Uncommon Sense

March 20, 2023

Hoo Boy!

Filed under: language,Medicine,Reason — Steve Ruis @ 8:41 am
Tags: , ,

Hoo boy, did I screw up. I recently posted the top ten drugs advertised on TV and then went on a diatribe about patent drug names. Well, I just found another list for the same year are here it is:

Here’s is my list (I couldn’t expect you’d remember it.):
and tremfya

See any similarities between the two lists? Well, there are quite a few, because this is the same list. The first list, however, listed the drugs by their brand names, rather than their patent drug names. Brand names are copyrighted rather than patented, but the effect is the same. If you look at the two lists you will see names that are almost equally incoherent, so my point still stands. Plus, these patented drug names, which the brand names are riffs upon, are just as unpronounceable. How do you pronounce rzaa, for example, and not sound like a Monty Python-esque impression of an archaic British military officer?

Interestingly, the same medicines are sold under multiple brand names, for example semaglutide is sold under the brand names Ozempic, Wegovy, and Rybelsus. Can I get a side of confusion with that, please?

And, looking at these lists, either one or both, can you tell what the hell they are for? How about dupilumab? According to Wikipedia dupilumab, sold under the brand name Dupixent, is a monoclonal antibody blocking interleukin-4 and interleukin-13, used for allergic diseases such as eczema, asthma and nasal polyps which result in chronic sinusitis. It is also used for the treatment of eosinophilic esophagitis and prurigo nodularis.

Maybe we also need English translations for diseases such as eosinophilic esophagitis and prurigo nodularis. There is much work to be done.

October 30, 2022

Psychedelics: Forgotten Cornerstones of Civilization?

I am a big fan of Benjamin Cain who writes on Medium.com and elsewhere. His latest post has the title above (without the question mark). Here is a taste:

Even setting aside the wildest speculations about the meaning of the peak states of consciousness you undergo while you’re high on psychoactive drugs such as DMT, magic mushrooms, peyote, or even cannabis, the mundane interpretations of them are still revolutionary. That is, even if we assume — as we should — that you’re only hallucinating when you’re tripping or that you’re engaging with your unconscious mind rather than with God, angels, or extraterrestrial races, the implications still rewrite practically everything we take for granted about history, religion, elitist social divisions, and politics.” Benjamin Cain

Mr. Cain goes on to say: “This is to say that our forgetfulness is almost as dazzling as the peak states themselves. The yin of the majestic creativity that bursts from the high mind that’s liberated from social restrictions complements the yang of the dulled, domesticated mind that mistakes the valley for the mountain peak.”

Such discussions leave me largely untouched. It is not that I would never try psychedelic drugs, I have, but that the claims for their benefits are largely speculative. I haven’t read anything about microdosing yet, so maybe that is where their true value lies.

I do nor dispute that psychedelic drugs produce an “altered” state of consciousness, but why describe these as “peak” states? This smacks of the claims for the supernatural. Something is claimed to be not natural, but it isn’t referred to as subnatural or pseudonatural, it is supernatural, thus implying that it is superior to the natural or at a minimum “above” natural. So, altered states of consciousness are “peak states” of consciousness? Why not “valley states” or “plains states”? Again, a bias is built into the terms.

And, as to “unleashing creativity” or “unlocking creativity” (“the majestic creativity that bursts from the high mind that’s liberated from social restrictions”), I wonder. The experience could result in the creation of works different from what was being created by the user before, but are dull, uncreative people suddenly turned into fabulous creative people? I doubt it. I think creative people manifest their experiences through their creations. Creators create. Give them an altered state of consciousness and they will create some things they might not have before.

But have there been engineers or scientists who experienced such states and then gone on to invent or discover things never thought of before? If so, there haven’t been a lot of stories told about these experiences because surely I would have heard of some. (Kekule’s dream hint at the structure of the benzene molecules being the only one that comes to mind.)

Now, claiming that such altered states of consciousness allow people to get closer to the numinous, to a god, are also hogwash as the reports show that the gods “encountered” or hinted at are the same gods the users were indoctrinated to believe in, that is their “altered” experiences were not accepted as they were but were shaped to conform to the god blueprints the users carried in their heads before.

I remember seeing a Deepak Chopra video way back when, when he was “new and fascinating.” Mr. Chopra started talking as if he were a scientist and within ten minutes he shifted to discussing “chakras.” I turned the video off. Clearly he was repackaging his childhood religious teachings.

I think psychedelics played a role in any number of religions. I will grant that their effects could open up the users to new lines of thought. Beyond that, the claims are just that: claims. Of course, our repressed culture doesn’t sponsor much research into such things so it is likely that it will be a long time before we have much concrete data to discuss.

October 7, 2022

I Am So Tired of the Confusion of Gender and Sex

The Latin roots of confusion are basically to “melt together.” And its meaning of “to mix things that should be kept separate” dates back 500 years or so. Sex and gender are quite different and should be kept separate.

I got interested in this topic when investigating competitive categories in my sport, archery. I would read things like “the competitive categories are separated by gender,” and I would think, surely that is not right. It isn’t, they are separated by sex, but our prudish society avoids the word sex, especially around youths, as it evokes thoughts of coitus.

The word sex refers to biological sex of which there are two. People arguing that there are more than two are blowing smoke. Where it gets confusing is in the messiness of nature. Human beings are usually born as female with XX sex chromosomes or males with XY sex chromosomes, but there is a tiny fraction (0.018%, maybe, not counting those created via diseases) of births where there is a mix-up. People are born with three sex chromosomes, XXY, for example. I remember one case in which a person had two distinctly different DNAs depending on where the sample was drawn from. Apparently, she had starting out to be twins, but the two zygotes fused together early on. Strange things can happen when the occurrence of something like births is very frequent and ongoing.

None of this information was available to use culturally when we made up the terms for our language to refer to men and women, boys and girls, etc. We only had simple observations. We are 95+% a species of two sexes, which we call male and female. People who want different pronouns to be used because they do not “identify” with either sex are confused. They are confused by what we call gender.

If you compare any physical, mental, or social parameter of men and women, you will get two Bell curves which overlap substantially. Let’s take height as an example. In the U.S. the average heights are 5 feet 4 inches (163 centimeters) for women and 5 feet 9 inches (175 centimeters) for men. But if you have ever seen a WNBA basketball game, you are aware that many of the players are women who are taller than the average man. The Bell curve distributions for height of the two sexes overlap substantially. There are men shorter than the average height of a women and women taller than the average height of the men. But, on average, men are taller than women. Too many people equate this to “men are taller than women” which isn’t true and can cause social problems.

Now, the two sexes, men and women, also display what we call genders. Gender refers to the characteristics of women, men, girls and boys that are socially constructed. For example, we train little boys to not cry and that pink is not pretty. We teach little girls that wearing dresses is important and the color of pink is pretty. (Pink was not always a “girlie” color. Gainsborough was famous for a painting called “Blue Boy,” showing a boy dressed in blue finery, but also painted a similar boy in pink finery (called, of course, “Pink Boy”).

So, in the two sex categories, we have always had effeminate men, that is men who displayed the social characteristics of women, e.g. comedian Eddie Izzard (a favorite of mine) and women who displayed the social characteristics of men, e.g. actress Katherine Hepburn (also a personal favorite).

At the other end of those two spectra we have “macho men,” men addicted to excessive displays of “manliness,” and “wilting flowers” women who display outsized gender characteristics. We tend not to notice these two categories much as they are conforming to society’s gender characteristics. The people who stand out are men who act like women and women who act like men.

There seems to be an effort ongoing now to characterize a number of gender categories, to which I say “Why?” I think this stems from people who have been ostracized for their lack of fidelity to how society says it wants men and women to act wanting to belong and not feel that they are alone. So, having such a gender category says two things: these folks are not unique and are recognized.

But having dozens of different genders makes a Holy Ned of a mess of our society. For example, back when I was a classroom teacher I typically had three or four lab sections of 20-25 students joined together for a single lecture section, which meant I could have 70-100 students sitting in each lecture class session. I struggled mightily in learning their names (the first sign of respect in a student-teacher relationship). If each of those students were to have their own set of pronouns that they preferred, I would have been overwhelmed. There was no way I could remember those. (Realize that every four and a half months, the group was replaced by another group of different students and the process would start over.)

I think a better solution would be to just accept people for who they are. If Butch wants to wear dresses to class, it shouldn’t be worth even a comment.

If Butch wants be referred to as “she,” however, well Butch is confusing me with someone who cares. Butch should maybe try his friends. They might agree to do that. I prefer to spend my efforts on things that really matter.

Postscript BTW, you cannot get an operation to change your gender. Sports categories are determined by sex, not gender, and the critical factor is whether you had your trans-sex operation before or after puberty. If the operation was after puberty, you would still have the frame and musculature of your original sex and should not be allowed to compete against athletes in your new sex, as it is largely cosmetic.

I suspect that the fireworks will begin now, but then not that many people read this blog, so maybe I am thinking to much of myself.

September 5, 2022

Stop with the Left Brain-Right Brain Nonsense

For quite a while it has been fashionable to characterize our analytical, data-driven tendencies as being “left-brained” and our artistic, intuitive tendencies to be right-brained because some preliminary brain function studies indicated that certain brain functions seem concentrated in certain areas of the brain.

Those early “results” were fMRI studies. (That’s Functional Magnetic Resonance Imagery for you lay folks.) These “brain scanners and others of their ilk are relatively new on the scene. (While in undergraduate school, I helped set up the first NMR instruments in a public university. The initials NMR were for Nuclear Magnetic Resonance because the machine actually scanned for hydrogen nuclei. But the word “nuclear” was too scary for medical applications, so when they were invented that term got dropped. Note There was no nuclear radiation involved in such scans.)

In any case, the brain indeed does locate certain functions in certain areas, but the left-brain = analytical functions and right-brain = creative functions dichotomy has been thoroughly debunked. We now know that brains are flexible enough that if an important function of the brain gets damaged, those functions can get transferred to other areas of the brain.

There is so much we do not know and we are learning all of the time. But the left-brain—right-brain nonsense needs to be kicked to the curb.

Maybe a intellect v. intuition dichotomy would work in its stead.

There is so much I want to know about brain functions: how memories are stored, how imagination works, how consciousness occurs, and much more. And I don’t have much time left, so all you neuroscientists, get cracking!

August 6, 2022

Remember Republican Claims of Death Panels?

Not that long ago (2010), Republicans were claiming that if Obamacare were implemented, it would result in governmental death panels, meaning panels who would decide who would get needed healthcare and live and who would be denied that care and die. And those panels would consist of guvmint flunkies.

Well, we did implement Obamacare, and any sign of “guvmint death panels?” No? Not even a sniff? (Of course, the GOP was ignoring the practices of insurance companies, which regularly denied care, but hey, they were making profits for their shareholders and so were off limits.)

Apparently, Republicans were so disappointed that government death panels didn’t spontaneously form, that they waged a campaign to ensure that they did. By getting Roe v Wade overthrown, Republican dominated states are passing laws by which politicians will determine whether a woman gets an abortion or not, even in cases in which an abortion is the only way to save the woman’s life!

Even in states in which their laws include “No exceptions to abortion bans, except for the life of the mother,” who gets to decide if the mother’s life is in danger? Republican Guvmint Death Panels, that’s who.

Way to go, Republicans! Be sure to mention “Republican Guvmint Death Panels” when you list your accomplishments for the upcoming elections.

August 1, 2022

What Can We Learn from NDEs?

Sorry about the length of this post. Some times you just gotta get things off of your chest. S

For the uninitiated, an NDE is a near death experience. I watched about ten minutes of a documentary on NDEs last night before turning it off as I realized it was unlikely I would learn anything new. (I have read a great deal on the topic over the past decades . . . a great deal. Reincarnation, too. I was a teacher and reincarnation is very attractive to teaching mentalities; basically you have to learn your lessons or it is Summer School for you!)

The primary example in the documentary was from a very credible witness, a surgeon, who was convinced that in a kayaking venture she died and then lived again. This included being underwater for “ten minutes.” And when her body was dragged back to the surface, she was grey and her eyes dull.

She recounted a great many experiences that “occurred” while she was dead. And I have no reason to doubt the experiences, just the interpretations of them.

Allow me to segue to a related topics: dreams. I remember one time turning out the lamp on the bedside table and falling asleep immediately. I fell right into a dream state, a complicate long dream which ended so upsettingly that I started awake. I turned on the lamp again, and the bedside clock showed that a grand total of five minutes had elapsed.

I Googled the question just now: “How long do dreams last?” and one of the answers was “The length of a dream can vary; they may last for a few seconds, or approximately 20–30 minutes.” Apparently the Guinness Book of World Records claims one dream lasted over three hours! Dream researchers also point out that our time sense in dreams is much faster than when awake, so a dream that really took only five minutes could seem like much more time.

Now I mention dreams in a post on NDEs because they have been studied and, in essence, are both creations of our minds. My dreams, at least the ones I can remember, seem to be placed in locales that are familiar, so it seems that those locales are plucked from memories. Also, some of the people in my dreams are people I knew or knew of. (In college I had a recurring dream of having phone conversations with Richard Nixon, he in the Oval Office and me in a phone booth (a phone booth in my college dorm with which I was quite familiar).) So, it seems that dreams use imagery available from visual memories.

So, how do we account for the experiences of people surviving NDEs? (Note People who do not survive their NDE never get to report their experiences.)

I am glad I don’t have to study such things in detail because there are a great many difficulties. For example, many of us think that when we die it is like a light switch being flipped. One moment we are alive and the next, we are dead. This is definitely not the case in most cases. It might be the case of a sniper’s bullet ripping through your brain case at 2500 feet per second, but most of us “rich Americans” don’t die abruptly like that. So, how long does it take to die? Well, if that surgeon’s experience is correctly stated, she was underwater for ten minutes. She could have held her breath for probably 2-3 minutes, but since her lungs were not full of water, she apparently did not inhale while submerged. So, let’s say that she began to die after three minutes underwater, and was dead for seven minutes before her body was pulled from the water, then a couple more minutes were needed before the CPR techniques that saved her life could be marshaled, so lets say that she was “dead” for ten minutes. And she was then resuscitated, so apparently, in that one case, dying wasn’t complete after ten minutes of the process had elapsed. (She recovered all of her physical and mental properties (after her injuries healed) and is back on the job as a spinal surgeon, I am glad to say.)

My brain is clamoring, reminding me of the medieval crypt bells. These were bells that were placed above crypt doors so that people who “resurrected” could announce that they were trapped in the crypt. Now, back then people were placed in crypts with no embalming and sometimes in wait of a funeral, but this time period, from “death” to internment, to resurrection, must have been at least several hours. My feeling is that the instances documented in which “dead” people woke up in crypts were cases in which the people were not really dead, rather in a deep coma that led people to think they were dead.

This brings up the topic of “death” both from a legal as well as a medical standpoint. From a legal standpoint we have statements such as “Two categories of legal death are death determined by irreversible cessation of heartbeat (cardiopulmonary death), and death determined by irreversible cessation of functions of the brain (brain death).” I think the key word in these criteria are “irreversible.” So, if their heart stopped or their brain function ceased, if that were reversed, then they were not dead legally. So, that leads us to medical criteria: how do we detect that hearts and brains have ceased to function?

In action-adventure movies, one of the good guys takes two fingers and places them on a body’s neck (feeling for a pulse) and finding none, pronounces the guy dead or alive (this has the cinematic advantage of only taking seconds of screen time). In medical movies, someone is on an operating table and has a heart monitor hooked up (which we can hear beeping). If the heart monitor indicates that the patient’s heart has stopped, they get out the paddles and deliver electric shocks to the heart and sometimes it starts back up. Since the heart stoppage was reversible, the patient wasn’t legally dead. But medically? A medical dictionary states “Death is defined as the cessation of all vital functions of the body including the heartbeat, brain activity (including the brain stem), and breathing.” They go on and use the word “irreversible” just like the legal people do. But what do doctors do to determine that someone has died? Once again, Google has answers!

When their patient starts to show signs of death, it’s common practice to check for a pulse, pupil response, and heart sounds. Using these three indicators will help the doctor decide whether the patient has any chance of survival. Of course, if the doctor or nurses tried resuscitating or reviving the patient, it’s also important to note how long they tried and for how long the patient was unresponsive.

If a patient is in a coma, their doctor will also check for signs of brain death, including irreversible brain and brainstem damage, an inability to breathe on their own, and, again, a lack of pupil response. An EEG, a test that measures electrical activity in the brain, will flatline when all functions in the heart and brain stop.

Again, the only criterion distinguishing the dead from the dying is that word “irreversible” and that means attempts at resuscitation have to occur and fail, for a death to be certified.

It is hard to separate actual science from legal ass coverage procedures, so all we can say is that determining that someone has died is quite difficult.

It can be argued that all of our NDE testimony is from people who didn’t die, their death signs were clearly reversible, so they fit neither the legal nor the medical definitions of being dead. This is why NDEs are called near death experiences, of course.

But what can explain their experiences? We need to carefully separate their descriptions from their interpretations. People are seemingly very ready to invoke the supernatural, but that is not warranted, in my opinion. For example, dreams that take only seconds and seem to last hours are examples of things our minds can do. So, if we become unconscious (which we do sleeping, no?) and we think we have died and claim that we observed the process from above and can describe it in detail; is that “real?” The entire “death” sequence could be created as a dream sequence either before the brain ceases functioning or after it resumes. (Memories seem to persist a long time as the example of the surgeon above reinforces; she apparently lost none of her medical knowledge.) So, the experiences recounted may seem to have taken a long time, but that’s dream time, not real time.

The Air Force did some interesting research when they started doing centrifuge training for pilots. When jet fighters became so fast and so maneuverable that when movements became extreme, the G-forces caused pilots to black out as their blood was pushed out of their brains. This was disastrous for both plane and pilot. So, the AF created flight suits that squeezed the pilot so his/her blood would be harder to move but they also instituted centrifuge training so pilots would become familiar with G-forces and how they affected their bodies. Interestingly, pilots were getting back in line to have another session in the centrifuge. When queried, they sheepishly responded that just before passing out, they seemed to experience a tunnel of white light and had an experience of incredible peace and joy. It was a real high, they said! Apparently when the brain’s optic nerves got starved for oxygen, their bandwidth decreased so that only a central dot of light was sent to the brain, and the brain, thinking the pilot was in distress, flooded him/her with endorphins to block any pain or discomfort that might reduce his/her survivability. Hmm.

The 711th Human Performance Wing’s centrifuge spins with a test subject inside. (U.S. Air Force photo by R.J. Oriez)

As to “hovering” above an operating table and “observing” one’s own death, as a child I used to play imagining games, one such was pretending on my bed at night that I could see through my knees. Often enough my pajamas had holes in the knees—I was hard on clothes—and I could even see the frayed edges in my kneesight. I could see my whole bedroom from the vantage point of my knees. How hard would it be for one’s brain which observed the operating theater when rolled in (and many others in the movies, etc.) to construct a dream-like movie of what was going on. How much was going on? Were people coming and going or were they all just standing around working on you. And, even if you were unconscious, your ears would continue to function and send signals to your brain, and . . . und so weiter.

So, what can we learn from NDEs?

#1 Dying takes time. Some people die instantaneously (blown to bits by an IED) while others take many, many minutes, if not longer.

#2 Dying is complicated. Even doctors struggle from time to time in making death declarations.

#3 Mental experiences while in the process of dying are about as easy to interpret as are dreams, which means bloody difficult.

#4 The appearances of beings of light, angels, and gods in near death experiences is proof of . . . absolutely nothing. Would you claim that since God appeared to you in a dream, then He has to be real! If you did, would anyone take you seriously?

So, are “beings of light, angels, and gods” real? I don’t know, maybe. But the probability is small.

July 14, 2022

If a Drug Were Developed that Would Double Your Life Span, Would You Take It?

An article on the Medium.com site stated the following:

Dr Andrew Steele has published a new book on the longevity of human life, arguing it is entirely feasible for us to live well beyond a single century with the help of a certain kind of drug. In the book, he states that research in the field of senolytics — drugs that work to eliminate cells that degrade tissue function — are already showing promising results and could become available on the market within the next decade.

‘I don’t think there is any kind of absolute cap on how long we can live,’ said Dr Steele. ‘I can’t see a physical or biological reason why people couldn’t live to 200 — the challenge is whether we can develop the biomedical science to make it possible.’

Once perfected, the drug would destroy ‘zombie cells’, scientifically known as senescent cells. These cells stop dividing over our lifespan, accumulate inside our bodies, and eventually release compounds that speed up processes of ageing.

In a 2020 trial, mice who were administered the drug showed improved physical function and extended health and lifespan. Given that gene functions in humans and mice are almost identical, many believe we could reap the same benefits.

Obviously, there are a lot of details yet to be determined, yet the mouse study showed that “the drug showed improved physical function and extended health and lifespan.” I sincerely doubt whether the drug can turn back time and make you younger, so in effect it leaves you very close to the chronological age you started taking the drug at. Still “ improved physical function and extended health and lifespan” is tempting.

So, would I take it? Probably not, but I haven’t thought it through completely. I have, you see, a lot of questions. I start with the mundane and move more toward the more existential.

  1. I am on a pension. If I continue to receive pension benefits for decades after I was projected to die, how does that affect the other pension holders?
  2. The Law of Unintended Consequences will be strongly in play here, so what about side effects (e.g. limbs that decide to grow back from injuries, ending up with more than two arms or more than two legs)?
  3. Who gets to take this drug? The very, very rich . . . or everyone? If only the very, very rich what does that do to society?
  4. There are currently too many people on the planet, stressing food, water, clean air, and living space supplies. If a large number of people don’t die, how does that help?
  5. As people age on and on and become bored with life, what provisions are made for “checking out early”? Are we going to need signs on tall buildings where people exit onto sidewalks, “Watch for Falling Bodies!”

I am sure additional questions will arise, but for now . . . how about you?

An Afterthought I am sure that the Christian communities would be virulently against this as it is surely against God’s Will (Hey, they were dead set against smallpox vaccinations and smallpox was lethal!) and will delay their meeting Jesus in Heaven. Just sayin’.

May 6, 2022

Saint Augustine, the Bullshitter

People are still quoting Augustine of Hippo, also known as Saint Augustine, for what reason I cannot say as his writings that survive show him to be a paramount bullshitter, of the highest water. Here is an example:

In the 5th century St. Augustine wrote of the “delayed soul” (originally an Aristotelian concept), this meant males were “given a soul” 40 days after conception, females only received theirs on the 90th day. (This has obvious relevance to SCOTUS deliberations.)

The question I always ask and recommend that you should, too, is “how could he know this?” As a higher up in the church, he could have asked God directly, I suppose, but then his “knowledge” would be based upon just God’s word for it and, being human, he might have got it wrong. However, I am suspicious about anything with the number 40 attached to it in the Bible. How many days did it rain on Noah? 40. How many nights did it rain on Noah? 40. How many days did Jesus wander in the wilderness? 40. How many years did each of the Kings of Israel: Saul, David, and Solomon rule? 40. The number 40 turns up in the Bible 157 times, so this is a suspicious number Augustine used. And why would the soul insertion process for male and female fetuses be any different? Apparently they believed if they didn’t hold women down, label them as inferior, and make them subservient they would take over and rule . . . better than men. (Hmm, that still seems to be the case.)

Augustine also provided us with “What then, brethren, shall we say of God? For if thou hast been able to understand what thou wouldest say, it is not God. If thou hast been able to comprehend it, thou hast comprehended something else instead of God. If thou hast been able to comprehend Him as thou thinkest, by so thinking thou hast deceived thyself. This then is not God, if thou hast comprehended it; but if this be God, thou hast not comprehended it.

Okay, repeat after me: “how could he know this?”

In order to come to this conclusion in any sort of valid way, Augustine must have had a complete knowledge of man’s cognitive powers (then and into the future) and had a complete understanding of who or what his god was. Since we are still playing the game “Define the God!” and our last contestant got to “the ground of all being” (WTF?), I think that if Augustine had nailed that down 16 centuries ago, we wouldn’t still be working on a description of god, now would we?

I have seen a number of impossibility proofs and they all seem to come from mathematics, a synthetic system. An impossibility is an absolute and nature abhors absolutes (with apologies to Aristotle). Proving that everyone is incapable of some task is quite a difficult undertaking. It doesn’t appear that Augustine broke a sweat in doing so.

Also, Augustine is a curious guy. He struggled mightily with his addictions to worldly pleasures, especially sex. He indulged, swore off, indulged, etc. (You know, lather, rinse, repeat, etc.) But his faith in God helped him overcome his weaknesses. Before you ask “the question,” we know this because Augustine said so. And, if you can’t trust the word of moral weaklings, who can you trust?

April 27, 2022

The Hard Problem of Consciousness . . . Not

I have every reason to believe that our family dog is conscious.

I am pretty sure that human beings are conscious; after all we defined the term.

So, the question I am reading right now is: how could consciousness be created out of non-thinking materials, the materialists must be wrong?

This is a common error in thinking. Go back 100 years and ask what the consensus is among doctors as to why people get fat. That consensus, in doctors mind you, would be that people have too much fat in their diet. They have too much fat in their bodies, so it must have come from their diets. This common error in thinking comes from limited experience. If you would have asked farmers, who tended to be whip thin because they ate little and worked very, very hard, they would look at their livestock and say “if you want to fatten them up, feed them a lot of grain, and restrict their exercise.” No fat involved, I guess. Guess which one was closer to the mark?

The whole “problem of consciousness” suffers from limited experience/lack of data. Thinking that conscious entities couldn’t come from unconscious parts is an argument that goes back to “how could living things come from unliving components.” The prior question has been answered, just not in perfect detail. The human body can be taken apart and all you get is a pile of really dumb atoms, not a living organism in sight. Not only that, but all of the atoms making human beings, yes—you and me and everyone else—get replaced quite regularly. (I am reminded of the joke in which an old Virginia famer claimed to have the axe that George Washington cut down the cherry tree with. He used it every day, it was a good axe and the handle had been replaced only three times and the head, twice. Note—There is a well known philosophical debate over identity using this as an example, and another being a ship.) There are almost no atoms left in you that were in you when you were ten years old, for example. Actual the “me” of now weighs 200 pounds more than the “me” at age ten. So, how did all of those extra atoms not change me into another person?

The answer is obvious. If it is not the component atoms (all living things, yes both you and carrots, are made from the same list of atoms, in about the same proportions), then it has to be their arrangement. That the atoms in the Steve Ruis arrangement can be replaced in great number and I am still Steve Ruis, supports this “arrangement, not composition” argument.

So, consciousness . . . remember?

I start with a story about the family dog. My partner took me in for a doctor’s appointment and because the dog doesn’t like being left alone, he was brought along “for the ride.” While I saw my doctor, she took him for an extended walk in the neighborhood. About half way though the walk, his lead snapped taut and the dog dragged her to the curb, to a black Scion of the same model as our car, but it wasn’t our car. So, Jack, said dog, must have a memory of what our car looks like (looks, and maybe smells, but I don’t think that other car had a chance of smelling like ours). This same dog actually bullies her to go for a walk and when we get our walking togs on, he gets really excited. So, Jack has imagination, memory, and an ability to shape his own future. When we placed a mirror down where he could look at it his own image, he looked, sniffed, and turned away. Had that been another dog he would have barked his ass off. So he either recognized his own image, or sleuthed out that it wasn’t a real dog in “that doorway,” or whatever. Jack seems to possess at least a modicum of consciousness, maybe not a full deck of self-awareness, but. . . .

And consciousness seems to be an emergent property of brains of social animals that possess some level of independence. Emergent properties, if you didn’t know, constitute a break in causal chains, which is why you do not need to eat fat to get fat, or atoms have to be alive to make alive things, etc. So, consciousness is not a determined consequence of the properties of the particles leading up to it.

And, if a dog can do it, how hard could it be?

There is no “hard” problem of consciousness, there is just an explanation for which we do not yet have the details, so speculations that there must be some mystical, spiritual, etc. basis for it are overwrought for sure. And if you want to come up with a novel explanation, maybe suggest things that need less explanation that thing being explained. Otherwise you come across like the Christian apologists that insist the universe cannot have exist forever, so it must have been created (by their god of course). When asked whether their god existed before the universe they will reply with no irony whatsoever, “Oh, He has existed for all time.” Apparently it is a god trick the universe never learned.

Why the Animosity to Dr. Fauci

Why all the animosity to Dr. Fauci and, really, doctors in general? I do not think there is a simple answer to this question but part of it has to do with doctor’s attitudes. In the case of Dr. Fauci and the CDC, they were just doing the best they could under circumstances in which they didn’t really know much. This is actually the standard situation for all doctors. Doctors actually know very little, being basically medical technicians, but for societal (ego?) reasons, doctors put on airs as it they know a great deal more than they do.

Take for an example, aspirin. Aspirin was made in 1906, from natural starting materials that had a reputation for relieving pain, but also irritating the heck out of one’s stomach. Aspirin, which irritated stomachs way less and relieved pain way more became the most heavily used pain killer around the world and still is. And, we studied aspirin. It has been studied more than any other pharmaceutical by far. So, why did it take almost 100 years to figure out how aspirin worked? Doctors were prescribing aspirin for 100 years or so without the faintest idea how it worked. And if they didn’t know how aspirin worked, what about all of the other drugs in our Pharmacopeia? Knowing what works but not why is what technicians are for. But doctors hold themselves as being way above technicians in status.

Too many doctors have lofty opinions of their own competence, when most often they end up treating symptoms, as that has proven to be the wisest course in treating diseases, when you don’t really know what is going on. Again, this is what technicians do.

So, a new disease comes along, the Coronavirus of 2019, and it is similar to other viral diseases but different also. We seem to have a global economy, but not global health authorities, because different countries did different things. Sweden decided to ignore most of the prudent practices and as a consequence elderly Swedes died in droves. (In the U.S., almost 75% of all deaths were to those aged 65 and older. Note—the elderly are disproportionately harvested by every serious disease, don’t you know.) But we didn’t know how the disease affected various subgroups: “races,” age groups, ethnicities, etc., so we were blundering around in the dark, longing for data that exists now but did not exist then.

So, did the CDC authorities show any humility and claim that they were doing the best they could in the absence of more information, that their recommendations were based upon what seemed to work on similar diseases? They don’t seem to be allergic to H’s, as they certainly are well acquainted with hubris, but humility . . . not so much.

If there is any class of Americans despised most, it is the intellectual classes that claim to know what they are doing . . . but clearly do not, e.g. economists. Mix such a group with politicians, a thoroughly despised subgroup, and what did you expect?

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