Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Talk Thursday: Semi-True Stories

It’s a semi-true story
Believe it or not
I made up a few things
And there’s some I forgot
But the life and the telling
Are both real to me
And they run like the rain
All the way to the sea
Semi-true stories
Jimmy Buffet

On any given day I could go down any given road or a hundred different ones on this topic. I'm going down this road today.

A few days ago I get an email from someone I know, someone I trust my life with on weekends when we jump out of airplanes together. The gist of it was this:

Dear All,

Ericsson is distributing free laptops for their brand promotion. They hope to increase their sales and popularity by this campaign. All you need to do is send an email about this promotion to 8 people and you will receive an Ericsson R320 laptop. Make sure you send a copy to:

“Jesus, not this again”, are the first words out of my mouth upon scanning over the email and I quickly deleted it. The next day I receive “reply to all” from another person I know who received the email too. He asks, “whats the catch.”

“You’re fucking kidding me.”

The fucking catch is you must live in a cave and have monkey shit for brains.

That’s what I wanted to say, but I restrained myself while I looked it up on to find, of course, that it was another hoax. I knew this without checking what the folks over at snopes discovered, but I wanted to reply to every “monkey shit-for-brains” person on the mailing list with more than my opinion. Not enough to just state that it was another ridiculous hoax. Including the link to the snopes verdict provided some non-biased proof. It’s a variation on a hoax that has been around for ten years or more.

Do educated people really fall for this kind of crap? Apparently so! Does human greed trump common sense? I am wondering!

My wife and I have a female friend, who for a while, was forwarding to us 5 or 6 emails a week about some really crazy shit, like stuff right out of The National Enquirer. They ranged from pseudo politics to wacky health claims to pseudo science. Here’s some examples of the headlines/topics:

Mars! don’t miss it.

Anti Terrorist Event

Pictures from London, beyond scary!

Baby Carrots cause cancer

She forwarded them because she thought they all sounded credible and real. Some of them were semi-true stories, which are often a bit more difficult to debunk than the outright obvious garbage. The Mars email claimed that because Mars is going to be closer at opposition this year, it is going to appear as large as the moon. Being an amateur astronomer, I knew better. The baby carrot one, claiming that you can get cancer from those grocery store baby carrots sounded possible, but my nose itched over it, so I researched it and my nose was right. It was a semi-true story, semi-true on a minor detail but which had nothing to do with the carrots causing cancer. I responded to her emails time and again, refuting the bogus claims with facts and evidence, but she just laughed it off and went on her merry way and continues to forward these outlandish emails.

Another friend forwards me emails about H1N1 swine flu being human made as a diabolical conspiracy and it includes semi-true stories to conclude that the pharmaceutical companies knew it was coming in advance because they applied for patents a year before the virus was discovered.

One of my best friends forwards suspicious emails to me with requests to research them and report back. I suppose he does this because I debunked a few of them that he really thought were legit. So now I am his official debunker.

Don’t get me going on the global warming thing. Fruitcake semi-true stories are endlessly clogging email inboxes on this one. I know people who devote their entire facebook dialogues to perpetuating pseudo science mixed with semi-true stories on this topic.

Originally, I believed the internet was going to help enlighten the world and make knowledge more accessible. I thought people would become better educated and shed urban myths and legends, superstitions, folk myth and magic, but it seems I was wrong in this assumption. Too much information and the bulk of it is bad information. Couple this with what seems to be an exponentially declining ability among our race to apply any modicum of logic or skepticism to what we read or hear. It’s a recipe that might just implode human progress back to the stone-age. It seems more and more that the internet and life in general has become a jumbled, mass confusion of semi-true stories and fairy tales and it’s beginning to bother the hell out of me.

Is it possible that there is a gullibility gene in us responsible for keeping the human race ignorant, superstitious and semi-stupid forever?


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Talk Thursday: Self Deprivation

In all fairness, I’m not the best person to rant on self deprivation, since I’ve rarely

—no, maybe never deprived myself of anything.

My name should appear next to “Hedonist” in dictionaries.

Ok, ok, I did fast (you know, skip a few meals) once in a while back when I was a Mormon, but I’m not sure that counts as self deprivation because I always felt coerced—first by parents, later by wife, family and other (self) righteous church members.

That’s not self deprivation!

No, actually I cringe at any thought of self deprivation… and I wonder, does it count as self deprivation if we convince our self that what ever it is we are depriving our self of isn’t really deprivation at all because it is for our best good? If it’s for our own best good, what is it we are depriving our self of anyway?

The ten Ox herding/taming pictures from Zen justify my hedonistic attitude toward self deprivation. I will leave it to the reader to discover how so.

If the Zen folks are right, self deprivation is an illusion anyway because there really is no individual self to deprive. I know, I probably offended some egos with that, but what is an ego anyway

In this case, self deprivation might be not only a linguistic invention, but a double illusion… no real self really to deprive of anything and what we call deprivation often is reasoned away as being the best thing for us.

Truly, when I think of the timeless examples of humans engaging in self deprivation, it always seems to involve "spiritual one-upmanship" of one kind or another.

Gotta go now, so I can go flagellate myself before bed time.

Monday, September 14, 2009

I'm glad I didn't listen much to good advice. If I listened to it I might not have made some of my most valuable mistakes.


I ran across the above quote the other day when I pulled up a list of funky quotes I catalogue. It resonated, so I'm elaborating.

My mom, who is no longer with us, once told me, "oh, don’t ever tell me you are going scuba diving." Of course, this was immediately after I told her I had signed up for scuba lessons with some of my buddies when we were about 15 years old. She knew it was vacant advise, but it was usually right after telling her something scary I was going to do that she offered her "good advice". Not that scuba diving was a mistake either, it was a great discovery for a trouble making rabble rouser like me.

Fear ruled my mother’s life, however, so she always gave her "don’t ever do that" speech when I mentioned anything that sounded scary or dangerous. It was more for her benefit than mine, I’m sure. Sometimes it was even good advice, like the time she told me not use my little sister as a test pilot for the deadly steep tubing run we fabricated on the steepest snow covered hill me and my buddies could find.

We sent Sis hurtling down the hill anyway. She broke her nose and ended up with two black eyes, a lovely situation for her grade school class picture two days later. But still I’m glad I ignored that good advice because it woke me up and I learned something from it. The lesson likely prevented me from inadvertently killing my little sister at some point down the line.

Einstein ignored lots of good advice and as a result made mistakes that lead to monumental discoveries and contributions to science that immortalized him. Not shabby company for us advice ignorers.

My wife works for a group of doctors. When they heard that I was a skydiver some of them warned her to never take such a foolish risk, which was perhaps good advice in their eyes, but it was only a reason for defiance in hers. Still, she was not very interested in throwing herself out of an airplane (and contrary to the common question I always get, there is no perfectly good airplane, so don’t ask that question, puleeease). It wasn’t until one of the doctors told her, "you can’t ever skydive because your neck won’t take the shock" that she decided to totally ignore his advice. She does have some bad disks in her neck, but this good advice sounded too much like an order so she said, "fuck that".

A week or so later she made her first tandem jump in Moab, then promptly signed up to go through training to become a skydiver. Shocked the hell out of me but I was glad to have her join me in the sky. It may have been good advice, but if it was a mistake she has never regretted it.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Black and White

I chose the white print on black background for this blog space for sake of analogy. It's enjoyable... and even useful to flip perceived reality around and look at it backwards, upside down or inside out. It aids our perspective and challenges us not to become so attached to the traditional view or the way things seem.

Alan Watts, the timeless philosopher and teacher of things eastern to us Westerns, articulates my point better than I. He says,

"When we were taught 1, 2, 3 and A, B, C, few of us were ever told about the Game of Black-and-White. It is quite as simple. but belongs to the hushed-up side of things. Consider, first, that all your five senses are differing forms of one basic sense--something like touch. Seeing is highly sensitive touching. The eyes touch, or feel, light waves and so enable us to touch things out of reach of our hands. Similarly, the ears touch sound waves in the air, and the nose tiny particles of dust and gas.

But the complex patterns and chains of neurons which constitute these senses are composed of neuron units which are capable of changing between just two states: on or off. To the central brain the individual neuron signals either yes or no--that's all. But, as we know from computers which employ binary arithmetic in which the only figures are 0 and 1, these simple elements can be formed into the most complex and marvelous patterns. In this respect our nervous system and 0/l computers are much like everything else, for thc physical world is basically vibration. Whether we think of this vibration in terms of waves or of particles, or perhaps wavicles, we never find the crest of a wave without a trough or a particle without an interval, or space, between itself and others. In others words, there is no such thing as a half wave, or a particle all by itself without any space around it. There is no on without off, no up without down.

Now, this lesson is, quite simply, this: any experience that we have through our senses, whether of sound or of touch or of light, is a vibration. And a vibration has two aspects: one called ‘on;’ and the other called ‘off.’ Vibrations seems to be propagated in waves, and every wave system has crests and it has troughs. And so life is a system of, ‘Now you see it, now you don’t.’ And these two aspects always go together. For example, sound is not pure sound, it is a rapid alternation of sound and silence. And that’s simply the way things are.
Only you must remember that the crest and the trough of a wave are inseparable. Nobody ever saw crests without troughs or troughs without crests, just as you don’t encounter, in life, people with fronts but no backs; just as you don’t encounter a coin that has a heads but no tails. And although the heads and the tails, the fronts and the backs, the positives and the negatives are different, they’re at the same time one. And one has to get used fundamentally to the notion that different things can be inseparable [emph. orig.]. That what is explicitly two can at the same time be implicitly one. If you forget that, very funny things happen.
If we, therefore, forget, you see, that black and white are inseparable, and that existence is constituted equivalently by being and non-being, then we get scared, and we have to play a game called, “Oh-oh, Black Might Win.” And once we get into the fear that Black, the negative side, might win, we are compelled to play the game, “But White Must Win.” And from that start all our troubles."

For most of us black represents emptiness or void and white is seen as something solid or real.

Why is this?

Is it conditioning, domestication, habitual patterns in thinking, symbolic interpretation, misperception?

In much the same fashion black is bad or evil and white is holy and pure. Thinking about this for any length of time will likely cause your perceptions to shift towards black and while. That might not be a bad thing.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Is there anybody out there dumb enough to contact us?


One of the surest signs that "intelligent" life exists somewhere in the universe is that none of it has tried to contact us.

Think about this! I've been a big fan of the SETI program for about 20 years. Watch the movie "Contact" if you don't recognize this acronym.

Ok, ok, I won't make you do that, but I urge you to watch it anyway; it's one of the best scientific characterizations of how me might make contact with little green, or red, or blue men... or women IMHO.

SETI: Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence. I know, it sounds kind of like one of the 3 heavenly kingdoms contained in the dogma of the Mormon church, but it's not. This is serious research, not myth.

So, I was thinking today about all the evidence and reasoning I have digested for years via astronomers, astrophysicists, planetary scientists and the like (you know, like the late Carl Sagan) regarding the odds in favor of the premise that other intelligent life must exist somewhere out there.

Evidence like; there are billions of stars in each galaxy and billions of galaxies in the known universe, the recent discovery of planets around other stars, the chemical makeup of the universe, the mere number of possibilities out there.
But the distances in space between stars is humongously vast, it's even vaster from one galaxy to the next. I remember once reading in "Astronomy Magazine", an analogy that boggled my noodle about how enormous the universe is. I think it went something like this.

If you were to throw a man out there randomly somewhere in the universe one million times, he would only land once in a spot where he would see any light at all. Only once, in a million throws! That's a crap load of empty space between objects, but still a motherload of objects like suns and planets... just all incredibly spread out, making the universe a very big place. As Ellie and her dad both said in the movie, "if it is just us... seems like an awful waste of space".

And then I had an "ah ha" moment, an enlightenment, a revelation of enormous portent. I'm certain someone thought of this before me, but I was the first one I heard it from... know what I mean? The fact (I think it's a fact) that we have not yet been contacted by any intelligent life from outer space is the biggest case in favor of the existence of such intelligent life.

Well, at least it's a damn good argument for any highly advanced life form, as in "exponentially more advanced than us earthlings". It seems to me that the really smart fuckers out there must be smart enough to stay the hell away from this planet and it's maniacal human population. If I were them, I would be watching and waiting, watching and waiting.