Archive | November, 2014

A Conversation with Paul Bloom

A Conversation with Paul Bloom

This week, we talk with Paul Bloom, Yale professor of psychology and cognitive science. We discuss whether religion is necessary to be moral, why politicians are babies, and if the Internet makes us better people.

Posted in Media, Religion, Science, Society, Video0 Comments

FF Podcast 57 (Audio): Three Questions That Predict Atheism

FF Podcast 57 (Audio): Three Questions That Predict Atheism

FF Podcast 57: Three Questions That Predict Atheism

Red woke up one day and forgot he was an atheist. Thank goodness for tests!

This week, we discuss three questions that supposedly predict whether you are an atheist. We talk about analytic thinking and whether atheists are smarter than believers.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in audio podcast, Philosophy, Religion, Society0 Comments

Atheist Confession: “I like Pope Francis.”

Pope-Francis-GETTYI’m going to say something many of my fellow secularism advocates would probably not appreciate: I like Pope Francis.

Why?

I like Pope Francis because, in my opinion, he is more liberal than many liberals. American conservatives already hate him for his seemingly liberal position on many issues. He’s so liberal that Sarah Palin is actually taken aback by what she calls his “liberal agenda.” The Pope is so liberal that writer Damian Thompson, in an article he wrote for “The Spectator,” had to ask if we were in the early stages of a Catholic civil war.

Apparently, even Catholics think the Pope is too liberal. Fr. Dwight Longenecker writes:

“Some have given up on Pope Francis. Others say he is ‘the false prophet’ who will accompany the anti Christ in the end times. Others don’t like his dress sense, grumble about his media gaffes and some think they are all intentional and that he is a very shrewd Jesuit who wants to undermine the Catholic faith.”

I like Pope Francis because he openly criticized Capitalism and even compared it to “the worship of the ancient golden calf”:

“Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

I like Pope Francis because he did a lot of cool stuff in 2013.

Mark Pygas wrote an article about the Pope in Distractify and among the highlights include:

He criticized the Church’s frivolous spending. He let a boy with Down’s Syndrome ride the Popemobile. He denounced the judgment for homosexuals. He encouraged the protection of the Amazon Rainforest. He acknowledged that atheists can be good people. He condemned the global financial system. He amended the Vatican law to make sexual abuse of children a crime, and also established a committee specifically to fight that kind of abuse. He declared that the Church has an unhealthy obsession with abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. He broke tradition by performing the ritual washing of feet on women and Muslims.

I like Pope Francis because the things he did, which earned him “Person of the Year” honors, are things that I have, in my own little way, been trying to do as well: denounce judgment for homosexuals; bust myths about the “evil” atheists; criticize corporate greed, government corruption, and the sexual abuse of children by the clergy; point out the Church’s irrational position on abortion, gay marriage, and contraception.

The Pope and I are like bros, you see? We have been supporting some similar advocacies, the only difference is, he does it even better than I do – with a much bigger platform and with greater effect.

I can honestly say that Pope Francis did a lot more for secularism than many advocates of secularism, including me.

Because of the Pope, it’s now extremely easy for me to discuss evolution and the Big Bang with Catholics. Before, they could just avoid the conversation entirely, claiming that it’s a “matter of religious belief.” Now, I can conveniently remind them that the Pope, the leader of their religious affiliation, agrees with me.

Apart from those, I also like that the Pope “revised” the Ten Commandments:

1. “Live and let live.”

2. “Be giving of yourself to others.”

3. “Proceed calmly” in life.

4. Develop a healthy sense of leisure.

5. Sundays should be holidays.

6. Find innovative ways to create dignified jobs for young people.

7. Respect and take care of nature.

8. Stop being negative.

9. Don’t proselytize; respect others’ beliefs.

10. Work for peace.

Now, before our readers declare me as a gullible, atheist, Pope-fanboy, I should clarify that I’m not declaring the Pope as the second coming of Chuck Norris. As much as I like him personally, I’m aware that there are reasons to get off the bandwagon.

In the article, “5 reasons you should stay off the Pope Francis bandwagon,” writer Timothy McGrath provides a breakdown of “concerns” regarding Pope Francis. McGrath reports that:

1. There are unanswered questions regarding the Pope’s inaction during the Dirty War in Argentina.

2. The Pope handles child sex abuse poorly.

3. The Pope’s current views on abortion and gay marriage is inconsistent with his previous stance.

4. The Pope continues the “inquisition” against American nuns.

5. The Pope may have performed a live exorcism.

And it seems too, that the Pope has recently backtracked on his liberal stance. Nick Squires, in his news article, “Pope: Children Need Mother and a Father,” reports that:

“Pope Francis appeared to bow to pressure from Catholic conservatives on Monday when he delivered a robust affirmation of the importance of the traditional family.”

I think that’s a little disappointing, but I’m still giving Pope Francis the benefit of the doubt.

Some people think that Pope Francis is just an extremely talented, one-man Catholic propaganda machine. I’m not ruling out that possibility. It’s entirely possible that he has an army of publicists and public relations specialists that script every single response and gesture that the Pope makes, even when cameras are not around, in order to convince the world that he is a good person.

Yes, that’s entirely possible.

If that were the case, he’s been doing a really good job. In fact, he seems to do it without much effort, which leads me to think that maybe, just maybe, he’s just a regular good person who just happened to be Pope.

I’m rather ashamed to admit that I tried very hard to hate the Pope as soon as he was elected. I wanted to hate him, not because of anything he did (he hadn’t done anything yet when I first decided to hate him), but simply because of a personal bias. I didn’t like the Pope, because I don’t like Catholicism, and the Church, and anything that is associated with what I consider to be symbols of oppression and subjugation. I didn’t like the Pope, because he was supposed to be the bad guy. I didn’t like the Pope because I was prejudiced.
In my desire to criticize religious organizations and promote my own agenda, I became similar to the homophobes who would hate someone just because they were gay, or self-righteous bigots who would assume the worst of atheists just because they were atheists. I hated the Pope just because he was Pope, and it was wrong of me to do so.

When I asked myself, “If Pope Francis weren’t Pope, would I like him as a person?” I realized that I like him.

He has a Master’s Degree in Chemistry. He believes in the Big Bang and evolution. He thinks atheists can be good people. He says that the Church shouldn’t be so obsessed with abortion, gay marriage, and contraception. He’s not afraid of the mafia. He doesn’t like capitalism and America thinks he’s a Marxist.

What’s not to like?

I realized that the only thing I didn’t like about him was the fact that he was Pope. If he were my college professor, or my neighbor, or my boss, I would probably like him. In fact, if I were single and the Pope was a girl around my age, I would totally ask her out.

So, I guess I’m an agnostic/atheist who’s a fan of the Pope. Is that weird?

 

Image Source:

http://www.independent.co.uk/incoming/article8629389.ece/alternates/w620/Pope-Francis-GETTY.jpg

Posted in Personal, Philosophy, Politics, Pop Culture, Religion, Secularism, Society4 Comments

FF Podcast 57: Three Questions That Predict Atheism

FF Podcast 57: Three Questions That Predict Atheism

This week, we discuss three questions that supposedly predict whether you are an atheist. We talk about analytic thinking and whether atheists are smarter than believers.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Podcast, Religion, Science, Society0 Comments

Freethinkers Meetup, Saturday, November 22

10507107_10152486320867686_9038212826954718694_oFacebook Event Page (RSVP optional)

***The venue will Hardin ng Mga Diwata in UP Diliman ***
Venue: Hardin ng Mga Diwata UP Diliman map
Date: November 22, 2014
Time: 2:30pm – 5:30pm

This week we spend our meetup participating in the Metro Manila Pride All Families Day event. [ https://www.facebook.com/events/767498356633403/ ]

Filipino Freethinkers, together with other LGBT friends and allies, will spend a Saturday afternoon talking, eating, and just hanging out.

We’ll still have our usual introductions and a few discussions, but we’ll also mingle with the other groups there, sharing food, fun, and discussions with them, too.

From the All Families Day event page: https://www.facebook.com/events/767498356633403/

Here’s what you should bring:
1. People you love (kahit na gaano kadami pa sila! *wink*)
2. Food to share
3. Banig + pillows
4. Eating utensils
5. Lots of water (bring reusable tumblers, okay?)
6. Trash bags (para sa iba’t ibang klaseng basura, you know na!)
7. Sunblock at insect repellent
8. Change of clothes (para sa mga pawising kids at kids-at-heart hihi)
9. Umbrella
and of course,
10. LOTS OF LABLAB!!

Posted in Meetup0 Comments

FF Podcast 56 (Audio): Is Space a Waste of Time?

FF Podcast 56 (Audio): Is Space a Waste of Time?

FF Podcast 56: Is Space a Waste of Time?

What’s the value of space exploration? Nakakain ba ang satellite? This week, we talk science — the Rosetta spacecraft, comets, and what all these mean for us. We also have a spoiler-free chat about Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Posted in Audio, audio podcast, Education, Media, Science0 Comments

FF Podcast 56: Is Space a Waste of Time?

FF Podcast 56: Is Space a Waste of Time?

Nakakain ba ang satellite? This week, we talk about the Rosetta spacecraft and the value of space exploration. We also have a spoiler-free chat about Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar.

 

You may also download the podcast file here.

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Posted in Media, Podcast, Science, Video0 Comments

Money Can Buy Happiness

A few days ago, I published the article “Nothing Will Make You Happy,” which introduced readers to a controversial claim made by Harvard professor of psychology, Dan Gilbert. In the TedTalk, “The Surprising Science of Happiness,” Gilbert stated that after a year, a paraplegic and a lottery winner will have similar capacities for happiness.

The reason for this is because human beings have developed a psychological immune system that automatically distorts our perception of our own circumstances, automatically making positive perceptions of even bad situations. He called this kind of happiness – synthetic happiness. What this information implies is that external situations do not necessarily affect a person’s capacity for happiness.

The notion that one can be happy even if one was poor, or ugly, or obese, or unhealthy, or unsuccessful, is very comforting for the least motivated of us – me, at least.

However, Gilbert also mentioned the effect of freedom on our capacity for synthesizing happiness. People with less freedom find it easier to rationalize their situation. People with more freedom are not as good with creating synthetic happiness. Knowing that making one choice over another will not improve your situation, your brain starts to rationalize why it’s okay to stop trying because “this isn’t so bad.” But as long as we know that we are capable of acquiring or achieving more, we will inevitably be unsatisfied with our current status. My own freedom and “potential” may be preventing me from achieving a perfect state of synthetic happiness.

Now, I’ll still be as capable of happiness as a rich person even if I was poor. Yes, I can still be happy, but overwhelming evidence suggests that I’ll be happier if I was not poor.

Happiness and sadness are not two sides of a coin. These states exist in a spectrum. Some are simply happier than others. The problem with happiness is that it’s not easy to measure because there are plenty of factors that can increase or decrease happiness. It’s hard to tell what exactly makes a person happy.

The article, “Money, Marriage, Kids,” by Chuck Leddy, for example, explains how having money, being married, and having children can influence a person’s happiness. So, a rich person who isn’t married, and has no children, may self-report less happiness than a person with less (but enough) money, who is married and has children.

We’re not going to be 100% sure what makes other people happy, but there is evidence that there is a positive correlation between money and happiness.

MONEY
 

In 2008, Justin Wolfers, an Australian economist and public policy scholar, wrote a six-part article series called, “The Economics of Happiness”, in Freakonomics.com:

Part 1: Reassessing the Easterlin Paradox

Part 2: Are Rich Countries Happier than Poor Countries?

Part 3: Historical Evidence

Part 4: Are Rich People Happier than Poor People?

Part 5: Will Raising the Incomes of All Raise the Happiness of All?

Part 6: Delving Into Subjective Well-Being

If you’re not inclined to read all of that evidence, you can find a summary of the same data in The New York Times article, “Maybe Money Does Buy Happiness After All,” by David Leonhardt.

If you don’t want to read that either, here’s Wolfers’ conclusions:

The facts about income and happiness turn out to be much simpler than first realized:

1) Rich people are happier than poor people.
2) Richer countries are happier than poorer countries.
3) As countries get richer, they tend to get happier.

Moreover, each of these facts seems to suggest a roughly similar relationship between income and happiness.

There is no ambiguity here. Money makes people happy. However, it’s still possible to have plenty of money and not be happy.

In a research paper published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology (2011), Elizabeth W. Dunn, Daniel T. Gilbert, and Timothy D. Wilson suggested that “If money doesn’t make you happy, then you probably aren’t spending it right.”

In the same paper they proposed very useful recommendations on how people can maximize the amount of happiness they buy with their money. The abstract of the study reads as:

“The relationship between money and happiness is surprisingly weak, which may stem in part from the way people spend it. Drawing on empirical research, we propose eight principles designed to help consumers get more happiness for their money. Specifically, we suggest that consumers should (1) buy more experiences and fewer material goods; (2) use their money to benefit others rather than themselves; (3) buy many small pleasures rather than fewer large ones; (4) eschew extended warranties and other forms of overpriced insurance; (5) delay consumption; (6) consider how peripheral features of their purchases may affect their day-to-day lives; (7) beware of comparison shopping; and (8) pay close attention to the happiness of others.”

To conclude, here’s a quick FAQ for possible questions that might still be lingering in the reader’s mind:

Is a poor person as equally capable of happiness as a rich person? Yes.
Is it possible for a poor person to be happier than a rich person? Yes.
Would poor people be happier if they had more money? Yes.
Are poor people, on average, just as happy as rich people? No.

There is no single path to happiness.

One can earn it through achievements, one can find it in marriage and in children, one can “synthesize” happiness out of “nothing,” and it turns out, one can also buy it (as long as one knows what kind of purchases provide happiness).

So, to those who have plenty of money, here’s a terrible pun, “Happy shopping!”

 

Image Source:

http://younginvestorsoftoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/money-buys-happiness.gif

Posted in Personal, Philosophy, Science, Society0 Comments

“Nothing” Will Make You Happy

HappyI live from paycheck-to-paycheck. I don’t make a lot of money. I don’t own a lot of useful things – mostly cards and toys. I do not own a television. The only furniture in my room is a bed on the floor. It doesn’t have a bed frame. Most of my immediate family are abroad. The only family I have here, in the Philippines, is my brother. I see him once a week. I have no savings. I’m rather obese; obese II to be exact. I’m 31. Friends of mine from college run businesses, own homes, have started families, have travelled to many places. I, on the other hand, don’t have any savings. In fact, if my mom doesn’t send me a few bucks each month, I won’t be able to pay my rent.

In other words, I’m not one would call a “success story,” and I wouldn’t be surprised if some people thought I was kind-of a loser.

The weird thing is, I’ve always considered myself a happy person. Despite the fact that I’m often broke, overweight, and getting old, I’m happy. The only time I feel genuinely sad or anxious is when I get into an argument with my girlfriend, or when someone dies, or when I have to take an exam I’m not prepared for, or when the Netrunner data pack I wanted was out of stock. I sometimes think that there’s something wrong with me, because I don’t get as sad or as anxious as most adults do.

When I published the article, “Sad, Sad World,” a few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked, “Are human beings supposed to be sad, by default?” I said, “Our brains are more efficient at retaining memories of negative events and experiences, so, yes.” “Then, why am I not sad?” she asked. I didn’t really have an answer.

I thought about the same thing. I realized that my understanding of what makes people sad and happy is rather incomplete. So, I did more research.

Yesterday morning, I came across the TedTalk, “The Surprising Science of Happiness,” by Dan Gilbert. In this TedTalk, Gilbert challenges common notions of what creates happiness. He claims that we are generally unaware of what makes us happy, we don’t know makes us sad, and we overestimate how negative experiences might affect our capacity for happiness.

He shares data that supports the notion that human beings have what he calls a “psychological immune system.” He claims that human beings have developed a mechanism that allows them to feel better about their own circumstances.

Gilbert begins his talk by asking the audience to make a choice between two different scenarios:

“Here’s two different futures that I invite you to contemplate, and you can try to simulate them and tell me which one you think you might prefer. One of them is winning the lottery. This is about 314 million dollars. And the other is becoming paraplegic.”

He then makes the claim that, after one year, both paraplegics and lottery winners are equally happy. In other words, a person’s capacity for happiness is not limited by his or her circumstances. In fact, studies reveal that most people have a tendency to overestimate the amount of misery they’ll experience from negative events.

Gilbert says:

“From field studies to laboratory studies, we see that winning or losing an election, gaining or losing a romantic partner, getting or not getting a promotion, passing or not passing a college test, on and on, have far less impact, less intensity and much less duration than people expect them to have.”

Another interesting notion Gilbert discussed is the distinction between natural happiness and synthetic happiness. Natural happiness is the positive feelings we gain from getting the things that we want. Synthetic happiness is, in my opinion, a fancy term for “sweet lemons.”

The idea of “sweet lemons” is rumored to have emerged from the saying, “When life hands you lemons, make lemonade.” The idea of “sweet lemons” has a negative implication, however. It implies that a person has successfully fooled himself into thinking positively about undeniably bad circumstances. Similarly, a lot of people are skeptical about synthetic happiness. As Gilbert says, “We smirk because we believe that synthetic happiness is not of the same quality as what we might call “natural happiness.”

We assume that people who cherish their sweet lemons can’t possibly be as happy as people who are happy because of external reasons (wealth, health, fame, beauty, etc). That’s the very notion Gilbert is challenging. He says:

“I want to suggest to you that synthetic happiness is every bit as real and enduring as the kind of happiness you stumble upon when you get exactly what you were aiming for.”

The point Gilbert is trying to make is that a lot of people erroneously consider happiness as something that could be found or earned, when, in fact, it’s something that one can simply create. While most people think that external circumstances determine happiness, Gilbert presents evidence that prove the opposite.

Everyone has a psychological immune system that can synthesize happiness. However, Gilbert reminds us that not all immune systems are created equal. Some people do it better than others, and some situations are more ideal for such synthesis to occur.

Gilbert says:

“It turns out that freedom — the ability to make up your mind and change your mind — is the friend of natural happiness, because it allows you to choose among all those delicious futures and find the one that you would most enjoy. But freedom to choose — to change and make up your mind — is the enemy of synthetic happiness.”

Having more freedom allows you to take the necessary steps to achieve natural happiness, while having less freedom, or being unable to change your situation, forces your psychological immune system to synthesize happiness from within.

So, here’s what I’ve learned so far:

In “Sad, Sad World,” I discussed how our brains are geared to pay more attention to negativity, so we have a tendency to notice and recall negative experiences and events more often. However, based on “The Surprising Science of Happiness,” our happiness can function independently from the negative experiences and events we encounter.

So, essentially, you can acquire natural happiness from fulfilling your dreams and goals. But you can also acquire, or synthesize, happiness should you fail to fulfill these goals. In other words, “nothing” can make you happy just as much as “something” can, because we have a built-in happiness synthesizer that can turn our existential lemons into lemonade. Pretty sweet, don’t you think?

 

Sources:

Gilbert, D. (2004). “The Surprising Science of Happiness.” Retrieved on November 10, 2014. From: http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_gilbert_asks_why_are_we_happy?language=en

Kay, A. Jimenez, M. Jost, J. (2002).  “Sour Grapes, Sweet Lemons, and the Anticipatory Rationalization of the Status Quo.” Retrieved on November 10, 2014. From: http://www.psych.nyu.edu/jost/Kay,_Jiminez,_&_Jost_%282002%29_Sour_Grapes_Sweet_Lemons.pdf

 

Image Source:
http://www.businessnewsdaily.com/images/i/000/003/984/i02/happy-worker.jpg?1369767137

Posted in Personal, Philosophy, Pop Culture, Science, Society5 Comments

The Persistence of Carl Sagan’s Message

Now and again I am gripped by this nagging suspicion that maybe Carl Sagan was overrated as a science communicator, and that perhaps my memories of him are false memories generated by a halo effect. Such suspicions are often attended by this feeling that his message would, by now, be awkwardly dated if not silly and shortsighted in the context of the twenty-first century. Or maybe, like many thinkers I once held in high regard, I have already grown out of my admiration for him.

During such times, I check the evidence that is Sagan’s considerable body of work in science popularization. After all, Sagan himself always stressed the value of evidence. Part of my methodology involves going to YouTube. There I look up Carl Sagan’s reflections on the Pale Blue Dot. I play the video. “From this distant vantage point, the Earth may not seem of any particular interest,” begins Sagan’s sonorous voice, referring to the vast distance from which the photo of the Earth was taken. “But for us, it’s different. Consider again that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us,” he continues, his cadence impeccable, his perspective both mesmerizing and undeniable, his passion nothing short of contagious. By the time the video ends, my eyes are sopping with tears. This happens every single time.

A photograph of the Earth taken by Voyager 1 from the outer Solar System, famously known as the 'Pale Blue Dot'. It was taken on the request of Carl Sagan, who was part of the team working on the Voyager missions.

A photograph of the Earth taken by Voyager 1 from the outer Solar System, famously known as the ‘Pale Blue Dot’. It was taken at the request of Carl Sagan, who was part of the team working on the Voyager missions. [Photo credit: NASA, Voyager Mission]

It was on Carl Sagan’s request that the Voyager 1 space probe took the famous Pale Blue Dot image from across the vastness of interplanetary space. Being both an astronomer and a science communicator, he knew right away that it was an opportunity for him to share with others, in the form of an actual photograph, his sense of cosmic perspective.

Even to this day, his reflections on the photograph have not lost one iota of their force. If anything, they are more significant today than ever. Observe, for instance, the relevance of the following lines to the currents state of world affairs: “Think of all the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals so that in glory and triumph they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner.” Note how carefully chosen the words are. They aren’t just about humans, they are about the inhabitants of the pixel. All of them. To give another example, consider how the following lines gain added significance in the light of our current understanding of climate change: “The Earth is the only world known, so far, to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment, the Earth is where we make our stand.”

The photograph known as the "Wave to Saturn" or "Pale Blue Dot 2.1". It was taken by the Cassini space probe in 2013. "Pale Blue Dot 2.0" was also taken by Cassini in 2006. [Photo credit: NASA]

The photograph known as the “Wave at Saturn” or “Pale Blue Dot 2.1”. The blue dot near the middle is the Earth. It was taken by the Cassini space probe in 2013. “Pale Blue Dot 2.0” was taken also by Cassini in 2006. [Photo credit: NASA]

It was this keen understanding of the problems we face as a global civilization and the role science plays in solving them that made Carl Sagan’s approach to science popularization unique, poignant, and relevant. The link between promoting science and empowering people was central to why he wanted people to understand. In an interview with Charlie Rose months before his death, he said, “We live in an age based on science and technology with formidable technological powers… And if we don’t understand it — and by ‘we’ I mean we the general public — if it’s something that [makes us say], ‘Oh I’m not good at that, I don’t know anything about it,’ then who is making all the decisions about science and technology that are going to determine what kind of future our children live in?”

Carl Sagan understood that democracy and science were intimately intertwined, that true democracy was not possible if the citizens are ignorant, and that science required an environment of independent inquiry that is difficult to maintain outside a free society. Relating his ideas to that of Thomas Jefferson, he said, “It wasn’t enough… to enshrine some rights in our Constitution or Bill of Rights. The people [have] to be educated and they [have] to practice their skepticism and their education, otherwise we don’t run the government, the government runs us.”

Sagan shown in an interview with Charlie Rose months before Sagan's death. [Photo credit: PBS]

Months before his death, Sagan was interviewed by Charlie Rose. In the interview, Sagan summarized the importance of scientific literacy in democratic societies. [Photo credit: PBS]

In his passionate popularization of science, Sagan inevitably clashed with pseudoscience and fundamentalist religion. This clash made him realize that the most important things to impart were not what we know, but the methods we used to arrive at knowledge. He writes in The Demon-Haunted World, “If we teach only the findings and products of science, no matter how useful and even inspiring they may be, without communicating its critical method, how can the average person possibly distinguish science from pseudoscience? Both then are present as unsupported assertions.” A few paragraphs forward, he writes, “It is a supreme challenge for the popularizer of science to make clear the actual, tortuous history of its great discoveries and the misapprehensions and occasional stubborn refusal by its practitioners to change course… It is enormously easier to present in an appealing way the wisdom distilled from centuries of patient and collective interrogation of nature than to detail the messy distillation apparatus. The methods of science, as stodgy and grumpy as they may seem, are far more important than the findings of science.”

But his brand of skepticism was not just directed toward charlatans, it was directed toward human frailty in general. “Perhaps the sharpest distinction between science and pseudoscience is that science has a far keener appreciation of human imperfections and fallibility than does pseudoscience, or inerrant revelation,” he noted. In the last interview with Charlie Rose he said, “Science is more than a body of knowledge. It’s a way of thinking, a way of skeptically interrogating the universe with a fine understanding of human fallibility.”

[Photo credit: izquotes.com]

[Photo credit: izquotes.com]

The staying power of Sagan’s perspective rests on the fact that it was in equal measure all too human and completely cosmic. The key to this union of the grand and the humble, the timeless and the timely, can be found in the first episode of his world-famous PBS series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, where he said, “The cosmos is also within us. We’re made of star-stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.” Sagan made no distinction between his passion for the universe and his love for humanity. To him, they were the same thing. This is why his message is still relevant to us today, and why his personal voyage still has a lot to teach us.

Have an enlightening Carl Sagan Day!

[Photo credit: Skeptic Magazine]

[Photo credit: Skeptic Magazine]

Posted in Science1 Comment

Quick, Delete Your Hentai!

“Oh no! My childhood is ruined!” I never could relate with people who claim that they’ve been robbed of something precious when they find out certain details about shows they enjoyed as kids: things like the incestuous implications of Finding Nemo, or the fact that the cast of Power Rangers (who many thought were all martial arts experts) were never involved in the fight scenes, or being told that Santa wasn’t real.

However, the other day, someone told me about Voltron porn. I don’t mean robots having sex (although I’m sure they have that as well), I’m talking about the Voltron pilots having sex. It made me upset. See, when I was a kid, all I wanted was to marry Princess Allura from Voltron.

Hentai Image 1

Princess Allura

At night, before I went to sleep, I thought of Allura. I imagined giving her a necklace or a bracelet, and she would say, “Thank you,” and I remember being extremely happy about that. I think Princess Allura was the first woman I desired, or had a crush on, or maybe even loved in a romantic way.

Now, I understand what those people, those who claimed that their childhood was ruined, felt. I don’t want to see Princess Allura, naked, having an orgy with the rest of the Voltron team. If I were to describe how I felt, it’s something along the lines of, “Some asshole decided to piss on the purity and innocence of my seven-year-old romantic feelings.”

Does it bother me that some douchebags make porn of Princess Allura? Hell, yeah! Do I think that people who possess pornographic material of Princess Allura should go to jail? Um, no. In fact, I think it’s normal to watch cartoon porn. I think some people need a harmless means of fulfilling a childhood fantasy.

I get it.

This picture, for example, makes me sort-of nostalgic, and sort-of happy, and a little bothered, and a little aroused:

Hentai Image 2

Childhood ruined?

It’s rather jarring, this image. I’m forced to see Princess Allura in a completely different light, and my childhood and current world views are on a collision course. It’s like someone transported my childhood consciousness from the past into my present body, forcing it into adulthood in 10 seconds. It makes me feel odd, but I don’t think it’s wrong.

I’m aware that some people like Sailor Moon hentai, and some people like Teen Titans hentai, and some people like My Little Pony hentai. I wouldn’t be surprised if these people kept copies of these cartoons. I think it’s normal. What I find disturbing is not what these cartoons depict, but the information that people could go to jail for having hentai.

The author discussed the case of Robul Hoque in the article, “Robul Hoque: sentenced for a thought crime.”

The author reports:

“During the trial, Hoque’s barrister, Richard Bennett, insisted that the material was available on legal pornographic websites and the presiding judge, Tony Biggs, emphasized that ‘no actual children or perpetrators [were] involved’. Even so, the judge believed that the possession of the ‘repulsive’ comics and cartoons were worthy of a prison sentence, because, he said, anything that may encourage child abuse should be ‘actively discouraged’.”

I think that’s absurd. What this ruling means is that people could go to jail for possessing naked cartoon images of Sailor Moon and her friends. Usagi Tsukino, the lead character in the series, is only 14 years old, and if you own pornographic cartoons with her image, you could go to jail too.

No, seriously. You really could:

Republic Act No. 9775 – Anti-Child Pornography Act of 2009

Section 3. Definition of Terms. –
For the purpose of this Act, a child shall also refer to:
(1) a person regardless of age who is presented, depicted or portrayed as a child as defined herein; and
(2) computer-generated, digitally or manually crafted images or graphics of a person who is represented or who is made to appear to be a child as defined herein.

With regard to child porn, the law does not distinguish between cartoons and real people. Sailor Moon hentai is also child porn.

As for Hoque, his only crime was something a lot of people do on a regular basis, which is to download hentai. In my opinion, Hoque is a threat to children as much as people who watch “My Little Pony” porn are a threat to ponies, and as much as people who are into pixie porn (porn about elves, pixies, and other fantasy creatures having sex) is a threat to pixies. Speaking of pixie porn, another guy was sent to jail for watching fairies fuck.

I don’t think that’s right. Just because a person likes to see sexualized images of talking ponies, doesn’t mean that they’ll start having sex with actual ponies.

Minogue says:

“People getting off on cartoons is in itself very odd. And the fact that the images and animations Hoque possessed depicted children makes it all the more creepy. However, apart from Hoque’s two prosecutions for possession of erotic art depicting children, he has no convictions for child abuse, possession of actual child pornography, or convictions for anything else, for that matter. In other words, there is no reason to believe he is a threat to children.”

This sets a very dangerous precedent. Hoque did not harm anyone, but was convicted anyway because naked cartoons of young girls gave him a hard-on. He’s now listed as a sex-offender, a label usually assigned to child molesters and rapists. However, he was not convicted because he committed a sex crime, but because he kept hentai. That’s weirder than having erotic experiences with cartoons.

Now, tell me, should we start telling our friends to start deleting their hentai?

 

Image Sources:

http://media-cache-ec0.pinimg.com/236x/85/07/cf/8507cfacc87f25954db38c60e4f5f248.jpg

http://ic.pics.livejournal.com/cleoius/687725/3980/3980_320.jpg

Posted in Personal, Politics, Pop Culture, Society4 Comments

A Conversation with John Figdor

A Conversation with John Figdor

This week, we talk with Stanford University humanist chaplain John Figdor. We discuss what exactly a humanist chaplain is, how important having a community is for atheists, and the importance of women to the secular movement.

Posted in Podcast0 Comments

(VENUE CHANGED!) Freethinkers Meetup, Sunday, November 9

DSC06145***VENUE CHANGED!***
RSVP on Facebook (optional)
Venue: Holy Trinity Church, 48 McKinley Road, Forbes Park, Makati 2nd floor of Bread Talk Promenade, Greenhills
Date: Sunday, November 9, 2014
Time: 2:30pm – 5:30pm

Google Map: http://bit.ly/1j2rdf6

Topics:
1. Should god always be in government? https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10152361542822032&pnref=story
2. Child porn and thought Crimes http://www.spiked-online.com/freespeechnow/fsn_article/robul-hoque-sentenced-for-a-thought-crime#.VFRKgfmUd8H
3. Brittany Maynard http://www.people.com/article/brittany-maynard-died-terminal-brain-cancer
4. That Catcalling Video https://medium.com/message/that-catcalling-video-and-why-research-methods-is-such-an-exciting-topic-really-32223ac9c9e8
5. Real Online Civil Disobedience http://io9.com/here-is-what-real-civil-disobedience-looks-like-online-1654221719
6. Raunchy Topic of the Week

After the meetup we usually go for dinner and drinks somewhere nearby. If you’re not a meetup regular and can’t make it for the meetup but would like to go for the post meetup, please indicate on a post in the wall or comment so we can contact you.

Got questions about the meetup? Contact us at 0927 323 3532

* Newbies are welcome, and admission is free.
* Early birds get to play board/video/party games with the group.
* Look for the FF sign (or the group of smart, sexy people).
* There is no required age, religion, philosophy, or IQ level.
* Discussions are informal yet intelligent (most of the time).
* You don’t have to talk; you can just sit in and listen.

Posted in Meetup1 Comment

Post-Sex Pillow Talk & Other Things Couples Should Practice Before They Get Married

SEX“I like sex.” Not a lot of Filipinos can make such a statement in public without feeling a little bit of embarrassment. Not a lot of Filipinos are willing to admit that sex plays a vital role in their personal happiness.

My formative years were spent in a Christian school and, as a child, I was trained to see sex as something dirty, embarrassing and undignified. I transferred to a secular school for High School, but “sex” was still one of the bad words that, upon mention, could result in a trip to the guidance counselor.

In high school, sex was a dirty little secret that many of us were curious about. We would huddle behind the gym and talk about sex, while we tried to smoke our first cigarettes. Some boys would talk about porn, and it was a big deal then to have seen porn, because the Internet has yet to make it accessible. We said “sex” in whispers and low voices, because that’s how we thought sex should be discussed – secretly.

It would take some time before I developed a healthier attitude towards sex, an attitude that was free of the embarrassment and shame I associated with it because of how my environment responded to the word. In a conservative, self-proclaimed, Catholic country, not a lot of people are open to sexual discourse. In fact, many people feel that having actual sex is easier than talking about sex. Needless to say, a lot of people are missing out on important information.

 

Sex like Vegetables

Having sex is like eating vegetables. Vegetables can burn calories, improve our immune system, and lower the risk for many diseases, including cancer. Sex can do all of that too. Furthermore, sex reduces stress and can even help us sleep.

Most people, couples even, underestimate the value of sex within the relationship. In fact, when choosing a mate, it’s not even something we mention. None of us would openly admit that, “I’d like to have a partner I’ll have fun having lots of sex with.” Sexual compatibility is still a severely underrated factor in the success of a marriage.

In fact, some people still think that marrying before sex is a good idea.

I don’t think it is a good idea to marry someone you haven’t had sex with. In my opinion, sexual compatibility is just as important (if not more important) to the success of a relationship as having similar values or sharing common interests.

 

Sex All Day, Sex Every Day

In the article, “The Ins and Outs of Sexual Frequency,” Dr. Amy Muise explains that frequent sex actually protects people from the negative effects of neuroticism. A neurotic person has a high tendency to experience anxiety and depression. According to studies, this quality has the worst effect on the quality of a romantic relationship. Thankfully, frequent sex buffers against these effects.

Aside from that, Muise explains:

“In addition, both men and women report greater sexual satisfaction and higher levels of overall relationship happiness when they have more sex. But, this goes both ways: satisfied couples have sex more often and frequent sex leads to increases in sexual satisfaction.

One problem with estimates of sexual frequency is that they often only consider the frequency of sexual intercourse. As we discussed previously, many different activities are considered sex (e.g., oral sex, genital touching) and expanding definitions of sex can be beneficial. In a recent study of long-term couples, the frequency of affectionate behaviors such as kissing, cuddling and caressing were also associated with increased sexual satisfaction for both men and women.”

Sexual frequency is important, but our notions of “frequency” is varied. Some couples think that having sex twice a week is too much, while others think it isn’t enough. Muise explains, “If you’re happy with how often you’re getting some, then it doesn’t really matter what others do.”

That’s precisely one of the reason’s why sexual compatibility is important. We have to be familiar and comfortable with how often our partner desires to have sex.

 

Talk Dirty to Me

Here’s an interesting fact: the sounds we make while having sex could enhance our partner’s sexual pleasure. In another study, it was learned that communicating one’s sexual preferences during sex is linked to one’s own sexual satisfaction.

In the article, “Let’s Talk About Sex…During Sex,” Dr. Amy Muise explains “that moaning, groaning, and words of encouragement during sex enhance your partner’s sexual pleasure.”

In the same article, Muise reports that sexual self-disclosure is important to sexual satisfaction. It’s important that our partner is aware of what we find pleasurable. For some couples, these discussions happen outside the bedroom. But studies reveal that it’s just as important for such sexual communication to happen “in the moment.”

Muise explains:

“The researchers found that even a small amount of anxiety can influence the degree to which you communicate pleasure with your partner during sex, and improving these communication skills may have positive results for your sex life.”

 

Pillow Talk

It’s not just sexual frequency or the quality of communication during sex that can influence relationship satisfaction. What we say to our partners after sex also matters.

In the article, “Pillow Talk Speaks A Lot About Your Relationship,” Jana Lembke discusses how pillow talk is a good indicator of relationship satisfaction. One study predicted that positive disclosures following sex would be associated with greater trust and closeness between partners.

The study revealed that:

The more couples engaged in positive pillow talk, the higher they rated their trust for their partner, their level of closeness, and their general relationship satisfaction.

A woman’s orgasm greatly influences her willingness to engage in positive disclosures. The study shows that, with regard to pillow talk, it doesn’t matter how a woman’s orgasm was achieved (whether through intercourse or another form of stimulation). However, women who didn’t orgasm had a tendency to engage in negative pillow talk toward their partner, while women who did orgasm made more positive pillow talk.

Couples who are monogamous and committed engaged in more positive disclosures after sex and reported higher relationship satisfaction after pillow talk.

 

Sex Before Marriage

In my opinion, there are three things you would want to know about your partner before you marry them:

1. You would want information about a partner’s sex drive. This is important because having a partner who wants to have sex as often as you do has an impact on your happiness and relationship satisfaction.

2. You would want to know how willingly your partner communicates, verbally and non-verbally, his or her sexual needs. This is important because your partner’s willingness to express his or her sexual appreciation can increase your overall sexual satisfaction.

3. You would want to know whether or not your partner engages in positive disclosures, positive pillow talk, after sex. This is important because positive disclosures done after sex increases a couples level of closeness, trust, and relationship satisfaction.

However, this is information that you’ll only have access to after you have sex with him/her.

There is nothing wrong with safe, consensual sex, between adults. There is nothing wrong with valuing sexual compatibility. I think it’s time to shed the negative attitudes we developed towards sex because of our indoctrination into various religions. Marrying before sex increases the likelihood that we end up with people we’re not sexually compatible with.

Why risk that, when we can simply do a little “research?”

 

Image Source:

http://i.imgur.com/X4Mmk.jpg

Posted in Personal, Philosophy, Science, Society1 Comment

Facebook.com/Freethinkers