How the Wind was Born (by my son)

Wind LeavesTwo days ago, my 15 year-old son and I drove through our town as the strong autumn wind made the fallen leaves dance wildly.  Reveling in it, my son commented:

“When I was young, I tried to imagine a world without wind.  And in my mind, the windless world was a world without life.  And so I imagined the birth of wind to go something like this” (and I paraphrase):

When the world began, there were vast deserts, no plants, no animals and only dead, still air. Then life began — the first cells blossomed and life began to move.  And because of life, the air began to move and the wind was born.”

My thoughts:

Here we see the pre-scientific mind creating a mythology, a story to explain the unknown, a quick answer to a tough question — “what makes wind?”.  My son’s sharing allowed me to see the part of the human mind that religions use to spin their cosmologies.  And it was fun!


pic credit: found here


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The Brain as a Small Town Metaphor

Simcity Brain

How we view our minds matters. And we all love metaphors — they are a very tempting way to view things — even if dangerously inaccurate, it is what we do. So competing in the metaphor arena, I am sharing this mind metaphor by Michael, Corballis — a retired professor of psychology at the University of Auckland, New Zealand.

Below is quote from Michael Corballis’ book “The Wandering Mind“. Corballis’ quote reminds me of how I also view the mind — as a community.  See my post on “Inner vs Outer Morality“:

The brain is a bit like a small town, with people milling around, going about their business. When some big event occurs, such as a football game, the people then flock to the football ground, while the rest of the town grows quiet. A few people come from outside, slightly increasing the population. But its not the football game we’re interested in here. Rather, it’s the varied business of the town, the give and take of commerce, the sometimes meandering activity of people in their communities and places of work. So it is in the brain. When the mind is not focused on some event, it wanders.

Though I like Corballis’ metaphor, in this quote I would change the last line to read:

When the mind attention (the brain’s public camera) is not focused on some event, it wanders it tends to pan around the town, catching glimpses of all the activity always happening.


See my other posts on Many-Selves here.

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Tattoo Etiquette

Tattoo_EthicsLet’s talk about tattoos in terms of Descriptive Ethics vs Prescriptive ethics. As of October 31, 2015 I explore what people do (descriptive ethics) and my poll here shows more than 50% of my readers do not hesitate to ask about another person’s interesting tattoos. Mind you, the sample size was only 13, but it is a beginning.

So that was descriptive ethics: the “WHAT DO” people do?” question — the observational question.  But what about the prescriptive or normative ethical question: “WHAT SHOULD people do?”.  Is there a proper tattoo etiquette?

Should a person who is pleasantly curious about another person’s visible tattoo avoid inquiring about the tattoo?

Indeed about 30% of my readers would probably not ask about another person’s tattoos.  But why is that?  Here are their most common replies:

  1. It would be rude to intrude on the other person’s privacy.
  2. I may offend someone by asking — I am being thoughtful.
  3. I am shy.

Answers #1 and #2 are moral/ethical replies.  Those people are telling us what the right thing to do is.  They know the correct tattoo etiquette. But in fact, #3 is probably the accurate answer for most of these people while answers #1 and #2 are just rationalizations (valorizations) around the person’s temperament.

If you are one of those people, and you doubt me, let me add this piece of data.
Playing an unabashed amateur scientist, I recently interviewed 8 people with visible tattoos asking the following three questions:

  1. If someone is polite, do you mind them asking you about your visible tattoos?
  2. What situations do you dislike being asked about your tattoos?
  3. How often do you ask other people about their visible tattoos?

The answers were enlightening:

Question 1: Everyone emphatically said they essentially NEVER mind anyone asking them about their tattoos if done politely.

Question 2: Everyone said they only disliked condemning inquiries. (“Why do you have that stupid tattoo” …)

Question 3: 1/3 of the folks I interviewed agreed with my readers that they probably would not ask while the other 2/3 said they usually ask.  When the first group was asked “Why won’t you ask other folks about their tattoos if you don’t mind folks asking about yours?”  And each and everyone of them said, “Because of my personality – I’m a bit shy.”

So you see, people with visible tattoos know why they don’t ask. They don’t turn their temperament into a ethical/moral declaration.


  • The stories we tell ourselves and others to explain our behavior are often post-hoc glorious rationalizations for our temperaments.  And usually, we don’t know we are doing that.
  • Ethical and moral claims are often disguised projections of the temperaments of others.


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Tattoos & Real Meaning


I enjoy suturing, not only for the joy of practicing the skill (minor, though it may be), but also for the chance to talk to the patient. One of my recent patients, about 30 years-old, sported the above tattoo. And as I wrote here, since I am one of those people who does not hesitate to ask a stranger about their tattoos and I knew what his tattoo meant, I said to my patient, “So, you are into the I Ching, I see.”

“Huh”, he replied.

“Your tattoo!” I said, “Why do you have that tattoo?”

“Oh, that is from GI Joe.” he said as I tilted my head in puzzlement.

You see, I was not in the USA in the 1980s, so I missed both the GI Joe comics and the GI Joe TV shows and thus never saw the GI Joe Ninja warrior who had this tattoo as the mark of his Ninja clan.

To my patient, this tattoo meant power, stealth, bravery and more. To me, it was ChiChi, the 63rd hexagram of the I Ching; water over fire; “The superior man ponders danger and takes precautions against it.” It brought back memories of my acupuncture teacher in Japan, of learning the divination method in China and much more. (see this post)

Well, I will let you read on your own about the I Ching or Snake Eyes (the GI Joe guy), but the point of this post is to illustrate the obvious:  “meaning” changes and “real meaning” is fictional.


My patient was excited to learn about the ancient meaning of his tattoo, and I was excited to learn about his meaning — one apparently embraced by many young men who grew up on GI Joe.

Question to reader:  So, what do you think about the “real” meaning of something?



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Inquiring about Tattoos

Bomber_TattooWhen touring a castle in Wales with my 12-year-old daughter, I saw a young lad with this tattoo on his leg (he was wearing shorts).  To my daughter’s dismay (though she is used to this behavior in me), I walked up to the man and asked him what his tattoo meant.  And sure enough, he was glad to share that his tattoo was in memory of his grandfather who died in World War II fighting as a bomber pilot.  Oh, and the words on the tattoo are from Laurence Binyon’s WWI poem “For the Fallen” and for info on the flowers, see here.

I learn a great deal when I ask strangers about their tattoos. I love asking. I feel that if the person’s tattoo is on a visible part of their body, then the person is very willing to discuss it, if asked politely.  And indeed, that has been my experience.

But not every reader may agree with my position.  You may disagree philosophically (ethically or socially) or because you are more shy than I am.

Share your opinion in the poll below, and elaborate in the comments.


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Motivation: Language, Martial Arts and Dental Health

Motivation is everything.  Let me give three personal examples to illustrate this obvious fact — spicing with a bit of humor at the end.

Martial Arts

Years ago my Tai Kwon Do teacher told us (his students) that we could study martial arts for years but that we would not learn much until we were in a real fight.  And indeed the instructor’s daytime job as secret shopper security guard in a large store.  He would sometimes confront thieves in the parking lot in such a way to get the thief to swing at him — because he was not allowed to start a fight.  So my teachers instructions were always full of practical examples.But it was not until two years later that I learned the wisdom of his teachings.

One night I interrupted a robbery in the apartment complex I was managing.  I walked into an apartment that had been broken into while the robber was still in the apartment.  The robber attacked me with a large knife.  I tried defending myself with a feeble, weak karate kick and then ran for my life.  I escaped and could not sleep for three days.

However, after that hair-raising encounter, my fighting skills improved greatly, because with every practice punch and kick, I imagined the guy who had tried to kill me.


Having learned several languages, I sometimes get asked for advice on how an adult can best learn a foreign language.  So I have thought a lot about the various techniques I have used in the past.  And by far, the greatest expedient in my mastery of language has been a girlfriend who only speaks the language you are trying to learn.  Study all you want but without motivation …

Dental Health

At my recent tooth cleaning, the hygienist (who I have seen for a few years) complimented me on my clean teeth.  She asked me what I was doing differently.  I told her that all her talks about importance of brushing or flossing never really sank in until I began seeing a new partner with whom I spend much time kissing. So as of late, my motivation to brush and floss have increased incredibly.

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Defining Music and Religion

In Deal’s wonderful article on Whales’ songs (which I nonetheless critique here), he tells us:

But what is often overlooked [about the calls of a humpback whale] is the true musicality of the sounds. The shrill wails, deep growls, rhythmic scratches, and spectral moans combine into repeating patterns so structured that they fit any conventional definition of music.

Reading this, I questioned: “Conventional definition of music?”.   Does such a thing really exist.  I doubt it. And sure enough, when I clicked on Deal’s link to read the wiki article, I saw it had the same problems as those found when trying to define religion,

As readers may know, in this blog I discuss at great length the problems with defining religion. And in the music article I saw that a similar controversies exist in defining music: cultural bias and vague overlapping uses and more. “Music” is a word well before it is some real thing. Looking for an agreement on exactly what music is reveals it as a construed, abstract fuzzy concept.


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