Who Lives the Longest?

On average, we humans live about 70 years, with some of us living longer and some living shorter.  But what is the upper range of a human lifespan and how does it compare to other animals?

The oldest documented age of a person is a woman who lived to be 122 years old, but that is quite rare.

Jeanne Calment of France at age 122

The next group of old-age record breakers all fall around 115 to 117 years old, so we can safely say that 115 is the approximate upper limit of human age.  Some people think that humans are the longest living animal on the planet, and that is why we hold such a “special” place.  Wrong.

Giant tortoises can live to be 250 years old.

Tortoises live a lot longer than humans.  In captivity, the giant ones have lived to be over 250 years old.  Even the smaller tortoises can live to be 50 to 100 years old.  So if you take a tortoise as a pet, be prepared to make preparations for it in your will because it will probably still be here after you are gone.

What about elephants?  Do they live longer than humans?  On average, elephants live between 60 and 70 years, much like a human.  The oldest recorded age for an elephant is 82 years old, but who knows?  They could live a lot longer.  We haven’t been recording their births and deaths for as long as we have for humans.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they lived longer than humans, so long as nobody shoots them first.

But elephants don’t win the award for longest living mammal by any means.  Among the mammals, whales are some of the longest living creatures.  Many of the species have a life span comparable to humans, 50 to 70 years, but some of the bigger varieties live much longer.  The humpback whale, for example, can live 125 years, and the bowhead whale in the Arctic can live 200 years.  Since they live for so long, it is believed that the females go through menopause, and that is why scientists often see large females without calves.

A large bowhead was caught off the Alaska coast in 2007 and when they slaughtered it they were surprised to discover the head of an old harpoon embedded in the blubber of its neck.  They were able to trace the harpoon to a company in New Bedford, Massachusetts that manufactured it in 1890.  That means for over 100 years this whale has been swimming around with a harpoon in its neck — right up until they time it was killed with a modern harpoon.

Whales aren’t the only underwater creatures that live a long time. The Greenland shark is a big old monster of a thing that can reach 24 feet, but it isn’t vicious.  It swims in the cold ocean waters, minding its own business and feeding on the dead and decaying.  It can live for 400 years, if it isn’t caught in nets and chopped up for dog food.

The Greenland shark is a gentle creature that can live for 400 years

Some of the oldest marine creatures are clams.  On the east coast there is a type of clam called a quahog.  It can live to be 400 years old, especially when it lives in the cold northern waters of the Atlantic.

Oldest known quahog clam is 410 years old.

Goeduck (pronounced gooey-duck) clams can live 150 years

In the Pacific Northwest, especially around the Puget Sound area, there is a type of clam that everybody loves called a goeduck.  They are a big clam, weighing about a pound each.  But sometimes you will find a giant one that weighs as much as 15 pounds and it huge.  You want to know why it is so big?  Because goeducks can live to be 150 years old!  And we chop them up for fritters or soup.  Seems rather a shame, doesn’t it?

Bristlecone pine in the Sierra Nevada range can live for over 4,000 years

Back on land, many plants live considerably longer than any animal.  For example, the Bristlecone pine in California can live over 4,000 years.  The oldest one was 4,844 years old, but it was unfortunately cut down in 1964.  You might think some stupid vandals cut it down, but you would be wrong.  It was a graduate student and Forest Service employees who were doing research.  They didn’t even know what they had done until it was too late.  So much for scientists not being stupid.

Here in the Pacific Northwest we have several long-lived trees.  The Redwoods, for example, are capable of living 2,000 years.  But you would be hard-pressed to find one that old because most of them were cut down in the early part of the 1900’s.  Now, the average age is 500 to 700 years old.

Sequoia trees can live over 3,000 years if left alone

The giant Sequoia can live well beyond 3,000 years, and we know that because there are several trees that age still producing beautifully.  A 1,500 year old Sequoia is just a teenager.

In Central Oregon we have several varieties of western Juniper, some of which can live for over 1,000 years.  That places them just behind Sequoias in terms of longevity.  A 500-year old juniper would not even be considered rare.  The next time you see an old juniper with its trunk all gnarled, know that it is a grandfather among the plant world.

Junipers like this may be up to 1,000 years old!

In western Oregon we have the Douglas Fir, which has an average lifespan of 700 years.  The tallest and presumably oldest Douglas Fir in Oregon is estimated to be about 500 years old.  This is probably about average for trees left to grow through their normal lifespan and not harvested for timber.  Now a tree this size is considered a rarity.  The oldest known living Douglas Fir is in British Columbia and estimated at 1400 years old.  This is probably closer to their upper limit of life span.

Douglas Fir have an average lifespan of 500 years, but can live to nearly 1,500 years.

As I was reading about all this it struck me that it is just wrong to kill things that have lifespans so much longer than our own.  We never should have cut down the trees.  We shouldn’t be killing whales.  Leave the elephants alone.  Let the goeduck and quahog clams lay around and get old.  If I have to kill things in order to survive (and apparently I do), I only want to kill things with lifespans that are shorter than mine.  I don’t know if that is logical, and it’s probably just emotional.  But it seems right to me.

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The Notorious Memory

How reliable do you think your memory is?  Can you trust it?  If you are typical, you trust your memory but you don’t trust mine.  If our versions of a story don’t match, you will find it much easier to believe that I have the facts wrong than to believe that you have it wrong.

This inherent trust in our memories stems from the fact that most of us believe everything we tell ourselves and believe everything we feel.  So, of course, we believe our memories and will even fight to defend them, but the truth is memories are very easy to distort and are probably not as accurate as we think.

Memory is a critical skill for learning and it’s an essential part of man’s evolutionary success.   Memories keep track of experiences that have taught us something and allow us to refer back to them for advice as we make decisions.  The more you can remember the more you can learn.

But there is a limit on how much we can remember.  The brain can’t store all the details of our experiences so it applies filters and drops things that seem inconsequential.  There are a few people with unusual brains who apparently remember absolutely everything with clarity, but they aren’t very happy about it.  Here is a link to a story about a woman who remembers everything she’s done since the age of 14:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/1940420/The-woman-who-can-remember-everything.html

As this woman tells it, it’s truly debilitating to remember everything.  Evidently, we forget things for a good reason.  If we didn’t filter out some of the information that we receive, our brains would be overflowing with details and the stress would be incredible.  This means that memory is a survival tool, and so is forgetting.

Memory is a great trick and a clever solution to an otherwise insurmountable problem – time only moves forward.  It doesn’t stop and it doesn’t go backwards.  It only goes forward.  But memory sidesteps that problem by giving us the illusion of going back in time with our thoughts.  [As a side note, the opposite of memory is hope.  If memory is holding a thought from the past, hope is holding a thought for the future.  With these two processes firmly in place, memory looking backwards and hope looking forwards, it’s no wonder that most of us struggle to be in the present.]

I’ve become interested in memory because I’ve been practicing a technique called recapitulation where you review past events of your life with great scrutiny in order to let them go.  While it might sound like obsession taken to the nth degree, I find that forcing myself to review the details of my memories with meticulous detail, even when I want to turn away, takes the emotional energy out of them.  In fact, that is the goal of recapitulation – to recapture the energy that was lost in the memory of those past events.

I thought I had a pretty clear idea of the span of my life I wanted to recapitulate, so I started writing.   I was several pages into it when I became stuck on a particular detail.  I thought I might have some email correspondence that would jog my memory, so I went into the archives on my computer and found my old message logs.

As I flipped through the long list of messages, I quickly realized how many mistakes my memory had in it.  I had several events out of order and had completely forgotten other facts.  If it weren’t for the corroboration of my old emails, I would have recapitulated a story that wasn’t correct.  I’m sure I would have believed it, but it wouldn’t be have been correct.

The discovery that my memory had so many holes in it got me to thinking about the unreliability of memory in general.  I started doing some digging to learn more, and honestly, I learned so much that I had to forget a lot of it.  But there were a few pieces that stood out as important and I want to share some of them with you.

The unreliability of memory is well known among psychologists.  Elizabeth Loftus talks about the potential for errors in her book Memory: Surprising New Insights into How We Remember and Why We Forget:

Memory is imperfect. This is because we often do not see things accurately in the first place. But even if we take in a reasonably accurate picture of some experience, it does not necessarily stay perfectly intact in memory. Another force is at work. The memory traces can actually undergo distortion. With the passage of time, with proper motivation, with the introduction of special kinds of interfering facts, the memory traces seem sometimes to change or become transformed. These distortions can be quite frightening, for they can cause us to have memories of things that never happened. Even in the most intelligent among us memory is thus malleable.

This tendency to distort memories is a very human quality, and yet we live much of our lives pretending that there is no distortion.  We choose to believe the story our memory tells us, just like we choose to believe our other thoughts.  We rarely consider that our memories might be wrong, but the fact is, memories are notoriously wrong.

I’m not saying there is no truth in our memories, but there are errors that inevitably tag along and most of the time we aren’t even aware of them.  And yet, we use our memories, both accurate and inaccurate, to develop a personal identity by telling ourselves a story about who we are, what we’ve done and what’s been done to us.  It’s no wonder that so many of us have a skewed perspective of who we are when you consider how unreliable memory is compared to reality.

Memory is not like playing back a video of the event.  It has blurry edges and a fairly low resolution when compared to vision.  This means that our memory retains fewer details than what our eyes are capable of seeing.  It is limited by what we are paying attention to, the filters we apply, and the details we add or subtract through time.

Color is an example of low resolution memory.  The brain tends to categorize between tones (such as light or dark) and categories (such as red, blue, green, etc.) but it doesn’t do very well at storing the memory of hues or intensity.  As a result, people usually remember colors as being brighter and more primary than they actually were.

Sometimes we only remember the pertinent details needed to recognize or distinguish something.  For example, you don’t need to remember everything about penguins in order to recognize one when you see it.  Nor do you need to remember everything about my face in order to recognize it, or every detail of that trip you took that was so much fun.  All you need are the salient details and you can fill in the rest.  As your mind fill in the gaps, however, it sometimes includes information that wasn’t there in the beginning.  This is how we come to completely believe a memory that is only partly true.

Memory is a word like “love” – so many meanings for one little word.  Our language doesn’t have words to express all the nuances of memory and even the behavioral sciences have a hard time describing it.  And yet, there are certain terms that are useful to know.

We can talk about long-term memory, short-term or working memory, explicit memory (requiring conscious thought to retrieve), implicit memory (requiring no conscious thought to retrieve), and autobiographical memory (recall of life experiences).

It is autobiographical memory that I find most interesting.  These are the memories of things that have happened to us, the things that we draw upon as our influences.  We string these memories together, using whatever glue is needed, to create our personal identity based on the story of our life.

Autobiographical memory is distinctly different than the other types of memory because it has strong feelings attached to it.  The other types of memories don’t have this quality.  For example, if I ask you what the capitol of Oregon is, you can think for a moment and your explicit memory will recall that it is Salem.  How does it make you feel that Salem is the capitol of Oregon?  You don’t feel anything, do you?  There is no emotion linked with the recall of an explicit fact.  Likewise, your implicit memory allows you to remember how to perform a physical task, such as brushing your teeth, without being emotional about it.  Once a physical task is learned through repetition, you can perform it without thinking and without emotion.  That’s implicit memory.

But when you access your autobiographical memory, everything is tinged with emotion.  How do you feel about what happened to you today?  How do you feel when you recall your childhood?  Can you think of anything in your life story that doesn’t have some kind of emotion attached to?  Emotions are what put autobiographical memories in a class of their own.

Emotions are accompanied by chemical changes in our brain.  Change the chemicals and you change the emotions.  That’s the whole theory behind pharmaceutical anti-depressants.  Prozac, Xanax and all the rest are man’s attempt to change our mood by changing our brain chemistry.

I have a theory of my own about chemicals in the brain.  My theory is that early in life we recognize that some chemicals (i.e., emotions) feel better than others and that we have the ability to manipulate them.  From this realization we create an ego whose job is to use our thoughts and emotions to trick our brain into producing certain chemicals.

A functioning ego, as I understand it, is one that knows how to manipulate emotions to produce different feelings.  The ego’s purpose, as far as I can tell, is to make us feel things.  Whether it makes us feel good or feel bad, the ego is always making us feel something that gets translated into a rush of chemicals.  The ego doesn’t tell us we are great or important because it is true.  The ego tells us these things, and many more, because it likes the chemicals we produce with those thoughts.   That’s why I think of ego as the addict inside us all and brain chemicals as the drugs.  I don’t even think the ego loves us.  It’s just using us to get the chemicals it wants, just like any addict would.  Since ego uses emotions as the currency for its addiction, wherever you find emotions you will find ego.  This becomes very important when we talk about autobiographical memory.

Since autobiographical memory is filled with emotion, it would stand to reason that ego would be there with it.  In fact, something interesting happens with our autobiographical memory that sheds an interesting light on the role ego plays.

There is something called childhood amnesia that virtually everyone experiences.  It is the loss of all autobiographical memory before the age of about four years.  The interesting thing about childhood amnesia is that only the autobiographical memory is lost.  The implicit and explicit memories are held intact.  We don’t forget how to walk or how to talk when we turn four, but we seem to forget almost everything else about our lives.

I know there is someone reading this right now saying, “Ooh!  Ooh!  I can remember something from when I was only two!”  Well, that may be so but I don’t give a lot of credit to early childhood memories because they are so easily planted.  If your mother told a story about you that happened when you were two, but you were five when you heard the story, you could believe that you were remembering the actual event but it would simply be the memory of the story.  If anyone told me that they remembered their own birth, for example, I would be very skeptical.

I think the explanation for childhood amnesia is that our ego is not fully developed until about the age of four, and the onset of our conscious memories coincides with the onset of our functioning ego.  As soon as ego is born it erases everything that came before it.  Ego is that selfish.  As far as the ego is concerned, life begins when it is born.  The fact that our body had already been around for a few years doesn’t seem to matter to it.  After all, the ego manipulates the functions of our body with its thoughts so it sees itself as separate from and superior to the body.

Since we know that ego is a manipulator, and we know that ego is attached to emotions, and we know that emotions are attached to autobiographical memories, it shouldn’t be hard to accept that the memories that make up our personal story have been manipulated by our ego.

The manipulation of memories by our ego is the most significant source of errors in memory retrieval.  The ego is constantly manipulating our thoughts to mold our memories so they are consistent with whatever perspective we want to maintain.  Psychologists call this memory bias and each type of bias acts like a filter to sharpen or dull or memories.  There are dozens of memory biases that have been identified.

There is something called egotistical bias which causes us to inflate our memories to make us look bigger, better and more beautiful than we really were.  It makes our ego feel good, so we do it.  There is also a victim bias that makes us remember ourselves as being more helpless and weak than we really were.  It’s just another way of feeding the ego with emotions.

There is a humor bias which allows us remember funny events easier than boring ones.  There is a trauma bias which makes painful memories either stay with us or completely disappear.

Selective recollection is a memory bias that causes us to selectively choose particular elements of the story to remember while forgetting others.  The details we recall depend on our perspective and the focus of our attention.  We’ve all heard “Seeing is believing,” but the truth is closer to “Believing is seeing” because our perspective (or our attention) selectively filters out anything we don’t believe and we end up seeing only that which we want to believe, especially when it comes to the emotional significance of our memories.  If you believe that someone was trying to hurt you, then your memories will probably support that conclusion even if they weren’t.  If you believe someone didn’t love you, your memories will support that conclusion as well, even if they did.

I saw an experiment where a group of people were asked to view an interaction between a man and a woman and remember as many details as possible.  During the interaction a man in a gorilla suit walks behind the couple that are talking.  Afterwards, when asked to recall as many details as possible, several people in the study didn’t remember seeing a man in a gorilla suit.  They were so focused on following their instructions to observe the man and woman that they failed to see anything else.  They could hardly believe their own eyes when the videotape was replayed for them.  They would have sworn in a court of law that there was no gorilla in the scene and they wouldn’t be lying.  But they wouldn’t be correct, either.

There are so many factors that play into the faulty retrieval of our memories, especially autobiographical memories, that it makes it hard for me to put much stock in what I recall about my personal history any more.

It makes me question the process of recapitulation, which is how this investigation started for me.  Can we ever really remember what happened to us in the past without flavoring and changing it with our emotions?  Can we understand ourselves any better if we tell ourselves a more detailed story of what happened to us?  Given what I have learned about memory, I think the answer to both questions is “No.”

Any story I tell myself is subjective to the emotions that my ego creates as I tell it, and unless I get my ego completely out of the picture, which is very unlikely, my life story will always be an interpretive work of fiction.

This one fact, that there is no such thing as my “true life story,” spawns several very important questions.

If my personal story is a work of fiction (as is everyone else’s) then why am I putting so much value on it?  Does it really define me as much as I think it does?  Is there any good reason to be attached to who I think I am?

As I attempted to answer these questions about myself I suddenly realized what don Juan meant when he advised Carlos to drop his personal history.  Why work so hard at holding onto something that is just an illusion which limits us through its definition?  I saw the misplaced energy that our attachment to it represents.  I saw that linking my personal identity to my personal history is not only self-limiting, it is not even accurate.

Any attachment I have to who I think I am or who you think I am seems like a futile position to me right now.  It doesn’t feel worth the energy it takes to sustain it.  It feels better to believe that I can be whoever I want to be and whatever life needs of me.  From this position I know for a fact that I am not defined by my past unless I allow it.  The only thing that defines me is the present.

That, my friends, is freedom.  I feel it opening up in my chest like a bird spreading its wings.  It used to be an idea, but now it feels like a fact.  There is no need to hang onto my personal history.  I get it.  It doesn’t mean that I forget all the things that are stored in my memory, but I don’t think of them as facts either.  Memories are cheap knock-offs of the original.  I consider them interpretations and therefore don’t place as much value on them.

I can tell myself whatever story I want and support it with whatever memories I choose, but this new perspective will make it hard from now on to take any story very seriously.  Now that I have disrobed the illusion of my autobiographical memory, can I ever think of it as something that I deserve to cling to? I don’t think I can.

We are all just telling ourselves a story about ourselves.  There is no “true story.”  When we believe our stories are true without acknowledging that they have many biases, it is the equivalent of telling ourselves a lie.  In that regard, I say that we are all liars.  We’re all wearing masks and we all have veils.

Autobiographical memory is notoriously wrong.  I know this for a fact.  And that leads to the inevitable conclusion that the story of my personal history is also notoriously wrong.  No wonder don Juan told Carlos to drop it his attachment to it.  Through our personal history we create a mask that is layered with veils.  Take it off and try on another one, he said.  Put on one that doesn’t limit you so much.   Lose the attachment to who you have told yourself you are.  You are everything and anything, he said.  Choose a mask and wear it, but don’t forget that it is a mask and you can remove it at any time.

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Charity Begins at Home — Time to Reduce Foreign Spending

All this bickering in Congress is fueled by the Democrats desire to extend Unemployment Insurance benefits.  The price tag for that extension is estimated at $7.5 billion.  At the same time, the Republicans argue that we also need to extend tax benefits for the wealthiest.  Everybody wants their benefits extended, don’t they?

Without a new source of revenue (which ending the tax breaks would have resulted in) we are told that there is no choice but to borrow the money, further deepening our deficit.   You know who we are borrowing from, don’t you?  China, of course.

But here’s the sticker, folks.  At the same time that we are borrowing $7.5 Billion from China we are giving away $50 Billion to other countries.  Yes, our annual Foreign Aid budget is about $50 BILLION. * And that’s just what the government is willing to admit to.  How many slush funds do you think are out there that allow our government to funnel foreign aid without identifying it in their annual reports?  If we admit to $50 billion then you can bet the actual amount is probably more like $100 billion.

(* If you want the source for this figure, it represents the combined economic and military aid we gave to all countries in 2008 according to the Greenbook at http://gbk.eads.usaidallnet.gov/.  The actual amount was $40.82 billion, but I rounded it and adjusted for inflation to get $50 billion. )

Congressmen, are you telling me that out of $50 billion which we give away to other countries we can’t reduce it by $7.5 billion because our own people need it?

Are you telling me that everyone else in this world is more deserving of my money than I am?  Because that’s where foreign aid money comes from, you know.  It comes from the people.  It started in my paycheck and continued through the entire line of commerce, pausing for a while in the pockets of the richest men, but eventually making its way to the government in the form of taxes paid by one of us or another. So, Congressman please remember, we all had to work for that money you are giving away.

Did you know that the two countries that get the most foreign aid from us are Israel and Egypt?  Really?  Congressman, are you telling me that the people of Israel and Egypt (who get about 1/3 of our total foreign aid at a rate of about $625 per person per year) deserve my money more than I do?  Do you really think that we should go broke trying to help other people?

Are you telling me that all this charity is so important that we should borrow money from China to do it?

Are you telling me that we can’t afford to keep our schools open, and we can’t afford to take care of the elderly and disabled in our society, but we can afford to give $50 billion dollars a year to other countries?

Are you fucking crazy?

Do NOT borrow any more money from China, take $7.5 billion out of foreign aid and let them suffer the consequences, just like we have had to do.  The free lunch is over folks!  These are my hard-earned dollars they are giving away while me and my children and their children suffer the consequences.

There may have been a time when we could afford to share our wealth with the rest of the world, but that isn’t now.  If we don’t turn off the faucet of dollars that we give away, we are going to be bankrupt and totally in debt to China.

Is that what you want, Congressmen?  Do we want to continue these excesses until we are so far in debt to China that they own us?  You argue about the security risk that our funding of Israel and Egypt represents.  What about the economic security of this country?  Isn’t borrowing money from China while we give it away to Israel and Egypt putting our country’s economic security at risk?  If we aren’t careful, China will not have to land a single piece of equipment on our soil to conquer us.  They will simply own us.  It won’t be a military conquest but the result will be the same.  We will no longer be free.

Shit, we’re barely free as it is.  There are so many taxes and regulations governing us that it feels like a noose sometimes.  It’s time to stand up, people.  If we need money to run the government, foreign aid is going to have to get slashed.  Too bad.  It’s got to happen or we’re going to all be in the same miserable shape.  And the only one who seems capable of saving us is China.  God have mercy on us all if that happens.

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Rock on! British students protest tuition hikes

The unrest on this planet continued to grow yesterday as university students in London took to the streets in protest over tuition increases.  Poor Prince Charles and Camilla were somehow trapped by a group of about 20 angry protesters who beat on their Rolls-Royce, broke windows, threw paint, and shouted, “Off with their heads!”

Prince Charles and Camilla are shocked that the peasants are revolting.

I’m sorry, but there is something humorous about this image.  It’s always good to see a Prince taken down by the proletariats.

I naturally side with proletariats, I guess.  Must be my genetic roots.  England has a long history of proletariats, whereas America does not.  Proletariats are traditionally defined as the lowest class of society, a class that has no wealth except for their children.  The serfs and peasants were proletariats.  In Marxist theory proletariats are the working class whose only wealth is the labor they sell.  That kind of sounds like my family roots except we owned a bit of land.

Proletariats are naturally opposed to the bourgeoisie, which the Prince and Camilla did a fabulous job of representing that night as the mobs surrounded their carriage on the way to the theater.  The whole things seems so historically amusing to me.

I would never go so far to say that the students who were attacking the Prince’s carriage are proletariats.  On the contrary, they are fighting to keep out of that class.  They know how important it is to get an education and they feel like they are being priced out of the market.  Without education they fear their lives will begin a frightening slide into proletarianism, which none of them wants and rightly so.

Part of the student rebellion is about money and part of it is about being lied to.  They are outraged that they will have to borrow three times as much money next year to pay for their education, and they are outraged that the people they helped get elected promised they would not let this happen.  Kind of reminds me of what is going on over here.

It’s kind of like someone telling us that instead of costing $30,000 a year to send your kid to a good college it will now cost $100,000 a year.  That’s won’t be a problem, will it?  Damn right it’s a problem when prices go up 300%, whether you are in America or the UK.

In American dollars, it will now cost a student about $15,000 a year to attend a university in England.  As far as I can tell, nobody pays for this out of their pocket as they go.  Everyone seems to get student loans.  The deal on these new tuition rates is that nobody has to start repaying their student loan until they start earning at least $30,000.  If they can’t get a job after getting their education, the government is willing to defer the repayment.  That’s kind of a good idea and I wish we would do that over here.

A lot of Americans are going to think this sounds like a pretty nice education system that the students are bitching about and it is, for some people.  Up until recently it didn’t cost anything to attend higher education.  Can you imagine that?  England educated all those people for free.  (You would think with all that education they could have out-performed the US, but that’s another story.)  I envy them their free education, but there has always been a bias in their system that we wouldn’t tolerate over here.

I used to have a friend who grew up in England and he told me stories about how his education system worked.  I was shocked at how much the class system ruled the education of England.  Fairly early in every child’s educational career they were given tests to determine whether they should go to college or whether they should go to vocational school.  If you didn’t pass the test, you weren’t going to college.  No matter if later in life you pulled your act together and were worthy college material.  Once you got assigned to a plebian role of a proletariat, that is where you stayed.

Over here in America I grew up believing something completely different.  I grew up believing that no matter what class you were born into or resided in at one time or another, everyone is capable of moving freely between class lines.  Nobody has to stay in the class they were born in while living in America.  We are upwardly mobile, aren’t we?  It is what draws people here from all across the world.  The belief that anyone can be whatever they want to be without class boundaries is what brought my old friend here and I’ll bet he would admit that the US had been good to him.

Leaving England allowed my friend to leave the class he was born into.  Who can blame him?  Nobody wants to be a proletariat.  Those students in London don’t want to be proletariats and that is what they are afraid of.  I don’t want to be a proletariat, but that’s what I’ve become.  I didn’t used to be one, but the economic crash has pretty much stripped my wealth away.  I’ve still got a stash in the stock market, but I don’t trust it.  I haven’t figured out a way to get my hands on it before they steal it, but I’m thinking hard.  Since it is in an IRA I don’t get to choose how to use the money without giving a sizable chunk of it to the government.  But if I’m not careful, I will wake up one day and the stockbroker will say, “Sorry, there was a market correction and your portfolio is worthless.”  Bye, bye money.

So here’s a shout out to the students who are protesting.  I’m not going to judge you poorly just because you are young and angry.  I’m not going judge you poorly just because you don’t want to be a proletariat.  I’m not going to judge you poorly just because you are the first generation to have to pay for the excesses of those who came before you and those who continue to seek a bloated lifestyle.  I would be doing the same thing if I were over there.  Hell, I might be doing it soon myself if the Princes of our government don’t stop taking away what I earn and spending it on themselves.

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Julian Assange — Time’s Man of the Year?

I would be willing to bet money that Julian Assange is going to be named Man of the Year by someone.  Who else has upset so many applecarts and forced such lively debate?

Julian Assange -- The Man with all the Secrets

I was in my car three times today and each time the subject on the radio was WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.  Some people think he is despicable and some people think he is a hero.  It’s a very polarized world out there

For those who hate him, they warn that his careless acts are going to put our troops in harms way and cause injury.  Trouble is, it is the careless acts of our GOVERNMENT that are putting our troops in harms way and causing injury.

They say he is self-righteous.  When he admitted that he carefully selected the documents he released and held back the most damaging ones, they say, “Who does he think HE is to make the decision on what is secret and what is not?”  Let’s ask the same thing of the people who run the government.  Who do they think they are to decide what is secret and what is not?  Remember, the government is just people.

WikiLeaks and Julian Assange are going to force a very important question:  Can a government censor the internet?  If the government doesn’t like what someone is saying, can they take away their right to say it on the internet?

This country was founded on the principle of free speech, and it is what we fight for, but it is all a lie if we say that our freedoms are contingent on whether someone likes what we say or, god forbid, actually speaks the truth.

Should the Rush Limbaugh’s of the world be hounded off the airwaves?  Should the Julian Assanges of the world be hounded off the internet?  I say no to both questions. I believe they both have the right to do what they do, even if I don’t like it.  Nobody forces me to listen to Rush Limbaugh.  Nobody forces me to go to WikiLeaks.  Inherent in their right to say what they want is my right to not listen to them.  It isn’t my right to shut them up.  It is only my right not to listen to them.

The trouble with our fascination with Julian Assange is that it takes our focus off the real issues here.  Julian is just the messenger and it makes no sense to shoot the messenger because he brought the news.

The real story that should be explored is how a 22-year old private in the Army had access to this much classified information.  The story as I have heard it so far is that Bradley Manning was a young IT guy for the Army.  Every day he came to work with headphones and a CD that was labeled as if it were music, like “Lady Gaga” or something.  As he sat down at his console each day he popped his CD into the computer, mouthed the words of the song as he worked, and promptly erased the CD and started compressing files and putting them on it.  He did this every day for months.  Sometimes he even used a flash drive to download data.  The full extent of what he got is unknown to anyone other than Bradley and maybe Julian Assange, but it clearly could number over a million documents.

How lax is our internal security if Bradley Manning could do this?  How many others have done this and not gone public with it?  It probably happens all the time and nobody in the Army is stepping up to the plate and taking responsibility.  Where are the stories about his immediate supervisors who allowed this to happen?  Where are the stories about how stupid they are for allowing classified access to privates?  Where is the accountability that the system itself should assume?

They have put Bradley in an isolation cell in Kuwait and he’ll probably stay in prison for a long time.  Among the current charges, the maximum term is 52 years.  If he gets charged with espionage the penalty could be death.

You know, if they arrest you in a foreign land there is a whole different set of rules they can apply against you.  Democracy?  Forget about it.  Bradley Manning is the equivalent of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner.  Rules of engagement allow them to throw democracy out the window.

Each of us lives by an internal code that tells us “If the truth would make you uneasy if it came out in public, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.”   I think the government wouldn’t be screaming so loud about Assange if they lived by that tenet.  If people of the government weren’t behaving badly none of this would make a bit of difference.  It is the exposure of their dishonesty that angers them.  That’s why their wrath is turned on Julian Assange.  He exposed their dishonesty and now they are out to destroy him.

Why can’t we have an honest government?  Is it really such an incredible idea?  Secrets are fine, but they shouldn’t be secrets about lies, manipulation, and deceit.

I’ll tell you why Julian Assange fascinates me.  Like me, he adores the truth.  He really wants to strip off the veils and see the raw truth.  He calmly and logically explains why he does what he does.  He’s an Australian but he’s got the heart of a German, I swear.  I like Germans.  They’ve got a certain resolve to them that is tough and firm.  I think Julian could pass as a German if he wanted to.

Julian seems resolved and firm in his approach to this.  He surrendered himself to the UK police, which was a pretty stand-up kind of act, but has been held without bail and without charges ever since.  They are ostensibly deliberating whether they should extradite him, but the truth is they are detaining him while they figure out a crime to charge him with.

The story of the sex charges against him is rather convoluted.  Assange’s supporters are convinced that these charges are politically motivated and it makes sense.  By politically motivated I mean that the governments who were embarrassed by Wikileaks asked Sweden to pursue the charges and extradition.  It has been a long-standing policy of smear campaigns to suggest sexual impropriety.  Who wants to support a rapist, after all?

Sweden issued charges of rape and sexual molestation against Assange several weeks ago and then withdrew the charges.  After a brief calm (during which time government officials were no doubt trying to convince Sweden to resume their witch hunt) the charges were reinstated with new details.  I can’t be sure that I have the facts correct, but the following is what appears to be the story behind the sex charges.

Julian Assange is a bit of a nomadic type and travels throughout Europe crashing on people’s couches.  The first woman named in the charges, Miss A, admitted that she invited Assange to stay at her house.  Eventually they developed a sexual relationship.  At some point in their relationship she asserts that Assange forcibly spread her legs and had sex with her without a condom.  Assange left her residence and they continued to have contact with each other that seemed amicable according to friends.  In the meantime, another woman, Miss B, became infatuated with Assange after hearing him speak at a lecture.  She invited him to stay at her home and Assange accepted.  They had sex without a condom and Miss B became concerned about sexually transmitted diseases.  After Assange left her residence she began searching for him in an effort to force him to undergo tests for STDs.  In her efforts to find Assange, she ran into Miss A and they shared stories.  They then teamed up and eventually a prosecutor decided to seek the arrest of Assange.

So the rape charge stems from Miss A who says Assange forced her to have unprotected sex, and the sexual molestation charges stem from both Miss A and Miss B who say that Assange refused to use a condom.  In Sweden that is a crime I guess.  One of the reasons that the UK has dragged their feet on extradition is that the sexual molestation charge is not recognized as such in the UK.  Assange has stated publicly that he has never had non-consensual sex with anyone, whether in Sweden or any other country.  Somehow, I am inclined to believe Assange because I understand the motives of sexual smear campaigns.

The purpose of a sexual smear campaign is to cast doubt upon the moral character of Assange so that people will not support him.  The purpose is to deflect attention away from those who might be exposed by his actions.  The purpose is to blur the focus so that we spend more time talking about Julian and less time talking about the defects of our government and our security system.

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How many dimensions are there?

If someone had asked me a few days ago, “How many dimensions are there?” I would probably have said, “Three,” (thinking about length, height, and width) and then I would have considered it for a moment and said, “No, four!” (thinking about time). But today, after doing a bit of exploring into the nature of the various dimensions, I can tell you that the correct answer is, “It all depends on your perspective.”

In mathematics, our most objective branch of science, a dimension is defined as the minimum number of coordinates needed to specify each point of a shape.

For most shapes and objects, three coordinates are all we need to map them.  In math we call them the x, y and z axis of a graph, but they are also the x, y and z of the three dimensions.  An easy way to visualize the three dimensions is to think of a point, a circle and a sphere.  Each one has added dimension.

Let’s imagine we have a sphere that can be described with three dimensions, or x, y and z coordinates.  Now imagine that the sphere is moving.  In order to accurately plot its points at a particular time we need a fourth coordinate – it’s position in space at a given time.   Time is therefore often considered the fourth dimension, but even this is not exactly right.

The Theory of Special Relativity states that time and space are two entangled forms of the same thing and joins them into a single spacetime.  It would be more accurate to say that the fourth dimension is spacetime.

The theory of special relativity does a very good job of explaining the duality of space and time, and of electricity and magnetism.  The problem is that it doesn’t have the same elegance when explaining gravity.  If you ever hear someone talk about the special relativity of gravity, prepare yourself for an argument because this is some sketchy science.

To reconcile this, a new line of thinking developed in theoretical physics called the string theory. The reason it is called the string theory is that it assumes an electron is a one-dimensional object (a single point having no height or depth) that can only move back and forth along a line, and the electron vibrates along that line like a string vibrates on a guitar.  It is the vibration of the string that gives the particle all its qualities.

The string theory became refined over time and is now called the superstring theory.  The trouble with the superstring theory is that it requires more dimensions than we are aware of existing.  Most string theories require 10 dimensions in order for the math to work out.

It should be noted that mathematics has no problem dealing with an infinite amount of dimensions.  The conflict is that mathematics is supposed to describe nature, and we don’t see an infinite number of dimensions in nature.  If the math suggests 10 dimensions and we only see four dimensions, we wonder what is wrong with the theory.  Where are the other 6 dimensions?

Another theory, the M Theory, requires that there be 11 dimensions.  The “M” in the name refers to “membrane,” a word frequently used to explain the surface of a dimension.  We are considered to be stuck in a world of three dimensional membranes, so we call this a 3-brane world.  The superstring theory has a 10-brane world.

Since the M theory requires one more dimension than the superstring theory, it is assumed to incorporate all the string theories into it, making it the super-superstring theory I guess.  We still are missing 7 dimensions, though.

[Note:  I like the M Theory because it is looking for 7 new dimensions to find.  7 is a powerful number that appears frequently in nature.  If we are going to look for new dimensions, my money is on finding 7 of them all hanging out together.]

Just to make things complicated, some theories require only 6 dimensions (still two more than we know of), another theory requires 26 dimensions, and a holographic theory only requires two dimensions.  When we are talking about theoretical physics, the best answer to how many dimensions there are is, “It depends on your perspective.”

Even though we haven’t seen any of these dimensions that mathematics says should exist, we have theories of what they might look like.  We think that space consists of both extended dimensions (those are the ones we can experience) and curled up dimensions found deep within the extended dimensions.  The best geometric description of these other dimensions is to think of a sphere that is curled up on itself.  Even though it is condensed, it has a surface area that can be described as a membrane.  When we begin to perceive it, it is equivalent to the dimension unfolding itself and becoming extended.

Dimensions don’t have to be that complicated, however.  To get a feeling for what it would be like to have 7 more dimensions, imagine trying to model weather patterns.  You would need to plot a point that has not only the four dimensions of its location at a particular time, but also its barometric pressure, wind speed, reflectivity, moisture content, and so on.  Each of these characteristics are essentially another dimension of weather, and it would be easy to come up with 7 or even 22 more dimensions.

Some physicists describe additional dimensions as degrees of freedom, because each dimension gives the particle freedom to behave in a new way.  When we begin to apply quantum mechanics to the metaphysical world, this definition of freedom takes on a new meaning.

There are theorists in metaphysics just like in physics.  Some theorists use their own experiences and feelings to deduce the dimensions of spirituality, while others channel voices from other dimensions that tell them how things are.  Some theorists are fundamental, such as Christians who see only a few levels of consciousness.  Others, such as Lightworkers, believe they came here intentionally from the fifth dimension.

It is interesting, however, that several spiritual theories describe 12 different dimensions of spiritual awareness.   Quantum physics predicts 10 or 11.  Maybe the two realms aren’t so far from each other after all.

What are these dimensions of spirituality?  It’s all very subjective, of course, but some people say that our soul exists in the fifth dimension and that our connection tunnel is in the fourth dimension.  Astral projection, for example, is something that occurs in the fourth dimension with our fifth-dimension body.

The sixth dimension has been described as the place where consciousness creates thought.  The seventh dimension is seen as a place of creative energy.  The eighth dimension is the collective consciousness of individuals, and the ninth dimension is the collective consciousness of all the planets and stars.  The tenth and eleventh dimensions are kind of fuzzy to me, but they are basically light.  The last dimension is a point of oneness with everything connected; it is that piece we call God or The Source.

The Qabal assigns seven levels or dimensions to our existence, and you might say the chakras do, too.  However, there are more than 7 chakras.  There are 7 major ones, but many minor ones, and a system of 12 chakras is frequently used.  Christians subscribe to at least one other dimension, that being heaven, and many also subscribe to hell and purgatory, bringing the total number of Christian dimensions to 7.  It seems that in metaphysics as well as physics, the answer to my question of how many dimensions there are is still, “It depends on your perspective.”

One thing I think we can agree on is that each of these spiritual dimensions represents a recognizable quality of our energy that builds upon itself in a hierarchy.  For example, I know there is something unusual that happens in the dream world, so I conceptually accept the fourth dimension.  I know there is something like my soul that exists above that, so I accept the fifth dimension.  I know that thought is bigger than my soul, so I accept the sixth dimension.  I know that creative thought springs from an even higher source, so I accept the seventh dimension.  I know that collective thought has a power of its own, so I accept the eighth and ninth dimensions.  I don’t understand the tenth and eleventh dimensions, but I accept the twelfth dimension, that being a point of singular connection, so I will accept 10 and 11 even though I don’t understand them.

This is where defining a dimension as a degree of freedom makes a lot of sense.  Each step up in spiritual dimension is a freedom, and I think we all instinctively crave freedom.  According to author Carlos Castaneda, freedom is the ultimate warrior’s quest.  Everything we want is found is freedom.  How appropriate then, that the ascending levels of spiritual dimensions can also be described as increasing degrees of freedom.

The thing that seems to hold true for both physics and metaphysics is that it is very difficult, and sometimes impossible, for a lower-dimensional object to perceive a higher-dimensional object.  The only way for it to happen is if the lower dimensional object is somehow pulled up into the new dimension.  Only then will it have the perspective that allows it to recognize higher level dimensions.

This is probably what happens to many people who have experiences that cannot be explained by the three-dimensional world.  They are provided glimpses into the fourth, fifth, sixth, maybe even the twelfth dimension through a spiritual experience, astral travel, or dreaming.  They see the reality of the dimension and for a while it alters their perspective of everything, but it is almost impossible to get someone to see it if they haven’t experienced it.  It is not a shared reality.

I spent a lot of time today thinking about whether it must be true that a higher dimension force would be aware of all the lower dimensions below it.  I wondered if each successive dimension would encompass all the others, or if it could be possible for an object to exist in a higher dimension without awareness of the lower dimensions, just as we are not aware of the higher dimensions.

In our experience, adding a dimension has the cumulative effect of expanding awareness without losing any dimension.   For example, a one-dimensional point expands into a circle.  The two-dimensional circle expands into a sphere.  The three-dimensional sphere expands into a body moving through space and time in the fourth dimension.  We can still see the point, the circle, and the sphere and we can see that it is moving.  None of those dimensions have disappeared to us because we perceive all four dimensions simultaneously.  But when we get into the fifth dimension, will they still exist?  Can our soul see us as a three-dimensional object?  Or, are we as invisible to our soul as it is to us?

Can something exist in the fifth dimension without being connected to the first four dimensions?  This place where we think souls exist, metaphysically speaking, seems to have some souls connected to living beings (that being me and my soul, for example) and some souls not connected to living beings (that being ghosts, souls waiting to be reincarnated, etc.).  If my understanding of souls is correct, some souls exist, at least for a period of time, without a connection to a life form in the first four dimensions.

I’m not a theorist, I’m just a thinker, but it seems to me that the most desirable position (and therefore the position that a system should tend towards) is one where there is an awareness of all the dimensions simultaneously.  I would expect a soul (whatever that is) to want to experience the full spectrum of dimensions, from one through twelve, and not isolate itself from any of the dimensions.  A fifth dimension soul would naturally have a longing to connect to the other four dimensions in order to complete its own awareness.  A life form is the only object we know of that exists in all four dimensions.  Inanimate objects are three-dimensional because they do not perceive time, the fourth dimension.  Maybe that is why we say that a rock has no soul.  A fifth-dimension soul cannot inhabit a three-dimensional object because that would leave one dimension (time) unconnected and it probably isn’t possible.    In fact, maybe the reason for life is to create a four-dimensional awareness for the fifth-dimensional energy.

At the twelfth dimension of spirituality we have God, and this is a place where there is no form, no time, no separation, and no end.  In a way, none of the other dimensions exist by the time you get to God, and yet they all exist below God.  In the book “Three Magic Words” he says that every thing and every life form are expressions of God attempting to be aware of itself by creating finite packages.  His theory is that the only way an infinite force such as God can be aware of itself is to create finite experiences.  Every life form is therefore a finite experience whose purpose is to help God become aware of itself.

This finite packet of energy that I call my lifespan reminds me of the quanta of quantum physics.  Quanta are discrete bundles of energy, such as a photon, that are the smallest unit size possible for that particle.  We say there is nothing inside of it because it is as small as it gets.  Quantum energy is a discrete packet, a finite experience, and so are we.  There is something very similar about us.  It wouldn’t surprise me to find that the model for describing quanta worked quite well for describing the energy of our lifespan.  I haven’t given it a lot of thought yet, but I will.

The thing to remember about new dimensions is that it’s all about perspective.  Certain perspectives will limit the evidence we find when we look for other dimensions.  If we consciously change our perspective and start looking at things differently, we can find connections that were not apparent before.  Patterns emerge and structure reveals itself.  Changing our perspective allows us to change our perception.  Perspective, then, may be all we need to break through the membrane of our three-dimensional world and into the dimensions above us.

A charming story was written in 1884 about the difficulty of perceiving perspectives outside of our own.  It is called “Flatland:  A Romance of Many Dimensions” by Edwin Abbott.  It is about a 2-dimensional object (a square) living in Flatland who is suddenly met by a 3-dimensional object (a sphere).  At first the square cannot perceive the sphere.   He can only hear the voice and see a two-dimensional slice of the sphere. But the sphere persists and finally draws the square up into the 3-dimensional world to give him his first look at the world below.  Up until that point, there had been no above or below.  It was Flatland, after all.  But now the square saw it differently, and he also saw that he was a cube.

Back in Flatland, it wasn’t easy convincing the others what he had found.  Without the enlargement of their perception, the third dimension was only a story to be told to the circles, squares, lines and dots that lived in Flatland.  They could talk about the third dimension, but they couldn’t experience it.  Yet, somehow the square had managed to experience it.  It took something of a miracle to make it happen, but it did happen.  Call it a religious moment or a stroke of luck, but when the sphere drew him up into the three-dimensional world the square’s perspective changed and nothing was ever the same.

I am including a video about a cartoon professor explaining flatland and our perception of other dimensions.  It’s actually pretty good.

What will open the door for us to see the additional dimensions that we suspect exist?  For some it will be spiritual experiences.  For others it will be logical thought.  The first step on either path is to be aware that more dimensions exist than we can perceive.  Once we start to conceive them, we may be able to start perceiving them, and it all starts with a thought.

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Subjective Reality

Do you and I share the same reality?  Reality is such a subjective thing.  We can have two completely different realities on one level, but on other levels totally agree.

For example, when you and I stand on the sidewalk and look at my house, we both see the same house.  We agree on its shape, color, size, etc.  We say that the house is real because it is an object with measurable features that we both agree on.  We can quantify it and agree on its measurements.  Its reality is not subject to our individual interpretation, so we would not say my house is a subjective reality.  Our perception of its size, shape, and mass is an objective reality that we can share.

In science, objectivity is the perspective of observing something for what it really is without the interpretation of the mind.  Objectivity wants to find truths that are “mind-independent” and not the result of any judgments or filters made by our consciousness.  Objectivity says that these are “real” truths.  Real truths can be shared and duplicated by others through a series of proofs that we call the scientific method.

An objective observer doesn’t actually exist in science because no matter how hard we try, we always bring subjectivity to our observations.  Humans don’t really perceive in any other way than subjectively.  We can never really be objective, but we can find objective truths.  Science is basically the search for objective truth with a subjective mind.

So, here we are standing on the sidewalk, sharing an objective reality about my house.  We agree on certain truths about my house, but the way we feel about the house is another story.  Our feelings are not objective.  Our feelings are subject to our individual interpretations so we say they are subjective, or maybe cognitive.

Our feelings and thoughts are influenced by a myriad of emotions and memories, and as such it is virtually impossible for two people to share the same subjective perspective about feelings.  We may have similar perspectives, but not shared perspectives.

This is an important distinction in science.  Objectivity requires a shared perspective.  Subjectivity does not.  Objectivity requires that a result can be reproduced with the same methods.  Subjectivity does not require that everyone experience something the same way.  It allows for a multitude of experiences.

For the past 300 years we have been using science to explore the objective realities of the world, and we’ve done a good job of it.  We have theories and equations for almost everything under the sun.  We can calculate energy from the mass of an object; we can explain Earth’s rotational effect on the atmosphere; we can write a differential equation to explain the flow of water over a rough surface.  We can do so much to explain the objective world of science, but we don’t really know how to describe the subjective world.

The subjective world of science is a vast area waiting to be explored.  It includes subjects like consciousness and awareness, birth and death experiences, reincarnation, telepathy, our ego, the power of prayer, unexplained ghostly apparitions, and God.

These are real human experiences that do not fit into the objective scientific mold.  Scientists have been satisfied for centuries to dismiss them as “unreal” artifacts of the human mind.  But science is changing and the subjective world is opening itself up to us in new ways.

Quantum physics recognizes that as a perspective changes the observation changes.  It has helped us to discover that the “real truth” can be quite subjective.  How do we deal with subjective reality?  This is the conundrum of science and of quantum physics.

The barrier that science has imposed upon us is that it doesn’t know how to explore subjective truth.  Things that are objective are considered real and can be shared, while things that are subjective are somehow “not real” and cannot be shared. This is one reason why science minds have such a hard time with the concept of God.  God is a purely subjective concept.  There is no way to objectify it, no way to quantify it and subject it to the scientific method of testing, and therefore the subjective notion of God to many scientists is not “real.”

The deeper we look into the particles of the universe, the more we find that everything is subject to perspective.  There isn’t really that much out there that is objective compared to how much is subjective.  There are whole worlds within the subjective that have not been explored, because science has stayed away from them.  Science has tried to weed out subjectivity from its theories and minimize its application in practice, and in the process has ignored a vast amount of human experience.

The leap that science has to make is to jump from the objective to the subjective and still retain a sense that what they are experiencing is “real.”  Science has to let go of the scientific method of proof if they are going to explore the realms of the subjective or cognitive world.  There will have to be a new “scientific method” developed that allows for subjective realities to exist as real forces that influence matter in the universe.

Subjective reality is the next step of scientific exploration.  We are now on the very threshold of this new way of perceiving the forces that surround us.  This understanding is more prevalent in the non-academic community at this time, because science really has boxed itself in with objective reality.  It will take a greater leap for them to see the opening into the fifth dimension than it will for those of us who are not scientists.

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