Monday, September 18, 2017

--- What's "para" about "paranormal" ---

There are so many assumptions that humanity makes from ages past but has yet to test. Our attitude toward the other occupants of this planet are based on untested assumptions. In the distant past, our method was to base our understanding on "what works" and not try to understand why it works. That is why science appeared in the 1500s, as a tool to understand.

But now I'm sliding into a region of the Dewey Decimal System rife with assumptions, where we are still quite satisfied with "what works" without thinking to question where we got our knowledge or even if, in fact, it actually does work or not. Assumptions:

The paranormal is "para". "Para-" means "beside, beyond", certainly "outside". Therapists occasionally encounter cases that include elements that place them in a quandary as to how to proceed and they call those elements "AEs' or "anomalous experiences". I lived in Selma, Alabama for 20 years, one of the most haunted cities in the United States and the majority of people who have lived there for any time have had an experience with ghosts. I have lived in a haunted house (not by choice but by pure chance, whatever that is) and every city I have lived in has had one or more "haunted houses" within their borders. The paranormal is certainly not infrequent. What's "para" about the paranormal?

The supernatural, by etymology and, I would assume, by definition, outside of nature, apart from creation. I guess the common assumption that such things as ghosts, angels, demons, God or gods, transdimensional portals, etc. are the product of overactive imaginations  would lend credence to the idea for, if these things do not really exist, then certainly they would be outside of our existence; but the frequency of experiences of people with these unaccountable (and inconvenient) entities and phenomenon lead me to suspect that just saying "it doesn't exist" doesn't nearly cover it. But wholly other? I should think not. Just because we don't understand something (and it looks like we've put woefully inadequate effort into such understanding) does not mean it's outside of the nature we all accept as "our nature". What's "super" about the supernatural?

Everyone knows what a ghost is - it's what's left of a dead person after they've been dispossessed of their body. But I've never seen anything that would move that bit of information from the realm of assumption into the kingdom of founded knowledge. In fact, as many people who have experienced ghosts, I haven't met with a convincing explanation yet. I've run into a few things that could make sense, but without any substantive support.

Let me try to enumerate the official list of entities acknowledged as real in the Christian church, which seems to be the authority in the Western world. Starting at the top:

maybe add devils and their master, Satan.

I think that's all. Biologists added a few more kingdoms of life - slime molds, bacteria, extremophiles, and the like.

But is that all? I've studied the Bible for over 40 years and I can't even see where it supports that. As I have mentioned I many such conversations, the Bible doesn't talk about plumbers, llamas, Chinese, Black folks (well, it might have, but certainly not) Australian Aborigines - all of which existed in Biblical times. Bottom line, just because the Bible doesn't mention it, it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. And, shockingly, just because scientists haven't mentioned it doesn't mean it doesn't exist. E. O. Wilson in his The Future of Life predicts that by 2100, up to half of the species currently on our planet will be gone, many, if not most, without even having been recognized by science.

You can't use Carl Sagan's vaunted "exceptional claim clause" either. There seems to be nothing exceptional about ghosts.

So, without apology, I will soon be exploring the assumed and the maybe not so exceptional about the Denver area and I will be encouraging lifelong learners everywhere to go boldly where no lifelong learner....oh forget the Star Trek thing and go out and enjoy yourselves - and stay safe.

--- Notes on wisdom ---

The habit of viewing life as a whole is an essential part both of wisdom and of true morality, and is one of the things which ought to be encouraged in education. Consistent purpose is not enough to make life happy, but it is an almost indispensable condition of a happy life. And consistent purpose embodies itself mainly in work.

Bertrand Russell

A philosophy of wisdom is touchy. Maybe more than any other philosophical topic, you can answer "What is wisdom?" by "It's a word."

Specifically, the root "wise" is an old English word (actually and Old English word) meaning "a way of proceeding". And, of course, it looks like ancient peoples were more serious about their languages and packed more into their words than we do today. "Way" meant more than a direction. It was a path in life (as, for example, "The Way"). So wisdom is a way of life. Whatever it is, it's not just something you know.

Knowledge can be incidental or trivial - not wisdom, but I believe that there is a relationship between the two. Knowledge is the information you have in your head that seems to work as a reasonable approximation for reality. Wisdom is the skill of using that knowledge to build a "good life" (and I've talked elsewhere about "good life" and I'm sure I will again - I'm looking forward to an article on "moral value").

Russell brought up a few points on what constitutes wisdom, though. It is holistic. It tells you where any particular fact fits into the larger scheme of things, and particular the larger scheme of your life. Is brushing your teeth wise? Well, maybe not, but understanding the consequences of doing so or not doing so in your social life and, further, the effects on your ability to get important concepts across to other and, so, your religious, scientific, or political life - certainly - in that wisdom is the ability to sense the web of causality in which we all sit and to navigate it to benefit ourselves and the world around us.

One debate about wisdom is whether it can be taught or not. Personally, I believe that the ability to develop wisdom is inherent in thinking beings. Our brains, as I have said before, are incredible pattern processors and wisdom is a pattern analysis skill. Wisdom allows us to take the massive body of knowledge in our minds and extract meaningful information that can constitute a "way" of life. Much of it is subconscious, which may be why many think it cannot be taught. But it's more of a habit than a knowing. It's a philosophical pursuit. After all, "philosophy" means "love of wisdom". And I believe that a love of wisdom can be instilled early in growing minds as a habit of curiosity, wonder, and love of life and nature. We learn to hate by being bombarded by the hostilities and unfairness perpetrated on us by, well, mostly by others like ourselves. We could just as easily be shown the beauty and great-heartedness of our fellow creatures as we mature.

And work, far from being the bane of humanity, gives us the laboratory we need to see how our knowledge works in real life - the way to finely hone our ability to see the webs of life and the outcomes of our decisions in a real life environment.

Again, our lives are like a garden. The work we put into them will determine the beauty, joy, and material benefit that we get out of them. And we all profit or none of us do - that is wisdom.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

--- Healths ---

When I was a kid, we had health classes - walk on the side of the street facing traffic, don't eat too much sugar, that kind of stuff. Back then, we could talk to strangers and, of course, people who weren't adult never had sex (oh, of course not).

Sex and drug education came around as I was about half way through high school and, of course, I had already heard all of it (in some version or another) from my peers. And films like Reefer Madness convinced me that the adults had no clue. We had lots of films showing, gruesomely, what would happen if we did not drive responsibly. It was like going to the weekend matinee horror flicks!

But President Kennedy had determined that America would be physically fit so everyone had physical education in high school, which consisted of picking up cigarette butts around the high school and putting up with the jocks bullying. At least back then kids didn't often kill each other or drive people to suicide.

In the 60s, President Kennedy had demonstrated a commitment to the physical fitness of Americans. Due to his programs, by the time I entered college, institutes of higher learning required students to take a certain number of physically demanding physical education courses and a certain number of "leisure" recreation courses. Of the three courses I flunked in college, one, golf, was in the latter category. Regardless, I figure it was a good idea. America was getting flabby.

The problem is that physical fitness isn't the only kind. When I was growing up, when a coach was confronted with bullying, the most common response was, "Boys will be boys." If the coaches' ideas were that bullying was age appropriate, they were not mentally fit. If the bullies' only source of self-satisfaction was to have the power over weaker people so as to make them miserable (and, of course, to get the prime breeding stock), then they were not emotionally fit. And if the people they picked on were not equipped to deal with the bullying, they were not socially fit. And I mean "fit" in the same terms as "physically fit" - having the equipment and strategies to fit into the environment - to survive.

Physical fitness isn't the only health issue. I recognize five domains of health - physical, emotional (which relates to the barriers between mind and body), mental (which deals with problem solving), environmental (which addresses the barrier between self and other), and spiritual (which deals with the ability to "step outside" oneself and get a realistic understanding of how the world works without self-serving biases and agendas).

The famous Robbers Cave experiment of Muzafer Sherif underscored the idea that, once groups were separated by group affiliation, the only way to bring them back together was by presenting them with a common enemy (you should look up the Robbers Cave experiment). Talk about a horror story.... American politicians have always known that. If you want to manipulate a large mass of people, give them something to fear.

So, why is bullying, mass and serial murder, xenophobia, and police brutality such an issue in "the Greatest Country on Earth"? I honestly believe that we don't know how to deal with stress, self-image, relationships, our environment...

We favor completely inappropriate strategies to deal with our problems. Every kid, at leasts in high school, should be required to study Eric Berne's The Games People Play.

We might be physically healthy (and we're slipping at that. JFK, come back!), but we have never been emotionally, mentally, environmentally, or spiritually healthy and nightly news (I guess, now, Internet news) continue to give ample evidence of that.

--- Notes on science ---

The laws formulated by science... possess only a Platonic sort of reality. They are more real, if you will, than the facts themselves, because they are more permanent, trustworthy, and pervasive; but at the same time they are, if you will, not real at all, because they are incompatible with immediacy and alien to brute existence.

George Santayana

Science doesn't provide knowledge of reality; it provides models.

A particular danger to researchers is reification, the confusion of concepts with reality. The word isn't the referent. The concept isn't the reality. No matter how accurate a concept is in representing reality, it can never characterize the whole of a real thing.

And that's not a problem. I have heard that, when a child ask, wonderingly of Abraham Lincoln's height, how long his legs were, he answered, "Long enough to reach the ground." Well, our models are not perfect but they're good enough to help us predict how things will happen and understand how things work. That's what models are for.

Science allows us to construct reliable and valid models of a consistent reality that we all can share. Beyond that we can not go, nor do we need to, as long as we do not confuse what is in our heads with what is in the world.

Monday, August 21, 2017

I tossed around whether to blog the eclipse or not. I'm not planning to deal with astronomy until 2019, but I took some pretty decent photos so I caved.

Denver was in the area of about 90% eclipse, so it was pretty nice. A few of the tribe were planning to go to the path of totality in Wyoming but didn't get to, so we had a yard party.

I set up my cell phone on a tripod with a #14 welder filter over the aperture and took the following photos.

The sun, filtering through the fir tree in the back yard also produced some nice pinhole effects.

And there was some nice iridescence in the high cirrus clouds moving into the area, but it didn't come out very well on the photos.

Still, it was a nice day with family and the last total solar eclipse that I'm likely to see in this lifetime.

I'll probably review these photographs in more detail in a couple of years.

Monday, August 14, 2017

--- Notes on logic and mathematics ---

Nature cares nothing for logic, our human logic: she has her own, which we do not recognize and do not acknowledge until we are crushed under its wheel.

Ivan Turgenev

Well, maybe not quite so negative. I don't think Nature is waiting out there to crush us under wheels, but I have said that I don't believe that Nature's primary purpose is not our convenience, so you should watch where you step.

But I don't see logic "out there". Logic characterizes reality to some extent but I've said over and over how "the word isn't the thing" and it's dangerous to forget it. Logic (and mathematics, concepts, models) is a language that we use to understand how things work in the world, and it is a very useful tool as long as we keep a firm hold on it's limitations. It is not the be all and end all of analysis. It will not allow us to formulate all knowledge (as the logical positivists hoped).

Our binary Western logic isn't even complete. There are things that doesn't fit into a nice, neat dichotomous scheme - true/false, extant/nonextant. For instance, my favorite example - the circle (Plato preferred the right triangle - whatever). It doesn't exist - it cannot exist. It's a curve which is everywhere equidistant to a single point, but such a curve would have no width. But so much of our society is built on a circle. Architectural designs, machines, symbols (anybody ever been in the winner's circle or sat in a support group?), so many circles! They don't exist but they certainly affect society as if they did. Circles exist powerfully in our minds. They exist as information, something that is nonexistence-in-existence. Eastern logic recognizes many categories of existence and can deal with categories such as information better than we can in the West.

Logic and mathematics are languages composed of words. They don't exist out there but are powerful tools of the mind to span the dimensions of reality.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

--- Intelligence 7 ---

Yolanda U. Trapps article "Multiple Intelligences: The Learning Process in Our Students" is a decent and brief introduction to modern education. For those who associate "modern education" with the kind decried by C. S. Lewis in many of his works, this ain't it. This is more modern.

Actually, if you want a real update, The Teaching Company has a couple of lecture series. "The Art of Teaching: Best Practices From a Master Educator" presented by Patrick N. Allitt, and "How We Learn" presented by Monisha Pasupathi, will get you up to speed, but those will take you a couple of weeks, at least.

The exercises described at the end of the module are for classroom activities but they might suggest some interesting adventures. If you've never visited a nursing home, You might get permission to go to one and record some life stories. Old folks can be fascinating, and many of them love telling stories. You may even have some elderly family members that would like to tell you some tales. All the ones in my family are long gone and I sorta miss them. Grab the chance before they're gone.

There are actually organizations that invite you to take part in their adventures to record life stories, such as StoryCorps ( You might just find out that that's your thing.

Awhile back, I tried to learn some Spanish. We have a large Hispanic population in the area and I figured it might be nice to be able to talk to some of my neighbors in their own tongue. I was devastatingly unsuccessful. I did learn that age interferes with learning new languages, but one of the exercises in this article gave me an idea. I've also wanted to brush up on my American Sign Language and I might have a better run if I combine the two goals. The act of internalizing signs might be paired with foreign vocabulary to make them both stick. The problem I had with Spanish was that, a week after I had learned a set of words, and was learning new words, I found that the older set was just, flat gone.

Next year, I plan to be looking at social sciences and languages in the area, and this might be a great adventure for me to take on. Starting now will give be a running start and I can let you know how I do.

Thomas O. Merritt's "A Multiple Intelligence Approach to the Physiology of the Brain and How Middle School Students Learn" is a good review of the structures in the brain that house the different "intelligences" outlined by Howard Gardner. He suggests looking at diagrams of the lobes of the brain (actually, all you have to do is browse "brain" in Google Images) and dissecting a cow brain - eh, you might or might not want to do that. You can likely get one from your friendly neighborhood butcher.

Here's something you can try - it usually works (but not always). If you're right handed, visualize the image of someone or something that you are very familiar with to your right, but keep your eyes fixed straight on (if you're left handed, do everything from the other side). Don't move your head or eyes and visualize the image drifting across your field of view from right to left.

Go ahead - don't read any further until you've done it.

The first time I did this, it was startling. Right at the center line in front of me, the image vanished. This was a demonstration performed by a visiting speaker in one of my psychology classes. She was a specialist in psycholinguistics.

Evidently, the eyes really are windows into the mind. They trace activity going on in the brain. The right side of the brain in right-side dominant people deal with memory and learning. The left side deals with creative activities.

So, when people are remembering some image, their eyes tend to track to the upper right field of view. When they are thinking up some new image, the eyes track up and to the left. It's as though the eyes are following the activity in the visual centers in the back and central parts of the brain.

When people are remembering in a sound, their eyes track to the right at about eye level and when they are thinking of some new sound, maybe composing a piece of music, their eyes track across to the left.

The, when people are talking to themselves, their eyes track down. Often, when someone is lying to you, they will look a little down and to the left. When people are depressed and their inner voice is making it worse, they will be looking down and to the right. The presenter told us that, often, all a depressed person has to do to "raise" their spirits is "look up". I've tried that and, by George, it usually works for me!

The last section in the Yale-New Haven module on intelligence is Judith L. Bollonio's "Multi-Sensory Manipulatives in Mathematics: Linking the Abstract to the Concrete", which has some fun things to try with mathematical manipulatives, things that illustrate mathematical concepts that you can, well... manipulate.

I'm quite fond of manipulatives. If you have a problem grasping some concept and you can find a model you can play with, that's often a great way to get a hold on it. Since I'm not dealing with mathematics right now, I won't go there, but you can be sure that, if we do get that far, I will be talking a  lot about it.

So, now back to the topic at hand. I can't take the standard IQ tests anymore. I've taken all the old ones so many times, I just know the answers. The new ones would require that I were still a practicing evaluator to use them. So, since I'm just doing it for fun, anyway, I'll just go onto the Internet, find some random IQ test, and not worry about validity and reliability.

On the other hand, if you want a challenging test, The Brain Game by Rita Aero and Elliot Weiner (1983, Harper Perennial) includes an IQ test developed by Mensa.

In my case, I found this test at the University of Cambridge.;jsessionid=667B94D5277D176D35B4C60BDC489370

It seems to be a legitimate test under development and that gives me some added satisfaction of helping develop a new instrument. The introduction says that it will take from 45 to 60 minutes to take the test, so I will wait until I have plenty of time.

The test seems to be based on the Raven Matrix test, which is one of the more unculturally biased tests, having mostly performance items rather than verbal. It's called My-IQ and it was developed by Fiona Chan of the University of Cambridge Psychometrics Centre and Michal Kosinski of the Stanford Graduate School of Business.

Wow! That was a cool test. I scored the lowest score I've ever scored on an IQ test but it was fun.

I did notice that I have consistently scored lower as I have gotten older.

I wouldn't have given this one to one of my clients because all it gives is an IQ score and I like to have more multifactorial (multiple scores measuring different things) results, but I recommend it for recreational purposes.

Is it culturally biased? I don't know. I suspect that many of the items could have been interpreted and analyzed in more than one way and it may be that different cultures would orient people to see the items differently, but I see that they are recording where respondents are from, so they should be able to tell if there are any strong cultural biases.

--- Notes on truth ---

... in matters of action, truth or practical rectitude is not the same for all as to what is particular, but only as to the common principles; [whereas in speculative matters, concerned chiefly with necessary things,] truth is the same for all men, both as to principles and as to conclusions.

Thomas Aquinas

My naive model for truth is what-is-out-there, but when people are talking about "truth" they are generally talking about something that is known. What-is-out-there, would accurately be called, "reality". In other words, if there were no conscious organism, no "knower", then there would still be reality but there would be no truth. So truth is knowledge that happens when what-is-known matches what-is-out-there. Truth is knowledge of reality.

At the surface, that sounds okay but just a little consideration will bring up an immediate problem. How do we know - how can we know - that what we think we know actually matches what-is-out-there. This has always been a problem for philosophers (and scientists, for that matter). If you don't believe it, watch The Matrix and ask yourself, "How do I know that the movie isn't the way things really are?" It can drive you to a real existential crisis.

Descartes tried to resolve this problem. He asked how he could know that what he thought of as reality was not just some sort of delusion caused by a demon. It's at the center of many religions. Hindu and Buddhism both speculate that there is a principle in the world called Maya that creates the delusion that what we perceive is real but that only a universal mind is real. Christian Gnosticism proposed that the material world is a delusion created by an evil demiurge to entrap the spirits of people in a servitude of material existence and that only spirit was real. But Descartes' answer was that, although he could never be sure about the reality of other things, he could nevertheless be sure that, since he was thinking, a thinking agent must at least be real and that, because he was thinking, he must be real.

People quickly noticed the flaw in Descartes' thought. Do character's in an author's mind think? Perhaps we are all just characters in someone else's mind. So how can there be truth if we can't even tell if there is even a what-is-out-there?

The conclusion that I come to is that we can, at least, be certain of a continuity. We have tools to test what we can all convince ourselves is the case and has always been the case as long as we have had records to archive reality. Replication, triangulation, experimental control, historical constancy all allow us to test what we might know to see if it is valid and reliable knowledge. We can at least say that, if what we believe to be the truth is not reality, then we have a common and consistent perception of reality that might as well be truth because it is the only truth we can have and, indeed, it has always served us well for truth and must be relied on to serve us in the future as truth.

It might not be completely satisfying as an answer but I'm not so sure we can do any better. Truth is the truth we have.

--- Your adventures ---


Andalusia is far south in Alabama. There are no mountains near there. It's far south of the fall line. But there is a waterfall about 5 miles north of there. It's in a little town called River Falls and I was curious as to why a town that far south would be called "River Falls", so I drove down there one weekend to find out.

I asked several people if there was a waterfall in the area and no one knew until I stopped at a convenience store, ready to give it up and go back home. I asked the counter person, who didn't know but said that, if anyone did know, it would be the lady over there, a mail carrier. Sure enough, she knew and gave me directions to an impressive waterfall in town.

                                                        Photo of River Falls waterfall

It's my experience that people don't know what they have in their own neighborhoods.

Adventure can be near or far. It can be as simple as cooking a new dish or as complex as a vacation in a place that you've never visited. A surgical procedure is definitely an adventure. Do you dare go to YouTube and find a video of the same procedure?

But above all, an adventure can be a learning experience. Where are your adventures?

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Harvard Gulch

Actually, the way you design a highline canal is start at the elevation at the beginning and set a course that closely follows the contour of elevation (you know, like the lines on a topographic map) but very, very (very!!) gradually descend from that elevation. The canal follows the "highline". That way, you don't  have to pump the water. Gravity does all the work for you.

There are other canals in the Denver area. Ward canal parallels Bear Creek through Bear Creek Canyon at Morrison.

Denver was built on the high desert so it's understandable that it is concerned with water conservation. Canals are not the only artificial waterways in the area. When Denverites talk about gulches, they mean something a little different from the standard definition. Usually "gulch" is defined as a narrow v-shaped valley with steep walls cut out by a creek or what used to be a creek. The later case would be a "dry gulch". In Denver, gulches are semi-artificial stream beds. Instead of following a contour of elevation, they run straight down the shoulder of valleys to a river. I say "semi-artificial" because the original stream bed might have been diverted by the gulch (as in the case of Bear Creek Gulch, which was modified by the McBrooms to bring water to their homestead), or the stream bed might be widened or lined with concrete to avoid erosion or increase the capacity of the stream. Many of the gulches in Denver play dual purpose. They usually have a trail and a string of parks paralleling them, but primarily they serve to carry runoff water to a natural stream. They are flood control.

Harvard Gulch, East and West are two gulches that Channel water down the South Platte River valley down to the river. I hiked the Harvard Gulch West several times from Harvey Park to Ruby Hill and the river. It's a nice hike.

I followed the Harvard Gulch West today down from University Boulevard to where it disappears underground at Rosedale/Kumming City. Harvard Gulch is named that because it parallels Harvard Avenue on both sides of the South Platte. In this area, most of the streets are named for colleges (as if Denver didn't have enough colleges of their own).  Here are a few photographs.

All the water features are Harvard Gulch. Only a few of the pictures look like the regularly defined "gulch" but Harvard Gulch is rather typical for gulches in the Denver area. The last few photographs are from the high hill in Kumming City Park. The last picture is from Harvard Gulch Park. I liked the view of the thunderstorm coming in. I almost didn't get home in time!