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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.

Entitlement

“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

Do you need a shrink?: An Introduction to Mental Disorders Part I

We have at least once in our lifetime, met a weird but fascinating character. They sometimes may be extremely annoying but brilliant.  Sometimes, from an indispensable genius, they turn to totally useless. If you yourself, are thinking that you might be one of them or that someone close to you is, then it might be good to have a little introduction on what a mental disorder is. This may help you decide if you or your friend needs to see a doctor or if it’s just a quirkiness one could easily cope with.

Let’s all think of a hypothetical character named Tom. Tom is a brilliant, creative individual whose charisma and optimism inspire a lot of the people that he meets. However, those who are truly close to him know that his mind runs too fast, and sometimes gets overloaded. He tells his friends, at some point that he feels so happy, like he was flying or is on top of the world and then he crashes. Upon crashing, he feels as if dark clouds are hovering above him. Sometimes, this crash is triggered by a dreaded event, too much stress or sometimes, the dark clouds just come with no apparent reason. Hopeless, unfocused, lethargic, he stays in bed all day. Occasionally, his kindness gets shrouded by his irritable mood that manifests itself by his snide remarks or sometimes coldness. He would also bang his head on the wall, smash an expensive piece of equipment on the floor or walk along the streets hoping that a car would just hit him. Tears would not stop falling even if he is in a place full of strangers. He pushes people away. His work and relationships suffer. He entertains the idea of taking his own life.

Tom’s extreme moods characterized by elation and sadness are nothing but symptoms of what psychologists call Bipolar Disorder. On one pole there is the depressive condition, on the other pole, there is the manic state – a state of intense optimism, happiness and delusions of grandeur. Some of Tom’s concerned friends tell him he should seek professional help but some others tell him that it is all a matter of control and that takes practice. As one of his friends says, “arent’ we all a little crazy?”. What then distinguishes someone with a mental condition from a “normal” person? Are the boundaries between disorders that clear cut? Tom, in his readings finds that he could also be someone with Aspergers Syndrome or ADHD. What does he really have? Should he take pills? Should he see a shrink or should he just simply exercise, meditate and practice Deepak Chopra’s tenets? (No, he does not follow Deepak Chopra.)

In diagnosing individuals, psychiatrists have a guidebook called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM -5) [1]. The book is the culmination of more than a decade’s work of revising the classification of mental disorders. Depression is not just some short feeling of sadness. The DSM V characterizes someone who is suffering from depression as someone who has experienced at least five signs of depression for more than two weeks. [2] Some of the symptoms are, moroseness, hopelessness, significant weight loss and gain, too much or too little sleep, feelings of worthlessness, fatigue, decreased interest in activities that s/he usually enjoys, difficulty concentrating or making decisions and recurrent thoughts of death and suicide. Someone with Bipolar Disorder however may flip back and forth between overexcited states of mania and depression within a single day, week, or month or year. With the manic state he can also be hyperactive, he also overestimates his abilities and his self.

While Tom did entertain the idea of visiting a psychiatrist, it took him seven long years before he went to one. His parents warned him that, consultation might be too expensive. He might also be too dependent on the drugs and he might suffer from unwanted side-effects.  His intelligence made him very self-aware. He tracked his moods. He exercised, meditated, ate fish which has a lot of omega-3 fatty acids that are supposed to “heal” the brain and he wrote a lot of poems and reflections in his journal. They all helped his character. However, he has noticed that in times of extreme stress, pressure from school, work, financial and family problems still get the better of him despite all his efforts of preventing a fallout. The tipping point came, when he ran away and took a 24-hour trip by land and sea to the south of the country. Without clothes and not enough money to last him a week, he left. It almost destroyed him and his dreams. He finally decided to meet a doctor.

The doctor admired his self-awareness and noted that this is one of the most important abilities one should have. He should be able to recognize the feelings that are coming to him so that he can gain full control of his so-called demons. He must come up with a strategy or a game plan.

Fig. 1 Tom came to his doctor with a piece of paper describing the mood swings he was experiencing. He made a rough sketch of his ‘highs’ and ‘lows’ over time when he was off and on medication.  With medication, Tom’s mood became more stable.

One of the strategies suggested to him was cognitive behavioral therapy[3]. Specifically, he was asked to write his thoughts and feelings whenever he feels like he is bound to do something that has dire, irreversible consequences. For example, reasons for suicide, things he might look forward to the next day, week or year, snapping at someone, quitting a job instantly, among many other things. Writing his thoughts and how he dealt with them, helped become even more self-aware and things that are needed to be done to are clearer to him. He was also asked to try certain drugs that will address the chemical imbalance in his brain. Exercise and eating food rich in omega-3 fatty acids, are no longer enough.

In the beginning, Tom’s medicine worked well with him until he experienced lethal side-effects. While others were afraid, Tom was willing to experiment to get the right balance and dose so that he could get the quality of life he wants. He had experienced rashes, extreme sleepiness for over 12 hours, and vomiting. He has also arrived at a point that he is confident enough to skip a couple of days without medication just so he could experience the “creative highs” of a typical bipolar. He just has to prepare for the “crash” that will ensue.

So to answer the question, “Do you need to see a shrink?”. If you think that you have been undergoing prolonged distress, your behavior has been negatively affecting your work and the people you love no matter how you try to control yourself, then it is best to seek professional help. Seeking professional help will not magically take away your troubles. The pills, the strategies, the changes in perspective are all part of a delicate balancing act in having a well-lived life. It will be a lifetime of management and the first step is to recognize that you do need people who can understand what is going on in your gifted but differently-wired brain. The next question is, how does your shrink know what kind of condition you have?

Preview for Part II: Standardized measures in psychiatry, Learned Helplessness and Comorbidity. Tom thinks he has Aspergers Syndrome and ADHD too. We will introduce another hypothetical character named Sylvia who “demands” understanding for her bad behavior just because she has a disorder.

Useful Links

[1] Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition :http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DSM-5

[2] Crash Course Psychology on Psychological Disorders:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZwMlHkWKDwM

[3] Cognitive Behavioral Therapy:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_behavioral_therapy

 

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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: chelanschool.org]

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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Why Victim Blaming in Rape is Always Ignorant and Irresponsible

TRIGGER WARNING: This article or section, or pages it links to, contain information about sexual assault and/or violence which may be triggering to survivors.

Victim Blaming 101

Let’s say a person left his iPhone unattended in a public place and it was stolen. Can we say that he contributed to his fate by being negligent? Yes. Is this victim blaming? Yes. Can the same logic be applied to rape? No.

But some people would say, “Yes.” Some people think that women get raped because they wear “slutty” clothes. Some people think that women get raped because they drink alcohol. Some people think that women get raped because they stay out late at night. Some people think that women get raped because they don’t pray. Some people are ignorant, yes.

I feel extremely frustrated right now to have to explain the distinction between a man who leaves his phone unattended and a woman who was raped.

Here’s the deal. In the case of the iPhone, to prevent the same occurrence from happening again, all the man has to do is to put his iPhone in his pocket. Needless to say, putting his phone in his pocket, instead of leaving it in a public place, would reduce the risk of theft greatly.

The problem with victim blaming in rape is that the common precautionary measures advised – don’t get drunk, don’t wear slutty clothes, don’t talk to strangers – do not reduce the likelihood of rape. Sober girls are just as likely to be raped as drunk girls. Girls who don’t talk to strangers are just as likely to be raped as girls who talk only to acquaintances. Girls who wear completely normal clothing are just as likely to be raped as girls who wear what some people consider “slutty” clothing.

 

“Take the Necessary Precautions”

In a conversation, I was asked this question:

“Let’s say a woman spends an average of 8 hours a day at home. Are the chances of her being raped at least once in her lifetime the same as if she spends an average of 8 hours a day in that dangerous part of town known for its alarming number of sexual assaults?”

It’s easy to make the assumption that avoiding a dangerous area could reduce the odds that a person was sexually assaulted. But we have to recognize the implications of such a statement. To suggest that avoiding a dangerous area could prevent rape is to imply that if a woman chose to spend time in an area where she could be raped by a random stranger, she didn’t do a good enough job of avoiding rape and may have been partially responsible for what happened.

The problem with this assumption is that it’s wrong. It’s also offensive. For one, a woman is more likely to be raped in a familiar venue, by a familiar person, than she is to be raped by a stranger in an area with a “dangerous” reputation. In the case of rape, the places that she “could be” raped in are exactly the places that she “should be” safe in: her own home, the home of an acquaintance, or an indoor venue near her home.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Statistics, “More than 50% of all rape/sexual assault incidents were reported by victims to have occurred within 1 mile of their home or at their home.”

What advice should we give women then to “avoid rape” then? Avoid your home and areas within 1 mile of your home because majority of rapes happen in these places?

Furthermore, a “Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women” says:

“64% of women who reported being raped, physically assaulted, and/or stalked were victimized by a current or former husband, cohabiting partner, boyfriend, or date.”

So, to “avoid rape,” should we advice women to avoid their husband, their live-in partner, their boyfriend, and their date?

To pursue the analogy further, rape survivors did not “leave their iPhones unattended.” They were keeping them in their pockets and they got mugged while sober, in normal clothes, by familiar people, in familiar places that may include their own home.

In other words, there is very little a victim could have done if someone has decided to rape them. The “preventive measures” people usually bring up (stay sober, don’t wear slutty clothes) aren’t really factors at all when we consider the evidence.

To simplify, leaving your iPhone lying around will increase the odds that it will be stolen. Putting your iPhone in your pocket, will reduce the odds that it will be stolen. So, if you choose to leave your phone out in the open, when you could have placed it in your pocket, means that it is your fault if it was stolen.

However, dressing slutty or talking to strangers will not increase the odds that you are raped. Dressing modestly and talking only to acquaintances will not reduce the odds that you are raped either. If a person is raped, it is not his or her fault.

It’s a completely different issue altogether.

 

“Don’t Get Drunk”

This statement is also commonly provided as a precautionary measure to “prevent rape.” It’s also wrong. If drunkenness was a direct contributor to the prevalence of rape, then a statistical increase in alcohol consumption should lead to a statistical increase in the prevalence of rape.

However, in the article “To Prevent Rape on College Campuses, Focus on the Rapists, Not the Victims,” Amanda Hess reveals that:

“According to the Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey—which surveys Americans ages 12 and older about crime they’ve experienced, whether or not they reported it to the authorities—rape has declined markedly in the United States since 1979, even as female binge drinking has risen.”

In the article, “Actually, The Link Between Sexual Assault And Alcohol Isn’t As Clear As You Think,” Tara Culp-Ressler explains that:

“Even though alcohol is associated with sexual assault, it’s not actually a direct association. Getting intoxicated only leads to rape when there’s someone present to commit that rape. When you remove rapists from the equation, the risks of getting drunk — which, of course, do involve serious public health consequences — don’t include getting raped.”

 

“Sexual Violence is Predatory”

According to the study “Understanding the Predatory Nature of Sexual Violence” by David Lisak, perpetrators of sexual violence:

are extremely adept at identifying “likely” victims, and testing prospective victims’ boundaries;

plan and premeditate their attacks, using sophisticated strategies to groom their victims for attack, and to isolate them physically;

use “instrumental” not gratuitous violence; they exhibit strong impulse control and use only as much violence as is needed

to terrify and coerce their victims into submission;

use psychological weapons — power, control, manipulation, and threats — backed up by physical force, and almost never

resort to weapons such as knives or guns;

use alcohol deliberately to render victims more vulnerable to attack, or completely unconscious.

In Culp-Ressler’s article, she admits that alcohol may be one of the tools a rapist uses. However, she says that it’s just one of many tools at a rapists disposal, and the unavailability of alcohol won’t necessarily prevent a rapist from raping if the rapist decides to rape.

In other words, alcohol is just one of the things a rapist may use AFTER they have selected a victim. It’s very likely that a rapist who has raped an intoxicated girl already decided to rape her, before she even took a sip of alcohol. If alcohol is not available at that moment, he would simply chosen another tactic to rape her.

The common myth surrounding rape is that a drunk woman, in a dark street, wearing “slutty clothing,” is more likely to be raped, than a sober woman, in her home, wearing normal clothing, having lunch with an acquaintance. This leads people to think that if the drunk woman was raped, she may have contributed to it by being “negligent.” That’s not true. The odds that either would be raped is zero, if there was no rapist nearby to rape them. These odds increase drastically if there was a nearby rapist who wanted to rape them. What a woman is wearing or what she was doing before she was attacked is irrelevant. She would have been attacked anyway if a sexual predator has decided to attack her.

 

Why Do We Blame the Victim?

Two years ago, there was a thread on Reddit asking sexual assault perpetrators what their motives were, “Reddit’s had a few threads about sexual assault victims, but are there any redditors from the other side of the story? What were your motivations? Do you regret it?” It has since been deleted, but not before parts of it were featured in several articles.

The article “If You’ve Ever Wondered What It’s Like To Be A Rapist, Have We Got A Reddit Thread For You!” features a very chilling, first-hand confession copied from Reddit’s rapist thread.

Here’s the entire confession:

I am a post-colleged age male who raped several girls through use of coercion, alcohol, and other tactics over a course of 3 years.

First off, I must say, I was at a dark and horrible place in my life, that I’ve since grown from. I’m ashamed of the person I was, if the people who I’m close to now knew who I was, I would be ruined. I’m known for being a great guy, friendly and easy to get along with, a community/political activist, a fervent volunteer in the community, and a person who rises through the ranks quickly due to successes at work. That was my mask, and I was good at it, so good that maybe I convinced myself along the line that was who I could really be, and that may of helped me change, and stop doing what I did.

I’m somewhat remorseful for what I did to those girls, but I don’t think I could ever face them to apologize. I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I had this certain insatiable thirst that brought me to do what I did. I didn’t know how to stop, and just when I thought maybe I could, I’d find myself back in my pattern, back on the hunt.

I’m a good looking guy, and I can get girls pretty easily. I’m currently married to a beautiful woman that I met during this time of my life (not someone I raped, but someone who knew my mask during this time). So, anyways, after a while it became boring to go after the sluts and sorority girls that would easily throw their cunt after you. I wanted the thrill of the chase, and that’s what led me to forcing myself on girls. I would find attractive girls that were self-conscious about their looks. Girls who were pretty in their own unique way, but not the outgoing sort, mostly introverts, and girls that didn’t party or do wild things. Hopefully a girl who was a bit damaged, had a shitty ex-boyfriend, or family issues, came from a small shut in town, that sort of thing. So, when I showed interest in them they’d be completely enamored, they’d almost be shocked that a popular, good-looking, and well liked guy would be talking to them. I’d have that initial meeting at the library, a coffee shop, a work function, or a party where I had them convinced of what a great guy I was. I listened to them, and made them feel special, like they were a princess. Sometimes we might sort of hook-up that night (kissing, making-out, never anything more). The next day I’d call, and see when they wanted to get together again. I’d feign some excuse for not going out somewhere, but having them come over late in the night. It was college, and not a lot of people had transportation off campus, so it was typical for people to come over and watch a movie or something on a date.

They would come over, and I’d always make sure it was real cold in the room, cold enough so that when we started watching the movie I’d say something about being chilly, and grab a big fleece blanket for the both of us. We’d get kind of close, and then maybe ignore the movie for some kissing. After a while, we’d talk some more, and I’d start edging my hands around the under strap of the bra, or maybe a bit into her pants, just kind of playing on the edge to gauge her response. Some girls would stiffen up a little, and that’s when you knew they didn’t like what was going on. We were in my studio apartment, so the bed served as the couch, and it was easy to start sliding down throughout the movie so we’d be laying down. It was then that I could turn around and get on top of her. The girls usually didn’t know how to respond. Some of them were into it, and those nights were usually consensual and boring sex, sometimes followed up by a few more nightly visits before getting the boot. However, the great nights were the ones who squirmed, ones who didn’t want to give in. I’d have to shush them down, and try to work on them slowly enough so they didn’t know what was going on until it was pretty much already happening. I’m a muscular guy, over 6′ around 200 lbs. and most of these girls may have been 125-130, really tiny and easy to pin down. To be honest, even remembering it now, the squirming always made it better, they didn’t want it to happen, but they couldn’t do anything about it. Most girls don’t say no either. They think you’re a good guy, and should pick up on the hints, they don’t want to have to say “no” and admit to themselves what’s happening.

Alcohol helped. Having a few drinks during the movie, or doing a few jello shots that were “prepared for a party that weekend” would usually do the trick.

The aftermath was always different. Some girls left after about 15 minutes after. Some girls would stay until the morning and then leave. A few tried to call back, maybe blaming themselves for what happened or something. I never worried too much about being caught. Everyone knew me, and I worked with the police a lot, with administrators, and campus officials. I was on first name basis with the Chancellor and the President of Student Affairs, so if anything came down to a he/she-said I figured I’d be in the clear. Having her come over to my place also made it seem less predatory, as she came into my domain, and “could leave at any time”.

I guess that’s about it…seeing as just about everything has been said I’m gonna call it a day. I hope this view into a dark part of my history offers some insight into the mind of a serial rapist.

As the confession reveals, the rapist is not the stranger hiding in a bush, ready to attack you as you walk by at night, in a “dangerous area.” He could be popular. He could seem friendly. He could be attractive. He could be a date, an acquaintance, or even a close friend. This fact shatters our sense of security. We don’t want to believe that any one of us could be a victim of rape. That is why we victim blame.

In the article, “Why Do We Blame Victims?” Juliana Breines explains that:

“Victim blaming is not just about avoiding culpability—it’s also about avoiding vulnerability. The more innocent a victim, the more threatening they are. Victims threaten our sense that the world is a safe and moral place, where good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people. When bad things happen to good people, it implies that no one is safe, that no matter how good we are, we too could be vulnerable. The idea that misfortune can be random, striking anyone at any time, is a terrifying thought, and yet we are faced every day with evidence that it may be true.”

The very idea that sexual assault can happen anytime, to anyone, violates our personal sense of control, so we refuse to accept that reality. We want to tell ourselves that, “I will not be raped, as long as I don’t get drunk.” We want to tell ourselves that, “My daughter will not be raped, as long as I make sure she doesn’t wear tube tops.”

When an anonymous girl gets raped, we tell ourselves, “Surely, she must have done something my mother, my sister, and my daughter is not doing.” We tell ourselves these things because it’s too disturbing for us to accept the reality that our sisters, daughters, and mothers can be raped anytime, anywhere, by people that they know, and in places that we thought they were safe in.

We blame the victim because we are afraid; for ourselves and for our loved ones. But instead of victim blaming, we should look for more productive ways to respond to this threat. We should be disturbed enough to do something about rape. We should be afraid enough to educate ourselves and our loved ones. At the very least, we should be human enough to empathize with the rape survivor; a person unfortunate enough to have had to endure the assault of a skilled criminal.

Survivors deserve our support, not our scrutiny.

 

References:

Breines, J. “Why Do We Blame Victims?” Retrieved on September 26, 2014. From: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-love-and-war/201311/why-do-we-blame-victims

Culp-Ressler, T. (2013, October). “Actually, The Link Between Sexual Assault And Alcohol Isn’t As Clear As You Think.” Retrieved on September 26, 2014. From: http://thinkprogress.org/health/2013/10/29/2844951/link-alcohol-sexual-assault/

Hess, A. (2013, October). “To Prevent Rape on College Campuses, Focus on the Rapists, Not the Victims.” Retrieved on September 26, 2014. From: http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2013/10/16/it_s_the_rapists_not_the_drinking_to_prevent_sexual_assault_on_college_campuses.html

Lisak, D. “Understanding the Predatory Nature of Sexual Violence.” Retrieved on September 26, 2014. From: http://www.middlebury.edu/media/view/240951/original/

National Violence Against Women Survey. “Full Report of the Prevalence, Incidence, and Consequences of Violence Against Women.” Retrieved on September 26, 2014. From: https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/183781.pdf

Rape Abuse and Incest National Network. Retrieved on September 26, 2014. From: https://www.rainn.org/get-information/statistics/sexual-assault-offenders

The Cajun Boy. “If You’ve Ever Wondered What It’s Like To Be A Rapist, Have We Got A Reddit Thread For You!” Retrieved on September 26, 2014. From: http://uproxx.com/webculture/2012/07/rapists-explain-why-they-rape-on-reddit/

 

Image Source:

http://www.ourstoriesuntold.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/victimblaming101.jpg

Posted in Education, Gender Rights, Politics, Science, Society1 Comment

Wasting Your Life: One Peso at a Time, One Minute at a Time

I commute to work on a daily basis. I wake up at around 6:00 AM to make sure that I arrive at the MRT station before 6:30 AM. If I arrive any later than that, I basically missed my chance to make it to my 7:30 AM class in Makati.

My teaching obligations end at 5:30 PM. Everything that happens before 5:30 PM, I consider a privilege. I get paid to talk about things that I like talking about. But after 5:30 PM, that’s when the real work begins.I’m talking about the rush hour commute between 5:00 PM – 8:00 PM. The experience is unpleasant, stressful, unproductive, and time-consuming.

In the station I often ride the train from, the MRT platform has a pathway that links it to the Alphaland Mall. The platform links to the third floor. The line, however, often extends to the entrance of the mall. During rush hour, it would take more than 30 minutes just to get to the MRT platform. And let’s not talk about the shoving, grinding, swearing, and cramping that happens once inside the train.

Deep inside everyone who takes the MRT at this time feels that something about this experience is extremely wrong. Everyone that takes alternative means of transportation, via buses, feels equally as miserable. I hate to be the bringer of bad news, but the feelings we all have about our commute is correct – it’s bad for us.

mrt

North Avenue Station

Commuting Makes Us Unhappy

In the article “Your Commute is Killing You,” Anne Lowry discusses how long commutes can make us fat, cause neck pain,increase our feelings of loneliness, cause stress, and may even lead to divorce. According to her, researchers at Umea University in Sweden discovered that, “Couples in which one partner commutes for longer than 45 minutes are 40 percent likelier to divorce.”

In the same article, she mentions how a survey done by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman and Princeton economist Alan Krueger reveals that among common activities that 900 Texan women share, they find commuting in the morning the most unpleasant.

The misery of the commute extends to other areas of a person’s life. It was revealed in a report by the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index that workers with lengthy commutes report more adverse emotional conditions.

Commuting Isolates Us from Fulfilling Relationships

Robert Putnam is another name that was mentioned in Lowry’s article. Robert Putnam is a Harvard political scientist and is the author of “Bowling Alone.” According to Putnam, every 10 minutes we spend on our daily commute results in 10% fewer social connections. He warns that our social capital is plummeting, and our lives and communities are becoming impoverished. We, as a society, belong to fewer organizations, know our neighbors less, meet with friends less often, and spend less time with our families.

Personally, I spend almost 10 hours a week commuting to and from the office. As much as I can, I try my best to spend Sunday lunch with my siblings and my grandmother. We would sit at the same table and chat from around 1:00 PM to 4:00 PM. That’s 3 hours.

Sometimes, if I am lucky, I can spend an evening having dinner with a few friends. We’d meet at around 7:00 PM, but we’d have to part ways before 11:00 PM because I have to be at the MRT platform by 6:30 AM. I can honestly say that I spend more time at the commute with strangers than I do with my friends and family. That sucks.

Commuting is Unpaid Work

Mentioned in Lowry’s article is another study by Thomas James Christian of Brown University. According to Christian’s research,each minute spent at the commute reduces our exercise time, our food preparation time, and our time for sleep. The length of our commute also determines our propensity for making non-grocery food purchases.

In other words, if we often find ourselves in long commutes, we tend to buy unhealthy food knowing that we will have no time to prepare healthier meals when we get home. Other people,in their desire to avoid the rush hour, would have dinner at a fast food instead to kill time. In both cases, we’ll be spending more, eating less healthy, and we’ll be having less time and energy for exercise because we’re too tired.

When we compute for how much we’re earning, one of the invisible liabilities we often forget to acknowledge is the cost of commuting.

According to Lowry’s article, two economists at the University of Zurich quantified the value of how much more a worker should be compensated to make even just an additional hour of commute worthwhile.

In the paper entitled, “Stress That Doesn’t Pay: The Commuting Paradox,” economists Bruno S. Frey and Alois Stutzer found that for an extra hour of commuting, a worker has to be compensated with a 40% increase in salary, just to make it worthwhile.

In other words, don’t work for a far location if the salary difference is minimal. If you’re working at an office 15 minutes away for P14,000, the same work SHOULD pay you P19,600 if it’s 1 hour and 15 minutes away. If it’s 2 hours away, the same work SHOULD pay you P27,440. Anything less and you’re incurring a loss.

The time we spend commuting takes a major toll on our lives. We experience neck and back pain,spend less time with friends and family, experience loneliness, spend more, get fat, exercise less, sleep less, worry more, and get stressed.

80% of Filipinos are commuters. 80% of Filipinos will have their happiness and their health compromised. Every minute we spend in the MRT line or on a bus along EDSA is a minute of work that we did for free. It is a minute with a loved one that was taken from us. It is a minute we could have invested in our own physical or intellectual development. It is a minute we could have spent preparing a healthy meal. It is a minute we could have spent with our children. It is a minute of our lives that was wasted.

Apparently, it’s not just our money, our taxes, that corrupt and inefficient government officials can squander. They’re wasting our lives: one minute at a time, one peso at a time.

Posted in Personal, Science, Society72 Comments

An Organic Tale of a Chemical Nature

The Power of Words

Words are powerful. Consider, for instance, the fact that right now you are staring at a grid of pixels on a computer screen and somehow because of this you hear a voice — my writer’s voice — inside your head. What more, through this voice you hear words that, as if by magic, conjure images, evoke emotions, or transport you across time and space. By a careful choice of words I can gain a certain degree of control over your mind, and consequently your behavior.

Because of their power, words must be used with care. To abuse words is to endanger people. This fact, though true in general, is most acutely felt in the case of scientific terms.

Take, for instance, the word ‘chemical’. Does it describe something dangerous or beneficial? Something to be avoided, perhaps? More than a few TV commercials boast the absence of chemicals in a product, and our supermarkets are filled with merchandise claiming to be “chemical-free.” What do these commercials and product labels mean, if they mean anything at all?

This ad for SunFX, a brand of spray on tan, is just one of many disavowing the use of chemicals. Does this claim make sense? [Photo credit: mysunfx.com]

Sometime ago, after performing a science demonstration for a general audience, I was approached by a girl of about 6 years who called my attention by tugging at the bottom of my lab coat and calling me, “Mr. Scientist.” When I finally looked down at the little girl’s quizzical face, she said, “Mr. scientist, Mr. scientist, what is a chemical?” The question gave me pause. I had to put down the tray of glassware I was holding (which contained several chemicals) and sat down. I couldn’t have given her wonderfully deep question justice by merely blurting out a textbook definition. Neither would she have been satisfied with the meaningless answer, “Oh, everything is made of chemicals.” Light and sound aren’t composed of atoms, are they chemicals too? Are space and time chemicals? Is dark matter composed of chemicals? Her question deserved nothing less than a story in reply.


The word ‘chemical’, like many scientific terms, is a shorthand for a story of discovery. Every time we refer to something as being a chemical, or of a research as part of chemistry, we are referring to this story — we are making reference to a narrative. Like all stories of discovery, it is a rich and intriguing detective story where the mystery to be solved is nature’s behavior and where the detectives are the scientists. In telling this story, we also learn about related and likewise oft-used words like ‘organic’ and ‘natural’, words that, like ‘chemical’, are often used to appeal to people’s emotions but not to their reason.

What are the advantages of products that are labelled organic? What does it take for something to be “100% natural”?


The (Distilled) Story of Chemistry

The story started with people asking what everything is made of. Are all the various things around us made of different stuff, or are they all made of the same stuff arranged differently? How many different kinds of basic stuff are there?


When this story began people let their imaginations run wild. “Everything’s made of water,” asserted Thales. “Nope, it’s all fire,” replied Heraclitus. “Atoms and the void, is what I say,” retorted Democritus. “My money’s on earth, air, fire, and water,” declared Aristotle. “Oh, and also ether,” he added. Most of these early thinkers scarcely bothered to check if their guess was the correct one.

Aristotle's five elements in their nested spheres: earth, water, wind, fire, and ether.

Aristotle’s five elements in their nested spheres: earth, water, wind, fire, and ether.


Sometime later, however, people started to earnestly and systematically burn, boil, pulverize, and purify every piece of ore they could get their hands on. In the hopes of one day finding a way to change common metals to gold or extract the elixir of life, these investigators carefully wrote down their methods and observations, trying to find patterns behind it all. In detective stories, this is the part when the detectives pin the many collected clues onto a board, connect related clues via strings, and stare at the constellation of facts wishing to discover the secret symmetry behind it all. These mortar-and-pestle-wielding detectives were called alchemists, a word which can be traced to the Greek word ‘khemia’ or the”art of transmuting metals”. Little by little the alchemists, who were later succeeded by people who called themselves ‘chemists’, saw a pattern emerging, a pattern suggesting that while most things are made of a mixture of stuff, some are made of just one kind in pure form. They called the latter group ‘elements’. The rules that govern the interactions of the elements came to be known as chemistry, and the products of these elements mixing and matching came to be called chemicals. (And oh, they also finally got the hint that you can’t turn lead into gold through chemical means, but by that time they found use for their knowledge in distilling good whiskey, and that more than made up for it.) After some false leads involving non-existent substances like “phlogiston”, the chemists eventually came up with the Table of Elements tabulating all the basic stuff that make up tables, chairs, planets, and stars.

 

The Essence of the Organic

But what about plants and people? What about animals and those unseen things called “germs” that make folks sick? Clearly they must be made of different stuff, aren’t they? After all, trees grow, fruits rot, animals make other animals, and things that live eventually cease to be alive. Dead matter like mineral ores, alkaline solutions, and hazy vapors did none of these things. Because of the striking difference between rock and rabbit, early detectives thought that living organisms were made of some special, life-giving stuff — organic matter, they called it (from the Greek ‘organikos’, meaning “relating to an organ or instrument”). And because the ‘vital force’ that moves a cheetah during a chase seems so different from the mundane forces of the elements that move pebbles around,investigators thought the processes of life were fundamentally different from those undergone by lifeless chemicals. (The word vital comes from the Latin ‘vita’, meaning life.) If you look at the miracle of life with eyes unaided by our current knowledge, as when you compare a rose in bloom with a crystal of rose quartz, it’s easy to relate with this mistake in understanding. But given how our modern life depends on the most recent scientific insights, it is important that we progress from this mistake.

Rose quartz

At a cursory glance, it is hard to believe that a rose quartz and a rose flower are made of the same kinds of stuff, only in different proportions. (Rose flowers have lots of carbon, quartz crystals have lots of silicon.)

 

What we would call living matter, it is now known, is made of stuff that can be found in the Table of Elements. Recall that these elements were discovered by people who dealt with so-called dead matter. For example carbon, which there’s a lot of in living things, is also what makes up diamonds, and the oxygen that so confused many chemists into thinking about phlogiston is just the pure form of the oxygen found in sugars and many other so-called organic molecules. What more, the rules that govern the interactions of the elements in flasks and test tubes are the same rules that hold inside cells and working organs — life is just chemistry. However, despite the fundamental similarity between dead matter and living matter, the differences are striking and important. The chemistry of life is mesmerizing; it’s complex and delicate — one might say that life is chemistry on acid. All this is made possible by the chemical properties of the element carbon, an element which can form the backbone of compounds as simple as ethanol and as complex as DNA. For this reason, we stuck with the original terminology ‘organic’. But because we know better, we now call the study of organic substances ‘organic chemistry’.

The atoms of elements (atoms are the basic units of a chemical element) can be promiscuous, but none are more promiscuous than the orgy-loving carbon atoms.

 

Organic substances are chemicals. The food we eat, the drugs we take, and we ourselves are composed of these chemicals. The processes that move our muscles and power our thoughts are chemical processes. It is therefore absurd to avoid chemicals and dishonest to claim that a pharmaceutical product, a product that has benefited from great advances in chemistry, contains “no chemicals”.

We continue to use the words organic and inorganic out of convenience because they signify concepts that are helpful in organizing our world. But a lot of important properties easily cross this divide of convenience. For example, many organic substances are poisonous or toxic, and a lot of inorganic ones, like water and table salt, are needed by living things. 

In agriculture, the word organic is often used to describe a certain group of food and farming methods that involve audit trails to ensure that certain standards are met in animal welfare, agricultural drug use, the application of biotechnology, corporate transparency (or more often the lack thereof), ecological impact, and many more. The problem with this use of the word organic is that it has little to do with the scientific meaning of the term. More often than not, people use the word ‘organic’ to invoke emotion without invoking much thought. True, some chemicals used in industrial farming might be harmful to the environment and the health of consumers, and it is best if we replace them with chemicals that work just as well and that have fewer negative side effects, but their being chemically organic or inorganic has little to do with it. The same can be said about their being natural or unnatural.

The USDA’s requirements for obtaining the label ‘organic’ vs common practices in products with the label ‘natural’. [Pic credit: stonyfield.com]

 

Natural Tendencies

When I’m in the supermarket, I am always amused to see so many products claiming to be “all natural” while being wrapped or contained in plastic and placed on a refrigerator in an air-conditioned, artificially-lit department store. But what about that seedless banana that looks so different from its wild counterpart? Does growing this product of generations of human cultivation without using pesticides and fertilizers make it “all natural”?

The word ‘natural’ is tricky because it means a handful of very different things. The word can be traced to the Latin ‘natura’, meaning birth in the sense of “having a certain status by birth”. It is natural, for example, for most people to want to eat. It is a tendency that people have since they were born. It is not natural, however, to want to listen to obscure music. Babies don’t have an inclination to visit pitchfork.com. Things like taste in music are what we describe as ‘cultural’, a word that can be traced to the Latin ‘cultura’, meaning ’tillage’. Something cultural is something that is cultivated. (Does this mean that anything cultivated, like nearly all plant products we currently consume, are not natural? In this sense, yes.)

The word ‘natural’, however, was for hundreds of years also used to refer to the collective phenomenon of the physical world outside the realm of human control. On the one hand was nature with its trees, animals, mountains, clouds, and rain, and on the other were humans with their cities, governments, philosophies, culture, and Stanley Kubrick films. A line was drawn between what was natural and what was ‘artificial’ (from the Latin ‘artificium’ meaning handicraft). Using this sense of the word ‘natural’, the predecessors of scientists called themselves ‘natural philosophers’ — people who love to reason about things that happen outside the human sphere.

The more these natural philosophers learned about nature, however, the more they noticed that the dichotomy between the natural world and the human world is at best arbitrary and at worst untenable. Not only are we made of the same stuff that make up things that were considered natural, we are governed by the very same “laws of nature”. Humans are part of nature, there is no way out of it. (After all, what is outside nature? That is, what is supernatural? Jensen Ackles’s handsomeness, maybe?)

As with the case of the word ‘organic’, we continue to use the words ‘nature’ and ‘natural’ because they are convenient shorthands. When we say a chemical “exists in nature”, we mean that it would exist even without humans manufacturing it. When we say a phenomenon is natural, we mean that it would happen even without humans around making it happen. As with ‘organic’, the main problem with ‘natural’ is not its uselessness, but the emotional undertones that people incorrectly attach to it. The word ‘natural’ is very often used as an assurance of superior quality. It is not. Parasites and pests are natural. Poisonous fruits and plant toxins are natural. Many diseases are natural. Heck, death is natural. Compare the above natural things with the following, all of which are artificial: lifespans that are relatively long and comfortable, low infant mortality rate, homes made cozy by electricity, medicine, anesthesia, distilled water, contact lenses, pet animals, YouTube, and Lena Headey’s blond hair in Game of Thrones. While one can argue that at least one of these is not good, the rest are great. Who can imagine life without modern medicine? Or YouTube?

Science and Stories

‘Natural’ does not mean better nor ‘artificial’ worse. ‘Organic’ does not mean beneficial nor ‘chemical’ harmful. These words have rich and complex histories, and we do these histories a great injustice by using the words that stand for them simplistically. Worse, by forgetting the stories behind these words, we not only forget all the amazing men and women who have labored to discover the workings of the world, we endanger ourselves by failing to grasp the nuances of their meaning.

Needless to say I did not tell all of these things to the little girl who asked me about chemicals. I told her a story that was more brief and less pretentious than the one above. She seemed to enjoyed it. At the end of the story, the little girl asked me one last question. She said, “So scientists are story tellers too?” “Yes,” I said, “Scientists are story tellers. But most of all, they are story makers.”

Posted in Education, Science3 Comments

Evolution Has No Purpose

Eli Soriano of “Ang Dating Daan” promoted the hashtag #EvolutionHasNoPurpose. He’s right. Evolution doesn’t have a purpose.

The word “purpose” is both a verb and a noun. It’s defined as:

1. Noun – the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.

2. Verb – have as one’s intention or objective.

Yes, evolution does not have a purpose. Evolution doesn’t have an objective, or an intention, or an “end goal in mind” simply because it has no “mind,” or intelligence. It doesn’t adhere to a plan or a design.

In a nutshell, here’s how it works:

1) Random mutations happen.

Here’s a picture:

Genetic shuffling is a source of variation.

2) Living organisms fortunate enough to have advantageous mutations have a better chance of surviving than organisms with disadvantageous mutations. This is called natural selection.

Here’s a picture:

Some beetles are born green, some are born brown. Birds tend to eat green ones, because they are easier to spot. Being green is a disadvantageous trait. One day, if this keeps happening, beetles will mostly be brown.

Theistic evolutionists, people who believe in God and scientific facts, argue that evolution is guided. They believe that evolution has a purpose, the purpose is just unknown to us, because we are not as smart as God.

Eli Soriano’s hashtag is actually an argument against both guided evolution and intelligent design. Initially, I agreed with his statement thinking that what he meant was:

“Evolution is happening, but it has no purpose. In fact, it’s mutations are random. Therefore, intelligent design is not happening. Because if intelligent design is happening, natural occurrences, such as evolution, would have a purpose.”

So, I wondered why a religious leader with a reputation for taking the Bible literally would agree with scientists on any matter. So I read his blog and realized that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

His intention for saying that “evolution has no purpose” was an attempt to take a clever jab at science. Unfortunately, his hashtag was neither clever nor a jab at science, because what he stated was simply something many scientists consider a fact.

Unfortunately, “Evolution Has No Purpose” is the only thing Eli Soriano said that was scientifically accurate. Everything else he said about evolution are either blatant lies or ignorant statements. Eli Soriano is implying that evolution is not real. He says that it’s not proven, because its a theory. He’s saying that scientists don’t have evidence (like this) that evolution is happening. What Eli Soriano is saying is absolute nonsense. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

The “Isn’t Evolution Just a Theory?” nonsense is so common that it’s the third question answered in an online FAQ for evolution:

Isn’t Evolution Just a Theory?

Evolution is often criticized by opponents as being “just a theory.” This argument is especially common in America, where the word “theory” usually means an unproven idea. However, in science a theory is the highest degree of certainty. Gravity is “just a theory.” The Earth orbiting the Sun is “just a theory.” By definition, a scientific theory is a hypothesis which has withstood rigorous testing and is well-supported by the facts. There is overwhelming evidence for biological evolution, just as there is overwhelming evidence for gravity.

I find myself having to reiterate, again, what a scientific theory is. A scientific theory is an explanation for a fact. The theory of gravitation is trying to explain why gravity, a fact, happens. The theory of gravitation is not “guessing” whether or not there’s gravity. It’s trying to explain how gravity works.

Now, replace all instances of the words “gravitation” and “gravity” with the word “evolution” in the previous paragraph. That’s what scientists mean.

Eli Soriano is right when he says #EvolutionHasNoPurpose. But he could have said #GravityHasNoPurpose and he would have been just as right. But he didn’t, because he only has issues with the theory of evolution, and not the theory of gravitation, for one very obvious reason:

 

#EliSorianoDoesntUnderstandScience

 

Image Sources:

1 – http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/0_0_0/evo_17

2 – http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/article/0_0_0/evo_25

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Science is Sexy

A few days ago, I posted this image with the caption, “There is something awesome about this”:

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I think it’s amazing that science has discovered how our fluctuating biochemistry can determine our emotions. Love, according to the chart, is a chemical cocktail of schizophrenia, happiness, and pleasure. Now, some people think that my comment about the image being “awesome” is laid with irony, that this graphic was intended to trivialize human emotion.

Science and science-oriented people both get a negative reputation sometimes; because of coming off as emotionless, detached, objective, unsentimental, incapable of awe, and unromantic. As for the chart above, it’s easy to assume that science-oriented people have a tendency to simplify and trivialize love by reducing it to a simple consequence of biochemicals.

However, in my opinion, scientifically explaining love doesn’t trivialize it. In fact, if anything, science enhances our idea of love. For one, science provides evidence for love. Without science, the romantic concept of love is pure conjecture, and we can dismiss romantic statements as hyperbolic anecdotes. Science, however, concretized this idea; love is no longer just a “word,” a symbolic approximation of a feeling, but an actual biological condition that occurs when an individual is producing high levels of serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin.

But that’s not just why I thought that the image was awesome.

See, science can explain that the good feelings I have are caused by elevated biochemical levels, but it can’t explain why my exposure to the person I love causes my biochemical levels to elevate. What I found just as fascinating, apart from being informed about the chemicals that influence my emotions, is the seemingly eternal gap between how I love, as explained by the rise in my biochemical levels (serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin), and why I love my significant other.

I found scientific attempts at explaining why people love who they love, but even those, I found romantic.

According to evolutionary psychology, I selected my significant other because her sexiness is an indication that she is fully capable of replicating my genes.

Why is this romantic? Think of it this way, the continued survival of any living race is only enabled by the living’s insatiable desire. Beings that are alive have been desiring for millions of years, and we’re not done yet. If desire ends, the human race goes extinct shortly after.

I think it’s awesome to think that my desire for my significant other is part of something bigger, something epic, that has been going on for millions and millions of years.

For some physicists, love is a neurological condition that could be compared to hunger or thirst, only more permanent. People have been fantasizing about eternal love, not knowing that it was eternal to begin with, as eternal and as primal as our need to eat.

Neuroscientists discovered that falling in love can produce pleasurable feelings as if one used cocaine, but also affects intellectual areas of the brain. It’s also been discovered that falling in love takes about 1/5 of a second. So, that means, it took me less than a second to fall in love with my significant other, and all those myths about love at first sight are not actually myths.

Reading romantic literature about eternal love, love at first sight, and insatiable desire is exciting. It allows us to fantasize that the romantic feelings we have for our significant other is just as intense, as spontaneous, and as permanent. But you know what is more exciting than that? Finding evidence that your romantic feelings for your significant other is (or, at least, could be) as eternal, as spontaneous, and as permanent as love in poetry.

Image Source: https://www.facebook.com/AsapSCIENCE/photos/a.236720259792345.60296.162558843875154/538839496247085/?type=1

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Why Catholics Need to Acknowledge Evolution

Catholicism is strange. That has always been my attitude towards it. Even as a kid, I thought it was strange that I was made to get up at 3:00 a.m. to sing the Passion of Christ. I also thought it was strange that I was encouraged to kiss the bleeding knee of a Jesus sculpture after so many people already did. I thought there was something unhealthy about that.

One can say that I belong to a Catholic family. Although our beliefs vary, my family and I have always been culturally Catholic. I’m sure a lot of Filipinos are as well. And because Catholicism, as a culture, is ingrained in many Filipino families, few take the time to examine or study what Catholicism is about. Many assume that Catholicism is simply whatever their parents believed.

I have long accepted the idea that conservative Christians will not accept evolution, but I was definitely surprised to learn that many Filipino Catholics reject evolution too. In classes where I sometimes breached the topic of evolution, I would often ask Catholic students how many of them acknowledged evolution as a fact, and it’s always in the minority. My own Catholic family does not acknowledge evolution.

This is strange because, as far as I knew, the Roman Catholic Church has been claiming that there is no conflict between evolution and the faith, as early as 1950.

pope 2

Even Pope John Paul II acknowledged that evolution is not just a guess or a hypothesis. In 1996, he told the Pontifical Academy of Sciences:

“Today, more than a half-century after the appearance of that encyclical, some new findings lead us toward the recognition of evolution as more than a hypothesis. In fact it is remarkable that this theory has had progressively greater influence on the spirit of researchers, following a series of discoveries in different scholarly disciplines. The convergence in the results of these independent studies—which was neither planned nor sought—constitutes in itself a significant argument in favor of the theory.”

Pope John Paul II’s descendent Pope Benedict XVI shared a similar belief. Pope Benedict mentioned that the perceived conflict between creationism and evolution was absurd. In a speech in 2007, he said:

“Currently, I see in Germany, but also in the United States, a somewhat fierce debate raging between so-called “creationism” and evolutionism, presented as though they were mutually exclusive alternatives: those who believe in the Creator would not be able to conceive of evolution, and those who instead support evolution would have to exclude God. This antithesis is absurd because, on the one hand, there are so many scientific proofs in favour of evolution which appears to be a reality we can see and which enriches our knowledge of life and being as such. But on the other, the doctrine of evolution does not answer every query, especially the great philosophical question: where does everything come from? And how did everything start which ultimately led to man? I believe this is of the utmost importance.”

In the article, “Does the New Pope believe in evolution?” George Dvorsky reminds Catholics that the Roman Catholic Church has recognized Darwinian evolution for the past 60 years. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church openly rejects both Intelligent Design and Young Earth Creationism. The Vatican’s very own chief astronomer, Rev. George Coyne argued that intelligent design should not be taught in science classes.

If it’s not clear yet what I’m implying here, let me clarify: the Roman Catholic Church WANTS Catholics to acknowledge evolution and incorporate it into their faith.

The only requirement the Vatican gave with regard to a Catholic’s acceptance of evolution is to acknowledge that the process is guided by God. This belief is called Theistic Evolution. It’s basically the same as Darwinian Evolution, except that in the theistic version, God is involved.

As Archbishop of Washington, Cardinal Theodore Edgar McCarrick, is quoted to have said, “As long as in every understanding of evolution, the hand of God is recognized as being present, we can accept that.”

I think a lot of Filipino Catholics remain confused about the Vatican’s official position on evolution, or even how they’re supposed to react to the Vatican. Either way, if you’re Catholic, acknowledging evolution as fact would make your beliefs more similar to the Pope’s, than rejecting it.

Posted in Religion, Science2 Comments

It’s Okay for Christians to Believe in Evolution

evolution-cartoon-11One of the most commonly acknowledged conflicts between men of faith and men of science is the fact of evolution. For many people with faith, scientific evidence for evolution is in direct conflict with the word of God, the Bible. Science, in their opinion, challenges biblical authority. Science, to them, is  threat to their faith. This has led a lot of believers to be skeptical of science, as a whole.

Skepticism, of course, is a healthy attitude, in general. However, it would be a little absurd to be skeptical of science, since skepticism is essential to science. If an individual is being skeptical of science, he is occupies an absurd space, mostly because he’s basically being skeptical of skepticism. Skeptics yield to science, because the scientific process is an extremely thorough form of skepticism.

In any case, people of faith often dismiss the theory of evolution as being “just a theory,” meaning they dismiss it as something similar to a “guess.” But there is a difference between how the word “theory” is used by scientist and how “theory” is used in common language. The question scientists ask when they devising a theory is not,  “Did evolution happen?” but rather “How did evolution happen?”

What that means is that there is evidence for evolution. Evolution is a fact. The only thing that scientists are doing is guessing how evolution happens. To provide more clarity on the situation, I should point out that there is also a theory of gravitation. However, developing a theory as to why gravitation happens does not discount the reality that gravity is a fact.

Here’s the good news: you don’t have to deny facts, such as evolution, to keep to your faith.

In the article, “God vs. Science,” Dean Nelson tells the story of John Polkinghorne.

Polkinghorne is a famous physicist from Cambridge University, who achieved renown for his work in explaining the existence the world’s smallest known particles – quarks and gluons. He has been awarded membership in Britain’s Royal Society, one of the highest honors a scientist can receive. But one day, Polkinghorne invited some colleagues into his office for a meeting to tell them, “I am leaving the university to enter the Anglican priesthood. I will be enrolling in seminary next year.”

Polkinghorne admits that a religious scientist is confusing for some people. For many people, including some of his colleagues, confessing that you are a religious scientist is similar to telling someone that you’re a vegetarian butcher.

However, Polkinghorne argues, that science and religion are not mutually exclusive. In fact, to him, both are necessary to our understanding of the world.

In the article he was quoted to have said:

“Science asks how things happen. But there are questions of meaning and value and purpose which science does not address. Religion asks why. And it is my belief that we can and should ask both questions about the same event.”

That doesn’t mean to say, however, that Polkinghorne completely embraces religious mythology.

In the article, “No Need for Christians to Fear Science,” Dean Nelson discusses Polkinghorne’s initial encounter with the religious community.

As a student in Cambridge, Polkinghorne had a brief encounter with conservative evangelical Christianity. He joined the Christian Union, because he was a believer, and enjoyed fellowship within a community of believers. However, it was not an entirely positive experience, because it felt narrow minded, guilt-inducing, and fearful of other points of view.

According to Dean:

“There was a certain bleakness that seemed to be expected of the faithful, which cast something of a shadow,” he told me. “They thought that their certainty was reality, but they were mistaken.”

Polkinghorne, unlike many conservative Christians, fully embraces evolution. In fact, from his perspective, a literal interpretation of the Genesis account of creation doesn’t do justice to the beauty of the process. Porkinghorne says, “The world is ever-evolving, still being created, and is much more complex than that. That’s what makes it so beautiful. Genesis is poetry, not history.”

The author, Dean Nelson, reveals his own confession:

“In the time I spent with him and in reading his books, I never felt like he was challenging my core beliefs in a loving God who has created a beautiful world. In fact, he challenged me to think bigger, not smaller.”

One does not have to be unscientific to be spiritual. Faith and science, as exhibited by one of the greatest priests/scientists who ever lived, can co-exist. It just takes a little tolerance, a little imagination, and a little faith. To a faithful man, scientific discovery is just another means by which God reveals himself.

 

Image Source: http://openparachute.wordpress.com/2012/02/08/theological-mental-gymnastics-over-evolution/

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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.




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Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

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A Conversation with Michael Shermer

A Conversation with 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 video file here.

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Filipino Freethinkers Podcast feed

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers podcast on iTunes

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FF Podcast (Audio) 46: Depression

FF Podcast (Audio) 46: Depression

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) 46 - Depression

This week, we talk about Robin Williams, his death, and the general public reaction to suicides.

You may also download the podcast file here.


 

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Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) feed

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

Filipino Freethinkers Podcast (Audio) on iTunes

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