Monday, January 31, 2011

A family is more than the sum of its parts, or the relative densities of blood and water.

I'm pretty much thinking I never want to have kids.  And, while this is personal choice, I also believe it is a matter of faith.  I believe very strongly in zero population growth, even the negative population growth that comes from having no biological children of your own.  The least you could do with all the poverty and homelessness in the world is to adopt children who need families, and then you're not adding to the overall population of the world anyway.

In the event this raises questions in the validity of a family with adopted children, I would like to point out that family is not confined to your blood relatives; rather, it's a shared experience of living.  I live with three other girls, and I would consider them as much my sisters as my biological sisters (had I any).  But it doesn't even have to be the shared experience of living together; when I worked backstage in high school, I had a family in the people I worked with, spent time with, shared joy and frustration with.  Family is much more than a nuclear unit of Mom, Dad, Jane, and Billy.

I don't think it's responsible to suggest that some people you live with would have the same rights to you, your possessions, and your life as the family you grew up with.  I suppose that's the defining factor: growing up and coming of age.  Yes, there are all the legal definitions that [necessarily] allocate resources and responsibilities.  Those are important, too, in our society.

I write this thinking about families I know with adopted children.  It's no big secret to them, and as far as I know my friend has always known she was adopted.  She has had contact with her biological mother, starting when she was 18 (which I believe was the mother's stipulation).  And that's that.  The two other children in the family are biological, but she has no less claim to her parents' affection.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

No, you can't blow up pineapples with your mind, but thinking happy thoughts doesn't hurt, either.

I know I just bashed positive thinking, so what I want to talk about today might seem a little hypocritical.  I could spend a paragraph (and I just might) telling you about how it's not (hypocritical, that is) but that would be a waste of words.  You're going to decide for yourself, whatever I say, and that's the beauty of being an individual.  But what are words for if not wasting, so yeah, there's a bit about why this is different than my rant on positive thinking.  Just roll with it.  Anyway, here I go...

Last night I had what you might call a revelation.

The night began with business as usual; I was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling, unable to find a position that was comfortable for more than two minutes, and generally feeling horrible.  While most people (I presume) are able to drift into a vaguely comforting and blissfully thoughtless pre-sleep state in a timely manner (read: not two hours) after they get into bed, "sleepy-time" does not translate for my brain.  My thoughts do not slow down and I am not able to turn them to counting sheep or visualizing numbers 1-100 or floating in a void.  Most of what I do is worry.

I have resigned myself to the fact that I am a worrier, like my mother and my grandmother.  I try not to worry about what I can't control, of course; for the most part it works pretty well.  I would even suggest that I sometimes adopt a rather devil-may-care attitude.  However, all bets are off when I go to bed.  It's not that I worry about things I can do nothing about, but the opposite; I worry about things I would normally have a hand in but don't because I'm trying to go to sleep. Key word: trying. When you're in bed it doesn't do you any good to think of what clothes you're going to wear tomorrow or that the due date for your next tuition payment is coming up or that you have to read 100 pages for class in two days, because you're in bed.  It's like these things pounce on me when they see me mentally vulnerable, because there is one thing I worry about that I don't really have control over: getting enough sleep.  It's my very own encyclopedia illustration of "The Vicious Cycle."

So I was lying there listening to my classical music when I thought, "what if jI just eliminate "should" from my thoughts?"  So I changed every "I have to..." and "I should..." and "I need to..." to "I want."  And it worked.

Instead of "I should get up early and go to the gym tomorrow," I thought "I want to get up early and go to the gym tomorrow," and with that small substitution I felt better.

My worry about getting enough sleep was mostly coming from that, so instead of listening to classical because "I should listen to something quiet so I'll go to sleep soon" I changed my ipod to pop rock because "I want to go to sleep but I don't have to so I want to listen to the music I feel like listening to."  My mom always says, what's the worst thing that could happen if you don't go to sleep?  You're tired the next day.  Eventually, you're going to be tired enough (probably the next night) to go to sleep.

I do want to go a little bit into the difference between this and the positive thinking I was talking about earlier.  I feel like this whole "power of positive thinking" thing is way out of hand.  I see people expecting job prospects and other people's ideas and even actual physical realities to change just because they wish really, really hard on that star or believe everyone is born with an angelic conscience.  This is delusional.  Jobs will open up to you if you do the legwork, and a lot of the time even after that they don't pan out.  You have a chance of changing someone's mind if you argue your case convincingly, but even then it's like that person is an arbitrary judge with the final "yea" or "nay."  And influencing physical things with your mind?  Even now psychologists and physicians are undecided as to whether your thoughts influence your biochemistry or it's the other way around.  Influencing things outside your own body: forget it.  Delusional.

But your thoughts are all words; try to think of the last time you didn't have a spastic inner monologue (or dialogue, or poly-logue) continuously running through your mind?  Bet you can't.  The human experience is defined by language.  And before you protest, when you were a baby (without language) your thoughts and experiences were still framed with communication (probably, because it's not something we can really know).

So if words make up your mind and, by extension, your perception (which is really what we're talking about, because perception is reality and experience and emotion and thought), couldn't you affect your own mind through control of words?  Words and language have an intimate power, and since emotions are thoughts (perhaps unconsciously) and thoughts are words, then you can control (or at least shape) your emotions with words.

Okay, so in theory it works.  Try it with me. (I honestly have no idea if it'll have an effect on you.)  Pick something that stresses you out: impending exams; looming bills; that report you have to get to your boss by next week.  Phrase it with an "I have to" or an "I should," eg "I should study for my test next week."  Ugh, even knowing I don't have a test next week, that makes me feel all slimy inside.  Okay, now change it to "I want to."  eg "I want to study for my test next week."  Maybe add a "because," like "I want to study for my test next week because I want a good grade."  Look, another "I want."  We're on a roll.  Now, does that make you feel better?  I feel better.  Now, even though my test was hypothetical, I feel better about it and better about hypothetically studying for it.

I just wanted to share this with y'all, because I think it's so awesome.  I didn't necessarily go to sleep faster after that, but I am an insomniac...

Anyway, to finish up I just want to emphasize that this is not what I would call "magical" positive thinking.  As my parents have always told me, you can't change anyone's mind but your own.  In the same vein, you can't get a new car through wishing, Dad's Alzheimer's isn't going to go away even if you pray, and $30,000 isn't going to appear in your bank account just because it would be really, really awesome.

It would be awesome.  Oh well.

NB The title reference is from "Accepted."  Good movie.  I recommend it.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

I Don't Mean To Suggest That I Think There Are Only 5 Elements...

Being a science major, I have learned quite a bit of evidence to the contrary.  However, I only call Fire, Air, Water, Earth, and Spirit "elements" because, well, I haven't got a better name for them.  That means I don't classify my 5 "elements" with other elements such as carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and the like.  I'm not that crazy.

I was going to post these as a series, but I thought the task might be better served if I just bunched them together in a page (see top navbar) along with Multiverse and Triad.  That way I can mention them with indiscriminate abandon in my posts from here on out and y'all can refamiliarize yourself with what I mean as you see fit.  Thanks!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Does Technology Have an Impact on Family Interactions?

There's certainly less face-to-face interaction between members of families. But if a family really wants to spend time together, the members that are really serious will spend time together. On the flip side, technology connects people. I'm away at college and I talk to my mom almost every day and email my family all the time. My brother lives in North Carolina (I'm in NY) and I can talk to him because of tech like phones and computers. Granted, he is a bit of a--cough cough--luddite; he rarely checks his email and he and his wife never turn on the one cell phone they have between them. Sort of in that vein, technology also has the power to hurt family relationships. I (as a child of the '90s) am more comfortable with any sort of technology than are, say, my grandparents, or even my mother. I will be the first to admit that while I'm trying to teach them something about the computer, or the digital camera, or their cell phones I can be a bit short with them, and they, in turn, get fed up with me. Consequently, we sometimes have to avoid some subjects of conversation, because we'll all get annoyed with each other. Or like with my brother, who I have to call and actually talk to (so old-fashioned!) on the phone, I would talk to him a lot more if he would just log into his email more than once a month (*grrr*). Though (and not thinking of my brother (whose aversion to technology is baffling to me)) perhaps this disconnect between me and my grandparents is just the normal distancing of generations. Since we don't have a control scenario, we'll probably never know. So, good or bad? C'mon, you know I loathe such subjective and arbitrary classifications...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Fallibility of Positive Thinking

As expected, school is severely curtailing my writing; be not afraid, because I'm still here!  I'll post at least once a week, when I find time.  And on that thought...

Words have power, as do emotions and ideas.  These things can influence others and even the world around us in ways we cannot comprehend.  But wishing will not always make it so.

Along the lines of "Smile or Die," too often we put faith in the power of reason or right.  "It'll all work out in the end," we assure ourselves.  We (at least, people my age) grew up with Disney princesses who were beautiful and just and always got the guy in the end while saving the kingdom, Power Rangers who were granted magical powers to do righteous battle with the slimy forces of evil, and our parents and teachers telling us "you can be anything you want when you grow up;" even Pokemon is a story about an ordinary kid beating the odds and saving the world from injustice.  And because we were kids the adults around us would have been foolish to let on that the world isn't always shiny and fair, because we would have thrown hissy fits.

But now I see people my age and older buying into the childlike delusion that "everything will be alright."  I don't mean to sound pessimistic; there is good in the world (I suppose depending on how you define "good"), and most people could benefit from a little positive thinking.  I accept the evidence for the placebo effect, and I believe that the right attitude can help you fight disease.  Well, its effectiveness has been demonstrated.  Many forms of Eastern Asian medicine talk about chi.  I call it the fifth element.  But if you have chronic bronchitis, or stomach cancer, or hepatitis, it's not a miracle cure.  Just thought I'd mention this.

Sometimes, no matter how hard you wish on that shooting star and click your heels together and imagine a better world, the world is not going to get better unless you get up and do something about it.

More thoughts on positive thinking (no pun intended)...

Monday, January 17, 2011

Help charity: water

What can I say: when it comes to the interwebz, I'm sort of a joiner.  Anywho, it's really easy to help support the cause of clean water for developing countries: just click the button and complete the task.  Simple, right?  This cause is important to me because of my interest in public health and infectious disease; a lot of water-borne pathogens could be easily avoided by simple sanitation measures, sometimes as simple as not digging a well near the public "toilets."  I am also particularly interested in parasites, so I'm well-acquainted with disease through drinking water.  Two of the most vicious parasitic diseases that could be controlled, even eradicated by a bit of sanitation are Guinea Worm and Schistosomiasis.  Visit the charity: water site to learn more.  I just read an article too about how digging deeper wells to try to get past the pollutants actually pushes the pollutants farther down, so that they're in the new wells anyway.  Please click on the button to help for free!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Brought To You by PSY 101

I'm not terribly impressed with the American Psychological Society, and the motives behind its formation.  Science is supposed to help people.  Yes, there should always be research.  How else would we get anywhere at all?  But the application of the knowledge gained through research (among other methods) should not be underappreciated, nor its impact underestimated.  If you need to tie everything back to gain, research would flounder if people who did not appreciate research for the sake of research were to disappear.  A project needs simple, tangible things to proceed; resources such as money, labor, and materials must be procured, and by someone who wants to study that particular area.  Resources will not be forthcoming if no one wants the research done, and the people with the most money (usually businessmen and/or governments) don't really care about research for the sake of research.  They want results; they want profit, or power, or prestige, or sometimes, as I elaborate on later, they want to "help people."  There are "real- world" repercussions of research, and therefore research must spring from the "real world."  If for no other reason than to perpetuate research, practical application should be given its due.

Describing science, any science, as "the study of…" only accurately describes one aspect of it.  The point of science is to further knowledge and understanding of a subject, but for a purpose.  Always, there is a purpose.  A motive.  In a way there is no "pure" science.  The gain, not necessarily monetary or financial, or for prestige or power, is always there.   Nothing is done without potential for reward.  Isn't that a tenet of psychology itself?  Perhaps just behaviorism.  But it is relevant to all the disciplines.

Humanism is kinda, sorta, um… crap.  (I said it! Oh, oh, burn!)  I will repeat: nothing is done without the potential for reward.  And this is the basis of my own personal philosophy.  Oooh, I shudder to call it that.   Okay, perception of the world and reality, and whatever else is relevant.  Nothing is magnanimous.  In my first draft of this piece, I wrote completely magnanimous. But I think now that I'll just leave the "completely" out entirely.  Because I put it in, I suppose, as a concession to the ideas of people before me and people around me.  Now I can finally identify this… weakness (don't I sound like a fanatical control freak?) as humanism.  Which I consider completely bunk.  (Haha! There's the "completely!")

I have removed the "completely" because (and now I'm back to my main point) my own perception of this topic leaves no middle ground.  Magnanimity is an illusion, sort of like free will.  I dislike extremes, and when there is no spectrum leaving room for doubt, but I see no way around this.  It's a yes/no thing.  An on/off switch.  And the magnanimity switch is off.  Stuck in the "off" position, in fact.  Everything is self-serving in some manner.  This is not necessarily a "bad" thing.  It seems nature or some god (in the form of evolution and natural selection) has built reward into the concept of "doing good."  When a person does something "good," e.g. giving money to charity, he receives a reward.   He feels good about himself, and is fulfilling his need for self-validation.  Or if he is pressed by an individual or individuals he cares about, he feels good about pleasing his loved one(s).  Or if the act is for a public image, he is released from the scrutiny of the aforementioned public.  Etc.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Teach Free Thought

Last night I was on the internet again, searching for some sort of guide, a sort of "manual to faith."  But then it struck me--I had an epiphany, if you will--I think organized religion is [insert expletive here].  That's how I started all those many years ago to gather and organize my thoughts into a faith of my own.  Belief is all your own and faith is ultimately a personal experience.  The ultimate personal experience.  I don't think believing in common divines is a problem.  After all, humans are a social species and just because you incorporate the ideas of another is only the difference between a research paper on original lab work and a review of other's lab work (ie your own conclusions).

Gods, what am I trying to say?  I feel like I should invoke the muse.

I guess you could take an example, such as the Christian tradition of Sunday School.  The idea of Sunday School is just... *shudders*  Someone "teaching" you what to think.  Thought cannot be "taught."  But (as evidenced by the prevalence of Sunday Schools) it can be shaped.  Like damming a river to change the contours of the land.  Virtually irreversible, I might add.  "Taught" implies the introduction of something new and foreign; numbers can be taught, and grammar, and history, but you cannot be taught the truth because the truth is yours.

But what are we [as a species] without religion?  The short answer is: I don't know.  This simple question has kept me up at night.  Keeps.  I don't know.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

"Hallelujah" part III

For the purposes of this analysis (to keep things simple) I will refer to the singer as W (woman)  and the singer's lover (who I believe is the intended audience) as M (man).  I'm going to do this in a few installments, because otherwise it's ridiculously long.

part I

part II

Maybe there’s a God above
But all I’ve ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you
It’s not a cry you can hear at night
It’s not somebody who's seen the light
It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

More questioning of faith.  W (the singer) is apparently not enamored with the religion set out in popular doctrine.  This is also addressed in the next line, when she references Church teachings that "God is love" and such, saying that she didn't really learn anything useful from these teachings except how to duck out of a relationship before getting stung.  A "quit before they can fire you" mentality.  Somewhat defeatist, in my opinion.  Then again, the whole reference to love and learning could have to do with the more immediate experience of romantic love, and implies again that she's been hurt in relationships before and is not eager to undergo more pain.  Again the line "a cold and... broken Hallelujah," presumably used to describe "love," whatever that is.  The lines immediately preceding are just further emphasizing the last line, crying that love is not benevolent and transcendental.  (I'm feeling wordy today; can you tell?)

You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy or the broken Hallelujah

Again this seems a religious reference.  Perhaps to the hypocrisy of religion, "teaching" love without feeling it.  This verse really resonates with me, as it describes the individuality of faith.  W's concept of divinity is different from M's, so her "name" is not his.  Furthermore (in the third line) why does he care?  Her faith is her own, her ideas personal, and her thoughts her right.  The next two lines suggest the power of language and its ability to express feelings and ideas beyond just consonants and vowels.  The last two lines seem like a dismissal of M; "it doesn't matter to me what you think because you're outta here."

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though
It all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah

W is tired of arguing, and it really doesn't matter anyway what M says.  She's done.  She'd fallen out of love before this, but for the sake of harmony she held onto the relationship.  Because of that she has no regrets, and she can stand before the Lord of Song without shame.  The "Lord of Song" could refer to a god, to Death, or just to some amorphous ruling power (like human conscience), so it's a reference to a sort of judgement by that higher power.  And she will stand dignified.

Is W's whole hang-up on religion just a metaphor for her romantic relationship with M?  I think it could be interpreted as such, and W's rocky relationship with divinity as a metaphor for her crumbling relationship with M.  Or the other way around, I suppose.  Either way, I still very much like the song.  Thanks for reading!

Monday, January 10, 2011

"Hallelujah" part II

For the purposes of this analysis (to keep things simple) I will refer to the singer as W (woman)  and the singer's lover (who I believe is the intended audience) as M (man).  I'm going to do this in a few installments, because otherwise it's ridiculously long.

part I

part III

Baby, I've been here before
I know this room, I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew you.
I've seen your flag on the marble arch
Love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

Clearly W is telling M that she's been in this situation, perhaps with another lover or M.  But the "I used to live alone..." seems to contradict this.  Maybe it's W saying that she left a previous lover, was alone for a while, then tried again with M.  W is disappointed by M; she thought this one would be different.  But M has proven to be more in love with love than with W.  The "flag on the marble arch" is a sign to the rest of the world boasting that he is in love, shouting it from the rooftops.  But W sees this as an abuse of trust.  Love is not for the sake of love, she says, but for another person.  It may not always be easy, which is why it's "cold and broken."

There was a time you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show it to me, do you?
And remember when I moved in you
The holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

M is just going through the motions of having a relationship, and W recognizes here that the relationship is just a shell of what it used to be.  He used to tell her what he was feeling, but communication is failing and M is becoming ever more secretive.  The next line could simply refer to sex, but if it does it signifies the singer is male and the intended audience is female.  It very well could be; the song was written by a man, and I arbitrarily assigned gender at the onset of these shenanigans.  If we were to imagine, just for a moment, that Leonard Cohen did have a deeper meaning in mind (*more on this later) and the line is completely symbolic.  Perhaps W (going back to my assignations) is begging M to recall a time when she was important to him, enough to cause some change in him.  To [metaphorically] move him.  I must admit, the dove stumps me.  Maybe just symbolizing the soul?  I don't know.  And to breathe "Hallelujah" with every breath means that they were happy, W and M, and every breath was a gift.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

"Hallelujah" part I

For the purposes of this analysis (to keep things simple) I will refer to the singer as W (woman)  and the singer's lover (who I believe is the intended audience) as M (man).  I'm going to do this in a few installments, because otherwise it's ridiculously long.

part II

part III

I really like the song "Hallelujah"by Leonard Cohen.  I first heard a cover by k.d. lang on her album Hymns of the 49th Parallel, and, from the first time I listened to it, it just caught me.  I've mentioned how I like minor keys, and it's interesting that this isn't in a minor key but it feels like one.  Besides the melody, the lyrics are enigmatic, and I really haven't ever thought about them before now.  I've been hearing a lot of covers of it lately--it seems to have enjoyed a sort of resurgence, if there was a "surgence" to begin with--and I had a friend mention it, unprompted by me, while riding in the car one day.  I've heard it done by k.d.lang, Justin Timberlake, and Rufus Wainwright, to name a few.  It has some visceral appeal, some enchanting aspect that draws the listener in.  In my opinion, it deserves a critical look.

Before I start, I encourage you to listen to it first, maybe even a few times.  Just so that you feel the draw, so that you've heard it unencumbered by my thoughts on meaning.  @ YouTube (NB I like k.d. lang's version, but just search for it and you'll find a few different covers.)

"Now I've heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this
The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah"

"You" seems to be directed at M, perhaps an unfaithful lover. This verse is about music, a specific melody, but it never shows up again in the later lyrics.  What's the significance of David?  Obviously David is the Biblical king David, and I suppose he's baffled.  He is supposed to have composed many of the psalms in the Book of Psalms, and is sometimes referred to [in the JCBible] as "beloved of the songs of Israel."  Many of the songs are even directed to Yahweh, so W is asking something of her god.  But some of the psalms also describe events in David's life; Psalm 34 describes David's escape from King Abimelech. He "changed his behaviour" (acted insane) and Abimelech sent him away.  The psalm itself is directed first to JCGod and then to potential followers of JCGod.  So perhaps the "secret chord" that David played is not something he composed at all, but the course of his life and actions.  JCGod certainly was pleased with David.  So the next question: why is he "baffled?"  This could be referring to the human condition, and the whole not-being-omniscient thing that leads to mistakes and confusion.  So maybe "baffled" just refers to the fact that David was human, and this verse is trying to emphasize that even imperfect humans can reach a level of peace with the divine.

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew you
She tied you
To a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, and she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah

Is the "faith" in this verse Christian faith?  I think it probably is, just because of the prevalence of Christianity (and the tendency of really all religions to think of theirs as the faith); I of course choose to consider it in a more universal sense.  What's interesting here is that faith and proof are, well, mutually exclusive.  The whole idea of faith is that there is no proof, even that proof is impossible.  This is perhaps implying that the faith in this occasion is false, a mask or a meaningless totem to cling to.  Is this a condemnation of the M, that they are false and need proof in order to love?  In a sense, unable to love unconditionally?

So who is "she?"  "She" is apparently a violent entity.  That she's bathing the first time she's mentioned minds me of pagan goddesses like Artemis (among others).  In one myth Artemis is "accidentally" stumbled upon bathing in the forest by the young hunter Actaeon; she turns him into a stag and his own hounds fall upon him and kill him (differing versions exist).  (Another thing that implies Artemis: "the moonlight.")  The rest of the verse suggests that whoever "she" is, she cuts M down to size, humbling him.  It suggests hubris on the lover's part (the throne), and the ancient gods loved nothing more than punishing hubris.  The "hair" line probably somehow refers to many societies' belief that the hair holds strength or power (JCBible Samson, Mongol, Native American, Celtic, Mesoamerican culture) and that cutting it would strip the owner of that power.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

More HUM to Come...

So when I started this blog, I was taking the class humanities 220.  Well, my school requires two semesters of humanities to graduate, specifically a semester each of hum 220 and 221.  So guess what I'm taking next semester?

Bad or good first?  Bad: I have to read epically witty and fascinating crap like John Locke's 2nd Treatise on Government, and The Marx-Engels Reader.  Yeah, Marx.  Karl.  Woohoo.  The good news is that I'm looking forward to reading Sybil by Benjamin Disraeli.  Oh no, wait, that's for another class.  Nvm.  But we are reading Frankenstein.  That should be pretty cool.

What does this mean to you, the valued reader?  Well, it means that I should have interesting stuff to say about fairly well-known works of literature.  It also means it'll be particularly venomous stuff, especially if I don't end up liking my professor.  I'm reserving some really vicious neurotoxic venom for A Declaration of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft; I read it once already and it read like a heap of decaying flesh that time too.

More fuel for my blogging fire should be provided by the English class I am also taking, which covers British literature from the 1700s to the present.  That's where I'm reading Sybil.


Thursday, January 6, 2011

Anchored to a Sandbar; or, The Truth is Always Shifting

Plinky asked: "Is it always better to know the truth, even when it hurts?"

Not always. Sometimes (excuse the expression) you can't handle the truth. Are you going to tell a five-year-old that his mommy was raped and dismembered in Central Park? When Grandma has Alzheimer's in the nursing home and every day forgets that Grandpa died five years ago are you going to break her heart every day so she isn't misinformed? What about if you've just moved in with someone, and maybe life isn't that grand because you have to scrape for rent and food but you're happy, but if you tell your dad he'll sweep in and take you away and you'll spend the rest of your life being mollycoddled?

The easiest answer is "yes, the truth is always the best," but that seems very monochromatic to me. Shades of grey means that nothing's easy. Besides (and I promise I'll restrain from expanding on this) but what is the truth? Something you may see as absolute truth - for instance that it is time for you to move away from your family and start your own life - may not be absolute for someone else - like your little sister, who draws strength from your closeness and appreciates that you don't leave her to deal with mom and dad all alone.

The truth can limit a person, too. Sometimes, if you don't know the truth (for instance, your friend's truth that your artwork is dull and unoriginal) it turns out not to be the truth (when you end up having a show in a gallery in SoHo). Truth is inconstant, and as a species we give it way too much credit.

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Lack of Dentary Sagacity: Are Wisdom Teeth Wise?

Got my wisdom teeth out yesterday.  Frickin' wisdom teeth; nothing wise about 'em.  An artifact of evolution.  Adult humans have 32 teeth (including the wisdom teeth).  These wisdom teeth are presumably so-named because they erupt around the late teens, when humans supposedly become "wise" or some such thing.  Maybe naming them that is some sort of wry humor, a rite of passage, as only those with forbearance enough to survive to that [in some eras and some cultures, advanced] age deserve to gain the "wisdom" teeth.

At any rate, they're pretty useless, even detrimental.  For instance, the biggest factor in my finally getting mine out was that my dentist informed me that the lower teeth, now peeking through, left nooks and crannies where food could get stuck and promote an abscess.

The reason they couldn't make it all the way through and make it to the normal, un-threatening teeth stage?  Because I, like the majority of modern humans, don't have a long enough jaw to accomodate them.  "Then why are they there?" you inquire.  Well, they're there because evolution is a process, not a guide; there is no "invisible hand" with some sort of foresight seeing the probability that our faces would get shorter and spontaneously ridding us of those annoying third molars that don't fit.  Some thousands of years ago, those third molars did fit.  Think of a dog's jaw, or some similarly-snouted animal.  32 human-sized teeth in the jaw of a dog with vaguely similar cranial measurements would fit nicely (an oversimplification, I know, but bear with me).  And the dog would have space for those 28 teeth, plus those blasted wisdom teeth because... (wait for it)... he has a long muzzle.  Might not seem like much but consider this: we have the shortest faces of any in the vertebrates (I would venture) and we are the only ones with extra teeth.  Wait, let me check that... yeah, pretty much.  Most telling is that other vertebrates have these same third molars but they fit.  A distinguishing characteristic of primates is the shortened face, especially as you move into the apes.

Just a quick aside; this is not (gods forbid) to cast humans or apes in any sort of "superior" role with respect to the rest of Animalia.  This is simply an academic distinction between mammalian/vertebrate/chordate/animal lineages and one of them just happens to be Homo sapiens.

Still with me?  Good.  In that vein I would like to address creationism (more like rip it apart into itty bitty pieces but ah well, we can't have everything).  I just have one point to make at this juncture: why would an intelligent designer give us these pointless, potentially harmful teeth?  Among other things [that identify us as humans]... bigger brains means bigger skulls, leading to more hazardous childbirth; standing on two legs leads to numerous lower body joint problems, especially spine problems; a specialized laryngeal apparatus grants the power of speech but greatly increases the risk of choking, necessitating the chewing of food which in its turn causes myriad jaw problems, and now we're back to teeth.

So all this boils down to one thing: my mouth hurts and I'm pissed.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Textbooks, and the Acquisition of Them

I hate shopping online.  I am always afraid I'm going to get duped, and you can't hold the thing you're buying in your hands, or see it for real.  Anyway, I am in the process of buying my books for next semester; it's doubly exciting because I am basically flat broke.  My mom's helping me out, but of course I feel terrible about that... She insists it's fine, but I still feel kind of low about it.  So I've been bouncing back and forth between the school's textbook website, Amazon, B&N, and Alibris trying to find the best deal, and it's driving me crazy (*woooooOOOOOOOOoooo!*).  I think I've decided how I'm going to do things (where to buy, what to buy, what to rent) but now comes the paying part.  Some of the books (ie most of them) are used and when they're gone they're gone, so I'm a bit concerned about waiting...  I'm hoping nothing will happen til Monday, because today's a holiday and tomorrow's Sunday, but then I remembered that I'm gonna be sky high on Monday because I'm getting my wisdom teeth out... maybe my mother can order in my stead...

NB's hold music is making me want to punch something