Unproductive Anxiety

I have friends who are rightfully very upset by news at home and around the planet, but most of us have very little input into the forces that shape the world — and even the potential inputs most of us have are actually pretty simple: voting, for example, if we are in a voting country, and even then the choices are far from perfect. So for most of us there is a point where that complex worry about the state of things becomes unproductive and destructive.

My advice to those of us with little power and too much worry is:

The world will do what it does, don’t let media trick you into thinking that you can help by just getting the right opinion about the complexities out there. For most of us, the right opinion (if there is such a thing), has little consequence. Do what you can, let it go and rest in healthfully embracing your relationships, your hobbies and your duties.

Voltaire (1694-1778) wrote a fantastic short satirical novel called Candide, where he addresses the crazy suffering in the world at that time. He concludes the novel with the advice “we must cultivate our [own] garden” (In French: “Il faut cultiver notre jardin, …”).

Whether religion or politics or philosophy, I often wonder if it is a naive temptation to think that trying to gather up the right beliefs accomplishes what we think it does. Heck, I don’t really know if we understand “beliefs”.


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Whose Bar Story?

My wife and I live near an airport and today we saw a jet coming toward us after having just taken off, and I ran another one of my apparently bizarre insights past my wife saying:

“Whenever I see a plan coming towards me, either on landing or take off, I immediately imagine a red-dotted line in front of the oncoming craft’s path. The line makes clear when the plane becomes my bar story. For if the plane starts coming down before that red line, it is I who ends up coming a bar story for my friends”.

A “bar story”, by the way, is usually defined as a story people tell to impress their listeners. But I define “bar story” as an exaggerated, or bizarre selfish story told at a bar or dinner party that the speaker falsely assumes justifies ending an otherwise normal-enough long lull in conversation.

Let me apologize to any reader who has lost friends or family in such a case. But with that out of the way, let me ask readers to share any failed bar stories they’ve told or imagined telling. Oh yes, and my wife just shook her head on hearing that one.

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Atheists Who Run to “Science”

I began this blog in 2009 in reaction to Christians telling my son he was going to hell (see the story here). Thus my blog started with posts about the silliness and out-right obvious potential dangers of religions. Back in the day when blogs were more popular, my posts comments were loaded with arguments from both religious and religion-free folks (a nicer way to say “atheists”). I knew I’d disagree with many of the religious folks, but I was surprised to discover that I also disagree with many of the arguments of atheists.

These atheists’ arguments helped me to better understand both the function of religions and of ourselves. I have written many posts against the mistaken views of these atheists. Below are the top four mistaken things these atheists said or implied followed by a brief summary of why I disagreed. Tell me how you feel about these:

  1. “all religious people, unlike me, are stupid”
    This is blatantly false — no need to go further.
  2. “all religious people, unlike me, are merely superstitious and illogical”
    We are all more superstitious and more illogical than we imagine. Religious people own no monopoly here.
  3. “Religious beliefs, unlike mine, are just stupid beliefs”
    Most religious people do not embrace their religion as mere truth propositions. Though a religious person may say their faith is doctrinal, they usually subconsciously embrace their religion more for social and meaning support. Indeed religion-free folks also sacrifice reason for meaning and social connections. We all do it.
  4. “I reject God because I embrace science”
    “Science” is not as clean as many atheists tend to believe — their degree of faith is often unfounded. All science is inextricably mixed with our human foibles even though it tries to avoid these. There are many good books on the foibles of “science” (method, practice, bias, politics and much more), but two books I enjoyed this year that illustrates the deep seated problems with “science” are:
    • Science Fictions: How fraud, bias, negligence, and hype undermine the search for truth — by Stuart Ritchie, 2020 (Amazon)
    • Lost in Math: How beauty leads physics astray — by Sabine Hossenfelder, 2015 (Amazon)

I wrote this post just to introduce those two books — both were written by very bright, accomplished scientists. Is science incredibly valuable? Yes ! Do we often deceive ourselves in how we embrace science? Absolutely ! Depending on comments, I may add more to this post. Thank you.


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Common Sense Food Etiquette

Common Sense” is a concept that lost its power for me after living in several countries. Take, for example, food etiquette around meat and potatoes:

Americans like to put hard, tooth-shattering metal in their mouths when they eat, Japanese view this as completely disgusting and instead use soft wooden sticks, and different yet again, Indians want the added sensation of enjoying the tactile feel of their food — eating with their hands.

Japanese cooks feel it is impolite to make the guest struggle with their food, so the Japanese cook will cut up the food into bite-sized pieces, while Americans love to continue the carving-up slaughter on their plates.

Mexicans, on the other hand, sharing European roots with Americans, also like hard-cold metal in their mouths, but Mexican like their food almost predigested in fine-ground slop.

OK, those were huge cruel exaggerations, but I wanted to make a comical point: “Common Sense” ain’t so common.

Dish name notes (more than you’ll want to know):

  • American: Baked potato and steak
  • Mexican: Picadillo (from “picar”, to mince): beef and potatoes. Not to be confused with the English word “peccadillo”, meaning “small offense” — also from a Spanish word, “pecado” or sin. So a “peccadillo” is a small sin.
  • Indian: आलू पनीर और चपाती (aloo paneer and chapatti) potato, paneer (a “cheese” — sorry, no meat) and flat bread.
  • Japanese: 肉じゃが (nikujaga). “Niku” means meat and jaga is an abbreviation of jagaimo (“jaga”, short for jakarta, and “imo” means potato — so “jagaimo” is a kind of potato) 

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It’s been years since I’ve posted a survey. Here are examples unscientific polls I took in the past (several are unabashedly scatological) which you may find “interesting”. They are in order of popularity with participants numbers in parenthesis:

Today I’d post another simpler poll to see how WordPress’ ever-evolving platform handles polls nowadays:

I often mistype the word “clumsy” as “clumbsy” because it seems like it should be similar to words like numbed, thumbed, dumbing, climbs, bombed, plumbing. Of course the dropped-b story is complex but that is not my point. Some used to be pronounced with the “b” and now aren’t. This is apparent in some words: bomb –> bombadier, but of course there is no such word as “clumb”.

So, today my survey question is: “Which spelling of “clumsy” seems more natural to you?” Comments are welcome also, of course.


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The Super Bowl Vice

In the US today, millions of people will be watching the most important game in American football — the Super Bowl. People will be cheering for their favorite team, which like religion, is usually merely the team of their hometown. Yet the players of all these teams aren’t from that town, but simply mercenaries who sell their allegiances to the highest bidders.

Fans will scream with vehemence at their TVs for hours. Then at the end of the game they will either be elated at the victory or cry after the defeat of these people who come to their city for money.

Yay, sports !

But maybe there is hope for humanity. Football fans are changing with on-line gambling and the era of cryptocurrency. These fans are changing their silly accident-of-birth allegiances and switching to gambling on teams that offer the best odds-vs-payback balance. They are no longer cheering for parochial identity but for money. So after the game, they are either elated because they are richer or depressed because they are poorer.

Wait, is that really an improvement?

Well, as they say, sports are better than war. It gives humans distractions so that they stop focusing on their political, environmental and religious battles. Sports keep people inside instead of out on the streets.

Meanwhile, stock traders invest in companies similarly – not caring about the companies crimes of pollution and worker rights. Money here is also the bottom line.

But I will brag here that I am better because, having a higher ethical standard and more insight, I instead choose to watch boxing and mixed martial arts.

Damn, I guess we are all hypocrites. But which is worse — a reflexive, unconscious hypocrite or someone who embraces their hypocrisy?

Dear reader: I hope you realize that this post was written largely with my tongue in my cheek and blood running down my chin.

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Do I have Attention-Deficit Disorder?

This post is written for my daughter who accuses me of having Attention-Deficit Disorder (ADD). She is in nursing school now, and she is developing her medical mind, so I thought this would be a good post to help her distinguish between lay-diagnoses and medical-diagnoses.

My daughter observes that I forget where I put my phone, keys and wallet more than she would. She notices that my room is messy and I can be disorganized and for these reasons, she wonders if I have ADD. Admittedly her and I are different — indeed, my wife too is also much more organized and careful than me — but are these any reasons to label me with a DSM-5 disorder (see footnote).

I will now go through the DSM-5 (see pg 104 in this PDF) and show my kind readers why I probably do not have ADD.

A. First, it must per a PERSISTENT pattern of inattention with interferes with functioning.
[Well, hell, I have a job, I spent a concentrated 4 hours this morning reading about Bayes Formula etc. In some areas I am sloppy and it interferes with function a little, but I always get along OK. So no, I don’t have that criteria.]

Next, I must have 6 of the follow 9:
a) OFTEN makes careless mistakes. [not often, but I do]
b) OFTEN difficulty in sustained attention in lectures, conversations … [certainly not]
c) OFTEN does not seem to listen when spoken to [certainly not]
d) OFTEN does not finish duties in workplace [certainly not]
e) OFTEN has difficulty organizing tasks [certainly not]
f) OFTEN avoids tasks which require sustained mental active [well, only if I dislike the task]
g) OFTEN loses things necessary for tasks [well, maybe, but I always find them in short order]
h) OFTEN easily distracted by extraneous stimuli [well, not often, but I love stimuli]
i) OFTEN forget in daily activities [not bad here either]

So, I have NONE of these are OFTEN, unless compared to a meticulous person (and we know what we think of those folks). But even if you generously translate OFTENs to mean “occasionally“, I think I only have 4 out of 9 (not the 6 out of 9 required). I certainly have: a, f, g and h. BUT of those, the only troublesome one is perhaps “g”. Now my wife and daughter may disagree, but I am the scientist — what do they know!

So, my inattention moments are not persistent and I really only have one trait that OTHERS judge as “often” and it doesn’t bother me, and shouldn’t my opinion count.

So, to my daughter: OK, I agree, I may be an odd cookie, but no one has built an accurate little box for me yet in the DSM-5. It may be fun using lay-versions of psychiatric ideas, but let’s not forget that pathology is different from style. All that said, my wife also thinks I am a bit “different“. But then, I think they are all wrong, damn it!

PS: The DSM-5 also says, “Confirmation of substantial symptoms across setting typically cannot be done accurately without consulting informants who have seen the individual in those settings.” [well, don’t believe everything you read!] See, I don’t need medicine, just more love!
The DSM-5 is the Bible of Psychiatry and has gone under many changes, after all, it is #5 now. And each time, scientists gather more information, get rid of more of their prejudices and see through more of their blind spots. Yet the human mind remains far from understood and will probably remain so.

Nonetheless, the DSM-5 has been useful in some domains at some times. Truth, after all, is only our most recent approximation to Reality and Reality is what works from our perspective. But all this is a whole other conversation.


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I work in medicine, and as my very large company wants to be sure its medical providers are sensitive to the felt needs of our clients (“patients”), they constantly encourage us to watch and listen to the latest of education videos on values, ethics and culture to supplement our medical knowledge..

I just watch a presentation on racism in Mental Health (and in society in general) by Ruth Shim. I also just read an article by John Loftus discussing Hitchens’ razor which states “What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence.”

Both of these authors spoke of “retrenchment” — the ironic results of people re-enforcing their defenses against an attack. “Ironic” in that the person attacking naively hopes their attack will weaken the opponents position, but instead, because their choice of attack was poor, their desire effect is lost and their opponent instead becomes stronger.

Shim pointed out the fact that support for BLM (Black Lives Matter) movement ironically weakened after BLM protests after George Floyd’s murder. Likewise, Loftus speculates that theist positions can be strengthen when religion-free intellectuals use arguments buying into weak assumptions of statistics. In both these case, listeners can retrench their positions.

I’d not heard of the term before, but reading around the wee I can see it everywhere — I just overlooked it. And indeed, it is important to understand the phenomena. For we need to consider the world of those we address if we are to effectively change their opinions rather than just strengthen them. Our criticisms of others may make us feel good about ourselves, but the results of our flippant choices of criticisms may be ironically counterproductive.

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“Katatheology” & Cocaine

Who’d guess that an all-powerful God could not take care of himself, but instead needs defending by the very same pathetic creatures he supposedly created himself. Yet indeed people have been defending Allah, God and Yahweh for centuries, and he never steps in and takes the witness stand.

One of the most troublesome attacks against the abstract notion of an all-powerful, all-loving, invisible being is the “problem of suffering” which asks: “With such a God, why is there so much suffering in the world?”

Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716) was a brilliant mathematician, who founded calculus at the same time Newton independent made his calculus. Leibniz was also a philosopher and coined the word “Theodicy” to mean defense of God and is now largely associated with one of the greatest attacks or arguments against the existence of a benign god is “the problem of suffering”. The theological term has stuck since Leibniz created it and has even been used to retro-classify the many past theist attempts to defend or “justify” God back to ancient times and even other civilizations.

So I have playfully deemed it time for a new snobby theological term. “Theodicy” comes from Greek words for “God” [theos] and “Justice” (dikē). And in a similar way, my word shall be born of Greek words also: “Against”(kata) and “God”(theos) and “study of”(logy): Kata-theo-logy, the study of the arguments against a god.

And here is one of the most common Katatheological arguments:

“If God is an all-powerful, loving-being, why are things that give us great pleasure so dangerous for us?” Or, as I jokingly put it more succinctly:

If there is a God who is all-powerful and all-loving, why isn’t cocaine a vitamin?

Dear Readers: Your thoughts?


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Philosophers’ Commonalities

Today my wife and I, in this age of Covid-19, discussed how many people are suddenly coming to realize the apparently obvious fact that “we are not in as much control of our lives as we imagine”.  This insight led us to discuss the pros and cons of peoples’ need to feel in control of things. We brainstormed on all the obvious pluses and minuses of “control” depending on how, when, where and why control is attempted.

     Then my wife asked me if I think philosophers use their philosophies in order to feel that they have some control in their lives or to get control of other’s lives?  It was a good question to which I tried to add another layer of nuance by replying:

     “I think the vast majority of philosophers have a passion for systematized thought.  Some use their systems to establish certainty and/or control.  Others use their method of systematizing to explore and experiment.

     Dear reader:  What do you think?  Jump into our conversation.


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