Thursday, August 30, 2012

Accepting Reality

There comes a time in everyone's life when they have to stop everything that they're doing, look at themselves, and accept that this is the reality that they have.  Some people know this as a mid-life crisis.

When you're done reading this sentence, stop, look at your life, look at all the little details, and accept the reality of it.  No, seriously, do that and then come back to reading this.  Are you fat, are you skinny?  Are you employed?  Is there a special someone in your life?  Now, take these facts, all of them, and accept them as reality.  Hiding from reality does no good.

Now, you have a choice.  Will you take these realities and make something of them, or will you go back into denial?

Are you fat?  Are you OK with it or do you feel bad about it?  If you're OK with it, then I'm happy for you, far too few people are happy with how they look.  If you feel bad about it, accept that you feel bad about it and do something about it.  But, doing this means you have to accept another reality.  You will never be supermodel skinny, never.  You were made that way by God or jeans or whatever, you are what you are.  You can be fit, you can be intimidating, but you will never be skin and bones.  Accept it and move on.

Are you employed?  Do you like your job?  No?  Chances are, you're stuck there.  You can quit and try to find a new job, but odds are you won't find one any better then your current one.  Accept the reality that your in and go with it.  If you can find a better job, go for it.  But if you can't, accept that you can't and make the best of it (or you'll be forced to try and find a better job).

Now, here's the point of this rant.  If you're a musician, if you make a TV show, if you make a movie, your stuff will be pirated.  It is a reality of our era.  It's a reality of all eras, we just seem to have forgotten it.  You can bitch and moan, you can threaten to stop making things until it's stopped, you can bitch to the President of the United States, you can even try to pass laws that remove the rights of others, but you will never stop this reality.  It is what it is, it's a fact, accept it and move along.

And that's all I really have to say.  Accept reality for what it is.  If you can change it, change it for the better.  If you can't, accept that reality and move along.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The theory of Evolution and why it does not conflict with the idea of God.

Before I begin I would like to make a few things clear.

One:  I believe in God, or at least a higher being that created us.  To me, it's the only logical answer.  I believe it was Leonardo Da Vinci who said "An infinite string of finite events cannot be started by a finite event."

Two: Evolution does not disprove the existence of God.  It never has, never will, and can't.  It only explains how, not who or why.

Three: The theory of evolution is a theory in the same way as the theory of gravity.  It's a scientific theory or "a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment."

Now, on with the show.

When we think of evolution we think of that picture of a fish turning into an ape turning into man.  This picture, while accurate, is so incomplete that it tells you nothing about how evolution works.  Evolution, while simple, is insanely hard to understand.  It is the combination of random chance and inevitability.

Let's start with something simple, the Biston Peppered Moth.  Now, this actually happened, we saw this happen.  The peppered moth is a light colored moth with the ability to blend into the light colored trees.  Standard camouflage, common in nature.  When the industrial revolution came around, pollution caused the trees to get dark splotches.  This caused the moths to stand out on the trees and start getting picked off by predators.  There were other moths of the same family but they were darker.  They blended into the dirty trees and thrived.

This is how evolution works on a small scale, or as it's commonly known "Survival of the Fittest".  One special trait gives one animal an advantage over another.  This could be species wide, a random mutation, or a combination of traits from the parents.  This animal ether survives where the other does not, or is determined a better mate then the other.  Thus that animal is allowed to mate and pass on it's advantage to it's children.

Now, don't get confused, this is not a directed path, there is no goal when this happens, there is not higher level we're going towards.  A bad trait can be passed on as well.  Sometimes it results in the death of the animal, thus the trait cannot be passed on.  Sometimes the trait survives, this is how we get the oddities we have in the human body.  Why do we have a gallbladder if all it seems to do is make us sick?  It's just a leftover, and now detrimental, trait from our past.

Now, take this "Survival of the Fittest" and extend it over millions of years.  It's completely logical that external appearances can change.  This is why humans come in different colors.  In an environment with lots of sun and heat, darker skin color helps people live.  Where there are lots of clouds, or it's cold so people are covered up a lot and not directly exposed to the sun, the darker skin wasn't required, thus they didn't get that advantage.

It's logical that one group of the same species could evolve in a completely different direction then another group of the same species due to different environments.  Given enough time they may not even be able to mate any more.  Think of the horse and the zebra.  Same kind of animal, they can mate, but their offspring are sterile.  It won't be long before they couldn't at all.

Now, I did hear a logical question come up just today.  It was followed up by an idiotic example, but the original question was logical.  How did they make the switch between asexual reproduction and sexual reproduction.  The example was a dog splitting in half to reproduce.  This is idiotic due to it being a hypothetical not in any way related to what is being hypothesized.  A being that complex would never split in half to reproduce asexually.  It would be done like some insects.  They can fertilize themselves and give birth to an exact genetic duplicate of themselves.  This is how asexual reproduction is done in complex life forms.

To answer the question, you have to look much further back in evolution.  Back when multi-celled organisms were really only multi-celled due to it being advantages to be in a group.  Strength in numbers.  While this change was not genetic, it was still a part of evolution.  Back then the organism could divide by splitting itself in half.  Just like a group of 20 people could go in two directions by having ten go one way and ten going another.  The cells were able to exist independently, they just liked hanging out together.

The concept of internal reproduction came around when cells started specializing.  Before, they were all the same and existed in such a simple form that it allowed all cells to touch the environment around them, the water.  This is how they gathered nutrients, directly from the water.  As these organisms started hanging out in bigger and bigger groups, this turned out not to be possible.  That's when cells started to specialize.  Some cells started passing nutrients onto the cells beside them, and thus was born a rudimentary digestive system.  Threw this same kind of specialization, internal reproduction was born (so to speak).

After that it became advantages to share experiences.  That multi-celled organism over there went threw different trials and grew stronger in a different way then this multi-celled organism.  Now, they couldn't just tell each other, they weren't sentient.  They could only do it by sharing genetic code.  And thus sexual reproduction was born.

Now, we've covered the basics (and by basics, I mean the absolute basics) of evolution.  There's a lot of chance going on here, lots of chance.  What really are the odds that something like this would happen?  Million to one, trillion to one, higher?  Think of this, space is big. Really big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is, so big that the introduction to the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy doesn't come anywhere near close enough to describing it.  It's so big that mathematically speaking, just by random chance there's an exact clone of you walking around somewhere else in the universe.

There are so many stars in the sky, so many planets around those stars, the question shouldn't be "what are the odds this happened?", a better question would be "what are the odds this wouldn't happen?"

I would like to point out again that all this, all the real study of evolution by people way the hell smarter then me, only answers the question of how (in my opinion, the easiest question to answer).  This does not answer the question of who or why.  This is where religion comes in.

I know what you're saying, the Bible says God snapped his fingers and suddenly man existed.  Think of this, what do you tell your child when he or she asks where babies come from?  Do you explain to them the complex concept of sexual reproduction, cell division, and birth?  No, you tell them a stork drops it off.  The child doesn't have the mental capacity to understand a concept like reproduction.  Now think of this, we barely have the mental capacity to understand evolution, we don't have the mental capacity to understand life.  Would God waste his/her time explaining the complex path he took to create the universe, the stars, the planets, and cells to someone who just would never be able to understand it?  No, God would know better. He would just explain it simply, he snapped his fingers and it happened.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Six Questions of learning

We all know the six questions, we've heard them all our life: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How.  Who did something, What that something was, Where that something was done, When that something was, Why that something happened, and How that something happened.  If you can answer all six of those questions, you know that something.

Since these questions are about learning something and the pinnacle of the desire to learn something was the Moon landing, let's apply those questions to that.

Who: Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins.

What: well, Neil and Buzz landed on the Moon and Michael stayed in orbit until the other two returned.

Where: The Moon, or more specifically Tranquility Base.

When: July 20th 1969 at 20:17 UTC.

How: Lot's of paper, pencils, slide rules, and way more balls then I will ever have.  I don't know specifically how they did it, I know I'm not smart enough to understand the maths involved.

Why: Now here's the big question.  While I could easily look up the equations that sent people to the Moon, to truly understand why they went I would have to look much deeper then just what they did while they were there.  Why did they do those tests?  What was it that they wanted to learn that caused them to spend millions of dollars and many years to shoot three people in a tin can 238,900 miles away from home?

All of these questions would have to be answered dozens of times to fully understand the Moon landing, but if they could, the person who answered them would be an expert.  That person would truly understand the Moon landing.

What does this all have to do with learning?  We all go threw those questions when we learn.  Who is doing the thing: Mom.  What is she doing: walking.  Where: right in front of me.  When: Ever since I was born.  How: One foot in front of the other.  Why: it's faster then crawling.

While it takes a little while for a child to fully understand the how part, it's the why that's important.  What would be the point of walking if the why question could not be answered?

And that brings us to the point: The why question is the most important question in learning.  When we start understanding why things do what they do, we can start putting them together with other things in ways no one thought of before.  If we just understand the statistics, the (who what where when and how), we only know they work in ways that have already been done.

We know what E=MC² is.  Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared, but why is it?  Why is the speed of light squared?  Why is the speed of light in there at all?  If you can understand the why, you can understand the equation.

Now, think back to when you were in school.  Several years ago, yesterday possibly.  How many times did you learn the why question?  How many times were you given the information and just told to accept it as is?

I can kinda think of a perfect example from my school days.  I don't remember the equation from my Algebra II class, but I remember asking why there was a 1 added into the equation.  I was told just to accept it as fact and move on.  Well, obviously I didn't learn the equation as I don't remember it now, but I do remember asking why.  So I would remember the equation today if my question was answered.

And that's where we need to start focusing education.  As it stands right now, teachers teach to the tests.  We are forced to memorize facts and statistics.  We have learned to cram for tests, to remember things long enough to pass and then move on.  If we started teaching to the why question, our students would learn more and retain it better.

Why is that?  The human mind cannot store massive amounts of facts, it just can't.  We were designed to focus on what is in front of us and then remember the general details of the thing.  Don't go over there, there's a tiger pride over there.  The details (the who, where, when, how) are lost and only the underlying reason is left.  The why question is the underlying reason, it's the information we are built to learn.

Always ask why.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The five steps of purchasing

When we go shopping we usually look at 5 traits of an item:

Manufacturer - Who made it?

Aesthetics - Does it look pretty?

Price - It costs how much?

Quality - Will it last the 5 years I plan on using it?

Compatibility - Will it do what I need it to do?

From what I understand, most people shop in that order.  When you go shopping for a bag, do you think "I need one with at least a dozen pockets", or do you think "I want a Giusy bag" (or whatever the fashion is today)?  When you need a pair of jeans, do you go to Goodwill because you just need something to cover your ass, or do you go to Old Navy?

The same can be said for other things as well.  If you need an MP3 player, well Apple's the obvious choice.  If you need a tablet, Apple again.  If you need a desktop, Windows.

But this is the wrong way of thinking.  The vary first question you should ask yourself when buying anything is "What do I want it to do for me?"  Do you need a computer that can play games, or does it need to do spreadsheets?  Do you just need one to surf the web?  Will a small screen work for you, or do you need a 67"?

Then you look at Quality.  Will those jeans last you a few years, or will you be forced to buy new ones in a month?  Will that computer run for a while, or will it catch on fire and burn your house down tomorrow?

Price is a big one.  We have say 25 items that are compatible with us and have the quality we need.  The price ranges from $200 netbook, to a $2,000 desktop.  In that event, the lower end of the spectrum is probably the way to go.

Then we can start thinking about what it looks like and what the name on the box says about us.  There is absolutely no point in buying a nice shiny, smooth Apple laptop if you're just going to be surfing the web.  Yes, an Apple laptop can, but if that's all you're going to do, why spend that much more money (unless the pretty is that much more important to you)?

The problem that comes up in those steps is with Quality.  Because we live in linear time, quality cannot be determined by looking at the item sitting on the store shelf.  It can only be guessed at by looking at the history of the model and manufacturer.  Have the people that had it before killed it inside a week?  Has the company been in the news because the BBB is investigating accusations of a shit product?

Yes, the steps can sometimes mix, but the most important part of shopping for anything is: Will it do what you want it to do.  Remember that when you're looking at the flashy ads for items you don't really need.

Note: this is just something I thought up a few minutes ago, it's not to be taken too seriously and definitively not as an insult to anyone for their shopping habits.  If you go shopping for a bag and all you care about is the name, then that is your compatibility.