Psychology

The Convert

Posted on October 20, 2016. Filed under: Health Studies, Psychology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Possibly, it is the most obnoxious kind of human:  the new “I saw the light” convert.  Everybody knows at least one, and can attest to the truism “give someone a badge, and, he just can’t wait to arrest someone.”

Your words for the day (according to Dean):

  • convert = a waffle; one who is flipped from one side to the other
  • zealot = a waffle on steroids
  • waffle-ism = a dedicated passion to follow the latest and better-sounding argument (see “fad” in your favorite dictionary)
  • immanent doom-ers = disciples of “boy-are-you-gonna-get-it-now-because-you-didn’t…   (pick a failure, any failure)
  • pain in the butt = a persistent proselyzer…   or just a bad case of hemorrhoids

For decades, I had heard that laboratory mice could not survive on a strict diet of man-made white bread.  Every one, said the experts, should therefore eat whole grain breads.  Those around me echoed the mantra whenever they saw the white bread I was stuffing into my mouth.  “Oh, no!” they would say.  “You should be eating whole wheat bread.  That white stuff is not good for you.”

Eventually, though, I caved and followed the crowd.  I sampled the papery texture of whole wheat, and, dutifully, gave up my tasty white bread.  It became a ritual before bedtime to slowly munch 2 slices of whole wheat bread, washing each bolus down, bite by bite, with a swig of ice-cold milk.  That was good, but, the aroma of fresh-baked white bread still sang the Sirens’ song to my taste buds.  Convert-like, I stayed the course and continued to eat healthier.

I walked the path and continued to buy healthy whole wheat.  Until about a year ago.  Loosely holding my prized purchase before me in my grocer’s check-out line, I encountered a convert of the more recent “lose the wheat belly” movement.  Ahead of me in line, he suppressed a superior sneer, but couldn’t keep that condescending grin from showing itself.  “I gave up wheat bread and I feel so much better than I used to.”  Emphasizing his well-being, he stood straight and caressed the flatness that was his abdomen.  He continued to share the benefits of “NO wheat” as a life commitment until my silence and noncommittal gaze conveyed my intense non-interest.

There is little I despise more than to have a stranger accost me and tell me what I am doing wrong with my life.  In all such instances, that individual is simply a proselyte, a tool of some charismatic (read “cockamamie“) theory or preacher.  My negative feelings aside, that encounter with that gabby convert pushed my memory into retrograde:

  • For maybe 100,000 years, wheat has been considered the staff of life…
  • until some lab rats — researchers, not rodents — tried to get mice to live for a year on nothing but loaves of white bread…
  • thereby restricting the unfortunate subjects to a single food item and denying them the varied diet required for their kind to maintain a healthy body…
  • predictably resulting in unhealthy mice.  (This experiment could have been carried out on paper without mistreating those mice).
  • And, just as predictably, the 2-legged lab denizens concluded:  white bread is not good for humans.

Subsequently those lab rats bulked up their resumes while the media, diet gurus, marketing mavens, and medics-with-a-journalistic-bent picked up the drum beat and eaters of white bread became targets of social ridicule.  Further loading of the anti-wheat band wagon ensued when the gluten thing took off like a rocket.

I must note that —

  • for a thousand centuries, white-bread eaters were not dropping like flies in an insecticide cloud…
  • nor were any special diseases or disorders attributed to white bread consumption (such as rickets caused by non-consumption of limes by Limeys)…
  • and, that the new gluten-is-bad-for-you craze is about a slight digestive discomfort showing up in less than 2% of the population.

Further, bread of any kind is normally an accessory for a meal.  No one serves up bread-a-la-carte or plans a meal around bread as the entrée every day of the week.  Which means that the health status of mal-treated mice in a lab bears no relationship to the average human diet or ensuing health status.  But, the researchers and other members of the anti-white-bread band wagon are billed as experts and the public, herd animals to the core, slavishly falls into line repeating the announced party mantra.

Cause evangelists do not limit themselves to just my dietary habits.  That human herd mentality provides instant audiences that can be made to salivate over almost any subject:

  • The secret to wealth, health, peace, and all kinds of other secrets…
  • such as: El Dorado, The Silver Chalice, The Robe, The Fountain of Youth, Yeti, Sasquatch, boogie man, Loch Ness Monster, alien abductions.  The answers are out there!
  • Global warming is real…  People are causing it and we can prove it — especially if we go back and change the input data to agree with our EXPERT conclusions.
  • Climate change is ongoing…   The process is recorded in layer after layer of Earth’s strata over hundreds of millions of years.  Nothing new.

Who can forget the converts of PYRAMID POWER?  No, not the Ponzi schemes; real pyramids that supposedly had the power to sharpen your razor blades overnight or, if placed under your bed at night, you got a great sleep not to be equaled until “sleep number” came out.  There were other claimed beneficial wonders as well, but, none of that survived the few months of frenzy.

ANYWAY, the upshot is that I have resumed eating white bread.  So, all you converts-of-the-moment out there, quit bothering me in the check out lane.

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Shovels and Manure: Part 2

Posted on November 26, 2015. Filed under: Politics, Psychology, Religion | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

(continued from previous post, Shovels and Manure: Part 1)

In the previous article, I got born, got my newbie starter kit installed, then discovered glitches in the applications phase.  New input was playing havoc with the resident databases causing angst as I realized I would have to troubleshoot my programming at the root level.  Simply put, I had to start thinking for myself, which meant I had to retroactively confirm the veracity of my previous data sources.  Zeroing in on accepted authority (experts) and accepted knowledge (expert assertions), I realized that self-aggrandizing, ordinary people who had been born naked and clueless like the whole of human kind were setting themselves up as the lords of all knowledge.

Wallowing in their unacknowledged ignorance, those expert authorities told us for decades…

  • The expert-designed Food Pyramid was the answer to proper nutrition and long life…   until they came out with a new one (twice) that didn’t kill us prematurely.
  • That teachers are the most valuable servants in society…   then we find out that these guys and gals are behaving like pedophile priests chaperoning teens and pre-adolescents on church-sponsored retreats or tutoring in one-on-one sessions away from school.
  • Expose your kids to chicken pox early so they won’t have to deal with it in later life…   had your shingles shot yet?
  • Plastic food packaging materials are safe for human use…   except now that is only “true” if the label says “BHP free.”

They told us for centuries...

  • The Constitution of the United States of America could only be changed if 3/4 of the states agreed to it…   unless the Supreme Court changes it by a 5-4 vote of biased experts who can’t be thrown out for biased judiciating…   or when a sitting president decides to MAKE laws instead of obeying them.
  • The Bill of Rights to that Constitution guaranteed certain rights to its citizens (such as no laws regarding an establishment of religion, the right to keep and bear arms, the right to be secure in your property, freedom from being forced to give evidence against yourself…   stuff like that) unless changed by that 3/4 vote of the states.  Now, the Supreme Court says you gotta ask for your constitutional right to be entitled to it.
  • The world is flat, go too far you fall off its edge…   today we can take advantage of AROUND THE WORLD cruises.  The only falling hazard here is a bad plunge from your budget floor…   or is that “budget ceiling?”
  • The Earth is the center of the universe…   Galileo paid for this little indiscretion.  When not molesting children, them religionists banish free-thinking that shows up their ignorance.
  • Children can only be born to married couples…   or harems.  How, then, do we now have the terms “bastards” and “unwed mothers?”
  • Only humans can use tools…   and apes, simians, pro-simians, numerous birds, quite a few insects
  • Only humans can speak…   and apes, simians, pro-simians, numerous birds, quite a few insects
  • An apple a day keeps the doctor away…   but, only if you hit him square in the forehead with it when he tries to approach you.  People don’t say proverbs like that anymore for fear that litigators will hit them square in the pocket book with a class-action lawsuit for practicing medicine without a license.
  • The world is only 6,000 years old…   can you spell b-i-l-l-i-o-n-s?
  • Good always triumphs over evil…   but how many good people have to suffer before the evil goes away?
  • We are in the latter days;  the end is near…   get your programs here, folks;  all the generations since Guttenberg’s quick-copy machine have left scads of them…   just change that date right there, change the identity of your generation’s 666, and go on lamenting…   and self-flagellate if that is your thing.

More recently, we have been told that only humans are smart enough to create stuff that can annihilate all life on Earth in one fell swoop…   they WOULD have to get that one right.  But, hey!  In an existence honed by responses to innate ignorance, one out of 200,000,000 to the 10th power ain’t so bad.

I understand that my own journey through EXISTENCE is a trial and error thing, and, that I can benefit from the information of others who have already waded through its dark water’s of uncertainty.  My problem is not that everything with which we work has to be teased from Nature bit by bit or that what was learned long ago may not be true today;  rather, my irritation comes from the knowledge that so much of that database is tainted by the personal goals of the “expert” information providers, who then proclaim — in speech or implied assertion — “I, a really super-smart guy, thought up this explanation and you, an embarrassment to the word intellect, can be assured that you can get it right only by accepting without question MY truth of reality.”  

My gullibility node has become unbearably distended, no doubt due to the vast quantity of bull sh…   uh, male bovine droppings being rained down on me from all directions.

Life forms get it right (i.e., live longer) by replacing ignorance with knowledge as they grow.  Homo sapiens sapiens has the advantage of being able to amass a vast library of hard-won knowledge that most, if not all, of its members can access to enrich their individual survival.  Yet, regardless of how vast that knowledge base may be, our Universe — to all intents and purposes — is infinitely vast, and, the degree of human ignorance is just as vast.  So…

Since my personal existence is of major importance only to ME, why can’t I give credence to my own conclusions?  Why can’t I, born naked and clueless just like all those acknowledged experts, be just as arrogant about MY “truth” as they are toward theirs?

Sounds like a plan to me.  “Hey…   YOU…   Super-smart Dude!  Stop shoveling that pile of sh…   stuff…   this way.  I need a little time to analyze its contents.”

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Shovels and Manure: Part 1

Posted on November 23, 2015. Filed under: Psychology, Self-awareness | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Man the tool-maker!  Many would say that is what sets humans apart from all other life on Earth.  Others would pick out their favorite traits and build passionate arguments around them, but, I am sort of hung up on the shapes and uses of one particular tool — shovels.  These two ensuing articles express my misgivings toward their uses in cultural development.

“Sir!  Reporting as instructed, Sir!”  I would have saluted, except for 2 things:  I had not yet received any training in that militaristic ritual and, anyway, my hand was otherwise occupied.  I had shoved it into my mouth and was sucking on it vigorously because it just felt good…   well, maybe also because that and kicking my heels up every now and then were the only activities in my exercise regimen.  But, at least I had shown up at the water slide as instructed, albeit with a feeling of apprehension.  I had become aware that things were starting to close in on me, and I was not accustomed to this sort of treatment.  And, I think I may have been standing on my head at some point.

Then, it really started to get serious.  My arms were being pinned close to my body and something was pushing the top of my head.  Then my eyes hurt from such brightness I had not known existed.  It was getting cold and I got a tight feeling in my chest, but, a loud slap to my butt made my lungs fill with air for the very first time.  The tightness in my chest was relieved as long as I kept inhaling and exhaling, so I thought I would keep on doing this for at least a little while until things settled down.

In retrospect, that was when everything started going downhill, right there when I took that first breath, and, as it has turned out, I was right on the money by kicking up such a big fuss right away.

Thus begins my personal lamentation on the state of this thing called EXISTENCE.  It started out okay, there within that warm, safe cocoon, bathed in the serenity of ignorance about that which awaited without.  But that confining journey down the water slide, disorientation by bright lights, being grabbed by ruffians who slapped me around as their way of saying, “Hi!  Welcome to Earth!”…   was all of that really necessary?  And, how about a little warning of that stuff ahead of time, or a quick-start pamphlet with instructions to a least find the bathroom?  Is that too much to expect?

It was a good thing my parents were there to rescue me.  They filled me in on a lot of stuff, but, the world around me kept getting smaller…   like that dinner table.  I was used to running under it standing up but, then came the day when I didn’t fit under there…   it only took a couple of head bashings for that bit of information to sink in.  Yeah, my world was getting smaller, alright, and getting more complicated as well.

To become well-rounded in this EXISTENCE thing, I was told I would need experts who would show me the tools that would let me become a contributing member of society.  Thus when I could barely tie my shoe laces, I got dropped off — ALONE — at public school.  And the resident experts opened up my brain case and started shoveling in all the raw data I would need to become a compliant citizen.  Okay…   at first maybe it was just teaspoons they used, but, let’s face it, those things are just mini shovels.

Not evident to me at the time, what with my brain being a low-density zone in terms of knowledge, my basic tool kit for survival had been tampered with by all those “expert” mentors.  In addition to stuff like “3+4=7” and “See Spot run,” they shoveled in a lot of their personal biases on such non-tool items as evolution (pro and con), religion (pro and con), government and political ideology (pro and con) and lots of other pros and cons unrelated to math and reading.  To the degree that I favored the teacher, I accepted these offerings as fact and a basis for modeling my understanding of my own existence.  But, sometime around the age of 30 years, I had an epiphany…

SHOVELS COME IN A VARIETY OF SHAPES AND SIZES…

…each designed for a particular task, not the least of which is the efficient movement of manure.

Old things that I had been told did not mesh with the new things I was painfully learning.  In fact, under the heat from the spotlight of an emerging introspection, all that stuff was beginning to develop a decidedly unpleasant odor…   unpleasant, and reminiscent of a stock yard.  And this was happening just when I thought I had this EXISTENCE thing all figured out.  Well, at least I thought my “expert” mentors had it all figured out, and, I was a lucky beneficiary of all that above-my-head figuring.

________________

Continued in next article Shovels and Manure:  Part 2.

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The Art of Fly Fishing

Posted on June 8, 2014. Filed under: Animals, Nature, Psychology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

We’re talking REAL FLIES here, folks

Today’s riddleIf a blind h. smart sap. cannot recognize its reflection in a mirror, does that mean the blind one does not posses self-awareness?

This is more a tale of spider-web filaments than of spiders.  I mean, in this account, I never even saw a spider.

Above the entrance to this facility (the ell shaped building referred to in the previous post) there was a sign proclaiming its identity.  That identity is not important.  Mounted above this sign were several small spotlights appended to the end of conduits gracefully curved so the lights illuminated the name.

A dark parking lot offers few sights for distraction.  Occasionally, when other employees were out, there was laughter and loud conversation.  But, my break times differed a little from the others.  The flitting of bug wings around the lights easily caught my eye, and, I would find myself trying to visually track the patterns of flight, which really looked like chaos.  The whole exercise was sort of like drumming your fingers on a table top or tapping with your toes to get in touch with some hidden inner rhythm.

There was something else that caught my eye and reminded me of my childhood in a rural area where nature had not been completely overrun by  civilization — spider-web strands floating in the air at certain times of the year.  My biology class in school told me that some spiders disperse their populations in this manner, with a tiny passenger at the lower end of the traveling strand.  Apparently, new populations of arachnids grabbed the first bus out of the backwater towns they were born in and set out to make their fortunes in the big, wide world.

Only…   here the webs were NOT floating away.  They streamed out from the top edge of the sign for several feet waving like ribbons in a breeze.  I figured some old webs had been knocked loose from the light fixture and sign structures just to give me a distraction on these long nights.  I observed this spotlighted scene several times during various night breaks:  hundreds of tiny bugs in staccato flight and streaming webs doing a slow dance in the breeze.  Until…

I noticed another type of movement; the web strands were getting shorter.  Not at the same time, but individually.  The only thing I know that would be interested in reclaiming web filaments is a spider.  To the best of my knowledge, a spider recycles only its own web material.  Ergo, there are spiders poised on the top of the sign pulling in the filaments.

Once I had become aware of this phenomenon, it was easy to isolate it on subsequent nights; long strands of webs streaming out into the breezy dark, only to be pulled back by the producer.  It seemed weird to me.

At some point, I overlaid the second observation onto the first one, and that yielded another picture from my early years — those tedious fishing trips with my father and uncles.  People lined the piers flicking fishing rods outward, waiting for the fishing line to unwind in a long, twisted arc, only to be slowly reeled in to either claim the catch or reload and re-cast.

My conclusion was inescapable

The unseen spiders on their equivalent of a coastal pier were fly fishing (or running trout lines?) in the schools of flitting bugs attracted to the lights.  I did not get to run any of those spiders through Dr. Smart Butt’s mirror test to prove self-awareness, but, I would say those spiders knew who they were, who the bugs were, and just exactly which was going to benefit the most from this fishing trip.

A tiny bird protecting its soon-to-be-sleeping butt by not revealing its night sanctuary; sparrows wanting to extend their sleep time for personal satisfaction; spiders turning web netting into fishing lines for personal culinary satisfaction.  I would say that in the proof of self-awareness competition, the score is lopsided:

  • Nature – 3
  • Mirror – 0

I am thinking that a living entity cannot continue to exist unless it possesses the trait of self-awareness, a trait that I suspect forms the core of all life forms.

Yeah!  I know that is counter to what The Great Learned have been preaching for centuries, but, it’s okay — I am a graduate skeptic licensed to think freely without prior permission from intellectual authorities.  If you are cowed by their disapproving glares, you might want to reconsider your decision to hang out with me.  It’s your call.

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Previous posts under Tales From My Darkest Ell:

  • The Best Part of Waking Up…   is not having to actually get up.

 

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Mirror, Mirror on the Wall

Posted on May 9, 2014. Filed under: Nature, Psychology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , |

…who is the smartest one of all?

Aw, shucks!  That is just too easy.  Why, it’s Homo smart sapiens, of course.

Your proverb for todayKnow thyself.

(It’s Greek; a Delphic maxim from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi.  That means it is very, very old so it must be highly respected.  Actually, I would not have thought those old Greeks would speak in King James’ lingo.)

Your words for the day:

  • Narcissus = a Greek-myth guy with a thing for himself
  • mirror = a reflective surface that says, “Right back atcha, big guy.”

The vaunted, and much invoked, mirror test for self-awareness is an exceptional choice for scientist to use in validating their superior observations about the lesser smarts of other life forms.  Of course, the test is useless without defining the parameters of “self-awareness.”  Who better to define those parameters than the League of The Great Learned?  What better standards to use than those that define The Great Learned themselves?  I mean, they are the epitome of H. smart sap., are they not?

“Okay, Lesser Beings, here is the mirror that Narcissistic types (such as we scientists) like to drool at.  Do you understand that you are beholding your very own self?  C’mon, show us the drool.”

  • The lizard, who gets attacked by almost anything its size or bigger, has only a split second to respond to the presence of another.  It has no time to see if all its scales are in place or which angle presents his best profile (take that, Geico gecko).  There is also the matter of lizard social protocol that must be adhered to, and, since the image looks like a good matchup to himself, he figures he can take the other guy and goes on the offense.  This lizard may not give any thought to killer asteroids or last days on the Mayan calendar — big subjects for the science dudes — but you can bet your sweet bippy he gives a lot of thought to the care and maintenance of HIS ass.  To be concerned with HIS, he has to be aware of HIMSELF.
  • The pasture cow, who lives day in and day out with a herd of very peaceful look-alikes, says, “Ho hum.  If you want me to show interest here, slip in an image of the Big Bull out there and sprinkle this thing with some of that cologne he uses.  Now, that’s something I could stand still for.  Otherwise, get this thing out of my face and get me another wad o’ cud.”
  • Tomcat domesticus, full of tomcat hormones, might go for the glass like the lizard; yet, that same tomcat, relaxing in the shade and giving his best impersonation of The Great Sphinx (over there in the mother of all sand boxes) with tail stretched out behind him, can take time from his busy schedule to fiddle with the last 3 inches of that tail.  It stands like a snake, tip twirling slowly, then dipping to the side toward the ground, then back up.  Tomcat looks like a stone lawn ornament, but, you know he is having a good time.  One short kitten leg away from the tom’s twitching extremity is a kitten, and it just knows he can swat that wiggling thing.  For quite a while, this tableau continues.  The tomcat, looking ever so stoic, knows full well the excitement he is creating in the kitten’s mind, and he is enjoying the game as much as the kitten.  The tomcat knows who he is and where his personal boundaries are.  He is aware of HIMSELF.

I could do this for quite a while, given the number of different creatures that have survived on this planet for a lot longer than H. smart sap., but I hear that, for maximum effect, you repeat something no more than 3 times.  The law of diminishing returns, or something like that.  Maybe I heard it from Johnny Carson.

A long, long time ago (if you knew my age, you might want to add one more “long” in there) I devised a couple of mental exercises to illustrate self-awareness in other creatures.  Now, don’t tell me that mental projections prove nothing, ’cause H. smart sap., sub-species science dudes, have built veritable cults around an imaginary dead/alive cat* and an imaginary razor** purported to be so sharp it can slice intangible arguments right down the exact middle.  My tests are a little different…   they can actually be tested in real-time with real subjects.  If real-time is opted, these tests for self-awareness can only be performed by real representatives of The Great Learned.  Only they can truly appreciate the outcomes.

TEST 1.  THE SILVERBACK CHALLENGESetup:  A line of 3 strong cages.  Cages Number 1 and 3 each contain a very contented silverback gorilla.  Cage Number 2 in the middle is empty.  Our observer/actor (preferably a Great Learned One with a Ph. D. in something or other that sounds real smart) has been outfitted with a medium weight baseball bat, a note-book and pencil for note taking, and a hit of Valium — it is the humane thing to do.  Oh, yeah!  And a mirror for later reference.  The test proceeds thusly:

  • The observer/actor enters Cage Number 3, walks over to the contented silverback, who looks at him with only slight interest.
  • The observer/actor lifts the bat and attempts to get a base hit using the silverback’s head as a baseball.
  • This is the critical part:  The observer/actor will now take detailed notes as to whether the gorilla in Cage Number 3 reacts as though it was the gorilla way over in Cage Number 1 that took the bat upside his head.
  • If the gorilla in Cage Number 3 has NO sense of self-awareness, the observer/actor can exit the cage, leaving the mirror for the bleeding gorilla to play with later.
  • If the gorilla in Cage Number 3 DOES have a sense of self, the observer/actor can keep the mirror so that someone else can hold if for him at the hospital where he can see what self-awareness really looks like.

TEST 2:  THE FIRE ANT CHALLENGE.  Setup:  2 fire ant mounds 10 feet apart.  One observer/actor as in test number 1, equipped with that note-book and pencil and an assistant holding a syringe full of a local anesthetic.  The test proceeds thusly:

  • The observer/actor walks up to one of the mounds, his choice.  Removing the shoe and sock from one foot and rolling up the corresponding pant leg, he vigorously and with great gusto stomps the selected mound back into the ground.
  • The observer/actor leaves his bare-naked foot and leg in the middle of the destruction, and, lifting that note-book and pencil, takes detailed notes on whether the ants in the stomped nest reacted as though it was the OTHER NEST, 10 feet away that got the crap stomped out of it.
  • A Giventhe ants in the stomped mound would flunk the mirror test, if anyone could figure out how to administer one to them.
  • If the disrupted colony has no sense of SELF, the nervous assistant will not have to moonlight as an EMT.

A human-vanity mirror test to determine whether other life forms are self-aware, science dudes stating emphatically what a life form IS or IS NOT thinking…   give me a break.

__________________________________

*Schrödinger’s cat                      **Occam’s razor

 

 

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