Humanity versus Gaia

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There was this guy , see, and he said this crazy thing.  It was crazy because he said Mother Nature was real.  Really real.  He gave her a name.  And old name.  Gaia.

Here’s where I’m coming from.  If this Gaia gal is real, and she really is Mother Nature, she ought to be, like, the toughest chick ever invented.  Like, she’s got it all.  Earthquakes, clouds, tidal waves, volcanoes, right?

She’s also got close to forever to do her stuff.  She’s not in a hurry, right?

So, here’s my what if.

What if Gaia wanted to off someone?

Not just anyone, like, any ONE, but us.

All of us.  Man us.

It’s not like she’s gonna get out a tidal wave and wash us all away.  Or get a massive volcano going.  Or maybe order out for an asteroid.  Maybe she will.  Maybe she did already.  I dunno.

I was thinkin.  Maybe she might do something sneaky and slow.  Like figure out a way to get us all to stop having babies.

Or have us passing a disease that’s so evil it turns our own weapons into its weapons.

I dunno.  I was just thinkin.

What I was really really thinkin was that, if I was gonna get into a fight, the LAST person I’d wanna fight would be this Gaia chick.

I know she’d fight tough.  I know she’d fight dirty.

I’d be outnumbered.  And she can’t die.

There’s one more problem.

She always wins.

 

How About Coffee?

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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.

First, paraphrasing only slightly, we have Marvin Minsky, the expert from MIT advising Kubrick who had no problem understanding that the emptiness of 2001’s dialogue was intentional

” … And after the momentous statement that the monolith must have been deliberately buried, one of the astronauts says, “Well, how about a little coffee?”  Kubrick’s idea is that the universe is too majestic for short sighted people.”

Now, here’s the good part where I’m trying to be as faithful to Bizony as I can;  Kubrick’s wife, Christiane, speaking about her husband’s intentions.

“Stanley thought we are always falling behind our scientific and technical achievements.  We are very good at making more and more things – but to do what with?  We haven’t kept up, psychologically and philosophically.  We are not profound.  We are still getting away with the most boring entertainments.  We are shallow, and we know it.  We suffer from it.  The choices we make are not satisfying.  Our sins are all of omission – of not doing the more interesting things that we could do.  There is a lethargy, a lack of energy and concentration that prevents us from reaching the key point where we are as creative and perceptive as we would really wish to be.  We are in the terrible position of being smart enough to know that we are not smart enough.  For instance, we still can’t imagine, “What is God?”  So in 2001 we see fantastic tools of communication.  People can speak over zillions of miles, but nobody has anything to say.  So we pretend.  We live in a little world of nonsense and send each other funny photos and cute stories, with this enormous technology.  “Happy Birthday,” and so on, when nobody seems to care, or react.  It’s very melancholy – although two things we really can do.  War and pornography we’re good at.”

Bizony then distills much of Kubrick’s angst.

 “2001, so optimistic on the surface, is in fact a morally complex movie.  Either we will bore ourselves to death while our machines sneak in through the back door and take over; or else we will blow ourselves to hell, our modern minds still compromised by an instinctive taste for aggression.  It seems we have to keep fighting to survive.  And we have to stop fighting to survive.”

page 421, Piers Bizony, The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey, published by Taschen, 2015

PS – For goodness sake, if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, please do both of those first, and as soon as possible.

 

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.

 

PETH

There’s a group of extremists who practice guerrilla warfare against those they feel treat animals unethically.

They throw blood on those who wear fur.  They terrorize researchers who run experiments on mice.  I’m sure there’s many other things that they do, but that’s not my point.

My point is that we have to get these guys to expand their horizons.  People are animals, too.  Hasn’t anyone taught them that?  People, according to most people, are even more than animals.  We have souls.  And bank accounts.

If the people who are against the unethical treatment of animals are truly on the side of animals, then why don’t they include people in the mix?

Here’s their dilemma.  If they DON’T include people under their protective umbrella, they are then admitting that PEOPLE are special.  People are different than animals, perhaps even better.  That explains why animals need a special militant arm of defenders.

If they DO include people under their ethical treatment umbrella, then they have a whole ‘nother dilemma.  THAT dilemma would mean they have to start DEFENDING people against unethical treatment.  This would include harassing people based on their own research.  It would include children who are being slowly tortured by people who should never be allowed near them.  It would mean that they could even target politicians who put personal gain ahead of their constituents.

Will this happen?  Will there ever be an organization that is dedicated to the ethical treatment of people as well as animals?  It’s a nice thought, but I doubt it will happen.

There’s a good chance that the members of such groups are in them only because it gives them a mission that seems righteous.  Talking to one of them and challenging their belief system amounts to challenging someone about their religion.

And I’ve already learned, no one likes to be challenged.

Maybe that would be unethical.

 

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!

 

Pardon my disturbance of THE FORCE

Conspiracy theories can be fun, but often they may point the way to something more fundamental.

The President of the USA pardoned a man recently, ostensibly because the sentence he’d already served was sufficient to meet the crime.  This sounds reasonable enough, and isn’t interesting for our purposes.

What’s interesting is that we are getting a peek at what went on BEHIND that action.  One of the early paragraphs states that many lawmakers from both parties were advocating for this pardon, including the most powerful members of Congress.  How could the President refuse?

Exactly.

Imagine this “imaginary” scenario.

The USA gives a lot of money to Israel.

In order to make people in the USA happy with their generosity, Israel spends a lot of that money right back in the USA.  USA gives, USA gets back.  Kind of.

Israel gets to decide how and where to spend that money.  So they can work with companies that indirectly benefit their own goals, Israeli goals.  There’s a very good chance that a large percentage of money spent by Israel is going to companies that are friendly to Israel.

In turn, those companies are able to help Israel in many ways.  Their owners can make donations to Israeli causes.  The companies can contribute to lawmaker’s campaigns.  They can fund action committees, subsidize education, loans, grants, and many other ways of furthering another country’s agenda.

This pardon is an example of something that went wrong.  This is a man who, on the face of things, is a friend of Israel.  If he’d done his job legally, he would have made a lot of money and never been in the news.  He didn’t.

Getting caught meant that he had to get punished.  But he was still a friend to Israel.  And that’s when THE FORCE became apparent.

“Pardon this man, our friend,” they said with one voice.

No other great influential special interest could muster the kind of overall pressure necessary to convince such a wide variety of powerful people to argue for the exact same thing.

Are these the meanderings of a closeted foil-hatted lunatic?

Or is this a glimpse of great forces at work?

Be a student of behavior, great and small.  You decide.

 

Yoga is not Religion

Way back when I started learning yoga, there were no conflicts with religious types.

Then there was a flurry of religious types who were worried that their kids were being secretly converted by public schools into heathens.  Why?  Because those heathen school-teachers were teaching kids to do yoga.

Oh no!  Down dog in the classroom.  Tree pose in the gym.  Half-moons in the hallways.

What’s next?  Bloody sacrifices in the principal’s office?  Perhaps cannibalistic rites of eating flesh and drinking blood?

Hardly.  Getting kids moving in a non-violent, self-centered way makes for better kids, better community, and better learning.

A quick search this morning reveals that most of the religious voices have reached the same conclusion.  Yoga is not a religion.

Hooray!

Then what’s the problem?

The problem is that there’s nothing in those articles that comes out and says exactly what a religion should contain, such that yoga is NOT religious.

Sure, the Christian types refer to saviors and gods and the such, but as we have pointed out a while ago, religion doesn’t have to have these things.  A religion is a shared set of behaviors that helps keep a group together for a long time.

That means if you’re going to a yoga class with a bunch of people you like, with an instructor you like, and this goes on for a long time, you truly CAN consider yourself part of a religion.

The whole point of this exercise, and indeed, the whole point of us studying ourselves, is learning where to draw the line.  How long is a long time?  How many people should we include in our “bunch?”

A bunch of bananas is easy; Nature defines that for us.  But as people we appear to be super-natural.  So drawing those lines isn’t going to be as easy as if we were bananas.  Although there are many people I feel may be bananas.  But that’s another story.

 

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.

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