While the World Watched (2011)

While the World Watched:
A Birmingham Bombing Survivor Comes of Age during the Civil Rights Movement, Carolyn Maull McKinstry and Denise George (2011)($9, amazon.com link)

Young Emmett Till might as well have been a dog struck by a car on the highway, its carcass left on the roadside to rot and decay, then picked up and shipped in a box back to its owner. What did this horrifying event say to me, even as a child? That black life is irrelevant, insignificant, worthless. The loss of black life is of no consequence.

Here’s a good book on the racism that occurred during the early days of the Civil Rights movement. After knowing Earl R. and his opinions on MLK being a great speaker and figure for the movement, but not an orchestrator – that role going to A. Phillip Randolph – I believe Carolyn speaks too highly of MLK Jr., and not highly enough of others. Still, she’s only doing this because from her view – like that of most of us – MLK was the leader.

I do disagree with her belief that there’s a spirituality lacking from our modern world, especially with the advent of science. [2017 thoughts: I understand better now. Some scientists do not lack this spirituality, knowing that after physics and mathematics one comes again to philosophy and spirituality, although many others do. But among the general public, what she writes is true: we lack spirit, conviction, ethics, brotherhood…]

But I agree with the bulk of the book, and that “Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.” I also like the Birmingham Pledge:

  • I believe that every person has worth as an individual.

  • I believe that every person is entitled to dignity and respect, regardless of race or color.

  • I believe that every thought and every act of racial prejudice is harmful; if it is my thought or act, then it is harmful to me as well as to others.

  • Therefore, from this day forward I will strive daily to eliminate racial prejudice from my thoughts and actions.

  • I will discourage racial prejudice by others at every opportunity.

  • I will treat all people with dignity and respect; and I will strive daily to honor this pledge, knowing that the world will be a better place because of my effort.

  • In signing this document, people are pledging to believe in the worth of every person God created and to treat people with respect and dignity. It is also an acknowledgment that racial discrimination—every thought and every cruel action—is harmful, both to the offender and to the recipient. So basic, so simple, and yet so life honoring.

It is good to remember, from time to time, the way the spirits of many passionate and just Americans were crushed by the early events in the Civil Rights movement, and by the three high profile assassinations in five years. My generation cannot imagine it.

They close:

I’m concerned about a better world. I’m concerned about justice; I’m concerned about brotherhood; I’m concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about that, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer, but you can’t murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar, but you can’t establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can’t murder hate through violence. Darkness cannot put out darkness; only light can do that.

Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari  (2015)

Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari  (2015) ($15, amazon.com link)

“The brain is the best algorithm,” Fisher argues.

Having read a number of relationship books before it, Modern Romance wasn’t groundbreaking, and I wasn’t surprised all that much by data or original thoughts. Nonetheless, it was worth my time – especially if I return to the dating world [2015].

The authors start with a brief history of older marriages and relationships from the US: we used to be satisfied with companion love, having had only a few options in a partner. Today, we suffer from dozens – or millions – of options, and we know from psychological research that in human decision making, more is certainly not always better.

Thus we have created internet-based technological services to help us find a partner. And since the world, and our beliefs, have changed, this technology is good. However, it has its consequences. It has turned some below-average guys into acting like charming, perfect studs; it has overwhelmed many females, and even males, to the point of apathy; and it continues to delude:

“No compelling evidence supports matching sites’ claims that mathematical algorithms work,” they wrote.

…and as such, these sites should be used as introductory services! “Have faith in your ability to size someone up in person.” Ansari says in his final paragraphs. It’s easy for me to say, “Duh!” but hard for many teenage- and early twenty-something’s to internalize.

Unfortunately, the concept of “a perfect soul mate” is likely to do more harm to anyone trying to find this elusive partner than it will help anyone actually be happier. As I’ve read before, happiness is largely about managing expectations. The problem is the idea of the ideal:

That’s the thing about the Internet: It doesn’t simply help us find the best thing out there; it has helped to produce the idea that there is a best thing and, if we search hard enough, we can find it. And in turn there are a whole bunch of inferior things that we’d be foolish to choose.

Notably, everyone (anecdotally, but still!) says they prefer honesty in rejection…yet nobody is actually honest when they reject another person. Ansari’s explanation seems perfect:

If we’re honest with ourselves, we realize that, however bizarre, we actually prefer to be lied to. If someone lies and says they are dating someone or they are moving to another town soon, you don’t feel rejected, because it’s no longer about you. This way, our feelings aren’t hurt and we aren’t left confused or frustrated by silence or “pretend to be busy” issues. So I guess what I’m saying is the next time someone asks you out and you aren’t interested, the nicest thing you can do is write back: “Sorry, can’t do dinner tomorrow. I’m leaving on a secret mission with the space program! When I return to earth, I will have barely aged at all, but you’ll be seventy-eight years old. I just don’t think it’s a good time for me.”

A similar area of psychology Ansari discusses is that we do not know what we really want in a partner. I suppose an algorithm or service that took data cross-referencing personality data on couples, time together, and overall happiness just might have a shot at finding correlations, but unfortunately it seems like we’re a long way from that.

They also write about another psychological point: cheating and being faithful. Technology makes it easier to cheat, some on Reddit argue, but it doesn’t make it more difficult to be faithful. Likewise, we should understand that a single fuck or blowjob shouldn’t ruin a years-long relationship. I’m excited to see how American culture changes over the next few decades – and even more excited to be part of changing it.

In early sections, the authors give some good advice on how to craft an ideal profile picture, some minor suggestions for profile information (and the better suggestion to not waste too much time on the text parts of profiles and communication), and how to message prospects. He presents great psychology on why we play the I’ll-text-you-back-in-twice-the-time-you-waited-to-text-me-back games!

The authors later spend a little time in Japan, Argentina, and France (I think?), writing about a few of the differences, and on topics like snooping, sexting, and the like.

He also hits on Sherry Turkle’s argument, that kids – college kids especially – are “losing their ability to have spontaneous conversation,” not using those parts of their brains, and opting instead to craft perfect text messages and emails. The human species is in a sad state, and I hope this generation has its leaders who rebel against these alarming trends, remaining human!

The best relationship tips were to continue doing exciting things – exactly those to help make first dates seem more exciting and increase attraction between couples. But the book wasn’t much on information on retaining relationships. As such, Strauss’ The Truth will almost certainly be the next related book I read – if not the next nonfiction book I read.

Stilll, for this “modern” “snowflake” generation, this might be the best book to start with, because a) it gets them reading, and b) it’s comedic.

My full highlights (34p) are worth reviewing every year or so.

Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser

Fast Food Nation:
The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, Eric Schlosser ($10, amazon.com link)

…”the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) later fined National Beef for its negligence. The fine was $480 for each man’s death.

This book was released in 2001, I read it in 2013, and I’m writing this report in 2015. I believe it had an afterward from the ten year release of the book, but despite this fact, since most of my highlights are from the bulk of the book — which is basically fifteen years old — I’m going to write this based mostly on the information in the original version, then close based on the afterward and what’s changed.

Eric gives a bit of the history of McDonald’s, and thus how not only this franchise was born, but the overall history of franchising itself. But then he discusses the problems of the system, both its effects on the country and planet, workers, and risks for consumers and the end product.

“The real price never appears on the menu.”

That includes the price of the subsidies we directly pay to the government, which pays to farmers (great?) and industry (not so much?), the taxes we pay for roads and other indirect public services which contribute to this industry, and worse, the price we pay for our poor health. And we cannot forget that healthcare’s rising percentage of GDP is one of the most dangerous threats to western civilizations…

Themes explored in the book:

  • Bringing junk food, especially beverages, into schools, and how these companies pay for schools; how basically our public schools have whored themselves out.
  • Restaurant franchises, their high turnover of employees, how they purchase satellite imagery and are really in the real-estate business!
  • A brief bit on flavors and food scientists, how they concoct the perfect smelling (especially) foods.
  • Ranchers: how the traits that we Americans love in our ideal rancher — independence, a little rebellion, an ideal to work the land — lead this lifestyle to die and large companies to take over.
  • A brief on ConAgra and how a massive corporation — which nobody has ever even heard of — will sell food under scores or dozens of brands!
  • The horrors of meatpackers, how dangerous the life is, and how dangerous the meat it produces really is. And this isn’t simply because of the crap the animals are fed, but because of the way they and the workers are treated, their conditions, and the desire for speed and efficiency.

“A single fast food hamburger now contains meat from dozens or even hundreds of different cattle.”

“The medical literature on the causes of food poisoning is full of euphemisms and dry scientific terms: coliform levels, aerobic plate counts, sorbitol, MacConkey agar, and so on. Behind them lies a simple explanation for why eating a hamburger can now make you seriously ill: There is shit in the meat”.

And what has changed? Our country is learning; there is hope: we are buying more from farmer’s markets, more grass-fed food, more locally. And while it’s debatable whether this is too little, too late for America – especially when we consider the arguments in The Third Plate, that we cannot let customers (or chefs) decide what to eat – it’s still good progress for our country. Parents are fighting back against crap served in schools, against corporate interests and influence; eating fast food is seen as cheap and well known to be poor for health. Without seeing the data on junk or fast food consumption in our country, or seeing if obesity rates have peaked, I am hopeful: you can feel it in the air, at least in the areas I’ve lived. Once the American south starts changing its eating habits, I feel our renaissance will really pick up speed.

“Instead of importing food, they import entire systems of agricultural production.”

Still, elsewhere in the world, especially in more “developing nations,” I have less hope and more caution. It is disgusting that eating fast food is a status symbol in these nations. Our food system may be changing in America because of pressure by books like this one, but that food system is likely the same in these countries, because it’s cheap and the people remain ignorant. What is proven to make money will spread more quickly than what (is almost never really) proven to be healthier, more sustainable, more environmentally respectful…

Eric’s afterword nicely summarizes what we can do, and what we have done to change our country successfully. But little matter: our country will stand or fall with the rest of the Earth, our fate is tied to it. By exporting our ideas, we have exported our problems; we can only hope — and act — to also export the solutions (responsible, ethical leadership) before it is too late:

“The market is a tool, and a useful one. But the worship of this tool is a hollow faith. Far more important than any tool is what you make with it. “

Nobody in the United States is forced to buy fast food. The first step toward meaningful change is by far the easiest: stop buying it. The executives who run the fast food industry are not bad men. They are businessmen. They will sell free-range, organic, grass-fed hamburgers if you demand it. They will sell whatever sells at a profit. The usefulness of the market, its effectiveness as a tool, cuts both ways.”

I hope we change course before the rest of the world — or planet earth itself — kicks our asses for the destruction we are causing.

 

The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman (1995)

The Five Love Languages Gift Edition:
How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate, Gary D. Chapman, 1995
(Read 2012, reviewed 2015/2017)(amazon.com link)

 

“In the context of marriage, if we do not feel loved, our differences are magnified. We come to view each other as a threat to our happiness. We fight for self-worth and significance, and marriage becomes a battlefield rather than a haven.”

 

While some may call this a Christian book, the ideas are for almost everyone. Is it the best book for a healthy marriage or relationship? Likely not, but it’s a powerful enough compliment to any short list of books on romantic relationships.

I will never forget the sadness of asking my mom if she’d heard about this book, to which she replied “Oooh yeah, we read that book decades ago!” with an arrogance about the statement. Read, but never practiced.

Like the “love” graph from the other book, Chapman notes that the average “in love” experience lasts about two years. That makes sense to me more and more from a scientific/biological perspective. Twenty-four consecutive menstrual cycles for monogamous couple without a child developing? Of course after 9-18+ such “unsuccessful” menstrual cycles the “chemistry” between any such heterosexual couple would begin to weaken. There may not have been strong evolutionary pressure for this apathy to develop, but it certainly is logical.

 

 

Tools:

The “love tank” concept as how “full” the person’s love “meter” or “tank” is. How close to empty (serious argument in the relationship) or full (contentment, peace, and reciprocity) is the other person? And this written in a book decades before the “gamification” of life we see today!

Chapman suggests a “tank-check” game, where a few times a week we ask our partners “from 0-10, how ‘full’ is your love tank?” Good advice.

He also suggests, if one is completely ignorant of the others’ love language, that we test one language a week for five weeks, knowing that we’ll see significant differences when we’re “speaking” that person’s language.

 

How to figure out our languages

I have suggested three ways to discover your own primary love language:

  1. What does your spouse do or fail to do that hurts you most deeply?The opposite of what hurts you most is probably your love languag
  2. What have you most often requested of your spouse?The thing you have most often requested is likely the thing that would make you feel most love
  3. In what way do you regularly express love to your spouse?Your method of expressing love may be an indication that that would also make you feel loved.

 

 

I do strongly disagree with one statement:

In fact, true love cannot begin until the in-love experience has run its course.

That “biological” or MHC or “matched-opposite” match in a partner can form rapidly, and I totally disagree that the couple must take years and pass through the ‘infatuation’ phase of love first. Me and my partner knew there might be something deeper from the night we met: both ending long relationships shortly before we met each other, and both joking within a few weeks about who would be the heart-beaker versus the heartbroken if/when our relationship ended. I knew consciously before she did, but she knew subconsciously, too, that our relationship would be one for decades and generations. And all this took place far before the infatuation/in-love experience switched over to long-term/companion/”true” love. Chapman is wrong indeed.

But I wonder if he himself still even believes what he wrote.

 

The five languages are:

  1. Words of Affirmation

Compliments. Do more, and not back-handed insults masked as compliments! This may not be either of our strongest love language, but it is the easiest to give and can really pay dividends more than the others!

Make requests rather than demands. The latter treats the other person like a child.

 

  1. Quality Time (aka Quality Conversation)

Funny, in 2017 this “clicks,” but I missed it completely in the past: quality time often (if not always) means quality conversation. A good, stimulating conversation while walking in the park can be better than a short vacation to a distant expensive destination! Makes perfect sense to me now. And even in new “experiences” together, which almost always means unique forms of visual — or sometimes visual + auditory/sensory — stimulation, more knowledge of neuroscience and male/female differences only helps me appreciate these novel experiences more. I am so thrilled to be on a media fast this year.

We must be willing to give advice but only when it is requested and never in a condescending manner.

That’s an excellent life lesson. Only give advice when requested, and never condescendingly. I recall it from How to Win Friends and Influence People, among other books. Good listening is hard work. I look forward to having teenagers to test my patience and listening skills!

 

  1. Gifts

Where do you begin? Make a list of all the gifts your spouse has expressed excitement about receiving through the years. They may be gifts you have given or gifts given by other family members or friends. The list will give you an idea of the kind of gifts your spouse would enjoy receiving. If you have little or no knowledge about selecting the kinds of gifts on your list, recruit the help of family members who know your spouse. [and more]

Both of us have gifts as our weakest “language,” but more and more she enjoys giving (and would likely enjoy receiving) small but potent food gifts: small dark chocolates, cheeses, surprising fruits when there are no more in the house, etc. It isn’t urgent or a priority, but I should improve, and love the “bocadito” concept.

 

  1. Acts of Service

First, they illustrate clearly that what we do for each other before marriage is no indication of what we will do after marriage. Before marriage, we are carried along by the force of the in-love obsession. After marriage, we revert to being the people we were before we fell in love.

That’s perhaps one of the best reasons to find a strong, true, “matched-opposite” love and go for it full force: the continual growth of one self. Permanent change, rather than reversion to one’s “old” self.

Still, I don’t think it’s that simple, and I think that mature young adults (regardless of age) who are truly biologically matched can easily overcome this trap and continue growing both together and independently.

 

  1. Physical Touch

Wives often assume that their husbands love language is physical touch.

Indeed, though I’d change the words to women/men in general. Following that sentence, he notes how the miscommunication regarding physical touch spirals downwards leading to sadness for both.

Plus, what exactly physical touch means will change. Having corrected a /lithium deficiency and noting a better sense of smell, I notice mine changing subtlety with her cycles. And I look forward greatly to my hormones changing dramatically (though not to the order of magnitude as hers’!) when she’s pregnant and we’re young parents. All parts of life, but modern Americans must understand that physical touch means more than simply orgasm, and sometimes it means more than even sex in general.

 

 

Be Here Now, 1971, Ram Dass

Be Here Now (1971/2012, read 2012) ($6, amazon.com link)

Ram Dass

 

After writing reports on Sam Harris’ Waking Up and Ekhart Toller’s The Power of Now, I see that this book is the same message mystics and philosophers have said for millennia. But I read it before my own “waking up” experience in 2013, void of drugs or hallucinogenic molecules from the outside, and it makes so much more sense now (2015/2017). I may not ever revisit the entire original book, with its mystical drawings and flowery language in parts, but I don’t think I need to. I must simply remind myself of these truths regularly, and continue to develop my practices.

 


 

I’d get to a point with my colleagues when I couldn’t explain any further, because it came down to “To him who has had the experience no explanation is necessary, to him who has not, none is possible.”

He’s describing experiences with certain high doses of drugs (LSD, I believe), but the quote is just as relevant to all types of wisdom. I will do my best to communicate with you, but unless you have had the same experience as me, you’re never going to really understand my perspective. As I’ve always told my sister, “If you had had her experiences and thoughts, you would be her.” In other words, if we put ourselves in the other person’s shoes, we would be that other person: it’s a good reminder for us all to live with a little more compassion.

 


 

Here’s a nice reminder to me to change the way I use the word “meditate” to refer to everything I do:

At first you “do” sadhana (work on the spiritual path) within certain time and space boundaries, such as going to church on Sunday mornings, or getting high on Saturday nights, or meditating each morning. Eventually, it turns out that SADHANA IS EVERYTHING YOU DO.

 


 

And this nugget:

We function under the fallacy (cogito ergo sum) that we are our thoughts and therefore must attend to them in order for them to be realized.

In a sense, that’s a sucker punch to Descartes’ idea: we are our breath, not our thoughts. Our thoughts get in the way. However, I’m not certain the two truly are saying different things. Descartes’ MIGHT have been saying that we have possessive/language ‘thoughts’ and ideas, therefore we exist, but he also may have been saying, “I am, therefore I am,” in the same way that Jesus did. It’s hard to tell without a) looking into it more, and b) learning their respective languages (French and Aramaic/Hebrew).

 


 

Several highlights of mine explain that we are not to drop out of society – and indeed, I see a new rationality in this book that I do not remember when I read it. It’s the same as Harris’ recent Waking Up, granted, without the science, but he’s saying the same thing: understand that once you free yourself, internally, from association and being imprisoned by a sense of self, then we are free. But we do this without dropping out of society, per se.

The following three quotes speak to this. As a young boy, I realized some Christians are quite poor at communicating this concept, saying silly things like “don’t live in the world,” or “don’t be of the world,” without really explaining the idea philosophically. And the idea is simple: we must live in the world (if we are human), but that we can do so without being completely attached to the specific roles we may play each day or each decade. Buddhism says it better: desire and attachment are problems to be minimized. Indeed, the downfall of Christianity in America is likely to be the bubble-effect: too much isolation from those “hell-bound” non-Christians.

Well said:

You must see that all beings are just beings . . . and that all the wrappings of personality and role and body are the coverings. Your attachments are only to the coverings, and as long as you are attached to someone else’s covering you are stuck, and you keep them stuck, in that attachment. Only when you can see the essence, can see God, in each human being do you free yourself and those about you. It’s hard work when you have spent years building a fixed model of who someone else is to abandon it, but until that model is superceded by a compassionate model, you are still stuck.

 

Just because you are seeing divine light, experiencing waves of bliss, or conversing with Gods and Goddesses is no reason to not know your zip code. Keeping it together means keeping conscious at all levels—all planes—with no attachment to any of them.

 

To think that working on oneself requires “dropping-out” of society is to miss the point. Certainly you must drop out . . . but the drop-out is internal, not external. One drops out of one’s attachments; one drops out of one’s identification with the illusion of separateness [the ego, like Sam Harris or Ryan Holiday describes].

 


 

On getting out of your own ego:

In order to perform karma yoga, there is a simple general principle to keep in mind: bring a third component into every action. If, for example, you are digging a ditch, there is you who is digging the ditch, and the ditch which is being dug. Now add a third focus: say, a disinterested person who is seeing you dig the ditch. Now run the entire action through his head while you are digging. It’s as simple as that. Through this method you would ultimately free yourself from identifying with him who is digging the ditch. You would merely see a ditch being dug.

This is very similar to Jocko and other effective SEALs who “step out” of their own bodies in order to see the work being done, and to help with decision making. Imagining some other “self” looking at your body and your decisions is a pretty effective method for accepting what you’re doing and past/present/future decisions of what to do.

How did I randomly do this, when, at Robins AFB, I was emptying the garbage with alcohol and rotten food and vomit? How did I jump to my 80-year old self reflecting back at his life when deciding to join the military or not? Moreover, why have I naturally done this, when it seems so few other humans regularly do? (And of course, how is the nutrition of my mother in the islands, genetics, birth order, first twenty years of life, and environment responsible? At what point do “I” become responsible, if ever?)

Also, considering the poison that mirrors are in our spiritual lives, it’s one of the reasons this spiritual disconnect (or connection) is so much harder for American females than for males: too much time in front of a false self-image (the 50/50 flip in the mirror) and their own ego in general (the image).

Moreover, it’s the same concept as Sam Harriss talks about that “I have no head.”

Powerful stuff.

 


 

And another way to talk about what the words spirit/spiritual mean:

Spirit is a Latin word meaning breath. It’s like breathing out and breathing in, NO THING-yup, no thing. And this no thing is basic for our life. Breathe spirit, this spirit which sustains and maintains, without which we die to this form.

 


 

Two quotes I’ve included from Autobiography of a Yogi:

“Why be elated by material profit?” Father replied. “The one who pursues a goal of evenmindedness is neither jubilant with gain nor depressed by loss. He knows that man arrives penniless in this world, and departs without a single rupee.”

 

He had often written to those of his disciples who were over-anxious to see him: “Why come to view my bones and flesh, when I am ever within range of your kutastha (spiritual sight)?”

 


 

I’ll close with a reminder that we can move mountains, indeed, but that if our power, connectedness, (or, the word Jesus used: faith) was the size of a mustard seed, we’d be satisfied with the mountain exactly where it is:

The cosmic humor is that if you desire to move mountains and you continue to purify yourself, ultimately you will arrive at the place where you are able to move mountains. But in order to arrive at this position of power you will have had to give up being he-who-wanted-to-move-mountains so that you can be he-who-put-the-mountain-there-in-the-first-place. The humor is that finally when you have the power to move the mountain, you are the person who placed it there—so there the mountain stays.

 

Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology, Johnjoe McFadden, 2015

Life on the Edge:
The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology, Johnjoe McFadden

Dig deeper and you will always find quantum mechanics lurking at the heart of our familiar reality.”

Remember this.

This is probably the most intellectually challenging book I’ve ever read, but it was worth it, and I’m as excited to review it – intellectually – as I was while reading it in parts. I felt as engaged as when I read The Moral Animal before entering the military. Perhaps more surprisingly, I felt some connection to my childhood brain: a child that used the word “All” to describe something greater than his parentally-indoctrinated concept of God; a child that found joy in thinking; a child that felt that there must be physical ripples from every action to every other point in the universe. No other book has made me feel like this before…so the question is, of course, “What do I do about it?”

I am thirty-one. If I pursued a Ph.D., I would likely not complete it until around forty. Granted, I could aim high and apply to great schools; attempt to earn money before and on the side, start a family while earning the degree; and it’s helpful to remember that chronological age means nothing. Still, these thoughts say nothing in response to the pressing question, “Why the hell get a Ph.D.?

 


 

I’ve come across the two-slit experiment perhaps ten times in my life, but I’ve never understood it so well. Lesson learned: books beat YouTube videos watched only once! The authors dedicated a substantial portion of a chapter to the experiment, and it’s worth reviewing for an excellent scientific lesson, which “according to Richard Feynman, “has in it the heart of quantum mechanics.””

“Asking what is really going on between observations is like asking whether your fridge light is on before you open the fridge door: you can never know because as soon as you peek you change the system.”

Two or three times, the authors call “bullshit” on quantum claims about telepathy or anything related.

However, in their final chapter they also mention that when the chaos of the classical world overwhelms the ability of cells and organisms to maintain this “link” to the quantum world, this might be a good way to look at or even define death. I think that’s as good a theory (or explanation) as I’ve ever heard elsewhere!

I still do not believe I truly understand oxidation. How I have a master’s and have read a dozen books in these areas is a testament to how ignorance only grows faster than does knowledge! To understand oxidation, the photosynthetic capture of exitons, and other details, this report is worth reviewing and revising in the future.

They bring up Feynman’s quote, “What I cannot create, I do not understand” several times. As such, they note, we haven’t made – and thus do not understand! – the following: a cell, an enzyme, or even a simple self-replicator. What more profound pillars of biology are there? We really have no clue about biology, and this field is going to change profoundly in the next century. We certainly understand basic physics and chemistry more than biology, but sadly, this likely means we also understand some of the “social” sciences more than biology, as well! Unbelievable, but likely true!

 


 

[Note: In the interests of not over-quoting or citing the text in this web post, I’ve eliminated the bulk of my highlights from the book here.]

To start, why is quantum anything important?

  • “In fact, it has been estimated that over one-third of the gross domestic product of the developed world depends on applications that would simply not exist without our understanding of the mechanics of the quantum world.”

  • “Still, the quantum world appears very strange to us and it is often claimed that this strangeness is a symptom of a fundamental split between the world we see around us and its quantum underpinnings. But in reality there is only a single set of laws that govern the way the world behaves: quantum laws.*8 The familiar statistical laws and Newtonian laws are, ultimately, quantum laws that have been filtered through a decoherence lens that screens out the weird stuff (which is why quantum phenomena appear weird to us). Dig deeper and you will always find quantum mechanics lurking at the heart of our familiar reality.”

 

Okay, but why, specifically, is quantum biology relevant?

(Why do we have to look to the quantum world for biological explanations, rather than simply using classical physics? Of course quantum mechanics underlies all physical processes, but can’t we ignore these strange and counter-intuitive effects at the biological level?)

  • “So isn’t everything, including us and other living creatures, just physics when you really get down to the fundamentals? This is indeed the argument of many scientists who accept that quantum mechanics must, at a deep level, be involved in biology; but they insist that its role is trivial. What they mean by this is that since the rules of quantum mechanics govern the behavior of atoms, and biology ultimately involves the interaction of atoms, then the rules of the quantum world must also operate at the tiniest scales within biology—but only at those scales, with the result that they will have little or no effect on the scaled-up processes important to life.”

  • “So the claim that delicately arranged quantum entangled states could survive in the warm and complex interior of living cells was thought by many to be an outlandish idea, verging on madness.”

  • “Much of the skepticism Schrödinger’s claim attracted at the time was rooted in the general belief that delicate quantum states couldn’t possibly survive in the warm, wet and busy molecular environments inside living organisms.”

 

Why, then, do big objects do not have quantum properties?

  • “This is why big objects, such as footballs, do not quantum tunnel: they are made up of trillions of atoms that cannot behave in a coordinated coherent wave-like fashion.”

  • “The answer on one level is very simple: the bigger and more massive a body is, the smaller will its wave-like nature be, and something the size and mass of a human, or indeed anything large enough to be visible with the naked eye, will have a quantum wavelength so tiny as to have no measurable effect. But more deeply, you can think of each atom in your body as being observed, or measured, by all the other atoms around it, so that any delicate quantum properties it might have are very quickly destroyed.

 

What areas of quantum biology are described?

  • Enzymes.
    • Essentially, quantum properties allow enzymes to perform reactions much faster than classical physics would predict. And as the authors note, since “About one-third of all enzyme reactions involve moving a hydrogen atom from one place to another,”(if this is true), quantum mechanics plays an enormously important role in all of biology, from the ground up!
  • Respiration and the electron chain:
    • Human systems to capture light are notoriously inefficient…yet plants successfully capture nearby 100% of the energy that hits their chlorophyll to the reaction center. How do they do this? Classical physics can’t explain it, a random walk would be terribly inefficient. They are capturing the wave-based nature of light, allowing the exitons to travel as a quantum wave, permitting nearly perfect efficiency of those that reach the reaction center! Amazing:
      • “but the real action of photosynthesis takes place in the reaction center itself. Here the fragile energy of excitons is converted into the stable chemical energy of the electron carrier molecule that plants or microbes use to do lots of useful work, like building more plants and microbes.

      • “Photosystems, enzymes, respiratory chains and genes are structured right down to the position of individual particles, and their quantum motions do indeed make a difference to the respiration that keeps us alive, the enzymes that build our bodies or the photosynthesis that makes nearly all the biomass on our planet.”

    • Navigation by magnetic compasses:
      • I agree with their decision to put this topic, with which they opened, in the middle of the book, as we needed to be convinced first about the quantum world. Then, the most substantial argument certainly belongs here. A block of granite over on its edge is a good analogy for how the ridiculously sensitive (and previously-thought-to-be-of-insignificant-importance) fast triplet reaction can influence the chemical products created in these reactions, their molecules created, and how ultimately the magnetic field could have an influence on the behavior of a bird (or other organism).
        • magnetoreception, particularly in robins, has become the poster child of quantum biology.”

      • (6) Smell:
        • Here the authors describe the lock-in-key, conventional model, easy for anyone with introductory biological knowledge to understand; and also the various quantum models. It’s convincing that quantum mechanics is involved in smell reception, but they end by noting that the best theory is likely a combinatory model: both the physical shape of molecules/receptors, and the vibrations of odors likely play a role.
      • (7) Quantum genes:
        • This was a good chapter, but it took some time for me to accept, especially because they’re claiming something I’ve studied so much – MCB, Genetics, Central Dogma, etc. – is so intimately tied to the quantum world. But when I now think about how many decades ago these ideas were proposed, well… I am incredibly disappointed in my education for not bringing up these ideas to me! It makes sense in hindsight: since a quantum measurement is made of the hydrogen bonds (protons, acting quantum mechanically), each time a section of DNA is “read,” as it were, there is a chance the DNA will revert to its tautomeric form, causing a mutation. This chance is small of course, but it exists, and more importantly (surprise!), this makes mutations more likely in overly-expressed genes!
        • (Here’s basically the base argument for periodically eating a ketogenic diet to prevent cancer! Overall, reading equally from diverse genes will minimize chances of cancer…)
      • (8) Consciousness:
        • This was an unimpressive chapter for me, gives an explanation of the “binding problem”, and discusses how the brain’s EM field may be equally important. I agree that it is from the E=mc2 perspective, but that doesn’t mean the EM field is equally as important as the physical reactions…
      • (9) The primordial replicator:
        • Here, they summarize an absolutely beautiful theory for how this first replicator might have been born. I’d heard of the RNA hypothesis, of course, which makes sense because of the higher variability and properties of RNA, but they shut the idea down quickly that this could happen with classical physics alone. It simply isn’t likely given the numbers we know – there aren’t enough particles or time in the universe to create even a simple self replicator by chance. But if quantum physics is invoked (search for “64” within the highlights below), it could happen. However, I’m disappointed they didn’t provide theoretical information on the time required. I’d love to see this hypothesis tested in the lab!
          • “Haldane and Oparin proposed that the emergence of this primordial replicator was the key event that led to the origin of life as we know it.”

        • 10, How cells keep decoherance at bay to use quantum effects:
          • The final analogy of “a ship whose narrow keel…” helps us understand how the cell navigates the rough waters of classical physics in such a warm, wet environment while maintaining its ability to use quantum mechanical laws. The ship with a good captain (the cell) is compared to an engineer who wants to sail the ship in a cold environment depleted of air or water and their associated randomly-driven molecular movements. This chapter also describes how the authors propose to test the effects of the quantum world on life: we’d need to build a cell (or at least a replicator) using only classical physical properties, and one using the quantum world…
            • “The noise essentially acts as a kind of continuous measurement.”

 

Great quotes about science in general:

  • “Mysteries, however small, are fascinating because there’s always the possibility that their solution may lead to a fundamental shift in our understanding of the world.”

  • “And no one has yet found a way of determining the structure of proteins while they remain embedded in cell membranes.”

  • “As he talked freely about his idea, Schulten developed a reputation at the Max Planck Institute for being regarded as somewhat crazy. His problem was that he was a theoretical physicist who worked with paper, pen and computers, not a chemist; and certainly not an experimental chemist capable of donning a lab coat and performing the kind of experiment that would prove his ideas. Thus he was in the position of many theoreticians who come up with a neat idea but have then to find a friendly experimentalist willing to take time out of their busy lab schedule to test a theory that, more often than not, will prove to be wrong.”

 

Themes and analogies to help understand them, highlighted throughout my file in green:

  • Measurement, ocean waves
  • Billiard table
  • Violin as a classical, warm wet biological instrument, guitar as a quantum incremental instrument
  • Behavior of a tiny balloon will be quantum, and unpredictable — gas laws can’t help us.
  • Decoherance (search)
  • The oxidation of water
  • Cycling postmen to illustrate …

 

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, Mary Roach (2009)

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex
2009, Mary Roach
(Read 2012, Reviewed 2015/2017)($10-14, amazon.com link)

“All good research—whether for science or for a book—is a form of obsession.”

This was a good book on sex… but it was not a great book on sex. Perhaps I am too biased with the books I’ve read before and the information I’ve read online, but Roach’s Gulp impressed me far more.  I’d also have liked more scientific references.

That’s why I include the general writer’s quote above – it’s illuminating on both how to be a good writer as much as it is about Roach and her own writing style. Just because it’s written doesn’t mean it’s necessarily true.

There are a few good nuggets to review, as it’s a short file, so it’s worth simply letting the highlights speak for themselves.

The best part – at least as my biased highlights on my old, clunky Kindle suggest, are from the end chapter. They describe how to have good sex. In three words: take your time.  I’m just going to include all those highlights here:

The best sex going on in Masters and Johnson’s lab was the sex being had by the committed gay and lesbian couples. Not because they were practicing special secret homosexual sex techniques, but because they “took their time.” They lost themselves—in each other, and in sex. They “tended to move slowly…and to linger at…[each] stage of stimulative response, making each step in tension increment something to be appreciated….” They teased each other “in an obvious effort to prolong the stimulatee’s high levels of sexual excitation.”

Another difference was that the lesbians were almost as aroused by what they were doing to their partner as was the partner herself. Not just because, say, fondling a breast turned them on, but because their partners’ reactions did. Masters and Johnson’s heterosexuals failed to grasp that if you lost yourself in the tease—in the pleasure and power of turning someone on—that that could be as arousing as being teased and turned on oneself. “Not only were committed lesbians more effective in satisfying their partners, they usually involved themselves without restraint…far more than husbands approaching their wives.” The straight man, in most cases, “became so involved in his own sexual tensions that he seemed relatively unaware of the degree of his partner’s sexual involvement. There were only a few instances when the husband seemed fully aware of his wife’s levels of sexual excitation and helped her to expand her pleasure…rather than attempting to force her rapidly to higher levels of sexual involvement.”

The same criticisms applied to straight women: “This sense of goal orientation, of trying to get something done…was exhibited almost as frequently by the heterosexual women as by their male partners.” They ignored their husband’s nipples and just about everything else other than his penis. Meanwhile, the homosexual men lavished attention on their partners’ entire bodies. And the gay men, like the gay women, were adept at the tease. Unlike the wives: “Rarely did a wife identify her husband’s preorgasmic stage…and suspend him at this high level of sexual excitation….”

 

Posted May 2017

Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It, Kamal Ravikant (2012)

Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends On It
Kamal Ravikant, 2012 ($free-$5, amazon.com link)

(Read 2012, Reviewed 2017)

Nice short book. TF recommendation. Good to quickly read, but not much new for me, more “book porn” like much of what I was reading in late 2012. Good to review, if only for a few minutes, in 2017 before writing the “Why American Women Aren’t Leading” post/essay, because I’m pretty worried about people getting upset about that, which is a good sign. Hopefully it leads to positive change.

The second-to-last quote is regarding a guy named Bandler, who “cures” people of their phobias by shocking them powerfully all at once. Good idea for future years. He reminds us of the “real or not real?” question for Peeta in The Hunger Games, and that it’s a good question for life.

I still think most of this stuff is self-correctable with sufficient nutrients and space to breathe. Time will tell.

 

Highlights:

If there is one lesson I can share from the experience, it is this: share your truth. Whatever your truth is, live it, share it. The world will respond in ways you never could have imagined. Life will blow your socks off.

 

I shared my fear with him – what would people think? His response, something that I will never forget and will always be grateful for: “I don’t do a post now unless I’m worried about what people will think about me.”

 

wrote: “This day, I vow to myself to love myself, to treat myself as someone I love truly and deeply – in my thoughts, my actions, the choices I make, the experiences I have, each moment I am conscious, I make the decision I LOVE MYSELF.”

 

If I loved myself truly and deeply, would I let myself experience this? The answer, always, was a no.

 

“Rubber snakes,” the man said, motioning to the ground with his head. “Hallucinated snakes,” he motioned around. Then, eyes up at the python dangling a few feet above, dropping closer, “real snake!”

He wheeled the man out and asked him how he could tell hallucinated versus real.

“Easy,” the man said, “hallucinated snakes are see-through.”

 

He stops negative thoughts in their tracks with a simple mind trick. “Not useful,” he tells himself.

 

Posted May 2017.

The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell (2006)

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference,

Malcolm Gladwell ($13, amazon.com link), 2006

(Read 2012, reviewed 2015/2017)

Read this three years ago [five]. Indeed, the first highlight below sums it all up: the law of the few, the stickiness factor, and the power of context; although unfortunately I can’t exactly recall the specifics of each, because I didn’t highlight enough. But the book overall is about exactly that, why a particular shoe style might exist for three years before it finally becomes “sticky” and popular, hitting a tipping point after which millions of people adopt it. The rules are the same for ideas or memes.

Certainly didn’t highlight a lot (5 pages), perhaps because I read this on my old Kindle keyboard.

The three rules of the Tipping Point—the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, the Power of Context—offer a way of making sense of epidemics. They provide us with direction for how to go about reaching a Tipping Point.

 


 

His discussion of connectors, mavens, and salesmen is critical to the concept of the tipping point. If I’m any of these – and I’m not certain I am – I’m a maven or a salesman. But perhaps I’d be happier as a connector? Indeed, writing that in 2015, I realize, now in 2017, my strengths lie in short bursts of incredibly strong social ties, and this may be more of a male/female difference than any personality type actually rooted in biology, which I don’t actually believe in: I love incredibly powerful conversations which help both (or all) people involved grow and shift, I just prefer the majority of my day to take place in solitude, so that I have sufficient time to digest and reflect on such conversations. I think it’s obvious if I embrace this aspect of myself — a “connector,” in Gladwell’s language here — it’ll be far better for both me and the positive changes I want to see in the world.

And he’s got a lot of content, and me, highlights, on what it means to be a connector: the strengths of having large networks of acquaintances.

When [example people] Weisberg looks out at the world or when Roger Horchow sits next to you on an airplane, they don’t see the same world that the rest of us see. They see possibility, and while most of us are busily choosing whom we would like to know, and rejecting the people who don’t look right or who live out near the airport, or whom we haven’t seen in sixty five years, Lois and Roger like them all.

 


 

 

Good point about a friend calling Trump’s rise as a “virus” in the system that is the U.S.’ separation of (and the world’s balance of) powers: that long-term, we will all be better off for it, but short-term, this will be painful and harsh for all of us. I could think of it like my plants: plants are often “pruned” of dead or dying leaves by gardeners. But the healthiest of plants let this happen naturally: nutrients are “sucked out” of certain leaves, pulled back into the entire system, and those leaves wither and fall off so that the overall plant is healthier (hence human fasting/food scarcity). So it is with us individually and collectively, although it is certainly a painful process. The two quotes below made me think of this:

The conventional “icons of wealth” — diamonds, gold — are precious because they are rare. And when something scarce becomes plentiful — as oil did in the 1980s and 1990s — it loses value. But the logic of the network is exactly the opposite. Power and value now come from abundance. The more copies you make of your software, the more people you add to your network, the more powerful it becomes.

Wesley realized that if you wanted to bring about a fundamental change in people’s belief and behavior, a change that would persist and serve as an example to others, you needed to create a community around them, where those new beliefs could be practiced and expressed and nurtured.

Indeed, the “accessible” online networks of strong Trump-believers (rather than the groups of Trump “supporters,” who reluctantly voted for him, and those who hated Clinton strongly enough to vote for the “lesser” of two evils) are merely a product of, but not the entire source of, such secrecy. These online networks, user accounts, forums and posts are indicative of the “virus” of negativity, fear, and hatred spreading. But they are not the source: we are.

When we drove across the country I “felt” these invisible social groups of people meeting in private in order to promote a King, not elect a President. The pro-Trump strategy, in the darkness, was despicable, hate-filled, and disgusting, but it worked. It worked, and in the long term, I think it will strengthen both the U.S. as a nation and human civilization overall.

But first, we must expose the darkness to the light. And like Plato’s allegory, that light may initially be blinding to some. Patience.

 

Posted May 2017.

Guns, Germs, and Steel, Jared Diamond (2009, read 2012)

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies

Jared Diamond ($10, amazon.com link)

“Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but we black people had little cargo of our own?” (Yali, a man from New Guinea)

In other words (from above),

Why did human development proceed at such different rates on different continents?

2015 notes:

Accompanying “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” “Guns, Germs, and Steel” is above all a history book.. The Jewish guy argues that we succeeded versus other species because of shared stories among our thoughts, as opposed to other primates and hominid species. Diamond’s book is more compressed in its history – if we can call 15,000 years compressed, of course – but more detailed and accurate. They are both the greatest history books to read.

AUTHORS ARE REGULARLY asked by journalists to summarize a long book in one sentence. For this book, here is such a sentence: “History followed different courses for different peoples because of differences among peoples’ environments, not because of biological differences among peoples themselves.”

All human societies contain inventive people. It’s just that some environments provide more starting materials, and more favorable conditions for utilizing inventions, than do other environments.

He includes a few good quotes on marriage, although I’m not sure if I entirely agree with them.

Tolstoy’s great novel Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” By that sentence, Tolstoy meant that, in order to be happy, a marriage must succeed in many different respects: sexual attraction, agreement about money, child discipline, religion, in-laws, and other vital issues. Failure in any one of those essential respects can doom a marriage even if it has all the other ingredients needed for happiness. —

He also notes that while geography was the most important factor in why Eurasian societies developed faster and dominated the world – indeed, if Africans had domesticated elephants, they might have done so as well – the fragmentation of Europe actually worked in its favor. [Why didn’t that happen in Africa?] China was too unified, and had too little competition between its regions to really foster competition, and thus innovation. Europe has always had strong powers, but rarely united; thus, that does of healthy competition (sometimes bloody) – along with shared communication – allowed for Europe’s dominance. Indeed, we are all European, like it or not. (We may all be African, ethnically, but we are all influenced by systems and technologies developed on the Eurasian peninsula.) Furthermore, he notes, the simultaneous fragmentation between the US states and its federal government is a similar strength of our country.

(I wrote that last sentence in 2015, I believe, but posting this online in 2017, I realize that’s part of the problem in the past few U.S. generations: having too many states leads most of us not to care about the state we reside in and have too much federal power. Innovation has ceased because our state/federal balance is a mess.)

He closes with this fragmentation, and also a discussion of the study of history as scientific. We’re doing the best we can, he argues.

There are at least five good references for further reading at the end of the book: the conquest of societies and related material.

 

2017 notes:

One day, I should read some of the more critical reviews on Amazon. Perhaps it was my youthful passion for Stratfor’s writings or early geography classes, but this book “clicked” with my unquenchable thirst for knowledge. Said in my own words:

Eurasia’s combination of compatible crops and climate allowed for planet Earth’s east-west division of powers, whereas the challenges of such north-south powers were too difficult to spread such power along those axes. What challenges? 1) Choke points (the central American landmass, northeastern Africa, and the oceans), 2) alternate geography (northern vs. Southern hemispheres vs. Tropical, year-round climates), and 3) their associated biological species. If we exclude strict plate tectonics and think of the earth’s rotation as the foundation of east-west similarities among climate and biology, then the very early motion of the earth set current geopolitics in place, even before there was water or life. Physics indeed.

The book fits in very nicely with why, after wrestling independence from this Eurasian axis and entering the world stage itself, the United States rose in power. Stratfor picks up on this book by continuing the geopolitics aspect: the USA isn’t special because Americans, per se, are special; the USA is special because its continent/land is incredibly productive. (This, of course, and the “brain drain” of attracting the brightest minds in the world to immigrate here.)

This book and Stratfor, I think, give me a pretty accurate worldview, and a priceless ability to ignore most of the newsmedia (especially international) when everyone else is overly focused on things out of our control.