All Hail the Blorg

A very interesting take on religion and psychology. The real question is whether or not a generation of adults would consent to what is an admitted ruse, and how faith could be retained in light of this being a likely documented and intentional ruse.

“I think that we should seriously prepare and equip the future Martian astronauts with an appropriate system that enables coping with stress and fear,” says Szocki. “Unfortunately, NASA and others think of Mars colonies in terms of nuts and bolts.”

He stresses that we must consider the mental and spiritual well-being of future humans in addition to providing for them physically. “However, as long as we are human beings, not robots, we should care for our emotions and psyche. It is not doubt that religious stories — of course, for believers — are much much more efficient in providing sense and hope than science, technology, or philosophy.”

–Sarah Sloat @ Inverse Science

 

How do I get over my bad habit of procrastinating?

A little oversimplified, but nevertheless a great answer to why we procrastinate and how exactly we think. I like especially that it supports G.K. Chesterton's little tale that one can only tear down walls when you first know why they are there. It applies to all the manners society seems to have made for no reason; the reason is precisely to force us into a pattern and way of thinking that goes against that 98% of DNA we share with monkeys.

Answer by Oliver Emberton:

I'll answer your question, but first I need to explain all of human civilisation in 2 minutes with the aid of a cartoon snake.

Humans like to think we're a clever lot. Yet those magnificent, mighty brains that allow us to split the atom and touch the moon are the same stupid brains that can't start an assignment until the day before it's due.

We evolved from primitive creatures, but we never quite shed ourselves of their legacy. You know the clever, rational part of your brain you think of as your human consciousness? Let's call him Albert. He lives in your brain alongside an impulsive baby reptile called Rex:

(Rex is your basal ganglia, but that's not very catchy so I'm sticking with Rex).

Rex evolved millions of years ago – unsurprisingly enough, in the brains of reptiles – and his instincts guide and motivate you to this day. Hunger. Fear. Love. Lust. Rex's thoughts are primitive and without language.

Here's the bit you're not going to like. Rex makes the final call on all your decisions. Every. Single. One.

We like to think of Albert as "our true self" – the conscious part of your brain. He's the talking, reasoning part. When we decide to go to the gym or write that term paper, Albert made that decision.

Rex does listen to Albert. Like a child, he will do a lot of what he's told, as long as he wants to. But if Rex prefers to crash on the sofa to watch Survivor and eat Cheetos, that's what you're going to do.

The incredible ascension of mankind that surrounds us is largely possible because we've developed systems to nurture our reptilian brains, to subdue, soothe and subvert them.

Much of this this system we call "civilisation". Widely available food and shelter take care of a lot. So does a system of law, and justice. Mandatory education. Entertainment. Monogamy. All of it calms Rex down for long enough for Albert to do something useful – like discover penicillin, or invent Cheetos.

Now let's look at your procrastination.

You're making a decision with your conscious mind and wondering why you're not carrying it out. The truth is the real decision maker – Rex – is not nearly so mature.

Imagine you had to constantly convince a young child to do what you wanted.  For simple actions, asserting your authority might be enough. "It's time for dinner". But if that child doesn't want to do something, it won't listen. You need to cajole it:

  • Forget logic. Once you've decided to do something, logic and rationale won't help you. Your inner reptile can be placated, scared and excited. But it doesn't speak with language and cannot be reasoned with.
  • Comfort matters. If you're hungry, tired or depressed your baby reptile will rebel. Fail to take care of yourself, and he'll wail and scream and refuse to do a damn thing you say. That's what he's for. Eat, sleep and make time for fun.
  • Nurture discipline. Build a routine of positive and negative reinforcement. If you want a child to eat their vegetables, don't give them dessert first. Reward yourself for successes, and set up assured punishments for your failure. Classic examples include committing to a public goal, or working in a team – social pressure can influence Rex. 
  • Incite emotion. Your reptile brain responds to emotion. That is its language. So get yourself pumped, or terrified. Motivational talks, movies and articles can work, for a while. I use dramatic music (one of my favourite playlists is called "Music to Conquer Worlds By"). Picture the bliss associated with getting something done, or the horrors of failing. Make your imagination vivid enough that it shakes you. We use similar tricks on children for a reason: "brush your teeth or they'll fall out".
  • Force a start. The most important thing you can do is start. Much of Rex's instincts are to avoid change, and once you begin something those instincts start to tip into your favour. With enough time, you can even convince Rex to love doing the things he hated. There's a reason we force kids to go to school or to try piano lessons.
  • Bias your environment. Rex is short sighted and not terribly bright. If he sees a Facebook icon, he'll want it. It's like showing a child the start of a cool TV program immediately before bedtime. Design your environment to be free from such distractions: sign out of instant messenger, turn off notifications, turn off email. Have separate places for work and fun, and ideally separate computers (or at least accounts).

Once you know what to look for, you'll start to recognise the patterns and control them.

There's an impulsive baby reptile in your brain, and unfortunately he has the steering wheel. If you can be a good parent to him he'll mostly do what you say, and serve you well. Just remember who's in charge.

For more posts like this, follow my board: Leading a better life

View Answer on Quora

I don’t really understand these sorts of sentiments. And while I mean no disrespect to the author, they are just silly.

 

First, it is not going to convince any genuinely religious person of atheism, but more likely to create a knee-jerk reaction and further entrench them in their belief; especially if they really have nothing more than faith and know no philosophical arguments for religion.

 

If someone is really doubting their religious sentiments, this sort of post could reach them. But it doesn’t do so by anything that is best at atheism; no attempt at reason is made here. Rather, this will do little more than shame a person into belief. It does not engage, it makes fun of. And while that may work, is it really so different than a Christian trying to pound belief into your head by propounding on all your “sins”?

 

And finally, no one I know says a sunset is beautiful because some deity made it. But just as my (limited) understanding of science and how the colors of the Sun, the sky at noon, and the sky at dawn and dusk are all so different, they are all the result of the same natural phenomenon where lightwaves are bounced around when they hit atoms in the upper atmosphere greatly increase my enjoyment of the Sunset, so to does my even more limited understanding of God. All humans have the same basic need to understand, science gives me the how, religion gives me the why. I may be wrong; I am very often mistaken. But when I think of a sunset, I am happy. And I do not always know why. But I think, that perhaps it is something like in the Little Prince, where the Little Prince makes the fox happy even in his absence because now to the fox the golden fields of grain ever remind him of the Little Prince, whom the fox loves. Or when the Prince leaves the author with the memory of his laughter, so that forevermore the stars will laugh for the author because he knows that on some distant planet, on some lucky star, the Little Prince is laughing. This is obviously a thoroughly silly sentiment. But so is that feeling we have when we see a sunset. There is no reason it should make us happy, whether it is a glitch of evolution or a memory of divinity. But it does, and religion adds to my understanding of a sunset just as science does.

 

But I don’t think this post is meant to really address any of those things. I think it is meant for those who are already atheists. It is a cheap chance to snicker at those naive and stupid religious people. They haven’t seen the great, liberating light of atheism and science! And in this you only prove one thing, that while you may have concluded differently than those myriad cheap religious, you think the same. The same banal platitudes, the same jeering attitude.

 

And that is a shame; because even though I so often disagree with atheism’s claims, there is much to be admired in their method. Atheism strives to be fundamentally logical and scientific, unbiased and level-headed. And while I think you may arrive at the wrong conclusion, I love that emphasis. Atheism has much to contribute. This isn’t contributing.

MPG of a Human

On Do the Math, three previous posts have focused on transportation efficiency of gasoline cars, electric cars, and on the practicalities of solar-powered cars. What about personal-powered transport—namely, walking and biking? After stuffing myself over Thanksgiving, I am curious to know how potent human fuel can be. How many miles per gallon do we get as our own engines of transportation?

Fantastic breakdown of Human MPG via Do the Math.