Friday, March 26, 2010

The Deluded Mind: a review of "The Divided Mind"

Here is my next contribution to the Skeptic North blog. It's a book review of "The Divided Mind: The Epidemic of Mindbody Disorders" by John E. Sarno. Do you think I liked it? You'll have to read it to find out.

Back pain breakthrough: Part 2

Yep, the extra pillow worked again last night. And this time I didn't even take any meds. I have an appointment with a physiotherapist next week, nonetheless.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Back pain breakthrough

Over the last couple weeks, I've been getting horrible pain in my mid-back. It starts around 5:00am, and keeps me from falling back to sleep. During the day, I'm fine.

I've tried a number of different things, but last night I tested a theory that my ribs were pushing my thoracic vertebrae and causing discomfort (A in figure). So I used an extra pillow to put my shoulder on to keep my ribs slightly elevated (B in figure).

I woke up with no pain at all! I'll try it again tonight.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Fastest way to the Ontario Science Centre -- According to Google maps

We were on the 401, heading toward Toronto to visit the Ontario Science Centre. I used my iPhone to ask Google maps for directions.

Apparently, the most direct route is to exit the 401 on Hurontario street, drive 419m south, do a u-turn, and then get back on the 401.

Super job, Google!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Celebrating 1000 visitors

According to my statistics counter (on the right), I've had 1000 visits. Thanks to all those who took the time to read my rants.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Three questions

Karen Michel is an independent radio producer, and she decided to ask people in her neighbourhood three questions.
  1. What do you live for?
  2. What would you die for?
  3. What would you kill for?
My answers are below, though you might want to think about your own answers before you look. Here is a cute picture to distract you.

  1. I live for my wife and kids, and for discovering and teaching scientific truth.
  2. I would die for my wife and kids, but not for truth.
  3. I would kill to defend the lives of my family and friends.
What are your answers?

First haircut

Lauchy had his first haircut today. Well, his first PROFESSIONAL haircut (I cut his hair a few months ago). Here is the photo that Trish took with her cell phone. A little blurry.

What a little man!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Aunt Gertrude came to visit

OK, I don't really have an Aunt Gertrude, but Heather sure looks hilarious in this get-up. Just look at that judging body language and facial expression!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

U.S. court got it right, vaccines do not cause autism

Perhaps you've heard about the irrational anti-vaccination movement. Perhaps you've seen Jenny McCarthy preaching about how she followed her "mommy sense", and a (discredited) doctor, to the conclusion that some chemicals in vaccines cause autism. At least, that's the reality she "knows" in her own brain. And now she uses her celebrity to spread her nonsense to anyone who will listen; unfortunately that list includes Larry King and Oprah. It's particularly unfortunate for the hundreds of people that will die needlessly from vaccine preventable illness. Check out the Jenny McCarthy Body Count.

Get WidgetThe Body CountJenny McCarthy Body Count

The good news is that she's wrong. And science has shown it again and again. It's SO clear that even the courts are forced to side with science, despite a very vocal anti-vaccination movement. On Friday, a U.S. court ruled against a family's claim that thimerosal in the MMR vaccine caused their son's autism.

It's easy to spread ideas when you're famous. But knowing the difference between scientific truth and opinion... apparently that's not so easy for a Playboy bunny.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Brain Awareness Week: March 15-21

I just found out that next week is Brain Awareness Week. I guess that's the week your brain should be aware.

No wait! That's the week that your brain should be aware of brains (insert infinite regress here).

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Brain damage can help you detect liars

A study measured how accurately 3 groups of people could determine if someone was telling a lie.

    Group R: damage to the right hemisphere

    Group L: damage to the left hemisphere

    Group N: normal (no brain damage)

Those with damage to the left hemisphere (L) were more accurate than those with damage to their right hemisphere (R). This supports the notion that complex emotional perception and processing happens more in the right hemisphere.

The surprise is that group L did better than group N. That is, those with damage to the left hemisphere were better at detecting lies than those with NO brain damage. In that sense, one's left hemisphere is a handicap when it comes to recognizing complex emotions (that explains a lot about me).

I don't know what study established these results, but it was mentioned in a PSYCH 261 lecture.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Poor Little Albert

Today in psych class, we heard about Little Albert, an 11-month-old baby that was the sole subject of a rather cruel and unethical psychology study done in the 1920s.

Little Albert was shown little furry animals. Like any baby, he wasn't afraid. That is, until the experimenters repeatedly scared the poop out of him every time he saw a furry animal. They'd make a loud clang with a metal bar when he saw a rat, and that would make him cry. After a while, they no longer needed make the noise; Albert had successfully associated the loud noise with little furry animals, and the animals themselves would make him cry. Even a mask of Santa Clause freaked him out. Check out this sad video.

His family moved away before they could undo the conditioning. Such an experiment would not be allowed on a baby today. Poor little guy.

If any man took a Santa mask and got THAT in-your-face with any of my kids, I'd give HIM a dose of conditioning.

According to Wikipedia, Little Albert died of hydrocephalus at the age of 5.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker

I listened to an audiobook version of "The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature" by Steven Pinker. It was interesting, though somewhat long-winded at times (almost 23 hours)... making sure to hammer home each claim with strikes from every conceivable angle of evidence.

The idea of the book is refreshing and fun... that different people are born with different brains. I expected some differences. But it goes a lot deeper than I thought.

Some of the more interesting results he discusses include evidence from twin and sibling studies showing that about 50% of the variation in many behaviours can be attributed directly to genetics. Cool.

The book then takes a surprising turn, describing the three laws of behaviour genetics by Eric Turnkeimer.
  1. All human behavioural traits are heritable.
  2. The effect of being raised in the same family is smaller than the effect of the genes.
  3. A substantial portion of the variation in complex human behavioural traits is not accounted for by the effects of genes or families.
Hard to believe, but Pinker spends some time unpacking the evidence behind those results. It's quite an eye-opener.

But, you'll have to check the book out yourself to get that story.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The God Virus: A book review

Just finished reading The God Virus: How Religion Infects Our Lives and Culture by Dr. Darrel W. Ray. In addition to my review, I interviewed Dr. Ray (see below).

In case you didn't receive the memo, I'm atheist. So this book, describing the ways in which religion behaves like a virus of the mind, was "preaching to the choir".

Indeed, I have often thought about how religions have built-in features that promote their own propagation. The metaphor is deep. In fact, it's not just a metaphor at all. If a virus is something that evolves by mutating and multiplying within a population of hosts, then religion IS A VIRUS. And that's Dr. Ray's thesis.

One continuing theme in the book is that religions deactivate the critical-thinking capacities of the infected. Religions frown upon objective questioning of the dogma, and instead insist that faith is a moral virtue.

He also points out the guilt cycle. Religion places unrealistic expectations on us, which makes us feel guilty. Naturally, those same religions also offer a way to relive that guilt. It's one-stop shopping for the gullible.

As I stated in a previous post, Dr. Ray uses the term "genetic suicide" to describe priests that take an oath of celibacy; it's the end of the line for those genes. And why would they do that? The same reason people commit suicide by flying planes into buildings... religion. The point that Dr. Ray makes is that religions hijack the rational brain and cause the infected to behave in a way that is good for the virus, even if it's bad for the host. A great biological example:
The lancet fluke (Dicrocoelium) infects the brain of ants by taking control and driving them to climb to the top of a blade of grass where they can be eaten by a cow. The ingested fluke then lays eggs in the cow gut. Eventually, the eggs exit the cow, and hungry snails eat the dung (and fluke eggs). The fluke enters the snail's digestive gland and gets excreted in stidky slime full of a seething mass of flukes to be drunk by ants as a source of moisture. [p. 22]

Religion does the same thing. It is not designed for the best interests of the organism. It's designed to look after its own interests, to create as many copies as possible (how the hosts fare is of no direct consequence).

One of the most striking examples of religion's selfish promotion:
By actively attacking condom use and birth control [in Africa], the god virus facilitates the HIV virus. The result is a conversion to Catholic sexual practices or death from HIV. [p. 55]

Dr. Ray also discusses crime and religion. As an atheist, I feel good about the fact that atheists comprise about 0.5% of prison inmates, even though we are between 6 and 10% of the population. [p. 121]

There is a chapter on science, and how religions simultaneously use it and contradict it. Dr. Ray points out that many religious proponents "rail against science even as they use the tools that science gave them" [p. 228]. And that "religion uses the fruits of science to make the world far more dangerous". "Those who are waiting for heaven don't focus well on the problems of today." [p. 226, his italics]

My only ciriticism of the book is that I didn't really get a feel for its organization. The chapter headings divvy up the topics, but I didn't get the sense that each section belonged only in its chapter. But this could be more to do with me than the book.

Final analysis, I really liked the book. Every biologist, evolution enthusiast, and theologian should read it. "Religion is a virus" is not just a metaphor, it's reality.

Here is my interview of Dr. Darrel Ray.

Download MP3. Music by DASJAMBO.

Link: Recovering Religionists