A Long, Long Time Ago Very Soon

 

New_Planet

Two weeks ago, astronomers made a huge discovery: for the first time in human history, we are able to witness the birth of a planet. The new planet, named PDS 70 b, is about 370 light years from earth. That means it is so far away, that what we’re seeing today actually happened 370 years ago, long before the foundation of the United States, before the birth of Johann Sebastian Bach. Centuries of human history transpired in that time. And yet, it will be billions of years before that planet is fully formed.

Scientists have discovered more than 1,000 of planets outside our solar system. Most of them orbit bizarrely close to their star. Others are super gas giants, many times the size of Jupiter. The methods used to discover these planets might explain why we have almost no found worlds that are potentially hospitable to human life. Eventually, we may have the ability to locate more planets outside our solar system, ones that are more like earth, with similar gravity. Perhaps someday we can determine whether a planet has a breathable atmosphere and similar diurnal cycle. Getting there is another issue altogether.

Assuming we could travel to the stars, as Carl Sagan hoped, we might decide to plant colonists on those worlds. Humans are fairly adaptable, so we could adjust to a different planetary rotation, where a day is 30 hours or 15 hours. The gravity could be weaker, like on Mars, or stronger. There might not be seasons. For the most part, those varying conditions occur on earth (except for the gravity bit). Residents north of the Arctic Circle experience long periods of daylight and darkness, depending on the season. People in tropical regions experience summer all year. People living in Nepal and Bolivia breathe thinner air than most of us.

With the turmoil of our current world, it’s easy to feel like we can’t possibly survive long enough to find our way out there. Some might question why we should even bother, with all the problems we’re facing here. We can’t seem to resolve our own conflicts without killing each other, not to mention that there are people literally dying to find a better life for themselves and their families. Refugees are turned away. Families are separated. Humanity isn’t looking like it’s worth saving.

But we could start over. Travel across the galaxy to a new world. Do it right this time, we’ll tell ourselves. This world will possess none of the negative things we left behind on earth. How will we overcome our human nature? Will we have rid ourselves of our greed, our need for revenge, our taste for violence? How will we end bigotry and xenophobia? How will we rid ourselves of the worst parts of our nature?

It seems that the only way we can make it to this bright future is that we evolve. Traveling outside our solar system will require collaboration on a global scale. We will have to overcome many obstacles that currently plague humanity. Until we conquer these negative aspects, we are grounded. Our best chance is to work together. Human development has a long way to go. It might be thousands of years before we are capable of achieving this.

In the meantime, we’re stuck with each other. We will see changes in our world that would stupefy our ancestors, and our grandchildren will come to accept things that would leave us speechless. Our world will change dramatically in that time, a thousand generations from now. Languages will shift (modern English is less than 1000 years old), attitudes will change, cultural norms will be unrecognizable. A thousand generations ago, humans had just migrated to North America. The Great Pyramid would not be built for millennia. So much can change in that time. Everything will change.

Really, the thing I am concerned about is not whether we blow ourselves up. I am more concerned about a stray asteroid or a mutated virus. If we can survive these things, I’m sure we can travel to the stars. When we get there, I’m not sure we will still be human.

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Resting, Period

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I Googled “are Americans sleep-deprived?” and there were so many results, that I couldn’t decide which one to link, so I’ll just let the reader do the work. Many articles confirmed my suspicion – something I’ve known about myself for years – that about 35% of Americans are not getting enough sleep. Many doctors, including mine, as well as researchers at the CDC, recommend adults get at least seven hours of sleep regularly. The thing is, sleeping through the night is not that easy, and, when you look at human history, it may not have been possible, at least for some groups. People who followed herds across vast plains may have needed to pick up and move at a moment’s notice. Also, the threat of lurking predators might have required sleeping with one eye open. A modern study was conducted on present-day hunter-gatherer groups, all in the equatorial area or in the southern hemisphere. It found that those groups’ sleep patterns were very much like those of industrialized cultures. These modern hunter-gatherers live somewhat cut off from other societies, with no electricity. The thought was that they would closely resemble our ancestors going back about 10,000 years (granted, they couldn’t reproduce every facet of the environment). So, if we are to accept the findings, all our electric lights, smartphones, monitors and screens of every kind, they are not necessarily to blame for the general sleep-deprived state of about a third of us. So why are we so exhausted all the time?

Everyone is different. I have a friend who really only needs about 5.5 hours of sleep every night. As for me, I am useless with less than 8. Lately I have found myself getting very sleepy, in spite of sitting in front of my computer, around 10:30. What I discovered is that since I have been working out more, especially training on hills, I’ve found I need more sleep. Apparently there is some science to this, but I was only getting results from body building sites when I Googled it. But I can say that after an intense workout (intense for me, a middle-aged office worker) I get sleepy earlier than usual, and I sleep “harder”. What I mean by this is my sleep is more resilient, more sound. My dreams tend to be more vivid, and I wake up with no soreness now. It seems that healing is among the benefits of sleep. The morning after a workout, if I’ve had enough sleep, I do not feel any pain I might have experienced while exercising, not that I’m pushing myself that hard, I’m just clawing my way back to a semblance of fitness, and I have a way to go.

About 15 years ago I decided to perform an experiment. I went without the use of any kind of alarm clock. I started this while I was on vacation, as it were, so I didn’t have to risk being super late for work if it went awry. The first morning was interesting. I woke up a little earlier than usual. I spent my day doing stay-cation kinds of things. That night, as I had pledged to do, I went to bed when I was sleepy. The next morning, I woke up, completely alert, at 5:25 am. That night, I was in bed around 9:45. I mean, I was out. That’s the thing about me: I have never had trouble falling to sleep. I just like to find things to do to keep my mind occupied. I continued living without an alarm clock for several months. That lasted until my job changed and I needed to work nights from time to time.

Sleep is kind of a waste of time. If we are to get 8 hours of sleep each night, that’s a significant portion of our time. Sure, we have artificially divided the day up into blocks of 60 minutes, regardless of how much daylight there is. 24 hours is non-negotiable in our society. So if I need more sleep than someone else, I feel cheated. Given the difference, I might waste the extra time. Maybe not. I’m guessing that the researchers who compiled the sleep data on those hunter-gatherers probably lost some sleep, working overtime. I hope they got paid well.

Playing it Safe

I take up space. I sit at a desk most of my life with two zero-bezel high-def monitors blasting artificial light in my face, meanwhile sitting underneath a battery of fluorescent lights and the constant din of office chatter, mobile devices and white noise produced by climate control. An utterly gray existence. Actually, gray is somewhat pleasant. My life is more beige.

But, I love hiking and camping; I may have mentioned it before. I’m very fortunate that my wife loves the outdoors. We’ve been on many hikes together, from Palo Duro Canyon in the Texas Panhandle to Hickory Nut Falls in North Carolina. She loves waterfalls, and she’s kind of particular about them. For instance, at Hickory Nut Falls, she loved the mists created by water cascading down a nearly 200 meter cliff, creating a unique ecosystem where ferns and other plants clung to the rocks in the perpetual spray of the falls. Abrams Falls near Cades Cove in Tennessee was larger in volume, but she didn’t like it as much.PaloDuroCCC

I recently went back to Palo Duro with some work friends. We have been on several hikes in Texas and Oklahoma, and one of two of the guys started talking about a hike in Arkansas, the Eagle Rock Loop. This hike is over 45 km, over steep ridges and river crossings. Some can finish it in two days. I question whether our group should attempt it at all, especially since we’re basically weekend warrior types. On our trip to Palo Duro, one of the guys developed a painful blister on his right heel. Fortunately we were able to return to camp and rest. If we had been backpacking, we might have been forced to turn around or add a day to our trek. My proposal was to try one overnight backpacking trip. A couple of us are in our 50s, and not all of us are in decent shape. But I’ve been accused of playing it safe, not seizing the day, carpe diem and all that bullshit. I think a person is only as old as he or she feels, but there are some realities we must face. Mature bodies do not bounce back like they did in their 20s. That said, I didn’t even try hiking until I was in my 40s. Who knows if I would have enjoyed it at all. I did enjoy mountain biking in my 20s, and I still have the desire to ride canyon trails, but I discovered my physical limits when I attempted this in Palo Duro a few years ago.

I think playing it safe can save your butt. It means being better prepared and better informed. I watch other people’s videos about a trail before going on it. I listen to what other people are saying about what to watch for. I also like to take my time because the reason I hike is not to reach point B quickly. I want to see the nature that I’ve surrounded myself with. It’s also important to be aware of hazards like poisonous snakes, ticks, biting insects, and large animals like bears and pumas. Large cats are not present in most of the US, but black bears are found in large parts of North America. Oh, and there’s this:

Maybe playing it safe takes the fun out of things. Well, Dwight wan’t likely to maul Jim for encroaching in his space. Fact: bears eat anything they can find, including food in your tent. Backcountry camps sometimes provide food storage cabling like those along the Appalachian Trail. You can not play it too safe out there.

I’m hopeful I will be able to persuade my fellow hikers to wait before taking on what some have called, “the most difficult Arkansas has to offer.” But eventually, we’ll need to do it. It is what our beige existence requires, apparently.

 

Go for the Bronze

What have I done?

Last week, just as the 2018 Winter Olympics were winding down, I was thinking about how much work is involved in reaching the medal podium for a given event. The hours of training each day, the sacrifices, the failures, and the successes. For every athlete who paraded into the Olympic Stadium in PyeongChang (camel case was insisted on by the organizers to differentiate the Game’s host city from the capital of North Korea), there must be dozens, possibly hundreds, of athletes who might be as good, but did not make the cut.

Anyone who makes the team may be considered an elite athlete, with possibly one exception. Hungarian-ish freestyle skiers notwithstanding, I am always amazed to see the spectacle of human endurance and fortitude, played out so all the world can witness these achievements. Perhaps the most amazing story came when Simen Hegstad KRUEGER of Norway was knocked down and fell back to last place for men’s cross-country skiing. He would eventually win the race in what they’re calling the “Miracle on Snow” (actually there were a couple events that got this moniker).

While history loves gold medal winners, 3rd place doesn’t feel as nice. But any medal is better than nothing at all. Silver medalists, forgive me for this list, but I have decided to honor the Bronze medal winners in each event. The original list was supplied by Leah Rocketto and Skye Gould, which I hope to be comprehensive. I did find a couple of typos or errors in places, but overall I found it useful. The events were originally listed in descending order of the day of the medal round or final results. All the names of athletes receiving a medal have links to their profile on the Olympic website.

If I have omitted anyone, please forgive me. As a reminder, I have included only Bronze medal winners. Some sports were surprisingly unusual so I provided links to the event in those cases (like doubles luge, which, it turns out, is a thing). Also, it is worth noting that on the English language version of the PyeongChang website, women’s events are sometimes referred to as “ladies'”, for no particular reason. (Incidentally, the French language version routinely uses “femmes”).

 

Biathlon, men’s 4×7.5km relay – Germany

Erik LESSER

Benedikt DOLL

Arnd PEIFFER

Simon SCHEMPP

Curling, men’s – Switzerland

Peter DE CRUZ

Dominik MAERKI

Benoit SCHWARZ

Claudio PAETZ

Martin RIOS

Valentin TANNER

Figure skating, women’s single skate – Canada

Kaetlyn OSMOND

Freestyle skiing, women’s ski cross big – Switzerland

Fanny SMITH

Speed-skating, men’s 1,000m – Korea

Alpine skiing, men’s slalom – Austria

Alpine skiing, women’s alpine combined – Switzerland

Wendy HOLDENER

Biathlon, women’s 4x6km relay – France

Anais CHEVALIER

Marie DORIN HABERT

Justine BRAISAZ

Anais BESCOND

Freestyle skiing, men’s ski halfpipe – New Zealand

Nico PORTEOUS

Ice Hockey, women’s – Finland

Eveliina SUONPAA

Isa RAHUNEN

Rosa LINDSTEDT

Jenni HIIRIKOSKI

Mira JALOSUO

Ella VIITASUO

Venla HOVI

Linda VALIMAKI

Annina RAJAHUHTA

Riikka VALILA

Minnamari TUOMINEN

Meeri RAISANEN

Petra NIEMINEN

Emma NUUTINEN

Sanni HAKALA

Noora TULUS

Sara SAKKINEN

Saila SAARI

Michelle KARVINEN

Noora RATY

Tanja NISKANEN

Susanna TAPANI

Ronja SAVOLAINEN

Nordic combined, Team Gunderson LH / 4x5km cross-country – Austria

Wilhelm DENIFL

Lukas KLAPFER

Bernhard GRUBER

Mario SEIDL

Short track speed-skating, men’s 500m – Korea

LIM Hyojun

Short track speed-skating, women’s 1,000m – Italy

Arianna FONTANA

Short track speed-skating, men’s 5,000m relay – Canada

Samuel GIRARD

Charles HAMELIN

Charle COURNOYER

Pascal DION

Snowboard, women’s big air – New Zealand

Zoi SADOWSKI SYNNOTT

Alpine skiing, women’s downhill – USA

Lindsey VONN

Bobsleigh, women’s bobsleigh – Canada

Kaillie HUMPHRIES

Phylicia GEORGE

Cross-country skiing, women’s team sprint – Norway

Marit BJOERGEN

Maiken Caspersen FALLA

Cross-country skiing, men’s team sprint – France

Freestyle skiing, men’s ski cross – Olympic Athlete from Russia

Sergey RIDZIK

Speed-skating, women’s team pursuit – USA

Heather BERGSMA

Brittany BOWE

Mia MANGANELLO

Speed-skating, men’s team pursuit – Netherlands

Patrick ROEST

Sven KRAMER

Jan BLOKHUIJSEN

Biathlon, 2x6km women + 2×7.5km men mixed relay – Italy

Lisa VITTOZZI

Dorothea WIERER

Lukas HOFER

Dominik WINDISCH

Figure skating, ice dance – USA

Maia SHIBUTANI

Alex SHIBUTANI

Freestyle skiing, women’s halfpipe – USA

Brita SIGOURNEY

Nordic combined, Individual Gundersen NH/10km – Austria

Lukas KLAPFER

Nordic combined, Individual Gundersen LH/10km – Germany

Eric FRENZEL

Short track speed-skating, women’s 3,000m relay – Netherlands

Jorien TER MORS

Lara VAN RUIJVEN

Rianne DE VRIES

Suzanne SCHULTING

Yara VAN KERKHOF

Bobsleigh, 2-man – Latvia

Ski jumping, men’s team – Poland

Maciej KOT

Stefan HULA

Dawid KUBACKI

Kamil STOCH

Speed-skating, men’s 500m – China

GAO Tingyu

Alpine skiing, men’s giant slalom – France

Alexis PINTURAULT

Biathlon, men’s 15km Mass Start – Norway

Emil Hegle SVENDSEN

Cross-country skiing, men’s 4x10km relay – France

Jean Marc GAILLARD

Maurice MANIFICAT

Clement PARISSE

Adrien BACKSCHEIDER

Freestyle skiing, men’s slopestyle – Canada

Alex BEAULIEU-MARCHAND

Freestyle skiing, men’s aerials – Olympic Athlete from Russia

Ilia BUROV

Speed-skating, women’s 500m – Czech Republic

Karolina ERBANOVA

Alpine skiing, women’s super giant slalom – Liechtenstein

Tina WEIRATHER

Biathlon, women’s 12.5km Mass Start – Norway

Tiril ECKHOFF

Cross-country skiing, women’s 4x5km relay – Olympic Athletes from Russia

Figure skating, men’s single skate – Spain

Javier FERNANDEZ

Freestyle skiing, women’s slopestyle – Great Britain

Isabel ATKIN

Short track speed-skating, women’s 1,500m – Netherlands

Marrit LEENSTRA

Short track speed-skating, men’s 1,000m – Korea

KIM Tae-Yun

Skeleton, women’s – Great Britain

Laura DEAS

Ski jumping, men’s large hill – Norway

Robert JOHANSSON

Alpine skiing, men’s super giant slalom – Norway

Kjetil JANSRUD

Alpine skiing, women’s slalom – Austria

Katharina GALLHUBER

Cross-country skiing, men’s 15km – Olympic Athlete from Russia

Denis SPITSOV

Freestyle skiing, women’s Aerials – China

Skeleton, men’s – Great Britain

Dom PARSONS

Snowboard, women’s cross race – Czech Republic

Eva SAMKOVA

Speed-skating, women’s 5,000m – Olympic Athlete from Russia

Alpine skiing, men’s downhill – Switzerland

Beat FEUZ

Alpine skiing, women’s giant slalom – Italy

Federica BRIGNONE

Biathlon, women’s 15km – Germany

Laura DAHLMEIER

Biathlon, men’s 20km – Austria

Dominik LANDERTINGER

Cross-country skiing, women’s 10km – Norway

Marit BJOERGEN

Figure skating, pairs free skate – Canada

DUHAMEL Meagan

RADFORD Eric

Luge, mixed team relay – Austria

Madeleine EGLE

Snowboard, men’s cross race – Spain

Regino HERNANDEZ

Speed Skating, men’s 10,000m – Italy

Nicola TUMOLERO

Luge, doubles – Germany

Toni EGGERT

Sascha BENECKEN

Nordic combined, men’s – Team Gundersen LH/4x5km – Austria

Snowboarding, men’s halfpipe – Australia

Scotty JAMES

Speed skating, women’s 1,000m – Japan

Miho TAKAGI

Alpine skiing, men’s combined – France

Victor MUFFAT-JEANDET

Cross-country skiing, women’s team sprint – Norway

Cross-country skiing, men’s team sprint – France

Maurice MANIFICAT

Richard JOUVE

Curling, mixed doubles – Norway

Kristin SKASLIEN

Magnus NEDREGOTTEN

Luge, women’s singles – Canada

Alex GOUGH

Speed Skating Short-track, women’s 500m – Canada

Kim BOUTIN

Snowboarding, women’s halfpipe – USA

Arielle GOLD

Speed skating, men’s 1,500m – Korea

KIM Min Seok

Biathlon, women’s 10km pursuit – France

Anais BESCOND

Biathlon, men’s 12.5km pursuit – Germany

Benedikt DOLL

Figure skating, team – USA

Nathan CHEN

Adam RIPPON

Mirai NAGASU

Bradie TENNELL

Alexa SCIMECA KNIERIM

Chris KNIERIM

Maia SHIBUTANI

Alex SHIBUTANI

Freestyle skiing, men’s mogul – Japan

Daichi HARA

Ski jumping, women’s normal hill – Japan

Sara TAKANASHI

Snowboarding, women’s slopestyle – Finland

Enni RUKAJARVI

Speed Skating, women’s 1,500m – Netherlands

Marrit LEENSTRA

Biathlon, men’s 10km sprint – Italy

Dominik WINDISCH

Cross-country skiing, men’s 15km + 15km Skiathlon – Norway

Hans Christer HOLUND

Freestyle skiing, women’s mogul – Kazakhstan

Yulia GALYSHEVA

Luge, men’s singles – Germany

Johannes LUDWIG

Snowboarding, men’s slopestyle – Canada

Mark MCMORRIS

Speed Skating, men’s 5,000m – Norway

Sverre Lunde PEDERSEN

Biathlon, women’s 7.5km sprint – Czech Republic

Veronika VITKOVA

Cross-country skiing, women’s 7.5km + 7.5km Skiathlon – Finland

Krista PARMAKOSKI

Short-track, men’s 1,500m – Olympic Athlete from Russia

Semen ELISTRATOV

Ski jumping, men’s normal hill – Norway

Robert JOHANSSON

Speed Skating, women’s 3,000m – Netherlands

Antoinette DE JONG

 

 

 

Flawless

For most of us, practically all our lives, we’ve been told repeatedly how imperfect we are. We may have been admonished for being flawed, shamed for being mere humans. Teachers and pastors surely reminded us that nobody’s perfect. Countless times, to be sure, everyone has been reminded that we are anything but perfect. They may have even gone so far as to tell us that we are unredeemable piles of human refuse. This is at least the impression I got from adults when I was young. We were told that no one was perfect except God. Who could argue with that? God, who made the universe and all its atrocities. God, who created smallpox and puff adders. God, who caused the great flood because, “the Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth…I will wipe from the earth the human race…”

When I was a kid, and I went to Sunday school to clear my mind of all the evil worldly thoughts filling my head, I began to question certain principles. Namely, that no one could be perfect. Believing oneself to be perfect was aligned with the sin of pride. How dare we claim this for ourselves? At the same time, it was impressed upon me the absolute necessity for me to strive for perfection. Grading systems were designed with an ideal to be made manifest. There is a “perfect” GPA. Baseball has a perfect game. A perfect storm. A perfect day. While we’ve been told there is no such thing as perfection, we certainly throw that word around a lot.

With all this shit swirling around like so many toilet bowls, it’s easy to assume that our teachers, parents, middle school bullies, swim coaches, and youth pastors were all right when they emphasized how we are all imperfect. Most of us were told to obey authority; and, therefore there was no reason to assume everyone was wrong. But they were. Not only is it possible to achieve perfection, I believe each that of us is already a perfect being. Before you start enumerating my many flaws, let’s first deal with that pesky issue of defining perfection. What does perfect actually mean?

The Greek philosopher Plato maintained that not only is our world imperfect, but it may not even exist. Plato held that the constantly changing world was only a copy of the ideal, the perfect and constant vision only attainable in human thought. A perfect circle, for example, might be conceptualized, but could never be physically produced. Indeed, even modern machines can render a near-perfect circle, but our even more advanced measuring equipment may now detect the smallest imperfections. And so it continues. In our minds, we can identify the ideal, but is that ideal based on something we were taught, or is it a universal, collective vision of perfection?

snowflake

For many of us, we have an idea of what perfection means. For example, we like to point to snowflakes as perfect units. But notice something about these? They’re all different. In fact, every snowflake is unique, each one different from the next. If a snowflake is perfect, then all of them are. But any difference, according to Plato, would in essence be an imperfection. But what is the ideal snowflake? How could there be just one perfect one? How could all copies of the ideal be considered less than perfect? In the world where we live, we are not afforded the opportunity to contemplate the ideal, the snowflake Form; we only have the real, the physical. All snowflakes, therefore, are perfect. And so is every potato, for that matter.

As for me, I know I am more complicated an organism than a potato. But I see wonders every time I check in on things around the world. For instance, there are sea creatures that do everything from change color to emit light, to name a few. Human beings might appear less significant in the grand scheme of things, if we’re going for existential despondency. I mean, we’re more than just animals, even though we are classified as primates who have simply evolved. The very act of my writing this indicates that there’s something more going on. Therefore, here we are, each of us, contemplating our existence and our place in the universe. Meanwhile, we’re still basically controlled by our basic urges and needs: sleep, eat, fuck, survive.

Now that I’ve established that I am ordinary, it makes my perfection argument a little easier. If we were as simple as dogs or grasshoppers or potatoes, how could anyone dispute that any of us were anything less than perfect? Naturally, there are those who might judge. The Westminster Kennel Club holds an annual event to decide which dog breed is superior to the rest. This is highly subjective, and the results should never be construed as to mean there is any one dog that is perfect. Really, aren’t they all?

The thing about perfection – a human preoccupation – is that there really is no such thing. What I mean by that is there is no one ideal of any item, person, or situation in our plane of existence. That “perfect storm” we keep hearing about is actually a confluence of forces or elements crossing a threshold, arbitrary perhaps, where conditions may be just right for the worst case scenario. This term is almost always used as a metaphor to describe some social or work situation where things go horribly wrong. Shit happens, but I wouldn’t call this perfection.

Perfection is kind of an illusion. Except that here I am trying to convince you that we are all perfect beings. What makes this impossible to accept is that we’ve been told how imperfect we are our entire lives. But I maintain that we are all perfect and essential. We’re like cogs in the intricate machinery of the universe, to use a hyperbole here for a moment (if Plato can do it, well…) Perhaps we are perfect in that we are precisely where we need to be for the cosmic algorithm to function. What if we are all exactly where we’re supposed to be? Can’t we be perfect in the place we find ourselves?

I admit, my previous notions of perfection were rooted in that latent Catholic school guilt and self loathing, where we lesser things cannot possibly approach perfection. One of my instructors was wrong about many things; it stands to reason he was wrong about this, too. Maybe I am perfect. I’m not without fault, but my perfection may lie in the niche I fill. For my wife, I am exactly what she needs, or so she tells me sometimes. Am I the perfect husband? Perhaps for her. I might be the perfect employee for certain needs of my company. I might have been the perfect student, not because I made A’s, but perhaps because I made my teachers think or because I made them work harder. I may never know. But my point is that I believe we are all perfect beings.

In a sense, we are more than all the cells and plasma and elements in our bodies, the electrical impulses between our nerve endings, or the chemistry in our brains. We’re beyond the body and the physiology of the human animal. There’s no proof that we have souls or spirits, but there’s a lot we have not discovered about ourselves. There might be something perfect within all of us. Maybe our struggle, our suffering, is simply our souls colliding with our human instincts and emotional pressures. Is music a transport vessel for the soul? Is art another? What about acting or stand-up comedy? Or writing?

In claiming my perfection I am not placing myself above other people. On the contrary, I make no statement to that effect. I am not better than anyone else. But that’s not what I mean by perfection. I don’t mean to say I am flawless. But as Confucius said, it is better to be a diamond with a flaw than to be a pebble without one. In other words, being perfect may not be what it’s cracked up to be. Perfection might equal banality in that scenario where the world is populated with pebbles, or potatoes, or snowflakes. One’s  perfect state might be typified by his or her nonconformity or eccentricity. Where there is a “perfect” field of snow, the perfection we possess might be the footprint that provides dimension. What was seen as a flaw is now perceived as absolutely essential. In a word, it’s perfect.

 

Is Telekinesis Real?

I think I’ve been considering whether telekinesis was a real thing ever since I saw “Escape to Witch Mountain”, which came out in 1975. In the movie, two children who possess remarkable mental powers are pursued by nefarious grown-ups who probably want to dissect them, for science. The children can move objects with their minds, thus defeating the bad guys, as I remember it. But the question shouldn’t be whether telekinesis is real; rather, we should ask if it is at least possible. It may not be scientifically responsible, but I’m going with it.

The popular basis for such powers is in that they come from the mind, from brain waves. This has been consistently and repeatedly disproven as the source of any Yoda-like power to move objects using only thought or “the force”. Purely brain-based manipulation does not appear to be at work here, if it’s really happening at all. So far, there’s no real evidence.

The Ted presentation in the first link above made a strong case for the non-existence of psycho-kinetic ability in humans. There is simply no real evidence that it’s real. But maybe it’s possible. The reason I say this is we are just now beginning to unravel the mystery of the human brain. This complicated organ has been beyond the realm of understanding for most of human history. Only recently has any real progress been made toward a breakthrough; yet we still aren’t sure what’s behind diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.

The brain is certainly amazing and misunderstood. But the probability for the human mind to have control over objects, as with telekinesis, is not likely. Brain waves have not proven to be able to extend beyond the human body. But what if it’s not the brain at work here? Well, at least not directly. In the way we can draw a connection that leads to brain activity, from the taste of an orange, the ability to tell when milk is sour, and the subtleties of textures like parchment paper or a worn out dollar bill, many of these senses are transmitted via nerve endings on fingertips, olfactory tissues, and tastebuds. But, yes, the brain deciphers the input. What sends these signals? It’s electrons.

We are all powered by electricity. Our brains, nerves, muscles, everything – they all receive electrochemical signals, which are essentially electrons moving through the body. We are made up of atoms, and the electrons are the tiny particles that move around the universe. Actually, according to quantum theory, and something proposed by Albert Einstein,  you can be in two places at once. Naturally, this sounds like science fiction, but a team of physicists recently proved Einstein was right. Therefore, if it is possible for part of your physical being to travel beyond your immediate perimeter, that is, farther than your reach, why then is it so unlikely that telekinesis and psychokinesis could be a reality?

If such a thing is truly possible, how would we control it? This is where the idea of mental ability comes in. Quantum states are not likely regulated by brain waves, but perhaps there are things we do not yet understand about how the brain works. We’ve already accepted this when it comes to diseases. And mental illness is not only misunderstood, but its treatment is still in the dark ages, relatively speaking.

A study in the 1980’s did confirm that Tibetan monks were capable of controlling their body temperatures.  Was this the result of disciplined manipulation of the blood vessels? If that’s all (and that’s no small feat), it could be possible to control other physical aspects, like how much electrical energy emanates from the body. Far-fetched though this may be, we simply do not know what we are not capable of at this point in our evolution. And isn’t that a wonderful and terrifying place to be?

I think the most exciting part of this quest is the unknown. A hundred years ago, transmitting images via microwaves was unthinkable. Now, television is starting to become obsolete. Change is fast and unpredictable. We’re making new discoveries frequently, and they often shatter our preconceptions about what we thought we knew.

Okay, sleep well.

 

 

Sticks, Stones, and the Effect of Language

About a million years ago, a proto-human picked up a stick and bludgeoned a deer with it, and voilà! dinner. And ever since, this was the way of mankind. Rather than talk things through, we communicated with sticks, some pointy, some thick and club-like with stones lashed to them. Later, we developed language, a way of describing all those sticks. We needed words as a delivery system for our more complex thoughts. And eventually, we would develop insults, and later, passive-aggressive tones. Hooray!

About a million years after this stick incident occurred, we were taught a pearl of wisdom that said words used against us were not going to harm us. This “sticks and stones” maxim reminded us that insults were the last refuge of the ignorant, and no words could injure us, no matter how harmful. It was a way of fending off bullies, by equating them to knuckle-dragging, thick-sculled cave men. The thing is, those insults and verbal jabs do take their toll. I argue that being punched does less harm in most cases, especially when I was a middle-schooler being punched by a pint-sized assailant.

But the words are sometimes used as ammunition by people other than our classmates and peers. Teachers and parents were capable of much more harm to us. I never would have believed that grown-ups could inflict such cruelty, but I was twelve, and I grew up believing that adults knew what was best for us. But they were as clueless as any 30-something today, perhaps even more so. At least now, people have a wealth of information at their disposal, practically the entire repository of human knowledge by way of the internet. You might expect there could be no excuse for being ignorant, and yet many of us are. We should know better, but we don’t.

Back to that sticks and stones analogy. Physical injuries tend to heal completely. There are of course cases where lasting damage occurs. Broken bones, like those in the little phrase, may heal, but it might affect the way you move further on. I broke my thumb when I was 14 (I was practicing throwing punches after being tripped earlier that day, and my thumb caught the edge of the chair and went “crack!”) That hurt like hell, and I felt really, really stupid. But the physical pain went away after a while, and my body “forgot” the pain. Decades later, when the barometer falls or when geese migrate, my thumb gets stiff or a little sore. It’s not my body “remembering” the original injury. Instead, this is a lasting result. Be that as it may, this injury troubles me a lot less than some of the things people said to me over the years. Even though the words dissipated in the atmosphere just after being spoken, they still echo in my mind to this day.

You see, words can indeed cause long-term emotional pain, far beyond what a physical injury might have. We must therefore be extremely careful when choosing our words. We might start by developing effective feedback skills. This might be one of the most important parts of being a manager or any kind of leader. Saying the wrong thing can create problems further down the road. It is very difficult to undo the damage once this happens. You cannot un-say the wrong thing. Positive yet constructive criticism is like a precious resource, because it is rare that we receive it, and not very many people know how to deliver it. Saying something like, “I’d like to tell you where I see your strengths,” rather than, “do you know what your problem is?” for instance.

Once we have delivered valuable feedback, we can encourage others to learn this skill, as they begin to appreciate its worth. It will be like currency in a world where good communication is rare yet valuable. Right now I fear it is rare but unappreciated. Eventually, as we mature, we do see the value of it, but by then a subsequent generation has already been at the helm of our society. It’s important for teachers to develop this skill and pass it on. It needs to begin early on in a child’s development, earlier than we thought in the old way of thinking. Back then, children were not regarded as contributors to our society, but our understanding of the brain’s development has improved, and we know better now, so we tell ourselves.

Words have amazing power. We use them to inspire one another, to incite crowds, to soothe, and to charm. The right words are absolutely necessary for certain events, like toasting the bride and groom, delivering a eulogy, or giving someone bad news. Our words can injure. Words can be a weapon. Words can even heal. With the right words, a skilled negotiator can change the world more than any number of rockets and tanks. And the simple statement of, “whatever” can stop some of us in our tracks. Yes, sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can injure you for a lifetime. So be careful with what you say.