Wednesday, February 26, 2014

On Being Certain: A Critical Reflection In Four Parts

Didn't want to post this tonight, because the previous post was more important (and funnier) - The New Discrimination: Because Freedom Is Only For Straight People. However, once a blog post is done, it's hard to let it sit in the draft ya go. No patience. It's only one of so many issues.

Over the span of four weeks the class on truth and knowing (and reality) that we've been taking was tasked to read sections of 'On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right, Even When You're Not' by Robert A Burton and write critical reflection papers to bring to class, which would be used as talking points for the two hour discussions each week (and which they hardly ever are, as 15+ University students are prone to [amazing] tangents).

What follows is the four papers, a critique in four parts, of various lengths, and varying coherency, on impressions and thoughts of the readings which cover a lot of material on the unconscious (subconscious) and conscious and what drives feelings, thoughts and emotions and the way people form certainties of perceived knowledge. (That was your warning to turn back now.)

Honestly, the book is a mind fuck, even for a mind already fucked up (but not especially). However, it presents some really interesting ways to view free will and human thinking and motivation.

The beauty of the class is that it makes you think, and you're never wrong for your opinion, because there are no real wrong answers when it comes to feeling and the study of neurological bases for it (yet)...just weird philosophies on why and how feelings happen (with some scientific basis), which you are free to agree with or not agree with, like anything else in the world.

Have we mentioned this is our favourite class? It is. It allows us to be very tongue-in-cheek.

It's notable that in the grading scheme of papers, in which the highest marks are as follows "+, +✓,✓,-✓"..."grading" scheme - these papers received +, ++. ++ , and + respectively. Meaning the two middle ones are better than the highest mark. Not sure why. The instructor is a little "weird".

Without further adieu...

Critical Reflection on ‘On Being Certain’ by Robert A. Burton in Four Parts...

- Chapters 1-5

These chapters were pretty complex, it’s hard to disagree with a neurologist on much of what he is claiming. However, it seems there were a few topics to poke fun at while trying to understand. While I respect that there are cognitive functions and subconscious drives and monsters in my brain driving all of my decisions, feelings, and actions, to analyze them to such a serious degree almost takes the fun out of being human. If that is what I am. I mean, I know I am human, because I feel that I am human…but I could be wrong. What came first, the knowing or the feeling. “He does not know what he knows” (9)…so s/he knows nothing, and s/he knows everything. Because if s/he does not know, then you surely don’t know, so nobody knows…so s/he might as well know everything, you know?

Without a sense of knowing simply based on a feeling, would there even be obscure belief systems, would people have unique views. That’s rhetorical, of course.

Most of religion, for example, is based on a feeling, which makes them think they know it’s real. But then by that token, isn't my own feeling that, say, religion is just a man-made construct of control, which leads me to know it’s not real and it is not something I want to take a part in, just as real, or unreal, as their knowing based on their feeling. Given that there is no “real” evidence to support their feeling, argument can be made that there is more proof that religion is man-made than there is proof that it is not…OR is that only my feeling of knowing, and in fact none of us know anything.

In my opinion, information is what shifts the not knowing to knowing, not a feeling. When reading the paragraph that turned out to be about a kite, I had no “feeling” about the paragraph, I thought it was an abstract sort of prose and read it as such, which made it both comprehensible and meaningless all at the same time, being open to reinterpretation at any turn. Was that thought a feeling?

The concept of the feeling of knowing is too highly subject to bias, personal notions, brain function, and missing data – which can be inevitable in any given situation. My mind reels at the content of these five chapters, and I find myself hating brains, they are not to be trusted. It’s a good thing I’m not a zombie.

- Chapters 6-10

Sometimes I feel like I could live forever, but I know that I can’t. At least I’m pretty sure that I can’t. What is the mechanism in the brain that makes me think I feel a certain way so that I have a feeling of knowing in the first place? I am finding with the reading of Burton that I have fewer opinions, opinions being my usual mode when I set out to write about something that I am learning, and am ending up with more questions. For instance, if the unconscious part of the brain that directs our conscious brain truly is just genetically wired synapses and neurons firing in rapid response to stimuli, essentially controlling our emotions, instinct, and being, what are the motives behind its puppetry? It “appears” that it is wired to know what it is doing, if it wasn't our species would cease to exist, would we not? The brain cannot exist without us, and we cannot exist without it. Yet the brain seems to have hidden motives, and we think we have control of it. It can almost be likened to some obligatory symbiotic parasitic relationship.

If it is true that genes play such an integral or core role in thought and behavior, doesn't that make gene isolation to control behavior possible; and wouldn't that take away freewill? Isn't that in itself, the idea that by isolating a gene you can effect whether or not someone will behave in a certain way, a valid argument for the existence of freewill (what you don’t have cannot be taken away)? Also, some could argue that there is a dangerous nature in playing with genetics and finding out how genetics, DNA, dictate behavior. It almost brings to mind some Orwellian/Minority Report/Hitler nightmare where they breed out characteristics by isolating and removing genes in order to control the population in all matters of action. Eek!

Turning then to the nature of thought, is a thought that hasn't reached awareness even a really a thought? When does a thought begin? Does a thought not dictate some awareness or action by the thinker, and if not, and our unconscious is thinking and we don’t know, does that make the unconscious conscious? Burton seems to allege that a thought begins before it begins, at least if I’m understanding him correctly, and only when your unconscious releases the information it’s been working on to create that though, does it become a thought…but it was already a thought before it became a thought. The unconscious is starting to sound like the concept of a God. Circular logic inclined to much tail chasing.

Using the information Burton presents, one way I constructed a level of understanding of thought and the unconscious is to look at the relation of the process of the operation of a computer and an application. Suppose the mind is a computer with an application (idea/information) that runs in the background (unconscious brain). The application (idea/information) is passive until activated/called on, but it’s not actually operating (thinking) until you activate and manipulate it, bring it to “life” (it becomes a thought).

A thought leading to a conscious feeling of knowing is usually in response to information stimuli calling upon stored information in your unconscious, is it not? I don’t go about the day having a general feeling of knowing, or not knowing, until I encounter something that demands the feeling. I don’t have a thought until something I hear, see, taste, touch, and/or smells, elicits my brain to call up on my information bank and evoke a memory or a feeling, or raise a question to be solved, no matter how mundane. Awareness then, “we know we know things, which is what leads to feelings of knowing” (Lehrer), is key to the feeling.

The theory of calling on memories and the role of episodic memory role in achieving a feeling of knowing was very interesting, but I thought perhaps a little flawed in how Burton presented it. The examples he gave, whether something is perceived as hot or cold, bland, or spicy, is a similar to the example where one person’s red might not be another person’s red, or that a house is colder to one person than another. Memories based on perceptions, based on sensations, is almost a part of what makes a person an individual. “I am nothing if not my past” (Burton 83), but if you conclude that everything about your past can be misinterpreted or wrong because you remembered a piece of chicken being dry while another person remembered it relatively moist…what does that say about you. Now, there are certainly very important pieces of information that when wrong can corrupt memories, like in cases of actual events where someone remembers something that did not actually happen. The idea that Burton presented “that everybody should draw the same conclusion if given the same information” (102) speaks to a sort of concentration, or reduction or individuality, an idealist robotic response system free of birth from individual experience, perceptions, and sensations; un-unique. What would anybody have to talk about if everybody thought the same thing? Individual thinking would become needless, meaningless; one person could do it for everybody. There would be total loss of the satisfaction that comes from simply thinking and contemplating, and debating with peers.

In matters of action, there is some definite underlying truth that immediate reward and a feeling of instant gratification is definitely a seductive motivation for human behavior. If anything, it is a simple way to understand why something as simple as social media is so popular - people get near instant satisfaction from instant validation for thoughts and ideas, pictures and life events, and so people keep going back like a rat to a morphine lever. Addiction to social media is an addiction like any other, only the gratification is not money, or sexual release, or an intoxicating buzz; the gratification, the award, is validation for being yourself. There’s probably nothing more twisted to be addicted to. However, without dopamine releasing satisfaction there is inaction in everything, without dopamine creating these feelings there is no motivation.

As a side, if the role of dopamine responses alone are responsible for innate risk tolerances leading to “award-based” addiction, then that should mean controlling addicts with dopamine manipulating medications would or should be fairly successful.

My final thought…on thought. Burton claims “If there is any single area of human thought over which we believe that we have control, it is in our ability to decide whether or not there is a God, a perfect hereafter, fire and brimstone, or that we are insignificant specks in a meaningless universe governed by chance.” (104) Why can’t there be something in between “God” and “insignificant specks in a meaningless universe”?! Maybe we are beings with a divine goal of understanding and enjoying the universe that surrounds us…governed by our brains.

Lehrer, Johan. "Feelings of Knowing." Web log post. The Frontal Cortex. Science Blogs, 21 June 2010. Web. 31 Jan. 2014. <>.
Burton, Robert Alan. On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not. New York: St. Martin's, 2008. Print.

- Chapters 11-12 
“To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.”
― Confucius

Burton starts off early in chapter eleven calling for “[…] a switch that stops infinite ruminations and calms our fears of missing an unknown superior alternative” (125), appearing to ignore that some people have a form of that switch, which leads them to rest on a final belief or conviction, what they feel is a conclusion, and be less apt to explore the “what if” narrative. The world is full of those kinds of people. Even more unsettling is that he does not see that the “fear” (I wouldn't call it that) associated with “missing an unknown superior alternative”, is necessary, is what breeds innovation and curiosity and discovery. If people could just flip the switch whenever they were “fearful” so much would be lost. It’s all very fortunate, this statement he made, since it drove me to approach chapter eleven and twelve of On Being Certain with a desire to seek a “superior alternative” to much of what he has set forth to assert in the book, keeping with the logical declaration that “recognition and sensation of thought are integral to any theory of mind” (Burton, 138).

What came first: the thought…or the thought? Perhaps more aptly, is a thought without a thought still a thought? Burton speaks of the division of the process and awareness of thinking in unconscious and conscious thought (129), so thinking becomes a two-process occurrence. Since the unconscious is unaware, it seems fair to assume that what precedes a thought is a process, not a thought; that the operation of the unconscious is a process that only becomes a thought due to awareness - so then to use the term unconscious “thought” seems disingenuous.

In the example where we are to consider the different ways we might interpret two situations - one of an abandoned computer left to run an experiment, which still coming up with the answer, and then that of a writer who, thwarted by the difficulty of writing an epic novel find himself waking one day with the book in its entirety, ready to leap from his mind onto pages, a commonality exists making them no different than one another. That commonality is a conscious initiation - the conscious thought that moved to the initial action, which led to the unconscious process, ending in a result. Alternatively, one could argue that the process between the initiation and result, called “unconscious thought”, is deserving of its own name or title, not to be entangled with the same concept of how conscious thought is understood. Without considering the source of the conscious thought leading to the initial action of course, but let’s apply a little suspension of belief.

As Burton states, “unconscious thoughts” do not have a sensation of willful effort and intention. They are unfelt. He makes the assertion that conscious thoughts have been “prescreened and assigned a high likelihood of being worth pursuing than those ideas that did not reach consciousness” by the unconscious, and that “how the unconscious decides what should be delivered into consciousness is a matter of fierce debate” (134) [italics mine]. If the unconscious is loaded with, “unrecognized agendas, motivations, and complex ill-defined innate predispositions” (155) that controls our conscious mind, as Burton claims, would it not seem more likely that our unconscious is actually conscious just as conscious as our conscious, since it’s in control.

This leads one to consider a couple of things.

First, when something is pulled up from the unconscious by order of “importance” into the consciousness due to supposed “prescreening and assignment” by the unconscious, how can we be certain there is anything else in the unconscious at the time, or ever, to select from in the first place. Consciously try to search the unconscious thoughts, and you may be left with the most beautiful silence imaginable. If there was something there, wouldn't something materialize? Of course if you sat there long enough eventually something would materialize, but it would be out of consciousness due to stimuli or lack of. It might be because there is nothing there to prescreen because the unconscious is empty without the consciousness. After all, nobody can know for certain how the unconscious works, or even if it exists, it is just a theory, an imagination of understanding how random things come to mind. Perhaps better stated by Thoreau, “when one man has reduced a fact of the imagination to be a fact to his understanding, I foresee that all men at length establish their lives on that bases”. (11)

Secondly, the act of the unconscious “deciding” involves judgment and consideration, conscious cognitive processing, a conscious unconscious. So then, instead of two separate functioning parts with one feeding the other, that create two different kinds of thoughts, one might see the conscious and unconscious as two conscious’ working in tandem - one sensory consciousness and one thought consciousness that create thought. For how can the “unconscious” make conscious thoughtful decisions independently, free of intention and awareness? Without awareness, which “unconscious thought” is without, “we need a sensory appreciation [awareness] of the world in order to give our thoughts palpable meaning”, says Burton (126).

The awareness of thought is a fundamental attribute to conscious thought. What is a thought without awareness? What is a thought without palpable meaning? It is nothing until the conscious makes it something palpable. Therefore, whatever the unconscious manifests is not “unconscious thought”, but a process of the marriage between sensory consciousness and thought consciousness. Again, what I am claiming is that something unfelt and unperceived, created by the unconscious, free of meaning, and intent, is not a thought. Therefore, there are no unconscious thoughts.

Burton goes on to say that “feelings of certainty, conviction, rightness and wrongness, clarity and faith arise out of involuntary mental sensory systems that are integral and inseparable components of the thoughts that they qualify” (139). This is interesting, as it gives an impression that Burton does not attribute any learned knowledge and experiences to thoughts, primarily just feelings that arise magically out of an involuntary system, nor does this account for sources of change in these so-called “involuntary mental sensory systems” which may cause an individual to change their thoughts about a conviction or certainty. What seems more likely, from this account, is that thoughts are because of that sneaky unconscious of yours, driven by hunches, gut feelings and intuitions, “mental sensations” and emotionally driven responses, because goodness, how could you ever be responsible for the way you think and feel in any way.

This is all very fun and good, to mull over years of the study of the mind, especially in light of its theoretical nature, and play at different ways of understanding of it, but perhaps I approach it with bias. I feel that I have not given Burton enough credit, simply because I don’t necessarily agree with him. He does have some valid opinions, particularly in the way of biased thinking and its predominantly emotional foundation. The only way to overcome it, he says, is through “ruthless self-reflection” and introspection, but then he has to go and assert that introspective self-examination towards personal improvement is fallible and tied to free will, which “assumes we possess a portion of mind that can rise above the biological processes that generated it” (141).

If we were to take it one-step further and ascribe to the theories of the illusion on consciousness by cognitive scientist and philosopher, Dan Dennett, who considers consciousness and free will brain tricks, we can easily deny free will as we fall slave to the control of the unconscious mind. We don’t have consciousness, and the unconscious (can you have an unconscious without a conscious?) is bias, and as Burton states, so bias that “complete objectivity is not an option” (159) in self-reflection because we can never truly determine if our thoughts are free of bias. We can never really know ourselves because our unconscious thought process is ambiguous and biased, driven by the unconscious and emotions, so life is but a product of self-fulfilling prophecy of the unconscious, and the whole of humanity is slave to what it wants them to believe. As an acquaintance/friend, John Vargas once wrote, perhaps channeling Confucius, "There is only one thing that I know for sure: I don’t know anything that I don’t know.” So with that…I do not know my unconscious, because it will not allow me to, I only know my conscious, and my conscious, knowing nothing, wants to know everything.

Sources and Citation:
Burton, Robert Alan. On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not. New York: St. Martin's, 2008. Print.
"Dan Dennett: The Illusion of Consciousness." TED: Ideas worth Spreading. Ted Conferences, Apr. 2007. Web. 1 Feb. 2014. <>.
Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. Virginia: Wilder Publications. 2008. Print
Vargas, John. "My Words." Web log post. I Hate John Vargas. N.p., 4 Feb. 2014. Web. 5 Feb. 2014. <>.

- Chapters 13-15

It has to be said, the final chapters of ‘On Being Certain’ were met with a degree of excitement. Finally, the finish line! Burton wraps the last couple of chapters up and still I am left feeling like he said a lot without actually coming to a point. Was he supposed to sway me? Perhaps his intent was simply just to invoke thinking about the matter. As he says, “certainty is not biologically possible” (223), but I can be certain that he did not succeed in talking my brain out of its alleged endeavor to “trick itself”, or me, into thinking we have free will. Nor has there become a sudden loss of self because my personal sense of meaning arises from reason and not faith. He asks if we are better served by reason, or faith, but why can’t they co-exist? I am not convinced that faith automatically suspends reason, or vice versa

Burton asserts that in determining life’s purpose, something beyond ourselves must be acknowledged. While he does not proclaim that he is religious man by any means, he assert that attempting to determine life’s purpose, in trying to discover “why we are here”, a privilege is to be granted by something outside of ourselves. It beg the question; what is wrong with the self being the grantor? So wrapped up in the perceived limits he is imposing on what we can and cannot know about ourselves, he creates his own irrational mind, separate from his sense of self. This I cannot understand. My “sense of self” includes a profound sense of connection with my mind, even when it is clearly not felt as being connected - which took years to understand.

Burton denies the concept of a rational mind, viewing the concept of self, and the understanding of it, to be finite, setting “limits of what we can know” (192), even through introspection and self-assessment. One man’s rational mind sounds like another man’s irrational mind. It sounds irrational to even conceptualize limiting the self of what it can know. There are boundaries to what we can know only because existence is time-sensitive. This does not mean we lack the ability because of “biological constraints […] to know what we know” (197) because of “the irrational mind”. Rather it seems a choice to think your mind irrational and impose restrictions on it. Who says that the rational mind is not capable of flexibility, it seems more logical that a rational mind is capable of more learning and knowing than an irrational mind that has set its boundaries.

Then Burton returns to the hidden later of the mind, which honestly is starting to sound like something made up to explain the parts to the mind he hasn't (or “they” haven’t) figured out yet. Just because it lacks understanding doesn't mean it’s “hidden”…it means it’s unknown. It just works towards another denial of owning responsibility, that “the feelings of correctness, conviction, and certainly aren’t deliberate conclusions and conscious choices. [But] mental sensations that happen to us.” (218) [bold mine]. It leaves me wonder if Burton has experienced profound absences of the senses of choice often in his life, and he himself feels a sense of personal powerlessness. He uses the nature of personal responsibility in conjunctions with the idea of “not knowing”, saying “the most involuntary-appearing act may arise out of a stored intention of which you have no knowledge” (214). The example of the man who harbored feelings for years against a friend who cheated him on a business deal, then twenty years later assaulted him “unexpectedly”, as if the he had no idea where the intention came from, is ridiculous. If the man had really thought about it and was honest with himself, he would not claim that he “didn’t know what came over [him]” – or perhaps he does know, but it is obviously not what he chose to admit publicly, that it was simply stored resentment. It’s not rocket science.

Of course, “unconscious thoughts” trigger conscious behavior (in common theory), and according to Burton “the feeling of choice is a poor indicator of underlying intent” (209). It seems that the feeling of choice, without a sense of self and knowing oneself, would be a poor indicator to someone who believes that they are biologically prevented from knowing themselves and understanding the source of choice which in part if driven by base desires and emotions. Learning through “profound emotional experiences that contain no element of reason” becomes the reason in itself, because the way to understanding and knowing is through self-reflection. Further, there are no “ways of seeing the world that are beyond reason and discussion” (190), there are no ways of seeing anything that is beyond discussion. Everything is up for debate.

Burton goes on to say that “if science can’t provide resolution, most will look elsewhere” (202) to faith-driven arguments, that do not need to concern themselves with contrary evidence. That is preposterous sounding, if someone isn't content with not being able to know the answers when presented with evidence, why would they ever be able to find the answers in something free of evidence based simply on a feeling of faith? Maybe it just sounds illogical to me.

While he presents some interesting theories, I found myself continually frustrated by the overall close-minded approach of Burton’s book that leaves one to feel like a victim of the unconscious, lacking in free will, chained within boundaries set by their own mind. I refuse to buy into it, and it’s not because I am misunderstanding “the biology of belief” (183), as he might purport, but rather it is a denial that biology weighs heavily in the balance between experience and choice.

He leaves you with the simple question: How do you know what you know? To which I answer: Sometimes you don’t know, but you can try – and even when you do know something, you should still explore it, because the only thing that limits what you know, is yourself.

If you made it this far, you can be our friend!

Next on the block is When Science Meets Religion: Enemies, Strangers, or Partners?
by Ian G. far a chapter one reflection has been submitted, the reading will be completed the beginning of April.
...More From This Class: A Critical Reflection on 'Free Will' by Sam Harris (

Friday, February 21, 2014

The New Discrimination: Because Freedom Is Only For Straight People

Words can be dicey. There's no question about it. Words can be so dicey, especially in the Constitution, that sometimes they even get their definitions changed by the Supreme Court in order to make things seem like they are saying something they are not.

Today, in Arizona, a bill was passed to allow open discrimination of people, a bill that needs only the signature of the Governor Jan Brewer to be officially put on the books. There should be little doubt that it will be struck down by the Supreme Court for being unconstitutional, but in the meantime, it's something to ponder.

According to Tracey Stewart, of the Arizona Anti-Defamation League, the bill is a "state law allowing business owners to turn away gay and lesbian customers, employers to deny equal pay to women, or individuals to renege on contract obligations–as long as they claim to be doing so in the name of religion." (1) [italics mine]

Now. The First Amendment seems pretty clear, depending on interpretation. Isn't interpretation fun? Sure it isn't. More hate, intolerance and violence has been in the name of someone's interpretation of some text for over thousands of years than most care to acknowledge. But let's look at an interpretation and think about it, maybe have a conversation about it.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." (2)

The bolded part is the part we're going to focus on here.
'Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof'

Let's break it down and look at the word 'establishment'. Now, people who hate individual freedom (and if you think that people who are gay shouldn't have the same basic rights as you, then you are against personal and individual freedom, so don't even play that game) will jump on the first definition and scream "It means Congress can't make a law preventing me from establishing a religion. But it can make laws based on my Christian beliefs. This is 'Murica!"

Another, more rational person might view this statement and see it as "Congress shall make no law in favor of a religious organization/group"

See how those two could be viewed in completely different ways? See how one makes more sense when it comes to keeping politics out of religion, and religion out of politics? Apologies, we've been studying the writings of key founding fathers and writers who influenced the forming of this country in a class called American Political Thought, and it's pretty clear they thought mixing politics and religion were dangerous.

Okay. The second part of that says that Congress cannot prohibit you from practicing your religion; meaning they cannot stop you from going to church, or prevent you from praying. They also cannot make a law requiring you to do any of those things.
Congress also cannot pass laws that will make you be a murder, or adulterer, they can't force you to worship a God that is not your own, they can not force you to be blasphemous, steal, lie or stare at your hot neighbor's ass against your will. (These are all related to things in the 10 Commandments, the principles of ethics and worship). They cannot make a law that forces you to do any of these things which would prohibit you from freely exercising the tenants set forth by, what amounts to the Constitution of Biblical Law.

As an aside, since when did being bigoted, hateful and/or intolerant to groups of people become part of the 'free exercise of religion'? Does the Bible not state to love thy neighbor as thyself (Mark 12:31) and to love thy enemy (Matthew 5:44)? So where does 'turn away those icky gays because you don't approve of their lifestyle' fall into that? *hears crickets*...we digress.

Back to it, why then do the Powers That Be (All Hail Congress) think that a law, that enables segments of the population to be discriminated against because (some) religious people don't like them, can pass U.S. Constitutional muster?

It's baffling, the ignorance of it all.

But let's look at some other issues...
First...some have hinted that the bill may deny equal pay to woman...on religious grounds. Maybe we missed that commandment or verse - 'Thy women shalt not earn equal pay...because vagina.'

That blows. Just got a pay-cut for being born with this stupid vagina. Thanks, God.

Second...How will these Christian owned businesses ID members of the LGBT persuasion?
Is entering the store with someone of the same sex the clincher. Because really, straight guys obviously do not go shopping together, duh.
Is it if you both "have the gay look"...and what does that even mean?
Do these gays have the gay look?

NFL player Dave Kopay (he's totally an old dude now though)
 GAY Image Source
Boxer Orlando Cruz
 GAY Image Source
Zachary Quinto
Oh, you mean gays that are easy to pick out of a crowd like these...
Sacha Baron Cohen
Not actually gay
Carson Kressley
Totally gay
Because if someone doesn't look gay how are you going to prevent doing business with them...Arizona Christian Business Owners? Guess you could get them to talk and see if they sound LGBT. Because there's nothing like falling back on stereotypes...0_o

Personal photo taken during a tour of
Dachau Concentration Camp, 2009.
For more on the Nazi Rosa Winkel:
How about holding hands? Shows of affection? [don't know about what you've observed but even straight females that are close friends are very affectionate with each other publicly]
Will people of the same-sex be able to hug each other in your place of business without you raising the Gay Alarm?

Maybe you should have "them" wear badges  so you can more easily signal them out, so you don't accidentally sell them some crap on your shelves made in China by children, or chemical-laden shampoo, or art supplies, or maybe they should affix a symbol to their house or door so you don't accidentally go into their big gay houses and accidentally fix their big gay furnace.


And think about this.
What if you, as a Christian, went into a store owned and operated by a Buddhist, or a Jew, or an Islamic, and you were denied service under suspicion of being a Christian, or because of the cross on your neck, got asked to leave and never return.
What if it was any number of non-Christian God based religions who didn't want to serve you because of who you choose to worship.
Further, religions aren't hard to create [see: L Ron Hubbard and Scientology].
Hell, the government even considers Atheism a religion (3)!
Bottom line...whose religious beliefs and when/where would it end...that's basically it.

Oh, go ahead, tell people you won't serve "the gays", put up a little sign on your door saying you won't serve the LGBT community; but don't be surprised when you end up on countless lists and websites of banned businesses and have to close down because the only people shopping at your store are the other homophobes.
Sure, you don't need that "creepy transgender person"'s business, but you probably need his/her sister's business, and his/her mother's business, and all of their friend's and family's business...because if you have a business that refuses to do business, they can always go somewhere else. After all, WalMart will welcome all of them with open corporate arms. IHop will serve them coffee just the same as they'll serve the coffee to the person at the next table twisting their little cross pendant anxiously, in fear that they "might catch the gay". You can bet that billion dollar businesses, and ones that have managed to survive in cities and towns that have undergone corporate overhauls didn't do it by refusing to serve "those people".

This may have spiraled into a tangent.

Apparently people have not thought through the implications of such a bill/law. They don't see how it could turn around and bite the very people who feel vindicated because of it right in their self-righteous ass. Who knew fear could look so ugly (okay, it's not really that shocking).

Look, nobody is making you be friends with people of the LGBT community, an exchange of money for goods and services isn't a date (at best it's a little capitalistic prostitution).
They're (rational people) asking you to "allow" "them" to buy shit from your stupid store, maybe eat some sub-par crap you threw onto a plate in your disgusting restaurant, maybe have you do a poor job fixing the gutters on their house at exorbitant prices. Freedom means not being subject to segregation, to have the freedom to go where you want, shop where you want, eat where you want, access services you want/need.

Freedom isn't just for Christians, and it isn't just for straight people, and it isn't just for white people, and it isn't just for people whose lives you approve of. Freedom (at the length any remains) is for everybody.
Maybe you're living in a different America, one that wasn't founded on the principles of working towards a nation of freedom.

It's okay, you can be scared (goodness knows how much who someone else has sex with directly affects your life in a personal and scary way) - but you should do it more tactfully, because the younger generations are watching you, learning from you, and what they are learning is that you're irrational, hateful, intolerant, and insane...and you're doing it in the name of the God you want everybody to love.

Editorial Note: We have a lot of experience with religion, and we only have beef with the people who do bad things in its name. More on that:
Religion, You Say? We Have A View On That
Respecting Religion? We Have A View On That

Sources and Citation:
(1) Serwer, Adam. "Arizona Passes Law Allowing Discrimination." NBC News Digital, 21 Feb. 2014. Web. 21 Feb. 2014. <>.
(2) "The Bill of Rights: A Transcription." National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives and Records Administration, n.d. Web. 20 Feb. 2014. <>.
(3) Chumley, Cheryl K. "Atheists Incensed after IRS Grants Them Tax Exemption as Religious Group." Washington Times. The Washington Times, 21 Aug. 2013. Web. 21 Feb. 2014. <>.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

A Brief Review of 'Walden' by Thoreau

Finally finished it. Holy crap it feels like it took forever to read.

We're talking 'Walden', written by Henry David Thoreau, published in 1854.
It is required for a political science course on American political thought. Not a bad class overall, but heavy on the workload when it comes to reading requirements.

So, we read it. Much like any other classic literature, while a recognizable name, we remained unfamiliar with the works of Thoreau. It's hard to say if we're any better off for having read it.

He's got some really good philosophies, honestly - if you care to pick them out between all the incessant meanderings. For instance, pages of descriptions of things like him sitting on a stump or log in the forest watching two types of ants (one red, one black) fighting to the death, or him chasing a loon around a lake in a boat, and him basically being a self-righteous ass to his poor (as in money poor) neighbor.

It's probably not recommended for people who have a difficult time reading what amounts to 1800's "poetic" and high-flown writing, or those with a short attention span.

The important things he does talk about though, like that the desire to accumulate things makes you a slave and imprisons you, are surely revolutionary for his time; and perhaps even now to people who have never thought about it. He goes on to say that without that desire, that desire to have "stuff", and by living an honest life, secured with the basic necessities of life: basic food, shelter, clothing and fuel, free of excess and needless material possession, only then can you be free, and have freedom to be creative and live a more natural life, and not be caged and enslaved by yourself.

If anything his work is also meant to illustrate the necessity of self-discovery through inner reflection, critical evaluation of the world around you, and the importance of time alone unburdened by obligations. Which, as you can imagine, is a philosophy we've come to appreciate, and continue to strive for, for its mental health benefits alone.

He managed to gain clarity in a mundane day-to-day life, intentionally reserved to a 10' x 15' structure in the woods, thinking about the world in which he lived, shut off from most of society for the better part of two years. If only he could have boiled it down, tossed away the flowery attempts at poet-speak that come with waxing philosophic in his time, and removed the occasional sanctimonious undertones. If he'd just gotten to the dirt of it, it would have been more to the style of what he went about preaching in 'Walden'.

But it is Thoreau. Who are we to criticize him. Everybody is supposed to praise him, no? That's the way it works with esteemed authors of the past (who couldn't manage to get many people to buy their writing in their own time), right? *shrugs*

Reading it was a lesson in...perhaps determination. We could have easily skipped it and just listened to the lectures about it, but it would have felt wrong.
And hey, at least we got a good Tweet out of the experience. ;-)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Hearts Full Of Conversation: A Funny Valentine

Dear Valentine's Day,
We're just not that into you...

(images sourced from around the internet)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Out of Orbit

Our personal universe is out of orbit. It's been for over a month. Mind and body out of sync.

Last semester we nailed it out, ended with great grades, felt on-task most of the semester, the small struggles had little impact. Now. Now there's no focus. A lot of the time it feels like there's no control. Waking up has gotten harder, but for the physical pain we'd stay in bed all day, most days. It feels like something is pressing down, smothering our will.

The many experiences with adult education (college/university) have always been our more stable years, mentally. This semester...feels full of ambiguity, and like being slowly swallowed whole. It does not feel stable.

For instance, having a six year old try to take over your body so she can play with 3D jungle gummies peeking from the backpack, and prance the elephants across the table...takes exhaustive mental control and we resorted to laying our head on the table and twirling our hair to talk her down from all the pleading...and that's not really something fun to do, nor does the body language that it portrays speak of much stability in a classroom full of young adults.

Next time we leave the gummies hidden.

It's not often she's around these days...we've missed her. I've missed her. She hasn't been around since before we had to move back to the states and live with was obvious why she hid, but she cannot be here...not now, there's too much to do.

There was a brief time where it felt like we'd been contained by a magnet, but feels like a scrambled magnetic field again.

We need to remember to breath.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

This Does Have A Point

"I'm very leery about chiropractors" we said, sitting in the corner of the the examination room. We never wanted to resort to this, but after trying so much, after so many years, the pain just won't go away.

We finally have affordable healthcare, and chiropractic care is covered. As a student we fall into a certain demographic. Sorry, Republicans, we work in the summer, and flourish as "a" full-time "mature student" with physical and mental health issues...just hoping to get the education you require to get a better paying job so we don't have to be a "burden" your precious pocketbook (don't worry, aside from grants for school, we're not suckling at any of your other social service teats). A culinary arts degree (which we have) is worthless in this country, to make an actual living, if you don't live in the right city...never mind the physical limitations that make it nearly impossible to pursue. (You probably don't even understand how much not being able to cook for a living can crush you when it's the only passion you've ever known.)

We've had sporadic massage therapy over the last many years since the car accident, to relieve the pain from all of the permanent physical damage caused. Over the years, generally, the only things we've been told about chiropractors is that they do more bad than good, they make you "dependent". Being dependent is not our modus operandi, so we've tried a lot of things to relieve the pain (exercise, physical therapy, drugs, alcohol, massage therapy, massage chairs...all at different times and variances - some might say just a different kind of dependency).

Thursday we finally met with a chiropractor. This being a small town there is only one. She was...really nice. Amazing, actually, considering how many times we not-so-subtly mentioned we don't exactly feel comfortable with, or trust, people in her profession.
"You make people 'dependent'", is what we said.
"I hear that a lot." she said, "But what I do is make people realize what 'good' feels like, and once people learn what 'good' feels like, and they don't feel good anymore, they come back".
Well, it was hard to argue with.

She did really unnerving things to our body...

At one point she couldn't do whatever it is that her people do to necks because working her way to the top alerted all of the instincts. SHE'S GOING TO SNAP OUR NECK! WE'LL DIE!
Nobody can relax after that...

But everything else she was able to do...
She did things that make us giggle in the strange way that getting shots, blood drawn, and glaucoma tests make us respond. It's really embarrassing, the giggling. Snapping, cracking...oy...and then the giggling.

Now that it's over, skeptical, as always...we'll wait to see what happens...(there's another appointment scheduled for Tuesday). [though, we woke up feeling a bit different than usual this morning...a little more "fluid" in motion...while it didn't last all day, it was something.]

It might take awhile...all of the tightness in our muscles, all of the spinal and disk issues that have been persisting for years now, has caused the inner-workings of this body to work insufficiently. What must it be like to be relatively pain free? The memory doesn't even exist.

"Usually when I mention this pain people say 'Oh, you're just getting old, that's normal'", I say. "Is this how people in their early 30's feel? Because when I hear this I feel like screaming "THEN WHY ISN'T EVERYBODY ANGRY ALL OF THE TIME?!".

She laughs. She has had her hands on our body. She had expressed concern that we've, I've, had to deal with all the things she had felt in our muscles and around our spine.

"...'Why doesn't everybody else have anger issues?!" she laughs again ", it's not normal for your age.", she says.

She says that at 50 or 60 years of age it could be pretty bad, but this bad at this age shouldn't be a reality.

Our muscles are unnaturally tight, inflamed and tender from compensating for injuries that went too long before they were attended to (thanks to being "lost" or '"neglected" too long in a healthcare system, in more than once country). The body finds a way, but it's not always a productive or healthy way.

It'll be interesting to see if this new "therapy" will work. We don't even remember what it feels like to be pain-free in anymore (this December will be 10 years since the accident). If this new therapy doesn't work, it doesn't...but we'll still keep on striving to not be some stereotype by some matter how much pain we're in.

This story has no real point...other than to illustrate many things about people who some might be considered a leech on society, and some might consider overreacting about the physical pain they suffer.

Maybe this does have a point. Maybe the point is that you shouldn't judge people just because they're on a "social assistance" of some sort, just because you can't see or understand anything outside of your own experience. Just because you don't know how to feel sympathy or empathy, doesn't make you right. It actually makes you a pretty big asshole.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

A Critical Reflection on 'Free Will' by Sam Harris

We like to encourage people to think, consider, and reflect...because many of us like to do those things, and think they have greatly improved our life. That's pretty much why we'll be posting essays for the rest of the semester from the following give you something to think about.

So, this class we're taking (that meets for two hours every Wednesday night) is all about the concepts of reality, truth and knowledge. It's basically a class on thinking about thinking (reflective thinking), and thinking about feelings of knowing and where they come from (so far), it's sort of a humanities-meets-philosophy course where a group of young adults (and this aged visage) sit around at tables arranged in a circle and discuss concepts from selected texts (currently the class is waist-deep into 'On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You're Not' by Robert A. Burton. Burton on Being Certain) mediated by an ex-scientist, an oddball throwback freethinker from the Vietnam-era that fits every part of that description. Sometimes the discussion is focused, and then sometimes it spirals near the edge of a topical abyss. That's what the mediator is for, because 16-18 people sitting around having a discussion, feeding off of each others comments, thoughts and ideas, and interjecting their own...that's a cart that can lose its wheels fast.

Anyway, Free Will by Sam Harris is short, like 66 pages or so, and therefore only warranted one critical reflection paper (the book by Burton will result in 4 reflection papers of varying lengths).
This is that reflection paper.
(For whatever it's worth we got a "+" which is the highest mark in the professors "+, +✓,✓,-✓"..."grading" scheme)

A Critical Reflection on Free Will by Sam Harris
Initially the premise set forth by Free Will by Sam Harris struck me as a dangerous idea. To completely deny free will, as he seems to be doing, appears to be a denial of personal responsibility and creates a situation where people become a victim of themselves and their unconscious. Certainly at the base of free will there is no way to act completely unconstrained, without repercussions, and there are certainly factors in life that can restrict desires and ability – mental, physical, and economic considerations. However, day-to-day actions being dictated by the unconscious is a little extreme; for example, deciding to eat at one fast food restaurant over another, or not at all, is completely controllable, and to over-analyze where the motive came from to make the decision to eat or not seems more based in a biological motivation to eat, and the way one acts upon it is free will. 
Free will, in my opinion, is the conscious decisions made based on prior information, actions, events, drives, and outcomes, not controlled by some mysterious unconscious drive, rather logical motives. For example, people repeat actions, good or bad, depending on their desires at those given moments. It’s not difficult to understand where the desires come from, they are basic animal drives– the need for food, water, shelter, reproduction, and basic human drives – a desire for happiness, to be loved, accepted, and/or impress people. People act on these desires on an unconscious level, but they are not completely unconscious of them, the drives are not part of fate, the drives are biological. The decisions and actions based on the basic drives are free will. Even cases where brain chemicals influence action, people can still choose to make a decision based on social norms. They may not choose how they think or feel, but they can choose how they act upon those feelings. 
It doesn’t matter, however, where the desires or the drives come from. Once a person realizes where these drives come from, and owns them, they can change the way they react because of them; or, as Harris says “allow for greater creative control over one’s life” (47). Sloughing off the idea of “free will” prevents taking personal responsibility, and if you let your unconscious control you, you become the unconscious. If anything understanding there is not complete free will, but moderate free will, allows one to explore root causes and understand that “different ways of thinking have different consequences” (40). Just as our organs operate unconsciously, we can still control them, for instance, controlling heartbeat with breathing exercises or brain chemicals with medications. 
For a move towards a more complete free will it takes inner-reflection and personal strength to consciously consider what is dictating and motivating substantial actions. To deny free will almost entirely, not just moderate levels of free will, means becoming a victim of the unconscious, nothing but a pawn mindlessly obeying biological drives. Denying the existence of free will is a choice granted by the existence of free will, and it just doesn’t seem like an ideal that supports much in the way of personal responsibility.

Harris, Sam. Free Will. New York: Free Press. 2012. Print.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Why We Stopped Using Reddit

We're not..."Reddit Savvy".
Had no idea that you had to actively participate other than upping and downing posts that were interesting or good.
Sorry, were we supposed to be a troll?
Guess we missed the memo on how some people want their private online fantasy land to work.

After 7 links in OVER A YEAR...just SEVEN...we recently encountered this beneath a post we shared about writing (it was an essay for a university class), and then a response from an honest question:

Who knew that some ugly poorly laid out, and hard to navigate and enjoy, website had such intricate delicate rules about how to use it.

It's hard not to judge many Reddit users on this interaction.
But people we shared this with already have.

In any case, you win...clearly fat and impenitent Reddit heat up some pizza rolls in your mother's microwave and go back to the basement.