Friday, August 19, 2011

This Little PIggy said,"Wee, Wee, Wee", all the way to the ER

Rushing madly through outside school hallways--which are open to the torrential, afternoon, Florida rain--a toddler darted out in front of me and caught my naked pinky toe, unprotected by my flip-flops, with his apparently steel-toed tennis shoes.

After limping around the elementary school, and then the middle school for two hours, while holding back tears towards the end, I realized that my toe was probably broken instead of only badly stubbed.

One trip to the ER, and a few X-rays later, I am the proud owner of shiny metal crutches.

My husband thinks I have become a self-inflicating injury hypochondriac looking for extra attention.  I told him not to say things like that to a woman who has two new, long, metal clubs with which to strike him.

He's lucky that I can't chase after him! ;-)

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Pale Blue Dot

Last weekend the boys and I went to a planetarium and attended several of the shows offered. One of the presentations, Extreme Planets, explored the possible environments of planets that have already been discovered outside of our solar system.

This and the Live Star Talk by the Planetarium's astronomer were pretty spectacular.

The Rationalist said afterwards,"Watching those shows made me realize how small Earth is and how easily it could be destroyed."

I concurred. Imagining the immensity of space, the vastness of our galaxy and the prospect of billions of other galaxies, it does make a person seem pretty insignificant.  It also makes me think that somewhere out there there has to be at least one other planet with life.

Functionally, it doesn't really matter.  Even if there are thousands of planets with life, they are so far from us that they may as well not exist.  Theoretically, though, how amazing would that be?

Why Belief?

Why do humans believe things? Why do we venture into thought worlds that can only exist through exerting a high level of belief that can't be substantiated by materialistic, visible processes?

Because we evolved that way.

Part of what makes humans successful is the ability to teach and receive information and ideas without having personally experienced the knowledge firsthand. We learn from each other, not just through observing another person's actions, but through the other person recounting a lesson, or a bit of knowledge, or a new way of doing things.

We store up all this information in our relatively large brains and it gives us an advantage we wouldn't have otherwise.  We survive because we are good at information storage, retrieval, and analysis.

A large portion of that information we must accept on faith. There's no way we could personally check every fact or idea for veracity.  There must be a level of trust present in our learning; trust from our teachers, from our fellow humans, and in the process of learning itself.

This trust is self-reinforcing.  When we receive a new bit of information, or advice about something, and we follow it and it turns out to be true and right, then we have strengthened the level of trust we have for secondhand knowledge.

Multiply this by a million instances and it's easy to see how trust and belief become natural human tendencies. Because we are social animals living in complex social hierarchies, it is a necessity that we trust each other and build upon a base of knowledge that is shared across our social group regardless of our ability to prove that the conglomeration of ideas that guides our lives is true in every detail.

Belief, then, is just a normal outgrowth of our development and survival as a species.

Of course, that's the positive side of belief and trust, but belief and trust can go horribly awry. It's possible to believe things which are false. It's possible to be manipulated and have belief and trust misused and abused by a devious person. It's possible for belief to become our main way of viewing the world to the exclusion of the reality around us.

In turn, it seems to me that belief--the acceptance of ideas that we haven't personally verified--is directly tied to our social groupings and loyalties. And, when our beliefs are challenged, the ramifications are enormous for us because of what it does to our sense of unity and trust in the larger system in which we exist.

Logically, it would seem silly to be so critically affected by an overturned belief.  After all, everyday we have to adjust to new circumstances and learn from our failures. If I think the best way to get across town is route A and I've been going that way all my life, and everyone I know swears by that route,  I don't get upset or feel ashamed if I learn that route B is actually faster and more convenient.  I simply start using route B and wind up happy that I learned something new.

Yet this doesn't happen when we experience it in our religious or personal beliefs. Changing or losing belief in these areas is monumental because of what it says about our trust and attachment to a particular group of people, people we feel close to and love and interact with every day. People who we used to listen to uncritically and trust implicitly.

Because what we have learned in life has always come down to us through our closely knit social groups, there is no way to overturn a deeply held, core idea without it appearing treasonous to the group, without seeming to undermine the authority of the very group which produced us.

more on this later.....

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Comparison as Consolation

My *extended family member's mother passed away this past weekend after suffering with Huntington's disease for years. She had spent the last 3 years in a nursing home, unable to talk, eat, walk, or communicate in any way by herself. See had been pretty badly off for some time before that.

I called to express my condolences and talked with my extended family member--a very gentle, sweet person--for a few minutes.

In the middle of that conversation I realized, once again, that people say all kinds of things without really thinking about them. In order to express her consolation that she and her brother and her father were all present when her mother passed, along with their families, she referred to my father's death, making a comparison about the comfort of one death over another.  She went further bringing up the comfort that her mother was in Heaven while we didn't have that comfort about my father. We were left with "uncertainty".

My father died alone from what the medical examiner thinks was a massive heart attack, with the phone still in his hand.  He never made the call that he was probably trying to make to 911.  That's how instantaneous his death happened...not enough time to even press three numbers on a phone. It wasn't discovered that he had died until at least a week or two later.

He also died an atheist.

I didn't respond to my extended family member's comments.  I know that she is hurting and has no intention to offend . I know that she is just expressing ideas that my own brother still struggles with.  I know exactly what she meant by her comments, because I might have made those same comments a few years earlier.

So, this post isn't about ranting and outrage over my extended family member's comments. Instead, I wanted to merely mark down the idea that so much of our comfort comes from having a concrete example to compare things to.  It seems as if we can only feel good about ourselves and our circumstances when we have other people and disasters to view as horrible examples.

It's as if goodness and happiness joy can't exist if it doesn't have an evil by which to define itself.  We are "good" people because we are not like those "bad" people. Our choices are good choices because they are different than those bad choices...etc.

My extended family member found comfort that God had brought them all together to be present at her mother's death, as if it were some grand design that coincidentally happened when really, it was due to the nurses calling and telling them that her mother didn't have much time left and everybody should come if they wanted to say goodbye to her.

But we take comfort where we can find it and dress up the ugliness behind how we get that comfort. Most of the time we don't even see the ugliness because it isn't important to us.  It's just a vehicle we use to move us along to a better emotional place.

The ugliness behind my extended family member's comment is the idea of my father being eternally in hell. From such a thing she stole a moment of consolation that her mother wasn't suffering the same fate.

It would be an easy thing to be upset about....except for the truth that we all function in this way at times.

* I edited this to remove some identifying information.

Stewart on Ron Paul

Saw this somewhere and thought it was funny.

This is one of several videos lately in which Stewart spends most of his time aiming at the media instead of the actual politicians. Interesting change in targets.

Outrage All Around Us

The Rationalist reacted strongly upon seeing a father with his two year old on the end of a leash:

(this is just an image pulled from the interwebs)

"I understand why that kid's on a leash....but that's just not right!"

His outrage has also been ignited by the idea of dog breeding.  After watching a Dogs 101 DVD that talks about different dog breeds and crossing breeds, he exclaimed,"That's just wrong!  Dogs shouldn't be forced to mate with other dogs...with total strangers!! How would those dog breeders like it if they had to mate with a total stranger!?"

I tried to convince him that animals frequently do such things in the wild, meeting up for brief periods with a heretofore unknown animal and then moving on.

He didn't seem convinced by my argument.  ;-)

His main outrage has to do with the concept of "force" and animals or people being made to do things against their own will or inclinations.

Before I know it, he may become a member of PETA or decide to go vegan and I'll have to change what I feed and clothe him with.

I do admire his passionate conviction at times.

Doing OK

I've been doing well the last few weeks and feel totally normal.  I don't know if that's because of the low-sodium diet or mere coincidence.  This whole Meniere's disease thing seems vague and mysterious enough that you could probably report any kind of regimen as successful at certain periods.

The placebo effect shall always be with us.

The major thing that has transpired is that I tearfully quite my job.  The anxiety over whether I would have an episode of vertigo while driving around town every day, or in the middle of a presentation at a school was causing me too much turmoil.

It hurt to willingly quit a job in an economy that's so terrible, but I felt as if I had to.

Now. it's time to move on to something else.