heads up! Seat down.

What is it with men?  Women complain about this aspect of their behavior all the time. And I’m complaining about it now.  Why can’t they put the f*$!#@ seat down?

First off, in a men’s locker room, why the heck should a guy use a full toilet to pee, anyway?  Second, what’s so hard about putting it back down?  Something against their religion?  Or maybe they’re just lazy?  Better yet, they’re intentionally being impolite, hoping that someone falls through the hole.

The best bet however is that they just don’t think.  That makes the most sense, because I know a lot of guys, and I can tell you from deep personal experience that most of them don’t think.  Period.  Do this because I’ve always done it, and I’m done.  Why think about it?  You should see the looks I get if I ever ask them this question; “What were you thinking about?”  I get this return stare that says “what are you talking about” along with “thinking? I was supposed to be thinking?” along with “are you some kind of idiot?”

Being happily married and having a wonderful daughter made me respect their needs early on, so I learned to sit all the time.  Guess what?  It’s not hard.  In fact, in many ways, it’s a lot cleaner!

So what really is the deal?  Why do you think guys can’t put the seat down?



Paleo diet assumption number one

I overheard a young man in yoga the other day saying that he and his wife had been on the “paleo diet.”  She took herself off that diet when she became pregnant.  That’s the good news.  The bad news was that she discovered that she was now gluten intolerant.

I live in a cave, pretty much, so I’d never heard of the paleo diet.  A few minutes on the all-mighty all-knowing internet and I’m now an expert.  Well, good enough for dinner conversation, anyway.

Seems that the diet is supposed to consist of what mankind was eating some 10,000 years before the present.  No grains, no refined sugars.  And apparently no milk, either.  What, no cows back then?  Overall, the diet seems smart – good foods, natural, stay away from the processed junk and sugar.  Except one small thing.

That small thing is the fundamental assumption underlying the paleo diet.  That biologically we are the same species, only 10,000 years later.  Are we?

Absolutely not.  If good old Chuck Darwin proved anything, it was the fact (FACT) that over time, species change.  And we know why they change; it’s called variation and selection.  If the paleo diet people think that we’re the same species over 10,000 years, they simply aren’t looking closely enough.

Ooooh – hate mail from the paleo people.  I’m so scared.  They say we can’t really measure this sort of thing. (We can.)  They say that even if we can measure this, we can’t know what genetic changes really mean for today’s human.  (Dang it.  They’re right about this one.)  What are we to do?

We look to biology for insight.  And one of the greatest insights within the last few years is the discovery of our biome – the mass of living things in and around our body.  A large part of our biome makes up our digestive system, and in an impressive display of cooperation and feedback, our gut not only helps us live within our environment, it can actually enhance our experience.  Without the right bugs, we won’t be as happy.

Which brings me back to the young lady who is suddenly intolerant of gluten.  It may be that her “paleo diet” has shifted her microbiome in such a way so that she is no longer tolerant of grains.  It’s taken thousands of years of her ancestors to develop a relationship with the local bugs to digest those grains – and she’s lost it.  Worse, she can be endangering her unborn child.

And that’s where evolution comes in.  Her ancestors tried eating grains.  Face it.  Her ancestors were hungry, and I’m sure that they ate whatever they could get their hands on.  Paleo diet my foot.  Back then they were starving most of the time!  You caught it, found it, or unburied it, you ate it!  And some of those ancestors tried eating grains.  Luckily, those ancestors may have already had some grain-friendly bugs in their guts.  Guess what?  The grains went down and stayed down.

Those ancestors went on to have some kids.  The kids ate their spaghetti and had their own kids.  And so on and so on until this young lady was born.  Except she decided to go on the paleo diet and has (possibly) lost her grain-bugs.

Moral of the story.  Eat right.  Take care of yourself.  And never, never, bet against Mother Nature.  Whether she comes in the form of evolution, climate change, or the biome, she is one powerful bitch.

Now, how about some garlic pasta?

Forward this, too.

Last week I mentioned that if you’ve had email for more than a minute, then you’ve gotten a forward from a friend.  It was meant as humor, but unfortunately, it’s pretty close to the truth.

I have some friends that I would consider to be pretty darn smart.  Like designing aircraft smart.  Flying helicopters smart.  Organizing social events for hundreds of people within a few days smart.  Yet these are the same people who send me forwards that show me what they are thinking (conservative, liberal) based on totally fictional statements!

The most recent two forwards (in the last two days!) were about how our socialist anti-military president recently ordered all our first-line naval vessels into Pearl Harbor for surprise and unstated upgrades.  All very mysterious.  But if you’re a current-president hating conservative who believes everything he does is evil, then you love the message.

A quick search on the web shows that the last time five large naval vessels were ordered to port at one time is from 1997, in Norfolk VA.  Not “first-line” vessels, it had something to do with nuclear upgrades, and certainly nowhere near Hawaii.  At the same time, there was nothing in the Hawaiian news about such a momentous event as five large vessels at the same time.  Trust me, having all those sailors hitting Waikiki beach at the same time would make quite a splash!

The other forward stated that a new anti-Jesus film was coming out soon casting Jesus and his posse as homosexuals.  Another search stated that not only was this a very old forward, it had existed on paper back in the early 80s!

When I get these forwards I take a few seconds to check them.  Then I write back to my friend and point out that, just maybe, their information is wrong.  I always get an interesting response.  After a while I stop getting as many forwards.  Are they still my friends?  I hope so, I’m not going to let that worry me.  Are they still sending out as many forwards?  I hope not.

As our society gets dumber, it’s up to those who still care to fight the tide.  Be a skeptic.  Trust no one.  No bit of information is too small to be suspect.  Being skeptical is an important trait to be a good scientist.  And if we intend to be scientists of behavior, it’s going to be especially important.

Believe it.  Or not?


Let there be PEE on Earth

When’s the last time you thought about peeing?  No, not actually having to empty the ole bladder, but the act of urinating in general?  Getting rid of the waste water from your blood and body?  Excessive liquid stuff sloughing through your gut?  Hate to break the news to you, Gentle Reader, but peeing is behavior.  You did it soon after breathing oxygen, and you’ll probably do it a few moments after you die.

So, what’s so interesting about peeing? from a behavior standpoint?  Well, for one, it’s something no one talks about because it’s always, well, THERE.  It also has something to do with our “naughty bits” as put by the Brits, so most people get a bit upset when you bring it up.

One of the great trends I’ve noticed over the decades is the freedom that young people seem to have talking about things like pee.  As a kid we would never even mention it to each other, let alone in the presence of adults.  What’s funny about young people talking about it is the other trend – old people like discussing it as well!  If the youth of today is talking about peeing so openly now, what will be left when they’re 100?

Doctors are wonderful people who have the honor to talk about pee when necessary.  Some are brave enough to have to taste it, because it’s an easy way to test for sugar.  That’s important if they suspect diabetes.  It can also be tested for all sorts of other things, drugs, babies, stuff like that.

But the act of peeing, not on the table.  And it should be.  We should be discussing it?

Any takers?  Or should we just flush this subject down the drain?





Locker room etiquette

There’s BIG behavior, like evolution.  There’s medium behavior, like wars and famine.  And then there’s a whole lot of teeny tiny behaviors.  Thumbs up.  Covering your mouth when sneezing.  Winking at a friend.  These are all teeny behaviors.

But these teeny behaviors can give us deep insights into who we are.  For instance, one of the things I notice in the men’s locker room at the gym.  There’s quite a few guys (maybe 20%?) who leave their locker door open when they leave.

The polite clean freak within me closes the lockers for them.  I hear my father’s voice from eons ago saying things like “are we paying to heat the outdoors?” or “were you born in a barn?”

No, I don’t want to heat the outdoors, and no I wasn’t born in a barn.  My grandfather was, but that’s another story.  Instead, as a student of tiny behaviors, let’s think about what it means to leave the locker door open for someone else to close.  What does it say about their character?

Perhaps they are forgetful.  Perhaps they think it’s beneath them.  Perhaps they don’t pay attention to things that aren’t their concern.  Perhaps they feel that since someone else will do the work, let that other person do the work.  Perhaps it’s a deliberate insult to the gym – their way of ‘giving’ back.

In a real sense, I don’t care about what may be going on inside their head.  What I care about is what I can see, and measure.  They didn’t close the door.  To me that means they are probably the kind of guy who doesn’t put down the toilet seat after peeing, even if he’s married.  He’s the kind of guy who leaves a mess at the coffee pot because he knows the next person will clean it up.  And he’s probably the kind of guy who won’t finish the spreadsheet on product performance in Pennsylvania because he knows his coworker will finish it for him.

Here’s the fun part.  Do I want to hire a guy who can’t close the door behind him?  Do you want to friend a guy who can’t be bothered to clean up after himself?  I certainly don’t.

Now, if there was only a way to get this question answered honestly on a job application.