Tuesday, February 28, 2017

--- General purpose ---


I like Dewey Decimal. That's not a person, but, of course, if you were a librarian, you'd know this. I was a librarian assistant in the 70s....twice! I worked at both the Sylvester Public Library in Sylvester, Georgia and the Ralph Brown Draughon  Research Library in Auburn, Alabama. Neither were particularly dangerous unless you want to consider paper cuts and dust inhalation as dangerous.

But I dealt with the Dewey Decimal code in Sylvester and the Library of Congress code in Auburn. Those are the two most popular library coding systems in the United States. Dewey Decimal is the simpler of the two and is easily remembered and navigated. It has only 10 top categories: 000 Generalities, 100 Philosophy and Psychology, 200 Religion, 300 Social Sciences, 400 Language, 500 Theoretical Sciences, 600 Applied Sciences, 700 Arts, 800 Literature, and 900 History. The Library of Congress codes, on the other hand, have 21 top categories designated by letters.

The major disadvantage of Dewey Decimal in my opinion is that it is strongly biased toward Western thought. For instance, 200 is primarily about monotheism in general and Christianity in specific. If you want to know something about, say, Buddhism, you have to plumb the depths of the 290s. Little of the 100s is dedicated to Eastern philosophy and most of the Language, Arts, Literature, and History categories is about the parts of the world with European beginnings.

Nevertheless, the Dewey Decimal System is still quite popular and, if you keep the biases in mind, can be quite useful. I use it a lot in planning and organizing my adventures. As for my scientific recreation and lifelong learning excursions, I have a few specific subjects that I'm working with (see the LabBooks at the Therian Timeline), but, otherwise, I have a spreadsheet that will pop out a random subject from a list of Dewey Decimal topics. It keeps me honest. I intentionally choose topics that I would normally downplay.

For this blog, I am being more cyclic. The first articles will be general information about my adventuring. Soon I will do some peoplewatching. And so on through the top categories, sampling from each as I go. Then I will start back at 000 and take another flyby.

I don't expect to live long enough to look at everything.....but I can try!

Friday, February 24, 2017

--- Physiological sabotage: stimulus and response ---

As much as I dislike behaviorism, it's an item.

My body certainly has a mind of it's own. I beginning planning for a hike and I suddenly start coming up with all kinds of maladies. The main ones are gastrointestinal. I wish I could say that the problems go away as soon as I get on the trail but, nooooo. I have to put up with them.

I realized that Wolf vs. reinforcement was a thing when I started eating lots of hot-dogs. For instance, there used to be a hot-dog place across the street from the Art School I used to model for. I would pose for the morning classes, drive out to the state park to swim, then eat several hot-dogs. The dogs were cheap and they had all the toppings, and I liked them spicy, so they would make me sweat until my hair was soaked. Now, I don't have to even eat them. Just being around them will make me sweat.

Pavlov's dogs......I wish it was just salivation.....

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

--- Danger, Will Robinson ---


I remember a photograph I saw when I was a kid. It showed parents with their child on the back of a bear in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Fortunately, no one was mauled. On the other hand is the case of Timothy Treadwell, aka Grizzly Man,  who spent years with the bears of Alaska. A documentary by Warner Herzog, Grizzly Man, chronicled his last five years. It shows him pawing the bears as though they were pets. According to their body language, they were quite obviously irritated with him. Finally he met a grouch which ate him and his girlfriend.

Let me repeat that. One of his beloved bears, who he had "gained the trust" of, mauled and ate him and his girlfriend. Then people killed the bear.

I can guarantee you that, if you went to Time Square in New York and treated humans the way Timothy Treadwell treated the bears in that film, someone would sooner than  later maul you and, perhaps, kill you. The bear was not to blame. Timothy was rude and rudeness is not long tolerated in nature.

Nature is dangerous and you're part of it. Your home is part of nature so there's no help in barricading yourself inside your house.

Nature is dangerous but it's not necessarily deadly.

I  was once looking for something to write about on my LiveJournal and I came upon an issue of Backpacker magazine that featured Bear Grylls as the guest editor (October 2012). In an interview, Anthony Cerretani asked him, "Has there ever been a  moment when you actually thought, 'This is it. I think I'm going to die.'?" That gave me material. I asked myself the same question and, at first guess the answer was, "Maybe a handful of times." When I started listing the episodes, I filled a page and started on another.

I'm 63 years old and have survived hurricanes, tornadoes, falls off cliffs, flying objects, huge waves, and on and on. I place myself in harms way - it's not a thrill thing. I don't go out of my way to place myself in danger but, as I said in an earlier article, there are too  many things that you can't experience unless you get involved - too many things that are worth some risk. One thing I've learned is that you can enjoy Nature if you respect her.

By "respect", I don't mean any (as the late George Carlin was likely to snipe) hippy dippy concept like "love", "adore", "grock". At base, I mean "understand well enough to get along with."

For instance, no wild animal is "cute". Most are equipped with weapons as parts of their anatomies and you are a stranger that might want to hurt them. Bambi is not your friend. Billy Bison and Maurice Moose will murder you without qualm if you fool with them. Hominids are not a favored meal of most predators but, in a pinch, you'll do. They're "just folks" (they're even "good folks") but they have to live, too. Just don't get in their way.

When you go to unfamiliar surroundings, learn as much as you can about the environment, what kind of diseases you have to guard against, the animals that live there, the climate....before you go.

In my area we have an assortment of animals on the hoof. They're skittish and have sharp hooves. There are bears and mountain lions. They rarely attack hominids but the ones around here seem to be smart enough to stay away - you rarely even see them. There are plenty of coyotes and they have little fear of humans, but they usually only attack people who think they're toys like their inbred poodles and spaniels. Don't try to feed the animals. They're rough with each other and they don't realize that you can't take it like their pack mates.

In the southeast, the environment changes slowly. Weather usually gives plenty of warning before it turns nasty. Tornadoes that start out in Texas take a while to get to Alabama. Flash floods are rarely that flashy. Preceding weather and a well known predisposition to flood is all you need to know about to get out of the way

Colorado has few buffers. When it decides to storm, there's little warning. When it does storm, it can go from toasty to bone chilling in the matter of an hour. Flash floods give no warning. If you're in Alabama and you trip and fall, you're probably falling on something you can eat. In Colorado, just about every edible plant has something that looks very similar that will, at least, make you very ill. We have bubonic plague out here. Respect Colorado!

If you want to lounge and schmooze, stay in the resort towns. If you want beauty, excitement, and positive life changing adventure, hit the trails.

But be sure, all that talk in our cultural heritage about inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness - those don't exist in nature. Nature isn't there for your convenience. Mankind might think that he has conquered nature (or can conquer nature) but, unless one of the more positive religions is right, long after humanity has died out, this planet will still be flying nonchalantly around the sun, feeling no grief at all at the loss of a microscopic culture that once flourished on her skin and was called "humanity".

Respect Nature and she will respect you. Disrespect Nature and she will eat you.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

--- The attractive abyss ---

I am generally disappointed a little when I reach my destination. The Rockies were much more spectacular in my imagination, before I actually stood in their midst. They are certainly breathtaking, spectacular, well worth the visit, but there is always something, something almost indefinable, missing in the reality.

I have pinpointed the missing element. It is mystery, the promise of the unexpected. When I get there, all is revealed and the mystery evaporates like the dream that it was. In Creatures of the Night, Dr. Gregory Reece investigates why we love horror, albeit in safe venues such as movies and carnivals, but is any venue really safe?

He refers back to the German theologian Rudolf Otto who connected awe with horror. "Out of 'shudder', a holy awe." And certainly, the closest I come to awakening the spectacular awe that colors my imagination is when I stand on a precipice and think irresistibly, "I wonder what it would be like to step off."

I have never been suicidal, but the thought always comes and I always step away from the abyss with the wonder of how persuasive it is.

Pisgah Falls in Northeastern Alabama

Saturday, February 18, 2017

--- Me and psychology ---

I'm a psychologist. That is to say that I went to Auburn University in Alabama and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and went on to their graduate school for training in rehabilitation and special education. Then I worked as a rehabilitation specialist at the Easter Seals West Central Alabama Rehabilitation Center in Selma, Alabama. So I was a professional psychologist instead of a researcher.

I actually started my studies in the School of Pharmacy. The five year curriculum seemed to be the best way to pick up a strong physiological background and I was fascinated by the brain. I was playing around with the idea of being a researcher but a three quarter series of pharmaceutical chemistry which required a massive amount of memory work was straining my grade point average to the point that, if I wanted to switch to psychology (I originally intended getting a double major), I would need to do it before graduating from the School of Pharmacy.

I entered psychology at a time when behaviorism was at it's height of popularity - but not with me. I pretty much despised the mechanistic view of the human mind. It reduced the richness of the mind to a few reinforcement schedules and what I loved about psychology was the universe embedded in the mind. The other school of thought that was popular at Auburn was personality psychology, which interested me a little more, but that wasn't quite my thing either. Integrative psychology, the holistic view that all the approaches to mind had their places in psychology, had not become a thing yet. A smaller group at Auburn was working with social psychology, and that seemed to be the closest match to what I wanted, so I went that route, focusing on social and industrial psychology.

I entered college in 1971 and I exited in 1991. About ten of those years were taken up by studies. The rest....I worked. My parents would have paid for the whole thing had they the money. I'm glad they didn't. I had a wide variety of jobs and, for an adventurer, that's just icing on the cake. I was not just an academic; I was also a mill hand, a security guard, a laboratory assistant (more than once), a media director, a cow poke, a camp counselor in a camp for people with disabilities, and a Gulf of Mexico lay welder helper. I'm pretty sure I left out something....oh, yeah, I was a life model for art classes. Plenty of grist there for this blog...

About a month after graduation, I was in a local choir for an Easter sunrise service on a foggy morning at the Riverview golf course. I felt a little off when we were through, so I figured I would go home, take a nap, get up, and go to church. I figured wrong.

I had caught a stomach virus and, in fighting it off, my body triggered off an overblown immune response that attacked my knees and put me out of operation from April until September.

During that down time, I received a letter from Auburn inviting me to interview for graduate school in the School of Rehabilitation and Special Education at Auburn. I took them upon it. It was the closest I would get to integrative psychology in the 80s. That was a six quarter program so it didn't tie me up too long and it gave me the best reference I could have had - camp counselor at ASCCA, the Alabama Special Camp for Children and Adults, a "summer camp" for people with disabilities.

During my interview at Auburn, the head professor intimated that they had a high droop out rate at the end of the program. That seemed strange. Why would a person go through such a grueling program just to drop out at the end? But I didn't wonder enough to ask and spent the next year and a half in graduate school, a counseling practicum, and internship at Warm Springs, Georgia, which was a great experience.

As always, I had to declare areas of specialization. I decided to focus on vocational evaluation and research.

Graduate school was rather grueling. I would look at the syllabus at the beginning of a course and say, "How am I ever going to do all this?" and, at the end, I would look back and say, "How did I do all that?"

I found out at Warm Springs that having an IQ of 60 does not make a person socially inept. I was doing an intake on a personable young lady when I noticed that her IQ was reported as 60. Afterward, I carried the report to the behavior specialist, who was also a psychometrist, and said, "this can't be right." She looked and agreed, so she retested the client and found that, sure enough, the client's IQ was unwaveringly 60. That taught me how important early social experience was to people with developmental problems.

I was supposed to perform part of my research at Warm Springs, but I couldn't contact my research committee chairperson and, by the time I got the go ahead, I no longer was at Warm Springs, I had lost my study population, and I had to design a new study. But my studies were finished and I no longer had access to the computer support I needed to finish my study, and I learned why people dropped out of the program at the end.

Luckily, I got everything I needed - the information, the training, the reputation, and the job I wanted. The first place I applied to for a vocational evaluator job was in Selma. I didn't get it that time but, of all the places I applied over the next couple of year in Georgia and Alabama, Selma was my favorite and, then they lost their evaluator, the position opened up and the Program Manager, who had been a  student with me in graduate school, remembered me and I was in.

While I was at ASCAA, I was cured of my hatred of behaviorism. I found that it did have it's place. I got to try out some of the behavior modification techniques with some of the clients with problem behaviors and they worked like magic. So the last psychological system I was willing to turn to fell into place and I completed my psychological jigsaw puzzle.

My professional practice ended up placing me into just about every phase of vocational rehabilitation, including computer maintenance and cleaning the bathrooms, and, since professionals in the public sector are expected to be involved in their communities, I was active in a very broad range of work from Boy Scouts to the local Departments of Human Resources and Mental Health, helping found organizations like the Citizens Against Violence and the local Christian Motorcyclists Association and helping people connect to resources they needed to get their lives going again.

While in Selma, I was working with another counselor to find a therapeutic method that would be effective for helping people with personality disorders solve personal problems. My interactions with Therians helped a lot. A major tenant in psychology and an explanation of why all the various forms of therapy work pretty much as well with most people is, "we are more alike than we are different." Most people function pretty much the same in most therapeutic situations. People with personality disorders and Therians are exceptional in that aspect.

Most forms of psychotherapy are games played by the therapists and their patients to help find effective solutions to their life problems, where past solutions had failed. In most cases, that works, but the highly empathic Weres and people with personality disorders see through the games quickly, usually resent the game playing, and start plying head games with the therapists, eliminating any beneficial effects from the therapeutic relationship.

I worked toward a more direct problem solving process and found it effective in many of the intractable cases we were working with.

And, finally, I am gratified to see that many schools are offering training in integrative psychology. My practice is over; I retired in 2013, but I am still interested in tracking the further development of the science of psychology and the mind still fascinates me.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

--- Observing ---


It's good to see so many schools locally sending their students out into the field for projects. I've seen several groups wading around in Bear Creek taking samples of water and, I would guess, water life. I've also seen groups at Dinosaur Ridge and the paleontology museum in Morrison.

A necessary skill for survival and, in my opinion, a good life, is the ability to observe and evaluate what's going on around you. As I was growing up, schools didn't teach that. It seems to me that a life spent in front of a computer only teaches you to perceive the world in a 34x19 centimeter window; and where video games may present an element of chaos into ones life, frustration can always be turned off if it's computer generated. Real life isn't like that.

Every speck of nature in every direction is relevant. You can always look closer or farther out and see something new and surprising. It's like a good novel. A good novel is hard to read, not because it's written in esoteric language or because the style doesn't flow well, but because its dense. If you miss one sentence, you have missed something important. Nature is like that.

You can learn to be observant simply by being in nature with the intention of soaking up all you can. The best way to improve your senses and powers of observation is to use them.

I'm (slowly) producing a tutorial on observation skills. If you want to look at it, you'll need either LibreOffice or OpenOffice (which are free downloads) and the spreadsheet at http://www.theriantimeline.com/excursions/labbooks called "Observing and Recording".

Currently, I'm writing up explorations dealing with vision, but it's a growing project and I'll get around to the other senses if I live long enough.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

--- Adventuring philosophies ---

True enough, my final home is still out there, but this is most certainly my home range and I love it. I love every rock I fall off and tree I trip over. Even when I am close to dying from exhaustion, a beautiful sunset doesn't lose it's power to refresh and inspire me and that, in itself, is enough to save me sometimes.

W. Ross Ashby came up with the Law of Requisite Variety that states that, for a system to be able to adapt effectively to its environment, the internal complexity has to at least match the complexity of its environments. That certainly makes sense. For a system to survive an assault from outside - temperature fluctuations, stuff falling from the sky, squirrel attack, plantar blisters - the system has to respond with a defense specifically designed for that attack. Acorn bombing - umbrella. 60 degrees to 20 degrees frozen rain (remember, I live in Colorado) - packable rain gear.

Mostly, where I grew up, the environment was manageable. The exception was the third weekend in March. That was the weekend of the SEHowl. We had only two Howls with fine weather throughout. More typically, the first part of the week was bitterly cold (we had one howl where water would freeze as we tapped it out of the water carrier) and the last part was warm enough to cause you to sweat if you were active. With a change like that, you can probably figure out what the middle of the week was - torrential storms. Flash floods and tornadoes were a fairly common activity in northeastern Alabama.

But in Colorado, there are not many buffers in the environment. The Army Corp of Engineers seem to have gotten the flash floods under control on the Denver side of the Front Range but they haven't got a handle on the weather. It can still jump 40 degrees in a couple of hours. Bear Creek still rises and falls in the matter of minutes. In Alabama, the meteorologists do a pretty good job of predicting weather five days ahead. Here, weather forecasts change hourly the day before. I'm pretty sure that, if a dog pees on the ground here, the pH of the soil will go nuts.

Alabama sorta protects people against the environment. If a person falls, they're likely falling on something they can eat. Here, there are a lot of berries and such that are really good; unfortunately, there are a lot of plants that look like those edible berries but they're likely to make you quite ill.

Here, requisite variety comes into play much more strongly than in Alabama. Colorado inspires an adventurous spirit.

I wouldn't say that I live randomly. Age has forced me to be more regimented. I take three handfuls of pills everyday and two eye drops. Certain pills, if I miss the dose, I know as soon as I hit the trail. But I have ways of injecting randomness into my life. I use the roll of the dice (see my ToolBook http://www.theriantimeline.com/ToolBook.ods for a convenient randomizer) to decide a lot of my activities. I often take the "wrong way" to get to where I'm going. And it has been a long tradition of mine to just get lost. I can afford to do that with impunity here since, in Denver, it's really hard to actually get lost. Find the mountains - that's west.

I like science kits. I always have. That's what I always got for Christmas. But once you hit the trail, it's a different story. In the lab, you practically know what's going to happen when you start doing something. The satisfaction is in seeing (as Walter Lewin says on his videos) that science works. On the trail, you get surprises.

In the lab, things are clear cut. On the trail there is a phenomenon called sensitivity to initial conditions. I've recently watched a lecture series on weather and the lecturer often made the point that, not only can't we predict the weather far in advance, but we'll never be able to predict the weather far in advance. In fact, the father of chaos theory (that's the short name for sensitivity to initial conditions) was a weatherman named Edward Lorenz (that might be a little unfair since Henri Poincaré was working with chaos theory almost a century before.)

In the laboratory, if you do an experiment and then you redo it under the same conditions, as accurately as you can, you're going to get pretty much the same outcome. Outside the lab, you would have to repeat the experiment under exactly (and I do mean exactly) the same conditions to have the same outcome and it is literally impossible to be that precise. And a tiny deviation in starting conditions can lead to wildly different outcomes. That's why studies in the social sciences, ecology, and other field sciences can be so "imprecise". In the lab, you can control most of the irrelevant conditions that might contaminate an experiment. In nature, there are just way too many confounding variables.

In nature, you need enough requisite variety to deal with sensitivity to initial conditions and complexity. There are always things coming at you and, if you want to record all the important stuff, you really have to stay alert. Conservation of energy doesn't go away in chaos. Nature will balance it's forces.

I've said before that you can't force nature and expect to come up with predictable outcomes. The way to handle nature is to be part of it and to influence it from inside the system. Forcing nature is like trying to patch up an old dam. Patching one leak causes pressures at another spot to create another leak somewhere else.

That's the problem of walking on black ice. If you ever start slipping, the sudden motion of trying to catch yourself throws you off balance in a new direction and you're going to go down.

They used to talk about preventing tornadic storms in the southeast. It sounds like a good idea on the surface but that is where the southeast gets it's water. I suspect that preventing tornadic storms in the southeast would turn places like Alabama and Georgia into deserts.

People keep bringing plants and animals into the US to deal with environmental problems. They figured that kudzu would deal with erosion and made it worse. Providence Canyon in Georgia is the product of erosion caused by kudzu. If you drive down there, you'd better have deer whistles on your car. Deer don't obey pedestrian laws. Game management people thought it would be nice to stock the area with white tails. Without the natural predator (wolves), the deer population went crazy. And I'd like to know which brilliant hunter thought it would be a good idea to stock Alabama with wild hogs.

So, why should the answer be "get inside and influence?"

Well, let's say you wanted a friend to go to a concert with you. You force him into a car at gunpoint and force him to drive to the concert. You get what you want, but you also get several things you don't want. You're friend pouts through the whole concert and neither of you enjoys it. Also, your friends wonders how you could do such a thing and decides that he never wants to see you again.

Here's a different solution. You know your friend well enough to know that he likes the band and will go if you are willing to pay for the tickets, so you offer to carry him to the concert and get the tickets. He agrees and you both have a great time.

The "superpower" that allowed you to find a better solution is called "theory of  mind". You're able to develop a model of people you know in your mind that allows you to predict what an other will do in response to things that you do. Part of theory of  mind is what people call empathy. If you're good at it, you can read others so well as to practically read their minds.

Does nature have a mind? If you're an animist like me, then you would say, "yes". but that's not necessary for you to be able to develop a theory of mind of nature. A theory of mind is just that - a theory. It's a conceptual model that allows you to predict what an other will do in response to what you do. It doesn't really matter whether the other mind is a real  mind or an imaginary as long as the model works.

What does matter is that you have enough information - that you "know" the other. The reason people can develop theories of mind is that people have brains that are not logical  machines like computers. Brains are pattern processors. They gather all the patterns in the world around them that are relevant to the issue at hand and they merge them into a master pattern. The master pattern behaves as a person would and if you're good at problem solving or empathy, you can read that master pattern - because that's what brains are good at.

You might think I'm talking about intuition and, yes, you would be right, but I am specifically talking about a well-trained, knowledgeable intuition.

In one of my many jobs, after my initial interview, I was talking to one of the people that would be a coworker. I mentioned that I'm a good judge of character. He asked what I thought of the person who had just interviewed me and, without pause, I said, "You mean that he's completely self-serving and that he'll do anything and surround himself with whoever he thinks will get him ahead?"

When I looked up, the guy was agape. He was used to everyone's first impression being, "Wow! What a great guy!"

You can understand nature by paying attention to how she responds to things. You can develop a cooperative relationship with her in the same way you develop cooperative relationships with anyone.

Relationships are like gardens. In order to get the results you want, you have to cultivate them. If you just let a garden develop on it's own steam, you might get the plants you want but they'll be sickly, and there will be lots of plants you don't want. A healthy garden requires nurturing and weeding. The same goes for a relationship.

People are mercurial; so is nature. Working with either requires one to be as changeable as they are. Adaptability is important in survival or evolution - it is just as important in adventuring. Surprises just happen and you have to be ready for them, therefore, you have to be able to fend off distractions.

My favorite poet is Robert Service, the "poet laureate of the Yukon." His poetry is eminently lyrical. It begs to be put to music and, many years ago, I did just that. If you want to hear the result, here's a link:


One of the songs, "The Reckoning" has the following stanza:

"Time has got a little bill - get wise while yet you may,
For the debit side's increasing in a most alarming way;
The things you had no right to do, the things you should have done,
They're all put down: it's up to you to pay for every one.
So eat, drink, and be merry, have a good time if you will,
But God help you when the time comes, and you
Foot the bill."

Actually, pain and inconvenience are payment that you make to live in this world. You're going to get hurt and that hurt is going to leave a mark. If you place yourself in harms way, as you do when you adventure, you will most certainly end up with a collection of dints and dings. The good news is that most of the pain is not an issue.

At it's best, pain is a signal that something is wrong in the body and that something needs to be done to restore a healthy equilibrium. More often, the body thinks that something is wrong but is either mistaken or is noticing something that will resolve on it's own or will never resolve but isn't going to interfere with anything you want to do.

The trick is to pay attention to your body until you can discern which is which. I know that my feet could be bleeding with blisters and it will come to nought in three days so I can ignore them with impunity. You  may need to realize how far you can push your blisters before you really need to do something about them - and you might need to know what to do about them.

Regardless, pain isn't the issue. Injury might be an issue, cramps that immobilize you  may be an issue, but pain is just signal or noise. Pay attention and then respond appropriately.

Pain can immobilize you if you let it; so can philosophy. Philosophy is as dangerous an adventure as just about anything.

Consider Rene Descartes. He was so popular that he was invited by Queen Christina of Sweden to organize a scientific academy and to tutor her. Evidently, they did not like each other much and Descartes died there of a respiratory ailment, far from his beloved France. His claim to fame was his dictum, "I think, therefore I am." but almost as soon as it was said people started finding holes in it and Descartes had to start defending it. There wasn't much defense available. It's easy to knock it down. For instance, your thinking certainly indicates that something exists, but not necessarily you. You might just be a character in someone elses imagined story.

One of my favorites was Rudolf Carnap, a giant of symbolic logic and a member of the Vienna Circle, a group of people who believed that, if it couldn't be talked about scientifically or logically, it shouldn't be talked about at all. That philosophy, called logical positivism, like many nineteenth and twentieth century philosophies, didn't last long, quickly being superseded by Post-Modernism, which was largely a reaction to philosophies like logical positivism. Honestly, trying to dump four fifths of the Dewey Decimal System was doomed to failure.

But I did like the depth to which he developed logical systems, and I very much sympathized with his disdain of many of the central questions of philosophy; although I think he went too far. It is important to establish some understanding of the nature of existence, moral issues, and whether there is anything beyond the material world.  But a lot of the classical philosopher's conclusions seem a bit sophomoric. For instance, Kant said that the central tenant of ethics is that humans should never be a means but always an end. But that eliminates a large part of the basis of relationships. There is a such thing as good faith in use. Much of friendships and love relationships are based on common, honest use. People are the means of cultivating relationships.

Jean-Paul Sartre has always seemed to me to be a miserable individual - much more so than is called for. He said, "Hell is other people" (from his play No Exit). He taught that self-consciousness was a curse. Methinks the philosopher doth protest too much.

And B. F. Skinner, just don't get me started. I came into psychology when Skinerian behaviorism was big. I had a textbook that expounded the glories of behaviorism with the fervor of a Marxist. The authors stated flat out that all other schools of psychology would (not "should") be relegated to historical studies. Twenty years later, behaviorism had morphed into cognitive behavioral psychology and emphasis has definitely shifted to what is going on inside peoples' heads. I hope the authors of that text book are embarrassed.

I think that one big problem with philosophical thought has been that philosophers just think too much. I liken it to a treasure hunter that digs a little too far to the right and completely missed the treasure, coming up with only dirt - interesting dirt, to be sure, but dirt nevertheless.

There has been lifetimes wasted on consideration of the puzzle, "Can God create a stone too heavy for Him to lift?" The sentence looks like it makes sense purely because it is a reasonably constructed sentence; otherwise, it makes no sense at all. Many philosophical statements are perfectly good statements. They have good grammar; the words mean something; but they just don't make sense.

I was in a speech team in the 70s and it was around that time that debate judges started disallowing nihilistic arguments. It's perfectly reasonable to argue that, since you can't even argue that the things around you are really real, you certainly can't argue anything else. The problem is that, if you start with the assumption that there is no reality (or no provable reality), then you can't go any farther. Debate is dead in the water before it even starts.

But debate is important. It is the way people come to conclusions about issues that can't be solidly proven, some of the most important issues there are - issues of policy, responsibility, value.....

Even if you lock yourself in your house and never go out, there are dangers and the biggest danger is nonparticipation. Life is participation and survival is not just living. In the same way, thinking is dangerous, but not thinking is the worse choice by far and the key is to finely hone that incredible thinking tool, your brain, through learning and experience.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

--- Equipment ---


I have several favorite sources for equipment. Locally, we have a Home Depot down the street and I get all kinds of inspiration walking up and down the isles and talking to people there. You probably have an equally inspiring hardware store in your area.

I'm also lucky to have the Science Company, a science supply store, in walking distance. I've groused for years about the demise of the chemistry set (or the quality chemistry set) and when I found this place on the Internet searching for a source for chemicals, I made a lot of strange noises and scared everyone. They not only have chemicals, but also labware, instruments, and kits; and they specialize in metal treatments for antiquing and patinas. You can see their website at:


I ran into a catalog for a company called Jerryco way back when I was in college and I thought it was a joke. The write-ups for the products were hilarious, but I finally ordered something from them and I have been ordering from them ever since. Their prices are amazing and I have never gotten a bad product from them in all these years. Now they are called American Science and Surplus and you can see their website at:


I'll be dropping a few more names as time goes on.

Saturday, February 4, 2017

--- Between LaLa Land and extreme conservatism ---

there is reality.

Again, Aristotle had it right. Moderation is the best policy.

I believe that the powers that be here in Colorado have been concerned to create a city where people can live and thrive. There is plenty of crime and violence, yes. Perhaps that comes from the tradition of the wild west alive and well. But there are life enrichments for just about everyone.

The Bad Things are pretty much city dwellers misbehaving (as they will), but on the trail and on the trains, and in the city, I see a lot of honestly happy people sharing their lives with people they quite obviously love.

One day during my years of pharmacy training, a professor brought a huge book (had to be over three inches thick) and he slammed it on the desk. He explained, "This book contains everything known to us about marijuana. The only ill effect we know is that it's illegal."

But marijuana is legal in Denver. The medical benefits are broad - from pain control to relief from insomnia. It is not just for cancer patients. The products are fine tuned to help a great spectrum of ailments.

People who think that weed is going to destroy society is ignoring everything but their own imagination.

It sounds like a sharp jump here but, if you think about it you can see the segue.

Conservatives and liberals both irritate me - the more extreme, the more irritating they are.

Conservatives are the bullies of the system. Their position is that this is their country and people that don't think like them will be brought to heal. ("We're gonna take this country BACK!" For who? For them? For they people that share their world views? I think that pretty well encapsulates the situation.)

Liberals are the parents of the world. They know what's best and if you are going to live under their roof (in their country) you will abide by their rules.

It's well known that politicians use fear as a tool - fear of some imaginary "others". Hate crimes are now illegal, except when used by politicians.

There's a song in South Pacific in which an American soldier teaches a native girl (sarcastically?) that she has to learn to hate the "other". "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught," is the name of the song if you want to look it up.

Between LaLa Land and extreme conservatism is a utopia. People still die - people die. But they can live happy, enriched lives.

I used to be confused about the stanza of America the Beautiful that said, "Alabaster cities gleam, undimmed by human tears."

Have we ever had gleaming cities undimmed by human tears. America was built on the fuel of human tears.

Then I found out that Katherine Lee Bates was dreaming. She had recently been to the World's Colombian Exposition in Chicago. There she saw the alabaster buildings and she dreamed of Utopian America.

The problem is that there will be no cities undimmed by human tears until people can live happy, enriched lives; and people will not live happy, enriched lives if the politicians of the moment won't let them.

--- The worst ---

The worst weather for hiking....

The second worse is hot and humid summer days. I've mostly left those behind in Selma. But the worst is ice.

I love snow but when you have to concentrate on every step you take to keep your feet from flying out from under you, walking is no longer fun.

The day after I moved to Colorado, I took a stroll in the park across the street and reconnected with black ice. Black ice is refrozen ground moisture and it is very slick. If there was oil on the street, it has had a chance to rise to the top, so it coats the surface of the ice. I was on my back before I realized that I had fallen.

The crows laughed at me. Crows have a very slapstickish sense of humor. They even laugh at each other when one of them does something stupid.

Generally, I get along with crows. If you do something bad to a crow, they will scream at you, specifically, for years. Every crow from miles around will know you and harass you. Crows and ravens generally accept me around here. They let me know when there's something up ahead I need to watch out for or a point of interest.

We had about a quarter inch ice on all the pavement Wednesday and Thursday and according to my rule that no weather will stop me, I made my regular grocery runs.

There are three  rules for walking on ice. Pay close attention to every move you make. If you don't keep your center of gravity in the right place, gravity will take you down.

Walk on the balls of your feet. I'm against the idea that there's one way to walk that fits everyone. My old Boy Scout manual prescribed a heel striking gait. If I adhered to that I would break my ankles. But on ice, you should stay on your toes - literally. As soon as your heel lands firmly on the ground, you are committed to that step. As long as the pressure is on your toes, you have considerable flexibility as to which way you can move your feet. On ice, it allows you to quickly adjust your stance to counteract slippage.

The last rule is the same for driving on ice:

No sudden changes.
No quick moves.

--- Naturalistic philosophies ---

Are you natural? Do humans belong to the natural world?

The way I see it - yes and no. Humans are definitely part of the world - created or evolved, the end result in this issue is the same. Humans are part of what is. One way or another humans are inextricably linked to their world.

On the other hand, as soon as people started living in cities, they started seeing themselves as separate from nature. It was most likely a gradual process but that city wall was a border, like an edging around a painting - this is a painting and that is everything else. The wall was security. It kept out all the riff-raff. But it was also a distinction - them and us.

Humans are reprogrammed to act differently than they would if they had not been raised in their society. It's called socialization (or indoctrination). But, maybe humans aren't so different from other social animals. For instance, would wolves experience culture shock if they were set down in the middle of New York city? Are dogs as "unnatural" as humans?

The tricky thing about it is that Humans switched from seeing nature as home to seeing it as something to be conquered, an alien and hostile environment.They started looking to make nature convenient. That works to a certain extent but the law of unintended consequences quickly intervenes to bring balance back into the picture. The balancing act has already brought about several mass extinction events. You don't mess around too much with Mother Nature.

What seems to actually work with nature is to avoid trying to force it, but to become a part of nature and influence it from the inside.

Many naturalistic philosophies usually take the stance that there is no sharp dividing line between individuals and their surrounding - that there is self and other is simply an illusion.

Can you manipulate a red blood cell by force of will? Or a hair? Are you conscious of them? But those are parts of self.

Can you manipulate a tree or a rock by force of will? Are you conscious of them? Why would those not be part of self? They can certainly influence your life. A nice sitting rock is a very welcomed accessory during a long hike and can help you establish homeostasis as an aid to a well-balanced hypothalamus.

I don't know. I guess it really is a matter of viewpoint but it seems to me that seeing the world as part of self is appropriate and more than a little useful.

I worked with the Boy Scouts of the Crane District for many years. When they first came out with the "leave no trace" policy, I was aghast. In the early years, "leave no trace" literally meant "leave no trace" - leave the place as though you were never there. Originally, we were supposed to pack out feces in baggies. Now, most lists of principles say to use catholes (small dugouts, perhaps kicked out by your boot heal).

Besides being unrealistic, LNT was deceitful. Traces are exactly how animals communicate. If you take a hardline leave no trace policy, it is as though you enter someones home, wonder around, and make sure they don't find out you were there. Of course, you can't just leave no trace and it just makes you seem like a sneak.

Maybe, just maybe, the correct stance would be - leave appropriate traces. Leave the place as you would want someone to leave your own home after a visit (assuming you're not a slob).

It helps to educate yourself on the land and wildlife that you will be impacting. My home is a street in Denver. When I take a hike, I am entering other peoples' homes. If I respect them, they will probably tolerate my presence. If I don't, well, they might eat me.

I think I can get behind the more recent, moderated version of "leave no trace." If you want to look at it, you can find a good explanation here:


But entitlement doesn't work in nature. Humanistic philosophies confuse me when people start talking about "rights". Best I can tell, the only reality to the concept of "rights" is "what everyone else around you will let you do without negative consequences". I don't know what an "inalienable right" is. "Endowed by the creator?" I've studied most of the major world religions and read many of their scriptures and I can't, for the life of me, find anything about any inalienable rights endowed by any creator. I don't know where they got that from.

I do believe in a thing called freedom. It always sounds like a right is something someone is entitled to: "I know my rights!" You have rights because you're you - you don't have to work for them - it comes with the warranty.

You have to work for freedoms. You earn freedoms.

I'm a Werewolf. I was known as a self proclaimed Werewolf in Selma and I was respected in all my communities. Did people think I was crazy? If they did, they didn't let it show.

Before I was known as a Werewolf, I was known as a beneficial member of my communities - my professional communities, my city, my church... I was free to be what I was because I earned that freedom.

But I can tell you confidently that, if you wonder onto an avalanche field and start throwing M80s around, you won't have the right to life, liberty, or the pursuit of happiness. You are in someone else's home and they can get away with offing you. In reality and to a certain extent, you have artificial protections in your city but in nature, you have the right to behave yourself and if you chose not to accept that right, you and your lawyer might be eaten.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

--- Snow business ---

There's no business like snow business

Most of my life, I lived in a place (the southeast US) where snow was a rare commodity. Up to the 70s, we would get at least one good snow a year but things changed when I was in college. The snow went away and the armadillos and coyotes moved into Alabama. Now there are capybara in Georgia. Things change.

Now, a light dusting of snow in the southeast will shut everything down.

The year I moved to Colorado was the snowiest year since. When I left Selma, it started snowing on me just south of Birmingham and it snowed on me all the way to Broomfield and continued snowing until well into the spring months.

So I've had three good snow hikes in my life. I'm not counting the walks to work when I was a tutor in Broomfield or the many grocery runs in the snow. There was one SEHowl at Mount Cheaha in Alabama where a snow storm covered the area in March, followed by a tornado that blacked out Anniston and went on to hit Atlanta.

I learned to wear socks when I slept in cold weather. Being the host, I was the first person at the Howl and the only Howler the first night. I went to sleep listening to rain on my tent and woke up to a strangely dark morning. When I unzipped the tent fly, snow cascaded in. I also noticed that I couldn't feel my feet. I didn't even look at them. I put my clothes on and drove to the developed campground up the road. When I got to the showers I examined my feet and was relieved to find that I would not lose any toes.

After my morning ritual, I hiked up the mountain to the country store at the top.

I love snow.

I've also hiked twice to Mount Carbon in the snow. On the first hike, the snow had melted from the paved path and I still considered Mount Carbon to be a necessary evil that stood between me and Morrison. I've walked to Morrison several times and there's no way around the two hundred foot rise on the path. I either take the trail over Mount Carbon or I take the road over the shoulder of Green Mountain. Neither are very pleasant and I had always considered both to be rather ugly - until I tried the Mount Carbon Loop Trail.

This trail shows Mount Carbon at it's best, following a series of switchbacks along the flanks of the hill to the summit. On the way, it provides some spectacular vistas.

Earlier this year, I decided to hike to the top of Mount Carbon in the snow using the Loop Trail.  I've hiked in just about every kind of weather available where I have lived, but this was my first snow hike. I started around 8:00 on a 2 degree but sunny morning.My Neanderthal physiology kept me nice and warm with no more than my usual cold weather get-up - overalls, sweater, and leather jacket.

I found that my body had to adapt to the cycle of focusing on each step to avoid crashing to the ground. About half way to the end of the hike up, I no longer had to concentrate on my pace and could enjoy the scenery.

The hike up Mount Carbon was grueling. The trail is a ledge and doesn't provide much room for mistakes. A fall probably wouldn't kill me, but the scrubby brush blanketing the hill wouldn't be pleasant. Still the view was spectacular and well worth the work.

(Mount Carbon in the snow)

(Mount Carbon Loop Trail)

(Green Mountain from Mount Carbon)

(The ledge)

(Mount Morrison)

(Denver skyline)

(Almost to the top)

I made the top ("Summit" would be an appropriate verb but it seems a little overblown for such a small prominence.) a little after noon. It was 27 degrees and I felt great.

(Me on top)

I gazed out at the Rockies and down at the tiny shelters of the ice fishers on Bear Creek Lake.

The really nice surprise came when I started down. Gravity did all the work. I felt like I was drifting down the side and the descent was quick and painless.

I made it back home before dark in great spirits. This was the hike where I tried out new methods to prevent the plantar blisters which had plagued my hikes all my life and the simple step of sticking duct tape on the balls of my feet did the trick.

By the way, you might have noticed that some of these posts are dated 2016. Those were written last year. I wanted to have a backlog built up so I could keep a fairly consistent stream of new posts appearing. Also, my adventures will be somewhat topical. The posts I wrote last year are general subjects - the blog, my geographical area, resources, and such. In 2017, I'll be looking at philosophy, psychology, parapsychology, and religion around Bear Creek and Denver.