Archive for January, 2012


Posted: January 31, 2012 in psychology
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Its part of the human condition, a preference for immediate gratification over postponed gratification.  The ability of children to postpone immediate gratification correlates with academic success.  For most of us, healthy habits fail due to our desire for gratification now rather than insuring good health later.  No doubt, this tendency for immediate gratification has evolutionary roots when food and other life necessities were unpredictable.

In my memory, it used to be that financial rewards were the result of saving for the long term. Today you are rewarded by quick windfalls in the market or by manipulating the system rather than by honest work.  Elections are won by the decisions of people who only pay attention at the last moments before voting, not by long term investments in knowing what their vote means.  Most of us are deciding what to do based on the short term rewards, financial and otherwise.  And, groups who understand this tendency are able to take advantage in finances, elections, and social justice issues.

Churches find satisfaction in their service projects because they provide immediate gratification in helping.  They can be so involved in meeting short time needs that they don’t have time to consider root causes.  It is difficult to get people to think in terms of what can be done to prevent floods when the water is seeping under the door or to prepare for an earthquake that just might not happen in the next 10 or 50 years.

Here’s the thing.  Now that I am older and have a grandson, I am beginning to think about what the world will be like in the next 100 years, long after I am gone. [I think this also has to do with age.  see Time Compression blog.]  I have done a lot of service, but what have I done to deal with root causes, looking out for the common good down the road?  At least, I am glad to participate in some community organizing that is concerned for more than the most immediate gratification issue, the Metropolitan Alliance for Common Good.

Body Building (wink)

Posted: January 30, 2012 in Science
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Body Building (wink)

O.K., it is a play on words. I am not really going to talk about how to build up your muscles so you can lift weights or exude a fabulous physique. I am thinking about bodies of people. O.K., that is not clear either. I am thinking about groups of people, a body of people. But there are analogies to the human body, so that is where the word play comes in.

In the last decade, there has been a growing interest in the “foreign” bodies that make up the body we as individuals live in. In the December, 2010 Science magazine, Elizabeth Pennisi points out that these “foreign” cellular bodies out number the cells that carry our unique DNA 9 to 1. That is, for every cell in our body that we can identify as us, there are 9 cells carrying DNA distinct from our own. They exist in our mouths, esophagus, skin, stomach, colon, etc. We tend to think that bacteria all belong to a class of harmful foreign bodies. However, research is discovering that the large majority of these “foreign” bodies contribute to our well being. I realized, reading this brief article that I had been seeing references to this in several places recently.

Personal experience tells me that the collection of bacteria in my gut and not the same ones that my wife has in her gut. We have both observed that food can affect us differently. A food that causes flatulence in one of us does not necessarily do the same for the other. It seems obvious that our guts are operating differently. The implication is that these gut “bugs” contribute or at least alter the digestive process in different ways. There is speculation that this significant colony of “foreign” bodies, existing in great variety among humans and most likely other animals as well, could explain a lot about how and why certain diseases affect some people but not others.

But, as I was reading this article, it occurred to me it was an example of community organizing. It takes a rather large collection of rather diverse cells to make a “me.” In fact, it is questionable whether or not a self reference ought to be “we” instead of “I”. We are a collection of many parts, not just organs, but organisms all working in relative harmony to make an “us” as opposed to a “me.” It seems to me that the “we” is a demonstrative example of an organized effort.

I/we would imagine that in the years to come, this study will become more robust and our perception of who “we” are will shift so that we see how we are each individual societies, living cooperatively, symbiotically, to create the unique individuals that we are. And, it might become an example of the importance of organized efforts of groups/bodies of people and a reduction in the idea that the individual is so valuable in isolation from other individuals in so far as making the society in which we live healthy. Only time will tell. I doubt I will live long enough to see the result.

Time Compression (poem)

Posted: January 29, 2012 in Philosophy, Uncategorized
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Life Times
By Cecil Denney

There was a time when a year seemed like a life time.
I think it must have been when I was one.
There was a time when my age reached nine.
That year the year was a much shorter one.

When I was seventy, one year went by like a flash.
I was sixty only one seventh of my life ago.
So it occurs to me that time is a miss-mash,
measured by life-times that seem so slow.

Does it not seem that time speeds up as you grow old?
To wait a year when your only one
Is to wait for a very long time as you are told
It is just a short time till your two my son.

But to wait a year when you are seventy in years
is to wait but a brief spell,
for seventy one arrives amid birthday cheers
so quickly its hard to tell.

And history plays tricks on you as you age as well.
As a teen times past were “like ancient history.”
But at seventy one you can not seem to tell
how close they have become. Its such a mystery.

That war long past now seems so current to me
but to the young, it seems so, so long ago.
I think I measure time in lifetimes you see,
which now seems to measure everything I know.

Its not the clock’s seconds and hours that measure time.
Its not the day or month or year that matters.
Its how long you have lived your life sublime.
Now my thought of time is left in tatters.

As “ancient history” grows closer to me
as measured by life times ago
I marvel at times variability you see
as I older and older I grow.

So think for yourself how time affects your thinking
and see if you don’t agree with me
that time is measured by life experience, linking
us with the past more closely. Don’t you agree?

Brain Efficiency (part 1)

Posted: January 28, 2012 in psychology
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This series of blogs will explain a number of otherwise puzzling human behaviors.  So if that interests you, hang in there for each part.

PART 1: Our brains are efficiency experts, at least in their own operation.  The brain uses a lot of the energy we need each day to survive, so it needs to operate as efficiently as it can.  Over time, it has developed a clever means to accomplish this:  It makes models of the external world that reduce its need to discover what to do every time it gets a bunch of signals from our senses.  If it makes a good model, then it can tell what is happening without having to analyze all sensory input all the time.  In fact, it is not very good at multitasking that requires attention to multiple external stimuli.

A Story: A few years ago I decided to grow a beard.  A colleague of mine in a different department also independently decided to grow a beard.  Some months later, I shaved my beard off.  When I went to work, very few people made a comment as though they did not notice.  That was surprising to me, so the next time I had lunch with my colleague, I was commenting on this experience of people not noticing I had shaved my beard.  He said, “me too.  No one noticed me either.”  at which point and not before I noticed he had also shaved his beard.  How do you account for my experiences in this true story?

Here is my explanation.  People knew me before I grew a beard and during that time, they created visual models of what I looked like as I also did with my colleague.  Then, when we grew beards, people had to create another model of our appearance which they did.  After the initial multiple comments from people about the new beard, things settled down to normal.  However, when I shaved my beard, I reappeared to people as the model they already had built and in fact, they did not realize how their brains just switched back automatically, so much so, they did not in this case notice the switch.  The same thing happened to me when I had lunch with my colleague.

There is a lot more to this model building idea than I can expound on in this one blog, so I will save further comments for later blogs.  (Link to Part 2)

The Censor in us All

Posted: January 28, 2012 in Philosophy
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An interesting thing happened on the way to retirement.  I discovered that I had been a censor in my past.  I had worked for an organization that specifically prohibited me from speaking to the press without explicit approval (and an implied control of what I would say).  I don’t know about the legality of that position, but the implied consequences of non-compliance would have been non-job.

But I was complicit, a self censor.  After I retired I began to be more outspoken on a lot of topics.  I was not immediately conscious of this change in my attitude.  It was not long that I began to realize I was free to speak on any subject without any threat to my livelihood.  I was “Free to Speak.”  And I did speak more openly about many areas.  Yet, I still continued to be a censor.

Watching my grandson grow up (now 5), I realized that censorship is a learned behavior.  We think it is funny when a child says things like “Why does your face have wrinkles?” and other honest things, but we are none to subtle in correcting or in their presence laughing or apologizing for them.  Some kinds of censorship are culturally expected and people who don’t self-censor are thought of as rude.

So, with age, we may be released from some forms of self-censorship, but not all forms.  It makes honest dialogue something less than honest and communication somewhat compromised.  I suppose the best we can hope for is greater awareness and more thoughtful, less censored relationships.  I wonder if being a politician requires a highly advanced form of censorship and purposeful, calculated, non-censored expressions.

Time Compression

Posted: January 28, 2012 in Philosophy
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I was watching the PBS show “The Mannor House” with my wife when she said “I used to think World War I was ancient history.”  She just demonstrated what I call the Time Compression that comes with age.  If you talk to someone in their latter years, they will tell you that time just seems to fly by.  In contrast, notice how long it seems to a young child until Christmas.  Our perception of time changes as we age.

I believe that we experience time, not in seconds, hours, days, months, and years.  I think the basic unit of time for the human experience is LIFETIMES.  Consider the fact that waiting a year for a one year old is asking them to wait a lifetime.  In contrast, when you are 20, waiting a year is only 1/20th of a lifetime and at 70, 1/70th of a life time.  Hours, days and months are compressed because they are experienced as smaller and smaller pieces of our lifetime. This experience of time has another outcome.  As we grow older, things in the past seem to get closer.

Take the example of someone who was born in 1970.  When they were 10 years old, 1960 would be two(2) lifetimes ago.  When they were 20, 1950 would be two(2) lifetimes ago.  By the time they were 70, 1900 would be two(2) lifetimes ago.  As we age, history that at one time seemed ancient is now perceived as not so long ago.  That is how I figure our perception of time is experienced in units of a lifetime.  Time seems to move faster while historical events seem not so far away.  Think about it and I think you will agree how we experience time.

The All Important “WHY” Question

Posted: January 26, 2012 in Philosophy
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The other day I was riding in the car with my grandson who I will refer to as “A.”  This happened when he was four years old.  We were carrying on a conversation and he asked me, “Pop Pop, why do we have maps?”  The “Why” question usually leads to all sorts of additional why’s as I attempt to answer the first one.  Well, I started to explain how maps were a model, like his model car of where things were and how to get there.  I was driving our Prius that has a rather large GPS screen he had leaned over to see, so I began to discuss how it worked, how satellites sent signals like a radio or TV that the car can listen to and figure out where it is, etc. etc. etc.  He was being unusually quiet, so I stopped and he interjected a clarification to his question.  “No Pop Pop, I mean paper maps.”

I was suddenly struck with the generation gap or I should say the grand-generation gap.  “A” was living in a different age than the one I grew up in.  Now, GPS was just some magic movie on a screen that his relatives used to get where they needed to go, so what was the point of a paper map?  Hmmm.  Good question.  My cell phone has GPS, my car has GPS, I have a device I can wear on my wrist that tracks where I go, how far I go, how fast I go, how high I go.  Why have paper maps.  Needless to say, a four year old stumped me.

The world is changing very quickly.  Even when we adopt that new technology thingy, we still find it difficult to let go of the tried and true, steady as you go things we became attached to as we grew up and depended on.  These new thingys though have a way of changing our perceptions of reality in subtle ways so that as we grow older, our world view might also be changed — that is if we are an open, not a closed system.  Being open, however, can put our basic underpinning beliefs at risk.  If we are open, what we once believed represented “truth” can be questioned and if found wanting, our beliefs are or have to be changed.

It may be more comfortable to be closed, but it is a lot more interesting to be open to new ideas.  Hope you are enjoying your journey through these interesting times.

What’s the Point?

Posted: January 26, 2012 in Philosophy
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As I have grown older, I find that many ideas I held have changed and many have been reinforced by my associations, readings, and experience.  Currently, as I write this first post, my grandson is just 5 years old.  My wife and I get to “play” with him four days a week and his questions over his talking years have been those fundamental kinds of questions, that if taken seriously, caused me to re-think ideas I had about what the world is really about.

I would encourage anyone who wishes to explore meaning in life to take seriously the questions of the very young and try to provide truth as best you can.  It is a humbling experience to discover with all your experience how little you really know.

I have lots of opinions.  Who doesn’t?  But what do I KNOW?  I mean, what do I know as in “REALLY KNOW FOR SURE?”  I have come to understand that I KNOW only one thing for sure which is that I don’t KNOW anything else.  So, the rest of what I blog of necessity are only opinions, some of which might sound like knowledge, but in the end, are only opinions.

So what is the point? We are our opinions.  Opinions are not “TRUTH”, only opinions.  But, your opinions and my opinions can change other people’s opinions, can alter what seems to represent reality.  So, we communicate to change others and ourselves, for better or for worse.  So, choose to enjoy the journey.