Tag Archives: education

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.

 

134. My View of 2020 Gov

12 Jan

Please see my previous blog for a list of the most popular Democrat presidential candidates. I rated Elizabeth Warren as my top choice for President. Since I wrote blog #133, I still rate her tops, but feel more positive about Kamala Harris. Warren has a unique combination of strength, inspirational leadership, intelligence, and social skills. I think she would be able to gather the best consultants and utilize their knowledge.      Kamala is also impressive in these factors and maybe her time will be 2024.  Here is a possible view of a 2020 gov:

President: Eliz Warren,   Vice Presidentt: Eric Swalwell.  I think a female-male combination would be a good balance.  Eric has great voter appeal and appears capable.

Kamala Harris should have a prominent position, perhaps Sec of State, or chief of staff.

Top cabinet positions could be filed with Beto, Joe Kennedy, and other capable young candidates, where they could be effective. In many cases, such positions should be filled by outstanding professors, gov agency officials, and other well-established experts in special fields. Any position where science is important, should be filled with appropriate scientists (or similar), not political allies.

I would expect that Elizabeth would have regular consultations with Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry.  Al Gore and Jay Inslee could help with climate-change issues. Imagine a president that consults with really good people. Under Obama, this was the rule.

Traditional government agencies should be immediately restored with the best personnel. Hopefully, there could be many judicial appointments with progressive orientations. I assume that Pres. Warren would rely heavily on experts in foreign policy, military matters, environmental factors, scientific and health applications/research, correcting income inequality, taxation, infrastructure improvement, education, and many other areas. It is exciting to anticipate this governmental revision.  Many other good configurations are possible, and I look forward to a Democrat victory.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

126. Checklist for Personal and Planet Health

7 Nov

For many years I have been studying (1) human health and (2) planet health. I have a strong scientific background so I can learn and understand the relevant concepts, which are constantly changing. This essay is a summary or checklist of things we must do to improve both 1 and 2. I have combined these two, as they are inter-related. All of us can fail to deal with important factors so I have tried to list those that are easy to forget. Everything listed is like the beginning of a path to further knowledge, which you should to explore. Some of the ideas presented are controversial and possibly imperfect, but all are based on published reputable investigations, and extensive personal experience. (In many areas, consultation with doctors and other experts is advised.)

1. Human Health
a. Pay careful attention to what you eat. As you get older, this will become more important. The availability of healthy foods will depend on planetary health discussed below.
b. Limit consumption of all sugars, sugar substitutes, and simple carbohydrates, which the body can rapidly change to sugar. Briefly, the possible dangers are weight-gain, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, migraine headaches, cognitive ability, aging of organs, energy loss, etc. Simple carbohydrates include bread, cereals, pasta, rice, etc. Processed foods often contain harmful ingredients. The internet provides much info on this subject.
c. Limit or eliminate all dairy products, as these will affect your joints. This includes milk (use almond milk instead), cheese, sour cream, yogurt, etc. There are excellent non-dairy substitutes for these. This is most important for people in their 40’s and beyond.
d. Concentrate on eating vegetables and decrease your intake of meat and fish. Too much animal consumption can lead to gout, acid reflux and other problems.
e. Study vitamin supplements and determine what you need. If your doctor says that vitamins often just run through your body, suggesting non-use, ask him/her if they understand what a “catalyst” is.
f. Drink plenty of water, which is vital for health and energy. Water is a key factor in almost every system of the body. For most people, water makes up most of the body. Don’t forget to keep you eyes moist.
g. Most vegetable fats are good for you, while most animal fats should be limited. Olive and some other oils have many health advantages. Sufficient fiber in foods is important.
h. Remember to exercise and stretch major muscles on a regular basis. This muscle work has a profound affect on many aspects of health, including: stress reduction, emotional control, sleep, proper glucose utilization, weight control, many diseases, accident prevention, etc. Even if you are old like me and have bad knees, there still are ways to get good exercise.
i. Most pains in the skeletal system (arms, legs, back, etc) of the body are fully or partially due to inflamation, which is the collection of certain body fluids that aid in healing. Generally, the best method for most areas is application of ice. Other areas, like the back, for example, benefit most from drugs, like Aleve. Back pain often is best resolved with careful, full stretching. I have written several blogs on this.
j. If you have dry skin, rub on moisterizing and restorative lotions.
k. Make sure everything that your body comes in contact with stays clean to avoid bacterial infections.

2. Planet Health for Humans
Your health and survival actually depend much more on planet health than you might expect. Immediately, we can see some common factors. Clean water and air are important for both. Trees provide conversion of CO2 to Oxygen, which is important for humans. Here is a list of environmental factors to work on.
a. Support laws and efforts to avoid water and air pollution. Under appropriate leadership, I think most manufacturers would agree with this.
b. Discourage the abolition of regulations that improve air and water quality. It is easy for rich people to move to safe areas, but many others can really suffer from various types of pollution. One must study history to be aware of these factors.
c. Burning coal and gasoline for warmth and transportation must be limited. We need solar panels, windmills, etc for energy. Cars must be gradually converted to battery operation. This is already possible, it just needs responsible leadership.
d. We need to plant and save more trees, as humans need the oxygen they provide, and they remove the CO2, which affects global warming.
e. GMO’s (genetic modification of plants) must be promoted, along with relevant safety regulation. The Earth’s population is quickly increasing so we will need more food. (Please see my blog on GMOs.) GMOs will also help with climate change problems as they will require less farm equipment energy. Remember that nature is constantly changing the DNA of animals and plants, without notification to us. On the other hand, if scientists develop a new GMO, it is known and can be tested. Our long-term survival will depend on the innovations of scientists.
f. The Oceans of the world are immense and yet they still need our attention. Large populations of fish have substantially decreased due to over-fishing, and oil spills (and pollution) have had great negative effects. Waste matter is filling the oceans and is damaging sea animals.There are many books and essays on this subject.
g. There are many ways to conserve energy, which will become more and more important as population increases and new tech requires increased energy. In our homes we can use low energy light bulbs, efficient furnaces, good insulation, etc. Our cars, factories, farms, etc must be designed for low energy use.
h. Meat requires much more energy to produce than vegetables (about 25 times as much). Scientists are developing methods of growing meat in the lab using DNA manipulations. Eventually, it will be more energy-efficient and less costly than using cattle. I have no problem with this, but some will object. Actually, humans need only a small amount of animal food for good health.
i. Vegetables can be efficiently grown in vertical structures so that they use less land and can be integrated into cities. Use of “vertical farming” buildings will require much less transportation cost and energy, and people will enjoy extra fresh food.
j. Failure to deal with climate change is already producing more hazards like severe hurricanes, droughts, forest fires, and flooding. Climate change causes alterations in worldwide air and sea currents. This can profoundly affect rainfall, so that some areas with normal rainfall will change to deserts and other areas will get too much rain. This will affect food production and will cause massive migration problems, that will make today’s migrations seem trivial.

3. Conclusion
Our planet will not suffer because scientists and technicians have failed to provide better systems to help with adjustments. It will be greedy, callous, and ignorant politicians that will cause disasters for Planet Earth and its inhabitants. There is enough food, clothing, and shelter, for all, and even some room for moderately rich people. Responsible leaders would be able to deal with all the adaptations that are needed.

122. Considerations for a Good Life

18 Sep

I recently met a young man who was troubled and was dealing with difficult decisions. When I think about him I imaging how much better his life could be if he did not make the same mistakes that I have made. There is so much to learn. I have listed below many of the important factors that one should consider.

1. In many interactions, it is better to ask questions than make assertions. An assertion implies that the recipient is unaware of something and deficient in some way. For example, a dental assistant said to a patient “your teeth are yellow.” That would imply that his house does not contain mirrors, that his vision is deficient, or that he is stupid. Better to ask “would you agree that your teeth are yellow?”

2. As a general rule, it is always good to tell the truth. However, there are specific circumstances where saying something true, can be hurtful or destructive. A communication must be evaluated, comparing its negatives against the value of “truth.” A husband may have thoughts about a sexy secretary, but truthfully describing these thoughts to our wife could ruin a marriage. Everything you say to another person must be evaluated.

3. Dealing with a complicated situation usually does not have a quick and simple solution. The most successful people consider all the possible outcomes for each important decision variation considered. Also to be considered is relevant history and the opinions of experts.

4. Learning how to find truth, and evaluating the truthfulness of a statement, is extremely important. We are lucky today, to have a resource like the Internet to help us with this. After your formal education is completed, it can be beneficial to continue with informal learning. Try to keep an open mind in most areas.

5. For your entire life, frequently stretch the major muscles of your body. Consider carefully what you eat (“you are what you eat”). Get 8-hours of sleep every night. Exercise regularly. Good health habits make a big difference.

6. I can say from bitter experience: if at all possible, never make an enemy. Learn to assert yourself in a polite way. The rules seem simple, but this is a very difficult area and attention to this is critical to success. Think about how to respond in difficult situations. Many people you don’t like can be helpful in some way. Keep the doors open.

7. Doctors, dentists, etc are necessary for a healthy life. Try to choose them carefully (not easy). Most of what they say is true, but as you further your education you will find that some statements are controversial and some good ideas are omitted.

8. All of the above is serious, but a good part of life should be fun.

This whole page is an over-simplification and certainly incomplete, but still may be helpful. Every concept could be discussed and clarified in several pages, and for each rule, there could be exceptions. I hope that this piece is at least thought-provoking.

121. Democrats Do Have Important Messages.

10 Sep

Republicans love to claim that Democrats don’t have positive goals and they are only interested attacking Trump. For example, Sarah Sanders says they “have no message” and only want to “attack people that support this president.”

I have studied politics for many years and I find this assertion to be absurd. Democrats have always promoted the following themes (with a reasonable amount of variation). Here is my version of Democrat goals.

1. All Democrats support improved health care coverage for our citizens.

2. Social programs like Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc. have always been preserved and often improved by Democrats.

3. Democrats support the USA Constitution and traditional governmental institutions, including the FBI, DOJ, and all other executive branch agencies. They also support the authoritative press.

4. Democrats tend to promote the financial success of the middle class and discourage excessive and inappropriate financial support for wealthy people. Democrats favor fair tax programs and elimination of unnecessary subsidies for righ corporations.

5. Democrats believe in the importance of voting rights for everyone who is eligible. Laws that make it difficult for certain people (often low-income) to vote (voter suppression) must be changed.

6. Tax programs and other policies should be designed to increase average income for the non-rich (almost no change), while income has been steadily increasing for the wealthy.

7. Democrats traditionally support NATO and all of our other world-wide allies.

8. Our international trade policies should be designed to help our USA workers in terms of employment and improving their income.

9. Democrats are anti-torture, promote improved gun laws, and favor reproductive “choice.

10. Democrats promote inclusiveness, are against racism, defend the rights of lesbian, gay, and transgender people, and DACA (dreamers).

11. Democrats promote peaceful (and even generous) international relations and agree to war only in drastic situations.

12. Democrats support unions — the right to join them and organize.

13. Almost all Democrats accept American capitalism, but also believe in social programs and certain other limits. There is confusion over the word “socialism.” The few Dems that use this term actually mean support of “social programs” within a capitalistic system.

14. Democrats believe that campaign laws should emphasize equality; and those favoring the rich, like “Citizens United” should be abolished.

15. Democrats support efforts to combat climate change, regulate pollution, promote clean energy, and other efforts relevant to safety for our citizens.

16. Democrats generally support public education, more free education, and federal support for students.

A casual research of Democrat leader speeches and their websites will quickly show that there are many consistent messages and ideals.

In the past two years, Trump has purposely dominated the news with his outrageous tweets and policies so that many Democrat message are obscured. Trump has messages but they are extremely inconsistent, not factual, and change frequently. Most just serve his ego and many like “make America great again” are vague and meaningless. He attacks our basic institutions and our long-term vital allies, who are perplexed by his communications.