Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Eye of the Beholder

As the old adage goes, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder," but have you ever stopped to wonder how or why you can appreciate beauty in the first place?

Don't say Evolution.

Evolution is a theory based off of a law of functionality - the Law of Natural Selection, which states:

  1. Variation exists within a species.
  2. Certain variations are more beneficial for survival in certain environments.
  3. The individual with better variations is more likely to survive and thus pas on the variations.
  4. The population will shift over time to the more favorable variation.
Now, I must ask, how does beauty or appreciation of beauty fit into evolution?

For clarity's sake, by beauty, I mean characteristics that serve to make an individual attractive to the opposite sex of the same species. this can take the form of physical expression (decoration, colors, symmetry, etc), vocal expression, or another sort of expression with the sole intent to attract a mate. Pheromones, however, do not precisely qualify, but can also be addressed*.

Well, if one of those traits is already pre-existing, then it is quite evident that the opposite trait would increase the individual's chances of mating and passing on of the trait in question.

This assumption, however, if scrutinized thoroughly under an evolutionary perception, is flawed. After all, for the theory of evolution to fully satisfy the question, we must start from a null point, not from halfway. Therefore, we must start with a theoretical organism that has no beauty or appreciation thereof and one that neither exudes nor receives pheromones. 

Let's start with beauty. From a null point, beauty is relative, therefore a "beautiful" organism in the midst of unappreciative organisms has no advantage save any practical ones possibly lent by the beautiful modification (say, an aid to hunting, swimming, etc). As beauty appreciation is relative, were an organism to achieve a cognitive sense of beauty, that sense would be forced to comply with the immediately surrounding organism, also leaving no true advantage unless the perception of beauty were ascribed to the ability to function.

So, we may concede that functional beauty (beauty derived from a superior functional variation) could possibly have arisen via evolution, but how, then do we explain non-functional adaptations like music, bird plumage, the pleasant arrangement of the natural world? Well, these must be drab, utilitarian constructs we ave come to perceive as beautiful. 

Explain to me, then, a peacock's feather. 

The peacock's feather possesses color due to iridescence, that is, due to the light scattering off of the way the barbs and barbules are arrayed, creating a shimmering hue, not due to dye.

The peacock is color blind. To a peacock, the feather appears as shades of gray.

The question to be asked, then, is what is the point of this beauty? What is its purpose? A fan of feathers whose ornate detail cannot be fully appreciated by its own species seems fairly pointless, no?

Then was the peacock's fan evolved for some other organism?

Hah! Evolution scoffs at this naive idea. There is no purpose to such development, therefore it would not have existed. The only thing it has served to do is attract the attention of humans as objects of beauty who then keep it as pets. 

Then shouldn't ornate peacocks not exist in the wild? Oh, wait.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I beg you to consider that the peacock feather did come about for man's appreciation of beauty; and not only did that feather and the appreciation thereof develop randomly, but that there was explicit design given into the feather and an appreciation for such beauty put in man (after all, this beauty serves no purpose to man other than pleasure, which is not necessary to survival).

While we are on the topic of design, the concept of panspermia only delays the inevitable question of "Whodunnit?"

So, some superior designer created beauty for the sake of beauty in this one instance. 

No, not really. Consider man's whole perception of beauty: we find many traits of organisms outside of our species beautiful. Flower petals, for example, serve to attract bees for pollination, therefore, by evolution, we should have no appreciation of their beauty, yet we do. 
Shall I carry on?

So multiple instances of beauty occur and are designed simply for our appreciation?

Well, yes. 

And no.

The universe wasn't created for our pleasure, but for that of the one who designed it. It just so happens that we, being created sentient, are able to appreciate it. Where I'm going with this is fairly simple: There is a God. He created the universe for His glory, including us. Because we were created in His image, we are able to appreciate the beauty of this creation with the original intent of bringing yet more glory to God.

Does this make sense? I don't want to ramble on, yet I just ask you to consider a piece of art, made by an artist. We look at it and say, "whomever created this is talented." Were we to say that the art brought itself together by pure chance would be an insult.

So, consider the beauty of the world around you. Did that beauty and your appreciation of it really come by chance through a variation? Is it really critical to your survival? I don't think so, and neither, I think, would Darwin.

*Pheromones are chemical hormones that induce a chemical change in the brain, which is a different process and concept from beauty (hence it not being included), but the development thereof could be followed using the same logic.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A.D.- Squirrel!

 So, I was enjoying some time talking with friends and we got started on the topic of ADD and ADHD, but not really about the conditions themselves, but the frequency with which these prognoses are given.

So, to start, I'm going to preface this: I do acknowledge and realize that certain people do, in fact, have these conditions and need medication for them.

My rant is about the quick-fix nature of society that says "My child can't focus. Something's wrong. Doctor, give him a pill!"

Yes, the first two statements are valid, but "Give him a pill!"? Seriously? This idea of looking for a quick fix has become absurd. According to the CDC,

  • The percentage of parent-reported ADHD in children has increased by 22% from 2003-2007.
  • As of 2007, 5.4 million kids have been diagnosed with ADHD.
  • The rate of ADHD diagnosis increased by 3% each year from 1997-2006 and 5.5% per year from 2003-2007.
  • As of 2007, 2.7 million kids with ADHD (66.3% of those diagnosed) were on medication. 1
This is insane.

Here's my question: Given the increasing trends shown, there must be some deeper issue behind the increasing prevalence of ADD/ADHD diagnoses in the US; what is it?

I have two answers that I think may be contributing to the issue.

The first answer is fairly simple, as a society, we have become lazy. We don't want to spend the time teaching ourselves or our kids to focus and push past distraction, so we seek an excuse, a label behind which we can hide. This doesn't excuse us from the responsibility to try, to put in effort. applying a label doesn't solve anything, it becomes merely another layer of whitewash over the crack.

The second answer is a fair bit more complicated. The brain, especially a child's brain, is extremely plastic. What this means is that it easily alters and conforms to different processing patterns depending on the environment. Are you seeing where I am going with this? If you are, you have trained your brain in deductive thinking. It has become increasingly obvious to me that the media and culture of today has affected the attention span of individuals all throughout society, particularly those of the generation that is just now reaching their adolescence.

In a simple case of input = output, we can see the effect of mass media on the brain. today's media consists of multiple short soundbytes and video clips that are no longer than 5 or 6 minutes. In addition, due to the nature of the internet, if one doesn't like what one is watching, one can merely change the page and search for something else. Society's desire for quick-fix hedonism has affected the way we interact with the world and the media has willingly obliged, moving with the zeitgeist in order to maintain and grow their followers. Ever more ring Cobain's words in my ears when I think of society today.

"Here we are now, entertain us."
Okay, so what does this have to do with ADD/ADHD? Simply this: we are training our brains and the brains of the younger generations to have a short attention span, to focus on one thing for a mere few minutes before moving on to the next. As a tutor, I see these tendencies play out as the kids I work with seek constant diversion every few minutes. Even when doing fun, entertaining tasks, like reading or assembling a puzzle, I see these children starting, getting bored, doing something else, and then returning to the puzzle multiple times. I'm not that old, I'm only 21, but I remember as a kid sitting through an entire book or working through an entire 300 piece puzzle in one sitting.

Alright, so I've ranted long enough. What do I propose we do? It's fairly simple: train the minds of the generations to come. The Bible mentions this concept in Proverbs 22:6. We need to train our children (or, in my case, future children) how to focus. We need to engage them in activities which stimulate the mind, allowing an active engagement, and promoting a long attention span.

"How can I do this?" "What type of activities do you mean?"

Well, for starters, TURN OFF THE TV! One of the things I am, in hindsight, extremely grateful to my parents for doing is limiting the amount of TV I could watch each day. I had 2 hours tops each day. So I had to choose what I wanted to watch: a certain show or two or a movie later with the family. They also previewed and monitored what I was watching to make sure that it consisted of shows, mostly educational, that were beneficial, or at worst, non-degrading to the person they desired for me to become.

The second thing to do, after turning off the TV, is to engage your kids in constructive, lengthy activities. Read a book, put together a puzzle, make an imaginary fort out of sheets, work in the garden, or something else by which you can spend quality time with your kids and encourage mental stimulation. Mental stimulation? Yes. Reading is a very active pasttime, mentally, so is assembling a puzzle or imaginary play. "You left out gardening." I was getting there. Gardening can be a manifold lesson: it can teach discipline, perseverance, patience, and the joy of finishing a task. These activities and more are all things I remember fondly from my childhood, not so much the individual TV shows I watched or the video games I played.

So, I would strongly encourage you, put away the remote and start actively putting into your children (or plan for your future children) the ideals and actions you wish to see from them in the future.

And maybe, just maybe, we'll see the excessive ADD/ADHD diagnoses start to fall...

1 Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. accessed 18/10'/2012.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Sinners in the Hands of an [Loving] God

At the beginning of the Great Awakening in the American colonies, a minister, John Edwards, delivered a sermon that initiated and set the tone for this movement. His sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" caught his congregation by the throat and initiated a period of deep spiritual self-analysis, collective analysis, and renewal.

Here's the interesting part: the spirit of the times pre-Awakening was remarkably similar to our modern times. Many of the social and economical ills were as prevalent then as they are now. (Yes, some ills, such as the pro-choice and pro-homosexuality movements, were not even considered as ideas worth following. Other concepts, like the philosophy and religious apathy developing from the Enlightenment movement were almost cut copy from modern articles and concepts).

What's different, though, is Edwards' approach. Where the modern church takes the route of least offense and melodious offerings, Edwards went straight for the jugular. He spoke about God's wrath.

Yes. He went there. Today, if a pastor of a major church were to speak about punishment and wrath, about damnation and the futility of human endeavours towards salvation, he would be under so much fire from his church, the media, and those outside the church that he might wish he was in hell just so he could escape from the heat.

There's just something uncomfortable about hearing about such matters. For you guys, it ranks up there with watching the [male] protagonist of a movie taking a cheap shot to the crown jewels. Ladies, I'm sorry, but I can think of nothing that, to you, would resonate with such clarity.

Here's the question: why doe we avoid talking about God's wrath and punishment?

It's like talking about the judicial system in the US as a friendly body of men who keep the citizens from being murdered, stolen from, etc. It's true, yes, but it's such a roundabout way of saying what they do. They sentence people to punishment for murdering, stealing, etc.

Similarly, God punishes us for sinning and oh, does God hate sin. It's part of who He is, holy. He CANNOT abide sin. This isn't a mediocre upset stomach or gag reflex. This isn't a mild distaste. This is a deep loathing. God abhors our sinful state and, if that isn't remedied, He would gladly send us to eternal punishment to remove the stench of sin from His presence.

Now, in light of that "unpleasantry", is the mercy and love of God truly shown for the magnanimity that it is. The fact that God would sacrifice his Son to be the perfect punishment-bearer for our sin becomes that much more astounding.

So, how about some fire and brimstone?