First Gift, Final Gift

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I’ve had a glimpse of how our society deals with death.  I spent ten days with Dad in a wonderful hospice house.  We spent the first half getting the pain meds out of his system, and the other half getting him strong enough so he could leave the place.

I spent many hours with him as cheerleader, advocate, and caregiver trainee.  However, there were many hours where he slept, so I got to know everyone.

What impressed me most was how many workers and volunteers truly care about their mission.  They are unsung, so I’m singing about them now.

However, there are also so many patients, mostly alone.  They were waiting.  Waiting to die.

Here’s the surprise.  Some of them are done.  As a gift to their children, they are content to hasten the process.

If you’re shocked, or sad, you should know that is how I felt.  At first.  When I listened to their stories it becomes obvious that many people are giving themselves up so that they are no longer a burden to their children.

It’s a wonderful gift.  It’s their decision.  And my only regret is that I’m not sure how many of those children appreciate that decision, that final gesture.

Creating a baby is only the first step to what will be a lifetime of joy.  But there are so many hard hours ahead.  Children who grow up tend to appreciate the gift of life given by their parents.

But the second greatest gift can be found at the end.  It is the parent letting go, and letting their child be free of their burden.  It’s sad to see them go, but it’s also a chance to celebrate their life and begin looking forward again.

To all those unsung parents who have sacrificed much during their lives, and then at the very end, life itself, for the benefit of their children, I thank you.

We should all thank them.

The best way to do that is to never forget them.

Mom and Dad.

 

Dream a Little Dream

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Dreams.  I can’t get them out of my head.

Dad’s dying.  Did I mention that?  Sure, everyone dies, but he’s taking his time.  He’s smart, tough, tenacious, and still has the capacity to dream.

His dreams are a bit modest nowadays.  Going to the potty.  Getting back to his old apartment.

The size of the dreams aren’t important.  It’s the fact that he has them.

He fights to make them real.  If I’ve learned nothing from Dad during the last few months, it’s how to keep fighting.  And hanging onto those dreams is critical.

I used to dream, back in my day.  All us kids dreamt of superfast trains and living on the moon.  There would be hotels under the ocean and everyone would live to be 150.

So much for those dreams.

Here’s the problem today.  I had those dreams way back when.  I wasn’t the only one.

Today, I don’t hear anyone’s dreams of the future.  The term I hear most often is “dystopia.”  People are depressed about the future.  They don’t have dreams.

They have nightmares.

If someone does dream, it’s for something next month, or next year.  A new phone.  A better snowboard.

Have you tried dreaming?  Really dreaming, long term?

I have this super smart cousin, and I asked him what he thought humanity will look like in 100 years.  His first reaction?

He’ll be dead.

Yes, but your daughters might be around.  It’s more likely that their daughters will be alive then.  What kind of world will they live in?

He didn’t like my question.  He’s been having nightmares about humanity.

I encouraged him to dream.

By the way, dreaming does not mean wishing for free money from the government.  That’s another story.

The best dreams are big dreams that you have to work for.

Don’t believe me?  You don’t have to.

Ask my Dad.

 

Measuring Civilization: Wheels on Meals

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Are you civilized?  Is your neighbor?  How about your President?

Trick question.

As far as I can tell, we don’t have a measure of “how” civilized we are.  Sure, an economist will point to GDP, a geographer could point to population, and a librarian could point to how many reference works exist.

But HOW civilized are we?

One measure put forward many years ago has to do with eating.

I love eating.  And I love studying behavior.  Let’s put the two together.

If I took your civilization and withheld the food supply so it was, say, 25% of normal, what would happen?

Would many people starve quietly, still obeying the rules of decency and law so that civilization continued peacefully?

Or would there be some sort of breakdown in the rules?  Would people become more like wild animals, stealing, robbing, murdering, even cannibalizing?

Let’s bring some rigor to the process.

Take any group of people, say the group you’re stuck in a meeting with today, and make them supreme.  By that I mean, make everyone else in the world go away.  They have the whole Earth to call their own.

How long can this group survive using the rules of society they grew up with?  Will they thrive and grow into a new society?  Or will they end up at each other’s throats?  Or, my favorite, will they run away from each other, dying alone?

Make the group your whole nation.  Or the whole Earth.  You choose the group.

Then restrict their food.  Give them only so many calories every quarter day.

Here’s where the fun starts.

I know that when I get hungry, I attack.  I attack the fridge.  MUST EAT screams my stomach.  The rest of the body follows.  When my stomach is full I go back to being all nice and civilized.

How many quarter days would I allow civilization to survive?  Maybe two.

How about you?

 

Forgotten Warriors

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Living things behave, because life encompasses everything we do.

A forgotten war hero of WWII

From hugging a newborn to burying Dad.  There’s no good reason to pretend economic behavior is different from psychological behavior.  Not one.  Life isn’t about religion, it’s not about being political.  All these categories are made up so it’s easier for us to apply for grants.

One way to illustrate this is to draw connections between things that seem so different that any similarities must be the work of a crazy man.

Did someone call for a crazy man?  That’s me.

Consider two warriors, different, but similar.

Warrior One.  This is the name of a yoga asana, and my exhibit number one.  The greatest evangelist of yoga in the 20th century was Tirumalai Krishnamacharya.  He spawned a bunch of other yogis, including one who should be more famous, Indra Devi.

The problem with TK is that he wasn’t good at tooting his own horn.  Another problem was that his famous students were better at marketing.  As a result, their names are well-known and TK is forgotten.  That’s too bad.  He made more sense than any of his students.

Warrior Two, also a known asana, and exhibit two.  But in this case, the exhibit has nothing to do with yoga.  Bear with me.  Or more accurately, HellCat with me.  This was an aircraft that fought most of the air battles in the Pacific.  It was produced in the greatest numbers, brought down the most enemy aircraft, and saved the most pilots.  It was an incredible warrior.

Chances are you never heard of the HellCat.  And that’s because newer, prettier aircraft came along and took the final bows.  No one stood up to help us remember the aircraft, the pilots, and even the workers (many of whom were women) who built the HellCat.  It is a forgotten warrior.

Here’s the connection.  Very different disciplines; yoga is selfish, designed to free us from our perception of bodily weakness and develop strength, while the other belongs to the discipline of war.  The first gave us a teacher of great teachers, the other gave us a machine that defended us from those who wanted to impose their will upon ours.

Both worked hard, tirelessly, without concern for their own celebrity or accumulation of wealth.  TK didn’t do it himself, and he wouldn’t let those around him do any marketing either.  The HellCat, as a machine, didn’t have a choice, but the legions of people surrounding it did.  And they chose to let the HellCat have its day, and later, its rest.

As a student of behavior, I’m not arguing that these warriors were good or bad, or even that their impacts were good or bad.  That’s ancient history.

As a student of behavior, what I argue is that we don’t let them be forgotten.

For what they have given us is priceless.

 

Tycho’s Moose is Loose

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This is one of those stories that has to be retold, rechecked, and retold as many times as possible.

There’s this great scientist, see?  He’s great because he’s able to look at Nature and figure out many things, teach others how to do what he does, and lay the foundation for his students to figure out even greater things.

That’s what I call a great teacher.

He was Tycho Brahe.  BRA-hey.  Something like that.

One of his students was Johaness Kepler.  Kepler was cool because he figured out that all orbits are elliptical.

One guy using Kepler’s work was Newton.  Sir Isaac Newton.  Greatest scientist of all time.  With help from Kepler he created new laws of physics still in use.

What about Tycho?  And his loose moose?

Turns out that among all his crazy stunts, like losing his nose in a duel, hanging out with psychic dwarves, Tycho also kept a pet moose!

In fact, it was such a pet that he lived in the house.

Not only did he live in the house, but he used the stairs.

Not only did he use the stairs, but he was also invited to the parties!

Not only was he invited to the parties, but he was also allowed to drink!

Oh oh.  This is where Tycho may have slipped up.  In fact, the moose slipped up.

At one of his parties, the moose got into the beer and drank all of it.  Yes, mooses are big, but Tycho’s parties were legendary, and I’m sure there was a LOT of beer.

The moose got drunk.  The moose tried walking down the stairs, and that didn’t go well for the moose.

The rest is history.

And the moral of this story?  We can find all sorts of lessons in behavior wherever we look.  You can still be a great teacher, a great scientist, and still be a bit of a kook.  Kookieness is not necessarily related to being a great scientist.  Newton was nowhere as fun as Tycho.

But even if we can’t learn anything from this, at least we can laugh.  We can allow ourselves to have a wee bit of fun.  And that’s always a nice lesson.

 

Supply Our Own Light

I study behavior.  I want everyone to study behavior.  It’s necessary for us to succeed as a species.  Strangely enough, Stanley Kubrick said the same thing.

“The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile, but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this, and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death, then our existence can have genuine meaning.  However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”

Studying the universe in all aspects is also part of behavior.  Our knowledge of the universe, how we go about acquiring and treating that knowledge, and our feelings about the universe are all human behaviors.

One of the most difficult things we must overcome in understanding behavior is detachment, removing ourselves from the equation.  We must have no feelings, no passion for our subject.  Whatever happens, happens.

We know that people mistreat animals, other adults, even children.  Yet as students we must take a deep breath and consider all the possibilities.

We watch as someone rises to power, corrupting government and the economy so that he amasses great wealth in a short period of time, without benefit to society.  We must stand by and learn, knowing that this has happened before.  Like stress in tectonic plates, these will also be relieved someday.

A despot secures his power, removing hard fought liberties from his nation.  We must take a deep breath, re-read our histories, and apply this new knowledge to our preparations for the future.

Kubrick was right, not only for technically conquering the vastness of space, but also for understanding behavior in all its forms.

We must confront the universe without passion, without preconception.  In order to explore the universe of behavior, we need only one thing.

We must supply our own light.

 

****  Boring Notes Follow ****

This quote is from the last few lines of page 508, Piers Bizony, The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey, published by Taschen, 2015.  The book doesn’t indicate where Mr. Kubrick’s quote was taken from.

Quoting another source semi-verbatim isn’t my style, but with the proper citation and it being only a little bit of quoting, we should be able to swing this by the legal department.  If there’s a problem, please ask nicely and this post can be modified.

But there’s a reason it’s worth quoting, it’s great writing and speaking.  The text is from Piers Bizony‘s book on the making of 2001 A Space Odyssey.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who has any interest in aviation, space, movies, science fiction, science, anything technical, or anything having to do with behavior.  I fall into 5 of those categories.  You’ll want to buy it because it’s too good to share.

By the way, if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, please do both of those first, and as soon as possible.

 

Pride and Prejudice: Distractions

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Did I mention I’m writing something similar to P&P?  Did I mention that it’s one of the most wonderfully constructed novels of all time?

As I write these words, and as I work on Chapter 26 of my own version of P&P, I hear news of the latest gun-related tragedy in Florida.

It pierces my heart in so many ways.  Violence like this has become so common that our cries are no longer meaningful.

There was a time when I envied Jane’s quiet life.  I thought about the idyllic English countryside, the slow pace of life, the absence of phone and reliance on pony.

Then I realized that she was no stranger to strife.  Her own life and the world must have seemed out of control.  The militias and armies moving about her were going to war against Napoleon.  Kitty’s cough could certainly represent the harbinger of death for many she’d known.  A world without antibiotics and few options for women would be bad enough.  Combine that with a will and an intellect striving for something better, and you have something more than a prison.  You have a tortured soul.

I’m convinced that Jane Austen was tough, tougher than we give her credit.  The fact that she could produce a story such as P&P despite the fact that she was in pain, the fact that she saw so much more of the world and of humanity’s promise than her peers, and chose to NOT write them directly into her story makes her all that much greater. [1]

Which is why I don’t write about massacres, violence, hypocrisy, and all the other trials we suffer in my story’s modern world. [2]  If Jane could do it, I can try.  I all else fails, at least this post publicly testifies to how great she is, in yet another way.

 

 

[1] There are tiny little P&P details hinting that she saw, but didn’t say anything.  And if she can poke fun at something, she does.  What a gal.

[2]  Truth disclaimer: I write about the terrible things the main character finds in his past.  That past links him and the other main characters in more than romantic ways.  Think about Darcy, and Wickham actually being related.

 

Pure Human

Adults can teach them so much, but we can learn from them as well.

When I’m given the opportunity, I prefer playing with kids.

Watching Dad fight his way back from another broken back, clawing at life itself trying to delay the onset of the inevitable is both heart-wrenching and inspiring.

When I’m playing with kids, I wonder what they’ll be doing in their last years of life.  Will they have the resources to assist them?  Will they be given the same kind of fortitude necessary to fight their last battle to the bitter end?

I always treat kids with a great deal of respect.  Try to understand them, play with them at their level, with generous doses of extra fun.  I act silly, because they seem to enjoy seeing an adult doing silly things.  Things like puffy cheeks, moving tongues, cross-eyes, making coins disappear, rolling in the dirt.

At least they think I’m an adult.  Most adults consider me a giant kid.

But kids are the purest form of human on this planet.  At their age, they can absorb massive amounts of information many times that of an older person.  Their minds are only just starting to model the world around them, and I enjoy helping them form those models so that they are robust, with a small dose of magic for fun.

The only prejudices they carry are those they’ve already learned from parents and peers.  Gender preferences, aversion to spice or dirt, even playing with their food can be formed before they are the ripe old age of one.  Too bad.  The great wild world is already being closed off for them.

But watching those prejudices, and carefully playing at their edges is also part of the fun.  Teaching kids to be skeptics should be part of everyone’s curriculum.

Of course, playing with gravity is already on the syllabus.  It’s one of the first items for every baby who sits in a high chair.  And it’s one of my favorites as well.  Try it now, go ahead, just drop something for fun.

The kids represent our future, they are the ones who will take over as we fade away.  These pure humans will be slowly trained, constrained, contaminated both mentally and physically, and then finally make their way into the wild where they have to prove their economic and social worth.  That’s a lot of stress to put on someone.  By the time they make it through, they just aren’t the same person as when they started out.

We battle the forces of darkness for their sake, not ours.  Dad doesn’t realize it, but his battle is also their battle, tomorrow.  It’s up to you and me to connect the dots, and learn from my Dad in order to help them.

So, enjoy life, play with the kids, and always,

Remember the children.

They are why we fight to survive today.

Heaven Can’t Wait

There’s a whole lot of smart guys telling the rest of the world that religion is a whole bunch of hooey.  Let’s not worry about that.

Instead let’s dwell on the good stuff religion does.

Keeps us together.  Helps maintain some level of respect for each other, and reduce the amount of violence we heap on each other.  Those are all good things.

There’s one big problem every big religion faces.  Getting members motivated to do good, and avoid doing bad.

In psychology this is reinforcement, positive and negative.

In many judeo-christian religions, the biggest positive reinforcement is called heaven.  It’s a place good souls go after the body dies.  Other religions have happy places as well, all with slightly different amenities.

As far as I can tell, way back in the beginning, christianity didn’t emphasize the negative aspects.  It was some centuries before they began talking about hell.  Even more centuries to imagine the idea of purgatory, hell’s waiting room.

Heaven.  Hell.  Whatever you want to call them, you can’t have a good religion without them.  If people believed that there was no heaven or hell, then they would damn well do as they pleased.  We’d be living in anarchy.

Therefore heaven has to exist in order for a religion to work.  Hell also has to exist in some form, but not as importantly as heaven.

Here’s the fun part.  Heaven and hell already exist.  They are real.

And they are both right here.

My actions, your actions, everyone’s actions create ripples throughout society.  They create a disturbance within the force of nature.  They slightly alter the course of humanity’s future.

If you’re a good person, your memory, your actions, your “soul” does remain among the rest of us in the form of what you’ve left behind.  You exist in the sense that we all remember you, respect you, and retain a small part of you long after you are physically gone.

Heaven is right here on Earth.  You live on in the sense that part of you lives on within me.

So the next time you hear someone say religion is bad, or argue that religions shouldn’t exist, remember this.  You’re already in heaven, and they aren’t.  Sit back, be good, and enjoy eternity.

 

Religion, Guilty or Innocent

There’s a whole lot of holier-than-thou smart guys running about, telling the rest of the world that religion is a whole bunch of hooey.

They might be right.

Then again, what’s their problem?

My guess is that they are blaming a whole lot of badness on the fact that religion exists, and a whole lot of people claim to be religious.

First off, I don’t think you can actually blame religion itself for much badness in the world.  Sure, Daesh and Taliban claim to act for religious reasons.  Religious states such as the Vatican or Israel also claim to made their decisions based on holy texts.  Political demigods such as Erdogan and Trump are in the same category in that they have based much of their public appeal on religious grounds.

Wait!  There are so many examples where religion is the basis of great evils in the world.  Doesn’t this mean that religion must be the bad guy here?

No, definitely not.  It’s not logical, it’s not scientific, it’s not fair.  Only because all these players use religion to further their own selfish purposes doesn’t mean that religion itself is the bad guy.

Religion is a device that helps holds groups together.  I talked about this earlier.

I was going to talk about heaven here, but this point is probably more than enough for now.  So, heaven is just going to have to wait.

See you next time!