Archive for July, 2009

Jul 31 2009

Real Evidence of Ghost Fish

While snorkeling the other day I swam in the presence of ghost fish. Only I didn’t know it. Fortunately I had a ghost-detection device of the underwater variety with me — a waterproof, digital camera. With it I caught evidence of the ghosts that I swam among but didn’t see. I only saw them when I put the camera memory card into my computer.

Don’t believe me? Look for yourself:


Okay, the pic is a bit blurry. Still, I thought I was taking a photograph of a streaming school of small, herring-like fish. But what the heck are those long ribbon-ish things?! Not herring. Must be ghost fish.

I saw ghosts while underwater! Cameras don’t lie. And you know the old truism: if it’s mysterious, it must be aliens. Or ghosts. Or a god. Or something totally cool. Right?

Maybe not.

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Jul 31 2009

Alcohol, Marriage, and So Many Variables

Published by under health,psychology

When I see simplistic, one-size-fits-all, plans for perfect physical health and/or optimal mental happiness, my bologna detector goes off. Unfortunately, health is a very complex topic. Part of the complexity is a lag time between cause and effect. It can take days, weeks, months, and even many years for health to take a turn for the worse or better. What’s more, a singular black-and-white use of the word cause can be problematic. Why? It is nearly impossible to isolate single variables. And effects can have multiple causes, as can causes have multiple effects.

Consider the findings from the following two studies.

1. Regular moderate alcohol intake has cognitive benefits in older adults

While I don’t outright doubt a link between the two variables, I wonder if “moderate alcohol intake” can be cleanly isolated from others. Lifestyle factors can come in clusters, one factor confoundingly entwined with others.

2. Couples who cohabit before engagement are more likely to struggle

Accurate science is reductionistic in methodology. So in the above study we find a link between two variables: cohabitation and marital harmony/strife. Yet we must not be overly simplistic when we evaluate results. Does the above mean that cohabitation causes marital strife? Well, no, it doesn’t. While it may suggest it, we have to remember that other factors are likely involved. Personality traits and relationship dynamics for two. Because this wasn’t an experiment, with couples randomly assigned to either cohabit before marriage or not, we cannot know who decides to cohabit under what circumstances.

This second study did include a questionnaire element, in which subjects were asked about the reasons they decided to cohabit before marriage. These I would take with a huge grain of salt because people are far from perfectly aware of why they do what they do.

In summary, simplistic answers are appealing. But our world is a very complex one.

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Jul 30 2009

Brain Candy

Published by under humor,skepticism

[Recycled material: First published in Mensa Bulletin, #479, October 2004]

I think pharmacists ought to put a little prize into every prescription they fill.  Like Cracker Jacks.  I bet that would lift a lot of spirits.

Rather than to drug stores, some people prefer to go to health food stores to get their pills.  They find shelves stocked with everything from acidophilus to zinc, with ginseng, grape seed, and kava root in between.  Many of the remedies, it seems to me, come in two strengths: regular and super placebo.  Nonetheless, on a few occasions I, too, have put my faith in these pills.

A number of years ago I experienced a terrible episode of insomnia.  It came on the heels of a nearly non-stop drive across the country.  Once home, my mind a blur of mile-markers and my body strong out on caffeine, I couldn’t turn off the high-beams of my mind.  Night after night sleep wouldn’t come.

I remember a character in a Kurt Vonnegut story who explained that flying like a super-hero is simple.  All you have to do is to throw yourself at the ground, and miss.  That’s how I felt about insomnia.  Each evening I hurled myself at slumber—as gently as possible—and missed.  And so I flew through the night, wide awake. Continue Reading »

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Jul 29 2009

Looking Farther (42) – The Alien in This World

titanrings cassini

Personally, I like to travel to “see farther.” To chance upon some education and perhaps enlightenment while finding entertainment. No, cruises don’t appeal to me because you take the same 4 walls with you as you go (they seem a buffet of mediocrity: American McTravel). I like to have new, authentic experiences.

I am at this moment in the Bahamas, not because I like the tropical lifestyle (which ain’t bad) or sitting by a poolside (which ain’t bad either). I’m here for the alien life. Oh sure, the culture is mildly different and that’s worth something. But the alien lifeforms I have encountered have blown my mind. And that is why I am here and will come again.

Were someone to offer me a choice between a trip to the moon, or even to a moon of Jupiter, or a trip to the tropics for some face-time with fishes, I’d take the later. In a heartbeat.

Ever venture to a far-off desert? Kinda neat, huh? There you have it, a wild and weird part of this planet. But, for all most people know, that part could be part of any planet. On the other hand you’ve got a veritable cosmos of alien life beneath the surface of the ocean. My Gawd what a delightfully different world. Those creatures don’t even breath air! Since being here my wife and I have identified over 50 different species of fish.

Some people travel as if they merely desire a change in wallpaper and decorations for a few days. Okay, there is something to be said for that, I guess. But please, there is more to this world than lounge chairs and sweet drinks. There is even more to it than bipedal apes. Look farther, look closer!

And that concludes my poolside rant.

[photo thanks to NASA]

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Jul 28 2009

The Hairy Father Above

(Recycled material.)

Did Adam have a belly-button?  Why?  An even more interesting and important question, if you ask me, is whether or not the god of the Bible displays the psychological qualities of a primate.  I think it does.  For more on the topic, check out these past posts . . .

From Testosterone and the Temperament of Gods -

Modern believers will attempt to neuter their god, removing those elements that make their god conflict with the civilized world’s values of equality and tolerance (among others).

From Hierarchy: A Male Thing? -

As to why human males tend to rapidly establish status hierarchies, one might identify testosterone and its affects on physiology and behavior as a proximal cause.

From The Payoff for Dominance -

Within the Bible there are numerous passages that reflect the theme of male possession of females.

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Jul 28 2009

Evolution All Around


[Sago palm frond, Florida]

My wife and I are presently in the Bahamas. Yesterday evening we took a walk around the gardens of the Inn we are staying at. We spotted a few species of flower we know well, for they are also growing in our yard at home. And we saw many more that were “almost” like something at home. Close, but different. Were these the island varieties of cousin species found in Florida? As we examined and marveled at the sometimes subtle, sometimes striking differences, I felt like a budding Charles Darwin in my own Galapagos. Finches and flowering plants . . . both evolve. When we look carefully, the relatedness is obvious.

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Jul 27 2009

Symbolic Behavior and a Supernatural Pecking Order

Published by under freethought

(Recycled material.)

I’m in vacation mode the next few days, so will be sharing some oldies but personal-goodies.

From: Status: The Power of the Civilized:

Lurking behind status we find a primate instinctively inclined to create social hierarchies. Rather than sub- (below) natural, the realm of gods is referred to as supernatural. It is above us. And there is a reason for this positioning.

From The Benevolent Alpha:

By examining hierarchical behavior in a more obvious form — as observed in closely related species — we might gain a clearer clue as to how it functions in human life, particularly and especially in human religious thought and ritual.

From Gods “R” Us:

If not obviously human-like, gods are human in their social qualities: in what power they have, what they know, and what they care about. As much as people may try to deny it, behind the veil of the invisible and unobservable, the gods are us.

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Jul 26 2009

The 40th Humanist Symposium: A Bouquet of Bloggers

Published by under blog carnival


Welcome to the 40th edition of the Humanist Symposium!

As a group, humanists recognize, respect, and even celebrate human diversity.  Individually, we reflect a noteworthy degree of diversity.  Our differences consist not only of demographic-type characteristics, and in how we think and write about typical humanist concerns, but also in our differing passions and abilities.  Besides checking out the post-links below, I recommend reading further.  To look more closely is to see more clearly.

Beneath the writer’s name, blog title and post title, I’ve provided a brief and hopefully representative pullquote sample.  Enjoy.

* Jen at Blag Hag Q&A – Atheism & Sex

The vast majority of the weird social rules about sex are based on religion, superstition, misconception, or bad science.

* PhillyChief at You Made Me Say It Closed-minded?

Patron: You’re being completely closed-minded to the possibility that I am 21.

Clerk: Oh no, I’m completely willing to entertain that possibility, but I can’t accept it unless I have a good reason, and you haven’t offered one.

* Christopher at Experiment: Gerbus About Helping Others, and Ourselves

Aid passed from one being to another is a beautiful and productive phenomenon.

* Paul at DC Secularism Examiner Southern Christian Leadership Conference: Some people are more equal than others

So far, the mission statement only supports the reasoning that they should be in favor of marriage equality, particularly since it believes that we must find the “strength to love.”

* Rick at  Towards a Rational America and an Enlightened Judaism The Irrationality of Prayer—Pascal’s Wager Revisited

We cannot control the random events that happen to us during the course of our lives such as illness or other misfortunes, but we can control our responses to them.

* Brent at Fish Tells Scooby Doo and the Holy Ghost

The ability to stir emotions does not convert fiction to fact.

* VJACK at Atheist Revolution Risk Aversion as an Obstacle to Atheist Equality

By refusing to speak out in defense of our fellow atheists, we make sure that atheist equality will remain a pipe dream.

* Mandi at free to be me New Things

Life is a product of our choices.

* Andrew (me) at Florida Freethinkers Starry Night: My Thoughts on Death

On the verge of the big good-bye, while other people can think “Jesus is waiting” (with open arms rather than a dope slap), what will I do?

* Adam at Daylight Atheism Dignity in Dying: An Atheist’s View

Voluntarily laying down your own life is the ultimate choice of a free individual, the ultimate affirmation that our lives are our own and we may direct them as we wish.

That concludes this edition of the Humanist Symposium.

The 41st edition of the Humanist Symposium will be at Greta Christina’s Blog on August 16th.

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Jul 26 2009

The Size of a Role Model

Published by under health,psychology

Parents are our first role models. Recent research out the UK has found that the size of that role model is a risk factor for obesity.

A study published July 13 in the International Journal of Obesity indicates that girls whose mothers are classified as clinically obese are significantly more likely to struggle with weight problems in childhood, with a similar relationship existing between obese fathers and their sons.

Does the correlation tell of a “mere” genetic link? Apparently not.

The findings showed that the same trend does not exist between mothers and their sons and fathers and their daughters – meaning that behavioural, rather than genetic, factors could be the key to unravelling the causes of the current obesity epidemic affecting children in the UK.

If more weight means lesser health — both physical and mental — this research may provide a clue to one way to combat obesity. Society may “need to focus on changing the behaviour of the adult if we want to combat obesity in the child.”

Dads – if you don’t want a chunky “little man” following you around, put down that donut. Moms – if you don’t want your little princess going to the prom in a plus-size dress, make salads a bigger part of your diet.

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Jul 25 2009

Looking Closer (60) – A Toothy Protuberance

Published by under Looking Closer


That toothy protuberance is not a tooth. What is it? And what category of biological life does it belong to?

Hint: magnification – 200x. Answer and another photo below the fold.

Continue Reading »

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