Weekly choice: on Doubts, Neurons, Space and…To-do Lists (?)

 

How Atheism, Skepticism, and Humanism Changed My Life – and how it can Change Yours

skeptic“I was once taught to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. I was once taught to believe that God is the one true god. I was once taught to believe that all things are possible only through him. I was once taught that non-Christians weren’t good people. I was once taught that only Christianity could answer the questions that I had. I once believed in aliens, ghosts, and cryptids without hesitation. I once believed I was better than others. At one time I believed these things to be true. But eventually, I woke up. It wasn’t until I was much older I began questioning my beliefs and understanding the world much better, in ways that were much more fascinating than anything suggested to me from the pulpit, television, or literature. The beauty of living organisms, the complexity of our universe, and the incredible abilities of the human brain; all of which often taken credit for by those who believe they’ve been given a religious mandate to do so. Soon, it became incredibly hard for me to rely on faith.

If we want to live a knowledgeable and clear life, we must humble ourselves in way that may not sound easy now. I’ve done so by applying these simple principles:

  • I cannot be afraid to doubt unsubstantiated claims.
  • I cannot be afraid to ask questions about everything.
  • I need to be apprehensive before believing what other people say to be fact-based.
  • I need to treat others kindly in a respectable and adult way.
  • I need to live our lives day by day as if it is our last, because it’s highly probable this is the only life I get.
  • I need to recognize when I’ve been wrong and make an honest effort to correct those mistakes.

I ask you to do the same.

http://www.richarddawkins.net/foundation_articles/2014/3/18/how-atheism-skepticism-and-humanism-changed-my-life-and-how-it-can-change-yours

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The World Concert Hall: Listen To The Best Live Classical Music Concerts for Free

“Just over a century after the first radio performance of Ruggero Leoncavallo’s “Il Pagliacci,” and Pietro Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” were broadcast live from the Metropolitan Opera House in 1910, the World Concert Hall has made it its mission to bring free live classical concerts to the world. The website contains a collection of links to free radio performances each week, allowing listeners to tune into live concerts performed across the globe. You can browse performances according to the site’s schedule, or choose from a selection of classical radio stations in a large number of countries. As you might expect, the U.S has the largest selection by far, with 80 stations. But for more curious music lovers, World Concert Hall also offers a taste of what other fans are listening to in other countries, like China, Japan, and Israel.”

http://www.openculture.com/2014/03/the-world-concert-hall-listen-to-the-best-live-classical-music-concerts-for-free.html

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TED’s Best Of The Week! The neuroscience of restorative justice!

Daniel Reisel searches for the psychological and physical roots of human morality. Reisel studies the brains of criminal psychopaths (and mice). And he asks a big question: Instead of warehousing these criminals, shouldn’t we be using what we know about the brain to help them rehabilitate? Put another way: If the brain can grow new neural pathways after an injury… could we help the brain re-grow morality?

words-amygdala-small

“How can we apply this knowledge? I’d like to leave you with three lessons that I learned. The first thing that I learned was that we need to change our mindset. Since Wormwood Scrubs was built 130 years ago, society has advanced in virtually every aspect, in the way we run our schools, our hospitals. Yet the moment we speak about prisons, it’s as though we’re back in Dickensian times, if not medieval times. For too long, I believe, we’ve allowed ourselves to be persuaded of the false notion that human nature cannot change, and as a society, it’s costing us dearly. We know that the brain is capable of extraordinary change, and the best way to achieve that, even in adults, is to change and modulate our environment.

The second thing I have learned is that we need to create an alliance of people who believe that science is integral to bringing about social change. It’s easy enough for a neuroscientist to place a high-security inmate in an MRI scanner. Well actually, that turns out not to be so easy, but ultimately what we want to show is whether we’re able to reduce the reoffending rates. In order to answer complex questions like that, we need people of different backgrounds — lab-based scientists and clinicians, social workers and policy makers, philanthropists and human rights activists — to work together.

Finally, I believe we need to change our own amygdalae, because this issue goes to the heart not just of who Joe is, but who we are. We need to change our view of Joe as someone wholly irredeemable, because if we see Joe as wholly irredeemable, how is he going to see himself as any different? In another decade, Joe will be released from Wormwood Scrubs. Will he be among the 70 percent of inmates who end up reoffending and returning to the prison system? Wouldn’t it be better if, while serving his sentence, Joe was able to train his amygdala, which would stimulate the growth of new brain cells and connections, so that he will be able to face the world once he gets released? Surely, that would be in the interest of all of us.”

http://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_reisel_the_neuroscience_of_restorative_justice

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Ask Ariely!

Dear Dan,

Why do people love to write to-do lists?

—Joe

ArleyI suspect there are rational and irrational reasons for the very large amount of list-making activity we see around us. On the rational side, lists help us with faulty memory and allow us to share tasks with other people simply and efficiently. On the irrational side, making lists and checking items off these lists give us the false sense that we are actually making progress. The term for this by the way is “structured procrastination.” It’s an attempt to capture the momentary feeling that we are progressing—whereas in fact when we look back at the end of the day on what we achieved, we realize that we did not get much done. I also suspect that all the apps that help us make lists and then make it fun for us to check things off are reducing our collective productivity, by replacing real work and focus with structured productivity.

http://danariely.com/page/3/

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Series of the week! Looking for Answers in the Stars: Cosmos & Wonders Of The Solar System!

cosmos-wideFrom all the series that began recently on the small screen, I have to admit that the most interesting one is by far Cosmos. Here’s what Jeffrey Marlow has to say about it: “After 34 years, Cosmos is back. The wildly successful space-themed documentary series was written by Carl Sagan, Ann Druyan, and Steven Soter; many credit the show as the most influential science TV program ever. So when reports of a reboot emerged a few years ago, the Twitterverse and blogosphere pored over every detail. There was the fact that it would air in prime time on a major network. There was Sagan’s legacy to contend with. And there was the new host – leading science evangelist and astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who embodies the expansive wonder and hidden intricacies of space like no one else.”

Watch full episodes of Cosmos:

http://www.cosmosontv.com/

As for Wonders of the Solar System, professor Brian Cox visits the most extreme locations on Earth to explain how the laws of physics carved natural wonders across the solar system.

Learn more about the Wonders of The Solar System:

http://topdocumentaryfilms.com/wonders-of-the-solar-system/



All about the money

In the past few years I’ve been living in Spain, where for the last 4 years you will find a large scale economic crisis. I don’t want to prolong about this unsettling issue (a theme for a future post), now I simply want to reflect about the choices and decision-making that led people abuse the system so badly that left tens if not hundreds of thousands of people penniless.
Here’s an example for I mean. Yesterday I needed to change currency from Euros to pounds, something I have done many times in the past. This time it ended up being not only different but also illuminating (after being humiliating). The thing is that I got ripped off. From all the countries I’ve visited (developing world included), the first to rip me off in exchange shop is in Oxford, UK.
2014-03-29 17.22.11As I was saying, I was looking for a place to exchange money and came across this center shop with many signs that shows the currency rate and written in large letters 0% commission. I entered, said hello, asked if it possible to change from Euros to sterling and gave 100 Euros to the teller. The amount she gave me back was lacking little more than 10 pounds. I told her she made a mistake and she said no. I insisted that there should be ten more pounds (according to the 1.27 written all over). She said that it is the commission. Confused I looked at the sign and pointed on where it was written for blind that there is no commission. Little I knew how wrong I was. In small small prints it said on the bottom to ask about the 13.6% commission. Yes, to “ask” about the commission.
I immediately understood and asked to cancel the exchange. Calmly she said there is no refund, pointing to a little plat sign hidden behind the neighboring teller booth.
To be honest it is the last place I expected to be deceived in such a way (perhaps it is the exact reason why they chose that location). I felt cheated and helpless. So this is how people do business. I asked her why she didn’t say there is such a commission and she said she cannot or she will lose her job. The reply to my next question was interesting, I asked how she can do that if she knows the person will be deceived, and she replied that she doesn’t have the luxury not to work. I have to admit that after all the weird jobs I did, this answer was not surprising yet annoying. So that was self reasoning for daily deceiving people, as if it is either deceiving or drinking alcohol watching in a sinking sofa.
Fortunately for me, I´ve been taking a Mooc class of prof. Dan Ariely from Duke University about Behavior Economics and this was a real life application of the course. Ariely talks about how the Default option actually change our way of dealing and negotiating decisions. Having that in mind I couldn´t forget those small prints saying “Please ask about our 13.6% commission”. I began thinking that if someone asks, the teller will tell him there is no commission (or less, depending on how she looks), and it they simply assume they read well the large letters saying 0% commission (without venturing to the unseen letters), she will charge them without saying anything. I went back to the shop and asked. “well – she said – it is negotiable!”. “This is wrong – I said – who can I contact?”. She gave me an email address.

chequepoint
I have to admit that doing Ariely’s Mooc I learned quite a lot but I never really understood the use of it until yesterday. Ariely talks about it in doing good things (as setting the default to donate organs etc.) but now I understood how it is done to legally cheat, to be dishonest in a way that all you think about in the end of the day is how much money you made. Many people choose to blame Capitalism and free market with that, I wouldn´t go that far; I think it is simply people who decide to fraud and cheat, not the tool.
For any of you who arrive to the UK, beware of this company:
Chequepoint
28 Cornmarket Street, Oxford OX1 3EY

shop in Oxford

 

Weekly choice: on eating your pet, lying and tasting wine

The Meat Paradox: Loving but Exploiting Animals

“psychologists are studying the “meat paradox”, the puzzling situation whereby “most people care about animals and do not want to see them harmed, but engage in a diet that requires them to be killed and, usually, to suffer” (Loughnan, Bastian, & Haslam, in press).

How can we do this? Well, part of the answer is that we do not actually “like” animals in the sense you’re likely anticipating. Consider the patron of a strip club who “likes” exotic dancers. In some sense he does, but not in the way that prevents him from benefitting from their exploitation. Rather, he directly contributes to their exploitation. Liking or disliking others can often have little association with whether or not we exploit or protect them. The same goes for animals; we “like” animals a great deal (and are often suspicious about people who do not), but hedonistically we benefit tremendously from their exploitation. We accomplish this due to the presence of mental safeguards that attenuate our anxiety.

puppy in plate

Psychologically we neatly cleave animals into relatively artificial categories, such as “pets”, “wild animals”, and “farm animals”. These categories affect how we treat those within the category. For the most part, our treatment of farm animals would be illegal if applied toward pets. If you bought a shed, filled it with cages, then crammed dogs into these cages so tightly that they cannot stretch or move freely, you would face strong social and legal sanction. But across North America chickens are so housed in battery-cages, not able to spread their wings or move about, deprived of fresh air and sunlight. Without doubt, animal categories are artificial and culturally bound – in America dogs are pets and cows are farm animals, but other cultures treat dogs as food animals and cows as sacred beings. There is nothing inherent about an animal that makes it consumable or sacred – this comes down to human psychology.”

http://www.psychologytoday.com/collections/201403/march-1-7/loving-exploiting-animals?tr=HomeColItem

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200 Free Documentaries: A Super Rich List of Finely-Crafted Documentaries on the Web

Documentaries - lead pic“Documentary films have arguably provided the richest means of viewing every kind of creative mind at work, from Alfred Hitchcock (The Men Who Made the Movies: Hitchcock, Dial H for Hitchcock) to James Joyce (The Trials of Ulysses) to Joni Mitchell (Woman of Heart and Mind) to Charles Bukowski (Born Into This). Some of them even came as early entries from not-yet famous directors, including Stanley Kubrick (Day of the Flight, Flying Padre, The Seafarers), Jean-Luc Godard (Operation Concrete), and Kevin Smith (Mae Day: The Crumbling of a Documentary). Nobody can ever say where the documentary form will go next, but watch these 200 and you’ll have a pretty fair idea of all the exciting places — geographical, intellectual, personal, and artistic — it’s gone already.”

http://www.openculture.com/2014/03/200-free-documentaries-a-super-rich-list-of-finely-crafted-documentaries-on-the-web.html

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TED’s Best Of The Week! Pamela Meyer: How to spot a liar

A lie has no power whatsoever by its mere utterance; its power emerges when someone else agrees to believe the lie.

“Social media expert Pamela Meyer can tell when you’re lying. If it’s not your words that give you away, it’s your posture, eyes, breathing rate, fidgets, and a host of other indicators. Worse, we are all lied to up to 200 times a day, she says, from the white lies that allow society to function smoothly to the devastating duplicities that bring down corporations and break up families.

Working with a team of researchers over several years, Meyer, who is CEO of social networking company Simpatico Networks, collected and reviewed most of the research on deception that has been published, from such fields as law-enforcement, military, psychology and espionage. She then became an expert herself, receiving advanced training in deception detection, including multiple courses of advanced training in interrogation, microexpression analysis, statement analysis, behavior and body language interpretation, and emotion recognition. Her research is synthetized in her bestselling book Liespotting.”

http://www.ted.com/talks/pamela_meyer_how_to_spot_a_liar

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Wine Tasting Tutorial

You wondered how wine should be tasted properly? See-Sniff-Sip-Summarize!

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Person Of The Week! Andy Warhol!

Successful magazine and ad illustrator who became a leading artist of the 1960s Pop art movements.

Andy Warhol was an American artist who was a leading figure in the visual art movement known as pop art. His works explore the relationship between artistic expression, celebrity culture and advertisement that flourished by the 1960s. After a successful career as a commercial illustrator, Warhol became a renowned and sometimes controversial artist. The Andy Warhol Museum in his native city, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, holds an extensive permanent collection of art and archives. It is the largest museum in the United States dedicated to a single artist.

Warhol’s art encompassed many forms of media, including hand drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, silk screening, sculpture, film, and music. He was also a pioneer in computer-generated art using Amiga computers that were introduced in 1984, two years before his death. He founded Interview Magazine and was the author of numerous books, including The Philosophy of Andy Warhol and Popism: The Warhol Sixties. He is also notable as a gay man who lived openly as such before the gay liberation movement. His studio, The Factory, was a famous gathering place that brought together distinguished intellectuals, drag queens, playwrights, Bohemian street people, Hollywood celebrities, and wealthy patrons.

Andy_Warhol

He also painted celebrity portraits in vivid and garish colors; his most famous subjects include Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Mick Jagger and Mao Zedong. As these portraits gained fame and notoriety, Warhol began to receive hundreds of commissions for portraits from socialites and celebrities. His portrait “Eight Elvises” eventually resold for $100 million in 2008, making it one of the most valuable paintings in world history.

Warhol’s life and work simultaneously satirized and celebrated materiality and celebrity. On the one hand, his paintings of distorted brand images and celebrity faces could be read as a critique of what he viewed as a culture obsessed with money and celebrity. On the other hand, Warhol’s focus on consumer goods and pop-culture icons, as well as his own taste for money and fame, suggest a life in celebration of the very aspects of American culture that his work criticized. Warhol spoke to this apparent contradiction between his life and work in his book The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, writing that “making money is art and working is art, and good business is the best art.”

Morality? Nature, Nurture or Straight from That

There is a continuous and rigorous conversation that for some reason which remains obscure to my mind is still an issue even today, and that is the question of the origin of Morals, Ethics, Valor (I deliberately clutter them together because they are being used haphazardly sometimes without distinction). Many, if not all, religious people claim special ownership on them saying it has descended from their God or gods, usually claiming them as human only gifts. Agnostics try to avoid this question but when confronted seems to be sporadically ambiguous about the issue (many relate them to higher being and the more naturalistic agnostics say it is nature depending upon their level of traditionalism). As for atheists, it is clear that Morals and Ethics are a natural system; though even with some city dwellers non-believers, it seems there is a distinction between human and animals when it comes to this issue.

I´ve been an animal lover ever since I remember. Moreover, I found the animal kingdom to be fascinating and cultivating in a way that no school can ever be able to teach. While many teenagers go through rebellious crisis and rivalries with their kin primates, I found solace talking to our dog, cats, an occasional bird, hen, snakes, spiders and every other animal I came across. I learned from their instinctive innocence about interaction and life. The truth of the matter is that although it didn´t replace human interaction, it certainly helped me a great deal understanding them.

So far throughout different past posts I was briefly mentioning human behavior and moral substance through reconnecting with nature and our fellow creatures of the earth, but what about animals as our co-habitats on this shrinking planet? I´m still amazed when I hear someone questioning the existence of emotions, morals and ethics in non-human animals. I feel even worse than that day when I first learned about the 1550-1551 Controversia de Valladolid (Valladolid debate) where Spanish scholars and represents of the church debated for quite some time whether or not Indians have soul and should be recognized as human being or as evolved apes. How long will it take for today’s common knowledge to end this self-proclaimed distinction and to cease to be wrongfully pronounced and used as an excuse to inflict upon them variety of cruelties and absurdities? Elephants, Orcas, Dolphins, Chimpanzees, Dogs, Horses, Cows, are today´s Indians, facing the abnormal egocentrism and vanity of men.

Thus, I want to clarify, this post is about the question whether or not Moral is some incredible quality exclusively for humans. For that exact reason I decided to propose a collection of short videos for your entertainment, where, as explicitly shown, and let me blunt about it, the answer is simple: It is not!

Moral is a word, invented by men to convey an idea of social conduct. As any amateur viewer of National Geographic will tell you, one does not even have to go to the wild to see that most animals maintain these principles of conduct in the most natural way; in many occasions, even far better than humans. Perhaps by the technological complexity of our life, and probably because of the sheer number of our specie, humans need a constant reminder of what all large animals already know: that empathy, social bonding, altruism and interdependence are essential for survival (just read Dawkins The Selfish Gene or any distinguished biologist and it will all make sense).

Enough talk, nothing like a living image of reality to stress a point:

Elephants are certainly the highlight of recent animal understanding, unfortunately, this fact is probably because of their rapidly diminishing numbers. This majestic large animal is not only full of emotions and care but also quite a lot of brains. In this video, we see Kandula solving some difficulties. While you watch it, ponder on the fact that human intellect also began with the food incentive.

As for cooperation, watch this next experiment:

To read the full article about the elephant, click here.

Chimps are quite strong for their size. We call Just and kind a strong man that helps a kin that tent to appear more fragile. Yet what is exactly the sense of Justice?

Humans call Just to despicable things making philosophical reasoning for a ‘Just genocide’ and other atrocities. While all creature have a sense of interaction from within the specie, only humans use there one ability: reasoning, in the stupidest way. In stead of overcoming instinctive behavior, we use our brain to excuse it.

And how moral expressed in a sense of equality? Will you mind that your unfriendly coworker make more money than you even though you are doing the exact same work? I dare say that you won´t like it. What about our fellow primates:

Emotions

Who can deny mother’s pain, either of a human mother outliving her child, or of a milking cow, separated from her calf, and much worse is of an elephant in a matriarchal structured society.

Sure, those are all cherry picking videos and they might not even represent 50% of the animal tested and filmed, but hey, how many real altruist can you sincerely say you know?  The fact that even 1 exists is already more than enough to acknowledge that something in today’s discourse is still terribly wrong.

Weekly choice: Learn to debate, dishonesty or truthful mate

Oxford’s Free Course Critical Reasoning For Beginners Will Teach You to Think Like a Philosopher

Critical-Reasoning-For-Beginners“When I was younger, I often found myself disagreeing with something I’d read or heard, but couldn’t explain exactly why. Despite being unable to pinpoint the precise reasons, I had a strong sense that the rules of logic were being violated. After I was exposed to critical thinking in high school and university, I learned to recognize problematic arguments, whether they be a straw man, an appeal to authority, or an ad hominem attack. Faulty arguments are all-pervasive, and the mental biases that underlie them pop up in media coverage, college classes, and armchair theorizing. Want to learn how to avoid them? Look no further than Critical Reasoning For Beginners, the top rated iTunesU collection of lectures led by Oxford University’s Marianne Talbot.”

http://www.openculture.com/2014/02/oxfords-critical-reasoning-for-beginners-will-teach-you-to-argue-like-a-philosopher.html

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RSA Animate – The Truth About Dishonesty

In this RSA Animate, Dan Ariely explores the circumstances under which someone would lie and what effect deception has on society at large. The video is taken from a lecture given by Dan Ariely as part of the RSA’s free public events program.

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Are You with the Right Mate?

 “Sooner or later, there comes a moment in all relationships when you lie in bed, roll over, look at the person next to you and think it’s all a dreadful mistake, says Boston family therapist Terrence Real. It happens a few months to a few years in. “It’s an open secret of American culture that disillusionment exists. I go around the country speaking about ‘normal marital hatred.’ Not one person has ever asked what I mean by that. It’s extremely raw.”

What to do when the initial attraction sours? “I call it the first day of your real marriage,” Real says. It’s not a sign that you’ve chosen the wrong partner. It is the signal to grow as an individual—to take responsibility for your own frustrations. Invariably, we yearn for perfection but are stuck with an imperfect human being. We all fall in love with people we think will deliver us from life’s wounds but who wind up knowing how to rub against us.

A new view of relationships and their discontents is emerging. We alone are responsible for having the relationship we want. And to get it, we have to dig deep into ourselves while maintaining our connections. It typically takes a dose of bravery—what Page calls “enlightened audacity.” Its brightest possibility exists, ironically, just when the passion seems most totally dead. If we fail to plumb ourselves and speak up for our deepest needs, which admittedly can be a scary prospect, life will never feel authentic, we will never see ourselves with any clarity, and everyone will always be the wrong partner.”

http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201112/are-you-the-right-mate

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TED’s Best Of The Week! Eleanor Longden: The voices in my head

To all appearances, Eleanor Longden was just like every other student, heading to college full of promise and without a care in the world. That was until the voices in her head started talking. Initially innocuous, these internal narrators became increasingly antagonistic and dictatorial, turning her life into a living nightmare. Diagnosed with schizophrenia, hospitalized, drugged, Longden was discarded by a system that didn’t know how to help her. Longden tells the moving tale of her years-long journey back to mental health, and makes the case that it was through learning to listen to her voices that she was able to survive.

schizophrenia

Eleanor Longden overcame her diagnosis of schizophrenia to earn a master’s in psychology and demonstrate that the voices in her head were “a sane reaction to insane circumstances.

http://www.ted.com/talks/eleanor_longden_the_voices_in_my_head.html