Monday, June 29, 2015

Belief in the Supernatural

I don't believe in the actual existence of God or gods. I do believe in the power of the human mind to create and envision many things that may not be real, but have the capacity to influence a pseudo-relationship with these sensations to a high degree.

It is now known that there are psychological and evolutionary causes of our beliefs in the supernatural. Our brains have several methods for explaining or internalizing the unknown. Fear can be an important aspect of our dealings with mysterious objects or instances that occur in our lives. There was an evolutionary benefit to supposing that a rustling in the bushes might be a carnivorous beast about to attack rather than just the wind. On the plains of Africa, it could have been either one. The young man that didn't snap into alert mode may not have lived long enough to procreate.

We we looked upon our world and wondered why there was lightning, thunder, volcanoes, falling stars, comets, planets, and eclipses, we tried to explain them with concepts we could understand. Having dreamed of invisible beings with magic powers, the prophets and shamans would tell the people of the human-like but invisible gods that controlled these occurrences. They would make up stories which attempted to answer questions like where we came from, how the earth began, and what must we do to prevent catastrophe. Without science, and without the ability to accurately record events as they really happened, these made up stories were passed from generation to generation by the spoken word and later with the written word of the very few learned men.

Today, grade school children understand how quickly and easily a story can be distorted, embellished to the point that little of it resembles the original. And yet, millions of people carry and preach from these ancient texts that have been retold, copied, re-copied, translated, re-translated hundreds of times. They have the audacity to call it truth and even to believe that God, the creator of the universe, was Editor-in-Chief of every instantiation, thus all were correct. Why do so few of us understand how this works?

In recent years it has become possible to artificially stimulate our brains to produce the strong sensation of a god-like presence in the room, or an out of body experience. These so-called 'God Helmets' may become widespread and easily obtained by anyone. These sensations can also be produced chemically. The psychoactive drug DMT is powerful enough to convert non-believers into 'spiritual' persons in just a few hours. I have taken milder hallucinogenics and have experienced a similar feeling. The next day, however, the feeling was gone and I realized it was all in my head.

The fact that we can dream of fantastic places with complex stories, characters, and happenings, presents us with clear proof of the power of the mind to create supernatural visions from right within our brains. The danger therein lies with ascribing truth to these ideas and spreading them to other people as if they were real and universal. In my understanding, submitting any aspect of your life to a 'higher power' is a false way of incorporating 'spiritualism' into our daily lives. In some cases, one can dump their responsibility onto this realm and call it redemption or whatever. Attributing what happens in the natural world or what people do for themselves, or to, or for, others, to a god or an angel or a devil or demon, is wrong on so many levels. And the belief that we will live on after we die is the worst of all of them.

The human species has yet to fully cross this bridge and reject religion for what it really is. Long-standing traditions and cultural power structures serve to prevent us from doing this. But scientific knowledge will help move us along. Some day, perhaps many centuries in the future, nearly all people will have this understanding, and regard the myths, scriptures, religions, and holy wars, as a tragic curiosity of our history.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Christians face up to your belief system

If you call yourself a Christian, here are some of the things you believe:

  1. Reject, even hate your family. You are a follower of Christ. Jesus exemplified this. Do so likewise.
    • Matthew 12 46-50
    • Luke 14:26
  2. If something doesn't bear fruit when you want it to, curse it and make it whither and die.
    • Meaning if someone doesn't worship the proper way, or turn others to the one true way, curse them so they don't even try anymore.
    • Matthew 21:19
  3. The Lord God Creator of the universe sent Moses into a nearby city ordering him to kill every living being, man, woman, child, except for the young virgin women, for whom the soldiers could keep for themselves.
    • Numbers 31:18
  4. God regretted creating mankind and so decided to kill every living thing and start over with one family and a boat load full of animals.
  5. God the Father has predestined everyone who will be saved before the creation of the Earth.
    • Ephesians 1:5
  6. You can be excused from all wrongdoing merely by deciding to believe ancient scriptures or joining a cult. Adolph Hitler could be in heaven now if only he had called upon the name of the Lord right before he died; but Mahatma Ghandi is burning in eternal fire right now.
    • Romans 10:13
  7. To properly remember Jesus, you must eat his flesh and drink his blood; symbolically of course.
    • John 6:53-56
  8. To be a true follower of Christ, you must give all your possessions to the poor.
    • Matthew 19:21, Mark 10:21, Luke 12:33
  9. You believe that any day now, the currently living believers will all disappear at the same moment, leaving the rest  of us to deal with a thousand years of rule by Satan. What rubbish!
    • Matthew 24:40
I could go on and on and on. It's easy to cherry-pick Bible verses to argue any point. Christians do it continually (that's what they do in church).

For me, I want no part in any religion or supernatural belief system. I read science fiction, but I don't believe every story is physically possible. Time will tell, however.

When I die, do not place a cross over my grave. Do not supplicate the Lord God to accept my soul into His bosom. Do not say that I'm now in a better place. I'm just plain dead - I no longer exist. Period. I will only go on living in the memories of the handful of people that I interacted with on this earth. My music, art, photography, written words, the things I said and did - they may survive for awhile. But few people will ever enjoy them as much as I did while creating them.

Live your life NOW! Love your family and friends now while they are near to you. They won't always be and neither will you be around to do anything about it. 

"Do the things you want to if you can. Don't wait for circumstances to be just right. You'll find they never are." ~Rudyard Kipling

Sunday, June 1, 2014


God, grant me wisdom.

Okay, thanks.

Faith is legalized insanity. How do you know when God answers prayers? It reminds me of gambling; the idea that you can be a winner even when the odds are stacked against you. Unrestrained gambling can ruin lives and is considered a disorder that requires counseling.
I just couldn't pretend anymore. I cannot play the game that seemed so perfect when I was young. Everything was all laid out. There was no mystery to the world because every question could find an answer in Christ. I now know that is false. So many have died or have killed for the wrong reason.
I don't believe any of it. I reject the Holy Spirit! There. Now I am damned according to the scriptures. So be it. When my life is over, it will be over. There will not be an afterlife. The word 'afterlife' is an oxymoron. My life will be judged by the people living now. How did I treat them? What works or accomplishments have I left behind for the next generation? Whose lives had I touched and made just a little bit better because I was there?
I believe in the existence of people. The few whose paths mine have crossed will be the only ones concerned with my coming or going. I hope I have not caused too much pain. I hope it can be said that the world in some small way is a better place for having me travel the few hundred places in the brief eighty year blink of these times.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Hire a Musician

Many of our beloved musicians can't find a job after returning from the road or retiring from the bar scene. Is this how we treat our artist citizens? The path to reintegration into society after a tour or a long stint in a sleazy bar is a difficult one.
After years of dedication to their craft, musicians and road crews gain useful skills that businesses need - stomp box repair, microphone testing, barmaid selection; just to name a few.
Many of our homecoming artists have served their time playing music not of their choosing. Some of them carry memories of traumatic experiences: smelly motel rooms, lousy food, poor acoustics, drunk people, lack of privacy, unsightly laundry services, bad attitudes - the list goes on and on.
These men and women aren't asking for a parade or a pitiful hand-out (a substantial hand-out might do). They just want the recognition of a job well done; the applause and the groupies aren't enough. So, if you see a musician walking the street because the mid-west tour made barely enough money to pay for itself, please give him a job. You'll be glad you did. There's nothing like having someone that can do a spot-on Mick Jagger imitation on your crew; or who can tune your guitar in under a minute. They might also know the best places for happy hour or an extended lunch.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Life, The Universe, and Everything

[Editor's Note: The title of this piece pays homage to the late great Douglas Adams]

Well, where do I begin. Life for me began around 11:30 PM on June 4, 1957. Before that year, I didn't exist. I was dead in much the same manner as I will be in forty years or so from now.

Afterlife is an oxymoron. Reincarnation, past lives, all that stuff is an interesting thought exercise, but nothing more. If someone can provide the mechanism for a consciousness from a dead being to be transferred to a different living being I'll take a look at it, but since we know so little about the nature of sentience and the 'soul' that I'm doubtful that it could ever be proved. Of course, there are stories and anecdotes about this phenomenon, but nothing more.

Life to me is precious gift that shouldn't be taken for granted ever. It is our one chance to experience, share, contribute, love, and be a part of this great drama of existence on this little planet Earth. Why do we fight? Why do we permit suffering and pain and untimely death? Why do we have more children than we can support and love and educate and employ? Why do we make so many mistakes and waste so much time?

My parents were from the old school. Protestant Christians that wanted a dozen children. When the reality of six children hit them slowly but surely, they decided that half a dozen would be just fine; then they had me. I was an afterthought; a punctuation mark on a family tree that, on hindsight, they were very pleased about. My very existence had odds that would make the Powerball lottery look like a crap shoot.

The fact that I am here now writing this only testifies to the concept that one more child in this world might be better than not. I'm happy to have the chance at life that I have. It's been a wonderful ride so far. But I question the wisdom of some people who have children out of wedlock or do not have the financial resources to properly raise a child to be a well-adjusted contributor to society. But who am I to question anyone's right to procreate? Education in the art of living is sadly lacking in our schools. Our culture is rife with shallow media and poor examples of humanity that it becomes so easy to accept it as the norm.

After learning about cultures and world history, I am faced with a dilemma. While being empathetic with the weaknesses of 'the flesh' and that we humans are driven by emotions and evolutionary traits handed down from our primitive ancestors, my opinion of most individuals currently living is quite low overall.

I know, there are lots of good people out there too, but the few bad ones spoil it for the rest of us.  The fact that everyone now has to take off their shoes at the airport because one thwarted terrorist had a shoe bomb exemplifies how our world has changed since I was born.

Think about this: how much of your life is spent protecting yourself from the dishonest few that would take from you whatever they wanted, perhaps ruining your life just to benefit their own?
 The locks on our doors and passwords on our computers. Do you lock your car in your own driveway? When you go for a short walk in the evening, do you lock up the house? Do we treat a stranger with suspicion long before we engage in trust?

Information; the boon and perhaps bane of our modern world, is a jungle of knowledge and garbage that we must all carefully traverse ever day of our lives. Walking into any public gathering area and try not to see advertisements or warning signs. When was the last time you saw some window blinds that didn't have a warning sticker on it because of the choking hazard of the draw string? We think by putting up signs that we are protecting everyone from stupidity - or are we just placating ourselves and saying that it's all we can do?

I am constantly reminded of the bell curve in our population and with the numbers rising, the extreme edges are also increasing in numbers. There might be only one in a million people crazed enough to want to shoot and kill innocent people at random in a shopping mall or movie theater, but given 400 million people, now there's 400 guys out there planning their next massacre.

I suppose all we can do as individuals is try to avoid places where disaster could strike and hope we're not among the unlucky ones. It is important to use history as a perspective lens through which we look at our lives here in the U.S. Other parts of the world and other times in the past, human life has been much harder, much more cruel and deadly. How we survived this long is amazing. I am glad to be living here and now rather than just about anywhere else and at any time in the past. I don't know what the future holds, but all in all, the here and now is pretty fantastic really.

The universe, as we currently know it, was born about 13.8 billion years ago in what cosmologists call the Big Bang. The energy of that penultimate explosion rapidly formed quarks, the building blocks of matter, which then organized into quanta of particles consisting of matter or antimatter which quickly annihilated and much of what was left over became the basic elemental particles: protons, neutrons, electrons which had the dimensional ability to form atoms of mostly hydrogen and helium, but little else.

There was still energy in the remnant of that big explosion, and the clouds of simple atoms spread outward through space-time and began to cool enough that some denser clouds began to contract through the action of the warping of space-time in the presence of mass (gravity) which draws the clouds of matter closer to itself and began to spin. The more compact the cloud became, the hotter it got. Gravity drew in more matter and the clouds formed spheres of dense gas that further compressed the atoms closer together and at higher and higher temperatures. When the pressure at the center of these spheres became so great that atoms were colliding enough to undergo nuclear fusion, a star is born. A million years later the photons, a by product of the fusion process reach the surface of the star and it begins to shine.

Light has now become a constituent of the new universe as more and more stars are born out of the gigantic swirling clouds called galaxies. Stars form in widely varying sizes and masses. The more massive stars burn hotter and live shorter lives than the smaller red dwarf stars. These large hot stars explode after fusing all their hydrogen into helium, and helium into more massive atoms as the pressure becomes greater and the nuclear fuel starts to run out. Once iron is formed in the core of the star, the balance is broken and the outer part of the star collapse in on itself producing a titanic explosion which blows out all of the massive atoms that the star formed into open space.

Thus, new stars that form from these supernova remnants contain heavier elements and the accretion disk surrounding a newly-formed star may contain these heavier elements such as oxygen, carbon, iron, silicon, gold, etc. as well as molecules of combined atoms such as hydrogen and oxygen (water), hydrogen and carbon (methane, other hydrocarbons), and hydrogen and nitrogen (ammonia). Rocks mostly of iron and silicates (silicon and oxygen) had the most mass which attracted other materials to it as the accretion disk slowly condensed into fewer and fewer larger massive bodies.

These aggregations of material had enough mass and therefore enough angular momentum to achieve stable elliptical orbits around the star. Gradually, most of the gas and dust from the accretion disk falls into these planetary bodies contributing to their mass and structure. Other smaller massive bodies mimicked the solar accretion disk by revolving around the planets and forming moons. Surrounding the solar accretion disk there forms icy balls of mostly water which occasionally change their orbits (due to collisions or reactions with other massive bodies) to fall inward toward the inner planets and some of them collide with the newly-formed Earth. This is where most of the water in our oceans came from.

Everything came from basically nothing. Throughout the life of the universe (there's those two words again), the physical laws resulted in more complex atomic, molecular, chemical, and biological arrangements producing all the diversity of the galaxies, stars, planets and even space itself. The concept of 'everything' can be mind boggling if taken in too large a context. What is 'everything' to you?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

SAD - social anxiety disorder

It seems all my life I have battled with a behavior which has come to be known as social anxiety disorder (SAD). It's never been very intense but has nevertheless frequently guided my actions or in-actions when dealing with other people. Throughout my daily life and work, I find that I will do everything I can on my own before reaching out to other people for assistance - especially those that don't know me very well. Calling someone on the phone is something I prefer to avoid. Although cordial, I subconsciously wish for the conversation to end. Sending e-mail is much, much easier and I have no problem with that type of communication - most of the time. When people reach out to me, I'm fine. But I hesitate when it is my job to reach out to someone else. Needless to say, this has held me back in my career. A manager or teacher I am not.

One recent episode involved car-pooling with the husband of my wife's aunt (which we socialize with several times a year). I came up with the idea to share a ride out to a nearby town for a photography class - something we're both interested in. My wife arranged the communication and I was to pick him up on my way. For reasons I don't understand, I had convinced myself that I did not need to stop at his house, but that he would provide his own transportation. I had to apologize to everyone involved for that mess up.

I have always hoped that this type of behavior would eventually stop and my human interactions would be less avoidable. Most of the time I'm OK but occasionally I slip back into that insecurity. The battle, apparently, is not over yet.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Government Health Care and Food Subsidies

"If the government were paying for our health care, the government would have a very strong interest in changing the way people eat." - Michael Pollan

So if the government was subsidizing your health care, they would probably become more interested in healthy food habits and promoting healthy food production rather than subsidizing the corn and cattle industries.
I know, how about making bad food expensive and healthy food inexpensive, instead of the other way around. It's just an idea.