Category Archives: Reality

Beware of Predetermined Outcomes

Once Upon A Time

I heard a pretty good story the other day on the radio. It was about these two guys back I Europe, a couple hundred years ago who had an interesting theory. I’m not exactly sure what their professions were, but I think it was some type of profession that had to do with sociology or religion. I think maybe they were professors or something.

Anyway, they had this idea that if they went out to the small towns around Europe (this during a time of relative peace, before the two big world wars) and talked to enough people, they would find something very interesting. Being both devout Christians, they figured they would be able to piece together all the stories from various towns and villages, and put together some super grand unification theory of morality.

They were hoping to find some kind of underlying message or ethical punch line to all these various stories that had been passed down from generation to generation. Their underlying assumption was that God somehow transmits ideas to people, and then people transmit His ideas through their own experiences.

If they collected enough of these stories, they would be able to find the similar themes and messages, and strip out the various personal and local flavors that had been added to these tales over the years, and uncover Gods clear message to humanity.

Unfortunately, after several years of research, all they had was a bunch of nonsense that didn’t really make any sense. The stories they heard from this town over here had absolutely nothing at all to do with the tales they heard from that village over there.

Dejected, they gave up, and went home as failures and went back to teaching, or whatever it was they did before they set out on their failed mission.
Those that have studied the works of Joseph Campbell may see a similar structure in this. He went around the world, for many years, and studied mythology from different cultures, and unlike the two failed researchers mentioned above, he found some very striking similarities between the myths of all cultures.

They more or less followed something called a “Hero’s Journey,” in which there was a young kid, who lived a relatively boring life. Then some higher spirit or god called him on a journey, and he either was forced to go, or went on it on his on volition. On the journey he learns new things about himself, and fights some evil monster, and then returns to his previous life, but now an “enlightened” person, who is seen as a leader or a person of significance in his original community.

That’s pretty much the rough outline, there are several variations, and he identified seventeen or eighteen elements of which 4 or 5 exist in almost every mythological tale ever passed on from human to human. The “Hero’s Journey” is at the core.

If you take as step back, you can see this in many popular movies, as well as modern mythology (e.g. Christianity). Luke Skywalker, Dorothy, Harry Potter, that kid in Transformers, and even Jesus of Nazareth follow the same outline of the Hero’s Journey.

Many believe the reason behind this ubiquitous story structure is the method by which we are all born. We are in the womb, and then the contractions start, and then we are forced through the birth canal and out in the world, literally kicking and screaming. Dorothy and Luke on their respective farms, Harry in his room under the steps, Spiderman living a life of Peter parker, and even Jesus the humble carpenter are all metaphors for the womb.

The Dorothy’s tornado, Luke’s journey with Obi Won, Harry being swept away to Hogwarts, are all metaphors for being pulled into the birth canal.

Then when Harry becomes a wizard, Dorothy finds the wizard, and Luke becomes a Jedi are all metaphors for being born. And the same process, repeats over and over again throughout our lives, giving that particular story structure a strange affinity to our unconscious.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about linguistics. And there are two kinds of grammar, prescriptive grammar, and descriptive grammar. Prescriptive grammar is the kind of grammar you “should” use, and descriptive grammar is the kind that people actually use.

Apparently, any linguist worth his salt studies “descriptive,” grammar, just like any scientists worth his salt checks his expectations at the door and measures reality the way it really is, and not the way he thinks it should be, or the way he wishes it were.

Those that advocate prescriptive grammar, (which actually stems from schools in London many years ago that basically “invented” certain grammar rules so that upper class wanna-be’s could distinguish themselves from the rabble) are advocating a method of speech based on what they think “should” be the way you talk.

There is more and more evidence that strongly suggests that language is a biologically based instinct, and prescriptive grammar is no more natural than removing a couple of ribs to make your waist skinner.

Which, I think, lays the difference between those two researchers, who came up empty, and Joseph Campbell, who discovered some fantastic insights into human nature.

The first two were trying to prove what they thought was a pre determined outcome, while Campbell was merely studying and observing, as a scientific.

Of course the first two guys, who were brothers, and had the last name of Grimm, didn’t completely fail. Several years after they collected their stories, a friend suggested they publish them as children’s stories.

And that is how the Brothers Grimm Fairly Tales came to be. An attempt to uncover some mystical teachings of God, which turned out to be some pretty cool stories.

Note: The story of how the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales came about was heard on Paul Harvey’s “The Rest Of The Story.”


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Switch Back To Power

Self Deception

Once a friend of mine were watching some videos at his house. This way back in high school, and his parents were out of town, so we had the house to ourselves. Nearby his parents place they were building a new group of houses, and they were at the stage where they all had that wooden skeleton look to them. After we grew bored watching our videos, we decided to go exploring through the construction site.

He lived in these hills, and the construction site was for some houses that were going to be pretty expensive. They were on the top of this one particular hill that had a decent view of the ocean a few miles way. So they were big, and fairly spread out. It was dark, and very windy. We didn’t really have any specific plans, other than to just walk around someplace at night that we weren’t supposed to be.

It was fun at first, walking through the houses, climbing up to the second story, and standing in the areas where the doors would go. Then we saw this big dark thing that seemed to be moving. My friend suggested it was some kind of guard that was well trained to attack if anybody got too close. We hadn’t brought any flashlights, and there was no moon out, so it was pretty dark. We stood there frozen for a few minutes trying to figure out what to do. Should we slowly approach this black object, and see what would happen? Or was this some trick, was this some highly trained guard dog that had been taught to lay in wait for its victims to get close enough, and then jump for the jugular. Perhaps it was on a long chain, and was waiting for us to get within striking distance.

I remember once another friend of mine and I were on this hike through the Sierra Nevada mountain range. We were on the second day of a weeklong backpacking trip. There was this particularly tough pass that we had to go over. Mountain passes can be the most difficult part of a hike, as they sometimes require you to spend several hours on these switchbacks. The side of the mountains you are trying to hike over are so steep, the only way to get over the top is to traverse back and forth at an angle several times. Our guidebook mentioned that this particular pass was one of the toughest in the whole mountain range, and when we got close enough to see it, I understood why.

Usually when you come up within site of a pass, you can sort of guess where the trail will lead up and over the lowest point, judging by the terrain and such. But this particular pass looked impossible. There didn’t seem to be any possible way to get over the looming pass on foot. I remember remarking to my friend that had I been a retreating general in charge of several hundred troops, upon sight of the pass I would have told my men to turn around prepare for a fight to the death, as this pass was impassable.

I remember when I was a kid, and I had to get this shot for one reason or another. It wasn’t my first shot, I’m pretty sure I don’t remember my first shot, but for some reason I wasn’t looking forward to this one. Maybe because I knew it was coming, and I had few days to look forward to it. I suppose I had built I up in my mind to be a gigantic rusty needle that they would stick in my behind and twist around for a few minutes before ripping out hunks of flesh. I couldn’t sleep the night before, and was in near tears when we got the doctors office.

The doctor sensed I was nervous, and started telling me a story about basketball. At first I was confused, but he seemed to be really interested in his own story, so I couldn’t help but to become a little curious.

He started talking about shooting free throws, and how it really helps to imagine the ball going in the hoop in your mind before you take the shot. It also helps to have taken plenty of practice shots before, so you know what to visualize. The funny thing is that he said you only need to make one or two shots when you practice. Even if you take fifty shots, if you only make five, that’s plenty. So when you are playing for real, and you have to make a free throw, just concentrate on those five that you made, and remember them in as much detail as possible.

He said that many players focus on the wrong thing. They focus on the empty basket, and the ball in their hands, and how they will move their arms, and how they should stand, or how many times you should bounce the ball before you shoot. He said when you do that your brain isn’t really sure what you want, so you always have mixed results.

He said that by only thinking of those few times (or many times, it doesn’t really matter) in the past that you got what you wanted, the rest will fall into place. That way when you are practicing, you are really just collecting a few data points to help to point your brain in the right direction the future. Kind of like when you preprogram your GPS in your car before you drive someplace. Once you set it, you just listen to the voice tell you where to go, and you can sit back and enjoy the scenery (but not too much) or listen to the radio, or chat with your partner.

He was telling me how good he became at making free throws, when I vaguely felt this wet sensation on my behind. Then I felt some nurse (who I didn’t even remember walking in) put one of those round band-aids on, and pull my pants back up. I didn’t remember her pulling them down. Then she handed the empty shot to the doctor, who turned and threw it dead center into the trashcan across the room.

“Told you I was good,” he said, and winked at me.

Once we started hiking up the seemingly impassable pass, the trail became clear. And the further up we got, the entire trail became visible. What seemed like an impossible task suddenly became just another set of switchbacks, and before we knew it we were on top of Sheperd’s Pass, the hardest pass in the Sierras, according to the guidebook we had.

After finally debated for a while, we decided to pick up a rock and throw it at this dog/thing/monster that was waiting to rip out our jugulars and then feast on our brains. Nothing. We threw another rock, nothing. Another rock, nothing.

When we got closer, it turned out to be a roll of that black asphalt stuff that had come undone. No big deal. We explored some more houses, vowed to become rich enough one day to buy a big house like that, and went back to his parents house to finish our videos, and whatever microwaveable food we could find in his parents fridge.


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Apples And Paper Cranes


Today’s topic is about apples. Apples are the most delicious things you can eat, except for oranges, even though I’m not particularly fond of oranges. Sometimes I can’t resist the smell, and I pick up a couple dozen. Sometimes at one of those roadside stands that are selling them by the bag for something like two dollars or something. It just seems like a deal that you cannot possibly pass up. These beautiful round, sweet smelling vitamin C loaded hunks of citrus selling for only two dollars for a giant bag. It’s almost too good to be true.

Of course when I get them home, I remember that I don’t particularly care for oranges. I’m a pretty lazy person, and eating them is just too much trouble. I like orange flavor. Usually when I pass by the vending machine and there are several different flavors of Fanta to choose from, I often choose orange. If somebody figured out a way to make an apple taste like an orange that would be fantastic.

Apples are the perfect fruit to eat, in my opinion. Not the perfect taste, or the most versatile, but as far as the mechanics of eating goes, they are as close to perfect as you can get. You can reach up, pull one off the tree, and start munching without a second thought. You only need one hand, there aren’t any peels to worry about, or small in every bite you need to worry about spitting out.

I was at my friends house recently, and she was telling me her dogs really love me. Her husband likes to make these barbecued chicken wings, and I never eat all the meat off them. So when we’re finished, and she gives all the bones to the dogs, they naturally like my leftovers the best because they have the most meat on the bones. So maybe I also leave more apple on the core than most people as well. I did mention that I am pretty lazy.

And from the apples perspective, it’s a great reproductive strategy. There you are, the seed in the middle, surrounded by all this fructose. Most people, when they eat an apple, don’t eat nearly all they can. That would take too long. To sit there and suck every last piece of pulp from the fruit. Most people just eat about 80 percent of the good stuff, and discard the rest. Of course in modern times we throw the empty in a garbage can.

But long long ago, when we wore loincloths and didn’t watch TV, we would throw the apples on the dirt. And the discarded apple core was a perfect vehicle for growing another tree. It has plenty of nutrients for the seeds to use to sprout and grow. What’s even better is animals that either are too dumb to know the difference, or don’t have hands to eat with, will eat the entire apple. Then when the animal in question does his business, there are seeds surrounded by the best plant generating material there is.

Of course, then there’s the metaphor about Johnny Appleseed, who roamed the country planting apple seeds every where, and is responsible for the vast number of apple trees across America. One wonders what saying “As American As Apple Pie” would have been if Johnny Appleseed planted watermelon seeds, or kiwi seeds. Perhaps we would have gone to war with New Zealand or something equally as senseless.

I guess having a metaphor as some happy guy planting apple trees sounds better for the kids. If you had a metaphor as some goofy animal roaming the country eating apples whole and then pooping out the seeds, or a bunch of prehistoric people eating apples and then littering everywhere, that wouldn’t sell as many children’s books. Johnny Appleseed sounds better than Johnny Apple Litterbug, or Spot The Fierce Apple Seed Pooper.

I suppose that happens a lot. We see something, we figure out how it works, or we have a basic idea of how it works, but instead of describing it accurately, we make up some story. Either the story sounds better, or it’s easier to come up with, or it’s simpler.

I was reading this essay once on memes (I’m afraid I don’t remember where, so I can’t link to it) and the guy who wrote it was saying there are several reasons why memes spread. One of them is how easy the idea is to understand. One example that is often used is how to fold a particular Japanese Origami. There are a certain number of steps, and depending on how faithfully you reproduce those steps, you’ll end up with a pretty decent shape.

Obviously, the Origami’s that last the longest are both easy to do, and have a result that is aesthetically, and symbolically pleasing. One of the most ubiquitous Origami shapes in Japan is the crane. Birds represent freedom (among other things) as they can fly wherever they want. Cranes are white which represent purity and peace (among other things). And folding a paper crane isn’t particularly difficult. Most elementary school kids in Japan can make one easy enough. So you have a shape that is fairly easy to fold, and the outcome gives the folder a pretty good feeling.

Compare that to some Origami shape where the outcome was symbolic of death and disease, and in order to fold it you have to be an Origami grand master, that particular meme wouldn’t lend itself very much to spreading.

When you throw in something like a naturally occurring event, like the number of apple trees in a particular area, that throws another variable in the mix. Now you’ve got this thing in reality that you need to describe. The outcome can’t be changed, (e.g. there are a bunch of apple trees) but the stories will vary widely, and depending how simple they are to transmit, and how happy they make the teller/listener, they will propagate at different rates, until one story is the exclusive story being told everywhere.

Maybe there were a bunch of different stories told to explain the number of apple trees. The one that stuck was the one that was easy to tell (some guy roamed the country planting them) and it sounded pretty good. (The guy that planted them was somebody that intended to provide apples for everybody.)

Of course there is one more variable that we could talk about, and that is intention. Johnny Appleseed has a pretty good intention, namely to help others. Some caveman litterbug’s or some pooping animal’s intentions aren’t so noteworthy. That, however, shall be addressed in another post.

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A Meta For You

What’s The Meaning Of That?

The other night I was supposed to go to this party with a couple of friends of mine. Within thirty minutes each one called me with some last minute emergency that kept them from going. Not such a big deal, it was a birthday party of a friend of a friend, one of those things where nobody is really spearheading the effort. Like when you get a group of people together, and everybody’s first choice of what to do is different, but everybody’s second choice is the same, so you go with your second choice. That’s kind of how this plan got formulated. Which is why it disintegrated without much fanfare.

After they bailed out, for reasons I’m pretty sure were honest and legitimate, I bailed out myself. So there I was, left without any plans for the evening. So I did what any other normal person would do with an evening suddenly free of organized activities.

I went to work in my basement to further my research on alternative energy sources using a combination of hybridized cold fusion with solar image refraction.

Just kidding.

I watched TV.

It started out like any other night of TV watching. My TV, my remote, and my attention deficit disorder rapidly clicking through channels, pausing at any thing that resembled girls in bikinis.

I happened across a documentary about something, I think it was a religious program on the bible or something. It was one of those shows where they have the host, which really isn’t an authority on the subject, but a recognized figure, and a bunch of pre made clips spliced in with so called “experts” sitting in some office with a large impressive bookcase behind them, talking about the particular subject.

They were talking about the various stories from the Old Testament. I think the gist of the show was how much of the Old Testament is historical, and how much is mere allegory to explain a particular point.

For example they showed the story of Noah and the great flood is fairly ubiquitous throughout many different religions that predate the Old Testament. Most of the guys they talked to seemed to agree it was symbolic, as water is often used as a cleansing metaphor in stories, both religious and non-religious. I remember a professor of philosophy explaining to us, as we were studying Siddartha, by Hesse, how when the main character crossed a river, it had metaphorical significance, and then later when the main character became the actual ferryman, that had even more significance. For those of you who haven’t read Siddharta, it’s basically about the Buddha before he became the Buddha, and how he reached enlightenment.

There were a couple of guys they interviewed that maintained the story of Noah and the ark was literally truth, and there is evidence of an Ark somewhere in Turkey. Sonar imagery shows something that appears to be boat of pretty much the same dimensions as described in the Old Testament.

One interesting metaphor, or truth, depending on your belief system is the Temple of Solomon. The temple of Solomon is often referred to, and is believed to be an important Temple of King Solomon long before Kind David.

If you’ve ever read the DaVinci Code, or seen the movie, part of the story involves the Templar Knights, who, as a group, gained an enormous amount of power during the middle ages. The supposedly found some secret hidden in the remains of Solomon’s Temple, and that is where they got their power. Some say that it was a secret so devastating to the Catholic Church that they effectively blackmailed the pope, giving them enormous authority.

Then, on the other side of the spectrum are those that believe the Temple of Solomon is completely metaphorical for the power of the unconscious mind.
There’s actually quite a bit of Gnostic thought that seeped into both the Old and New Testament. When the Romans politicized religion, they pretty much stamped out any beliefs that didn’t see the Pope as the supreme ruler, and any Gnostic thought was made illegal.

Basically, the idea behind Gnosticism is that the entire power of the universe resides in every person, and is easily accessible if you know how to tap into it. According to this theory, the Temple of Solomon is simply a metaphor for the power of the unconscious. Of course, if you are a Roman leader, and you’ve got millions of people you need to control, this idea doesn’t do you very much good. It’s much better to invent an idea of the power of the universe residing in some spiritual leader or guru, upon whom the people depend on for their salvation.

If you are the Pope, having the power to excommunicate entire nations can be extremely powerful, more so than whole armies of soldiers willing to die.

Obviously, when it comes to Biblical stories, there’s no proof one way or the other. You can believe they are literally true, or you can believe they are simply metaphors designed to help people out. Whether or not you believe the sun is the son of Zeus traveling across the sky, or merely a huge ball of hydrogen slowly turning into helium that the Earth is revolving around doesn’t really matter when your alarm clock rudely shakes you out of your sleep on a Monday morning. You’d better get out of bed either way.

I suspect that all this is just the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to how we humans perceive our environment, and our shared history.

The conclusion of that show wasn’t really much of a conclusion, rather than a restatement of the original questions. But it was certainly interesting to hear all those different opinions.


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Watch Out For Cracks In Reality

Saved By An Old Woman

The other day I was wandering down town, not really wandering, just kind of maybe shuffling along. Shuffling doesn’t quite describe it either, shuffling is what drunken people do that don’t have a destination. While I didn’t have a destination, I wasn’t drunk, so maybe I’d better choose another verb. Staggering? No, ambling? Not sure if that’s a word. Meandering. That’s it, I was meandering down town the other day, and I saw this strange looking man. He had this peculiar feeling about him, and he was looking at me a bit strangely. I wasn’t sure if he was going to introduce himself as a long lost pal, or pull out a knife and kill me where I stood.

But before I describe the strange looking man, I need to explain why I was meandering down town in the middle of a sunny weekend afternoon. I had originally gone downtown to catch a movie, but as it sometimes happens, the times they list on the movie page are not the same as at the actual theater. To make matters worse, the movie I had intended to see not only started at a different time, but instead of being in English with Japanese subtitles, it was dubbed in Japanese.

Of course if I read a synopsis of the movie before hand, and paid close enough attention, I’d be able understand enough of the dialogue to make out the basic plot. But that would require brainpower, and that’s one of my main reasons for going to the movies, so I can shut off my brain for a couple hours. Not completely shut if off, I still need to be able to work my mouth and my hand so I can stuff my face with as much popcorn as possible.

But there I was, ready to spend a couple hours of brain-free relaxation, when my plans were thwarted by Internet inaccuracy. I wasn’t going to give in without a struggle. I was determined to expend a little brain energy as possible.

I can be frustrating when you are expecting one thing, but then something else entirely shows up in its place, and despite really liking this thing that you have here in front of you, you were maybe expecting something else. And no matter how much you try and convince yourself that this is OK, part of you continues to wish that you’d gotten the other thing that you’d expected in the first place.

Kind of like if you were expecting to go on vacation in Hawaii, but you got on the wrong plane and ended up in Alaska. Alaska is a cool place, and had you planned on going there, you’d likely enjoy it. They have some cool stuff in Alaska. But since you were planning on Hawaii, you wouldn’t be able to fully throw yourself in to your suddenly determined by fate vacation in Alaska. Not to mention that you’d probably be pretty cold, seeing as how all you had was a grass skirt, a surfboard, and a couple of ukulele’s. And to add insult to injury, instead of getting lei’d by a cute Hawaiian girl, you’d get hit in the face with a snowball by some angry alcoholic Eskimo. Which would suck under any circumstances.

I was just about to try and ignore this strange guy, and turn into the shop I happened to be standing next to, when he called out my name. So he did know me. I turned, wondering where I knew him from. When he started to approach, he did the strangest thing. It was odd, and I looked around wondering what other’s reactions would be, as most people don’t do what he was doing right there on the sidewalk.

Either nobody seemed to notice, or they just pretended they didn’t notice. Or maybe part of them noticed, but another part of them didn’t notice that they noticed, like some strange form of cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is an interesting thing. Some say it’s the brains way of keeping everything in order, and not seeing things that are right in front of you, because if you acknowledge certain things, you would have to go through a lot of mental recalculation to re figure out your model of reality. And that can be time consuming. So the brain has evolved this mechanism for shutting out certain parts of the reality.

Those that study Freud say it’s to protect the ego. People that have bad habits, for example, don’t see them as being bad, at least to the extent that they do them. If we were to look at them objectively, or if we saw another person with the same habit, we’d be much more realistic in our judgment of the habit. But because that would require making a hard decision about what to do, we tend to ignore it.

But that only goes so far to explain why all those people ignored this guy, who pretended to know me, when he started doing what he did. People don’t usually do that out of context, and especially when they are alone. I certainly hope that I didn’t cause this strange looking man that pretended to know me to start to do that. I checked again to everybody that was walking past this guy, within a couple feet of him, and they didn’t even turn their heads. I started to think maybe I’d slipped through some crack into an alternative reality, I even started thinking that was why the movie times on the Internet were different from the real movie times.

I started to really get nervous. Everything that I thought was absolutely true was turning out not to have any corroborating evidence. What if reality really was a fiction of your imagination, and you can only succeed in life so long as you find enough people that have an overlapping hallucination? How do you know that red really is red? I started to panic, when this old lady stopped and started to lecture this crazy guy. As soon as she started to lecture him, other people turned to look, and started whispering amongst themselves. He apologized, and said he’d got carried away. He kept motioning over toward me while he was talking to this old lady, and for some reason, I stood where I was, a bit curious, and relieved that reality was still intact. But before I knew it, the man apologized once more, bowed to everybody that has stopped to watch him receive the shellacking from this old woman, hopped on his unicycle, and rode away.

Of course, I was left standing there, absorbing all the residual curiosity from the now very interested crowd. What I did next is another story.

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Powerful Metaphysics

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Recursion And The Planet Of The Apes

House Of Mirrors

I was reading this book the other day. It was a non-fiction book, one that makes stop every couple of pages and think, or maybe take notes. The guy that writes this has this way of making you really reflect on what you’re reading, now. The book is about language, and anytime you use language to talk about language, it has this self-reflexive hypnotic effect. Kind of like when you stand between two mirrors, you can see yourself going back into infinity.

One of the things this book was talking about was the theory of recursion as being a test for a “human” language. Recursion is kind of like a nested loop inside of a sentence, where you have one entity, or thought, inside another. Instead of saying “the tiger ate her,” you could say “the tiger the girl who was running” to further expand on “her.” Or you could say “the tiger ate the girl wearing the blue shoes who has running.” According to Chomsky, language has the possibility of an infinite level of recursion.

They were comparing human language to the alleged “language” they teach chimps, which is supposed to show the humans aren’t the only ones that can master communication. Unless you consider the sentence “me banana banana me me me banana banana banana me me me banana banana,” an acceptable sentence in (any language) those chimp trainers have got a long way to go.

There was that scene in planet of the apes where they “expert” was on TV trying to explain the complexities of time travel. He showed some guy painting a picture of the sunset. But if it were an accurate picture, he would have to put himself in the picture. But then if that were an accurate picture, he would have to paint a picture of himself painting a picture of himself, and so on.

Infinite loops are everywhere.

There was this king once in Europe several hundred years ago. He hired a mathematician to figure out some problem, and as a model the mathematician studies the theoretical growth of rabbits. Starting with two rabbits, and assuming that each pair of rabbits make a new pair every month, he came with what is now called the Fibonacci sequence. Perhaps you’ve heard of it if you’ve read the DaVinci Code. The sequence is 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13 etc. Can you see the pattern? Each number is equal to the sum of the previous two numbers.

What’s cool is if you plot it on a graph, starting with zero in the center, an interesting pattern emerges. Go up one, and draw a point. Then go to the right one (the next number) and draw another point. Then go down 2 (the next number) and draw another point. Then go to the left 3 (the next number) and draw another point, and keep this up. Pretty soon you’ll have this nice spiral that expands outward as you continue to draw points and connect. The particular mathematical shape of this spiral is found everywhere in nature. The curve of breaking waves at the beach, ram’s horns, flowers. There are even those that use this sequence to predict (fairly accurately) the movement of stocks and other financial securities.

Another cool part of the Fibonacci sequence is what’s known as the “golden mean.” If you take any one number in the sequence, and divide it by the previous number, you’ll get about .6, give or take. This ratio is also found everywhere in nature, as well as human constructions. The length divided by the width of the Parthenon in Ancient Greece gives you the golden mean. So do the width and height of any crucifix or Christian cross you see. Also your height and the height of your belly button, as well as your height and the length of your outstretched arms.

Now is there a connection? Is there a reason that a fundamental test for “human” language is it’s recursiveness, and that there are several recursive patterns that repeat themselves over and over again in nature?

I would suspect there is. If you look at flowers, they grow out naturally in the Fibonacci pattern. Our brains are comprised of neurons and dendrites that appear very much like vines, or plants growing outwards. So it would make sense that our language, which is a manifestation of our brains, would obey the same rules as various naturally occurring systems in nature.

There is another theory regarding the structure of the universe. This theory, which has been called the holographic universe theory, states that the structure of the universe is identical regardless of what size you are looking at. Taken its name from a hologram. A hologram is a specially etched piece of glass, and when you shine a laser through it, it will produce a three dimensional image. If you shatter the glass into a million pieces, they will produce not a shattered three-dimensional image, but a million smaller three-dimensional images.

The basic shape and structure of an atom is the same as the solar system. One center, and bunch of things spinning around the outside of it.

So the question I’ll leave you with is this:

Is the holographic theory of the universe accurate, does the universe really behave in the same way regardless of what size chunk you are looking at?


Are we humans, with our limited capacity for measuring the physical universe based on the limitations of our sensory organs, merely seeing everything the same based on those constraints? If so, what really is out there?

Beware Of Mind Viruses

What’s In Your Head?

I was listening to the radio the other night, on the Internet. I wasn’t sure what station it was, I was kind of flipping through the channels while I was doing other things. A song came on that I hadn’t heard in a while, “Tom Sawyer,” by Rush. The particular album cover was pretty clever, from a linguistic standpoint. The name of the album is “moving pictures” which most people would take to mean movies. In the old days they called a movie a “picture” as in “moving picture.” which is where the word “movie” comes from, the root word (verb) “to move.”

But on the album cover, it showed a bunch of guys “moving” stuff out of a house an into a moving van. What were they moving? Several paintings. So they were “moving pictures” of a different sort. The “pictures” were being move by other people, as compared to the “movie” meaning given above, the pictures themselves are moving. For those language geeks out there, the verb “move” is an intransitive verb in one example (a verb that doesn’t require an object) and a transitive verb in the other (a verb that requires an object).

Where was I? Oh yea. The song I listened to, Tom Sawyer, has a verse that says:

“Though his mind is not for rent
to any god or government
always hopeful yet discontent
he knows changes aren’t permanent
but change is”

The first line got me thinking. Mind is not for rent. What exactly does that mean? What does it mean to rent out your mind? If you rent out a room, you let somebody stay there for a certain amount of money for letting them sleep in your house every night and store their food in your fridge and use your plumbing to bath and take of their waste. Is it worth it? Usually. Most often the biggest drawback is having somebody in your house. The additional financial burden of an extra person are usually not very much, certainly not close to the rent you’d likely charge. It’s usually a good deal for somebody that has an extra room and wants to save a considerable amount of money every month. Many people make a living by buying houses and renting them out. It can be very lucrative, even despite recent real estate and financial nightmares.

Back to the song. What does it mean to rent out your mind? Take thoughts that aren’t yours, and give them residence inside your brain. This can be very helpful, but it can be equally be as dangerous and destructive. Let’s first consider some of the benefits.

Unless you want to reinvent the wheel, Euclidian geometry and certain tasks like how to drive and how to hook up your cable TV, you’re going to have to accept those thought collections or mental instructions from other people. Humans are very social creatures, and the bottom line is that almost all of our thoughts come from others. Your name, phone number, driver’s license number, most of the facts and information you know (unless you are an independently wealthy research scientist living on a island studying esoteric biology) come from others.

Basic survival information, and useful things like how to do your job right, so you can earn a steady paycheck are welcome additions to our mental house. We hope those thoughts never check out, otherwise we’d be left babbling in the corner like idiots.

But just unhelpful and potentially harmful thoughts can enter into our brain and take up residence just as easily. Most of us are carrying around baggage from childhood without even realizing it. That statement from that second grade teacher who said, “Can’t you do anything right” may still echo whenever we try something new.

That statement by that child psychologist that you may have overheard when you were four years old that said, “Girls just aren’t wired to be as good at math as boys are,” may still reverberate whenever it comes time to calculate the tip at a restaurant.

Without getting into too much detail, suffice it to say that there are a lot of factors (due to long ago evolutionary elements) that let certain thoughts slip into our brains without much resistance. Authority is one. Social proof is another. If an authority figure tells us something (like that idiot third grade teacher or that moron on TV) we are much more likely to accept it as fact without questioning it.

Social proof is another powerful convincer. If a lot of people believe something, it can be a difficult thought to resist. (Purple kool aid anyone?)

The point is that we have evolved past the point of need to follow the herd, or listening to authority figures for our every day survival. Be like Tom Sawyer, in that song by Rush. Take inventory of your brain and kick out the thoughts that are doing you more harm than good.

Your brain, and your thoughts are the most important thing that you have. When was the last time you cleaned house?

It’s time to collect the rent, and evict the freeloaders.

The Parable Of The Migrating Birds

Why It’s Ok To Lose Your Way

Once there was a group of birds. They were the kind of birds that migrated quite a long distance every year. They crossed oceans, rivers, mountains, and large flat areas that took several days to cross. They would instinctively leave their homes once the cold air of the winter signaled it was time for their departure. Once they arrived in the warmer areas, the boys and girls would hook up and make baby birds. Of course birds don’t pop right out fully formed, like people do.

They are not quite done when they come out, they need a little bit more work. So they finish cooking in the next inside their protective shell. When they are ready to face the world, they break out of their shells, and start to make noises. Usually these noises mean, “Give me food!” but sometimes they just like to make noise. It’s fun to learn to do things and watch how the world reacts to you.

Then, if all goes well, when everybody can fly on their own, and not get lost, they all pack up their stuff and head back home when the weather starts to warm up.

Now here is the curious part. While they’ve been studying the migration patterns of birds for quite some time, they aren’t exactly sure how they remember how to go back and forth. Some argue that because many birds make the same trip several times in their lifetime, they follow others the first time, and then remember if from there. But that would mean that bird have some kind of long term memory. While possible, some argue that that is unlikely. Another problem with that theory is that after the new birds are hatched and learn to fly, they can find their way back “home.”

It’s important to remember that “home” is sometimes several thousand miles away, and over various different terrains. How in the world do the baby birds know where to go? The most accepted theory is that they follow all the grownups.

But if you are like me, I can ride along shotgun with somebody several times and not remember how to get there. The idea that birds that get it right the first time on their own is mind-boggling.

But however it works out, this story is about one small bird who had some troubles his first couple of trips. His first trip was no problem. He just stuck with his group, did what he was told, and got back to his home (for the first time) safely. The next year came, and it was time to return and mate and nest.

That’s when the problem started. He was the kind of bird that was easily sidetracked. He couldn’t really focus on where he was supposed to end up. He kept noticing all the scenery around him. Several times he would be watching the hills rolling below him, only to look up and find that he was all alone. This panicked him, of course, and he flew as fast he could until he could see his group. Usually he found them within a couple of days, but sometimes he flew for several days without seeing anybody. This was terribly distressing for him. He would always chastise himself for being so stupid, and not paying attention.

When he finally caught up with the group, he felt happy again, and forget his mistakes. But then a couple days later, the same thing would happen. He’d be lazily watching the scenery pass by, and lose his way again. And the would yell and curse himself for being stupid, fly around in all directions out of fear for a few days until he caught up with group again.

Finally they arrived at their winter home. He, like all the other male birds, found a suitable female and knocked her up. When the eggs came, he started feeling a deep, gnawing fear in the pit of his belly. As they day of the great hatching came closer, the fear became bigger and bigger. One of the older birds noticed this and came over to speak with him.

“What seems to be troubling you?”
“I don’t know. This just doesn’t seem fun any more.”
“What doesn’t?”
“This whole thing,” he said motioning to all the expectant mothers sitting on their eggs.
“I mean,” he continued, “what if I get lost again, and people are following me? We could all die.”
The old bird paused.
“I suppose you could,” he finally said.
The young bird looked at him, his fear growing.
“Do you remember how you got here?” The old bird asked.
“Well, I remember when I got lost, and all the places I tried to find the group, and ..”
“No.” The old bird cut him off.
“How did you get here? Not how did you get lost. How did you get here? What do you remember?”
The young bird stopped, thinking. Suddenly his mind flashed with all the landmarks when he was overcome with joy at being reunited with the flock. He suddenly understood.
“All those points. Of course. Just go from one of those points to the next. It seems so easy now.”
“That’s the secret,” the old bird said, smiling (insomuch as birds can smile).
“You have a memory filled with many different events. Some are bad, some are good. Simply focus on the good memories, and you will always remember your way.”
“Will he lose his way?” the young bird asked, motioning towards his young sons and daughters, still wrapped in their protective shells.
“We all lose our way.” The old bird said.
“That is the only way we can learn.”

With that he flew off, and the young bird never felt fear again.

What Are Your Instincts?

Man – Know Thyself

Last week I went to a book signing at a local bookstore. Some guy was going to sign some books, and give some kind of lecture. I hadn’t planned on going, but a friend of mine dragged me along. I think there is a girl that works there that he would like to ask out, but he is too shy to go by himself. On the way there we ran into this group of kids that were having a semi organized race with their remote controlled formula one cars. Maybe that’s not the best way to describe them. They were cars that were designed to look like formula one cars. They were pretty loud for how small they were, and much faster that you’d expect.

I don’t know if they got special permission from the city, but they had designed a small course in a park. They had set up some markers to create the points on each side of the track. There were about fifteen kids in all. I didn’t see any adults, so I’m not sure if it was a sponsored event or some sort of school club.

So while we were hanging out and watching this race, this guy came up and stated talking to us. We had about an hour before the guy’s speech at the bookstore started, so we had plenty of time. Plus my friend promised me that if I went with him, he’d ask out that girl. So he was likely stalling for time.

The guy started talking to us about genetics and determination. It was quite a strange topic to just bust out of nowhere with. I thought for a minute that he was some homeless bum that walks around blurting out word salad to whoever will listen, but it turns out he is a university professor. Halfway through his impromptu dialogue, he stopped and apologized for coming in out of the blue with such a potential divisive topic. The nurture/nature debate never ends well. I suppose he could have been talking about which is the best manufacturer of shoe polish, and my friend would have eagerly listened. He was really getting nervous about asking out that girl.

It’s funny when that happens. The human brain has this powerful mechanism for self-protection and self-preservation that comes out in many forms. Whenever we perceive a threat, we will do anything to get away from it. If there is no getting away from it, we will ignore it at all costs.

I’m always reminded of biology class I took in college. We were studying various primates, and great apes in particular. There was some lady that came in to our class once that had actually gone to Africa and studied them up close. She said the trick in not getting beat to death by the silverback, the alpha male leader, was to never ever make eye contact. You can get very close to the group so long as you don’t make eye contact with the leader, or any of the other powerful members of the group.

People spend a lot of time pretending to be really interested in something, but in reality they are avoiding making eye contact with what they perceive as a threat. In the jungle of course, making eye contact with the silverback will get you a good thrashing. But in real life, staring your fears right in the face is usually the trick to making them vanish.

Which is lucky for this weird professor who was going on and on about the way the mind comes pre-wired for certain instincts. He was saying that people used to think that man was different from all the other animals, because animals have instincts, and we have to learn everything as we go along. That’s why they used to think that humans took so long to make it to adulthood compared to all other animals. That we were born like some computer with only a hard drive, and no software.

But in reality, we come with many more instincts that all the other animals, AND the ability to learn along the way. Making us extremely flexible and agile when it comes to surviving. Our instincts are just as strong as migrating birds who know exactly where to fly every winter, but ours are flexible, so we get to change the where they point. Of course, the draw back is that if you don’t consciously evaluate your instincts and where they are pointing, you’ll be covertly guided by all the messages and advertising we are surrounded with on a daily basis.

Of course this agility makes it very easy for us to come up with unique and interesting ways to avoid overcoming our fears and our problems, like pretending to be really interested to some blathering professor in the park, like my friend was doing.

I was finally able to pull him away from the “professor,” who apologized profusely when he checked his watch. I guess he had lost track of time as well.

Which was just as well, because by the time we got up to leave, the kids had finished their tournament. The kid that won was being congratulated by all the other kids as we got up to leave. I saw a school bus pull up, and some adults got off and pulled out some boxes, into which the kids put their cars. I guess it was a sponsored event after all.

And when we got to the bookstore, the guy that was signing the books was the guy that we just talked to in the park. I guess he had written several textbooks on evolutionary psychology, and this was his first book targeted at normal people. As it turns out, his dialogue with us in the park was practice for tonight’s, lecture. I guess he thought if he could get a bunch of random strangers to understand his theory, then he could explain it to some eggheads in a bookstore. He made sure to thank us for being his guinea pigs. His speech was actually pretty good.

And my friend finally asked that girl out. Sort of. He got her name, and phone number, and a vague commitment to “maybe do something together later, or something.” I guess that’s pretty much what we came here for.

Her phone number.

But this sure was a round about way to get here, wasn’t it?

These Two Things Are Essential To Effectively Use The Law of Attraction

How To Properly Manifest Your Desires

I used to watch this TV show when I was a kid, I’m sure you’ve heard of it. “I Dream of Genie,” was the title. I watched it for two reasons, one because the girl that played the Genie was super hot, and was always wearing these sexy genie clothes. And two because I thought it would be awesome to just cross your arms and blink your eyes and make something come into existence. To have some sexy genie dressed in skimpy genie clothes doing that for you is pretty much a secret (or not so secret) dream of all men.

That is a pretty common theme in human history. Much has been written about metaphysics and alchemy. Alchemy is a specific category of metaphysics where you take any metal, and turn it into gold. This would be similar to today’s “law of attraction” and other metaphysical manifestation techniques. Most people would like to attract more money.

The whole concept of metaphysics is interesting to me. I see it as kind of a vague placeholder in our imagination to describe things that are just outside our realm of understanding. They aren’t really magical or mystical or beyond our capabilities, just outside of our normal every day realm of the cause and effect reality that we think we live in.

A couple of examples. Most of our physical laws make sense, but only because we see them happening on a daily basis. When we see something that “makes sense,” what we really mean is that it matches our experience, so it doesn’t require any extra thought to describe it.

The first time kids study gravity in school, it can be a little bit unfamiliar, kind of like a fish studying water currents. When you show a diagram of planets and the sun, it’s pretty easy to make the leap. Of course the math, which is pretty complicated, is another issue.

It can take an extraordinary imagine to figure out laws that aren’t so obvious. Maxwell was a physicist who came up with a bunch of very complicated equations that described electromagnetic radiation. These are both light waves and magnetic waves. These can’t be seen, so you have to have a very highly developed imagination to play around with pictures in your head and then describe them with complex mathematical equations that actually prove to be true when applied to everyday things like electricity and photo voltage measurements.

One of my favorites is when quantum physicists and solid state physicists were having a hard time describing these small spaces that had an extraordinary large number of particles bouncing around. They could pretty easily describer one or two particles, but after that, the math got exceedingly complex.

Then one guy thought of an idea. Instead of thinking of the system of a boatload of particles stuffed in there, each with it’s own mass and charge and spin and whatever else properties particles have, why not think of it as a system with a couple of holes, with all the properties associated with particles assigned a zero value? (To physicists, zero is as just a valid number as 43).

Well, it worked. It described the system perfectly and made the math a lot easier. All by pretending there was this hole there bouncing around, with zero mass, and zero charge, and zero spin, and zero whatever else particles have.

Ok, back to metaphysics.

My own personal belief about metaphysical laws is they are very similar to the holes in the above example. The “law of attraction” and other metaphysical laws of manifestation are simple placeholders to make our thinking about complex issues much simpler, much like the math was made simpler in the hole theory.


You are a salesperson. You’ve been around salespeople for a while. You’ve been around really good salespeople, and you’ve been around pretty cruddy salespeople. You are an average salesperson, but you’d like to improve your skills to become one of the best. You have two options.

Option One

You study sales book after sales book. You attend sales seminars. You take notes after every sales call, and analyze every sentence. You even ask some customers if you could bring in a video camera and tape yourself so you can later watch it and analyze your body language, your tone of voice, your inflection, the actual words that you use, etc etc etc. You buy some expensive statistical software and collect as much data as possible from every single sales call. From time of day, what color suit your wore, what color clothes your customer wore, where you sat with respect to North and South, the number of minutes that elapsed before you “asked for the sale,” every possible piece of data you collect, and plug into your software. Then on a weekly basis, you look at your sales, and tweak your performance to slowly and gradually improve your sales.

Option Two

You read a book on the law of attraction, and affirmations. Before going to sleep every night you tell yourself “I am the best salesperson at my company.” And just like all the books say, you put feeling and emotion into your affirmations. And just like the books say, when you go about your day, you release your affirmations to the superconscious, or whatever, and wait for the changes to take place.

So which do you think would work better? Believe it or not, method two would work much better. Not because of any mystical law or anything, but because of the massively powerful computational powers of your brain. When you tell your brain enough times that you want to be the best salesperson at your company, really program yourself to do that with powerful emotions, it will automatically do everything outlined in option one. But it will be doing it all unconsciously, so you won’t really notice. From a conscious mind point of view, you are only doing affirmations every night, and then magically in a couple months, you are the number one salesperson.

This requires a couple of things. First is a goal that is within your grasp based on your current situation. If you have sales experience, it’s pretty easy to go from average to excellent. Second, you are surrounded by some good salespeople, so you brain has something to model your behavior after.

This is the number one reason people fail when they “use” the law of attraction. They are either giving their brains some vague instructions, so it doesn’t really know what to go after, or they are giving specific instructions, but not exposing themselves to examples of how to get there.

When you make sure both of these are present, a clear objection, and sufficient examples of how to get there, with properly constructed affirmations, you can pretty much allow turn over any goals to your unconscious and let it soak up the behaviors from people around you.

Of course, this requires that you have the underlying beliefs that you are capable of actually performing the objective you claim you want, but that’s for another post.

For now, whenever you choose to do affirmations, remember the more clear you are the better, and the more examples you expose yourself to, in as many forms as possible, the better. That way you’ll have a much better chance of achieving your goals.