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

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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.”

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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

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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

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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

Weekly Choice: on Death, Prejudice, Living the question and some Travel Tips

The Video Of The Week!

Sam Harris – Mindfulness Meditation – From Death and The Present Moment

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Ted’s Best Of The Week! Can prejudice ever be a good thing, by Paul Bloom.

Paul Bloom explores some of the most puzzling aspects of human nature, including pleasure, religion, and morality.

“Our reason could cause us to override our passions. Our reason could motivate us to extend our empathy, could motivate us to write a book like “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” or read a book like “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” and our reason can motivate us to create customs and taboos and laws that will constrain us from acting upon our impulses when, as rational beings, we feel we should be constrained. This is what a constitution is. A constitution is something which was set up in the past that applies now in the present, and what it says is, no matter how much we might to reelect a popular president for a third term, no matter how much white Americans might choose to feel that they want to reinstate the institution of slavery, we can’t. We have bound ourselves.”

http://www.ted.com/talks/paul_bloom_can_prejudice_ever_be_a_good_thing#t-109201

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Here’s The Psychological Key to Early Academic Achievement

“Working memory is a crucial factor in children’s academic achievement, including their reading ability. The study, which was conducted in Brazil, included 106 children, half of whom were living under the poverty line (Abreu et al., 2014).

graduationThe children took a battery of cognitive tests — including one assessing their working memory — and these were matched up with their attainment in mathematics, spelling, reading, language and science. The results showed that the children with the best working memories consistently had the highest performance across all the different areas of learning.

The children who struggled, especially with reading, were those with the poorest working memory.

The project’s leader, Dr. Pascale Engel de Abreu, said:

“Our findings suggest the importance of early screening and intervention, especially in the context of poverty. At present, poor working memory is rarely identified by teachers. Poor literacy, low academic achievement and living in poverty create a mutually reinforcing cycle. There is a chance to break this by early identification of children with working memory problems and by helping them to acquire the mental tools which will enable them to learn.”

http://www.spring.org.uk/2014/07/heres-the-psychological-key-to-early-academic-achievement.php

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Why Living the Questions Is Better Than Having the Answers

“When faced with a question, we:

  1. Search for the answer
  2. Determine this is the answer.
  3. Conclude this must be the answer.

There’s a big gap between steps two and three. The philosopher Wittgenstein would ask about the nature of this must. What gives that must its necessity or oomph? When we decide in advance that there is one and only one solution to a problem and it is this, we force ourselves into a very uncomfortable and perhaps precarious position.

Consider the Greek myth of Procrustes. Procrustes was an outlaw who offered hospitality to people who passed his home. He offered guests a bed that would fit them perfectly. If the guest was too short for the bed, Procrustes put him on a rack to stretch him. If the guest too tall, he cut off parts of his legs.

ProcrustesWe become like Procrustes when we decide this must be the answer. We will make our beliefs, hopes, expectations, and actions fit that answer, no matter what. We will stretch ourselves to the breaking point to make something work. We will ruthlessly cut off parts of ourselves or forsake parts of our lived realities that do not fit with the answer.

The woman who marries the man “she is supposed to” instead of the one she loves may try to convince herself to love her husband. She’ll tell herself she had no other choice, that she owed her fiancé, and that she had to lose her love. (…) When you believe you have the right answer and that something must be the answer, you are trapped. Actually, you have trapped yourself. You’ve done a Procrustes on yourself. As Wittgenstein wrote, “A man will be imprisoned in a room with a door that is unlocked and opens inward; as long as it does not occur to him to pull rather than push it.”

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/philosophy-stirred-not-shaken/201407/why-living-the-questions-is-better-having-the-answers

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17 Air Travel Tips

“..In which Hank imparts some wisdom that he has gained through the last four years of getting on planes once every four months.”

travel_tips_for_elders

Why Google just killed our Free Will…

Lately, the conversation (or better to say questions) about the existence of Free Will seems to appear very often in the media. Most of it does recall a kind of exercise in The art of Rhetoric 1.1 more than real debates and while some are readily and enthusiastically reasoning with the God Almighty argument, others, are trying to have empirical evidence-based statistics of lab testing accompanied by neuro-scientific colorful graphs.

Of course, debates and the (philosophical) questioning about the existence of Free Will is nothing new (from political, theological, economics, social and every existing perspective), but it is to argue that we are beginning to see a new and exciting component: technology.

Free will, Sam HarrisFirst, let me just say that if you are a deterministic, this article will not be for your liking (but if you do want to comment, please read it first). Now, we should begin with a little thought exercise in the style of what Sam Harris, the neuroscientist and author, uses in his talks. I will present three different incidents and all you have to do is to ponder what will be your choice in each matter.

1 – Choose a book or a film (any book or any film, the first one that comes to your mind).

2 – Finding a little sac with money / hair in your soup you just ordered, what will you do with it?

3 – Do you know what will be your next thought?

And here’s one for the road: can you think of a word you don´t know?

We’ll get back to that later.

Recently, it seems the race for the better android, humanoid or simply an autonomous robot had reached a new level. From Watson, that is now officially the smartest creature on earth, to “Geminoid-F” (L), the Osaka’s Geminoid Summit android that can smile and talk (not about Aristotelian concept of Free Will just yet), and other gimmicks as, naming one example, what will soon to be the car of the future, the Google autonomous vehicle. This is an exciting time (as any time) that offers us a vision about ourselves as never before.Osaka’s Geminoid

Free Will is considered by the many religious of many religions to be god given. This, of course, evokes a fallacy that is mentioned by non-religious thinkers that doubt and question how it can be Free Will if it is given to you (and with a set of strict rules to accompany it). However, without deviating to a religious debate, it can be interesting to look into it with the examples of technology. The main claim of the ones that deny the existence of Free Will is that we are a product of our past experiences, either by nature or nurture (the level of importance of each vary depending to the perspective of the debater). Meaning, the next phrase you will read will not be because I chose freely to write but because it is the consequence of all my accumulated experiences in a mixture with the character I was born with put together in the context I was trying so hopelessly construct with a kind of logic dictated to me by the English grammar. How, then, technology supports that kind of claim? Firstly, the fact that 40 years from now, people will look back and giggle on the humanoid we have today is evident (similar to how we giggle thinking about floppy disks). Hence, let us try to image the android of the future (which in many ways already exists) with the smile of the Japanese model smiley face and the capacity to communicate that is closer to Watson. Can we say that it will have Free Will? I think no rational mind (aside of her creator) will venture to claim that. Yet it will be able to talk, walk, perform tasks and solve dilemmas. Or perhaps we should ask it differently: can we say that we gave it Free Will?

Free Will

Now, there are two issues here that I will try to avoid not to get to a circle of arguments and those are: the supposed analogy to man as a combination of circuits, blood vessels and neurons, and the notion of an intelligent design by an omnipotent creator.

It will be much more interesting to continue reflecting of the power of technology and how it sheds new light on Free Will. Such as the question how did Google kill Free Will?

There is a fact that is difficult to digest sometimes and that is that Google has become the Empire it is by simply getting to know what we want before we do. Meaning, from a simple search engine to locate what you search on the web, Google realized that it had struck a gold mine of information and if they will use it wisely, it will magically transformed to… what else, money and supremacy. So, from registering our keywords and preferences of search, they now gain a revenue of 1.2-1.4 billion dollars a year with as magnanimous projects as the Internet for all hot-air balloons and autonomous cars. How come?

free will dnaThis success (and I´m not implying that it was a Pinky and the Brain world domination conspiracy) is by far a significant blow for the Free Will supporters. One reason is that it demonstrates that with right algorithm (hard wire) our Free Will can actually be predicted. The fact that indeed, any decision we make can actually and factually be preconceived solely by calculating all of our prior cybernetic actions is mind blowing. They managed to do that only with our Internet life, not even while reading our minds or physically following us all day (though, in some ways, depending of the level of connectivity we live, they are).

In the end, there seem to be a dichotomy with two possible reasons: the first, if we take the android/maker option, one can argue for a higher being that programmed our minds to a limited cognitive and emotive causality and its interpretations; second, is the Google predictability consciousness which refer to the fact that there is no higher being that supervise our being and we are the product of countless and measureless incidents that got us to where we are today and we are simply acting by inductive and deductive reasoning.

Little girls and boys like to personify their toys (dolls, figurine, etc.), they create meaning in imaginary conversation and gives them a sense of purpose, of Will. Some things, I guess, are just innate (and necessary to try and keep having the will of life).

So what do we do now? Well, whether you feel the inception handiwork of an omnipresent and atemporal being or a box of coagulated past construction circuits, remember that whatever you do and however you think today will be the bases of your future actions. So let’s educate ourselves for good now to live a better tomorrow.

Do something that even Google wouldn´t know you wanted to do, surprise yourself, be more alive the a Japanese robot or a cluster of ninety IBM Power 750 servers know-it-all. More than thinking you have Free Will, be courageous and earn the Will to be Free.

"men believe themselves free, simply because they are conscious of their actions, and unconscious of the causes whereby those actions are determined" B. Spinoza
“men believe themselves free, simply because they are conscious of their actions, and unconscious of the causes whereby those actions are determined” B. Spinoza

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.