Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How Science Lets Us Down

The purpose of action is to enable philosophy to continue, for if men are reduced to the material alone they become no more than beasts.
- Saint Sophia, 2nd century Rome, whose daughters Faith (Pistis), Hope (Elpis) and Love (Agape) were slaughtered in front of their mother for their devotion to their God

The Roman emperor Hadrian had Sophia's daughters slashed, stretched and eventually beheaded and burned to get them to renounce their beliefs, all in front of their mother. As he could think of no worse punishment to Sophia that to live out the rest of her life knowing that her only children had died horrifying deaths, he spared her. She gathered the bodies of her children, buried them and died three days later.

Were they all martyrs? Were they all stupid to die before their times instead of saying the words Hadrian wanted (albeit blasphemous words because he wanted them to acknowledge him as their god)?

In the 21st century we have come to respect science more than at any time in the past. Science originally was the means by which humans could better understand the works of God. Yet science gained such power and authority over its respective cultures that it now sees itself as a kind of god.

Nothing that cannot be manipulated by humans or that cannot be rationalized as originating according to natural order exists, according to the materialist view. There can be no God because no one can describe God, no one can prove the existence of God, no one can manipulate God.

Furthermore, the gods of the popular religions of today can be shown to be human inventions or hand-me-downs from earlier pagan religions.

Yet materialists cannot explain dreams in terms that do not make dreamers seem insane at night. They cannot explain visions that people have, or vision quests that change people's lives.

They cannot explain ESP (extra-sensory perception). They cannot explain how patients who are legally dead on an operating table can have out of body experiences where they can later describe exactly what was going on in the operating theatre until surgeons restarted their hearts, brains and other organs.

Materialists cannot explain self or mind other than in ways that make us seem like advanced forms of dogs or dolphins.

In short, if materialists can't grasp their minds around a concept in such a way that they can explain it in human terms, they deny it exists. They expect our reality to be limited by the perimeters of their minds. Or I should say brains because they don't believe in the mind as being separate from the brain.

How does that fit with quantum physics where a particle can be in two places at once, where in fact if you look for it in one of those places it will automatically be in the other? How do they explain that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points only on a global scale, not on a universal scale where time and space bend, can even fold back on each other?

Multiple dimensions, they say. We can only detect four dimensions, but string theory stipulates that all this mysterious stuff makes sense if we accept that reality has eleven dimensions.

Science asks us to believe that some day it will show that all the mysteries of physics, of space larger than we can imagine and space smaller than we can imagine, will be explained and proven as truths. It's called Promissory Science. Science promises that it will prove these mysteries some day.

At the same time science denies that God or any of the other mysteries it cannot explain, phenomena and experiences that you and I may have many times in our lives, will ever be explained because they don't really exist. Science says we should believe its promises, not the promises of non-scientists.

How does science say we invent these things? It's all in our minds.

Oh, wait! They don't believe in the mind. It's all in our brains.

But apes, dolphins, wolves and many other animals have brains similar to our own, some even larger than ours, yet they don't seem to have supernatural experiences. If a brain can create fantasies, should a sophisticated brain such as that of a dolphin or a chimpanzee not be able to do the same?

So far, only humans have been shown to have extrasensory experiences. These can easily be explained by the coexistence of both brain and mind. But materialist scientists can't grasp the concept of mind because it's too difficult to study. It denies the mind exists, in many cases.

Are they not, despite their protests, what Saint Sophia called "no more than beasts?"

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to grow children who are well balanced socially and emotionally as well as intellectually and physically.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

Monday, January 19, 2009

When You Want to Get Rid of an Enemy

One of the most time-consuming things is to have an enemy.
- E.B. White, writer (1899-1985)

Having an enemy requires a similar amount of time to having a spouse. The commitment must be the same as well. The amount of emotional energy consumed in maintaining the enmity may be even greater than that required for having a loving spousal relationship.

A person who maintains another as an enemy is Obsessive-Compulsive (OC). It makes no sense logically to expend so much energy on someone from whom you get little in return. It's like having a hobby you can't tear yourself away form, a hobby that is destructive rather than constructive.

Having an enemy is selfish and self-centred. While the OC enemy holder believes the focus is on the other person, the reverse is usually true. The person who maintains an enemy seeks to satisfy a dark internal need of his or her own making.

The enemy maker may be delusional. Often the perceived enemy has no knowledge of how devoted the other is to hatred of him. Nor does he care. The expenditure of energy on the enmity is almost always one way. It is not exchanged mutually, as love is.

Having an enemy is a more advanced form of holding a grudge, which is equally draining emotionally and produces nothing positive. Holding a grudge is a more polite way of saying you have an enemy.

A person who has an enemy (real or perceived) is so committed to the relationship that he or she has little time or emotional energy to devote to a positive relationship with another person. The enemy relationship takes all the emotional energy a person has.

Having an enemy is like bullying yourself. You have no one to blame for your own hurt but yourself.

Breaking off an enemy relationship is easier than breaking off a relationship based on love. To stop having an enemy, you simply refuse to acknowledge any longer that the other person is an enemy. If an enemy is real rather than perceived, most of the time what the enemy wants more than anything else is to cause fear, worry and emotional exhaustion to the other person. A real enemy relationship is another form of bullying. As with any bullying, you can't be intimidated unless you allow yourself to be intimidated. You have a choice.

Ending an enemy relationship may be easy because it requires making a decision to "end it," but the emotional commitment that is lost may be as hard as losing a loved one.

Does this sound as if love and hatred of an enemy have much in common? They do. They both require emotional commitment, devotion, even fidelity. No one can have a good relationship with an enemy if the other person could up and find someone else to be enemies with at any moment.

Is love, then, also Obsessive-Compulsive? In some ways, yes. Romantic love that grows into a more lasting friendship is healthy, whereas romantic love that does not get beyond the romance stage is doomed to failure. Romance is self satisfying, whereas friendship is more about satisfying the needs of the other person. Romance is selfish, as is having an enemy. But if it evolves into a healthy friendship, it has long term benefits for both. On the other hand, having an enemy has no benefits over the long term.

Each of us can choose to accept another as an enemy or to reject the possibility and ignore the other as much as possible. The love-hate relationships of childhood and adolescent friends testifies to how awkward it can be to establish a healthy relationship instead of an unhealthy one.
Most of us opt for the healthy kind.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to give children the skills they need to have healthy relationships with others instead of allowing the trial-and-error method teach life lessons the hard way.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

Friday, January 09, 2009

Fascinating Stuff You Didn't Know About Bacteria

The count of bacteria on our planet vastly outnumbers all other life forms combined. One scientific source pegs them around five million trillion trillion strong.

Placed end to end, earth's bacteria would stretch from here to the edge of the visible universe, about ten billion light years away.

You will find bacteria virtually everywhere you look. That includes in your body. You likely know bacteria as invaders, causers of disease. Pharmaceutical companies and television advertising promote that understanding. It's only partly true.

We couldn't live without bacteria--the good kind. Our bodies are really symbionts, part human cells and part bacteria. Our body cells provide the living environment and nutrition for the good bacteria, while they provide protection from many diseases for us.

Those television commercials where graphics show bacteria in the mouth, with actors in white coats making grimacing faces to show how ugly and dangerous the bacteria are deceive us. The mouth is the first line of defence against disease. Good bacteria in the mouth hunt down and kill the bad bacteria before they get any further and acquire a foothold. Those antibacterial mouthwashes kill bad bacteria, as advertised. They also kill far more good and beneficial bacteria whose primary function is to kill the bad ones. Good bacteria in the mouth always vastly outnumber the bad ones, except when both are killed off by antibacterial mouthwashes.

Most cases of bad breath--halitosis--result from dead bacteria and partly broken down food particles on the back of the tongue. Just as you blow your nose when you have a cold to remove the detritus of the battles in your body of good bacteria against bad, you should brush your tongue--especially the back of the tongue that gets little activity--to remove rotting matter.

Mints, gum and eating food either mask problems on the back of the tongue or delay their giving off a bad odour until the mouth is quiet during the night. Morning breath is usually caused by food and dead bacteria rotting away on the back of the tongue during the night. Brush the tongue before bed at night and your breath will likely be much fresher in the morning.

Removing bacteria in the mouth that have given their lives to save yours is like taking out the trash. What the trash was originally was good and beneficial, but there comes a time to get rid of what is no longer useful before it causes other problems. Do that with a brush or scraper, not with an antibacterial mouthwash weapon of mass destruction.

I used to get horrified reactions from readers when I wrote that there are likely more bacteria in our bodies than native cells. Recent estimates based on lab research suggest that bacteria in our bodies outnumber our body's cells by a factor of ten.

Bacteria are the oldest known life form. They have been on earth for 3.5 billion years, since shortly after the surface of our planet solidified.

They were the source of mystery, speculation and superstition until 1674 when Dutch scientist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek invented the first microscope and spotted the first "animacules." Some were microbes (including bacteria), some spermatozoa and some blood corpuscles.

Some varieties of bacteria are remarkably adept at reproduction. They can go from birth to being capable of reproduction themselves in ten minutes. A single bacterium could theoretically be the progenitor of more than one billion offspring within five hours. They don't reproduce sexually, so they don't require recovery time. They don't seem to require sleep or rest. They're just full time busy bodies.

There may be more varieties of bacteria as yet unidentified than we have listed of all other known species of life. In 2003, geneticist J. Craig Ventner travelled several oceans of the world scooping up water samples from the surfaces. On examination of his water samples he found more than one million bacterial genes never seen before.

Ventner is leading a team that plans to build a bacterium from scratch. His first created "life form" is under study now.

Why do we need to create more bacteria when we have so many we haven't even found? Remember how some bacteria live so well in our bodies, killing the bad guys that invade us? Some new bacteria could be designed to kill cancer cells, for example. Other researchers are genetically modifying viruses for similar purposes. Some day, curing your newly identified cancer or tuberculosis or cholera may require nothing more than getting a needle in the doctor's office.

Bacteria are fast. E. coli, one of the feared kind but also one of the varieties being genetically modified to help us, can travel 25 times it's own length in one second.That would be like a race horse galloping at 135 miles per hour (216 kph).

Bacteria have been with us and in us for so long that some have been incorporated into our bodies. Mitochondria, an organelle with enzymes that power every cell in our bodies, descended from bacteria. Stretches of our own DNA are virtually identical to the DNA of certain bacteria and viruses. Bacteria may be responsible for allowing our bodies to incorporate virus DNA into our own.

Science is totally rethinking the use of antibiotics to cure our problems. At one time given out freely by doctors to address patient problems they couldn't figure out, including viral infections that cannot be addressed by antibiotics, antibiotics are now recognized as having been abused and misused, resulting in the so-called superbug bacteria that no antibiotic can touch.

Clostridium difficile (better known as C. difficile or C. diff), the terror of some modern hospitals, moves in and takes over a body when its natural defences have been destroyed by antibiotics or immune system failure. It causes painful inflammation in the gut, diarrhea and even death.

Bacteria are so good at adapting to avoid the effects of antibiotics--thus gaining the title superbug--that one superbug bacteria known as MRSA killed 19,000 Americans in 2005 alone.

Floating bacteria have the unusual characteristic of being the "germ" around which moisture collects in the air. One theory, as yet unproven, recommends that bacteria be sprayed onto clouds to "seed" them, causing rain in areas of drought. The problem with testing the theory is that many people believe that all bacteria are bad, a belief they learned from deceptive television commercials.

Bacteria are amazingly resilient. They have been found two miles down in a South African gold mine, living off energy given off by radioactive rocks. Deinococcus radiodurans can survive 10,000 times as much radiation as humans, making it a prime subject for study about cleaning up nuclear waste. Other varieties have been found under two kilometres of ice in the Antarctic and revived, having laid under the ice for hundreds or even thousands of years.

Australian scientists have discovered that Ralstonia metallidurans can turn gold dissolved in a liquid into solid gold nuggets.

Bacteria may even one day not just power, but be the computer you use. As single-purposed and diligent as they are, they can follow directions without close supervision. E. coli has already been assembled as part of a computer, to produce a bull's-eye on command.

No word yet on whether the bacteria will run Windows or Linux.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to know what kids need while they are growing, not just what they should be taught to get good jobs as adults.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

[Primary source: Discover, December 2008]

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

What if You Just Can't Cope?

Not that I want to be a god or a hero. Just to change into a tree, grow for ages, not hurt anyone.
- Czeslaw Milosz, poet and novelist (1911-2004)

Marc loved his new home. What he loved most about it was that Kathy would finally have a kitchen of her own. And the three kids, Joelle, 12, Marc-Ange, 7 and Louis-Philippe, 4, would have a yard of their own to play in. In the Saguenay area of Chicoutimi, Quebec, as in most parts of North America, to be able to hold you head high in your community you have to own your own home. The Laliberté family reached that milestone about six months ago. They had a home to call their own.

Then it all unravelled.

Despite falling lending rates for mortgages, people chose to remain in their old homes rather than buy new ones. A real estate agent, Marc Laliberté couldn't sell enough in a failing market so his employer had to let him go not long before Christmas. Mom Kathy Gauthier had brought in some much needed cash to support the family from her Christmas rush job, but that income disappeared just before Christmas when she was laid off.

In the face of impending public shame and the humiliation expected to come with it when the Lalibertés lost everything, including their dreams, what could the family do? Who could they turn to for answers?

Quebec provincial police believe, based on the evidence, that Kathy and Marc had decided on a murder-suicide pact. As the bodies of the children had no marks, they were likely either poisoned or smothered. Marc's body was hacked up enough that he couldn't survive. Kathy, slash wounds on her arms, managed to call the 911 emergency number so their bodies would be found before they decayed.

Kathy didn't die. Emergency services personnel took her to hospital where she is expect to recover. Police say they have sufficient evidence to lay first degree murder charges against her.

Consider Kathy's state of mind as she gets better. To have done what police believe she did required that she be tragically depressed and distraught. When she recovers, the thought of spending the rest of her life in prison might well prompt her to complete the job she failed earlier, taking her own life. If financial distress caused the family shame, killing her family would cause her further psychological trauma. In prison, where inmates traditionally don't take kindly to anyone known to have killed a child, Kathy would likely find death preferable to being surrounded by enemies all the time. One way or another, in prison she would be a goner.

Everyone faces bad times in their life. The Laliberté family had no idea how to cope with their most critical bad time, the loss of their home, their dreams, their future. Without considering the consequences of what Marc and Kathy decided to do, they chose an even more desperate and destructive path. Ultimately, that decision destroyed five lives.

With all of the education opportunities offered in our communities, where is a course offered that can help people learn how to cope with personal tragedy? With steadily rising rates of teen suicide, what are we doing about it other than to find someone to blame? With individuals and families sinking into poverty and many people choosing to live on the street because they can't afford a decent and safe place to live, often turning to begging just to survive, what public policies do we have that will turn these situations around?

As usual, everything governments decide to do--if they choose to acknowledge a problem at all--is reactive. Try to fix what's broken after it's damaged, rather than preventing it from happening beforehand.

Part of how we cope in the face of tragedy or depression is physiological (that is, chemicals produced naturally by the body). The adrenal hormone cortisol, for example, keeps most people upright when tragedy strikes while the lack of it or low levels send others over the edge. The more important component of coping is learned skills. To learn coping skills we need to have sources. They must be taught.

Knowing what to do in a personal crisis removes the necessity for the body to use its own chemicals to prevent our bodies from damaging themselves. That "knowing" is called coping skills.

The first rule of coping is that we will live through tragedy or depression, recover, and be more capable people for it afterwards. We will survive. For someone who doesn't know that they will survive and that everything will come together again eventually, the only thing they may see is the devastation of their lives and the lives of their loved ones. If the problem is depression, they can only see the tragedy of their own lives, as depression forces people to be self-centred, solely self-interested.

Both depression and a low level of cortisone could affect the immune system, which could prolong the effects of the crisis, chemically trigger a disease such as cancer or bring about chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia or some similar syndrome or disease affected by the immune system.

Knowing that much alone could save lives. It could help people understand how they will get through their own problems that seem life threatening at the time. It will help others assist those with problems because they will know how to help.

The book Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems explains not only how to cope with personal problems, it also provides a methodology and resources whereby families, communities, schools and governments can launch programs that will give people the knowledge and skills they need before tragedy strikes.

When it comes to tragedy, ignorance helps no one. It's incumbent on each of us to do what we can to save lives. As the quote at the beginning of this article said, we don't have to be heroes, just want to avoid hurting anyone. We now have at hand the ability to prevent tragedies such as the one in Quebec from happening.

The way to help and the means to do so is in our hands.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to grow competent and confident children who can cope with life's downturns and tragedies without creating more of their own.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

Friday, January 02, 2009

Do You Think or Just Follow?

Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one.
- Charles Mackay, Scottish author, poet, songwriter (1814-1889)

I'm uncomfortable with this quotation. Though I agree that people act in herds and recover one by one, with sociological studies in abundance to support it, I disagree with Mackay's claim that men think. It is precisely the lack of thinking that causes them to act in herd fashion.

Most of our waking hours are spend managing things that require manipulation with the hands, repetition of routines and saying essentially the same things to many different people, using different words as much as possible. That, I submit, requires no thinking. It's nothing more than any other animal does on any day in its natural environment.

Observe what happens with house pets as they get older. A kitten, especially one that is kept indoors full time, will be endlessly curious. In the beginning it wants to learn its surroundings, as a wild cat would, in order to know when everything is in place, when something is amiss and when it can expect attention or food from the humans it owns. It sleeps when it's exhausted, not before.

As the cat ages, it retains its curiosity, but demonstrates an interest in it far less frequently. Meanwhile it gains an interest in sleep and rest for their own sake. Adult house cats reputedly sleep or rest for 20 to 22 hours each day. For what purpose? Usually it's to be ready for something that never comes. It develops routines, such as annoying its humans for food, rubbing against them when it wants to be petted, grooming itself and using its litterbox, routines that differ little from day to day.

A house cat never needs to search out or kill its food, something that may require its wild equivalent from four to ten hours per day, and it never has to watch out for predators. When all the natural risks of life in the wild are removed, the house cat falls into routines that require it to do no thinking. It's curiosity shows less frequently. It even exercises less often.

Old house cats tend to be dumber, though usually more lovable, than younger cats. These are generalizations, of course, that do not necessarily apply to all house cats.

Many cats gain weight as they get older. They eat the same amount, or more, but feel less need to exercise. Don't change their routines or move them to a different home in their older years or they will be mighty upset with you. They hate to have their routines changed.

Are those descriptions not ones that could apply to many adult humans as well?

One of our cats--the older one--likes to pause when eating her canned food. Often she walks away, even if only for half a minute. Just a breather, to her. She forgets that our other (younger) cat, that gobbles his food like a starving wolf in a pack, will move in with lightning speed to finish off any food left in her bowl when she steps aside. The male will not interfere while the female is eating, but he swoops when she moves away from her dish. The female just doesn't get it. She forgets because she doesn't think about the consequences of moving away from her food bowl.

Many adults give little thought to the consequences of what they do. Or what they don't do (neglect), even if they fail to complete duties required of them by their bosses or their position in the family.

Debate over whether 65 should be a mandatory age for retirement has heated up in the past decade. It's driven by "seniors" who may well be at the top of their game intellectually. They don't want to be put out to pasture. But their cause is a tough sell when most adults today know lots of people in their 60s who might forget to take their cars keys when they leave in the morning if they weren't required to start their cars. Or they can't remember what is recyclable and what isn't. Or when their doctor's appointment is. Or {shudder} the date of their anniversary or their wife's birthday.

They don't think. Individually, they do more dumb things than they have ever done before in their lives. They act in herd fashion because they leave thinking to others. Those others, with rare exceptions, have their own best interests at heart when they make decisions or venture to advise others about how they should think.

For example, American citizens took eight years to understand that President George W. Bush represented his oil industry supporters better than he represented the citizens of the state of which he was leader. At election time they simply believed the propaganda they heard on television. The US media are largely dominated by conservative Republicans.

Did Americans move to the Democratic candidate for president recently because they thought it through that Barack Obama better represented their best interests than John McCain or did they simply switch in herd fashion to the party they disliked less?

We can be certain that they learned to dislike President Bush one at a time. What we can't know for certain is if they will think about the work of President-elect Obama as much as they thought about how much they grew to dislike his predecessor.

The scientific name for our species is homo sapiens sapiens, which means "man who thinks above the level of other thinking species." Do we really?

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents and teachers who want to raise children who can think, who can cope with every challenge they face in life.
Learn more at http://billallin.com