We had some guests over on the weekend for dinner.  My wife likes a few decorous things when setting the table for guests, especially when it’s someone we are just meeting or don’t have often. Nothing overly elaborate, but my wife has certain tastes and a style I like.  One of these things are napkin holders that are also in the shape of a bull’s head.  They are dark and wooden.  My son, who likes anything animal picks this up and is confused to its purpose.  My wife tries to explain that it’s for decoration and for holding napkins, but doesn’t really understand why napkins need to be held.  His only response was “Well where is its legs?  If you are going to have something that looks like a bull’s head, it should have the rest of the bull.

As I watched the puzzlement I began to think about how simply children see the world and just sort of see beyond the messy social fabric that binds us all together.  A mass of rituals and customs and rules that we share with others that keep life from seemingly falling apart at the seams.  A construct so you know who is like you and who isn’t like you.  It helps you sort and categorize.  And then as if you hadn’t spent enough time breaking up the fluidity of nature, you actually been to rank all that sorted information.  Things that are good, things that are bad, things that are tolerable, surprising, beautiful, sexy, evil, disgusting, creepy, not trustworthy, frightening.  Ideally having as few categories as possible, and trying to fit as much into a category as we can.  And the diabolical thing about all these rituals, customs, and rules is we both need them to make sense out of an ever changing and persistently uncertain world, and…well…we just made it all up.

And in some sense we all know that much of this social construct is to give us a post to lean against, a chair to sit down in, or a good night’s rest when we need it, but there is so much absurdity that even we don’t really want to follow the rules, perform the rituals, do what is customary.  And sometimes we can even laugh about it.  Many a standup comedian has made a living from such observations about society.  And as we explain to my child what this napkin holder is for, we normalize it and it becomes not a strange thing; something to accept and move on to the more pressing issues in our lives.  Of course the use of napkin holders is not the worst of things to normalize.  Rather small really.  You hope to simply teach the lesson that we all have such decorous things in our lives to add some color, some aesthetic pleasure to the world.  But what about those bigger prescribed rules and customs?  Like, what is masculine and feminine, a woman’s place is in the home, atheists have no morals, black people are not to be trusted, or a definition of what it means to be patriotic.  Past and present is full these human social constructs, meant to make things fit.  Like a shirt we’ve outgrown it doesn’t fit well, and even if we do squeeze into it, it feels uncomfortable and the aesthetics are lost even if it was ever actually there.

All of us in our lives have taken a stand against something.  We said, I am not going to play by that particular set of rules.  It doesn’t make sense.  As I age, I feel that part of me slipping away.  Is it that I have truly observed carefully enough to know what all the harmful rules are, and thus which ones not to follow? I suspect I’ve missed a few. Or does the fight simply start to leave us when we feel like we’ve come and fought far enough?  The same wisdom that protects me from being tossed and blown around, also seems to prevent from wanting to toss and blow others?  I feel like I question less, even if I ask better questions.  Perhaps there is value to both parts, but as I watched my son, I couldn’t help but feeling that life is for the young to lead the way at making things better.  I hate when older people get down on younger people.  As a society the young are our children and grandchildren, we need to encourage, because they certainly don’t have it easy.  Is it easier than we had it?  Perhaps. But these things tend to be subjective.  The key is, I don’t think we should be having children if our hope was to keep the world just as hard and as uncertain as we had it.  And as I watched my 3-year-old look at something in the world and basically say, “This makes no sense. Why do we do it?”, it made me happy.  It is a simple question we seem to ask less as we grow older and that needs to always be asked.  This is how we move across this category-laden world we’ve created.  The social constructs that our evolved minds create are both essential, and perilous if we adhere to it too strongly.   Our species spans across numerous ages, and that is one of our evolutionary advantages.  Each age group providing something unique, another way in which we cooperate.  Maybe in the end it’s just the young breaking barriers as fast as they can, while the old are just there to wag their finger and say “not too fast, you don’t want to fall and hurt yourself. “

“I understand now that boundaries between noise and sound are conventions. All boundaries are conventions, waiting to be transcended. One may transcend any convention if only one can first conceive of doing so. Moments like this, I can feel your heart beating as clearly as I feel my own, and I know that separation is an illusion. My life extends far beyond the limitations of me. ” – Spoken by Robert Frobisher in the movie Cloud Atlas


The Right Way To Answer

Instead of just getting upset and complaining I have decided to be proactive. I recently posted about the Indiana business owners who openly admitted to not wanting to serve gay people and received $500,000 dollars in donations. While such support for hateful attitudes upsets me, I have decided the best way to answer this was to try and match that by raising money in an equal amount and support a local organization in Indiana who is trying to make things better for the LGBQT community. So I started a charity fundraiser page. While a goal of $500,000 may be ambitious, and perhaps other people had the same idea, even if I raise only the money I have donated to start things off, then at least I am doing something positive I figure.

So I’m asking that you please give what you can and share this message on social media, blog sites, personal webpages, and/or e-mail.  If finances won’t allow for a donation at this time, I hope you can still pass this post along and ask your friends to donate if they can. Thank you all for loving!  Below is the link for donating:

Let the Children Play

An idea had been running around in my head that, like oft times before, has required the harmony of 3 separate melodies that on the surface seem disparate and maybe even discordant:

  • Watching the behavior of my child as he grows
  • University politics
  • Interacting with some wonderful people at a wedding I went to recently

The idea is that we might all still actually be children.  Of course this isn’t altogether too radical of an idea, but it seems to me that we too often separate “the child” from “the adult” and it has been observation that perhaps the distinction between the two is somewhat arbitrary or at least highly subjective, depending on your definition of the two categories.


It has been a disappointing realization in a lot of ways that when I look at the behavior of some of the professionals at the university that their behavior is not too professional.  Perhaps I simply expected more out of a number of people with advanced degrees, but of course it is not different from any other workplace.  There are people that are petty, there are people that throw tantrums when they don’t get their way, there are people that are petulant, there are people that lie in order to not take responsibility, there are bullies who try to boss the other people around, and there are people who think the world is ending because in a metaphorical sense they’ve dropped their ice cream cone.  These qualities all seem quite understandable for a child to have.  Since they are still unsure of how the world works and how to properly interact with others we expect these behaviors in young people and as parents help correct this behavior.  But much to my surprise these behaviors are not something everybody grows out of and just as we think these behaviors will get us what we want as a child, there are many who see them as valid ways to act as adults.  I suspect that it does sometimes work or else they might change.  It’s simply unfortunate that they don’t see that there are other behaviors that a higher chance of success, but perhaps more importantly, lead to a better personal sense of well-being and happiness.

At a wedding this past weekend I met some wonderful people who are just easy to be around and a couple of them talked about how they felt like they’ve never really grown up.  I often feel that


way too, but unlike the negative child behaviors I discussed previously these people demonstrated those things we love to see in children.  There were people who had a child-like wonder and fascination with the world, loved to play and be silly, were made happy by the simple things in life, loved to pretend for fun,  and took joy in just making you laugh or smile.

Now I may have overstated the idea a bit that we are just big children, but I think that there is definitely a child inside all of us and it might be worth asking the question “What child is inside of me?”  Is it the child that makes us others marvel and smile, or is it the child that drains other people’s energy, stresses them out or makes people just want to run away screaming?  As I watch my child grow it’s clear that behavior is not simply a result of innocence or naivety.  It’s clear that sometimes he just wants to play and sometimes he just wants to let out a yell so we look his way and pay attention to him.  As one grows and gains knowledge of the world, it doesn’t seem like any loss of innocence precludes any child-like behavior.

Sometimes in the face of the weight of the world a little time out for playing is probably the best way to maintain some sanity and gain one’s strength to keep pushing forward.  Sometimes when what you know seems sad, perhaps it’s time to learn about something else, or go some place new so your eyes can open with wonder.  Sometimes when you’re not smiling, do something nice for someone else and make them smile and see how much better you feel.  I think it’s important to carry with us the best part of childhood always, and I hope that as my child grows I can help him hold on to those beautiful qualities that give me such joy to watch now.




It’s the End of the World as We Know It and I Feel Fine

There are some topics which completely perplex me, and this is certainly one of them. It seems strange to me for many reasons why people subscribe to the


possibility of the world ending in a sudden almighty purge.  This post has been a long time coming and I am sure I will not blow many people’s minds with anything I say here, but I will try to address the topic a more serious tone rather than the rant I feel like doing.

This post was prompted by an article my colleague quite humorously ranted about on Facebook about the blood moon being an indication of the end of the world. I quote: “People, it’s a freaking rock, orbiting a slightly wetter rock, orbiting a hot mess called the Sun! Shadows happen!” This end of the world prediction is just one in another line of many that have been made in human history. This Wikipedia listing gives a pretty good run down of whom and when end of the world predictions were made and you can see that there are around 150 listed in addition to ones that are supposed to still happen.  I am also sure there have been many more in human history that have not been documented. Most rational people would wonder why anyone would still buy into any more predictions about the end of the world when none of them have come true before. You know the whole “fool me once shame on you, fool me 150 times…” But it’s not enough to say well it’s obvious that these people with apocalyptic imaginations are wrong, the fact that they keep popping up should tell us that there is something in our psychology that causes some people to subscribe to such scenarios.

I read an interesting article in a great journal called Daedalus called Apocalypse and The End of Time by Richard Fenn who tried to analyze a lot of the commonalities between end of the world predictions and what societal influences seem to make them most likely. These are some of the things he came up with:

  • Many apocalyptic predictions come from people who feel society is in moral decay. This can arise from greater secularism in society, or because one culture feels that they are being influenced by an outside culture. Both of these represent cultural shifts in which an old way is being replaced by a new way.
  • Decreased economic conditions and oppression (or perceived oppression as is often the case by more religious zealots).
  • A fear of change in general. The young , people who think for themselves, and in more patriarchal societies, women all can represent a change to a current way of life.

Of course many of these things are interrelated and I think we can easily see how many of these things boil down simply to change and our inability to deal with an increasingly complex world. Thus it is not completely surprising to me that those who are more prone to believing in a fixed set of rules that govern the universe which are immutable and prescribed by the supernatural are also more likely to subscribe to end of the world predictions. As a scientist, to me change seems natural and inevitable and though some change is less pleasant than others I hope that the world will be propelled forward more than it is pulled backward.

For those who know me, you also know how fascinated I am with the subject of time, and, to me, time is also the study of change. Thus it comes as no surprise that Fenn argues that the apocalyptic imagination is an attempt to move away from the passage of time. With this timelessness we also lose change. We also lose individuality. Many of the apocalyptic prophecies involve the destruction of corrupting influences and the preservation of those who fit a prescribed moral code, merging with the one true God. Thus this desire for end times also perhaps plays to our psychological desire to remove complexity from the world to some harmonious state of peace in which nothing is changing and everyone is like everybody else.

And I can understand this desire.

There are plenty of times in which I wish I could freeze a moment and time and make it last longer. There are times in which I wish the world wasn’t so difficult, that there was no pain and suffering, and that I didn’t have to argue and fight.  This of course is fantasy. And fantasy has its place and I believe we need it from time to time to stay sane. Adhering to a fantasy for a prolonged length of time, however, is insanity. More importantly we should not forget that there is real beauty in change. The fact that I am an example of change, from a fertilized cell to a grown 40 year old man, that I have strived to learn and grow wiser and more moral with time, indicates that change can be a good thing. Change is inevitable, so let’s not fight change, let’s keep fighting to make things better. We still have a long way to go.