Friday, January 6, 2017

Everything happens for a reason

A friend posted a comment on facebook. "Everything happens for a reason. I just wish I knew what that reason was," she said. I replied simply with "Electron fluctuations." But then I decided to expand on it. I thought that was worth sharing here. Hope you enjoy it. :)
It's true though. Every decision boils down to electron fluctuations. Let's take a look at Love, the most complicated thing in the universe. Two people meet, it seems like random chance, but the decision that brought them to that can be boiled down to fluctuations in the electron field. Maybe they were both hungry, and happened to meet at the same fast food location. The decision that brought them there went something like this... "I'm hungry" (it in itself fired by a chemical reaction in the brain, which came from a signal from your body, which was caused by an electrical impulse, which came from an electron fluctuation). "Where should I eat". A neuron fires, and you're craving fries. (another electron fluctuation.) You remember that new place down the street is supposed to have good fries. (memories come from yet another electrical firing, which is also a fluctuation.). That chain of events brought you to that place, and a similar one brought the other person. You meet, and chemical reactions, fueled by dopamine and oxytocin are triggered. You feel close to that person. but what triggered those reactions? yep, electron fluctuations.
Those fluctuations are the 1's and 0's of the universe. An electron can be on or off, and each step along the way changes the outcome. If you assume all the steps along the way in the above example are 1's, then changing any of them to a 0 is a definitive change in fate. Maybe the craving fries changes from a 1 to a 0, and you're craving a shake instead. Instead of the new place down the street, you decide to walk to the ice cream shop across the street. In that situation, someone is playing pokemon go while driving, doesn't see you, hits you, and you die. The reason for that can be traced back to that 1 or 0. 1, you fall in love. 0, you die.
But if the reason everything happens can be boiled down to quantum fluctuations, what causes those? Why is it a 1 or a 0. what chooses which it is? Well, that answer is easy - they BOTH happen. According to the multiverse theory, when the decision is made to go ice cream or go fries - when that electron fluctuation is set to 1 or 0, two universes are created. One on the "1" path, and one on the "0" path. The same thing happens for every other decision. The only reason we're in this universe is because this is the path we followed. If we were in another universe, that one would seem just as real. (And does, to the strings that followed those paths.)
A lot of people think Robert Frost's poem "two roads diverged in the wood" is about striking off your own path - about doing things your own way, "the less travelled" way. But it's really not. The poem is about looking back down the path that brought us to this point in our lives. The path is very clear. It's easy to see what got us here, and the choices we made along the way are what made all the difference. But the important subtext is that if we had made different choices - followed different paths, then that decision would seem JUST as real, and just as clear, even if it had lead something completely different. The path doesn't matter, only the choices along the way. And each of those choices can be boiled down to the same thing, an electron flipping to a 1 or a 0. (And then the universe creating both versions.) So the "reason" that everything happens for is right there, in a single fluctuation. But, the good news is that thanks to the multiverse that creates infinite new universes every time one of those fluctuations are set, we can say with certainty that everything doesn't just happen for a reason, no, we can say "everything happens."

Sunday, October 9, 2016

3 am - A Poem

You're never more alone than at 3 am.
when the cold wraps around you,
no matter how many blankets you hide under -
Because it's not the cold of skin and bone, 
but the cold of the soul.

When your only companions are regret and nightmare
And they huddle close to you, and push the world away
And Death sits on the foot of your bed
It's too late for yesterday, and too early tomorrow
Too late to sleep, but too early to wake
Too late to live, too early to die.
You're never more alone than at 3 am.

Friday, October 7, 2016

What if God was all of us?

As humans, for a long time we believed that we were the only sentient beings in the universe. Only we, given form and thought by God, were able to comprehend our own existence. That was what defined us, seperated us from the rest of life on the planet. And of course, only the planet Earth had any life at all.

Nowadays, we know that the answers are not so straight forward. We haven't found life outside the planet yet, but most scientists believe it's out there. Also, the question of sentience has gotten a lot more murky. We have a lot to learn about animal intelligence, but we know that animals can think, understand, and have a sense of self. In the Season 2 Star Trek: TNG episode, "The Measure of a Man", the question of Data's sentience is brought up. The question of what is required of sentience is asked. The answer is "Intelligence, self-awareness, and consciousness". As little as a half century ago, humans believe they were the only beings that meet that criteria. Now, we know that other creatures - Great Apes, Cetaceans, Elephants, even ravens could be considered "sentient". Lately, there's a movement that implies that believes we're grossly underestimating what qualifies as self-aware. Perhaps ALL creatures is self-aware. Does your dog know he's a dog? perhaps. It's not an extreme jump to suggest that all LIFE may be self-aware, although we don't have any way currently to test that.

But, let's go with the theory that it is. The quality that really sets life apart is self-awareness. If a thing is alive, then it IS self-aware. That would mean that plants, even fungi are aware. All the way down to Paramecium and bacteria. Now, when we think of ourselves, we are a being, right? I am "Brian". One living life form. You are "You". Another life form. The dog is "Dog", still another entity. But, that's not quite true, is it? I am not just a solid piece of mass, but a collection of organs working together. I am a heart, and a brain, and a liver, and a couple of kidneys. I am bone and muscle. And each one of those organs are made up of individual cells, which are themselves living creatures, in a manner of speaking. Certainly, a cell removed from my heart and placed in a petri dish could not survive long on its own, but along the same lines, I would not be able to survive if I were removed from the networks that keep me alive, either.

This brings me to my point. Imagine you ARE that heart cell. You have a job, you are aware of yourself, and your neighbors. You see other cells come and go, living their own lives. To you, this is the meaning of existence. There may be something bigger out there, but probably not. To think there's more to just being a cell, why that's absurd. Of course, the blood cells are always talking. They've seen things that aren't the heart. There's the lung cells that provide oxygen, and the kidney cells that clean impurities. What if the purpose of all these cells is greater than just being a cell? You might laugh at the blood cell. Of course there's not anything "more". Life is what it is. We're not part of anything bigger... We CAN'T be, right? There's no way to even fathom what such an intelligence could be.

I trust you see the similarities. To the earth, we are but a cell - a piece of the whole. This isn't a new theory, either - The Gaia Hypothesis posits that the earth is a living being, and just as we are made up of hearts and lungs and livers and kidneys, so to is Gaia made of Humans and Trees and Elephants and Turtles. And if that is so, could that life also perhaps be sentient? Could the earth be self-aware? And if it IS self aware, wouldn't an intelligence that unfathomable be godlike?

From there, we could perhaps reach further. If cells are living creatures that make up organs that make up humans, and humans are living creatures that make up the living planet, could the planet then be part of a even more incomprehensible part of a chain of life? Is the entire galaxy possibly an entity in and of itself? from there, perhaps the entire universe? It has been remarked upon several times how the broad picture of the universe resembles the same pathways of neural receptors. If that is true, the entire universe may indeed be sentient, in an incomprehensible manner. And That truly would be godlike, would it not?

There's a quote from John Green, from "The Fault in our Stars", that goes, "I believe the universe wants to be noticed. I think the universe is improbably biased toward the consciousness, that it rewards intelligence in part because the universe enjoys its elegance being observed." If that is true, Then there might be a god after all, and we are merely part of one of its organs.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

You have to love yourself, OR ELSE.

There's a common phrase that pops up just about any time someone expresses a desire to find someone to have a relationship with. Invariably, someone will say, “You have to learn to love yourself first.” or “You have to be comfortable being alone before you can be comfortable with someone else.” I've discussed my dislike of these before, because it makes a lot of assumptions, not the least of which that they don't love themselves, or they're not comfortable with themselves.


The other day I was at work, and one of the coworkers mentioned a bad dating experience. This brought up a conversation, and someone asked me about my dating experience. I made a offhanded, self-deprecating comment like I usually do. Almost immediately, someone gave me the “you have to learn to love yourself first.” Normally at this point, I point out that if that's true, I'll NEVER find someone to love me, since loving myself just isn't in the cards. This time, however, I had an article on my mind from the night before. The article was on Maslow's Pyramid. For those who don't know, Abraham Maslow was a psychologist in the 1940s, who published a paper titled "A Theory of Human Motivation", where he outlined the heirarchy of needs for a human to become self-actualized. Most of the time, this is written as needing to fulfill the lower levels before moving up to the next. For instance, one must fulfill the physiological needs, before progressing up to the safety needs, and then must complete those before moving on to Love and belonging. Of course, this isn't necessarily the case, because even people that are struggling with the “safety” level still have a desire for friendships, self-esteem, and morality.

What it DOES show is that things higher on the list become more difficult if things on the lower levels aren't fulfilled. Notably, It's difficult to find esteem without Love/Belonging being fulfilled. And likewise, it's difficult to achieve love and belonging, if your unable to feel safe.

“You have to love yourself before anyone else will love you” is literally saying that you must fulfill the “Esteem” level, before you're able to fulfill the “Love/Belonging” level. You have to have self-esteem, confidence, achievement before you can begin to find friendship and intimacy. This is actually a difficult feat, because self-esteem and confidence come primarily from friendships, family, and a sense of belonging. Humans are social creatures, and without a social framework to build on, it's difficult to find a level of self-esteem.

Most people that say “you have to love yourself first” miss this point. To them, they love themselves, so it's natural that people accept them. It's always been that way, as far as they know. But the truth is that in most cases, that self-esteem came from others. Family, friends, colleagues, or others helped build it up first. Yes, if it already exists, it's easy to assume it's always been there. And of course, confidence, self-esteem, and achievement ARE attractive qualities. So if you have those qualities, you'll see people attracted to you, and it's natural to assume that self-esteem leads to love and belonging, rather than the other way around. In terms of relationships, though, saying “You have to love yourself first” literally is the romantic equivalent of “If they have no bread, let them eat cake.”
When a person DOESN'T have a support network, they haven't fulfilled the Love/Belonging tier, and it is incredibly difficult to build the esteem tier. How do you feel good about yourself, if there is no indication that you SHOULD feel good about yourself? Just assuming you're awesome is fine, but it will only get you so far, especially when there's literally noone to verify that. Or worse, if things happen that make you question that, like not being able to find a relationship.

Unfortunately, I don't know what the solution is. “Just love yourself” isn't an answer. I don't know about other people in this situation, but I just don't see that as a possibility. What's more, speaking personally, I don't know HOW to love myself. You might as well say “before you find someone else to love you, you have to prove there's life on mars.” It's not a matter of not wanting to, it's a matter of not knowing what to do to even start. And without a support network, that continues to be harder, rather than easier.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Attribution Bias and You.

Recently, someone posted a video of the police breaking up a protest in New Orleans. The comments on that post quickly became a heated argument, trying to justify one side or the other. “The cops are overreaching, they’re clearly racist.” Vs. “Protesters are violent and are using protests to be destructive and break laws. They’re clearly criminals.” This got me thinking about often we label groups – both ones we like and dislike – and our attitudes towards them.

Take another example. Feminists have accused men of being violent rapists. Men have responded with the #notallmen hashtag. Feminists believe that men who use the hashtag are actively attacking their movement, which is based on a noble ideal of equality, and are therefore malicious misogynists, or might as well be. Men, on the other hand, believe that it’s only a small percentage of men that are causing these problems, and the group as a whole should not be blamed. Feminists are clearly just man-haters, and only want to attack men for their injuries, be they real or imagined.

All four of these groups have one thing in common. The individuals believe that their group is noble and right, while the opposition is clearly malicious and evil. And it’s not just those groups. It can be seen in any group with a dynamic that opposes it. Just listen to any Democrat or Republican. “WE are trying to save the country, to get us back on track and recover from the mess THEY made. And if they’d just keep their stupid ideas about how to fix the economy to themselves, we can get this thing back on track. After all, it’s pretty clear we know how to fix it, and they’ve only succeeded in making things worse.” Republican or Democrat, it doesn’t matter, the message is the same. WE have the best intentions for the country in mind, THEY are out to actively destroy it.

It turns out there’s a pretty simple reason for this – Attribution bias. At its core, it says that when good things happen to us (or a group we include ourselves in), then it’s because we did good. If our side wins, it’s because we’re prepared, and we’re awesome, and we’re in the right, therefore it’s only natural we’ll come out on top. But when bad things happen to us, we tend to chalk that up to bad luck. If we lose, it’s because the other side cheated, or something was broken, or things just didn’t go our way. It’s certainly not our fault. This extends outward to the other side as well. If we win because we’re superior, then they must lose because they’re inferior. If we win because we wanted it more, then they lost because they didn’t. But if we lose because of bad luck, then they win because of GOOD luck.

So, in other words, when we’re judging OUR intentions (and the intentions of groups we like) then we assume we’re doing it for the best reasons. Cops are trying to protect people, Protesters just want to voice their concerns on overreach, Feminists want equality for women, Men don’t want to be blamed for the actions of minorities, Democrats want to help the poor, and Republicans want to strengthen business. All of these are noble things. But, when we’re judging the intentions of others (and the intentions of groups we DON’T like) we assume they’re doing it for the worst reasons. Cops are racists. Protesters are just violent people looking to commit crimes, Feminists hate all men, Men are all rapists and misogynists, Democrats are lazy and want handouts, Republicans only care about the rich getting richer.

The problem is neither of these are true. The other side is NEVER as evil as we see them, and truth be told, we’re never as holy as we imagine. We’re all just people, and we have complex beliefs that sometimes contradict, even within ourselves.

I have a challenge for you, the next time you find yourself at odds with another group. Rather than just writing that person off as evil, and assuming they’re just opposing your side out of spite, try to understand their point BEFORE you counter it with more hate. I can promise that most of the time, the person on the other side of the argument is NOT evil, and if you approach from a point of understanding, rather than just automatically assuming that they’re not going to listen to you anyway, You might make some progress in building a bridge between the two sides. Sure, it won’t work all the time, and sometimes it’ll be harder than others, but isn’t it worth it when it DOES work?


In Paper Towns, John Green has a quote; “Imagine others complexly”. Because we’re inside our own heads, we know that there’s a lot going on in our beliefs, and the actions we take are almost always justifiable. But when we see others, we don’t have that same insight about what’s going on in their heads, and so we assume that their actions are not. We color those actions based on how we feel about them as a person, no matter what the motivations actually are. Instead, we should strive to imagine each person is a being as unique and complex as we are in our own heads. We should give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps by imagining others complexly, we can all come out of this better people.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Parkinson's Law of Triviality

The pronounciation of the word "gif".

Which way the toilet paper should go.

The Oxford comma.

These are some of the most devisive topics on the internet. I imagine anyone reading this was ready to comment the "correct" way to do any of those things as soon as they started reading the list. And they'll likely defend that their way is THE RIGHT WAY, right up to death. Nothing ends a friendship faster than saying "jif" when your friend believes it's a hard G. I've seen people list the toilet paper thing as a fundamental red flag in dating. I've seen any of these create conversation threads hundreds of comments long, and become EXTREMELY heated. And yet, in the grand scheme of things, is there really anything less important?  Why do we care so much for such relatively minor things?

Cyril Northcote Parkinson was a British historian and Author, born in 1909. He is most famous for what is now known as "Parkinson's Law", which states, "work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion", but he also is responsible for a lesser known observation, known as "Parkinson's law of triviality". This law says "The time spent on any item of the agenda will be in inverse proportion to the sum involved." That is, the cheaper (or easier to understand) something is, the more time people will devote to it. That's why if we're given two discussions, people will ALWAYS gravitate to the easier to understand of the two. Imagine a scenario where a city is deciding on how to handle its hungry homeless. First item on the agenda, should we create a food bank?  The city may spend 10 minutes on the topic. Second item, what color should we paint the building?  Well, there goes the rest of the meeting, because you can guarantee every single person will need to weigh in on that topic.

As humans, we like to give our opinion. We need for our voice to be heard. And the simpler something is, the more confident we can be that we are right. That's why even complicated issues are distilled down to the very basic fundamentals. How do we fix gun problems in the US, for instance, boils down to two primary thoughts: Either we need more guns for everyone, or we need to get rid of all the guns. Any grey areas introduced will quickly be drowned out by these very black and white points.

This is why a news story, like the Harambe incident seems to "explode with experts". Suddenly everyone has a strong opinion on what happened, and what they would've done differently, and how the "Experts" that were there were right or wrong. It's easy to armchair quarterback from the safety of the internet, when we have what really only amounts to minimal information on a situation.

Instead of focusing on triviality and letting it overwhelm our life, we should ask ourselves if it's really important. Does the way toilet paper roll ACTUALLY matter in the grand scheme of things? Especially enough to base a decision on whether or not someone is dating material - even above "does he like children?" or "does she care about the environment?" We should ask ourselves if our opinion is important. Do we ACTUALLY know if handling the situation differently would've worked, and does that opinion really add anything to the narrative? And we should ask ourselves if the time to attribute to this is worth it. Most importantly, we should be aware of Parkinson's law of triviality, and do our best to avoid it.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The world is not going to hell in a handbasket.

The world has gone to crap. Idiocracy is now a documentary. Every generation is getting dumber, and there is more hate, more stupidity, and more negativity in the world than ever before. We surely are going to kill ourselves off as a species in the next hundred years.

This is something I saw recently on a debate, roughly paraphrased from a few different comments. The sentiment is the same, and multiple people were saying it. Elsewhere, I see posts saying “I have no faith in humanity” or people are all idiots, or cruel, or no longer care about anyone but themselves. I usually counter those points when I see them, but it comes up often enough that I've been thinking of writing something about it. So, I'm going to tackle this in a couple of steps. First, I'm going to explain why these statements are wrong. Then, I'm going to explain why the people that think this believe as they do.

Part 1: Why the world is not crap.


To understand this, it's important to understand statistics, and a lot of people don't. That's why any time a discussion happens where someone says “Well, I've seen people buying televisions with their food stamps!” they immediately assume that rampant corruption in the welfare system is everywhere, and no amount of evidence will convince them otherwise. My favorite statement to show how statistics doesn't play well with how we think about things is “The majority of people have an above average number of legs.” It's totally true, and yet most people at first glance, would say that it was wrong.

Anyway, the point is this. Every generation is not getting dumber, in fact, we are the smartest generation of humans to ever live on the planet. We ARE getting more specialized, but that's not necessarily the same thing. Sure, there are a lot of articles on the internet that say that the average IQ is going down, but those articles fail to take into account that the IQ scale is adjusted every few years to account for people becoming more intelligent. So, a score of 100 today might have rated a 120 a hundred years ago. That doesn't mean people are 20 points dumber, it means the scale was moved.

“But there're dumb people everywhere! Here, look at all these dumb people!” is the general response to this, followed by a healthy dose of examples pulled off the internet, usually consisting of Trump supporters. Sure, it's super easy to find examples of how people are idiots. Of course, it's easier than ever before to find examples of ANYTHING. That's because the internet is fantastic. But that doesn't mean there are more of them, just that it's easier to find them than it was, say, 30 years ago.


As far as the hate and negativity, I can tell you that it's not true either. Patton Oswalt made a fantastic facebook post about the Boston Marathon bombing that I quote often.
This is a giant planet and we're lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they're pointed towards darkness.But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We'd have eaten ourselves alive long ago.

 This is an important consideration. If every person in the world were evil, hate-filled monsters, society would crumble. Human beings are social creatures, and we have an innate genetic programming that drives us to do better for society, because when society succeeds, we succeed. When society fails, we get picked off and eaten by lions. (More on that in a bit.)

Another important thing to note is that we often mis-attribute the actions of others to ignorance or maliciousness. Why do people support Trump? Well, they must be racist idiots. There is no other possible answer. At that point, we stop looking and say, "yep, there's another example of nothing but hate and ignorance in the world!" But that's an entirely too simplistic way to look at it. The truth of the matter is that many of them are working for the same things that supporters of every other candidate are working for: To make the world a better place. It's the way to do that that is the issue, not the person. But if we assume they're idiots, we remove ourselves from the problem. "oh, you can't change people's mind, they're just stupid." I hear that all the time, usually with the phrase "I don't argue on the internet." And with that attitude, you'd be right. If you dismiss the person as an idiot, you don't have to work any harder to fix the problem. On the other hand, if you think of the person as an intelligent functioning member of society that wants the same things you do, but believes the way to get those things is different than what you do, well, that requires a little bit more effort. Oh, and the "you can't change people's minds" isn't exactly true either. I have changed people's minds on the internet, and I've had my mind changed by others. But it requires that we stop assuming others aren't as educated as we are.


Part 2: Why people believe the world is crap.


There's a couple of pretty huge reasons for this. The first is that the message is EVERYWHERE. The news only talks about things going wrong, the internet is full of people doing dumb things, evil things, or evil dumb things, gossip is rampant, and you can't go a day without hearing about something going horribly wrong. But the message isn't everywhere because there's more of it, the message is everywhere because we're more connected than ever before, so it's a lot easier to get the message. With Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Snapchat, and a host of other social media outlets doing something stupid will get it seen by more people faster than ever before. And once it's on the internet, it's there forever. Did people do stupid stuff 30 years ago? Sure, but there was no way that a million people would instantly see it when it happened.

But if that's true, why don't we see way more good stuff, as well? Why does it seem like all that attention is ONLY bad news?  Well, bad news gets more attention. "Famous celeb gets drunk, destroys hotel room" is going to get a lot more views than "Famous celeb helps teach poor children how to read". Because of that, it skews the results of what gets written, aired, or shared. You could make a show that only highlights good deeds, but people want to see the bad things. It's like we're wired to pay more attention to negativity than the positive. And that's because we are.

This brings us to the second reason people believe the world is crap. Our brains care about negativity SIGNIFICANTLY more than positivity. The positive things are good, as far as our brains are concerned. But the negative things are much more important. Back when our brain programming was being written, a positive influence helps make the world a little bit better, but it doesn't really have much of a lasting impact. "Famous caveman makes fire" is great news, but without it you're still going to survive. "Famous caveman gets drunk, destroys cave" is a serious problem. It means the difference between life or death. So good things get some brain attention, while bad things get a big red stamp that says "PAY ATTENTION TO THIS. IT MIGHT KILL US." That's why even today, we notice bad things sooner, pay more attention to them, and remember them longer. That's why for a "successful relationship" you need to have 5 good interactions for every 1 bad one. And that's why it seems like the world is full of only negativity, when there's plenty of positive things happening all over the place.


Part 3: Conclusion


So, when you see negativity on the internet, remember that there is more positive stuff out there than negative. Keep in mind your own bias to negativity, and understand why it exists. Also, keep in mind that people want the same things you do, and don't immediately dismiss their thoughts as inferior. And finally, try to look for the positive. It's out there, it's just harder to stick in our brains, so we have to make a larger effort to keep it there. But also, pay attention to the bad things, because we don't want to get eaten. But most importantly, never let your brain trick you into believing the only thing out there are lions.