Aum Versus Om, Round 2

Little word with a big sound.How can something so simple become so contentious?

A while ago, I published a post about saying the opening sound for a yoga class in different ways.  Some people are very passionate about how they say it.  Great!

Then the other day I visited this fantastic exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art.  They have a special going on with treasures from Japan, highlighting the shinto aspects of their religion.  Very interesting stuff.

But what touched me most with respect to yoga was what they said about the entry statues to a temple.  In many cases there would be a dog and a lion.  You’ve seen the pair.  Very popular.  People even put them in front of their houses nowadays.

Typically they would be poised with one mouth open, one mouth closed.

Here’s the cool part.  They symbolize infinity.  One represents the beginning.

The other one represents the end.

Both of them are speaking.  They are uttering a single syllable.

The open mouth represents the syllable “ah.”

The closed mouth represents the syllable “um.”

Guess what happens when you put them together?



PS: I’m not making this up, this is from the CMA, a world-famous institution, especially for its Japanese collection.  Many of the items in this current exhibit are from Japan, and are designated as important cultural objects.  That would be like sending the US Constitution out for a world tour.

Oh, and this other excerpt is always worth checking out, from Bill Moyers site 
(go to the bottom of that page)

Silly Hair

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.
In general, women are smarter than men.
There are times, both now and ago,
When it’s just not quite so,
And it’s our hair that’s the problem.

I heard it said long ago, by my very smart wife no less, that a hair that is cut or plucked from the body comes back thicker and blacker.

The situation happened to be one in which arguing or even a discussion was extremely contrary to the moment.  So nothing was said.

Over the years I’ve heard this comment from quite a few more ladies, usually younger ladies.  And I’ve continued to think to myself that this was quite silly.

After all, how does the body know a single hair has been cut?  If it’s plucked, the body might know, but so what?  Why should it bother making it thicker or darker?

What about hair that falls out all the time?  I know a lot about this because I’m about 50% hair.  Thanks Dad.

Perhaps it’s simply us getting older?  Maybe the follicles would be doing that no matter what.  Simply because there is a relationship between cutting a hair and it getting blacker or thicker doesn’t mean that’s the reason for it.  That’s called correlation versus causation.

Here’s a good article that argues against what people think.

Then why do smart women continue to think such things?

What other silly things to smart people consider to be true?

Why can’t we tell the difference in this supposedly super sciency age of ours?

I have some ideas, but it’s more fun to let the questions run free and see what you think.

Now, go get a haircut.


Don’t Hold Your Breathe for AI


Are you a believer that someday soon artificial intelligence will be driving your kids to school, flying your family on vacation, and operating on your cancer?

As one who has seen the anticipation of AI rise and fall over several decades, I would like to warn you.  Artificial Intelligence has great limitations.  The greatest one of which is that we don’t know what it means.

Here’s the first piece of evidence for you.  A journalist has compiled a list of AI terms for the first AI glossary.  I don’t see the terms for Intelligence, nor AI.  It’s important to define EVERYTHING when you’re being a serious scientist.  Never assume anything.

Here’s the next piece of evidence.  Today’s most powerful AI vision systems can’t tell the difference between a stop sign and a speed limit sign.  Or a turtle versus a rifle.  How’s that for security?

Perhaps you say that this is only for vision systems, and doesn’t apply to other types of AI attempts.  Perhaps.  Then again, consider this article about how the Watson system of IBM has done as a doctor’s assistant.No single image summarizes our dread of Artificial Intelligence more than this.

Not well.  It’s been fired from several hospitals that were giving it a try.

Perhaps you know of a success story, or someplace that has a great AI dictionary and making great strides.  I’d love to hear from you.

My emotional and scientifically conservative side says “be skeptical” and “don’t hold your breath.”  We’ve been through this once, twice, maybe three times in the past 40 years.

Maybe that’s my “natural intelligence” talking.


Better Society Through Science

In today's world, the

Do you agree with me on the following?
.Science can solve anything.
..Social problems are not getting easier to understand.
…Our understanding of people is not improving.
….Transcending Boundaries means challenging assumptions.
If you agree, let’s talk.


Anything can be examined, logically.

Science can solve anything.  As a young doctoral student, I believed that through Science, we could better understand ANY problem and take steps towards a completely efficient and effective solution. And why not?  We tamed the atom and we peered into the furthest reaches of the universe.  How hard could understanding world hunger or oppressive dictatorships be?  All we needed was good scientific principles, quality data, rigorous methods, and an intellectual environment that nurtured quality research.  How hard could this be?  [1]


Technology has not been a panacea for problems.

Social problems are not getting easier to understand.  In many ways the world has not improved since 1980.  Sure, we have flying cars and can read our genetic code.  But there’s many ways in which things are worse.  We thought the end of the Cold War would “free” up the oppressed soviet states and reinvent a forward thinking Russia.  Instead we have Putin.  We also have an oppressive and aggressive China.  There’s Syria, Turkey, Venezuela, The Philippines, Myanmar, and Egypt.  There’s religious extremism, non-localized religious-based violence, and escalating intolerance of culture as well as xenophobia throughout.  There’s a good chance NATO and the European Union were effectively destabilized by “bad actors” as well, using the latest technology in combination with old-fashioned subversion tactics in order to implement strategies that spans decades.  Finally, what about the doomsday clock, statements from the doctors without borders, reporters under attack, and notices from human rights watch?


Even with all the violence, we don't truly understand ourselves.

Our understanding of people is not improving.  There are no fundamental scientific advances as far as understanding people or social behaviors that we’ve discovered.  If I’m in error, I’m eager to accept any scientific findings to the contrary.  [2]


Transcending Boundaries means challenging assumptions. 

Assumptions like:

1) Encouraging scientific rigor and accountability within disciplines.  We can institutionalize (and reward) replication within our educational system and require it of academia.

2) We currently allow for the validation of scientific integrity within disciplines through peer review and specialized societies.  Perhaps it’s time for us to do the same BETWEEN disciplines.

... so why let any constraint remain unchallenged?

3)  Associating an individual’s ethical integrity in any aspect of their life to their scientific life.  #MeToo has been a watershed for recognizing long standing biases against half the population.  But are we confident that someone who is willing to compromise their ethics in one area of life can exclude it from their professional lives?  Ethics in all areas should also be an aspiration and never assumed.  [3]

4) Last, but far from least, true progress can’t be made unless we adhere to tried and true scientific principles in every aspect, bar none.  Definitions, logical rigor, standardized, calibrated, and validated methods of measurement, and rigorous methodologies that use p-values properly would be a start.  [4]


I'll treat in exchange for a good conversation.

If you agree, let’s talk.  I’m Steven, a retired businessman and inventor.  In the 1980s I was an idealistic doctoral student.  I earned a master’s and continued my studies in order to keep track of the progress made in understanding our humanity.  Forty years later, I’m hoping to meet like-minded individuals at the AAAS 2019 convention to see if my experience can make a contribution, no matter how small.  I look forward to meeting you and lending you a sympathetic ear, at the very least.  You can mail me at Zebra Skimmers (no spaces) at Gmail.

Thank you.



[1] For the record, I still believe Science can help us understand our problems, but the solving part is problematic.  Understanding problems also means understanding the forces working against solutions, and that, unfortunately, is a whole other problem.

[2] The works of E O Wilson and early work of R Dawkins could be considered fundamental, but so far applying them to humans has been unsatisfactory.

[3] “Plagiarism at Integrity Meeting” brief in Science, page 209, 18 January 2019.

[4] “Misinformation Machine” in Science, page 348, 25 January 2019. Particularly the 3rd and 4th paragraphs regarding disparate definitions of “fake news.”



FUN Science time

Did you know science could be fun?  Yes, science.

Fun for everyone!

Archimedes did it.  Einstein did it.  Now we can do it, too.

I’m talking about doing a thought experiment.

In fact, not only a thought experiment, but a thought present for YOU.

Let’s make you rich.  Really really rich.

No, not as rich as Gates, or Buffet.  Richer.

Not as rich as Bezos or Zuckerberg.  Richer.

Not even as rich as the entire USA.  Richer.

This is a thought experiment.  We can go where it’s impossible to go.  We can go to the very extremes of possibilities.




As of this moment, there is no income, no particle of wealth, absolutely nothing of value that you don’t own.  The queen’s jewels?  Yours.  The queens toilet and toilet paper?  Yours.

That donkey raised from a pup by that Himalayan monk no one has seen for several decades?


The question for us behavioral scientists is this.  What happens next?

If economists were any good at what they did, they could answer this.  But they can’t.

In reality, you’re going to spread the wealth.  After all, you’re going to want to eat.  You might even want a companion.  All of that costs something.

People who have “your stuff” might feel that you are far enough away that they don’t have to pay you for it.  That Himalayan monk?  Chances are you’re never going to meet him.  Good luck getting that donkey back.

Of course, the incentive for anyone else to work will be diminished.  But they have to eat as well, so there’s a chance that a shadow economy will emerge, based on bartering and some other items considered valuable.  Your items of course, but how will you know?

Slowly, surely, your own wealth will be spread around, so that some kind of work will begin again.  But how quickly?

The problem is that you also own everyone’s assets.  So even if someone works in a restaurant to feed you and others, you will receive the profits.  Which means, ultimately, you get even richer.

Enough fun.  How about comparing our experiment to today?

Today’s world does have a Gates, Buffet, Bezos and Zuckerberg.  These people do have incredible levels of wealth and income compared to select individuals of the past.

How does this impact the rest of society?  Is it a good thing?

There are those who tell me that rich people are good for the rest of us.  But in the beginning there were no “rich” people.  What does that mean?

It means we need to think about this, more, better, and deeper.  And it means we need to do more thought experiments.

Careful though.  They can be too much fun!