Monthly Archives: July 2012

The Malleable Human: Fact or Myth? (an edited reprint)


 Do people change, or is it just our perception of people that changes?

            “What we see depends mainly on what we look for.” – John Lubbock

Can people be changed? I’ve heard that sometimes people marry and then try to change their new partner into a person that better suits their expectations. I wonder if this is possible.

            “The secret of happiness is knowing that there are some things you can control and some things you cannot.” – Epictetus

To be sure, we’d all like to change things in other people from time to time. I can try to change people’s minds by suggestion, by force, by using facts and figures and maybe by being a visible positive role model, but in the end, can I really change other people’s minds?

            “People are very open-minded about new things – as long as they’re exactly like the old ones.” – Charles Kettering

In our personal lives, we may be involved in an intimate relationship. Do we, through our interactions and in conjunction with time, effect change in one another? Is that how it works? Or does being joined together in a special relationship dance make change inevitable? If the accumulation of experience causes us to behave differently, is current behavior an accurate measure of whether or not change has occurred? Does change in behavior indicate a change in the person or just a change in the way the person interacts within their environment?

            “I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road.” – Stephen Hawking

Not everyone experiences growth. At least not the kind that is overtly perceptible. Some people seem to be the same, always. Are they really that stagnant? How do they maintain that stasis in this crazy ever-changing world? What intrinsic superglue holds these people together and prevents change?

            “They must often change who would be constant in happiness or wisdom.” – Confucius

On the other side of the spectrum, there are those we simply can’t label or easily categorize at all. They seem to be constantly in flux. They may change their look, their persona and their environment easily, quickly and often.

When we question the existence of the elusive malleable human, we look for signs of change that make sense to us from our own personal viewpoint. We expect people to change in a manner that we understand. I’m not sure this makes any sense at all. Other people’s journeys will be in their own direction and their course may or may not be in line with our own agenda or expectations. Here’s where perception becomes an important matter to consider when searching for change. What one person sees as growth might look like a developmental dead end to another.

Perception is a limited experience. It’s just one person’s open window. Sometimes the panes are tinted and some people keep the windows shut. I like individuals with open windows because I enjoy the fresh air and unobstructed views.

            “All our knowledge is the offspring of our perceptions.” – Leonardo Da Vinci

But back to the issue at hand, how do you know if someone is changing, and is it really even possible?

We might all agree that growth is desirable and perhaps we would like to think we have the capacity to become better people over time. And to be sure, we certainly do have the capacity to learn and adapt. Is some kind of significant epiphany necessary for real growth and development or is a more subtle process just as effective?

When we see someone acting out of character, are we witnessing the pangs of growth? Are we comfortable with this or do we inwardly prefer to keep things the same? If someone changes, will we be able to maintain the same relationship with them? Or does their change mandate a reciprocal change from us? If there is no allowance for variance and the unexpected, do the seeds of change germinate? Growth may be accompanied by growing pains; both theirs and/or ours.

“The only thing that one really knows about human nature is that it changes. Change is the one quality we can predicate of it. The systems that fail are those that rely on the permanency of human nature, and not on its growth and development. The error of Louis XIV was that he thought human nature would always be the same. The result of his error was the French Revolution.” – Oscar Wilde

Change is difficult for a lot of people. Change upends their world. They prefer to keep things on an even keel. They do not like surprises and they may not be open to hearing a different point of view. For them, change is a challenge that they prefer not to meet. It is not greeted as an opportunity but rather seen as a burden or obstacle to their stability and complicates their expectations.

            “If you want to make enemies, try to change something.” – Woodrow Wilson

Other people have a different view of change. They recognize the work that change may demand, but allow themselves to be enriched by the experience. They open their horizons and allow for a few surprises in their lives. These people are candidates for change, although we haven’t really decided if that is even possible yet…

            “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” – Barack Obama

People can be a rough crew with which to work, so we may not always stick around long enough to see change occur. It might then look like people can’t change. Yet inwardly, we hope they can. Especially when it is advantageous to the way we think things should be. We want to believe that WE can change for the better, and if that’s possible, then it may mean that change IS both possible and commonplace.

            “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.“ – Lao Tzu

So, it may very well come down to this concept: If we believe that we can change ourselves, then it may be possible for others to also change. We may even have a part in that process.

            “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor E. Franki

If change is ever-present, why do some people seem immune? Or is it that perception is tricking us again? These immune-to-change people may like to keep things the same but an unexpected event may kick their butt with a lay-off from workor a death in the family. Change happens. Frequency and degree is often subjective and probably not a good indicator of whether a change has occurred or not.

            “I put a dollar into one of those change machines. Nothing changed.” – George Carlin

Why would anyone push a second thumb tack into their forehead? (and other questions)

Apparently, people do. Why would otherwise intelligent people be willing to be blind-faith adherents to a religion or new age practice? And, when on the subject of religious belief, why do people relax standards of reasonableness and evidence that they rely on in every other area of their lives?
The citizens of the United States do not live in a christian country. At least that’s not the way it began. The founders of the United States of America did not set out to recreate what they left behind in England. The word god does not appear (even once) in the Constitution of the United States. However, religionists have waged war on the separation of church and state for quite a long time now. This shows how pervasive religious fervor goes. Religion doesn’t have anything to do with government and the government keeps out of the religious fray, but religion attempts to assert itself into government and blur the lines of the practical with the unknowable.
Religion seems to be necessary to a great many people. A majority of people believe in some form of god and most of them associate with some form of organized religion.  Some people evoke anthropomorphism to make themselves feel less lonely (or alone in the scheme of things). Indulgence in the irrelevant and oppressive circumstance of organized religion is the acceptable cultural norm.
Unfortunately, religion is the single worst human invention and preoccupation ever conceived and practiced. But religion is not the only concept to be discussed here, there is also the question of the need for outside validation and social consensus. Why aren’t we whole/complete and without the need for social validation?
New age practices. Are they religion? Perhaps not in the usual sense but there are many similarities. Both religion and new age practice have defined rituals, customs and artifacts to display. And both suggest that coincidences have spiritual meaning. Both involve a specific group dynamic that includes conversion tactics of some type and an all important soul nurturingcomponent.
Group-think
People seem to have a need to be part of and insulated by a large group of other people. They like to be linked to others with sensibilities similar to their own and be supported by a group of comrades. To that end they will join social organizations and affiliate with ethnic, age-related, religious and other similar interest groups. People appear to be highly motivated to attach themselves to something that provides an outside source of validation. Truth in numbers? Misery loves company?
Do people run into problems seeking out appropriate group identification? What happens if they become misaligned? What about strong-minded free-thinking individuals? One might think they’d be independent and not need to be part of any kind of group but don’t they also, oddly enough, sometimes coalesce into organizations?
Why do we need to be one of many? Why does being one of many validate and bolster the mystical mindset of religion and those fuzzy new age practices?
There may be practical reasons for people to school together like fish and it’s probably harder for the lion to find its mark among the flashing camouflage created by a herd of running zebras, but unless a lion is stalking you or you are so isolated as to be incapacitated, what is the compelling force that urges one into a group? Do people band together because it’s hard-wired into our brains? Discounting religious reasons and the safety in numbers behavior of our prehistoric ancestors, is banding together another leftover reaction to stimuli that no longer serves a necessary physiological purpose? If the ancient ingrained fight or flight reflex now only offers stress, what is the modern day consequence of aggregation or pursuing a social identity?
The biggest round-up of all
Any concept or practice that limits individual freedom and/or assuages personal responsibility is dangerous. Persons or organizations that self-proclaim authority and use their influence to imprison people’s minds through fear and reprisal are not acting in the best interests of an individual or society as a whole. Religion’s organizers and leaders are megalomaniacs and the epitome of human hubris gone awry. These self-indulgent authorities have self-serving interests, which usually involves the desire for power, fueled by greed. Fairy tales and magical thinking can be fun, but they aren’t going to produce anything substantial, let alone the promise of eternity, salvation or enlightenment.
Although a religious organization is capable of doing good things, the harmful consequences of religion always win out. There is no limit to the harm religion is willing to propagate. No limit at all. If one wants to do unthinkable evil, all one has to do is to do it in the name of god. No-one can disagree with god, and since he works in mysterious ways, unthinkable evil may very well be part of god’s plan. It is easy to look back in history for glaring examples of religion’s greatest (worst) hits: the inquisition, crusades, jihads, genocides, the burning of the Salem witches and innumerable heretics throughout history, intensely destructive wars between entire nations or ethnic groups, the creation of wasteful and divisive cultural gulfs that denounce diversity, the subjugation of people by religious leaders who artificially endow themselves with special powers or knowledge and claim to have direct connections to an unseen, all-powerful ethereal magical entity.
Far less intense is the new age contribution to harmful group-think. Yet, significant harm can be done by anything or anyone that promotes outward validation and steers the individual away from personal autonomy. There’s little difference between religion and new age practice in regard to the premise that the individual is not a complete being and requires help to reach heaven, nirvana or some form of  enlightenment or salvation.
Individuals who claim to have special powers or nebulous inside information that is not available to the masses can be literally hazardous to your health. The actions of such individuals can be fatal to you. Does it not make sense that all things being equal, if one person can accomplish something then another person can also accomplish the exact same feat? Generally speaking, human capabilities are pretty much the same.
Moreover, if buddha became enlightened, and enlightenment was the goal of every soul, why would enlightenment not be commonplace? After all, we’ve had many thousands of years to practice. Christians claim you can be instantly saved (enlightened) by simply believing that jesus is your personal savior. And, if jesus walked on water, and was (as christians proclaim) human, then shouldn’t at least some other humans be able to do the same?  A person, who claims to be able to sense and disclose future events or sense things not available to the five senses if no different from anyone else. A person may believe themselves to be superior, gifted or empowered by the flying spaghetti monster, but again, they’re really the same as all other human beings. If they were truly endowed with magical gifts, wouldn’t their abilities be visible, obvious and observable?
There are not many religious leaders or masters of new age practices that are willing to agree with this concept of equality. If they did, they would lose their elite status and ability to control others. They would also lose their income.
But back to the thumb tacks
Doesn’t it seem that there would be significant pain in pushing a thumbtack into your forehead? Yet, people do it all the time and they do it over and over again. It’s like voting republican when you need social services and yet you support the group that has the greatest aversion to government interference (social services) into your life.
People who practice religion will blindly obey their leaders and follow them into the most horrendous of situations. If the pope tells someone it’s actually OK to kill another person, they will do it. If a new age guru tells someone that their problems began in a past life, well, their solution is out of reach until time travel itself becomes possible. So in the meantime, following the guru’s advice is the best possible alternative.
Many people acquiesce to peer pressure and the fear of reprisal, no matter how ludicrous or unfounded, rather than take an independent path. Are they simply gullible or is it just easier not to make waves?  Why are free-thinkers, skeptics and self-sufficient people often seen as immoral social deviants? What makes them scary to society? A strong minded, free-thinking individual who chooses their own path and affiliations is a force with which to be reckoned. Generally, strength is usually associated with positive attributes.
Humans are terrified by the concept of finite existence. If it’s unacceptable to accept finality, then maybe fairy tales will stave off the inevitable. Perhaps for some, the connection to a school of fish or herd of zebra is the only thing standing between infinity and oblivion.

When I was 6 years old, my family moved across the county. We had our belongings shipped and we drove to our new home. Along the way, we very nearly got into an accident. Someone had crossed the center line and it looked like a head-on collision was inevitable. At the very last second, my father somehow managed to swerve out of the way as we careened into the shoulder of the road and eventually came to a safe stop.

As soon as the car was still, my parents both made the sign of the cross and began to pray. I’d never seen them do this before. I don’t think I’d ever been to church at age 6, nor had I ever seen anyone make the sign of the cross or pray.

When I saw this formalistic event, I remember feeling  uncomfortable and a little scared. I didn’t fully understand what it was that they were doing, but I knew they were communicating (or attempting to communicate) with something unseen.

I suddenly realized that I had been born into the wrong family.

I then remember thinking that I was too young to have had such a thought. But it was too late. I’d been rudely awakened. 

I didn’t have a word for it then, but later, I realized that I was a non-theist. I had a vague sense of aloneness after that, but I also felt as though I’d somehow dodged a bullet.

Obstructive Sleep Apnea’s Damage Evident After 1 Month

In an effort to shed light on the relationship between sleep apnea and brain vessels,
researchers used a novel model that mimics OSA in humans and found that after just 30 days of OSA exposure,cerebral vessel function is altered, which could lead to stroke.
An abstract of their study, entitled “Cerebrovascular Consequences of Obstructive Sleep Apnea,” was discussed at the meeting Experimental Biology 2012.

The most common model used to study OSA today is intermittent hypoxia (IH),
which relies solely on exposing test subjects to a decrease in blood oxygen levels.
The new model incorporates all physiological consequences involved in OSA by inducing true apnea (closure of the airway). The revised model creates a more complete picture of the apnea process and one that accurately mimics how OSA unfolds in humans.

Using their model, the researchers induced 30 apneas (10 seconds duration)
per hour for 8 hours during the sleep cycle for up to 1 month. After 1 month of apnea, cerebral vessel dilatory function was reduced by up to 22%. This finding correlates with studies that show similar cell dysfunction in arteries and an increased risk of stroke in OSA patients.

No pheasant sightings….

Still waiting for the shipment of my Red Golden Pheasants. The hatchery said it was waiting for “cooler days” to ship them because they don’t tolerate high heat in transit. I don’t know when they’ll arrive. I think they should have put a notice on their website about the possibility of delayed shipping due to summer weather. I purchased the birds about a month ago…