Socrates’s Mistake

How do I dare say this about the greatest teacher who ever lived?

I wouldn’t have applied for the job of Socrates, Two, if he hadn’t overlooked this subject.

In his defense, he didn’t so much as overlook it as have a much larger issue to deal with first: teaching us how to learn about the natural world.  The Golden age of Greece had great insights, but they weren’t insightful enough to invent and use engines, electricity, and airplanes.

Socrates gave us the tools necessary to learn about the natural world.  That learning gave us the tools needed to start the scientific and industrial revolutions.  Those revolutions gave us engines, electricity, and airplanes.  That’s how deep his teaching went.  Not bad.

The problem he avoided was behavior.  Socrates left it off the table.  By doing that, he was implicitly teaching that our behavior was something beyond nature, something we couldn’t study using the tools of logic and measurement.

Bull s***.

You heard it right.  I who never swear said this in the strongest, most emphatic terms I can imagine.

Behavior is natural.  We have tools to study natural phenomena.  If we don’t study behavior, humanity is doomed.  And here is the final shocker.

Socrates knew this.

He had many things to teach.  A good teacher only teaches one thing at a time.  A good teacher only teaches as fast as his students can absorb that knowledge.  Socrates was a good teacher.

Socrates knew his students believed in Gods.  He knew society was very protective of their gods.  And the gods were a very popular cause of behavior.  Much craziness was sourced directly to those denizens of Olympus.

If Socrates interfered with the gods, it meant he couldn’t teach them about the rest of the natural world.  So he stayed away from behavior.

Socrates knew that a true study of behavior as a property of nature would also mean denial of gods, any gods.  He also knew his students weren’t ready for that.

Most modern people still aren’t ready.  Here we are, almost 2500 years later and it’s hard to go anywhere in this world without bumping into someone’s god.

That was Socrates’s mistake, an intentional one.  For if we are to truly study behavior in a scientific manner, we must consider ourselves part of the natural world.  We must deny the supernatural in all its forms.

After all, if there are deities that control everything including our fates, then what’s the point?

Putting it another way: You got God?  Party time!

 

Socrates, 2

I angered my friend by asking questions, too too many questions.

Most people don’t like that.

Most people are done learning early in life.  Some are done by the time they’re teenagers.  Some wait until they’ve finished school.  Others will fade as their hair changes color.

A few never stop.

Socrates never stopped.

He was going full tilt all the way to the end.  He was accused of corrupting the youth of Athens almost 2500 years ago.  He insisted on a trial, was convicted of sedition and sentenced to death at the age of 60.

His legacy was his students; and they had his methods, his conclusions, and most importantly, his enthusiasm for questions.

Today we live in a larger world by every possible measure.  Socrates would have marveled at the size, power, and speed of everything we take for granted.  Yet his questions are as powerful today as they were then.

In fact, they are more powerful.  For one important feature we have today that Socrates didn’t have then; information about how people behave in great detail.  We have access to thoughts, desires, and choices far beyond the simple toga-toting times of Athens.

It’s time for the sequel to Socrates.  In this day and age we are used to sequels, and even sequels of sequels.  Why not a sequel to the greatest teacher who ever lived?

I’m applying for the job.

I’ve got lots of questions, a good handle on the use of logical reasoning, and a fairly open set of assumptions and biases.

Additionally, I’m familiar with many of the modern disciplines, scientific methodology, and many of the technical tools available.

There it is, friends.  I am applying for the position of Socrates, too.  The sequel.

I’m affordable, work from home, require little supervision, and have a fairly decent sense of humor.

I’m also open to shortening the job title a tad.

How about,

Tusok?

 

Challenges of Socrates

I angered my best friend today by suggesting a better way to take a picture.  In all fairness, it would have been a gorgeous picture of a dandelion ball covered in delicate frost, with a fiery orange maple tree as the background.

Instead of a picture, I got an earful.  She said:

“You’re constantly challenging me, and it’s tiring.  I’m not the only one who thinks so.”

Ouch.  That really hurt.  I didn’t realize it, and I certainly don’t want to anger her, or you.

I started to ask: what do you mean by constant?  who others?

But she instantly corrected me by explaining questions are challenges.

Now I’m crushed.  It’s been hours since the frosty ball-of-fluff incident, and I’m crushed.

What’s worst is the very essence of my being is what she finds annoying.  I’m not worried about our relationship, there’s plenty more for us to base that upon, but it does mean;

No more questions.

Which brings us to the reason for today’s post, and the purpose of this site.

It’s all about questions.   Asking questions is the very essence of learning.  If my friend finds me annoying, what do my other friends, relations, and even YOU think?

Perhaps all of them, and you, are also annoyed.

For that I’m a little sorry.  Sorry because I would rather intrigue and please you so that you would press on and think these questions through on your own.  Also sorry because the alternative means we won’t learn, and future history will be the same as past history.

Which brings us to Socrates.

He lives about 2500 years ago, and was the greatest teacher in history.

How great was he?  His teachings created philosophical schools that have lasted up to today.  Second, he was able to teach using questions, allowing the student to reach the proper conclusion based on their own current knowledge.  Third, his teachings about objective definitions and the use of logic eventually led to the Renaissance; the scientific and industrial revolutions.

It’s quite possible that if it weren’t for Socrates we’d still be living in the Dark Ages, fighting Holy Wars, and travel around the world using nothing but wind-powered ships.

It took 2000 years for that message to get through.  All because he wasn’t afraid to challenge his students.

 

Just Desserts

There are some French shows where dessert is the only thing on the menu.  These shows are at a higher level than what we’re used to seeing from other countries, because, well, IT’S FRANCE!

More to the point, little morsels of gastronomic delight can teach us more than making our saliva glands go into overdrive.

Here’s the short form:

  • Quality ingredients,
  • High standards in all areas,
  • Mastery of technique in everything,
  • Pride in one’s profession, knowing how to work as a team member, knowing how to be a leader, knowing how to handle stress, and always being supportive of others whether they are your competitor or teammate,
  • Either having the best tool for the job, or knowing how to compensate
  • Paying attention to all the senses, in visual aesthetics, variety of textures, the impact of flavors upon the tongue and the nose, and perhaps the most important,
  • Knowing how to savor all this work in small amounts.

 

How can all of this come about from one small tasty morsel?

Strangely enough, it does.  It’s all a matter of looking deep into the eyes of your culinary delight, understanding everything that goes into it, closing your eyes, and…

… letting your palate do the rest.

Bon Appétit

 

Evolution Devolution

155,615 words in something called Origin of Species.

Of those words, “evolve” is mentioned only once.  You heard it right.

As for “evolution” or “evolving” or some other variant, zip.  Nada.  Nothing.

Isn’t that funny?

Now, the word “variation” comes up 188 times.

And the word “selection” comes up 414 times.

Here’s the reason why.

As a methodical man, Charles Robert Darwin was most interested in convincing lots of good, smart people, in this radical idea that the thing we call “species” was changing over time.

CRD also knew that a lot of those same people were big on the Big Guy, the big light in the sky, the ultimate authority, GOD.

CRD had no interest in taking on religion, that wasn’t his aim.  His only goal was to show people that species weren’t sitting still.  Some species had walked the Earth long ago and disappeared.  That implied that new species were being created.  CRD had to figure out how to show people what he’d learned.

Law of Nature Number One: Each one of your children is different.  And attached to this law is another: Each of your children is different from all other children.  It’s another way of saying all of us are unique.  Even identical twins stop being identical the moment they are born.

Any problems with this?  Do you disagree?  Then check out a worm, and another worm.  If you look long enough you will see differences.  That’s a Law of Nature.

Law of Nature Number Two: Some differences help you have more babies.  Do you know any couples who have trouble making kids?  What about race horses?  The owners of famous stallions who win big races make lots of money selling that horses baby-making bits.  As long as horse racing is a big sport, there’s a good chance lots of fast-horse babies are going to be born.

Any problems with number two?  If not, we’re ready for the big finale.

Putting both of these Laws of Nature together creates a process of change.  Every individual is unique.  Every individual has a different number of babies.  And so on.

Biologists thought they were doing everyone a favor long ago when they applied the term “evolution” to the process.  It seems harmless enough.  What they didn’t realize was that they were making it harder for us non-biologists to follow along.  Bad marketing.

As a result, we have arguments with GOD over whether or not evolution exists.  Here’s the funny thing.  Evolution doesn’t exist, just like “falling” doesn’t exist.  Falling is a process of being up, and then suddenly being down.  We don’t have schools teaching “falling” as a subject.  Instead we have physics and gymnastics.

Similarly, we shouldn’t be teaching evolution in school.  We must stick to the laws of nature: we’re all unique, and we’re all going to have different numbers of children.

That’s a horse you shouldn’t bet against.

 

 

Religion. Defined.

Fasten your seat belt, this is going to be a fun one.

It wouldn’t be necessary except for two things.

One: There is a lot of religion-tossing going on with our politicians, as they use it to get elected, and also use it to justify their ongoing war with “terrorism” and religious zealots.

Two: We don’t agree on what religion is.  This wouldn’t be a problem if every culture on Earth would simply sacrifice a bowl of leaves (in season, sprinkled with olive oil and salt) on the altar of the Earth Mother.  Preferably only upon the rising of the full moon.

So, because of number one, and because we DON’T do number two, we have to do number three.

Three: Religion is.

It’s a start, isn’t it?  You see, that’s the problem.  There is no good definition of religion.  I’m going to give one before the end, but it won’t create universal agreement, let alone happiness.  But it’ll work for our purposes.

As a young human, chances are you were exposed to some kind of religion.  Do this on a certain day.  Dress up.  Act nice.  Say these words.  Meet with all these strangers and chant.  Sacrifice this goat.

Well, maybe not that last item.  Animal sacrifice went out of fashion some time ago.  Mostly.

However, that’s the point.  Our practical application of “religion” has changed, because we as a species have changed.

A good definition isn’t going to change.  We invented religion, and it has stayed with us for a long time.  Therefore it must be good for something.  Perhaps if we ponder its positives, we can define it more easily.

Religion is good for:

  • managing and leading groups of people, even very large groups;
  • helping “young” minds comprehend their place in the kosmos;
  • maintaining behaviors (a culture) ensuring group survival.

That should be enough for our purposes.  You’ll find that when you add more, it really becomes part of one of these big three benefits.

So, what’s the definition?

Religion is:

The explicit expression of a set of behaviors that keep an individual as part of a group.

Now for some explaining.  Notice there is nothing in the definition about one or more deities, a higher power, an afterlife, a pre-life, or anything about buildings or prophets.  Nothing.  That’s because some religions don’t have these things.  Yet people belong and worship and propagate their set of behaviors.  They have religion.  It just doesn’t look like yours, or mine.

There is nothing about managing the group, or leading it using priests, mullahs, or rabbis.  Because not all religions have these administrative components.  There’s a good chance that any priesthood, by any name, arose out of necessity.  Like symbiotic parasites, they continue to infect any major religion with the few benefits they provide.  Let’s face it, they can also be the cause of many of the abuses we currently see.

Finally, nothing in my definition says anything about long term survival.  It doesn’t have to, the religion takes care of that for me.  If the set of behaviors don’t account for current selective forces, then that religion won’t be along very long.  It’s okay, this happens.  Today’s current count of judeo-christian religions is somewhere in the thousands.  This includes all the variants of islam, for you islamaphobes out there.  Yes, it’s a modern religion based on the same precepts as Christianity.  Get over it.

And out of the many thousands of religions practiced today, I’m confident that many more have come and already gone through the ages.  It’s how we as people handle things in the natural world.

So there you have it.  Religion is expressed behaviors keeping YOU (or any individual) part of a group.

This means that your social club is a kind of religion.  This means your academic department or university class is a kind of religion.

It also means that sacrificing that bowl of leaves to the tree goddess is also a religion; as long as you aren’t doing it all by yourself.

That would be weird.

Comments?

 

Facts is Facts

Somebody once said, “Facts is Facts” way back in the mists of time.

This is a terrible definition, because it points to itself as the definition, making this a terrible definition, because it points to itself… oops.  Caught in my own loop.

This whole “what is a fact?” broohaha came about most recently because our current leaders love to debate at the level of a 5 year old.  Was to! Was not! Was to! Was not!

In the shortest form possible, a fact is simply a statement we agree with.  If you and I are talking, and the sun is out, and you say “beautiful sunny day” it is well within my scientific right to say “that’s a fact!”  And I would.

Many great definitions can be found online.  Facts are scientifically proven.  Facts can be verified.  Facts have overwhelming supporting evidence.  Here’s the problem.  Each of these deeper, better, definitions require more work.  And we don’t like to work.

Not only do we not like working, but as of today, we don’t have a system for cataloging statements on any kind of “fact” scale.  Oh, some brilliant minds may be working on it, but they aren’t telling the politicians.  I can’t blame them.

However, we need to have this building block in place if we are to truly make progress in understanding behavior, especially behavior.  It’s easy to believe that a boulder is harder than a politician’s head.  If someone doesn’t accept this as a fact, we have two options.

First option: get a boulder, grab a politician (you have to grab because they never volunteer for anything) and run the test.  Record the results, and discuss.

The second way is to extend other facts to this new fact.  Other facts include:

  • Boulders are rocks
  • Rocks are harder than bone
  • test on large bones (from animals that aren’t currently using them) shows that the rock can break the bone.

From the above, “basic” or “direct” facts, we can extend our knowledge to a “higher” or “derived” fact.  A boulder will crush a politician’s skull.  I still prefer the first method; only because it will give us a direct fact.

So, this holiday season, when you’re sitting around with friends and relatives you only see once a year, and you’re discussing some heated topic, ponder the lowly facts that you will be bandying about so easily.  It’s likely that much of your energy is really being spent on facts that really aren’t.

Of course, getting Uncle Bob to stop rattling on about Creationism in the face of dinosaurs and continental drift isn’t going to work.  So I prefer to have more pie.

After all, pie is pie.  And that’s a fact!

 

Voting for Fun and Profit

We need to start a reality show based on how we vote.

Are you thinking that trek, one Tuesday every year, to your local polling booth?

If you are, good for you!  You are the minority.  Most people don’t care about visiting the polling booth and casting their vote for a politician.  Our democracy is directed by a minority; but that’s normal.

Surprise!  That’s not the kind of voting I’m talking about today.  No, this is the kind of voting you do with your eyeballs.  Did you know you vote with your eyeballs?  Every time you get an advert thrust into your retina, and you spend time on it, that’s a vote.

Now, most companies can’t measure how much time you spend looking at that ad, but they do count your clicks (another vote) and more importantly, they count your dollars.

Yes, dollars are by far the best way to vote.  Every time you spend a dollar you are saying, I vote for you.

Who is you?

You is that product or service.  You is the person behind that product.  You is the entire organization that offers that product.  And you is the philosophy behind that product.

So think about how you vote.  Think about the YOU you are voting for.

Vote wisely.  And often!

 

Are you on “The List”

I had the pleasure of visiting a friend down in Appalachia country over the weekend.  It was a delight, the countryside was beautiful, and everyone I met was not only a character, but someone I could easily spend time with.

One gentleman worked for the fire department, and told me a few funny stories about the plight of being the last county to get any upgraded services.  Their dispatcher was still referring to the color of a barn’s roof in order to give the emergency vehicle directions.  The fact that it was the dead of night didn’t seem to register.  Luckily, they figured out where they were supposed to go, and got there in time.

The sad part about our conversation was that the local officials had circulated a special list to these gentlemen, and the instructions that they were not to disturb those people on the list.  The meaning was clear.  These were special persons in our community, and whatever they chose to do, it was your job to look the other way.

As a student of behavior, we want to fight the propensity to judge a person, or a society on its choices.  I can tell you that the gentleman relating this story to me thought the list was an injustice, but we didn’t discuss it in depth.

More to the point, it’s likely that only the high and mighty are on that list.  If you are rich and powerful, then you are above the law.  That is what “the list” represents.  And all too often history has recorded events where such people commit great crimes against society exactly because they feel they are above the law.

So, consider the list at this county level.  And think about whether there is a list in your county.  Is there a list in your state?  Perhaps such a list even exists at the national level.

Are YOU on that list?

 

Scientific Conservative

Wow, that’s a mouthful.

It’s supposed to summarize my political philosophy.

First off, I’m scientific.  This means we use the process of meticulous definition, measurement, and questioning all assumptions.  This means being open about methods, experiments and conclusions.

What do you get for being scientific?  You get the absolute best way to learn.  Yup.  You heard me right.  As far as learning is concerned, science gets the gold medal.  Every time.

Secondly, I’m conservative when it comes to changing something as complex as our society.  I don’t trust any of the politicians, I trust the lobbyists even less, and I barely trust individual citizens to think.  Perhaps you can see where I’m going with this.  Trust no one!  No trust!

What do I believe in?  Hard and fast data.  Facts.  A fact is something all of us agree upon.  That’s it.  If we don’t agree, then let’s figure out why using civilized dialog.

If Alice doesn’t agree with Bob about something, and it’s because she’s keeping her eyes closed, that’s her right.  But then Bob’s right to ignore Alice.

If Alice has her eyes open and has a great argument as to why she doesn’t agree, then that’s fine as well.  In this case, Bob and Alice and we will gather data together, or do an experiment that everyone agrees with ahead of time.

Will this process take much longer than what goes on today?  You bet!  And that’s what makes me a conservative!

It doesn’t mean I want to double the military or keep a hundred guns in my house or tell pregnant women what to do with their body up to the point where they give birth.  No.

Being a conservative means I take things as slowly as I can.  Being scientific means I make progress in a very specific manner.

So the next time your friends try to tag you for one party or another, and you want to throw them for a loop, let them know you’re of no party.  And that your political philosophy is scientific conservatism.  That will stop them in their tracks.  It’s been working for me for some time.

Maybe there is a way to create SciCon parties.  I’ll work on that one.