Thursday, July 31, 2014

Day 572: Can Green Fuel Save Us?

This is quite a long article (which is why I'm not pasting the entire thing here), but well worth the read and certainly required reading in order to have context for this post.

The article above brings me back to a question that I have asked before, but that could probably only be answered after the fact: Have we passed the point of no return in the damage we have done to the planet as a whole? We have caused massive harm that, quite frankly, is incomprehensible. We cannot simply know every single plant or creature that has perished because of our actions, nor can we know of every mountain leveled or river made toxic. The planet is huge and our span of awareness is far too limited to be able to grasp the extent of the problem, at least our current level of awareness is too limited, who knows what our true potential may be. At this point in time our awareness is occupied with either trivialities or survival. We are most often most likely to be too preoccupied with our own lives and concerns to give too much attention to the troubles of others, be they green, four legged or scaled.

Obviously this preoccupation of ours is part of the problem - how are we ever going to undo the large scale damage we have done and rebuild a society with integrity if we are wrapped up in our own dramas and dilemmas. This is not entirely our fault, yet we are still equally responsible. There are people who designed the world system to be the way it is now in order to benefit themselves on a personal level - yet we allowed this to happen and accepted it as a way of life. This is not about blame though, we could waste away an eternity pointing fingers at each other and waiting for everyone else to "start changing first" - obviously nothing would get done and that would be the end of us.

We certainly have the capacity and ingenuity to create a world that gives every living thing the greatest chance to have a good life - more than that we have the capacity to create a world in which life truly has meaning and value. The way that the world is now, there is very little meaning or value given to much of anything except for things like money, possessions, opinions, beliefs and the like. No one can claim that this way of living has given much goodness to the world, but because we value these things we are loathe to part from them.

Using gases and other "green" fuels may be better than coal or oil in some respects (the reality is that there is not much that we know for sure), but it seems like in any case many of these green fuels have other side effects and are therefore not solutions to our problems, just stop-gaps (hopefully) to keep us going a little while longer (hopefully).

If we were to focus our attention, ingenuity and resources on creating sustainable solutions then I am certain we would be able to develop some real contenders. But if we continue to focus so many of our skills and resources on things like war, getting rich, being famous and whatever else seems to be important at the moment then our chances of survival and happiness diminish with each selfish choice we make.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Day 571: What's Really Going on in Gaza?

Palestinians just endured an exceptionally brutal weekend: In Gaza, the death toll crossed the appalling benchmark of 1,000, overwhelmingly civilians. In the West Bank, Israeli soldiers and settlers also killed at least nine Palestinians amid protests against the devastation of Gaza. I recently debunked Israel’s misleading “human shields” argument attempting to deflect responsibility for the killing of hundreds of Palestinian civilians; but more important to expose is the false narrative of how we found ourselves in this crisis and who is responsible for its perpetuation.
Invisible Bias
For most media outlets, the current crisis began with the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in the West Bank. This is, of course, an arbitrary starting point. Just one day before the kidnappings, a Palestinian man and a 10-year-old child were killed in Gaza by an Israeli airstrike. Why wasn’t that the starting point of the violence? Has the media internalized Israel’s narrative to such an extent that they only see Israel as “responding” to violence rather than initiating it?
Israel initially blamed Hamas for the teens’ kidnapping, and “responded” by going on a violent rampage in the West Bank, invading homes, killing demonstrators, and arresting hundreds of Palestinians, including 60 Hamas members who had been freed in an earlier prisoner swap. Imagine the opposite scenario for a moment:  When Israeli troops were caught on tape killing unarmed Palestinian teens just a few weeks before the kidnapping of the Israeli teens, imagine if Hamas responded by invading Israeli homes, shooting Israeli demonstrators and kidnapping hundreds of Israeli troops. Would media outlets cover such actions with the same sympathy and understanding afforded to Israel’s actions? - Salon

If you're not there, not in every moment when something significant happens, then how do you answer a questions like that? If you don't know the details - how do you know that what you're reading about is accurate? The same could be asked of every thing that happens in this world in contexts like healthcare, food production and even those moments your child is not in your presence.

When the world you live in is a world that does not honour integrity, honesty or compassion - how can you trust or claim to know anything in which you did not have direct and intimate knowledge? The reality is that you don't know. You cannot know. What is known is that the source of this uncertainty comes from the nature of society - a society which we have created together and that is collectively maintained. Unfortunately we have made quite a mess and most of us are not interested in undertaking the task of cleaning up after ourselves.

Your perception is shaped by what you are exposed to, especially in your youth. If your family holds a certain faith and you attend a school that teaches a certain curriculum, chances are that you will be quite certain that everything that you know about your religion and about the world is true and correct, and that you know everything that you need to know. Unfortunately this is seldom the case and taking the time and making the effort to push your boundaries of awareness and education is not easy, especially in this world where everything and everyone is telling you what to think, believe, wear, vote for, watch, etc everywhere you look. It is often easier to just do what something or someone tells you to do - especially since everyone else is doing it.

And so the culture of obedience and conformity is maintained. There are some who speak up for change, but they often seem to resemble the resistance in The Matrix more closely than they do an actual movement for sustainable and equitable change.

My point? Trust nothing until we all reshape ourselves into people who are deserving of trust so that our society may follow. Don't get distracted by the girl in the red dress - look around you at what is real and relevant in this world, look at what needs to be changed, why and how. Question everything until you find the answer that you can stand by with certainty and clarity.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Day 570: Are You Scared Yet?

There is a lot going on in the world right now, although it probably doesn't seem like it as you sit comfortably in your home. Sure, the news sources mention some conflict from some corner of the world now and then, dropping words like "crisis" and "deadly". It's likely that those words don't elicit the same feelings in you as they would have if it was 50 or 100 years ago. Now we hear these words daily, right alongside the latest fashions from the most popular icons of the minute.

It can be hard to break out of that protective haze you're in, the one that keeps you from thinking about how life on earth could deteriorate into a state of disaster at any moment. The thing is, once you start asking the relevant questions it's hard to stop.

There is so much conflict happening in this moment, most of it linked back to everyone believing that they are right and that others are wrong. Apparently the best way to prove your rightness is to try and force the "others" into submission, to force "them" into agreeing with your beliefs. Sometimes it's about religion, sometimes race, sometimes politics and sometimes resources. There are plenty of reasons in between, but most of them boil down to a few radical and/or powerful individuals having a stand off of who's got the biggest ego.

These are just a few recent stories. The level of conflict going on right now on a global scale is comparable to World Wars 1 & 2. Refugees are fleeing their homelands by the millions. Citizens are the ones who pay the highest price.

The other side of the mess has the looming threat of antibiotics no longer working effectively, which does not bode well if you consider how much more often people seem to be getting sick and in greater numbers. This links in with the changing weather patterns creating more habitable environments for viruses along with the whole more droughts, more rains, more tornadoes, bigger tornadoes, bigger hurricanes etc etc thing.

Oh right and then there's the whole "economic crisis" - as if we didn't screw our lives up enough, now we have to create even more misery with our imaginary economy driving people into poverty. Yay.

Humanity has had a hand in all of these things. We have been the driving force moving this whole planet towards mutual destruction. Have we reached a point where we have had enough and are ready to change? I really hope so. As long as people continue being willing to do terrible things, terrible things will happen. Sadly we are the beginning and end of the way life on earth is - we made life the way it is, we keep it this way and only we can change it. Or aliens, but let's face it - what intelligent alien race would want to dip their toe(s) into our murky waters? Their toe(s) would probably melt off.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Day 569: Stupidity - A Global Epidemic

Human stupidity can be astounding, mind boggling and downright ridiculous. There are so many things in life that are brought about by our own actions, choices and words - so many things that could be avoided altogether in favour of a workable solution.

There are only a few things that commonly trigger conflicts and disputes and in these few things we can include money (incl wealth, property, income etc), sex, honesty/dishonesty and emotions. Very often 2 or more of these things are all wound up together and you end up facing a huge mess of mitigating factors. How often do friendships end because of one or more of these things? How often do relationships end because of one or more of these things? How often do people sabotage their own lives with one or more of these things? Pretty damn often.

Our tendency is really a strange one: we tend to take all sorts of things incredible personally, completely irrationally, to the degree that we will end a relationship with someone we've known for years. When it comes to money, you often find that the emotions thing is involved too because it's usually about jealousy/envy or greed that we sabotage our lives. If you're rich, you feel threatened when another person (even if its a good friend) says or does a certain thing. Your wealth becomes its own person, taking on a life and personality within your mind and you tend to want to overly protect it and keep it safe (the only way you can keep it safe, in your mind, is if it's YOURS). On the other side of the coin, you may not be so fortunate and then envy your richer friends, which will inevitably seep into your communication and interactions with them.

Sex has become another big entity hovering over us. Sex is no longer about procreation or enjoyment, now people have all these ideas of what it should be that they take from movies, books, porn, etc (Just think of that movie Don Jon - men tend to fantasize that sex should be how it is in porn and women tend to fantasize that sex should be like it is portrayed in romantic movies).

Sometimes people are dishonest. Sometimes you lie to your family, your partner, your friends, your kids, coworkers, but most often you lie to yourself. Sometimes you do it to protect yourself or your loved one, but sometimes you do it to hide the truth of what you really did / who you really are - now these are the ones that usually cause trouble for all involved. When you start deceiving people for "selfish" reasons, they are probably never going to trust you again (when they find out). This is usually enough to end a relationship and create mounds of conflict.

The last one, emotions, is possibly the silliest of all the reasons listed above. This is where you take things personally, make assumptions, or jump to conclusions about what other people say, do, how they act, etc. This is the one where the little voice in your head starts whispering "what if's" in your ear and you start this whole internal dialogue (with yourself) about what you think the other person meant when they did whatever they did. It's like seeing your current partner talking to one of their ex'es, but you can't hear what they're saying. You start creating this story in your mind of what they might be talking about, and it usually involves something that you fear (like them talking about how much they still feel for each other) is happening. In reality, things are seldom what you think they are, but the problem is that you so often make assumptions first and get the facts later, usually creating a whole lot of conflict in the middle.

These things are so unnecessary. Imagine how much sorrow could be avoided if we were to behave like rational beings and not have our default setting set to "idjit". How much of the large scale conflict in this world is due to a few stupid actions of a handful of people, who are more intent on keeping face than they are one creating peace? This is not a rare thing - it is a global epidemic that can only be solved by all of us deliberately changing ourselves to stop doing the silly things we do that lead to big heartache.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Day 568: Can Human Nature Change?

Shoes, clothing and tchotchkes made from the bones and skins of threatened and endangered animals, victims of illegal wildlife trafficking, often end up up at the National Wildlife Property Repository in Commerce City, Colorado. Some are eventually donated to educational facilities and non-profits, or to scientific institutions, but taken as whole, the contents of the 22,000-square-foot warehouse are testament only to the growing, $23 billion global trafficking industry.
“I don’t think people realize the volume or the extent that wildlife and plants are used in trade,” says specialist Doni Sprague. “If you can imagine it, it’s probably here in some form or another.”
Sprague took the Atlantic on a tour of the repository, which lives tragically up to her promise — although some of the items she shares, like a mounted tiger fetus taken straight from its mother’s body, likely defies the imaginations of most. - Salon

Humans do truly terrible things. We do them to ourselves, to each other, to the helpless, to the meek, to the mild, to the innocent and guilty alike. There is so much darkness within us that it is sometimes difficult to imagine that this world could ever be a pleasant place with us still around.

There are good people, people who care and who devote their lives to trying to undo some of the harm that other people caused, certainly. This is enough to prove that humans have the capacity for compassion and kindness along with a capacity for cruelty. At the moment who you will be is dictated by forces beyond your control (to a degree) such as your circumstances of birth, upbringing and education. Free choice is always present, and yet it is more likely that you will not exercise your choice, but that you will rather claim to be powerless to your nature and spend most of your life feeling like a victim of your body, circumstances and even thoughts. Even within this general outcome there are some people who are the exception, who rise above the circumstances of their lives and make the choice to change themselves. This transcendence of our apparent nature is what must happen on a global scale so that humanity can move forward without being defined by our circumstances of birth.

We must exercise our ability to choose for ourselves who we will be and how we will live - this is the only way to truly change the world. We must overcome the boundaries which we continue to enforce within ourselves, the boundaries that define who we are and who we are not.

There are so many things that we have created in this life that we should be ashamed of, so much that we do that causes others to suffer. We have so far chosen to accept that these things are just a part of life and that they will always happen, to a greater or lesser extent. This is the belief that we must stop. When we see that something is happening that is not right, we should stand up and speak up. We must be able to say exactly why it is unacceptable and focus on finding solutions to the problem. There is currently so much focus on the problems in the world that not enough attention is given to developing and researching potential solutions. We tend to get stuck in the problem, feeling like there is no way out - this causes us to miss potential solutions and look at things from only one perspective.

If we are going to change the world we will need to change how we live. We cannot continue living this way and expect things to magically get better on their own - we have to create the change - that means living the change we want to see. In order to develop workable and good solutions we have to also understand the problem, how it started and how it functions. Seeing this will allow us to work out alternative ways of moving forward without feeding the problem more or causing new ones.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Day 567: Is A War Brewing?

(CNN) -- European leaders are under pressure from the U.S. to step up the EU sanctions against Russia, following the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.
The U.S. announced expanded sanctions targeting two banks, two energy companies, Ukraine separatists and defense companies last week, before the plane, carrying 298 civilians including 80 children, was shot down above a rebel-controlled area in Ukraine.
EU leaders also said they intended to increase sanctions.
But in the past the EU has been reluctant to impose U.S.-style sanctions on key sectors of Russian economy. Many European countries rely on Russian energy and exports to the country.
Explore the maps here to see just how dependent the EU is on Russia.

Made of Pyramid blue granite, the Georgia Guidestones are meant to withstand the test of time and to communicate knowledge on several levels: philosophically, politically, astronomically, etc. It consists of four major stone blocks, which contain ten guides for living in eight languages: English, Spanish, Swahili, Hindi, Hebrew, Arabic, Chinese, and Russian. A shorter message is inscribed at the top of the structure in four ancient languages’ scripts: Babylonian, Classical Greek, Sanskrit, and Egyptian hieroglyphs. It is important to note that those last four ancient languages are of a great importance in the teachings of occult mystery schools, such as the Freemasons and the Rosicrucians, organizations I will discuss later.
The four major stones are arranged in a giant “paddlewheel” configuration which are oriented to the limits of the migration of the sun during the course of the year and also show the extreme positions of the rising and setting of the sun in its 18.6 year cycle. The center stone has two special features: first, the North Star is always visible through a special hole drilled from the South to the North side of the center stone; second, another slot aligns with the positions of the rising sun at the time of the summer and winter solstices and at the equinox.
At the base of the Guidestones lies an explanatory tablet listing some of the details of the structure. It also mentions a time capsule buried underneath it. The contents of this time capsule (if it exists) are a total mystery.
Astronomical features are of a great importance in the design of the Guidestones. In a relatively “new” nation such as the United States, monuments that are aligned with celestial bodies are often the work of secret societies, such as the Freemasons. Drawing their teachings from the Mystery schools of Ancient Egypt, Greece or the Druidic Celts, they are known for embedding into monuments some of their “sacred knowledge”.
The ten guides for a new Age of Reason are as follows:
1. Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature.
2. Guide reproduction wisely – improving fitness and diversity.
3. Unite humanity with a living new language.
4. Rule passion – faith – tradition – and all things with tempered reason.
5. Protect people and nations with fair laws and just courts.
6. Let all nations rule internally resolving external disputes in a world court.
7. Avoid petty laws and useless officials.
8. Balance personal rights with social duties.
9. Prize truth – beauty – love – seeking harmony with the infinite.
10. Be not a cancer on the earth – Leave room for nature – Leave room for nature.
As you can see, the guidelines call for a drastic reduction of the world population, the adoption of new a world language, the creation of a world court and a vague allusions to eugenics. In other words, a blueprint for a New World Order. - VigilantCitizen

Something is brewing. Leaders around the world are stirring up emotions, deliberately goading each other and everyone else on. This, of course, is similar to many historical events like World War 1 that started after the assassination of one man, Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Awareness of how uncertain our future is is growing, aided by scientists, leaders and other well known figures. There are a few powerful figures who are now suggesting that a drastic reduction of the human population is a good a plan as any to maintain a balance with man and nature and ensure the survival of the human race. It is becoming a more well known view thanks to shows like Utopia which make it seem like a really workable solution to our plight. Apparently reducing the human population by almost 98% is a better option than implementing another kind of solution that would require actual change and dedication of every single human. That is actually true, it would be much easier to just kill most people instead of reaching a point where everyone changes themselves to make the world a better place.

War would have this effect I imagine, wiping out a good chunk of humanity, but also a big chunk of the planet, especially with the weapons we have today. Somehow ripping our society apart and promoting conflict instead of peaceful resolutions and practical solutions is the very first approach we always seem to take. A big contributor to this outcome is that those few people in power who stand to benefit enormously from the conflict know exactly which buttons to push in the masses in order to get the desired results. All you need to do is control the media and then chuck a few key words at people on a regular basis, along with some striking images and movies with attractive actors to back it all up - the, presto chango! you have yourself an angry mob ready to beat the shit out of their own mother if you made her look bad enough.

It's sad, really, that we do not have the self awareness or psychological discipline to recognise when our strings are being pulled. The cost of this ignorance? Well at this point it looks very likely to be World War 3.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Day 566: No More Waiting, Act NOW

12. Not waiting for anything or anyone to take responsibility for me and this world – but that I realise I have created who and how I am in this moment, therefore I have the responsibility to change who and how I am and so the realisation that we as a collective created how and what this world is today and so it is the responsibility of the collective to change how and what this world is today

What does this principle mean?

It means that I will not sit idly by and point my finger at every person in the world who is not standing up for change and using them as an excuse for my inaction.

It means that I give myself the courage to see exactly who I am and why I am who I am, so that I can change whatever part of me I do not want to define myself by.

It means that I give myself the courage to see how I am a part of this world, not only a part of my own world, and that who I am has an effect on the world.

It means that I give myself the courage to see what parts of myself are not beneficial to the world and this life as a whole, so that I may change those parts of myself.

It means that I live as an example to others, so that they may see what is possible in how they can choose how they live and who they are.

It means that I recognise that, in order for the world as a whole to change, humanity as a whole must change and embody those principles which we all agree would be best for all of life.

All of these things take courage. It requires courage and a force of will to go against everything we have been taught, to recognise that we have the ability and power to change ourselves. It takes courage to stand and live not only for yourself, but for the entire world.

These days children are taught to compete, to win, to ignore the losers and revere the winners. This mentality does not create a person who values every other life form on this planet, at least not very often. This mentality creates a society in which corporations destroy other companies in order to succeed and exploit the planet and people in order to maximise profits. Many people do not agree with these actions, but most also will not make any effort to stop the abuse. It's a vicious cycle - you see something is not right, but most people just accept it as a part of life, so you do too. You may not be proud of yourself, but at least you comfort yourself that no one else is either. And so no one stands because they fear being the only one standing, they fear failure, ridicule, exclusion.

The solution is extreme, but no more extreme than the actions that got us to this point in the first place. Firstly we must each recognise that there is a problem, not only in the world but in ourselves as well. By this I mean that yes, it is easy to see that there is a lot happening in the world that is not nice, but there is also a lot happening in ourselves that is not nice. Even the best of us have had nasty thoughts, and most of us are nasty all the time, but we hide our true faces behind a pretty mask, never revealing what we really think and feel. Those who do reveal what they are really thinking are often ostracized, but only because everyone else doesn't want to recognise themselves in that other person. we need to change ourselves so that we are living the same on the inside as on the outside, standing as the principles that would sustain and honour life, and would allow other life to thrive without us interfering for personal profit or gain.

It is far more extreme to allow the abuse that happens daily than to live the change you want to see, even if it means letting go of everything you were before and redesigning yourself to be a being of worth, worthy of life.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Day 565: Living in a Horror Movie

I can hear explosions as I write this. They are so close, the furniture rattles and the lamps shake. There’s talk of a ceasefire, but it doesn’t feel like it here. I am living in a horror movie.
I keep thinking about the fact that Gaza was already in a terrible state before these bombings. Unemployment was high, food aid was common, people were living in poverty. So you can imagine how much worse it is now.
My daughter Joudi is only 5 and already has been through three of these bombardments – first in my womb in 2008-09, then in 2012 and now in 2014. I can see the question marks in her eyes. What do I tell her? Is there an adequate word to describe this situation?
At least we’re alive. The park behind our apartment building was bombed and the explosion rocked the whole area. The noise was deafening. There isn’t a single street in Gaza that’s safe.
The other morning we saw we were really low on milk. My husband ventured out to a nearby store. While he was away my heart pounded with worry and I watched for him every second he was gone. Turns out that the errand was all for nothing. The store was out of milk. Now we have to find other options for feeding our baby. - Salon

What possible reason could justify the things we do? What could justify the horrors we unleash on each other?

Religion? What kind of God would want people to kill and maim each other? What kind of God would create such a diverse planet and set of life forms and then desire to see one wipe out the other?

Country? What people want war - especially when they know exactly what price they may pay as their leaders sit safely tucked away in their mansions? Is it truly the people who desire it, or is it the sly maneuverings of the powerful elite?

Race? What has the colour of your skin to do with the choices you make, the words you speak or the life you want?

Protection? How does war protect? The only purpose it serves is to put a few powerful people in better or worse positions than they were in before - It has nothing to so with the people or the country.

And what of us, who sit passively by and bemoan the inevitability of conflict? We, who are unable to settle even the smallest of conflicts in our own lives for we claim to have no control over our selves, our thoughts and our bodies? In all of the things in all of this world that we created we claim to have no control over, we feel powerless to change anything. This is simply untrue. It may be difficult to change and it may require that we all step outside our comfort zones and push ourselves in ways we never thought possible - but it is possible. We can stop the conflict, within ourselves, in our relationships and in the world. It will require that we learn to stop and breathe before we speak or act. It will require that we first let go of our anger and frustration before we speak or act. It will require that we learn to look at every aspect of a situation and focus on solutions that will be the most beneficial to all parties involved. We will make mistakes. We may face moments in which we feel we cannot go on. We may stumble to find our footing. We may do all this, but we must endure and change, for our own sakes and for the sake of this life we all share.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Day 564: Is Your Optimism Delusional?

This is taken from the transcript of the beginning of Tali Sharot's talk:
I'm going to talk to you about optimism -- or more precisely, the optimism bias. It's a cognitive illusion that we've been studying in my lab for the past few years, and 80 percent of us have it. 
It's our tendency to overestimate our likelihood of experiencing good events in our lives and underestimate our likelihood of experiencing bad events. So we underestimate our likelihood of suffering from cancer, being in a car accident. We overestimate our longevity, our career prospects. In short, we're more optimistic than realistic, but we are oblivious to the fact.  
Take marriage for example. In the Western world, divorce rates are about 40 percent. That means that out of five married couples, two will end up splitting their assets. But when you ask newlyweds about their own likelihood of divorce, they estimate it at zero percent. And even divorce lawyers, who should really know better, hugely underestimate their own likelihood of divorce. So it turns out that optimists are not less likely to divorce, but they are more likely to remarry. In the words of Samuel Johnson, "Remarriage is the triumph of hope over experience." 
So if we're married, we're more likely to have kids. And we all think our kids will be especially talented. This, by the way, is my two-year-old nephew, Guy. And I just want to make it absolutely clear that he's a really bad example of the optimism bias, because he is in fact uniquely talented. 
And I'm not alone. Out of four British people, three said that they were optimistic about the future of their own families. That's 75 percent. But only 30 percent said that they thought families in general are doing better than a few generations ago. 
And this is a really important point, because we're optimistic about ourselves, we're optimistic about our kids, we're optimistic about our families, but we're not so optimistic about the guy sitting next to us, and we're somewhat pessimistic about the fate of our fellow citizens and the fate of our country. But private optimism about our own personal future remains persistent. And it doesn't mean that we think things will magically turn out okay, but rather that we have the unique ability to make it so. 
Now I'm a scientist, I do experiments. So to show you what I mean, I'm going to do an experiment here with you. So I'm going to give you a list of abilities and characteristics, and I want you to think for each of these abilities where you stand relative to the rest of the population. 
The first one is getting along well with others. Who here believes they're at the bottom 25 percent? Okay, that's about 10 people out of 1,500. Who believes they're at the top 25 percent? That's most of us here. Okay, now do the same for your driving ability. How interesting are you? How attractive are you? How honest are you? And finally, how modest are you? 
So most of us put ourselves above average on most of these abilities. Now this is statistically impossible. We can't all be better than everyone else. (Laughter) But if we believe we're better than the other guy, well that means that we're more likely to get that promotion, to remain married, because we're more social, more interesting. 
And it's a global phenomenon. The optimism bias has been observed in many different countries -- in Western cultures, in non-Western cultures, in females and males, in kids, in the elderly. It's quite widespread.         

Were you aware of this tendency in yourself or in other people? Probably not, especially if you are not a psychologist or do not have an interest in psychology and other related fields. Why is the general public not made aware of this common bias and others like it? You could argue that there is a lot of material about it freely available on the internet - the problem in this world is that most people are simply not interested in taking the time to do that kind of research. It is quite rare to meet a person who is actively curious about their own nature, with a special interest in determining whether it can be changed. A lot of people may find research like the study above interesting, but are unlikely to really integrate this knowledge into their lives with the intention of becoming more aware of it within themselves, so that they can change.

As I implied above, psychology is aware of this bias. My question is why does psychology not promote this awareness to everyone, so that everyone can choose for themselves whether they want to live this way? Why is Psychology instead used to make advertising better at manipulating people and exploiting our tendencies such as the optimism bias? Why are movies and TV series about sex and whatever the trend of the day is instead of about showing how it is possible to improve yourself? How about a show that depicts how one of the main characters deals with an anger problem, or stress about money, or relationship issues instead of making movies and shows about deception and giving in to things like anger?

Obviously the media is the way it is because its primary goal is to make as much money as possible - the same goes for at least part of Psychology. The other aspect of psychology is that the psychologists entering the field are coming from a broken education system where they are not taught to question, but to obey and conform. There are very few psychologists who have taken the leap into the unknown by venturing outside of the bounds of accepted theories. Noam Chomsky is a cool example - he asks a lot of relevant questions that lead you to consider that maybe the world isn't as you believed it to be.

Everywhere you look, the only thing that is promoted is ignorance. If people were truly educated - not only about the world but about themselves as well - then the world would look much different. The media would not be able to function the way it does now, simply because it currently focuses on exploiting human ignorance and our tendency to get distracted by shiny objects and sparkling lights.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Day 563: What are the Odds?

Here is an interesting clip with Dan Gilbert during a TED talk in 2005. In the video he discusses common errors in judgement, including the common mistakes we make in calculating odds. One of the examples he uses:

In a study, a group of people were asked to estimate the likelihood of dying from the following causes (per 200 million US citizens per year):
  • Tornado
  • Fireworks
  • Asthma
  • Drowning
And these were the estimations:
  • Tornado...........564
  • Fireworks........160
  • Asthma............506
  • Drowning........1684
Now see the actual number of deaths per year for each of the above:
  • Tornado...........90
  • Fireworks........6
  • Asthma............1886
  • Drowning........7380
As you can clearly see, the dramatic causes are far less likely than the 'everyday' causes. Dan Gilbert gives an amusing explanation that amounts to something like: The news reports the fantastic and unusual events, when last did you read about a boy who died of asthma? This dramatisation and focus on certain occurrences lead people to greatly overestimate unlikely causes of death and greatly underestimate the common causes.

This particular phenomenon can be attributed to the media, but in reality it is our morbid interest in the bizarre and spectacular that has led the media to give so much attention to that sphere. If we were more interested in the mundane everyday stories then that is what would be in our newspapers and movies - but we are not. We want to see special events and special people, we want to imagine ourselves as heroes somewhere else. We also want to be shocked and amazed at the strange things that life dishes out to an unlucky few. I did mention that our interest is rather morbid, did I not?

This tendency to believe that the world is the way it is portrayed in the media leads us to live in a world in our minds, believing that the fantastical can happen. When you're thinking about things like dying in a tornado it doesn't seem like a 'bad thing' - but if you consider other aspects like political debates, relationships, important global events, moral debates and even things like fashion and popularity, this is the kind of stuff that can shape an entire society.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Day 562: More Refugees Now than WWII

Those seething with so much rage and xenophobia that they’d hurl ugly epithets in the faces of children fleeing bloody violence in Central America bring shame to the whole nation. But the response of mainstream America hasn’t been much better.
The media’s characterization of what’s going on at our southern border as a “crisis,” politicians pointing fingers at one another and Washington’s refusal to provide the resources necessary to care for a small wave of refugees — not to mention the bipartisan push to send them back home — is just as shameful when one considers the context.In June, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)reported that in 2013, the global population of refugees from war and persecution hit 51.2 million — exceeding 50 million for the first time since World War II.Half of them were children.The vast majority were “internally displaced persons,” homeless people within their home countries. Many live in fetid refugee camps run by underfunded NGOs, where they face continuing privation and abuse. There are over ten million refugees in Africa, and five million in Asia. More than six million people have been displaced for years, and in some cases decades. The UN estimates that 6.3 million people have been displaced in Syria alone. - Salon

It may not seem like it for many of us, but there is more man-made turmoil in the world than ever before. In your own life you may personally know someone who is having or has had a tough time and you probably feel for them and wish that things like that didn't happen. It probably seems impossible to comprehend then that there are currently more than 50 million people who are displaced from war and persecution alone - if you can feel so much for just one person you may think you will burst if you were to feel the loss and pain of every other person having a rough time in the world.

The higher the population, the more people will be vulnerable to suffering, well, they are vulnerable in the world as it is now. We think that the world is getting "better" with all of these cool and nice things in our lives like organic food, solar power, fancy gadgets and what not, but in reality everything is getting worse.

The extremes are getting more extreme. The desperate are getting more desperate. The greedy are getting more greedy. The poor are getting poorer. The rich are getting richer. Everyone in the middle is oblivious.

The people who are living through daily nightmares get more bitter with every day that passes. Who can blame them? When your family is torn from you, or raped and murdered in front of you, you are more likely to feel rage than compassion. These horrors keep happening, and they keep making more people who are more likely to create more horrors. The cycle goes on and on. The ones who get out are the exceptions.

Can we change? The question should rather be: Are we capable of change? Yes, we are. But will we? That is another matter entirely.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Day 561: Neuromarketing and Psychology

This continues from my previous post here.

Let's move on to neuromarketing and where it came from.

Neuromarketing is a new field of marketing research that studies consumers' sensorimotor, cognitive, and affective response to marketing stimuli. Researchers use technologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure changes in activity in parts of the brain, electroencephalography (EEG) and Steady state topography (SST) to measure activity in specific regional spectra of the brain response, and/or sensors to measure changes in one's physiological state, also known as biometrics, including (heart rate and respiratory rate, galvanic skin response) to learn why consumers make the decisions they do, and what part of the brain is telling them to do it. Neuromarketing research raised interest for both academic and business side. In fact, certain companies, particularly those with large-scale goals, have invested in their own laboratories, science personnel and / or partnerships with academia. [1]
Companies such as Google, CBS, and Frito-Lay amongst others have used neuromarketing research services to measure consumer thoughts on their advertisements or products.[2]

The neuromarketing concept

The neuromarketing concept was developed by psychologists at Harvard University in 1990. The technology is based on a model whereby the major thinking part of human activity (over 90%), including emotion, takes place in the subconscious area that is below the levels of controlled awareness. For this reason, the perception technologists of the market are very tempted to learn the techniques of effective manipulation of the subconscious brain activity. The main reason is to inspire the desired reaction in person’s perception as deeply as possible.


Some consumer advocate organizations, such as the Center for Digital Democracy, have criticized neuromarketing’s potentially invasive technology. Jeff Chester, the executive director of the organization, claims that neuromarketing is “having an effect on individuals that individuals are not informed about." Further, he claims that though there has not historically been regulation on adult advertising due to adults having defense mechanisms to discern what is true and untrue, that it should now be regulated “if the advertising is now purposely designed to bypass those rational defenses . . . protecting advertising speech in the marketplace has to be questioned."[2]
Joseph Turow, a communications professor at the University of Pennsylvania, dismisses neuromarketing as another reincarnation of gimmicky attempts for advertisers to find non-traditional approaches toward gathering consumer opinion. He is quoted in saying, "There has always been a holy grail in advertising to try to reach people in a hypodermic way. Major corporations and research firms are jumping on the neuromarketing bandwagon, because they are desperate for any novel technique to help them break through all the marketing clutter. ‘It’s as much about the nature of the industry and the anxiety roiling through the system as it is about anything else."[9]
Advocates nonetheless argue that society benefits from neuromarketing innovations. German neurobiologist Kai-Markus Müller promotes a neuromarketing variant, "neuropricing," that uses data from brain scans to help companies identify the highest prices consumers will pay. Müller says "everyone wins with this method," because brain-tested prices enable firms to increase profits, thus increasing prospects for survival during economic recession. [10]

As you can see from above, neuromarketing has nothing to do with people and everything to do with profit. It seems out of place then that psychology developed the concept and turned it into a working model of investigating how to better exploit consumers (AKA "us").

In my studies of psychology I learned about many theories and "could be's". I learned that no one really knows how much of anything in the human psyche works for sure, nor of how society functions in part or as a whole - like I said, there are only theories. The way that science is now, it is unlikely that anyone will ever be able to prove many (or any) of the theories. I also learned that while parts of psychology are used to empower people, there are also other aspects that disempower them. What I mean by empower is that it can be used to assist someone to stop a harmful habit and what I mean by disempower is that it can validate a person's self beliefs in a way that does not allow them to take responsibility for themselves. This tendency, along with some of the counter intuitive uses of the profession have led me to determine that a serious overhaul of standards and principles is required.

Psychology should be used to help people become more self aware - especially of the fact that everyone is responsible for their own experiences 100% of the time, whether they are emotional, thought based, direction in life and so on. Currently psychology still encourages people to believe that the ability to change is not in their hands and that their nature is set in stone - this is something that is simply assumed because no one wants to prove that anyone can change, that would lead to the realisation that we all must change - and many people simply do not want to. The fact that psychology designed and improves neuromarketing is appalling. It goes against the very principles that psychology should stand for like awareness, self education, self investigation, practical living. Neuromarketing is the devious use of peoples' ignorance to increase profits for whomsoever uses it - this is unacceptable.

If we cannot see any benefit to our lives in the larger scheme of things then it is safe to say that it is not in our collective best interest but in the best interests of the companies profiting from our ignorance and from psychology's lack of integrity.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Day 560: Neuromarketing

This is a followup to the LIG Hangout - The Psychology and Economics of Advertising

The hangout touches briefly on Neuromarketing and I'd like to expand on that a little here.
Let's look at Consumer Neuroscience a little first...

Advertising and Emotion

Studies of emotion are crucial to advertising research as it has been shown that emotion plays a significant role in ad memorization.[2][3][4] Classically in advertising research, the theory has been that emotion and ratio are represented in different regions of the brain,[3] but neuroscience may be able to disprove this theory by showing that the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and the striatum play a role in bilateral emotion processing.

Consumer Neuroscience Explains Brand Loyalty

In a study of fMRI scans of loyal and less loyal customers it was found that in the case of loyal customers the presence of a particular brand serves as a reward during choice tasks, but less loyal customers do not exhibit the same reward pathway. It was also found that loyal customers had greater activation in the brain areas concerned with emotion and memory retrieval suggesting that loyal customers develop an affective bond with a particular brand, which serves as the primary motivation for repeat purchases.[7]

How Branding Affects Consumers

Brands serve to connect consumers to the products they are purchasing either by establishing an emotional connection or by creating a particular image. It has been shown that when consumers are forced to choose an item from a group in which a familiar brand is present the choice is much easier than when consumers are forced to choose from a group of entirely unfamiliar brands.[22] One MRI study found that there was significantly increased activation in the brain reward centers including the orbitofrontal cortex, the ventral striatum and the anterior cingulate when consumers were looking at sports cars as compared to sedans (presumably because the status symbol associated with sports cars is rewarding in some way).[23] Many corporations have conducted similar MRI studies to investigate the effect of their brand on consumers including Delta Air Lines, General Motors, Home Depot, Hallmark, and Motorola but the results have not been made public.[7]
A study by McClure et al. investigated the difference in branding between Coca-Cola and Pepsi. The study found that when the two drinks were tasted blind there was no difference in consumer preference between the brands. Both drinks produced equal activation in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which is thought to be activated because the taste is rewarding. When the subjects were informed of the brand names the consumers preferred Coke, and only Coke activated the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, suggesting that drinking the Coke brand is rewarding beyond simply the taste itself. More subjects preferred Coke when they knew it was Coke than when the taste testing was anonymous, which demonstrates the power of branding to influence consumer behavior. There was also significant activation in the hippocampus and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex when subjects knew they were drinking Coke. These brain structures are known to play a role in memory and recollection, which indicates they are helping the subjects to connect their present drinking experience to previous brand associations. The study proposes that there are two separate processes contributing to consumer decision making: the ventromedial prefrontal cortex responds to sensory inputs and the hippocampus and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex recall previous associations to cultural information. According to the results of this study, the Coke brand has much more firmly established itself as a rewarding experience.[24]

I know I'm throwing a lot of information at you, but it is worth the read. This shows how advertising influences people on a physical and emotional level - it's not just about promoting a brand - it's about creating an emotional draw for the viewer. Take the Coke experiment in the last paragraph: people didn't even know the difference between the taste of Coke and Pepsi when they didn't know beforehand which was which, but as soon as they knew there was suddenly a difference of taste. If this isn't proof enough of the true influence of advertising then I don't know what is. 

A common argument is that people are smart enough to know what's true and what's not when it comes to adverts. That is valid only in so far as people are aware of the extent to which adverts are influencing their decision making. When a customer experiences a positive reward beyond the enjoyment of the product, such as a Coke, then it is safe to say that it's not just about the product, there is more going on. It's not like people walking around thinking "oh yeah, I totally enjoy Coke more than Pepsi because I have developed an emotional attachment to Coke so that when I drink it I feel joy as well as enjoyment". When you buy and use something you like, all you are aware of is the positive feeling - there are very few people who stop to question where that feeling comes from. 

Neuromarketing exploits that tendency we have to not question things. It uses our assumptions and heuristics to develop ways to make advertising more effective - and by "more effective" I mean more people buy the products which these days only really benefits one party: The seller. How does neuromarketing benefit our society? It doesn't. It only benefits the advertisers, the psychologists and the companies involved.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Day 559: Why do People Kill Each Other?

Baghdad (CNN) -- Eleven-year-old Hajer Sami says she remembers her father. It's flashes of memory, really -- a smile, a laugh.
She was only 4 when he was killed, but she can't recall vivid memories of him and their family when it was whole.
Her family was torn apart when her father, a policeman, was gunned down seven years ago on the streets of Baghdad.
She struggles to comprehend why anyone would have wanted to kill her father or why some people detonate explosives in the middle of a crowd.
"Why do these people kill other people? Do they get paid money to do it?" she asks.

Some people do kill for money, to protect their income or even to earn extra money.

Some kill for pleasure. Taking a life, whether it is animal or human, gives them a positive experience.

Some kill for king and country. They believe that they are doing what's best for their people and country and will follow orders to their death.

Some kill for their God(s). They believe that it is what their God(s) wants.

Some kill because they believe that the person whose life they are taking does not deserve to be alive. They believe that they hold the right and authority to make that determination.

Some people kill in a haze of fury, unable to control their actions, possessed by their emotions.

Some people kill for revenge. They scheme and plot and then end the life of whoever wronged them.

Some kill while they're on a cocktail of drugs (legal or otherwise), unaware of their actions.

I am sure that there are more reasons, but the pattern that is emerging here is that all of the scenarios above stem from self-involved reasons, whether it is someone exerting their opinion or belief on someone else, or from a series of choices that lead up past the point of no return. Each of these scenarios holds within them the reality that they come about from one choice: A person chooses to not consider the life of another and to focus instead on their own experience, so becoming consumed by it.

Obviously there may be scenarios where someone makes a mistake, but they are quite rare. Some scenarios that are claimed to be accidents are really the result of a series of selfish choices, such as drinking and driving or even driving without the required awareness of your environment, sober or otherwise. The sad fact is that people are mostly incapable of directing their own behaviour and choices in a coherent manner - most people are simply caught up in their "programming", feeling like it would be impossible for them to change themselves, believing that "this is who they are". This is somewhat odd, we believe that we cannot change our beliefs. It's a vicious cycle, the belief preventing us from attempting to change ourselves and then the lack of change validating our belief.

We feel unable to change our opinions and beliefs, and often don't want to. Our opinions become a part of our self definition, a part of "who we are", so we fear that by changing them we will lose a part of ourselves and no longer be what we were before, even if what we were was not much - it was at least something and it was familiar, safe. Every single reason for deliberately (and most for accidentally) taking a life comes back to opinion. It comes back to a point where the killer values their opinion more than they value the life of another person, whether it be their opinion of the safety of their country, the sanctity of their religion, their ability to stop their addictions or dangerous habits. Taking the time and removing our opinions in order to make an objective choice is something that we need to develop for ourselves, it is something that requires practice and dedication. In the end, doing this will remove much pain from our lives as there is so much suffering that comes from rash and emotional choices.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Day 558: There Will Be No Ark For Us

As I was watching Noah, I wondered what future we would create for ourselves. There is no creator who will save us from ourselves, so what happens if we do not change? The film depicts how the creator has shown Noah what is to come, that he intends to wash away the filth and evil that man has brought upon the world in the hopes that by starting again things will turn out differently. So Noah begins building an ark, with the help of "the watchers" (fallen angels who came originally to help man, but were betrayed by man and rejected by the creator). Ask the building progresses, the animals start to come from all over the near-barren planet and enter the ark. This particular scene, intended to be one of hope for the future, brought only the truth of our reality that there will be no ark for us, nor for the animals that we are driving into extinction.

So what will become of us?

What will become of this world and all the creatures we were meant to coexist with?

What happens when the earth becomes so polluted with toxic waste and rubbish that nothing can grow?

What happens when the oceans are no longer inhabitable for the creatures of the sea?

What happens after years or decade, when no god or messiah comes to save us?

If there is no one who will come to rescue us, will we be able to save ourselves?

When will we recognise this life for what it is and start treating it as such: A gift?

I have no answers to some of these questions, and for the rest, I do not want to answer them. I do not want to imagine living in a toxic and barren world, watching every life around me wither away and die. I do not want to live in a world where the worst of human nature is celebrated and the best of it is dismissed as weakness. I do not want to live in a world where my fellow men and women care only for themselves and leave the rest of the world to suffer. I do not want to live in a world where animals are treated like commodities for our profit. I do not want to live in a world where we leave the most vulnerable and unfortunate of our people to live in squalor and turn to drugs and alcohol to survive.

All of these things are the things that I do not wish for myself, nor do I wish them for any other being. The things that I wish for, I wish for every single being, unreserved and entirely.

I want for us to live in harmony with the planet and all creatures. I want for us to take only what we need and allow the rest to live in peace. I want for us to accept the differences in each other and allow each other that which we would want for ourselves: to make our own choices in consideration of each other. I want for our food to be treated with respect so that it may nourish us well. I want our parents and children to understand and respect each other so that they may live in harmony and love one another completely. I want for us to live real love by doing only what is best for each other and all life and by supporting each other to reach our full potentials.

Everything I do, I do to bring about all these things that I want for myself and everyone else. I do this because I cannot accept that waiting for a saviour will change anything. I do this because I understand that I am responsible, along with everyone else, to manifest the world we want our children to live in.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Day 557: What's Important in Life?

Every day there are stories circulating on the web about some bizarre invention, kickstarter or even piece of art that is making obscene amounts of money. Many, if not most, of these things do not improve life for anyone. All they do is satisfy some whim or abstract ideal for whoever is willing to pay for it. In a world where charities, public services and other organisations working to improve the world are more often than not under budgeted and spend most of the time scraping resources together just to try and make a tiny difference in some corner of the world.

Equal Life Foundation is one of these organisations. The only goal of this organisation is to find ways to improve life, including researching the nature of human nature to find out if there is any way for people to change themselves in order to stop doing the horrible things that we do to each other and ourselves
. Equal Life Foundation (ELF) has been met with derision and criticism by many who try to bad mouth the efforts and intentions of ELF - for the life of me I cannot see why someone would go through all that trouble to discredit an organisation that promotes human rights and practical solutions to make those rights a reality.

In a world where a splash of paint on a canvas sells for millions, organisations like ELF are forced to pinch pennies and ration out available funds to try and accomplish just something - unable to reach for the goals they set. Functioning in this way stunts the capabilities of these organisations and forces their efforts to move at a snail's pace.

ELF is made up of people who cannot accept the abuse that happens in the world and does not limit it's scope to only one aspect of abuse - it includes ever problem in the world in its scope and is determined to create practical solutions for each and every issue.

In this day and age with so many people having access to the internet and therefore the opportunity to really find out what's going on in the world and how everything works, it is mind boggling that the focus is on frivolities like half naked musicians who sing about sex and. The deliberate ignorance of this world is astounding.

If no one is going to care enough to stand up to make a change then nothing will happen. Organisations like ELF will continue to exist as they are, fighting to keep their cause going in a world filled with people who just don't care enough to do anything significant to change this world we share.

Support ELF in it's drive to raise funds here by donating or sharing:

See some of the work ELF has done: and

Join the discussions on solutions for this broken system we live in, see links and details at the Living Income Guaranteed link above.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Day 556: Why I Shaved My Head

I shaved my head a couple of years back and kept it shaved for a total of about one year. Recently a point in my life has opened up that reminded me of that time and I realised that there were so many people who asked why I did it at the time and that I have never given the complete answer I wanted to give. So here it is...

Aside from making a statement to show the world that "I am one vote for world equality" there are many other aspects that were present. Yes, it was part of an effort to draw attention to a message that we need to change, that there are things that happen and exist in this world that are unacceptable, but it was also a big point for me personally, and I imagine for many (maybe even most) people in the world.

We give our appearances a lot of value and attention. We have become a very visually oriented society and are constantly trying to appear a certain way in order to fit in and be validated by others. It is safe to say that a large part of our identities and self worth is linked directly to what we look like. Hair forms a very big part for most people in their appearances and self image, almost like our hair is a part of our self definition and if we were to no longer have it we would be worth less.

This formed a big part of my choice, by shaving my hair off I was proving to myself that "I am not my hair" and that I will not wither away and die without it. Sure, I got some funny looks sometimes, but they were great opportunities to practice not giving a dam about what other people think of me (based simply on my appearance). Not having hair did not change me in any way. I was the same old me, just bald. It was a cool opportunity to test my self image - to see where and when I would allow a thought of "what do they think of me? Am I ugly now that I am bald?".

That is the biggest fear for most women. We value our hair as something that adds to or even is the basis of our 'beauty', so we fear that not having hair will make us ugly. Obviously the whole belief system around beauty/ugliness/appearances is based on a bunch of ideals that we literally made up and now choose to hold. In another time and another place, the ideals of beauty would have been completely different to what they are now - it is an ever-changing concept - and it controls a big part of many peoples' lives.

By shaving my hair I proved to myself that I was not controlled by my idea of beauty, nor by my desire for acceptance. Obviously my one act alone cannot change the world, it cannot change those beliefs that are so deeply engrained into so many people, but if even one person understood why I did what I did and started to question their own beliefs of beauty, then my action created a ripple effect, where one person speaks to another who speaks to another and so spreads the seed to question a small part of society that they so readily accepted before.

It's easy to say that you are not defined by your appearance, but it is another thing entirely to really ask and answer that question honestly. I asked the question in the most honest way I was able to. I challenged myself to answer it honestly by facing each thought that came up within me and looking at why I had placed so much value in my appearance and in how other people saw me. I am not what I look like. The length of my hair does not determine what choices I will make. The colour of my skin does not determine whether I will treat others with kindness or compassion. The colour of my nails does not determine whether I will respect another person. In this society, those things may say something about who you are, but they do not control you or the choices you make.