Saturday, February 26, 2005

Viruses of the Mind?

Once again I have come across what I think is an extremely worthwhile passage from The Meme Machine. Some background will aid understanding. A meme is 'an element of a culture that may be considered to be passed on by non-genetic means, esp. imitation.' (OED). Blackmore stresses that a meme is whatever is passed by imitation. She defines imitation broadly, but does distinguish it form classical conditioning, operant conditioning and social learning. For simplicity’s sake, think of a meme as an idea or practice. On with the excerpt…

“When we look at religions from a meme’s eye view we can understand why they have been so successful. These religious memes did not set out with an intention to succeed. They were just behaviours, ideas and stories that were copied from one person to another in the long history of human attempts to understand the world. They were successful because they happened to come together into mutually supportive gangs that included all the right tricks to keep them safely stored in millions of brains, books and buildings, and repeatedly passed on to more. They evoked strong emotions and strange experiences. They provided myths to answer real questions and the myths were protected by untestability, threats, and promises. They created and then reduced fear to create compliance, and they used the beauty, truth and altruism tricks to help their spread. That is why they are still with us, and why millions of people’s behaviour is routinely controlled by ideas that are either false or completely untestable.”
- Susan Blackmore, The Meme Machine, page 192-193

Privilege upon privilege…

Earlier today I put my feet and hands in the Pacific Ocean. The beautiful sunlight bearing down upon me, that amazing sound of waves crashing and the sand beneath my feet made a wonderful, calming, happy series of moments. I then suddenly realized that about one year ago I had my hands in the Pacific Ocean, but on the other side of the world in Korea. Proportionally, few people on this planet get to see the Pacific Ocean, let alone from both sides.

I just kept thinking “Privilege upon privilege…”

Friday, February 25, 2005

I’m talkin’ over ‘ere!

I came across this passage in The Meme Machine and thought it demonstrated the current, commonly held view of language in science(zeitgeist). Consequently, I thought it was worth sharing.

“Our language capacity is largely innate and not a by-product of intelligence of a general ability to learn - though this was once a fiercely debated issue. The fact is that people do not learn language by being systematically corrected for their mistakes, nor by listening attentively and slavishly copying what they hear. Instead, thy just seem to pick it up, using minimal input to build up richly structured grammatical speech. Note that by grammar I mean the natural structures of languages that distinguish who did what to whom or when it happened or in what order – not the sort of rule-book grammar that used to be taught at school.”
- Susan Blackmore, The Meme Machine, page 87

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

They did what?

After 9/11, the United States began a new doctrine of increased security and hostility, both to its own people and to the rest of the world. The US began a “war on terror,” which has basically created greater animosity towards the US from most of the countries on the planet.

Previously, the United States has been seen as place of hope, a place where dreams could come true. The country managed to hide its destructive, covert practices from most of its citizens, but much of the world was aware. The world disliked American foreign policy, but many of the terrible acts were 'subtle' and they were harder to blantently demonstrate in terms of the injustices America so willing commits while professing the virtues of freedom and human rights. With the debacle of the Iraqi war two things happened: (1) Any doubt about or leeway given to America’s past deeds was logically and easily removed, and (2) the younger generation and people that are just becoming more informed about world events were able to witness a real event happening in real time. When tyranny is seen in the present and not relinquished to the past, both a verification of uncertain perspectives and galvanization of rebellious people and groups occurs. In some nations, this lead to criticisms and wariness of the United States that might never have otherwise occurred, other nations were now almost logically justified in their aggressive stance on the international level.

Supposedly, there has been an increase in terrorism from the Invasion of Iraq (not including the war itself, of course). Consequently, the manner in which the US has conducted its ‘war on terror’ may have created an outcome entirely opposite to that which was desired.

The war in Iraq, justified on false premises, mismanaged militarily, and the cause of over 100,000 excess civilian deaths, is now thought to cost about $150 billion dollars (with a request for billions more). I can’t help but wonder if the money could have been better spent.

What if, instead of embarking on a crusade of anger, violence, deception, tyranny and hostility, the United States of America decided to feed the world?
Please read that again.

Just imagine the headline: America Feeds the World! or America Ends Hunger!

The terrorizing force that has been US foreign policy for the past +100 years would almost be forgiven. The new generation would consider it forgotten and think that was ‘the past.’ People would say things like, “The US has always been a bully and selfish, but then, in 2003, they fed the world.” or “Something amazing happened at the beginning of this century, the United States was almost singularly responsible for eradicating hunger.”

It is sad that the only way for this idea to realistically work is for those in developing nations to learn how to eat bullets, shrapnel and bomb-made debris.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Can’t Complain

I just walked around the block in pants and a t-shirt while looking at a pleasant setting sky and gorgeous full moon. It appeared as a perfect circle, slowly rising into the sky. I’ll have to wait 3 months for this when I return!

I’ve had various designs on my arms with silver paint for a Pagan gathering, saw Alcatraz from a distance, been on a trolley, laughed with a friend, had some guided meditation at the beginning of a class, intellectual discussion about the scientific method, and bought half a watermelon in an outdoor food market.

Yet, a single simple thing that represents the happiness of my vacation (as well as summarizes the climatic differences) would be a palm tree. Not just any palm tree, although palm trees in general are neat, but the palm tree outside Saira’s place. You can see it from a window in their bathroom while you shower. It’s so cool!! I’ve haven’t had windows in the bathrooms in places I’ve lived in the past couple years, let alone one near the shower. Here, you can look out at a blue sky, the sun on your face, and see a palm tree. It’s like you have the beauty of showering outside with the security and luxury of showering inside. What a delightful experience.

ps: I almost titled this blog: “Reject Jesus and ye shall be rewarded…” because I was shopping in Chinatown in San Fran and saw a Jesus bobble head doll. I laughed out loud as soon as I saw it. How wonderfully comical and absurd! But for $15? Hmmm… so then I debated whether I really needed it and/or would tire of it. Though I kept laughing at it, I decided to keep the memory instead of the product. Then in the next store, what do I find? An Einstein bobble head! Hee hee. Consequently, the universe must be telling me to reject religion and embrace science. :P

Monday, February 21, 2005

Happy Nofreewillaversary!

It has been two years since I began having the realization that there is no free will. As of consequence of this development, and various other happenings, my life is much different than it used to be. I feel that the ‘no free will hypothesis’ explains so much more, both phenomenologically and observationally, than any previous viewpoint I had (or didn’t have). I realized it was my no free will anniversary, but a friend suggested the truncated form and I found it amusing.

Years ago, if someone had told me that I didn’t have free will I would have moved my hand and said, “Of course I do! I just moved my hand!” I see now how confused that response is and how I had never really thought about it.

In philosophy the notion of free will has usually been pitted against determinism, but I should be clear in that it does not matter if the universe is determined or indetermined (as quantum physics currently indicates). Either way there is no free will.

Free will, like any meaningful discussion, definitions are critical for understanding and communicating the various thoughts on the issue that people are likely to have. As I see the term “free will” to rest heavily on the word ‘free’ and connote/imply ‘freedom from something,’ I like to define free will as, “The ability to make a choice independent from one’s physiology.” The word ‘independent’ could just as easily be replaced with the word ‘free.’

Accordingly, using my definition, there is no free will. Indeed, according to my viewpoint, it is somewhat fallacious to separate ‘one’ from ‘one’s physiology,’ when a more accurate statement would be that “You are your physiology.”

As I intended this posting to be more of a brief description of some of my thoughts regarding free will and not a full exploration into the issue, I will just pose some questions to stimulate discussion.

1) How do you define yourself? (Think specifically and physically)
2) Where do your thoughts come from? (Physically/biologically)
3) How have your genetics/environment and the billions of events and non-events affected your life?
4) What would change on a 'human' level if things were indeterministic instead of deterministic?
5) Do you realize the difference between a fixed personal nature and a fixed personal future?
6) The reason we hold people responsible is because they are the prime causal factor in a particular situation. Why would this change?
7) How would you define free will?

Please think and comment away, I’ll share what I think the answers are at a later time. I want to let things swim around for a bit and not bias the path of your thoughts too much.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Serenity when?

I shall now pose to you a question recently asked of me:
What things make you feel peaceful?

When answering, try to keep 'calmness' in mind instead of happiness or jubilation. I first answered with "dopamine" (some people always need to make jokes) and then replied with, "Nature things/scenes, the moon, clouds, a rainbow, sunlight... " but I'm sure I'll think of more to add to the list.

Please share your answers by commenting (if it isn't too personal).

Saturday, February 19, 2005

East to West

Toronto, Pearson Airport, local time, 3:41 pm

I just finished a substandard chicken burger with fries of equal quality. It is nearly six hours since I left the apartment in Halifax. It was a nice drive to the airport, both because of the weather and the price (my roommate drove me). I find the Halifax airport quite quaint. As much as I occasionally slag on the city of Halifax, I do like the lack of complexity of various things from time to time.

Once again, I waited until the line was almost empty before boarding the plane. I realized there isn’t much point spending time sitting on a plane, which I’ll be doing for the next while, when I can move around and feel less constrained. Cramped seats as usual, but hey, it’s still flight. Whenever I travel I can’t help but feel everyone is not nearly as impressed as they should be. I loved the take-off, as usual, eating an apple to help reduce the pressure in/on my ears. I started to read Susan Blackmore’s The Meme Machine, but didn’t get through the interesting introduction by Richard Dawkins because my ‘single-serving’ friend beside me started chatting. He was about 50, a daughter is in university and another is starting. He works in packaging. An example would be the plastic that wraps the six-pack of beer. He has travelled a lot and likes his job. I couldn’t help but think how much I dislike sales, but that I’m happy someone likes doing it. Of course, that depends on what they are selling and how they are selling it. If it is something that is actually used and has worth, then I’m happy someone else likes being involved in the organization of selling and distribution of packing products. Anyway, it was nice chat, more interesting for me to hypothesize how his lexical access and production were occurring than much of the content… but whatever works I guess. I also felt that I had so many interesting things to tell him, but that it wasn’t going to happen. First, because maybe they wouldn’t be at all interesting to him; second, because the bridge between normal conversation and that of science, philosophy, culture…etc is not a small one. Such is social protocol. After going to the bathroom near the end of the flight I was pleased with the thought that it wasn’t just the plane travelling at ~700km/h, I was too! Just imagine that! Picture, 150 years ago, going up to Charles Darwin or John Stuart Mill, and saying, “In my lifetime I’ll be travelling faster 700km/h. So will numerous other… but they won’t care.” I would think they would be stunned (but probably not by the last part if they could comprehend the first). The landing was a little rocky but it was nice to be back in Toronto, if only to transfer planes.

I would have to say that the most interesting part of the trip thus far would be the process of connecting for the flight to San Francisco. Just by going through US customs and their security I felt like I was in a different world. I realize there may be great anticipatory factors and schemes of “United States of Hegemony, Hypocrisy…etc” but things actually are more strict. They checked my bag, but happily I got to keep my shoes on. I looked out the window and saw the CN tower and actually had the thought “Hey, you’re actually in Canada.” It felt a little like a US embassy might, where it is US soil. Beliefs are powerful entities. Maybe soon I’ll have a chance to read about their transfer in the book.
Gotta go see a plane about making me fly.

Toronto to San Francisco – written on Saturday, 11:56 local time, Saira's kitchen

I read a bit of The Meme Machine while waiting to board, went through that process again, someone was sitting in my seat (18D), in the aisle, third from the window, but no worries. The man before in the ‘waiting to get to out seats line’ was informing someone that there were in the wrong seat. I noticed the woman in my seat showed a little concern. I then heard the woman in 18F (the window) say, “I know where I’m sitting” or something like that, in an unkind manner. I inferred that she was responding to a question from the woman in my seat. Ah, people, their egos and misunderstandings.

Anyway, to make the end of this story arrive sooner, I’ll say that the flight was good. I was a tired and very worried about being uncomfortable and just having a bad time. Due to some reading, some food, the entertaining but tritish Ladder 49 and talking with the nice lady who was in my seat, but now next to me, the flight was bearable. The best part was that she was interesting in hearing me talk about consciousness, philosophy and some perspectives on the world. Always a good time. :) It was what I was seeking in my last travel friend, but now reified. It was wonderfully absorbing, so much so that I didn’t really have the countdown to arrival in my head because of the chat.

It is always interesting landing in a new place. I felt this when I went to Japan. The sign says I’m in San Francisco, and I did take a plane for awhile… but I could be anywhere. Of course, my friend came and picked me up (as well as numerous other clues) so the conspiracy theory seems less and less plausible. Yet probably still tantalizing some poor information processor.

I’ll end with by saying that there was a joyous reunion with much delight and warm hugs. I've missed Saira.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Do You Realize

Do you realize
That everyone you know someday will die?
And instead of saying all of your good-byes
Let them know you realize that life goes fast
It's hard to make the good things last
You realize the sun doesn't go down
It's just an illusion caused by the world spinning round
- The Flaming Lips

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Big Ups to the, uh… the, Up.

On Wednesday, as I was feeling cognitively clouded and tired, I chose to poke my head outside for about 10 seconds. The air was wonderfully cool and fresh; the sunlight brightened my face. I looked up at the blue sky with its whips of white and smiled. Especially delighting was seeing a rainbow far above me.

No rain had recently fallen, nor was it a large arcing rainbow. It was almost straight above, about the length of my outstretched hand.
All of this in 10 seconds!

Walking home I kept glancing back at the rainbow, disappointed when buildings would occlude the colourful band. As I walked along, no rainbow to see, seeing a glorious day moon soon buoyed my senses. Oh, how I loves the day moon.

I traversed a parking lot and was able to look at the day moon, the rainbow and a plane in-between almost travelling from the former to the latter.
I was fortunate to observe sunlight illuminating some smoke, drawn after I had seen the smoke’s shadow before me. It was amazing.

I had the misfortune of sleeping badly that night, but it was ameliorated by a beautiful dawning sky. Exquisite pinks, oranges, reds and purples with picturesque clouds filled the Eastern sky.

The world sure is beautiful.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


Dennett was discussing the ability of humans to apply their powers and abilities to their powers and abilities. Many organisms can learn, but we can learn about learning (to learn better) and even learn about that. The following is, in my opinion, a highly relevant passage because it discusses, briefly, how we have ‘something’ from ‘nothing.’ It will not explain everything, but is definitely a good start for thinking about the evolution of cognitions. (Just so you know, I read it several times. I suggest at least twice.)

"Thus (1) the blind trial and error of Darwinian selection creates (2) organisms whose blind trial and error behavior is subjected to selection by reinforcement, creating (3) 'learned' behvaviors that generate a profusion of (4) learning opportunities from which (5) the most telling can be 'blindly' but reliably selected, creating (6) a better-focused capacity to generate (7) further candidates for not-so-blind 'consideration,' and (8) the eventual selection or choice or decision of a course of action 'based on' those considerations. Eventually, the overpowering ‘illusion’ is created that the system is actually responding directly to meanings."
- Dennett, Elbow Room, page 30

Monday, February 14, 2005

Happy Valentine's Day!!!

I just wanted to say that no matter if you think the source of 'love' is from that pictured above or you've realized that it is likely the result of dopamine, vasopression, oxytocin (etc) and a vastly complex socio-cognitive process, enjoy it!

Being in love (thinking you are is just as good) is one of the most beautiful freebies we get in the universe. Hold on to every precious moment.

ps: If you're paying for it, though it may still be good, it probably isn't love.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Elbow Room

"After all, if determinism is true now, it always has been true. While many people’s lives in the past have been quite horrible, many others have led lives apparently well worth living – in spite of their living in a deterministic world. Modern science isn’t making determinism true, even if it is discovering this fact, so things aren’t going to get worse, unless it is believing in determinism rather than determinism itself that creates the catastrophe."
-Dennett’s 1984 Elbow Room, page 15.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

I know it aches, and your heart it breaks...

There are reports that in the Darfur refuge camps older women are sent outside to get water and food because they are less likely to get raped, but will just be beaten.

The horror of that sentence, like the reality it describes, is multilayered; one of which is the almost valid use of the word just.

Amnesty International
Human Rights Watch (statement)
Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Nerd Alert!

I can be at peace now :P

The Power of Dreams (or semiconscious pseudo-intentional phenomenological happenings)

Last night I had a decent sleep for the first time in a long time. A really long time. I don’t have the experience of dreams much, meaning that I don’t often have them, or I don’t remember them. Last night’s sleep was deep enough that I had some funky dreams about chasing someone’s iguana around my university and some exam mark and granola bars, but I also had a really interesting phenomenological experience (redundant?).

My memory of it is as follows:
I just turned over a bit so I was on my right side, sort of sleeping. I had the feeling of a cat walking on the bed up towards my head. First off, I don’t have a cat; second, I sort of knew I was asleep. That itself was interesting. The cat started to come up to my face and went to nuzzle in my neck. Now this is something I usually find ticklish, so I didn’t want it to happen. While it started to happen, I was thinking, “There is no cat, you’re asleep, it is interesting how real this feels, this doesn’t feel good, wake up… wake up!” I couldn’t because I was paralyzed. Fascinating! Then I had the feeling of almost dragging ‘myself’ up out of sleep and I was able to stop the experience of the ‘nuzzling’ cat. Cool! Aren’t brains wonderful!

Off the top of my head (well, just below the top) my guess is that I was in a deep enough rest state that my body paralyzed itself so I wouldn’t act out my dreams (a helpful process), but something about the ‘deepness’ allowed for greater cognitive/introspective assessments than usual. Then, maybe, my leg felt part of the cover move and that kick-started a memory from long ago of a cat I used to have. Or, the whole thing could have been a created experience. Now, when sleeping, most of the ‘proper filters’ sort of shut off, which is why dreams are so weird. Maybe the system that allows differentiation from memories and actual experiences was out of whack and ‘I’ ‘felt’ a memory/theoretical situation with the same intensity as a real experience. This was detrimental enough that I was able to exert control over my ‘paralysis’ and stop the experience. In a way I haven’t said much, but in another way that explains it sufficiently.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Power of Documentaries

I just finished watching the final part of a three part BBC documentary called, “The Power of Nightmares: The Rise and Fall of the Politics of Fear.”

It was great!!! I highly recommend everyone watch this. My suggestion would be to search the Net to download it (torrent files or other sharing systems) or just to keep your ears/eyes open and hopefully come into contact with it.

Granted, some scepticism is always warranted, but the BBC has some credibility while most American news networks I already know to be sketchy at best. They definitely have a thesis they are presenting, but much of what they are saying is that “there was no evidence,” which is easily refuted by evidence. Of course, one of the main points made is that ‘evidence’ doesn’t seem to matter as much as it should. There were numerous edits during interviews, which I hope is only due to time and not selective information presentation. Otherwise, there might have to be a 4-part series about “The Power of Editing Documentaries like The Power of Nightmares…”

The documentary intelligently describes the rise of religious fanaticism in both America and the Middle East. It also wonderfully demolishes various opinions on certain events simply because there was never any evidence to support them. From Soviet abilities to Al Qaeda to Dirty bombs… none of these exist as presented by the media and governments. Absolutely stunning.

An American group (Team B) was cataloguing the Soviet threat and brought this info to the CIA. The CIA said most of it wasn’t true. Team B asked why. The CIA said there statement was based on, get this, the fact the CIA made up the info! And the group STILL didn’t believe them.

“Al Qaeda,” as a term, was never used by Bin Laden until after 9/11 when Americans used it to refer to him and a theoretical network of power. There is no network “in 60 countries,” there is just a small, detached fraction of people with similar views occasionally helping each other.

The dirty bomb is simply not plausible. It wouldn’t kill thousands; it just doesn’t work that way. The one estimate that said it would cause damage used calculation based on the notion that the people afflicted would have stayed in that spot for a year!

Here are two points that stood out (transcribed from video of them saying it):

Bush, in September 2000, “I just don’t think it’s the role of the United States to walk into a country and say ‘we do it this way, so should you.’” (Wow! What a flip-flopper! :P Either they worked on him for a while or 9/11 made him nuts like it did Dennis Miller.)

John Ashcroft, before a commission, “We had to make a shift in the way we thought about things. So being reactive, waiting for a crime to be committed, or waiting for there to be evidence of the commission of a crime, didn’t seem to us to be an appropriate way to protect the American people.” (Even Minority Report’s pre-cogs couldn’t do it!)

Makes me never want to watch the news. Well, American news at least. I see how hard it is to see beyond what is being presented. Even if you think, “They selected this story instead of others, they have people who are just giving their opinions, and they are a TV station that has to make money” you can still get trapped by thinking “these people care about the truth, right?” No, no they don’t. At least not like I do. Meaning, I will examine evidence contrary to my viewpoint and make sure I get the closest thing to truth before I present it. Or, I at least mention my sources and the lack of research that I’ve done.

If only others felt beholden to the aforementioned practices instead of those of deception, fear mongering and sophistry.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Worth watching (?)

(Some of you have likely seen many of these, but there is probably something new)

Cause it's funny.

Cause it's scary. (A little repetitive too. Poor Karl)

Cause it's interesting

Cause ads can be funny

Cause its good to know what people do. (lousy Germans?)

Cause many ads can be funny (and we see how more relaxed Europe is)

To realize that even if you think you don't have good friends... they might not be that bad

Cause the first 15 seconds will likely always make me laugh

Monday, February 07, 2005

Somewhere around the world, someone would love to have my first world problems

My life is so hard! I mean, first, there’s all this food and warmth around. Like, okay, I get it, I’m full right now. Second, I’ve rarely had to work a hard day in my life. Well, there was that one time I was working 14 hour days, 6 days a week, going to the bathroom in a bag because the bathroom doors were padlocked… oh wait, that wasn’t me, but I read about it, and that was hard, so it’s sort of like it happened to me. (Crap! No one filled up the Brita, dammit! What the hell?)

In fact, things are so troubling that after a modest work week, I have to modify my brain chemistry and destroy parts of it just to have a good time. I find my easy life isn’t easy enough unless I drug myself and try to erase memories of its ease. Look, I know some people don’t have homes, but I really needed that 4th shooter. I mean, maybe if they just got a job instead of trying to fail, then they wouldn’t have to beg for money. Get some self-respect!

You know, it’s been like this as far back as I can remember. I think back to being a kid, both parents caring about me, and how sometimes there would be three TV shows on at the same time. But we only had one VCR, so I’d have to miss one. I hated that! Life’s rough, but you try to keep going.

Oh, and what is with those World Vision ads? Do they think we want to see this stuff? My roommates and I usually have a little competition to see who can change the channel first! It’s so fun! If you lose you have to take a drink. Of course, this one time, we were watching Survivor: Darfur, but we thought it was an ad! Omg! We all got blitzed that night! It was gr8! hahaha ;)

You know, I realize that some might think I don’t understand things, like I’ve heard some say things like, “Someone who is eating bread made out of rocks and grass would find your complaints laughable before they started crying, if they had the energy to do either.”
Well, I just have this to say: If things are so bad, why don’t they just move!?!? Duh! *eye-roll*

Look, here’s the thing, the socio-economic status that I hold in society is entirely due to all the hard work I’ve done. Me, OK? It has nothing to due with my family history, race, geographical location, opportunity or help from others. Why don’t all these poor people just take a long shower, put on some nice clothes, drive to the unemployment centre and get information to apply for jobs using their home computer. What? It’s not like the reviewers give that much weight to that little box that says ‘white.’

Sunday, February 06, 2005


This is an excerpt from CBC's The Fifth Estate when they did a show about the nature and personalities of American political discourse. I think it captures the essence of Coulter in several ways.

Saturday, February 05, 2005


Whilst I was watching TV today, I came across a one mile race. I've known that the four-minute mile was broken some time ago, but I've never seen anyone do it. Of course, I still didn't really because it was on TV, but you get my point.

Watching this Kenyan man run around the track in 3 min 52 seconds, seemingly effortlessly, had me pondering just how difficult the task might be. I started to think, "Well, 4 miles isn't that far, and you can probably go a decent distance in 4 minutes... I wonder what it works out to?"
One mile = 5280 ft.
4 minutes = 240 seconds.

So, to run a mile in 4 minutes, one must run at an (average) speed of 5280ft/240s = 22ft/s.
Gah! That's over 7 meters a second. After working out that math, I think I could only keep that up for a very short time, or maybe if I was on a bike. Hmmm... make that a car (7m/s = 25 km/h)

Friday, February 04, 2005

Every news story is sacred? recently reported that a recent "study, which is bound to provoke controversy, showed that the women who were directly exposed to semen were less depressed. The researchers think this is because mood-altering hormones in semen are absorbed through the vagina. They say they have ruled out other explanations." (You can read the whole story here)

At this point I'll just say make your own joke here. I'm serious, please post your joke as a comment. I think it could be a fun little comedy sharing. So, get those creative juices flowing. ;)

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Strikingly original, cinematographically brilliant, and intimate... so very intimate. For those that haven't seen this movie, I suggest you do so.

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd;

- Alexander Pope (If you'd like the lines in context, they are from a poem called Eloisa to Abelard)

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Sex and the no unemployment benefits?

Read this. The utter obviousness of the inhumanity and reprehensibility of this situation is only surpassed by my incredulity at its putative authenticity.
(Apparently, as my disdain increases so does my syllabic usage; but in verbal communications a similar situation will create a tendency towards monosyllabic expressions. If anyone encounters confirmation about the story, please share)

Darwin & Hebb

The title of this post could also be called "lazy blogger" because the following entry is actually part of an assignment for a class this past term. I'm posting it because it provides a bit of info on Darwin and Hebb, as well as my thoughts regarding the importance of each. Also, that I've been busy lately. Upon a second reading, I'm not as happy with the piece as I previously was, but so it goes.

1b)It has been suggested that Hebb’s contributions to psychological science will eventually achieve the status that Darwin’s ideas have achieved in biological science. Defend or critique this suggestion. (747 words, there was a limit of 750)

Donald O. Hebb is surely one of the greatest psychologists of the 20th century, but he will likely never attain the status of Charles Darwin, the man credited with the theory of evolution by natural selection. What follows shall be a brief review of Hebb’s contributions, a short examination of the impact of Darwin’s theory and lastly a comparison between the two great men of science; it will be apparent that though Hebb was admirable in his own right, to achieve a Darwinian status is unlikely.

Over a long and varied career, Hebb was involved in many different research areas and impressively made substantial contributions to most of them. In his work with brain lesioned patients, Hebb believed the Standford Binet and Wechsler intelligence scales were inappropriate because they measured general alterations of intelligence. Consequently, Hebb co-developed two new tests that would be able to assess the area lesioned with greater specificity. The results of these test provided the first evidence that the right temporal lobe was involved in visual recognition and that removal of the frontal lobes do not greatly affect intelligence. Following this work, Hebb began to investigate the development of rat intelligence with Kenneth Williams. Together they developed a variable path maze, subsequently called the Hebb-Williams maze, which has been widely used to study learning in animals. Utilizing this maze as well as altering a rat’s environment, Hebb was able to demonstrate that early experience can have profound effects on cognitive abilities later in life. Hebb’s work lead to programmes to help underprivileged children with enhanced focus on scholastic areas early in their life. In addition to the incredible discoveries aforementioned, there is still Hebb’s most famous contribution: the idea that the strength of transmission can modify existing synapses. The idea of Hebb cell assemblies has provided a framework for thinking about learning, memory formation, emotion, motivation and even computer models of the brain. (Brown & Milner, 2003). Hebb’s work, diverse and noteworthy, establishes him as an eminent psychologist, but it was not revolutionary enough to change the thought of being.

Charles Darwin’s book, “On the Origin of Species,” changed the world. The 1859 book put forth a new addition to the current theories of evolution, that of descent with modification. The theory was extraordinarily significant because it was able to undermine the Argument from Design, and thusly indicated that humans were just another animal, another branch in the tree of life. Prior to Darwin, the notion of life increasing in complexity over millions of years was possibly unheard of and definitely not popularized. By providing a way of thinking about how complexity could arise, Darwin offered an actual rebuttal to one of the main arguments for believing in God. Darwin indicated that life did not need a God; it could do it on its own, through a natural, mindless, purposeless process no less! To imply there is no God and your ancestor was a monkey was not well received by Darwin’s contemporaries. There is the story of a famous debate between T.H. Huxley and Wilberforce, the then Bishop of Oxford. Wilberforce asked Huxley if he would prefer to think of himself descended from an ape on his grandfather's or grandmother's side? To this Huxley replied that he was not ashamed of a simian ancestry but "he would be ashamed to be connected with a man who used great gifts to obscure the truth." Supposedly, among the 7000 people listening, a woman fainted and had to be carried out (Brooke, 2001). This never happened with Donald Hebb’s idea of synaptic plasticity. The lack of publicity and more specifically public controversy is why Hebb’s contributions will never achieve the status of Darwin’s.

Charles Darwin and Donald O. Hebb were extraordinary scientists who greatly impacted their field of study. Both men have made contributions that have been mainly forgotten: Hebb’s intelligence tests or Darwin’s four-part monograph on all barnacles then known. Both men changed the way their discipline thought after their works were received; yet both lacked detailed evidence. There are two differences though: publicity and impact. Hebb has said, “The general idea is an old one…” and did not go to great lengths to ensure everyone heard his thoughts. Alternatively, Darwin’s associations with Huxley and other intellectuals of his time made sure he received all the credit and great publicity. As for impact, Hebb’s synaptic plasticity changed how psychologists and neuroscientists thought about the brain; Darwin’s theory of evolution changed how people saw the world.

Brooke, J.H. (2001). Science & Christian Belief Vol. 13, No 2, pp.127-141.