Saturday, May 16, 2015

The human being is the only animal that...

Last night, I decided to re-read Stumbling on Happiness, a book I'd discovered a few years ago and was (then) delighted with. 

I chose that over one of my (back then) favorite books of fiction, because I'd been thinking yesterday and how odd it is that lots of left-leaning humans are all upset about climate change and really pissed at their elected officials about their non-action on this literally world-changing issue at a time when radical action is necessary - yet they don't take radical action in their own lives.

It's pretty clear that politicians will not change direction (will not override the influence of the source of their funding), until their constituents demonstrate a deep desire for change, backed up by action.

Anyway, there I was wondering once again about humans and why we behave the way we do. And so I sought out some answers in SoH. After all, the renowned Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, says right on the cover: 
"If you have even the slightest curiosity about the human condition, you ought to read it. Trust me."
OK, so fine. If a person says "trust me", usually you want to run in the other direction. But hey....

So I started reading and soon found Daniel Gilbert talking about psychologists are expected sometime in their career to finish The Sentence that starts with "The human being is the only animal that..." and now it was his turn.

Exciting! And then he finished the sentence:
"The human being is the only animal that thinks about the future."
And then you know what I did?

I stopped the reading book - and tossed it into the recycle bin. Yep, I threw the book away. That's how much Gilbert disgusted me, right then and there.

Why? Because of all the things we know about the world and the way it "works", the one thing we can never know is what another animal - even another human - is actually, truly thinking

All we can know, all we can see, all we can measure, and then draw conclusions from, is how an animal manifests their thinking into the world.

Gilbert cites as one "proof" of his Sentence that squirrels will, ahem, squirrel away nuts in advance of winter even in places where they will then find, winter after winter, that nuts or other food remain abundant. 

Go, Gilbert, go! Apply a human frame of judgement onto other animals, sure, why not? Why not assume that means that squirrels don't think about the future, rather than saying: "Maybe they do think about the future and know that they cannot trust what the future will bring, because they are not willing to destroy forests to build houses to hide them from the vagaries of the future."

So I threw out the book, but that got me thinking about The Sentence. I thought I would offer my own variations on that statement and invite others to do the same. Here goes...

The human being is the only animal that:
  • creates garbage, including vast "islands" of plastic in the middle of our oceans
  • causes the extinction of entire species, year in and year out
  • poisons water, the source of all life on this planet
  • learns multiple languages
  • holds it in
And just to pre-empt some typical responses:

The human being is the not only animal that:
  • creates art - lots of birds do, too. Just check out nests of bowerbirds.
  • has a sense of right and wrong - black bears do, too. Just check out Among the Bears. Seriously: READ THIS BOOK.
  • uses tools - birds, chimpanzees and others repurpose stones, branches, etc. as tools
  • is altruistic - again, black bears, and even more so ants. Many species of ants are way more altruistic than humans.
So what can you think of that only a human does? And please don't tell me about your belief about internal states of mind. That's just an opinion. Tell me about what humans do.



Sunday, April 12, 2015

In what ways is buckthorn harmful?

I spent 10-15 hours a week in various locations of still-wooded Chicago (and now nearby Lincolnwood) cutting down buckthorn. Some people have taken me to task for it ("Just let it be, let nature take it's course, etc.). So I thought I would share this excellent, concise sum up of the damage that can be wrought by buckthorn.

And if anyone lives on the north side of Chicago and would like to help out, there is both "heavy" work (cutting large trees and dragging them around) and now lots of "light" work (clipping the new growth from the stumps from last year's cutting - I don't use poison). 

It's great exercise and without a doubt you will be helping rescue native trees and ensure that the next generation of those trees will survive and thrive!


Buckthorn should be on America's "Most Wanted" list, with its picture hanging up in every US Post Office! Here are a few of the dangers of Buckthorn:

a) Buckthorn squeezes out native plants for nutrients, sunlight, and moisture. It literally chokes out surrounding healthy trees and makes it impossible for any new growth to take root under its cancerous canopy of dense vegetation.

b) Buckthorn degrades wildlife habitats and alters the natural food chain in and growth of an otherwise healthy forest. It disrupts the whole natural balance of the ecosystem.

c) Buckthorn can host pests like Crown Rust Fungus and Soybean Aphids. Crown Rust can devastate oat crops and a wide variety of other grasses. Soybean Aphids can have a devastating effect on the yield of soybean crops. Without buckthorn as host, these pests couldn't survive to blight crops.

d) Buckthorn contributes to erosion by overshadowing plants that grow on the forest floor, causing them to die and causing the soil to lose the integrity and structure created by such plants.

e) Buckthorn lacks "natural controls" like insects or diseases that would curb its growth. A Buckthorn-infested forest is too dense to walk through, and the thorns of Common Buckthorn will leave you bloodied.

f) Buckthorn attracts many species of birds (especially robins and cedar waxwings) that eat the berries and spread the seeds through excrement. Not only are the birds attracted to the plentiful berries, but because the buckthorn berries have a diuretic and cathartic effect, the birds pass the seeds very quickly to the surrounding areas of the forest. This makes Buckthorn spread even more widely and rapidly, making it harder for us to control and contain.

Monday, April 06, 2015

Consumer Reports guide on which fruits and veggies to always buy organic

First, I encourage everyone reading this (and beyond) to subscribe to Consumer Reports and make use of their unbiased, science-based reviews of products and services.

It is the best antidote to advertising you will ever find.

In their May 2015 issue, they analyze the "perils of pesticides" and offer a guide to fruits and vegetables. When you should buy organic? When might conventional be OK for you?

[or, as CR puts it, "Though we believe that organic is always the best choice because it promotes sustainable agriculture, getting plenty of fruits and vegetables - even if you can't obtain organic - takes precedence when it comes to your health.]

Here are the most important findings:

ALWAYS BUY ORGANIC

CR found that for these fruits and vegetables, you should always buy organic - the pesticide risk in conventional is too high.

Fruit

Peaches
Tangerines
Nectarines
Strawberries
Cranberries

Vegetables

Green Beans
Sweet Bell Peppers
Hot Peppers
Sweet Potatoes
Carrors

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Who enjoys the feather display of a male peacock?



Who appreciates the display of feathers by a male peacock?

Female peacocks seem to get a kick out of them. They seem to play a role in mating rituals.

Who else? Why, humans, of course!

We know that humans greatly appreciate those displays, because of the aaahing and ooohing that goes on when we see them. We like those colors. We like the irridescence. We like the shapes and patterns.

If one were to speculate on why a female peacock gets all worked up about a particular male's feather display, we would inevitably hear about instinctual responses, hard-wiring, genetic determinism, and so on.

And if one were to speculate on why a human goes into raptures, we would then experience a major shift in explanation. 

Time to talk about anything but a physiological, hard-wired sort of response.

No, for humans, the attraction has to do with our big brains, our ability to create and appreciate "art". And that is most definitely not something other animals do, right?

Oh, sure, right. Like these instinctive, hard-wired bowerbird mating nests:


That clearly has nothing to do with an aesthetic sense or "art". Just instinct.

Why? Because we humans say so. We just assert this "fact."

Most convenient, eh?

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Four Secrets of Success

More than a few people think that I am pretty good at what I do, that I am successful. I respect their judgement and thought about what contributed to my success. I came up with four that form a foundation for (my) success. Since it is possible that others will find them helpful, I have decided to share my Four Secrets of Success (book in the works, film rights sold to Branjolina Films).

Follow these four recommendations, and you will be more successful in anything and everything you seek to accomplish.

1. Drink lots of water.

if you are dehydrated, nothing about you is operating optimally. By the time you realize you are thirsty, you are depleted. You are tired and listless. You think about getting another cup of coffee but your stomach complains at the thought.

No problem. Just get yourself a big glass of water, room termperature, no ice, and drink it down. You will feel the very substance of life trickle into your body and bring you back to life. Then drink another glass. 

Couldn’t hurt to try, right?

2. Work your abs.

What they say about a strong core? It’s all true. Strengthen your abdominal muscles and you will be amazed at the change in your life. I vouch for it from my own experience. 

I’m not talking about buying an Ab-Roller or going nuts with crazy crunches. Just do something every day, and see if you can do a little more every day. 

Couldn’t hurt to try, right?

3. Go outside. 

Preferably amongst trees, in a forest. 

We did not evolve to sit in front of a screen, typing. Our bodies do not like what we force them to do. Go outside and you will make your body happy. And seeing how your brain is inside your body, it will make you happy, too. Then when you get back to the screen, you will be energized, creative and ready to solve problems.

Couldn’t hurt to try, right?

How do I know these three things will make a difference? Because whenever I stop doing any of them for very long, I start to feel bad, ineffective, unfocused. 

Oh, wait a minute. I said “Four Secrets of Success”. So there’s one more. This one’s different from the others. The above three are things I suggest you do. Number Four is, in contrast, something I suggest you stop doing:

4. Turn off your TV.

By which I mean: stop looking at screens for sources of information about the world. Rely on direct experience as much as possible.

Not only is television bad for humans physically, but you essentially turn off your brain when you watch it. If, instead, you turn off the TV, you will find that you have more time (objectively and subjectively) to think about things (and go outside, and work your abs, and...).

Couldn’t hurt to try, right?

Well, actually, you might find it kind of painful to turn off your TV. It depends on how comfortable you are living inside your own mind. 

And if you are not comfortable, well, how does that make you feel?

Wishing you the best in 2015,
Steven Feuerstein

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The insanity that is Uber - a 100$B company?

So we've had taxis for years and we know that generally taxi drivers work hard, long hours and make small amounts of money. The cab companies make more, of course, but I don't think there are a whole lot of billionaires in the taxi business.

And now there is Uber. An earlier round of VC $ put its value at $17B. According to Fortune, Uber is now "raising new funding at a valuation of between $35 billion and $40 billion, according to a new report from Bloomberg. This would be one of the richest “venture capital” rounds in history (Facebook still holds the crown), and likely mean that investors expect Uber to eventually go public at a valuation of at least $100 billion."

How are to make any sense of this? Where would all the money come from to make all these investors (and shareholders) rich? 

By cutting out the "middleman" (regulation to ensure safe rides, primarily)? Maybe, but I can't imagine it will generate that much revenue?

By reducing the cost of a ride, compared to a taxi? That's true, apparently, some of the time with Uber, but often it is way MORE expensive - because prices are "market-driven."

By shifting more and more of the costs and risks to the drivers? That's pretty darn likely. Just look at the poor "contractors" who have to pay for their trucks and lease their gear from FedEx. 

By shifting riders from mass transit to Uber (in other greatly expanding the "pie" of pay-per-ride)? Again, that seems unlikely.

What am I missing? How could Uber replace an existing business that brings in nowhere near that much money and suddenly be printing the stuff?

Oh, and that's if they don't self-destruct due to their cavalier, arrogant attitudes and actions of their management.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Feeling trepidatious? Time to lay very low?

Sure, "trepidatious" might not be a word, per se.

But I am confident it is something that more than one very famous male actor is feeling right now, as they watch Bill Cosby go down in flames.

As in: seriously and deeply apprehensive about what the future might bring.

There are a few things we can be sure of right now, even if Cosby never faces a judge or jury:

1. Bill Cosby is a nasty piece of work, and very likely (was) a pedophile.

The pattern of behavior, finally brought to light after years of self-censorship by victims and callous disregard by the media and judicial system, is overwhelming and seemingly never-ending. Mr. Cosby is a serial rapist, and he did it by drugging young women, some of them less than 18 years old at the time.

2. Bill Cosby is an actor. 

The roles he played were just that: roles. We are easily fooled into thinking of the people behind the roles as sharing characteristics of their characters, but that's just, well, foolish.

The whole point of being a great actor is that you can act really well. You can pretend to be someone else really convincingly. But they are still someone else and not the "real you."

3. Bill Cosby cannot be the only one.

That's where the trepidation comes in. Seriously, what's the chance that Cosby is the only famous, powerful, rich actor who has a long history of taking advantage of and raping women (and/or men, for that matter)?

There have got to be others, and they've got to be terrified that soon their victims will say "Enough!" and then the next deluge will begin.

So my advice to all those A-listers who are also serial rapists:

Lay low, lay really low. Do not provoke your victims. Do not laugh in their faces.

And then maybe you will be able to retire and fade into the sunset, so that your obituary will not be some variation of:

Funny Guy, Sure, But Also a Rapist