Monday, January 28, 2013

The Myths Surrounding Alien Life Forms

The Myths Surrounding Alien Life Forms

Bookmaker Paddy Power is offering odds of 16-1 that the existence of extraterrestrial life will be confirmed this year.Maggie Aderin-Pocock, There IS life out there: Space scientist says there could be four intelligent alien civilisations in our galaxy, Mirror News, 2 July 2012
Note the dates: "confirmed this year" and "July 2012". Apparently bookmakers know little more about extraterrestrial (aka alien) life as the scientists who study the cosmos looking for it. That's not much.

Let's put a little perspective into this. Scientists who believe they know about such things as life on earth claim that the chances of life happening on a chunk of rock at just the right distance from a relatively small and remote star as our sun would be about the same as you or I winning a big lottery each and every day in the coming year.

They would be primarily biologists and others who have studied the intricacies of life on earth and its relationship with the respective environments of each. The odds against us being the way we are seem staggering.

Over on the physics side of science we have those who look at where earth is relative to the rest of the Milky Way galaxy and the universe and say there must be countless planets similar to ours. They conclude that the components that are necessary to generate living things (call them chemicals) exist in abundance in the universe, so there must be thousands, even millions, of planets like ours with life already growing and evolving.

With odds like those, it's no wonder bookies can offer grand looking odds to those who believe they have a decent chance of winning a big lottery.

Scientists claim that it's likely that life on another planet somewhere must be more evolved than we are, thus they have figured out how to travel astronomical distances (literally) in a relatively short period of time. They never explain why this could have happened faster elsewhere than it did on earth. Nor how the aliens could have found us amongst billions off possible locations.

Light from the nearest star system to earth takes over four years to reach earth. Scientists have not even imagined a way to travel faster than a tiny fraction of the speed of light. Indeed, most still believe Einstein's claim that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light. Even at the speed of light, the stressors on life forms inside a vessel would likely be greater than their bodies could withstand.

Meanwhile science fiction writers have so influenced real scientists that the latter now believe that alien life forms coming to earth will want to destroy it, or at least turn humans into slaves. They never explain how a few alien life forms would manage to conquer and overcome an entire planet. Or why, as they would not come in massive numbers as they would only be explorers and adventurers anyway.

We know that distances between earth and other planets that could be somewhat like earth are so great that it would require propulsion systems far advanced of anything science could conceive of today in order to make such a trip in fewer than several successive lifetimes.

Think about that for a moment. Would you send your astronaut son or daughter into space knowing they would (could) never return and that their children and grandchildren and even generations beyond that would be born and live their entire lifetimes on a vessel moving through uncharted space? Never to set foot on land. That doesn't make sense.

If one of our space vessels made it, over several generations of humans, to a distant planet that could sustain life, what are the chances that the vessel could turn around and make the trip back to earth without a problem that would destroy it? Remember, two of those very dependable American shuttlecraft were destroyed right here on our own planet.

Protection against space debris, wandering space litter such as rogue asteroids and radiation science has not even discovered yet--to say nothing of living in cramped quarters for decades at a time, with resulting muscle atrophy--would present problems beyond what science today can address with confidence.

Other small questions should enter the picture. We know that unmanned space vessels are the way to go when exploring beyond our own atmosphere, so why would an alien vessel travel with a complete crew (including earth-shattering weaponry) for generations, only to return home generations later to say "Hey, we found one!"?

If we were to send out an exploration vessel today, which direction should we go? Science has no evidence from decades of watching and listening to space that suggests there could be life anywhere else in the universe. A "shot in the dark" would have a much greater possibility for success than a probe with no known or prescribed destination.

We have sent out messages into space and listened for incoming messages for decades, but heard nothing. The SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) had to be shut down after decades of searching for lack of evidence of any kind.

This is not to say that there is no life out there, be it microscopic or even more advanced that we are on earth. It is to say that the effort may not be worth the cost, at least at this point.

In other words, finding a distant planet to which we could send a sampling of life from earth, in order to preserve what we have today, will not likely be feasible in the foreseeable future. Maybe never, as the universe itself is expanding at a horrendous rate, making everything in it farther apart.

We had better get busy cleaning up our own backyard before we have nothing left to send out into space in order to preserve life as we know it.

We allow some 300,000 chemicals to be poured into our waterways from factories and half a million chemicals to be whooshed into the air from smokestacks. We know very little about what effects they have on life right here on our planet. Yet our governments and our industries want us to worry about the temperature of our atmosphere warming by half a degree.

Of course industries want us to be concerned over global warming, it will take our attention away from the countless chemicals they put into our food, our medicines and our vaccines (dozens of which are now given to very young children, by law, with no evidence of their effectiveness or their long term effects on health, but an increasing body of evidence telling us they do more harm than good).

If you were an intelligent species that had travelled for hundreds of years through space, would you want to adopt homo sapiens as slaves?

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for parents, teachers and governments who want to make the future of our planet livable.
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Saturday, January 26, 2013

Suicide: A Small Informal (Personal) Study

Suicide: A Small Informal (Personal) Study
"Why did you try to kill yourself?"
"You told me to be happy."
- Anonymous source, internet forum, (validity unconfirmed)

A few days ago, as a result of an unfortunate series of coincidences, I found myself experiencing some old familiar feelings.

I wanted the pain to be over.

As I have been through these experiences before and lived to think and tell about them, I decided to do a small experiment to see if people who believe they know me could recognize the telltale signs of potential suicide we hear about (always after the tragic event itself).

What, I wondered, would people do if they knew I was troubled enough to rant, with little self control, about the state of the world and my life? Such ranting is as common as depression as a sign of someone who is potentially suicidal. Would people recognize a person in trouble, someone in danger of considering suicide? Or might they just think I had not had enough sleep? Or that I was having a bad hair day?

How many would care enough to ask if they did suspect something? I expected that most, if they recognized anything, would go introspective or selfish and try to avoid meddling.

"Did you really want to die?"
"No one commits suicide because they want to die."
"Then why do they do it?"
"Because they want to stop the pain."
Tiffanie DeBartolo, American novelist (b. 1970), How to Kill a Rock Star

I also wondered what people would do if they found someone at risk, what actions they would take. Would they, in fact, do anything or would they be too afraid to "interfere" in something they know little about.

Finally, I wondered what kinds of clues might cause people to clue-in that they were suddenly aware of a person they knew who was in trouble.

"A lot of you cared, just not enough."
Jay Asher, American writer (b. 1975), Thirteen Reasons Why

Most people who believe they know me paid little attention when I seemed to go off the deep end. "He has done it before, so we know he will be all right" they thought. It never occurred to them that I might see that as a challenge to prove them wrong. Suicidal people rise to challenges.

It never occurred to them that this time might be somehow different. In fact, brain chemistry imbalances may never be identical twice. Brain chemistry imbalances account for most depression and suicides.

It also never occurred to them that I might really end my life. They didn't allow that possibility to enter their minds. In psychology, that is called denial. For those who are left behind after someone has ended their life, it's a lifetime or knowing that they could have done something, but didn't.

What some friends have seen as strange cranky periods I get sometimes were really periods when I seriously considered suicide. I didn't follow through, for one reason or another. I delayed so long in trying to figure out how to end my life without hurting others that the chemistry in my brain corrected itself.

"and he suddenly knew that if she killed herself, he would die. Maybe not immediately, maybe not with the same blinding rush of pain, but it would happen. You couldn't live for very long without a heart."
Jodi Picoult, American author (b. 1966)

When I was a child, it was common to hear of people dying of a "broken heart." Of course this seemed silly, but people had no other way to account for why I person who had been very close to another (such as a spouse) for many years would die within weeks or months of the death of the partner (on some occasions it has been as short a time as a few days or even hours).

Today medical science has proven that people can die of a broken heart. It doesn't break like an invaded piggy bank, but it does cease to function properly. It gets so weak, even leaky, it can't pump blood efficiently. Why? Brain chemistry weakens the immune system and body organs.

Most of my "friends" on Facebook and all of those who subscribe to my posts gave no reaction to my ranting or telling of my tragic family history.

A few Facebook friends, notably those who are known to be particularly sensitive to the feelings of others and who those close to them know they have suffered tragedy more than once in their lives, took action. They tried to interfere, to intervene in a situation they sensed was risky.

The second best reaction I had was from two people who said, in effect, "I know something is terribly wrong in your life and I want you to know that I am with you for whatever you need." Some tried to give advice, which most people knew was the wrong approach. But the stuck their necks out in a situation they knew might be risky. They tried. They did something.

The best reaction I had was from a real life and Facebook friend who said, in effect, "I know something is troubling you terribly. How can I help?"

That kind of offer is open ended. The person making the offer is laying herself or himself open, as if to say "I am here for the taking." For someone who is close enough to find death appealing, that kind of offer is hard to resist. It says "I care. You matter to me."

What does it actually feel like when you want to end your life? First of all, there are two kinds of suicide attempts. Both are dangerous. The first is really a cry for help. The person wants to fail, wants to be discovered before dying. But he knows that he will be considered a fake if he doesn't make the action he takes severe enough that it could be convincing.

The second kind is the person who wants it all to end, wants the pain to end, wants it to be over. Don't ask what the pain is because an objective third party (the first being the person considering suicide and the second being his pain, which is so strong that it is almost personified) would not find the pain severe enough to warrant needing it to end immediately.

That last paragraph should be a clue to you as reader. No reason given for committing suicide may seem valid to someone looking on from the "outside." Something else must be going on for the person to feel that bad.

What is going on is bad brain chemistry. The chemistry is beyond the control of the victim. No amount of being told to think positive, to smile or to brighten up will help. If anything, it could alienate the victim from the others, making him feel more alone.

That aloneness is characteristic of suicide. People do not end their lives to punish others, though it might seem that way to people who read their "suicide notes." (Most people who commit suicide leave a note, but not all.) They end their life because they feel alone.

This aloneness is not loneliness. It's a feeling of being isolated from the world. It's as if you are in a parallel dimension, being able to see the other dimension without those in the other dimension being able to see you or to communicate with you.

It is not extreme selfishness either, though it might seem that way to someone who is close to the victim. It's not that he only thinks of himself, but that there is only one person in his world to think about.

In my case, I felt that way on several occasions over many years, but not for long. When I considered possible ways to end my life, I always thought about the consequences for people who were left behind. Most suicide victims do not do that.

When my paternal grandfather ended his life in 1917, he left a wife with five children to raise, no source of income, no social assistance, who not long afterwards contracted tuberculosis because she was so weak from working her life away to look after her family without knowing how or having any hope of a way out.

I learned early in my life what it was like for my father to grow up in a fatherless family. He had no access to parenting skills because he never had a father of his own. He could not be what many consider a "good father" because he didn't know how. He did his best, but had no one to turn to for advice about being a father. Or for that matter, about being a husband.

I did not want to leave my wife or anyone I knew or who knew me with that kind of legacy. I was aware of what they didn't know. I was aware of what I did know, of what I had learned from experience and from years of study. I knew that what I had learned would be lost if I ended my life too soon.

Fortunately, I am a naturally positive person. I became that way as an adult, but only when I gained enough self esteem that I could feel positive about myself. Before I gained that about 15 years ago, I had to depend on my instincts for survival, which were stronger than anything else in my life.

When some truly tragic events that were beyond my control sculpted my life, I survived on the belief that there was a better life for me out there somewhere, I just had to learn how to find it. I had to keep looking. Through those early decades I did not suffer a problem with wonky brain chemistry.

When the chemistry in my brain goes awry, and no one can predict when that might be, my positive attitude toward life fights with the damaging brain chemistry. The positive attitude eventually wins out, though sometimes it takes a few days for the battle to conclude.

Some people are not fortunate enough to have a strong positive attitude toward life. Some people are not strong enough to have an accumulation of self esteem. They are at risk. Some do not hold to the hope--or belief--that there is a better life waiting for them to find it. They believe a better life will never happen. They are at severe risk.

What can you do if you believe that someone you know is at risk of ending their life? The most important thing is to not go into denial. Second is to not insist that the person cheer up, think happy thoughts, be positive. It won't work and may cause the wrong reaction.

It will also not be effective to tell the person that he will get through it, that he will recover. At the moment of crisis, he will not believe. It is true that he will get through it and recover, but to a person who is suicidal, future is not a reality. Future does not exist.

For intervention strategies, I can speak from personal experience. I do not know what a medical professional, someone who has not been on the "inside" of a suicidal experience but has lots of "book experience" would say. Frankly, they usually don't say much because they don't really know. I know what would work for me.

Constant companionship. A suicidal person not only feels as if he is alone, he wants to actually be alone to complete the task of ending his life. He will only act if and when he is alone. No one ends their life with company watching.

Companionship not only prevents the person from committing the final act, in most cases it also tends to confuse the issue so much that the brain reacts to right its own chemical problem.

Companionship does not mean keeping up a constant conversation. It means just "being there." Keep it simple and plain. Touch, which is essential to humans and which the person at risk may have lacked for too long, may or may not be needed. A hug or touch on the arm or shoulder may be appreciated, but it may also be strongly rejected. Don't feel bad if the person doesn't want to be touched. Just stay with him.

I hope you never need to make use of what you have just read. But if you do, you will be able to save a life. Don't be afraid. It will be surprisingly easy.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book for parents and teachers who want to help children and for police and politicians who want to reduce one of the most expensive drains on tax funds.

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Sunday, January 06, 2013

Why Older People Feel Cold More

Why Older People Feel Cold More
My father, who will be 81 soon, says the cold affects him very badly these days. So much so, that if he moves from a relatively warm room to a cooler temperature, he starts shaking and shivering uncontrollably. In addition he says he feels very cold "inside". - Helga C., internet question

Perhaps the most common complaint of elderly people who live outside of the subtropical zones of the world is about feeling cold, especially (but not exclusively) in winter.

Within the subtropical zones, older people may feel the heat more than they did when they were younger. (In the tropics, temperatures vary little throughout the year so the body adjusts to whatever the common ambient temperature norm is.)

A search for explanations for why older people feel cold more produces a variety of guesses, always based on the experience of the writer, either with herself or others close to her.

The most common explanation offered is poor circulation. It is true that blood vessels tend to get narrower as people get older. Cholesterol, in some blood vessels, makes the passage through them even smaller. Cholesterol accumulates in arteries, not in veins, and mostly in the core of the body, not in the extremities.

Blood circulation alone could not account for feeling cold, especially in extremities such as hands and feet. So long as blood is flowing to the feet, for example, heat is travelling from the body core to the feet. Where is it going once it reaches the feet? It is obviously not hanging around long enough.

Blood thinners are often labeled as the cause for older people feeling the cold more than younger folks. Thinner blood is needed for those with high blood pressure. Thinner blood should travel faster through blood vessels and people with high blood pressure should have blood pumping near the optimum all the way to the feet. Neither of these should account for cold feet.

My feet and hands sometimes feel extra cold, even when I am in a warmed house. At my age (into traditional retirement years) my blood pressure is on the low side of normal, never high. I do not take blood thinners. Again, if heat from my body core is not having a problem getting to my feet and hands, what is happening to the heat once it gets there?

Skin, particularly the epidermis, the extreme outer layer, gets thinner as people get older. Why?

The extreme outer layer of skin is comprised mostly of dead skin cells. These tend to hang onto what is below better when people are younger because their skin is moister with oil (and water). Younger people have more oil in their skin than older people.

As skin dries out, the outer layer of dead cells tends to flake off, exposing the layers that are underneath. That means the nerves are closer to the surface. The nerves are what make people feel cold (gives the sensation of being cold).

The skin also has fewer dead skin cells to act as insulation to prevent heat from escaping to the outside. Older people may notice dust flying around when they take off socks or put them on. That dust is dead skin cells. House dust itself is comprised mostly of dead skin cells. Older people see their skin getting thinner as they spot skin cells flying off into the air.

Thinner skin exposes feet and hands to ambient (room) air, which is always cooler than body temperature. Heat, as is nature's way, moves from a warmer place to a cooler place, so body heat in the feet and hands escapes through thin skin to the outside, making the person feel cold.

"I hate winter. I can't stand the cold" is a refrain I have heard countless times from elderly people in the cold climate country where I live. Some who can afford it move south to a warmer country during the cold season. Others simply have to bundle up.

Remember that heat escapes quickly from thinner skin, so extra insulation on the parts of the body that get cold should be considered essential.

Note that the core of the body may not feel cold, may not be cold. Warming the whole body just to get the hands and feet warm may not be the wisest choice. Putting the house thermostat up could raise the body's core temperature. Even a tiny rise in core temperature beyond what is normal for that body could have negative effects on health. Body cells and the immune system function best at a constant temperature.

In conclusion, older people feel cold easier than younger people, but the safest choice to make is to add insulation to the cold parts, not to warm the whole body beyond what is necessary.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book of help for parents and teachers of young children. Feeling cold is not a social problem in the usual sense, but as the Baby Boomers reach retirement age, it will become a very common problem.
Learn more at http://billallin .com