Tuesday, November 21, 2017

--- Some cool software ---

This blog is about getting off the computer, getting away from the television, and experiencing your world first-hand, but, occasionally, I will post a nod toward interesting cyber-experiences that I've found. I, too, enjoy a good documentary or lecture...or interesting software package, which is what this article is about.

Most folks read about philosophy and psychology, so, as would be expected, software about philosophy and psychology is relatively rare, but they do exist. Here are some of my favorites.

Argumentative developed by John Hartley and available here: http://argumentative.sourceforge.net/index.html is a well designed program to help construct and evaluate arguments. The program should be valuable for anyone interested in debate or decision making theory. It's well documented and should be easy to learn. The help files are integrated into the program (you don't have to go online to access them) and if they're not clear enough, the Teaching Company has a great lecture series on debate that I will bring up later in a blog on Links and Lectures (Wait for it....)

The National Science Digital Library's Online Psychology Laboratory (http://opl.apa.org/Main.aspx) is "way cool" (I picked that phrase up from some high school students I was tutoring) because any individual interested in psychology can join with others across the Internet to perform group experiments in psychology, then they can download the results and even use statistics to process the data just like a psychology researcher. I repeat - "way cool".

The Online Psychology Laboratory has a limited set of studies you can take part in (a bunch, but still limited). If you want to design and carry out your own experiments, there are two programs (also "way cool") that can be used. They're actual programming languages, so it helps to have some background in programming if you are going to use them. Both are well constructed and well documented. Both install with a collection of experiments ready-to-run.

Todd Haskell's FLXLab is available here: http://flxlab.sourceforge.net/ (Note that FLXLab is no longer maintained and may not work on recent operating systems.

PEBL: The Psychology Experiment Building Language, originally developed by S.T. Mueller and B.J. Piper (users have contributed heavily to it) is still maintained and very flexible and extensible. It is available here: http://pebl.sourceforge.net/

Notice that many of these programs are available from SourceForge. All the ones above are free downloads but, if you like them, send a donation their way. Otherwise, they might disappear.

For philosophy software, I am still very impressed with Warren Weinstein's The Play of Mind website, http://www.theplayofmind.com/index.htm . I can't imagine a more enjoyable way to explore philosophy.

And, talking about "free downloads", I'm continuously developing macros for my ToolBook. Recently, I'm developing a kymograph for the Psychology page, that will be out soon. A kymograph is a tool used to study memory. It's used to flash words and/or numbers at set intervals (or randomly) to a subject. Mine is cool ("way cool", in fact) because it will flash a list that contains anything that can be placed in spreadsheet cells including colored and formatted text or cells. It should be up by the end of the year. The ToolBook can be downloaded from here: http://www.theriantimeline.com/ToolBook.ods

Currently it may not be way cool, but it is cool because it has timers, counters, and randomizers in it.

It's all free, so, if you're interested in psychology or philosophy, you should download all of them and have fun.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

--- Notes on perception ---

[Unlike extension, secondary qualities, such as colors and sounds, exist only as sensations in the mind. In material bodies such qualities] are nothing but the powers those substances have to produce several ideas in us by our senses; which ideas are not in the things themselves, otherwise than as anything is in its cause.

John Locke

We have sense organs like eyes, and ears. Those instruments pick up energy fluctuations in our surroundings and sends impulses up nerves to the brain. To this point, what's going on is electrical charges traveling along cell walls and chemicals being secreted and sensed by other cells. Does that sound like what we sense about our surroundings? We know these things are happening because we can measure them.

The brain decodes these impulses into other impulses with converge on certain parts of the brain to....do things. Things happen and we can measure them. Strange things often happen. Have you ever heard of "blindsight?" There was a movie based on it. I've experienced blindsight before.

I have a rare condition known as "acephalic migraine". An acephalic migraine is a "migraine without the headache." I have the things that lead up to a migraine headache (they're called "prodromals") and I have the hangover-like feeling afterward. What I don't have is the actual headache - I'm not complaining.

One common prodromal is neuronal blindness. It starts as pixelated sparkling lights in the periphery of my vision and it spreads until all I can see are sparkling lights. I'm blind - but I can, for instance, drive a car.

I was once stuck in rush hour traffic in downtown Montgomery when the little twinkling lights began to invade my vision. I was in the inside lane and I couldn't get out of the traffic fast enough. I was completely blind, yet I drove to the next intersection and off the interstate into a parking lot and stopped until my vision cleared.

I couldn't see but, obviously, somewhere - in my head, in the ether, somewhere, my brain was putting everything together into the same visual representation I'm used to. My body responded as it usually does. The only difference is, I couldn't see!

There is no material manifestation of the experience of sensation in our brains. There is nothing you can point at to say, "This is real." Sensation is what neurologists call and "emergent quality". It springs from what is actually happening but it's only nature is that of information - no page, no computer screen, just neurons firing, nothing you could put your finger on, not "real".

Our sensation of reality, as real as it seems, is not real - it's a hallucination. We hope it bares enough of a resemblance to reality so that we can get along, but it's not perfect. At the everyday level, there are illusions. It gets really troublesome when there are pathological process and the person affected can't distinguish between the reality and the errors.

It sounds scary but, consistency bares out that our versions of reality are, indeed, accurate enough. And,  they give us better than reality. Consider, there are different wavelengths of light, but there are no colors in reality. Color is a result of how our eyes and brains decode different kinds of light. Different people see colors differently. Color blindness is much more common than most people think.

According to Wikipedia, about 8.7% of humans have some form of color blindness. But I can tell that my right eye sees greener than the left eye, which makes things look bluer, and I test out fine in regard to color vision.

But our "hallucinatory" view of the world gives us color! Our brains color code our world for us.

I don't feel short-changed at all.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

--- A spooky adventure ---

Well, not very spooky after all....

Since my 40s, far fewer "spooky" things happen around me. For the entire twenty years in one of the most haunted cities in the United States, I experienced one haunting and saw one dragon. During that time, one of my camp outs was crashed by a vampiric entity and I didn't even have direct contact with that (I was off hiking at the time.) No possessions. No portals. Not that I'm complaining.

I'm not so convinced that all the haunting in Denver (there are even companies here that capitalize off haunted tours) have any more substance than imagination. There is certainly the potential.

The local "boot hill" was turned into a development and one of the cities most popular parks, Cheesman Park, without the developer bothering to remove the bodies. Have you ever seen the movie Poltergeist?

Molly Brown ("The Unsinkable") supposedly haunts Brown Palace in downtown Denver. Molly Brown spent her life, by all reports that I've seen, busy helping others. I can't imagine why she would want to hang around an old building. According to the Wikipedia article, she only stayed in the hotel for one week after surviving the sinking of the Titanic. The best I can tell, Henry C. Brown, the original owner of the Brown Palace, was not directly related to Margaret Brown or her husband.

I've been to the Brown Palace. Some friends gathered at the ground floor cigar bar, Churchill's, for a birthday party. It struck me as the kind of British "gentleman's club" often seen in movies. But, of course, being a modern attraction, it gets noisier at times. The "flatiron", triangular building with it's brown sandstone and cement exterior and the storefront bar with it's dark, wooden interior (the decor is quite whether the clientele is or not) is very attractive. I didn't notice anything "weird in the neighborhood", though.

I took a walking tour on October 20 to see a few of the "weird sites" in Denver.

First, I took a bus down Yale avenue to Wadsworth where the Brown's summer home, Avoca Lodge, now stands. It's a beautiful brick home that is popular for family gatherings and public functions. Use requires an appointment but anyone can look around the grounds during civilized hours.

Not having admittance to the museum didn't bother me. I'm not studying history or architecture right now - I'm looking for weird - and I had a willing caretaker who was cleaning up the yard. He said that he was not aware of any weirdness associated with the building or grounds. On the other hand, he was friendly and a good conversationalist.


If you do a Google Maps search for cemeteries in Denver, you will be able to draw a rough curve from Denver Pet Cemetery and Crematorium near the Rocky Mountain Arsenal back west to Olinger Crown Hill Mortuary and Cemetery and Mount Olivet Cemetery in Arvada. The arc sweeps down and through the center of Denver where the old "boot hill" rests (that's what the caretaker at the Brown House called it. We call it something different today). With much difficulty, I can find references to Denver's "deadline" on the Internet. One is a book "The Haunted Heart of Denver" by Kevin Pharris. But there are a lot of Denverites that will gladly talk to you about it.

As in all the westerns you ever saw, "boothill" was on a rise at the edge of town. Denver's boothill was no different. Then other cemeteries popped up (or down?) around the edge of town following an invisible boundary as the town grew. Then Denver grew over the deadline. Some of the graves were relocated but some of them.....some of them were not. They're still there.

I took a bus from Yale, up Wadsworth, to 26th street and the Olinger Crown Hill Cemetery and Mortuary. It was a gated cemetery but the elderly man in the guard shack at the entrance was friendly and informative and said that the cemetery welcomed visitors, so I started the mile long trek through the graves.

The cyclopean mausoleum at the back of Olinger Crown Hill Cemetery and Mortuary gives some the willies. The Tower of Memory is just so huge. For me, the cemetery is a big plot of land, well maintained, beautiful and peaceful. The Tower is currently being rejuvenated and is surrounded by scaffolding but it is a rather spectacular piece of architecture.

                                          Olinger Cemetery and the Tower of Memory

From Olinger, I walked down to Colfax Avenue and caught a couple of buses to Franklin Street. From there I walked south to Cheesman Park. It was populated by happy, active people enjoying one of the last moderate days in the year. People were laying on the great lawn, picnicking, jogging, walking their dogs - everyone was happy except maybe the homeless fellow sleeping in the gazebo.

As I stepped onto the lawn and made my way around a clump of trees, I almost stepped into a rectangular depression in the earth.

Did I mention Denver's original boothill? This was it, first called Mount Prospect Cemetery. If anyplace in Denver has any right to be haunted, this is the place. An undertaking company was hired in 1893 to move the crowded graves there to Riverside Cemetery so the plot could be used as a city park. Riverside Cemetery is still extant and one of the graveyards of the deadline. The coffins supplied were 1' x 3' pine boxes and, by all reports, it was a scene of gruesome carnage with body parts strewing the area. The workers looted the graves and there are still, evidently, hundreds of graves that were not moved.

                                                                Cheesman Park

There are, of course, tales of hauntings there and in the area. I personally didn't notice any weirdness (except, maybe, sunken graves to trip over) and the other folks seemed unperturbed that they were "dancing on graves". Maybe the haunts have burned out - or I have.

In short, I haven't noticed any ghosts in Denver. There is a thriving industry of paranormal tourism here and I wouldn't want to dissuade that. It's, after all, what tourism is supposed to be - fun.

What I have noticed is portals. The area around Denver seems to be spatial Swiss cheese. I've heard tales from associates of sections of town that disappear and reappear and sections they drive into that just plain shouldn't exist in a sane universe. My own experience convinced me.

I don't generally walk a mile in 15 minutes. I can, but my walking speed is usually 3 miles an hour max. After an endurance hike that speed diminishes to less than 2 miles an hour.

I had walked from my first residence in the Denver area, in Broomfield, to Flatirons Junction, over the Coalton trail and back, and was walking along Interlocken, a street I had driven along several times. I checked my watch and then noticed how far I had come along the Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport. I looked at my watch to see that I had been walking 15 minutes. It would have taken me 45 minutes to walk to where I was. It was aggravating.

I had walked all day. My hike would have been two hours shorter if I had not had to walk through Arvada to get home.

No ghosts. Just a hole in space.

I've heard tales of ogres, dragons, ghosts, and  headless horse women that lop off peoples' heads.

The real horrors in Denver seem to be the same ones that plague mankind everywhere. Other people. In 1999, the decapitated bodies of two homeless men were found. Since the targets seemed to be homeless people, there might have been others that just were not found. One person that was not found was the murderer.

--- Notes on intuition ---

All our knowledge begins with sense, proceeds thence to understanding, and ends with reason beyond which nothing higher can be discovered in the human mind for elaborating the matter of intuition and subjecting it to the highest unity of thought.

Immanuel Kant

I'm all for intuition. It seems better to me than common sense because intuition, at least, has the basis of experience and common sense only has the basis of "that's what I heard" and common sense is notoriously unreliable.

Have you ever played Telegraph. In a group, one person tells another a "secret" in private. That person tells another, and so on. In the end, the secret is completely transformed. Imagine what happens to an item of common sense over many, many years. It was common sense to Aristotle that men had more teeth than women.

But intuition isn't perfect. I have had some ninjitsu training. One reason people in martial fields go over and over patterns of movement or strategy until they are internalized is that, in a fight, you don't have time to think out every move. Repetition turns patterns into intuitions.

But, when possible, intuitions should be tested by reason and that is where I agree with Kant.

As a vocational evaluator,I subjected many clients to "demeaning" work which greatly undervalued their actual skills and they, of course, took offense, until I explained that the purpose was diagnosis. I could observe them in "real work" situations. The more "advanced", sophisticated, in brief - complicated the activity was, the harder it was to separate the characteristics of the job from the characteristics of the client, which is what I was trying to discover.

And that is why I enjoy dishwashing (see The Zen of Washing Dishes). I can explore my own behaviors.

I currently have a sore thumb caused by the very dry conditions of a job I have taken. My skin is drying out faster than I can moisturize it and my thumb just split open like an over-ripe plum. So, while washing dishes today, I noticed that, without conscious thought, I slide pieces of silverware to the drain so I can get under them without using my thumb. I have worked enough with typical people to know that this is not normal behavior. They will usually continue to use their sore thumb as they always do, grumping and groaning all the way.

I attribute my adaptability to things like endurance hikes and dishwashing in which I can try out different ways to do things and attend to them. In other words, I have tested various problem solving behaviors and internalized the ones I found particularly useful.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

--- Ghost stories ---

My family lived in Griffin, Georgia and I was still in a youth bed, so I must have been three years old. I woke up one morning and I was laying under the covers with my hands clasped under my pillow, but then I noticed that one of my hands was down at my side so I raised up and looked and what the hand under my pillow was grasping was not my hand but a green scaly hand.

I stood up in my bed and started jumping up and down. The green scaly what-ever slithered back under my covers and was gone.

And, that, folks, is what they call a waking dream. Since then I have had them regularly, to the point that I usually wake up long enough to mutter, "Just go away and let me get some sleep."

Sometimes my "double sight", shamanic vision, temporal lobe screwiness, schizophrenia, or what ever you want to think it is picks up things that are going on inside my head - sometimes it picks up dragons. It didn't really put me out for long.

Like my father used to say, "I don't believe in UFOs, but let me tell you what I saw...." It's not that I don't believe in ghosts, but I'm not so presumptuous as to explain them.

Even if a ghost were to tell you that they were your grandmother, who died thirty years ago, and has come back to tell you things that only you could know, one of the parties involved is you, and you, at least, know what only you can know. It's not unthinkable that you are conjuring up images from your own mind.

I have a metric of belief. I imagine that it was proven to me, beyond a shadow of doubt that a belief is untrue - how would I feel. For instance, if the being that is my spirit guide, who assures me that he is the Holy Spirit, were proven to be Descartes' Demon, I would be rather flabbergasted. On the other hand, if it were proven that the white floaty apparition floating between us really is your great aunt Matilda, I would be mildly amused.

It's not that I don't believe that ghosts are the disembodied spirits of people who died and forgot to "go into the light." It's that I don't know what they are.

It seems that the general populace assumes that a ghost is what's left of a dead person. A common belief in the Christian church today is that it's a deceiving demon. I believe that it's something that has sometimes woke me up when I wanted to be sleeping. ("Whaddayou want, now.")

I was in high school in the late 60s when we moved into the haunted house on Hobbes Street. In fact, my bedroom was the epicenter of the haunting. The reason I knew it wasn't just an emanation of my own mind, is that others observed it. I guess it could have been suggestion.

I would wake up at nigh to the sound of chains rattling (how dramatic) and bottles clinking. The standard tale was that it was the landlady's deceased husband.

My brother, Ron, came home on leave from the Air Force and decided to explore the situation. We put him up in my bed and I slept on the couch in the living room. He kept a soda bottle by the bed.

In the middle of the night, he woke up to the unmistakable sound of footsteps and he got up (with his soda bottle) to investigate. The house was a type that had a large central dining room and smaller rooms around the periphery of the house. Admittedly, I did walk in my sleep back then, but on completely circumnavigating the house, Ron saw nothing moving around. I was still on the couch. In the end, he was convinced that there was something else in the house with us.

As I got older, haunts (whatever they are) began avoiding me. I lived in one of the most haunted cities in the US (Selma, Alabama) and there was only one place that even hinted to me that it was haunted. I had been in Selma over ten years before I wandered a block down the street to visit the Smitherman Building, which was purported to be very haunted.

The old building had been a home, a hospital and a Masonic lodge, among other things. Currently, it's a historic museum and a must-see for tourists.

Most of the hospital artifacts are on the third floor. In addition, it sports ghosts, who gave me the distinct impression that they did not want me there, so I left. My policy is that, if I'm in someone else's home and they don't want me there, I respect their wishes.

Some hauntings don't include ghosts. I was called to investigate a haunting in Sulphur Springs, Alabama. I could find no indication of disembodied spirits. I've never understood why ghosts would hang out in cemeteries, anyway. People don't associate with them in life and people don't generally die there.

I walked around the churchyard and the little cemetery in back, then I stepped over to the other side and had a talk with the church. For a long time, a small congregation spent a lot of time there and it shared every phase of their life from shortly after birth to old age and death. Now, the small rural plot is rarely visited, usually to place flowers on old graves. Simply, the land grieves for a lost past.

Carl Sagan's "extraordinary claims" doesn't apply to hauntings. There's nothing extraordinary about ghosts. Every city I have lived in had hauntings; most were well known. If you're interested, there should be one near you. Now you have web search engines that can pinpoint (on a map) where all the haunted points of interest are in your area.

Commercial haunted houses will provide tours with talks about the history of the place and other information. Private residences may let you visit, but call and make sure the owners will welcome visitors first.

Let me warn you, though, that despite the New Age doctrine that "ghosts can't hurt you," there are things out there that most certainly can hurt you. You should take the same precautions with "paranormal" tourism that you take with any other kind. Educate yourself about your stops before you go.

And that's another thing. To paraphrase Stephen King from Room 1408, there are places that are just plain evil.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

--- Watching birdwatchers ---

As an exercise in peoplewatching, I planned to sign up for one of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science birding field trips, but I waited until too late in the season. That's okay, though. I've run into many birdwatchers in this area on the trail.

You really can't miss them. Birdwatchers are interesting people. In the first place, they're passionate about their hobby and they don't mind telling you all about what they're doing and I can't imagine anyone minding.
A couple of years ago, in the spring, I was in the city park in Morrison, Colorado when the only other person there, an elderly lady with a wonderful accent (I think it was German) asked if I was a birder. I said that I was a lifelong learner and that I watched birds sometimes, but I wasn't really a birder. Then she asked if I was looking for water ouzels and, when I said that I didn't know what a water ouzel was, she told me all about them.

The water ouzel, also called the American Dipper, is a pretty little, gray water fowl that looks like a song bird. It likes swollen mountain streams because it likes to perch on rocks in the stream where it's safe from predators. Then, when it gets ready to eat, it jumps in the fast water and walks along the bottom of the creek to eat the water insects there.

There were no water ouzels in Bear Creek at the time, but I made it a point to go back on Mother's Day, when the lady told me they are always there and I did spot one under the C470 overpass. Birdwatchers' enthusiasm is infectious.

This is the only unblurred picture I managed to get of the ouzel - they....flit.

                                                                 Ouzel (in the circle)

Birdwatchers can often be identified by their equipment. They will almost always have binoculars, possibly a camera and it will usually be pointed at something you can't see. Like many Weres, I have a predator's vision and, if something isn't moving, I have a hard time seeing it. I have a horrible time tracking down canned milk in a grocery store because it might be anywhere and I can be looking straight at it and not see it.

I was on the Stone House trail, which parallels the Bear Creel Trail near Wadsworth Boulevard and I saw an elderly lady (despite Doonsberry and other sources, not all birdwatchers are elderly) circling a cottonwood tree with binoculars pointing upward. She collared me and asked, "Do you see the owls?"

I strained my eyes but couldn't.

She pointed excitedly and directed my gaze to a crook in the tree's branches and then I saw the tiny birds. She was almost as excited for me as she was about herself spotting the owls.

Birdwatchers may travel in groups. The Denver Museum's bird watching filed trips are a case in point.

Last year, near Fox Hollow Golf Course on Bear Creek Trail, I ran into a party of three birdwatchers - a man and two women, who were taking  part in a competition to record the most different bird species. They were resting on a park bench but, unlike most joggers and bikers, were more than happy to explain what they were doing.

In brief, birdwatcherwatching can be an interesting and fulfilling hobby. You can even learn about birds as a bonus!

--- Notes on moral virtue ---

It has now been sufficiently shown that moral virtue is a mean state, and in what sense it is a mean state; it is a mean state lying between two vices, a vice of excess on the one side and a vice of deficiency on the other.... That is the reason why it is hard to be virtuous; for it is always hard work to find the mean in anything....


I do hold, with Aristotle that moral virtue is a median state. Even philanthropy can be an evil if carried to an extreme. Perhaps you have heard of the case of a parent who loved their family so much that they became a nag. And, of course, if a parent doesn't care at all for a child, the child will have a poor experience of growing up.

But, of course, it isn't that simple. An average murderer can't be considered morally virtuous. Aristotle's position was popular in his day but, since then, philosophers have taken his opinions apart and put them back together again in various permutations and, of course, many other schools of thought have developed. For instance, during Aristotle's time, the idea that might makes right was also popular and that philosophy reappeared in modern times in the philosophy of Nietzsche.

I also agree with C. S. Lewis in his assessment of lostness. A person can become so wrapped up in any idea to the point that they lose their humanity. They become an embodiment of that idea. He says that, in a way, they become a demon themselves. That can apply to anything including religious devotion.

I have been involved with several "special" groups such as people with specific disabilities, animal rights groups, and civil rights groups and I usually include the appeal that they maintain connection to other groups. For instance a person with multiple sclerosis can easily become so involved with a support group that all they thing about is multiple sclerosis and rights for people with multiple sclerosis. In effect, they can stop being "a person with multiple sclerosis" and become a "multiple sclerotic."

We live in a universe of relationship and those relationships are at the center of moral virtue. Responsibility and purpose, far from being the enemies of individuality and personal freedom, are what keeps us from drifting aimlessly in the world.

Jesus boiled the Christian virtues down to two points - love God completely, and, equally, love your neighbor as you (should) love yourself.

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.