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Thursday, 30 April 2015

Humour and Laughter

My April 29 blog on kissing also mentioned laughter as a unique human trait. That remark made me wonder about its origin in human evolution. "The use of language-based jokes is clearly unique to humans," according to Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist. "There is some suggestion that apes 'play practical jokes' or laugh at another's misfortune, such as the banana skin situation, but these are only casual observations." Human laughter still has an animalistic quality, in the sense that it involves a series of rapid exhalation-inhalation cycles comparable to other primate sounds; it's louder than human speech; and, like sneezing, laughter is contagious. (source)

"We think laughter long predates the appearance of language in human evolution, and was co-opted from play as a mechanism to allow bonding between larger numbers of individuals," Dunbar explained. "Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, which are the neurochemicals used in bonding in monkeys and apes. Laughter allows us to increase the size of the bonding group because several people can laugh together; whereas grooming is, even in humans, a one-to-one activity, with only the recipient gaining the benefit of the endorphins." (source)

The 19th-century French physician Guillaume Duchenne discovered two kinds of smiling: the voluntary kind, the type of expression we produce when we a grin to be polite, and a second variety of smiling and laughing, one that occurs when we find something truly entertaining or funny. This expression is more complex and includes the muscles that form crow’s feet around your eyes. It’s why people say a real smile is in the eyes. Duchenne was never able to reproduce this second form of expression - now known as a Duchenne smile or Duchenne laughter - and he came to believe it was “only put at play by the sweet emotion of the soul.” (source)

Evolutionary theory is rife with possible explanations, but one of the most compelling was put forward in a 2005 Quarterly Review of Biology article by Gervais and evolutionary biologist Wilson. It’s based on the efforts of Duchenne. Gervais and Wilson saw Duchenne’s discovery as evidence that laughter evolved at two different points in human development. (source)

First, they posited, at a point sometime between 2 million and 4 million years ago, came Duchenne laughter, the kind triggered by something funny. An outgrowth of the breathy panting emitted by primates during play fighting, it likely appeared before the emergence of language. This sort of laughter was a signal that things at the moment were OK, that danger was low and basic needs were met, and now was as good a time as any to explore, to play, to socialise. (source)

But then, sometime in the hundreds of thousands of years after that, theorised Gervais and Wilson, the other sort of laughter emerged—the non-Duchenne sort, the kind that isn’t dependent on something being funny. As people developed cognitively and behaviourally, they learned to mimic the spontaneous behaviour of laughter to take advantage of its effects. (source)

Laughter is more than just a response to humour. It’s a primal human tool, one of the building blocks of society. It taps into the core of what we are as social creatures, expressing from one person to another what often cannot be said in any other way: either that everything is in good fun or that something is very, very wrong. (source)

To illustrate this, please see Mark Gungor's A Tale of Two Brains (short 1, short 2, short 3full).

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

A man's kiss is his signature (Mae West)

Some of my previous blogs were about striking differences between humans and animals like communicationlanguage, brain versus mind, clothing, fire, housing and tools, and the subsequent use of fossil fuels, mathematics, timekeeping and writing and so on. A less obvious one is kissing.

Many animals use their head to touch each other. To some extent, monkeys appear to "kiss" each other but at the same time they are removing insects from their mates. Hence, grooming is probably a better word than kissing. The way humans kiss each other is unique. Its meaning is also quite diverse: parental and religious (forehead), friendship (cheek, mouth, nose) and romantic (mouth, tongue).

The lips are our most exposed erogenous zone on our body. Since ancient Egypt its red colour has been amplified by women through using lipstick. The colour red is also associated with ripe - available - food (e.g., fruits). The colour red also has a special meaning in the male brain as it has been used in prostitution for centuries. Even current studies show that looking at red objects quickens the pulse and makes us feel excited. (source)

The precise origin of kissing is unknown. But some scientists hypothesise that the practice evolved from feeding rituals between animal mothers and their young, wherein mothers would chew and break down food before passing it directly to their offspring by mouth. Out of that gesture grew a universal sign of love and affection. I prefer the hypothesis of anthropologist Helen Fisher, who says kissing evolved to fulfil three essential needs: sex drive, romantic love and attachment. Romantic kissing is a part of more than 90% of human cultures, and its role is to help us to find partners, commit to one person and keep couples together long enough to have a child. (Time Magazine)

The 90% is a puzzling one though. If kissing is not universal, then someone must have invented it. One anthropologist has traced the first recorded kiss back to India, somewhere around 1500 B.C. From there, the hypothesis claims, the kiss spread westward when Alexander the Great conquered the Punjab in 326 B.C. All across Africa, the Pacific and the Americas, we find cultures that didn't know about mouth kissing until their first contact with European explorers. (source)

Sometimes a kiss does not go well and romantic feelings instantly change upon first contact. According to evolutionary psychologist Gordon Gallup, 59 percent of men and 66 percent of women say they have ended a budding relationship because of a bad kiss. It turns out that our sense of smell may be partially responsible as we pick up subconscious clues about the other person's DNA or reproductive status. A biologist found that women are most attracted to the scent of men who have a very different genetic code immune system than their own. (source)

A good romantic kiss quickens our pulse and dilates our pupils. Our brains receive more oxygen than normal and breathing can become irregular and deepen. Our cheeks flush, too, but that's only the beginning. There is an associated rise in the neurotransmitter dopamine, responsible for craving and desire. Meanwhile, serotonin spikes to stimulate obsessive thoughts about a partner. Oxytocin, popularly called the "love hormone," is involved in bonding, fostering a sense of attachment. This is the chemical likely responsible for maintaining a loving relationship over years and decades. (source)

Kissing may serve as nature's ultimate litmus test in determining when to pursue a relationship.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Alienation

Monday evening 27 April 2015, the Maryland governor declared an emergency in Baltimore and activated the National Guard. A new wave of alienation has hit the USA. African Americans do not longer accept their role in U.S. society. Perhaps Barack Obama showed them – albeit subconsciously - that they are Americans too rather than African immigrants doomed to poverty.

The USA has a long history of alienating people: its citizens (indigenous Indian population, African Americans), its neighbours Canada and Mexico, and other countries like China, Europe, Latin America and Russia. The USA has alienated too many people to receive any serious sympathy.

The African American protests do not seem random any longer. Neither do the killings of African Americans by the police feel random. These protests feel like a stepping stone towards some kind of “social revolution”. It feels very different than the 1954-68 protests organised by the civil rights movement. It feels much more like the mobilisation of the ”have nots”. Unlike other protests, this one lacks (political) ideology. Considering the enormous inequality in nearly every city, town or village, there is a huge pool of potential additional protesters.

The lack of formal organisation of the current protests makes it very difficult for the authorities to address it. The protests are unpredictable and could easily explode in domestic violence on a scale unknown to the USA. The authorities are likely to use an aggressive stance towards this unknown opponent. Such aggression could become the spark for a nationwide protest and could humiliate the USA to the bone. The USA may never be the same again.

The American Dream hasn't existed since decades. Any society without a middle class is doomed. The existence of a middle class is required for keeping the Dream alive. A society based on a few haves and many have nots cannot sustain itself on a permanent basis. A small majority of US millionaires does realise this. CNBC's first-ever Millionaire Survey reveals that 51 percent of American millionaires believe inequality is a "major problem" for the U.S., and of those, nearly two-thirds support higher taxes on the wealthy and a higher minimum wage as ways to narrow the wealth gap. (link 1, link 2, link 3, link 4)

However, it's US politics that has fully alienated itself from the US population. The New York Times reckons that the son of a governor is 6,000 times more likely than the average American male baby-boomer to become a governor himself, and the son of a senator is 8,500 times more likely to become a senator. The concentration of power and wealth in a small elite raises questions about legitimacy. (Economist, NYT) The historic trust in US government is well illustrated by this Gallup poll.

It’s a pity that these protests may one day overshadow Barack Obama’s presidency. Yet, his Presidential elections gave back some dignity to the African American population. Dignity to strive for more than just continued poverty. “Yes we can” gets a new meaning.

"And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." Martin Luther King.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Family businesses

In business, family companies continue to thrive. More than 90% of the world’s businesses are family-managed or -controlled, including some of the biggest, such as News Corp and Volkswagen, a carmaker in the throes of a boardroom battle between its two main family owners. The Boston Consulting Group calculates that families own or control 33% of American companies and 40% of French and German ones with revenues of more than $1 billion a year. In the emerging world the dominance of family control is greater still. (The Economist, 18 April 2015)

The importance of power families would have surprised the founders of modern economic and political theory. Political dynasties were supposed to fade as ordinary people got the vote. Family businesses were supposed to lose ground as public companies raised money from millions of small investors. This never happened - partly because many advantages of kinship proved surprisingly enduring. Family companies can be more flexible and far-seeing than public companies. Family owners typically want their firms to last for generations, and they can make long-term investments without worrying about shareholders hunting for immediate profits. (The Economist)

The former translates as follows, in which O.P.M. stands for Other People's Money:










Power families have also prospered from big, and welcome, social and economic shifts. Their prominence reflects the increasing prosperity of Asia, where families traditionally play a large role. The emancipation of women is doubling the talent pool. (The Economist)

Family power also has its dark side - especially where business and politics are entwined in an exclusive nexus of money and influence (see article). A study found that in 2003 firms representing almost 8% of the world’s market capitalisation were run by relatives of their countries’ political leaders. Even without political connections, business families can exercise an unhealthy influence over the wider economy. Pyramid ownership structures enable a small chunk of capital to exert a large degree of control. Another study found that the richest ten families controlled 34% of market capitalisation in Portugal and 29% in both France and Switzerland. (The Economist)

Both my father and mother and their family have been operating family businesses. I am self-employed since 2005. It's my experience that most families show a trend in this respect. I wouldn't be surprised at all that one of my kids - or both - will opt for running their own business.

“Chase the vision, not the money, the money will end up following you.” (Tony Hsieh)

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Out of Africa

In paleoanthropology, Out of Africa I is the first series of hominin expansions into Eurasia, which took place from 1.8 to 0.8 million years ago. According to the recent African origin of modern humans hypothesis (Out of Africa II), anatomically modern humans started moving into Eurasia c. 100,000 years ago, replacing previous hominins. Early hominins moved out of Africa in at least three waves. (source)

The oldest hominin sites are in East Africa. The earliest evidence for retouched tools is from Kada Gona, Ethiopia, and dates back to 2.6 – 2.5 million years ago. Homo habilis is the first member of the Homo line; it is first attested in Lake Turkana, Kenya. Homo erectus seems to appear later, its earliest remains dating back to c. 1.9 – 1.6 million years ago at Koobi Fora, Kenya. The two species would have lived face to face in East Africa for nearly half a million years. (source)

Reasons for leaving East Africa may have been an increasing population and a decreasing food supply. Homo erectus appears to have followed animal migrations to the north during wetter periods, likely as a source of scavenged food. Some scientists suggest that the success of hominins within Eurasia - once out of Africa - is in part due to the absence of zoonotic diseases outside their original habitat. The majority of these diseases are still restricted to hot and damp African environments. Once hominins had moved out into dryer and colder habitats of higher latitudes, one major limiting factor in population growth was out of the equation. (source)

The 20th and 21st century show(ed) new waves out of Africa. In the previous century it was the pursuit of the "Western dream". The current wave is mainly an escape from poverty and/or war. One could argue that the reasons are quite similar to the ones of some million years ago.

Although the main reason for leaving Africa is poverty, Africa has plenty of natural resources (e.g., precious metals, oil) and is basically a very rich continent. The continent is home to a third of the planet’s mineral reserves, a tenth of the oil and it produces two-thirds of the diamonds. The poverty amongst its citizens is only due to the enormous inequality in the distribution of African wealth. A similar situation has existed in Europe for many centuries. Hence, there is no valid reason why the situation in Africa could not change.

Over the past decade Africa was among the world’s fastest-growing continents - its average annual rate was more than 5% - buoyed in part by improved governance and economic reforms. Economic growth is starting to come from other places. Manufacturing output in the continent is expanding as quickly as the rest of the economy. Growth is even faster in services, which expanded at an average rate of 2.6% per person across Africa between 1996 and 2011. Many countries, including Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique and Nigeria, have recently revised their estimates of GDP to account for their growing non-resource sectors. Despite falling commodity prices, the outlook also seems favourable. The World Bank reckons that Sub-Saharan Africa’s economy will expand by about 5% in 2015. Telecommunications, transportation and finance are all expected to spur economic growth. (The Economist)

I am quite hopeful about Africa's future. Perhaps I'm biased as I have learned to love Africa.  

Saturday, 25 April 2015

The head-heart dilemma

Wednesday evening, while enjoying dinner with and talking to a long-time business and personal friend, I was lucky again as I felt another breakthrough in one of my few remaining challenges: why is my heart open to very different personalities than my mind? I have dubbed this the head (mind) -heart (brain) dilemma. Some further soul searching that night led me to a very interesting "Psychology Today" article: why your partner may be like your parent.

A study by Glenn Geher suggests that we do tend to choose a romantic partner who is similar to our opposite-sex parent. In his research, he not only asked participants to self-report on how their romantic partners were like their opposite-sex parents across various categories - he actually interviewed the parents as well. The shared characteristics he discovered between his subjects' partners and their opposite-sex parents were robust, and not merely coincidental. Needless to say, when romantic partners were like parents in good ways, relationship satisfaction was high; when the similarities were related to negative characteristics, relationship satisfaction was low. (source)

I feel that this article may indeed explain one side of my head-heart dilemma. The other side may be explained by the notion of Mating Intelligence (MI) as developed by evolutionary psychologists. 

Mating Intelligence (source) consists of the entire set of psychological abilities designed for sexual reproduction. MI includes the mental capacity for courtship and display, sexual competition and rivalry. It is at work in our efforts to form, maintain, coordinate, and terminate relationships. Mating Intelligence guides us in flirtation, foreplay, and copulation; in mate-search, mate-choice, mate-guarding, and mate-switching; and in many other behaviours that may have reproductive payoffs. 

We have a radar for opposite-sex interest and intentions that has its own unique calibrations. And it follows Darwinian, rather than Aristotelian, logic, because the very survival of our genes is at stake. Men and women need to minimise reproductive mistakes that could thwart their mating goals: For men, missing a chance to score constitutes an error. For women it is dangerous to trust a man who simply wishes to score and move on. (source)

Men and women selectively tune into the noisy channel of opposite-sex interest depending on their own gender-specific needs: Men scan for sexiness and availability; women scavenge for clues to personality and commitment readiness. The errors of engagement we make in the early stages of courtship, before we're certain of opposite-sex intentions, might appear to set men and women on a permanent collision course. But each one of us is evidence that men and women do in fact connect. The sexes actually have overlapping, if not identical, goals: Men and women both want stable relationships in which to raise children. Women just tend to rally for an earlier commitment. The result: When our tracks finally converge in commitment, our biases overlap as well, because we now share important goals. The most important of these is preserving the relationship. (source)

To me, both perspectives help me in understanding the (very different) criteria that my head (mind) and heart (brain) are using in mating. I suppose it's also related to my - initially subconscious and subsequently conscious - decision for building a new Maslow pyramid rather than repairing my existing one. Also see my August 27, 2014 blog.

Friday, 24 April 2015

Sunlight and viruses

While working on my April 23 blog on weather, mood and paid, I also noticed an interesting remark on viruses: Many people swear they contract the common cold when the weather changes. Although it’s not entirely clear why, experts believe it’s because rapid temperature swings weaken your immune system. The cold virus also transmits better in cold air. (source)

The relationship between sunlight and viruses appears to be an interesting one. Especially, this intriguing remark: "Further research is required to evaluate whether sunlight can significantly affect the resistance to common viral infections and vaccines." There are two known exceptions. "These are herpes simplex, in which sunlight exposure can cause reactivation, and certain papillomavirus types in which sunlight exposure can lead to the development of nonmelanoma skin cancer." (source)

According to the Aerobiological Engineering Dept. at Penn State University, the ultraviolet component of sunlight is the main reason microbes die in the outdoor air. The die-off rate in the outdoors varies from one pathogen to another, but can be anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes for a 90-99% kill of viruses or contagious bacteria. (link 1link 2, link 3, link 4, link 5)

Western behaviour towards sunlight has changed enormously compared to previous centuries. For many centuries exposure to sunlight - and thus skin tanning - was considered inappropriate for wealthy people as it suggested that you were involved in open air, poorly paid, labour. White skins were considered a sign of wealth. Hence the sun umbrellas for women walking outside. Nowadays the wealthy appear to have always a tanned skin from vacations in the snow and/or the sun, no office labour and lots of outdoor sports (e.g., golf). This change in human behaviour did cause a substantial increase in skin cancer. "The 3 main types of skin cancer have become more common in the last 20 to 40 years, especially in those areas which are mostly Caucasian." (Wikipedia)

This observation also made me look for studies showing a correlation between sunlight and average life expectancy. Scientists have long known that ultraviolet (UV) light can affect the development of living organisms by suppressing molecular and cellular processes. The effects of UV radiation on the health and reproduction of aquatic animals are well known, but only a handful of studies have looked at the effects on the human life span or on survival rates of human infants. (source)

A recent study examined demographic data from more than 9,000 people born in Norway between 1676 and 1878. The researchers compared the data with historical evidence of cycles of solar radiation compiled by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). The researchers found that people who were born during the years of high solar activity were less likely to survive to adulthood, with a high percentage of those deaths occurring before age 2. In addition, among women born in years of high solar activity, those who had lower incomes (and who likely would have spent more time outside, exposed to the sun) had lower fertility rates and fewer children who survived to age 20, compared with wealthier women. The study shows only a correlation between solar activity and life span; it does not show causation. (source)

As once scientist concluded: "There's a balance between too much and too little in sunlight. The real question is, what's that magic breakpoint?"

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Weather, mood and pain

Some time ago I was chatting with a friend from Ohio who has been very sick, going back and forth to the hospital, is still having problems walking and has a lot of pain. Being a male, I was looking for solutions and thus I asked her if her problems decreased/increased depending on the weather. She acknowledged that the weather has a lot to do with how she feels, and that the changing of the seasons really bothers her. Moving south was not an option as that would imply leaving her children.

In fact, the weather's impact on your body and the natural world is so varied, there's a whole scientific study devoted to it: biometeorology. It's a small, but diverse field of atmospheric scientists who study how — and why — the weather impacts animals, plants and humans. From changing symptoms of existing diseases, contributing to new conditions and prompting temporary physiological changes inside your body, the weather's effect on your health is far-reaching. (source)

There's no full agreement among scientists that weather causes pain but there are plausible theories. One leading theory points to changes in air pressure. Although many people say that their pain worsens with damp, rainy weather, research has shown that it's not the cold, wind, rain, or snow. The thing that affects people most is barometric pressure. Barometric pressure often drops before bad weather sets in. (source)

My advice to my friend is actually not very helpful, according to biometeorological studies. In fact, people from San Diego reported the greatest sensitivity to weather changes which came as a surprise finding, considering that it had the warmest climate, compared to other cities. San Diegans noticed pain even with small changes in weather while the temperature is always mild - it never gets too cold or particularly too hot - but with just a small change, people with pain still reported that they could detect it," One biometeorologist says: "I think as mammals, we kind of adjust to our climate."

During my research, I noticed a remarkable advice: improve your mood. People in chronic pain often feel anxious, depressed, and irritable. However, when pain strikes, the brain is often able to override a lot of sensations. "Break things down into bite-size pieces. Learn how to pace yourself, and figure out how to improve your sleep. We know that distraction is really important, so have something to keep your mind occupied, and keep active." (source)

In general, we view the mind, the body, and the environment in which we live, as separate items that are not interconnected. Although pain can indeed be just physical, it may also be a biomarker for something entirely else. I am convinced that stress in the mind always finds a way out in your body like back pains, headaches or stomach ulcers.

Health isn’t merely the absence of disease. It's a state of optimal wellbeing which includes our food, our relationships, our jobs, and all our life experiences. Illness, in contrast, develops when there is a disruption or blockage in the balance between our body and mind. Sickness is the body’s signal that we need to restore balance, eliminate whatever is causing the blockages, and reestablish the balance.

Finding conclusive evidence for the weather (environment) impact on pain (body) may indeed be impossible given the mood (mind) filter in between. 

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Eyes are the mirror of the soul

On Monday I saw a young child on the street while I was walking home. Our eyes met for several intense seconds. He was reading me while I was reading him. I noticed (starting) evil in his eyes. I wondered what had happened in his life at that age to be able to radiate this.

Science Magazine of 17 April 2015 published an interesting article which was dubbed "Gaze into my eyes" by its editor. Apparently, humans bond emotionally as we gaze into each other's eyes, a process mediated by the hormone oxytocin. The Science article described a similar process between humans and dogs. Wolves, who rarely engage in eye contact with their human handlers, seem resistant to this effect. Love at first sight suddenly gets a scientific explanation.

Oxytocin plays an important role in the neuroanatomy of intimacy, specifically in sexual reproduction of both sexes, in particular during and after childbirth. It is released in large amounts after distension of the cervix and uterus during labor, facilitating birth, maternal bonding and lactation, after stimulation of the nipples. Recent studies have begun to investigate oxytocin's role in various behaviours, including orgasm, social recognition, pair bonding, anxiety, and maternal behaviours. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as the "bonding hormone". Wikipedia

I feel that the eyes are indeed the mirror of the soul. Also see my February 28 blog on Lying Eyes. While researching this expression, I noticed three relevant references:
i. "The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Bible);
ii. Cicero (106-43 B.C.) is quoted as saying, 'Ut imago est animi voltus sic indices oculi' or "The face is a picture of the mind as the eyes are its interpreter"; (link 1, link 2)
iii. The Latin proverbs, 'Vultus est index animi' or 'Oculus animi index,' are usually translated as "the face is the mirror of the soul/mind", and "the eyes are the mirror to the soul/mind" (link 1link 2)

My April 20 blog on Addicted to Love described the soul as a concept. Wikipedia states that the soul, in many religious, philosophical and mythological traditions, is the incorporeal and, in many conceptions, immortal essence of a living thing. Incorporeal means without a physical body, presence or form. One problem with seeking scientific evidence for the soul is that there is no clear or unique definition of what the soul is.

In 2007 Mats Larsson published his doctoral dissertation on "Human Iris Characteristics as Biomarkers for Personality" which got some media attention (link 1, link 2link 3). "Our results suggest people with different iris features tend to develop along different personality lines," said Matt Larsson, a behavioural scientist who led the study at Orebro University. These findings support the notion that people with different iris configurations tend to develop along different trajectories in regards to personality. "Differences in the iris can be used as a biomarker that reflects differences between people."

The speed and accuracy with which irises can be mapped means there is growing interest in using photographs of eyes for security as well as research purposes. Governments are testing the use of digital photographs of the iris on 'biometric' passports and identity cards.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Christians

On 16 April 2015, the Italian police arrested 15 Muslim African refugees for the murder on 12 fellow, Christian, African refugees who travelled on the same boat to Europe (link 1, link 2, link 3). This tragedy within a tragedy is almost too much to bear. For the refugees, for any compassionate human being or for any Christian. How often should you turn the other cheek for another blow?

For days, the Dutch government has been discussing the "bed, bath, breakfast" arrangement for (mostly African) refugees who were turned down a visa but refuse to leave. The liberal party, for which I used to vote, appears to deny this very basic "bed, bath, breakfast" arrangement as they argue that it will attract even more refugees. Don't these politicians have a heart or conscience? Even the liberal mayors in big cities acknowledge that these refugees must have a bed, bath, and breakfast. They will continue offering it despite the liberal party's view.

It's not easy being a Christian nowadays in certain regions of the world. The persecution of Christians does not feel random any longer. On Easter Monday 6 April 2015, Pope Francis expressed his hope that the international community does not look on, “silent and inactive”, in the face of the "unacceptable crime" of the persecution of Christians around the world. (source)

Pope Francis: “Your itinerary on the streets is over, but what must continue on the part of all is the spiritual journey of prayer, intense prayer; the concrete participation and tangible help in the defense and protection of our brothers and sisters, who are persecuted, exiled, killed, beheaded, for the only reason of being a Christian,” said Pope Francis. “I sincerely hope that the international community does not look the other way,” he added. (source)

We feel safe living in Australia, Europe or USA and prefer to see such incidents as local events. When Christian refugees arrive by boat after a horrible journey, we see economic refugees with a different skin colour rather than fellow Christians.

Terror organisations like ISIL/ISIS and its foreign affiliates, are clearly provoking Christians into a new global religious war. There is a famous saying: They that sow the wind, shall reap the whirlwind. Actually, I didn't even realise that this saying comes from the Bible. This whirlwind is slowly emerging by multinational and multi-religious efforts to destroy ISIL/ISIS and its foreign affiliates.

Development aid or any other form of redistribution of global wealth may stop economic refugees. Religious refugees have a very limited choice. If Muslim countries are not willing to protect all of their citizens then a new religious confrontation is inevitable.

Hatred is corrosive of a person's wisdom and conscience; the mentality of enmity can poison a nation's spirit, instigate brutal life and death struggles, destroy a society's tolerance and humanity, and block a nation's progress to freedom and democracy. Liu Xiaobo (1955 - present)

Buddhism recognises 3 poisons: ignorance, attachment (e.g., greed) and aversion (e.g., hatred). These three poisons are considered to be the cause of suffering. All these 3 mental poisons appear to have joined each other in the 21st century. This fills my heart with sadness.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Addicted to Love

My April 17 blog was about addictions. My April 1 blog was about Love as a 7th belief system. My December 29, 2014 blog was about me finding love in Kenya. Today's blog is a synthesis: the addiction to love and my personal experience.

When we talk about love, we usually talk about 5 places: brain, heart, mind, soul and stomach. So far, the soul is a mere concept that thus cannot be researched. The heart and stomach are organs and basically a metafoor for love. The importance of the brain and the mind in dealing with love, has been researched by many scientists.

One of these scientists who study the brain is Karen Fisher. She made an interesting TED video, the brain in love, which I recommend watching. In another interesting and also recommended TED video, how I hacked online dating, Amy Webb uses a mathematical approach (i.e., the mind) by re-engineering the algorithms used by online dating services. 

In particular, I like the following Karen Fisher statement: "I'm putting the data together now, and at some point -- there will always be magic to love, but I think I will come closer to understanding why it is you can walk into a room and everybody is from your background, your same general level of intelligence, your same general level of good looks, and you don't feel pulled towards all of them. I think there's biology to that. I think we're going to end up, in the next few years, to understand all kinds of brain mechanisms that pull us to one person rather than another."

Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961) was a famous Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist who founded analytical psychology. His work has been influential not only in psychiatry but also in philosophy, anthropology, archaeology, literature, and religious studies. Carl Gustav Jung once said: "The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” In case of love, we typically refer to this as "love at first sight".

My April 17 blog was about addictions. I feel that the consequences of love can only be understood by viewing it as another type of addiction in the brain. Love clouds all rational counter arguments as the brain once again cocoons the mind from external events that contradict the brain. This addiction to love also explains why forgiving your partner's faults and flaws is so easy for the person in love.

My December 29, 2014 blog was about me finding love for the 1st time ever. My mind remembers the 18 month heartache and realises the huge socio-economic differences. However, my brain still contains a hidden addiction. When I feel strong, which is most of the times nowadays, the addiction stays hidden. Yet, sometimes my brain feeds the "what, if" question back to my mind.

I feel that once you discover an addiction, it will never fully disappear. Any addiction probably lasts permanently in your brain. In case of love, this should not be a problem. As Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) once said: 'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

My addiction to love does raise the bar for any future relationship. And it should. Once you have known the feeling of love, why settle for anything less? 

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Urban legends and hoaxes

Some time ago I started writing a new blog about the assertion that a high proportion (8%-10%) of children in Western countries are not raised by their biological father, and in fact are not aware that their assumed biological father is not their real biological father. While doing research on this topic I discovered that this entire assertion is an urban legend (link 1, link 2) with a small core of truth in it.

This fraternity assertion was clearly based on statistical misinterpretation (e.g., Mark Twain: "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."). Dr Philipp’s findings ("... that 30 per cent of the husbands could not have been the fathers of their children...") survived the test of time simply because they are shocking.

Examples of urban legends are:
- A news report claiming that Ringo Starr confirmed that the "real" Paul McCartney died in 1966 and was replaced by a singer/bass player who looked and sounded just like him. (source)
- The kidney heist. (Source: link 1, link 2)
- The existence of snuff movies. (Source)

An urban legend is a form of modern folklore consisting of stories that may or may not have been believed by their tellers to be true, and often possess horror implications that are believable to their audience. A hoax is a deliberately fabricated falsehood made to masquerade as truth. (Wikipedia)

Both urban legends and hoaxes have three things in common: the message is (i) sensational, (ii) not true and (iii) may last very long through e-mail, social media and Internet. The main differences are that (i) urban legends leverage on feelings of disgust and horror and (ii) may contain some kind of core truth (e.g., Sgt. Pepper's reverse audio fragment "Paul is dead") and (iii) that urban legends lack a motive for personal or financial gain.

Recently, I received a WhatsApp from Kenya about a statement by the Australian PM (link 1link 2, link 3) regarding Muslims in Australia. This statement addressed hidden emotions inside the hearts and minds of non Muslims. I had seen it before and immediately knew it was a hoax.

Recently, I got a request forwarding a picture of a missing child to my contacts. Before bothering them with such a request, I did a reverse image search in Google Images to check its genuinity. The results (link 1, link 2, link 3) were clear: the missing child did not even exist. Just a (sick) hoax.

The nature of hoaxes is very diverse: academic, art world, marketing, political, religious, stock exchange, "warning" for computer viruses. Yet, its purpose is not: someone wants to gain (personally or financially) from spreading these false messages. Hoaxes can be recognised as they contain sensational news that is usually in the category "too good to be true".

On 13 December 2006, the French speaking public TV station in Belgium (RTBF) interrupted its regular programming for a news bulletin claiming that the Flemish parliament had issued a unilateral declaration of independence from the Kingdom of Belgium, mimicking the Belgian secession from the Netherlands some 175 years earlier. The Flemish secession hoax had been prepared over a period of 2 years under the codename BBB for Bye-bye Belgium. Prominent Belgian politicians condemned the report as "irresponsible."

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth. (Marcus Aurelius)

Saturday, 18 April 2015

A bridge too far

Apple and Google are two of the companies I admire most. Apple is a medium sized player with superb margins on its products. Google's products are superb which caused them to become market leader in several areas (e.g., its search engine, its browser). Recently, the flip side of market leadership has become clear as Google is now facing anti trust measures from the EU. This may create a lot of negative energy and may well affect its future innovative behaviour.

Apple does not face this situation yet. However, of my nearly 6,500 viewers only 25% uses Windows, 5% Android, 4% various and 66% uses Apple (Mac, iPad or iPhone). This could well be a meaningless statistic but I doubt it. Apple is slowly overtaking Windows on a global scale but it may take decades as Apple is perceived as expensive. Frankly it is indeed but I will never ever go back to Windows. My 2009 Apple MacBook is still faster than most modern Windows laptops. Yet, it's slowish compared to my 2012 iMac.

Apple's business model is clearly not in the "valley of death" which is typically associated with medium sized market players. The common business thought is that you need to be either a niche player or a market leader. Anything in between will have difficulty to survive. Even when you consider MicroSoft Windows and Apple iOS as a duopoly then it's still remarkable that the much more expensive one is very slowly taking over the market dominance.

Market leadership brings power. Power typically brings abuse of power. The abuse of power removes a level playing field within industry. Abuse complaints from competitors are foremost seen as sulking by losers. Proof is hard to find without investigative powers. Usually, the winner takes it all.

Market dominance brings excessive scrutiny from regulators. Regulation limits entrepreneurial spirits, excessive regulation kills it. Future business models, based upon the strive for market dominance, may need to be rewritten due to what is happening today.

Companies were the first to go multinational (e.g, Dutch East India Company in 1602). It took nations centuries to follow (e.g., ECSC in 1951). The globalisation of industry is still hardly mirrored by a globalisation in politics, nations or regulation. The head start of industry is only slowly changing. A pivotal point was the 2007 anti trust case of the EU against Microsoft Corporation.

The USA has been evolving towards a hereditary meritocracy which could explain some fundamental flaws in its system. “MY BIG fear,” says Paul Ryan, an influential Republican congressman from Wisconsin, is that America is losing sight of the notion that “the condition of your birth does not determine the outcome of your life.” The emerging Bush-Clinton dynasties are reinforcing this trend towards a hereditary meritocracy. Hence, the EU will probably be leading when it comes to multinational regulation.

The strive for (market) dominance is human. The famous "a bridge too far" (Cornelius Ryan, 1974) must seem as a remote chance that can thus be ignored in strategic considerations. Yet, any "bridge too far" triggers strong counter mechanisms.

For centuries, China has been expanding its borders but so far it has never crossed the "bridge too far" despite its 1951 annexation of Tibet. Both Napoleon and Hitler learned the hard way that they were crossing this bridge. Russia is coming awfully close to its own version of "a bridge too far".

When attempting to manage risk, big is almost never beautiful. (Source)

Friday, 17 April 2015

Addictions

I'm addicted to liquorice (NL: drop). The smell and taste is always somewhere in my brain. My mind knows that it's a bad habit and thus I can restrain myself, at least most of the times. I can still remember the afternoon that my dad took my brother and me to the city of Alkmaar to buy supplies for his store. He also needed a 5 kg box of liquorice. He used to offer them as a small incentive to his customers. On the way home my brother and I opened that box and started eating liquorice. Although I felt really sick after eating too much liquorice, it didn't stop my addiction. 

Some years ago, I worked in an office that had an open jar full of liquorice on one of the office desks. The jar was refilled by everyone using it. One day, our Indian expat colleague, who had noticed us eating liquorice, asked if he could eat one as well. No problem. I will always remember his face while chewing it. After a few seconds, his face turned to utter disgust and he spit out the liquorice in full contempt. He clearly had expected a very, very different sensation.

So why is one man's addiction another man's disgust ?

First of all, addictions are not privy to humans. Animals can get addicted too. The only difference is that they do not realise that it's bad for them. They just enjoy the sensation.

Animals experience similar difficulties as humans regarding addiction. While we humans have the ability to rationalise our actions and draw conclusions from those rationalisations, animals function on instinct – their behaviour is based on an innate genetic constitution. Chemical reactions in their brains produce stimulants and sensations that indicate to them that their actions are “correct”. Opioid, dopamine, oxytocin and numerous other neuro hormones regulate behaviour through a process that rewards the animal for behaviour that is essential to its survival. (Source)

When these “rewards” are offered in the absence of the “behaviour”, they are often embraced, since the rewards involve pleasurable stimulation.  In the natural world, it is rare that the rewards are available to the animal without the behaviour. Thus, there is little addiction in the animal kingdom. However, when the stimulant is artificially introduced, addiction can quickly take over and, often, consume the animal. Mice have been known to starve to death when faced with an either/or choice between cocaine and food. (Source)

Animals are not in a position to make “rational” decisions regarding their actions. They act in order to achieve the “reward” which is nature’s way to induce the animal to maintain its survival. When that “natural” reward system is tampered with, the “survival” of the animal, in fact, becomes threatened. (Source)

I am convinced that everyone can get addicted to anything as the individual trigger mechanism releases powerful sensational chemical reactions in our brain. Yet, these triggers vary enormously. For me it's liquorice. For someone else it's alcohol or cocaine or worse.

The difficulty with addictions is that the brain is "telling" the mind that it's okay doing or using it. It's like the mind being increasingly cocooned from any impulse other than the brain. When the human mind is switched off then survival becomes threatened similar to addicted animals. Understanding this tragic phenomenon, and recognising that it is not a character flaw, is the first step towards recovery.

When it comes to addictions, the real issue is: who is the boss? Your brain or your mind? 

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Reverse psychology and Projection

In 2012, I met someone who opened my eyes when it comes to today's topic: projection and reverse psychology. Since that meeting I finally understand some people from my past and present life. Also, I was finally able to understand and "archive" some past events.

Reverse psychology refers to getting another person to do or say something by telling them the opposite of what is desired. It's a form of manipulation that has questionable success.  Parents may use it towards their children. (Source). Closely related are Projection and Projective Identification. Projective Identification is a way to be aggressive while appearing to be the victim. Some examples of Projection are: 1) The angry person accuses someone else being angry, 2) A liar accuses others of lying, 3) The cheater accuses others of cheating, and 4) The thief accuses others of stealing. (Source)

Anger is a drug for people who are likely to be in deep denial and see themselves as the victim or an avenging agent of good. If they are angry for a reason, they are innocent of wrongdoing and guilt. Anger is purity, anger is a sublime state of grace, being angry never means having to say you're sorry, it just means you weren't angry enough. (Source)

Projection is essential for chronic anger so anger always be rationalised and excused as self defense. Guilt often accompanies anger, and if someone feels guilty all the time, guilt is projected onto other people. Since the person who suffers from chronic guilt believes that other people also feel guilty, then it is clear that other people must have done something wrong. In other words, if someone feels guilt, through projection they believe that it's other people who need to be punished. (Source)

Chronic anger plays out several ways in relationships: 1) It ends. It might be messy, but at least one party never looks back and it's over (the healthy use of anger), 2) A long descent into grinding mutual hatred, and 3) One party goes literally psycho and seeks the destruction of the other party, physically, financially, socially, or maybe with ax. (Source). Personally, I witnessed the following order of events: 2 (both), then 1 (me), then 3 (her), and finally 1 (her).

Reverse psychology and projection within a relationship come very close to brainwashing. Often it comes with increased isolation from family and friends. This isolation even feels like exercising your own free will while it was clearly not, with hindsight. The impact of reverse psychology and projection within a relationship is huge as it is exercised by a trusted party. It may take very long before the genuine motives of that trusted party are questioned. Family and friends typically do not interfere as they are afraid that it would hurt family ties and friendships which it indeed usually does. The parents may even embrace the other partner and practically reject their own child. Probably as they are afraid to lose visiting rights to their grand children. Nevertheless, it hurts.

The aggressor tries to bait a victim into giving them the proof they need so desperately to validate their own anger. Then they can rally their friends or family for an attack. Bonus points are awarded for gaining sympathy and being the center of attention. The manipulator poses as a hapless victim, but orchestrates the whole performance for an audience. It could be used for good, but it seems like it's always a form of aggression, specifically covert aggression. (Source)

Here's the part that is strange and hard to grasp: the manipulator usually does not know what they are doing. Projection itself is a defense, but there are layers and layers of defenses, mostly what we would call "denial." Often these beliefs are paranoid. (Source)

Forgiving yourself is the only road to salvation. Denial is a never-ending road to nowhere.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Feigned ignorance

Ignorance is bliss. At least for some. Too much knowledge can be a genuine burden. Feigned ignorance is different. It's an excuse for inappropriate behaviour. To put it mildly. Feigned ignorance and reverse psychology (a next blog) are somewhat related. Feigned ignorance is the second step towards reversed psychology. Shame is the very first step. Plausible deniability is something entirely different as there is no shame involved (e.g., Crimea).

To put feigned ignorance into context, I present some examples:
- 1915 Armenian genocide of some 1 - 1.5 million people: "they attacked us first";
- "Ich habe es nicht gewuszt" (I didn't know): excuse by German WWII soldiers at Nuremberg trial;
- MH17 attack by Russian BUK missile and subsequent Russian spin-doctor explanations;
- feigned memory loss in civic and criminal court cases.

There is a hybrid version between ignorance and feigned ignorance that does not involve shame but some kind of reversed shame which comes close to proudness. Let's call it religious ignorance:
- denial of Evolution theory as it's not in line with the evolution as described in the Bible;
- parents' refusal of vaccination to children (e.g., US measles outbreak).

On 12 April 2015, the Australian PM took a drastic step towards religious ignorance by announcing that Australia intends to stop welfare payments to parents who refuse to vaccinate their children. The "no jab, no pay" policy may cost parents more than A$11,000 a year per child in lost benefit payments. The PM said that there would only be a small number of religious and medical exceptions to the new rules which are supported by the Labor opposition and due to come into effect in early 2016. The PM said that his government was "extremely concerned" about the risks posed to the rest of the population by families who chose not to immunise their children. "The choice... is not supported by public policy or medical research nor should such action be supported by taxpayers in the form of child care payments".

I don't believe that the Kremlin ordered the shooting of MH-17. Yet, the attack was done by a Russian missile, in attendance of a "former" senior Russian military commander who was supervising a (probable) Russian missile crew. Admitting this immense mistake was not an option given Russia's strategy of plausible deniability in Ukraine but also its loss of credibility following its excuses for its invasion of the Crimea. Few would believe Russia that the MH-17 shooting was a tragic mistake. Hence, a no-win situation for Russia. Feigned ignorance was all that was left. Yet, the Dutch PM has vowed to bring those responsible for the MH17 crash to justice which so far looks promising.

On 12 april 2015, Pope Francis described the World War I-era slaughter of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks as the first genocide of the 20th century. “Concealing or denying evil is like allowing a wound to keep bleeding without bandaging it,” the Pope added. That same evening, the VPRO TV documentary "Bloedbroeders" (blood brothers), gave an interesting insight. Two Dutch friends, one from Turkish and one from Armenian descent, were interviewing Turkish people in search of what actually happened in 1915. The answers were either that this massacre never happened (minority view) or that the Armenians started the massacre by killing Turkish people first (majority view). 

While ignorance can be cured with knowledge, feigned ignorance can only be cured through public condemnation.

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time. Abraham Lincoln

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Power and abuse

"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
Abraham Lincoln

Usually I end with a quote but this time it's an excellent introduction on the topic of Power. Power is the ability to exercise control over others (what). Power is usually found in leaders (who). Basically power could last from cradle to grave (when). Power is exercised through formal authority, hidden or informally (how). This was easy. More difficult questions are why and where.

I believe that the why and where questions are in the brain (where) and the mind (why). The animal culture clearly shows that there are leaders and followers. The human race mirrors that. That similarity convinces me that leadership is an instinct in the brain. The typically human amoral or evil application of leadership and power, convinces me that the why must be in the mind (thoughts). 

Human lack of morals may have several explanations: genetic, mental defects, or bad parenting. 

A genetic explanation should be visible in other life forms than humans but we don't. Bad parenting (source) may cause bad social behaviour but that is still a long way from a lack of morals. When we talk about bad people we use phrases like freak (NL: "misbaksel") or have a loose screw (NL: "een draadje los") which clearly does not relate to genetics but to the general wiring of the person.

The combination of instinct for leadership (brain) and bad wiring (mind) can have dramatic consequences (e.g., Adolf Hitler, Roman emperor Caligula).

In 2014, TIME Magazine published an article about the professions with most and fewest psychopaths. The outcome was that CEO is the profession with the most psychopaths. Obviously, terminology and definitions become very important in such bold statements. Psychopathy is a personality disorder that has been variously described as characterised by shallow emotions (in particular reduced fear), stress tolerance, lacking empathy, coldheartedness, lacking guilt, egocentricity, superficial character, manipulativeness, irresponsibility, impulsivity and antisocial behaviours such as parasitic lifestyle and criminality. (TIME), (Forbes) and (Fortune)

TIME did an attempt to explain the why question: CEOs require an ability to make objective, clinical decisions divorced from feelings. The absence of a human connection or dealing with feelings appears to be leading. Basically, they don't care about others than themselves or the "greater good".

Almost by definition, leaders must possess several of these psychopathic features. It's the degree and extent that ultimately separates them in good and bad people. My compassion and caring for others could indeed be an obstacle in a CEO role. More relevant is that I never felt the urge from moving from CFO to CEO. Informal power was always enough for me. 

The psychopathic characteristics of (chosen/elected) leaders clearly open a variety of pitfalls for their future downfall (e.g., former IMF President). Ancient rulers never had that problem. I feel that I have also found a more convincing explanation to my February 12 blog on powerful people.

"The true leader serves. Serves people. Serves their best interests, and in doing so will not always be popular, may not always impress. But because true leaders are motivated by loving concern than a desire for personal glory, they are willing to pay the price.” Eugene B. Habecker, from his book The Other Side of Leadership (1987).

Monday, 13 April 2015

Secular stagnation and change triggers

Some time ago, the FT reported that the US growth rate is still far behind its long term average (see: link 1link 2link 3). European growth rates - if any - are a fraction of the US rate. To explain rich countries’ poor growth, some economists (most notably Larry Summers, a former American Treasury secretary), suggest that they are stuck in “secular stagnation”. Secular stagnation is a condition of negligible or no economic growth in a market-based economy.

Secular-stagnation theory originated with Alvin Hansen, a Keynesian economist, in the 1930s. Countries suffering from the stagnation bug are burdened with too much saving and too little investment. Hansen reckoned the slumping economies of the 1930s were doomed to stagnation by poor growth prospects, a product of slowing innovation and ageing populations. Mr Summers's diagnosis is not all that different. (Source: The Economist)

In general, many countries face the following issues:
- governments facing massive debts and agreed-upon austerity;
- consumers facing unemployment, reduced spending and increased savings (buffers);
- companies introducing robotics and replacing human labour;
- a population still expanding but with low birth rates and an increased ageing (mushroom);
- natural resources are depleting and thus prices increasing (scarcity);
- technological developments seem to accelerate leading to a 3 era Technological Revolution;
- climate changes may cause new migration patterns for companies and people;
- money, its lack (debts) or abundance (cash), may cause a shift in the Rise and Fall of Nations

In the absence of government spending (high debt, agreed-upon austerity) and/or consumer spending (lack of income, increasing unemployment), secular stagnation is likely to stay around for years. The impact of robotics on future employment could cause continued secular stagnation (or worse). Balancing future expenditure to future income - for governments and consumers - would imply a decrease in our standards of living. Our current standards of living are based on borrowed money (i.e., government and consumer debt) that needs to be repaid. In this scenario my children's future will look very different than my parents (or even mine).

The above scenario assumes a ceteris paribus condition which is not realistic. The above scenario could be changed by two major events, being a huge scientific breakthrough or total chaos (e.g., natural disaster, war). A natural disaster would include climate changes (e.g., draught, flooding), or an earthquake, meteorite, volcano eruption. Both major events do not seem farfetched though.

Yet, my bet is on an immense scientific breakthrough considering the incredible acceleration of the Technological Revolution (1800 - present) since personal computers (1977) were introduced. I still have my Commodore 64 which is a baby toy compared to my recently acquired iPad Air.

In my view, an immense scientific breakthrough could well relate to our natural resources and quite possibly the replacement of fossil energy by a new power source (e.g., nuclear fusion). The most illustrative example of nuclear fusion is our Sun which generates its energy by nuclear fusion of hydrogen nuclei into helium. Such an immense scientific breakthrough would focus the world for decades on its useful applications.

It is always wise to look ahead, but difficult to look further than you can see (Winston Churchill).
The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time (Abraham Lincoln). 

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Human Emotions - a new classification

My earlier March 30 blog on basic human emotions made me wonder why there would be more negative (5) than positive (3) human emotions. Nearly everything in life is based on symmetry and I sincerely doubt that symmetry would suddenly be gone when it comes to human emotions. Both Paul Ekman and Robert Plutchik use this symmetry. Nevertheless, Mr. Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions ultimately arrives at 5 negative and 3 positive human emotions (if submission even is an emotion).

After ample consideration and ample inner soul searching, I feel that emotions have a long-term baseline and that emotions also show temporary fluctuations. These temporary fluctuations typically show facial expressions (Paul Ekman: happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust). The intensity of these temporary emotional fluctuations may vary but not its nature (positive/negative).

Based upon the above I have come to the following (re)classification of emotions:

I have noticed in my relationships - and in myself - that memories (a.k.a. "emotional luggage") - and also expectations - can put a heavy burden on all other emotions as they are long-term, and that is why they come first. They create an optimistic or a pessimistic approach towards life in general which translates in basic happy or sad faces. I also recognise the various stages and fluctuations in my own emotions for the past years, the present and the future.

I feel that this diagram is helpful in understanding the concept of basic human emotions, and may also provide a tool for self-analysis, and progress. 

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Chaos, Equilibrium, SuperPowers and the United States of Europe

The huge turmoil since the beginning of the 21st Century (e.g., TwinTowers, global financial crisis, ISIS/ISIL, Ukraine) feels like a pressure cooker which is either bursting in total chaos or is looking for a new equilibrium. Or both, as chaos is the required ingredient for arriving to a new equilibrium. A new equilibrium should be found amongst its key power dimensions, being: knowledge, military, population size and wealth (see my March 25 blog).

Below I have roughly outlined prior and present equilibriums for the past 5,000 years:




The biggest change in a new equilibrium could, would and should be a United States of Europe. Europe has been a major warzone for many centuries. A United States of Europe could finally bring definitive peace to the region. A United States of Europe is merely a political decision. All fundamental requirements have already been in place for long.

Yet, a united Europe - especially led by Germany - may well be Russia's biggest fear given its own history (i.e., attack by Napoleon, WW1, attack by Hitler). Such fears would also explain all its ploys for dividing European ranks and for its attempts preventing further European consolidation (e.g., continued NATO expansion, Crimea, Ukraine).

For the majority of the past 5,000 years, Europe has been the leading region on Earth. Unlike religious differences (Arab region), political differences are easy to resolve. United we stand, divided we fall. (Source)

Friday, 10 April 2015

Science and Religion - Yin and Yang

I believe in government, philosophy, religion, science and truth. And in love and money but no longer in the love for money. I may be an outcast towards extreme and closed minds. So be it. Ignorance is bliss. I am fascinated and intrigued by how science continues fitting in an intelligent design theory. Now I have possibly even upset more people. So be it. Ignorance is bliss. I am open minded towards anything that comes on my path. It helps me in finding creative, elegant, logical and simple solutions.

The closer scientists come to the essence of Life, including the origin of our Universe, the more spectacular their results, and the more complex the remaining hypotheses. Yet, each hypothesis raises new dilemmas that are even more difficult to grasp, like: what existed before the Big Bang. See my March 8 blog.

Some scientists prefer the opposite of an intelligent design, being the chaos theory. Also see: link 1, link 2. I must admit that I have some sympathy for it. The idea that our entire life would be planned / designed would make us feel / think that we would lack free will deciding for ourselves. See my 26 March blog on free will. Moreover, the chaos around us doesn't always suggest an intelligent design.

However, ultimately everything is in the eye of the beholder: beauty, chaos, complex hypotheses, as well as intelligent design.

I see our Universe, and Life in general, as perfection of the highest possible order. Perfection isn't random. It comes by design. In that context, an intelligent design theory makes perfect sense to me.

As far as I am aware, there was - or is - no culture on Earth that did or does not have a belief in a Supreme Being. Religion appears to be in our human brain (beliefs) and mind (thoughts). See my earlier April 1 blog.

I doubt that all scientists are atheist and/or agnostic. Most likely, the entire scientific population would show a somewhat similar % of religious people as the global population. Interesting outliers may however be found in some particular scientific areas.

The mistrust of science in religion has a perfectly valid base as men claiming practicing religion have long tried keeping scientific knowledge to themselves. People's ignorance was bliss to them.

The irony of all, is that scientists are probably the ones who are most afraid of an intelligent design theory as it provides elegant, logical and simple answers rather than complex hypotheses. In essence, each new scientific discovery underlines an intelligent design theory.

I don't propose "merging" religion and science. To the contrary, in fact. Both are like the required checks and balances, or sanity checks. They cohabit like the flip sides of the same coin while never seeing each other.

In Chinese philosophy, yin and yang describes how apparently opposite or contrary forces are actually complementary, interconnected, and interdependent in the natural world, and how they give rise to each other as they interrelate to one another. Wikipedia.

I believe that Science and Religion are like Yin and Yang. That is the essence of my intelligent design view.







Thursday, 9 April 2015

Bankiers

Ik heb 5 jaar op corporate niveau bij een grote bank gewerkt, vlak voor en tijdens de bankencrisis, en was zwaar onder de indruk van de enorme inspanning die het management leverde. Eerlijk gezegd vond ik de beloning van het management, dat direct onder het niveau van de RvB werkt, toch wel erg bescheiden ten opzichte van hun inspanningen en resultaten. Ik ben wel wat gewend maar ik weiger om 24/7 door mijn blackberry (of wat dan ook) te worden geleefd.

De bankiers die ik hierboven beschrijf zijn dus niet de mensen die telkens weer in de discussie over bankiersbeloningen naar voren komen. De mensen die ik beschrijf die ziet vrijwel niemand tenzij je ze kent en goed oplet. Het zijn de mensen die het echte werk doen en goed weten wat de echte risico's zijn. Als hun salarissen verdubbeld zouden worden dan zou ik er waarschijnlijk nog steeds niet over na willen denken om hun functie over te nemen, laat staan dat ik interesse zou hebben.

Het argument van de RvC dat de beloningen voor de RvB nu al te laag zijn om goede mensen aan te trekken is op zijn zachtst gezegd interessant. De subtoppers zouden maar wat graag hun krankzinnige uren minderen voor meer salaris en een promotie naar de top. Daar zit het probleem niet.

Het RvC argument is echter een gevolg van de RvB profielschetsen die gehanteerd worden. Bovendien wordt ten onrechte de invloed van internationale consultants voor beloningssystemen vergeten.

De politiek wordt wederom geconfronteerd met de beruchte "moral hazard" problematiek. Dit houdt in dat bankiers vooraf weten dat ze gered zullen worden als ze grote fouten maken omdat een grote bank namelijk essentieel is voor het nationale financiële systeem. Hun moreel besef en realiteitszin wordt hierdoor aangetast. De Amerikanen gaan nog 1 stap verder in dat denken en zeggen ronduit: de winsten zijn voor ons en de verliezen voor de samenleving.

Zolang de politiek niet in staat is om deze essentie te zien, zullen beide partijen elkaar steeds meer in een wurggreep nemen. De bankiers zullen winnen omdat de politiek te vaak blufpoker speelt.

Er is een oplossing maar die past niet erg in de huidige tijdgeest. Indien iedereen een betaal- en spaarrekening zou hebben bij een bescheiden RijksBetaalSpaarHypotheekbank dan zou het nationale financiële systeem niet langer in private handen zijn en dus niet gered hoeven te worden.

De bankiers zullen zeggen dat zulke retail activiteiten verliesgevend zijn. In deze tijd van negatieve rentes zal dat ook waarschijnlijk zo zijn. Deze te verwachten operationele resultaten dienen echter afgezet te worden tegen het te verwachten miljarden verlies bij de verkoop van ABN AMRO.

Het wordt zo langzamerhand echt tijd dat bankiers en politiek afstand van elkaar nemen en hun beschadigende wurggreep beëindigen.

Bankiers moeten zich realiseren dat de "moral hazard" van hun handelen (of nalaten daarvan) ook hun verantwoordelijkheid is. Er moet een einde komen aan deze vorm van publieke chantage.

De politiek moet zich realiseren dat aandeelhouders over de beloningen gaan. En dus niet de Staat, tenzij de Staat de aandeelhouder is. De Staat dient zich echter wel aan gemaakte afspraken te houden en geen (politiek) windvaantje te zijn.

De oplossing van deze patstelling is er. Wie durft er door te bijten?

Viruses and its role in Evolution and Life

Scientists claim that our Universe is some 13.8 billion years old, our Sun and our Earth are both some 4.5 billion years old and that microbes (e.g., bacteria) existed before (!) 3.5 billion years ago based on the dating of fossils in Australia and Greenland. Scientist now recognise viruses as ancient and as having origins that pre-date the divergence of life (see April 7 blog). 

In 2013, the French scientists Jean-Michel Claverie and Chantal Abergel published their discovery of the so called Pandora virus in Science Magazine. They reported "the isolation of two giant viruses, one off the coast of central Chile, the other from a freshwater pond near Melbourne (Australia), without morphological or genomic resemblance to any previously defined virus families". "These viruses are the first members of the proposed “Pandoravirus” genus, a term reflecting their lack of similarity with previously described microorganisms and the surprises expected from their future study." And also: "Because more than 93% of Pandoraviruses genes resemble nothing known, their origin cannot be traced back to any known cellular lineage. However, their DNA polymerase does cluster with those of other giant DNA viruses, suggesting the controversial existence of a fourth domain of life".

Adding viruses to the Tree of Life may actually be a little more than just controversial as it would come close to redefining our entire concept of Life. 

Scientists debate whether viruses are alive at all. For something to be alive it must eat, grow, make waste, and reproduce. When a virus is floating around in the air or sitting undisturbed in soil, it is no more alive than a rock. But if that same virus comes in contact with a suitable animal, plant, or bacterium cell, it suddenly becomes active. A virus does not eat, but it gets its energy from the host cell it infects. It does not grow in the sense that it gets larger, but it does reproduce. In fact, a virus's sole purpose seems to be reproduction, and it cannot do that without the help of a living cell. (Source)

I feel that we largely underestimate the purpose or role of viruses. Indeed they bring death like poison does. Yet the Chinese were already well aware that any poison may be a cure for another disease. Hence, poison as medicine. A woman readying for death from Lyme disease found herself cured after being attacked by a hoard of bees. Scorpion venom is used in Chinese medicine to treat everything from eczema to epilepsy. Now researchers are hoping to use bee venom to fight HIV, cancer, arthritis and multiple sclerosis. See: Food for Thought in FT First of 27 March 2015 and Mosaic Science.

Viruses may well play a vital role in death AND life. Viruses may perform the pivotal role in the survival of the fittest, in Evolution, and in Life. Please also see this article which I just found.

Some scientists suggested that the 93% unknown DNA in the Pandora virus may be extraterrestrial. "At this point we cannot actually disprove or disregard this type of extreme scenario," Claverie added, referring to the possibility the virus is extraterrestrial in origin. I would suggest that the 93% represents extinct species (early humans, animals, plants, etc.) rather than anything extraterrestrial.

I am fascinated and intrigued by the beautiful symmetry and perfection of the Universe. Symmetry and perfection are not random events or coincidences. It's design of the highest possible order.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Viruses - origin and other anomalies

During my April 7 blog on viruses, I was quite surprised to notice that there is a lot of debate about the origin of viruses. Astrobiologists Chandra Wickramasinghe and Fred Hoyle believe that some component of the 1918 flu pandemic arrived to earth by meteorite; as the first to be infected were birds. If that were the case then it would be proof of extraterrestrial life as viruses carry DNA.

Viruses are considered by some to be a life form, because they carry genetic material, reproduce, and evolve through natural selection. However, they lack key characteristics (such as cell structure) that are generally considered necessary to count as life. Because they possess some but not all such qualities, viruses have been described as "organisms at the edge of life". (Wikipedia)

A Russian botanist, Dmitri Ivanovsky (1864-1920), is considered the first man who described viruses in his 1892 article on a non-bacterial pathogen infecting tobacco plants. In 1898, a Dutch microbiologist and botanist, Martinus Beijerinck (1851-1931), was to first to discover the tobacco mosaic virus and thus evidencing the earlier Russian claim. He is considered one of the founders of virology. (Wikipedia)

Since 1898, about 5,000 viruses have been described in detail, although there are millions of different types. The average virus is about one one-hundredth the size of the average bacterium. Most viruses are too small to be seen directly with an optical microscope. Viruses are found in almost every ecosystem on Earth and are the most abundant type of biological entity.

The word virus is from the Latin vīrus, referring to poison and other harmful liquids. Its existence was "first" mentioned in a compendium called "De proprietatibus rerum" ("On the Properties of Things") by Bartholomeus Anglicus (<1203-1272), dated at 1240, and an early forerunner of the encyclopedia and one of the most popular books in medieval times. The work was organised in 19 books. Book 7 was called "De infirmitatibus" or "On diseases and poisons". Bartholomew carefully notes the sources for the material included, although, at present, it is sometimes impossible to identify or locate some of them. His annotations give a good idea of the wide variety of works available to a medieval scholar. (Wikipedia)

Viruses are found wherever there is life (as they need a host to replicate) and have probably existed since living cells first evolved. The origin of viruses is unclear because they do not form fossils. Currently, there are three main hypotheses that aim to explain the origins of viruses: regressive hypothesis, cellular origin hypothesis and coevolution hypothesis. In the past, there were problems with all of these hypotheses. Viruses are now recognised as ancient and as having origins that pre-date the divergence of life into the three domains. In short, we have NO clue.

In fact, viruses have lived - and thus survived - longer than any other life form on Earth (humans, animals, plants or whatever). One could even argue that all extinct species were killed by viruses. Following that thought pattern, one could even argue that our entire evolution is driven by viruses. In that context, evolution was necessary to survive from relentless virus attacks. Perhaps evolution is first triggered by "updates" to the immune systems of life forms.

In other words: that which does not kill us makes us stronger. (Friedrich Nietzsche)