The reason for the season

It is amazing how the most basic things, that you think you’ve know for as long as you can remember can prove to be not globally true.  My new friend from Australia informed in a comment in our “blogversation” (awesome new word I’m trying to trademark) that September 1st is the first day of spring.  Now if you are reading this and you are thinking “Spring?! In September?” Then that means you are not old enough to read this blog and must go to bed before your parents scold you.  However if you Are thinking “Spring!?  On the first?”  Then you are having the correct reaction and you may continue reading.

I remember my sister told me she got somewhat viciously attacked on-line by a French girl who mocked her for thinking that there were 7 continents instead of 6.  Apparently in Europe they consider the Americas continent.  Confused the hell out of us because we always thought South America and North America were separate continents. 🙂

Anyway I think my friend Robyn sort of had the same reaction.  We didn’t ridicule the other, but we did perhaps think that we both might be using some sort of narcotic to be so misguided.

According to Wikipedia entry on spring some places in the world mark their seasons according to climatic averages by month.   The three warmest months being summer, the three coldest months being winter and the ones in between the spring and fall seasons.  Climatically it is no different from here, but we simply mark the seasonal changes according to the equinoxes and solstices.  Does that make the most sense to me because of the astronomical markers are more global, or does it make the most sense to me simply because that is what I grew up learning?  It’s an interesting question, and one that I can never really test.

It does make one think however that if something so simple can look differently depending on where you grew up, something that you think is just a universally agreed upon fact, what about all the other things in this world that are less exact, that are more complicated, and for which the answer is not so easily discovered?  The only way to open your mind up to other perspectives is to engage with people different than yourselves and listen to them.   Who knows what you might learn and how your thinking might change. 🙂

Agrajag: Defenseless

Being in Australia you’re supposed to represent my near future, but your blogging into the wee hours of the morning sounds more like my recent past.  Thank you for your wonderful reply. 🙂

Your post can certainly be about racism as it has been on my mind obviously a lot of late.  Not only the last few days, but ever since the Travyon Martin verdict too.  Not sure if that news story hit Australia, but it was a rather sad case where a 17 year black kid was shot by a Latino man on a neighborhood watch because he thought he look suspicious.  He called the police and the police told him to stand down and that they were on their way.  Instead he went after the kid and when the kid attacked him after a forced confrontation and the guy pulled out a gun and shot the kid, claiming it was self-defense.  While I don’t believe the guy was racist, the judicial system certainly is, not to mention the gun laws in the state of Florida supported this man’s actions and he was acquitted of any wrong doing.  Racism is a fine topic to begin with.  Who knows where we will end? 🙂

I don’t think 24 resilient, thinking humans is going to be enough.   We’d probably be exiled, because that would be the stupid thing to do to your last 24. lol What you describe is the premise for a movie called Idiocracy actually.  Not sure if you’ve seen it.  Basically since non-thinking people seem to be outbreeding the thinkers that in the future the population will be dominated by idiots. lol  It’s quite amusing actually. 🙂

Human babies are quite defenseless.  It is true.  I suppose there could be lots of reasons why.  The first thought that comes to my mind that the simple bonus of having a higher intelligence as an evolutionary advantage allows us a greater variety of options in protecting our young, so the young don’t need to just get ready to flee like a fawn or colt.  In addition the fact that we are social animal means that children are also protected by the community and not just by parents.  Humans developing physical attributes quickly simply wouldn’t have been a necessary adaption.

Defenseless Baby (Photo Credit: http://www.dangerouscreation.com/2009/02/so-innocent-so-defenseless-so-gullible/)

If intelligence was favored by our species then we have the ability to also teach more through communication and personal guidance.  We can communicate more complex thoughts and ideas than other animals, but this learning too takes time and perhaps at the cost of the development of physical skills as well.  I would imagine that a human child growing up in the wild with parents would be more independent than ones growing in a more sedentary lifestyle.  That being said, I think it’s interesting how the helplessness of the human child promotes a more sedentary lifestyle.  I guess we were destined to farm and create civilization.  lol

Guns, Germs, and Steel in addition the Douglas Adams speech that I linked you really are the two things that led me down an intellectual path of looking at society in a completely different way.   They were an intellectual springboard I have to say. 🙂  I completely agree with your statement “that change is the only constant”.  It’s especially a good statement because of its seemingly paradoxical nature. 🙂  And you also expressed it quite beautifully when you were talking about using the physical universe to guide our decisions.  It seems so odd to me that, it is quite fearful to people.  It is grand and always changing and I guess that is the source of fear.  It’s probably the change most likely, because after all God is a fairly grand idea and many people believe in God.  Of course the nature of God has changed throughout history but people prefer to see him constant or unchanging.

Agrajag: Luck of the draw

I see your ramble and raise you an ambling ramble. 🙂

If Swarn isn’t my real name, then my parents are keeping secrets from me, because that’s what they told me.  If you like I can call and interrogate them a little more rigorously.  Because you’re right it does sound a bit made up. 😉

I must remind myself to live in the moment.  When you look too hard towards the future you rush to meet it and miss all the other good stuff along the way.  Far too many people live in a world of instant gratification.  If all gratification was instant we wouldn’t need time at all, only space.  Thus those people are often left disappointed and frustrated most of the time and rarely pursue things that have meaning.

I wonder if many of our racist tendencies are related to a lack of acceptance that biological diversity is natural?  The fact that many people don’t know or won’t accept that we are an evolved species?  That all our physical difference are simply slight variations in genetics for which we have no control over?  That it was not planned by anyone, it just is?

A very interesting book to me was Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond who analyzed why certain cultures rose technologically faster than others, and how this too was a simple accident based on environmental factors rather than any one culture  or race being superior intellectually than another.

It principally advances the idea of environmental determinism which is not overly popular especially amongst historians who feel that it simplifies and reduces cultures to sort of the environment in which they developed in, but I am not sure that it isn’t something we should pay a lot more attention to.  I guess my understanding of the natural sciences makes me more inclined to take environmental determinism more seriously.  We had a wonderful speaker come to our university who said that environmental determinism was the splash and all the other historical details are the ripples.   That analogy really connects to me.

Agrajag is starting to become conscious.  As soon as it becomes self-aware is when it usually dies. 🙂

Agrajag: Beginnings

One day I met this amazing person in the blogosphere named Robyn.  We decided to have a conversation.

Hi Robyn,

I think it’s a veg-out-to-music kind of evening.  This is the only downside to cyber friends…we can’t veg out together.  I mean I could stare at this e-mail and then pretend you were staring at your e-mail, but I feel like it wouldn’t quite be the same. lol  I am sorry I can’t provide you with much stimulation today.   I did come up with an interesting thought yesterday about racism though.  I have recently been very interested in the way in which the nature of racism can change in a society from the blatant to the more subtle.  I am not sure if I can decide which one is worse.  I’m glad people in white sheets aren’t going around anymore and hanging black people from trees and burning churches, but that tends to be the easier thing to stand up to…the obvious thing that you can point to and say…”Hey that action is wrong”.

But racism is more than those things.

Comforts of privilege often go unnoticed and cause a lot of damage to those being oppressed.  It’s easy to prove the racism when there are bruises and cuts, but when you make a person believe that they are less than they actually are and that this is just normal in society, a true change towards equality becomes more difficult.  When institutions like criminal justice, education, health care, have inherent racism built in, maybe it’s a greater crime. It’s harder in these situations to point a finger of blame and harder to know exactly who the victim is. I don’t know, I think I have to develop it in my mind a bit more.

I even sort of came up with this analogy of racism in times past being fought by the foot soldiers who were obvious and easier to spot, but that the real problem was their generals who were the strategists who made entire institutions in society racist and these people are hidden.  They are the ones who don’t fight, who don’t take up arms, but prey on weak and desperate minds to do the dirty work for them.  They no longer can incite men into action because it is no longer acceptable, but their institutions of racism are still well maintained…always watching and waiting.  I know sounds a bit too sinister.  I’m not sure I fully believe in sinister, but I’m just trying to wrap my head around it all.  I think in some ways it’s the same in regards to gender oppression as well.

Where does time go?

The truth is that a couple of years ago I started a blog about “Time” as I had just finished teaching a course about the history of time, both in terms of measurement and our understanding.  I am going to be reposting some of those blogs here, and rework them a bit.  Some of you may have read this before.

A student asked me the question “where does time go”, perhaps in a drunken stupor, via text message, but a valid one nonetheless.  I sometimes have some of my most interesting thoughts while inebriated, the only problem is that I can’t remember what they are!  But I digress.

It is an interesting question though.  Time, is unlike space in that once a moment is gone, you can’t get it back.  And future moments cannot be grasped either.  All we have is now.  As I was thinking about how to answer the question, I went back to basics and said, well time and space are connected.  Time is a dimension, just as the first 3 dimensions are.  While we can navigate space in purposeful way (in that we can choose the direction in space we travel), we cannot navigate time in terms of choice.  One can argue though that all of us are navigating time to some extent, because each moment we explore our futures.  Perhaps the reason we can’t choose to navigate time in terms of direction is simply because we don’t know how yet.  Time travel seems like an extremely puzzling and complex prospect, but perhaps this is only because we are far from the answer.  Physics tell us that time is not a vector and does not imply any direction.  We only know of one direction so far.

So my first thought in answering that question, “where does time go?”, is to say, “well it’s somewhere else.”  In space if I put an object on a table and then asked you to close your eyes and moved it.  The object would no longer be there, and would be somewhere else.

Dick: “Hey where did the moment go?”

Jane: “Well it was there, now it is somewhere else”.

We could confuse ourselves even further by saying:

Dick: “This moment now is here, and soon it will be somewhere else”.

Jane:  “So in the future the moment will be somewhere else?

Dick: “That’s right”.

Jane: “And by somewhere else you mean the past?  So in the future the moment will occur, then it will be gone?”

Dick: “It’s that simple.”

Jane dies of an embolism.

The problem is of course that while it might be easy to say they are somewhere else, right now we don’t have a way of going to find them.   Both space and time have systems of measurement and with that system we can name a location for past events in time, or future events for that matter (although we wouldn’t be able to describe the future particularly well).  Despite knowing the location in time however, we cannot simply go there, unlike an object that has been moved which we can then find again.

Just like a lost object that you have searched for you have to accept at some point that the object is gone and no longer worry about it.  All your past moments are gone and we don’t know how to find them.  That doesn’t mean that past moments don’t have relevance to who you are today, but one has to be careful about dwelling in the past for too long.  Despite how strongly you may try to convince yourself, you are still in the present. 🙂 Maybe someday you will stumble upon a lost object, and maybe someday we will stumble upon the answer of how to find those lost moments.  For now I accept that every moment is irretrievable and thus try to make the most of them when I have them.

Why I love Dexter

The series Dexter is coming to an end in about a month and so I felt inspired to talk about it, because I think it is one of the most amazing shows to have been made and thought I would explain why I think that.

First of all if you think Dexter is just a show about vigilante justice, a psychopath who goes around killing other bad people, you’ve missed the point completely in opinion.  This aspect of the show is really just to make sure that you can morally stay with the character while keeping you on the brink of darkness.  Ultimately if you are only watching the show to see “bad guys get their just desserts” then I might be a little worried about you, because that’s really not what the series is trying to show you.

The first aspect that I like is that you see the world through the eyes of a killer.  He kills “bad guys” so we can sort of tolerate his killing.  However there are some other things that build us sympathy.  He loves his sister, and he loves his children.  Finally the fact that we know of his past, the fact that he had a traumatic child hood experience in which he saw his mother get murdered and sat in her blood for a prolonged period of time and thus impacted his personality is where the brilliance starts in my opinion.  Traumatic childhood events are very common in people who society considers violent criminals, but how often do we spend time investigating what happened in their childhood.  We only look at what they’ve done and make our judgments based on that.  What if we had the story told in the way Dexter’s story is told for all violent criminals?  Might we not feel at least some sympathy for the devil?

The second brilliant thing the story does is to show us how much we are all a little like Dexter.  Dexter is a person who hides who he is.  He has to not just because of the law, but because of the disgust that would be shown to him by society in general.  But the show cleverly throughout the series looks at the fact that we all hide things.  We all have darkness in us, and sometimes it comes out. We all have secrets we’d rather not tell.  Very often we see a character do something, or we are told something about a character that makes us initially judge that person to have questionable character.  Only later the show reveals to us the truth.  Why they did what they did, or how a situation can easily be misconstrued.  Until you know the intimate details of a person’s life we can be quite erroneous about our judgment about someone, or at the very least the lines between black and white become a lot fuzzier.    Many of even the overarching “bad guys” in the series that Dexter kills in the end one can feel some sympathy for.  A psychopathic brother who was ignored and not given the same opportunities Dexter was given for love and support of his condition.  A District Attorney going a little too far off the deep end because he’s seen too many bad guys escape the justice system because of a technicality.  A serial killer who faced perhaps an even worse set of childhood tragedies and could not escape the cycle of violence.  A man steeped in religious belief he believed himself to be the bringer of the end of the world if he performed certain actions.  It makes us question, what kind of monsters we might become given a similar set of circumstances in our lives.

Finally it makes a psychopath human.  Despite how we might categorize psychopaths they are a part of a society, the human race.  Part of what makes them what they are is a physiological condition, and if we combine that with childhood trauma, what kind of person do we get?  It’s a combination of nature than nurture.  Furthermore it makes us ask, is someone simply a psychopath or not a psychopath?  Are there points in between?  Most likely there are.  Can they form absolutely no connections, perhaps that is true for some, but maybe there are some that can form a couple based on positive childhood experiences.  Again the grey comes back as we think about, maybe one of the reasons nobody thinks of a psychopath as a human as that nobody ever tried to uncover their humanity.   Maybe nobody took the time as a child to understand them and help them deal with their thoughts and feelings.

I know there are many people, probably in psychology, who think that Dexter doesn’t fit the model of a true psychopath but I think it’s important to remember that Dexter is a story, not a documentary.  That what the writer is trying to reveal is the dividing line between what we consider a monster and good person is not clear.

I am not sure how it will all end, but I think they have done a terrific job.  So thank you Dexter for drawing us in and reminding us that we all have demons to face and deal with. J

Why people don’t trust science

So a colleague posted this article on my Facebook wall and queried me for my thoughts on the matter.  With longer things to say, I think I am going to use my blog more than Facebook.  Partly because of the easier formatting, but also the more permanency of keeping my ideas in one place.  The article is a NY Times article in which the author talks about the growing anti-science strain in this country called Welcome to the Age of Denial. Perhaps none of my ideas on the subject our very original and there are a number of excellent comments made under the article itself, but I think it’s worth sort of collecting a lot of them in one place.

The problem itself is much like Climate Change itself in that it is quite complex and no single factor can be completely to blame.  To start simply however many have pointed to a weakening economy as the reason for this change.  Of course weaker economies do tend to breed more extremism, more faith based reasoning as the amount of people living near poverty increases.  The great irony being that as the nation rejects science more the innovation and growth science can bring also goes away too.  In addition the strength of our economy is built on this growth in science and innovation and if we had all that going for us, where did we falter?

Please keep in mind that what I am going to say is a lot of opinion based on what I’ve read and what I’ve observed as an educator for now 11 years.

I think if we are going to make things better there are numerous factors that have to change:

  1. The corporation is out of control.  Money carries a lot of weight and everyone knows that.  Corporations do not want to take responsibility to the damage they’ve caused to the environment or the human body in the case of pharmaceuticals or fast food.  It’s not even conspiracy theory thinking to say that in a capitalistic society that corporations have a vested interested in making sure you are not concerned about important issues and so the spreading of misinformation in an age where information is easily disseminated is a big factor in the growing anti-trust in science.
  2. The politicization of science.  It was interesting to read this article and learn how in a way things have gotten worse in regards to scientific issues according to pulls from 1982 until now.  Especially when I had read about the increased secular population in the U.S.  According to polls also the number of agnostics, atheists or people who do not associate themselves with any particular religion is also growing.  Initially I thought these things were at odds, but not so if you think that U.S. is becoming increasingly polarized.  The continued two party system in this country is getting uglier and uglier, and despite that their is almost no difference between what the two parties actually do when operating the government the platforms they run on give a staggeringly different perception.  Especially when it comes to social issues. It is these social issues that are the main reason why I remain a democrat because quite simply science demonstrates that the democrats are right.  But there are many things I disagree with in terms of how they run the government.  That being said, somehow the democrats have sort of taken science as part of their party platform.  It shocks the hell out of me when, if I support scientific consensus on an issue, that makes me automatically a liberal democrat.  Science doesn’t take sides.  If the science is properly done it simply shows you what is, and once we are okay with that, we can move forward and figure out what is to be done about it, or done with it.  And just for the record I also am quite aware that while the democratic party has sort of taken up the reins of “pro-science” it does very little good with it.
  3. The devaluing of education.  Much could be said about this topic.  Of course it’s no big news that we continue to fare rather poorly in comparison with many other countries on the scientific literacy of youths coming out of school.  This is all too apparent to me as a professor who teaches many freshmen every semester.  Schools continue to get less funding, tuitions continue to rise.  Best practices in teaching are pushed aside in favor of standardized metrics that can be used to compare different schools to figure out who should get a piece of the every shrinking pie of funding.  This leads to increased class sizes, meaning less interaction between student and teacher, this leads to grade inflation where students do not get a meaningful evaluation of their actual abilities, and it leads to less critical thinking skills in place of rote memorization.  One day I will write an entire post probably regarding this subject, but suffice to say there is good reason why a lot of people don’t even respect the institution of education more when many students come out of school without basic writing skills let alone good quantitative skills, how to think critically and understand how science is done.  There is also politicization here too, and there should be one place where both parties agree, is that you can’t really spend too much money on education.
  4. Increasing transparency of science.  There is a word I was looking for instead of transparency, but I need the skills of the person who posted the article to my Facebook page to be able to find it. lol  What I mean by transparency here is that we take less notice of how it impacts our lives.  One commenter on the article said something to the fact that things are so small now we don’t see the gears and the machinery that makes things move so we wonder less how things work.  Well I’m not sure I necessarily agree with that, but I think he is right in some way.    Just like Republicans fail to see how taxes have actually benefitted their lives, I think many don’t understand how science is part of their everyday world and how knowledge of science would actually improve their lives regardless of what they do for their career.  Especially when so many important issues in government rely on a scientifically literate population.  I already have a blog post on this, so I won’t go into too much detail, but there does seem to be a general lack of awareness on why science is important and how many things in this world are actually rooted in science.  This is also a place where perhaps education is failing the young.
  5. Increased strain of biblical literalism.  In Europe, the fact that the Catholic church has publicly said that evolution is not in conflict with biblical teaching is huge in telling you that, while Catholicism may still have its problems it is at least trying to get away from the biblical literalism that plagues science today in this country.  A close relationship with good, good morals, and the happiness that people gain from faith should not in conflict with scientific advance.  One of my big problems is how people here can take one particular part of the bible so literally but ignore many of the other parts that are no longer practiced.  Any time words from the bible are literally used as a direct argument against scientific findings, I think we have a problem.  Much like I am annoyed that science has been associated with the democratic party, I know many good Christians who are annoyed that Christianity has become associated with the Republican Party.  Ultimately we have to take both religion and science out of party associations even if sometimes political decisions have to be made regarding science and religion.

 

Well those are the top 5 I can think of and I think they require a greater amount of overhaul than just one thing.  I think ultimately the most important is to continue the fight to make government value education, and also to make corporations responsible for poor practices.  I feel like the other ones sort of fade away if we can start to increase scientific literacy and not let corporations run the government.