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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

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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.


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?


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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.


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

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!”


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“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?



Gilbert, D. (2004). “The Surprising Science of Happiness.” Retrieved on November 10, 2014. From:

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:,_Jiminez,_&_Jost_%282002%29_Sour_Grapes_Sweet_Lemons.pdf


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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?”


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Why We Tinder

In my youth, I have dabbled a bit in the study of human attraction. I’ve always been fascinated with how complex human interactions progress from the first encounter, to the escalation of desire, to its consummation, and eventual decline.

How do you go from meeting a person you know nothing about, to deciding to share a bed, to committing to spend the rest of your life with this person?

“There has to be some magic there, somehow,” I thought. “There has to be something, a mystical, mysterious force, an erotic demon spirit maybe, that compels people to gaze at each other lovingly, in anticipation of joy, and comfort, and love, and every wonderful promise that the world can offer.”

Then, I heard about Tinder.

tinder-slide“Tinder is an online dating app that uses your Facebook profile to match you with people who are nearby and who have similar interests,” a friend explains to me. It seems simple enough, right? You swipe left for people you’re not attracted to, and swipe right for people you are attracted to.

One of its main features is that it only allows you to chat with people who already find you attractive. This may sound a little funny, but this simple dating app has inadvertently revealed a lot about people, in general.


Dating Sucks for Everyone

In an article from News.Mic, Erin Brodwin discusses how “New Research Reveals the One Simple Reason Tinder Is So Addictive.” One simple reason for the massive success of Tinder is that it skips the agony of trying to figure out whether or not a person you are physically attracted to is also attracted to you.

Brodwin reports:

“In a recent study from the University of Kansas, heterosexual men and women could tell pretty easily — 80% of the time — when someone wasn’t interested. But when someone was flirting, the other person rarely — 36% of the time for men and just 18% of the time for women — had a clue.”

In other words, we know, almost to a certainty when someone doesn’t like us. However, It appears that the “flirting” stage of the romantic pursuit that’s often glamorized in many Hollywood movies as something supposedly exciting and fun, is mostly confusing and dreadful in real life. We’re just not as confident and self-assured as the characters we see on film.

To make matters worse, just in case we do sum up the courage to talk to a complete stranger whose intentions, motivations, and desires in life is unknown to us, it’s still possible that they won’t like us, or that we’ll have absolutely nothing in common with them.

Brodwin adds that, “Dating is impossible. It’s the worst game adults have invented for themselves since hunting and gathering.”

I agree. I wonder how many hours the human race could have collectively saved if none of them wasted any time trying to win over someone who wasn’t attracted to them.


Why Tinder Works

Tinder works because it removes a lot of these unknown variables out of the equation. It uses an algorithm that arranges your selection pool according to similar interests and proximity. Furthermore, once you have a match, you no longer have to agonize over whether or not this person finds you attractive. A match is a match. At the very least, this person is “okay” with your face.

In the article, “The Science Behind 3 Popular Dating Apps,” Dr. Gary Lewandowski discusses the science behind Tinder. He mentions three scientific facts that make Tinder a very efficient application for seeking potential partners.

1) Tinder prioritizes matches with people you already have similar interests with, and “similarity plays a large role in attraction.”

2) Tinder makes suggested matches based on physical proximity. Lewadowski writes that, “the available research suggests that we are more attracted to those who live nearby.”

3) Tinder matches you with people who already like you. This feature, by itself, saves millions and millions of neurotic, insecure, individuals from obsessing about whether someone likes them on the most basic level, physically. But apart from that, Lewadowski adds that, “Matches on Tinder also benefit from the principle of reciprocity (i.e., liking those who like you), which research suggests also increases attraction.”


Tinder is Brutal

There is, however, one thing about Tinder that not a lot of people talk about. It’s fucking brutal. You are given the power to evaluate and make judgments on a person’s date-worthiness based on their appearance. What if you don’t find a match after swiping right through a hundred profiles? If you’re familiar with the logarithm that the program uses (more often than not, it puts those who “liked” you at front-end of your selection pool), the whole thing becomes a little depressing.

Human beings have always had an instinct to make judgments about people based on a first impression. In the real world, it’s quite common for people to observe their environment and the people near them. Regardless of how often it happens though, people aren’t really comfortable with the snap-judgments other people make about them.

Tinder’s brutality lies in its unremitting honesty. It allows people to comfortably revert to the primal instinct of selecting mates based on how they look like. After some time on Tinder, an individual would inevitably realize that he or she is only really interested in a person’s hobbies, or interests, or witty remarks about themselves, AFTER said person has been deemed as cute, or pretty, or handsome enough to warrant additional interest. In my opinion, the practice of casually rejecting human beings develops a habit of dismissal: “This one’s too fat, too thin, too old, too dark, too poor, too slutty, too religious, too vain, has too many selfies, etc, ad infinitum.” This illusion of abundance makes it quite easy to forget that none of us are entitled to perfection.

Tinder also reveals what we’ve all known all along, but never had the audacity to say. It’s not a level playing field. At the end of the day, we “like” good looking people, and select mates based on what physical attributes we find attractive. There’s no such thing as “game” or “seduction” on Tinder. All that jazz happens after you’re evaluated as physically worthy to be given the opportunity to seduce or woo. In the business of desire, your face is your resume, and you won’t get an interview if you don’t pass the initial screening process.

As Rachel Esco explains in her article, “LOVE & TECH: Is Tinder the death of romance in the technological age?”:

“We are currently experiencing a battle between efficiency and romance. Alas, we have the rise of Tinder, the savior to quench society’ thirst for unabashedly shallow, yet quick routes toward courtship. It epitomizes the death of organic dating.”

Whether or not “the death of organic dating” is something that we should lament is a matter of perspective. Furthermore, we cant completely claim that Tinder is devoid of romance. I mean, marriages have happened due to Tinder.

But, in my opinion, it’s becoming increasingly obvious that Tinder has paved the way for a very primal version of human mate selection – simple, brutal, and extremely efficient. For some, finding “The One” could be as easy as swiping right instead of left.

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Sad, Sad World

“The goal towards which the pleasure principle impels us – of becoming happy – is not attainable: yet we may not – nay, cannot – give up the efforts to come nearer to realization of it by some means or other.”

— Sigmund Freud

Existential Crisis

When I was in college, a common expression among philosophy majors was the term “existential crisis.” It was used as a general term to explain everything you don’t actually want to explain. Why are you always drinking? Existential crisis. Why did you skip class? Existential crisis. Why didn’t you defend your thesis? Existential crisis. What’s wrong? Existential crisis.

We used the term “existential crisis” as an umbrella term for unpleasant emotions: depression, boredom, and anxiety. Looking back though, we used the term “existential crisis” mostly as a euphemism for unhappiness. So, now, 10 years later, I’m wondering why we ever needed a euphemism for unhappiness, and why were we so afraid to admit that some of us were unhappy.

Honestly, I was embarrassed to admit that I was unhappy because I was privileged, and I felt like I had no right to be unhappy. I was being told how fortunate I was that I was studying in DLSU, and that I had a bright future ahead of me. I was afraid that any reference to unhappiness on my part would be seen as a spoiled brat’s childish expressions of discontent – unnecessary whining. It was inordinately implied, by a lot of people I knew, that only those who were born less fortunate were entitled to unhappiness.

Another idea that was constantly hammered into my teenage brain was that we’re all responsible for our own happiness. To admit unhappiness was to admit to a personal failure. I’ve heard that a person who was unhappy was a person who didn’t pray enough, or didn’t work hard enough to be happy, or didn’t know how to be grateful for what he had.

In addition to the unhappiness I felt, I also felt guilty for being unhappy.

I’m here to tell you one fact that I wish someone told me when I was younger: “It’s normal to be unhappy. In fact, most people are, because our brain is geared towards negativity.”


Why is it so hard to be happy?


It’s so hard to be happy, because our brains were designed to focus on the negative.

Negative experiences are easier for our brains to recall than positive experiences. Some of us have to work very hard to fight off negative thoughts and negative feelings. We simply remember bad things, bad news, and bad experiences, more than we remember the good stuff.

Being young, or thin, or privileged does not make a person immune to negative thoughts and feelings.

In the article, “Our Brain’s Negative Bias,” Hara Estroff Marano mentions studies done by John Cacioppo, Ph.D, of the University of Chicago.

Marano writes:

“[Dr. Cacioppo] showed people pictures known to arouse positive feelings (say, a Ferrari, or a pizza), those certain to stir up negative feelings (a mutilated face or dead cat) and those known to produce neutral feelings (a plate, a hair dryer). Meanwhile, he recorded electrical activity in the brain’s cerebral cortex that reflects the magnitude of information processing taking place.”

The experiment revealed that there is a greater surge in electrical activity in the brain when the brain is exposed to stimuli it interprets as negative. In other words, we respond more to negativity than positivity.

Marano explains that the human tendency to retain negative information may have evolved in humans in order to help them survive. The brain evolved mechanisms to ensure that human beings are constantly aware of the dangers around them.

Here’s another fact I wish someone told me when I was younger: “If you’re feeling bad only half the time, you’re probably having five times more positive experiences than negative ones.”


Five to One

In the same article, Marano explains how the human tendency to recall negativity plays a powerful role in the relationships we have.

Marano writes:

“What really separates contented couples from those in deep marital misery is a healthy balance between their positive and negative feelings and actions toward each other. Even couples who are volatile and argue a lot stick together by balancing their frequent arguments with a lot of demonstrations of love and passion. And they seem to know exactly when positive actions are needed.”

She later explains that the balance between happiness and unhappiness becomes more complicated when we include the disproportionate effect of negativity to the average brain. It’s not 50-50. The magic ratio, researchers have learned, is 5:1.

In order to find marital bliss, couples have to experience five times as many positive interactions for every negative interaction that they have.

Other researchers have found similar results when examining other areas of a person’s life. We need to be exposed to positive stimuli five times as often as negative stimuli in order to be “fine.” Furthermore, frequent positivity, even in small doses, has a lasting effect on a person’s happiness.

As Marano explains:

“Occasional big positive experiences—say, a birthday bash—are nice. But they don’t make the necessary impact on our brain to override the tilt to negativity. It takes frequent small positive experiences to tip the scales toward happiness.”


Civilization and Its Discontents

In any case, what these studies reveal is that people are geared towards unhappiness and discontent, by default. It’s normal to be unhappy, and it’s not entirely our fault if we are. Just because a person might be rich, or beautiful, or successful does not make him immune to unhappiness. Everyone’s entitled to his personal agonies, regardless of how “privileged” or “first world” some of these agonies are.

Furthermore, feelings of unhappiness is not an indicator of a personal failure. It could simply mean that a person has not been exposed to positive stimuli five times as often as he was exposed to negative stimuli. Given the amount of negativity we are exposed to just by browsing through the Facebook timeline (our friends’ rants, bad news, negative comments about a celebrity, scandal, gossip, etc.), it should be no surprise that we demand unrealistic amounts of positive stimuli just to be “not unhappy.”

In other words, we’re never going to reach a state of “happiness,” but as Freud has implied, that shouldn’t stop us from trying.


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Posted in Personal, Philosophy, Science, Society1 Comment

Entitlement: Creating Killers and Divas One Spoiled Brat at a Time

The site Jezebel reports that a week ago, a man has slashed a woman’s neck after she refused to talk to him. At around 5:20 am, on October 1, a woman was in the lobby of a building in New York when a man approached her in an attempt to make conversation. She refused to talk to him and turn away. As soon as she did, he grabbed her from behind and slashed her neck.

Two days ago, Mary Spears, an engaged mother-of-three was harassed in a bar. A man came up to her and said, “Can I get your name, your number?” She told him that she was in a relationship, but he persisted. Because of the constant harassment, the man was asked to leave the venue. However, he later confronted Spears and shot her three times, killing her.

Last May, Elliot Rodger posted a video complaining about how women have rejected his advances, even though he was a gentleman. He also ranted about still being a virgin at the age of 22. Because of these perceived slights, he promises ‘retribution’ and ‘punishment.’ Later, he killed 6 people.

These men shared a similar attitude towards women; they felt entitled to a woman’s affection, or at least, attention. When they encountered resistance, they felt as if they were being deprived of something that they deserved. This frustration has led them to commit violence.


“Nice Guy Syndrome” aka “Irrational Feelings of Sexual Entitlement”

I’m not saying that all men are capable of killing a woman out of frustration. I’m saying that there is proof that a sense of entitlement is a predictor of violence toward women.

According to a study found by ScienceDaily

“…for men, entitlement was associated with hostile views of women. Entitled men were more likely to endorse views of women as manipulative, deceptive, and untrustworthy — attitudes, which past research has shown are predictors of violence toward women.”

A common complaint made by men about women who reject them is, “She never even gave me a chance.” Some men perceive that “not being given a chance” represents an opportunity they were deprived of. What most men and women should start to understand is that the attention another person provides is a privilege, not a right.

I get where entitled men are coming from. I used to harbor the same illusion that “girls should, at least, listen to my pickup line when I try to talk to them in bars.”

Here’s what men might be thinking:

“I am entitled to this opportunity, because I live in a society that has essentially required me to approach a woman to reduce the odds that I’ll die single. This is ‘me,’ taking matters into my own hands; being a man. The choices are clear: it’s either I approach a woman, or I never get a date, because women will never approach men.”

This type of logic holds a number of sexist assumptions. For one, a man who thinks this way may have associated the idea of pursuit with his own masculine identity. He may be thinking that he’s simply performing a gender role. To some extent, when a man approaches a woman, he may actually believe that he’s simply being “masculine.” If he gets rejected, he may feel slighted, because he may see the rejection as a hostile act that robs him of his ability to express his sexual identity as a man.

In other words, he’s being told to stop his inappropriate advances, but he may interpret it as being told to stop being a man.

I’m not surprised that entitlement and sexism are correlated. Sexist people think in terms of binaries. A sexist man believes that he is supposed to be the “active” participant in the courtship dance, and a woman is supposed to be the “passive” recipient of his advances. When he’s told to stop being “active,” to stop advancing, he feels like he’s been robbed of his birthright – the right to pursue.

However, men are just one half of the entitled, sexist club.

In the same article, it was mentioned that:

“Conversely, the researchers found women who have a high sense of entitlement are likely to demand men take care of them because they are weak and frail. A large body of research shows that such demands lead to women being viewed as too weak and placed in roles where they are not allowed to advance in education and jobs.”

The research also reports on how feelings of entitlement affect men and women differently. Generally, entitled men are more prone to exhibiting hostile sexism; many of them held misogynistic beliefs and viewed women as manipulative and demanding. On the other hand, entitled women exhibited benevolent sexism. They harbored the “princess mentality” and thought that women deserved special care and treatment, because they were, you know, women.

That’s not even the bad news yet.

According to a report by Richard Alleyne, the science correspondent of The Telegraph, there’s a study that shows how “Those who were born into ‘Generation Y’ have an over-inflated sense of entitlement, [but] lack the work ethic to achieve their goals.” What the study reveals is that our generation, those born between 1980 and 1990, is fostering an entire generation who think they’re “special” and should be treated as such.

According to the article:

“Professor Paul Harvey, of the University of Hampshire, carried out a series of studies measuring psychological entitlement and narcissism on a group of Gen -Yers and found they scored 25 per cent higher than respondents ages 40 to 60 and 50 per cent higher than those over 61.”

Entitled men believe that they deserve a woman’s adoration and desire, by default, or by simply being “nice guys” (See: “Nice Guy Sydrome“); they feel that they don’t need a woman’s permission to pursue her romantically or sexually, by default, because they are men; they feel that if they are sexually attracted to a woman, being the woman’s friend is something they are entitled to complain about (See: “Friend Zone“).

Women feel that they deserve to be taken care of and provided for, by default, because they are women (In fact, 75% of women will not even date an unemployed man).

However, although entitlement corrupts both men and women, entitlement in men have worse consequences.

Let’s take a closer look at the behavioral disparity between the sexes:

  • An entitled woman, who has diva or princess delusions, throws a histrionic fit when her expectations are not met. It’s possible that she thinks she’s entitled to a man’s resources, expecting to be provided for.
  • An entitled man, who thinks he should be “permitted” to “woo” women he is romantically interested in, may turn into a violent psycho once the permission he assumed was there is withdrawn. It’s possible that he thinks he’s entitled to a woman’s body.

The only conclusion I can think of from the material I’ve read is that entitlement turns men and women into horrible people, but it makes men significantly more horrible. Unfortunately, we’re living in an era littered with an entire generation of psychotic, narcissistic, entitled assholes. I think that this might be the only generation in history that would benefit from being told, “You’re not entitled to a beautiful woman, or a wealthy man, or even a job, really.”

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Posted in Gender Rights, Personal, Philosophy, Pop Culture, Science, Society1 Comment

Why Believing Without Demanding Proof is Close-Mindedness

One common joke among skeptics goes as follows: “Don’t be so open-minded that your brain falls out.” Not only do I find this joke unfunny, I also find it pointless. If a person wants to take openness to new ideas to its logical conclusion, she will not end up being gullible or credulous. Rather, she will be a skeptic. True open-mindedness is not the same as accepting assertions without critical consideration. In fact, believing claims without being critical of them results in having a closed mind.

To see this, consider the following example. Suppose a friend of yours earnestly claims that he is being haunted by ghosts in his house. He tells you that he hears whispers inside his house even when he is alone and no television is turned on. During some nights, he hears cries or wails in the basement, even when nobody is there. He even catches glimpses of these ghosts walking around in the small hours of the morning. Worst of all, they sometimes appear behind him when he is looking at himself in the mirror, but the moment he turns around to face the ghost, it has already disappeared.

If you uncritically accept this friend’s allegations without demanding clearer evidence other than his vague anecdotes, you are closing your mind from all other possible hypotheses. You are rejecting many other possible explanations without giving them due consideration. You are being close-minded. By hastily jumping into the conclusion that he is being haunted without systematically investigating the causes of his experiences, your friend is being close-minded too. He has exhibited prejudice against the alternative hypotheses without giving them the deliberation they deserve. That is the definition of having a closed mind.

If you are open to all ideas, you should consider false perceptions such as pareidolia as a more plausible explanation for many supposed ghost sightings. [Photo credit: Pedro Luis Gomez Barrondo]

If you open your mind to competing ideas, you will fairly consider other explanations. One explanation for most ghost sightings is the phenomenon of pareidolia. [Photo credit: Pedro Luis Gomez Barrondo]

Consider the alternate explanations for your friend’s experiences. First off, he may be lying. History is replete with examples of people who claim special access to the spirit world, but who turned out to be charlatans. But suppose he is not lying. Suppose he has really experienced all the things described above. Well, he might be suffering from episodes of delusion. Perhaps some haughty neighbors are playing tricks on him. Or maybe an unusual but natural phenomenon is taking place in his house, one that is amazing and surreal but that does not require supernatural explanations. In fact, the phenomenon going on in his house, or possibly in his mind, might be yet unknown to scientists. His experiences might lead to new discoveries once close investigation has been done. True open-mindedness requires you to consider all these plausible scenarios and assess their likelihood in light of the evidence. In the absence of evidence, open-mindedness also requires you to withhold judgment.

But the cases where we truly lack evidence are very few. When it comes to people’s behavior, for example, we have plenty of evidence for errors in perception, credulity, or even fraud. The case of people claiming to be haunted is well-known and well-documented. There is plenty of evidence showing that people suffering from delusions sometimes claim to be tormented by spirits; treating the mental illness at the root of these delusions often make the “spirits” go away. There is plenty of evidence that elaborate pranks can be sometimes played by people on their neighbors and friends; I myself can relate to the pleasure of giving a friend a harmless fright. Furthermore, there are also a lot of natural phenomena that, when experienced, gives one a sense of the surreal and supernatural. Imagine seeing a Pepper’s Ghost illusion, or being victim to a case of pareidolia, or seeing a St. Elmo’s fire atop a mast near one’s backyard. Some buildings have acoustics that lead to the propagation of voices coming from far, far away. If you are in such a building, you can hear the murmurs of unseen speakers. If a person unfamiliar with scientific thinking experienced any of these or similar phenomena, it is easy to see why he would be tempted would jump to a supernatural explanation. A close inspection of these phenomena, however, does not reveal the supernatural, but only the super in what is natural.

It is a shame that so many people have the mindset that nature is dull and that any extraordinary experience can only be attributed to supernatural causes. This is lamentable because the lessons of our discoveries in science tell us otherwise. Science has shown that, contrary to our intuitions, nature is extraordinary and subtle, its workings no less than mind-blowing. Hastily supplying supernatural explanations for one’s extraordinary experiences is closing one’s mind to the beauty of the world. The lack of critical thinking leads to a close-mindedness that is blinding.

If you content yourself with a lazy explanation for an  astounding experience, you will lose a golden opportunity to learn something new about the world and the human mind.

If you content yourself with a lazy explanation for an astounding experience, you will miss a golden opportunity to learn something new about the world and the human mind. [Photo credit:]

Does having an open mind mean treating all ideas as if they were all equally valid? Are skeptics being close-minded when they reject some explanations in favor of others? These and similar questions arise from the confusion between treating ideas equally and treating them fairly. Treating an idea fairly means giving it consideration by assessing its merit based on the evidence. If you treat ideas fairly, you will quickly discover that most of them are baloney and only a few are meritorious. Being open-minded requires you to treat ideas fairly, not equally. Believing in competing and often logically incompatible views of the world is close-mindedness; an open mind admits valid evidence and logic. Truly open-minded people know that not all ideas are created equal.

Worse than closing one’s mind to many possibilities, the lack of critical thinking leads to the practice of placing too much confidence on insufficient and flimsily evidence that have undergone very little examination. In short, not thinking critically leads to intellectual laziness and arrogance. Advocates of woo and the paranormal often accuse skeptics of being arrogant. What these fans of the supernatural fail to realize is that skepticism is not just a safeguard against being fooled by others. Skepticism is first of all a safeguard against being fooled by oneself. As the physicist Richard Feynman said, “The first principle is that you shouldn’t fool yourself, and that you’re the easiest person to fool.” This realization is at the heart of skepticism. It is what make skeptics cautious and fastidious. It is what gives them intellectual humility. In the end, critical thinking is not just the direct implication of true open-mindedness, it is also the product of true intellectual humility.

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FF Podcast (Audio): Michael Shermer (Conversations for a Cause)

FF Podcast (Audio): Michael Shermer (Conversations for a Cause)

Conversations for a Cause: Michael Shermer

Conversations for a Cause is a series of interviews with celebrity freethinkers, part of an online donation drive to support ongoing Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) relief and rehabilitation efforts.

This week, we talk with author and founder of The Skeptics Society, Michael Shermer. We discuss whether God is dying, atheism vs skepticism, and why smart people believe in strange things.

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

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FF Podcast (Audio): Dan Barker (Conversations for a Cause)

FF Podcast (Audio): Dan Barker (Conversations for a Cause)

Dan Barker - Conversations for a Cause - Filipino Freethinkers

Conversations for a Cause is a series of interviews with celebrity freethinkers, part of an online donation drive to support ongoing Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) relief and rehabilitation efforts.

This week, we talk with Dan Barker, co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. We ask him about being a former pastor, about secularism, what he thinks about Pope Francis, and about being a secular musician.

Dan Barker’s book, Life-Driven Purpose: How An Atheist Finds Meaning, will be available on September 16, 2014.

His latest album, Adrift on a Star: Irreverent Songs By Dan Barker, is now available.

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

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Atomic Bombs, Cryogenics & Jorge Luis Borges: The Aesthetic Appeal of Science

I’ve been reading a lot of comic books recently. I’ve always been a fan of comic books, but there are a number of titles I’ve encountered recently that made me fall in love with the medium all over again. Vertigo’s “Transmetropolitan,” Image Comics’ “The Manhattan Projects” and “Nowhere Men.”

Science in Contemporary Comics


Nowhere Men” wonders what would have happened if there were scientists in the past that were as popular as The Beatles. They created a universe where scientific innovation is as culturally revered as popular music.

The Manhattan Projects” premise is based on a single question, “What if the Manhattan Project, the government initiative that resulted in the creation of the Atomic Bomb in 1945, actually went a lot further than that?” In this comic you’ll see Richard Feynman make weapons with Albert Einstein and J. Robert Oppenheimer, while contemplating the consequences of the weapons they’re creating.


Transmetropolitan” is about Spider Jerusalem (a futuristic Hunter S. Thompson), a gonzo journalist exploring the cultural paradigm of his milleau. He exists in a city where people from an earlier time (our time) is scheduled to wake from cryo-preservation, where citizens have the option to live in cultural reservations (brutal ancient civilizations) that are isolated from contemporary society, and where commercials can be uploaded into a person’s dreams (Inception style). He blogs and he wears a device similar to Google Glass. However, this comic book was written in the 90s, which means it sort-of predicted Google glass and online blogging.

Spider Jerusalaem

Every issue of the series tackles a different social concern, but does not provide conclusive answers. What it does is it invites the reader to think, to speculate, about the different social, ethical, spiritual, political, and economic implications of each scientific innovation introduced in each issue.

These works appeal to me precisely because they invite speculation. The point is not the story, but its premise – “What if?” – a style reminiscent of Jorge Luis Borges’ “Labyrinths.”


It’s hard to summarize what exactly it is about because, mostly, it’s not about anything specific. The protagonist, the hero, of Borges’ collection is information – ordinary, mundane facts.

This collection of works by Borges rarely even have a plot. One could, in fact, describe them as pseudo-essays. Often, the protagonist of the story encounters a document or a study that provides an alternative interpretation of reality. In Borges, ordinary scientific and historical facts exists as a possibilities that could be interpreted in many ways.


In the story “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” Borges provides the reader three alternative interpretations on time and the nature of its passing:

1. “One of the schools of Tlon goes so far as to negate time: it reasons that the present is indefinite, that the future has no reality other than as a present hope, that the past has no reality other than as a present memory (Borges, 34).”

2. “Another school declares that all time has already transpired and that our life is only the crepuscular and no doubt falsified and mutilated memory or reflection of an irrevocable process (Borges 34-35).”

3. “The history of the universe [events in time] – and in it our lives and the most tenuous detail of our lives – is the scripture produced by a subordinate god in order to communicate with a demon (Borges, 35).”

The point of the narrative is not necessarily what happens to the protagonist, but the reader’s recognition of these interpretations. These stories are about ideas; ordinary facts people overlook on a daily basis are placed under a microscope and investigated, speculated upon, until the reader himself asks, “Is the time in this story the same time I exist in?”

The appeal of his work is that the possibilities that exist in the fictional world of Borges can exist in our own world. The language itself is a formal attempt (an attempt in form) to create an almost academic (ordinary) atmosphere. Borges mixes quotes and ideas of people from “real life” (Shopenhauer, Bertrand Russel, Friedrich Nietzsche) with the fictional ideas of his fictional characters. Information, itself, generates the experience of the reader. The knowledge is not used to describe the protagonist’s experience. It is used to create “an experience” in the reader.

In Borges, common language itself can be viewed from multiple perspectives:

1. “For example, there is no word [in the southern hemisphere of Tlon] corresponding to the word ‘moon’, but there is a verb which in English would be ‘to moon’ or ‘to moonate’. ‘The moon rose above the river’ is hlor fang axaxaxas mlo, or literally: ‘upward behind onstreaming it mooned’ (Borges, 33).”

2. “[In the northern hemisphere] The prime unit is not the verb, but the monosyllabic adjective. The noun is formed by an accumulation of adjectives. They do not say ‘moon’ but rather ‘round airy-light on dark’ or pale-orange-of-the-sky’ or any other such combination.”


The fictional themes in Borges are broad. There are meditations on ordinary language and interpretations of time, but there are also perspectives on, and interpretations of, religious and historical concepts.

In the story “Theme of the Traitor and the Hero,” a publicly loved president is revealed to be a traitor. Once caught, he negotiates with his captors regarding the manner of his execution. To retain peace in the country, among the people who admire him, he takes part in the preparation of his own heroic assassination.

In “Three Versions of Judas” the reader is provided three different interpretations on what may have motivated Judas’ betrayal of Jesus. One version hypothesizes that Judas was God’s instrument of revelation. The betrayal was a way to reveal the divinity of Jesus. Another versions suggests that Judas’ betrayal was an act of love; that he was an ascetic to the highest degree, one that believed that no one, not even him, is worthy of God’s grace that he committed acts that would guarantee his damnation in hell. And there’s another version that suggests how God was actually revealed through Judas and not Jesus. God, in the form of Judas, sacrificed the innocent Jesus to teach the world compassion.

Science as Art

Borges’ “Labyrinths” show how fiction is not any more “magical” than real life. In fact, most of “the magic” (the philosophical perspectives, possibilities and ideas) in Borges’ fiction is found and is based on real life. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine a person from real life having the same epiphanies and speculations Borges’ fictional characters have experienced. In fact, Borges himself admits that these stories are “autobiographical” and are, to an extent, non-fictional in nature.

In Borges reality, facts and ideas are aesthetic objects. Fiction exists only as a tool to highlight facts that generate wonder.


In his paper, “Games with Infinity. The Fiction of Jorge Luis Borges,” Martin Johnson suggests that Borges attitude towards the creation of fiction is best reflected in his description of the metaphysicians of Tlon from his story “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius” – “The metaphysicians of Tlon are not looking for truth, nor even for an approximation of it; they are after a kind of amazement.” Facts and ideas, for Borges, function in the same manner. It is something that one should be amazed by.

I think such an attitude towards science should be encouraged, and the trends these comics have chosen to set (the exploration of scientific ideas and the ascension of the scientist/philosopher as a comic book superhero) reveals a promising cultural shift – mainstream interest in scientific and philosophical speculation. Science is not just a cold, precise tool human beings can use to measure universal forces, it is also a playground – a venue for mental play – as well as a source of constant awe.

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My Body is Not Mine

We are in bed, spooning like lovers although we’re not. He is resting his cheek on my shoulder, creating some contrast with the statement he is about to make. Could you not wear clothes with plunging necklines?

My Body is Not Mine

I could have picked a fight but I didn’t. I said okay, thinking that would end a topic I didn’t really want to get into. I have been told that I am highly opinionated and as a woman, this often leads to feeling like my decision to care for cats is a savvy one. Domesticated felines are the only male companions that will never feel threatened by the thought that I might be, sometimes not always, smarter than they are.

But this man holding me felt compelled to explain his demands. just don’t want to get into a fight. That can be categorized as sweet. But then again, I can’t really blame guys for looking if you’re wearing [slutty clothes].

He didn’t use the term, but I’ll make the leap and assume that this is what he means. This is not new, and this is not exclusive to men. My mother can never decide whether to feel horrified when I am wearing a sleeveless shirt that reveals too much of my bra or tsk-tsk at me for wearing long skirts and frumpy tops that make me look about twenty years older than her.

It’s funny that this man felt like he was doing me a favor by essentially commanding me to dress “more appropriately” when I have had to fight every urge to snicker whenever I see him. Half of his wardrobe is composed of collared formal wear with a pattern that’s much more suited to curtains of cabins in the woods. Or picnic blankets. When I finally told him that I think that he wears clothes that, to me, look hideous, I could tell that he was somewhat insulted. He chose not to be a dick about it (points for him), took it in stride, and said that maybe I ought to take him shopping. But, he said, someone else should come along. You might pick clothes that will only make me attractive to you [and not anyone else]. That’s a joke. And, as women aren’t meant to be taken seriously, so am I.

Our relations didn’t get very far. Two months. It reached its end shortly after a fictitious zombie apocalypse in Tagaytay, conjured in jest on a trip with his friends. He wanted to be valiant and save me from the undead. I wanted to fight zombies. He wanted to impress his friends by saying he doesn’t need to call anyone because I was with him. I said I would call a friend of mine, which I didn’t realize made him look bad in front of his friends. He frequently reminded me that he wasn’t ready to be in a relationship and though I liked him, I kept my distance and tried not to do anything that would make me seem, que horror, clingy. He wanted to keep his options open. So did I.

There are times when I feel something close to sad that our interest in each other became just another hump on the road, but this thought saves me: do I really want to be with someone who thinks that I am asking for it (it = perverted thoughts concerning my body) because I choose to wear a top that makes this climate change more bearable? I mean, it’s really hot. Is it unreasonable to want to wear a bare minimum amount of fabric in public? It’s not like I have enormous tits. I fell asleep in commute the other day and the driver called me “brad.”

And, to rephrase a question that’s been asked a million times before and probably a million more times in the future, how is it fine that he can casually tell me that he doesn’t want me to dress him because he wants to remain attractive to other women, whereas I would diminish my chances of getting a regular partner in life if I said that I want to dress a certain way to retain some appeal? I might as well go back to the Middle East and keep wearing a shapeless black robe. My body, in any other fashion, must be seen only by my lover—otherwise known as my rightful owner.

I do not intend to rally on paper and do my “slut walk” with words. I don’t contest the idea that women should be able to wear what they want, but I already do that. It’s a debate that’s settled in my head. A man attempted to rape me when I was wearing a normal shirt and yes, a short skirt, but I was wearing thick tights. Not even that experience stopped me from wearing the “sluttiest” things in my wardrobe. Besides, have you seen what my sex was wearing during the Victorian era? Do you honestly think no woman was raped during that time because they were wearing a skirt that reached past the feet (not just knees) and sleeves that tapered off at the wrist?

What bothers me is not that I am told what to wear, but that they (think) they have the right to tell me what to wear. Is my body not mine?

People debate about whether or not I have the right to prevent a human being from forming inside of me. What happens in my uterus is a social concern. I need a legislation that will entitle me to abort a pregnancy, even if the sperm came from an inebriated man I have never met in my life who felt like it’s perfectly fine to stick his dick inside me without my consent. The vagina is public property. It’s sold. It’s bought. It’s a thing that can be possessed.

No amount of fabric can cover that idea—that belief.

It is romantic, in a way, to be owned. It’s marketed as belonging, a thought that even I find appealing. I do want to belong to someone. I’d wear an abaya until the day I die if the man I love wants me all to himself. But only if I too can possess him and make him feel shame should I find out that he has been giving what is mine to another woman (or man).

My body for his body, in the interest of fairness.


Posted in Freedom of Expression, Gender Rights, Personal, Philosophy, Society2 Comments

The Irrationality of “Utang na Loob”

I. Invisible Debt

There is a uniquely Filipino concept that is often brought up when a person’s relationship with his or her parents is strained: “Utang na Loob.” It is the idea that a child “owes” his or her parents for providing him an education, clothing, shelter, comfort and love. Initially, I thought that this particular notion is unique to the Filipino experience. However, I’ve learned that there is a concept in the West that is quite similar. It’s called, “Invisible Debt.”

Huffington Post’s Ashley Ryan wrote the article “Free Yourself From Emotional Debt: Move Beyond Pain From the Past” in an attempt to differentiate invisible debt from regular debt. She writes, “We all know what debt is. Some of us, most of us, still have a few we’re paying off. Student loans, car payments, mortgages. But what about the unseen debts, debts that are invisible to the naked eye but instead live within our hearts?”

What she’s talking about here is the debt a person incurs from negative experiences. The father who walks out on his family, whose approval the child is still seeking; and the mother who was over-critical, so the child overworks to prove that he is worthy of her love are both examples of this sort of debt.

The Filipino version, however, is more insidious, especially when it involves an abusive parent. In many cases, not only does a child have to endure the fleeting whims of his or her parents (who may have had the best intentions, but don’t really know what the fuck they’re doing), the child is expected to be “grateful” as well for being provided basic needs.

The issue with “invisible debt” or “utang na loob,” as it has been discussed in many blogs, is that it has an unlimited cost. Unlike a common loan, one is never certain how much more has to be paid, or when the loan will expire. The question I am asking is, “Is it rational/ethical for a parent to bring up utang na loob?”

Before I continue, I would first like to mention that I don’t have terrible parents. In fact, I am very lucky to have been raised by well-meaning, understanding, mostly rational, human beings with only average imperfections. I’ve had conflicts with my parents, more or less, as much as the average human being has. I am grateful for everything that I have been provided. I just had to mention that, because in many instances throughout this article, I’m going to sound like an ingrate, especially as soon as I mention my position:

I am grateful that I have been provided an education, clothing, shelter, comfort and love. However, I do not owe my parents because they provided me these things. It’s a parent’s job to provide these things. People who can’t provide for these needs should not have children to begin with. These are basic children’s rights.

I believe that “utang na loob” has no place in the parent-child relationship. I think it’s inappropriate for parents to demand a return of investment. Parents should not ask payment for “products and services” they were supposed to provide their children for free.

Now, I know I sound like an asshole. Let me clarify. I intend to take care of my parents when they are old, but not because I owe them “utang na loob,” but because I love them. The problem comes when parents expect their children to love them eternally, by default, simply because they did what they were supposed to do as parents – raise their children.

According to the blog, The Invisible Scar, “A good parent offers unconditional love and support; an emotionally abusive parent demands unconditional love and support from his/her child.”

When parents decide to have children, they also decide that they will give a child, who can’t fend for himself, access to basic needs. Asking for a guaranteed return on the provision of these needs is like asking someone to sign a contract before he could read. The basis for accountability should always be choice. However, in the case of children and parents, only one party was involved in the decision making: parents chose to have children, but children didn’t choose to have parents. Why then should children be held accountable, why should they be held in debt, for choices that their parents made?

For those who don’t get it yet, let me point out the obvious: The “utang na loob” parents often bring up to emotionally blackmail their children is not only irrational & unreasonable, it’s also unethical.

Utang na Loob

II. Why is it unethical?

The notion of the “invisible debt” or “utang na loob” is a form of abuse. Not all forms of parental abuse are physical. There are things that a parent can do to cause severe psychological damage on the child. The blog, “Invisible Scar” defines psychological abuse as, “a pattern of intentional verbal or behavioral actions or lack of actions that convey to a child the message that he or she is worthless, flawed, unloved, unwanted, endangered, or only of value to meet someone else’s needs.”

“Utang na Loob” implies that a child was provided basic needs, not because he or she is loved, but because there is an expected return. “You owe us, therefore, you should pay us back.” This particular demand is irrational and cruel. It also turns love and affection into an economic resource. A child-parent bond is commodified by putting an invisible “price tag” on the relationship.

It’s very Catholic, in a sense, because it’s reminiscent of “Original Sin.” It’s a debt you didn’t earn, but it’s one you have to “try,” for your entire lifetime, to pay for anyway. Otherwise, you are a bad person. And like “Original Sin,” it will impose standards of moral perfection that you can never live up to. Whatever you do, you will always be a sinner until God decides that you are not.

Similarly, you will always have “utang na loob,” until your parents decide that you don’t. If you disobey an irrational demand, “Wala kang utang na loob.” If you select a partner your parents do not favor, “Wala kang utang na loob.” If you decide to move out sooner than your parents want you to, “Wala kang utang na loob.” If you disobey any of their wishes (whether or not these wishes are reasonable), “Wala kang utang na loob.”

But what is this “utang na loob” parents speak of? What are the parameters of this debt and how is this debt paid? The truth is it doesn’t exist. You do not owe your parents “utang na loob” for raising you. That’s a parent’s job. Some parents do the job well, and some parents don’t. Parents who do the job well deserve your gratitude and praise, but they are not entitled to your unconditional obedience. They can’t be allowed to make decisions for you as an adult, according to their desires, just because they did their job when you were a child. Your duty, if there be any, should be towards your own children if someday you decide to have kids of your own.

My parents deserve my gratitude and praise for being the best parents I could ask for. But, as an adult, I deserve to live my life according to my will, not theirs. “Utang na loob” is not a commodity a parent could trade to acquire a child’s unconditional obedience.

If there is anything that should demand obedience, it is not debt. It is reason.



Ryan, A. (2013, March). “Free Yourself From Emotional Debt: Move Beyond Pain From the Past.” Retrieved on May 26, 2014. From:

The Invisible Scar (2014, February). “The Silent Treatment [Types of Emotional Child Abuse Series, Part 1].” Retrieved on May 26, 2014. From:


Images Borrowed From:

Posted in Personal, Philosophy, Society4 Comments