Monday, August 19, 2019

Chapter Seven: Kimberlee

Dr. Sloane and I sat there for about a minute in silence.  I had always had a strong desire for proof and now I could see that I was expecting that desire to be in everyone else.  I was waiting for her to say something else, remembering that she was supposed to interview Kim and me together soon.  Finally I realized that her patience and silence and receptivity were a demand that I respond somehow to the fact that we all take it on faith that everyone else also has experience, that we are all experiencing.

"Is she here?" I finally had the courage to ask.  I see now that it took courage, and as I write this, I wonder why it took courage.  What did I fear?

"She is.  I'm finished interviewing you alone, but if you have any questions before she comes in, now is the time to ask them."

There was another very long pause during which I slowly realized that it was my turn again.  For a few more seconds after realizing that, I enjoyed it.  She was waiting patiently for me in case I had questions.  I couldn't think of any, and I really wanted to see Kim, so I said, "I can't think of any, and I really want to see her."

Dr. Sloane nodded and smiled and concentrated on her phone for a few seconds.  "She'll be here in a minute or so."

She looked at me as if to study my state of mind, and I looked at her the same way.  I think she was the first one to look directly at my eyes, or we did it at the same time, but I was overcome with some kind of connection.  We both smiled and I looked away.

"Thank you," I said, near a whisper.

Kimberlee had come in the front door and was there when I looked up, looking at me the same way Dr. Sloane had.  I stood up to hug her, and she received me warmly and held me long enough that I felt we might be using Dr. Sloane's time inappropriately, but I didn't stop holding her.  Then I felt her kiss my neck and tilt her head back to kiss my cheek and then my lips.

I wasn't ready for the kind of intimacy where I'd kiss her back, especially in front of Dr. Sloane, but I understood it as a very good sign and it made me really happy.

We sat next to each other facing Dr. Sloane and turned toward each other.  We both started speaking at the same time, her saying "How are you doing?" and me saying "What have you been up to?"  She smiled to let me go first.

"I missed you.  I feel weird because, ... I guess because this," I said, curling my hands to point all my fingers at my head and body and sweep down it, "isn't really me.  I think I'm okay though."  I looked at Dr. Sloane for confirmation and she nodded.

Kim said "I was talking to Rod.  He said you were worried that I might think you're just a machine."

"Yeah." I looked at Dr. Sloane for help, and Kim then looked at her too.

"Kimberlee, will you share what you told me was your primary concern?" She asked.

"I said that if he's really here- Okay, wherever he is, I want him to be happy."

"Right," said Dr. Sloane, "and you also said you hoped that- ...?"

"I hope that's really you," she said to me, quietly.  We gazed at each other and then Kim looked at the psychologist, who said "... because ...?"

Kim took a deep breath and blew it out and said, "Because I miss you and you help me so much and... you hold me up."

We sat in silence for a few minutes after I rested my head on her shoulder and held her hand.

I said, "Thanks, babe.  I remember the first time you said that.  And... umm... I'm sorry for my shitty driving skills.  I'll be more careful from now on."  I giggled a little at the end of saying that.

"It's not funny," she said, but Dr. Sloane was visibly stifling her amusement.  Then Kim said, "Okay it's a little funny, but I'll kill you if you do it again.  Kill yourself in a car accident, I mean."

"Yeah," said Dr. Sloane, "I think you two are fine.  Do you have any more questions?"  Neither of us said anything, and she just got up and left.

Chapter Six
Chapter Eight

Respect Your Body's Intelligence

Drawful is a party game I've been playing with my family for a couple months. I was tasked with drawing "shaved bears."  We only get to use two predetermined colors. I drew the outline of a teddy bear but the legs were kind of messy.  I drew some "fur" on the ground next to the bear, same color as the outline. I drew a T at a diagonal (looks like a razor) above the bear.  I drew a can with some shaving cream next to it.  How do I make it look like the bear is shaved?  I couldn't figure it out, so I decided to fix the legs.  I colored over the messed up part, filling in about half the (very short) leg.  I did the same thing to the other leg.

When my drawing came up, many players recognized the bear.  Some recognized the razor.  When they had all finally guessed what it was, I realized that filling in the legs was the answer to the question I couldn't answer.  It made the rest of the bear look shaved.  I believe this was my subconscious at work.  The solution that my brain came up with did not make it into my consciousness, but "fixing the legs" did.  The fact that I didn't realize I had found the answer until later in the game fascinates me.  Sure, it could have been dumb luck, but that theory would only present itself to someone who wants to deny the existence of the subconscious, the processing power to which our awareness doesn't have access.

I've been working on a book the beginning of which is Chapter One: Waking Up. The book is a kind of diary for me, rendering my life into story along with my search to be known better by the people who love me.  Chapter Seven is about the main character (my) wife, and I was stuck on how to write it because I wanted her input.  A friend emailed me asking about my progress and I wrote back that I was stuck on chapter seven, but while writing the email, I thought that maybe if I looked again, I'd be able to continue writing.  When I looked, chapter seven was already there.  I had forgotten that I wrote it.  I assume that having forgotten about it made me act a certain way until that moment.  I had already figured out how to write it, and I don't know why I still felt stuck.  Again, I think forgetting that I wrote it was a function of my subconscious, trying to help me with ... something - and I don't know what it is.

I'm in several Telegram groups and in one of them, someone posed a problem and asked for help.  The simple answer I provided was: Meditate.  Since I've developed the habit of taking my own advice whenever I give it, this made me chuckle.  I meditate every morning, but when I sent that message, it was the afternoon and I hadn't meditated yet.  It was a slow day, I guess.  More and more, I notice subtle benefits of meditation.  Meditating is something to which I don't mind being addicted.  Now I'm curious what are the symptoms of too much meditation?

As I try to understand myself better, I wonder about how that mind-body connection can be so elusive. Maybe it's not elusive at all, but we just take it for granted. It shows up starkly for me sometimes, and maybe what's different is that I have the humility to recognize that something my body did was not my intention. Sometimes we actually disagree, me and my body.

I noticed my motivation to do sit-ups, squats and pushups disappeared for a few days and then came back. I had done the extra exercise anyway, but it was getting more difficult each day to find the motivation.  I traced it to my use of a mat between me and the floor. The hard floor doesn't bother me, but I guess it bothered my body enough that it sapped my motivation away.   Since I started using a mat again, I find the extra exercise a lot more enjoyable.

My hope for this post is that by making you more aware of the processing power inherent in your body, power of which you might not be aware, you'll appreciate and accept yourself more, and respect the intelligence that your body exhibits in those moments when you discover it doing something you didn't intend to do.  Evolution has been chipping away at the singular goal of creating things that reproduce themselves. Apparently, intelligence is very helpful, and there is no reason to doubt that some of that intelligence is built into the structure and not available to the awareness of the being that inhabits the structure.  Not available, that is, until you look for it, and possibly not until you learn to appreciate it.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Handling the Pretense to Authority

I have a speech about the pretense to authority.  In the speech, I refer to the following resources which I list here for those who would like to explore the issues I raised more deeply.
  1. Johann Hari's "Chasing the Scream"
  2. Michael Huemer's "The Problem of Political Authority"
  3. Stanley Milgram's Experiment on Obedience
  4. Larken Rose's "The Most Dangerous Superstition"
  5. Philip Zimbardo's Stanford Prison Experiment
A video of my speech may be available, but in case it isn't, I provide what follows.  Please note that I don't speak the way I write. It would be more accurate to say that I try to write the way I speak, but my speaking skills are far less polished than the prose you're reading.  Watching me speak will help you get to know me.  Reading this will help you understand me.

First we need an idea of what genuine authority is.  There are two basic meanings for the word, one being about expertise and the ability to, for example, "author" a book. The other meaning is the right to coerce someone into doing or cease doing something.  My view is that this second meaning has unfortunately grown while the first meaning has given way to it.

Michael Huemer calls that second kind "Political Authority" and refers to it (as I do) as a problem.  In fact, the view of authority as the right to coerce seems to be a perversion.  If someone is an expert, then it's sensible to do things the way they say to do them so you can benefit from their expertise.  If you choose to try some other way, does it make any sense for the expert to punish you?  The modern meaning of "authority" says, "yes, of course you should be punished for defying the authority."  This is a prescription for halting all progress.  It's a mistake, and it is the pretense to authority.

Harry Anslinger is an example of someone who abused our conception of authority.  In 1930, he became the commissioner of the U.S. federal department of narcotics. According to Johann Hari, Anslinger worried that his sub-department of the Treasury would not have enough power or longevity.  His department was responsible for preventing and punishing crimes related mostly to cocaine and heroin, and that just wasn't enough, so he decided to add cannabis.  Hari, the author, (actually the journalist who wrote the article about his book) said that Anslinger was already on record using the word "absurd" to describe the idea that cannabis was dangerous.

Anslinger contacted thirty scientists to ask if cannabis was dangerous and twenty-nine said it wasn't. He publicized what the 30th scientist had said, and so we got laws against cannabis and waged the "war on drugs."  I think that blowing up the words of one out of thirty scientists when they are the opposite of the other 29 is a pretense to authority.  What did we do about it?  Anslinger was commissioner for 32 years, and then the U.S. narcotics representative to the UN.  We did nothing about it.  Instead, we rewarded him

Pharaoh says "I am God." The king claims a divine right to rule his subjects.  Nowadays, elected officials claim that they have a mandate from the people to rule their subjects. I say, "I rule me, and you rule you."  If your conscience doesn't stop you, then it's my responsibility to exercise some self-defense.  Who is the authority?  If you tell someone that the law says X but your conscience says no, what will they say?  "Well, you gotta do the right thing, right?"  We all know what the right thing is.  The authority is the self.

Larken Rose drives the point home with his book, pointing out how dangerous the belief in authority is.  He mentions the Stanford Prison Experiment, Milgram's experiment on obedience to authority, Pol Pot, Mao Zedong's "Great Leap Forward", and the Nazis. Authority is necessarily a pretense if it uses coercion.  Auto, or Auth, refers to the self.  The "author" of a book is the one who created the words in it.  "He wrote the book." It makes sense to seek the advice of an expert, but it also makes sense to respect those who try stuff other than what the expert prescribes.

Dr. Martin Luther King ran with the words of Henry David Thoreau in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  He wrote that there are just laws and unjust laws and "one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws."  How we tell the difference is with our consciences. Take responsibility for developing your conscience, and I'll trust you to obey it, but don't forget that I encourage everyone to learn self defense too.  Don't fall for the pretense to authority.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Underdose and Overdose

For decades, I've been fascinated with the idea that every substance has an ideal dosage for each of us. It may be true that a single molecule of some substance will kill me, but I doubt it. 

My body makes platelets, just like everyone's does, but mine makes more than average. A higher platelet count is associated with an increase of risk for strokes. A lower platelet count is associated with increased risk for other problems. Except risk is not a symptom, it's a statistic. I think there is great wisdom in not fixing something unless it's broken. A higher platelet count has some symptoms, and I watch for them.  The medical industry recommends that I take a mild poison (Hydroxyurea) in order to suppress activity in my bone marrow where platelets are made.  The recommendation is a prophylactic against me having a stroke.  One side effect of this medicine is the possibility that the person taking it will develop leukemia.  By suppressing bone marrow activity, it also diminishes the power of the immune system.

Platelets are the main ingredient in the human body's recipe for healing.  I heal faster than average because my body makes more platelets.  I do like that, but I don't want to have a stroke.  There is both "too many" and "too few" and I try to stay between them.

Everything has side effects.  "Too much of a good thing" is certainly possible, although we wouldn't call it a good thing if we got too much of it. Looking for the negative side effects in a good thing makes for pessimism.  I'm an optimist, but I also recognize that, for everything (not just substances), there is both "too much" and "too little."  "Too much" optimism, for example, suggests to me ignoring the negative effects of something, whether it's considered "good" or "bad." There's always a sweet spot, and for me, finding that sweet spot is part of the fun in this game of life.

If you'd like to practice my "underdose / overdose" analysis, re-read the previous paragraph but translate for "Too much of a bad thing," and use pessimism as the "bad thing."  It reminds me of a quote displayed at

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

The Three Levels of Science

Level 1: Honest, common, and simple.
We all start out this way.  The thought that goes along with it is "I'm not a scientist, but I can figure stuff out."  We start figuring stuff out as soon as we are sentient.  We do pattern matching because we have wills and desires and quickly identify intentions that lead us to their fulfillment. We see people walk and we want to do that, so we work on being taller. We hold on to things so we can get on our feet.  We fall down.  We learn.  We put things in our mouths to find out what they are like and whether or not we want to eat them.  The truth is, we are little scientists until something comes along to suppress curiosity.

It's almost automatic that babies and children do seemingly random things (play) and observe the results in order to figure things out.  We don't realize that's what we're doing, but we most certainly do it, and we do figure things out.

Level 2: Research, Test, and discovery knowledge.
"Scientific fact" is composed of theories that haven't yet been disproved. To be honest, which I'll get to in a few paragraphs, we ought to admit that these so-called "facts" are working assumptions. This second level of science is filled with dishonesty.  When we research, we pretend that the inductive (statistics-based) reasoning upon which all scientific "fact" is based, is actually deductive reasoning.  We pretend that the axioms that form the foundation of a good scientific theory are the truth.  We interpret the research and believe the researchers when they claim that their experiments prove that a theory is true.  It's a mistake.

Experiments are successful when they demonstrate that a hypothesis is false.  Science is the process of elimination and creation.  Create a hypothesis and then work to prove it wrong.  If it's a good hypothesis, it will be difficult or impossible to prove wrong.  The difference between difficult and impossible is that a hypothesis that happens to be correct is impossible to prove wrong.  How slightly do you imagine such a hypothesis would need to be changed so that it's no longer correct?  That slight difference, which we can't see because we aren't God, is the difference between impossible and difficult.  Maybe we are God, but somehow, we decided not to have access to the kind of knowing that Level two scientists pretend to have.

Level 3: We Don't Know, but we have Working Assumptions.
The working assumption aspect of science is fully appreciated and therefore honesty returns here in level three. We use our working assumptions until someone shows us an experiment that makes us change them.  We stop claiming to know things and instead present our experience, memory, and interpretation.  We admit that we don't get to "know" in the way level two science claims.  We respect the logic that a hypothesis can be proven wrong, but not right. We understand that most questions that imply only two possible answers are hiding something.

I have been preaching about the value of doubt for a few months. It seems that I have assimilated the idea quite deeply.  I am often quite a bit more unsure of myself than I remember being earlier in my life. In one of my speeches, I described how doubt leads to testing, which can lead to confidence.  I'm lucky that, as my preaching about the value of doubt makes me more doubtful, even of myself, I have the confidence that I can figure things out when I need to, and my guesses will be good enough.

There is a kind of terror that goes along with experiencing evidence that shows something we "know" to be wrong.  If you've ever experienced cognitive dissonance, then you've been close to that terror. I feel largely immune to it. I invite you to follow that link and see if it offers you anything that will enhance your own immunity to it.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Use Redundancy Wisely

Backups are often neglected because they don't get used enough. If you find a frequent use for a backup, then you'll frequently be making sure the backup is effective. Distribution of data is a fantastic example. If your data distribution strategy pulls the data from a backup, then you will very quickly learn about any failures of the backup. Don't be tempted to cut the redundant middleman (the backup) out just because it's flimsy. That's like saving money by buying cheap food. It will eventually catch up with you in the form of health issues (or, data loss).

There are other areas where redundancy is a good idea and not used in a way that virtually guarantees its viability. It takes some consideration to use it wisely. Let's take canned goods. Having a lot of cans of food is good protection from natural disasters that could disrupt the flow of groceries to the stores and restaurants around us. However, if those cans get damaged or lost, they won't do much good. One solution is to eat canned food every now and then, and use the oldest cans you have. 

The are racks that are slightly tilted so that placing cans on them sideways allows the cans to roll to one side. You can buy new cans to put in on the highest side, and take cans to use from the lowest side. But what if you only want canned food in emergencies? I have an idea to handle that situation too.

A periodic disruption of a regular pattern is very healthy. That's the idea behind the Sabbath, and other forms of a "day of rest," even including vacations. A monthly "canned food day" might be a good idea.  It would provide that periodic disruption, and also give you a chance to ensure that your "backup food plan" is in working condition.  If you really don't want to eat canned food, you can just go through the motions on that day. This presents the last problem I want to address here, which is the difficulty with "practice."

Our brains are like ant colonies, constantly cutting corners to find the fastest route. When "going through the motions" serves no immediate purpose, motivation to go through with it will dwindle. I can't think of an attractive solution to that right now, so I'll leave it as an exercise for you.

To wrap it all up, remember that:
  1. Redundancy can provide security, so it's a good idea.
  2. Redundancy is susceptible to decay to the point of being useless.
  3. Incorporating redundant systems into routine and useful procedures protects them from that decay.
  4. The flimsiness of something that doesn't seem that important, like a routine secondary use of redundancy, can be deceptive (See #2).
A husband and wife who are both evolutionary biologists have been interviewed together a few times and I can't remember their names.  The husband, at one point, said something I found profound, and important.  Maybe it was someone else who said it, but the gist of it is that we create a lot of misery for ourselves by failing to pay attention to the negative consequences of the changes we make to our routines.  If you've designed a routine which uses something that is redundant specifically because you wanted to make sure the redundancy is maintained, then that routine is important on a level no one will ever see except in the nightmare scenario where the routine is thrown away, the redundancy falls into disrepair, and then the process for which it is a redundancy fails.  Any routine that serves this secondary (and, I argue, more important) function of ensuring healthy redundancy, is important.  Point out that importance to people, and marvel at it.  It's the kind of thing evolution figures out WAY before we do, and, as such, I think it's one of the beautiful elements we get to discover and share.