Weekly Choice: on a Story, Spirituality without religion and please go on Booksurfing

Over 100 MOOCS Getting Started in September! Enroll in One Today!

MOOC (Massive Open Online Courses) provides many interesting, illuminating courses in different areas.  The courses are free and also can be a smart way to procrastinate. Summer craziness is over, take your chance today! For further information take a look on MOOC list below.

http://www.mooc-list.com/?gclid=CjwKEAjwp7WgBRCRxMCLx8mMnDMSJADncxS263plTIjBvwfqKNB635tU6xdaPvj7G9DhCOjnBImE5BoCAgnw_wcB

.

TED’s Best Of The Week! Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: The danger of a single story

Chimamanda comes from a conventional, middle-class Nigerian family. In an extremely articulated talk, she speaks about generalizations. Are generalizations helpful? Can we function without them? Is that a default in the way we think and perceive the world? If this TED talk she posit on this issue in a curious and enlighten way. Thus far she manages to capture the attention of more than seven million people, who will be next?

“I left Nigeria to go to university in the United States. I was 19. My American roommate was shocked by me. She asked where I had learned to speak English so well, and was confused when I said that Nigeria happened to have English as its official language. She asked if she could listen to what she called my “tribal music,” and was consequently very disappointed when I produced my tape of Mariah Carey. She assumed that I did not know how to use a stove. What struck me was this: She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa: a single story of catastrophe. In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her in any way, no possibility of feelings more complex than pity, no possibility of a connection as human equals.”

.

Legal murder. Legal abuse.

When someone would tell me to think of animals I would probably imagine a warm picture of myself cuddling my dog, giving her a bath and the good time I have with her. However, when one is removing her pink sunglasses, reality is quite different. What is happening? Humans are using animals for food, clothing, entertainment, and for scientific research.  In the US alone around 75,000 dogs (like mine and yours) and 22,000 cats dying every year from vivisection, many of them not even for a life saving medication but for shampoos, mascara and condoms. There are many accessible books and articles written on this subject, but until we witness it with our own eyes it’s all just dry and distant theory. Facebook is a great conscious buster about animal cruelty but is it enough (usually the sympathy doesn´t go beyond a short “it´s terrible” comment. We share the planet with animals, but instead of living with them we exploit, torture and abuse them in various ways, and all of that is today most gruesome Legal Murder, legal slavery, and rape.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKaCFyGdazo

If you are interested wish to learn more about this issue, here’s a link to “Earthlings”, an eye-opening documentary directed by Shaun Monson:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7cxmFugZMA

Here’s how to you too can do something about it:

– Don´t eat meat everyday

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ethics_of_eating_meat

– If you see an abuse report it

http://www.pet-abuse.com/database/

– Avoid buying and using testing brands

http://www.wikihow.com/Avoid-Buying-and-Using-Animal-Testing-Brands

.

Waking Up: a guide to spirituality without religion

“I once participated in a twenty-three-day wilderness program in the mountains of Colorado. If the purpose of this course was to expose students to dangerous lightning and half the world’s mosquitoes, it was fulfilled on the first day. What was in essence a forced march through hundreds of miles of backcountry culminated in a ritual known as “the solo,” where we were finally permitted to rest—alone, on the outskirts of a gorgeous alpine lake—for three days of fasting and contemplation.

waking up

I had just turned sixteen, and this was my first taste of true solitude since exiting my mother’s womb. It proved a sufficient provocation. After a long nap and a glance at the icy waters of the lake, the promising young man I imagined myself to be was quickly cut down by loneliness and boredom. I filled the pages of my journal not with the insights of a budding naturalist, philosopher, or mystic but with a list of the foods on which I intended to gorge myself the instant I returned to civilization. Judging from the state of my consciousness at the time, millions of years of hominid evolution had produced nothing more transcendent than a craving for a cheeseburger and a chocolate milkshake.”

This is how the new book of Sam Harris begins. To read/listen to

http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/chapter-one

.

Recommendation of the week, BookSurfing!

A new social experiment

 “More intimate than a book club, less process-y than group therapy, and more focused than a cocktail party! Book surfing is a unique way to get to know people, and get exposed to a lot of interesting ideas and texts.

Bring something to read to a small, intimate group (6-8 people), some of whom you don’t know.

The format has been distilled over time into 5 simple rules:

  1. Everybody present (6-8 people) reads aloud a text of their choice. (Bring two texts: if time permits there is a second round of readings).
  2. Any text is suitable: it can be Shakespeare, or your diary
  3. Texts read must not exceed 450 words. (Yes, it’s Twitter-like, but it’s proven a good length.)
  4. There has to be at least one newcomer to book surfing.
  5. There have to be some participants who don’t know each other.

booksurfing_There is a moderator who organizes and runs the meeting, and makes time available for discussion after each reading.

Simple rules, but they seem to guarantee an interesting experience!”

If you are interested in this social experiment follow the example of Book Surfing Seattle on Facebook:

https://www.facebook.com/booksurfingseattle/info

Advertisements

Weekly Choice: on Ideas, Atheism and Absurd Strangers

The Ultimate Guide for Becoming an Idea Machine

IdeaMachine-Post“The way to have good ideas is to get close to killing yourself. It’s  like weightlifting. When you lift slightly more than you can handle, you  get stronger. When you cut yourself open, you bleed ideas. If you’re broke and close to death, you have to start coming up with ideas. (…) The problem is  this: you’re NOT in a state of panic most of the time. States of panic  are special and have to be revered. Think about the times in your life that you remember – it’s exactly those moments when you hit bottom and  were forced to come up with ideas, to get stronger, to connect with some  inner force inside you with the outer force. (…) IDEAS ARE THE CURRENCY OF LIFE. Not money. Money gets depleted until you go broke.  But good ideas buy you good experiences, buy you better ideas, buy you  better experiences, buy you more time, save your life. Financial wealth  is a side effect of the “runner’s high” of your idea muscle.

Read the rest at:

http://www.jamesaltucher.com/

.

TED’s Best Of The Week! Richard Dawkins On Militant Atheism!

 A fiery, funny, powerful talk.

Description=Richard Dawkins Photograph: Jeremy Young 05-12-2006

Richard Dawkins urges all atheists to openly state their position — and to fight the incursion of the church into politics and science. Dawkins is known for his work as a biologist even since his best selling book “The Selfish Gene”. Since, he is combating what he sees as danger in the education system, which is religious studies, particularly, Creationism. In this talk, he raise some interesting points to reflect upon.

“In my view, not only is science corrosive to religion; religion is corrosive to science. It teaches people to be satisfied with trivial, supernatural non-explanations and blinds them to the wonderful real explanations that we have within our grasp. It teaches them to accept authority, revelation and faith instead of always insisting on evidence.”

http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_dawkins_on_militant_atheism#

.

How to Take Notes You Will Remember

Laptop versus hand-written notes: what the difference reveals about memory

“Two psychologists were inspired to carry out the research after noticing a problem with recalling notes taken on a laptop. Pam Mueller, a psychologist at Princeton University, found that switching back to a pen and paper from a laptop had been beneficial.

They set out to test this hunch scientifically by having 65 college students watch TED talks and then have them answer questions about what they’d learnt (Mueller & Oppenheimer, 2014).

The questions, which were asked 30 minutes after watching the video, fell into two categories:

  • Factual-recall: for example, “Approximately how many years ago did the Indus civilization exist?”
  • Conceptual-application: for example, “How do Japan and Sweden differ in their approaches to equality within their societies?”

note on rockWhat they found was little difference in factual recall: people could remember about the same proportion of facts in both groups. The big difference came in what people had understood conceptually from the lecture. Here it turned out that the paper-and-pen note-takers had retained a significantly larger proportion of conceptual information. The reason for this difference comes down to the mental processes involved in laptop versus hand-written notes.”

http://www.spring.org.uk/2014/05/how-to-take-notes-you-will-remember.php

.

Book Of The Week! The Stranger, by Albert Camus!

The Stranger (French: L’Étranger) is a novel by Albert Camus a French Nobel Prize winning author, journalist, and philosopher, published in 1942. His views contributed to the rise of the philosophy known as absurdism.

Albert Camus seeks for answer of eternal questions. How to live if life is tragic and futile?  How to live in a world where man is a stranger to himself and to the world around him? Meursault is faced with madness of the world, its’ absurdity and inhumanity. He defends rationality and truth, but in the world devoid of illusions and light, he feels like stranger and lives meaningless life. To the life and world that surrounds him, he is indifferent.

In January 1955, Camus said, “I summarized The Stranger a long time ago, with a remark I admit was highly paradoxical: ‘In our society any man who does not weep at his mother’s funeral runs the risk of being sentenced to death.’ I only meant that the hero of my book is condemned because he does not play the game.”

“Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure.”

― Albert Camus, The Stranger

On the link below you can watch Italian movie based on this novel.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqfzFmpoTvQ

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

.

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

.

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

.

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/

.

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/



The question of After-life

I´ve seen many debates between religious people and atheists, some (most) of which end up in a dead end as simply a question of faith. However, there are other debates that in spite of that fact, seem to incite and inspire the listener to engage in an introspective thought about themselves and about life. A recent debate I´ve seen is, by far, one of the latter.

In this remarkable and mind-altering debate, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris are giving a relatively calm responses to the variety of religious reasoning (for lack of a less antithetical term) two rabbis try to defend.

In one occasion during the debate, they referred to the significance of NDE (Near Death Experience) and discussed it by different names and experiences (personal as well as of others). This phenomenon is when the soul/consciousness/being (or whatever name we choose to call it) leaves the physical body and manages to fly/hover/transport itself to other locations (in most cases physical).

Now, the debate is obviously not about the question if people believe it happened to them or not, but what does it signify in the grand scheme of things. Meaning, can we collectively deduce the existence of “something out there” from an experience of that sort? While watching the debate, many things come to mind (many of which were told by the two astute liberal thinkers) but one of which I think to have a more interesting gray zone, and that is the commonly known Astral Traveling.

forest-path-mysticalA few years back, as part of my travels, I had a six month stay in a small village in a developing country. The village was fascinating and awe-inspiring with a hallo of the supernatural, surrounded by human beings with incredible powers and capacities. And still, more than anything, what was the most marvelous in this bucolic community were the stories. I have been told about many versions of miracles, metaphysical experiences and even natural born gifts of the people around me. However, no matter how hard I tried, I could not find not even one proof for the veracity of any of the stories. I was desperate, wanting so bad to believe, I walked around looking under every stone, entering all forbidden areas, asking human teleporters, psychics and astral travelers to show me, teach me, to give me a simple test demonstration just so I could live and believe what I wished so much to exist. I heard many firsthand experiences, magnificent epistemic unimaginable ones, yet, for the most part, after insisting on some proofs I was simply considered as another enthusiastic skeptic, materialistic in the need of unnecessary science. Other times, I was actually told to wait while they will show me their powers when I least expect it (note: I´m still waiting, 10 years later).

The sad and unfortunate fact is that in spite all of my will to believe (that actually I possess to this day), I couldn´t find a shred of proof. On the other hand, my understanding of basic psychology helped me more than once to understand the birth of those perspectives.

Like the time I was doing a meditation session to reveal who I was in my former life (regression to former life/s meditation). It was amazing, so vivid, so true, I still remember it to this day. I was lying on the mattress regressing step by step with the mellow, harmonious sound of the voice of the instructor, going back remembering year after year every step of this life. I saw my toddler’s years and me as a baby, all the way to the memory from the womb (that was, admittedly. a little vague) but when we reached the metaphysical space and then the former death, I was shocked. I did see myself in my former life (who I was and how I died is a story for another post).

José GUTIERREZ SOLANA, El espejo de la muerte, Ca. 1929
GUTIERREZ SOLANA, El espejo de la muerte

Needless to say it haunted me for days. However, the more I thought of it, the more I began to analyze it as I used to do for years with my dreams. You see, as a person with very vivid and dynamic oneiric life, I began to have a lot of interest in interpretation. When you do it long enough, one can start seeing a pattern of how it functions (both in the oneiric state as in the other ones). Remembering that event I began to see this pattern functions splendidly. After all, the soft meditation music with the fact that we are lying down, rapidly took us to a theta wave neural oscillation. I did some more reading and not much time later I found the experience rather explainable by simple self awareness. Of course, if I wanted to blindly believe what I had seen (or imagined) I would have simply blocked any possible explanation (rational and natural one). But I couldn´t. I say these words not without some sorrow because a part of me still wishes to simply avoid reason and let faith be the creator of magic and wonder. In fact, at times I would have liked to be able to wake up every day with the pure and irrevocable notion that my dream is, in fact, reality. Nevertheless, instead of believing it to be right and by that arguing the existence of other worlds and spiritual existence to all, I simply enjoy yet another lesson about the most magically and mysterious entity we can undoubtedly say exists… our brain.

So, enjoy this wonderful and inspiring debate, and if you have any comments or ideas, feel free to share them.