Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Praise me for I know how to consume

I have finally awaken and started perceiving a most peculiar behaviour... Every time someone in my extended family buys a new car/laptop (or any other noticeable purchase) they feel the urge to ' demostrate' their new purchase and (the rest of the family) is as curious as to make sure to pay a visit soon after the purchase. Thus the family gathers and everyone flocks around to observe the newly-born (oops, I meant bought) family member. (oh, and in case you couldn't make it to the little 'demonstration family reunion', don't you worry: you will promptly be receiving an email with photos attached).
After the demonstration the incessant praising starts: "Oh yes, great car" , " Ow, very nice indeed" ... Sheepishly I follow along (for if you don't you risk being considered unfriendly and snobbish), force myself to look interested and finally, trying hard to fake enthusiasm, I utter "Indeed, nice car". When actually I couldn't CARE LESS. My interest for cars/laptops (or whatever) goes as far as their functional purpose goes. "Can you drive in the car you just bought?". If the answer is ' yes' conversation has finished as far as I am concerned.

Why this urge to show? Why this craving for approval? Do they need to hear others telling them they made a good choice? If that is what they want I will give it right now:
Congratulations you've been convinced by good marketing that you need yet another product, and this one in specific. Congratulations also for skillfully having chosen that which has already been mass-produced for you.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

18th century robots

Robots turning eeringly life-like... Androids replacing humans... It sounds we are on the verge of a whole new era in human history. Interestingly however we are not the first humans to think so.

When today we think that computers and robots might take over the world, our 16th century ancestors thought the clock will! The clock, with its moving hands and intricate mechanics had deeply impressed people. Descartes (a famous philosopher) actually envisioned that a clock could one day perhaps even move a person's legs.

The 18th century had its own little robotics-revolution. A lot of 'automata' were build at that time. These 'automata' were in a sense mechanical toys but the extend to which they were life-like really enchanted people. Needless to say, the first of these automata were constructed as gifts for Kings, Queens and Noblemen. I will list a few of these impressive creations below.

There is Jacques Vaucason's duck. A 'robot' duck that can sit, stand eat and... poo!

Then there is "La Joueuse de Tympanon". Notice how in this video she is even moving her head and eyes! Creepy!

And Henri Maillardet's "writer".

You can also check out this trailer. You can see various automata as well as Vaucanson's duck in action!

So I think by now it should be clear: We are not the first to wonder: "what if one day these robots start having a mind of their own?"...

Friday, October 16, 2009

Animal instincts & ingenious anti-rape mechanisms

Animals... Wild.. Uncontrollable... Following their instincts...
Now, would you think an animal can feel 'raped'...? To be very honest I sort of thought animals would like anything that feels good (unless I guess it doesn't).
But apparently they don't.

To be more specific, in some duck species female ducks have developed an
elaborate 'anti-rape' mechanism. It seems that they are often approached by aggressive (undesired) male ducks with malicious intentions and finding no escape... :(

So, (it seems) they have developed certain sacks/dead ends in their vagina... Once the 'aggressor' is led into those their sperm is practically wasted.

Who would have thought...!
If you want to know more check out this article.

Despite the fact that most water fowl form monogamous pairs, forced copulations by other males — the avian equivalent of rape — are common in many water fowl, [...]. The length of the phallus of a species is strongly correlated with the frequency of forced copulations.- P. Brennan

I leave the conclusions up to you.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The bright side of the Dark Ages

The Inquisition, burning books, scientist and philosophers dying slow and painful deaths because they held a belief opposed by the 'Church', suppressed urges and emotions... A creepy image of the Dark Ages...

I started reading this book on the Middle Ages, "Liebe und Sex im Mittelalter" (love and sex in medieval times) by Alexander Ballhaus and I am surprised to find that those Dark Ages might have a bright side too. (and no, I don't mean the Hollywood 'princesses and knights' bright side!)

Even though the 'Church' (and thus to an extend Christianity) have been the driving force behind that terrifying Inquisistion and other horrible things, Christianity has also brought about important changes that distinguish the ancient from the modern world.

For one thing Christianity, with its claim that all humans are equal in the eyes of God, laid the foundation for the later abolishment of slavery. (note that in the Roman Empire slaves were regarded and treated as animals; also note how Christianity was initially adopted by slaves and how they were persecuted by the Roman Empire)
Beside this, it also brought about a shift in people's minds about the position of women.
Clement of Alexandria reported: "Christians want women to be appreciated on the basis of the purity of their behavior and not their beauty; furthermore they don't want men regarding women as subservient objects, because nature gave us marriage, just as it gave us food, which we can use but not abuse." [4]

Even though it might have taken a long time until women and men became equals and slavery was abolished, it seems that the Dark Ages have been a breeding ground for this. A first step in a long-long journey...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Homosexual necrophiliac duck

Yes, you understood correctly. Homosexuality and necrophilia (finding the dead sexually attractive) have been observed in ducks (both at the same time, an all-in-one bingo) just outside the Natural History Museum of Rotterdam.

How did this happen? Well, one fine day a male duck (the 'victim-duck') flew against the museum's huge window and dropped dead (just like many other birds do apparently). Then another male duck arrived that started ahm "copulating" with the dead duck... Kees Moeliker who worked at the museum happened to pass, video-taped the whole event and described it extensively in a paper (he later even won a Ig Nobel Prize for this).

A funny detail is that when Kees tried to collect the carcass he was faced by an aggressive attack from the 'molester duck' who was defending his 'prey'...!

Well, isn't nature full of surprises?!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Wealth distorts perception

Living in the pink bubble of a "rich" country distorts your perception of reality.
Few days ago, in the Netherlands, a discussion emerged about animal rights with the concrete proposal of applying a "meat tax" (up to 2 euro's per kilo, depending on how "bio" the piece of meat is), with the aim to reduce meat consumption and ensure better treatment for the animals.

For quiet a while I was myself very involved into this discussion. Until I saw this. A documentary about child trafficking and women forced into prostitution. To give you an indication of the extent of the problem: about 50.00 women per year are being trafficked to the USA alone...

When I am confronted with stuff like this anything else seems SO FUTILE... "Animal right, 1 or 2 euros"- What are we even babbling about!!... But alas, we DO live in our own MICROCOSMOS... It is a problem of perception. Apparently to 'us' it seems that most problems pertaining to "human rights" are solved (in our part of the world at least) so we can now actually start worrying about "animal rights"...

Don't get me wrong, I find any initiative to better the world (animal or human) more than welcome but sometimes things just seem awfully out of balance...

Anyways. Beside the point of us living in our pink bubble, I also wonder:
Is forced prostitution a poverty problem? Or is this a social/mentality problem? (ie. where there is a need that shall be a supply)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Tree Man

A man growing into a tree... Or so it looks like. He has a rare illness called Epidermodysplasia verruciformis. It is a virus that causes growth of huge "moles" resulting in tree-like extensions.

Could this illness be where those myths about humans turning into trees are inspired from?.... ( like the ancient Greek myth of Daphne).
Although I guess human imagination could have made that up easily anyways.

You can see some videos about him:

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Human without a body

Unbelievable but true... A human without a body...
They are two twins joined by the head. Only difference is the the second twin (called "parasitic" twin in the documentary) has no body.

Even though the "head-only" twin shares part of her brain with her sister she does seem to have a consciousness of her own with a distinct personality. She can smile and reacts to her environment (follows people and objects with her eyes). For obvious reasons (lack of throat and lungs) she can of course not speak.
The "head-only" twin was feeding her brain off her sisters blood directly (so her sister's body had to pump double the amount of blood to the heads). I wonder, would she feel hunger? Or would her sister feel hungry for her instead? (since she is the one who can actually eat and digest)

How is it even possible to have fused brains yet different personalities? (and does that say anything about people with multiple personality disorder?Or is that taking it a step too far?)

Fortunately/Unfortunately we wont know the answers.
To save the life of the twin with the body the mother and doctors decided to separate the two.

I would highly recommend the documentary to anyone: See part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Milk for calcium???....

You see them every day, advertisements about smiling families drinking "healthy milk" and "actor-doctors" advising women to drink lots of it in order to avoid osteoporosis. But how healthy and necessary milk actually is is questionable.

The very fact that we are the only animal that consumes milk beyond infancy should make us think. Furthermore, how is it possible that huge animals like elephants, which become as old as humans (70) and weigh much more (i.e. bones have a much "heavier" job), do not suffer from osteoporosis?

The answer lies in the green leaves they eat which are rich in calcium.

For us humans there are also plenty of green calcium-rich vegetables, (mostly green ones) like spinach, broccoli, soy beans , collards, bak choy, mustard greens, wasabi roots and many others.

Also, about 75% of world population seems to be lactose intolerant, meaning they can't really digest and eat diary products... Maybe another sign we don't really need it?

And what about those voices that say there are tons of carcinogen hormones, antibiotics and other dubious stuff in milk?.... You can of course ignore them, or read about them...

Conclusion: I would say, mind the milk. And if you want to continue drinking it in huge quantities, then at least go for skim milk (0% fat). This will keep you from growing fat PLUS you avoid all the hormones (estrogens) which reside in milks fat.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Do we need a brain? The 100gr human brain

Do you think that a person with a brain of just 100 grams (compared to the average "normal" brain of 1500 grams) could still function normally? Sounds impossible right?

Well, meet the impossible.
A normal young guy, studying mathematics and with an IQ of 126, was diagnosed with a serious form of hydrocephalus (a condition in which part of the head is filled with liquid instead of brain).
His head was 95% filled with liquid!!! Meaning that he actually had a brain of just 100 grams!!

How is this even possible? Is all we assume about the brain false? Where does our consciousness lie, where does our "thinking" really take place? Or does it mean that actually just 100 grams of brain would suffice?

The fact that such a condition is usually fatal, that people who have it often don't survive beyond childhood and that if they do they are severely handicapped makes it even more remarkable.

I am clueless!

You can read more details in this article or search the article published in Science magazine called "Is your brain really necessary?". I read about the above in "Eindeloos bewustzijn"(Endless consciousness) from cardiologist Pim van Lommel.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Multiple Personality Disorder

This documentary is about Multiple Personality Disorder (i.e. people possessing multiple personalities that control the body separately).
This means these people often have blanks in their memory and can't remember what the "other personality" did with the body while they were "away".

It's a documentary absolutely worthwhile seeing.

If you watch the video you might notice some small astonishing details:
  • In the case of the police officer, John, with Multiple Personality Disorder: John's dog "senses" whenever he switches to an "other personality" (the personality of a child in this case) and thus stops regarding him as his master. As a result the dog enters the living room - something he is normally not allowed to do by John. When John switched back to "normal" (i.e. non-child) the dog exits the living room.
  • In the case of Barb (married and mother of 2 children): Whenever she switches to the personality of Mae (a 5 year old child) she doesnt seem to need her glasses anymore! Somehow her vision is then corrected.
So, how can a dog sense the change in personality?(just voice? behavior?)

And, how is is possible that when someone changes personality they would suddenly not need their glasses anymore?...
I thought that bad eyesight was something physical, not psychological... (?)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Shop your funeral

"What will make your funeral unique?" (this is what is written on the poster above - what you see by the way, is a bus stop in Netherlands)
Behold how consumer society has stretched beyond the realm of the living.

It all started a few years ago, rather innocently, with spots on the radio saying: "Don't leave them (your family) behind with the burden of arranging your funeral. Settle things now instead". Ok, sort of makes sense...

But how amazing to see that now, after carefully introducing the subject a few years ago, we have arrived to the point to view funerals like yet another product and consider it (apparently) perfectly normal to have posters all over the place and jolly TV spots giving you examples of how you can design your own funeral and make it truly unique.

Coming from a culture where funerals are a rather unadorned ceremony (i.e. preacher prays and down you go - no speeches) I must say I am rather shocked to find how funerals are turning (or maybe always were in some cultures?) manifestations of the self. A show with music and moving speeches of people exhibiting how much they loved the person (as if the fact that someone died wasn't emotional enough; we need to reinforce it with speeches). But apparently people have the need to say "these final words", play that song etc. So I guess there is nothing wrong with it.

But somehow, I do get the feeling that "designing" your own funeral with details such as which music should play, if you wanna have your photos all over the place etc is crossing a limit. Somehow, by allowing you to choose all of this you are in fact until your very last breath concerned with your selfimage. During your life you have chosen and bought the nicest clothes, the big house, the fancy car etc, and each one of these items expressed you: you created an image of yourself with these. Now I guess companies have correctly addressed the last missing "thing" you can buy and show your identity with.

Your funeral.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Do you have a father?

"Do you have a father?". This might sound like a strange question to ask but maybe it does make sense after all.

It came from the mouth of a 6 year old girl that I met on my flight to France. Now, many might tend to do this away as one of those strange things kids ask. But I think there is more to it.

As I understood later, this question was purposeful; because after asking this the little girl continued by asking the little boy she was talking to whether he had the same eyes as his father.

Could it be that kids nowadays are very concious of the fact that someone might NOT have a father because they might have two mothers, or a single mum instead?

I don't know the answer but I find it utterly intriguing!

Bones for Photos

So, what do you do when you want to retain the memories of your diseased loved ones but don't have photos or portraits?

Well, you could keep their bones with you! This is what the Fayu do. You can often see bones hanging from the walls inside their huts. (usually single pieces like an arm or head, not a full skeleton)
Just like we do with photos, when you visit someone's home, they will give you a tour showing you the bones and telling you about them.

>>(pointing at the bones) "Look, this is my father, he was a great hunter." <<

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Precious Babies

Baby sleeping
Nothing as precious as a baby... And obviously the loss of one is one of the most horrifying experiences a human being can have, right?... You might be shocked to find that some cultures react differently to the loss of babies.

Like the Fayu, a tribe living in the jungle of West Papua.

In their culture, if a baby dies it will mostly go unnoticed and unmourned. The rationale behind this being that "We didn't really know this baby. He didn't contribute to our society. He didn't tell us stories by the fireplace. We didn't even really know him. We will have another baby next year.". This means that the older a person is the more his loss is mourned.

Before you go on to scream out loud how heartless people they must be, take a moment to think about it. If you look at it rationally it actually makes sense, and if you consider the fact that this is a society where the rate of child death is very high, this might be a comforting way to think about it.

So, is our love for and obsession with children just cultural???

PS: I learned about the Fayu through the book "Jungle Child" by Sabine Kuegler. I strongly recommend it to anyone who is curious about foreign cultures.