Uncommon Sense

January 30, 2023

Philosophical Confusions

Note I was tempted to write a “Confusions say . . .” joke but I did not. S

I ran across a quote from one of my favorite books (from my past, I hardly remember it now, many thousands of books later). Here it is:

Shunryu Suzuki wrote in his book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s, there are few.”

This statement was in support of the cultivation of a beginner’s mind and I think it is, in fact, a turning away from enlightenment rather than a turning toward it. Allow me to explain.

Anyone who has spent serious time with the very young has experienced their massive creativity. They see animals in clouds, they see imaginary friends/animals, etc. And having “beginner’s minds” they distract themselves repeatedly: “Look a horsey!” “Can I have a cookie?” “They are trying to steal my toys!”

Yes, those with beginner’s minds see a great many “possibilities” but most are off task and distractions rather than being helpful. A similar miscomprehension notes how children seem to learn faster/more. Even if they do, and I doubt it, they are learning to tie their shoes and turn off the lights when leaving a room, not more complicated tasks.

Experts face another set of problems entire. Possessing a great deal of knowledge, experts also see a great many possibilities, most of which are on task, and because of their experience, they usually gravitate to a train of thinking that is likely to be successful, giving the appearance that they see only a few possibilities. I used to teach my students that they will recognize their own mastery of topics when they gravitate to lines of thinking that result in correct answers (and this requires practice, practice, practice, the same that is required to reach Carnegie Hall).

A recent study of recall addressed why it appeared that old people took longer to recall things than young people. The researchers could think of no physical reason why this might be so. So they did a study and their only conclusion was that in all likelihood, old people took longer to recall facts because they had much larger stores of facts in long-term memory to sift through. This is like the expert’s minds seeing “fewer possibilities” miscomprehension, which is a false conclusion based upon a natural tendency to gravitate toward things that will work.

Turning back to my point that cultivating a mind like a beginner is not a step forward but a step back. Beginners are gullible, beginners are less discerning, etc. This is why religions target the young for their proselytizing. We should instead be studying how this “inclination to pursue lines of thought that will be successful” works.

The trap for experts has always been that that tendency can block off more novel approaches to problems. The well used channels of thoughts become ruts that are nor easily escaped. This is why Einstein extolled being able to think as a child would, with wonder and awe, but he was not recommending a steady diet of such thinking.

All of these may be moot points as our society seems to be turning away from experts and returning to a simpler societal “beginner’s mind,” more easily gulled by those who desire to manipulate us.

Note For those of you confused by the reference to Carnegie Hall, it comes from an old joke. It goes like this: Someone asked a cabbie “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” and the cabbie pondered a bit and replied “Practice, practice, practice.”

January 28, 2023

Egregious Quote Mining Mistakes

Filed under: Culture,language — Steve Ruis @ 1:29 pm
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Theists and other purveyors of spiritual bushwah commonly quote famous people, always out of context, in such a way that it sounds as if the famous people are in agreement with the spiritual claims being made. Albert Einstein is one of those often quote mined because of his standing as one of humanities greatest intellects. Here is an example:

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.” Albert Einstein

Some in the “spiritual community” claim this is Einstein commenting on the Deity or spirituality, you know the mysterious, that which is impossible to understand.

mysterious, adj.: “difficult or impossible to understand, explain, or identify”
mystery, noun: “something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain”

Now, take note that in science the word impossible never comes up. To be able to claim that some thing or event were impossible, one would have had to exhaust all available efforts to create that thing or event and have failed, and then would have to assume that further attempts in the future would also fail. This is contrary to scientific thinking, for example, all scientific conclusions are provisional because we don’t know what facts may be determined in the future. And so to proclaim that there will be no future facts to contradict one’s “impossible” claim, one is claiming to know the future. If something seems impossible, we don’t go all the way there, we usually use a phrase like “very highly unlikely” or “unlikely in the extreme.”

The key point is that Einstein is just stating that we shouldn’t lose our child-like sense of wonder at things we don’t know or don’t yet understand.

Before swallowing any quote that seems improbable to you, do a little research:
• Did that person actual state that thing . . . that way?
• What is the context that quote was pulled out of? (Often they were talking about something quite different from what is claimed.)
• Is the interpretation of the quote being implied consistent with that persons other stated beliefs?

Every time I don’t follow these suggestions, I usually end up making a mistake.

Another Einstein quote I find problematic and quoted all over the place is “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” This was attributed to something written by Einstein (or about Einstein, we all know what sticklers for accuracy reporters and interviewers are) in The New York Times, June 20, 1932. This is not how Einstein lived his life. Ask his first wife. Einstein sacrificed all of the needs of the “others” in his life to his work. His work came first. It was #1, not “others.”

In fact this is not good advice at all. One of my teachers told me that if I wanted to live a good life, I had to be ruthless about who I allowed into it. Many “others” suck your energy and effort and do not return anything, even in the form of a feeling that you have done well by them.

And as to whether the quote attributed to Einstein is in agreement with his other utterances, how about this one: “Work is the only thing that gives substance to life.”—quote attributed to son Hans Albert, January 4, 1937.

Or these . . .

“I am happy because I want nothing from anyone. I do not care about money. Decorations, titles, or distinctions mean nothing to me. I do not crave praise. The only thing that gives me pleasure, apart from my work, my violin, and my sailboat, is the appreciation of my fellow workers.”

“Be a loner. That gives you time to wonder, to search for the truth. Have holy curiosity. Make your life worth living.”

“Although I am a typical loner in daily life, my consciousness of belonging to the invisible community of those who strive for truth, beauty, and justice has preserved me from feeling isolated.”

Somehow these quotes don’t go together with “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” Maybe Einstein fell into the trap of others asking him to say something “profound.”

January 26, 2023

It’s a Miracle!

This question recently came up on Quora.com, the question and answer site: “If God didn’t exist, how do atheists explain that water freezes at exactly 0°C and boil at 100°C? Seems like a proof of intelligent design. It’s a miracle!”

There should be a Dunning-Kruger Award for questions like this, but alas, there is not.

Obviously this person doesn’t know the history or logic behind thermometer design, so maybe you would like to know this too.

The alcohol thermometer (the kind with the red liquid in them) was invented in 1709 and the mercury thermometer (the ones with mercury in them) in 1714 by the same man: Daniel Gabriel Fahrenheit (1686-1736). In 1724 Fahrenheit introduced the scale he invented, which we have appropriately called the Fahrenheit Scale. This is the one commonly used in the U.S. and almost nowhere else. (The Euros often brag about how they do not use the Fahrenheit Scale, preferring to use a metric scale, but they use the Celsius Scale commonly and that is not part of the Metric System, So there!)

The scale at which pure water (at sea level air pressure) freezes at exactly 0°C and boils at exactly 100°C was invented by Anders Celsius of Sweden in 1742 and which we rightfully called the Celsius Scale. Well, not quite. Celsius actually set the boiling point at 0 and the freezing point at 100 because he was measuring “coolth” not warmth. It was his colleague, the botanist Carl Linnaeus (aka Carolus Linnaeus), who turned the numbers around. (If it was a miracle, the devil made him make it upside down first!)

Fun Facts Fahrenheit picked the rather strange numbers for the two temperatures used as references (32°F for freezing and 212°F for boiling temperatures of pure water) because he wanted the temperature of the human body to come out at 100°F. (He used a slurry of ice and a solution of ammonium chloride (aka Sal Ammoniac, which sounds like a character in West Side Story) for his zero point as he felt no lower temperature would be encountered. In other words that was the coldest mix he could create.) He thought this would make the lives of nurses taking body temperatures easier. Not only was his measurement of human body temperature off but we then fixated on an internal body temperature of 98.6°F as being “normal.” Many people still believe this erroneous fact. In reality “normal” body temperature can fall within a wide range, from 97°F to 99°F and varies daily! It’s usually lower in the morning and goes up during the day. It peaks in the late afternoon or evening, sometimes by as much as 1 or 2 degrees over the morning temperature.

The myth of the “normal” 98.6°F standard dates to the mid-1800s. German doctor Carl Wunderlich measured the armpit temperatures of about 25,000 people and came up with an average of 98.6°F. Newer research suggests that the number has since gone down. In a recent review, scientists looked at temperature records from three periods between 1860 and 2017. The average oral temperature slowly fell by about 1 degree to 97.5°F. My pet theory is based on what people would a nineteenth century doctor have to test, probably sick people, who would be expected to have elevated temperatures. So the average temperature didn’t drop, we just get a better selection of “normal” people to test.

A Private IRS?

I was reading a post about how a credit agency (Equifax) has become a private  version of the Internal Revenue Service. The claim is based upon a service provided by Equifax to verify people’s incomes (and other things).

At one point it was stated that IRS information is private (kinda sorta, of course, ask Donald Trump) except for a short time in the 1920’s when progressives got tax filings made public. This last part was written sneeringly (at least I so perceive).

Recently I read a response from a Swede (to the DJT tax forms kerfuffle) and she claimed that in Sweden, tax returns are public documents. She can go to any tax office and request a copy of any citizen’s tax forms, pay a small processing fee, and voilà!

If you stop to think about it, once Americans believe they are being treated unfairly, they begin to revolt. And tax fairness is a big issue. So, having tax returns freely available would be a good thing in an open society, no? It would deter cheaters for one and reinforce the fairness of the system or allow us to focus on aspects that are unfair and deal with them.

So, who would want to keep these official government documents secret? Gosh, you don’t think the rich want people pouring over their tax documents, uncovering all of the cheats, scams, and lies they incorporate, now do you?

Again, the rich are the tail wagging our political dog. They even encourage us to sneer at progressive’s efforts to make our society more visible.

January 24, 2023

Modern Day Villains

We, as a society, consume a great many entertainments, many of which are visual: videos, shows, concerts, etc. In the “movies” many plots require some dramatic tension and a good guy-bad guy axis. Someone to root for, someone to root against. And the villains fall into somewhat nice categories: we have sociopaths and psychopaths, whose thinking is bizarre to us, but fascination, currently we have quite a few zombies who have no personality but pose an existential threat nonetheless. (Nobody tries to figure out why the zombies are doing what they do, they just run.) And the usual coterie of “bad guys” includes drug dealers, people who cheat on the spouses, etc. It is rare that a new bad guy, like Hannibal Lecter comes along.

By far the most common bad guy in today’s videos is . . . drum roll, please . . . corporations, evil corporations, not just corporations that run over you because they didn’t see you in their driveway. Corporations that are driven only to make profits and to Hell with any opposition to those efforts.

Here is Bernie Sanders chiming in on one such corporation (Cal-Maine Foods):

Bernie Sanders (Twitter)
Corporate greed is the producer of Egg-Land’s Best, Farmhouse Eggs & Land O’Lake Eggs, increasing its profits by 65% last quarter to a record-breaking $198 million while doubling the price of eggs & reporting no positive cases of avian flu. Yes. We need a windfall profits tax.
11:37 AM · Jan 15, 2023·

And these corporations haven’t exactly been subtle about their machinations: the CEOs of America’s largest companies got on their quarterly investor calls and chortled about the willingness of “consumers” to blame inflation for the prices they were jacking up . . . because they could.

Republicans stickered gas-pumps up and down the country with Joe Biden “I Did That” stickers, even as gas companies declared record profits and boasted to investors about how they were able to tap directly into drivers’ wallets under cover of inflation.

It doesn’t look like any other villain will knock corporations out of their #1 spot at all soon. They just can’t help themselves, reinforcing their “bad guy” image over and over and over.

As I had said often enough, the Achilles’ Heel of capitalism is that it places no restriction on greed.

January 19, 2023

Danger, Will Robinson, Danger!

Various pundits are flying off the rails because the new GOP Speaker of the House of Representatives has put his most radical members on the Oversight and Accountability Committee, the main investigative organ in the House. OMG! What might they do?

Actually, this is a gift to the Democrats. Allow the conspiracy theorists in the House full rein, to investigate everything from Hunter Biden’s laptop to, well, anything with a Biden stamp upon it.

I am making popcorn now because this is going to be great theater. Rather than opposing these GOP crazies, I say stand back and give them an Obamaesque “Proceed.” I am betting on the fact that people are getting tired of meaningless distractions and want to see real actions taken against things like inflation, climate change, you know, real problems.

I can’t wait for them to bring up Hunter Biden’s laptop! Mafia Don’s FBI had a copy of the supposed hard drive from the supposed laptop for years and couldn’t squeeze anything out of it (except I am told some “dick pics”), so I say “have at it!” Oh, and be sure to detail the chain of evidence that proves it is Hunter Biden’s laptop and not just some prop. I can’t wait to see these incompetent buffoons try to convince anybody but a QAnon Internet audience of anything.

January 18, 2023

Sometimes a Blurb is Enough: There’s a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem by Wayne W. Dyer

Note The author died in 2015, but the book was published in 2003.

And here is the Blurb (from Amazon.com):

National Bestseller
In this inspiring book, bestselling author Wayne Dyer draws from various spiritual traditions to help us unplug from the material world and awaken to the divine with.
With his trademark wit, wisdom, and humor, bestselling author Wayne Dyer offers compelling testimony on the power of love, harmony, and service. When confronted with a problem, be it ill health, financial worries, or relationship difficulties, we often depend on intellect to solve it. In this radical book, Dyer shows us that there is an omnipotent spiritual force at our fingertips that contains the solution to our problems.

The first part of the book provides the essential foundation for spiritual problem solving, drawing from the wisdom of Patanjali, a Yogi mystic; the second half is organized around the prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi, whose legacy is one of love, harmony, and service. Each chapter contains specific practical applications for applying the teachings of these wise men to everyday problems, including affirmations, writing exercises, and guided meditations.

Profound and thought provoking, yet filled with pragmatic advice, There’s a Spiritual Solution to Every Problem is a book about self-awareness and tapping the healing energy within all of us. As Dyer writes, “Thinking is the source of problems. Your heart holds the answer to solving them.

“Thinking is the source of problems. Your heart holds the answer to solving them,” . . . yeah, right. Apparently these are not income tax problems.

How can anyone suggest that there is a spiritual solution to “Every Problem” and not sound like a flim-flam man, a charlatan, a faux guru, a . . . well, you get the idea.

In the blurb accompanying the Kindle version it states “Wayne breaks down the phrase into its three key words: problem, spiritual, and solution.” Well, that makes the process completely transparent, now, doesn’t it. Once you have identified a problem and declared a solution, you just pry open a space between the two and insert your imaginings.

No, I will not be reading this book and am appalled it is ranked on Amazon.com as #543 in Spiritual Self-Help (Books) and even more appalled it is ranked #2106 in Personal Transformation Self Help (no spirituality involved) and . . . National Bestseller! OMG!

January 15, 2023

Some Spare History

Filed under: Culture,History,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:52 am
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Since the memoir ‘Spare” is all the rage right now I thought I would add a touch of context to the history. The term comes from the phrase that a king/monarch/etc. “needed an heir and a spare.” Having just one heir was having all of one’s eggs in one basket. As the monarch aged, the heir assumed more and more duties including combat duties, fighting brigands locally or being called to fight for a higher king farther away. The heir could be killed, or assassinated, or . . . you get the idea. So having a “second-in-line” or a “second-in-waiting,” a “spare heir” was considered a good thing. But this also was a source of strife within the family, sometimes the queen favored the younger heir and would plot to replace the first-in-line heir, etc. Sometimes wars of succession, great and small occurred. Any plot in Shakespeare should show the possibilities.

Along comes the Church to solve the problem. The Church’s advisors to the king/monarch/etc. would say that the internecine strife could be solved were the younger sons be pledged to the church, and even they would go so far as to provide a religious office for nipper. (Many a bishop had no religious training or even inclination.) Think of the prestige!

This was hardly done out of the goodness of the prelate’s hearts. They knew that heirs often died or were assassinated and the second-in-line ended up inheriting the estates, land, castles, etc. But if that heir was adopted by the Church and had taken the required “vow of poverty,” and if his older brother died and he inherited, well, he couldn’t own the estate, but the Church could. The Catholic Church acquired a great deal of land and wealth via this mechanism. Said church, of course, doesn’t admit to the strategy being pre-meditated, just God’s will, don’t you know.

So the next time you see a movie set in ye olde England or Europe, check out how many first sons had younger brothers pledged to the church.

In God We Trust is Bunk!

Filed under: Culture,History,Reason,Religion — Steve Ruis @ 11:44 am
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Many conservative Christians crow about the Ten Commandments and phrases such as “In God We Trust,” our national motto since 1956 (yes, 1956, it was part of our efforts to fight godless communism). But is that latter phrase even true?

Not hardly.

People who trust solely in God, die young.

  • If the Buffalo Bills player whose heart stopped on the field a week ago Monday had trusted solely in God, instead of the training staff, he would he dead and buried at this point.
  • If all of the COVID suffers had trusted solely in God, many more would have died. Ventilators seemed vastly more helpful.
  • If that phrase had any merit, why do Republicans want school teachers armed and also want gun sales to be free and easy, along with “open carry” laws?
  • If we did actually trust in God, why do we spend billions of dollars a year on buy weapons for our military, instead of providing healthcare and other services to those needing them?
  • Why are people investing in the stock markets, rather than trusting God to care for them?
  • If we really trusted in God, no one would buy insurance of any kind.
  • If we really trusted in God, why do we teach our children to “put something away for a rainy day.”

I could go on and on but I do not want to bore you. Add to the list above as you wish. I vote that we bring back the former motto: E Pluribus Unum. At least that motto had some merit and a message that needs be repeated: Out of Many, One. According to the Supreme Court our history and traditions should trump all legal precedents. Well E Pluribus Unum was historically and traditionally our motto; I presume they want it back also.


Filed under: Science — Steve Ruis @ 11:33 am
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On Quora currently one Quoran asked the question “Is time a dimension, or are all dimensions spatial only?” This has been on my mind lately.

I start with a definition of a “dimension”:

Dimension a measurable extent of some kind, such as length, breadth, depth, or height.

When I was much younger I found statements like “there are only three dimensions” or “only four dimensions” to be laughable. Even my little pea-brain knew that to be false. For example, consider a small particle hanging in space and you want to describe it as exactly as you can. As to its position, you can use three spatial measurements to describe its position, but only with regard to some other location. We can “time stamp” those spatial measurements so that we have an idea when in time we are making those measurements. So, we have hit “four dimensions.” Is that all there are? Hardly. What color is that particle? What is its temperature? What is its mass? What is its volume? What is its density? Electrical conductivity? Opacity?

All measurements are comparisons with other things, for each major type we set “standards of comparison” or just “standards” for short. For lengths, we set meters as one standard; for mass: grams and kilograms, slugs, etc. For temperature, Kelvins and . . . and. . . .

For the “spatial dimensions” we are actually measuring lengths in three orthogonal directions, that is at right angles to one another. Since three measurements at right angles to one another establishes a position, we say that space is “three dimensional” . . . spatially! A consequence is we can establish the position of any object with just three measurements (these can be angles as well as linear lengths).

It is Einstein who invented space-time as a four dimension aspect of space that he used to “explain” gravity. (Newton never got around to finding a cause of that force; he just described its behavior.) To explain is to make clear and in Einstein’s gravity, this is clear as mud. According to Einstein, gravity is a distortion of space-time created by masses embedded within it. What most people gloss over is that if this interpretation is correct, space-time cannot be just a set of measurement directions and types of measurements, it must be a real “thing” in order to interact with masses.

I now notice that space-time is being considered as the medium for electromagnetic waves and “quantum field waves” that are what subatomic particles “really” consist of. You may remember the search for the ether (also spelled aether), the medium that supports light waves even traveling through a vacuum. Experiments found it hard to find, to the point that most felt that there was no such thing. But now, space-time is being promoted as the “New Ether,” the medium for electromagnetic waves and more!

I am not a formally trained physicist, per se, but I took a minor in physics along with my major in chemistry in undergraduate school. I am a duffer at best when it comes to more modern, complex physics. But I am seeing more and more things that we considered to be mental constructs when I was in college (1960s-1970’s) being concretized. We talked even then about the “collapse” of atomic wave functions. But we understood that the wave functions were like what sine wave drawings were to sound waves. They represented some aspect of the wave-like behavior but were not real things. What collapsed when a “wave function collapsed” was our uncertainty about the state of a system, there was no physical collapse involved.

Now I read people talking about wave functions as if they were real things, not just mental constructs. You should know that when you mathematically square an atomic electron wave function you get a probability distribution, so a wave function is the square root of a probability distribution. How real is that? (Hint: not.)

So, now, the dubious mental construct of space-time is becoming “real” in much the same way. Seriously, it seems we have gotten way too far out over our skis. Speculations need to be printed in a different font or color or something to distinguish conjectures from real measurements.

And maybe we need to spend some time defining what “real” means in physics.

Addendum At the same time we are concretizing space-time, we are arguing that time does not exist as a dimension. Clearly there are conflicts here that need to be weeded out.

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