May 07

The Earth is expanding?

My brother sent me this mind-blowing video explaining how the accepted plate tectonics (continental drift) theory is all wrong. The video argues that the earth is in fact expanding. In other words, the continents are not moving around like sheets of ice in the ocean, rather they’re being pushed apart by an expanding earth and unlike in continental drift theory, there is no subduction of plates into the mantle only a gradually increasing planetary surface.

It sounds crazy, but Neal Adams makes a pretty good visual case for it. I’m skeptical because if this theory were true it would change everything. Although, it could answer an earlier entry where I wondered why gigantism seems so common in prehistory and yet not so common today. If the earth were smaller, more like Mars, animals would be able to grow to enormous size due to lighter local gravity. At the risk of sounding like an idiot, this is the same reason Mars has mountains and canyons that are miles high and deep. It’s easier for things to stand out higher when gravity is less of a burden. Although, if the mass of the smaller earth and the larger earth is the same, the gravity should be the same as well, correct?

For there to be greater local gravity over time the earth would have to either increase in mass due to some unknown phenomenon or matter would have to accrete from outer space, maybe as a result of cataclysmic meteor strikes or comet impacts. Also, if you view the video, you’ll see that there is little ocean in their visualization. Does this mean the oceans were much deeper in the past or that there was less water? Assuming their theory is valid, could the additional mass and additional water be accounted for by the impact of a giant icey comet? I don’t have the answers, but I’d like to see a refutation of the expanding earth theory.

Of course, Wikipedia has a good article explaining everything including my puzzlement at dinosaur size:

The primary objection to Expanding Earth Theory centered around the lack of a accepted process by which the Earth’s radius could increase. This issue, along with the rise of the theory of Subduction, caused the scientific community to dismiss the geological evidence Carey and others presented. The evidence for continental matching even on the Pacific facing sides became irrelevant, as did the claims that a smaller sized and lower gravity Earth facilitated the growth of dinosaurs to their relatively enormous size.

Here’s a question, if everything in the universe were increasing in size at the same rate, how would we know? This is Adams’ basic thesis, that the entire universe is growing:

Adams believes his theory presents a more concise and comprehensive reading of available scientific evidence which indicates the universe is growing, not exploding or merely expanding. Along with other Expanding Earth researchers and enthusiasts, he utilizes the internet to encourage discussions of it and disseminates his theory to the scientific community and wider audiences.


May 07

Joy not happiness

We focus a lot of energy on being happy, or trying to be happy, but maybe this is the wrong way to look at it. If we want to have a good life, we should instead focus our energies on joy.

What’s the difference? To me, the concept of happiness implies a state of being, we either are or we’re not happy. Happiness is an elusive feeling that vanishes upon reflection. We are most happy in moments when we don’t dwell too deeply. The concept of happiness itself is passive. It comes from the Middle English word for “luck” and still carries this connotation of being a state or feeling that is visited upon you rather than a conscious state of mind. To seek happiness is to seek something out of your control and maybe beyond your reach.

Joy is a better word. It comes from the Latin for “to rejoice”. It carries that original meaning of appreciation and recognition of the good that is around you. Joy is a mental state of pleasure in what is. Happiness does not seem to have this same active meaning. When we seek happiness, we seek some positive internal change from outside ourselves, rather than change ourselves to adapt to the external.

As I was writing this I was reminded of a hymn they used to sing when I was a boy, it’s based on Isaiah 55:12. I found a nice blog entry on a similar subject.

Mar 07

Sensible Mass Transit

Sitting in traffic is aggravating because it frustrates freedom of movement. You sit with thousands of other people in an environment walled in by painted lines, concrete and exhaust; an environment where you must be vigilant enough to avoid an accident but are otherwise denied freedom except what is possible within the constraints of limited attention and movement. If you could divert your attention, it would be less frustrating, but you must face forward and wait in line. Traffic is life as tedium.

We should continue to improve mass transit and the highway system, to solve many of the problems with the usual mass transit paradigm:

  1. The right target demographic: With the exception of trains and subways in the Northeast, mass transit is rarely designed with the middle-class in mind. This is why it is seldom successful or popular. It is almost always subsidized with taxes and fares targeted at low-income users. This is a recipe for mediocrity since you will never have an easy time with revenue, quality, or service. The working commuter should be the focus of mass transit. It is always more successful to bring the lower end consumer up than to force the higher end consumer down.
  2. Support commuting, not a car-less lifestyle: Residential bus routes are inefficient and do not make sense for the average commuter. Even with residential routes, you have to walk from your house to the bus stop, which is often inconvenient to anyone but the most desperate or car-less. Greater emphasis should be placed on servicing common junctions where large numbers of residential drivers enter the highways because this is where traffic is congested. High-volume transit stations with adequate parking could be placed along major highways, especially closer to remote suburbs where traffic enters the funnel.
  3. Partnerships with business: We need to get creative with how to fund mass transit, while at the same time adding value for the end-user. For example, take advantage of any wait time by sharing transit stations with businesses focused on the busy commuter. Get coffee or breakfast, leave your car to be washed and lubed while you’re at work, get new tires, buy a newspaper or an iPod, surf the Internet. With just a few businesses it could turn the commute into time well spent.
  4. Demand-based tollways: I’m a big fan of toll roads provided they are managed properly. However, the purpose of the toll system should be convenience, not as a replacement for normal conduits through the city. If I’m on a toll road, I expect there to rarely be traffic. With automated payment systems already in place, tollways should increase tolls automatically as traffic becomes more congested. The goal should be to maintain a 50 mph flow. If this drops, the tolls should go up. Another alternative is to increase tolls during normal rush hours. This will create an added incentive for some people to travel outside these hours. It is silly to have a toll system that is empty most of the time and only heavily used during rush hours.
  5. Promote central density: Tolls should also start out more expensive in the suburbs and decrease as you enter central city areas. This way you pay more the further away you are from the city since these commuters cause the most congestion as they are on the highway longer. This is a good check against the suburban sprawl that afflicts many areas.

Feb 07

The business of life

As a society, have we become so busy and preoccupied that we have forgotten how to live? Have we lost sight of what matters most?

I live in a neighborhood infused with Mexican and Central American immigrants. It is commonplace to see cowboy-boot-wearing Norteños pushing strollers with their families. It would be no stretch to say that the Mexicans are the dominant demographic in my little slice of Dallas. In fact, last year Dallas had one of the largest pro-immigration protests in the country with several thousand people marching to city hall, which gives you some idea of the environment here. Like any frontier town, Dallas is very diverse in every respect but also strained because of it. It is a place boiling with activity and competition…life.

Around my neighborhood, I get the chance to observe my neighbors whose lives seem very different from mine. Where white America seems spoiled, isolated, and decadent, brown America seems eager, united, and vital. I drive past a park every day on my way home. Every day it is packed with families and kids playing. Friends playing basketball or soccer under the live oak trees. Women walking together with their babies. Life. I compare this to when I visit my Uncle who lives in the suburbs near Fort Worth. In his neighborhood, the homes are lovely, but you never see anyone. Everyone is inside somewhere. Inside watching 300 channels on their plasma televisions, inside their SUV’s with the kids zoned out to the Finding Nemo DVD, inside the Starbucks loading up on $4 triple Venti lattes. Everyone tricking themselves into thinking that they are happy with all this crap, but maybe their eyes say otherwise.

Our society is crumbling and it will not be held together by Starbucks. It will not be held together by self-deception. Our task is to remember what is important, who we are and who we want to be. To feel hunger not for more, more, more, but for better, better, better… for ourselves and, most importantly, for others.

Dec 06

Alien abductions, sleep paralysis, and the sensory homunculous

I was thinking about alien abductions the other day while I was driving around. It has always puzzled me that abductees seem to report similar accounts, especially when it comes to physical descriptions of the aliens themselves. Basically, these nocturnal, body-snatchers are always strangely humanoid in appearance: laterally symmetrical, bipedal, possessing large craniums, large stereoscopic eyes, and slender limbs with articulated hands and fingers. This has always seemed strange. After all, why would a being from another world possess a similar appearance to our own? It could easily look like a giant crab or something. It seems unlikely. Yet, this common description also suggests that there is some shared dimension to each individual abduction story. Either the abductees are making up or remembering similar experiences, or, the aliens, if they exist in any fashion manufactured or otherwise, are humanoid in appearance. There are two basic possibilities: abductees are wrong (for whatever reason) or these abductions occurred in some sense.

If we break it down further, these abductions, if based on memories, could be explained in order of increasing strangeness or practical likelihood by different theories. The reasonability of each theory is determined by your particular world view. For example, assuming the abduction memory is based on an actual experience you could posit multiple scenarios:

Scientific explanations:

  • Psychological explanation: Repressed and recovered memory An alien abduction experience could be the outgrowth of a repressed memory of an actual physical molestation by a human being, either in sleep or during childhood. The abductee could be ‘remembering’ the repressed memory of the experience in a more psychologically comprehensible way. These memories could also be faulty as is the case in many instances of recovered memory. “An experiment conducted by Harvard psychologists suggests that people who believe they have been abducted by extraterrestrials, when they try to recall a word list, make the same kinds of errors as people with recovered memories of childhood sexual molestation. The psychologists conclude that these two experiences have common roots.”
  • Psychological explanation #3: Sleep paralysis One of the most prevalent and compelling theories for abduction narratives is the possibility that alien abductions are dream-like hallucinations induced by episodes of sleep paralysis. Sleep paralysis occurs when the brain is awakened from a REM state into essentially a normal fully awake state, but the bodily paralysis is still occurring:

    In a typical sleep-paralysis episode, a person wakes up paralyzed, senses a presence in the room, feels fear or even terror, and may hear buzzing and humming noises or see strange lights. A visible or invisible entity may even sit on their chest, shaking, strangling, or prodding them. Attempts to fight the paralysis are usually unsuccessful. It is reputedly more effective to relax or try to move just the eyes or a single finger or toe.

    Spanos et al. (1993) have pointed out the similarities between abductions and sleep paralysis. The majority of the abduction experiences they studied occurred at night, and almost 60 percent of the “intense” reports were sleep related. Of the intense experiences, nearly a quarter involved symptoms similar to sleep paralysis.

    I found this especially interesting because I did experience an episode of sleep paralysis about ten years ago. The details here are very similar to my own experience. I did awake with fear into a semi-conscious dream state and did sense the presence of someone else, although in my case I thought someone was jiggling the handle of my front door and found myself unable to rise out of bed to investigate or fight them off. I struggled to move, but could only barely move my lips and a finger on my right hand. This inability to move while you think someone is breaking into your apartment is very disconcerting.

    Since I’m reading Moby Dick, here’s an episode of sleep paralysis depicted in the book:

    At last I must have fallen into a troubled nightmare of a doze; and slowly waking from it – half steeped in dreams – I opened my eyes, and the before sun-lit room was now wrapped in outer darkness. Instantly I felt a shock running through all my frame; nothing was to be seen, and nothing was to be heard; but a supernatural hand seemed placed in mine. My arm hung over the counterpane, and the nameless, unimaginable, silent form or phantom, to which the hand belonged, s%emed closely seated by my bedside. For what seemed ages piled on ages, I lay there, frozen with the most awful fears, not daring to drag away my hand; yet ever thinking that if I could but stir it one single inch, the horrid spell would be broken. I knew not how this consciousness at last glided away from me; but waking in the morning, I shudderingly remembered it all, and for days and weeks and months afterwards I lost myself in confounding attempts to explain the mystery. Nay, to this very hour, I often puzzle myself with it.

    Now, take away the awful fear, and my sensations at feeling the supernatural hand in mine were very similar, in their strangeness, to those which I experienced on waking up and seeing Queequeg’s pagan arm thrown round me. But at length all the past night’s events soberly recurred, one by one, in fixed reality, and then I lay only alive to the comical predicament. For though I tried to move his arm – unlock his bridegroom clasp – yet, sleeping as he was, he still hugged me tightly, as though naught but death should part us twain.

Unscientific explanations:

  • Science-fiction explanation: Real aliens Although prudence dictates otherwise, it is possible that aliens exist and, for reasons unknown, delight in kidnapping earthlings for a few hours of licentious and/or scientific probing. Never long enough for anyone else to notice.

    From a “Kids in the Hall” skit: Alien: “We’ve been abducting and anally probing these humans for decades now, and the only thing we’ve learned is that one out of ten enjoys it.”

  • Science-fiction explanation #2: Hypersapiens My personal favorite (I swear I came up with this before The Tick episode: “Tick vs. Prehistory, The: (Episode 35 [34])). Alien abductions are being performed by evolved descendants of humanity who need something from modern humans. In The Tick, the hypersapiens need waiters for their restaurants, but if aliens are evolved humans maybe they seek ancestral DNA or something else they can only get by traveling to the past. This would explain why the aliens look humanoid. If we evolved along with our development and use of advanced technology we could become large-headed, skinny dudes due to the lack of intense physical exertion and interaction with the environment.
  • Conspiracy theory: Secret authoritarian plots. Conspiratorially-minded people sometimes attribute UFO sightings and abductions to secretive government programs. This seems more plausible for UFO sighting since these could be explained by secret test flights of new military technology.

One last thing, how do you reconcile the common alien descriptions with the sleep paralysis / recovered memory theories? One way is to attribute the common physical descriptions of the aliens to depictions in popular culture of alien lifeforms that may influence memory and recall in the group who report alien abduction memories. This is very plausible. However, what if another factor affecting these descriptions is related to how our own minds process the senses, especially vision. We know that our minds are attuned to faces and hands more so than other parts of the body like knees, etc. What if when we have to make up a person in our mind, we use a descriptive, visual shorthand: eyes, face, hands, and the rest that connects it all together?

What if when our minds are storing/creating these memories they focus mainly on information related to the face and hands? Human aspects that our brains are attuned to (see sensory homunculous). I don’t think most of us are internally creative enough to completely create a new type of creature completely foreign from experience. We use what’s nearby, our shared cultural / media experiences, and our normal shorthand for remembering people.

Nov 06

Scanning the horizon

Life hasn’t changed so much over the millenia.

On the morning drive to work, I sometimes look around at my fellow travelers whizzing by and think about how we would have lived twenty thousand years ago. Instead of climbing into metal pods to get to work, we would have risen in the morning and set out with our families to hunt, fish, and scavenge for anything edible. Finding and preparing food would have made up the bulk of our day. As it got dark, we would have returned to our homes and went to bed. Most of what we do now is just a veil obscuring two powerful motives: socialization and survival.

Jun 06

The Comforting Words of the Long Since Dead

Meditations (Modern Library Classics)I’ve been rereading Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, the archetypical philosopher-king and Roman Caesar. Meditations is a diary-like accounting of Marcus Aurelius’ thoughts and ideas. You can almost imagine him encamped with his legions on the Danube, writing down his thoughts and examining his life. The original title is closer in meaning to “notes to himself” rather than what most modern people think of when they hear the word “meditation”. It is a highly enjoyable and thought-provoking read. The personal, thoughtful writing style gives you a real sense of the man, who lived and died more than two thousand years ago. A student of the Stoic school, Marcus Aurelius reflects on life and death and often about how to endure and accept what we cannot change. Here are a few quotations:

  • Let it be your constant method to look into the design of people’s actions, and see what they would be at, as often as it is practicable; and to make this custom the more significant, practice it first upon yourself.
  • Anger cannot be dishonest.
  • Dig within. Within is the wellspring of Good; and it is always ready to bubble up, if you just dig.
  • Never let the future disturb you. You will meet it, if you have to, with the same weapons of reason which today arm you against the present.
  • We ought to do good to others as simply as a horse runs, or a bee makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season after season without thinking of the grapes it has borne.

Feb 06

Jesus and bathrooms should not mix.

I’ve seen religious pamphlets left out before by unseen proselytizers, although usually it’s a copy of that Jehovah’s Witness magazine whose name I’m forgetting. In the bathroom today, underneath the ass gasket dispenser there was a pamphlet whose cover read “Your first six days in HELL”. First of all, huh? Second of all, gross.

Dec 05


You may remember a mention I made over a year ago about bottlefeeding a newborn calf who had lost his mother. During my visits to Oklahoma over the past year, I watched him grow from a wobbling baby into a solid young bull. He went from tugging on the bottle to shoving you out of the way while you tried to pour feed into his trough. As he grew, he became more standoffish; glowering from his corral like a sullen teenager.

Two weeks ago he was “put up”, which is to say slaughtered and butchered. And last week we had him for dinner.

After eating the same animal you helped raise it leaves you with a feeling of ambivalence. I understand now why primitive people honored the animals they hunted. They lived with an intimate connection to the natural world.

When I was a vegetarian, I thought I could buy my way out of the world’s cruelty. If I could just stop eating meat, I would somehow store up some credit with the universe. Nevermind that I wore leather shoes. This moral fiction provided a way for me to avoid the pain of reality; that I am a fleeting bloom of life like everything else in this bloody world.

Gospel of Thomas, saying number 60: “They saw a Samaritan carrying a lamb going into Judaea. He said to his disciples: Why does he carry the lamb? They said to him: That he may kill it and eat it. He said to them: So long as it is alive he will not eat it, but if he kill it and it become a corpse. They said: Otherwise he will not be able to do it. He said to them: You also, seek for yourselves a place within for rest, lest you become a corpse and be eaten.”

Nov 05

On the importance of language

Notice how the following statements differ in meaning. This has bothered me.

  1. Know thyself. Okay, the classic admonition to know thyself.
  2. Know, thyself. A call of responsibility for your own understanding.
  3. Know thy self. Consider the nature of self. Awareness of ego is fundamental to understanding.