Opinion of Humanity Quote

Disappointed,
is how I feel when I think of
all that humanity could be,
but which we are not

Minh Tan

Other quotes by me

Of Love Universality, Cross-breeding and Interracial Relationships

Technology exists today that you can monitor brain activity associated with being in love. However, up until recently, most of the studies have been done in the Western world, which is only a minor part of the world. So is love truly universal as the idealists would have you believe, or is it cross-cultural and different among cultures like so many things are? I mean, different cultures don’t express love the same ways. They don’t court mates in the same ways. They don’t assign roles or values in love the same ways. In fact, I doubt you could find anything universal about love across all cultures.

But good news. No. Great news!

Love is truly universal!

Dr Art Aron, a professor of psychology at Stony Brook university in New York, and graduate student Xiaomeng Xu, have shown love to be universal by brain activity (Tara Parker-Pope, NY Times blog). Brain activity is the thing that counts when it comes to being able to scientifically define love. For all the talk of feelings and the heart, that’s all metaphors. Brain activity is where it’s at.

They measured and mapped brain activity of people in different cultures claiming to be in love, shown pictures of their loved ones, and did this for some over an 18 month period as relationships sometimes changed. What they got were some “very clear patterns”, according to Dr Aron. However, he cautions against being able to predict the future of relationships on differences on brain patterns seen among those who stayed in and fell out of love during the time they were monitored. Seems the patterns were an indicator of the present state, and not good enough to predict whether the state would persist or degrade in the future.

Still, it is great to be able to scientifically say love is truly universal among humanity!

Yet, despite all this, I cannot help but think of the paradoxes of racism and interracial relationships which I had seen and felt ever since I was a Vietnamese refugee child in Canada. Interracial relationships have generally been taboo in North America. Sure, there are enough people who accept it, though I will save stories of experiments I’ve done which have shown far fewer would embrace it than accept it in others in some places. In other words, I don’t care if someone else does it but not me. But interracial relationships are still taboo. In Nova Scotia, where I live, an interracial couple has been twice subject to hate crimes in early 2010 (CBC). It was the actions of a few, not representative of a community who rallied around the couple, but those actions don’t come out of nowhere without others someone having propagated the sentiments in the guilty in the first place.

Anyhow, what I’ve long wondered is this. I see people cooing and getting giddy over cross-breeds of dogs, cats and other animals all the time. It’s exotic and prized. Yet, two people of the same species, and we are all homo sapiens, who differ in skin colour, aren’t approved to be able to love each other and be with each other?

You tell me how this makes sense.

It’s just as paradoxical as why tanning is so cool, but being brown naturally and longer than a few weeks at a time is not.

Tell me how that also makes sense.

It doesn’t.

But tragically, that’s what makes us human and not Vulcans.

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Flesch-Kincaid Grade Reading Level: 7.9

300 Million Golf Balls Lost or Discarded in US Each Year, Each Needing 100 to 1000 Years to Decompose

Ball-hawk-collectionChristina MacFarlane of CNN reports that 300 million balls are lost or discarded in the United States every year! There were no numbers for world estimates, but you can bet it’s a lot because there are a lot of countries in which golf is being played. I think double the 300 million, would be a conservative estimate. The US might like to play “us versus the world” in those team golf tournaments like the Ryder Cup, but that doesn’t mean they have half the golf players, courses and balls in the world.

Furthermore, each golf ball is estimated to require 100 to 1000 years to decompose naturally. This is according to simulations done by research teams at the Danish Golf Union. It had to be simulations because the golf balls of today haven’t been around 100 years.

In case you don’t think golf ball pollution is a problem, though, scientists who scoured the depths of Scotland’s Loch Ness in a submarine recently, hoping to discover evidence of the prehistoric Loch Ness monster, found hundreds of thousands of golf balls lining the bed of the loch!

That’s hundreds of thousands of golf balls!

Maybe the golf fanatics know about golfing around Loch Ness, but I sure as heck didn’t think there was that much golfing around there. At least not so close that hundreds of thousands of golf balls would be in the lake. It’s not like everybody shoots with the range of Tiger Woods, and even then, that’s not that far to get a golf ball into the loch!

Given the pollution of that magnitude, the poor monster is probably dead from either being pelted by stray golf balls, or having swallowed some in searching for food and picking up large morsels of things at the bottom.

Unfortunately, the pollution of golf balls is not just the presence of those balls. What’s in them is very bad for the environment.

The Danish Golf Association has found that during decomposition, the golf balls dissolved to release a high quantity of heavy metals. Dangerous levels of zinc were found in the synthetic rubber filling used in solid core golf balls. When submerged in water, the zinc attached itself to the ground sediment and poisoned the surrounding flora and fauna. Then, removing a partially degraded ball from a lake or woodland area could result in further damage to the wildlife. It’s not all that simple as picking them up, though a few hundred thousand under water could be rather difficult.

So what can we do about the golf balls? Well, the easiest thing would be to stop playing golf. Golf balls are the least of golf’s environmental impact. Look at these statistics about golf courses from 2004… never mind 2009.

1.8 million kg of an arsenic-containing pesticide, monosodium methanearsonate (MSMA), banned in India and Indonesia, is applied every year to golf courses and cotton fields in the US to control weeds

2.5 billion gallons – Amount of water it would take, per day, to support 4.7 billion people at the UN daily minimum, or the amount of water used, per day, to irrigate the world’s golf courses

23 – Number of golf courses in Japan before World War II
3,030
– Number in operation or soon to open in 2004

8.2 kg – Average amount of pesticides used per acre, per year, on golf courses (18.0 lbs), compared to just 2.7 kg (1.2 kg) used in the same time and space for agriculture (667% difference)

6,500 cubic metres (6.5 million litres) – Amount of water used by 60,000 villagers in Thailand, on average, per day, or one golf course in Thailand, on average, per day

150,000 acres – Current area of the wetlands of the Colorado River Delta, which now receives just 0.1 percent of the river water that once flowed through it, or the area that could be covered to a depth of 2 feet with water drawn from the Colorado River by the city of Las Vegas, which uses much of that allotment to water its more than 60 golf courses

Don’t forget all the travel, whether vacation or golf carts, involved and the emissions from it!

Really, is golf really worth all that?

Sure, the golf fanatics would say yes. But what if I were to tell you some other sport had that impact? Or every other sport out there had it since why put it on just one sport? Would you allow people to play that sport then?

But on the golf balls pollution issue, UK law maker Patrick Harvie had this advice:

“Keep your balls on the fairway or invest in a stock of biodegradable balls.”

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Reading Level: 7.1

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What’s Your Song of Religion? (Part 5 of 7 on the World in Six Songs)

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Book and Theory Background

Daniel J. Levitin wrote an absolutely brilliant book called The World in Six Songs, supported by a great website with the many music samples referenced, among other great related material.

My basic paraphrasing of the concept is this. All the songs in the world could be fit into at least one of six categories providing an evolutionary benefit to humanity, often ultimately tied to our social nature.

The book and website offer far more detailed interpretations, of course, but I will expand on my paraphrasing with each post and the associated topic.

Daniel J. Levitin and The World in Six SongsIn a series of posts, I will describe each of the six categories in brief, one at a time:

  1. Friendship
  2. Joy
  3. Comfort
  4. Knowledge
  5. Religion
  6. Love

I will describe what the categories are about because they are not as limited in scope as the category names suggest. I will then supply one of my choices and ask all readers to do the same if they so wish. In the seventh post of the series, I will offer the chance to put the song choices all together so readers can read the entire set on one post. I do this because it would be a long post to describe all six categories at once, but to have all the answers in one place might be nice.

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This post focuses on Songs of Religion

July 30th add-on in italics, from Dan Levitin in a summary article
Religious ceremonies and ritual go hand in hand, with music frequently accompanying a ritual. Music acts as a retrieval mechanism to guide the movements and words of a particular ritual, and ritual can allow people to stop worrying and focus on the task at hand. Music is also tied to religious ceremonies such as weddings and funerals where acts can be performed as a community, providing social bonding.

Songs of religion are not simply songs about religion. In fact, the songs of knowledge post showed how the Oral Torah was really a song of knowledge, not religion, even if its lyrics were all about religion. Songs of religion are really ritual songs intended to give meaning to something greater than just the subject itself. Furthermore, this meaning is attached to a belief system that establishes some sort of “social” order, both, less and more than us. It is this search for meaning, a self-conscious act of awareness on our part, for our place in this order which truly separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. However, it is what we embrace in this search, in turn, that has benefited us in evolution.

In our search for something greater that is part of our religious beliefs, we embrace sets of rituals that exist in all religions. Religion gives meaning to these rituals that have little meaning on their own otherwise. Just look at rituals in religions foreign to you and see how you feel about them compared to those in your own. However, those not familiar with your religion would have no different overall reactions to rituals in your religion. Pages 194-195 has a great list of 11 rituals universal to all religions, though, which is an absolutely fascinating read!

Now, the rituals of religion come in two flavours: self-rituals and group rituals. Self-rituals tend to be of the type which promotes survival, like not murdering others or coveting their mates which could cause conflict among us that is not good for survival. Rituals also mean the actions get repeated, which helps survival if all the actions were good for survival. As for religion’s role, religion gives self-ritual self-meaning, like what it could mean for someone in their current and/or afterlife. Religion also monitors external and internal states for danger in guiding rituals to be done at various times throughout life.

Like it does for self-rituals, religion gives group rituals group meaning and monitors internal and external states to the group. This is the more important benefit to evolution when compared to the self. This is because group rituals promote group activities, which not only protect us from ourselves but also from other factors of harm to us, and better than individuals could do alone. Group rituals are essential to religion because one cannot find a place within a greater social order if there were no one or nothing else around oneself to create this social order.

Finally, all rituals, with their meanings given by religion, are intended to reduce ambiguity in life by changing the state of the world into something more exacting. It also lets us move on with our lives with the direction given so we don’t subject ourselves to situations not beneficial to our survival.

At this point, I would like to insert a note to say that while the general big picture descriptions of religion described in the World in Six Songs are beneficial to evolution, when it comes to the main organized religions in human history, I’m not sure I would concur. I think modern organized religions have become so warped from the spirit of religion’s concept I would debate whether it has had net benefit on humanity or net hindrance. Ironically, this has been since we supposedly have become “civilized”. So much wrong has been done in the name of organized religion, or hidden by it, that I really do think we could do better without it. I think we’d be better off if we only embraced religion in its intent rather than its meanings that it often has no business giving. Organized religion is just a pretense to guide us as if those leading it knew what were happening when they have no idea.

Songs associated with rituals mean there is a time and a place for songs of religion, with consequences. Thus, funeral and wedding marches count, but not national anthems or Christmas carols. There are places and times for national anthems, football fight songs and Christmas carols when you could break out in one or the other, and there wouldn’t be much problem. Try the same with funeral or wedding marches, especially the former, and there might well be. Children’s songs where participants move parts of their body selectively also count as songs of religion because of their ritualistic nature. This practice to develop motor coordination through repetition when we are young and learning is also of benefit to us evolutionally. Finally, gospel songs are religious songs, and it was mentioned that Dan Dennett had suggested that atheists should have pro science gospel songs as atheism doesn’t have gospel religious songs — a thought I, both, like and found tremendously amusing.

Audio sample of songs from the Religion chapter in The World in Six Songs can be found on the website. No direct link was available, but click on the Songs menu option and appropriate page number range link carrying pages 189 to 228. Please note that not all songs are meant as samples of Religion songs. Some are just referenced material in the book text.

Overall, I found this chapter on songs of religion to be very profound and deep, as it should be considering the subject matter. Despite the long post, I have only touched upon the many things Daniel Levitin touched upon for which there is much to think about each.

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Author Daniel Levitin chose

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My choice for Song of Religion is

Lacrymosa , by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart from his incomplete Requiem (funeral music), K. 626, that is magnificent from beginning to end.

It seems the current opinion is that only the first 8 bars were actually written by Mozart, with the rest under instruction for completion. However, listening to it, sounds like the instructions were pretty complete to me.

I have had the pleasure to sing this piece in choir and, well, let’s just say when you hear this piece with all the parts around you, singing one part, that’s when you really “get” the genius of Mozart.

I have also heard this version sung whereby the choir stopped at where it was thought Mozart stopped composing (I believed that version was about 8 bars into the vocal section), and they just stopped dead and walked off. It was so moving, the reminder that Fate doesn’t care for what we do and stops where it wants, that I cried in realizing the finality of it all.

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Frederic Chopin’s Funeral March, from his Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor, Op. 35, also works well. This version is by Vladimir Horowitz. Masterful!
(the music, not video which is just black which might be appropriate but boring as heck)

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Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Pie Jesu from his Requiem is also a favourite of mine. I have also sung this in choir. Sissel Kyrkjebø does a beautiful job here!

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I don’t know what to say about all the funeral music selections here. I LOVE classical funeral music for some reason. It gives me such peace and lets me focus incredibly well. I especially like writing anything I need to focus and be concise on to it. Obviously, I don’t blog to it. :-)

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What is your choice for Song of Religion?

Please leave your choice as a comment.

Lyrics and YouTube/audio link would greatly enhance your answer so readers can know more about your choice. They are not necessary, though, and not possible if no lyrics or version exist.

You can include songs you wrote as a choice, too!

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Reading Level: 10.7

What’s Your Song of Knowledge? (Part 4 of 7 on the World in Six Songs)

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Book and Theory Background

Daniel J. Levitin wrote an absolutely brilliant book called The World in Six Songs, supported by a great website with the many music samples referenced, among other great related material.

My basic paraphrasing of the concept is this. All the songs in the world could be fit into at least one of six categories providing an evolutionary benefit to humanity, often ultimately tied to our social nature.

The book and website offer far more detailed interpretations, of course, but I will expand on my paraphrasing with each post and the associated topic.

Daniel J. Levitin and The World in Six SongsIn a series of posts, I will describe each of the six categories in brief, one at a time:

  1. Friendship
  2. Joy
  3. Comfort
  4. Knowledge
  5. Religion
  6. Love

I will describe what the categories are about because they are not as limited in scope as the category names suggest. I will then supply one of my choices and ask all readers to do the same if they so wish. In the seventh post of the series, I will offer the chance to put the song choices all together so readers can read the entire set on one post. I do this because it would be a long post to describe all six categories at once, but to have all the answers in one place might be nice.

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This post focuses on Songs of Knowledge

July 30th add-on in italics, from Dan Levitin in a summary article
Historically, songs have been used to transmit various information such as religious texts, survival and life lessons, and even the ABCs. Studies have shown information set to song is memorized more reliably than when simple rote memory is used. Increasing the reliability of transmitted information provides the next generation with valuable information.

Songs of knowledge are aptly named because they preserve and spread knowledge. However, it’s not that simple since we have language, which is a far more versatile means of conveying and preserving language than music, having far fewer limitations in composition. Language, though, doesn’t have nearly the mnemonic power of music to help preserve the knowledge being conveyed. This was of great value before we had written language, though it should be pointed out that Daniel Levitin did not pick sides whether the musical or linguistic brain came first. Rather, he favoured the likely to be correct idea they developed together. Another limitation of language is that it can be too specific.

For difficult or awkward situations, a little ambiguity afforded by songs might actually help dissolve conflict, or at least manage social uncertainty, benefiting survival. Songs are also more genuine because it is partly an emotional output, not a rational one, and not as easily to fake.

Finally, knowledge songs are performed by many people, and often. That is partly how they are maintained as per oral history. You can neither preserve nor spread songs if only one person knew it and/or it were rarely performed. Too risky to lose those songs and their knowledge forever. These songs are also sometimes sung in groups, which helps identify those who can bond into groups that increase chances of survival and promote evolution.

As for some examples, many kids’ songs like those which teach counting and the alphabets are excellent, albeit simple examples of knowledge songs. With English as my primary language, the Alphabet Song comes to mind.

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This is the same tune as Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star by the way, although the latter helps teach things like rhyme rather than an alphabetical sequence… kind of like the video link demonstrates hilariously.

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However, on the other end of the spectrum is the Oral Torah, which, as a Christian metaphor if you are not familiar with it, is a bit like reciting the Bible by memory by song. That’s not entirely accurate, with the history of the Oral Torah being very interesting compared to the written Torah, but you get the idea. Despite the religious text, though, the “song” is meant to preserve and spread knowledge. Religious songs, covered next, are more about rituals. Finally, in the middle are songs like those sang by traveling minstrels and pop songs that tell of historical events like Gordon Lightfoot’s The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

Audio sample of songs from the Knowledge chapter in The World in Six Songs can be found on the website. No direct link was available, but click on the Songs menu option and appropriate page number range link carrying pages 137 to 188. Please note that not all songs are meant as samples of Knowledge songs. Some are just referenced material in the book text.

Daniel Levitin talks more about the impact of songs in our lives, including songs of knowledge, in this video below.

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Author Daniel Levitin chose

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My choice for Song of Knowledge is

Woodstock, by Joni Mitchell (lyrics).

This was a really tough one for me to answer because I don’t live in a place and time of traveling minstrels and some choices I had thought about were covered (Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald). However, after thinking long and hard, I decided on my choice above. While not a full historical account by any means, Joni at least wasn’t there like most of the minstrel singers would not have been at the events about which they sang.

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What is your choice for Song of Knowledge?

Please leave your choice as a comment.

Lyrics and YouTube/audio link would greatly enhance your answer so readers can know more about your choice. They are not necessary, though, and not possible if no lyrics or version exist.

You can include songs you wrote as a choice, too!

Flesch-Kincaid Grade Reading Level: 10.3