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206. Coping with Virus Fears

17 Mar

The rapid spread of Covid-19 virus has triggered fears in many people, and fear can be dibilitating.  I watch a lot of news programs, and I am disappointed to see the promotion of ineffective stress-reduction programs. In my earlier days I was a licensed PhD clinical psychologist, and I am going to briefly present ideas here (not medical advice), which may be of help. There is a general value to learning the control emotions and limiting fears. Here are some important ideas, which are just an introduction to this topic.

Stress, anxiety, and fears have a basic physiological factor, which evolved for survival. The main organ controlling this is a branch of the autonomic nervous system. It is also known as the “fight-or-flight” system, which prepares us for a vigorous defense. This system involves higher heart rate, muscle tension, blood flow changes, sweating, etc.

Fight-or-flight changes are activated by real danger, or simply by fears. Many will notice this activation and identify it as anxiety or stress. It leads to “worry.” Once triggered, the activation (anxiety) can last for hours or days beyond the original stimulus. The activation itself can be stressful and can lead to even more of these changes. (Technically, this is a positive feedback loop, i.e. feedback causes something to increase.) The end result of increased activation can be a panic attack.

Stress and anxiety must first be treated by normalizing this defensive system. Relaxing the body will cause the brain to relax. Starting therapy by working with fearful  thoughts is not effective, because they will always occur when the fight-or-flight system is activated. The procedures involve relaxing many muscles and breathing peacefully.

A “relaxation tape” or therapist can provide instructions for this process. Once a method is learned, it can be implemented in just a few seconds. Also important is awareness (feedback) of muscle tension and blood flow changes. Many people live much of their adult life, unaware of excessive, energy draining, activation. If a therapist is used, very effective “cognitive” discussions can be added later. Also a part of the process is learning to breathe peacefully: generally, regularly, slowly, and deeply.

If a person is presented with relevant measurements (scientific facts) he/she can learn more quickly. When scientific, medical instruments are used, the therapy method is called “biofeedback.” The feedback could be heart rate, hand temperature, a measure of sweating, or blood pressure, usually presented with a changing sound. For example, hand temperature will rise as one relaxes. A transducer and some electronics can convert this temperature into a sound. As temperature rises, the pitch can rise and the patient gets helpful information.

Having taped instructions for the relaxation process is a good way to start. You can go to the Internet and do this search: “muscle relaxation tapes.” Here is a good one:
.                 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86HUcX8ZtAk
After using the tape a number of times, the relaxation procedure can be shortened. Eventually, a “brief relaxation response” can be developed, which takes only 10 to 15 seconds and can be done almost anywhere. Note that these behavioral methods provide an actual, direct cure, while many other methods provide something temporary, which must be used indefinitely. As you learn the relaxation methods, much of the process becomes automatic and less attention is needed. Take whatever actions are required for the virus, and deal with any associated fears in this enjoyable way. Entering a state of peacefulness is a remarkable experience.

 

195. The Science of Evolution and Life

19 Dec

In some recent discussions, I was disappointed by how biological evolution is poorly understood by many people. Here are some facts about evolution and life, which may be helpful.

The unbiased scientific view is: that life is just a complex variation of matter and will begin when certain organic (based on carbon) compounds happen to combine in a particular way, without any purpose or design (see below for details). An exploding star or the “birth” of a star, just happens,  without any purpose or striving. There are many amazing processes in astronomy and on Earth that just happen. Does the moon circle the Earth due to some striving? When an earthquake occurs,  is there a purpose or goal?

The origin of life and its gradual evolution, in the same way, just happens. Some philosophers and other non-scientists see purposes, goals, striving, drives, etc. in many areas. Scientists ignore all this and are concerned with physical laws and objective descriptions of events. Nothing that happens on Earth or in space seems designed, particularly because of general disorganization and imperfections.

The origins of life and evolution, progress by the principle of “survival of the fittest.” Life and death provide variation and some variations are relatively permanent (mutations). If a variation leads to a better chance of survival, at least long enough for reproduction, then on a statistical basis, it is more likely to occur. Evolution depends on the fact that variations may be persistent and occur in subsequent generations. For example, a species of bird may  have small variations in the length of its beak. It may be that birds with a slightly longer beak are able capture food better. Under the concept of evolution, birds with longer beaks likely will survive better and eventually, this species will have longer beaks. There is no design or purpose here, it just happens as a property of matter.

At this point, you might ask, how can the amazing and complex features of life, occur without the design of someone or thing? In order to understand this, consider that these developments happen in a slow process over billions of years. It is difficult for people to mentally cope with things out of the ordinary time spans and sizes that we are used to. Can you comprehend the size of our solar system, or worse, the galaxy or the entire Universe.  In the same way, five billion years is beyond our comprehension. It should not  be surprising that amazing things can happen in that incomprehensible long time.

You might further inquire, how can there be a transition from ordinary matter to the very first life? The answer is this. The Universe is mostly filled with very simple atoms, mostly hydrogen and some helium. The more complex atoms and molecules develop mostly through supernovae, which are gigantic star explosions (see for example: Wikipedia: “Abundance of the chemical elements.” Right from the very beginnings of the Universe, there was ubiquitous movement. Almost everything is in constant motion, at the very smallest levels (atoms) and the very largest (stars and galaxies). The movements of certain atoms, especially carbon, oxygen, hydrogen, etc, resulted in the formation of organic (carbon based) compounds. Movement and accidental contacts of organic compounds resulted in something extremely unlikely, a compound that had the property of “life.” It only took one extremely unlikely combination of compounds out of trillions and trillions of chance interactions, to produce in one instance, a compound that could reproduce itself (living). Because of reproduction, this one case could spread life all over our planet. It may be difficult to understand all this, without reference to chemistry and biology textbooks.

Now we come to people. We all want to feel that we are “special,” but like all life, and all actions we see in the Universe, we just happen. Every plant or animal is constructed and develops as a consequence of the DNA it inherits, and all of the experiences it is exposed to. Experiences include learning, parenting, imitation, food sources, environmental and social factors.

This may be disappointing and confusing for many people, but scientists see no evidence for anything else. Given this bleak picture, my advice is to live your life in a normal, responsible, and enjoyable way, but when appropriate for some intellectual reason, recognize reality. Personally, I like to live my life with kindness because it is good for me, and for others — a win, win. (I welcome criticisms and comments.)

 

174. Our Education Affects “Reasoning” Ability

8 Jun

I was recently reminded of a problem in education: that children (and adults) are actually trained in what I call “magical thinking.” The reminder was a recent TED talk by Kate Bowler, entitled “Everything happens for a reason” — and other lies I’ve loved.  Many people could benefit from her illuminating piece.

Most of us are trained in various types of magical thinking. Examples are that life has “purpose” and “meaning” and that our actions should be guided by pleasing a higher power.  This is supported by the fact that ANXIETY is so much a part of our biological makeup. We create comforting attitudes to decrease our fears. Like many others, Kate Bowler‘s magical thinking was not questioned until faced with a horrible disease;  she got cancer. The bottom line is that this kind of thinking generally makes us feel better, and so is reinforced, just like we eat to avoid hunger and drink to avoid thirst, we pursue faulty thinking to avoid anxiety.

Being highly educated and logical is more difficult than “magic,” but it also works, and we are not so shocked when bad things happen. My solution is better education, which emphasizes logic and science. Many people have found joy in really understanding how the world works. When you study the origins of the Universe and the origins of life, science helps in understanding these issues. We don’t have final and exact answers for these “origins” but what is known suggests plausible explanations. When the above author, Kate Bowler, was young, what if some authority figure had asked her this question: how can you be sure of your beliefs and understanding of life? Where is the evidence? What are the details? Can we live without unsupported beliefs and just focus on what is observable and logical? (Note, although logic and science are important, I also recognize the role of love, kindness, sports, arts, music and other human factors.)

Along these same lines, I would ask this question: can we really make decisions and think in ways that are truly independent? Or, are we totally controlled by our original structure (DNA, etc.), all of our learning experience, and various environmental influences? For most people, beliefs are learned from parents, teachers, religious leaders, and/or peers — and regardless of events, may persist for entire lives.

 

162. Tired of Gridlock? Explore Easy-to-Read SCIENCE

16 Apr

Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump.  Tired of Trumpism, never-ending gridlock, endless speculation, and deranged  government??  To avoid this frustration and engage in something both beneficial and practical,  I suggest exploring recent findings of science. I have listed some fascinating and easy to read sources for doing this.

But first, here are some good general places to find current science facts. (Note: anything you read has the possibility of error or bias. If your research is important, use several sources.)

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design), “today covers almost all topics — from science to business to global issues”  Sign up for free emails.

Scientific American and other science magazines. Scientific American has both easy to read and more technical articles. Its reputation is tops.

The New York Times Science section is excellent and tops. Many other good  newspapers have similar sections. The online NY-Times costs very little.

Kurzweil Newsletter. This is an excellent source for many science topics and has much special info on artificial intelligence. There are many other similar newsletters. Do a search on “newsletters on science topics” to see what might interest you. Most are free.

Curiosity Stream. For a small fee, this service has many interesting lectures for the layman.

Khan Academy is a free source of excellent tutorials for the layman. It started very simply as some rough tutorials by Salman Khan for his cousins. It was so good that it eventually got great financial support and now is much improved.

Wikipedia is a free source for everything, including science. I have used it many times and found it to be generally authoritative. The articles submitted are examined by a board of editors.

Here are some very excellent entry points for studies of science.

Manned vs un-manned space exploration is a current issue. First of all, for several years, the SETI program (see Internet) searches for electronic transmissions from intelligent species on other planets. Recently, it has been established that there are many more stars with planets than originally thought. Most recent space exploration (beyond our planet) has been done with un-manned space-ships and have provided very valuable info. This method is much cheaper and safer than exploring with astronauts. Non-scientists unfamiliar with this issue may support only manned missions.  Here is a good reference: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/robots-vs-humans-who-should-explore/   I should also add a fantastic tour of the international space station: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=doN4t5NKW-k   The NASA website has much more information and inspiring pictures.

Studies of DNA and gene editing are producing incredible results. To see a broad range of topics for the layman, go to the “TED” website and select DNA (and/or CRISPR) as the topic. There are several wonderful presentations on gene editing for curing diseases and improving crops, super computers made with DNA, and studies of derived new life made with a modified (un-natural)  DNA structure. The advances are amazing and are already in progress. If you really study gene-editing you would support GMO foods, which will be more important Earth’s population increases. Nature modifies genes all the time (that is how evolution works). Scientist modifications of DNA are immediately known and can be tested, whereas natural changes could be harmful and go undetected.

Some of the most amazing findings are in the area of physics known as quantum mechanics. There is so much happening here, that I have decided to mention only one topic, “entanglement.”  This is seen with studies of the tinyest particles, such as electrons and photons.  Two electrons could be entangled: a change in electron A is also seen in a distant electron B. Recent research has eliminated any possible field interaction between the two electrons, which could be miles apart. See Wikipedia: “quantum entanglement” for a discussion. Also, there is a recent Scientific American article, December 2018, page 58, Hanson and Shalm, that supports the basic notion.

Meat can be grown from animal stem cells so that animals do not have to be raised at great cost, and then killed. See Scientific American, December, page 33, by Owen Schaefer. Currently, it is very expensive but research will bring the costs down — and people like it.

Here are some other exciting topics that can be explored using Wikipedia, TED, and general Internet searches:

Battery improvements that can enhance electric cars and green electric power grids. When green sources like windmills and solar panels are at low levels, energy stored in advanced batteries during peak functioning can fill in gaps.

There are many interesting studies of the human brain. One fruitful area is the way in which the brain recognizes human faces. Do a search on “biologist Doris Tsao” for details.

There is always something exciting in astronomy.  The latest is the very first  picture of a “black hole.”  (Search “picture of black hole.”)  Also read about “supernova.” This is an extremely powerful explosion of a star, which causes the production and distribution of heavy elements, necessary for human life and many structures.

There are many other topics for exploration, depending on your interests.  I suggest the following, for people that have little science education (see above). For interesting lectures, subscribe to the very inexpensive “Curiosity Stream.” Or, for actual education, the free “Khan Academy” works well.

Finally, studying science helps with understanding very important issues such as “climate-change”, health factors, green resources, stress reduction, and safety regulations. In practice, science is not always perfect, but it is devoted to finding truth and to rejecting bias and self-serving interests.

 

 

 

 

 

141. Recent Events Suggest Government Improvements

27 Jan

The recent government shut-down, the election of Donald Trump, and changes in the Republican party, all suggest the need for gov reorganization and  revision. Below is a discussion of troubling events and possible solutions. The unfortunate thing is that fair and reasonable system changes maybe nearly impossible under the current political climate (but we must still try).

In the past, our USA government has worked so well that many of us have ignored it. This general lack of concern, which is entirely understandable, has led to serious damage to our country. The emergence of a president totally unsuited for office is one result. Another result (maybe more serious) is the gradual shift in the Republican party from ordinary limited greed and self-serving interests — to those factors in the extreme. More responsible Republicans have gradually left the party and those remaining, cowardly and foolishly devote themselves to Trump. This is not currently the party of men like John McCain, who was highly respected by almost everyone.

Looking back on where we went wrong, here are some observations. Our gov system needs some fundamental changes. The executive branch has too much power and we might do better with a small committee instead of a president. Perhaps a committee of five persons should make executive decisions. The chairman of that committee could assume some special (presidential) functions, but all major decisions would be based on a group vote. And the “executive committee” could change the chairman at any time. The five men of the executive committee would be elected by all  USA citizens (independent of state).

We need a special non-political group to control elections. Our elections are extremely important and must be protected from foreign and all other illicit influence. All USA elections must also be reliable, efficient, inclusive for all citizens, and must provide good methods for any needed recounts.  Currently, in the USA there are hundreds of different systems for voting, which vary from good to dangerously vulnerable. Voting machines should be standardized and carefully selected and monitored.

Understanding Trump is important for dealing with his chaos. Commentators emphasize and search for strategies, because that is what they know. But it must be recognized that he does have serious mental problems (like ‎narcissism) and probably moderate Alzheimer’s syndrome. I think he has some strategies, but also memory loss and confusion. Trump’s doctor Ronny Jackson reported that he only gets four to five hours of sleep per night. This can account for much of the “demented” action and can promote Alzheimer’s disease (according to recent research). He could be called a sociopath and has no empathy for struggling people. I think more philosophical orientations have come from close associates like Bannon, Stone, and Manafort. But there also are influences by others like family members, and extremists like Rush Limbaugh. He is like a billiard ball bouncing off various “advisors” and also generating his own whims and egocentric thoughts. An “executive committee” (see above) could prevent this kind of problem.

Like the presidency, there is too much power given to individual leaders of the Senate and House. In terms of the bringing bills to the floor, there should at least be an override for the judgment of a leader.

In the Senate, some western states with a small population have equal representation with California and New York with huge numbers of citizens. Having two legislative bodies definitely leads to gridlock. Why not have one very  fairly composed legislature make all decisions. And as a safeguard, say 54% yes votes would be required. By careful structuring the one-body could represent all concepts of fairness (with very little gridlock).

Our whole governmental system could be improved based upon almost 250 years of experience. The original US Constitution was a wonderful thing. But, it is foolish to think that rules developed that long ago are still perfectly applicable to today, with our:  Internet, jet airplane travel, TV, complex trading systems, international monetary systems, mult-national stock markets, computer viruses and hacking,  many cultural changes, drug epidemics, nuclear bombs, Facebook, climate-change dangers, multi-national alliances, etc., etc. The body of case-law helps, but only in certain areas. One of the impediments for this kind of change is that current leaders were elected with this outdated system and so are not interested in change. In a recent TED talk, Katharine Hayhoe said that the best thing the people can do about remedying climate-change is to keep talking about it. It may not be the only good solution to all our governmental problems, but definitely could help. Better education will help. Ultimately, if a large majority of people want something, there is a good chance that legislators will take note.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

137. Women Age 50 Can Be Sexy

20 Jan

French, prize-winning novelist and film-director Yann Moix (age 50) has enraged some women because he finds age 50 women sexually unattractive. Much has been written by men and women regarding this important issue. I am well over 50, and I am going to express my views on this subject. And I apologize to others that have already written similar things. And note that much of what applies to women also applies to men.

The first thing I want to assert is that a woman at 50 can have wonderful things (including sex) to offer a man. Briefly, and obviously, such a woman who is loving can provide numerous benefits for a man. But I am going to deal first, with the sexual part, since it seems to be of greatest interest.

A woman aged 50 can be a wonderful sexual partner if she and her man are truly in love, and even if they only like each other a lot.  Sometimes, sexual interest is also based upon the health and weight of the other. Knowing how to please sexually is really important. Some lack of physical attractiveness is often made up for with good use of hands and lips. Body odor or lack of odor is very important. Ask your partner what is best in the area of olfaction: certain perfume or just really clean. A woman or a man can make up for diminished physical attractiveness by good use of the right caresses. I could go into detail, but I will just say that the most sensitive area for men and women is the same, and is a few inches south of the navel. When you are doing this, start gently and see how your partner reacts, and if you are really confused you need to ask him/her for instructions.

Regarding other aspects of love at an older age I have the following to say. A lot of love depends on supportiveness and reliability.  For example, if your partner is foolishly spending a lot money then you might find him/her to be unattractive. Being supportive and minimally critical is really vital. Enjoying things, together, of common interest enhances attractiveness. If a man is with a woman who has all the characteristics discussed above, it is very likely that he will enjoy sex with her. I would also suggest that for those who are for any reason not capable of actual sex, then massaging can be a great substitute.

Getting back to Mr. Yann Moix, it is true that the bodies of young women are sexually more attractive, and there are biological and evolutionary reasons for this. But I think that if you can find an intelligent, healthy, kind, and loving woman of about 50 and normal weight, that you could really enjoy sex with her.  (In my experience, such women exist, but are hard to find.)  And for women, the enjoyment of sex with an older man is similar, but other factors play a role.  Women often find that a man who is “successful,” is more attractive. Also note that some older women enjoy sex with young men, and might sympathize with Yann Moix.

 

 

 

 

 

131. Tech Advances Needed for Survival

8 Dec

I read a wide variety of publications and often find that great technological advances are met with fear and inappropriate limitations. Our planet is rapidly changing by increasing populations and by ignoring important factors like climate change. People are afraid of GMOs, automation, robots, vaccines, DNA innovations, and even medical pills. All of us on Earth are facing very serious problems, and we must rely on reputable science to provide solutions. Below is a brief discussion of three out of the many major issues, which I hope will serve as a stimulus for further research.

GMOs.  I provided detailed info on GMOs in a previous blog (number 87). The simple fact is that nature (without warning us) is constantly changing plant and animal DNA. Evolution selects for survival, not for the human health of a food source. On the other hand, when scientists develop a GMO, we know about it, and it can be tested for health factors. Lets promote GMO evaluation and research, and not abolish them.

CLIMATE CHANGE TECH.  Failure to deal with man-made global warming (see my blogs number 34 and 126) can lead to changes in ocean currents and wind. The consequence will be new patterns of flooding and some normal areas will become deserts. These changes will cause serious hunger problems and horrible mass migrations, unless we deal with these issues in advance. There is research on technology that could reduce the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and there are other tech innovations that can help  us. Let’s encourage and financially support tech and scientific research in this area.

ROBOTS AND AUTOMATION.  Many people (particularly workers) are fearful of advances in this area. Consider this: robots and AI are now used extensively in many industries (e.g. auto manufacture), and unemployment in the USA is way down, and there are no other problems of note. Like any other  tech, robots must be programmed and used carefully. In the future, robots could help shorten working times and improve worker safety. 

CONCLUSION: TWO PATHS.  We have serious choices to make. We can put money and effort into new tech and science, or take the negative path. It is very interesting that some in our current gov do not trust experts in climate changes, but do trust experts in military details and weapons development.  Could it be that climate solutions negatively affect greedy rich manufacturers, while the rich and powerful enjoy better weapons to preserve their enterprises.  

Here is what I think! Any tech innovation has some element of risk, which can be minimized by hiring top experts for evaluations. On the other hand, I think discouraging innovation can be much more dangerous.  Worldwide current thinking, if not corrected, can lead to major wars, starvation, worse mass migrations, and horrible increased poverty. Encouraging science/tech education and support is crucial.