Saturday, October 30, 2010

Farewell, Vermont

At the end of April 2008, I pulled into the parking lot of Landmark College. As I moved into my new apartment, I was excited for what lay ahead. Though, I was somewhat nervous, as I didn’t know anyone, but was sure I would make friends quickly, as I never had a problem with it anywhere else (like when I went to Film School). Unfortunately, the flaw in my thinking was that I never had a problem making friends as a student. And now, I was no longer the student. This flaw had quite profound effects.

While some aspects of my job really annoyed me, I enjoyed other parts. I met a lot of great students, and had some great coworkers/bosses. Though, I didn’t really feel like I had any friends. I absolutely dreaded weekends, where I would have absolutely nothing to do. Or, if I did have something to do, it was almost always alone. Going to a movie by myself. Going to dinner by myself. I wasn’t allowed to hang out with residents that I was friendly with, and my coworkers all had their own lives, so I was very lonely. I was used to having lots of friends, and not having any was really hard. Often, by Sunday nights, I seriously thought I might be suffering from depression. I couldn’t wait for Monday morning meetings, where I would actually have social interaction with my coworkers.

Towards Christmas, I decided that I wanted to go into speech pathology. I then had to decide if I would stay in Vermont, or go back to Washington. Seeing that I was already in Vermont, and could do a Masters program quicker here, I opted to stay. So that summer, I moved to Burlington. It was instantly a relief. While I didn’t have any friends, I had roommates who were all cool. Just being able to watch a movie with someone was a huge improvement. I was also in a very happening town. Unlike Putney, there were tons of things going on, and tons of people around my age.

As school started, I took a cognitive neuroscience class and started to feel happy again. I made a really good friend, and she and I could just talk and talk and talk. I also became friends with my professor, which was awesome! It was so fun to just go chat with her and pick her brain about neurology and other related topics I found interesting.

In speech pathology, the field is dominated by girls. In the higher level classes, there was only one other guy besides me. That was great and all, and while I did have a couple of friends, I started to miss my guy friends even more. I would often come home, and one of my roommates would have all of his buddies over. They would be hanging out, having a BBQ, etc. It made me really miss Washington.

When I got my video production job, I was a little concerned that that might keep me here in Vermont longer than I wanted. I had a job I loved, and knew it was just a matter of time before I met a girl. I could feel myself starting to get comfortable. I liked where I lived, I liked my roommates, I liked my stuff, I liked the few friends I had, and as I mentioned, I loved my job. So perhaps it was a blessing that I was let go when I was. I wasn’t able to get too comfortable, or too settled in. While losing my job really caught me off guard, I almost immediately saw the silver lining to it: I had no reason not to go back home. The previous day, my friend had texted me, saying something to the extent of “come home!” It felt good to be able to say “I am.” Rather than “someday…”

So as my final days in Vermont are upon me, I have to admit that while I will miss certain aspects of it, especially the few friends I have… I can’t wait to get back to Washington! I’m sorry I was gone so long.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Guys & Girs: Room Differences

When I was a freshmen in college, my roommate and I had an awesome room! We put a lot of work into it, and because of its awesomeness, it was often used as the “example room” when campus tours would come through the dorms. If you were to come in to see our room, you would have noticed a few things. First, the room was quite large for a dorm room. Part of this was because it was on the third floor, and had vaulted ceilings (making it feel larger). Second, we had a LOT of stuff in that room, including a small foam couch. Third, the walls were absolutely covered with posters, specifically, posters of scantily clad women and cool cars. The posters were not only on the walls, but the vaulted ceiling as well.

As basically anyone can probably tell you, this is not unique at all. Most college guy’s bed/dorm room walls are covered with posters and pictures of bikini babes and sleek cars. However, the typical guy’s room stands in stark contrast when compared to a typical college girl’s dorm/bed room. Girls tended to have pictures of their friends, families, post cards, and other sentimental things.

I am curious why this happens. My first reaction was that it seems girls were surrounding themselves with things they have and have experienced, while guys were surrounding themselves with mostly fantasy. Girls have pics of their pets and vacations with friends, while guys have pics of girls they will never sleep with, and cars they will probably never drive.

Though, it seems vastly unfair to claim that girls live in reality, while guys live in a fantasy land. And I can’t think of any other evidence that would suggest such a thing. So I am going to guess that that is not what is going on here. What’s more likely is a difference between what the different sexes find stimulating. Guys are more visually stimulated, so they surround themselves with things they like to look at. Girls are more emotion based, so they surround themselves with things that elicit positive emotional responses.

I could be wrong, but that’s all I got.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Too Hot To Handle

A couple years ago, I was working on a video project for a college, and one scene was about respecting your room mate. The scene consisted of a student trying to study, while his roommate had a dance party, right there in the room. At one point, there was a shot of an extremely attractive girl, dancing on a table. She wasn’t dancing provocatively or anything, and she was just wearing a tshirt and jeans. There were also tons of other people dancing in the room, and on tables. However, because she was so attractive, I was told that I would need to take the shot of her out, because it was not appropriate. What was inappropriate about it? She wasn’t doing anything scandalous or different from anyone else in the video. All that she was doing wrong was looking how she naturally looked: super hot.

This made me start thinking, and I realized that extremely attractive women will ALWAYS be considered to be scandalous or inappropriate, no matter what they are doing. If a girl has a fantastic body, and is dressed professionally, she will still be considered to be inappropriate, simply because she will make whatever she is wearing look fantastic. If you have a great body, whatever you wear will show it off. A great body will still look great, and a gorgeous face will still be gorgeous, no matter what sort of clothes you wear.

On a number of occasions, I have been in the presence of a professional woman who was wearing professional clothes, and all I could think was “god damn she is hot.” It’s terrible, I know. These women weren’t doing anything different than other women, they were dressing exactly the same as everyone else, they just had better bodies.

There are several examples of this in other capacities as well. For example, recently, a curvaceous, brunette bombshell (pictured above) was fired from her 70k job, simply because she looked too good in business clothing. She didn’t do anything different or dress differently than the women around her, but nevertheless, was told that she dressed inappropriately (inappropriate clothing consisted of turtlenecks, pencil skirts, high heels and fitted suits. All of which are standard business attire for women), and would have to be let go. Her employer, Citibank, told her that "as a result of the shape of her figure, such clothes were purportedly 'too distracting' for her male colleagues and supervisors to bear."

Another example comes from the mormon university, BYU. A few years ago, ad was placed in the school paper, advertising a funny shirt stating, "I can't... I'm mormon." The model wearing the long sleeved shirt was extremely attractive. However, besides BYU having issues with what the shirt implied, officials also stated that "the woman modeling the T-shirt in the ad was posed in an overly provocative manner." As you can see, nothing about how she is posing is overly provocative or sexual. The only provocative thing about it is that the girl is super hot.

So I think these examples completely vindicate my hypothesis. Gorgeous women get a lot of perks, but if you are a super hottie with a killer body, no matter what you wear, no matter what you do, you will still be looked upon as being inappropriate, provocative, etc.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

God, Sex and the Meaning of Life

According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism, the purpose of life is to “glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” Indeed, this same sentiment is found all throughout Christian theology and philosophy. Some Christians, such as William Lane Craig, have stated that “the chief purpose of life is not happiness per se, but the knowledge of God.”

In light of this, it is pretty clear that the Christian purpose of life is not to do good to others, to give back to society, etc, but to come to know God, and worship him. Though, Christians would surely argue that once you know God, good deeds etc would subsequently emanate.

This is all well and good, but it seems to me that this meaning of life could ONLY be known if you were living in a time and place in which Christianity was around. No one would ever come to this conclusion on their own. That is, no one would ever figure that the meaning of life was to worship Jesus, unless they were told this. This seems to be a problem.

It seems that if the creator of the universe made a species of people, specifically for the reason of coming to know, worshiping, and glorifying him, it would be much more obvious. I would think that such a desire would be almost instinctual. It would be a drive that all of humanity shares. Something we all wanted, all yearned for, and all thought about. It would transcend gender, race, class, social status, etc. Obviously, this isn’t the case. Granted, there are many people who do do this. But as I mentioned before, this was taught to them, it wasn’t from some inborn desire.

However, there is indeed something that every human, regardless of race, sex, creed, etc desires. That thing is sex. Or more specifically, the urge to reproduce. This urge, in fact, is so strong, that it actually transcends our own species. Every living organism on the planet shares this urge!

From the naturalistic point of view, in which there is no supernatural creator; humans and all other life were “created” through the forces of natural selection, the most important thing that we can possibly do (from a biological perspective) is reproduce. Our genes want nothing more than to get themselves copied into the next generation.

How does theism, especially Christianity, account for this? As it has already been pointed out, our desires should be to come to know and worship God. So why is it that our actual desires are in no way related to what God wants of us, but exactly what evolution predicts?

I can think of only one answer. It would seem that the Christian would have to argue that our desire for sex is part of our sinful nature. Certainly this is consistent with Christianity’s terror over sex, but it seems very awkward and ad hoc. Today, most thoughtful Christians claim that sex is a gift from God. But if it is a gift from God, why would he have made it so powerful of an urge-- a more powerful urge than what he actually wants us to do? Why not give us a desire to seek, know, and worship him instead?

If God wanted sex only to exist for reproductive reasons alone, he could have made it not so pleasurable. He could have made it just be like so many other biological things. Blowing your nose, going to the bathroom, cutting your nails, etc. These things aren’t bad, but people don’t sit around obsessing over them, wanting to do them constantly.

On the other hand, if evolution alone is responsible for our existence, sex would be the most important thing there is. Evolution would have done everything it could to make sure that organisms reproduce and pass their genes on to future generations. Some species will go to great lengths, risking (even sacrificing) their own lives, just to mate. Even among humans, we will risk ruining our careers, destroying marriages, etc just for sex. God must have known that such a thing would consume us, so why make our urge for it so strong? It seems that he could have just as easily made the desire to know him and worship him as strong. And if that truly is what he wants of us, why didn't he create us with the desire to do so?

As a perfect case study, look at Catholic Priests. They have chosen to devote their lives to what the Christian meaning of life is: coming to know God. However, like everyone else alive, the biological meaning of life is much, much stronger, and in many cases, they give in.

In conclusion, I have to ask: seeing how sex is, without a doubt, the strongest urge that any living organism has, is that what we would expect to see if our purpose in life was to worship God? Subsequently, isn’t this exactly what we would expect to see, if indeed we were shaped by the impersonal forces of evolution, whose main "goal" is the survival and replication of our genes? Obviously, the fact that the strongest urge in existence is reproduction is explained much better by the naturalistic worldview, rather than theistic one. Therefore, we can conclude that it is more reasonable to presume that we were created without the help of God, than with.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Case for Wikipedia

I effing LOVE Wikipedia. It is basically my number one source for information on any topic I want to look up. However, whenever I mention that “I was reading about something on Wikipedia”, I am almost immediately met with comments like “Wikipedia isn’t a reliable source”, or “I would never use it, cause you can have it say whatever you want”, and other such comments. I have heard this from professors, teachers, friends, and even one random lady I was chatting with in an airport.

While I would never ever cite Wikipedia in an academic paper, I do think that its un-reliability is HIGHLY overblown. I don’t think these sorts of comments are fair to how good of a source of info Wikipedia actually is. In this blog, I am going to try to convince you that it is indeed a reliable source of information. I have several arguments, and will start with the weakest, ending with the strongest. By the end, I hope you will agree that at the least, it is not as bad as you might have once thought. Let’s begin…

1. Everything that I have ever looked up, that I know anything about, has been highly accurate. I challenge you to look up a topic you feel knowledgeable about, and see how accurate/inaccurate it is. I am sure you will be surprised. Even Richard Dawkins has stated that (something to the extent of) "you would never think such a thing would work. But everything I have ever read on Wikipedia, which I have known something about, has been surprisingly accurate."

2. If you don't cite sources, the things you write will either be rejected, or the article will warn readers that some statements are in need of references (and tell you which ones).

3. If you write nonsense, it is corrected almost immediately. When wikipedia first started getting popular, I would go to the Tieton, WA page (my home town), and change it to say that my dad was the founder (see picture below). Within minutes, I got a pop up from a Wikipedia monitor saying "Hey, we appreciate your enthusiasm, but make sure you cite your source." So I created another Wikipedia page, about my dad, as an attempt to cite that as my source. Didn't work. And by the next morning, everything was back to normal. If you continue to break Wikipedia’s rules, not citing sources, or trying to enter in false information, your computer will no longer be allowed to access the edit ability on Wikipedia.

4. Most convincingly, in a 2005 study, Nature had experts of their field review scientific articles from Wikipedia and Encyclopedia Britannica (not knowing which was from which, obviously). They found that articles from Wikipedia had an average of 3.86 errors per article, while Encyclopedia Britannica had an average of 2.92 errors per article. Hardly significant, if at all.

More recently, a 2008 study concluded that their "results increase confidence in Wikipedia as a good information organizer for science in general."

If citing Wikipedia is seen as bad, then citing the Encyclopedia Britannica should be seen as bad too. Earlier, I mentioned that I wouldn’t cite Wikipedia as a source. What I would do, though, is find the source that the Wikipedia article cites, and use that. Easy.

As a final point, it takes years for new editions of encyclopedias, or even just regular books to be released, which include updated information. Wikipedia, on the other hand, can be updated immediately. I wonder how many textbooks and encyclopedias have a "criticism" section on mirror neurons, citing Greg Hickcok's 2009 paper? I would venture to say probably none.

In conclusion, you can see that Wikipedia isn’t just a free range sort of site where anyone can get away with saying any crazy thing that comes to their mind. It is monitored (not only by Wikipedia volunteer experts, but by people who do care about keeping it accurate), moderated, and always tells you when something is not quite right. And what it does have, is nearly as accurate as your encyclopedia! From these reasons, I think we can reasonably conclude that Wikipedia isn’t nearly as bad as people make it out to be.

The end.