According to Miriam-Webster:
the Definition of SABBATICAL is
a break or change from a normal routine (as of employment)
Now coming off of my self-appointed sabbatical year, and having had time to remove myself from the muck and mire of irrationality permeating our daily lives, it is time to get back to business.
As a refresher to those who haven't visited in a while, and for those who may be new, this site, the S.O.U.L. blog is about the Science Of Understanding Life. Because 'understanding' is of the mind, it is there my efforts are most focused. Our lives have been, and are being manipulated. Our opinions are being molded and our understanding of the world we live in is being skewed through all manner of SOPHISTicated rhetoric and media propaganda. And because many of us have never been taught to truly 'think', these manipulations tend to go unnoticed and are absolutely not in the best interest of the majority of people.
On this blog, we examine the nonsense. We identify the rhetoric and fallacies which are at the root of many of our most pressing challenges, and we devise ways to effectively address them. Sound like fun? Well break time is over so let's get to it!
Here is a quick review of the fallacies (there are many more) we'll begin looking for:
- appeal to emotion - Manipulating an emotional response in place of a valid or compelling argument.
- ambiguity - Using double meanings or ambiguities of language to mislead or misrepresent the truth.
- strawman - You misrepresented someone's argument to make it easier to attack.
- genetic - Judging something good or bad on the basis of where it comes from, or from whom it comes.
- bandwagon - Appealing to popularity or the fact that many people do something as an attempted form of validation.
We'll be looking for, dissecting and learning to defend against these common fallacies in the coming weeks. If you find some interesting examples we can play with here, please send them via the Contact link at the top of the page.
As sophisticated as humans and our technology have become, the processes of the brain and mysteries of the mind remain elusive frontiers.
Almost all would agree, and it has often been stated that the human brain is the most powerful computing device known, and yet, the majority of people utilize less than 10% of their brain potential. 10% seems to be the agreed upon ceiling.
So, we have these powerful brains which we can never fully use and appreciate?
Not only is it possible to coax higher and better performance from our brains, some would argue that the 10% barrier (if there is such a thing) can be easily exceeded!
One of the simplest ways that anyone can begin to achieve clearer thinking and enhanced cognitive performance is to utilize mind-mapping techniques to organize and structure thinking.
A mind map is a graphical way to represent ideas and concepts. It is a visual thinking tool that helps structuring information, helping you to better analyze, comprehend, synthesize, recall and generate new ideas.
Just as in every great idea, its power lies in its simplicity.
In a mind map, as opposed to traditional note taking or a linear text, information is structured in a way that resembles much more closely how your brain actually works. Since it is an activity that is both analytical and artistic, it engages your brain in a much, much richer way, helping in all its cognitive functions. And, best of all, it is fun!
My goal for this post is not to teach you mind-mapping. You can go to the link above or Wikipedia for that. My objective is to inform you about mind-mapping techniques, and for those interested in maximizing their mapping efforts, introduce you to an interesting piece of software I recently come across.The software is called The Brain and can be found at www.TheBrain.com
. It is commercial software which has a highly usable free version for Windows, Mac and Linux.
I am in no way affiliated with this company or its software nor do I profit, directly or indirectly from your use of it. I have simply used mind-maps for a few years and can attest to their effectiveness in improving any area of life which requires thought...which is pretty much every area of life!If your life seems chaotic or confused, or if you never seem to be able to follow through with projects, mind-mapping may help. If you need a way to organize inspired or creative thought, mind-mapping may be for you. If you would like to improve your performance in any area of your life, mind-mapping is a tried and true means to that end...and using The Brain software make it so easy, you can hardly go wrong! Check out the video below for a quick overview and happy mapping!
Greetings friends! Although it has been a few weeks since my last post, I am happy to report that my summer has been going great! All rumors of my taking a sabbatical have been partially exaggerated!
It was however just a few weeks back that I was in a discussion with a friend and the discussion happened upon the topic of 'absolute v. relative truth'. And while I was inclined to digitize my insights that day, my utter devotion to the 'lazy days of summer' guided my attention to other interests. That's truth 1.
Nevertheless, I am here today...on this last day of July to blog my thoughts on the subject and, make an attempt to not have a month break in my blog archive. And there we have truth 2.
I support the belief that there are fundamental, absolute truths which underly existence. This is in stark contrast to the mass popularity of relativism. This is where your "truth" is your own, mine is my own. They may be different, but they are both valid because "truth" is relative.
My friend, whom I appreciate a great deal, began to try to show me the "relative light" by using the relative nature of the passage of time. You know this one....the faster a person travels, the slower time moves for them. This is not just a theoretical idea...it is fact. Experiments have been conducted using atomic clocks which demonstrate that a clock placed in orbit around the earth passed time more slowly than one stationary on the earth. And it is also true for a person...depending on a number of factors, including the size of objects in your vicinity, time may pass more quickly or slowly for you. In that situation, time may be experienced relatively, but the absolute fundamental truth is that time passes. You can't reverse it or stop it. Even when you die, your remains count the time that passes...that's how we are able to carbon-14 date things. Time always passes. It's absolute.
We left the 'time' example because, even though he understood what I was saying, his "truth" informed him of something different than my "truth" informed me of. In other words, the same evidence could be presented to different people and, because of their different life experiences and interpretations, the "truth" may be different for each of them. I was a bit shocked at this assertion as it completely disregarded the field of mathematics. 2+2 = 4...always has, always will. But I do remember when I was back in school, something called "New Math", where apparently, the right answer was less important than demonstrating proper thought. In essence, you could arrive at 2+2=5 and still be considered correct because you demonstrated good mathematical conceptualizations. I never took that class. In my class, proper mathematical thought was proved by achieving a correct result.
It took going through these (now truncated) examples before I realized that I was approaching my friend incorrectly. So I asked him, "So you believe that all truth is relative?" He responded in the affirmative. I asked if he was sure...he said he was. I asked him if he was absolutely sure...and he began to see where I was going.
The mere proclamation that there is no absolute truth, is itself a declaration of absolute truth. From that one declared, absolute truth, we can get another...that every truth is relative. And from zero absolute truth, we now have two absolute truths. Give it a little more time and thought, and you'll be able to find even more. But the truth is, only someone willing to accept truth will acknowledge it.
Summer has arrived! As a result, I haven't been as attentive as I normally am toward my postings. Not that I've been engaged in leisure...just shifting gears a bit with the children being out of school. And it's the subject of schooling that brings me to the keyboard today.
Those who know me well know that I have a passion for education. For me, true education extends far beyond childhood and well outside of the classroom. Education is the continual, lifelong cultivation of the mind to provide oneself with a more desirable experience of existence.
I sometimes find myself perusing text books of one type or another, ranging from the 19th century to today. I was thumbing through a fairly modern text whose subject was 'investigative report writing'. A fairly solid text with excellent advice, examples and illustrations, I was impressed until I reached a very small and simple section on spelling accuracy. The text discouraged the reader from looking to the dictionary for spelling assistance because, "you need to know how to spell a word to look it up." Pure absurdity!
Not only is the dictionary THE primary source for spelling accuracy (and if you can phonetically 'sound out' a word, you can look it up), it is also an often overlooked bridge to understanding and intellectual enlightenment! Spelling accuracy is the first and most basic way the dictionary makes you 'smarter'...sort of. While we're all guilty of misspelling and typos, we also know how they make us personally respond when we see them in the works of others. So if knowing how to spell a variety of words doesn't actually make you smarter, you at least appear so in your written communication.
In it's most fundamental use however, the dictionary provides us with meaning. Once we have successfully sounded out and looked up the term in question, we are presented with definition and usage. Anyone needing to look up a word for correct spelling would do well to ensure that they have chosen a term holding correct meaning. There are many terms in common use today that hold various meanings among people...religion, spirituality, energy, love, wealth, happiness, etc, etc. How often has confused understanding caused problems in using these and other such terms? Correct meaning is the second way the dictionary will 'muscle-up' your mental ability.
Finally, the dictionary presents us with options for exploration! Depending on which one you use, the dictionary can offer historical word-roots, and a variety of synonyms and antonyms to learn and use. Normally reserved for a thesaurus, these 'bundled' features are more common in the online and electronic versions of dictionaries, but some of the higher quality (read: more expensive) more extensive printed versions have some of these features as well. Gaining a more expansive vocabulary and developing an appreciation of the evolution of ones primary language is the final way the dictionary will help you build brain power!
Since the introduction of the iPhone back in '07 and the subsequent release of Android devices, the power of the dictionary is in most peoples hands, in all its glory! In fact, from your handset, you can now simply 'google' a word and if you misspell it, google will offer suggestions. Sometimes google will give a well formatted definition at the beginning of the search results, other times, one has to go two or three links into the results to find the Merriam-webster or Dictionary.com links to the term. There are also dedicated dictionary apps to use on modern cell phones. Either way, it's quick, simple and painless.
In the interest of correct word usage and clear and eloquent communication, let us not disparage the dictionary!
"I was reading the dictionary. I thought it was a poem about everything."
"If a word in the dictionary were misspelled, how would we know?"
As I write this post, I am concluding another Memorial Day weekend, and I can't help but wonder when humanity will 'evolve' beyond the need for such commemorations...to move beyond the need to commemorate those who died in war, by no longer engaging in war. Yes, I know it sounds idealistic, but without anyone ever contemplating the ideal, we truly would have no chance of realizing it.
The latest of our national engagements has pitted us (the Judeo-Christian West) against the 'evils' of Islamic terrorism. Back in '92 it was about oil...but now apparently, "they hate us for our freedom", i.e. our culture which is based on a Judeo-Christian ethic.
Ever notice, no matter what the context, that many of our most terrifying and brutal conflicts seem the have a streak of religion running through it? Indeed, throughout recorded history, up to today, the vast majority (dare I say all) major conflicts between peoples and nations have had a religious undertone (if not a blatant overtone such as the Crusades). This makes sense considering that the laws and politics of a nation are generally derived from the dominant religion. And, because religions...specifically those of the Abrahamic faiths... all proclaim themselves to be 'the only true religion', the nations deriving their laws and politics therefrom will harbor the same conflicting views.
Is it possible to be rationally religious...to hold on to ones faith, yet be humane toward our fellow earthlings? I believe that it is! And if we adhere to an agreed upon set of 'Suggestions', we will not only remain on firm, rational ground, but we may even find a way to co-exist. So let's give it a try:
Suggestion 1: Outside of the confines of your home, church, synagogue or mosque, your beliefs are irrational. That is why they are classed as 'faith' and not 'fact' or 'truth'. They may serve you well, but the mileage may vary with others. Be honest with yourself and come to peace with this so we can move on to Suggestion 2.
Suggestion 2: Most religions of an Abrahamic lineage have the command to "Love your neighbor as yourself..." This sounds very nice, but has been severely misinterpreted. The problem is, most people, based on how they treat themselves and their environment, don't seem to know how to love themselves...let alone their neighbor. So how about this, "What you don't like done to you, don't do to anyone else."
Suggestion 3: Protect children, help those in need and stand up for the downtrodden. Is there really anymore that needs to be said about these?
Suggestion 4: Honor your Creator by honoring the creation. You wouldn't piss on a painting by Picaso to demonstrate how much you admired the artist and his work. Likewise, it doesn't seem rational to profess a love for the Creator yet systematically harm and destroy the creation. We can clearly demonstrate our love and respect for the Creator by adhering to Suggestions 2 & 3.
Even an atheist must concede that their parents are their progenitors (i.e. their Creator(s)). Most parents would be proud to have children who staunchly adhered to Suggestions 2, 3 & 4. But that's not the most pressing issue with our atheist friends. The issue today seems to be the divide concerning the term 'GOD' being printed on our (the U.S.) national currency and used in our Pledge of Allegiance. So how about one more Suggestion...
Suggestion 5: If atheists consider the term 'GOD' on our money and in our Pledge as an acronym, then that acronym could mean 'Gold, Oil and Dollars'. It should be perfectly fitting in the mind of an atheist, for a capitalistic society to have such an acronym on its currency...and as for the Pledge, it fits right in. "...one nation, under Gold, Oil and Dollars, indivisible..."
Perhaps one day we'll get it together :-)!
Critical thinking is a subject highly touted, but seemingly, rarely practiced. That is not to say that people don't believe they are applying critical thought. Without question, most people view themselves as careful and critical thinkers. However, the state of the world (war, poverty, incarceration for victim-less crimes, etc.) demonstrates otherwise. Even you may not be the skilled thinker you believe yourself to be. Don't believe me? Here's a quick check:
A baseball bat and ball cost $1.10 total. The bat costs $1.00 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
This is a very simple arithmetic problem that anyone who's attended elementary school should be able to easily solve. Many persons read the problem and think the answer is ten cents. That is incorrect.
If you are among the very large group who arrived at that answer, fret not! Consider it a wakeup call to be honest with yourself. Perhaps you are not as skilled at thinking critically as you believed; but knowing this empowers you to do something about it.
What does a simple maths problem have to do with the state of the world? It illustrates that, more often than not, we are inclined to hear, see and read what we want to hear, see and read as opposed to what is actually spoken, observed or written. When we do that, the products of our thought will be consistently flawed, no matter how skilled we are in the fundamental processes problem solving.
So, how do we correct this deficiency in thinking? First, read through my posts regarding Grammar and Logical Fallacies. They will provide a good starting point in identifying flawed thinking in everyday life. Next, get a good book and study the principles of logical and reasoned thinking. I recommend:
Finally, don't, "...suffer fools gladly." We have a responsibility to ourselves, to each other and to society at large, to put a check on flawed reasoning by identifying and dispatching it.
It takes a measure of courage to do this, as people generally don't like to have their flawed thinking put on display. Indeed, doing so earned Socrates a date with the executioner. But, thanks to his courage, we have the means to positively progress our human society, and Socrates himself is immortalized...no one remembers the 'fools' who rebuked him with violence.
Oh yes...the ball costs five cents! If you didn't get that answer, re-read the problem carefully. What is it actually telling you? The 'ah-ha' moment will be worth the few minutes you spend thinking about it.
We live in amazing times! Never before in recorded history has humanity been as 'connected' as we are today...and we have our technology to thank for it! Because of satellite broadcasting, the Internet and most recently, smart phones, we have
access to ideas and information from all corners of the world...at digital speed!But this connectedness has proven to be a double edged sword. It seems that the more technologically connected we become, the more we dislike and distrust each other. It's a worsening condition that, were it an actual disease, could only be called 'ME Disease'. A terminal condition characterized by an exclusive and inordinate fascination with ones own ideas and beliefs
, ME Disease is essentially a cancer of the ego. It has the dubious symptom of rendering those afflicted unable to separate themselves from their beliefs...those simple conceptualizations which exist nowhere except in the mind.The 'disease' analogy is appropriate because, wherever one travels to in the world, all students of human anatomy...medical students...study only one kind of human body. Geneticists study only one human genome. There are no books or classes on these subjects which distinguish race, religion, creed or national origin
. Humans...all humans, are fundamentally the same.
What differentiates us is our beliefs. And this two is double edged. Our differences make us unique and that uniqueness adds to the rich tapestry of human experience. At the same time, our beliefs are our biggest problem as a species. In fact, I would go so far as to say they are our only problem as a species.Our beliefs, innocuous as they may seem, are the differences that divide us! Differences in religion separate us as groups and peoples. I don't need to spend any significant time here rehashing the atrocities which have been committed throughout history, up to today, all in the name of religion.
Faith is generally inherited and is often simply accepted and never critically scrutinized. Faith may be beneficial and provide comfort and moral grounding for some, but blind, uninformed faith is always harmful to all. This kind of 'bad religion' separates us as individuals, families and communities.National identity provides many with a source of pride and sense of tradition, but as with religion, the numbers of people who have wrongly suffered and died in the name of some nation (foreign or home)
grossly outweighs any purported benefit realized by humanity overall. If we look at the earth from space, we don't see the lines, borders and demarcation points that we find on maps. Borders, fences and walls are human conceptualizations...ideas only in the minds of people. They don't exist in nature, yet they serve to further divide us, making us fearful of and willing to harm our global neighbours.Economics is probably the most pervasive idea worldwide. Regardless of what country one is in or what religion one may subscribe to, the common belief is that "everybody needs money". And because everyone agrees, it is true everywhere...except in nature.
Money has no intrinsic value in nature. What has value is food, water and shelter. Now here is where the disconnect comes:
When it becomes 'okay' to allow people to starve to death on the basis of a belief, we have become separated from our own individual humaneness.
- Fact: In the developed world, we dispose of more food (as waste) in a month than most third world nations see in an entire year or more!
- Fact: Today, we have at our disposal the resources and technology to provide food and potable water to every person on the planet!
- Sad Fact: The reason that the problems of starvation and water borne illness still exist is that it would be 'expensive' to properly address them.
..humanity divided from its humanity.A major part of the Science Of Understanding Life is the realization that we are not our beliefs. Our beliefs (all of them without exclusion) are only mental constructs that can and should be scrutiized regularly and altered if necessary. There is no glory in holding on to an outdated or harmful belief, and there is no shame in adjusting beliefs when required.
Indeed to be able to do so is to demonstrate maturity of mind.
"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."
Aristotle - Greek critic, philosopher, physicist, & zoologist (384 BC - 322 BC)
Now that we seem to have settled on the republican candidate for president (Mitt Romney), the 'real' political season has begun!
As promised in my earlier posts regarding the Logical Fallacies, the fluff and distractions are beginning to fly. And this week starts us off with a great example to enhance our examination of logical fallacies.
In a heated discussion on a pundit show earlier this week, democratic strategist Hilary Rosen was attempting to make the very valid point that potential First Lady Ann Romney has never held employment in any job sector since being married to Mitt.The point is valid in that Mitt Romney, on multiple occasions, referenced his wife Ann as a source for information about the economy and how it is impacting working class women
. Ann Romney has never been a working class woman. Since being married, she has not held W-2 based employment. In fact, she has been financially supported by a very wealthy husband for most of her life.These are not attacks...they are facts. However, Ms. Rosen, who is clearly not skilled in the delicate art of rhetoric, cap-stoned her very valid point by
referencing Ann Romney as, "never worked a day in her life."Enter the Red Herring
! Immediately following Ms. Rosen's remarks, Ann Romney opened a Twitter account and tweeted the following:"I made a choice to stay home and raise five boys. Believe me, it was hard work."AND THE CROWD GOES WILD!!! Ann Romney, certainly at the behest of her SOPHISTicated
advisers, seized on the cap-stone comment, completely by-passed the HIGHLY RELEVANT issue, and took the media and the masses on the trail of a very blatant Red Herring
argument. That argument being that Ms. Rosen, and by extension the democrats and by further extension, the Obama administration, are somehow opposed to motherhood and stay-at-home moms!This is clearly untrue (based on the Hasty Generalization fallacy), but it makes great media fodder to support a relentless 24hr "news" cycle, and sadly enough, most people who are watching it play out, actually believe the hype! They are being misled and following the Red Herring instead of sticking to the real issue at hand. That issue is:What, if anything, of significance, does Ann Romney have to add to the public discussion about employed women and the economy? If, presumably, she has nothing to offer, why does the republican presidential candidate value and publicly reference what she (Ann) opines on these issues?
If they (Mr./Mrs. Romney) are out of touch with working class people due to their exorbitant wealth...AND their advisors regarding issues of the working class have never experienced what it means to be such...then perhaps it is reasonable to hypothesize that a Romney administration wouldn't do much to improve the conditions of the working class. That's not to say that they (the Romney's or republicans) aren't concerned about 'middle/working class' issues, but it is to say that one cannot solve a problem that one does not understand.That is the real issue we should be addressing
. Only through the use of good reasoning will we build a better society and world for ourselves.
The unthankful heart... discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings! ~Henry Ward Beecher
After watching this short film, take a couple of minutes and take inventory of the things YOU have to be grateful for in YOUR life!
Of all the species which occupy this planet, humans are the only ones known to be endowed with the gift of intellect. Most of us understand this, but too often we become complacent, and get so lost in what we perceive to be the commonality of the intellect, that many take it for granted.
It is Language and Literature which are the foundations of human intellect. Any spoken language allows for the communication of complex ideas and concepts. Through speech we can teach, learn and plan. It is a significant advantage on the evolutionary scale. But we didn't stop there!As we advanced, we developed symbols to represent the various sounds of speech. Over time, these rudimentary symbols evolved into written languages. Now, not only could humans directly communicate ideas and concepts to each other through speech...they could also record them for later reference...for themselves, other cultures and future generations. Thus began the evolution of literature, humanity's collective knowledge-base.It is these intellectual technologies...speaking, writing and reading...
which paved the way for the human species to rise and ultimately dominate the animate world. Over the last few decades, there has been a shift in how we are educated, and that shift has, unfortunately reduced the in-depth study of Languages and Literature in favor of more technical/skill-based/applied training
. And while there is nothing inherently 'bad' about this sort of training, to focus on it to the exclusion of liberal education...the arts of becoming a master reader, writer and speaker...is without doubt a significant misstep.No other species in nature would deny or degrade their fundamental gifts which allow them to thrive in the world
. Birds don't decide to walk...or merely become 'average' fliers. Each individual strives to fly in the best manner and to the limit that it's physiology will allow. The same is true with fish. A fish is not content to be a mediocre swimmer. With every stroke of its tail-fin, the fish strives for a level of greatness, perfection and precision in it's actions...it's survival depends on it.Why should we humans think it's any different for us? If it is the intellect which elevated us to prominence, and if Language and Literature are the foundations of intellect
, should we not strive for our own 'personal best' in those endeavors...reading, writing and speaking?I for one believe we should, and that is why this week I present to you my top six resources for honing our understanding and appreciation of Language and Literature, the landscape of our human experience. By spending time with these sites and becoming familiar with their content, you're sure to increase your understanding of the world and become more effective in your life. Enjoy!
- Bartleby: The pre-eminent Internet publisher of literature, reference and verse providing students, researchers and the intellectually curious with unlimited access to books and information on the web, free of charge.
- BrainyQuote: Find and find out where famous quotes came from with this great online quotation resource.
- Urban Dictionary: Keep up with the slang the youth are using these days with this easy reference point for looking up words.
- BookRags: An academic and research resource hosting the largest collection of book summaries, written by educators for the casual reader, and ranging from Harry Potter to Hamlet.
- Encyclopedia Mythica:If something has been written about mythology, religion or folklore, you’ll find it with this helpful online search engine and resource collection.
- Toastmasters International: Toastmasters is an organization that runs public speaking clubs around the world. If you desire to improve your general communications, public speaking and presentation skills, then find a local club and join. You'll be glad you did!