Author Archive for

23
Apr
12

Jumping Spider

One of my greatest pleasures is peering through the viewfinder to see the large beady eyes of a jumping spider stare right back at me. It doesn’t even matter that I get a perfectly focused and composed shot although it’s definitely a bonus as it immortalizes the encounter. But that moment when I stand face to face with one of the most beautiful creatures magnified by the macro lens, even if it lasts for less than a second, electricity runs through my entire body.

04
Jun
10

Civilized Ruthlessness

Perhaps most people will agree that societies have become more civilized now compared to 100, 1,000, or 10,000 years ago. During our cavemen ancestors’ days killing, stealing, and robbing must have been commonplace in their struggle for survival, but in today’s “civilized” societies such acts are being prohibited and offenders are heavily penalized.

However, while we were somehow able to curb barbaric behavior, we still display our savage tendencies in other aspects of our social lives. In business, for example, executives are hired to kill the competitors, grab their market share, steal their customers, and even pirate their key employees. And these executives – educated and civilized – actually enjoy the “killing” in the marketplace as if it satisfies some deep evolutionary urge. And maybe it does.

In the caveman days ruthlessness would be a necessary trait not only for survival but also for propagating one’s genes. Those who survived the longest got the most chances of dominating the gene pool; those who could gather the most food were most able to rear a large number of offspring; and those who gained the most territory could sustain the best security for their clan.

In today’s civilized world – a world where the rules are set by big money and influence instead of big muscles and spears, where business, politics, and religion are the battlefields for power – the people who have evolved to rise above the others must have descended from the great warriors – smart, quick, strong, adaptable, and ruthless. Today these same qualities are as important as ever although quick and strong would now refer to the mind instead of the body. People still have ruthless tendencies, although it is more of a civilized ruthlessness. So while we no longer kill each other for food, we are still trying to “kill” each other in many different ways.

14
Apr
10

The Ant and the Spider

Whenever I see a tiny emaciated spider hanging on its web on the corners of the wall, I leave it alone. Perhaps it’s because I respect the life in it, but more importantly, I am in awe of its struggle for life.  For 250 million years it has not significantly changed in shape and lifestyle. (Actually it should have been 300 million years, but spiders then had their “spinnerets placed underneath the middle of the abdomen, rather than at the end as in modern spiders”. Imagine lying down, facing the sky, hanging by a thread that comes out from your navel. Doesn’t seem like a very effective position to catch prey, does it? As such, these early spiders were thought to be ground dwellers.)

As much as I try to do no harm to spiders, I cannot say the same for ants. And I’m not only talking about those ants that march in the hundreds to attack our food, contaminating it with germs and parasites from whatever surfaces they had stepped on – including bathroom floors, garbage cans, and dog poop. I would kill even a single ant whenever I had the chance. Why? Because that single ant is a patroller on a reconnaissance mission, as explained by the National Geographic article Swarm Theory:

“When a forager has contact with a patroller, it’s a stimulus for the forager to go out,” Gordon says. “But the forager needs several contacts no more than ten seconds apart before it will go out.”

To see how this works, Gordon and her collaborator Michael Greene of the University of Colorado at Denver captured patroller ants as they left a nest one morning. After waiting half an hour, they simulated the ants’ return by dropping glass beads into the nest entrance at regular intervals—some coated with patroller scent, some with maintenance worker scent, some with no scent. Only the beads coated with patroller scent stimulated foragers to leave the nest. Their conclusion: Foragers use the rate of their encounters with patrollers to tell if it’s safe to go out. (If you bump into patrollers at the right rate, it’s time to go foraging. If not, better wait. It might be too windy, or there might be a hungry lizard waiting out there.) Once the ants start foraging and bringing back food, other ants join the effort, depending on the rate at which they encounter returning foragers.

So that single ant you did not kill will eventually bring in a whole battalion of foragers, which will contaminate your food with germs and parasites from whatever surfaces they had stepped on – including bathroom floors, garbage cans, and dog poop.

And so whenever I see an ant, I carefully pick it up so as not to squish it. Then I look for the nearest spider web and flick the pesky ant towards it. Bon appetit, poor little skinny spider! Eat well and grow. You’ll be handling cockroaches soon.

22
Mar
10

The Big Bang Theory

I took the lyrics of the song The Big Bang Theory and tried to write a line after each of the song’s lines. The original lyrics are in normal type while my lines are in italics.

* * * * *

THE BIG BANG THEORY

Our whole universe was in a hot dense state
A singularity – you can’t predict its fate
Then nearly fourteen billion years ago expansion started. Wait…
Space-time became a growing estate
The Earth began to cool
And formed the primordial pool
The autotrophs began to drool
Helped produce our fossil fuel
Neanderthals developed tools
Placed the beasts under their rule
We built a wall (we built the pyramids)
And scaled them like we’re arachnids
Math, science, history, unraveling the mysteries
As well as mankind’s glory and all that misery
That all started with the big bang!

“Since the dawn of man” is really not that long
A lot has happened before we came along
As every galaxy was formed in less time than it takes to sing this song
(In one of them we happen to belong)
A fraction of a second and the elements were made
The stars and planets then came in cascade
The bipeds stood up straight
Tried new positions when they mate
The dinosaurs all met their fate
Just like the animals they ate
They tried to leap but they were late
Imagine jumping with all that weight!
And they all died (they froze their asses off)
While the furry mammals merely coughed

The oceans and pangea
Tibet and Himalayas
See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya
Saying all this blah blah
Set in motion by the same big bang!
It all started with the big bang!

It’s expanding ever outward but one day
Gravity will make it sway
It will cause the stars to go the other way
And bring to mankind a great dismay
Collapsing ever inward, we won’t be here, it won’t be hurt
What will be left is only our dirt
Our best and brightest figure that it’ll make an even bigger bang!

Australopithecus would really have been sick of us
Wondering what’s all the fuss
Debating out while here they’re catching deer (we’re catching viruses)
They really needed good irises
Religion or astronomy, Encarta, Deuteronomy
Chemistry, biology, philosophy, theology
It all started with a big bang!

Music and mythology, Einstein and astrology
The proletariat and the bourgeoisie fighting over a decree
It all started with the big bang!
It all started with the big BANG!

12
Feb
10

A Cynical View on Attraction

I remember a Darwinian article in Time (Asia) Magazine’s special issue, The New Age of Discovery (January, 1998) because it tried to answer questions like why do we find certain human body figures sexy. It said that most men find a specific waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) of women sexy (now I won’t tell the exact figure to avoid causing unnecessary insecurities) because that ratio signals fertility. Men don’t consciously know this, but evolution somehow programmed it in our instincts to ensure the perpetuation of our genes.

In another article, I read about an experiment on human scent. It involved a certain number of men and an equal number of women. The men were made to shower using only unscented soap (no cologne or deodorant either) and sleep with a white shirt on. They would shower again on the second night but would wear the same shirt to bed. Then the shirts would be sniffed by the women, who would each try to determine which shirt smells the “sexiest.” After their genes were tested, it was found out that the sexiest scents for most of the women belonged to the men whose genes were very much dissimilar from theirs. Parents with diverse genes often bear stronger offspring, and once again evolution has hardwired this into our physiology to help us find a suitable mate – and perpetuate our genes.

But in this overpopulated modern society of ours, procreation is no longer the primarily purpose of sex. In one of our joint articles, a fellow freethinker wrote:

Sex may lead to pro-creation but the two are still two totally distinct acts, no matter how much some belief systems may insist that they’re one and the same. When you start a fire, you aren’t obligated to go cook something. Sometimes, it’s enough just to enjoy the warmth of a blazing fire on a cold night. The same goes for sex. It’s a social activity and a recreational sport as well. From a liberal point of view, it’s not even that different from a couple going dancing (that’s why it’s also called the horizontal tango).

Still, our instincts kick in when a genetically suitable specimen from the opposite gender walks by even if having kids is the last thing on our minds. But as we get to know a person, after a while we get attracted to non-physical traits like kindness and a sense of humor. Perhaps we instinctively know that certain personal attributes are preferable for long-term companionship, especially when it comes to the point when procreation and even sex are no longer possible.

But the beauty of these personal qualities is that they can be enjoyed now as much as in the future. Being the most highly evolved among all creatures, humans interact in ways beyond touching and smelling. A nice conversation between humans connects them more profoundly than two chimps grooming each other. Although touching is nice, it is often meaningless unless coupled with an emotional bond. And so while evolution already dictated what we should find physically attractive, it is our longing for a deeper connection that needs to be satisfied if we are to truly enjoy being human.

inner minds

16
Jan
10

Can you prove there are no fairies?

It is a basic rule of logic that burden of proof always lies on the affirmative, that whoever asserts something will be the one who has to prove it.  Ei incombit probatio qui didt, non qui negat – “the burden of proof lies upon him who affirms, not him who denies” – and so whoever tries to shift the burden of proof to the opponent by insisting that a claim is true simply because it has not been shown to be false is committing a logical fallacy.

Burden lies on the affirmative. But now the question is, What is an affirmative? Does it simply mean a ‘positive’ claim, hence statements in the negative carry no such burden?

Let us see how Webster defines the word affirmative:

1 : asserting a predicate of a subject
2 : asserting that the fact is so
3 : POSITIVE <affirmative approach>
4 : favoring or supporting a proposition or motion

We see in No. 3 that affirmative also means ‘positive’. Now let’s see what positive means:

1 a: formally laid down or imposed : PRESCRIBED <positive laws> b: expressed clearly or peremptorily <her answer was a positive no> c: fully assured : CONFIDENT<positive it was her book>

It appears that affirmative and positive are about confident assertion instead of statements that are merely positively worded (take a look at the above example, “her answer was a positive no“). As such, the statements “There are no fairies” and “Fairies don’t exist” are therefore actually affirmative statements and so they are also laden with the burden of proof. (By the way, asserting that “there are no fairies” is not the same as saying “I don’t believe in fairies”, because the latter is not affirming their non-existence but simply disbelieving their existence.)

Now some might say that it is impossible to prove a negative. I beg to disagree. One can prove certain negatives, like proving that there are no “supercontinents” ten times the size of Asia (one can easily accomplish that with Google Earth). Other negatives may be harder – but still not impossible – to prove, like the statement that “There is no oil in Davao City”, because one would then have to dig up every square inch of the entire city to prove that.

I read this article about proving a negative that states that “a person is justified in believing that X does not exist if all of these conditions are met:

1. the area where evidence would appear, if there were any, has been comprehensively examined, and

2. all of the available evidence that X exists is inadequate, and

3. X is the sort of entity that, if X exists, then it would show.”

I totally agree. In the case of the “supercontinents”, all three conditions are easily met, especially #3.

But as for fairies, it would be virtually impossible to prove their non-existence because even if we had simultaneous 24-hour video coverage on every garden and forest on Earth showing no fairies (satisfying conditions #1 and #2), believers would simply say that fairies are normally invisible but can choose to show themselves to certain people at certain times, failing condition #3.

However, the inability to prove there are no fairies doesn’t automatically allow for the conclusion that fairies do exist, because that would also be an affirmative statement requiring proof. And so we are left with a technical stalemate as far as proof is concerned – but not probability.

Fairies are simply way too improbable that although it is impossible to prove their non-existence, one can reasonably live his/her life on the assumption that they don’t exist. And so when planting a garden, it would be a good idea to till it and water it and fertilize it – instead of just lying down waiting for fairies to magically make it bloom. inner minds

12
Jan
10

Of Grudges and Goals

Some people are forgiving while others are not. Some hold grudges, and a few carry their resentment long after the injury – real or imagined – had healed.

I believe all of us are emotionally motivated beings, and that includes those who consider themselves as rational and logical people, who place their heads well above their hearts, who make systematic and well-thought decisions, who think before they act.

The difference between ‘thinkers’ and ‘feelers’ is how they go about in trying to achieve their goals. But they are the same when it comes to the goal itself, because goals are ultimately dictated by the heart.

Take two guys, for example: one impulsive and spontaneous; the other cold and calculating. Both fall deeply in love with the same girl. The first guy freely expresses his feelings and the girl grows defensive and distant; the other works a subtle seduction and stirs interest, intrigue, and eventually desire. The probability is that the second guy will win.

Now some might argue that he is not deserving because his feelings are not strong enough considering he was still able to come up with a strategic plan, whereas his rival was overflowing with so much desire he could not contain it. And yet it is precisely the person’s control that proves one’s sincerity. Speaking out what one feels is easy and even quite relieving, but it takes a lot of work and self-denial to keep holding back until the right moment just to get the girl. And when one refuses to give in to his natural tendencies for the good of some future goal, it means the goal matters more than the immediate release. Just because the method of courtship is systematic and deliberate doesn’t mean the affection is planned as well.

Now as for grudges and vengeance, if we take these same two hypothetical guys, it would probably go like this: when offended or hurt, the emotional guy impetuously attempts immediate revenge – while the other waits for the perfect timing. The first guy’s reaction is often ineffective and could bring in more trouble, but the calculating guy would most likely be able to exact his cold sweet revenge with impunity.

We are all emotional beings. All of our goals are largely influenced by our hearts’ desires: love, happiness, vengeance. The only difference is that while some people turn the heart loose to go after the thing it wants, often with unsatisfactory or even disastrous results, others put the mind to work – literally as a slave doing the heart’s bidding – to effectively grant the wishes of its master. inner minds




Attempts at uncovering the underlying simplicity beneath apparently complex concepts as well as the core complexity within seemingly straightforward issues

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