A toast, mistress!

September 18, 2010 at 8:17 pm | In health, just_so, leadership | 3 Comments

In yesterday’s entry I mentioned that I went way outside my comfort zone the other night.

What could that mean?

…Probably not what some may think! I attended my very first meeting of Toastmasters International, specifically the Niteshifters chapter that meets at the University of Victoria. I’ve been interested in knowing what Toastmasters is all about for a while – but their usual early morning meeting times really didn’t ring my chimes. Then I found Niteshifters and saw that they meet at 7:45pm. That’s way better than 7:45am in my books.

And so I’ll give it a go. This is truly way outside my comfort zone. First, it’s a group. I’m joining a group. Second, it’s all about public speaking – something that to this day scares me. It’s not like I’m a bad public speaker (if I’m prepared), but I’m not comfortable with it. I fear it.

And I’m completely mortified by the notion of extemporaneous Table Topics speaking: if I haven’t had the time to research and write a treatise first, I’m inclined to freeze in fear. How I would love to get over myself…

I haven’t had to prepare and give lectures for a long time, and now I realize that I’m completely out of the practice of public speaking even when I have prepared material. I’m hoping Niteshifters will help me find my public (speaking) voice – the one that’s been tap-tap-tapping out of the keyboard here for years. I don’t think I’m a totally stupid person, but lately I’ve let myself get sidelined when it comes to public spoken voice – and that’s just dumb.

Oh, interesting side note: while New Westminster, BC was the first non-US city to express an interest in starting a Toastmasters chapter outside of the US (an interest which prompted Toastmasters to add “International” to its name in 1930), New Westminster apparently didn’t follow through and therefore wasn’t the first to start a non-US chapter. That distinction goes to Victoria, BC, which in 1935 became the first Toastmasters club chartered outside the United States. How about that? 😉

Confused immune system?

August 25, 2010 at 12:31 pm | In health | 4 Comments

I’m still reading Ray Strand‘s fascinating book, Bionutrition, and just came across Chapter 8’s closing paragraphs about diseases related to oxidative stress. I was really struck by Strand’s ideas about self and non-self in relation to our immune system.

Let me elaborate:  Chapter 8’s final section addresses autoimmune diseases like MS, IBD, Crohn’s, and Rheumatoid Arthritis. In closing, Strand writes, “I was taught in medical school that autoimmune diseases were the result of an overactive immune system, since the body was essentially attacking itself. …Consistent with my training, almost all of the medical therapies that physicians offer patients with an autoimmune disease are based on this premise.” [p.74] Consequently, patients are usually put on chemotherapeutic medications (Methotrexate, Plaquinil, Immuran, and various corticosteroids like Prednisone) – and these medications work to suppress the immune system further, to make it lie down and “behave.”

Strand notes, however, that he has seen great positive results in his patients when he treats them with “an aggressive nutritional supplementation program,” and that all his observations lead him to conclude that his patients aren’t dealing with an over-active immune system (as is traditionally taught in medical school), “but rather a confused immune system.”

It’s a subtle shift in perspective, a bit like Aikido. You can meet your enemy with brute force and pound him into submission, or you can redirect your “enemy” so that “his” energies work to your advantage. In a more traditional and mechanistic view, the immune system has become your “enemy,” and if it’s misbehaving, you have to “make it” behave, perhaps through brute chemotherapeutical force. Of course, you have to wonder how that’s supposed to work in the long term. I guess it doesn’t!

What I call Strand’s “Aikido” approach leads him to the following insights:

The immune system is intended to be our reliable protector. It is always checking for self (one’s own body) while it is looking for non-self (any foreign substance or abnormal cell). When the immune system finds a virus, bacteria, or foreign body it destroys and eliminates it from the body. However, in autoimmune diseases, the immune system actually attacks itself rather than a foreign substance. (…)

In the case of autoimmune diseases, I believe one’s immune system is not able to distinguish self from non-self [emphasis added]. Being confused, the body is essentially destroying itself. In addition to treating my patients who are usually already taking traditional medicine with attempts to suppress and shut down the immune system, I administer potent nutritional supplements. In doing so, I am not only building up their natural antioxidant defense systems, but also I am building up their own natural immune system. I find this helps my patients on both sides of the disease.

I believe their immune system becomes less confused and begins to recognize “self” again [emphasis added]. This means the immune system more readily identifies outside invaders – not attacking “self” as much. [p.75]

The next chapter is all about antioxidants and the immune system. Looking forward to reading it!


August 23, 2010 at 10:30 pm | In health | Comments Off on Bio-nutrition

I’m reading Ray Strand‘s book, Bionutrition (first published in 1998, revised edition 2009). I’m finding it to be a compelling read, even though I can hear cynical voices piping up to deride nutritional supplementation as unnecessary. The skeptics say you can get all the nutrients you need through your diet.

But is that really true, given all the new research on how our bodies work at the cellular level and how free radicals and oxidization destroy healthy cells? A while ago I learned that Vancouver Island soil is very selenium-poor, which means that animals raised and produce grown here will be selenium-poor also. Selenium is a trace mineral that combines with proteins to form selenoproteins, which in turn are antioxidant enzymes. There’s a long list of literature on selenium and its (possible) role in preventing cancer; see this BC Cancer Agency page for an overview. Meanwhile, on the topic of cancer, this Canadian Cancer Society page, British Columbia and Yukon cancer statistics, has some distressing statistics (albeit with some overall good news for us in BC: it seems we’re doing better than the rest of Canada), even though phrases like “Since 1988, overall death rates …have declined slightly” are probably meant to ameliorate all the bad news (and there’s a lot of it).

And while the phrase “Increases in the number of new cancer cases are due mainly to a growing and aging population” might assuage fears about a growing threat of cancer, it also points to the very real and interesting problem around aging and quality of life. We’ve got a shot at growing quite old now, but who wants to be old and in really bad shape, whether it’s through rheumatoid arthritis, dementia, heart disease, diabetes, macular degeneration, or cancer?

That’s where the burgeoning interest in nutritional supplementation comes in.

I’m definitely interested – both in learning more about smart supplementing, and in staying as healthy as possible for as long as possible.

Heat waves and ice

August 20, 2010 at 10:16 pm | In health | Comments Off on Heat waves and ice

While the temperatures in my part of the world have plummeted (again), returning us to our usual sweater-weather-on-August-nights, world temperatures overall continue to rise. Here’s a map that shows “global land temperature anomalies for July 2010 from average July temperatures of 1951-1980 – Above-average temps are in red; below-average temps are in blue, while gray areas indicate insufficient data. Image courtesy of NASA-GISS.” Via Mongabay:


As you can see, “my” part of the world (west coast of North America, particularly the Pacific Northwest) is nicely fanned by a cool light blue. Some other parts of the globe are burning up, however (see the dark red/brown/orange).

Folks sweltering in the Northeast should console themselves: the summer highs are barely registering “salmon” (the color). Does that mean it’s not really hot, and that it could be worse?

Nope, it’s hot, but now imagine that it’s 1896 and you’re sitting in a NYC tenement while a killer heat wave strikes the city.

We’re mesmerized by spectacular disasters and think they have to happen with a bang (see my post from yesterday), but then there are the silent (and unattractive) killers that move slowly. In “Hot Time in the Old Town”: New York City’s Deadly Heat Wave of 1896 Edward Kohn describes a ten-day heat wave that descended on New York in 1896. Haven’t read the book (would love to, however), but here’s a point that struck me: in an attempt to alleviate suffering and to save lives, Theodore Roosevelt made the decision to distribute ice to the tenements, a move that Kohn identifies as a first stitch to weave a social net that eventually grew to encompass many more entitlements.

Ice. Imagine that. Not a program, not something in writing. But something as tangible (if impermanent) as ice…

See The Takeaway for an excerpt, and find the book on Amazon here.

Cynical sex/uality

August 16, 2010 at 11:39 pm | In health, just_so, media, offspring, social_critique | 3 Comments

Interesting article in Macleans Magazine this week: Outraged moms, trashy daughters (How did those steeped in the women’s lib movement produce girls who think being a sex object is powerful?), by Anne Kingston.

On beauty “standards”:

“It’s worse than the 1950s,” says the mother of a 24-year-old, referring to the ubiquity of Photoshop and cosmetic surgery creating beauty standards more unattainable than ever. (source)

Kingston references the work of Susan Douglas, author of Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message that Feminism’s Work is Done, who might well be leaning on Peter Sloterdijk’s Critique of Cynical Reason. Sloterdijk explains cynicism as an “enlightened false consciousness”:

…a sensibility ‘well off and miserable at the same time,’ able to function in the workaday world yet assailed by doubt and paralysis. (source)

In other words, enlightened false consciousness (or cynicism) is that awful, gooey, nudge-nudge-wink-wink sort of “enlightenment,” where you get to joke about your chains …because you’ve already given up on ideals like freedom or equality – including freedom from constant “doubt and paralysis” about your looks…

“Enlightened sexism” makes an awful kind of sense in a world already furrowed by cynicism. The seed is easy enough to sow. From Kingston’s article, quoting Douglas:

“Enlightened sexism” is Douglas’s term for this new climate, one based on the presumption that women and men are now “equal,” which allows women to embrace formerly retrograde concepts, such as “hypergirliness,” and seeing “being decorative [as] the highest form of power,” she writes. What really irks her is how a Girls Gone Wild sensibility has been sold to women as “empowerment,” that old feminist mantra. But in this version, men are the dupes, “nothing more than helpless, ogling, crotch-driven slaves” of “scantily clad or bare-breasted women [who] had chosen to be sex objects.”

Douglas says she was inspired to write the book after noticing what seemed to be a glaring disconnect between the prime-time shows aimed at her generation—Grey’s Anatomy, CSI, The Closer, all featuring tough-talking, assured women who don’t use their sexuality to get what they want—and the programming aimed at her daughter. Eventually she came to believe both kinds of shows were perpetuating the myth that feminism’s work was over: “both mask, even erase how much still remains to be done for girls and women. The notion that there might, indeed, still be an urgency to feminist politics? You have to be kidding.” [emphasis added] (source)

There’s a resonance with cynicism in the embrace of “hyper-sexualization” that suggests to me that we’re talking also about economic and class issues, as well as socialized power structures (peer groups), both of which can exert pressures independent of gender issues (even as they’re expressed at that level).

Re. the latter (peer groups): As readers of this blog know by now, I home-schooled my son and daughter (which, depending on your point of view, makes us very odd or puts us at the cutting edge of edu-punking the school system). Both of my kids (aged 19 and 16) are now at university, entering their 3rd and 2nd years, respectively. (That is, they’re not chained to the bed-posts in their rooms, or otherwise hiding or being hidden away from “society” – just thought I should make sure that’s understood…)

And: we also don’t watch TV (except for what we can watch on the internet or rent at the video store – but no cable for us). This cut out two immense forces of peer pressure and homogenization – forces that are often negative. (I’m not a fan of the alleged “socialization” provided by the K-12 factory school setting.) Reading about girls who think it’s ok that MTV uses as promotional material a clip of Snooki (a female participant in Jersey Shore) getting punched in the face by a guy makes me wonder if we’re all living on the same planet. My 16-year-old daughter wouldn’t agree with 15-year-old Olivia, quoted in Kingston’s article:

“It’s so ridiculous, it’s funny,” she says of the show. “I don’t relate that to my life at all. I wonder, ‘Why would you do that?’ But it’s enjoyable to watch.” [emphasis added] (source)

If you think about it, you have to conclude that Olivia is cynical – full of enlightened false consciousness.

And then you have to ask yourself why a 15-year-old girl could be cynical – and what will that look like when she’s several decades older.

Talking to a deaf dog

June 28, 2010 at 8:58 pm | In health, writing | 4 Comments

A while back, I posted that I was worried about my dog. He’s getting on (he’s 12 years old), and he has had some chronic health issues for years (hypothyroidism, eg.)

Well, last week (after I got back from a week away), I noticed that he is really quite deaf. He seems to hear some things (high-pitched calls, some loud noises), but he’s clearly oblivious to most sounds – because he can no longer hear them.

This afternoon we went to see his vet. After two of us restrained him (he has become a most ornery and crotchety animal), the veterinarian managed to inspect both ears: nothing to see, no obstructions, no infections, no damage to his eardrums.

And so, old age it is.

Paraphrasing (and slightly altering) what the Buddha said, Decay is inherent in all compounded things …even ears; sniff on with diligence.

(Use the nose, Luke …er, Jigger.)

I wonder what the next age-related indignity will be. And I’m now more worried about his little attempts to dig his way under the fence in our back garden – his escapes into the neighboring apartment block parking lots and busy nearby streets will present new challenges, now that he can’t even hear us calling him as his search party fans out. One web source suggests ‘belling’ one’s deaf dog – at least that way, the humans can hear the dog.

I suppose I could get one of those harnesses that goes around the ribcage. I could sew some jingle-bells on it; then, add some reflective tape, and clip on a couple of flashing bicycle lights (for when I let him out at night).

Talking to a deaf dog is quite frustrating. I spent years perfecting all these silly voices, just for him – and now he can’t hear them. He still gets the hand signals – when he can see them through his ‘bangs,’ that is.

File this one under #whatadrag…

Worried about my dog

June 4, 2010 at 10:59 pm | In health, writing | 2 Comments

I spent a good chunk of today worrying about my dog Jigger, which, in light of all the serious things in the world that one could be worried by, is a relatively luxurious concern. My worry wasn’t provoked by a crisis (he didn’t go missing or get hit by a car or drink radiator fluid). No, mine is a slow, gnawing worry that’s affecting the way we enjoy one another’s company – and hence it colors my days in subtle yet definitive ways.

A year ago last October he had surgery to remove a lipoma that had grown to the size of grapefruit under his left “armpit” (front leg). A grapefruit-sized tumor is a big deal for a dog his size. If a lipoma grows in a spot where it doesn’t impede the dog’s gait or other functions (like breathing: they can grow behind nasal cavities), then it’s a good idea to leave it alone. They’re unattractive, but not harmful. Surgery, on the other hand, especially for an older dog, can be harmful. Obviously, a grapefruit-sized lipoma right in the front leg’s “armpit” made walking very difficult and awkward for my dog, and so we opted for surgery.

He also had several additional lipomas on his chest and neck, which the vet also excised. There was a very loose one near the jugular, which she opted to leave, particularly as it was very close to another she excised. Incisions so close to one another seemed like a bad idea, too. The “armpit” lipoma was the worst: it had grown from marble to golf ball to citrus fruit size in rapid succession and was so huge by the time he underwent surgery that he had a shunt in place for close to a week to drain the fluid that constantly re-filled the remnant cavity (nature abhors a vacuum), until his body adjusted and minimized the cavity naturally. The shunt nearly dragged on the ground, when the super-sized cone he had to wear around his neck/ ears/ head didn’t cause him to just give up trying to walk in the first place. The surgery, which included a dental cleaning, cost somewhere around $1600 (a bit more when pre-surgery visits are added in), and aside from seeing my pet suffer, I watched my checkbook suffer, too.

And guess what? Within a year, the grapefruit-sized lipoma began growing back, in the exact same spot, with the exact same pattern: large marble, golf ball, orange, …grapefruit. I now watch him limp along again, listen to labored breathing and worry about all the other lipomas on his chest and whether they’re pressing in on his lungs, and when I’m not worrying about that, I worry that maybe his thyroid medication is no longer at optimal levels. Oh, didn’t I mention? After he was neutered, he started to fatten up like a eunuch. It didn’t matter if I fed him very little or very much, if I fed store-bought dog food or prepared special raw food. He just kept getting chunkier. And we noticed that his rough top-coat fur was far too sparse for a Cairn Terrier, while his formerly jet-black nose had de-pigmented to become a speckled pink and brown.

Then we had his thyroid levels tested, and yes he’s hypothyroid. Now he gets 300mcg of Synthroid in the mornings and 200mcg in the evening. This has now been going on for years and everyone says that we have to keep him on the medication lest he develop organ failure, etc. etc. etc.

So, to recap: I have a dog who, since he was about a year old, has had a weight problem, which, when he was about six years old was diagnosed at least in part as symptomatic of a thyroid condition (hypothyroidism, under-active thyroid). About two-and-a-half years ago (when he was 9 1/2 years old), we noticed the lipomas, but were advised simply to observe them unless they impeded his movement. Eventually, 1 1/2 years ago when he was 10 1/2 years old, his gait was so impeded that he did have surgery, but within a year the really bad lipoma had grown back and is now as huge as ever – and just as much an obstruction in his gait. He’s now 12 years old. For a terrier, that’s not terribly old – they can have a life expectancy of up to 16-18 years, but from one day to the next Jigger seems to have grown old. (This wikipedia page seems off-base: it says 12 to 15 years life expectancy, but also claims that a dog weighing 20 to 25 pounds is equal to 6 to 8 kilos: blatantly untrue. One kilo is 2.2 pounds, therefore 8 kilos top end is equal to 17.6 pounds. My dog weighs in at 10 kilos, or 22 pounds – too heavy, or else he’s too tall at the withers, which indeed he is according to the breed standard suggested in many books.)

I’m considering surgery once again for what now seems like a dog who’s becoming geriatric, which therefore is also a far riskier surgery. I’m also not in a great position to face that kind of vet bill again. And: I have no guarantee that the damn lipoma won’t grow back again in short order – in the exact same spot.

What to do? Worry. And spend time on the internet, reading about lipomas and dogs. There are lots of opinions out there about what causes these conditions in dogs.

Take food, for example. So many experts insist that we’ve buggered up our pets’ immune systems by overfeeding them carbohydrates (via pet food, which is full of grains). These experts argue that the unnatural introduction of grains has wreaked havoc with the animal’s insulin production, which in turn causes all these other symptoms (from pet obesity to joint issues to doggy fish breath to, you guessed it, lipomas).

Over the past dozen years since we’ve had our dog, I’ve been terrorized several times by dictates around feeding, and especially when he was at his fattest I was desperate to feed him “as nature intended” (raw) in the hope of making him the svelte ratter that Cairns should be. Instead, he got fatter. He trimmed down when I put him back on “normal” pet food.

A while back I switched him once again to a raw meaty bones diet, this time fretted into it by the idea that it might halt the lipoma growth. So far – six weeks in – I can’t say that there is any improvement whatsoever: not in the growth rate of the lipomas (still galloping along), or in his energy levels (depressed) or overall health. I won’t get into the details, but this afternoon various factors convinced me not to continue with the raw diet. Now I’m reading about various supplements, including liver support herbals as well as traditional Chinese herbal medicines. If I got the general gist of it, the lipomas are a symptom of a larger imbalance caused by ‘dampness’ (vs heat/ fire), and we should consider herbs or treatments to re-balance his system. I’m willing to try this, too, but who knows if we’ll have any more success with this than with any other approach. I can take him back to the vet once more, and I know she’ll put the ball in my court on the question of whether or not he undergoes another surgery. I can ask her to retest his thyroid levels. Perhaps we can adjust the dosage, but she won’t be able to reverse his aging.

Here’s my take-away from all this: if your pet is not feeling at the top of his game, you feel kind of shitty, too. There’s a close, symbiotic relationship between dogs and their owners, and the slow deterioration of a pet’s health has a subtle, continuous, and nagging effect on the humans in the family. Furthermore, it plays out in public. If you have a cat, you can hide out at home, but your dog is public, on the road. I’ve spent years with my dog on the streets, in the parks, at the beaches – the dog is a social lubricant, he (or she) causes complete strangers to stop and talk to you, because other people will do that when you’re in the company of dogs.

At present I’m not appreciative of people’s comments about my dog’s apparent tiredness or his age or that he limps or doesn’t walk very far anymore. When it comes to dogs – and sometimes children – perfect strangers (who are themselves far from perfect) say the darndest things, things they would never say to another adult. Whether it’s a comment on his appearance or an in-your-face suggestion about what you “should” be doing about your pet’s health, an overbearing know-it-all attitude becomes painful in the wake of months-long worry over decline.

Time, from A to Z (Zimbardo, that is)

May 22, 2010 at 11:31 pm | In creativity, education, health, ideas, leadership, social_critique | Comments Off on Time, from A to Z (Zimbardo, that is)

If you haven’t seen Philip Zimbardo‘s 2008 presentation, The Time Paradox, at California’s Commonwealth Club, do yourself a favor and take the time to watch it now. If you do, you’ll understand why it’s a good idea to stop waiting for your ship to come in…

Zimbardo‘s analysis of how we parse time (how we value it, how we picture it to ourselves, what we tell ourselves about time) obviously provides insights for individuals. But he also has a lot to say about its ability to shape social groups and even economic trends.

Regarding the latter, check out this screen shot, nearly 50 minutes into his talk:


It says:

Current Financial Meltdown on Wall Street and Elsewhere

Is caused by motivated collective GREED that

interferes with wise, future-oriented decisions of

need for reserves and cautious loans and


for short-term present-focused quick gains,

failure to discount future costs against immediate

taste of the $$Marshmallow$$


Zimbardo is talking about present-oriented perceptions of time (centered on immediate gratification), which dominated the time leading to our current economic crisis. For example, in 2002, one in fifty loans were sub-prime; by 2008, it was one in three: that pervasive culture of risk-taking hadn’t been socially acceptable in earlier generations. $$Marshmallow$$ refers to an experiment with children, testing their ability to delay gratification (those who could delay correlated with more socio-economic success as adults while those who couldn’t correlated with riskier behaviors, including drug use, and socio-economic drawbacks). And by “the commons dilemma,” Zimbardo refers to despoliation of a common good (the commons) for individual short-term competitive gain (he specifically refers to the Monterey sardine fishery, now defunct because of over-fishing).

There’s lots more in Zimbardo’s talk (see also The Time Paradox website). From insights regarding how different members within my family perceive time (and what that does to inter-personal dynamics, or to issues relating to attitude, depression, and even energy), to how the place I live in has a different (and often habitually crippling) perception of time and therefore also toward change (which has immense political implications, especially here), Zimbardo’s insights are remarkably rewarding.

Figuring out religion in God’s Brain: great interview with Lionel Tiger

April 7, 2010 at 8:38 pm | In health, ideas, nature | Comments Off on Figuring out religion in God’s Brain: great interview with Lionel Tiger

One of the commenters on Maclean’s Interview with Lionel Tiger writes, “Gosh this is depressing. Believers, the delusional mob will continue to infect all cultures.”

I’m not so sure.

Seems to me that Lionel Tiger is on to something with his analysis of the religious impulse – or God’s Brain, as his book (with Michael McGuire) describes it. Tiger is an anthropologist (and prolific author), McGuire is a neuroscientist (who figured out the role of serotonin in the brain); together, they’ve come up with a theory of religion that makes sense to me (a full on skeptic and basic atheist).

Maclean’s interview with Lionel Tiger covers all the key questions to give the reader a good overview of what to expect from the book (which I haven’t read, but wouldn’t mind putting on my reading list).

One question in particular struck me, as I’ve been turned off by the religious undertone of some environmentalisms. The interviewer asks (on page 2), “Despite increasing secularization, especially in the West, most people have not become flat-out rationalists. Do you think that for many environmentalism is a religion?”

To which Tiger answers: “That’s absolutely right, and that’s interesting because it is finally the fruit of pantheism, a very, very old religious idea. For many people, not using more than four sheets of toilet paper is an act of moral purification.” [emphasis added]

To my mind, there’s a link in Tiger’s remark about the allowable number of toilet paper sheets to OCD and other neuroses that compel people to act in certain ways: something about the behavior soothes the brain. Unfortunately, that same impulse creates anxiety in mine, which is why some meetings with those who wish to save the earth make me want to run screaming from the room. I just don’t get it when it gets all …um, oceanic and communitarian.

That said, it’s not the case that hard-core atheism is much better, and Tiger’s work has stepped on toes in that camp, too. With regard to hard-core, sometimes you have to wonder if being benighted is like a two-sided coin. That is, one side is as dark as the other, and reduction to “black and white” just leaves everyone clueless.

Q: From the outside, then, it’s not religion’s strangeness you see, but its naturalness?
A: I’ve been on panels a couple of times with Richard Dawkins and invariably we come to the point where Richard will go on about how terrible religion is, and I’ll say, “Richard, are you a naturalist?” And he says, “Well, of course I am.” And then I say, “Would you agree, as you’ve in fact argued in your books, that over 90 per cent of people have some religion?” and he finally says, “Yes.” “How can you be a naturalist and assume that the great majority of the species is not natural? That doesn’t make any sense.” As a social scientist I wanted a deeper explanation for this otherwise remarkable activity. When you think of the cost of religion—the buildings, the tax exemptions, the weekly offering—it’s not trivial, it’s simply not trivial. If only out of respect, one has to pay attention to this. (source)

The underlying fact of life is death, and that healthy people normally do not want to die. Heck, most of us have a hard enough time with growing old, since aging turns into a series of announcements about the final curtain call.

In more recent years, we’ve soothed ourselves with the idea that there are other planets out there and that we’re not alone. Now it turns out that the Earth may indeed be, if not unique, at least nearly unique in the sense that there’s nothing else quite like it within a gazillion light years around us. What a scary thought – and what a waste if we trash this planet.

Then we all die!

Oops, that was the original scary part – except now, it’s not just as an individual, or a clan, or even a species, …but cosmic. Like, totally cosmic.

No wonder religion is on the rise, even as we learn more and more that traditional religions are not to be trusted.

Tiger and McGuire offer a scientific and anthropological explanation that finally makes sense of the religious impulse, without flattening either those who believe in religion or those of us who question it. The drive to religion is powered by our basic dislike of death – death creates stress and anxiety for our brain, religion soothes it. Given the potential we have today for collective death (in war, in environmental disaster) – and therefore our potential for collective religious silliness – maybe God’s Brain can help us move toward more rational solutions. Failing that, we can just keep praying.

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