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

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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.



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.”



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?


“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.”



Ask Ariely!

Dear Dan,

Why do people love to write to-do lists?


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.



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:


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:


Morality? Nature, Nurture or Straight from That

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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:


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.