How life enhancing is being open to change and reality?

This is a topic for which libraries full of books have been written. It has no simple explanation, nor a simple solution. People, society are complicated – and wonderfully so.

I was musing this morning that the source of so much conflict in our day to day lives stem from unvalidated and distorted perceptions of reality.

Everybody has a perception of reality that is slightly different than the next person and almost certainly flawed in some way. Often it manifests itself as the belief that “People / situations should behave or be this way” and it is incredibly distressing when a situation is encountered which does not conform to this perception. We have to leave our comfort zones in order to accommodate the reality with which we are confronted.

I believe healthy people are able to subtly adjust their world views based on experience and that folks who steadfastly refuse to accommodate the world as it exists enter into a spiral of conflict and distress that eventually consumes them.

A simple example are landscape planners. Have you ever walked up to a building and saw that, although there was a walkway leading up from the sidewalk, there were also paths of tramped-down grass cutting diagonally across the lawn leading to the entryway? Someone had a vision of how the front yard should be used and did not consider how folks would really use it.
What is the rational solution here? Should hedges be planted? Should “Keep off the Grass” signs be erected? What have you seen in your travels?
I have heard of a brilliant landscape planner that really didn’t know what to expect so he waited several months before finalizing the design and then simply ensured pathways were created where he saw folks were actually coming across the property. Folks use the property in a way that is convenient for them and their use can be incorporated into the design. This must surely be more attractive an option, and less frustrating for all, than muddy footpaths cutting throughout the property.

But what if your view of the world involves thoughts that are overly simplistic and you refuse to acknowledge or accept that the world is more complicated than that?

What if you are Howard Hughes and can’t accept that the world and especially the human body, was never meant to be absolutely sterile? How do you deal with that?

What if you feel that each person is unique and that the loss of all those experiences and personality to death would be unacceptable? How do you deal with the loss of a loved one? What if the universe does not cater to your ideal?

What if you feel that there is an underlying “fairness” to the universe and yet your house is flooded and destroyed by a storm? How do you deal with something that so fundamentally flies in the face of your world view?

What kind of person does it take to accept such realities, roll with them and move on to continue to grow and flourish? What kind of person collapses under these realities?

Powers of Ten Video

I’ve said it before (it’s buried in there) and this video emphasizes the point. We are not capable of easily comprehending big numbers. Our brains, our frames of reference, our entire life experience and the evolutionary path that led to us are all confined to a reality that seems to consist of around 4 orders of magnitude.

Most of us can easily grasp time in terms of days, weeks and years, but start to move over about 10 years and challenges begin to occur and events blur and merge or degrade. Around 25 years and it seems we are completely divorced from the person that we were over a generation ago. Around 100 years is the limit of true understanding for us. Beyond that, time becomes an intangible backdrop to history yet we can still seem to maintain some kind of understanding and relationship to it if for no other reason than we can still kind of relate to civilizations that have prospered within the 1,000 year time frame. After that, when folks begin to talk in numbers such as 10 thousand years or 1 million years we simply stop trying to grasp the oceans of time we are spanning and recoil into just working with numbers. These spans of time hold no personal relevance for us.

Distance is similar. For the whole of human history before the 20th century, nearly everybody lived, worked and died within tens of miles of  their birthplace. A travel-filled day might involve travel over single digit miles. Our conception of the earth (if we even deigned to consider such esoteric matters) was simply our village (homestead), some neighboring villages (maybe) and then everything else. This map is, while funny, is scarily accurate even today. It’s who and what we are.

Videos such as this can help put our egocentric view of the world into some perspective, but you will still not be able to fully grasp the true magnitude of what is being conveyed after about 4 or 5 orders of magnitude. This informs our view of reality. If we can admit that we have such a weakness with conceptualizing “big” and can be comfortable with that fact, imagine the impact that has when you don’t necessarily *have* to have the answer for everything right *now*….

A full description of this video is available here at the APOD site .

Hypocrisy – So much for divine intervention

This article about a priest telling his parishioners  that it’s OK to shoplift seems to have absolutely given up on the idea that “God will provide”.  I suppose it would be pretty sweet to get the OK to go ahead and get your Christmas shoplifting done guilt free. Of course, I suppose the police will see the matter somewhat differently. But folks trusting (?), naïve (?) or just plain desperate enough to be in a church in the first place are going to take this fellow seriously. This time the silliness can have direct consequences.

Any chance that his church can underwrite the costs for basic supplies for his parishioners? He doesn’t appear to be starving. What about a food drive? i.e. take his position of responsibility seriously and do something about helping his “flock” instead of inciting them to commit crimes that will surely haunt them for the rest of their lives?

Oh, and referring back to this article. Here’s some of the harm… justifying bad things in the name of.. well… you know (check out the dark ages if you’re unsure).

The GOD Delusion

The GOD Delusion“The GOD Delusion” by Richard Dawkins is a superb, if lengthy, look at religion from a rational point of view. By “rational” I mean to say unemotional. One of the things I really like about Dawkins is his ability to express his very well thought out point of view in a cogent and focused fashion.
He takes traditional viewpoints that are often considered as “givens” and explores their biblical roots. Often showing that the contemporary interpretations / assumptions are nearly diametrically the opposite of the expressed meanings in “the good book” or at least completely missing the point that was originally being made.
He further explores our seemingly basic need for something like religion and highlights the divisiveness of the institutions that capitalize upon that need. I’m personally pretty sure that people cannot exist without something like religion. Many people are not nearly so rational as I think Dawkins would hope. But disabusing folks of some of the more destructive aspects of formalized religion is one aspect of the book that I completely agree with and is an agenda that I hope is moved forward by its readers.

Holy water ban to halt swine flu

It’s too bad they don’t have some kind of, I dunno, supernatural power available to them that could help them resist…

Holy water ban to halt swine flu

Say… does anybody understand why it’s OK to skip drinking the blood o’ Christ now? If you subscribe to transubstantiation shouldn’t the wine be… well… sterile?
And if it’s OK now.. why not all the time? These shortcuts could really save money in the long run.

My Current Podcasts

I thought I’d take a moment and note the podcasts that I’m currently enjoying.

There are a LOT of excellent podcasts and there are also a LOT of terrible ones. iTunes’ ratings help somewhat but, just like movie critics, you need to know the reviewer’s biases before you can really trust that their reviews are relevant to you.

If you know me, then maybe you know some of my biases and can figure out based on that if you’d enjoy any of these.

These are listed in order of preference from my favorites to the ones I like enough to listen to if I have the time. Yes, there are 39 of them, no I don’t get to listen to them all all the time. But I like having the option to listen to what I want, when I want.

Part of the reason some shows are more highly rated than others is that they are brief. I have more opportunity to listen to short shows (5-20 minutes) than the longer ones (1-2 hrs) so they get listened to more often.
Some of the podcasts are video podcasts and it again comes down to time available. I can easily listen to a podcast while driving, but a video podcast pretty much demands your full attention and so the opportunities to view them are much more limited.
Also, some of the shows are actually recordings of University courses or are infrequently produced, this will push them down in my frequency of listening and give them a lower rating. Keep in mind that I really like EVERY podcast below otherwise I just wouldn’t bother downloading it.

Just drag any of these to your iTunes podcast window and it will be added so you can check them out.

The Skeptic’s guide to the Universe – This is my favorite podcast of all. They publish regularly on Saturdays. They just published their 200th podcast and I’ve heard every single one of them. A group of intelligent folks discussing current issues with a critical (and often comical) eye. This is what you wish all folks were like when they get together to talk about things.

Slashdot Review – SDR News – Another podcast that I never miss. Published 5 times a week. A short 10 – 15 minutes podcast that’s great for keeping up to date on the latest news in the tech world.

60-Second Science – Roughly 60 second highlight from the world of science from Scientific American.

60-Second Psych – Roughly 60 second highlight from the world of psychology from Scientific American.

Astronomy Cast – A MUST LISTEN if you are at all interested in Astronomy. Start by listening to the back episodes. While they do cover some current topics much of the show is discussing various aspects of astronomy that will be valid for a long time to come. They’ve walked through the planets of the solar system (one per show), black holes, dark matter, interstellar distance, the shape of the universe and on and on. Fascinating stuff. Fraser Cain acts as the everyman asking questions of Pamela Gay, a physics professor with a great talent for clearly explaining the mysteries of the universe.

Are we Alone? – Science Radio for Thinking Species – Put out by SETI this podcast deals with plenty of topics beyond those to do with the SETI mission. Both the hosts, Molly Bentley (rowrrr!) and Seth Shostak offer intelligent discussion and well prepared and entertaining interviews. This is another show that I really look forward to.

Skeptoid: Critical Analysis of Pop Phenomena – Fairly short (usually under about 15 minutes) summaries of a particular topic. You know how you hear something and think “I wonder if that’s true?”. Well Brian Dunning get’s off his butt and does the research to provide a relevant and useful summary of the topic at hand. Often enough to satisfy your curiosity on a topic but a great launching point if it’s a topic that you have an interest in.

Quirks and Quarks Complete Show from CBC Radio – This is a generally science show, very polished and features interviews with folks on relevant topical science issues and discoveries. The host has a great skill for putting the interviewees at ease and fleshing out the relevant details of the topic at hand.

The Finer Points – Aviation Podcast – if you’ve ever thought of becoming a pilot or already are, you’ll enjoy this podcast. Start at the first one and work your way forward. Each is a 3-5 minute lesson that covers everything from aerodynamic theory to cockpit resource management to taking advantage of ATC resources. Good information and great reminders.

American Freethought – Very well reasoned podcast on topics from an Atheist perspective. Both the hosts are thoughtful in their commentary. If you are of a religious bent you probably won’t appreciate their candor concerning yours or anybody else’s beliefs. But if you can think rationally, you’ll appreciate their perspective. I think they are pretty fair in their assessments and largely non-inflammatory in their expression.

Clark Howard’s Call of the Week – A single call from the Clark Howard show that is thought to be of particular interest. I find it is useful for me about half the time.

Clark Howard’s Rip-Off Alerts
– This just helps me stay on top of the latest scams. As a fairly regular Clark Howard listener I often listen to about 2/3 of this podcast before moving on as much of his advice is common sense that I’ve heard him express before.

Science @ NASA feature Stories Podcast – Great 5 minute or so topical podcast that is essentially Dr. Tony Phillips reading his print article. Great for anybody who is interested in what NASA is up to.

The Clark Howard Show – I enjoy Clark Howard but after listening for a while you begin to get a good sense of what he’s going to say. But for particular topics I’m interested in his viewpoint. So I don’t automatically download all of his shows (2 hours a day… way more than I can hope to listen to). And I “get” (a button in iTunes) only the shows that I think will be novel for me based on the downloaded descriptions. It’s also just the right length for me to listen to while using the rowing machine. I don’t like wearing earbuds when I row and Clark’s voice carries nicely over the sound of the machine.

The Economist – In case you haven’t realized it, there is a world beyond America’s borders. The Economist offers great news and editorial insights from a perspective unlike that which is available from American media sources. Also, listening to the UK perspective on American issues is very eye opening. They’ve broken their podcast down into individual one article podcasts rather than a single podcast to cover the entire week. This is free and more than enough for me, but they offer paid subscriptions for WAY more articles if you’re interested.

Freethought Radio – from the “Freedom FROM Religion Foundation” (ffrf) this is a podcast of the radio broadcast that is hosted by the co-founder of the FFRF and her husband, a former preacher-turned-atheist. They are not ANTI religion but rather they are for both separation of church and state and for critical/rational thinking. This would be a good perspective for religious folks to consider. If you are OK with the government sanctioning religion, would you be so OK if it weren’t *your* particular sect that was the “winner”?

Skepticality – Science and Revolutionary Ideas – this is a pleasant podcast put out periodically and generally focuses on a single issue or interview. Swoopy and Derek are well regarded in the skeptical community and this podcast justifies that regard.

The Skeptic’s Guide 5X5 – This is targeted at folks who are interested in understanding skepticism from a logical perspective. You could take this podcast into a classroom and use it as a great launching point for discussion. Basically you have 5 skeptics talking for 5 minutes on a topic such as “logical fallacies” or “ad hominem attacks”.

IT Conversations – I actually am a paid subscriber. This is their free feed. There is a WIDE variety of stuff covered. My favorites are their keynote presentations from various conferences as well as Dr. Moira Gunn’s “Tech Nation” show. The original mission of IT Conversation was to capture pretty much ALL tech seminars and presentations in America if not in the world. After all, after the presentation is done it often just disappears, it is great to be able to participate in these presentations that I could never afford (either in time or in money) to attend.

Scientific American Podcast – About 20 – 30 minutes, Steve Mirsky often has relevant insights and interesting guests.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory Video and Audio Podcasts These are very short videos highlighting current activity at NASA including the Cassini mission and the Mars rovers. This lets you keep up on stuff that is usually ignored by mainstream media because it isn’t “NASCAR”.

The Amazing Show starring James Randi – Although production of this show has fallen off a lot lately, this show has James Randi discussing his life experiences. Relevant for anybody in the skeptical community.

The Finer Points – Aviation Videos – Like the audio podcast, the finer points videos are brief videos covering specific topics in aviation. Very useful when visual aids are required to help get a point across. I find these complement the audio podcasts very nicely.

Cato Daily Podcast – Cato is a think tank and offers perspective on current political and economic issues.

Spill Movie Reviews – definitely an adult podcast, these guys live and breath movies. If you are curious about whether you a movie is worth investing your time in, this podcast can help greatly. They offer some much longer shows as well (LEOG – League of Extremely Ordinary Gentlemen, Cold Ones) which, while entertaining, are just too long for me to fit into my schedule. If I had more time or less interests I would probably listen to those too. As it is I just delete those.

Slacker Astronomy podcast – This USED to be a great podcast. It had 3 folks including Dr. Pamela Gay (from the Astronomy Cast podcast above) and was put out fairly regularly. But when Pamela left the show the production became somewhat inconsistent. I recommend listening to the earlier podcasts for great Astronomy information. For the current ones, I listen to any that have Dr. Doug Welch. He has a great sense of humor and is a font of knowledge and a real treat to listen to.

AOPA Never Again – I think this is now defunct but it is an audio version of AOPA’s “Never Again” column where pilots write in to tell about bone-headed or unfortunate situations they’ve encountered in hopes of helping other pilots avoid making the same mistakes or recognizing bad situations. Getting the existing podcasts is well worthwhile.

Camera Dojo: Digital Photography Enthusiasts – more targeted toward folks who do photography for a living, these podcasts are nonetheless useful for picking up nuggets for those of us who snap only occasionally. Kerry is the glue that keeps things together while David is somewhat more flamboyant…

TEDTalks (Video) – These are brilliant. Simply brilliant. There are so many that I doubt I’ll ever see them all and keeping up is not possible for me. But these almost always impress me. These are brilliant people who are given 18 minutes to speak about a topic that impassions them. There are some short comic or musical ones too and those are always worthwhile too.

The Silicon Valley Astronomy Lectures Podcasts – These are infrequent and about 90 minutes long. An expert on some topic astronomical will fascinate you. I usually listen until somebody puts their kid up to the mike in the Q&A portion.

David Allen Company Podcast – Also infrequent, usually a 5 minute pep session on a particular aspect of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” methodology. I enjoy the refresher.

EFF Line Noise Podcast – Too infrequent, the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s podcast will keep you up to date on their trying to keep overly intrusive government or overly controlling corporation activities and the EFF’s efforts to keep them in check.

Humanist Network News – Would be nice if this was produced more frequently. A pleasant podcast presenting information and issues from a humanist perspective.

Mr. Deity (video) – A laugh and a half. Picture “Woody Allen” meets god. I understand these podcasts are presented in biblical forums to stimulate discussion.

This I listen to immediately after I watch the show:
Battlestar Galactica Podcast – Now defunct as the series is over, these are meant to be listened to as the episode plays. I find that distracting so I listen to them a day or so after having watched the episode. The executive producer’s insights very much enhance my appreciation of the series as he explains what he was trying to accomplish and why things are presented in the manner that you are seeing. This same kind of interaction was what made me a fan of Babylon 5. Understanding what is behind the show adds a tremendous dimension to the experience.

These I listen to periodically. The entire session is available but I don’t want to listen to it all in one go. I typically listen to one every couple of weeks or so.
Rhetoric 10: Introduction to Practical Reasoning and Critical Thinking – Obviously a little chemical entertainment is involved in this lecturer’s make-up but that does not detract from the very interesting approach to a world view that Rhetoric offers.

Virgil’s Aeneid – Audio – I enjoy classical literature and don’t spend enough time on it. Classes such as this, that can be enjoyed during my commute are absolutely wonderful.

English 117s: Shakespeare – Spring 2008 Audio – A bit choppy due to the missing copyrighted works and the student questions that are not captured by the microphone but overall worth the effort.

History of the International System – If you enjoyed James Burke’s “Connections” series you’ll probably appreciate this lecture series explaining how we all end up getting along economically and politically.

That’s it (for now). The great thing about podcasts is that you can go back and listen to old ones where it’s relevant and you can skip forward as you see fit or if something is not of interest. Also, you pick up your show just where you left off. I haven’t listened to my radio in… I don’t know how long. The only reason I turned it on before was to make sure it was still working. The control of time-shifting my listening to my schedule is too powerful to allow me to go back to “the old way”…

Crash pilot who paused to pray is convicted

I am a private pilot, so I have only a fraction of a the training and responsibility that a commercial pilot requires. But it is completely incomprehensible to me that a professional pilot should act so cavalierly towards his charges.

I can’t imagine throwing up my hands and not working until the last possible moment to save all those lives that are depending on my skills.

Obviously, I don’t have the full story. However, to me it seems that this is another answer to the question, “What’s the Harm?” if people want to subscribe to silly, superstitious nonsense.

And don’t even get me started on the Pope’s recent baloney trying to justify the Catholic Church’s antipathy towards condoms by claiming they *increase* the likelihood of aids…

George Carlin – RIP and on Religion

In my opinion, George Carlin’s peak was a few years before my time. Had I been born about 10 years earlier I think he would have been a far greater influence on me than he was.

But that doesn’t mean I was not aware of and didn’t appreciate what he did… His wry observations and inflammatory wit always made you feel that you were doing something naughty just by listening to him.

I think it was his views on religion that I always looked forward to the most. He was definitely a “no holds barred” kind of person on all topics, but I appreciated it in this sphere especially.

Better than anyone alive now, George knows the truth – RIP