The hard truth about getting old


This Salon article is a good read and could be starting material for a much deeper discussion, one we should be having among ourselves and also publicly. I’m sharing it because I had a short but rewarding conversation with a friend on Google Plus around this article.

It’s usually a surprise to me when I realize people are treating me differently because of my age. It just feels strange to be seen differently because I’m 20 or more years older or younger than someone else. I try to avoid seeing others this way, but it’s a natural tendency.

As humans, we love to label things, people included, and that includes labeling others according to age. This is particularly problematic because physical age captures so little of a person’s essence.

Becoming ageless by living for timeless goals is a worthy goal for life. For most of us, that means playing a small part in making the world better, dedicating ourselves to improving the lives of at least a few people.

One thing I love about the internet is that people, for the most part, perceive you according to the traits you express, rather than as an age, a race, a citizen of some place. The technology allows us to abstract away (to some extent) the innate aspects of those we meet, letting us focus on their character, intelligence, and general persona. I see this as a wonderful advance.

Drones, Protests, and a Harsh Sentence

Excerpt from Video

Excerpt from Video

Mary Anne Grady Flores, a 58-year-old grandmother of three, was sentenced to a year in jail after photographing an anti-drone protest outside a military base near her home.

I support this woman’s right to protest, and I think a year in prison is a harsh sentence for violating the protective order. I also think the drones add a lot of valuable capability to our armed forces.

I used to question the morality of drone warfare, but I’ve since heard discussions of the complexity of ground assaults versus drones and the likely body counts (friendly, hostile, and civilian) from each approach, and I’m convinced that drone warfare is morally sound, as morally sound as any type of warfare can be.

Wired at the Western Wall

Western Wall

Western Wall

This strongly reminds me of TS Eliot’s “Choruses from The Rock”.

The endless cycle of idea and action,
Endless invention, endless experiment,
Brings knowledge of motion, but not of stillness;
Knowledge of speech, but not of silence;
Knowledge of words, and ignorance of the Word.
All our knowledge brings us nearer to our ignorance,
All our ignorance brings us nearer to death,
But nearness to death no nearer to GOD.
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries
Bring us farther from GOD and nearer to the Dust.

I’m a humanist and would replace GOD with Essential Humanity, but I think Eliot and I would agree on the principle and phenomenon he’s describing here. I don’t think this technology necessarily interferes with our essential humanity, but it currently does for most of us.

Prayer App

Prayer App

We have been using communications technology for millennia to store our ideas and express ourselves, but we are in the infancy of using technology that’s so compelling and pervasive it threatens to overwhelm us and cause us to withdraw our humanity from the world. I hope we learn to control this new technology.

There are only two options for the masses. We will learn to control this technology and use it to augment and extend our humanity, or we will let the technology (and those who control it) to enslave us.

Am I unscientific, irrational, or cowardly if I am religious?

Answer by Christopher Lamke:

Here's the question as it's stated at the time I'm answering it.
"Am I unscientific, irrational, or cowardly if I am religious?"

While it depends on what you mean by religious, I'll assume (until you correct me) that you define "religious" as believing in god(s) or other supernatural phenomena.

Being Religious is not Unscientific
Believing in the supernatural doesn't make you unscientific. If you study the history and philosophy of science, you'll note that many prominent scientists were religious going back to the classical Greeks and continuing up till today. It's true that the majority of elite scientists today don't believe in anything like a personal god, but the presence of Francis Collins, leader of the Human Genome Project and now Director of the US National Institutes of Health, tells us that you can certainly be a brilliant scientist and also believe in a mainstream religion.

There's a philosophical reason why you can be both religious and scientific, and in fact there's no conflict between these two traits unless you force it. Modern science is defined on the physical domain. It's very powerful at finding out How Things Work, how things in the physical world are connected, what they're made of, and how they influence one another. Science has nothing to say about the metaphysical domain. This is the domain of religion, the domain of What Is and Why Something Is. You probably recognize those questions as being addressed (if not answered) by religion. In fact, the metaphysical domain informs our understanding of science to the extent that we require a metaphysical theory to create a reality (even if it's just a prop) behind our observations of the physical world.

The only time there's a conflict between religion and science is when someone attempts to use one of these outside its proper domain. If a creationist insists that evolution is a lie because that's not how god(s) work, he has (or should have) no standing. Evolution is a widely accepted theory with great explanatory and predictive power. Creationism is an idea of how a god created the universe. Never the twain should meet. Likewise, you find some people attempting to use science to disprove the existence of god(s) or supernatural works. This is futile because the god(s) and works exist in the metaphysical domain, where science is not defined.

Being Religious is not Irrational
Being religious is not irrational, or rather it's no more irrational than many other things humans do. We are raised to prize rationality as a good, unconditionally. We need rationality to survive, and it is a good. But, like science, it's not the summation or the ultimate goal of human existence. Incidentally, the goal of human existence, our reason for being, is another one of those things defined in the metaphysical domain.

Humans are at best incompletely rational and most of us fall far short of full rationality most of the time. While scientists, especially as they are often shown on TV and in movies, are the epitome of rationality, a completely rational person would be incompletely human. Even Mr. Spock from the Original Star Trek was most human and most endearing when his non-rationality shown through. We are all irrational much of the time and that's also a good thing. Many of the best things in life are opaque to rationality. They must be felt in our being.

Being Religious is not Cowardly
I'm guessing you include "cowardly" in your question because you've heard that it takes courage to face the reality that there is no god, no great father to care about you, that nature doesn't care about you, and that life is temporary and death is permanent.

I believe there's no god, nature is impersonal and uncaring, and that death is permanent, but it's not because I'm courageous. I just couldn't accept the god(s) of any religions as being real, and I've studied religion and philosophy for a long time. I don't think it's cowardly to want to believe in a heavenly father that cares for you now and will ensure death is only temporary. It's very human and I'd like to believe that myself. I just can't.

I hope this is helpful. Please tell me if this makes sense and where it's unclear. I've tried to avoid jargon and keep things at a layman's level and I may have overly complicated things or made them unclear as a result. I can certainly go back and clarify where necessary.

Am I unscientific, irrational, or cowardly if I am religious?

When should a question begin with “what” as opposed to “which”?

Answer by Will Wister:

“Which” is preferred when you have a very limited number of known choices.

  • Which arm is stronger?
  • Which of your siblings do you like best?

“What” is preferred when you have a large number of choices or you don’t even know how many choices there are.

  • What color do you like best?
  • What is the best company that does X?
  • What was the most impressive empire of all time?

Here are some references that back this up:

[4] http://learnenglish.britishcounc…

When should a question begin with “what” as opposed to “which”?

Is atheism an arrogant way of life?

Answer by Christopher Lamke:

This is an interesting question. Others have answered it well, but I feel like weighing in to see what I think about this.

I'm going to use this definition of arrogance:
"an insulting way of thinking or behaving that comes from believing that you are better, smarter, or more important than other people"

I think the question stems from a misunderstanding of atheism. As it says in my tagline, "Atheism is a lack of belief in god(s), nothing more." That may be hard to understand or accept, but it's true. A lack of belief in god(s) is no different in principle than a lack of belief in unicorns or werewolves. There's zero objective (observable, physical) evidence for the existence of god(s) or other supernatural beings, and that includes the gods of Christianity, the Greeks, or any of the many other well known pantheons.

As a believer, you should be able to understand that your belief in only one god or set of gods, while rejecting the gods of all the other religions, is based on something other than objective evidence. The rejection by countless other people of your god(s) and all other gods beside their chosen one(s) indicates that the belief in god(s) is based not on objective factors but on factors like culture. Around the world, people are very likely to follow the religion of their family and local culture. To assume that all these other people, from widely varying cultures, are all wrong and you are right, is problematic. In fact, it generally fits the definition of arrogance above.

There are atheists who are arrogant, who don't believe in gods but also believe that it's foolish or stupid to believe in god(s). This is a subset of atheists and places them in almost exactly the same position as theists who accept their god(s) and reject all others as foolish or stupid.

As far as not needing a god to exist, it seems inappropriate to call this stance arrogant because it's trivially true and whatever your religion, the majority of the world lives well without believing as you do. For many thousands of years, people have lived praiseworthy, full and productive lives without believing in god(s). Atheists are only slightly different than followers of traditional religions, in that they lack a belief in one more religion than each follower.

Is atheism an arrogant way of life?

Be Kind to Other Workers

Be kind to other workers.

This is obvious, at least in theory, but it’s often hard to practice and can be the first thing dropped when you become busy. Kindness requires slowing down enough to recognize the humanity and inherent value in another human being, something that takes effort.

Here’s a little email I wrote to a colleague recently to show my appreciation for his efforts to be kind to our IT support staff.

I just want to say thank you for being so polite to our support staff.

I know you’re a polite person, but I know from experience that it’s easy to forget expressions of gratitude when you get busy. A note of appreciation from others can really make someone’s day and in some cases it’s the difference between them thinking of themselves as just wage slaves and believing their work to be important and worth doing well. No pressure though … :-)

How would you finish this sentence?

These are my answers to:

How would you finish this sentence?

“I loved her. She loved me. She was perfect. Unfortunately, ___________”


I loved her. She loved me. She was perfect. Unfortunately, my wife found out.


I loved her. She loved me. She was perfect. Unfortunately, she was a vampire and I was a werewolf, and we were stuck in a movie so terrible, we perished from the absurdity of it all.


I loved her. She loved me. She was perfect. Unfortunately, my hard disk crashed and I lost her.

How would you finish this sentence?

How can we reduce the amount of group-think on Quora?

Answer by Christopher Lamke:

At first, I found this question only mildly interesting as it pertains to Quora, but then I realized you’re actually asking a fundamental question about human groups. Thank you for asking this.

Is there a lot of group-think on Quora?
I’m not sure there’s a lot of group-think on Quora. I haven’t noticed it. I have noticed there are some answers that get many upvotes and others that seem equally good that only get a few upvotes. I have no idea what Quora’s mechanisms are for ensuring the equitable display of content, and of course we’re very unlikely to all agree on whatever algorithm is used and (just as importantly) the definition of “equitable”.

I would like to see an analysis of answers that are qualitatively similar and yet have a large difference in upvotes, to see if factors (other than group-think) can be identified that would account for the difference, e.g. time of submission related to the time that question was hot on Quora. This would be a time consuming process for anyone not working for Quora and having access to the engine and data/records underlying the site, and it wouldn’t be trivial even for a Quora engineer.

Quora has an unusually high percentage of people of above average intelligence and education. I think the majority of Quora users base their upvote (or downvote) on the content of an answer or comment, not the current vote count. Without an analysis like the one above, I don’t see how a regular user can determine this to any level of confidence without many weeks of manual effort, and that assumes the user has a good math/statistics background.

If there is group-think on Quora, how can we overcome this bias, on Quora and in real life?
I agree with the second part of your question, the tendency of even very intelligent people to prefer an echo chamber, in which answers reinforce their worldview, to answers that challenge that worldview. I’d love to have a practical counter to that tendency, as it underlies many of the most destructive aspects of human behavior. I recommend reading up on the theory that reason did not evolve as a means to find objective truth, but rather to win arguments. I find this compelling, as it has great explanatory and predictive power. There are two links on this idea below. If group-think is a major force on Quora, I think we need to examine this theory as a potential framework for explaining it and (maybe) countering it.

The New York Times

The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science

How can we reduce the amount of group-think on Quora?