The Star Inside You

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Looking up to the sky on a clear dark night, with clear eyes alone, the expansiveness of the universe is clear.  It is easy to lose yourself within this expanse, the shapes of the bright shiny specks shifting from one formation to another in your mind; sitting with your child and pointing out the big dipper, while he/she points out the snake, tiger, or Popsicle shape designed in his/her imagination.  These types of activities and thoughts often make us feel small against such a huge, and according to current science, ever-expanding space.  However, we don’t deserve to feel this isolation, as we are far more connected to these shiny specks than what we allow ourselves to feel.

The truth is, we are made from the stuff of stars. 

To break down the science stuff –

Stars exist as a result of fusion reactions.  Most stars fuse hydrogen to make helium (like our sun).  Then when hydrogen is gone it starts fusing helium.  The fusing of helium makes even heavier elements.  Then once the helium is depleted the heavier elements start to fuse, and so on.  This is how oxygen, carbon, and heavier atoms are produced.  This is how all of the elements on the periodic table were produced.  The stopping point of fusion comes with iron – any elements larger than iron require more energy to fuse than the energy released – this is the point when a supernova occurs (explosion / death of a star).

In short, stars manufacture elements and every so often the stars explode and push the manufactured elements into space.  These elements end up forming new stars and solar systems. 

As Neil Shuman, associate dean of biological sciences at the University of California, explains in his book The Universe Within, “Each galaxy, star, or person is the temporary owner of particles that have passed through the births and deaths of entities across vast reaches of time and space.  The particles that make us have traveled billions of years across the universe; long after we and our planet are gone, they will be a part of other worlds.”

In other words, the elements manufactured by the stars are the same elements that make up our bodies.  It is no wonder our bodies are made mostly of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon which are the same elements (as noted above) which are manufactured by stars through fusion.

You could say looking up at the sky is like looking at a mirror, only the mirror not only reflects, but also travels back in time.

The time we know and live by every day is also created by the stars, namely one star: our sun.  The orbit of the Earth around the sun, as well as the orbit of the moon around the Earth creates the months and years that pass by during our lifetimes.  Our seasons are created by these orbits as well, and if you’ve ever experienced “seasonal mood changes” you may now start to realize how deeply connected these big balls sitting up in space are to our personal lives.

What is odd to me, is how we can be so connected to the universe, we are literally made of the universe and we live by its clock; at the same time, we have learned to think of space as something separate from ourselves.  We learned to think of ourselves as small and isolated compared to the expanses above.

Why do we feel so small compared to the universe?

The human mind hasn’t always thought itself so small against the universe, the change was recent and mostly driven by Western culture as a result of the scientific view of objectivism, and the introduction of modern science.  If we need to measure objectively, we can’t make ourselves part of what we are measuring; so science pushed humans out of the universe and portrayed it to us as something separate from ourselves in an attempt to measure it (and some may say to measure it quite successfully).  The Western cultural views driven by Christianity didn’t assist much either, portraying humans as the “chosen ones” and driving a divide been ourselves and the natural world around us (viewing humans as are more intelligent than any other life form and even than the universe itself).

Due to this “objectivism” we pushed away notions of connection between the world outside and inside ourselves, along with a dismissal of astrology and ideas of following the stories in the stars created by our ancestors.

Looking at the universe objectively left out a huge part of existence: us.

Most of science still holds the objective views; it’s what the scientific method was built on. However, the problem has occurred to scientists (with some help through quantum physics) that humans are in fact a part of the universe, and that the observed is not always independent of the observer (especially if we want to answer fundamental questions about the observed; i.e., the universe).  As a result, science is starting to turn a new leaf in the direction of this problem, and the problem has caused quite a divide between scientific views; the two groups in science are currently referred to as “mind” and “matter”.

Mind versus Matter Simplified views of the divide

The “mind” group is beginning to see objectivism as worn out and attempting to move in the direction of recognizing a connection between the universe and all living organisms.  Certain views even go so far as to attribute a collective, single, universal consciousness as the answer to the “hard problems” in science (i.e., the fundamental questions of life).

The “matter” group is doing their best to stick with the current scientific method and keep thoughts of universal consciousness out of the question.  The catch phrase of this group has become “shut up and calculate”, with the thought that if the “hard problems” of science are ignored, the gaps will fill in themselves as long as we let research, experiments, and mathematics continue.

The views of the “mind” group are quite interesting, though the stages are currently primarily philosophical.  It must be said that all science began with philosophy, so such views shouldn’t be dismissed on this point.  Regardless, it is clear the lenses of science are changing, and we may find ourselves within a new realm of knowledge in the not-so-distant future. 

Most Importantly

Though the world of science may be in for a world of change, it’s past has proven one deep fundamental truth: we are made of star dust. And everything in our world (even the world itself) is made of star dust too. There is hope this thought will provide feelings of connection instead of isolation, and the ability to see yourself as part of the big picture (instead of something outside of the picture completely), or maybe you are already feeling all of the connections tingling.

Hints from our Ancestors

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Why do we gorge on delicious food until we feel like we are going to explode?  Why is the divorce rate in America so high?  Why are we more afraid of snakes than cars?  And what do these questions have in common?

The answer is very possibly inside our DNA.

Evolutionary psychologists study the answers to these questions by looking at the lives of our ancestors who roamed the planet thousands of years ago, theorizing that we have the minds of hunter-gatherers.[1]  Thinking about the process of evolution, this theory makes sense.  We know evolution is slow, occurring over the course of many thousands of years[2] and we know that we have spent 95% of our evolutionary history in a hunter-gatherer environment.  Thus, looking at how humans operated many thousands of years ago as foragers, we may be able to answer questions about a driving force behind our actions in today’s world.

In the four areas of our lives listed below, research along with theory has linked questions about our modern-day-selves to answers provided by our foraging-ancestors.

1. Diet – Why do we tend to overeat?  And why do we enjoy a wide variety of foods?

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors spent their days gathering fruits and vegetables or hunting down meat.  Efforts to obtain food were not unchallenging, nor was food an over-abundance.   Foods rich in carbohydrates or fats were rarely available, though when obtained they provided major advantages such as: (1) instant energy or (2) the ability to store food for longer periods of time.[3] These days, we still crave carbohydrates and fats thanks to our ancestors, but food is no longer as scarce.  Our hunter-gatherer era minds will tell us we need to chow down a whole cheesecake, as the mind doesn’t realize there are twenty other cheesecakes sitting in the grocery store freezer isle awaiting purchase.

2. Physical Activity – Are our sedentary lives hurting us more than we realize?

Our foraging ancestors depended on physical activity through the process of gathering fruits and nuts or running down a zebra for the tribe’s weekly protein.  It is clear our foraging ancestors included significant energy exertion as part of their daily routines to the extent the brain would become adapted to this lifestyle.  Looking to modern society, however, we often have to force ourselves just to stand up and move around, especially for those of us with a sedentary job (or those of us with an utmost love for video-games, social media, or the magic land of Wikipedia).  Available research, as a result of modern science and technology, has shown physical activity to stimulate human brain connectivity where an activity, such as running, triggers activity in our brains related to multi-tasking, planning, inhibition, and attention.[4]  This activity shows the brain is still functioning at an optimal level when our bodies are physically active, as the bodies of our hunter-gatherer ancestors would have been. 

3. Fear – Why are we afraid of snakes but not cars?

Snakes were a realistic fear for our foraging ancestors where a poisonous bite could mean the end of life as they knew it.  Though poisonous snakes still exist in the modern world, the chances of an encounter with one of these species in an industrial city is slim to none.[5]  Yet, during a recent Gallup survey about “What scares America most?”  snakes made the top of the list, with 56% of Americans fearing snakes[6]. Meanwhile, the chance of dying in an automobile accident is about 1 in 103[7], and the fear of cars or car accidents didn’t even make the list.  Our fears clearly aren’t in alignment with the threats of our modern world, and we have our ancestors to thank.  Since cars didn’t exist thousands of year ago, we haven’t developed the proper fear when turning on the ignition, and we are left with irrational and mostly useless fears (other than for making interesting cinema or vacationing in the Amazon). 

4. Socialization – Why do we feel so alone in a world in a world with so many people? And why do so many marriages fail?

Though the types of family units adopted by our ancestors is still debated (nuclear family versus polygamous groups), we do know their social lives were vibrant.  Hunter-gather tribes were limited in size, with no greater than 150 people, which made getting to know other members of the group an easy task.  These groups spent their days and nights with each other, where privacy was not a priority.  The lives of our ancestors depended on the sharing of information such as where the best berries are found or who will lead the gazelle hunt, but also included the sharing of gossip such as who was sleeping with who, which elder told the best stories, or who was the worst man to father a child.  The point is, our ancestors spent their lives in close contact with other humans, constantly sharing information and feelings with one another.  Though we still interact with others, the size of our “tribe” has grown larger to fill cities and countries, while the number of people we spend significant time with has grown smaller.  These changes lead to feelings of loneliness and isolation, and even could be the cause of failing marriages.  Raising a child is not an easy task, as anyone with children knows, and we have pushed ourselves to raise children with much less social support than our ancestors.  Our brains aren’t used to being without connection, and isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness, depression, and divorce as a result.  Though the route to change our isolated ways of life may be complicated, it is important to know that these feelings are (at least in part) hardwired in our brains, and having other humans close by to count on is likely more beneficial and important than we realize (especially to those of us that are introverted or socially awkward by design).

As compared to our ancestors, we eat more and exercise less.  We fear things that are of little threat yet aren’t scared of the things that are most likely to kill us.  We hastily marry, when we know we have only half a chance of making it work.  We spend our days in a world filled with billions of people, yet we feel alone. 

All these contradictions seem to be answered by looking to a time thousands of years ago when our brains evolved.  Though we can’t necessarily change our DNA (at least not yet), it seems an important task for us to learn more about the worlds of our foraging ancestors, and in turn learn more about ourselves.  As hunter-gatherer societies moved around often, and lived before the time of written language, the resources and research we have regarding their ways of life are limited.  However, one thing seems clear: the connection our ancestors had with the natural world.  The extent of knowledge they needed to acquire about plant and animal life in order to survive as foragers is astronomical.  And all this information was stored in a map of the natural world within their brains.  Therefore, a link to the natural world is likely hardwired inside of us, and available for access, regardless of how much the modern world tells us to push it aside.  It is very possible gaining access to the areas of our brains which are deeply connected to nature, as gifted to us by our ancestors, may guide us out of the feelings of loneliness and isolation, and comfort us with feelings of connected-ness and meaning.


[1] Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

[2] https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/faq/cat06.html

[3] Carbohydrates and fats listed as 1 and 2 respectively

[4] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-athletes-way/201706/hunter-gatherer-ancestry-may-be-why-our-brains-need-exercise

[5] https://thebrain.mcgill.ca/flash/d/d_05/d_05_p/d_05_p_her/d_05_p_her.html

[6] https://news.gallup.com/poll/1891/snakes-top-list-americans-fears.aspx

[7] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/14/us/opioids-car-crash-guns.html#:~:text=The%20chances%20of%20dying%20in,cancer%20(one%20in%20seven).

An Imaginary World

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From the moment human beings are born, we are bombarded with rules.  As children, we are taught to go to bed at a certain time, eat certain foods (and certain amounts of foods); when we reach a specific age, we go to school – generally, we are taught: “shut up, listen, and learn”.   Then, at the magical age of sixteen (at least in America), we are gifted the rules of the road, and it feels like freedom.  But as we learn soon enough, freedom comes at a cost, with even more rules: go to college so you can get a good job, then get said job so you can make money and support yourself, and don’t forget to follow the speed limit so you don’t waste all of your hard earned money paying traffic tickets.  But following the speed limit isn’t all; somewhere in between we learn the fundamental rules of our society: the laws of our federal, state, and local governments; and often enough, the laws of God are placed above all.

In the eyes of the rule-makers, rules exist for a purpose; e.g., traffic laws are in place to keep the roads from becoming chaos, and to attempt to limit the number of deaths and injuries caused by car accidents.  This may seem like common sense, but if we all had the common sense to live in peace, then why would rules ever exist?

The truth is, even though rules may exist for a purpose (which I will come back to shortly), they are all just made up.  The rules of our legal system are just as made up as the rules of the game of Monopoly.  And the money we earn from our jobs is just as made up as the money from the game of Monopoly.  Most of the things we know in the world are just a figment of our collective imaginations.  We are all just players in the game of Monopoly, and if we don’t follow the rules, we won’t pass go or collect our two-hundred dollars.  At this point you may be thinking that we just moved from common sense to crazy talk, but as I will attempt to explain, “crazy talk” is actually what makes our society work (or not work) we just don’t like to refer to it by that name.

I have provided and explained below the most basic yet most meaningful of the fictions that we have written into our modern lives.

  1. Money – Though the first known currency dates to 5,000 years ago, the U.S. dollar wasn’t printed until 1792.  To put this in perspective, the dollar which Americans are so passionate about earning and hoarding was thought up by a group of people (the U.S. Congress), then printed on a piece of paper by those same people a mere 200 years ago. If we compare this to the amount of time that people have lived on North America, about 18,000 years ago, money is just an infant (many people care for it as an infant too).  The only reason those pieces of paper or numbers in a bank account mean anything is because we the people put our trust in banks, financial institutions, and our government.
  2. Laws – In 1789, not long before the U.S. dollar was created by the U.S. Congress, the first American law was signed by George Washington.  Since that time many additional laws have been put into place making up our current U.S. legal system.  And about 4,000 years before that time, the first known written laws were created somewhere near present-day Iraq.  Like money, laws are also made up by our governments.  Whether you live by our current laws because you believe in them, or in an effort not to spend your life in jail, the truth about these laws is that they were made up by our forefathers.  Laws, like money, are just words on pieces of paper, and are only provided meaning by our collective imagination (i.e., they only mean something if/because enough people believe in them).
  3. Corporations – A corporation, possibly like the one you work for, is just a product of the law; lawyers even call them “legal fictions”.  Corporations don’t exist as living, breathing organisms; we made them up in order to encourage entrepreneurship and to protect individuals from the costs and hardships that businesses may go through.  Corporations exist as part of our collective imagination and as a result of our trust in the collectively imagined legal system.
  4. Religion – Growing up I was taught, according to the Catholic religion, that the Earth and all existing life held by the Earth (including man) was created by God in just six days.  I was not taught this as a story or a myth, but as fact.  This “fact” lead to certain questions that brought about my disconnect from this faith.  However, I have since learned the Catholic church itself doesn’t try to support the Bible’s story of creation as a fact; the book of Genesis is thought of as “history written in a mythical language”[1].  Looking back at my younger self, if I had known these stories were just stories, meant for the purpose of learning the moral, maybe I would have been more interested in learning and less interested in questioning.  And the Bible isn’t the only religious text filled with these mythical stories; they exist in all religions and throughout time.  However, calling something a “myth” doesn’t mean merit should be lost, if anything, allowing ourselves to think of them this way could lead to a wider understanding and acceptance of them.  Each myth provides a glimpse of history, the thoughts of our ancestors, and a lesson, which if applied can help lead a person to be the best version of themselves.  Most of all, these stories bring people together, most often for a positive purpose, and myths like the ones in the Bible are likely the root of how the first civilizations were built.

It may be a bit scary to think that everything is made up, and maybe it’s even too scary to fathom, but moving past the fear is the only way we can ever create change.  Once you understand that we have collectively imagined so much of what runs our lives, it is not as much scary as it is beautiful.  There is reason and purpose behind the things we have imagined, and we wouldn’t be able to cooperate or work together in this world without our collective imagination.  

According to sociological research, most people are unable to get to know or be personally connected to more than 150 people.[2]  This number even has a term, “Dunbar’s number”, as it was first proposed by British anthropologist Robin Dunbar in the 1990s.  The only reason we can get along in societies larger than 150 people is because we have created systems of order to live by.  These systems, such as our legal systems, monetary systems, and religious groups, operate only within our collective imaginations, meaning they won’t work if we don’t trust and believe in them.

Trust in America

The most important word in the paragraph above is “trust”.  In America today, science and technology are starting to push the boundaries of what we understand about the world, and more and more people are becoming aware of the fictional world we live in.  The more knowledge we gain, the more the “facts” become fictional; the more trust in the system is lost.

Trust is the driving factor in making a system work, so without it we won’t be able to operate as a society.  But before we get to the point of downfall, we have the opportunity to re-imagine our (American) systems, to re-build our society based on current beliefs and supported science.  As we said earlier, our first laws were written almost 200 years ago, and a lot has happened in the last 200 years.  It is understandable that these laws no longer suit our society, and it makes sense that trust is being lost in these laws.  However, if we want to re-imagine the world, we need to come together and build trust in a new idea, we need to collectively imagine change, and together build a new system that we all trust in.  If it’s all a fiction anyway, then we might as well make it a fiction that we are proud to be a part of.

If this sounds like a dream, it probably is.  Change is founded in dreams, and I believe that change is possible.  I know that many people have lost trust in the American system, and that we need to start from the bottom up in re-inventing it.  We need to start teaching children the purpose behind the rules, laws, and learning, rather than forcing the systems upon them.  Our first step should be talking about these types of ideas, sharing them with our friends and families, re-imagining what a world would look like which we want to live in.  Though I don’t have all the answers, I know my ideas are not alone, and those who share my thoughts need to collaborate.  Though we may or may not see the change in our lifetimes, the more work we do now, the better the world may be for our children.


[1] https://www.catholiceducation.org/en/controversy/answering-atheists/how-to-read-the-first-chapter-of-genesis.html

[2] Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari

Love is in the Air

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If you were asked to describe your perfect partner what would come to your mind?  You might be able to picture their face, hair, and height.  You likely could list off their best traits; maybe their career, status, and even favorite leisure activity. But you would likely be missing a key describing factor.  The truth in our search for love could very well be right under our noses, quite literally in the air we breathe.

Our Sense of Smell (Olfactory)

Upon walking into the grade school in my district to exercise my right to vote, I was transported back into my second-grade classroom, the one in which my teacher rewarded us with M&M’s for performing well on tests.  I could even almost taste the M&Ms. 

It may seem funny how memories come to us at certain times (like when I visited the grade school), but during these times our olfactory is actually hard at work processing information.  It seems funny to us that this type of thing happens because the olfactory processing isn’t conscious.[1]

So, what exactly is the olfactory? Simply said, it is our sense of smell. 

To quote Merlin Sheldrake, “The human sense of smell is extraordinary.  Our eyes can distinguish several million colors, our ears can distinguish half a million tones, but our noses can distinguish well over a trillion different odors.  Humans can detect virtually all volatile chemicals ever tested.  We outperform rodents and dogs in detecting certain odors, and we can follow scent trails.  Smells feature in our choice of sexual partners and in our ability to detect fear, anxiety, or aggression in others.”

Our noses are so strong they can even detect certain smells where the concentration is as low as 34,000 molecules per 1 square centimeter; this is equivalent to a single drop of water in 20,000 Olympic swimming pools.[2]

For those that prefer the basic biology, as put by Britannica: The Olfactory system is the bodily structures that serve the sense of smell. The system consists of the nose and the nasal cavities, which in their upper parts support the olfactory mucous membrane for the perception of smell and in their lower parts act as respiratory passages.

In case you haven’t gathered, our sense of smell is pretty cool, much more so than we give it credit for.  But the question remains, what does it have to do with love?  For the answer we will look to pheromones. 

What are pheromones?

Pheromones are chemical compounds exuded by an organism for the purpose of carrying messages between organisms of the same species.

Pheromones have been found in many different forms of life, from fungi to insects to pigs.  These chemicals are transmitted through the air as a form of communication, and sometimes (but not always) they assist in summoning a mating partner.  The make-up of these chemical compounds vary from species to species, and is not limited to a single compound per species (i.e., pheromone is a generic term used for a wide variety of molecules used as communication devices within a species).

Humans are suspected to be no different than other life forms in excreting and processing pheromones.  However, our excreting and processing is a bit more nuanced, and thus is not yet understood to its full extent (which probably explains why most of the pheromone products on the market fail to make their users sexually irresistible).

The reason for the nuance in humans can be explained by our complex make-up.  As we mentioned previously, our olfactory processing tends to by-pass our consciousness (such as in the example where I visited the grade school).  Further, each person alive has their own individual “scent” make-up, no different than how we each have individual fingerprints, which you can imagine would complicate the ability to find a consistent compound that serves as a “sexual attraction perfume”.   Regardless, these complexities do not stop scientists from trying, and some of the studies and findings can be found below (see: ‘Is there any proof?’ below).

For the curious souls, our individual “scent” make-up is known as the major histocompatibility complex (MHC).  The MHC is a group of genes which code for proteins found on the surfaces of cells.  The proteins help the immune system recognize foreign substances. These genes have an unusually large number of alternate forms which therefore produce an unusually large number of alternate forms of the protein, which as mentioned above, makes the MHC molecule make-up unique for each individual.

The MHC proteins also help to regulate the immune system, leading scientists to believe in theory that people might search for a partner with an immune system sufficiently different from their own, leading the pairs’ offspring to have an even more diverse immune system more inclined to fend off all of those nasty pathogens.[3]

Is there any proof?

As you may know, all scientific proof starts with a hypothesis.  The hypothesis is then tested, in the case of pheromones through different research studies.  After enough testing is completed leading to the same result, we tend to call something a fact.  The research completed in support of pheromones aiding in human attraction, including the studies outlined below, isn’t yet enough to call it fact.  For now, you will have to theorize yourself, but I wouldn’t count the nose out in your hunt for a future mate. 

  • As summarized in an article from Time, one study was completed “involving well-worn T-shirts, women sniffed shirts worn by men and picked the one they’d most prefer to socialize with. They tended to select shirts from men with MHC genes that differed from their own.”[4]
  • Research published in the journal Psychological Science went one step further with the scent-filled T-shirts. Couples participated together in this study, by wearing T-shirts that their partner would later use as a pillowcase; the control group pillowcases were T-shirts worn by a stranger.  The results of this study indicated people who slept on their partners scented T-shirt experienced an increase in quality of sleep approximately equivalent to the results provided by melatonin, a commonly used sleep aid.[5]
  • In another study, the smell of tears acted as an anti-aphrodisiac.  Researchers collected the tears of women produced after watching a sad movie.  Men then smelled the tears and lower levels of sexual arousal and testosterone were reported.[6]
  • Researchers in Israel observed that sniffing your palm after shaking a person’s hand helped learn about the person’s health and genetic compatibility. [7]
  • Martha McClintock, famously accredited with the idea that women living together will have synchronized menstrual cycles (sometimes known as the “McClintock effect”), has also elevated the potential pheromones: androstadienone (AND), found in male sweat and semen, and, estratetraenol (EST), found in women’s urine. Though a recent study published in Royal Society Open Science failed to prove EST and AND were pheromones, Martha noted that the study likely oversimplified the nuanced abilities of the compounds.  She continues to study how these compounds, as well as the scents we excrete from sweat might influence our brains.[8]

The future of love

Will we soon find ourselves in a world where dating apps will allow us to include our scent profiles?  I don’t doubt a scent function to be in the future of smart devices.

I also wonder whether pheromones could have an impact on long distance relationships, where sending your distant-lover one of your t-shirts might help to keep the relationship in-tact.  Or maybe we will all have our own hoo-ha-scented candles like Gwyneth Paltrow.

Joking aside, it does seem to me no coincidence that the immune system (the same system that produces MCH proteins) becomes fully developed around the same age that we go through puberty.

The matter of fact is that there is more to love than meets the eye (or the ears).  We quite literally breathe in molecules of one other when in close proximity, and those molecules likely assist the workings underneath our consciousness to find true love.  Although, I suppose it’s up to you to smell for yourself.


[1] https://www.discovermagazine.com/mind/the-sense-of-smell-in-humans-is-more-powerful-than-we-think

[2] Example provided in Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake

[3] https://time.com/3707071/pheromones-love-life/

[4] https://time.com/3707071/pheromones-love-life/

[5] https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/releases/2020-02-romance-scent-sleep.html

[6] https://www.discovermagazine.com/mind/the-sense-of-smell-in-humans-is-more-powerful-than-we-think

[7] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/the-truth-about-pheromones-100363955/

[8] https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2017/03/do-human-pheromones-actually-exist

The Scientific Disconnect

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In my family growing up, we prayed before we ate.  We thanked God for the food that he provided, and for the moment we were able to share eating as a family.  If I go to my grandma’s house for dinner, we still pray before we eat, but these days the pre-dinner prayers have found another meaning in my life.  I no longer pray to the same god that my grandma is praying to, but I nonetheless am grateful for the food that is quite literally sustaining my existence (and of course that is also playfully awakening my palette – there is nothing quite like grandma’s cooking).   However, when my grandma is not cooking for me, which is admittedly most of the time, I usually don’t think to pray before I eat.  Though I still consider myself a spiritual person, my awareness of science helped to move my beliefs away from the Christian God, and thus I decided I no longer needed to pray before eating; it was just a Christian habit, right?

The more I ponder this question, I realize that regardless of what I believe from a religious standpoint, I still need to be thankful for my food.  It is keeping me alive (and not to mention wooing my taste buds).  But if I am not praying to God to thank him for my food, then who should I be thanking for it?

I think this question could go in a number of directions, and thus we should cover the most unfortunately obvious one first: “I earned the money that paid for this food, and so I should be thanking myself”, or “My wife/husband worked hard to put this food on the table and I should be thanking them”.  I say unfortunately obvious, because the fact that this thought was one of the first that came to mind says something fundamental about the work and wealth driven world we are living in, but as that topic is not my point for today, I will move on.  Let’s think a little deeper about where the food came from; we can assume the “food” is a banana for ease of reference (or picture your fruit/vegetable of choice – we will be eating healthy today):

  1. We can assume the banana was purchased from the grocery store,
  2. Before the grocery store it was shipped from a banana grower’s farm (maybe there was a stop at a distribution plant along the way),
  3. At the farm the banana trees were grown by farmers,
  4. The farmers knew how to grow the banana trees with the help of science and the invention of agriculture,
  5. But bananas must have existed before the invention of agriculture.  The earth/nature provided the perfect circumstances for them to grow and produced the opportunity for the above steps to happen until the banana ended up in your belly.
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We have now worked our way to the root (pun intended) of where our gratefulness for our food should fall.  Feel free to connect the last point to your higher power of choice, but the point here is more than just what we need to be grateful for.   The point is that both science and nature impact our everyday lives in more ways than we can count.  Like me, they may have even pushed your belief system in a new direction, or towards a higher power different from the Christian God (no matter the circumstance this essay is a judgement free zone). 

The impacts of science and nature are monumental, to the point that we wouldn’t even be alive without them, yet we often ignore their impacts in our everyday lives.[1]  It is therefore important that we explore why this is the case; why are we so disconnected from the world that allows us not only the luxuries of our modern lives, but life itself (especially when this world is so filled with connection)?

Why are we disconnected?

  • Our lives don’t require connection. 
    • For most of us, our daily routines don’t require much thinking about the inter-workings of the world.  We (as evolved modern citizens) like to keep busy in an effort not to feel like we aren’t productive, and during all the busyness, we tend to forget about the little things [like breathing]. 
    • Along with feeling like we are too busy to spend time thinking about what science or nature may have to offer, sometimes people just don’t care.  These topics may not feel interesting, especially if they didn’t suit your fancy in school.  And the thought can arise: “If I am not learning something that I need to know to survive in the world, then why bother?” 
  • There is a mask of expertise. 
    • There is an intimidation in learning new things; in doing anything new for that matter.  We worry that we aren’t smart enough, that we will fail, that our friends will disapprove.  And even if something does spark our interest – let’s say your physicist friend mentions how enticed they are by the world of quantum mechanics; we tend to think topics like this are above our head and that we would never understand anyway.[2] 
    • Colleges and universities really haven’t been around that long in the grand scheme of things, but since they have become popularized (think 1950s), they seem to come with a certain sense of entitlement.  There is a feeling that unless you went to college to study a topic in depth, then you don’t know enough to have an opinion about it, and you better consult an expert.  These thoughts don’t come with out meaning, as we evolve into a world where we are self-diagnosing our illnesses using WebMD instead of consulting a doctor.  However, I think a logical distinction can be made between an intelligent discussion about water pollution, and when you need to call the plumber to fix the clogged pipe.
  • Segregation of subject matter has led to isolation.
    • We have segregated our worlds and education systems into neat little boxes.  The boxes are organized by topic, and the closely related topics make up categories.  The categories tend not to communicate much with one another.
  • We feel small. 
    • We feel like what one person does will never make much of a difference; the world/universe feels too big.  This can be especially true when we don’t feel connected to the earth we are living on (and the other non-human life all around us). 

How can we re-connect?

  • Think about it.
    • Make a list of every time throughout the day that you are using or doing something as a product of science or nature (or both – they really are connected anyway).  And if you want to go a step further, share your list with your family and friends and challenge them to do the same.
    •  Spend more time getting to know your world.  Research something that interests or impacts you (search online, read a book, have discussions).
  • Take off the mask of expertise.
    • Push past the feeling that you aren’t good enough. 
    • Look at some of the world’s most successful people that dropped out of college: Bill Gates, Michael Dell, Mark Zuckerberg. Though I’m not saying you should drop out of college, I think these people can teach us a few important lessons about the world.  Number one: never stop learning.
    • You can also take courses from America’s most prestigious universities (e.g. Harvard) for free online (check out www.edx.org).  If you don’t have a topic in mind, but know you want to learn something, they have plenty to browse from.
  • Integrate and collaborate across subject areas.
    • De-segregate.  When our ancestors were unlocking the first mysteries of the world, they were not concerned about staying within their subject area.  Galileo, “The Father of Science”, studied physics, astronomy, cosmology, mathematics, and philosophy, and he wasn’t the only one to take a fancy to more than one area like this.  And I don’t think our ancestors had the wrong idea, it seems to me that there must be some connection between these things, and that the root of it all is likely in the world [nature] around us. 
    • Though I think the process of de-segregation and re-connection should start with our education systems, it is on us to begin sharing ideas with the people we connect with.  We can spend the time to learn about our friends and family’s interests, and maybe we can even help them to see their area of expertise in a different way or ignite a new form of creative thinking.
  • Get involved. 
    • Scientists do need us.  There are projects that you can help with online where all that is required is your time and a little bit of energy (they don’t even require leaving the house). Check it out: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects

Though you have likely already made the connection yourself, the words on this page reflect deeply to our current situation in the world.  The fact that we are not connected to nature and science has driven the COVID-19 pandemic to a new height.  It is now a fight for politics against science where a matter of biology has become a matter of opinion.  It seems that it has become ok for people to think scientists are “silly” for urging the requirement of masks in public, yet the same people have relied on scientists to light their houses, flush their toilets, and feed them bananas.


[1] See website: https://www.pewresearch.org/science/2015/01/29/public-and-scientists-views-on-science-and-society/ for detail on the growing gap between the beliefs of scientists and citizens.

[2] If you pay close enough attention you may start to notice that we are taught to think like this from the media (think Big Bang Theory).   I include this as a footnote as I do not have the research to prove this theory, and the topic should be explored further separately.

Our Belief of Knowledge

We are living amid a pandemic, political opposition, and a cry for social justice.  The air is filled with fear, ignorance, and impenetrable beliefs coming from every angle.  We don’t understand each other.  At the same time, if we look deep enough, it seems that most people can feel some connection to others in the way that we are all humans.  It is odd though isn’t it, that we don’t understand each other, yet we know that we are connected to each other in a deep fundamental way.  Or maybe the deep connection of being human is just mumbo-jumbo to you, maybe you find it too difficult to see past someone’s beliefs in the current climate.  Maybe you think that someone who supports Trump is clearly an alien, or someone who is against abortion is just a worthless ant.  Though I don’t think ants are worthless, and regardless whether you feel the deep human connectedness, I think we can say for certain that we do have one thing in common; we have beliefs. 

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

It is important, always and especially now, that we think a bit more about the beliefs that we have.  That we think about what we are (or aren’t) fighting for.  That we think about the things that made us stop talking to our friends or families; the things we stand up for in our lives.  To some extent, the things that make us who we are.

To start at the beginning, we ask ourselves where our beliefs come from, and without going on a philosophical tangent, the basis for our beliefs is knowledge.  We learn things from experience, school, friends, family, research, the list goes on; then we take the things that we learn and form opinions about the world. 

To quote Oxford Language, the definition of knowledge is:

  1. facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.
  2. awareness or familiarity gained by experience of a fact or situation.

Though the dictionary definition can provide us with background, the question still remains how we acquire the facts, information, and skills – what is our experience or education, and what do we really remember about these experiences or education?  As we dig deeper, and ask ourselves these questions, it can become clear that on our own (as individuals), we really don’t know much.

As Daniel Boorstin said, “The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge”, meaning we don’t know much, but we think we do.  The article “Why We Believe Obvious Untruths”, by Philip Fernbach and Steven Sloman published in the New York Times explores this topic, stating, “On their own, individuals are not well equipped to separate fact from fiction, and they never will be. Ignorance is our natural state; it is a product of the way the mind works.”  The article digs into the truth about what we know in a thought provoking yet research-oriented way, and I recommend reading it if you are interested in the scientific proof of these statements.  The point that I would like to extract however, is that “Knowledge isn’t in my head or in your head. It’s shared.” 

Knowledge is generated by our communities through collaboration, and it is through collaboration that ignorance can sometimes be formed. To quote the article once more, “One consequence of the fact that knowledge is distributed this way is that being part of a community of knowledge can make people feel as if they understand things they don’t.”

In a way, it is beautiful how the world has collaborated to obtain the knowledge we have thus far; we created modern agriculture, the internet, and sent people to the moon.  Under the beauty though, there is room for thought on how our collaboration is occurring in the current world, and how it is impacting our belief systems.  I probably don’t need to explain how we are collaborating with each other on a day to day basis, as you are probably doing it right now (or you have done it at some point today).  To no surprise, much of this collaboration occurs via social media, and this is where I would like to provoke some thought on how we are sharing information and what information it is that we are sharing.

Social Media Collaboration

As of 2019 in the U.S., 72% of adults use social media.  Facebook is the most popular of the various platforms, where 74% of its users interact on the platform daily, and images are the most popular thing to post (followed closely by updates, videos, and opinions).[1]  I think we can agree that this is a significant percentage of people, and therefore a major source of collaboration between those people.

Having agreed that collaboration with others is a large source of our knowledge, and having agreed that social media is a major source of collaboration, we can now come to the conclusion that the way and extent to which we use social media influences our knowledge and beliefs about the world.

Let’s get into some examples – We see our friends, families, and/or favorite celebrities posting images and opinions about global warming, or the black lives matter (BLM) movement.  Just seeing these posts influences our beliefs in these topics.  If we narrow the example down to opinions (whether through the form of images, memes, comments) posted which portray  how plastic straws are bad for the environment because they cause global warming (or which portray how people who think plastic straws are bad are stupid – pick your side), upon seeing these posts our brain says: “If all of these people are posting about how we need to stop using plastic straws to stop global warming, then it must be important.  I will stop using plastic straws, and I better post about it too.”  Even if we don’t have those thoughts consciously, our brains are still processing in this way.  This example may seem a bit exaggerated, and maybe it is to some extent, but if we asked everyone who believed in global warming (or who posted about it on social media), a very small number would be able to explain the science or statistics behind why plastic is causing global warming (or why it’s not – again, pick your side).  I can tell you from experience, that I have picked my side (for those that care, I do believe in global warming), yet I would struggle to provide the scientific process of how the breakdown of plastic causes changes in the weather patterns.  What I can tell you is that carbon dioxide is involved, and that I will be spending the time to learn more about it in the near future so that I am not without a supported belief.

The point here, is that we don’t have enough supporting data before we post an image, announcement, or opinion on a topic, yet we readily form a belief about the topic without this data if other people in our community have such a belief.  So then, what is enough supporting data?  And at what point are we allowed to form a belief before posting about it? 

Unfortunately I don’t have the answer as to when you have enough data or knowledge to form a belief, nor can I tell you where to obtain your knowledge or data (since we know humans produce data we also know it can be flawed or skewed).  My hope, however, is that these are things that you will think about.  That next time, before you make an opinion-oriented post, you will spend a few minutes thinking about how you formed your opinion.  Maybe you will even take the time to research the topic, or better yet read a book about it; I hope you will search for the source of data before the opinion evolved (in my example: research the cause of global warming and know all of the argumentative viewpoints).  Think about posting your source of research along with your commentary or image, and maybe others will get the picture and join along, and we can all help each other to become better informed about these things that we are so passionately supporting. 

For extra credit, think about taking the time to work through all your core beliefs.  Research, read, engage yourself.  Maybe you will find a new passion or have a change of heart.  Or maybe you will begin to question everything and fall down the Socrates rabbit hole; I can only hope that my words could have such an impact on someone someday.

Further reading: Phillip Fernbach, the co-author of the article quoted above, wrote a book titled The Knowledge Illusion exploring further the idea that we don’t really know as much as we think we do.


[1] According to a PEW research center survey conducted Jan. 8 to Feb. 7, 2019.