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covid-19

This is a lovely picture from a science site (? Science) of the covid-19 virus.

I put together a rather rough video on how the virus thinks of our bodies, and how to keep it from becoming as bad as the 1918 Spanish Flu.

After we come up with a vaccine and we can escape from our fearful isolation, what are we as a world population going to do? Are we going to party as crazily as we did in the 1920s? Remember October 1929?

And I’ll Go Outside

Beaver Lake, Stanley Park

A middle-aged man is lying on a cardboard and newspaper nest. Several papers have been opened up across the length of a green bench in the lightly manicured park. The afternoon sun dapples its way through magnificent oak trees. Butterflies move gracefully and aimlessly amongst the flower beds between some of the oaks. The bouquet rising from the flowers wafts delicately over the homeless man.

His bouquet is not so fetching. Clothing of indiscriminate style, with plaids and stripes clashing, fit loosely around his gaunt body.

He groans and shifts on his nest. “Owww.”

A passing park attendant, with the name badge “Mitch”, notices the groans. “Willie. You ok?”

“Bugger off, Mitch.”

“Listen, man. I told you we’re here to help. That bed at the Gospel Mission…”

“Leave me alone, dammit. Don’t want no holy-rollers nattering at me all fucken day.”

Willie rolls sideways carefully to get at least one ear away from Mitch.

“Ahwww.”

“You can go through all the vowels you want, Willie. If you don’t want our help…”

Quietly, “Just bugger off.”

Mitch shrugs and saunters away toward Artists Circle, muttering, “Not sure they’d take the old grouch, anyway.”

From the bench, a muffled, “Heard that.”

Coming down the path from the Artists Circle, Willie hears the distinctive nattering of his arch enemies. He growls to himself, “If those damn holy-roller do-goodies stop here, I swear I’m gonna jump in the drink. I am. No fucken doubt about it…”

Three ladies come up to Willie’s bench to contemplate his back. As he tries to tighten into a fetal position, his back goes out entirely. “OOWWWW!”

He attempts to straighten his legs but spasms, and falls awkwardly off the bench. Willie’s head bounces hard against the edge of the bench.

The lead lady grimaces, “Ow, I felt that.”

Without his bidding – as he is apparently unconscious – Willie is taken in an ambulance to a clinic; he is prodded; tut-tutted over; shot up with an experimental depression drug, to which he has a bad reaction; spends the night in delirium; then, next day he is dumped surreptitiously back into the park onto a bench.

Later that day, Willie wakes up to find himself lying on a new cardboard-and-blanket nest on a different bench. His back is still sore and he now has a splitting headache; his clothes are all different and he is cold. Very cold.

Mitch comes by, holding two coffee cups, and sees someone who he thinks is Willie. His face is more drawn and grizzled than before. His body is shivering.

“Willie? Are you alright, Willie?”

With a quarter turn, Willie covers part of his exposed back. He roughly spits out, “Goddamn holy-rollers took me away again. Shot me up with something again. TELL ’EM TO LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE!… Splitting headache…”

Mitch sees/smells that Willie has been cleaned up. He steps forward to pull Willie’s fresh blanket up onto his back. “Wouldn’t want the crows to peck away at your hindside, Willie.”

Showing his unappreciation for the uninvited help, Willie shifts so that the blanket falls away to uncover his back once more. As Mitch stands there for a minute, Willie begins to shiver again. He rolls ever so slowly to partially cover his back.

“What are we going to do with you, Willie? You know how I hate to load my quad with cold bodies.”

“B-b-bugger off! LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE! Don’t want your help!”

Mitch shakes his head in resignation. “I’ll just leave this extra coffee here below your head, Willie. Still hot.”

As Mitch walks away, Willie turns to peek with one eye to see if he is gone. Satisfied with his triumph of opposition, Willie turns to find the coffee. He captures the cup, wrapping his hand tightly around the warm sleeve. He slowly, carefully, puts one foot, then the other foot down onto the grass. The freshly cleaned blanket smells like chemicals.

“Damn holy-rollers. DON’T LIKE CHEMICALS. Kill you. KILL you, dammit! Want my own blanket.” He pulls the offending blanket off with his free hand and tosses it onto the bench-back.

He wraps both hands around the warm coffee cup. Fumbling and mumbling at the “stupid lid thing,” he pries it open enough to suck out a mouthful of hot liquid. “Too much cream. Makes it cold.”

After a while, Willie starts to shiver again. He absently reaches for the blanket and wraps it around his shoulders, then he shakes it down against his lower back, still holding the cup like a candle in his lap.

He slowly slips into a lean over his legs, then jerks back. Touching the cold bench slats, he jerks away. Willie shifts to find the right equilibrium, then slowly oscillates between the cold bench slats and leaning too far forward.

He dreams. The beach sand is sun-warmed hot. The bright blue sky stretches across the prairies forever. A hazy speck of darkness is away off on the horizon. Horses graze peacefully in a nearby meadow. Now a dark someone is racing through the grass, over the grass, scattering the horses in terror. The darkness flies right at Willie into his head and sticks inside, smashing around inside his mushy red head, smashing out all light, smashing…

“DADDY?”

Willie is shouting running between the oaks, past the dark pines, through the flowers, pounding, sweating… until he falls into a panting disorientation onto a bench.

No cardboard. No blanket.

He shivers in the shade of a dark hemlock.

Willie curls up like a withering fern into a tight fetal position.

Some time later, as the evening stars can almost be seen in the pastel sky, one of Mitch’s co-workers waves at Mitch from across the meadow. “Mitch!”

As Mitch nears, the co-worker points to a cold body curled up on the bench. “Know him?”

Mitch walks behind the bench to better see the heavily grizzled face. “Willie. Poor old Willie… Sad case.”

“Which one isn’t?… You wanna bring the quad?”


“Soon this place

Will be too small,

And I’ll go outside”

: Lhasa – 2003 – The Living Road

Reprogramming the Mind

from Dr. Michael Catchpole, author of Anxiety: Debug It Don’t Drug It:

The brain is not really a computer. This is merely a convenient analogy.

The key point I want readers of Anxiety: Debug It, Don’t Drug it  to understand is that the brain is a physical entity composed of neurons and neurotransmitters. These are things one can touch and feel. The mind however, in my view, is metaphysical and thus cannot be held in one’s hand. It is nonetheless just as “real” as the brain.

Cognitive neuroscience is the field (along with philosophy) that attempts to bridge the gap between the physical brain and the metaphysical mind. The former, the study of how our brain works, is the discipline of neuropsychology. The latter, the study of how our mind works, is cognitive psychology. To date the gap between these two sub-fields of psychology is narrowing but remains very, very large. We do now know that the physical brain and the metaphysical mind have significant influence upon each other.

In terms of this bi-directional influence, drug companies look solely at the way drugs affect neurotransmitters, which then affect the mind. They have had some partial successes with this approach and certainly have derived remarkable profits from doing so. Importantly, however, and this is my central thesis of my book, simply drugging the brain, be it with medications or for that matter psychedelics, has proven a failure in treating the vast majority of mental disorders drug advertisements and media hoopla to the contrary.  

My own view is that influence in the other direction (that the metaphysical mind can affect the physical brain and more importantly that it can be trained to fix itself ) has been much neglected perhaps in part because resultant treatments cannot be patented or monetized. To return to my point, “reprogramming” a mind (via CBT) is certainly more effective for the anxiety disorders than is drugging brains, though the latter approach is occasionally a good adjunct. Also it is true that changes in the physical brain that result from CBT may help solidify CBT treatment gains.

Others’ thoughts on this topic would be most welcome.

Petition to Support OK Attorney General

I have composed a petition to support Oklahoma’s Attorney General, Mike Hunter as he leads a coalition of 48 attorneys general against Big Pharma.

Can you please support the petition by going to this link: http://chng.it/XNhzDYpGBL

Here is the petition:

The opioid crisis had several causes. The primary cause was the rampant greed expressed by Big Pharma, as detailed in the cases against Johnson & Johnson, and Purdue Pharma. Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter, supported by 48 other attorneys general, has taken on Big Pharma and won.

Even so, the people behind the corporations like the Sacklers are twisting and turning to try to hold onto their billions of blood money. The loud voices of the people must be heard saying, “That is enough!” The deaths of thousands is enough! The suffering of hundreds of thousands is enough!

Suckering the medical community into the role of shills for Big Pharma must stop!

Spreading addiction, destroying families, creating zombies of honest people must stop!

While opioids could have a place for alleviating suffering caused by certain diseases, opioids and benzodiazepines have been unwittingly prescribed for things like anxiety-related disorders. These are of the mind, not the brain. The brain may be treated with invasive measures but the mind should not be. That would be like taking a scalpel to a thought. That is not the way it works. Books such as Anxiety: Debug It Don’t Drug It, by Dr. Michael Catchpole explain the difference.

Send your support to Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter by signing this petition. Help him carry on the fight for reason.

Punishing Your Body

The jaw-dropping cache of documents made public by the Washington Post – https://www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/six-takeaways-from-the-deas-pain-pill-database/2019/07/16/ [paywall]- and reported further in Ars Technicahttps://arstechnica.com/science/2019/07/76-billion-opioid-pills-in-7-years-how-pharma-companies-drowned-us-in-drugs/ – can hardly be believed.

The article starts with this paragraph: “Between 2006 and 2012, opioid drug makers and distributors flooded the country with 76 billion pills of oxycodone and hydrocodone—highly addictive opioid pain medications that sparked the epidemic of abuse and overdoses that killed nearly 100,000 people in that time period.”

Should these prescriptions even be given?

Any medication that punishes the body when one tries to stop taking it needs to be prescribed with extreme caution.  The current and tragic opiate crisis is a direct result of such caution not being exercised.  As I explain in my book Anxiety: Debug It, Don’t Drug It, published by Rutherford Press, the next shoe to drop will be the massive over-prescription of benzodiazepines (“tranquilizers”) for anxiety.  Many people say these drugs are even harder to give up than opiates. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) has a proven track record as being far more effective for treating anxiety than do these medications, especially over the long run.   Both the rationale for CBT’s application as well as a step-by-step process for enacting it also are outlined in my book.  :Dr. Michael Catchpole.

Where Are We Going?

Photo by Roi Dimor on Unsplash

This election cycle may be our last chance. Work HARD for the Progressives, do the best you can to see them elected, and vote as if all our lives depend on it, because they do.

Comment by “Art” in https://theintercept.com/2019/07/05/shell-conference-climate-change/

This brief comment to the article in The Intercept was one of several by “Art”. His other comments were a depressing, long list of scientific findings that he, as a climate scientist, offered to support his reasons for being so blunt.

To those who said it is too late, or that we, the people, have no power to make a change, Art replied, ” Your nihilism is duly noted but I refuse to give up.”

To which “mgr” wrote:

Art: Spot on! That’s really what it comes down to. We may win, or we may lose, but giving up is always defeat, from the inside out. It comes down to making a choice.

Where are we going?

For the sake of our children and their children, we have this choice: follow the platitudes of our current leaders as they follow the money dangled before their noses; or put your hand up and vote for a future that will include humanity. A future that will include breathable air, enough clean water to drink, sufficient vegetation and animals to maintain the only place, the ONLY place, in this universe where we can live.

The money being dangled before our noses cannot be breathed or eaten.

It is way past time to be nice. Our very lives are at stake.

There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew. Marshall McLuhan

The Trappings of Science

Square Rigged, by Ben Nuttall-Smith

– How science is being eroded as an objective agent for our species

I recently underwent a grueling exercise with an individual who is exceptionally intelligent. I describe it as grueling because he clung for the longest time to a perception of “science” that is, regrettably, common. Nevertheless, that perception is not real science.

In a textbook, he was given three descriptions of science from which I asked him to choose the option that best matched his understanding of “science”. May I humbly suggest that only one option is worthy of that label.

Proposition A: a person of science will develop a theory, then apply evidence that can be found that will support that theory.

Proposition B: observations will be seen to have apparent relationships. A hypothesis is developed that encompasses those observations with a possible explanation of why or how they relate to each other. Evidence is gathered using observations and/or controlled experiments; assessments are made as to whether the evidence supports or does not support the hypothesis. If there is found to be sufficient support, a theory may be developed. The theory is tested continually to determine if it is still supported by new evidence.

Proposition C: an authoritative person pronounces on a theory which may be based on common sense, long practice, or even logical deduction or reasoning.

Prop C actually contains several distinct propositions. I will refer to them a group.

Discussion

Plato and many famous philosophers since have used logical deduction to explain the wonders of the world. Within the toolbox of science, this can be a useful method for arriving at possibilities. The main problem with that is, it may be useful but it often doesn’t use feedback from objective evidence. To offer a simple example, it is observed that a penguin is black and white. By logical deduction we know that snow is white and coal is black, so that must make a penguin equal to snowy coal. While an artificial intelligence (AI) program may produce that kind of logic, people understand it to be silly.

Another Prop C option: Aristotle was an admired and authoritative figure. Despite the prior writings of Pythagoras and others who came up with close approximations of the great size of planet Earth, Aristotle suggested with respect to the disappearance of a ship over the horizon, “…All of which goes to show not only that the Earth is circular in shape, but also that it is a sphere of no great size: for otherwise the effect of so slight a change of place would not be so quickly apparent.” (from Aristotle’s On the Heavens). No.

Prop A looks promising. This was chosen by my exceptionally intelligent friend (he is still a friend, by the way). It was also chosen by many other intelligent folks, such as Sigmund Freud (for personality development, in which he argued that personality is formed through conflicts among three fundamental structures – however, in testing that theory, the actual existence of his concepts has been fraught with partisan arguments, rather than objective evidence); John Locke (babies are born with a blank slate – which we now consider inaccurate); Aristotle (spontaneous generation of life, wherein he “observed” life starting from apparent nothingness). In essence, Prop A says that a smart person can come up with a theory and cherry-pick observations that may approximate what the theory suggests.

A theory, however, is never “proven” – merely supported by evidence, or not. A theory must be able to make predictions that can be tested. If we presume that penguins are snowy coal, observations and comparisons would quickly invalidate that “theory”.

When we look around at some of the marvels of the modern age, most of them have something to do with, or are enhanced by, digital technology. When da Vinci sketched out his plans for a helicopter, the reality of building one was stymied by rudimentary materials technology and lack of an understanding of aerodynamics (each field having recently received considerable impetus via digital technology: “computers”).

A computer, however, is merely a tool. If digital technology is relied on to be the magic bullet, depending on it as if it were the final answer usually leads one far down a garden path. When proponents of instant language translators say that they are on the cusp of a perfect solution, one would be wise to read what a professional in the field of translation has to say:

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/01/the-shallowness-of-google-translate/551570/
Douglas
Hofstadter is a professor of cognitive science and comparative literature at Indiana University at Bloomington. He is the author of Gödel, Escher, Bach.

“I’ve recently seen bar graphs made by technophiles that claim to represent the “quality” of translations done by humans and by computers, and these graphs depict the latest translation engines as being within striking distance of human-level translation. To me, however, such quantification of the unquantifiable reeks of pseudoscience, or, if you prefer, of nerds trying to mathematize things whose intangible, subtle, artistic nature eludes them. To my mind, Google Translate’s output today ranges all the way from excellent to grotesque, but I can’t quantify my feelings about it. Think of my first example involving “his” and “her” items. The idealess program got nearly all the words right, but despite that slight success, it totally missed the point. How, in such a case, should one “quantify” the quality of the job? The use of scientific-looking bar graphs to represent translation quality is simply an abuse of the external trappings of science.”

We are inundated in the media with assertive pronouncements regarding the efficacy of certain products. Imprecise statements, cherry-picked observations, and outright fabrications are used without regard to the harm they cause. The harms extend beyond merely loss of money in buying worthless stuff. Purchasers may be conned into spending their meager resources and time on the worthless stuff to the detriment of using an approach that can be of actual value to them. This is particularly egregious in the medical and pharmaceutical fields. People who have become addicted to drugs such as opiates are dying in the thousands after being prescribed the drug and not being followed up properly, or where the prescription was for a symptom that should never have been treated with drugs in the first place. (See Anxiety: Debug It Don’t Drug It, Dr. Michael Catchpole 2019, Rutherford Press.)

One must ask, what harms are yet to be caused by AI in charge of ground and air vehicles. Analysis of the recent Boeing 737 Max 8 plane crashes will take some further work, but we understand a lot at this time (see https://avherald.com/h?article=4c534c4a). Those tragic results cannot be placed solely at the feet of artificial intelligence residing in the software, but it may turn out that a significant component could possibly be attributed to a culture of hurried development and over-dependence on the “magic bullet” of AI, as alleged by pilots and engineers at recent Congressional hearings. Perhaps that culture has been fostered by a subliminal dependence on, and shifting of responsibility to, the lines of code on a silicon chip. Getting that shift wrong with a new laptop design is an entirely different order of mistake than getting it wrong with a new airplane that can carry over 200 lives on board. (see  https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/27/business/boeing-hearings.html)

Trust in Science

Is trust in science  misplaced, or is it conveniently used as a replacement for deeper understanding?

Considering the difference between denialism and skepticism, a study found evidence, yet again, that presenting a denier with objective facts was not an effective strategy:

Because this denialism springs from motivated reasoning, science advocates are scrambling to understand how to debunk misinformation in a way that motivates their target audience to accept it. [added emphasis]

https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/06/debunking-science-denialism-does-work-but-not-perfectly/

Being “motivated” means that a denier is self-censoring anything that does not conform to the way the topic is stored in their mind.

A recent study of 140,000 people worldwide proved instructive. Here are the main highlights:

Trust in science and health professionals

Globally, 18% of people have a ‘high’ level of trust in scientists, while 54% have a ‘medium’ level of trust, 14% have ‘low’ trust and 13% said ‘don’t know’. This ranges from a third of people having ‘high’ trust in Australia and New Zealand, Northern Europe and Central Asia to around one in ten in Central and South America.

from: Gallup (2019) Wellcome Global Monitor – First Wave Findings
https://wellcome.ac.uk/sites/default/files/wellcome-global-monitor-2018.pdf

The study is both fascinating and frustrating. The breadth of the study needs to be read to be fully appreciated. Any study that includes 140,000 subjects who answered such a range of questions is to be commended as a considerable feat.

May I humbly say, however, that frustration arises in those numerous instances where the numbers being thrown at the reader elicit questions of greater depth. Take this statement in Chapter 2’s Summary:

Worldwide, more than half the people aged 15–29 (53%) say they know ‘some’ or ‘a lot’ about science, compared to 40% of those aged 30–49 and 34% of those aged 50 and older.

Is age a causal variable, or correlational, or coincidental. For instance, might it be that older folks have matured into the realization that the more they know, the less they understand? And that certainty is best left to the young blurs that pass by on their respective missions? Is there a whiff of something like the subject of Douglas Hofstadter’s article on translation: all the right words – absent depth?

The reason for my skepticism is outlined below.

Human Rights or Social Permission

Do humans have rights? Are they “inalienable”; or are they subject to the will – or lack of will – displayed by a political community? This was explored by Kenan Malik:

So, what should we do? Our starting point must be the recognition of rights neither as inalienably rooted in human nature, nor as gifts bestowed on citizens by the nation state, but as aspects of human social existence continually created through struggle and contestation. Rights are, as the political theorist Lida Maxwell has put it, ‘collective achievements rather than individual possessions’, and achievements that are ‘fragile’ and ‘imperfectly realised’.

How does the topic of human rights fit into this discussion? One way is that it shows the value of skepticism in approaching a subject for which so many people hold hard views.

The Science of Skepticism

For those who consider it “good science” to first develop a theory and then try to prove it, the field is open to cherry-pick whichever evidence can be shoehorned into the most compelling package. After all, the right words are being employed by proponents of their pet theory: science, reasoning, evidence, clinical, proven

No. Science depends on skepticism: questioning the evidence which supports or doesn’t support a hypothesis; constant review of evidence; the belief that a belief is a blindfold…

Malik’s analysis of human rights, above, lists ideas and their proponents who wish to bestow a conceptual construct into human genes. They insist that the only way to combat discrimination is by saying that people are “born with rights”. A corollary of this approach, however, allows some to say that only certain humans have the “rights gene”, therefore discrimination against the defective elements of the population is permitted.

The more difficult approach to fighting the many forms of discrimination is to freely admit that rights originate in words; they are born in the fire of social discourse. And there, the rights may be either eroded away or strengthen for those who must depend on them the most. That fire may wane or flare, so it is incumbent on the people of a political community to keep feeding oxygen and, yes, fuel, into the fire.

Skepticism is one such fuel. A skeptic’s voice must be heard by all who wish to contribute to the discussion.

Denialism is not, however, the same as skepticism. Denialism is a soggy blob of retardant on the fire of social discourse.

The trick, then, is to find a method that distinguishes motivated reasoning from healthy skepticism.

Yes, this is hard.