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

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Interstellar Madness

Saw Interstellar last night. Only had to wait through TWENTY MINUTES of trailers. Had to put fingers in my ears for much of it. So loud, so invasive, so manipulative. Anyway....

I don't watch TV anymore, rarely watch a movie or read a novel. So when I do subject myself to high-resolution artificial input to my brain, it is a jarring experience.

And enjoyable. I haven't stopped watching TV because I don't like it. I have stopped watching TV because I can't help but "like" it, be drawn to it. I am a product of millions of years of evolution, and both Madison Ave (marketeers) and Hollywood know it, and take advantage of it.

Anyway....

I enjoyed watching Interstellar, with its time-traveling plot ridiculousnesses and plenty of engaging human drama. 

But one line really ticked me off. The movie is, to a large extent, a propaganda campaign to get Americans excited about being "explorers and pioneers" again. 

Cooper (McConaughey) complains that "Now we're a generation of caretakers." and asserts that:

"Mankind was born on earth. It was never meant to die here."

That is the worst sort of human species-ism. It is a statement of incredible arrogance. And it is an encouragement to humans to continue to despoil this planet, because don't worry! 

Science and technology can and will save us! Right? 'Cause it sure has done the trick so far. We are feeding more people, clothing more people, putting more people in cars and inside homes with air conditioners, getting iPhones in the hands of more and more humans. 

Go, science, go!

And if we can't figure out how to grow food for 10 billion and then 20 billion people, if we totally exhaust this planet trying to keep every human alive and healthy into old age, not to worry! There are lots of other planets out there and, statistically, lots and lots of them should be able to support human life. Just have to find them and, oh, right, get there.

But there's no way to get there without a drastic acceleration of consumption of resources of our own planet. Traveling to space is, shall we say, resource-intensive.

Where and how did we (the self-aware sliver of human organisms) go so wrong? 

I think it goes back to the development of recorded knowledge (writing, essentially or, more broadly, culture). As long as humans were constrained by the ability to transmit information only orally, the damage we could do was relatively limited, though still quite destructive.

Once, however, we could write down what we knew, then we could build upon that knowledge, generation after generation, never losing anything but a sense of responsibility about how best to use that knowledge.

That sense of responsibility might also be termed "wisdom", and unfortunately wisdom is something that humans acquire through experience in the world, not by reading a book or a webpage. 

Mankind was born on earth and there is no reason at all to think that we - the entire species - shouldn't live and die right here on earth. Especially if we recognize that the price to be paid for leaving earth is the destruction of large swaths of earth and our co-inhabitants and....

Being the moral creatures that we like to think we are, we decide that this price is unacceptable.


Sunday, November 02, 2014

Science needs to explain this?

Christopher Nolan of Dark Knight fame releasing new sci-fi movie: Interstellar.

In a Chicago Tribune interview, he says:

I could be wrong, but science needs to cross a threshold and explain why a monkey typing infinitely would never type the works of Shakespeare.

Well, I could be wrong, but maybe Nolan is a bit of an idiot when it comes to science.

Please, Mr. Nolan, tell me which scientists make this claim?

I guess he read somewhere about infinity and how incredibly awesome and big and never-ending it is, and so eventually anything would be done by anybody or anything and so even monkeys would "eventually" write Shakespeare and and and....

Produce a movie called Interstellar with Matthew McConaughey. 

In fact, maybe Chris Nolan is actually a monkey who crossed over from that obelisk in 2001, and got super smart and so a monkey already has produced a movie called Interstellar.

Damn, that is just so cool and so weird and it's like, that's never going to happen, man, no way.

So scientists had better figure out WHY that is not going to happen when they obviously really believe that it WILL happen (go, monkey, go!).

And to do that, they are going to have a cross a threshold, 'cause clearly science has hit its limit here. Just like with souls. Science can't explain souls, so I guess scientists had better cross over - maybe into a parallel universe -

Because really what could be cooler than parallel universes?




Sunday, October 05, 2014

What I like best about myself

What could be more self-centered?

Why should anyone else in the world care what I like best about myself?

I have no idea. That is for sure. But, hey, what can I say? This is the world we live in (I mean: the artificial environment humans have created, mainly to avoid actually living in and on our amazing world).

It is an age of, ahem, sharing. And, ahem, advertising. Actually, first and foremost, advertising.

Anyway, screw all that. Here's what I like best about myself:

I love to be with kids. And I am, to put it stupidly but perhaps clearly, a kid whisperer.

Given the choice between spending time with an adult or spending time with a child, there is no contest. None at all. It's a bit of a compulsion, I suppose, but....

If there is a child in the room, I pay them all of my attention, I cannot stop myself from doing this. It just happens. Adults, for the most part, disappear. I engage with a child as a peer, another whole human. And usually children respond to me instantly and with great enthusiasm. 

Chances are, if your child is between, say, three months old to five years, we will be fast friends within minutes. Your cranky baby might fall asleep in my arms, as I sing Moonshadow to her or whisper nonsense words in her ear. Your shy three-year old son might find himself talking excitedly about a snake he saw on a trail that day (he hadn't mentioned it to you). Your teenage daughter might be telling me about playing games on her phone and how she doesn't think her dad realizes how much she is doing it.

I have the most amazing discussions with children. And though I bet this will sound strange to you: some of my favorite and memorable conversations have been with five month old babies. How is this possible, you might wonder. They can't even talk. Well, you can find ouit. Just try this at home with your baby:

Hold her about a foot away from your face, cradled in your arms. Look deeply and fully into her eyes. Smile deeply. And then say something along these lines, moving your mouth slowly: "Ooooh. Aaaaah. Maaaaa. Paaaaa." And then she will (sometimes) answer back, eyes never leaving yours....and you have a conversation. Your very first game of verbal Ping Pong. 

I suppose I could try to explain the feeling of pure happiness I experience at moments like this. I don't think, though, that written language is good for stuff like that. It's better for recording knowledge needed to destroy more and more of our planet to make humans comfortable.

And with my granddaughter, oh, don't even get me started. Sometimes I will be talking to her, our heads close together, and realize her face has gone into this kind of open, relaxed state in which she is rapt, almost in a trance, absorbing everything I am saying, the sound of my voice, my mouth moving. Just taking it all in. You'd better believe that I put some thought into what I am saying to this incredibly smart and observant "big girl." (who turns three in three weeks)

Here's another "try this at home" with your three year old (or two or four): talk about shadows. Where do they come from/ How do they relate to your body? Why does their shape change as the day goes on? Loey and I have had fun with shadows several times.

I have always been this way. I have no idea why. I have this funny feeling that it might actually be at least in some small way the result of a genetic mutation. I have a nephew who resembles me in several different, seemingly unconnected ways, including this love of and deep affinity for children.

I don't think that many people understand what I am doing when I spend time with children. I am called a "doting" grandfather. It offends me, though I certainly understand that no offense was intended.

I don't dote on Loey. Instead,I  seek out every opportunity to share my wonder of our world and life with her, help her understand and live in the world as effectively as possible. What this has meant lately is that I talk with her a lot about trees, how much I love them, how amazing they are. 

One day at the park, as we walked past the entrance to the playground, I noticed a very small oak sapling - in essence, a baby oak tree.

When we got inside the park, there was a mature oak towering over our stroller. I asked Loey if she wanted to see a baby tree. She said yes, so I picked her up to get close to the mature oak's leaf. I showed her the shape of the leaf, and the big tree to which it was attached.

Then I took her outside and we looked at the sapling. I showed her how the leaves on this tiny baby tree were the same, shape and size, as those on the big tree. That's how we knew it was a baby of that big tree. And it certainly was interesting that the leaves would be the same size on the tiny sapling. Held her attention throughout. That was deeply satisfying.

Mostly what I do is look children directly in the eyes, give them my full attention, smile with great joy at seeing them. Babies are deeply hard-wired to read faces. They can see in the wrinkles around my widened eyes and the smile that is stretching across my face that I love them, accept them fully. And with that more or less physical connection established, they seem to relax, melt, soften with trust. They know they can trust me, and they are absolutely correct. 

In that moment, I would do anything for them.

This wisdom (that's how I see it) to accept the primacy of our young, my willingness to appear to adults as absolutely foolish, but to a child appear as a bright light, making them glow right back at me:

That is what I like best about me.