Subjects to Think About

Ever wonder how simple we’d have to make things if we met a truly alien civilization?

After all, nothing would serve as a common reference.  The whole concept of “subject” or even “study” could be foreign to them.

So, if I had to tell a truly alien culture about our own, how would I divide up all the crazy areas of study that are in the course guides of colleges?

I’d do it like this.

There are three great areas that humans enjoy learning about.

The first deals with thinking about “Things.”  Things can be anything, like rocks, planets, stars, minerals, chemicals, frogs.  Anything that is a thing all gets put into one great bucket of study.  We typically call the king of these types of studies, Physics.  But frogs and other living things present a problem, so I’ll accept Biology as a special subset of Physics.

Then there are entire areas of learning in which humans think about “Not Things.”  It sounds a bit counter-intuitive, but the greatest of all Not-Things is the study of Math.  Mathematics is a form of incredible rigorous thinking that is the best of all ways to describe the universe of Things.  It has many subsets, but Math is certainly the grandest of them all.  Other areas like linguistics and anthropology could be in there as well.

As promised, there is one final area of learning that concerns humans.  It’s not very rigorous in any way, so much of the work in this area is confusing to everyone, especially the experts.  It’s thinking about Thinking.  Yes, it’s the one and only self-referential area of study, and the king of this type of study is called Philosophy.

Anyone who tries to impress you (or the aliens) with fancy philosophy names or terms is missing the point of this entire area of study.  If it’s a real area, something that is legitimate, then famous people or crazy definitions aren’t necessary.  Much like saying gravity is everywhere, or 1 + 1 can become 2, we should be able to state fundamental elements of Philosophy.  We’re not quite there yet.

My fear is that when we do meet those aliens, and we do tell them what we study, they are going to laugh and go back to where they came from.

After all, if the entire universe can be boiled down into three basic areas of study, and we only have a partial hold on two of them, how can we be ready to join the galactic neighborhood?

We should think about that.

 

 

 

Story Time: Small Wives Tales

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Studying behavior is fun.  We can do thought experiments based on real-life observations of fact.

and a short story.

Consider this fact: women are smaller than men.  This is sexual dimorphism, the genders are splitting apart.  Most species have males and females about the same size.  When they are different, it means something’s going on.  Something having to do with natural selection.  Here’s a thought experiment story that takes the phenomenon to the extreme.

=====  A booth in a shabby diner, late morning.  =====

Yo, Joh, why so late?

The third wife was upset, and the other two said I had to help calm her down.  She’s got some bug up her butt about the kid, so I had to listen to her whine before I could leave.

You’re such a nice hubby.  Why don’t you get another one?

Are you kidding?  Three’s the limit for me.  What about you, you stopping at two?

No, I could use a third one.  Having two means they fight among themselves, and I have to break it up all the time.  I hear having a third, and maybe even a fourth keeps them mixed up enough so it takes a lot of pressure off.

You’re both crazy.  Why not just stick with the one and train her the way you want?

Like in the olden times?  What are you, a Neanderthal?  You know how many of those marriages went bust?  No, what those biologists figured out was perfect.  This way each wife has less of a man to make her crazy, she has more women friends to hang with keeping the pressure off him, and he ends up with more sex, while each of them ends up with less.  Win win win win win.

Still, I’m pretty happy with my one.  She’s got everything I need, and we seem to work well together.

Sure, youngster, keep telling yourself that.  It’s also a heck of a lot cheaper, isn’t it?  But it takes all types.

Why do you think women were smaller than men anyway?  There was a time they were only 10% smaller, now they are 25% smaller.

Perfect for carrying under your arm.

Or stuffing in your pants!  (Everyone laughs.)

Look, a long time ago the women were almost the same as men.  About the same size, about the same brain, small breasts, just as hairy.

Then something changed.

Yeah, we don’t know what.  Some eggheads think it was the women that did it to themselves, but maybe the men did it.  Anyway, the women got smaller, got boobs, and started painting themselves all over.

Don’t forget the sex part.

Right, then something happened to both genders so that having sex hardly ever makes a baby.  So it’s fun to do.

Very fun.

How much fun you having with the one?

Well…

I thought so.

C’mon.  After breakfast, we’ll do some shopping for you.  Then we’ll fix that ancient Camaro of yours.

Thanks.  So how about that game last night?

Great Moments in Biology

We took a pleasant walk through our park, and at the worst possible time my nose required tending.

I’m used to this, because my nose is old, and large, and needs a lot of maintenance.  I keep a box of tissues in every room of the house.  Truly.  In some rooms there are more than one.  My nose can demand attention so fast I have about two seconds to respond.  And being my nemesis (my NOSE-asis?) it usually demands attention when I have both hands carrying something important, something cooking, and someone talking to me.

Technically, a complex polysaccharide.

Back to the stroll.  As I’m fumbling about for the tissues I carry SOMEWHERE on my person, I realize that perhaps I’m much maligning my nose.

After all, the slime my nose produces is a rather old biological invention.  Fish couldn’t swim without it.  (What about aquaman?)  Bacteria couldn’t thrive without it,  Our lungs stay clean because of it.

In fact, as I pondered my spent tissue, slime may be among some of the greatest biological inventions of all time.

Sure, you have sex, and bilateral symmetry.  But slime?  So simple, yet so many uses.

Here’s a bit of a mind-bender.  Since our ancient ancestors were fishy things, and those fishy things probably also used slime, it may be that our lungs and noses represent the parts of our biology that are still fishy!  (Just like eyeballs, but that’s another story.)

True, it may also be the buggy part of our biology, but I’d rather be related to a fish than a bug.

That’s all for today.  Gotta go fast.  Nose calls.

 

Space isn’t big enough for: 20%

There’s an ancient saying among managers: 80% of your problems will come from only 20% of the population.  It doesn’t matter if the population is springs that go boing, or people writing programs in your application department.

The further we look, the more galaxies we find.The latest FBI statistics I saw indicated that about 80% of the crimes were being committed by a regular 20% of the population.

In the movie Casablanca, the Chief of Police tells his captain to round up the usual suspects.  In truth, that’s not a bad strategy.  Those people might at least know something, even if not being guilty outright.

Here’s the deal.  Once you get enough people together, anywhere, there’s going to be a small number of “bad apples” who create a bunch of mischief for the “good apples.”

The key word here is — anywhere.

No matter what kind of great people we send to the moon, there will be a few who turn out to be troublemakers.  Why?  Because it’s human nature.

The problem is that the first moon colony isn’t going to have the resources to keep that person in line all the time.  There certainly won’t be someone free to watch them all the time, and if they do something naughty and have to be put away, where will that be?  There won’t be any room for a jail.

So what happens?

In short, there won’t be room for these people.  The early settlers are going to have to make some very tough choices.  Down here where the air is almost free and there’s room to spread out, the cost of taking care of a miscreant is relatively small.

But up there, where there is no air and you can hear every sound your neighbor makes in their sleep, the cost of keeping a nasty person in stir will be very high.

The solution?  Swift vigilante justice.  A community tribunal, and equally swift sentence.  The judge can say cuffs come off, rejoin your friends.  Or the judge can tell them to take a short walk outside the dome, without a suit.

Of course, after that short walk, someone will have to bring him back inside.  After all, in outer space, there isn’t going to be room for cemeteries either.  We’re going to need everybody for fertilizer.

After all, each body is about 80% water, and 20% fertilizer.

 

 

Space isn’t big enough for: iTunes

The concept of having YOUR music playing just for you goes back a few years.  Even before iTunes and other music services there were things called “walkman,” and before that there were portable radios.

The further we look, the more galaxies we find.Here’s the thing.  If you’re jammin to the tunes, and happily banging away on the steering wheel at the same time there’s a “thing” on the road, there’s a better chance that you will hit that thing.

That’s why lots of places are trying to cut down on the number of accidents by putting the brakes on distractions in the car.  Is it working?  Don’t know.

But I do know that distractions can kill.  Doctors who are distracted in the operating room can make mistakes on their patient.  Pilots distracted in the cockpit can make errors regarding their aircraft.  And lunar colonists who are distracted might leave the wrong door open, or close the wrong valve.

Here’s the real deal.  On the moon, a single error could kill everyone.  Putting in safeguards that prevent all stupid mistakes is very expensive.  And getting anything to the moon is going to be costly.  That means we have to choose.

We either make every move to avoid mistakes every way we can.

Or we accept the risk of total failure for the benefit of individual joy.

My suggestion?  Don’t take iTunes or earbuds to the moon.  Too expensive.

 

 

Physics and English

This site is all about understanding behavior.

Learning is a form of behavior.

And some of the most daunting learning to be done in the “natural” world is staring physicists right in the face.

Physicists.  The same guys who brought you transistors, fractal antennae, MRI and Voyagers 1 and 2.

I saw this excellent video by Brady Haran, with a most excellent professor of physics ranting about someone who PRETENDS to understand physics enough to make outlandish propositions about what it means.

That’s not the point for this post.  The points comes later in his video (3:15 and 6:40) in response to an excellent question from Brady.  Perhaps it’s the language that physicists use to try and communicate the strange phenomena to themselves, and the rest of the world.

Here’s where the behavior comes in.

Physicists talk to each other, and rarely to the public, and even more rarely to academics in other disciplines.  Almost never ever to someone in the English department.

Here’s a list of some of the incredibly weird phenomena they have measured.

  • Entanglement (spooky action at a distance)
  • Spin
  • Momentum
  • Inflation
  • Big Bang
  • CP Violation
  • Dark Matter and Dark Energy
  • Unified Theories containing all the known forces
  • Wave Functions
  • Atomic Orbitals

All of these are extremely strange things that happen in reality, things we use every day without realizing it.

Yet they don’t make sense in our big classical world.

Here’s where the English department comes in.

Physicists need a whole new language that removes all the connections these phenomena make with the classical world.  Using words like orbital, wave, even matter and energy for the quantum world is going to put physicists at a disadvantage.

The person who’s going to figure out how to make sense of the quantum world is going to have to release themselves from the classical world.  When you grow up in a classical world that has orbits and waves, you’re automatically making the job harder.

So, to all you physicists out there who want to confront the greatest natural challenges of our time, take a moment to understand behavior.  Talk to an English major, and change your language.  Shed your classical skin and enter the quantum world.

It’s weird, it’s wacky, it’s beyond classical belief systems.

Yet, it’s all behavior.

Is it a particle, is it a wave?  It's neither.

PS – Who says we can’t have Fun with Fiziks?  By the way, for those who have their own wacky ideas about the quantum world, save them for later.  I have my own, but they will have to wait for the right cocktail party.

PPS – By the way, Math is the proper language of physics, of Nature for that matter.  However, this post is about talking to people who DON’T do math.  Thanks for reading.

Space isn’t big enough for: Space

Would you buy a hectare of moon for a single credit?

How about a million hectares for the same price?

There’s a LOT of moon, and that means there could be a lot of moon to sell.

More importantly for our first colonists, however, is the cost of LIVABLE real estate.

You could own the whole moon, but you’re only going to live on a little bit of it.

And since you can’t sleep outside very long, you’re going to need a roof,

and walls,

vacuum seals,

oxygen generators,

carbon dioxide scrubbers,

and, well, you get the picture.  Living on the moon is going to be very expensive.  It’s going to be way more expensive than living in downtown Tokyo, Manhattan, and London combined.

Do you know anyone who lives in those places?  If so, then you know that they also live under the following conditions:

Small rooms, thin walls, annoying neighbors, and lots of rules of things that they can’t do.

So, imagine what we’ve figured out.  The moon, cheapest real estate in the universe, yet has the most expensive livable real estate in the universe.  You’ll live in space, where there is no horizon, yet you’ll be able to reach out and touch both of your walls.

Infinite space, yet no place for claustrophobia.

Who knew?

 

Learning Yoga From Dad

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Other than modified tree pose, he’s never done yoga.

So HOW could he teach me?

First off, Dad was born in 1929, and he’s got a long list of maladies, any one of which could kill him.  Tomorrow.

But he’s pushing himself, living as if he’ll make it to 90.

He might.

He also tries new things to improve his body.  This means being able to go to the potty more easily.  But it’s his goal, and who am I to quibble?

He’s probably in this mess because of medical advice from 50 years ago for his bad back: Rest, avoid exercise, wear a brace, and take pills.  He did all that.

Today, doctors would probably recommend continuous exercise, working through pain, and avoiding pills is a better way to live.

However, the most important thing of all that I’ve learnt is incredible.

I was with Dad through all of this latest battle, starting with a broken vertebrae (L2), the ER, Hospice House, then a recovery room, and finally back home.  There were two times when nurses told me, this is it.  If he’d died, they would have said it was his time.

Except it wasn’t.  First off, I was able to be there and help him stave off poor medical practices.  Not malpractice, only poor quality.  Second, I was there as cheerleader, boosting morale, encouraging his WILL TO LIVE.  I gave him traditional football game locker room pep talks.

I could see the young athlete come alive.  He was a two-year all state football player in his day.  He was ripped.

That’s the key.  The will to live.

The greatest yogi of the 20th century was Tirumalai Krishnamacharya.  If you do yoga today, he probably invented it.  If he didn’t, you can bet your bippy he influenced it.

Many times, the guy who invents something doesn’t get to cash in on the great idea.  Same was true for TK.  He was dirt poor most of the time.  As advertising, he’d put on demonstrations of stopping his heart.

What?  Impossible!  How?

That’s what we say, knowing modern medicine.

But modern medicine also said my Dad was finished.  And then Dad applied his willpower.

That’s what TK did with his heart.  Willpower.

Both TK and my Dad have shown me that yoga can help us harness our own willpower as a way to become one with every part of our bodies.  Not only the voluntary nervous system, but even the autonomic nervous system that influences our heart.  All of it.  Our WHOLE body.

And that’s how Dad taught me about my own yoga.

  1. Push yourself.
  2. Set your own, small, goals.
  3. Adhere to it as a better way to live.
  4. Willpower is an integral part of our practice.

Thanks Dad.  Love, your son.

Aum…

 

Space isn’t big enough for: Inches

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Long ago, back when caves were considered prime real estate, we measured things using our fingers and feet.

More recently, we started defining the best units to use for learning.  There’s this outfit that helps the whole world get its act together.  They work very slowly, and nothing they do is mandatory.  That’s too bad, because the world has a lot of crazy stuff going on.

The world’s largest economy still uses old measurements based on units that don’t convert easily.  Quick, how many inches in a rod?  How about in a mile?

Do the same thing using the metric system.  Badabing!  Easy peasy.

Guess what?  If you’re an American dreaming of living on the moon, you better pack your undies and your sun-tan lotion (SPF 500!), but leave your feet and inches behind.

There’s not enough room.

 

 

Space isn’t big enough for: French

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As I study French using this great app, I come to a fairly sad realization.

Il n’y a pas de place pour la langue.

Even though space is large, mind-bendingly large, our first colonies aren’t going to be big enough for more than one language.

Imagine there being some kind of emergency, like trying to find the jam in the fridge, and you have to call out without thinking.  What if you used the wrong language?

Alright, maybe looking for jam isn’t the best example.  What if your rocket malfunctions and you need to get help immediately?  Hadn’t everyone better be on the same frequency?  As in knowing how to talk?

Learning french is fun.  The way they organize their thoughts are a bit different from the way us American English people normally do it.  But that’s what makes life here on Earth fun.  If I go to France and order some bread and cheese, but end up with a duck and ketchup, it’s only a moment of embarrassment.

Do the same thing on the moon, and it’s many times worse.  Alright, the bread and cheese example is, cheesy, but you get the picture.  Mistakes on the moon are extremely costly, and speaking more than one language comes with a price.

Sacre bleu!