29 May 2008

Bah Humbug

I'd just like to point out that there are inumerable spelling mistakes, particularly of a phonetic nature within my posts. I apologise. But to be honest i'm not to fussed, if you can read it and still understand the core issues at hand then that is all that matters. If you can have a good laugh at some of my silly spelling mistakes too, well then, all the better.

Maybe one day i'll change them, maybe one day i'll do a lot of things though, like save the world...


Leibniz – “I am indifferent to that which constitutes a German or a Frenchman because I will only the good of all mankind.”

Need I say more... except to possibly say that we should not curtail this thought to European nationalities?

16 March 2008

Exercise and Intensity - Why waste time?

I'm going to let science daily do the talking for me:


08 March 2008

Dear Mr Prime Minister...

If Given the opportunity to speak with Herr Rudd about some serious problems we face today... this is what I, as a pro-cyclist/possibly hippy, would say:

I'll be blunt here. The world at large faces great potential problems in relation to a lack of concern for our environment and all the potential problems which will occur if global warming continues down its spiraling path. At the same time our country, among other developed countries, faces a growing problem in the form of the obesity epidemic. Obesity causes a range of problems from the distinctly physical such as diabetes, to the more psychological, such as hormonal imbalances leading to many problems such as depression. It’s been statistically proven that obese people are far less productive at work than their healthier counterparts and honestly is this such a surprise?

My proposal is simple, and helps to address both problems; the general health of our citizens as well as our environment. I feel strongly that we should further encourage cycling as a form of transport. Cycling will mean that there are less people in cars, resulting in less pollution. It will also lead to a healthier population who were less likely to be obese, depressed or suffer from common problems related to a lack of exercise.

Just think of the potential benefits that cycling can bring! People would be more productive and most likely more content. The environment would be all the better off and it would probably also lead to a change in how society thinks. Cycling promotes a more sustainable way of life in general, with the basic notion being that you yourself are creating the energy needed to get around. Cycling as a way of commuting allows individuals to feel that they are doing something positive for their bodies, their wallets and their environment, all while going from point A to point B.

I suppose the big question we have to ask is, so how do we encourage cycling? Well, despite Australia as a whole having desirable weather for cyclists we really do seem to lack cyclist friendly infrastructure. More bicycle lanes, more facilities for cyclists to use such as places to change in and more bicycle racks will all help to make a difference. Indeed I know that the government in countries like the UK are now paying people to lose weight. This is ridiculous. Think how much better that money could be employed by encouraging cycling and promoting awareness of it as a better alternative to driving.

Indeed instead of paying people to lose weight, maybe they should subsidise people who ride bikes. I believe the Chinese government does. Raising awareness about cycling and cyclists and the good they are doing for themselves and everyone else by helping the environment should also be stressed. The solutions I have proposed have been rather simple, but generally speaking I think that simple solutions often work more effectively than complex ones. By making cycling easier to do through creating more cyclist friendly infrastructure (most importantly cycle lanes) more people will be encouraged to take up cycling as a form of transport, which in turn will help spread the idea of cycling as a viable form of transport and make it more acceptable within our society.

I’ve given you a way to tackle serious environmental and health problems all while empowering the people of Australia and encouraging positive change. The question now is, will you take this idea and run with it?

25 February 2008

What do we do now?

Its been a while, but I'm back. I haven't had much of an inclination to write so I simply haven't done so. But today I find myself wanting to write something again. Here I am tackling a big question, namely: "What do we do now?"

So...what the hell do I mean, now, and what exactly am I pulling you into by saying "we"? By "What do we do now?" I am asking what "we", as a society, as a race of sentient beings who have great power and hence great responsibility, should do next. By next I basically mean in what direction should we head, where should we take humanity now...or next as i just phrased it?

Personally, I feel that we as a society have made many mistakes over the years, but having said that I'm sure we've avoided quite a few too, so I shouldn't be too critical. There are however some problems which are of immediate concern which include problems with wealth inequality and poverty, problems with materialism and unhappiness, and problems with profit, greed and damage to our dear earth.

I feel that the capitalist system, despite its potential benefits, has been used to justify wealth in the form of monetary profit, over all other things, including our morals and values, hence including the very basis for our desire to live. The gap between rich and poor broadens, not just within countries but also between them. The poor struggle more, while the rich enjoy ever greater luxuries all the while living unhappy lives of hedonistic greed. Its been proven that doing things such as volunteering for local organisations that help those in need gives a great feeling of purpose and happiness. Why then is it that we don't all help each other to reach for higher and better things and at the same time improve not only our physical standard of life, but our emotional one?

Are you really proud to live in a world based on greed, exploitation, callousness and a moral imperative to make money over all other things? I thought not. Few of us are so fanatically inclined, yet that seems to be the system we live in. Unfortunately we, as tacit participants of the system, are, whether consciously or not, supporting such a system.

The problem need not necessarily lie in capitalism per say or forms of liberalism for that matter, but rather the ways in which they can be appropriated. I feel that a welfare liberal state could solve many of our problems. A state in which the individual has great freedom so long as he does not hurt those around him. Classical Libertarians argue this too, however their definition of "hurt" only includes physical harm and not economically crippling people by condemning them into debt cycles and so forth.

We need some degree of social welfare. We are after all, only human, and we will all have times in our lives in which the going may get tough. Its only far that if someone loses their job, or is seriously injured, or disabled or something of the sort, that there is a kind and supportive governmental system in place which can provide financial assistance to these people. The mere fact that such a system exists will also greatly reduce anxiety and worry within a society as people will no that if they should fall in life that they will still have a basic standard of living assured for them. Overall I think the benefits of such a societal structure will improve the happiness of the society. This will also be highly likely to improve not only the quality of life, but interesting the societies productivity and ability.

In contrast a complete free-market, akin to what is developing in America, creates a broader gap between the rich and the poor and creates a society based on fear and greed. The large majority of the people live lives of subservience and essential slavery, with moments of hedonism for escape. They live tough and unhappy lives, with consumerism being the favourite attempt to avoid the feelings of unhappines. In many ways I think that many of America's problems stem from its unhappiness, which stems from its inequality and harsh free-market, laissez fare system.

Don't read me wrong here, I have nothing wrong with some people being rich and some poor, difference is all well and good, however, i feel that the poor should at least be afforded the basic necessities of life while the rich should not necessarily have such a reckless excess of luxuries. I think everyone would be all the happier for this arrangement too.

With the development of technology and general advances in the world, everyone should be able to live easier lives, with more time to simply enjoy life. Yet we still seem to work so much? What for, why are we driven to work so much? A large part of our expenses are on consumerist shite which we probably don't need but feel good about buying because we typically feel so bad. So one solution is to simply be happier and hence need less stuff, and hence need to work less, in turn giving us more time to enjoy life. The cycle can however spin the other way too. It we work harder we end up having less freetime and often feel less happy and hence buy more crap we don't need and then need to work all the harder to afford the lifestyle we become accustomed too.

I suppose the big question here is what sort of society do we want to live in? I personally feel that a welfare liberal society will create a happier and more stable society, who will in turn be more positive and also, rather ironically, achieve more by doing less. Work smarter, not harder... thats something we should be remembering here. When i say achieve, i don't mean make lots of money, what kind of fucking goal is that? I believe that a welfare liberal society will support more environmental awareness, more equality, a closing of the gap between the rich and the poor, a reduction in exploitation and material greed. I believe it will allow morals and ethics to resurface, for our race to become all the more learned, and wise, with the knowledge that we live to support we believe in, and that those values should not be how many golden coins we can stuff into our pockets.

Many people yell angrily when leftists talk about government intervention and raise a whole bunch of valid points about how the money is often lost in beurocratic systems and so forth. This is true to some degree but there are two simple answers to it:
1) in a free-market economy the same ridiculous "loss" of money would occur, even on a much greater scale, except that it would be done by large corporate businesses that will come to dominate certain sectors in life.
2) I believe the welfare liberal government would eventually, over time and with the development of our values, become a much fairer and honest system than many governments such as those we have today.

As a further point I would much rather have the government held accountable for what goes on in the world that giant corporations who have no interest except profit. I want ethics to matter, I want humans to be treated like I feel humans should be. As I said in “Classical Liberalism vs. The Welfare State – Which is the better ideal?” "A welfare liberal state is far more humane than a laissez-faire based one. And as a human I’m all for humaneness."

This is all well and good Sam you argue, but what are we going to do about it? Well realistically it might be hard to completely change how the world is run in one day, but then again it took them a fair arse long time to build rome so... One step a time tiger. The beginning, like so many things, starts in the mind. It starts in us collectively wanting and craving a change, and hence demanding it, hence supporting it, hence living it. If you believe in a society where the environment counts buy recycled toilet paper. Yes it will cost you a buck more, but it will mean that you are craving, demanding, supporting and living the life you choose, on the smallest level perhaps, but just imagine the potential for mass change. Imagine if everyone took that mentality, imagine if everyone bought recycled toilet paper... i think you see where i'm getting at... Alone we are divided, but together we are strong.

God, I do sound like a communist. Anyway, theres so much more I could right, but i'll save that for another rant. I think I've gotten the broader picture across. Remember to live life as you want it to be, not as you feel forced to by society. What ever made social norms right? Just because everyone else is being a stingy capitalist and cutting down all our trees to save a buck on toilet paper doesn't mean you have to. Now go out there and do your bit by buying some recycled toiletry accessories...

PS: A special thank you to the all philosophical Dominic Jarkey, for giving me the courage to get off my arse and write something inspiring. Bless you matey, for firstly sneezing into recycled tissue paper, and secondly and perhaps more importantly for simply being there for a friend in need.

30 January 2008

Damn XP:

It’s been a few days since I last posted and I blame it totally on XP! It was time to do a complete reinstall on my computer, and basically XP refused to install. It was quite a battle to get everything up and running again.

You’d be amazed how dependant we become on computers. I couldn’t check my emails, update this site or anything, suddenly I felt awkwardly disconnected. Having said that you’d also be surprised at how much time I seemingly gained. I’m always complaining about not having enough time to read, however its more that I don’t prioritise it high enough. For the last few days, as my computer was down, I suddenly found myself with several more hours each evening to simply read. I finished two books I had started and have also progressed in a third one!

In some ways I wonder if I shouldn’t place a limit on my computer time, I’m sure I’d be much more efficient for it. Having said that at the minute, now that XP is reinstalled and all, I find myself having to copy files everyone and install programs again, it takes forever. Anyway, after all of that is done I should be able to start posting something useful again.

27 January 2008

Is Guilt a Useless Emotion?

Today I wish to question the use of guilt as an emotion. Guilt is typically defined as feeling culpable and responsible for things past or possibly for things still to come. However isn’t this a little odd as why should we worry about things we have no control over? If you got angry at your good friend the other day then why feel guilty today? Please don’t get me wrong, realising that what you did was perhaps uncalled for or wrong is perfectly fine, but there is no need to then place a burden upon yourself which will make your life all the worse, this will only add to the damage the initial anger caused. Having an appreciation of how mistakes can be improved is fine, but don’t view it in a negative way.

Guilt is a negative emotion and as such can be very destructive. I know that I personally have a problem with being too hard on myself. I beat myself up about small things and drive myself into the ground for any mistakes made. This problem is also probably linked to the fact that I’m a bit of a perfectionist. Thus my standards are too high, and I can never meet them. Not meeting my expectations leads me to feeling guilty and aggravated which causes a negative cycle and then its all downhill from there.

An interesting example of this would have to be when I played competition tennis at age 15 or so. Coincidentally the tennis has been broadcasting on Australian TV recently as the Australian open is going on in Melbourne. Or perhaps I should say it is concluding in Melbourne as today is also the day of the finals. Anyway, I started playing tennis at around 12 and by the time I was 15 I was, trying not to sound to vain here, quite competent really. However when at 15 I started doing competition tennis I found to my dismay that I would lose pretty much all of my matches, even when my opponents had terrible technique and were obviously far worse than me (technically). Why was this? Ultimately I believe it was due to the stress and guilt I placed upon myself and how I would play badly due to putting myself in a negative state of mind, by beating myself up internally. Basically I’d make one bad shot, give myself a difficult time about it and then never manage to psychologically pick up my game again. Hence I would make a huge amount of unforced errors.

What I’m getting at is that tennis is a very psychological game. I always like to compare it to a fight. When talking singles its just you and the opponent. Hence if they win a point there’s only one person to blame, and that’s yourself. I’d come back each Saturday feeling despondent and being unhappy as well as angry with myself for having yet again lost, normally to an inferior opponent.

Guilt is an overrated emotion. Often people feel guilt for things they did years ago, and while it is good that they wish not to repeat that it is not good that they live in anxiety and fear of that past. Accepting responsibility is immensely important and I encourage it 100%, but it need not lead to guilt. Guilt is a waste of our time. If you do something wrong you accept it, you take responsibility for it, but you do not beat yourself up about it. Where does beating yourself up get you? Nowhere fast would be an appropriate answer, or perhaps the answer should be backwards.

Try watching a game of tennis some time, you’ll understand just how psychological it is. Not that any other sport isn’t of course, but I suppose as I used to play it I understand it particularly well. Its interesting to see that someone who was playing badly can turn their game around or vice-versa, all as a result of mood. Its obvious that being in a good mood can improve not only your actual performance but how you perceive that performance. Allow me to explain:

Imagine yourself playing a game of tennis, and you’re in a really good, positive frame of mind. Typically that means that the positive frame of mind will fuel you and make you play all the better. But even if you still lose (which isn’t to say that the positive thinking isn’t making you play better), you can still think “wow that was a great game of tennis and despite losing I played a good game.” Unfortunately I was never mature enough to think this back when I played tennis, but somewhat ironically it can’t just be thought but sincerely believed, otherwise the thought is like someone else saying it and you saying “bollocks, I played terribly and got beaten as a result.” Personally I find the first, more positive outlook much better and I think it also helps people to perform better too, not to mention just living a more enjoyable life generally.

So where does guilt come into all this? Well, as I mentioned earlier, guilt is a negative emotion and negative thoughts lead to negative results, at least such has always been my personal experience. Taking responsibility for your actions is all well and good, but dwelling on past and potential future failings is psychologically harmful. Indeed the Buddhist philosophy of “Living in the Now…:” coincides with the idea that we should not live in the past or the future, but rather in the ever evolving period of now. Guilt is an escape from the present, inserting worries over which we don’t have control, over what is done, or not yet even the case.

Maybe I’m naïve and foolish to believe that guilt is overrated, but I honestly feel that so much could be gained and that people could move on and better themselves so much more if guilt were at very least toned down, if not eliminated. As the science daily website http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/05/070516081014.htm argues, self-compassion (the ability to treat ourselves kindly) is extremely important. As it puts it: “Life’s tough enough with little things that happen. Self-compassion helps to eliminate a lot of the anger, depression and pain we experience when things go badly for us”. Surely self compassion would be not putting yourself through unneeded pains and anger in the form of guilt.

Remember that getting ride of guilt and hence being more compassionate to ourselves need not remove responsibility. As the science daily site explains: “Self-compassion allowed people to accept responsibility for a negative experience, but to counteract bad feelings about it.” The website also explains how “researchers found that: People with higher self-compassion had less negative emotional reactions to real, remembered and imagined bad events.” It certainly seems that eradicating guilt and with it needless negative tensions yields more positive results. As though in proof of my hypothesis Djokovic just won the Australian Open, despite losing the first set. He kept his cool though and didn’t beat himself up, and it ended up earning him a fancy trophy. I imagine professional sportsmen must have to have be psychologically strong to, else they could not win. The minute a sportsmen starts blaming himself for what he did wrong, it all goes down hill.

So I feel that we as a society or as a species perhaps, must learn to reduce our susceptibility to unneeded guilt. For the third or so time I will stress that taking responsibility is not what I have a problem with, it is doing this by psychologically crippling yourself which I have a problem with. Worrying about all the bad things you have done in life won’t help fix them, only truly accepting responsibility for your actions and by trying to work to improve on how you act can. Guilt is useless, its role is destructive not constructive and as such it should be avoided.

26 January 2008

Positive Thinking:

Positive thinking is essentially just thinking in an optimistic manner, in contrast to thinking in a pessimistic way. How we perceive the world and let external influences effect us is in large part a subjective process and we can see it either negatively or positively, the essential argument I wish to make is why not view life positively? Positive thinking may certainly sound like a wanky concept, and trust me once upon a time I would have laughed it off as superstitious shite, but today I am all the wiser for coming to terms with it.

I have an uncle who is, as all my uncles, are a good fellow. However whenever I talk to him on the phone I swear he sounds depressed. I told him once to not be so pessimistic and instead be more optimistic. In reply he stated simply that he was being realistic. Well and good, but what I think he was not understanding is that we in large part define what is real. We choose how we react to a situation. Sure influences themselves may be caused outside our sphere of influence, but we still ultimately have a large amount of control in regards to how we react to a given situation.

Let me give you a bizarre example that sticks in my mind. Let us say you go for a stroll around the block, just to stretch your legs, and in doing so you fall and unfortunately break one of your legs. Your instinct is of course to get very angry at the fact that you’ve broken one of your legs and that you can’t ride your bike anymore or whatever other negative thoughts seem to seep into your mind. However a positive thinker might say “right well, I’ve broken my leg that is a bit unfortunate but I suppose things could have been worse, after all I still have the other leg to get home on, and at least its not hailing.” Odd I know, hence why it seems ridiculous. But out of the two responses to the situation which would you rather be? Neither is right or wrong for in the world of the subjective such concepts are intangible. Given that both responses accept what has happened and are as such not denying reality I would much rather be the optimist. Sure there’d be distress at the broken leg, but on the bright side it would soon heal and at least the unfortunate victim in our scenario would be able to gain back his ability to walk on two legs.

So here is where my uncle was wrong. You can indeed be both a realist and an optimist, much as you can be a realist and a pessimist. Admittedly there is a lot wrong in our world and the media serves largely to make us feel bad about it, but this still doesn’t mean we can’t accept the reality and approach it positively. To say that being negative is being realistic simply isn’t so, one can be negatively realistic or optimistically realistic, the way we approach something needn’t change how real it is. However as I addressed in “TPOH – The Media…:”, the negative image painted to us constantly by our ever loyal media really doesn’t help.

The benefits of thinking positively are well known, firstly you’ll increase your chances of enjoying life and secondly you’ll be more likely to, as a result, do better in many ways in life. So let us all be realistically positive, as why would anyone want to do otherwise and be unhappy and depressed?

Changing your thinking is however, not an easy task. Its easy to consciously say, “right I’ll start thinking more positive now”, in practice however the subconscious does not implement this so easily. The idea of “Living in the Now…:” and appreciating things in their current state I find helps one to think positively. Take the process of change slowly, simply try to see the good things in life over and instead of the bad. Try to shift your focus. If it’s raining as your walking home at least think “I’ve got a place with a roof to go to, somewhere to get dry, and for that I’m thankful.” Give it a go, shift negative thoughts to positive ones. Think “I can” instead of “I can’t”, these little psychological changes can create a huge difference to how you live your life. The tricky part is that its not only a matter of saying “life is good”, but also believing it, or else you will simply feel like you are lying to yourself. I don’t promise that this change will happen over night, but it will certainly happen if you put your mind to it, and in turn will make life all the more enjoyable. So think positively and “Carpe Diem”.

25 January 2008

The Middle Way:

Recently I have begun to learn about Buddhism, purely out of self interest. I personally am atheist, but Buddhism definitely has some interesting ideas to offer. One idea it offers in the notion of living ““In the Now:”” which I have already written an article on. The other great idea that Buddhism promotes is the ideal of “the middle way”.

Essentially “the middle way” is a theory of moderation and balance. It is also known as the Buddhist practice of non-extremism. It preaches that one can have too much or to little of something and that happiness and a good life is always found somewhere between the extremes. From the limited lectures I have heard on Buddhism I understand that the great Buddha himself starved himself for some time when he wanted to reach enlightenment. Thus there are pictures of him deathly thin during this stage that survive in artworks today. Needless to say the Buddha realised that starvation was one extreme and was therefore something that in actual fact, due to its extreme nature, inhibited him from reaching nirvana and all the connotations of happiness that go with it. “The middle way” thus became seen as a path taken by the Buddha to avoid the extremes of rigour on one side and sensual indulgence on the other. Thus the notion of “the middle way’, stressing the importance of balance in all things, came into being.

However the idea of “the middle way” is not complex and need not necessarily involve any true appreciation of the Buddhist religion. As I have said I myself am atheist but the idea of leading a balanced life makes perfect sense to me. I think most people would agree that balance is important in all things. I mean, I can not think of one single thing were balance is not required. Even take something as seemingly harmless as water, if you don’t get enough you die of dehydration, yet if you get too much, you drown!

The question should not really be whether balance is appropriate or not, but rather how one finds this balance and where on a spectrum it should be. Still, the importance of balance it seems, still needs to be advocated as it seems that many people still haven’t really gotten the idea into their heads. Its important to realise that this notion of “the middle way” is not confined to the material and what is done, but also how things are done and how people think.

The idea of balance as conveyed in “the middle way” has also been known as the Buddhist practice of non-extremism, and this I think, conveys its origins very well. Extremes are never good, they are unhealthy, they are damaging. Obsessions, addictions and other extremist tendencies ruin peoples lives, hence they should be avoided. The principles behind “the middle way” are simple yet effective, as balance seems to be the one key to life.

Where exactly balance lies, is not an easy question and in many ways I suppose it could be subjective and hence depend on the individual. The problem here is that many individuals stuck with some obsession are often in denial. This fact makes it rather hard for them to really have an understanding of balance and their lack of it.

Allow me to use some examples from an interesting nutritional perspective that support this principle of balance. Nutrition seems to be an area I know a fair bit more about that I really probably need to, probably as I got obsessively interested in it in a rather “unbalanced” sort of way during my last year of school. Needless to say the obsession has caused some nasty habits, but thankfully I’m at least no longer in denial about it and that’s the first step to reaching moderation! Now, onto the information:

A few years ago I essentially came across the simple facts that for example, non-alcohol drinkers live longer than alcohol drinkers and that vegetarians live longer than meat eaters. At first this all made sense as it saw an obvious link between meat and alcohol with various health risks which decreased average lifespan. However, later results revealed something interesting. While for example non-alcohol drinkers lived longer than alcohol drinkers at large, the group that lived the longest were in fact those that drank small amounts. Amounts which could be described as “balanced”, and “in moderation”. As http://www2.potsdam.edu/hansondj/HealthIssues/1106591095.html states:

“Research extending back as far as 1926 has demonstrated that drinking in moderation is associated with greater longevity than is either abstaining or abusing alcohol. The medical research evidence is now unquestionable and demonstrates that the effect is not the result of health-compromised alcoholics who abstain. When studies restrict abstainers to lifelong teetotalers the result is the same. Nor is it the result of moderate drinkers having better overall health habits. When lifestyle factors are taken into consideration, the result remains. And the effect occurs not only for red wine but also for white wine, beer, and liquor or distilled spirits.”

Similarly it was found that while vegetarians lived longer than meat-eaters, it was those people who ate meat only infrequently in moderated amounts that lived the longest of all. The obvious conclusion I have come to from this evidence is that it is not so much exactly what they are doing, but what it represents that is important here. Those who eat no-meat for example are most likely extreme to some degree, as are those who pig out on hamburgers all day. In contrast, those that live a happy, balanced life and as such one which isn’t extreme, don’t deny themselves things which may be a little bad for them (in this case seen as alcohol and meat) but simply make sure to enjoy small amounts of it in moderation. Thus they live a happy unrestrictive lifestyle in which they get enjoyment and through moderation good healthy, both physically and psychologically.

So I personally believe it is the fact that those who can moderate what they eat and drink and do etc, live longer as they are probably happier with who they are and more content in there day to day lives than the others who either over-indulge, or refuse to indulge at all. So here we come full-circle to Buddha’s personal experiences which led him to, as I said earlier, “avoid the extremes of rigour on one side and sensual indulgence on the other.”

The importance of balance in life cannot be understated, and it is important to remember that all things are ultimately in balance. Extremes are primitive, try your hardest to avoid them. Remember too that the state of mind is greatly important here to. If you forced yourself to only eat limited amounts of meat and drink limited amounts of alcohol you’d probably find that you wouldn’t live as long as those who do it without being forced, simply because again you are being extreme by forcing yourself to do something constantly. What you need is a combination of discipline and desire.

So go find balance in life. Find “the middle path”. I hope you do, and that it brings you contentment ““In the Now:”” and a happier, less stressful life. Happiness seems to come with moderation and balance, at least, that’s certainly what I’ve found to be the case.

24 January 2008

Nature vs. Nurture – An Intelligent Issue:

Often I have asked the question is Intelligence a genetically inherited trait or one endowed by the environment? Obviously it is a combination of the two, but we must wonder if one of these factors dominates the issue more than the other. Historically it was noted that intelligent people typically had intelligent children and that intelligence seemed to run in families. The early principles of eugenics confirmed this and there is a fair bit of evidence to prove that intelligence runs in families. However this hardly means it is all genetic. Granted there are genetic links here, but we must also accept that substantial evidence shows that environmental influences in life also play a huge role in matters of intellect.

If we take, for simplicities sake, IQ to be an accurate measurement of intelligence (which it isn’t really), then we can see that as per usual neither factor alone determines intelligence. It is interesting to see that “Various tests have shown that there is a socio-economic link to IQ as people who are better off financially score 17 point higher on IQ tests than those financially disadvantaged people who take the same exam.” (http://allpsych.com/journal/iq.html) This certainly stands to prove that a good environment strongly allows one to develop to ones greatest potential. It is also important to note that 17 points on the IQ test is quite a considerable amount.

As I argued in “The Power of Music – The Link Between Musical Ability and Intelligence” it has also been shown that learning a language and learning a musical instrument are the two best ways to increase the brains neuroplasticity (its ability to create and strengthen links). The previously mentioned website (http://allpsych.com/journal/iq.html) also notes that “cognitive development appears to be stimulated by the development of language.” So in many ways it would seem that environmental influences can greatly enhance ones ability to reach a higher IQ (or intelligence). Many of the activities that affect us seem to particularly potent if they are done at a younger age. If you learn a second language and an instrument at a young age it allows your brain to be all the more flexible than if you learnt these things at an older age. Similarly mothers who are pregnant and eat a bit of fish (or other foods containing omega-3) often have children who are ever so slightly smarter. See the “Omega-3: Something Smells Fishy, What’s all the Hype About?”, if you want to learn more about the amazing benefits of omega-3. I also noted in “The Many Benefits of Exercise – Part 3:”, that exercise has great benefits for the brain. There is also scientific evidence that has concluded that lab mice who had the ability to run and did were more intelligent than there counterparts who did not run.

However all of these environmental things seem to be allowing us to fuller realise our potential. I suppose it would thus seem to be the case that it is ultimately genetics which set our potential in the first placel. However this has not been conclusively provien. There was a rather controversial book released in 1994 known as THE BELL CURVE. Ultimately its research into twins who were raised apart or together seemed to suggest that genetics played the biggest role in intelligence. Unfortunately the book then goes on to make some rather racist associations between whites and blacks which are completely unfounded and very naïve. It has spawned a great deal of controversy and several books have been written in response to it, so it is hardly the holy grail of nature vs. nurture in regards to intelligence. None the less the studies within are interesting and do have some scientific validity in associating a strong correlation between genetics and intelligence.

Still, like all of the nature and nurture articles I have written the answer seems to be that ultimately it is a combination of nature and nurture which affects who and what we are. If genetically you are born with no brain obviously you’ll never be a genius. Equally, if you are born a genius and have a serious brain injury then you may well no longer be a genius. Neither category (nature of nurture) should be excluded, and it wasn’t my intent to do so. My research into the area is rather inconclusive and to be honest this doesn’t surprise me.

So what does all this research teach us? What can we learn from this? My advice would be that we must accept that, yes, genetics do play a role in many of our characteristics including how intelligent we are/could potentially be. However, this need not mean we can’t improve ourselves! To think that would be self-defeating. It is a fact of life that the person next to you might be smarter and hence be able to learn twice as fast as you, but is that any reason to give up learning all together? In the end being disciplined and studious seems to pay off more than pure intellect, as I know rather a few smart people who simply don’t care about their academic work and as a result do rather horribly.

Genetics are often viewed as a boundary. However this is often used as an excuse for inaction. Personally I’d rather see genetics as a realistic simple fact of life. If your dumb or short or uncoordinated it needn’t be the end of the world. Just because you are born brilliant doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t become it. Even if your genetics in a certain department aren’t good doesn’t mean you can’t at very least improve somewhat. Typically people can at very least reach an average level of ability in anything despite setbacks. Maybe you don’t have the brains of a natural born scientist, but who the hell says that doesn’t mean you can’t give it your best and try and become one anyway? Why let the fact that you have bellow average genetics for intelligence (which how do you even concretely know anyway, remember the IQ is hardly a good test of intelligence) get in the way of you trying to do your best?

I’ve recently been reading a book about small business (LINK TO BOOK?) in which there is a rather empowering section on not giving up. It essentially gives the outline of an unlucky man’s life, including how this fellow was rejected from parliament on several occasions. However he didn’t give up and in 1860 he eventual managed to become president. That man was Abraham Lincoln, a man who in hindsight people couldn’t imagine as anything but a president. Maybe he wasn’t a born politician, maybe he was but he got unlucky on the way, regardless the point is that he was determined to become something and he didn’t let setbacks or difficulties stop him from trying.

Another interesting fact I can throw in is that a national geographic program called “My brilliant brain” had an episode about Susan Polgar. Essentially her father, a psychologist, believed that the greatest factor to becoming very good at something was simply practice and not natural ability. Susan was then raised to become a champion chess player, and sure enough she did. Her family has no history of great chess players yet her and her two sisters who were brought up similarly, simply played lots of chess and became extremely good through discipline and devotion. It makes one question whats more important, what we start with, or how we use it? In many ways I am inclined to think that the later is more important, as no matter how good we start if we don’t use our talent it is wasted. The later view is also more empowering as it essentially argues that anyone can excel at anything with practice and devotion.

It’s true that genetics limit us, and its important that we take a realistic perspective on how they do. If you’re in your mid-thirties and only one metre tall chances are you’re not going to grow any more. That’s something you can’t change so the only real answer is to try and accept it and move on to change the things we can control. A realistic yet positive outlook would accept various limitations by genetics yet still be optimistic in encouraging positive change and trying to be the best we can. It is unfair to expect anything else and foolish to let genetics provide you with an excuse for never at least trying. All too often genetics become a scapegoat for mediocrity or even worse simply not attempting something. While the limitations placed upon us by gravity, genetics and other limiting things starting with the letter G (maybe guerrillas?), should be accepted and seen as a simple fact of life, we should not get dismayed by these facts. We should simply change our plan of attack to target something we can change, influence and do something about. So look out for killer guerrillas (Jesus, it rhymes!) and other than that enjoy life and live it to its fullest. Change isn’t easy, but its all the easier if you believe you can do it and do think things like “I’d like to do it by genetics won’t let me.” So make a realistic goal that your genetics will allow and shoot, shoot to win, (or slow down rampant guerrillas, the choice is yours)!

23 January 2008

The Philosophy of Happiness – Accepting Yourself

If you don’t like who you are you’re not going to be happy now are you? There is a fundamental need to accept oneself before one can be happy. Most of us who are in some way unhappy dislike something about ourselves and hence envision our happier counterpart as someone with very different characteristics. This subconsciously drills into our mind the notion that we cannot be happy simply as we are and therefore puts a condition upon happiness. If this condition is reached all well and good, but if its not (which most often it isn’t) then if you do not change your thinking you are doomed to a life of unhappiness. Not a pretty thing really. What I’m suggesting is that there is some link between being content with who and what you are and being happy. Indeed the words happy and contented are synonyms.

Who cares if your fat, short and poor, why does that mean you can’t be happy? Why do we let the media do this to us? We’ll we don’t really, at least I know that I too am affected by the same stereotypes and I certainly don’t give them my consent to tap into my subconscious as they do, particularly in such a negative way. The irony is that consciously we know that the media’s ideal is bollocks, rubbish, fake and unrealistic, we're not stupid, yet subconsciously we still absorb and believe the ideas we are feed. This is simply because the mindless repetition of the media's ideals become ingrained in our very thought processes. This is essentially how the subconscious mind operates.

The Subconscious mind stores far more than the conscious mind yet the conscious mind’s information is more direct and controlling. The idea of affirmations are that we should affirm things we wish to be the case, as it will in turn allow us to accept them and allow our subconscious mind to act upon them. It’s a rather strange idea which if you haven’t heard before might confuse you for a while. What’s more the whole thing is mood controlled.

Allow me to use a simple demonstration. If you need to do something difficult and you think “I can’t do it”, its quite likely you won’t manage to do it, for one reason or another. If on the other hand the same difficult situation had been approached with a more positive “I can do it” sort of attitude, then suddenly your chances of succeeding are much higher. It’s funny how the subconscious mind works. Having faith in yourself is unfortunately not an easy thing to do.

Unfortunately we live in a rather negatively tuned environment. I’ve already noted that the media tend to not only be unrealistic and so forth but tend to focus on negative qualities and events. See “The Philosophy of Happiness – The Media & Unrealistic Expectations:” for further details. By focusing on negative qualities it becomes far to easy for us to blame ourselves and to beat ourselves up internally. We don’t accept or like who we are and thus we think negatively. Thus we wish to change to be something we do like and in doing so place a condition upon happiness in assuming that one must become or do that thing to be happy. A fantastic example is of course the media’s emphasise on people being thin. So many of us strive for this ideal yet the whole time you aren’t at the stage you want to be and are still unhappy and as such are highly unlikely to get to the stage you want to, in turn making you unhappier. This leads to a negative cycle of blame, guilt and unhappiness. Life is spent striving for an ideal to make you happy and in doing so you are not content "in the now" and remain unhappy. (The idea of being happy "in the now" is discussed further in:“Living in the Now –The Philosophy of Happiness with a Twist of Zen:”)

What we should of course do is simply enjoy and love ourselves simply for being what and who we are. To view life through a realistic yet positive lens and be content with where we are. That way if we never get anywhere at least we can be happy. The true irony however, is that often being content with who you are makes it easier for you to follow your own desire to do something. The example of losing body fat is again pertinent here. If we are happy with where we were we’ll paradoxically be more able to follow through on our own wishes and change ourselves, funny that. At the very worst you accept yourself for being fatter and simply live life happy and not worrying and stressing yourself over your weight.

Think about it, you may never lose the weight but at least you can be happy. Only you know how hard you may have tried to lose weight and how it failed each time. Indeed it’s statistically proven and has been said by the famous Tom Venuto in his Burn The Fat Feed The Muscle, that 95% of conventional diets fail. Why is this? More often than not it’s a psychological issue as I commented in “Why Diets Don’t Work”.

America has been dieting for years, and with it the average weight has gone up. As the ideal media weight goes further and further down so too does the average weight rise. Why you ask? A large part is no doubt environmental. There is a problem with America and food being so cheap and plentiful. However there is also another side to the problem and that is simply that people are never happy with how they are, so they try drastic things to change like going on ridiculous diets. They are unhappy the whole time, as they are not happy with themselves. They see little progress as goals and expectations are far to high and they ultimately fail. Then they get depressed and eat. This leads them to get more upset, often angry and frustrated and creates a negative cycle that endlessly fulfils itself all while spiralling further downwards. The evidence seems obvious in how fat countries are getting with the same rise in dieting.

Now as I said, don’t get me wrong, environmental issues clearly play a large role, but psychologically there is something here too. People just aren’t happy with how they are, they just aren’t accepting of their own selfs. I want you to look into the mirror and see that what stares back at you however fat, however tall, however lopsided and ugly is the vessel that you find yourself in. That thing gives you life, it gives you experience, it gives you both pleasure and pain. It is god in a sense. Get rid of it and you get rid of yourself. That’s not to say you can’t alter its exterior, but remember, its simply an exterior. The real you is more so what’s inside it, what makes the vessel do what it does.

To be healthy and well requires not only physically doing the right thing but psychologically feeling that you are doing the right thing. Accepting yourself is an important piece in the vast jigsaw puzzle of total-wellbeing that will help to make life a more enjoyable ride and probably bring greater results as a paradoxical added bonus. Indeed Studies have shown that people who are happier live longer:
http://www.health-and-happiness.info/happiness/happiness-increases-longevitywhere-do-we-find-this-gift-of-life.html, so there’s got to be something to it.

Essentially being happy will make life worth living and quite possibly make it not only of better quality, but of longer duration. Happier people are also more likely to create positive change, help the world and generally get more done. So whats the secret to being happy? Well there is no one clear cut simple answer, but the first step to anyone being truly happy involves accepting yourself. You cannot truly love others and the world you find yourself in and thus be happy, until you love yourself. You have to come to terms with yourself, its always the way. So how can you go about it? My suggestion would be to go and do something nice and simple, not something hedonistic, but rather something seemingly spiritual. Go and sit in a nice garden and simply sit and watch the plants, and give yourself time to relax and accept yourself. Never force yourself against your will, work with yourself, cooperation can yield even greater benefits than competition, particularly when it is of an internal nature.

So go now, and be at one with yourself. I mean why the hell not? We only live once, we deserve to love ourselves, at very least. So even if all you’ve got time for is a quick sit down on your floor and a gentle five minute pause where you simply focus on how wonderfully intricate life is, than so be it. But trust me, do at least this, the dividends you will reap by accepting and coming to terms with yourself are worth far more than anything else we can fathom.

22 January 2008

Virtual Reality – Step Into This Giant Hamster Wheel, the Future Awaits...

As a child I was rather fond of a good computer game. To be honest I really don’t see it as greatly disconnected from reading a book. Indeed in some ways I see it as potentially freer as plotlines can be more malleable. Having said that its important to realist that books leave more to the imagination and probably in that sense use creativity more than computer games. Even so I think in essence both are quite similar. Of course with the stress of my final years of school I sort of phased out of computer games and nowadays I don’t play them at all.

Thus as a child I was never particularly fit, such is to be expected of one who does little exercise. However I always liked the idea of virtual reality for computer games as it would allow one to experience another world and not just mentally imagine it or visually see it but also interact with it. Jump, climb, run and fight within a 3D environment, ohh what fun it would be, and how damn fit you’d get! Getting fit and doing regular exercise helps the body in a myriad of ways: “The Many Benefits of Exericse, Part 1:” Think about it, fitness would become integral to a games plot line. If you weren’t fit it would be that much harder to play the game, in turn encouraging you to get fitter as you played more. Getting better at a game would not only involve understanding how it works and having good finger reflexes but also a good level of fitness, all of which could be developed by running around in a giant hamster wheel, well, essentially anyway.

Yes, the giant hamster wheel is for real. I found it at good old Science Daily. Here is the link I’m primarily drawing off for those of you who enjoy further research: http://www.sciencedaily.com/videos/2006/0409-the_new_virtual_reality.htm

Essentially what has been developed is like a mouse’s running wheel except much larger, big enough for humans that is, and instead of being circular being spherical. Of course the technology is still primitive in how it reacts with the computers I’m sure but, its still an impressive feat to invent this wheel which turns on the spot allowing you to run in any direction. It is also said that it allows you to jump, although I’m still not quite sure how. There are still flaws this is obvious, but it’s a damn good start and its happened far sooner than I would ever have anticipated.

Virtual reality has an absolutely huge amount of potential, just imagine the possibilities for a second. They mention education and training for emergency services such as firemen as well as of course computer games. Computer games could become a way of not only zoning out to have some fun (much like reading a book, watching a movie or playing a contemporary computer game) except with the added benefit of moving the body around and the extra sensation of actually being there.

I’ve certainly always been attracted to the idea of getting and staying fit and healthy through something I consider as engaging and fun as a good computer game. Admittedly certain games I’d enjoy such as many strategy games wouldn’t benefit from this technology, however there are still a large amount of games that could. In a sense I suppose the Wii is the precursor to movement based games, and there was even some guy on the internet who blogged about his weight loss adventure using the Wii as a form of exercise. (“Wii Sports: Lose Weight With Wii Sports”) Personally I don’t think the Wii really cuts much of a workout and I think that running around and jumping and slaying barbarians or whatever it is your doing in some adventure game would be far more physically beneficial than the Wii. Whats more it would be a very entertaining form of exercise, and could literally phase out most conventional exercise! Fitness would as I said before become integral to gameplay, just like how fitter people perform better at various sports (and obviously people who have trained more and developed other skills more) Most young people love computer games and I’m sure that if and when this technology becomes widely available (when I cannot say but I’d guess within say 10 years or less) that most young people will become far fitter than they would otherwise be.

Of course virtual reality isn’t really a substitute for real life and all the great things that we get from simply going outdoors. It would be imperative that people still got time outdoors for many benefits from vitamin D from the sun to simply psychologically connecting with our environment. Indeed the whole virtual reality idea while appealing in many ways is also rather scary, as the thought of a generation of people who have no need to leave home what so ever scares me. Although I suppose in many ways were half way there. But with virtual reality on such a level people could literally lose touch with the real reality. I can imagine people interacting socially through the internet with virtual reality, and conducting business virtually and maybe even going to work virtually… it would be like the matrix all over again!

Still as usual it’s not the technology that is at fault. The technology is simply knowledge neither good nor evil in itself. Rather, its how that knowledge is applied that will determine whether it is good or bad. Personally I’m inclined to think that it will bring many positive changes, and hopefully the negative changes can be kept to a minimum. So what are you waiting for (other than the technology of course)? Simply step into this giant hamster wheel, the future awaits...

21 January 2008

No Pants Day:

Today is a Monday, and that means I have little in the way oftime, as typically seems to be the case on a Monday. So I decided I’d quickly mention the annual “No Pants Day”! The idea of no pants day is, I find, rather intriguing. I’ve always been interested in humour and obscure humour often has something going for it. Indeed just recently I rather quickly devoured Terry Pratchett's “Making Money”, a very entertaining piece of humour fiction. As some of you may well know his humour could be considered quite bizzare at times. I've also always been a big fan of Douglas Adams' works, which again are a little out of the ordinary.

Anyway, “No Pants Day” doesn't seem to have a set date, partly as there seem to in essence be several of them. One website http://www.nopantsday.com/wp/ puts it on the first Friday of every may, whereas http://www.improveverywhere.com/2008/01/16/no-pants-2k8/ who have for a few years now done a hilarious stint involving people hopping onto train with only boxers on put this years no pants day on the 12th of January. Unfortunately it seems I’ve missed it!

Still theres nothing stopping you from starting your own "No Pants Day" within your own region with your own friends. You could go on a picnic or something and make the date a regular thing each year. Also for a fancy poster simply clicky here:

The idea is really quite funny, and while some would be offended I think most would find it a right laugh and something to keep life interesting. Obviously I can’t take credit for this crazy yet wonderful idea, however the links above may well try to. If you find yourself attracted to rather strange comedic routines which potentially involve removing clothing please feel free to check out the above links.

Sorry if this post may seem out of line to some, but it’s a Monday, and its late, and I've been working all day, and I have to get up early tommorow for work... come on give me a break!

20 January 2008

Nature vs. Nurture – The Unending Debate Part 2:

Genetics definitely play a large role in how we turn out in life, this is quite obvious. If you’ve ever seen identical twins or even just similar brothers and sisters you can often see similar features such as face shape or eye and hair colour, this is largely genetically based. However the evident problem here is that these siblings share quite similar environments, which makes it hard to really say that its all genetically based. However it is certain that some traits are far more genetically based than others and some are more within our control than others.

Often people seem to use genetics as an excuse. For instance someone may believe they have genetics which make them rather slow at thinking, and therefore decide to avoid an academic life as they don’t think they could possibly compete. Maybe they’re right, but there is also a large chance that even if they are right they could still be an academic through determination and vigorous application to studying. What seems to happen here is that genetics determine how well someone reacts to a certain environment, but obviously that isn’t the whole picture, because then it comes down to how often the genetics get the chance to interact with the environment. Allow me to try and explain with an example. Person A may have a good ability to gain muscle, whereas person B may have a below average ability to build muscle. However, if person A were to not exercise regularly and lead a rather lazy life whereas Person B kept quite fit and exercised regularly as well as eating well then Person B would most likely be quite well muscled. Most people would in comparing them think “ahh Person B has a unique ability to gain muscle”, but in fact this is simply not so, Person B in fact has a disadvantage in our comparison yet he still comes out on top due to simple persistence and determination.

Similarly you may have a genetic tendency to get diabetes or high cholesterol, but that in itself does not doom you to either. Rather it means that it is easier for you to get these medical problems and that therefore you may have to try a little harder to avoid them then people who are not so genetically prone. A healthy balanced lifestyle should keep you from ever developing the problems as while the genetic potential is there it is never being realised (and in this case it is a good thing that the potential isn’t being realised)! At the same time it is important that we realise the genetic limitations that are unique to each person. You certainly can gain more muscle than another person with identical genes by training, but maybe you will never be a professional Olympic-lifter as you simply lack the muscle and joint strength. Its not to say you couldn’t do Olympic-lifting and have fun and keep fit all while improving your strength, it is however to say that you must realise that if you have certain genetics you may not be able to go pro. Realising these limits need not be pessimistic, it is simply trying to put a realistic perspective on life. As http://www.maxwellsfitnessprograms.com/pdf/GENETICS%20OF%20A%20TRIATHLETE.pdf states:
“Accepting your genetics is by no means negative or limiting. It is quite the opposite. It is taking control of all the things you can to be the best you can be.”

It is important not to think of Genes as dominating the environment in a causal way. As http://genealogy.about.com/cs/geneticgenealogy/a/nature_nurture_2.htm argues: “Researchers on all sides of the nature vs nurture debate agree that the link between a gene and a behaviour is not the same as cause and effect. While a gene may increase the likelihood that you'll behave in a particular way, it does not make people do things. Which means that we still get to choose who we'll be when we grow up.”
Genes are dependant on the environment to be expressed, and the environment is dependant on genes to have a basis for expression. The two work together, they are mutually inclusive and intertwined, in reality the nature vs. nurture debate is a little silly as the two categories should never really be split as they are. Another article (http://goliath.ecnext.com/coms2/gi_0199-2820222/Blinded-by-Science-Nature-via.html), put this nicely in saying:
“We are indeed controlled by our genes, but they in turn are influenced by our experiences. Ridley says that the mapping of the genome "has indeed changed everything, not by closing the argument or winning the [nature versus nurture] battle for one side or the other, but by enriching it from both ends till they meet in the middle.”

In my opinion some things are simply more determined by environment or as the case may be genetics. If you’re fat you may be predisposed to gaining fat but you can most likely lose it through exercising and eating healthy. In contrast changing your eye colour could be rather more difficult! What’s more there also needs to be a distinction made between simple genes (genotype) and genes which have then also been set to a certain degree by early environmental influences (phenotypes). That is to say that everyone has a fat storing gene (although if your unlucky you may have a few more), but there tendency to store fat can be greatly effected by the diet of the mother while the baby is still prenatal. I remember reading a study about it in identical (presumably cloned) mice. Unfortunately I can’t seem to find it again. All I remember was that these mice were genetically identical and while they were all in their genetically identical mothers they were split into two groups. The control group ate a typical western diet high in saturated fat and sugar while the other group ate a much more healthy diet. Once both groups had given birth to the technically genetically identical groups of babies they put them all on the control group diet (the crappy American style diet) and they noticed that the original control group gained far more weight and had a far greater likelihood of developing diabetes and other problems on the rather unhealthy diet. The irony is that the other group didn’t even though they were genetically identical. This shows that the initial interaction with the environment sets the genes at differing levels (phenotype), and this is ultimately nearly as important as the genes themselves.

Regardless of all this essentially what I wanted to get around to saying was that we can’t change our genes, or how they are set. At least not at this stage, and the prospect of changing them certainly brings up odd ethical questions. But, we can at very least control our environment to a degree and make it as best we can to help how our genes express themselves in the future. If you unfit then you can exercise regularly and eat well and improve your fitness, regardless of your genes. Maybe your neighbour can get fit quicker than you but who really cares? The point is you’re doing something good for yourself, and that’s all that matters in the end.

I think this whole article about genetics brings up a really important issue relating to competition which essentially argues that we should only really compete with ourselves. Its often far to unfair to compete with other people as they may often not be on a similar level whether it be genetically or from environmental exposure. Thus instead of racing against the Olympic marathon runners times simply race against your own best time. Who cares if its ten times as long, if you improve your time only a little bit you are still improving, and in the end that’s all that matters. I suppose a nice way to conclude on genetics is to say that not everyone can be a professional athlete within a certain field, otherwise there amazing performances wouldn’t be seen as nearly as amazing as they are. But even so that is not to say that every singly one of us can work with what we’ve got and improve.

19 January 2008

Nature vs. Nurture – Part 1:

Obviously the nature vs. nurture debate is not clear-cut. It is going to be some sort of balance between the two, this is not really in question, rather were on the continuum between genes and environment does the end point lie? As I mentioned in,“Nature vs. Nurture – A Short Introduction:”, the prelude/introduction to this article historically there have been trends, first starting with a genetic emphasis in the 1800’s and then moving more to an environment based approach in the mid 1900’s. I like to think of it as rather like a pendulum swinging. Its gone from one extreme to the other and now gravity (which I suppose in our metaphor would be scientific research) is slowly doing its thing and bringing it closer to the middle. I’m sure most people would agree with me up to here, this all seems rather self-evident. However then you must realise that certain things about us seem to be more genetically determined, and other more environmentally determined. To keep with our previous allegory we must now imagine a pendulum for every characteristic, both physical and psychological for each human being. Suddenly we have a large amount of pendulums!

Take a characteristic like eye colour and you can see that genetics seem to play by far the larger role in this instance. Once you are born with a certain eye colour, seldom do they change. In contrast while some people may build muscle better than others it is possible for all individuals to increase their lean muscle weight with the correct training and decent nutrition. In fact many people with not so great muscle building genetics can still become much more muscular than their genetically superior counterparts who don’t exercise. Arnold Schwarzenegger provides yet another example of environmental influences. While Arnold was always quite ripped in his youth he is now a middle aged pudgy governor of California, who has no doubt gained the pounds as he is no longer dieting as he once was, nor exercising to the same extreme. This information should be seen as an empowering thing though. Think about it for a minute. This is Schwarzenegger! If he has genes which allow him to get fat like anyone else than it also shows than anyone else can lose fat and look to a degree (within reason and everything) like he did! It works both ways. You see Schwarzenegger probably does have good genetics for that sort of thing (and a large amount of steroids) but that doesn’t mean that he can just sit on his arse all day. By the same token you may have quite bad genetics for something like muscle building or fat loss, but that by NO means whatsoever condemns you to a life of being obese. Psychologically if you use the excuse that your genes are crap then you’ve given up before you’ve even started.

Feel empowered by the fact that ultimately it is that environmental influence which tweaks what genes we have. Your friend might lose fat twice as easily as you. But if he never exercises then he won’t be realising his potential, whereas you can. Genetics are a bit like getting good cards in a card game I guess. It helps, but it doesn’t guarantee success. Ultimately it comes down to how you play the game, and that is an environmental thing. Having said that this is only with regards to body fat and muscle and so forth. Many other characteristics like the aforementioned eye colour are far more set in stone. Height is similar in that each person has a potential maximum height which is largely genetically based. Certainly environmental factors like malnutrition can limit someone’s potential, but the fact is if all your relatives are really short, chances are you will be as well. Hence height should be seen as a predominantly genetic characteristic. Tweaking the pituitary gland to release more human growth hormone could I suppose theoretically lead to increased height, and perhaps drugs and so on could do this, but it would be incredibly hard to alter ones height once it was set short of taking very new drugs which alter our biochemistry, essentially altering our genes.

This brings me to a rather interesting point. At what point in time do genes and the environment mesh into one larger category? In my previous article “Exercising Efficiently – the Intensity Debate:” I compared two different groups of mice who had been genetically altered. One group known as “Marathon Mice” could run much further than their counterparts, had far more slow-twitch muscle and had a great ability to not gain weight. Interestingly scientists are now saying that if you are already born your genes might be set, but you can still take drugs to do the same tweaking. Hence scientists are in the process of inventing a pill which does exercise for us. Basically the pill tweaks a gene called PPAR-d (delta) by turning it on, so that the body wastes excess energy.
Here’s a link for anyone interested:

Essentially my question is what happens when environmental influences (crazy scientists) are able to tweak genetics, after our genes are set? Is this an environmental influence or a genetic influence? Surely it is both. Here the line between the two categories blurs all the further. Interestingly, in the case of the “marathon mice” those who were given a pill to alter PPAR-d, only gained the fat burning effects and not the increased endurance. This does indicate that perhaps there are limits to what can be changed after our genes have been set.

Another interesting issue could be to do with the ethics behind fiddling with genetics. Doesn’t changing our genetics effectively change who we are? After our DNA code is unique to us (with the exception of identical twins). The nature vs. nurture debate is certainly an interesting one. It is also one which may in the greater scheme of things be unanswerable in a simple this or that manner. The issues we are dealing with are complex, and hence the answer too will reflect this. My understanding is that different characteristics are determined to differing degrees by both the environment and ones genetics. What we must remember is that while we cannot change our genetics (at least not at this point in time) we should not dwell on that we cannot control, but rather be empowered by what is in our control. We must take responsibility for our environmental influences, and alter them as we see fit to create an environment we find hospitable for our general wellbeing.

18 January 2008

Nature Vs. Nurture – A Short Introduction:

I have decided to take on the rather onerous task of investigating the Nature Vs. Nurture debate. For those of you not familiar with it, it debates whether various factors about how we are, are genetically influenced or influenced by the environment. Obviously we can already conclude that it is not going to be either extreme but rather somewhere nearer to the middle. However it may be that it does slant slightly to one side or another.

Historically speaking there was a period from the 1800’s to the 1900’s where everyone thought that things were largely genetically predetermined and hence racial policies of eugenics and so on thrived. However after World War I and even more so from the 1960’s onwards society began to see things as being more environmentally influenced. Nowadays it is seen to be an amalgamation of the two. However I have yet another theory which is that while it is certainly both genetics and environment that affect all things, different things are affected to a different degree by both nature and nurture. For instance your height will be most likely largely genetically pre-determined, it is not something that can be easily changed. How muscular you are however can be much more easily manipulated and by regularly training and eating protein and so forth even really skinny people can slowly over time put on a considerable amount of muscle. I shall certainly research into all of this more at a later date.

To be honest this post is going to be rather short as I have only done preliminary research and it is already late on a Friday night. But fear not for I will be posting following articles later on. There are many different areas within genetics which interest me. Some questions worth asking for are whether our genetics are totally responsible for us being fat, or intelligent or having fast reflexes, of blue eyes. There are so many questions that could be asked, it really is such a fascinating topic. For now I shall leave you with yet another problem which is not only what sort of genetics someone has, but how those genetics are then programmed. For instance two people can have the same gene, yet one person can have it switched on and another off, hence they can be completely opposite. How genes are set are not genetically done, but largely by very early environmental influences. Here we are talking about pre-natal conditions and once one is only just born. I believe this switching on of genes to a certain degree is called phenotypes. Essentially phenotypes are what genes cause with early environmental interaction. I suppose the question then becomes not whether our genes put us on a predetermined track, but whether our genes and earliest environmental exposure do. Does later environmental exposure count for far less? In many ways I would indeed say yes, but at the same time it still depends on what exactly we are talking about. You may have always been a fat kid, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t lose fat. Some characteristics just seem to be more predetermined than others. For all you nay-sayers out there I’d say body fat% is one which while obviously genetically influenced, is still largely within our control. This shouldn’t depress you, it should empower you. If only we could do that with everything, height, eye colour etc. Then again, maybe it’d make life to easy…

Nature Vs. Nurture, one of the great questions out there. Somehow I don’t think I’ll ever be coming up with a concrete answer. Still, the vague sketchings of a reasonable answer seem to be outlined above.

17 January 2008

The Art of Blogging – One Month and Counting – Building Traffic and Esteem on the Web:

So it’s been exactly a month since my first post! 31 days to be precise, and I have managed to post daily so far! Personally its rather an achievement to find the motivation to do it, especially seeing as most of my articles are a good couple of pages long, well researched and hopefully of reasonable interest. Doing 31 posts of such a quality has been demanding, yet rewarding. I have turned this website from a site no one new existed to one which has managed to get over a thousand page impressions in a month. Admittedly it really isn’t huge in the scheme of things, but it’s a damn fine start. I’d love to keep blogging daily but I doubt that I will be able to maintain the level of quality I like to have for my articles. I don’t really like to have short simple posts, I prefer to really write about something passionately and do research into the subject so as to deliver information of worth.

Personally I think this strategy will work well for me, and what I wish to accomplish with this website. I want to share information with the world, and the internet is probably the single best resource for this. Books are good too, but they cost people money to buy, as well as costing authors money to publish. Here it costs me only time to write about matters I am passionate about, and for that I am allowed to spread what I consider to be useful, valuable knowledge. You on the other end as the consumer if you like simply have to have an internet connection and then you can gain free information from this site. I do quite like the internet.

So I have posted for thirty one days and written about all sorts of topics I’m interested in. These include: “Exercise”,
"Cycling”, "Philosophy”, “Pyschology” and “Global Warming” , along with a whole host of other smaller sub categories. Generally speaking I suppose I’d be interested in health issues but in a much broader sense than people typically think of. I’m concerned not so much with an individual's health but of the worlds collective health. For instance I think helping a charity which helps poor people makes the world a healthier place. All over it just makes it that much better. Not even just for the person receiving aid, but rather the fact that others are decent enough to supply it, that gives me hope that the world is not an evil place, and that we can together work on global problems such as poverty and global warming.

My biggest interest at the moment is really building up more traffic. The reason I posted daily for the last month was of course deliberate, with the intention of building up some initial content so that people that should fortunately stumble onto my website actually have something worth reading! I will probably now resort to posting only every second day, but still I’ll see how long I can last posting daily. Even just hitting the 40 mark would be a nice accomplishment. Two months on the other hand would be quite intense. Before I started the blog I had lots and lots of completely new things I wanted to write about, now I find I have less concrete ideas. There are still definitely some things I wish to blog about, bur often they are now vaguer and I am less certain how to go about coherently presenting the information. Having said that I felt that I wasn’t ready to post 31 posts one month ago, but sure enough I’ve managed it. Sometimes pushing yourself is really the best way to get results, other times it certainly seems to back fire horribly with people never wanting to do that activity ever again!

So what have I learned from my experience. Well, at first I just posted and expected people to stumble onto the site. But after the first couple of weeks I only had a total page impressions of about 270. Then think that just two weeks later that had already grown to over 1000! What changed? Well I suppose I had more articles for people to read and link to, I also started sending more of my articles into blog carnivals to try and get my information out there and published on other sites. This also helps with linking and improves a sites ranking in search engines. Now at least I can find my site when I type in the right parameters into Google. It’s a start. The blog carnivals are good too as they allow you to distribute anything you write to an audience that may well be interested in your work and thus helps to build up your reputation on the internet.

I imagine I shall continue following essentially the same strategy as the one I am employing now, as to be honest I don’t really know of any others. Essentially I am trying to write good, useful articles and then submitting them to blog carnivals. I’m hopping that the quality of the articles will in time become realised and that more interested in my site will develop as a result. Still, competition is fierce. The internet may be relatively new territory in some senses, but that does not mean it is easy to become known on the internet. Its popularity is increasing tremendously and with it comes ever more tough competition for good sites. Nonetheless I imagine those free-market capitalists would argue that competition is good and brings out the best in us. Sometimes I wonder though…

I’m rambling a bit much at the minute, as to be honest I’ve said all that needs to be said I think. Its only been a month, so its to early to really tell if anything has had much of an effect. Come back in a month and see if I’m still posting, then we may have an indication of whether this site keeps growing both in terms of the traffic it attracts and the articles that are hopefully attracting it. Here’s hoping it does.

16 January 2008

Breaking an addiction:

Anything can be an addiction in a psychological sense, and this can in turn manifest itself physically as well. Addictions are generally understood to be an interplay between genes and the environment, so obviously some people are more genetically predisposed to addictions just as others are to illness or depression. Despite all that is outside of our direct control it is imperative not to lose faith if you wish to break an addiction. The most important thing to breaking the addiction is having the motivation to do just that. Deciding to break the addiction is after all the first step and as such literally half the battle.

Of course it is important that you understand why you have the addiction as well, that is to say you must have an understanding of the causes behind your particular addiction. Not having an understanding of what the addiction is a symptom of can be detrimental to breaking it. Allow me to explain through an example:

Let us say that you become an alcoholic due to feelings of isolation, and general social insecurity. Simply trying to force yourself off alcohol isn’t the solution to your alcoholism, as you will simply go back to abusing it or some other substance because you have not psychologically satisfied what it is that you crave. In this case the situation could be much more effectively solved if you gave yourself the social contact you desire, and once this had been granted getting rid of the addiction would become much more manageable, as what motivated you to develop the addiction is no longer there to reinforce it.

Thus the main part of breaking an addiction is actually figuring out what the addiction represents and why it is that it exists. Of course it may seem at first that someone is addicted to something simply because they like it, and to a degree this is true, but if it is a serious obsessive addiction there is typically more emotionally involved with the addiction. In the case of the alcoholic he may well say that he just likes alcohol but the real reason for the addiction could be more to do with the fact that he may be in denial of his emotional distress and cannot come to terms with his social insecurity.

Ultimately the causes for addiction are as unique and varied as there are individuals with addictions (that is to say virtually all of us!). Sometimes addictions are not really that bad, of course it is all relative any obsessive and extreme addictions then typically inhibit ones normal ability to do day to day activities. The reason we now that addictions often represent deeper emotional problems is because people often wish they didn’t have the addiction, yet keep doing it and find it extremely hard to stop doing it.

For instance one of the reasons that dieting doesn’t work is to do with psychological pressure. While not a typical sort of addiction it is an dieting and bodyimage are also a good example as people often develop eating disorders as a consequence. For some reason or another people feel the need to look a certain way and therefore put themselves under a lot of pressure to get there. This pressure typically drives them to binge as it is stressful and anxiety provoking. The binging is then followed by guilt and or anger, which then leads to renewed pressure to eat well. Thus the cycle comes round full circle, round and round in a downward spiral. The interesting thing is if you tell a binge eater to simply stop eating it normally won’t work. Here is were it gets emotionally complex. Don’t you think the binge eater has told themselves to stop thousands of times? But it didn’t work then, so why will you telling them the same thing they’ve been pressuring themselves with work?

These issues are complex, and there are no set answers. Often simply telling people that they are only human, that you care about them as a friend/peer/relative or whatever and that life is really not such a bad place will cheer them up a little bit. I never said it would stop the binging, but at least it will make them a little happier and feel more accepted of by others and also accept themselves more. Feeling loved is a powerful motivator. After a binge cycle it is also important to try and get the binge eater not to give themselves a hard time for their so called “failure” and simply tell them it really is not the end of the world and help them take their mind of their inability to stop the addiction. The frustration will only drive the cycle onwards otherwise.

Addiction is a largely psychological phenomena and this makes solving the problem difficult. Despite this there are physiological things that can be done to help. Many friends of mine who have successfully quite smoking did things like go for a stroll around the block or do a set of weights every time they felt a nicotine craving. Doing this would take their mind of their want for nicotine as well as making them feel like they did something productive and often it release endorphins which can help make people feel better, in turn helping them avoid future cravings.

Doing regular exercise, eating in a healthy balanced manner and getting adequate amounts of sleep will also help people to fight all sorts of things, including addictions. If you are well rested for instance you are much less likely to crave a coffee, or some chocolate or even a cigarette to wake you up with. Another really important aspect to beating an addiction is to get help from your peers. You need to branch out and get social support from your friends as you need not fight the deadly addiction alone. You can have many potential allies who can help you. Of course if all your friends are alcoholics maybe you should make a few new ones to hang with at times so you not always drinking. But if they are all alcoholics you could also all make a social pact to stop (or if you wish to be more reasonable, cut down, together). You could even place bets so that there is a money incentive for those who stick to it! Also remember to take up activities that distract you from your addiction. Learn a new sport or skill, maybe take up a language or learn a musical instrument as both of those have been shown to be the most effective ways to increase the brains Neuro plasticity. See “The Power of Music – The Link Between Musical Ability and Intelligence” if your curious for more info.

But most importantly we come back to our main idea of motivation and willpower. To have the courage to break the addiction you must have the motivation. YOU must want to break the addiction. If your cousin wants you to and you really don’t want to then I doubt its going to happen. If however you really do want to break the addiction then as cliché as it sounds “you can do it”. Of course there will be set backs, there will be obstacles as life is always challenging which at least keeps things interesting, but in the long run that motivation will mean you keep on fighting and eventually you will triumph. You cannot lose hope, as then you succumb and simply accept the addiction again. As they say only YOU can change yourself. I don’t care what it takes for you to do something you need to have the motivation, that desire, that encouragement to do it. It need not even be in relation to an addiction.
I for instance like social motivation so if I wanted to get into a good habit like exercise the best way for me to do it would be to do it with friends or get social encouragement, or a coach, someone to connect with and share the experience with. Others are motivated by money. If you want to stop smoking there are hundreds of things you can think of as motivators. Financially you save money, health wise you live longer and are healthier, also your colleagues don’t inhale as much smoke, you don’t remain dependant on a drug like nicotine, sport wise it will improve your aerobic capacity and probably help in other areas too. You get the idea. Another example is the bike ridding I do. While I do this alone I am greatly motivated to travel around without causing pollution that I, others and our environment would otherwise have to deal with. This for me is probably the biggest reason I do it. I feel that I am doing my little bit to make a cleaner, greener and generally better world.

So the main key is really finding the key formula for you individually, which will help you to overcome any addiction. After you’ve found it its simply a matter of implementing it. Results won’t be immediate, they seldom are, but they will be much quicker than if you don’t really ask yourself why you have the problem and how you can best solve it. If you don’t ask those questions then you are simply trying to break the addiction through trial and error, and generally our emotions get in the way and cause us to get stuck in vicious addiction cycles. So do some thinking, try not to be critical, rather we want constructive analysis. These brief tips will make a world of difference in overcoming an addiction, at very least the problem will be properly identified and a solution established, then comes simply a slog to try and implement it. Good luck, expect to encounter obstacles and simply treat it as life throwing you a curve ball to keep things interesting.

15 January 2008

Free Market Economy/Classical Liberalism Vs. The Welfare State – Which is the better ideal?

For years I’ve always shunned the complete Free Market Economy with its emphasis on laissez-faire based capitalism. The problems inherent have always been obvious to me so I have tended to preference a more leftist welfare based state. However as I begin to understand more of the political makeup of the left I also find that many left groups (while admittedly better than right groups) can be preaching a rather extreme course of action. Like almost all things in life a balance seems to be required, a balance between the ability to make money and the responsibility to pay taxes so that society is fair and has a degree of security.

What sparked this whole debate in my mind again was ironically simply the fact that I did some casual work today in which I was assigned to work with my boss’s father. He is a Swedish man by the name of Sten (essentially stan, but Swedish) and was I believe 70 years old. Despite the large age difference between the two of us, I quickly found myself enjoying his company as he was very friendly and talkative. Eventually we talked of Sweden which is renowned for having an extremely good welfare state, or so I had previously believed. Sweden has extremely high tax rates and thus it would be assumed that It has a good welfare system. Like many European countries I believe it has good public schooling and good health-care, something which America certainly lacks. If you have not already seen it I highly recommend you watch Michael Moore’s “Sicko (Special Edition)” as it is an interesting movie comparing the American health system to those of other countries.

Despite all this it appears, according to Sten, that Sweden does not have the most efficient welfare system in the world. It may well be that a lot of the money disappears in various bureaucratic processes, which is a common complaint of the classical liberals. Even if this is not the case there are other problems. The tax system in Sweden which effectively is the heart and soul of the welfare system is much to high. Even I, a person of rather left-wing views must say this. Sweden may be held up as a totem of how states should be, but like any other state it certainly has its flaws. A nice analogy for the high tax system was given to me when Sten told me of the famous author Astrid Lindgreen who was the author of Pippi Langstrump (or Pippy Longstockings, a renowned children's book). Apparently Lindfreen was taxed at 104% of her income! That is to say for every $100 she earned she had to pay the government $104. However I think Sten may have been just off the mark as other sources I have found state that it was 102%. Regardless, it’s just horrifically high. As “http://www.sweden.se/templates/cs/Article____18005.aspx” states:
“at the age of 68 she submitted an opinion piece to the Swedish daily Expressen on the subject of a loophole in the Swedish tax system which meant that she, as a self-employed writer, had to pay 102 percent tax on her income. She wrote the piece in the style of a fairytale, and it had an immediate impact.”

The high taxation system also has other huge problems. According to “Statistics Sweden” the mean tax rate is 30.44% this year (2008), which still seems a little high. This huge taxation rate as Sten explained means many people aren’t motivated to work (or at least not much) as:
1) So much of what they need is supplied by the government (education/medical etc)
2) They have to give such a large amount of what they earn back to the government in the form of taxation

Another problem with high taxation (as The Classical Liberals always argue) is that it creates “corruptness” so to speak. While not what we would consider really bad crimes, it becomes the case that professionals serve one another for free, so that they don’t have to pay for each other’s services and also don’t have to pay the huge amounts of tax they would otherwise pay to work for them, only to spend on each others service’s. Thus it works out better for them to do jobs for one another unofficially, maybe with some cash in hand. In essence the high tax levels would no doubt lead to a large amount of tax fraud around the country. (See: “http://www.skatteverket.se/download/18.3dfca4f410f4fc63c8680003885/swedish+report+200604B+.pdf” for more details)

Of course the welfare system they have in place is of course very good, despite the various flaws inherit in it. While I think Sweden is an example of extreme left-wing thinking and is ultimately too extreme to be sustainable I do think many countries could do with adding some welfare state systems into their economies. I believe we need taxation for various purposes namely a fair health system, a fair education system and basic support for those in dire need. When I say dire need I really only mean the heavily impoverished. There should also be reasonably cheap transport which if needed should be government subsidised to encourage people to use public transport and also do the environment good in doing so. Heck in China they even pay cyclists a fortnightly amount for cycling and not polluting!

However I think to achieve this a high tax rate would not be required. If the money was used more efficiently (which trust me it could be – however people will understandably always argue for different causes to be of top priority and so forth) the tax rate could be kept reasonably low and yet the welfare gains as maximised as possible. This promotes some sort of balance between classical liberalism and socialism, and its generally called welfare liberalism, and its currently where I’d say I stand on the political spectrum. So after all that I simply say that a balance is needed. It seems the Buddhists and their notion of “the middle way” are again correct. I seem to write about them in half of my damn posts, its about time I hurried up and published a link to a post on that idea of balance!

I do not think the free market/classical liberal state is, the be all and end all of politics. It too is extreme. If several people are disabled and people in general aren’t kind enough to support them out of their own pockets they die. Unfortunately I don’t yet have enough faith in humans for them to sort out all their problems all the time, after all were rather erratic creatures. Hence the notion of a state which is created on rational logic which remains throughout points of emotional turmoil needs to exist, so that we can stick by our long term values, such as helping those in need.

Capitalists also argue that competition is good, and while to a degree I think this is true, it is also true that blatant competition leads to fear and greed. People become unhappy and life is lead in a state of anxiety. Also, in a capitalist society everything becomes commodified, including values that I think simply cannot be compromised by no amount of wealth. No amount of money for instance could make me forgive someone for killing my mother, its just not something you can forgive in that way. Do we really want to live in a callous, competitive society where we are slave to the dollar? What’s more free market capitalism does not allow for any government intervention. In some ways this is good as government can do stupid things, but mostly government serves to implement reasonable measures, and in these cases it should be allowed to do its job. What I foresee through free market capitalism is a sort of monopoly forming. I know free market capitalists argue it won’t happen but to a degree it is inevitable.

Life isn’t all about economics and wealth, yet free market theory commodifies all. It certainly seems unreasonable to me. Still I love to read things which disprove my views because as annoying as it can be it ultimately leads me to learn from my mistakes. Several pro-laissez-faire fans have suggested I read F.A. Hayek’s "The Road to Serfdom (Routledge Classics S.)". Maybe then I can comment some more on the situation. Until then I’d say that taxation is required for various basic functions and infrastructure and so forth which society needs. Some could argue that private companies could do it, but I’d rather have certain services such as basic public transport available to all people, as well as medical centres and basic education, at very least those three things are requires, as well as some government support for those in economic crisis. The fact is that statistically some of us get very unlucky and just because that happens doesn’t mean we deserve to be left out on the street to die. A welfare liberal state is far more humane than a laissez-faire based one. And as a human I’m all for humaneness.

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