Monday, June 11, 2018

Some Advice from an Ancient Wise Man

Seneca, the Stoic, on how and why to avoid anger:

1) Recognize that anger is awful

2) Make the attainment of a tranquil mind your highest goal

3) Choose your friends wisely

4) If you have a hot temper, use art and music to calm the mind

5) Learn your anger triggers and stop it early

6) Resist the impulse to be curious

7) Don’t seek reasons to be angry

8) See yourself in the offender

9) Just wait

10) Do battle with yourself

11) Build a collection of anger case-studies

12) Develop tolerance

So, here's the thing: All of these principles are what Jesus taught, too. 

Funny, isn't it, how the great, and by this I mean the REALLY great, teachers have the same basic philosophy. 

Do check out this link if you want to understand what's behind each of these twelve rules. (Because, if you're like me, you're wondering about Rule No. 6, "Resist the impulse to be curious.")

Or, better yet, read the Book of Mormon! The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ (Official Edition)

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Some Good News

From The Daily Kos:

And ultimately, of course, the question of limits on presidential power will likely be decided by the courts. By “the courts,” I mean two: The D.C. Court of Appeals, the most important federal circuit court in the country, and of course the Supreme Court.
Let’s start with the DC Circuit Court. And this is delicious.
Who is the current chief judge of the DC Circuit?
Watch out, Republicans. You may wish you’d have let him get to the Supreme Court after all.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Fiction Friday: If you Lived Here, You'd Be Home By Now

This is one of the funniest books I've read in a long time, and at the same time sad and anxious throughout most of it. At least it has a happy ending.

(I don't feel bad about that spoiler, because I wish someone had told me ahead of time it was all going to be okay in the end. Well, it's actually not okay in the end, but the two main characters are okay in the end, in spite of the troubles they're going through. Okay, that did it! Total spoiler!)

If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home By NowAlso, you don't have to live in the L.A. area to appreciate this book. Though if you've ever visited there or know someone who lives or has lived there, particularly in Tujunga or any other such town in the area around LA, you'll do mental double-takes about every page or two.

And here's another thing: Why was this published in 1997 but I'm just now reading it, 21 years later, and enjoying it this much? It's totally (TOTALLY) up to date, with the attitudes and conversations and everything that happens, and even some of the names are still recognizable.

The author, Sandra Tsing Loh, is absolutely brilliant.

I'm sending my copy to a friend who lives in LA and works (and used to work) in Tujunga. Don't worry, Friend, you don't even have to read the whole book. Or any of it. Just glance at the first page, and you'll see what I mean. I skimmed through it super fast so I could get it in the mail today, and still got the gist of it.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

The Thursday Book Review: More on "Crooked"

When I reviewed "Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery," by Cathryn Jakobson Ramin, on Sunday, I left out a few details about the author's recommendations. A friend of mine commented, "It seems like there'a a lot of stuff in the book about how bad all the 'back pain industry' solutions are. But what about other solutions?"

Toward the end of the book, the author writes about remedies for back pain that have worked for many people. Not surprisingly, these don't include personal training in gyms. Surprisingly, they don't include all physical therapy, either. 

In fact, she mentions  physical therapy places with "shake and bake" recommendations. I have personally witnessed this, when I had some PT for a shoulder injury, required by my HMO before they would consider the actual surgery that eventually relieved the pain. The physical therapist flipped through a folder with photocopied pages of photos demonstrating various exercises, chose five of those pages, photocopied them again, then cut out the ones she was going to demonstrate on me, taped them to another sheet of paper, and photocopied that one. She followed that through the series of exercises she had me perform, then gave it to me to take home, along with a wide green rubber band which I was supposed to attach to a doorknob and pull a few times twice a day. That's "shake and bake": minimally educated and trained hokum for the masses.

My friend's experience was slightly different:  He went to a place, again, permitted by his HMO, where the first physical therapist who saw him, an intern, had herself never suffered a sports injury that required PT, and admitted she couldn't relate to the pain my friend was experiencing. When her supervisor took over, it wasn't much better, b/c the supervisor only knew a couple of "facts" about back pain, and, using those "facts," put my friend through some major pain before she believed him when he said, "That doesn't help, and it's making it worse." 

So what does Ms. Ramin recommend? There are knowledgeable and actually trained people who can see what you need to do, and can help you. Even here, all the techniques aren't exactly the same, nor are the models behind them. There's a camp of those with a mechanical or mechanistic model of the body, they figure out how to manipulate it to make it work. And then there's a camp with a more holistic model, who also figure out what will help, and teach you how to help yourself. In both these camps, the trainers are actually educated in body mechanics and techniques, and are required to go through years of training and interning before they're allowed to practice on their own.

Stuart McGill is a practitioner the author mentions approvingly. It's fascinating to see that he recommends what he calls the Big Three, which are essentially yoga poses, and which I know, from watching another friend work through these, really do work to relieve immediate pain and strengthen the back to prevent further pain.

Here are some photos.  And here is Stuart McGill narrating a video of someone demonstrating these exercises.  You can buy books by Dr. McGill, but they're very expensive, and you can probably get all the benefit you need by online reading and videos.

Also, the author recommends, based on her conversations with many specialists on back pain, most (but not all) yoga exercises, but definitely does not recommend Pilates.

She also recommends something called Feldenkrais, which looks like it's available in many metropolitan areas in the U.S.; Rolfing; and the MedX lumbar extension machine, which is harder to find but appears to be beneficial for most back-pain sufferers. 

That's all for now. I hope to receive comments from any and all interested readers. What more do you want me to add? What is helpful here, what is not helpful? 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

The Wednesday Book Review: The Physics of God

Here's another book that didn't need to be written. It should be good, and interesting, with great chapter titles such as "The Religion of Science" and "The Science of Religion." Unfortunately, the content doesn't live up to the chapter titles. 

Do I have to say (write) more? No, I don't. But I will. Here's the subtitle: "Unifying Quantum Physics, Consciousness, M-Theory, Heaven, Neuroscience, and Transcendence." 

In my humble opinion, an author who claims to be able to do that should be knowledgeable in at least one of those fields. However, according to the back cover of the book, Joseph Selbie is "a dedicated meditator for more than 40 years." Which is supposedly enough to help him "make the complex and obscure, simple and clear." And presumably to place commas correctly in sentences.
So, Dear Reader, don't waste money or even time on this book. Forewarned is...etc.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Tuesday Book Review: Inside the Atheist Mind

Inside the Atheist Mind: Unmasking the Religion of Those Who Say There Is No God

I don't even know why I'm mentioning this book, because it's so bad. Oh, yeah, I know why: Because it's so bad.

Warning: This is a bad, stupid, irredeemable book. I got it from the "New" book shelf at my local library, and can hardly wait to get it back there.

Not only does the author (Anthony DeStefano) have absolutely no idea what is "inside the atheist mind," but he is also an insufferably arrogant prig who doesn't know how to write.

I'm going to give only one example, and then go rinse my mouth out: the author has invented a new phrase unique in the history of oxymoronics, when he says that atheists are all "profoundly superficial."

Because life is too short to go through this book again.

Monday, June 4, 2018

The Monday Book Review: Paris In Love

Paris in Love: A Memoir

Don't worry---I'm not recommending some cheesy romance novel here (though the author, Eloisa James, is well known among romance readers for her work). This is a fun set of vignettes from Ms. James's life in Paris with her family a few years ago.

And, I was relieved to find out, the author herself is not built like a bean-pole or a Vogue model, which idea you might get from the cover, but is just a normal mother of two, on sabbatical in Paris with her husband. and kids.

The stories were originally blog posts, which is charming in itself, because you know they were written in the moment, or in the evening of the moment.

You know how hard it was being an 11-year-old girl in school with mean girls and teasing boys and difficult teachers? In this book we get a double dose of that, as Ms. James's daughter Anna is going through all that, in Paris, in an Italian-language school. (And Ms. James and her husband are also going through all that, dealing with the teachers and administrators, and of course dealing with Anna's deliberately "forgetting" to bring her recorder home to practice it every night, "because I might lose it."

But that's not all. If you go to the door one morning to receive a package from the building's gardienne, dressed in your pajamas and with your hair not combed because you've been working on a deadline, you know that every other tenant in the building will have heard about it by that evening.

You might be surprised at how many "mediocre" restaurants there are in Paris, "without a tourist in sight as an excuse."

On the other hand, you will find some great and inexpensive restaurants, fun places to visit with children or on your own, the best (and worst) shopping places, and a couple of recipes for your own homemade fine-restaurant dishes.

You can get a "Used, Very Good" copy of this very cheaply on Amazon, and I recommend that you do. That's how I got my copy, and how I'm getting two more copies to send to people I think will enjoy the book as much as I did.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Machine That Goes Bing

Thanks to Monty Python for this, aka "The Hospital Sketch":

The Sunday Book Review: Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery

Have you ever had back pain so bad you couldn't get up? Couldn't move at all? Spasms that racked your whole body with pain?

This has happened to me exactly once in my whole life, after which I never again have taken lightly the aches and pains of another back-pain sufferer.

And so, since some of my family members have had this kind of pain more than once and in fact are still suffering from back pain almost constantly, I was glad to find this book, which I rushed through in a single day so that I can send it on to one such family member.

It is full of information you're never going to hear from your primary care physician, orthopedic surgeon, chiropractor, personal trainer, or physical therapist.

And the author , Cathryn Jakobson Ramin, obtained this information the hard way, by suffering excruciating back pain for years and going through all those recommendations from all those people mentioned in the previous paragraph, without finding relief until she disregarded their advice and found her own way....and at the same time realized that there is an actual "back pain industry" that relies on keeping patients immobile, compliant, and passive.

Here are some of the main points, in the order they appear in the book:

---Why "chiropractic" might fail you: Chiropractic was founded by a quack, and even though many modern chiropractors don't believe in the pseudo-medicine preached by its original practitioners, their procedures don't actually help with many of the aches and pains they claim to heal. In fact, there is a statistical correlation between a certain chiropractic neck "adjustment" and stroke.

---Why you don't want, or need, an MRI: Results shown on MRI images may convince you that you have a condition far worse than you thought, which may actually increase your pain and suffering (and, as we all know, there is a difference between pain and suffering). In fact, as one article from a reliable source states, "When it comes to diagnosing most back pain, MRI machines are like Monty Python’s medical machinery that goes “bing.” For back pain, MRI and X-ray are medical machines that make false alarms."

---How epidural spinal steroid injections can go wrong, and why lumbar spinal fusion is almost never the solution to back pain.

---Why other back-pain-specialist treatments are often contraindicated, except by the specialist who stands to make money from them.

---The truth about NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like Ibuprofen --- which BTW is why I'm going back to pure aspirin.

---What you can really do to get lifelong relief from back pain, as experienced by the author.

There's more, lots more. So, instead of researching online articles to cite here, because, you know, life is short, and I have to get ready to go to church, I recommend reading the book carefully on your own to find out what might help the individual back-pain sufferer.

One thing I like about the book is the way personal experience, the author's personal search for relief, is incorporated into the reading. She is an investigative journalist; she knows how to find original sources and analyze every possible kind of claim and counter-argument; yet her own experience is almost her best credential in this subject.

Another great feature of the book is a set of notes for each chapter, with source materials and additional information; and the link to the author's own website for more.

One Hundred Years of Solitude

How to learn and/or  a foreign language: Read The Book of Mormon in that language, alongside your native-language copy, so you can look up the words you don't recognize. At least that's how I really learned Spanish when our family moved to Venezuela.

Reading a book called "On Anarchism," comprised of a bunch of quotes from some writings and lectures by Noam Chomsky (previous post), I'm struck that he provides a message about how the world can be a better place. And it's not through the American idea of "anarchism" or "libertarianism," but it is through a system where everyone exercises free agency and develops the talents they want to develop, and where families are important and love and kindness are the guiding principles. 

Then, reading an interview with Jess Walter, at the end of his 2012 novel "Beautiful Ruins," I see this wonderful quote: "I remember reading 'One Hundred Years of Solitude' and marveling at all that happened just in the first sentence. ("Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.") There's a whole novel in that sentence."

Alas, Dear Reader, the rest of this post is still lost and apparently irrecoverable. But let me add that it started out to be a review of the book "Beautiful Ruins," and ended up with a bunch of quotes by various authors, about the great book "One Hundred Years of Solitude." 

When we lived in Venezuela, I bought a copy of this book, in the original Spanish, determined to read it that way, instead of the English translation; and determined to do so in spite of the warning from the clerk at the bookstore: "It's written in a very flowery prose, very difficult, even for a native speaker of Spanish." Well, she was right: it was too difficult for me at that stage of my Spanish language skills, and would be even more difficult for me now. I went back to studying The Book of Mormon in Spanish, which was hard enough but gave me the reward of improving my understanding of gospel principles, in addition to improving my Spanish.

But that reminds me: There's a Spanish III class being offered in the Clark College continuing education program this summer. I think I'll take it. And meanwhile I'm re-reading the Book of Mormon in Spanish, too. 

But, back to where I started, where this post was originally going before it got messed up and then lost: How the world can be a better place, according not only to Noam Chomsky but everyone who has seriously thought about this and doesn't live in some adolescent male fantasy world:

It's through a system where families are important; love and kindness are the guiding principles; and everyone exercises free agency and develops the talents they want to develop.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Noam Chomsky: On Anarchism

From "Transcending Capitalism":

MAN: Referring back to your comments about escaping from or doing away with capitalism, I'm wondering what workable scheme you would put in its place?


MAN: Or what would you suggest to others who might be in a position to set it up and get it going?

Well, I think that what used to be called, centuries ago, "wage slavery" is intolerable. I mean, I do not think that people ought to be forced to rent themselves in order to survive. I think that the economic institutions ought to be run democratically-by their participants, and by the communities in which they live.

And I think that through various forms of free association and federalism, it's possible to imagine a society working like that. I mean, I don't think you can lay it out in detail-no body's smart enough to design a society; you've got to experiment. But reasonable principles on which to build such a society are quite clear. 

MAN: Most efforts at planned economies kind of go against the grain of democratic ideals, and founder on those rocks.

Well, it depends which planned economies you mean. There are lots of planned economies-the United States is a planned economy, for example. I mean, we talk about ourselves as a "free market," but that's baloney.

The only parts of the U.S. economy that are internationally competitive are the planned parts, the state-subsidized parts-like capital-intensive agriculture (which has a state-guaranteed market as a cushion in case there are excesses); or high-technology industry (which is dependent on the Pentagon system); or pharmaceuticals (which is massively subsidized by publicly-funded research).

Those are the parts of the U.S. economy that are functioning well. And if you go to the East Asian countries that are supposed to be the big economic successes-you know, what everybody talks about as a triumph of free-market democracy-they don't even have the most remote relation to free-market democracy: formally speaking they're fascist, they're state-organized economies run in cooperation with big conglomerates. That's precisely fascism, it's not the free market.

Now, that kind of planned economy "works," in a way-it produces at least. Other kinds of command economies don't work, or work differently: for example, the Eastern European planned economies in the Soviet era were highly centralized, over-bureaucratized, and they worked very inefficiently, although they did provide a kind of minimal safety-net for people.

But all of these systems have been very anti-democratic-like, in the Soviet Union, there were virtually no peasants or workers involved in any decision-making process.       

MAN: It would be hard to find a working model of an ideal .

  Yes, but in the eighteenth century it would have been hard to find a working model of a political democracy-that didn't prove it couldn't exist. By the nineteenth century, it did exist. Unless you think that human history is over, it's not an argument to say "it's not around." You go back two hundred years, it was hard to imagine slavery being abolished.  ...

WOMAN: Professor Chomsky, on a slightly different topic, there's a separate meaning of the word "anarchy" different from the one you often talk about-namely, "chaos."

Yeah, it's a bum rap, basically-it's like referring to Soviet-style bureaucracy as "socialism," or any other term of discourse that's been given a second meaning for the purpose of ideological warfare. I mean, "chaos" is a meaning of the word, but it's not a meaning that has any relevance to social thought.

Anarchy as a social philosophy has never meant "chaos"-in fact, anarchists have typically believed in a highly organized society, just one that's organized democratically from below. WOMAN: It seems to me that as a social system, anarchism makes such bottom-line sense that it was necessary to discredit the word, and take it out of people's whole vocabulary and thinking-so you just have a reflex of fear when you hear it.

Yeah, anarchism has always been regarded as the ultimate evil by people with power. So in Woodrow Wilson's Red Scare [a 1919 campaign against "subversives" in the U.S.], they were harsh on socialists, but they murdered anarchists-they were really bad news. See, the idea that people could be free is extremely frightening to anybody with power.

That's why the 1960s have such a bad reputation. I mean, there's a big literature about the Sixties, and it's mostly written by intellectuals, because they're the people who write books, so naturally it has a very bad name-because they hated it.

You could see it in the faculty clubs at the time: people were just traumatized by the idea that students were suddenly asking questions and not just copying things down. In fact, when people like Allan Bloom [author of The Closing of the American Mind] write as if the foundations of civilization were collapsing in the Sixties, from their point of view that's exactly right: they were.

Because the foundations of civilization are, "I'm a big professor, and I tell you what to say, and what to think, and you write it down in your notebooks, and you repeat it." If you get up and say, "I don't understand why I should read Plato, I think it's nonsense," that's destroying the foundations of civilization. But maybe it's a perfectly sensible question-plenty of philosophers have said it, so why isn't it a sensible question?

As with any mass popular movement, there was a lot of crazy stuff going on in the Sixties-but that's the only thing that makes it into history: the crazy stuff around the periphery. The main things that were going on are out of history-and that's because they had a kind of libertarian character, and there is nothing more frightening to people with power.

MAN: What's the difference between "libertarian" and "anarchist," exactly?

There's no difference, really. I think they're the same thing. But you see, "libertarian" has a special meaning in the United States. The United States is off the spectrum of the main tradition in this respect: what's called "libertarianism" here is unbridled capitalism.

Now, that's always been opposed in the European libertarian tradition, where every anarchist has been a socialist-because the point is, if you have unbridled capitalism, you have all kinds of authority: you have extreme authority. If capital is privately controlled, then people are going to have to rent themselves in order to survive.

Now, you can say, "they rent themselves freely, it's a free contract"-but that's a joke. If your choice is, "do what I tell you or starve," that's not a choice-it's in fact what was commonly referred to as wage slavery in more civilized times, like the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, for example.

The American version of "libertarianism" is an aberration, though-nobody really takes it seriously. I mean, everybody knows that a society that worked by American libertarian principles would self-destruct in three seconds.

The only reason people pretend to take it seriously is because you can use it as a weapon. Like, when somebody comes out in favor of a tax, you can say: "No, I'm a libertarian, I'm against that tax"-but of course, I'm still in favor of the government building roads, and having schools, and killing Libyans, and all that sort of stuff.

Now, there are consistent libertarians, people like Murray Rothbard [American academic]-and if you just read the world that they describe, it's a world so full of hate that no human being would want to live in it. This is a world where you don't have roads because you don't see any reason why you should cooperate in building a road that you're not going to use: if you want a road, you get together with a bunch of other people who are going to use that road and you build it, then you charge people to ride on it. If you don't like the pollution from somebody's automobile, you take them to court and you litigate it.

Who would want to live in a world like that? It's a world built on hatred.   The whole thing's not even worth talking about, though. First of all, it couldn't function for a second-and if it could, all you'd want to do is get ~ out, or commit suicide or something. But this is a special American aberration, it's not really serious. 

MAN: You often seem reluctant to get very specific in spelling out your vision of an anarchist society and how we could get there. Don't you think it's important for activists to do that, though-to try to communicate to people a workable plan for the future, which then can help give them the hope and energy to continue struggling? I'm curious why you don't do that more often.

Well, I suppose I don't feel that in order to work hard for social change you need to be able to spell out a plan for a future society in any kind of detail. What I feel should drive a person to work for change are certain principles you'd like to see achieved. Now, you may not know in detail-and I don't think that any of us do know in detail-how those principles can best be realized at this point in complex systems like human societies. But I don't really see why that should make any difference: what you try to do is advance the principles.

Now, that may be what some people call "reformism"-but that's kind of like a put-down: reforms can be quite revolutionary if they lead in a certain direction. And to push in that direction, I don't think you have to know precisely how a future society would work: I think what you have to be able to do is spell out the principles you want to see such a society realize-and I think we can imagine many different ways in which a future society could realize them. Well, work to help people start trying them.

So for example, in the case of workers taking control of the workplace, there are a lot of different ways in which you can think of workplaces being controlled-and since nobody knows enough about what all the effects are going to be of large-scale social changes, I think what we should do is try them piecemeal. In fact, I have a rather conservative attitude towards social change: since we're dealing with complex systems which nobody understands very much, the sensible move I think is to make changes and then see what happens-and if they work, make further changes. That's true across the board, actually. 

So, I don't feel in a position-and even if I felt I was, I wouldn't say it--to know what the long-term results are going to look like in any kind of detail: those are things that will have to be discovered, in my view.

Instead, the basic principle I would like to see communicated to people is the idea that every form of authority and domination and hierarchy, every authoritarian structure, has to prove that it's justified-it has no prior justification. For instance, when you stop your five-year-old kid from trying to cross the street, that's an authoritarian situation: it's got to be justified. Well, in that case, I think you can give a justification.

But the burden of proof for any exercise of authority is always on the person exercising it-invariably. And when you look, most of the time these authority structures have no justification: they have no moral justification, they have no justification in the interests of the person lower in the hierarchy, or in the interests of other  people, or the environment, or the future, or the society, or anything elsethey're just there in order to preserve certain structures of power and domination, and the people at the top.

So I think that whenever you find situations of power, these questions should be asked-and the person who claims the legitimacy of the authority always bears the burden of justifying it. And if they can't justify it, it's illegitimate and should be dismantled.

To tell you the truth, I don't really understand anarchism as being much more than that. As far as I can see, it's just the point of view that says that people have the right to be free, and if there are constraints on that freedom then got to justify them. Sometimes you can-but of course, anarchism or anything else doesn't give you the answers about when that is. You just have to look at the specific cases.

MAN: But if we ever had a society with no wage incentive and no authority, where would the drive come from to advance and grow? Well, the drive to "advance"-I think you have to ask exactly what that means. If you mean a drive to produce more, well, who wants it? Is that necessarily the right thing to do? It's not obvious. In fact, in many areas it's probably the wrong thing to do-maybe it's a good thing that there wouldn't be the same drive to produce. People have to be driven to have certain wants in our system-why? Why not leave them alone so they can just be happy, do other things?

Whatever "drive" there is ought to be internal. So take a look at kids: they're creative, they explore, they want to try new things. I mean, why does a kid start to walk? You take a one-year-old kid, he's crawling fine, he can get anywhere across the room he likes really fast, so fast his parents have to run after him to keep him from knocking everything down-all of a sudden he gets up and starts walking. He's terrible at walking: he walks one step and he falls on his face, and if he wants to really get somewhere he's going to crawl.

So why do kids start walking? Well, they just want to do new things, that's the way people are built. We're built to want to do new things, even if they're not efficient, even if they're harmful, even if you get hurt-and I don't think that ever stops.

People want to explore, we want to press our capacities to their limits, we want to appreciate what we can. But the joy of creation is something very few people get the opportunity to have in our society: artists get to have it, craftspeople have it, scientists.

And if you've been lucky enough to have had that opportunity, you know it's quite an experience-and it doesn't have to be discovering Einstein's theory of relativity: anybody can have that pleasure, even by seeing what other people have done.

For instance, if you read even a simple mathematical proof like the Pythagorean Theorem, what you study in tenth grade, and you finally figure out what it's all about, that's exciting-"My God, I never understood that before." Okay, that's creativity, even though somebody else proved it two thousand years ago.

You just keep being struck by the marvels of what you're discovering, and you're "discovering" it, even though somebody else did it already. Then if you can ever add a little bit to what's already known-alright, that's very exciting.

And I think the same thing is true of a person who builds a boat: I don't see why it's fundamentally any different-I mean, I wish I could do that; I can't, I can't imagine doing it. Well, I think people should be able to live in a society where they can exercise these kinds of internal drives and develop their capacities freely instead of being forced into the narrow range of options that are available to most people in the world now. And by that, I mean not only options that are objectively available, but also options that are subjectively available--like, how are people allowed to think, how are they able to think?

Remember, there are all kinds of ways of thinking that are cut off from us in our society-not because we're incapable of them, but because various blockages have been developed and imposed to prevent people from thinking in those ways.

That's what indoctrination is about in the first place, in fact--and I don't mean somebody giving you lectures: sitcoms on television, sports that you watch, every aspect of the culture implicitly involves an expression of what a "proper" life and a "proper" set of values are, and that's all indoctrination.

So I think what has to happen is, other options have to be opened up to people-both subjectively, and in fact concretely: meaning you can do something about them without great suffering. And that's one of the main purposes of socialism, I think: to reach a point where people have the opportunity to decide freely for themselves what their needs are, and not just have the "choices" forced on them by some arbitrary system of power.

(Emphasis added by Aunt Louise)

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Part 6: Where We're Going with All This

Having established that scientific inquiry is the way to understand how our physical world works, I want to consider ways to understand how the spiritual world works. What? You may ask: A spiritual world? And I answer, Yes, for sure, a spiritual world. And I'm not one of those people who says, "I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual."

I believe in God. (Follow that link to see some others of my beliefs, which all go with the initial one, believing in God.) Since many people think one can't believe in God and still be a scientist, or even be rational, I want to explain how this is possible.

I believe there is a spiritual realm that scientific experiments can't discover, let alone explain.

Yet I propose that all people, including rational people, can apply a method, similar to the scientific method, to establishing the reality of spiritual matters.

In the LDS Church (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) we call this a testimony. As explained on one of the Church's websites, a testimony is:
...a spiritual witness given by the Holy Ghost. The foundation of a testimony is the knowledge that Heavenly Father lives and loves His children; that Jesus Christ lives, that He is the Son of God, and that He carried out the infinite Atonement; that Joseph Smith is the prophet of God who was called to restore the gospel; that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the Savior's true Church on the earth; and that the Church is led by a living prophet today. With this foundation, a testimony grows to include all principles of the gospel.
 And here's how one obtains this testimony, again quoting from the same Church website:
The quest for a testimony begins with a righteous, sincere desire. Speaking to a group of people who did not yet have testimonies of the gospel, Alma taught: “If ye will awake and arouse your faculties, even to an experiment upon my words, and exercise a particle of faith, yea, even if ye can no more than desire to believe, let this desire work in you, even until ye believe in a manner that ye can give place for a portion of my words” (Alma 32:27).  
So, Alma says, you conduct your search for a testimony of the truth just like you would conduct a scientific inquiry to find the truth of a scientific principle:

First, "...rouse your faculties," i.e., think about it, seriously, not just like an idle question, like, I wonder why the sky is blue. Really use your brain to think about it.

Second, perform "an experiment upon my words," that is, just like Francisco Redi did with the jars, some covered and some not, with rotten meat in them, to see where the maggots came from. (Here's another great reference about that experiment.)

Third, let the results of your experiment influence what you do next, that is, desire to believe, show some faith that what you're experimenting on will have some results: And this of course is where our spiritual experiment differs from scientific experiments: The results of our experiment will not be anything visible or even immediately obvious, but will have to develop over time and with continued practice.

Then, for the rest of your life, you keep re-doing those other steps of the scientific method:

Steps of the Scientific Method

Does praying work for this part of your life? Do you get answers that help you for that part of your life? Is the procedure working? If not, troubleshoot your procedure. If so, analyze the data and draw your conclusions.

Then, as you see your results aligning (or not) with your original hypothesis, these results, your experimental data, become background research for the next part of your life. And, as we mentioned above, quoting the Church's information on testimony, "With this foundation, a testimony grows to include all principles of the gospel."

Monday, March 19, 2018

Part 5: More about Spontaneous Generation

So, if you think everything you observe must be there for some reason---every effect has a cause---then you want to know the reason, the cause. How will you think about maggots on rotten meat, appearing to have come from nowhere? Maybe you will think of some version of spontaneous generation. Or, if you're more scientifically minded, you'll think of a way to figure out some other way that those maggots got there.

(I'd like to write more about the ancients' beliefs in spontaneous generation, but I'm not a scholar of the Greek or Roman languages and history, and all I know about it is what I've read online. For anyone else who is interested, I recommend the Wikipedia article about spontaneous generation. That's all I know about it. But I must say that from this article it looks to me like these ancient Greeks were really poets, not scientists, as in this quote: "Anaximander of Miletus considered that from warmed up water and earth emerged either fish or entirely fishlike animals. Inside these animals, men took form and embryos were held prisoners until puberty; only then, after these animals burst open, could men and women come out, now able to feed themselves.")

(Or you could read the Britannica article on spontaneous generation, which gives the example of how ancient people even thought mice were spontaneously generated from pieces of cheese and bread wrapped in rags and left in a corner.)

Back to showing how maggots and worms and even mice don't just spontaneously generate from nothing: It took an Italian physician, Francisco Redi, in 1668, to show that dead meat doesn't just produce maggots spontaneously: He filled six jars with decaying meat: three sealed jars, and three open to the air. Flies got into the unsealed jars and laid eggs on the meat, out of which came the maggots. Not everyone was convinced, some people saying it was a lack of fresh air that kept the maggots from appearing spontaneously in the three open jars. So, in a second experiment, Redi covered the tops of three of the jars with a fine net, so air (but not flies) could get in. And, again, no maggots appeared on the meat in those jars.

More on the topic here: Still not everyone was convinced, though. Anton van Leewenhoek invented a microscope, through which he saw tiny, fast-moving "animalcules" that he'd found in rain water. Where did they come from? Spontaneous generation? He thought so: they appeared in this water to which he had added scrapings from his teeth, even though these animalcules didn't show up after he had drunk hot coffee. (This is not a plug for coffee, in any form!)

It took Louis Pasteur, in the mid-19th Century, to show that "microorganisms, organisms too small to be seen except through a microscope," can reproduce and cause fermentation, and also cause decay and putrefaction in wounds. I should mention that Joseph Lister and Robert Koch also studied, and contributed to the acceptance of, the germ theory.

Next: Where are we going with this?

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Scientific Method Vs. Superstition Vs. Myth Vs. Religion (Part 4)

Back to the idea of spontaneous generation: The quote yesterday about  how snakes could be spontaneously generated from horse hairs in stagnant water has reminded me of a very strong belief I held as a second- and third-grader at Buena Vista Elementary School in Walnut Creek, California:

We had drinking fountains set up above a long metal horse-trough-like structure in the playground of the school, where we could see what we called horse-hair worms in the stagnant water at the bottom of the trough, and we really did believe that those were horse hairs that had turned into worms.

Why not? The fact that there were no horses anywhere near our playground didn't change our belief that horse hairs must have gotten in there, and then turned into those disgusting wiggly worms.

So of course we wouldn't drink from that trough. But we weren't scientists, were we. We just saw what we saw: a bunch of long wiggly worms that were larger in diameter than horse hairs, and we saw no other way for those creatures to get there.

Now that I'm thinking about this, though, I'm remembering that the girl who spread that rumor about the horse hairs turning into worms was also the one who told us, after the school finally installed real ceramic drinking fountains that drained the used water into pipes and away from there, that we still shouldn't drink from the fountain if a certain dark-skinned and black-haired boy drank first, because we would get his cooties.

So, here's another way that superstitions and false beliefs get passed on: the knowledgeable person of the group, like Aristotle, or my blonde-haired and blue-eyed friend Marilyn, makes an authoritative statement, and we all believe it, and repeat it.

(Or, like me, we go home and ask our parents about what Marilyn asserted, and they tell us, "No! That's not true! What a horrible and disgusting thing to say!")

(In case you think no one was installing drinking-fountain-troughs like this in the schools in the 20th century, check out this article.)

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Scientific Method Vs. Superstition Vs. Myth Vs. Religion (Part 3)

Question: If I use the scientific method to decide what I believe in, then why do I object to other people's religious beliefs that are different from my own?

Answer: I don't. I don't care what other people believe about God or not-God or clouds in the sky or fish in the sea. Zeus? Neptune? The great flying spaghetti monster? Or nothing at all? Go for it. I don't care, by which I mean, I don't judge you for your beliefs.

As Jeff and I talked about hummingbirds' feet or lack thereof, we realized that a lot of  old-time beliefs and superstitions can be explained by the lack of that essential part of the scientific method: information. If you are missing essential information, your conclusions are bound to be incorrect.

So, you make a hypothesis, backed up by initial observations: because you don't see any feet on the  hummingbirds you see flying around, many meters away from you, and you never see them landing or perching on anything, and these hummingbirds are remarkably different from all the other birds you've been watching all your life, you draw an obvious conclusion: they must not have feet.

Or, let's say, one day a black cat crosses your path as you're walking down the street, and right after that you get run over by a horse-drawn cart. Obvious conclusion: black cats bring bad luck, whether you were so busy watching the cat that you weren't paying attention to the street traffic or not.

Or, let's say, you walk under a ladder which proceeds to fall on you. Obvious conclusion: walking under a ladder brings bad luck.

And so on. Pass these beliefs on to your kids, and, sure enough, they walk way out of their way to avoid black cats and ladders, and, miraculously, they remain safe. Case closed.

On the other hand, let's say you are wondering about some idea that had been passed down to you from generations before, wondering because you've made some observations that seem to contradict that idea. You use the scientific method.

For instance, what about the notion of spontaneous generation? Check out some notions related to this idea, thanks to Net Industries:
Spontaneous generation, also called abiogenesis, is the belief that some living things can arise suddenly, from inanimate matter, without the need for a living progenitor to give them life.

In the fourth century B.C., the Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle argued that abiogenesis is one of four means of reproduction, the others being budding (asexual), sexual reproduction without copulation, and sexual reproduction with copulation. Indeed, the Greek goddess Gea was said to be able to create life from stones.
(Oh, yeah, back to those pesky Greeks again! Where on earth did they get these ideas? They can't have been observing very carefully!)
But wait, the article goes on to note: 
Even Albertus Magnus (Albert the Great), the great German naturalist of the thirteenth century Middle Ages, believed in spontaneous generation, despite his extensive studies of the biology of plants and animals.
Through the centuries, the notion of spontaneous generation gave rise to a wide variety of exotic beliefs, such as that snakes could arise from horse hairs standing in stagnant water, mice from decomposing fodder, maggots from dead meat, and even mice from cheese and bread wrapped in rags and left in a corner. The appearance of maggots on decaying meat was especially strong evidence, for many people, that spontaneous generation did occur.
All right, I can see how maggots apparently magically appearing on rotten meat could make you think they spontaneously regenerate! But, again (I think), only if you're not really paying attention.

More, next time.

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Scientific Method Vs. Superstition Vs. Myth Vs. Religion (Part 2)

Here's what makes the difference for me: the scientific method. Let me explain:

First what the scientific method is, as explained by Elon Musk  in the Nov. 2017 issue of Rolling Stone:
1. Ask a question.

2. Gather as much evidence as possible about it.

3. Develop axioms based on the evidence, and try to assign a probability of truth to each one.

4. Draw a conclusion based on cogency in order to determine: Are these axioms correct, are they relevant, do they necessarily lead to this conclusion, and with what probability?

5. Attempt to disprove the conclusion. Seek refutation from others to further help break your conclusion.

6. If nobody can invalidate your conclusion, then you're probably right, but you're not certainly right.
 Or, if you do better with graphical representations, here's a helpful graphic from  Scientific Buddies: 

Steps of the Scientific Method

Am I saying you can apply the scientific method to a religious question, to the question of whether God exists and, if so, what God is like and how you can interact with him/her?

Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying. You can---and you must---figure this out for your own self, so that you have your own "testimony" (put in quotes b/c that's what I call it, though others may call if something else).

(Quick note: Yes, I used Elon Musk --- gasp! --- as a reference, and I used a website developed to help students who are working on science fair projects. If this is offensive to any of my readers, do let me know, and I'll find some other reference, for instance, in any biology textbook published in the last 25 years, to quote, instead.)

(Another installment, coming up, about what makes my religious beliefs different from magical or superstitious beliefs)

Thursday, March 15, 2018

The Scientific Method Vs. Superstition Vs. Myth Vs. Religion (Part I)

Jeff and I were talking the other day about hummingbirds. We have four hummingbird feeders around our house, and we love to watch these tiny birds as they hover, sip, and often chase each other around in the air. If you watch them carefully, you can see their tiny little feet, tucked up under their bodies as they fly and hover. And sometimes they perch on the edge of the feeder while they drink the sugar-water we put there for them. They have feet.

"They have feet." It seems crazy to have to say that. It seems like an obvious thing to say: Of course hummingbirds have feet. How could we doubt that? Yet I read recently that some ancient Greek "scientists" wrote that hummingbirds DON'T have feet. Really?

I seriously wonder about their observational skills. Okay, maybe they never got as close to the birds as we do every day. But, still. Really?

So then of course I have to wonder about every bit of "received wisdom" we have from the Greeks, the Romans, the Norse, and everyone else who ever wrote about nature anciently. I remember all that stuff I learned in school about the ancient gods and goddesses of the Greeks and Romans, about how they supposedly made up these beliefs based on observations.

If they couldn't see feet on a hummingbird, OBVIOUSLY they would make up a pantheon of supernatural creatures based on hearing thunder, for instance: Oh, there must be a "god" up in the sky bowling. Or when some unmarried and supposedly "virtuous" woman gets pregnant: Oh, some "god" fell in love with her long enough for her to conceive a child, and then (of course, because they're gods, and they don't have to stick around with mere mortals) left her to try to explain it to her family and her village.

But here's the thing: If you lack knowledge, whether because you can't see well enough to notice feet on a hummingbird, or because you have drunk in the myths of your ancestors without stopping to think about them, or for whatever reason, you will tend to believe in ideas that seem ridiculous to anyone who knows more than you do.

If you don't believe in those other ancients, though, why should you believe in the accepted knowledge and understanding of the ancient Hebrews? And then the ancient Christians? Why believe in that God of the Old Testament or in any of His prophets?

Does your modern skepticism about some ancient beliefs preclude you from having your own religious, i.e., non-scientific beliefs?

How can I bear my testimony of my Heavenly Father's love and of His Son, Jesus Christ, my belief in their love, and my belief in the restored gospel and modern-day prophets and (of course) the Book of Mormon, if I don't accept any other religions?

What makes this different for me?

(More, next time.)

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Where do poets get their inspiration?

1. Aeschylus, from "Aeschylus," by John Herrington:

"...the record of his first dramatic production in ca. 498 B.C., and a legend, which runs as follows: 'Aeschylus used to say that once, when he was a teenager, he was guarding the grapes in the countryside and fell asleep. Dionysus appeared standing over him and told him to compose tragedy. When daylight came, since he wanted to obey the god, he tried it, and found it easy from that moment on."

2. Joseph Brodsky, from "Against Forgetting," edited by Carolyn Forche:

"In February 1964, Brodsky, who had left school at fifteen, was tried in Leningrad as a 'social parasite' who had corrupted young people with his 'pornographic' and anti-Soviet verse. In response to the judge's questions about where he had received the authority to write poems, he answered, 'From God.'"

3. I will add others as I find them. Commenters, any additions?

The Old God of War

I saw the old god of war stand in a bog between chasm and rockface.

He smelled of free beer and carbolic and showed his testicles to adolescents, for he had been rejuvenated by several professors. In a hoarse wolfish voice he declared his love for everything young. Nearby stood a pregnant woman, trembling.

And without shame he talked on and presented himself as a great one for order. And he described how everywhere he put barns in order, by emptying them.

And as one throws crumbs to sparrows, he fed poor people with crusts of bread which he had taken away from poor people.

His voice was now loud, now soft, but always hoarse.

In a loud voice he spoke of great times to come, and in a soft voice he taught women how to cook crows and seagulls. Meanwhile his back was unquiet, and he kept looking round, as though afraid of being stabbed.

And every five minutes he assured his public that he would take up very little of their time.

(From Bertold Brecht: I found this version of this poem from this page at Tom Clark's blog.  A commenter on that blog post wrote this:

Brecht, of course, had certain petty dictators in mind here, but the parabolic reach of the poem is considerable.

When he fled across the top of Europe from Finland to Leningrad to Moscow to Vladivostok and thence by boat across the Sea of Japan and the China Sea, he found himself in water roiled by the same god of war in different guise.
The Typhoon

On our flight from the house-painter to the States

We suddenly noticed that our little ship was not moving.

One whole night and one whole day

It lay against Luzon in the China Sea.

Some said it was because of a typhoon raging to the north

Others feared it was German raiders.


Preferred the typhoon to the Germans.

For more on Brecht, here's an interesting article.