The Enlightened Caveman


Rice Cereal is Murder
August 18, 2011, 4:03 pm
Filed under: Enlightened Living, Parenting

This article about how rice cereal may lead to childhood obesity came across my radar today.  Even though it’s a few months old, I couldn’t resist using it as an example of how we really have to maintain a skeptical point of view in our modern society.  The experts really are so often full of shit, and the fear industry (aka, the media) is all too happy to peddle their inanity.  Here’s a quote to get us warmed up…

Doctor Alan Greene says that because white rice cereal is the number one source of calories from solid foods in a baby’s first year he believes it conditions children to prefer sugary processed foods.

Makes sense, right?  Or does it…

First of all, I think it’s safe to say that most babies do the rice cereal thing at some point.  So, if rice cereal is the culprit, then why aren’t more kids obese?  Sure, lots are, and the number is getting bigger every year, but we’re talking about causation here.  If you have 100 babies who eat rice cereal and rice cereal leads to childhood obesity, then somewhere close to 100 should turn out to be obese.  The reality today is that more like 20 would end up being obese.  According to the CDC,

The prevalence of obesity among children aged 6 to 11 years increased from 6.5% in 1980 to 19.6% in 2008.

Beyond the logical disconnect between what they say may be happening and what actually is happening is the underlying premise that a kid’s preference for one thing or the other impacts whether he or she becomes obese.  This is the part that steams me to no end.  WHO’S IN CHARGE AROUND HERE????  I could give a shit what my kid prefers as far as food is concerned.  I’m the boss.  Or rather, my wife is the boss when it comes to nutrition.  Kids are like dogs – they eat what you give them.  If you see a fat dog, there is only one reason – his owner feeds him too much or he is fed crap.  Same with kids.  So whether the rice cereal causes babies to prefer sugary processed foods is completely irrelevant if you’re on your game as a parent.  Feed them healthy food and obesity will never threaten.

Lastly, I’d just like to point out that Lewis and Clark bribed hostile indian tribes with sugar cubes as they traveled through dangerous territories in their search for the waterway to the west coast.  I’m guessing the indians didn’t have rice cereal, but lo and behold, they developed a quick preference for sugary (er uh, sugar) foods.  My point is that you can deprive a baby of sugary, processed foods as long as you want, but the moment that first hit of birthday cake crosses those lips, junior will be hooked.  The question from there is what will you do about it?

Will you let junior decide what junior eats?  Or will you tower over him as he cowers in your shadow and say, “I’m in charge.  You eat what I give you or you starve.”  From my perspective, the childhood obesity situation is simply due to the fact that most parents are more interested in being their kid’s best buddy than they are in raising healthy, well adjusted children.

(And lest I forget the standard counter-argument about food these days – that poor people can’t afford to eat healthy foods – let me just point out that they can definitely afford to eat less of unhealthy foods.)



October 20, 2010, 1:34 pm
Filed under: Culture and Society, Enlightened Living, Philosophy

I just happened upon this great post over at Tim Ferriss’ blog. You know I’m all about looking inward and working with what we have. This is a guest article written by Ryan Holiday, someone heretofore new to me, and it drills directly into something that underlies everything in this blog – we really do need to take the time to understand who we are and what we want if we stand any chance at all of finding sustained peace and happiness.

A quote…

Montaigne once used the analogy of a man with a bow and arrow to illustrate the importance of meditation and analysis. You have to know what you’re aiming for before it is even worth bothering with the process of preparing the bow, nocking the arrow and letting go. Our projects, he said, “go astray because they are not addressed to a target.” The idea is that an intimate knowledge of ourselves makes it possible (and easier!) to know what we need to do on a daily basis. He advised us to meditate on our lives in general, in order to properly arrange our day to day actions.

Good stuff.  Helps to remind us to focus on what matters.  Thanks to Ryan and Tim for that.



Jack White, the Rat Race, and the Rejection of Easy

Last night, I watched the recent documentary called, It Might Get Loud, which revolves around a meeting of three electric guitar virtuosos, each from a different generation.  The elder statesman is none other than Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page.  The mature, but still in his prime, slot is held by U2’s The Edge, and the younger generation is represented by one of my absolute favorite musicians, Jack White (The White Stripes, The Raconteurs, and Dead Weather).  It’s a terrific film from a lot of different perspectives, but the ethic espoused by Jack White really hit on something I’ve been dwelling on for quite some time.  Right at the beginning, he comes out with this…

Technology is a big destroyer of emotion and truth. Opportunity doesn’t do anything for creativity.  Yeah, it makes it easier, and you can get home sooner.  But it doesn’t make you a more creative person.

White expands on this idea again and again by talking about his need to struggle as a musician.  He purposefully strips things down to make it harder to create something emotionally meaningful.  He uses guitars that are cheap and won’t stay in tune.  He arranges the instruments on stage in a way that is inconvenient, so even the act of getting to the organ after playing the guitar is difficult.  The idea is that pushing through the hardship is what leads to creativity and emotional truth.  When it’s too easy, finding truth and beauty is too hard.  It seems paradoxical, but I think Jack White is on to something that can be generalized way beyond creating art.

The processes for obtaining the things we want and need are so streamlined these days that I wonder if we aren’t slowly optimizing all of the beauty and joy out of our lives.  Before I go any further, let me just say that my focus here is not on technology as an evil; this is not a Luddite’s lament.  What I want to talk about is what we’re using all of this technology for.  I think I know.

We want everything to be easy.  But why?  In theory, when something is easy, it takes less time to accomplish.  Okay, so we want more time.  I’m onboard with that.  But for what?  So we can work more? Come again?

It sounds crazy, but I’ve been noodling on this for a long time, and that’s the best I can come up with. It seems that those who are the best at optimizing every little thing in their lives also tend to be the people who work the most.  At least that’s the world I live in.  So the next question is why work so much?  I’m assuming that work for work’s sake isn’t the goal.  So what is?

This is where the caveman thing comes into play.  If we’re not paying attention, we simply fall into the norms of our social group.  We adopt the goals of those we interact with the most.  At my stage in life, my social surroundings are other thirty-somethings (some with kids, some not), all focused on achievement.  It’s trite to say they’re after the brass ring, but it’s not far off.  Bust your ass now so you can get the promotion, which requires you to bust your ass even more to get the next promotion. The distant hope is that the brass ring brings a level of happiness and contentment – and ease – that makes it all worthwhile.

And what of technology?  Well technology makes it possible to dispense with the mundane so you can focus on work.  Why go to the store twice a week when you can go to Costco once a month?  Why visit the local library when the Internet is a click away?  Why call when you can text?  You get the idea.

But what if all of this ease, which just gives us more time to pursue the goals most present in our social groups, is eroding the possibility of finding real satisfaction in life.  After all, it’s called the rat race because it is an endless, pointless pursuit – a constant footrace on a wheel that never stops turning.  With every perceived success, we take on another goal, which invariably takes up more of our time.  How do we get off?  For this, we go back to Jack White.

What happens when we try to reject easy?  What happens when we purposefully place the coffee maker in the laundry room?  I’ll admit, I’m not good at this.  There’s an old saying, “Leave it to the lazy man to find the easiest way.”  That’s me.  But it’s acute laziness, not chronic laziness that afflicts people like me.  I want this or that little task to be easy because I want to devote my efforts to “bigger” things that really matter to me.  But maybe that’s the problem.

What if this quest to optimize all of the little things is causing me to completely lose sight of the good economist’s favorite axiom – life is about tradeoffs?  More and more, I’m finding that what’s really happening is that we’ve collectively bought into this idea that we can have it all.  By optimizing here, I can have something else there.  In the end, when I would previously have had to choose between two wants, I now can have both.  Is this good for me?  Jack White would say no, and I’m really beginning to think he’s right.

This is an illusion, this notion that we can have it all.  By buying songs one at a time, I’m missing the songs on records that I’d love ten times more than the hits.  Tradeoffs never go away; we just lose the ability to spot what we’re giving up.

So is that it?  Reject easy?  Manufacture hardship?  There are consequences, though.  Putting aside the obvious changes in terms of “productivity” that come with rejecting easy, what about the social implications?  What about that nagging feeling that we’re not keeping up?  It’s genetic, ya know, so it will reveal itself one way or another.

Honestly, I don’t know how do this.  I just have a feeling that it is the right thing to do.  I’m going to start by picking one easy thing every day and doing it the hard way.  Who knows.  Maybe in a week I’ll realize that this is the dumbest idea I’ve had in a while.  But I want to try.  It just feels wrong to race to the table at every meal so I can be spoon-fed a huge helping of easy.  What am I giving up?  I need to find out.

I’ll keep you posted.



Caveman Radio – Born To Run – Wed, Feb 17th, 11pm EST
February 12, 2010, 10:35 pm
Filed under: Books, Endurance Sports, Enlightened Caveman Concept, Enlightened Living, Science

Here we go.  Round two.  It’s on the schedule.  If you haven’t read Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, tune in to hear why you should.  If you have read this book, tune in and participate in the discussion.  I’ll provide a brief overview of what’s there – for the uninitiated – and then we’ll get into the good stuff – from how I personally have changed as a result of reading the book to the notion that our society is slowly disintegrating the best of our humanity.  The latter idea ties very well into the Enlightened Caveman concept, so I’m excited to get into that.  And I’m excited to have some people call in with their own stories and points of view on these topics.

Same deal as last time – go to my Blog Talk Radio page at showtime and click the “Click to Listen” link.  I hear that sometimes the page seems to have nothing on it.  If that happens, just keep refreshing.  The service is free, and I suspect they periodically make it suck to lure hosts like myself into paying for the premium service.  Such is the strategy in a world of freemium.  Anyway, when you get to my page, you’ll see a number to call in if you want to be part of the show.  Be sure to send an email to me at the email address you see in the masthead above.  In the subject line, put your phone number – the one you’re calling in on.  Then in the body, tell me what you want to talk about.  This is poor man’s phone screening, but I think it’s workable.

Okay – hope you can make it.  If not, stop by after to grab the podcast.



Keep Your Eyes On Your Big Screen
March 16, 2006, 4:08 am
Filed under: Enlightened Living, My Theories, Science

I’ve talked before about my theory of consciousness.  The essence of it is that we have this big screen in our minds that is occupied by the aspects of our mental proceedings that are winning the moment-by-moment competitions that are going on continuously below the surface.  What we experience (sight, sound, etc.) on the big screen is what we are conscious of.  It’s all about attention.

What are we paying attention to?  The answer drives such a monumental part of our experience, yet few of us routinely ask ourselves what is on our big screens.  That’s probably because no one else has posited the big screen metaphor – at least I’ve never come across it.  Nevertheless, visual metaphors can be extremely useful, and this one is at the high end of the utility scale.  Perhaps an everyday example.

You’ve just come from the grocery store.  You walk in the door to your home and find that your wallet or purse is not with you.  It’s no shocker what’s on your big screen for the foreseeable future until you recover what you’re missing.  You’re completely absorbed, which is to say that your big screen is occupied by one thing almost entirely.  Yes, the big screen in our heads, unlike the one at your average movie theater, has split-viewing capability.  In fact, it more resembles those walls you’ve seen that are made up of dozens of TVs – they can each play individually, or they can work together to produce several multi-TV experiences, or even a giant, cohesive experience.  So, in that context, losing your wallet is an absorbing conscious experience, but most things are not.

In this multi-tasking world with so many have-to-dos right next to so many want-to-dos, it’s obvious that our big screens are in multi-image mode most of the time.  We’re thinking about the people in our lives, our jobs, our problems, our hopes, and whatever happens to be going on from second to second.  The big screen is a melange of ever-changing images and sounds.  Most of life is a fragmented conscious experience.  I have found that simply being aware of this concept has profound effects on how I can modulate my conscious experiences, and thus influence my levels of contentment and awareness.  (Sounds all zen and meditative, huh?  Not really.)

We all have things that pop up on our big screens that we’d rather not think about, and we all have our ways of ushering those experiences off the screen.  It is my sincere opinion that most people are really good at getting rid of things that they should keep, while they have almost no ability to get rid of things that have no place on our big screens.  This, I believe, is mostly a function of our caveman heritage.  For example, most people simply have not learned that status in a modern, largely anonymous world is irrelevant.  Dave Ramsey, the radio consumer advocate, is fond of saying that people are all the time spending money they don’t have to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.  That about nails it – we’re doing what we’re programmed to do – we don’t know any different.  And what about the things we should keep on our big screens?

Though some folks may disagree with me, I would argue that at least 80% of the population is absolutely unwilling to accept truths about themselves, even the ones they know, but try to deny.  My most recent boss was an absolutely abysmal manager, and he had indications almost weekly that confirmed it.  Nevertheless, were he asked, he would undoubtedly proclaim his skill at governing and guiding the actions of other people.  We’re talking about a massive blind-spot.  How does something like this emerge, you ask?  By kicking the truth off your big screen when you don’t like how it makes you feel.

The hallmark of human maturity is self-awareness, and it only comes by letting the rough stuff have its 15 minutes on our big screens.  I’m not about to say that I’m the most mature guy in town – I do stupid shit on a regular basis – but I will say that I have a good handle on where I’m strong and where I’m weak.  In other words, I would argue that I don’t have any blind-spots, at least no big ones.  I may overestimate or underestimate some aspect of my personality, but I know who I am, and one thing I know is that, though I may resist, I always eventually manage to accept the truth when it reveals itself to me.  This is because of how I control my big screen.

Occasionally, things absorb my screen that I’d rather not experience.  Instead of invoking a default program to wipe away the unpleasant and replace it with the pleasant, I split the screen.  Next to the negative experience, I add a vignette about why this experience is so unpleasant to me.  Nine times out of ten, it’s because the answer is some truth about myself that I’d rather not accept.  (A disclaimer – this is personal best practices stuff, which means I try to always do this.  Sometimes I succeed; sometimes I fail and have to try again later.  Such is life.)  Maybe I’m being selfish in a way that is unacceptable.  Maybe I’m being vain – as in when I lost my tooth recently.  Whatever.  The point is that the mind always knows when we’re going astray.  It’s up to us to listen when it throws our foibles up on the big screen.  If we don’t, we’re just asking for pain later.

The bottom line, folks, is that truth will get you in the end.  It always does.  You may live in a fantasy land, and it may hold up pretty well, but one day, truth will burst your bubble.  And when it does, the agony will far exceed what you’d have experienced if you’d just have watched your big screen a little longer when it wasn’t feeding you candy.

So the next time you’re absorbed in something, think about your big screen (which will, incidentally, immediately split the screen).  If what you’re absorbed in – say, a rock concert – is worthwhile, then you can take pleasure in knowing that your mind is tuned into something positive that is giving you pleasure.  (There’s nothing like good art to reboot a fragmented big screen.)  Conversely, if you’re obsessed with envy at your supposed best-friend’s good fortune, your newly split big screen will also let you know that you’re being a shallow douchebag.  That, too, is something positive, so pay attention.



Relationship Is A Four Letter Word, Especially With Kids
January 10, 2006, 5:24 pm
Filed under: Enlightened Living, Parenting

Original Post (with comments)
That word is simple – work. Yes, we’ve heard it a million times, but that’s because it’s true far more often than it is not. Maybe people get confused by this because they think in snapshots instead of movies. If you take a snapshot of your romance or friendship or family relationship when things are going well, it’ll be hard to reconcile the idea that relationships are work with the picture you get. It’s the not-so-great times that drive the point home. A good example in my own life is raising my son.

I’ll admit this, even though I know some folks will shudder – I wasn’t particularly into my kid for at least the first fifteen or so months of his life. Now, don’t make too much of this. Of course, I loved him in the way that nature programmed me to love him – I would have gladly thrown myself in front of a bus for him, even when he was a cute little eating, shitting, sleeping, crying bag of fat. What I’m saying is that I didn’t get much out of the beginning of his life. Yes, I’m a selfish bastard – just like everyone. The point is that, despite the fact that the personal benefit balance did not seem to be tipped in my favor, I clocked in.

I changed my share of diapers, and I spent as much time with my son as my life would allow. It was hard, especially since he cried incessantly for the first three months of his life. Nevertheless, as I am a long-term thinker, I knew that the work would pay off, and it has, like nothing I could have ever imagined. What I have now is a 24-month old son who absolutely loves his daddy. Now I can’t get enough of him. Have I transitioned into the blissful part of relationships? Was it just a “pay your dues” and then reap the benefits situation? Yes and no. Things have changed, but they’re still tough.

One thing that Brian Tracy talks about in Something for Nothing (see my review) is the idea that we should place the people we care about most in the center of our lives. We should build our worlds around them, placing the highest priority on spending time with each and every one. In fact, Tracy said something that I had never heard and is perhaps one of the most prescient statements in the book – How does a child spell “love”? Answer: “T-I-M-E!” How right he is, but there’s a bit more to it.

In some ways, my relationship with my son is the simplest, most wonderful thing in my life. But, it’s still work. You see, just spending time with a child isn’t really enough. You have to actually interact with them. You have to engage them on their level, and that’s not easy if you’re used to multi-tasking and thinking about all manner of complex philosophical and occupational subjects. Even now, I think of my time with my son as work, but it’s truly a labor of love.
I so look forward to the time we have together, but I have to admit that I find myself watching the clock after a while, looking forward to when I’ll be “off-duty.” How crazy is that? Just when I think I’m a good dad, I take a glance at my watch and then cringe at what a loser I am. Then, I take a step back.

I used to feel unbelievably guilty about this, but not any more. The fact is that raising my child is not unlike many of the other types of work I engage in – even though the good things outweigh the bad, the unpleasant or difficult parts are still there (That’s why it’s called work, right?), and they still have to be dealt with. I’m just fortunate that child-rearing gets more and more enjoyable as time goes on. The key is that the focus is on interacting with my son so that I can teach him how to be a well-adjusted little person.

How many people pay lip service to the idea that we have to spend time with our loved ones to keep the relationships producing that ever-important two-way flow of love? Maybe they think proximity equals spending time. This would explain the ever-present DVD players with screens aimed at the backseats of SUVs and mini-vans. Now, I’m not judging here – all kids are different, so who I am to say when the “mesmerizer” is or is not justified during travel times? But there’s no question that when the little ones are absorbed in a video, they are not interacting with anyone else in the vehicle. They’re locked onto Bob the Builder or Winnie the Pooh to the exclusion of all other stimuli, including the words of the folks in the front seats. This, to me, is not spending time. It’s sharing time, and in investment terms, the contributions are pretty much nil, which means the payoff is inevitably similar. Same thing with daycare, nannies, and on and on.

Of course, I understand that we all have to do what we have to do when it comes to raising our children. As the child of a single mother, I was in full-time daycare from week seven of my life. There was simply no other way, but when mom got home, it was all about me, and I knew it. This is what matters. Surprising as it may be, one of the best concepts about children that I ever heard came from Bill Clinton. It was somewhere around 1995, and Bill was in the midst of one of his classic “it’s about the chiiildren” speeches. He said, “More than anything else, every child needs to know that he or she is the center of someone’s universe, that there is nothing more important than him or her to that person.” Wise words, indeed. Now let’s place that idea right next to the idea that time interacting spells love to a child.

If kids interpret their importance in the minds of their parents or primary care-givers in terms of the amount of time they spend interacting with them, then the inescapable conclusion is that people who have children have an obligation to clock in. There’s no other way. If what you want is a great relationship with your kids, then it’s going to cost you. You’re going to have to suck it up and get down on their level for extended periods of time. The good news is that once they get to a certain age (18 months or so, for most), the rewards are intoxicating.

When my son wakes in the middle of the night and cries out for daddy and not mommy, I stagger to his room with the biggest smile on my face. Interestingly, it only happens when I’ve spent the whole day with him. If I’ve been traveling or have been too busy to spend more than a couple of hours with him, it’s all mommy. Simple things like that have a profound effect on how I plan my schedule. Mind you, it’s not a competition. I just know that mommy is his number one person, so any time I’m top of mind, I know I’m doing something right. My investments are paying off in the kind of love that I could never have dreamed of three years ago, but they are investments all the same.

In the final analysis, the conclusion is clear – relationships are like everything else – there is no free lunch. There is no something for nothing. So if your relationships (with your kids or otherwise) are not what you’d like them to be, it’s time to take stock. It’s time to honestly evaluate how much time you spend with them. More importantly, it’s time to evaluate how much time you could spend with them, but spend doing other things that maybe aren’t as much work. If you’re honest, you’ll find that you could be giving more.

Lest I come off as one who stands on the high ground shouting to my lessers, I’m no different. My life is a constant struggle to stay focused on what’s important, and like everyone else, I fail on a regular basis. But these are what I like to call personal best-practices – the things we know are right and strive to do at all times. What matters is that we recognize what we need to do – spend quality time with our loved ones – and we commit to sacrificing whatever we have to to do it. It’s work, but nothing is more worth it.



The Rational Morality Debate
July 22, 2005, 4:06 am
Filed under: Culture and Society, Enlightened Living, Philosophy

A recent post led to a fairly extensive thread that wandered into the subject of morality. At issue is whether morality can be rationally conceived, and whether it really makes that big of a difference. I think it can be and that it makes all the difference. Our welcoming wench, Alice, however, has finally got my number. Or does she…

Alice: Chris. You believe that there is a right way to proceed. You believe that free markets are always better than collective schemes. You believe that the only reason Hitler emerged is because of the Treaty of Versailles. You think the only way to insure having a good marriage is to move in together and have a trial run at it. You have a much clearer vision than I do.

I believe in the ebb and flow method, that there is rarely a clear path to anywhere and it is all of the myriad influences which are present which will produce the outcome.I believe in accidents. I think when things work out well, such as the formation of the United States, it’s an accident. Something which happened because of a confluence of events, not because of one or even a few men.

When you say it that way, my position sounds so Type A. More explanation is apparently needed. Perhaps a story.

I know a guy who has a brother. In his house growing up, parental discipline was pretty much non-existent. Nevertheless, both he and his brother have turned out fine – good jobs, family, stability, etc.. But it turns out that his two sisters are majorly messed up. There were never any consequences for doing stupid things when they grew up, and they are both now literally incapable of living responsible lives. They sign leases and break them. They buy cars on credit and end up having to have their parents pay for them. One even has two kids that are now being raised by my friend’s brother. It’s tragic.

There’s no question as to the cause of these girls’ misfortunes. Their parents simply failed them. They should have recognized that, though successful, well-adjusted people *sometimes* emerge from consequenceless homes, too often they do not. They ebbed when they should have flowed.

My position is not about some delusional prediction about what happens every time you do this or that – that would be quite contrary to my Kantian view of the universe – uncertainty is the starting point of all thought. It’s about probabilities and the stakes of mistakes.

I do happen to believe that free markets are always better than collective ones, but only because there has never been an example of a collective one that led to prosperity without coercion. I believe there are lots of Hitlers lying around this planet, and that the Treaty of Versailles created the conditions necessary for one to obtain absolute power. I don’t think the only way to have a good marriage is to move in together first. I believe that moving in together ahead of time dramatically increases the chances of the couple, should they end up marrying, going the distance happily. It’s an extended interview process – how is that interpersonal due diligence is so anathema to you? Is that rational?

In all of these areas, I believe the actions that are taken, based upon the prevailing morality – the person in question’s measure of right and wrong – have important ramifications on how things unfold later on.

This is no different than wearing a helmet when riding a motorcycle – if the goal (the moral) is to stay healthy, and you can assume there’s a reasonable chance you’ll wreck (your fault or not), and you can assume that hitting your head at speed will be disastrous to your health, then a helmet is the obvious choice. It’s not about a clear vision. It’s about being informed and having an idea where you want to go in life.

So my point in all of this is to say it is possible to rationally conceive of our view of right and wrong, and that this is extremely necessary because our choices and actions have larger consequences than we often imagine. And in a society increasingly obsessed with instant gratification, awareness of this is that much more critical.

And lest I ignore an important historical sidebar, Alice also has this to say:

Take the Treaty of Versailles for instance. That begot the Marshall plan. It wasn’t invented out of the blue, it came about because people saw that punishing the loser didn’t work too well.

This is what I mean by ebb and flow. People are only smart in retrospect. We ain’t psychic.

More proof to my point. The aspects of the Treaty of Versailles that caused the problems that created WW2 were the punitive ones – the ones that forced Germany to accept full responsibility for the war, the ones that forced Germany to pay exorbitant reparations, the ones that forced Germany to relinquish colonies and territories. None of these were present in Woodrow Wilson’s 14 Points, which was the US model for the Treaty.

In fact, Clemenceau (the French guy, for the historically challenged) and Wilson were quite at odds through the entire process of establishing the Treaty, heatedly so. The French, having been severely ravaged by the war, and because Clemenceau was a bulldog of magnificent proportions, won out in the end. Nevertheless, someone did know better than to do the Germans as they were done, and that someone was the leader of what has become the greatest nation on this planet. He was enlightened, in a sense, which means he understood enough about humans to know that the French need for revenge would end up coming back to bite them, and maybe everyone else. His morality and his knowledge of his species were the guide to his vision. Several million people would be alive today were it not for an ebb when there should have been a flow.

Lastly, in response to my assertion that individual human action has been one of the most dramatic forces that have shaped human history, specifically my statement that without George Washington, there would be no USA, Alice comes back with this:

…to that I would say, no King George, no USA. If England had acted differently and had been in a different financial position and had not imposed such heavy taxation, it is unlikely the colonists would have agreed to revolt against the mother country.

See, it was the confluence of events. AKA, an accident.

No, it was not an accident. You’re quite right that King George’s oppression of the colonies was the catalyst for the revolutionary war, but his attitudes and actions were not accidental, not by a long shot. They were a direct result of his morality, which was based upon inherent absolute power of the monarchy and the obligation of all English peoples to bow to it. It is well known that there were those in Britain who recommended just cutting us loose. George would have nothing of it – his pride and his vision of how things should have been (his morality) were being challenged. He, too, ebbed when he should have flowed. It was the widespread dissemination of enlightenment ideas by people like Thomas Paine and John Locke that alerted the masses to his error. Just as Thomas Paine risked death by writing Common Sense, so did the colonial army in defying and clashing with the British, and both because of their morality, the one that was rationally conceived by a new generation of intellectuals.

At every step of the way through life, there are choices to be made, forks in the road. Each path corresponds to a ripple through the future – some are big, some are small. It is our morality that guides us in choosing a path, which means it is incumbent upon us to conceive of our morality methodically through the use of reason. More importantly, it is incumbent upon us to reject moralistic ideals that do not stand up to rationally scrutiny (read, dogmatic morality). This is a lynchpin in the enlightened modern mind.

(Sorry for picking on you, Alice, but we simply outgrew the comments area. This is an important and clarifying difference of opinion, and if anyone can take it, I know you can.)



Riding The Horse
June 17, 2005, 5:17 pm
Filed under: Enlightened Caveman Concept, Enlightened Living, My Theories

Original Post (with comments)
I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty nervous around horses. They’re very big, and they are (as far as I’m concerned) very unpredictable. I’ve heard horror stories of people who got kicked by horses, and I’m pretty much soured on them. But it occurred to me this evening that managing the caveman within each of us is very much like riding a horse. First you have to tame him, then you can take him wherever you please.

Think of our primal tendencies as the horse. When unsaddled and unbroken, the horse does pretty much what he wants, according to his natural proclivities – he seeks safety, food, and sex, and not necessarily in that order. And he’s big, which means he’s due a wide berth when he’s got a head of steam for something. Our goal as enlightened cavemen (and women) is to contain the horse, to control it. This is not unlike the process of breaking a wild mustang.

I have long believed that the human populations (in Africa or the Middle East, for example) that fare the worst in life are dominated by people who are driven exclusively by unbroken horses. Ancient emotions run wild – the quest for status, the indignation and enmity that come from reciprocal altruism unfulfilled, the in-group versus out-group mentality, the male urge to spread his seed far and wide, the willingness to believe falsehood if it supports any of the aforementioned, all of it. The horse lacks the benefit of a harness that is held by a rational, big-picture thinker. But, lest we miss a critical component of this concept, the thinker is not enough.

Were we jockeys without horses, we would be largely unfit for purpose. The thinker would be deprived of the chief instrument of his plans. Indeed, the thinker is never as good at finding shelter, food, and sex as the horse is. No, the horse is essential. He brings with him the courage, the strength, and the resolve to execute the visions of the thinker, even the most primitive of visions. So the first task is to harness the horse, to control him, and a daunting task it is.

The choice of the horse as the embodiment of the caveman mentality is not arbitrary. It is precisely the juxtaposition of power and unpredictability that make the horse the obvious choice. We cannot simply lasso him and expect him to submit. We have to convince him that he cannot win. Fortunately, the rich history of our species is replete with examples from which we can draw our confidence as horse breakers. So long as the horse believes that we are in control, he is ours to do with what we will. And still, it is not easy.

The unpredictability of our horse, even when broken, limits our options. If he gets spooked by dogs, we cannot expect his submission to override this. We must extend our thinking to include accounting for his quirks, for at least he is predictably unpredictable – he won’t spook for nothing, but when he does, there’s no telling what he’ll do. So the thinker gets to know his horse. He gets to know what spooks him and what soothes him so he can guide him gingerly around the obstacles that promote unpredictability. This is our task, and as with any worthwhile task, the rewards are manifest.

When we tame the horse, when we control the horse, we can ride him. We can find a delicate (but durable) balance between our big-picture designs and his power to achieve them. We can steer him around interpersonal conflicts that back him into a corner, but, when options evaporate, a few heels to the hindquarters are all it takes to spur him into action. This is what I’m after. This is what we should all be after – a tame horse that can be unleashed at will. Luckily, this is all figurative. No matter how much I may like this analogy, don’t look for me on a horse any time soon.



You Gotta Have Faith
May 1, 2005, 5:11 pm
Filed under: Enlightened Living, Philosophy

Original Post (with many many comments)
In response to yesterday’s post, Freedomslave came back with an interesting comment, and I think it warrants a post of its own.

Now I hate bible thumpers as much as the next guy, and I don’t go to church (except on Christmas). But the one thing I know for sure is that you have to have faith. Your faith might be that when a species hits a point in its evolution that the DNA mutates and evolves into a higher form of life. Just like the bible thumper you need a certain amount of faith to believe that, epically with all the inconclusive DNA evidence that now exists and the lack of fossil evidence to verify it.

You have to have faith. With this, I wholeheartedly agree. This wasn’t always the case. I used to believe that faith is a crutch, kind of a get out of jail free card for when reality doesn’t go your way. In a lot of ways, I still believe this. I don’t subscribe to the notion that just because many big questions are still unanswered we have to use faith to believe in something. It’s like we’re saying we can’t get by without embracing some worldview, and our only options are all debatable as to their merit. This is simply false. We can do very well in life without buying into big-picture concepts that don’t add up logically. But it requires us to put aside our inherent need to explain our surroundings.

I’ve talked before about the evolution of hope and despair. The gist of the concept is that our minds have a built-in ability to assess our environment in terms of whether or not it bodes well for our plans, which in caveman days were simple – survive long enough to reproduce. Situations that bode well generate hope, which keeps us clocked in and active. Situations that look bad generate despair, which prompts us to explore our options and do something different. But before hope and despair can do their jobs, our minds have to make that assessment. Thinking about the hostile environment of ancient times, it’s clear that decisions had to be made – if you stood too long weighing every little option, bad things could (and often did) happen. Statistically speaking, then as now, it is almost always better to do something than nothing when your life is on the line. Thus emerges our need to explain our world.

But our modern world, as this blog routinely espouses, is nothing like that of our cave-dwelling ancestors. Indecision isn’t the perilous circumstance it once was. We have the benefit of nearly assured safety, and we have easy access to food and shelter. Nevertheless, the genes that make our minds are still cranking out models that insist upon satisfied curiosity. This, I am convinced, is why people buy into all manner of odd ideas. Anything to feel certain. And the concept of faith has been so sancitified that it offers the perfect excuse to settle on whatever floats your boat. I would argue, however, that faith isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, at least not most of the time.

For the most part, faith is exactly as I have always seen it – an excuse to believe whatever makes you feel best. In that case, it’s a fast path to intellectual laziness. If something requires faith to believe in it, isn’t it worth asking why having faith suddenly makes it believable? What’s the old Churchill saying: “If you say a dog’s tail is a leg, how many legs does he have? Most people answer five, but it’s four. Just saying a tail is a leg doesn’t make it so.” Or something like that. Anyhow, reality is what it is. In my book, there’s never anything to be gained by denying it. But…but…but.

As I said, I am actually now on board with the whole faith thing. I have been for two or three years now, but the only thing I have faith in is reason. As it happens, there’s really no other way. You see, reason will only get you so far. You can be the master of all masters at logical deduction and still reason will fail you. It will fail you when you get to the land of quarks and leptons. At the subatomic level, there’s no way to really measure what’s going on, and this makes all the difference when you’re trying to use reason to prove the world is as we think it is.

Think about how many physics equations use time as a variable. But what is time? Or, better yet, what is a second? We just assume that our standard units of measurement make sense, but do they? By definition, a second is the time needed for a cesium-133 atom to perform 9,192,631,770 complete oscillations. Fair enough. But how can we tell a cesium-133 atom from a cesium-132 atom? We certainly can’t pick the former out of a subatomic lineup. We use statistics and probabilities to tell them apart. Aye, there’s the rub. We’re guessing. Our guesses are good, mind you, but we’re guessing nonetheless. So here we are faithless, relying upon reason to guide us in our estimation of everything, and we can’t even get the most basic things right. This is where faith earns its stripes.

If I must have faith, and it appears that I must, it has to be solely in the notion that reason will not fail me, in the notion that even though logic holds up under the most dire of circumstances, I can’t expect too much of it. In the end, it was Karl Popper who helped me with this (me and David Hume, although Hume was long dead when Popper came along.)

David Hume worried so much about his problem of induction that he ended up rejecting rationalism altogether. His hang-up was founded in the idea that even though something (like the sun rising) has happened for 1000 days, it is illogical to suppose that it will happen on the 1001st. Since we’re only privy to part of truth of this world, we could have been wrong lo those 1000 days. Tomorrow, things could change, so it doesn’t make sense to make predictions. Ergo, rationalism doesn’t work. (Given Hume’s popularity in the old days, it’s no surprise that there was a decidedly anti-rational movement that succeeded his death and the Enlightenment. I believe they call it Romanticism. Yes, critics, the French Revolution might have also had something to do with it.) Popper, however, having seen the mental cancer that was irrationalism, took a different approach.

Popper conceded from the outset that making predictions based upon some supposed certainty that was obtained by way of reason was illogical. He acknowledged that certainty, in itself, is unattainable, but he also acknowledged that we have to do something in life. So we use reason to evaluate our alternatives and we choose the best one. In that way, we don’t ask too much of it, and we keep ourselves as tuned into reality as possible. The only thing required is a healthy faith in reason. That’s where I am these days.

I rejoice in the mystery of our world. I’m thrilled to know that there will always be things to be curious about. I’m thrilled to know that there’s always a chance that something big and heretofore established will come crumbling down in the face of new evidence. I also watch car chases – maybe it’s me. In any case, my explanation for this world is simple – it’s all explainable (not explained, but explainable). It’s up to us to chip away at it so that we can keep handing what we learn down through the generations. I really don’t need anything more than that, and I firmly believe that most people, if they’d take a deep breath and give it a try, wouldn’t either.



Books That Will Make You Think Differently About Yourself
April 13, 2005, 5:10 pm
Filed under: Books, Enlightened Living, Philosophy, Science

The concept behind this site is fairly simple. Our genes are controlling us a lot more than we think they are, but this is not a bad news story. We can, if we understand what our genes are up to, take control and live according to our rationally conceived objectives in life. This is not an idea that I have come up with on my own (though I may be one of its most ardent proponents). I’ve just grabbed onto it because I think it is the key to getting the most out of our time here. If we know that emotions are the brain’s rapid response system, and we know that they evolved to react in certain ways to certain situations (social situations, in particular), then we have a leg up in the quest to think when circumstances require thought more than emotion. That, alone, I am convinced, would elevate the general happiness to levels that have never before been seen in mankind’s history. To that end, I’d like to propose the creation of a book list, an enlightened caveman curriculum, if you will.

Let me first draw some lines in the sand. There are countless books that can be said to enlighten humanity – the dictionary comes to mind – so we need some criteria for books that will fit properly into this. The first is this: a book on this list must deal directly with human nature. It may be based in science, such as genetics, or any other field of study that is represented on accredited college campuses. Anthropologists and archaeologists have learned a great deal about who we are as a species, so it makes sense to include their efforts in our pursuit of enlightenment.

Second, the book must invoke concepts about human nature in a prescriptive way. That is to say, it isn’t good enough to say that genes are selfish, which means our elaborate lives are the happenstance result of replicators replicating. (So The Selfish Gene , great as it is, is out.) The book has to say what the science and/or anthropology and/or archaeology prescribes for those of us looking for direction in life. We need to be able to practically apply what the academics have discovered.

I’ll start by adding three books that have been particularly meaningful to me, and I’d ask that suggestions to the list adhere to the same general format – tell what the background information is, and then tell what is prescribed, and how it benefits mankind. Over time, hopefully, we’ll have a nice list of books that all add credence and weight to the theme of this site. Of course, in the spirit of intellectual rigor, I’d welcome any recommendations of books that contradict the enlightened caveman concept.
These books are listed in no particular order.

  1. Mean Genes : From Sex to Money to Food: Taming Our Primal Instincts
    by Terry Burnham, Jay Phelan
    From the introduction:
    Our brains have been designed by genetic evolution. Once we understand that design, it is no longer surprising that we experience tensions in our marriages, that our waistlines are bigger than we’d like, and that Big Macs are tastier than brown rice. To understand ourselves and our world, we need to look not to Sigmund Freud but rather to Charles Darwin. The authors then go on to address the following list of topics: debt, getting fat, drugs, taking risks, greed, gender differences, beauty, infidelity, family, friends, and foes. In each case, they detail the ancient genetic strategies that are manifesting themselves in behavior and social phenomena today, and then they explain what shifts in thought are implied by the information if we are to improve our lives.I must admit that I was in a pretty solid state of panic when I read the introduction to this book. I was thinking that these guys had basically beat me to the punch. Fortunately, as I read on, I realized that there really isn’t very much overlap between my book and theirs. Yes, we’re both working off the same general premise. However, my book is far less tactical. I’m focused on changing the way we think from the inside out – by starting with how we think of ourselves and what matters in life and then moving on to how we think about our fellow man – all for the sole purpose of bringing happiness to our lives.

    Burnham and Phelan, however, call their book a manual for the mind, and I have to agree with them.For example, they explain that in ancestral times, it made sense to eat when food was available. Therefore, we are now a species that eats far more than it needs when food is plentiful (as it is in first-world countries). That means we have to consciously endeavor to control our intake of food. If we do not, we’ll routinely find ourselves letting our belts out. Think of how many people in this country don’t know this. The mass awareness of little tidbits like this could prolong and improve the lives of countless people. There are many, many others in this book.

  2. Consilience : The Unity of Knowledge
    by Edward O. Wilson.
    From Chapter 6: The Mind
    All that has been learned empirically about evolution in general and mental processes in particular suggests that the brain is a machine assembled not to understand itself, but to survive. Because these two ends are basically different, the mind unaided by factual knowledge from science sees the world only in little pieces. It throws a spotlight on those portions of the world it must know in order to live to the next day, and surrenders the rest to darkness.Wilson’s book is about reconsidering the way we teach and pursue knowledge. He argues that our schools break subjects apart (math, english, biology, etc.) for somewhat arbitrary reasons and that this works against the design of the mind, which is more comfortable with holistic approaches to learning. Consilience, he says, is, “…literally a ‘jumping together’ of knowledge by the linking of facts and fact-based theory across disciplines to create a common groundwork of explanation.” The idea is that we shouldn’t restrict ourselves to applying what we learn in computer-based neural networks to implementing better computer systems. We should ask what other phenomenon could be better understood by what we know about these inanimate, but elegant systems. It’s about synthesis, and this, to me, begs a mental paradigm shift.

    Wilson asserts that that the value of consilience is not something that can be proven with first principles or logical deduction. Its value is self-evident, as it has been chiefly responsible for most of the progress of our species. I can vouch for that in my own life. Any time I learn something new, I automatically ponder what this new information could bring to other things I’ve wondered about. The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, for example, has so many other applications that counting them would be tough, and I thank Wilson for helping me think differently, about myself and the world around me.

  3. The Science of Good and Evil : Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule
    by Michael Shermer
    From the Prologue:
    Ultimate questions about social and moral behavior, while considerably more challenging [than questions about hunger and sex], must nevertheless be subjected to an evolutionary analysis. There is a science dedicated specifically to this subject called evolutionary ethics, founded by Charles Darwin a century and a half ago and continuing as a vigorous field of study and debate today. Evolutionary ethics is a subdivision of a larger science called evolutionary psychology, which attempts a scientific study of all social and psychological human behavior. The fundamental premise of these sciences is that human behavior evolved over the course of hundreds of thousands of years during our stint as hominid hunter gatherers, as well as over the course of millions of years as primates, and tens of millions of years as mammals.In this book, Shermer takes aim at morality and ethics by arguing that humans came by the two long before religion or any codified social rules existed. In Chapter 5, called, “Can We Be Good Without God?”, he addresses head on how we can rationally arrive at morality and be anchored to it as tightly (and rightly) as any religious person is to his or her morality. Throughout the book, the author calls upon all sorts of academic information, from evolutionary psychology to anthropology to sociology to make his points. And aside from the obvious benefits of seeing our tendency toward piety for what it is, he also brings out a really useful concept, using fuzzy logic to think differently about issues.

    Shermer makes the point that the human tendency to dichotomize, to think something is either this way or that, must be guarded against, because life is simply not black and white. Better to think in terms of fractions. For example, at any given moment, I may be 20% altruistic and 80% non-altruistic (selfish). Though, in the balance, I come off selfish at that time, it is incorrect to say that I am a selfish person. The situation may have called for selfishness. The bottom line is that circumstances have a lot to do with our morality. Being able to see people and ideas as shades of grey helps us to avoid moral absolutes that generally lead to division between people. This is a worthwhile message, to say the least.

So there you have it – three books that I think contribute to the enlightened caveman movement. There are more, but not too many, not to my knowledge. That’s why I’m doing this. I’ll finish my contributions in later posts. For now, I hope to learn about all the great books I’ve never heard of, books that will bolster my belief that here lies something big, something important.