Are Humans good or Bad?

Whenever I hear the issue raised of whether human nature is essentially good or bad, I feel the question is misplaced. It seems like asking whether cats are essentially good or bad.
We have evolved certain tendencies which are good in some circumstances and bad in others. In modern life, many of the features which may have benefitted us while living in the plains of Africa 100,000 years can now be a hinderance, such as our almost insatiable appetite for sweets and fats. When we lived life as hunters and gatherers, it was difficult to accumulate material goods, and so being in a state constant craving for more and more likely served us well. This perpetual craving was necessary to stay alive. Since the invention of agriculture and much more so with modern technology, this state of constant craving leads to excess and waste. But is this something that can be held against us? Is it a moral failing for our technological advances to occur far faster than the rate of evolution? Can humans be held responsible for having evolved particular tendencies over millions of years, some of which can be destructive to ourselves and others, particularly when in a different context than those tendencies evolved to be helpful? I don't believe this judgment is anymore fair than it would be to condemn a grizzly bear as evil if you let it run loose in a mall and it eats people or a bunch of large pretzels. Yes, the bear may end up with a stomach ache and the pretzel shop owner is now without pretzels or life, but the bear shouldn't be blamed for following desires which are otherwise beneficial, but within that context were harmful.
I am not trying to say that certain human tendencies and actions are not harmful and destructive, because some are. But in general, they are harmful because of context. In the context within which those tendencies evolved, they were beneficial, otherwise they would not have evolved.
There are very few tendencies which might be seen as destructive regardless of the context. A person who today might be a regarded as celebrity because of their joke telling ability may have, in the past may have been regarded as serving little purpose. At the same time, someone who today may be seen as quick to anger or a brute may at one time played a valuable role in the survival of his tribe.

If we had none of the traits we today regard as the failings of human nature, it is unlikely any of us would even exist today, because at one point in time those traits were necessary for our survival. To regard humans as bad, or even good, for maintaining tendencies which were necessary at certain points in time for our survival, some of which are now destructive because of our radically changed environment, is, I believe, an unfair and misplaced judgment.

More on group Hierarchies.

Considering the post I wrote below, on the role of serotonin and a person's perceived status relative to those around them. I wonder if this phenomenon is one aspect of what makes religion such a powerful force. When God or Gods are part of a person's life, it creates a separate social hierarchy aside from the observable one. Aside from whatever additional hierarchies are created by the physical aspects of a religion, such as a priesthood class, there is also the invisible hierarchy with God or Gods at the top.

A person's perceived status would no longer be based simply on how they fit with people around them, because now the hierarchy has another element: God. Serotonin has been shown to play a large role in spiritual feelings, and perhaps that is because a person who is feeling something spiritual is feeling they have high status within the 'God hierarchy'. The individual may be feeling a sense of God's love and approval which would allow them to see themselves as having a some sort of "higher status" than they otherwise would.

Serotonin and the Grandiose

Something about mania that had long seemed bizarre to me now, I think, makes sense.
A common element, when a person is experiencing a manic episode, is grandiose thinking. Depending on the degree of the episode, a person may come to believe they are God or Jesus or something relevant to their experience and culture that is at the pinnacle of that particular field.

It didn't seem that their was any obvious connection between someone feeling euphoric, and believing they occupied the highest possible position in their social group.

However, as I have learned more about the role of serotonin, it seems to make perfect sense.

Serotonin is probably one of the most well known neurotransmitters. Most anti-depressants on the market today work by affecting serotonin in the brain. Like most neurotransmitters, serotonin has a variety of functions, not all of which are entirely clear, but one of it's primary functions relates to a person's status within a social group.

When a monkey, (or a person or an ape or a gorilla and other non-primates even lobsters ), has high social status relative to those around them, their serotonin levels increase. Dominate primates, with high levels of serotonin exhibit certain behaviors that allow them to be recognized as the leader of the group such as confidence and calm. Subordinate primates with low serotonin levels also exhibit characteristic subordinate behavior and demeanor. A study was done at the University California by Michael McGuire which showed that Human beings, even children who observe a group of captive monkeys can quickly recognize who is the Dominate individual.

It is not simply that those with high Serotonin levels tend to become the dominate individual(though this may play a role as well.) When the group hierarchy is artificially altered so that the subordinate monkey becomes dominate, the once dominate monkey's serotonin levels decrease, while the currently dominate monkey's serotonin levels increase. And similarly, if certain animals are injected with serotonin they then exhibit behavior characteristic dominance. The same effect has been shown in humans as well. An individual's serotonin levels has a direct correlation to their perceived status relative to those around them. I think a little bit of introspection on our lives experience also shows this to frequently be true.

Considering this, it seems clear why, when a person is experiencing a manic episode, and their serotonin levels are extremely high, they would then perceive themselves as having as much status as a person could possibly have, ie. feel like Jesus.

I have a lot more thoughts on this, but I don't want this entry to be too long.

While I was writing this I was reading about different dominate animal behavior, one interesting thing I read "Chimpanzees show deference to the alpha of the community by ritualised gestures such as bowing, allowing the alpha to walk first in a procession, or standing aside when the alpha challenges." This stood out to me because it sounded so much like L Tom Perry said in reference to the functioning of the Quorum of the Twelve:
"We are certain to follow the order of the Church in our meetings and in all we do. This has been clearly established. For example, I would never think of going through a door before Elder Packer. He is the President of our Council."


Imagine being given a choice between two options.
The first option is that you would be given a desirable attribute, such as being intelligent or gifted in a particular art. Whatever trait you most admire in others, you would have. However, no one would ever know you had this trait. In fact, people would believe you were deficient in that area. So if you were actually very smart, everyone would think you were dumb.


The second option would be the inverse of the first. Everyone would believe you were extremely gifted in an area where you were actually not.

No matter what you did, no one would ever find out the truth, so there would be none of the stress of having to maintain a false appearance.

I imagine most people would choose the second option.
Wouldn't it be weird if these were choices we actually had to face in life? I suppose we do to some degree, in terms of weather or not to lie or cheat, or pull a Milli Vanilli, but it would be weird if choices of this magnitude were things we faced occasionally.

There was something I had been wanting to write, but it slipped my mind. So instead I wrote about this and the heatwave. I hope I remember.
I haven't been online much. Well, i've been reading the news and watching hulu, but haven't logged onto anything social for about a week. Partly because school is so busy during summer. Partly because once I miss a couple days of keeping up on things, the effort required to catch up feels unpleasant, so I will put off email/blog/facebook checking .And with all things, the more it is avoided, the greater it becomes in our minds and often in reality. Now a week has passed and I have so many things to catch up on.

I don't mean to sound as if I feel extremely overwhelmed and burdened by internet responsibilities. It is not something that weighs on me throughout the day. Only for split seconds when I think to check my email, then remember how many hundreds of messages there will be, so I decide to wait until later. I have no trouble being able to put out of my mind things I don't want to deal with at the moment. This is both positive and negative. It helps me be generally free from anxiety, but also can also cause me to not follow through with tedious, but important tasks. If there is something unpleasant, that I cannot do anything about, and dwelling on it will only cause worry and anxiety without helping the issue. In these situations it is to my benefit to not worry or think about future responsibilities. However, other things that are unpleasant, but are made worse by my inaction, such as turning in a form to my bank, are also very easy for me to not worry about. And because I am not worried about it, I often end up not doing it, which often leaves me having more to do than before.

I guess this illustrates why many spiritual attributes are difficult to attain. They are not helpful to our survival, so evolution would not have favored those traits. In this example I suppose I am specifically thinking of 'being in the moment'.

As much psychological benifit may come from 'being in the moment', it is clear why this was not a trait favored by evolution. It is easy to imagine why someone who is able to think about and be concerned with future events, is going to have a much higher survival rate than someone who is perpetually 'in the moment'
Very young children and people with brain damage are good at being in the moment, and that is why they aren't able to take care of themselves.
Our ability to constantly think and worry about the future, as well as consider our failures and successes from the past are a lot of what has made humans so successful at a variety of tasks. Yet this same attribute which helps us survive, makes it difficult to enjoy our survival. When we can slow down and appreciate things, it allows us to enjoy and savor the experience of being alive. But when we do this too much we don't take care of responsibilities necessary for survival.

I read a book last year about a woman, who was a Neuroscientist but then had a stroke. She damaged much of her left brain, and lost many of the functions that help us survive such as linear thinking and a sense of self. In essence, she had achieved the Buddhist conscept of Nirvana. She felt literally one with everything around her, because the part of her brain which tells us where our body begins and ends was damaged. She also lost her ability to reason forward or backwards, so she was very much in the moment. She described feelings euphoria and ecstascy and all the things one would hope and expect to feel if you had reached Nirvana. And yet, because of these very same things, she lost all her survival skills. She had to be taken care of by her mother until she recovered those functions which allowed her to survive, yet took much of the euphoria out of survival.


One thing that hadn't occurred to me about summer living at this latitude is how long the days are. The sun rises before 5:30 and doesn't set until past 9. I find myself waking up around six and not being able to return to sleep. I realized I didn't have any reason to fight this, so I have begun making the most of my morning hours, which I love.

Perusing various news sites this morning, it occurred to me that Cnn isn't quite the reputable news source I had previously imagined. Not that their reporting seems flawed or overtly biased, but the stories covered and emphasized barely reflect what I see as the important issues of the world. I feel I could thoroughly read Cnn.com every day and still be relatively uninformed about actual news stories. On the other hand, I would be very informed about celebrity news and crime stories. I would know all about who had been kidnapped lately and who the prime suspects were, in addition to any minor setback a celebrity may encounter, but I would only have a shallow awareness of any other event.
It still doesn't compare to fox news in terms of vacuous coverage, but it is much closer than I had previously thought. I'm not saying Cnn.com is terrible, it just isn't what I had imagined before I tried using it. I had imagined it being more in depth and relavent, instead of gossipy tabloid. It does have articles on 'important' issues, but they are far from the focus. For example, a very important bill was enacted today effecting the federal student loan program, CNN.com has reported on it, but one would have to search for this article to find it. What you wouldn't have to search for are articles like 'Disco Saves man's life' 'photo may show children's grave' about a murder which happened over a decade ago.

Other people's beliefs.

Sometime more than one year ago, but less than two, a person made a comment to me about how the beliefs of religiously fundamental people are best explained by psychological factors. At the time I agreed, however there was something about it I felt uncomfortable with.

I have thought about the comment frequently since it was made, and only recently did I realize why I felt uncomfortable with it.

I think it represents something many of us, including myself, do frequently. That is, to limit the beliefs of those we disagree with to merely fulfilling some psychological need, while feeling our own beliefs are free from any such entanglement. In a sense implying that if others had all their psychological needs met then they would believe and see the world as we do and that our beliefs are the only 'pure' beliefs.

Religious people often feel that those who don't believe in God or religion are in reality looking for excuse to 'sin' and be 'bad' and so pretend to not believe in God so as to allow themselves justification for behaving immorally.
At the same time many Atheists and non-religious people like to limit the beliefs of religious people to being nothing more than a tool for comfort (ie. opiate of the masses).
To be sure, it seems both views have some truth. I am sure there are some people who would otherwise believe in God but suppress that belief to reduce whatever discomfort they might otherwise feel when engaging in certain forbidden behavior. As well I'm sure there are religious people who hold their beliefs only as a useful tool to comfort themselves.
However, by and large I think most people hold their beliefs because as they see the world, the evidence supports their beliefs.

(I am using religion as an example because it is an easy one, but this phenomenon applies to all sorts of divided beliefs. One could apply it to meat eaters and vegetarians, or conservatives and liberals or a million other things)

For some reason, it seems we have a hard time accepting that others don't see the world as we do, and so we need to create reasons why their way of believing is less pure than our own. If we see those who disagree with us as being irrational then it is much easier to feel comfortable with our current beliefs than if we recognize that their are intelligent psychologically healthy people who simply interpret the vast data surrounding us in different ways. It is funny how often people accuse other groups of people of having cognitive dissonance. I am reading a book called 'The Spiritual Brain' where a neuroscientist tries to make a case for the spiritual realm via neuroscience(it is not good, I do not recommend it). The author repeatedly accuses non-spirit believing scientists of cognitive dissonance and avoiding contradictory evidence. I know many materialist scientists accuse faithful scientists of the same thing.

It is true that certain belief systems fulfill psychological needs in some way. Probably all belief systems do to some degree. But just because a belief does fulfill a psychological need or desire, doesn't mean that belief isn't true (it also doesn't mean the belief is true). Someone may have an interest in science because they find it comforting or interesting to learn mechanisms of how our world works, this doesn't make science less valid. Many people practice religion because it brings comfort and order to their lives. This doesn't make religion any less valid. Of course, if a belief system only fulfills psychological needs, and the only reason a person could possibly hold a certain belief is because of wish fulfillment, then that belief would be suspect, but very few beliefs are actually this way, despite how much we often see our opponents beliefs as being this way.

We often experience cartoon like exaggerations of opponents view points. When I read critics of evolution, I notice their portrayal of evolution is often grossly mistaken. They claim it would be irrational for someone to believe such a thing and often they are right, because as they portray the theory of evolution it is irrational for someone to believe such a thing. Since we generally only interact with those we agree with and read things by those we agree with, we tend to develop very distorted views of our opponents beliefs, to the point that if someone actually held the beliefs we think they do, they would irrational.

Having held radically opposed belief systems myself has been helpful for me to recognize the sincerity of others beliefs. When I had a strong belief in God and religion, I think there were times when I saw those who didn't as wanting to justify a certain lifestyle. Now that I do not have a strong belief in God or religion, I recognize that whatever factors may be behind my belief, I am no more or less sincere in my current belief than I was in my former belief. When I look back on my believing self, given what I knew then, I feel it was reasonable for me to believe as I did then, which is something I need to repeatedly remind myself when I think about others who are currently in the circumstance I once was.

I think many of our conflicts in life, both on a large scale and small scale, would be a lot more productive if we allowed those we disagree with us the benefit of holding rational beliefs. As well we would be able to see those we disagree with as more human if we recognized that given a person's knowledge and situation it is reasonable for them to hold the beliefs that they do. Most people generally don't take an argument against their belief seriously unless they recognize that the person arguing against them really understands what the belief is, as well as how one could reasonably hold such a belief.
The more segmented we are becoming because of our diverse media options, the less we are exposed to any opposing views. The less we understand opposing views, the less we can relate to the people who hold them and see them as having the same rights and worth that we do.

There and Back again

Marissa and I have returned from our Arizona vacation. We had went to to see her 19 year old sister get married.

On our way to Phoenix we drove down the coast of Oregon and California, which was beautiful, then cut over in Los Angelouis (Armstrong). On our way home we drove up through Utah and Idaho, which is, surprisingly, slightly longer than the coastal route, but not surprisingly much, much more boring. Though, if i had air conditioner, I wouldn't be bored driving through the most monotonous desert for 48 hours because of how much I love road trips. Why am I not a cross country trucker? Because I am a fool.

One highlight from the trip was our stop in San Francisco, which I described as a cross between New York and Portland. Some describe it as the homosexual capital of the world. It has the Highest percentage of homosexuals of any other city, with 15.4% homosexuals, only my neighboring city Seattle comes in close with 12.9% preferring butt piracy to other pirate forms.

We wanted to explore the city and our inner fudge packer, but our first priority was to find a Rite-Aid. We had a prescription we needed to fill in Olympia, but the rite-aid in our town was closed for a so-called 'Memorial Day', and there are no rite-aids in Arizona, so this was our last chance before the stores would close, or we reach Arizona. We had the address for a Rite-Aid and spent almost two hours on our feet, (most of it in a ghetto, that was actually really fun and exciting for me) trying to find it. We finally realized the reason we were having such a hard time finding it is because it had just been turned into a Wal-Greens! We were both fairly discouraged, tired and hungry by this point, but it turned out we were right by one of the best vegetarian restaurants either of us had ever eaten at. And a car crash occured about 15 feet from our seat while we were eating.

As we left the restaurant, we noticed police redirecting cars and buses away from the street we were on. I had earlier noticed several people carrying signs about prop 8, which I thought might be due to some anomoly in the fabric of space/time, until I remembered this happened to be the day when the California Supreme court was voting whether or not to uphold Prop 8.

Not long after we witness thousands and thousands of people marching down the street, carrying signs and chanting. At the very front of the group was a nerdy 18 yr old Asian (ie. Russia or India, j/k, the Orient) guy texting on his phone, who seemed as if were unaware 20,000 people were behind him protesting. As if he just happened to be walking in the middle of the street at the same time the march formed, but felt too uncomfortable to either change his route or join in.

We debated whether we should join the texting Asian guy or the protest group, and eventualy decided to let peer pressure decide or values and we joined the larger group, marching and chanting and being filmed by the local news. It was exhilarating to be part of such a group. I have participated in protests and rallys before, but never in a way that felt so relevant. Protesting the Iraq war in downtown Salt Lake doesn't have the same feeling as protesting in the homosexual capital of the world hours after the California Supreme Court voted to uphold discrimination against them.

Other interesting and fun things happened on the trip. Over all it was very enjoyable. I always love to travel, especially by car. I love the high that comes after hours and hours of driving and drinking caffeine. I love getting to see places I have never seen. I love the feeling of freedom I have while traveling. Whatever obligations, responsibilities and commitments I normally have to people and things while at home are all gone on the road and in it's place a sense of freedom and wonder.

Occam's Razor

Occam's Razor seems to be one of the most misused and misapplied concepts I have noticed to be used by otherwise intelligent people. I notice it being evoked frequently in many of the forums I regularly read. And in Science Fiction.

The general idea of Occam's razor, what people most often mean when they refer to it is: "the simplest explanation is most likely the correct one" (this is somewhat different than the original concept of Occam's Razor, but this is what I believe most people mean when they evoke Occam's razor) Occam's razor is not a bad idea at all, and can often be a helpful guide in choosing between competing ideas. But many people seem to take it too far. They seem to feel as if Occam's razor is some sort of scientific law that all matter must obey, rather than a useful way of to approach explanations. I have frequently experienced people assuming that any time there are competing theories to explain an idea the simpler one will always be correct. People will even go so far as to try and prove their idea true simply by invoking Occam's razor. Aside from there being many theories which are true yet more complex than other seeming possibilities, the idea of what makes one explanation more simple than another can be highly subjective? The idea how 'simple' an idea is, is often based on our previous experience and expectations. Newton's ideas of gravity and motion seem more simple to us, because they describe the world as we typically interact with it. However if we had evolved so that we regularly moved extremely fast, making the effects of relativity a common experience for us, then Einstein's Ideas of gravity and motion would strike us as being more simple.

Also, it seems unlikely that any phenomenon could be entirely and accurately explained by two different theories (though there may be such a thing, and it would interesting to know what an example would be). Once all the facts are known about a phenomenon, all but one theory will fall short of explaining every possible aspect of it. Whatever theory ends up entirely explaining a phenomenon, regardless of how complicated it may be, will by necessity be the 'simplest', because it will be the only one. While Einstein's theories feel less simple than Newton's theories, Newton's theories can't explain such things as light bending around a star, so using it explain that occurrence would not be the most simple because it would not be possible.
What would be more simple explanation, that there is one universe or two? Or twenty? What makes one universe more simple than two? What is more simple, there being one human to have ever existed on earth or many billion? (how would only one human come to be?) If we were able to discover that there were two universes, than the 'two universe theory' would be a more simple explanation of what we observe than the 'one universe theory' because the 'one universe', while seemingly more simple, doesn't explain the existence of the 2nd universe.

In most of our everyday experiences, using Occam's Razor can be a useful rule of thumb, but it is often misused and can lead people astray when it is seen as something more than a useful rule of thumb. Determining what makes an explanation simple can be subjective and misleading. It would be strange to think that operations of the universe would be restricted to following human notions simplicity.


One thing that may or may not surprise people is that I am inclined towards praying often. Part of this is from habit and conditioning, having been raised with a worldview that placed a heavy emphasis on prayer, an emphasis I felt drawn to more than other aspects of the tradition.

I never prayed much as a child. As the youngest child in my family I felt my upbringing was much less hands on than my older siblings. I don't know If my parents had instructed my older siblings to pray as children, but by the time I came around I certainly never experienced it. We did have occasional family prayers, but it never even occurred to me that I should be praying regularly on my own.

I don't remember what first motivated me to begin privately praying on a regular basis, but I remember fairly clearly when it happened and how much of a difference I felt in my life. I quickly developed a more positive outlook on life and myself and a sense of connection with something wonderful and loving, which was helpful to have during the difficulties of adolescence. I don't think any particular event motivated my sudden interest in prayer. I imagine it was simply stemmed from becoming old enough to be aware of my spiritual life and wanting to take an active interest in developing it. I was about 13 or 14 and had a paper route for a brief period. It may likely have been the increased time for introspection I had each day as walked around my small town delivering papers which turned me towards prayer, but since that time, It has been a regular habit of mine. Rarely have I prayed in a formal way, on my knees with my head bowed. It is something I do regularly throughout the day as a part of regular activities, such as drawing a picture or walking.

I wouldn't say that I have a strong belief in prayer as being a genuine supernatural experience. But I do have a strong believe in the ability of prayer to evoke in me a spiritual feeling. I'm aware that this may be nothing more than an entirely physical process.

Through brain scans of various religious people engaged in religious ritual, we know that certain parts of the brain become more (and other parts less) active during prayer, meditation etc.. When the frontal cortex is active a person begins to feel a loss of their sense of 'self', which creates a feeling of connectedness and oneness.
Depending on the religious activity, different parts of the brain may become active as well, adding additional qualities to the mystical experience, but in general, the frontal cortex seems to create the underlying aspect of a spiritual experience.

It may be that act of imagining God and talking to him/her/whatever in my mind activates, or is carried out by parts of the Frontal Cortex, which then creates the sensation of 'spiritualness', and it may be nothing more than this.
It may be that some genuine spiritual activity is taking place, and the Frontal Cortex is merely the vehicle for this to happen. Since we are physical beings whose emotions are created by chemical interactions, even if there were some outside influence creating the spiritual experience, it would need to act on the mechanisms already in place for creating experiences and emotions within us. If it were a genuine spiritual experience, I would expect it to look and behave (as seen via brain scans) exactly as it has observed it to. As well, if it were nothing more than a physical process, some anomaly of our evolution, we would also expect it to look and behave(as seen via brain scans) exactly as it does.

We know these experience can happen by 'artificial' means, such as drugs, damage to the brain, epilepsy or mental illness. Since we know that these experiences can occur by merely physical means, adding a supernatural realm to the mix seems like an unnecessarily complicated addition.

While I am inclined to believe the experience of prayer is little more than an interesting chemical reaction, some fluke of our evolution, there is some other part of me that believes it to be more than that. Not because I have any good reason to. My reason, as far as I can tell, is no more than that I want to believe there is something more. Believing it is something more is more enjoyable for me, so I find myself doing it. I realize that my desire to believe something true, in no way makes it more likely that that thing actually is true. If anything, my desiring for it to be true, should make me even more cautious, since I know my objectivity is compromised.

But whether I believe prayer is something truly divine or not, I have found matters little in terms of what I experience. When I first began to disbelieve the Church I was surprise to realize that regardless of my disbelief in a particular thing, its ability to evoke spiritual was unchanged. Regardless of my belief on the subject, the act of prayer(or various other rituals I enjoy) evoke the same results, a feeling of peace, calm, and connection to the Universe.

Of course, there are aspect of prayer that goes beyond just the emotional experience of it. People pray to influence events and people. People pray for knowledge, wisdom and other sort of divine help. That deserves an entry of its own.

Why I feel inclined towards seeking spiritual experiences probably has a lot to do both a genetic tendency towards spiritual feelings and my upbringing in 'personal spiritual experience' centered religion. I do not deny that growing up in the Church I felt what I thought of as the Holy Ghost quite frequently. This was something I enjoyed and sought for. When I found I couldn't maintain a belief in the Mormon church anymore, it was partly my experience with spiritual feelings that kept me as a member of the Church for a few more years, as well caused me a fair amount of confusion and heartache. I knew I had experienced and could continue to experience spiritual feelings in Church, and things related to the Church, and felt this was evidence of it being true. Yet almost everything else I saw as evidence of the Church being untrue. I tried hard to reconcile these seemingly conflicting concepts, and spent a great deal of time and energy trying to figure out a way I could believe in the Church. Gradually I found that while the Church does an excellent job at fostering environments that create spiritual experiences, this was not nearly as unique as I had imagined. Once I realized that I was able to comfortably step away from the Church yet maintain and pursue a spiritual life without the intellectual pain and cultural discomfort I felt as a member, I did so. Now that I have been away for a while and see how enjoyable it is, it seems almost strange to me I tried so hard to stay in. If anything I have found it easier to enjoy a the feelings of spirituality that comes from prayer and other things, because I no longer see certain things as being prerequisite to spiritual experience. Whereas before I felt I could only feel the spirit under certain specific conditions, and so rarely attempted or allowed myself to outside of those, I no longer have such limiting expectations, closing me off to the bountiful experiences all around us.

Making us Human

It is funny how often I, and probably everyone else, hear people say things along the lines of 'the thing that separates human's from animals is _____'. And often what the blank is filled with is something related to the speaker's field of interest. I remember once hearing a lecture on the virtues of some bitter vegetable I can't remember the name of, and the speaker actually said that being able to enjoy certain bitter tasting foods is the one attribute separating human's from other animals. (though usually something less silly is said such as 'empathy'. note: many other mammals feel empathy. Doing a google search on this topic I have noticed almost every possible human trait is mentioned as being THE thing which separates us from other animals.)

It seems unlikely to me, that despite millions of years of shared evolution there would be one attribute unique to only humans, and that this one attribute would be what distinguishes us from other animals.

What distinguishes us from other animals is not a single trait that we have and others don't, but many many traits, shared by many other animals, that exist in humans to different degrees than in other animals. It is the sum total of these traits that make us different. For example, humans are distinguished by being more intelligent than other animals.

Nearly every trait that seems special to humans ends up being discovered in other animals, such as laughter, culture or use of tools. Yet despite discovering seemingly unique human traits in other animals, we don't feel ourselves any less human or unique because of it. We don't feel that since other primates also use tools there is no nothing significantly different about us, because we all realized it wasn't the mere having of that one trait which defined us.
Even if there did happen to be one trait only shared by humans, such as, just for example,...artistic expression, we don't consider those unable to express themselves artistically as inhuman, and if the species as a whole lost the ability for artistic expression we would not feel we were no longer human. Why? because it would not have been merely that one trait which made us human, or separated from other animals, but many degrees of traits, of which that was only one.

I think this sense of wanting only one definable attribute to separate one thing from another runs deep and occurs all over the place, making some distinctions seem more puzzling than they really are, so it isn't surprising it would often be used in reference to people as well.

The differences between ourselves and other animals are already pretty clear that I find the similarities to much more interesting and surprising. As for whatever sense of specialness or uniqueness we might come from realizing unique human traits, I think our overall uniqueness and ability to dominate every other animal has shown itself enough that we couldn't possibly need any more of a boost to our collective self esteem. If anything, I find learning of the attributes we share with other animals to be more inspiring since it is a reminder of our shared heritage and interconnectedness with both other people and everything else living.

The world wide internet

I recently learned something surprising and interesting about the internet.

Scroll down to learn more.

The Internet and the World Wide Web are not the same thing.

The distinction is somewhat subtle. The internet is the connection of computers and software which one uses to access, among other things, the World Wide Web. The World Wide Web is are pages with texts and pictures etc which link to other pages, such as what you are viewing now. If one is talk about surfing the (world wide) web, then the internet would be the surfboard. I think most people, and myself generally use the terms interchangeably, and even knowing what I know I will probably continue to use the words interchangeably because:
a)It doesn't really matter.
b)When it comes to word definitions I think it is more important what most believe believe a word to mean than what the 'real' meaning of a word may be. If most people believe a word means one thing, but the dictionary defines it as another thing then, in my opinion, it is the dictionary that is wrong and not most people. (I consider certain descriptive nouns to be an exception to this) I believe the role of a dictionary should be descriptive and not prescriptive.
Because of the swine flu, and not wanting to be a swine fool, I have found myself today reading about the flu in general.

I remember how surprised I felt when I first learned about the 1918-1919 Spanish flu pandemic which infected about 20% of the world's population, of that 20% who were infected up to 5% of those died! That means about 50-100 million deaths world wide from the Spanish Flu. Almost all of these deaths took place within less than a year!

(Knowing this, it is understandable why governments would be so quick to sound the alarm whenever a new flu strain strikes, however unlikely it may be to create a pandemic.)

I am sure I must have been taught, at least somewhat, about the Spanish Flu in High School history courses, but I guess it wasn't emphasized enough for me to have any memories of it.
When I first begun to study the Spanish flu on my own, I felt amazed that something so enormous and devastating, could have taken place so recently yet be discussed so infrequently(I wonder if it is more commonly known in other countries). Yet, interestingly, the Black Plague, which happened about 700 years ago is something most people have heard of and are somewhat familiar with. I would expect that with all the news coverage about Swine Flu more references would be made to the Spanish Flu, yet of the 100,000 news articles on Swine Flu brought up by Google, only about 2,000 of those make reference to the Spanish Flu. (Interestingly, there is a Government website devoted to an in depth examination of the Spanish Flu in the United States, which I found engrossing).

I can imagine that for religious of that time it must have seemed obvious that the end of the world was soon at hand, with 2 world wars, plagues, famines, complete economic collapse happening all within a time frame of only a few decades.(Plus Israel was beginning to be re-settled by Jews at this time)

Reading about Flu Pandemics led me to read about the Flu Virus itself. Not having had much education in biology most of the specifics about the Virus were over my head, but looking at pictures of the Virus and reading about its functioning causes a certain amount of awe and wonder at the elegance of these viruses and that all around and inside of us are billions these tiny machines as complex as an automobile.

Reading about Flu pandemics, one naturally draws parallels in their mind to the Holocaust and other similar man made catastrophes, yet what most amazes and in some ways disturbs me is that while these little machines can collectively cause such world wide devastation to a species whose intellect and capabilities exceed its own by such immense proportions I wouldn't even know how to describe, it has no sense of consciousness or purpose.

Looking at the two pictures below and imaging them infecting 20% of the world, it is hard to not imagine them as having a consciousness and motive.

While my sense of reason tells me these beings, while in some sense 'alive', are little more than than mechanical doing all they can to reproduce. But even language like that gives them a sense of will and consciousness. It is not as if there is a little mind inside each one trying and wanting to reproduce, let alone infect a person, let alone kill them, it is just something that happens. Somehow, when molecules are arranged in this amazingly complex pattern it causes them to divide and infect and sometimes kill. It is amazing to me not just that such things do exist but that they CAN exist. That because of the particular way our Universe is composed, when certain fundamental building blocks come together in certain ways they then take on amazing properties that can also have devastating consequences. As grand and awe inspiring as things like stars and moons appear to us, something as seemingly simple as the flu virus is far more complex, and to me, inspires wonder and awe.

Time Travelers wife.

I've seen previews for the Time Travelers wife, and decided I probably won't see it. I enjoyed the book very much, but the movie looks like it has missed the spirit of the book and become a typical hollywood romance/Notebook type movie.