Friday, March 30, 2012

The Decorah Eagles


Two babies have hatched and the third one is trying to break out of his shell today!  Very exciting! If you get a chance, check out the live webcam:

Broadcasting live with Ustream

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book Review: How We Decide

I bought this book for my Kindle because I was having a hard time deciding what book to download and read next. And surprisingly, it applies to atheism! Doesn't everything apply to atheism?

This book is about the neurology of decision-making. Each chapter addresses certain types of decisions, and I admit to being totally bored by some of the examples. I'm a girl. If you want to use a football play as an example in a book, keep the description under a paragraph, mmkay?  There's a multi-page description of some Superbowl play, which could have been described in about a paragraph but for some reason had to start years earlier than the actual play.  I dunno what the point of that chapter was.  My eyes glazed over and I just had to skip to the next chapter, ...which has an overlong description of some military event. I dunno what it said. I skipped that chapter too. There was probably some point to it, but you wouldn't know from the beginning of the chapter.

So, skipping to something of more universal interest, there's a chapter on moral decisions which of course refers to religious prescriptions, but also points out that the interpersonal parts of the 10 Commandments specifies not doing harm to others. I never made that connection before, perhaps because so much of O.T. interpretation got rewritten by people who didn't want us to touch ourselves.  We've all heard the contradictory self-congratulatory versions of what the 10 Commandments are supposed to mean:  1)  If not for those we'd be raping, stealing, and telling lies and generally running amok.  If some Christians are actually sociopaths who need to be told these things and then actually restrain themselves... hahaha who am I kidding?  That "explanation" is total bullshit.  2) says that there is a universal morality given to us by Gawd.  This #2 explanation is the neo-apologists' way of accommodating evolution and multi-cultural perspectives.  The secular #3 is more like that but without the Gawd crap, and this book basically says that.  They make the point that getting along in society is the reason for rules like the non-theological commandments.  (Well, of the Big 10 -- doesn't say anything about the other 600+ commandments in the OT)

There's also the famous fake-mom hugging rhesus monkeys of Harry Harlow.    I already knew about the study that resulted in the "discovery" (duh) that babies need a warm and nurturing mom to hug, but there were many other studies with rhesus monkeys.  One was even more revealing than the fake mom one.  A clique of monkeys in separate cages but who knew each other, learned that one lever dispensed super yummy foods and another one dispensed less fun food.  After they had learned it, the researchers had an unrelated monkey scream from being shocked when the good lever gets pulled.  After the first time, all the monkeys stopped eating the yummy food and two even starved themselves.  It seems that not wanting to harm to others is hard-wired into primate brains, but only assuming normal childhoods and not having something like autism or sociopathy.   Autistics wouldn't understand the communication of pain by others; sociopaths wouldn't care.

So... as I'd suspected, religious proscriptions and prescriptions about morality are really aimed at people with no internal moral compass, i.e., sociopaths, autistics, and people who got bad parenting as children.  Having watched way too many hours of "The First 48 [hours]" I've seen several instances when a detective gets a confession out of a suspect by appealing to religion or the supernatural.  "Your dad is watching you from Heaven.  What would he say to you  now?"

[I'm not just making that up:  Cal Thomas wrote as much in the Washington Post this week.  Without his religion he would be "lost" and he thinks non-believers are lost.  He doesn't bother to ezplain why so many believers commit crimes despite their moral compass, or why atheists are no more inclined to criminality than anyone else.]

The basic conflict, as described in this book, is between the amygdala, or the emotional and fearful part of the brain, and the frontal cortex, which can calm the amygdala and sort things out rationally.  Curiously, there is a limit to what the rational brain can handle.  The author's advice: gather information, and if there are more than 4-10 (depending on whose research you believe) factors, then you're better off deciding with your "gut."

I have made life decisions this way and been embarrassed because of it.  Like my current rental.  After all my checklists and research about what the features of the place are, I went with my gut. I did the same when i decided which college to attend.  But... without all that research to help me rule out no-go places, my gut could have misled me.

Dusty of youtube fame closes his videos with "Logic," even though his videos are often very emotional.  I have never believed that logic could dissuade most believers that their religions were bogus.  Their amygdalas put amygdala fingers in their frontal cortex's ears and sing "la la la la I can't heeeeeear youuuuu."  And they are better and better at willful ignorance because of techniques of modern churches, but I'll save that for the next post.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Futurama vs. William Lane Craig

On the question of free will vs. Craig's "A or Not A" circular argument:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Someone from the "Discovery" Institute reviews a book by an "atheist"

uhhhh there's something very very wrong with this article, and with the book if it's being quoted accurately:

Darwinism, therefore, leaves something unaccounted for: the emergence of people like you and me who are indubitably sighted watchmakers. If there are no sighted watchmakers in nature and yet humans are sighted watchmakers, in the narrower sense of making artefacts whose purpose they envisage in advance, and in the wider sense of consciously aiming at stated goals, then humans are not part of nature: or not entirely so.

So, apparently you can be an atheist and still believe in the supernatural?  uh sure.  As long as you remain willfully ignorant of actual sciences, the God of the Gaps makes sense.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Facebook Funny (this one's an Audio-Visual)

First the visual:

Now for the audio (I would change the lyrics a bit):

Monday, March 5, 2012

Dear Rush Limbaugh,

Dear Rush Limbaugh, if we pay for OB/GYN services for pregnant women are we paying them to have sex?

Just wondering, because you know what that makes your momma

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Book Review: Quiet

I downloaded this to my kindle because it was intriguing and alsobecause the title was unflattering to *extroverts.  Extroverts get on my nerves and I have known many who just don't know how to shut up.

The book draws on scholarly research but instead of being a dry presentation of those results, the author describes events and interviews with a variety of researchers, extroverts, introverts, and introverted pseudo-extroverts. 

There's a huge bias against the extroverts, but of course it made me go *yeah* or *snigger* rather than want to diss the book in this review.

Speaking of this review, why am I writing it?

Well, throughout the book there are hints at the reason why introverted people might be more drawn to atheism, or rather, put off by religion.  First, religion generally involves gathering with other people at least once a week.  That right there is a turn-off.  Then consider that introverts live more inside their own heads than take in stimulation from outside.  Listening to a pastor or even a rousing gospel choir isn't anywhere near as much fun for us as being lost in our own thoughts going in our own direction.  Then follow this torture with "coffee hour," during which we are forced to make cocktail party style small talk without the benefit of a cocktail.

Cain took one for the team by going to Rick Warren's Palace of Emotional Torture, a.k.a. Saddleback Church.  Huge, loud, obnoxious..... I shudder thinking of being there.  Her description was vivid and I felt every twitch of discomfort with her.  Of course there are churches where introverts won't feel overwhelmed, but her description got me thinking about a connection between introversion & atheism.  Ever since seeing the Myers-Briggs skewing of atheists online into the INT- camps, I've wondered if that was a reflection of atheism or of computer geekiness.  After reading this book I'm leaning toward the introversion theory.

We introverts apparently share a lot of qualities other than just recharging our batteries alone rather than at parties.  We can be more sensitive inwardly but also more sensitive to the social cues around us.  We "read" the social enviornment more keenly than extroverts, who basically just get high when they're in their element.  Could this mean we are attuned to the "tells" of the adults around us as children?  Were we the first to suspect that Santa Claus wasn't real, and could we tell that the priest/pastor/rabbi/imam didn't really believe every word they said?  Could our in-touchness put us more in the real world than our in-headness would suggest?  Or do we doubt more because we're just immune to religious group think because we're immune to all kinds of group think?

Wall Street bankers demonstrated the difference between extroverts and introverts quite dramatically:  the extroverts made stupid decisions when they saw the market starting to implode while introverts made more cautious, wiser decisions.  It wasn't so much that introverts are averse to risk (or else why would they be investment bankers in the first place?) but that extroverts get high on adventure, which isn't always a good thing.  Of course, it's not always a good thing not to go for adventure.

I really only skimmed through the chapter on child-rearing, since I don't have kids and I'm not a teacher.  What I remember of it was "yep, yep, yep."  Especially:  group assignments YECH!!!!  And when a kid is passionate about something, they will speak up so points for "class participation" are really just uhhhh talking points.  This chapter was a good complement to the view of the Asian culture of introversion, which coincidentally encourages scholarship, thought, and listening and discourages empty blather.

Perhaps predictably, she includes a yin-yang kind of story: FDR & his wife, quiet Eleanor.  He was an extrovert (as most politicians are) and Eleanor was an introvert.  Their marriage didn't work but as a political couple they complemented each other.  She was the sensitive soul that saw and felt the needs of the poor.  He was the astute and bold politician who could make things happen after she'd raised his awareness.  And she could "come out of her shell" for a cause that ignited her passion.  (The book also talks about how to survive a mixed marriage but I'll spare you that)

So... as an atheist introvert, I could see myself in most of this book, even the parts about introverts who learn to behave like extroverts.  I can bring my work-self to work but I need to get away for breaks to recharge my batteries.  I also related to the part about Asian culture.  I investigated Taoism & Buddhism on my way to skeptical-atheism (a-supernaturalism is too much of a mouthful).  Meditation is more my style than any type of church.  My only fond memories of being a Christian are listening to or performing classical music with the backing of a beautiful old organ.  And even that was a little much for me.

Interestingly, many of us can learn to "fake" being extroverted.  I think I learned how to be extroverted-seeming from my experiences with black people in workplaces where I was the only non-black.  One of my coworkers who didn't have much experience with white people accused me of being snobby... after she felt comfortable with me and vice versa.  I was shocked.  After that I made more of a point of trying to make a good impression, which usually meant acting extroverted, or at least being more open.  Once I got comfortable with the cultures in the various places I've been, I didn't feel like I was being untrue to my real self.  I still kept to myself in my head even though I was cutting up and being outgoing on the outside, if that makes sense.   When we all had to go to Myers-Briggs "training," everyone was surprised that I was an introvert.  Even today, in mostly-white Indiana, I make a point of being more forward with black people, like saying  "Hi don't fear me I'm not a bigot or a snob, m'kay?"  The people I meet here probably have lots of experience with white people but it's second nature for me to be extra friendly toward black people now.   Of course the downside is that white people think I'm sometimes too forward and brash - not midwestern at all.  (I tell them that's my "New York" showing when that happens)

... but I did meet lots of introverted black people in these all-black-but-me workplaces.  My first impression was probably that they didn't like me because I'm white, just as some extroverted people may have thought I was a bigot for being more reserved.  In both cases, after we got to know each other better in our own time everything was cool. See how thought-provoking this book is?  I never gave that a thought before.  The chapter on Asian-American relationships really helped me to see those experienes in a new light.

So... the book has a lot of food for thought and a lot of cheerleading for those of us who have been made to feel there was something wrong with us.  I recommend it for introverts & extroverts alike.

And I want to delve into psychological journals now to see if there really is a relationship between introversion and atheism.  Stay tuned!

*the author intentionally used the common "extrovert" spelling rather than the "correct" spelling, "extravert" so I did the same.