The Women’s March On Washington Has A Lesson For The March For Science

February 25, 2017 at 2:51 pm | Posted in Abuse of Office, Climate change, Disinformation, Enemies of Planet Earth, Global warming, Practical tips | Leave a comment
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Rikugien, a Japanese garden in Tokyo, Japan, photographed by Fg2 on March 29, 2005.

Rikugien, a Japanese garden in Tokyo, Japan, photographed by Fg2 on March 29, 2005.

Next April 22 will be Earth Day.

The March for Science will be on that day.

Scientists – and those who appreciate science – will be demonstrating to remind everyone of how indispensible science is to our understanding of how the world works, and to our ability to survive and thrive.

To survive and thrive we use tools: mental tools – concepts, knowledge (conclusions) and skills – and physical tools.

The demonstrators will be reminding us all that the relentless testing of all of our tools, using testable evidence, is the only way of arriving at conclusions and other tools that are reliable enough to build upon.

Well-tested conclusions and other tools are fruitful even when they are incomplete or approximate. Because tested tools have withstood at least some testing, they carry at least some information, so they contain clues as to improve on them.

From experience, we know that well-tested conclusions and well-tested other tools exist, and are better in the long run than unreliable conclusions and other tools.

A testable and well-tested assertion is worth of being called a fact. An unsupported assertion is not worthy of being called a fact. There is no such thing as an alternative fact. There can be alternative perceptions, but not alternative facts.

That is what the demonstrators desperately want to remind us of, because malignant people are trying to make us forget that hard-earned understanding, and if we do forget it, our future will be as was aptly described by Thomas Hobbes: nasty, brutish and short.

For the March for Science to be all that it can be, it must learn an important lesson from the Women’s March on Washington.

Photo by Mobilus In Mobili of the Women's March on Washington, 21 January 2017

Photo by Mobilus In Mobili of the Women’s March on Washington, 21 January 2017

Ellen McCarthy, Lavanya Ramanathan, Maura Judkis published in the Washington Post an informative account of that event.

But they mis-interpreted one feature of what happened there, and it is exactly that feature that the planners of the March for Science need to understand correctly.

The mis-interpretation occured in these lines in the article:

But the group gathered in Washington, which organizers said topped 500,000, wasn’t an unfettered love fest. As the program of speakers stretched into the third hour, many in the crowd, like penned race horses itching to run, began to chant: “Let us march!”
And resentment brewed as some marchers took off while speakers of color were still standing at the microphone.
“This whole thing is supposed to be about intersectional feminism, and they’re just walking out on speeches,” said Telfer Carpenter, 22, an equity studies major at the University of Toronto who had come in on an overnight bus. “I think the first people to leave were old white women. They left when a Muslim woman was speaking and when a Korean woman was speaking. A mark has been missed.”

I was there, and the crowd’s impatience had nothing to do with who was speaking or with what they were saying.

It had everything to do with it being “the third hour“.

At that point, we no longer cared or even noticed who was speaking. Most of us couldn’t see the stage, so we couldn’t see any ethnic or religious indicators of the speakers.

Most people had been standing since well before the program began: for more than three hours.

We had been happy to hear what the early speakers had said. But now we were saturated. We didn’t want to hear another thing, no matter how pertinent, no matter how interesting it would have been if we had heard it earlier.

That would have been true even if we had been seated and warm. But we were stiff and cold – and most important – the speeches had continued beyond our attention span.

Enthusiastic attendees morphed into disgruntled attendees.

Three hours was just too much. We needed to move. We wanted to march, since that would be how we would have our say. We wanted to shout at the White House, “Lock him up!”, as we so delightedly shouted once we started walking.

It is easy to see why the planners of the March made the mistake of exceeding our attention span.

The planners had wanted to enlist the participation and support of as many organizations as possible.

Each of those organizations wanted to publicize its cause and its views. It wanted time in the limelight for its spokesperson.

The error was in allotting too much time to each of so many speakers.

The organizers of the March for Science will likewise have enlisted many participating organizations.

The guiding principle for any such event should be to have at most an hour and a half of speeches, total.

If that means five minutes per speaker, that will be far better than what happened here. The need to make each statement brief will yield more memorable statements.

View of the Women's March on Washington from the roof of the Voice of America building in Washington, D.C. January 21, 2017 (B. Allen / VOA)

View of the Women’s March on Washington from the roof of the Voice of America building in Washington, D.C. January 21, 2017 (B. Allen / VOA)

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Sex and Food as Meditation

June 6, 2015 at 9:12 pm | Posted in Practical tips | 2 Comments
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Chocolate, taken or created by Fir0002, and uploaded by Shizhao.

Chocolate, taken or created by Fir0002, and uploaded by Shizhao.

As you know, chocolate is one of the major food groups, and constitutes the wide base of the food pyramid, upon which all of the other food groups rest.

What does that have to do with meditation and sex?

In a recent article in the Washington Post, Brigid Schulte interviewed Sally Lazar about recent research that shows how meditation produces beneficial changes in the brain. This finding of benefits is not based merely on people’s reports on how they were affected, but also on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). (See the video clip in the online article.)

Sex has much in common with meditation.

Notably, both aim for intense concentration on particular sensations, temporarily shutting out the distracting signals from everything else. In sex, the sensations that are key for satisfying the urge are the pleasurable sensations from your own body, along with the signals of your partner’s pleasure and excitement. Without exclusive focus on those two ingredients, release will not occur.

Mindful eating is similar. It is single-minded concentration on how good something tastes.

If sex, mindful eating and meditation have so much overlap, might frequent sex and mindful eating produce the same benefits as meditation?

Answering that question would benefit society, as well as being enjoyable. Even the research to answer the question would be enjoyable. Is anyone looking for a research project?

Meditation that is regular enough, and of long enough duration, produces substantial benefits. If good sex and good food count as meditation, then without knowing it, you might already be part way to meditating enough.

Chocolate is created from the cocoa bean. A cacao tree with fruit pods in various stages of ripening.  Photo by Medicaster.

Chocolate is created from the cocoa bean. A cacao tree with fruit pods in various stages of ripening. Photo by Medicaster.

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Violent Video Games, Horror Movies, Distressing Literature, Scary Rides at Amusement Parks

January 14, 2015 at 8:09 pm | Posted in Brain and mind, Practical tips | 2 Comments
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Female disguised as a Vampire, taken at E3 Trade show, 12 May 2000, by Carniphage.

Female disguised as a Vampire, taken at E3 Trade show, 12 May 2000, by Carniphage.

The previous post showed why performing gangsta rap, or listening to it, might raise blood pressure, and might boost the amount of stress hormones circulating in the blood. It also pointed out that we could and should test whether those damaging effects actually occur.

This post points out that the same damaging effects could result from playing violent video games, or from watching horror movies, or from reading distressing literature, or from taking scary rides at amusement parks.

Agrianian peltast. He holds three javelins, one in his throwing hand and two in his pelte hand as additional ammunition. Agrianian Peltast by Johnny Shumate For more information about illustrations, email shumate_j@bellsouth.net

Agrianian peltast. He holds three javelins, one in his throwing hand and two in his pelte hand as additional ammunition.
Agrianian Peltast by Johnny Shumate For more information about illustrations, email shumate_j@bellsouth.net

Battle for Sarajevo in 1878, as depicted by G. Durand (1800-1899) in The Graphic (a London newspaper).

Battle for Sarajevo in 1878, as depicted by G. Durand (1800-1899) in The Graphic (a London newspaper).

In a violent video game, you stalk, and are stalked, all the time. Extreme alertness is demanded. Paranoia is essential. Paradoxically, your intense focus produces a state whose single mindedness is akin to that in meditation. But every change is sudden, and threatening, which block the usual beneficial effects of meditation. Instead, your pulse races, you have an adrenalin high, you itch to use your weapon.

What is your blood pressure all the while? Which stress hormones are boosted, by how much, and for how long?

Studio publicity still of Alfred Hitchcock.

Studio publicity still of Alfred Hitchcock.

A movie by Alfred Hitchcock, or any other horror movie, also produces a sense of being stalked, except that here you are being stalked vicariously, through your temporary avatar, who is first one, and later another, of the victims in the movie.

Jean Valjean, drawn by Gustave Brion (1824-1877) to illustrate Victor Hugo's novel Les Miserables.

Jean Valjean, drawn by Gustave Brion (1824-1877) to illustrate Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables.

The same is true in distressing literature, low or high, and in tragic opera. While you are reading or viewing Les Miserables, one of your avatars is Jean Valjean, except when it temporarily becomes Fantine, and then a person fighting at the barricades. Each temporarily becomes your avatar, regardless of whether their sex coincides with yours or not.

To your mind, it feels as if you are actually experiencing the fictional events that befall each of those avatars. It feels like an experience, because you are mentally mirroring first one temporary avatar, and then another. As described in previous posts, mental mirroring evolved early, because it is so useful for telling an animal what to do next. Birds do it. Possibly fish do it. Mental mirroring is easily mistaken for a reflexive response, but is based instead on an animal’s real-time attempted simulation of the mental world of another individual, who may be real (another animal) or imagined (a storm, something that tripped you, a god). Mammals do it well, to the point where some can feel empathy for other individuals of their own or different species. Humans have developed mental mirroring so highly that mental mirroring has led to science, art, philosophy, and religion, as described in those previous posts. We will inevitably eventually build mental mirroring into future robots that are designed to function autonomously.

Because of mental mirroring, the harrowing experiences of each of your temporary avatars become your own, and can raise your blood pressure, and can saturate you with stress hormones.

Steel Force and Thunderhawk at Dorney Park in Allentown, PA. Photo by Ryan Painter.

Steel Force and Thunderhawk at Dorney Park in Allentown, PA. Photo by Ryan Painter.

Roller coasters and boats on rivers through haunted caves act in different ways. On a roller coaster you are awash in adrenalin. The outside world becomes a confusing blur, so there is no heightened alertness to the external world, as would occur in a violent video game. But you do become intently focused on your internal state, alert to every uneasiness in the pit of your stomach, and to every hint of dizziness. But blood pressure and stress hormones both increase. On a boat inside a haunted cave the effects are much like those in a scary movie. So both blood pressure and stress hormones increase here, too.

So all of the activities discussed in this post could increase blood pressure and stress hormones, just as gangsta rap probably does.

If so, there would still be substantial eventual damage. The damage would first become manifest years from now.

The activities discussed in this post are much less frequent than is listening to gangsta rap, or to performing it. But since the potential cumulative damage is still severe, it would still be important to test by measurement, for each of the activities discussed in this and the previous post, whether blood pressure and stress hormones increase during that activity. The expectation that they increase might turn out to be incorrect. If increases do occur, they might turn out to be much smaller than expected, because each of these activities is voluntary rather than imposed. But we need to find out, as individuals and as a society.

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Gangsta Rap Music, Blood Pressure, and Stress Hormones

January 12, 2015 at 9:32 pm | Posted in Practical tips | 1 Comment
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Ice-T during the Body Count concert. Prague, August 2006, photographed by Mohylek.

Ice-T during the Body Count concert. Prague, August 2006, photographed by Mohylek.

Rap music features intense rhythm and rhyme. It is a contemporary form of poetry.

The popularity of rap shows that some forms of poetry have not lost their power to move us.

Rythm and rhyme. In poetry, the words are dancing. And you are dancing with the words.

Contra dance sets, seen from the balcony of the town house of Peterborough, New Hampshire. Courtesy of J. Peidle. The original source page is http://www.neffa.org/invite.shtml

Contra dance sets, seen from the balcony of the town house of Peterborough, New Hampshire. Courtesy of J. Peidle. The original source page is http://www.neffa.org/invite.shtml

That is why poetry can affect us so strongly.

But rap music, especially gangsta rap, possesses two distinctive features that other poetry does not.

The first distinctive feature is that in all rap the words are uttered as rapidly as possible. Rap becomes two simultaneous athletic games of skill, one for the rapper, and one for the listener. The rapper is challenged to utter the words as rapidly as possible, and the listener is challenged to understand them as they whiz by. Both the rapper and the listener experience stress from this. But they also derive a glow of elation when they rise to their respective challenges.

The second distinctive feature is that gangsta rap is aggressive and aggrieved, in both tone and topic.

Both of these distinctive features probably raise the blood pressure of both the listeners and the performers. More generally, these distinctive features probably make stress hormones more abundant in the blood.

Automatic brachial sphygmomanometer showing grade 2 arterial hypertension (systolic blood pressure 158 mmHg, diastolic blood pressure 99 mmHg). Heart rate shown is 80 beats per minute.  Photographed 4 February 2009 by Steven Fruitsmaak.

Automatic brachial sphygmomanometer showing grade 2 arterial hypertension (systolic blood pressure 158 mmHg, diastolic blood pressure 99 mmHg). Heart rate shown is 80 beats per minute. Photographed 4 February 2009 by Steven Fruitsmaak.

Prolonged high blood pressure does damage. Prolonged exposure to stress hormones does damage (see here, herehere, and here). Performing or listening to rap for an hour would increase both blood pressure and the production of stress chemicals for at least an hour.

We may be facing a deluge of excess strokes, heart attacks and other severe health problems, beginning about 30 years from now. That would produce enormous unnecessary personal, social and economic pain.

The effect of gangsta rap on the blood pressure and blood chemistry can be tested, and should be, for both listeners and performers. How large are the changes, and how long do they last?

Doctors and researchers in physiology could make the maesurements. But the measurements would also make an enjoyable and useful science fair project.

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No Strain, No Gain

June 21, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Posted in Practical tips | Leave a comment
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Marine recruits do push-ups, May 18, 2005, San Diego. Photographed by PFC Charlie Chavez.

Marine recruits do push-ups, May 18, 2005, San Diego. Photographed by PFC Charlie Chavez.

Amanda Fox recently posted a valuable message about exercise and fat-control.

Her posting debunks the many sales pitches that exploit the desire for an effortless fix.

For example, she warns against cleansing.  (I used to have a healthy coworker who suddenly became convinced (probably by a sales person) that chelation would remove all of the toxic chemicals from his body, and make him even healthier.  He was enthusiastic when he told us about his treatments.  A few months later he was dead.)

Amanda also includes an astounding YouTube video.

You already knew that “if it sounds too good to be true, it isn’t true”, and “use or lose”.  But it is good to be reminded.  Attention and knowledge are not the same thing.  That is why sermons and other refreshers serve a useful purpose.

Consider this posting to be a footnote to Amanda’s.

‘No pain, no gain’ is a standard cliche about exercise.

It is false.

Pain is your body warning you of immediate danger.  During exercise it means “Stop, to avoid damage.”

The correct statement is ‘No strain, no gain – indeed, no staying even as good as you are now’.  The essential thing is frequent effort, frequently pushing yourself slightly beyond what you can now do.

It might seem that the mild soreness after exercise confirms ‘No pain, no gain’.  But soreness is a mild ache, not a sharp pain, and it comes after exercise, not during it.  Sharp pain has no redeeming value.

The mild post-exercise ache does.  It makes you like yourself.

Dance at Bougival, painted by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919) in 1882-1883, now at theMuseum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Dance at Bougival, painted by Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919) in 1882-1883, now at theMuseum of Fine Arts, Boston.

 

 

The Easy Way to Understand More, and Better

May 17, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Posted in Practical tips | 4 Comments
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Albert Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in 1921. Photograph by Ferdinand Schmutzer (1870–1928).

Albert Einstein during a lecture in Vienna in 1921. Photograph by Ferdinand Schmutzer (1870–1928).

Biographies, and then histories, are the pleasantest way to learn more, to understand more, and to understand better: any science, mathematics, politics, business, literature, the performing arts (including sports), and the military arts.  Biographies and histories are a useful supplement even for the studio arts.

Biographies, and then histories, are extremely effective aids to mastering new material.

Biographies and histories are narratives.  Our brains have evolved to be especially good at digesting narratives, and in basing actions on predictions of how narratives will play out.

It is easy to see why this is so.

Tyler's Tree Frog (Litoria tyleri).  Photo by LiquidGhoul (2006-01-10 (first version); 2007-03-07 (last version)).  Photo by LiquidGhoul.

Tyler’s Tree Frog (Litoria tyleri). Photo by LiquidGhoul (2006-01-10 (first version); 2007-03-07 (last version)). Photo by LiquidGhoul.

Consider a frog watching a fly swooping and buzzing almost within range of the frog’s tongue.  The frog’s brain has evolved the ability to fairly accurately guess where the fly will be next.  It does so by constructing scenarios in its brain, and playing them out there, conciously or unconciously.

Packsaddle (Kløv på Siberian Husky), photographed by Per Harald Olsen (Perhols)

Packsaddle (Kløv på Siberian Husky), photographed by Per Harald Olsen (Perhols)

A sleeping dog sometimes moves its legs, or even whimpers or growls.  It is dreaming.  A scenario is playing out in its brain.

President Reagan holds a oval office staff meeting on his first full day in office (from left to right) Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Deaver, Counsellor to the President Ed Meese, Chief of Staff James Baker III, Press Secretary James Brady, President Reagan, 1981  (http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/photographs/photo.html; Courtesy Reagan Library, PD).

President Reagan holds a oval office staff meeting on his first full day in office (from left to right) Deputy Chief of Staff Michael Deaver, Counsellor to the President Ed Meese, Chief of Staff James Baker III, Press Secretary James Brady, President Reagan, 1981
(http://www.reagan.utexas.edu/archives/photographs/photo.html; Courtesy Reagan Library, PD).

Photo by Dennis Crowley. Here is a kitchen view during Wednesday night's green tea party, 30 May 2008, 10:07:15, Author: Nick Gray

Photo by Dennis Crowley. Here is a kitchen view during Wednesday night’s green tea party, 30 May 2008, 10:07:15, Author: Nick Gray

Picture taken at at Masters of Lindy Hop and Tap, Century Ballroom, Oddfellows Temple, Pine Street, Capitol Hill, Seattle, Washington, USA. At the tail end of the Friday night Masters' Exhibition, there was a general invitation to the audience to come up and dance. This picture was taken during that period. Photo by Joe Mabel/Century Ballroom, 14 August 2009.

Picture taken at at Masters of Lindy Hop and Tap, Century Ballroom, Oddfellows Temple, Pine Street, Capitol Hill, Seattle, Washington, USA. At the tail end of the Friday night Masters’ Exhibition, there was a general invitation to the audience to come up and dance. This picture was taken during that period. Photo by Joe Mabel/Century Ballroom, 14 August 2009.

2006 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event Table, 22 May 2007, http://www.lasvegasvegas.com/photogallery/3719-lg.jpg, Author: Photos by flipchip / LasVegasVegas.com

2006 World Series of Poker (WSOP) Main Event Table, 22 May 2007, http://www.lasvegasvegas.com/photogallery/3719-lg.jpg, Author: Photos by flipchip / LasVegasVegas.com

We are a social species, and moreover do not have our responses hard-wired, but create them on the fly.  We must continually guess what other people know about us and about the rest of the world, and what they want to accomplish.  We do so by imagining scenarios, usually consciously, but sometimes unconsciously.  We have built upon the scenario-building skills of our evolutionary ancestor-species, and our scenarios can be much more sophisticated than theirs, often resulting in greater predictive skill and longer predictive lead-times.

Our proclivity for making scenarios is so great that we do so in day dreams, in night dreams, in literature (broadly construed: including plays and movies, and childrens games, and fantasies).  Our day dreams and our night dreams are not snapshots, they are movies: scenarios playing themselves out.  Sometimes we put considerable care and expense into creating scenarios: war games involving many people, or practicing and rehearsing a presentation to an individual or to a group, or for an upcoming job interview.

Dogs, our most social companion species, have evolved to be intensely interested in our feelings and intentions about them, as individuals.  So most dogs become rather good at reading us, and at anticipating our reactions.  By observing our behavior they are able to accurately imagine scenarios involving us.  So they become sneaky, hiding evidence of actions that they know we wouldn’t like, or they act embarrassed when they know we will be unhappy with them, or they bring us their leash or make noises with their food bowl, or wake us up and whine when something unsettling has appeared in the house, such as smoke in the air.

Cats, a less social companion species, do this less so.  But house cats vary greatly, and some individuals act rather dog-like.

So now you see why narratives are a particularly congenial way for us to learn and to understand.

Read biographies first, then histories.  Biographies are vivid.  We can more easily relate to an individual (with affection, sympathy or disgust) than to crowd. A biography acquaints us with the flavor of a time and place.  A biography gives us questions about the person’s context: customs, prevailing scarcities, politics.  That prior knowledge and those questions provide a structure upon which we can hang the more general information provided by a history.

What to Do with Bad Shampoo

March 30, 2013 at 4:32 pm | Posted in Practical tips | Leave a comment
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Friseurmeisterin bei der Arbeit (hairdresser at work), photographed 2005-10-01 by Frank C. Müller in Mannheim, Germany.

Friseurmeisterin bei der Arbeit (hairdresser at work), photographed 2005-10-01 by Frank C. Müller in Mannheim, Germany.

What to do with bad shampoo?
It works for some, but not for you.

In my relentless quest to avoid buying from companies that contribute primarily to the Republican Party, I occasionally try brands of shampoo that are new to me.

Some do not work well, at least for me.  Is there an alternative to just throwing the shampoo away?

There is.  Shampoo is excellent as hand soap.  It is also very effective for washing toilet bowls.

Washing hands with soap, photographed 7 September 2008 by Serenity.

Washing hands with soap, photographed 7 September 2008 by Serenity.

A toilet with a flush water tank. Photo taken on October 5, 2006 by Jarlhelm.

A toilet with a flush water tank. Photo taken on October 5, 2006 by Jarlhelm.

But be warned: if you wash a toilet bowl with shampoo, the toilet bowl may stare back at you.  See photo 7 in this very amusing collection.

Heloise, feel free to quote these hints.

Those Infuriating Self-flushing Public Toilets

August 11, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Posted in Practical tips | 1 Comment
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You have probably have encountered one of those public toilets that – for better sanitation – flushes itself when a person stands up after having used the toilet.

In principle, this is a good thing.

But the toilet uses an overly simple criterion to decide when to flush.  It flushes when anything moves.

That can lead to scenarios like this:

– You want to place paper around the toilet seat before you sit on it.

– In doing so, you trigger a flush.

– The flush splatters water on the paper you have just placed on
the seat, and probably elsewhere on the seat.  Now you are back
to square one (no pun intended).

– Repeat, with ever mounting frustration.

After several such encounters, I found the solution:

– Find the Evil Eye, the optical sensor that tells the mechanism
that something has moved.  It is usually covered by dark red
glass, and is mounted on the wall or pipe behind the toilet.

– Tear off a single square of toilet paper, and tear from it
a piece that is just slightly larger than the Evil Eye.

– Moisten it with spit.

– Place it over the Evil Eye.  Surface tension will hold it in
place.  The Evil Eye is temporarily blind.

– Happily, gloatingly, do what you intended to do.

– After you stand up, remove the moist piece of paper.
The toilet will now flush.

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