Sunday, August 19, 2012

hyper young earth creationism

 I noticed today that google returns zero results for the exact phrase of the title of this post, which is unacceptable.  So I'm posting about it to fix this.

  First off, to put it in context, a word about normal young earth creationism.  Young earth creationism, as I understand it, is the belief that the earth and more generally the whole universe were created by God approximately 6000 years ago in its present form.  This view, promoted by groups like the Institute for Creation Research, sometimes (often) posits that God created the earth with the *appearance* of age, so that for instance, light from stars that are billions of light years away has already reached us.  Etc. For further details see the wiki article

  As you may know, I am a Pastafarian--that is, an adherent of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (FSM). As such, I believe that the FSM created the universe. However, a few years ago I departed from FSM orthodoxy (if there is such a thing) and decided to embrace a hyperbolic version of young earth creationism which posits that the FSM created the universe sometimes in the last 3 seconds.  All the back story which we have as memories, and so forth, were all placed there by the FSM to give the appearance of an age greater than 3 seconds.

  I find this belief enormously empowering. I should point out that I believe that this belief, like all beliefs, is entirely make believe.  It's arbitrarily chosen. I've chosen it and have been quite easily able to accumulate evidence for it since that choice. I believe that this is how all believes are in actual fact chosen--first the choice, then the accumulation of evidence, never vice versa.  This latter belief is also of course entirely arbitrary/make-believe. =).

Hope that explains it.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Dialogue

So why do I always have these reactions to all these things that people post on memorial day every year?

What specifically are you reacting to, Benjamin?

Well, for instance, people keep posting this poster on facebook that has a picture of a military graveyard, with a young lady lying face down in front of one of the graves, and the caption says something like "In case you thought it was national barbecue day".  I feel grumpy in response to that?

Why do you feel grumpy, Benjamin?

Well, I feel like we're just perpetuating this lie, that joining the military is a great idea, honorable, blah blah blah, and part of the lie is that if you join the military, and you die, that's honorable and powerful and wonderful. And also this lie that somehow our side is right and the other side is wrong, that our pursuit of so called "justice" is good and honorable, but the others' pursuit of their so called "justice" is total bullshit.  It comes out in the whole nuclear weapons non-proliferation thing.  Like OMFSM it's so bad for "them" to have or try to get nuclear weapons, but it's really good and excellent for "us" to have nuclear weapons, even though we are the only ones who ever deployed them, and that was against civilian populations. etc. etc. etc.

So given that you believe that this poster is somehow perpetuating this belief that you see as a lie, why are you grumpy about that, Benjamin?

I think I feel really angry because OMFSM now I'm gonna cry.  I feel angry and sad that people told this lie so much that it ended up meaning that my dad bought into that, at least to the extent that he didn't really believe he had any other option when he was drafted into the military in the mid-60's, and the repercussions of that are so horrible for him. I mean he's had such huge amounts of pain in his body, almost overwhelming pain, because of his exposure to Agent Orange and lots of other stuff, not to mention basically untreated post traumatic stress disorder for decades and thus also depression and I could go on.

Given that your dad has experienced these things that you are describing, why do you feel sad and angry in response?

Well, it's this.  I see that the whole culture carries on about it being honorable, etc. etc., and the end result is that young people, people who are young now like my dad was back then, choose to join the military, and no one tells them the truth, about PTSD, and what blood and death and destruction and war are really like up close and personal.  I'm thinking of my young second cousin who I believe recently joined the military, for instance.  This poster is telling him this lie, and there are real consequences for him in the future.

So Benjamin why do you believe that you are better suited to make decisions for your 2nd cousin that he is?  or do you believe that?

No. Of course I don't believe that. I'm talking about the reality of systems.  Haven't your read Zimbardo?  Can't be a sweet cucumber in a vinegar barrel.  Or at least ... most people can't.

Why do you believe that?

Well, I don't believe that.  it's more like ... I believe most people CAN, but it's fairly clear that most people DON'T.  But ... if we can drain the vinegar and maybe put in some oil, then the cucumbers will be more likely to stay fresh.

Okay.  So given that most people DON'T stay sweet pickles in a vinegar barrel, and to whatever extent you're dad got pickled, and maybe your 2nd cousin will get pickled, why are you angry and sad in response to posters which call for honoring pickled people?

You ask hard questions.  I think sometimes I'm the only one, or one of the very very few, who is saying "HEY, WHAT THE FUCK?  WE NEED TO DRAIN THIS DAMNED VINEGAR OUT OF THE FUCKING BARREL, BEFORE WE PICKLE ANY MORE SWEET CUCUMBERS!".  I think I'm angry that other people seem to just be kind of passively accepting that people get pickled, and pretending to remember.  They're not REALLY remembering. They're not memorializing what actually happened.  They're memorializing some sugar coated fantasy about what happened, in order to prevent facing the painful reality of what happened. And fair enough.  But in doing that, they're consenting to have it happen again and again and again and again.  Like the poster is missing a level.  Yes, fair enough, let's not turn memorial day into BBQ weekend and forget about people dying in war.  But there's another level of forgetting. Let's not turn memorial day into some glorified bullshit remembrance of glory or honor.  Let's allow ourselves to actually see and understand what war is really like, and remember that.  The thing is, the whole apparatus is designed to make sure that doesn't happen, so that those benefitting under the current system can continue to do so.

(Fuck this.  I need a real dialogue partner.  I'm totally stuck for a question.  sigh. Why is it so much easier to listen to someone else well than to listen to oneself well?  I lose track of the themes and such, for which I would normally be listening out, while I'm talking.  Hmmmmmm.  Okay.  pretend the dialogue started right now.  here goes.)

So Benjamin, how come you're angry about this situation you described?

'Cause I have judgements about the stuff that's happened to my dad. And I don't want that stuff to happen to my cousin.

What specifically is your judgement about what's happened to your dad?

I think it sucks that he is suffering so much as a result of things about which he didn't really have a choice.

I know this might sound like a strange question, Benjamin--but I ask it sincerely.  Why do you think it sucks that your dad is suffering?

'Cause I want him to not be suffering.

Okay--I totally hear you on that.  But I want to suggest that these are completely different things--not wanting your dad to suffer, and judging his suffering as sucky.  So given that you want him not to suffer, why do you judge his suffering as bad?

Teehee.  okay.  what if I judge his suffering as perfect?  That feels slightly relaxing.  Now I'm afraid that other people will judge me for judging my dad's suffering as perfect--that they'll think I'm a cruel horrible son for thinking that.

Whom are you afraid will judge you for that, Benjamin?

Couple people come to mind.  My Aunt Carol, and my Aunt Sarah, among others. Okay, I'm going to take over the questions for a minute =).  The question is:  .... Actually, when I think about specific people, as I contemplate them one by one, I don't really believe any of them will judge me for deciding to believe my dad's suffering is perfect.  It's more some vague aggregate who will do that.  Okay, actually no one about whose opinion I really care will judge me for that.

So how is this decision to believe your dad's suffering is perfect related to your reactions against people posting this poster about memorial day on facebook?

Wow.  So is my dad's suffering is perfect, then maybe all suffering by everyone involved in any way on any side of any war past or future is perfect.  that sounds like somewhat inflated optimism right there.  Okay, that reminds me of something that always makes me giggle.  There is no scenario better than the one that will happen.  So ... if that's the case, then it is impossible for all these people posting all this subtly pro violence memorial day stuff to lead to a scenario that's less than optimal.  Which means that I can go for what I want in terms of an optimal scenario without having to feel angry or sad since an optimal scenario is inevitable.  That feels kind of delicious.

Do you feel finished with that?

Yeah, I think I do =).  thanks! =)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Unspokens, and my mum's birthday

  Today would have been, I'm pretty sure, my mum's 61st birthday.  She died in June 2008 after a 3 year battle with ovarian cancer.

  During my growing up years, people used to gather in our family home on Wednesday evenings for Bible study and prayer time.  There would be ~8 to 20 people gathered in our living room.  Part of the ritual was that people shared prayer requests.  Often, during this time, people would say "I have an unspoken".  That meant they wanted folks to pray for something about which they wanted prayer but about which they did not want to share any details or specifics, not so much as the general topic or anything.

  Later, someone would be appointed to lead off the praying, and someone else to close it out, when a sufficiently long pause had developed.  Between these two, others in the group would pray.  Some people would pray for what seemed like a very long time. My mum was sometimes one of the latter.  You could tell when my mum was really engaged in her praying in these groups, as she would revert from her Seattle accent back to the Boston accent of her youth. She'd sometimes catch herself doing that, and feel very self conscious about it.

  During all this praying, usually the unspokens would get mentioned: "Father, I lift up to you Sue's unspoken request.  And also Brother Ady's unspoken". etc.

  I didn't realize it at the time, but I bet lots of people had lots of unspoken guesses about what other people's unspokens were. My mum was a very private person, and I think that probably most unspoken guesses about her unspokens were probably way off target. But I could be wrong.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

My experience at the Cochlear Implant Clinic

For the past 4 weeks, as part of the speech pathology degree I am currently undertaking, I spent four days a week working at the Cochlear Implant Clinic at the Royal Eye and Ear Hospital in Melbourne Victoria. It's been like working in a miracle zone. Every single day I've been astonished with delight.

The clinic is the place in Victoria and Tasmania where people come to get cochlear implants. But beyond that, they are pioneers of the cochlear implant. The implants, conceived and developed right here in Melbourne by Professor Graeme Clark and his colleagues, are now used by more than 120,000 people worldwide. The clinic does implants for both adults and children, but because I was working with the three speech pathologists at the clinic, who work almost exclusively with the children who receive implants, I was almost entirely working with children. Hence my daily astonishment and delight.

There are 3 parts to your ear--outer, middle, and inner ear. The inner ear, called the cochlea, is shaped kind of like a nautilus shell. It forms a spiral, and sound travels along that spiral, where there are ~16,000 tiny little cells called hair cells. Sounds of varying frequencies activate varying hair cells, with higher pitch sounds activating hair cells in the lower part of the spiral, and lower pitch sounds activating cells in the higher part of the spiral. When the hair cells are activated, they send signals to the auditory nerve, which in turn delivers signals to the auditory cortex of your brain, causing you to hear sound. The fact that you have 16,000 hair cells means that you get incredibly high fidelity sound quality. You hear the tiniest nuances of speech, of music, of your air conditioning, of thunder and snow falling--all the sounds that we often take for granted.

For most of history, children who were born with cochleas that didn't work simply never got to hear. Having cochleas that don't work on both the left and the right sides is called bilateral profound sensorineural hearing loss. It means that while the sound may get to your cochlea, your cochlea is unable for some reason to use the hair cells to change the sound into the elecrochemical signal that travels down your auditory nerve to your auditory cortex.

The cochlear implant consists of two parts, an internal and an external. The internal part has a tiny little tube with 22 electrodes in it. This tube is inserted into the cochlea, and the electrodes are of varying lengths and thus reach to various parts of the spiral. Each electrode, when it carries power, activates in a different of the cochlea, creating input to the auditory nerve at various frequencies. Of course there is loss of fidelity with 22 electrodes now doing the work that was previously done by 16,000 hair cells. Nevertheless, I even saw one of the children with whom I worked singing a tune! The external part of the implant contains 2 small microphones and a tiny little computer with some pretty amazing software. It takes incoming audio signal and processes it, then sends information to the internal part thusly activating the 22 electrodes in the cochlea.

Being born with both cochleas not working used to mean, for most people, being part of a very tiny first language group--sign language--with learning spoken language being incredibly difficult to impossible. Now, in Australia and many western nations, universal newborn hearing screening means that children born with little or no hearing are identified by health professionals before they leave the hospital in which they were born. And in more and more cases, this means that somewhere between the ages of 6 and 9 months they will likely receive one or two cochlear implants, and thus have access to sound from a very young age. Barring any other difficulties, they will grow up hearing and learning spoken language in pretty much the same manner as their normally hearing peers. They will be able to have conversations with any of the many native speakers of their larger community's spoken language, and will have the option to learn any other spoken language they might choose, gaining access to conversation with almost any of the 7 billion of us.

So every day I was working with little children who had received cochlear implants and who were now understanding and using spoken language at the same developmental level as their typically hearing peers. I grew up hearing this story about Jesus miraculously healing a deaf fellow. And here we are, healing the deafness of children early enough to give them access to spoken language, as a matter of course, almost. It's miracles every day. Hurrah!

P.S. I want to point out that I mean absolutely no disrespect for the deaf community. Having never really been part of a small minority group, I can't even really imagine what this sort of transitional time must be like for that community. It seems to me that it might be something like being part of a very small first language group, a few hundred people in a big city, for instance, not being able to learn a second language, and then suddenly all of the children in the community, who previously would have learned your language, are now learning the majority language and are no longer learning your language at all. I wonder if there are parallels between the current transition for the deaf community, with the advent of universal newborn hearing screening and young cochlear implantation, and the experience of other minority language groups whose language are dying because the children are assimilating and learning only the majority language. I'd be very open to hearing criticisms of my viewpoint or stories from within the deaf community. I would definitely want to respond to such stories with opennness and respect.