Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

People tend to believe that certain physical features of human beings make them beautiful such as slim figures, fair skin, big eyes, high cheek bones, small noses, long legs etc. They believe that in order to be classified as beautiful these features and others are important to have. In most cases the reasoning behind this notion is absent-- but most people don't normally think as deeply about beauty.

The truth is that what humans find physically beautiful in other humans is nothing more than a product of sexual selection and no different from, for example, the beauty of what a female bird sees in a male bird which has also been selected for. The saying, 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder', holds true in all circumstances of finding beauty in others because it is our own preferences for physical beauty that governs what we believe to be beautiful.

In most cases, these preferences for physical beauty are quite narrow and common within a particular society. Humans, as well as other organisms, have innate qualities that encourage us to form certain preferences about the other sex. Females tend to be attracted to strong, well-established and robust males while males seek youthful (fertile) and modest females. These innate preferences have evolved for thousands of years before civilization and are a main source for what humans perceive as beautiful today. Our preferences for beauty can also be stimulated by culture, religion, music, movies, media etc. Religion and culture encourage individuals to go against their innate desires and follow ancient traditional ideas that set limits on how to think and live. Furthermore, media encourages people to desire something they cannot be or have. These stimuli skew our perceptions of beauty. These aspects, both societal and innate, directly effect what people perceive to be beautiful and this perception is used, in particular, to find a mate.

Today there are so many sources that effect our perception of what is beautiful in others. These sources tend to fixate on physical beauty and less on the beauty of our biology to the point where it has become difficult for humans to see the beauty in anything let alone other humans. We tend to look at the most minute details in others to find beauty but are most of the times brutally unsatisfied. Society today seems to have lost the meaning of beauty in a sea of criticisms, superficiality and egocentrism.

It is unfortunate that to be beautiful has become a type of contest or competition where it is something that must be attained in our lives because without it we are nothing. Throughout evolution it is not our bodies that have changed much but it is our minds that have been plagued by silly memes (ideas) that have been passed on through generations. As people change their views of what they find beautiful in the opposite sex they change their sexual desires as well. And this is what drives evolution.

So now that we have changed our evolutionary path what will come of the meaning of beauty? We will most likely pass on the memes of beauty today to our children and they will too adapt their preferences based on the common conception of beauty. But the important thing to remember is that we do not need to get caught up in the competition to be the most beautiful of all because the criteria are not fairly formulated and do not fit societal norms. In contrast, they are based on some random person's belief of what ought to be.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Atheist Wedding

I've been thinking about writing a guide entitled 'Atheist Wedding' for a while now. I myself have organized such a wedding for my now husband and I in the past and would like to share with the world my experience throughout the whole process.

During my wedding preparations it was not easy to find what I was seeking to incorporate into my wedding theme. It took several months to simply find the right poem and determine an alternative to certain traditional wedding rituals.

My husband is half Persian, and I, Indian, so I wanted to include some ideas from these cultures into our wedding, especially since our family members would be participating or attending as guests. I also really liked the underlying meaning of some of the cultural rituals but wanted to eliminate the reference to religion or God since I was planning to have an Atheist wedding. However, this part proved to be difficult since I did not easily have access to all of the rituals involved in these traditional weddings nor did I easily find any facilitative ideas to alter these original traditional ideas.

So I had to do a lot of research, particularly online, about different traditional weddings, not solely Indian and Persian, and determine what ideas I wanted to use and how I could combine them with my secular ideas.

In the end the wedding was beautiful and that what mattered most was our union and commitment to one another completely unbound by any religion.

I would have liked to have more time (perhaps 3 or 4 months rather than 2) to really focus on all the details. Had I used some sort of guide for preparing an atheist or non-religious wedding, I think that I would have prepared something even more brilliant.

It's not so easy when there is no one else around that understands atheism such as family members, friends, or the wedding coordinator when preparing for such an elaborate event. My husband and I were completely on our own to plan our wedding. It was even tough for us to manage everyone during the wedding rehearsal since it was also new for them.

In addition, during the preparations, the florist could not understand why I did not want a bouquet for myself. The wedding coordinator could not fully understand the idea behind some of my props. Nevertheless, they too were on board with my ideas and helped me to create a truly wonderful event. I think that if I had some sort of guide to follow I would have had deeper ideas about what flowers to use and their arrangements, how to organize the trellis for the ceremony, what music I wanted to play during the reception and how to decorate the reception ballroom.

I'm very glad to say that my family and friends really enjoyed our wedding ceremony because it was so different and loved how my husband and I shared our memories and love for one another with everyone. I wish I could do it all over again. Perhaps I will try to convince my sister to have a secular wedding so I can once again create something truly unique and powerful. Hopefully by then I will have my guide to follow.

Soooo to begin I have written a detailed introduction to this guide and am now in the process of collecting all of my notes, ideas, images, ceremony and design plans together in order to devise a section on creating a customized ceremony. This part will be quite difficult as I plan to include traditional marriage ideas from different religions like Islam, Hinduism, Chinese, Christianity, Catholicism and Judaism. The difference is that for certain ideas which I think are significant I will remove any reference to religion but still maintain the historical context. This will be a challenge but I think it will make my guide quite desirable to atheists, secular humanists, agnostics, moderates, naturalists and spiritualists who want to have a non-traditional wedding.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mini-Epic: The Singularity

I question myself as I contemplate making the transition. What would become of my memories and my physical state? But I feel as though I am ready to take a giant leap out of this reality... away from this still primitive society of endless struggle and conventional living. I want to help my fellow human being to be more healthy and happy but I can't help but wonder what is on the other side of this reality. I want to contribute to the effort of caring for our Earth but I am just too eager to lend my mind to the future. My biological clock is ticking. My time on this planet is limited and the future is waiting for me. I am ready to abandon this genetic machine age and enter the new virtual age. Natural selection will be obsolete in the virtual world but it was good while it lasted.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

There is no life after death

Why do humans believe that there is life after death? It is probably a myth that was carried over generations from our early ancestors who did not know much about the universe and the evolution or decent of humans.

Our ancestors only had past experiences and folk stories to go by to determine their existence and the meaning behind it. This is how the idea that there is a higher creator came about and persisted over many generations because it was so believable by the average person. It gave them hope that there could be more out there for them because life itself was a gift given to them or earned by them. However, such a belief is very powerful because it completely displaces the fact of death which is a biological phase in all life and this is the reason why the idea of life after death persists even today.

All living organisms undergoes the cycle of life and death. Lifespans vary but ultimately we all die and this organic matter is absorbed into the earth and atmosphere. If there was a creator and a so-called heaven there would be no reason to undergo the transition from life to death. As all of us know, when a loved one dies, including animals, we feel emotions of sadness, loneliness and anger which are negative emotions. Why would a creator put us through such prolonged misery if there already existed a means of living after death? It is a nonsensical and primitive thought.

It was quite normal for our early ancestors to believe that there was more to life because they lived in a less civilized society with very little knowledge of science and math-- fields of study that have given light to the order of the universe and the evolution of life. These fields are quite complex compared to the knowledge of our ancestors but nevertheless have paved the way for the advancement of society and intellect.

We have no need to rely on primitive knowledge such as the existence of a higher creator since we humans have made countless discoveries that negate the idea of god. We also do not need to incorporate such a falsity in our advanced knowledge of life and the universe because it is a contradictory idea and does not fit into the concepts of science and math. For if it did I for one would be a strong proponent for the existence of god. The evidence is just not there for the existence of god.

We all need to accept that there is no life after death or we will only continue to fool ourselves. People may argue that even if there is no god isn't it alright for people to feel hope and happiness that there could be light at the end of the tunnel simply for the sake of their feelings. However, this is an incomplete argument because this type of thought supports the possible existence of god-- an idea that many people fully incorporate into their every day lives. This is an idea that has promoted the killing of innocent people and the oppression of many more even today.

We cannot simply allow people to believe things that are not real for this only supports false ideas and creates new mythical ones further creating a chain of lies and a war against the truth. Moreover, it is not empathetic or respectful to accept that people have such false beliefs because it has a negative impact on what is true and real. We will only continue to live in a world of lies if we do not teach our children knowledge which is based on factual evidence.

There are other hopes and dreams which we can instill in our children and in ourselves such as the ability to be a knowledgeable citizen who can know what our limits and strengths are in life. The most wonderful thing in our existence today is the ability to freely learn about the nature of life and the universe and not about the hindering false claim that there is life after death.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Why it is not okay to vacation to those so-called 'hot new vacation spots'

You may have already heard from advertisements, friends, or family about the hottest new vacation spots such as Maldives, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and India that offer more privacy, tropical surroundings, and a modern feel. So why, all of a sudden, have these destinations popped up as top vacation spots today? What has changed that has opened these places up to mass tourism? You are probably thinking that it is nothing more than large hotel chains deciding to take advantage of areas that are unique and so more appealing to the modern tourist--- a change from the same old trip to the Caribbean or tour of parts of Europe. But the fact is these large 'corporate' hotel chains have taken advantage of weaknesses within these countries in order to take up prime land, that was originally used by the people of the country for their livelihood, without proper permitting or government approval in order to profit.

In most of the aforementioned countries, disasters like the 2004 tsunami have caused devestation to inhabitants leaving an open door for private corporations like hotels to step in and pretend to make things better by jump starting a tourism industry which has done nothing more than displace citizens, shutdown employment opportunities, in turn, providing no benefit to the country as a whole.

So you're probably wondering how these corporations, as well as others like reconstruction companies, have been able to simply walk in and take over. Well, when a country is in need of financial aid due to a severe disaster like a tsunami or hyperinflation, large corporations like banks, hotels and construction companies, can easily take advantage of this situation by offering aid but for a price. The price is usually to open a country's borders up to globalization for a free market where multinational corporations buy up land or other companies that have tanked in order to profit. The key phrase is profiting by blackmailing.

What happens is that a country, that originally consisted of some public institutions owned and operated by a government, is turned into a playing field for private companies to buy what they please at a low cost with complete disregard for the citizens. Due to mass privatization, tens of thousands of people lose their jobs and, in turn, have very little money to survive. For these citizens, it becomes a game of survival rather than concerning themselves with what has happened to their government. This is the primary goal of multinational corporations, many of which originate from the US, a very capitalist and profit-driven nation.

So if you're ever planning a vacation, think twice about visiting places that have been turned into corporate profit-making factories--- places where there are hundreds of thousands of people living in poverty, when just down the street there are hotels offering vacation packages for $300+/night. Think about where you would be staying-- a beautiful hotel suite overlooking a pristine, sandy beach that was just a year or two ago home to thousands of people that were forced to move elsewhere due to an unforeseen disaster and promised aid that they never received.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Emotions Running Wild

Every human is equipped with the ability to express emotions. These emotions are created as a result of our sensory system which enables us to experience our external environment. The network of neurons in our brain collects, organizes, and analyzes this sensory information or input and the output results in thoughts and emotions. This output is even further enhanced by other factors such as the release of certain hormones in our body while we experience our external environment.

We as well as our ancestors have lived in an environment where it has not been easy to express our emotions as a new born baby or a young child does. Children at a young age are taught about obeying the rules established by our families and communities, and in our time, also by our governments. These rules, whether influenced within a tribe long ago or by society today, are what form ideals and habits within a given group of people. Our ancestors established rules in their tribes primarily for the security of their people, food stocks, and territory. Children were taught to build a trust relationship with their elders and help, not only the family but the group as a whole, to build and maintain their community based on the prescribed set of rules.

In today's society, life is quite different. Rules, such as laws and regulations, are established at many levels of community and are organized by the corresponding levels of government. In such a society, the government is influenced by the people for the purpose of establishing rules that correspond to the needs and demands of the people. Although, in much of the world, the government takes its own actions without the input of the people which results in corruption and a power imbalance (rich vs. poor).

With such advancement and subsequent growth of society comes an increased responsibility for the citizen to continuously inform themselves of current events and changes that, in most cases, have an influence on the people. With added responsibility comes many factors such as job/money, taxes, media/news, elections, etc. which have a direct effect on the average person and create an individualistic reality for people within a given community. This is quite different from the tribal lifestyle of maintaining trust relationships and contributing to the protection of the assets of the community as a whole.

All of this added complexity can have an intense effect on our emotions. It is this type of individualistic society that influences us to respond to our emotions in such a way that is self-centered and close-minded. We are stimulated to act on our intensified emotions to gain empathy and sympathy from others as a a way to feel better about ourselves. This seems to happen because we feel that no one is there for us, we only have ourselves to worry about and care for. We believe that no one loves us but ourselves. This is the result of living in an individualistic society where people are consumed in only their own lives and perhaps their direct families but, in most cases, even the concept of 'family' has lost its traditional meaning.

Whereas family was meant to be a group that one could confide in and learn from, it has become no more that a unit of disorder and head-butting. Traditionally, it was meant as a way to care for and protect the young and teach them to be knowledgeable and strong-willed so that they may contribute to their community as their parents and grandparents did.

It is true that today there is less care and support given to children. Much of how a child develops is dependent on government institutions such as child care, education and medicine, although medicine is not always controlled by the government. The church is, unfortunately, another institution that is depended on to a certain extent by parents. The issue is that modern and scientific advancements have created more contradictions within religion, and as such has effected education, further causing more disorder within the family unit.

With all of these factors and others, such as increased divorce rates and longer working hours for both parents, has contributed to individualization of society. It is true that people, whether friends or family, are not there fore each other like they used to be. This has caused people to feel sorry for themselves in ways that are not so healthy.

We live in our minds rather than in reality. We have lost track of what is normal to the point that we constantly tell ourselves that we do not have to follow the norms of society because they have not been created in the context of our own lives. We tell ourselves that everyone is different and that we can live the way that makes us feel satisfied. But, if there is no basis or limits for our desires, who draws the line? If there are no limits to our reality, how do we know what is normal? With no guide or plans in life, aren't we then choosing to live in chaos?

Why do we subject ourselves to this kind of reality when modern life has so much to offer us? A lack of emotional support during our early life should not force us to feel sorry for ourselves to the point that we are scarred for life. Some people may feel that they lacked emotional support from their parents and/or siblings growing up. But we can, as adults, emotionally support ourselves even though we feel that we have not been taught this as children or brought up this way. It is merely a psychological habit that we instill in ourselves from experiences that have hurt or betrayed us by people we trust. We as adult individuals have the ability to change the way we feel and think-- no one else can do this for us, except perhaps a professionally trained psychologist who understands the way our brain physiology works.

Furthermore, it is common that adults who feel emotionally unstable as a result of experiences mentioned above may go on to effect others in ways that are selfish and ego-centric. These people sometimes feel that they must let the world know that they lacked emotional support growing up and this has caused them to act needy and want acceptance, regardless of their behaviour. To those who are effected by needy people a common reaction is feeling overwhelmed, annoyed, and sometimes taken advantage of. This becomes a frustrating experience and can lead to feeling betrayed by a friend or family member and subsequently losing trust between each other. What the needy person has experienced is then transmitted by them to someone else. What is then spread is a defeatist nature.

Needy adults who feel that they have lacked emotional support really need to mature and rise above those selfish feelings of hurt. There are many children and adults around the world who have almost nothing. They live in poverty because they have no one to trust or depend on and have never had this opportunity.

But, most of us in the modern world are not alone. We are part of a society, a community of other people that are similar to us and have had good and bad experiences throughout life. We simply cannot ask someone, even if it is a friend or family member, to give us everything that we desire. That is just childish and ignorant. And humans are capable of growing from an ignorant child into a responsible and well-informed adult. Our emotions are just a part of our physical nature that we are capable of controlling. No one will appreciate being influenced or effected by someone, an adult, who feels the constant need to let their emotions run wild. Our society does not tolerate this. The social norm is to be respectful to one another and it works quite well. It helps us to experience true reality, not the reality that some of us create in our imaginations. For these people, social norms are most important to help them to balance their life and control their emotions. If they choose to not accept these norms, they will face an unstable existence and never know why.

You have a choice to face reality or live in your head.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Nothing more than a Coincidence

Coincidences happen all of the time to every person in their lifetime. It is not uncommon to experience such an event because it normally occurs in the context of an individual's life. In other words, a coincidence to one person is not relevant to the life of another person. It is relevant only to the person who experiences the coincidence. However, many people mistake a coincidence for an event that they claim can only have occurred to them supernaturally or by a higher power and not by simple chance.

Let's look at the facts. It is already well known in the fields of physics and math that there are probabilities for a given event. For instance, it is more probable for marathon runner A to win a race compared to marathon runner B based on a number of things. Runner A practices 3 hours longer than runner B every day. Runner A has also won 5 marathon races in the last 3 years than runner B who has won 2. Runner A has not incurred any injuries in her career as a marathon runner while runner B has incurred one knee injury in her career. These differences effect the probability of who will win the race. It's that simple.

Now let's use this example to discuss the concept of probability of coincidences. A person who has entered a contest to win a prize has a certain probability of winning based on the number contestants. Their probability increases or decreases if they must compete to win the prize by using their skills. If the contest is based on who can produce the most creative drawing then those contestants who are skilled at artistry and creativity have an increased probability of winning. There may be 10 contestants in a group of 100 that are very close in skill level for this competition and, in this case, those 10 contestants have a reduced probability of winning among them. Further, 2 of those 10 contestants may have entered a similar contest and have won which would increase their chance of winning among the top 10. There could be many other factors that I could discuss but you get my point.

There are many factors that could effect the probability or chance of experiencing a coincidence in our lives but that is all there is. We are not more special than anyone else. It is our skills and our drive that can make something happen. We can't simply ask for something that we desire to just happen for us. Life does not work that way. Our every day decisions and actions are governed by probability. From a mathematical point of view there is little significance in the occurrence of a particular event that may seem less probable from the point of view of the perceiver.

What we must learn is the ability to properly estimate the probability of a given event occurring in our own lives. The basis should not be on how hard we wished or prayed for it to happen. This has no effect on the occurrence of any event. All of our personal experiences have a reason for occurring whether it be taking action to make something happen or involving ourselves in something relevant to our desired outcome. The experience is a completely realistic one, although many people would say that it could not have happened without some kind of supernatural force. That is nonsense.

Every human being is deserving of a life that is free and no one person is more special than another. Obviously merit and wealth can help a person to reach their desires more swiftly and be more successful but we all experience coincidences no matter who we are. Some people may say that they did nothing to experience such a positive event but perhaps in these cases they were in the right place at the right time. Timing is but one factor in the realm of probability. We put ourselves in a position to experience a coincidence and this is the only way.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Doctored Shock: A Reality

I'm not one to firmly believe in conspiracy theories in society but things do happen behind closed doors time and time again that simply cannot be ignored. And I'm not just talking about things like isolated crimes, natural disasters, drug trafficking, labor strikes, endangered species, or anthropogenic environmental damage. I'm talking about global economics, inflation rates, elections, coups, war, import/export, rich vs. poor, genocide, global alliances, etc.

I feel that the latter ideas were never that appealing to learn about because they were barely a subject of discussion in school. Had I known a little about the woes of global economics and government alliances I would have chosen to more critically learn about these ideas in my later academic years. The reason for this is that when I don't know about something that is truly important to know in my life I don't feel safe. I don't really know what impact these things have in the society that I live so I remain ignorant to it. That must be what a government wants of its people-- to remain ignorant of important facts about the world-- considering that it is the government that educates us at the start of our lives.

Forget theories, the type of strategies that are wielded by governments like the US government in order to control other countries is horrifically scary and completely factual. The economic philosophy of disaster or shock fundamentalist capitalism has been breed right out of the US, particularly at the Chicago School of Economics for the last century or so (for all I know). It is the result of much of the 'organized' terror around the world from past and present. Many South American countries like Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and Bolivia have had their governments overthrown and people unemployed, displaced, and murdered because of the US right-wing economic philosophy of global free-market capitalism.

The idea that this philosophy is a means of spreading democracy is simply a myth and completely the opposite of the true goal of these so-called economists: the goal being to allow corporations to do as they please in a global free-market at low inflation rates in order to profit. Their driving force is greed and a complete lack of respect for other people. It is a type of reality that society has tried to overcome but instead this philosophy is planted deep within and has done nothing but impede societal progression.

Richard Dawkins has said, "we wish to live in a much more advanced society, a society that is far more advanced then a Darwinian society or a George Bush society" and it is very true. In the George Bush society, lead by right-wing economists influenced by the 'Chicago Boys', war, terror, and torture are the norm. The worst part of it is that in order to change global economies to fit their rules they must first wait for a disaster such as a labor strike or financial instability (i.e. high debt, hyperinflation) or manufacture their own disaster (doctored shock) in any given country that they would like to control for their own interests. These economists focussed on South American countries like Brazil and Chile by organizing a coup in order eliminate the pro-poor, nationalist governments and instead implement a new government, trained by the Chicago Boys, that would favor foreign investment. Unfortunately for these countries thousands of people were brutally tortured and murdered in order for the economic plan to operate effectively. There was a similar case in Indonesia. The worst part of it all is that many global corporate powers were also involved in the economic plan such as Ford Motors, GM, Citibank, IMF, World Bank, etc.

This type of economic shock was later seen in other countries like Poland and most recently in Iraq. The mastermind behind the birth of this philosophy was Milton Friedman, an American economist and a leader of the Chicago School of Economics at the University of Chicago. He argued that government could not manage economies and that people could too easily oppose government policies which would cause high inflation and low growth. He favoured mass privatization and deregulation for the benefit of foreign investment and globalization. But his imposed ideals were nothing more than a nightmare for all the people who were effected.

It is astonishing to me that altough many of these events occurred during my lifetime, I had no understanding of the severity of this economic strategy that now spans across many countries around the world. To me the meaning of democracy has changed. The US right-wing view of democracy is so far-off the mark that I am surprised that such a view has been maintained and advanced in society. It is a means to take advantage of people and have total disregard for human beings.

This is truly still a Darwinian society where we live as animals and only the fittest survive while the others are left out in the fields to die. We all need to be involved in the betterment of society if it is to progress forward not backward. The most important thing today is to be well-informed and mould our opinions based on the facts. I'm not one to firmly believe in conspiracy theories but this comes very close to the mark. The only difference is that it is not just a theory, it is a reality.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Where are you on the social scale of life?

When I was young it occurred to me time and again that I did not fit the common behaviour of such things as going to the movies, hanging out at the mall with friends, talking on the phone, and dressing in the latest brand-name clothing. I used to wonder why I had a different attitude about these things and others compared to my friends and would test myself to determine if I was being limited to do such things. I realized that sometimes it was limits and other times it was just me.

The most limiting factors for me were the cost to do and wear certain things and discipline from my parents. I could not wear brand-name clothing all the time because it was too expensive compared to the alternatives and could not hang out at the mall with friends because my parents thought that it was low-class and distracting me from being productive and spending time with the family. I used to feel like I was missing out because everyone else was doing it and that I didn't get enough attention from others for material reasons. "All my friends are doing it, why can't I?" I would exclaim to my parents. And their immediate response would be that I was being unreasonable and that it should not matter to me what others do and that they certainly do not care.

It took me a few years to realize why I was being unreasonable and that I ultimately live in a society which dictates the social norms of life. I also realized that it was beneficial for my parents to set limits for me in my adolescent years so that I could better identify myself and my habits apart from others and notice the differences among people. These limits helped me to understand my upbringing and my roots as well as feel a sense of pride that I could do what I wanted without feeling a need to follow. Limiting myself also helped me to understand that if I do choose to embrace a social norm that I should do so with discipline and restraint. It was a good step for me but I needed to build on that when I entered the real world on my own.

When you are on your own in your early twenties it is very easy to get sucked into what the 'in crowd' is doing and the new trends of the present. Social norms are not always ideal for a balanced lifestyle but they are based more or less on the commonality of people's behaviours and actions in society. We can choose to live on the boundaries or to follow certain social norms but it's up to us to decide what is ideal for our own lives depending on our situations.

I don't believe that it is smart however to disregard social norms completely. Social norms have been governed over a long history of social existence so it is not in one's best interest to act against these norms because they have been established for historical reasons. In the last century social norms have evolved to include materialism and convenience so in this modern day it is even harder to follow such social norms which have progressed backwards. Hopefully new discoveries and ideas such as the human genome project and the environmental movement can place us on a better life path.

Today, social norms help me to understand other people better-- their intentions, attitudes and opinions, stage in life, maturity, and their background. I feel that it is necessary to have this social template to help us mature and grow our knowledge of society and life as well as have our own opinions which we can further build on. We don't have to remain the same person we were in highschool-- social norms do not pressure us to do so. We need to embrace social norms because as we grow and age over time we can realize that social norms can help us to overcome our immaturity. We as humans are supposed to change just like our bodies do as we grow and we all need to embrace the cameleon in us in order to face an unpredictable and dynamic future.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Ego: Is that all life has to offer?

Everyone has an ego. It is nothing more than a combination of many different emotions such as confidence, aggressiveness, selfishness, happiness, and greed. It is emotions that we discover as we grow and socialize. It can make up a large part of our personality and can frame our identity. But, it can also be a negative character trait because it can interrupt logical and rational thought and is driven by strong emotions. Although it can give us a sense of who we are, our ego can also hinder us from learning new things and making new social connections. It can give us a false sense of what life really has to offer.

How do we develop an ego? Humans are conscious beings because we have an understanding of ourselves and of our minds. We think of ourselves in the first person and use the 'self' label to identify ourselves in a group of many individuals. The ego is a natural quality in human beings and also exists to a lesser extent in other animals. We have egos because we have emotions that are stimulated from our outside environment through our senses. However, it is not a simple task to understand the extent of our own egos because much of our own emotional reactions are a product of heredity, about 40-50%. This is why we are sometimes unaware of how strong our emotional reactions are in certain situations. We are not always under the impression that our egos are stimulating our behaviour and attitudes within different environments.

There is no concrete way to illustrate the ego. It is designed by our own brains depending on our genetics, environment, and social interactions. We frame our egos from a young age, although we do not yet know it, by our strengths and weaknesses as well as by our interactions with not only our families but our peers. We are brought up in a society so we are encouraged to be socialized and we do this through interactions. As children we are exposed to different groups of people such as the jocks, nerds, rebels, goths, etc. and naturally we find a place or a niche that we are drawn to by our emotions or groups where we are accepted. There are also niches within a certain group so part of how we interact in a certain peer group also is a matter of chance. How we differentiate ourselves within the group is in large part left up to what niches are available. Some children become leaders, others foot soldiers or jesters, and still others peacemakers depending on what niche is available, how suited a child is to filling it, and chance. Once a child fills a role they adapt to it and are influenced by their peers to maintain their 'personality' within the group. We begin to shape our personalities and attitudes by our socialized roles at an early age.

We start to become aware of our egos throughout adolescence and early adulthood. We begin to reminisce about things that we experienced in our past through chance and timing and through our decisions that helped us to get to where we are today. This brings satisfaction to our emotional desires in our minds that we have endured so much to frame our personalities and to build an identity that is unique to the self or individual. We realize that our past actions are valuable to us because it gives us a sense of who we are. Without our own story, we would be... a nobody. This sense, this story, this worth is our ego.

Our ego is so important to us. It defines who we are and helps us to be a someone that has a past, that has opinions, and that has a unique personality. These things help a person feel like they have a stance in society and it gives them a basis for social interactions. It is a part of our biological nature because we like many organisms are socialized. But, we need to have a sense of our own individual in order to satisfy our emotional desires and represent ourselves in a large group. We do not all have the same likes and dislikes so we need to have a way to identify what is suitable for us. But, as we see in society, there are many people who believe that what they think and feel should be the way that others think and feel and this leads to the clash of egos.

We all need to understand that our egos are shaped by our own strengths and weaknesses, by our social interactions, and by our past experiences. Although we are genetically and evolutionarily similar we are unalike in our attitudes, cultures, and behaviour because we all have had different past experiences, social roles, and vulnerabilities. We simply cannot impose our egos on others and expect them to accept your ideas and attitudes without argument. Argumentation is good. It allows people to reason with each other and come to resolutions in circumstances where one party is right and the other wrong or when decision-making. However, it is important to always build our knowledge of everything around us even when we think that we know everything. What we think we know is actually our own emotions inflating our egos. Just because we feel like we already have a sense of ourselves does not mean we cannot build on that. Life is a continuous growth process. It does not stop when we have reached the realization of our egos and our personality. There is little satisfaction in believing that there is nothing else out there for us because we think we have found who we are. Life is not solely about finding who we are. Life is about the awareness of knowing more. Knowing ourselves is just one small step in the awareness of life.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Nature vs. Nurture

The debate between nature and nurture has been a common argument in society for the last few decades. There are many proponents of the idea that parenting and the environment are the most important influences of how a child will grow and mature. Without the proper parenting and home environment children will not grow to their full potential. There is this notion that when we are born we need the proper direction and upbringing to mature normally because we are blank slates. This notion contrasts the other side of the argument, nature, which emphasizes the idea that our heredity determines in large part how we grow and mature with an insignificant influence of our home environment. There is, however, a significant influence on childhood development by unique experiences such as neglect and abuse, injury, illness, death in the family, etc. The argument of nature is by far stronger and coherent then the idea that proper nurturing is the most significant factor of proper childhood development.

Many psychologists and sociologists are on the side of the nurture argument. They believe that parenting is the single most important factor in a child's life and without it a child will grow up being helpless, rebellious, dependent, and make bad decisions throughout their life. Proponents of the nurture argument base their argument on statistics that show that children that are adopted and raised by parents that have their own children develop similarly to their unrelated siblings. In addition, they purport that in other findings identical twins that are separated at birth and raised by different middle-class parents will develop differently. They also suggest that spending extra time reading to their children and buying educational toys for their babies will extremely influence the development process. However, in most cases this is not just not true because their heritable traits to a significant extent (40%-50%) govern how children will develop. We cannot forget that our biology and physiology are governed solely by our genes.

In a scientific sense it is easy to understand why the nature argument is far superior to the nurture argument. There are many scientific studies that have determined that identical twins that are raised separately by different parents will develop similarly regardless of how they are raised. Based on their genetics they will both have a larger or smaller affinity for things like cigarettes, alcohol, sports, foods, etc. because their intelligence and habits are in large part governed by their genetic traits which in this case are identical. Under certain circumstances such as a unique experience like illness or injury, the development of one twin may change due to a long-term lifestyle change. In this case, the environment would have an increased effect on development. But, under normal circumstances the former is always the case.

In actuality, we are not much different from our parents. If a parent is aggressive, which is in large part due to our genetics, their children will develop similarly. Our actions and behaviours are not simply influenced by our environment or governed by a long week of stress and worry. They are governed by our genes and by our parents' genes and by their parents' genes, etc. We are not blank slates to be molded into something that is socially acceptable. Rather, we are biological entities that already have strengths and weaknesses that are governed by our genes. If we are to live up to our potential, parents and society need to set expectations that are realistic and that are in line with the needs of individuals, not of a group of individuals. I am not supporting the idea that parenting is obsolete but rather saying that children can learn a lot from their parents because they are genetically similar and a lot of how we develop is governed by our own genetics. However, with the changing times, it is also important to accept new facts and pieces of knowledge which can further expand the minds of our children and that cannot be easily taught by the older generations.

We must break free from the nurture argument and accept that there is such a thing as human nature in the context of heredity and not the environment.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Gender: What does this mean?

Earlier I wrote about the battle of the sexes due to differences between men and women. Although there are differences there are far more similarities between us biologically and socially. However, our cultural attitudes pressure us to believe that we are similar and different regardless of our biology.

There are those that believe that we are similar, such as feminists, and that we are capable of developing the same way depending on how we are raised and our interactions within and between groups. The only difference is that we have different genitalia which makes us look physically different from each other. Others believe that we are so different because of our roles in society and because of our physical nature, a notion that has been formed by the men for the purpose of oppressing women for their own personal gain.

The problem with these notions is that they do not include a biological perspective which really weakens these arguments. Also, although humans live in groups and societies this does not mean that particular groups reflect how individuals develop biologically. The environment does have an influence on the development of human beings, both female and male, but so does our evolutionary history and we cannot disregard this fact when we are discussing gender and equality. We are human beings whether female or male and we do have physical, developmental and chemical differences but that does not mean that our capabilities are so different.

The Y chromosome is in fact not quite different from what it was for tens of millenia. Because males are quite competitive in their behaviour when females or resources or revenge is a concern many of them were not able to prolong their genetic line (Y chromosome) compared to others that were more successful such as Genghis Khan from the Mongolian region. Some men had many descendants and others had none leaving us with a small number of distinct Y chromosomes. On the other hand, a larger number of women had a more evenly distributed number of descendants, since there was less competition and instead chose the best-quality males, leaving us with a larger number of distinct mitochondrial genomes (Pinker, The Blank Slate, pg. 347). This evidence illustrates one of many biological differences between men and women.

The real underlying issue though is that the minds of men and women are thought of to be so different that both sexes are incapable of being successful at the same things. Some people believe that men think more about justice and rights while females are more compassionate, nurturing, and empathetic to others. I beg to differ. Men are not from Mars nor are women from Venus. They are from Africa where they evolved together as one species. Men and women have all the same genes except for a small number on the Y chromosome and their brains are so similar. They have the same general levels of intelligence which help them to experience the physical and living world in the same way and they both experience similar basic emotions.

But of course there are differences which can be noticed by the opposite sex but are also manipulated into being major differences by society which make people think that we are much different than we actually are. Men have a stronger preference for having multiple partners and they are more likely to compete aggressively over stakes great or small. Men are taller than women on average and men are better at mentally rotating maps and objects. Men also have a greater tolerance for pain and a willingness to risk life for status and attention. In contrast, women are better at remembering landmarks and the positions of objects. They are more dexterous and have better depth perception. They are better at reading facial expressions and body language and have a better memory for verbal material. They also experience basic emotions more intensely, except anger, have more intimate social relationships, and are more empathetic toward their friends, though not towards strangers (Pinker, The Blank Slate).

Putting aside these differences it is important to understand that men and women are very much alike in our genetic make-up and it is our biology which governs how we develop as men and women. We do not have to put ourselves in different categories to identify our strengths and weaknesses and our differences. Instead, we need to embrace these minor differences in order to accept and compromise with one another. We should not let our differences overpower what we truly want in our lives which is the satisfaction of our emotions and desires. Rather than hinder each others strengths, we should help each other harness them because that is how we have evolved. Men do not only need to be the hunters and women gatherers but rather we are both capable of achieving these tasks, especially in Western culture. We are not so different and we should not let anyone lead us to believe otherwise.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Self-Deception: To Believe What We Are Not

It is true that people live in a world of self-deception. They remain aware that it is possible to be deceived by another person-- a family member, a coworker, or a friend-- so they try to ensure that they are not taken advantage of or fooled. They know that if they are deceived that they will have to reap the costs of their error in judgment. It is sort of like a part of the human radar in order to avoid people that are dishonest and greedy--- a social behaviour that was used long ago by our ancestors to do the same for the protection of their families, tribes, territory, and resources.

Deception is prevalent in society among relatives and non-relatives. It takes effort and energy to maintain a straight face and charm in order to deceive others. Whether the deception has to do with telling a lie to get away with something or take advantage of someone the individual has to almost believe their own deception to outwardly give an impression of honesty and genuineness. Not only do they deceive others but they subconsciously deceive themselves. It becomes increasingly difficult for the person to distinguish between what is real and what is superficial and where to draw the line.

It is not easy to understand self-deception from the point of view of a human being. We constantly judge ourselves while judging others and adopt or develop stereotypes in order to understand other people. None of this seems to be based upon our biological nature but rather shaped by our culture. We feel that we are more or less right about our judgments about ourselves and others but we are simply not. We tend to hold biases about different things (i.e. politics, race, gender, age, beauty, wealth, happiness, etc.) that make up part of our moral sense. These biases do not necessarily make up who a person is but instead reflects what society as a whole believes. These beliefs are emphasized in the media in order to get the attention of individuals and mold their opinions--- it is a form of deception. We pick and choose what to believe based on societal 'norms' and in turn deceive ourselves by accepting different biases without really understanding the ideas.

There is truly a cycle of deception which exists in society and it causes human beings to continuously deceive ourselves. Although it is important to detect when someone is being deceptive it is also important to understand that deception exists in all parts of society whether it is in government, business, media, social interactions, religion, education, it is everywhere.

We cannot simply believe something without knowing the basis of the idea or belief. There needs to be a means to understand society. One credible method is to look to science and evolutionary psychology for an understanding of human nature and why our thoughts operate in such a way. We are no more than a biological species with feelings and thoughts but we cannot believe that the basis of our moral sense comes from something beyond our biological limits. In that case, we are simply deceiving and confusing ourselves and driving us further from reality-- from what is true in the realm of our nature. We are only hurting ourselves when we believe what we are not.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Reciprocity in Society: Returning the Favour

It's quite interesting to see how individuals behave and socialize within a group of other individuals of no relation to each other. It is quite a different story when individuals interact within a family or circle of close friends and relatives. The major difference is that in a group of non-relatives individuals have expectations of the others that requires reciprocity and equality.

It's no surprise that when someone asks for a favour that they are expected by the other party to return the favour so there are no hard feelings between the two. When a favour is not returned it is easy to understand what happens. The other party feels like they have been taken advantage of which leads to feelings of anger, resentment, and disprespect. It is hard for them to forget what happened to them and it becomes harder for them to give out favours if they feel that they will not get one in return. The person who has not returned the favour most likely has a record of this kind and feels that regardless of hurting feelings they have gained something without giving something. However, within a group, a person with such motives cannot last long without being punished for their actions. Their behaviour can spread throughout the group as they continue to do this to others. They gain a reputation for being stingy and dishonest and eventually cannot gain favours from anyone in the group. The individuals in the group that continue to return favours are the ones to gain more in the end because more people are willing to help due to their reciprocity. This is why most people realize the importance of reciprocity within a group or society because it is a way for them to gain trust and loyalty from non-relatives and maintain good standing.

Perhaps the idea 'be good to thy neighbour' has lasted for so long among societies for the very reason of reciprocity. It really has nothing to do with the mythical belief of karma but instead has to do with fostering bonds between non-relatives in order for there to be reciprocity, especially in times of need. It is not always certain that an individual will be near their family and friends who will help them in any case more or less so it is imperative to have an alliance with others. But good will only come for those who are willing to return the favour or they may end up in the court of law.

Laws are important to have in a society of non-relatives that give and receive favours. In a large society an individual can never be certain if their favour will be returned when they are not familiar with the backgroud and behaviour of the other party. They may pay for a service or make a large purchase on something and never be given what they expected. They may provide a service for someone and never receive payment. There are so many ways in which individuals can be taken advantage of and never see reciprocity in society which is one of the main reasons why there is a justice system. Laws help to maintain reciprocity among socieites of individuals who have no relation to each other. They help to maintain a balance of giving and receiving favours among and between individuals in order for there to be peace and altruisim.

Altruism is an emotion that is innate in human beings and that is why there is recirpocity. An individual may want to help someone in need but would like to know if the other person would do the same for them. It is simple. Or is it? People may want to show altruism to others even if the other party is helpless but they would require some sort of guarantee that there is some sort of benefit for them.

But what happens if the other person cannot return the favour because they are poor or sick or helpless? Does this mean that they are not altruistic or choose to not be altruistic? Where do we draw the line here? In a democratic system of laws and rights how do we help people that cannot return the favour? Some societies around the world are controlled in a dictatorial manner where there are a few individuals who run the show. They take the profits of a working society and divide the funds disproportionately so they get the bulk of the earnings. The rest of society has to settle for their share without question and without fair reciprocity. In other societies people who are in higher income brackets pay more to the government through a tax system. People in the lower income bracket pay less but they also may be entitled to more social services funded solely by the tax system. Although it seems like the higher income earners do not see many direct benefits comapred to the lower income earners but it may be indirectly benefical in that there is added stability in society (i.e. less crime, poverty, and sickness). It is almost always necessary to have some form of a people's government to enforce laws within a judicial system in order to foster reciprocity in a society. In many cases it is the government that becomes the party to only receive favours and brainwash society into believing otherwise. But that is a another story.

Reciprocity is important within a group because it allows non-relatives to be altruistic and respectful to one another. It is hard to know who to trust to return a favour in a society of strangers. But if people who are altruistic teach their children about reciprocity and what it is to be respectful and honest then more people can begin to share this common and innate quality with one another and maintain a 'good' society without all the mythical jargon.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Human Nature and Evolution

Human nature is still misunderstood by many people today, especially by people who choose to believe that there is and always was something beyond human nature. Human nature is a complex idea that cannot be simply interpreted as what makes us human. Human nature is more about our biological make up and how humans have evolved biologically. To understand human nature one must have an accurate understanding of human biology which includes understanding Darwinian evolution.

Human beings are made up of billions of cells that work in concert in order to function as a unit. Humans evolved from a single-celled organism that functioned more efficiently for survival by joining with other single-celled organisms to form a larger unit. For example, single-celled blue-green algae that existed billions of years ago on planet Earth and that still exist today formed large groups in the water in order to work more efficiently at utilizing the sun's light in order to survive and grow as a colony more quickly. The grouping enabled them to expand their surface area in order to capture more photons from the sun. Just as atomic particles in space bond together in order to form more stable molecules so do cells. The template for human evolution can be seen in the nature of the universe.

From blue-green algae, to fish, to reptiles, to mammals, came human beings through natural selection, the driving force of evolution. In this process characteristics that are favourable for the survival of an organism in a particular environment in one generation will be inherited by or passed on to the next generation of offspring in the form of genetic DNA which stores this information. This process continues from generation to generation and still continues today. Of course, there is criticism of this idea even today but the fact will always remain that humans are evolving.

Human nature is a product of evolution. Our heritable DNA governs our development and functioning. It expresses genetic and physical traits or characteristics that were passed down from previous generations. In a sense, we are all brothers and sisters. We are all similar. There is genetic variation, however, from one society to the next due to differences, for example, in culture and climate, so humans have adapted to different environments in order to live and thrive. Our behaviours differ in different societies but that does not mean we are essentially different.

The human brain is a vast network of neurons in operation that controls much of the body and our brain functions. There is no ghost in the machine or soul that runs this complex system. We are also not a Blank Slate. For if we were.... I cannot even fathom this concept since it counteracts evolution which is defined as the passing of genetic and heritable information from generation to generation evolving from a single-cell to a human being. We could not have even developed as a functioning organism if we were all Blank Slates. Since all organisms carry genetic information from the simplest to the most complex, the concept of the Blank Slate is wrong. We are living organisms with innate qualities. Humans can learn how to read and recognize objects at a very young age just as a bird can learn to fly only after a few weeks of being born. These are instincive qualities that cannot simply come from nowhere. These qualities have been passed down from our ancestors in order for us to imitate their functions and behaviours because it helped them to survive.

Humans are complex organisms. We are not simple and we are not blank slates. We are beautiful because we have innate qualities that have evolved over time among living organisms. We carry with us the knowledge of our history so that we may use it to build something greater. We are all brothers and sisters regardless of how we look on the outside or how we think. It is our duty to understand and accept our own nature so that we can understand and accept universal nature. We must let go of preconceived notions that go beyond human and universal nature. If we cannot properly understand our own nature how is it that we can adhere to a belief about something that created us and this universe. It is nonsensical and illogical to do so. If it was not for people like Charles Darwin, we would all still be tricked into believing something that does not exist and that never existed. We must all ensure that our children learn the truth about human existence--- Evolution!

Happy 200th Charles Darwin!