What I'm Reading (Nov. 8)

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“In short – being a denier is about your behavior, not your position or even necessarily your credentials. A climate scientist with impressive degrees can be a denier if they act like one, and a lay person can be a skeptic if they act like one.”

Steven Novella, whose book The Skeptics Guide to the Universe I reviewed, has an excellent discussion of the difference in a skeptic and a denier. As you can see, for him, it is not about impressive degrees but about the actions one takes in debating “the facts.” While this may be more for journalists and science communicators (I count myself in the latter group), I think it is a useful viewpoint to consider. From Dr. Novella’s website, Skeptic vs. Denier.  

“… time denial, rooted in a very human combination of vanity and existential dread, is perhaps the most common and forgivable form of what might be called chronophobia. … Most humans, including those in affluent and technically advanced countries, have no sense of temporal proportion—the durations of the great chapters in Earth’s history, the rates of change during previous intervals of environmental instability, the intrinsic timescales of “natural capital” like groundwater systems. As a species, we have a childlike disinterest and partial disbelief in the time before our appearance on Earth. With no appetite for stories lacking human protagonists, many people simply can’t be bothered with natural history. We are thus both intemperate and intemporate—time illiterate. Like inexperienced but overconfident drivers, we accelerate into landscapes and ecosystems with no sense of their long-established traffic patterns, and then react with surprise and indignation when we face the penalties for ignoring natural laws.”

I confess that I am among the time illiterate, and this article in Nautil.us, Geology Makes You Time-Literate, set me on the road to a fuller explanation. I found some of that explanation, really exploration in a book, The Underland, by Robert MacFarlane. 

'‘Deep time’ is the chronology of the underland. Deep time is the dizzying expanses of Earth history that stretch away from the present moment. Deep time is measured in units that humble the human instant: epochs and aeons, instead of minutes and years. Deep time is kept by stone, ice, stalactites, seabed sediments, and the drift of tectonic plates. Deep time opens into the future as well as the past. … When viewed in deep time, things come alive that seem inert…. Ice breathes, Rock has tides. Mountains ebb and flow. Stone pulses. We live on a restless Earth.” 

Over three sections, he explores the underland, where we hide our most precious objects as well as those objects that we pray, never again see the light of day. Along the way, you will discover that Jules Verne’s Voyage to the Center of the Earth was not that far off – with underground rivers, abandoned cities, and ice, that can tell us about our planet far, far, back to its beginnings. MacFarlane’s writing is wonderful to read, and he takes us on an adventure in the world beneath our feet. 

Finally, a piece from the New York Times, How to Feel Nothing Now, in Order to Feel More Later - A day of dopamine fasting in San Francisco.

“ ’We’re addicted to dopamine, and because we’re getting so much of it all the time, we end up just wanting more and more, so activities that used to be pleasurable now aren’t. Frequent stimulation of dopamine gets the brain’s baseline higher.’ 

There is a growing dopamine-avoidance community in town and the concept has quickly captivated the media.”

Evidently, by reducing our day-to-day stimuli, we may reset our dopamine threshold and subsequently enjoy life more. It struck me as a re-packaging of elements of Buddhism, neuroendocrinology, and a world view of humans as “wet-meat” versions of computers. The true enlightenment of the article comes from the comments, here are two.

I can think of little more to illustrate how lame San Francisco has become. As someone with Young Onset Parkinson's disease I can speak of what a dopamine fast is really like. Truly enlighten yourselves by discovering what dopamine offers your body. It controls movement as well, like digestion, swallowing, and walking, it's not all about pleasure!

Lots of people have an effective way of avoiding pleasure: They work 8-hour shifts at boring, low-paying jobs. If they find out they still have too much pleasure in their lives they take a second job.