Living Under Oath


Living Under Oath

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Asymmetry: Women prefer the smell of symmetrical men. Females have more orgasms with symmetrical men. Anthropologists at Rutgers discovered that symmetrical men were better dancers. How does one determine human symmetry? Look at the fingers on your hands; are they symmetrical in length? What does this mean? It means that genetics are selective and that symmetry makes better humans which makes better offspring which ensures a better future gene pool. Birds and women unconsciously choose symmetry in mates. Ancient Greeks defined beauty as symmetry. How do we know this is true? Observe your reaction next time you’re faced with something really ugly. Ask yourself why you recoil. Look again. Dissonance in music is asymmetrical and jarring to the ears as are rotten smells and abstract art and cluttered rooms. Writing that is disorganized, speech that clangs, dirty uneven roads, disheveled clothing--all of these things unnerve, alarm, destabilize--because math and the universe are perfectly aligned.

BRAGGING: Social media has trained us to produce the idealized version of ourselves, according to a Harvard study: March 2012. Talking about ourselves lights up the reward center of our brains, the same center that sex, food, and money alights in the brain. About 40% of everyday speech is devoted to talking about ourselves, which explains why Facebook and Twitter are so popular and why much of the chatter is about what one had for dinner or where one happens to be at noon on a Monday. Self-disclosure offers the biggest reward by soaking the brain in blotches of light detected in the meso-limbic dopamine system by functional MRIs. Subjects even rejected money for the chance to talk about their thoughts and feelings. No wonder psychoanalysts can charge so much. “Despite the financial incentive, people often preferred to talk about themselves and willingly gave up between 17% and 25% of their potential earnings so they could reveal personal information” (WSJ May 7, 2012: Health & Wellness).

Sir John Franklin, 1819 Journey to the Polar Sea, provides one of the first historical accounts of the Cree Indians, Hudson’s Bay Fort at Cumberland, Northwest Territories Canada, and describes them thus: “[...] the Cree takes little thought of tomorrow; and the most offensive part of his behavior--the habit of boasting--has been probably assumed as a necessary part of his armour, which operates upon the fears of his enemies. They are countenanced, however, in this failing, by the practice of the ancient Greeks, and perhaps by that of every other nation in its ruder state. ‘I am God-like’ is a common expression among them, and they prove their divinity-ship be eating live coals [...]”

I wonder to what degree the incessant Facebook and Twitter entries are motivated by pleasure or by eating live coals. Can boasting operate as armor and as sexual delight at the same time? Presuming the act makes the boaster feel powerful the two motivations may well be entangled. But the bigger better question is, exactly how much of the bluster is nonfiction? If I saw the boaster eating live coals I couldn’t argue with that, but the Facebook and Twitter boasters who preface every status update with ‘I’; could they eat live coals? Do all these status updates operate upon the fears of the boasters’ enemies? In one way I think they do: How many friends do you have?

SOURCES OF ERROR: “One must try to get rid of all sources of error which stem from the human imagination; that includes those which so frequently occur in the reports of the people who man the telescopes. One must seek absolute clarity, not in order to satisfy the inquisitive or the sensation seekers, but to lessen the nagging doubts surrounding a mystery, to stifle all guesswork and to replace mere surmise by knowledge of the truth leading to a solution of the riddle, however grim that knowledge may be.” (Heinrich Harrer. The White Spider: 1959.)

This is what Harrer, the first man among four to reach the summit of the Eiger via the north face, 1938) told himself as he was recounting the tragedy of 1957 on the same route when only one of four came back alive. Mountaineering has a history of precise record- keeping of ascents, summits, deaths, accidents, and rescues. When only one climber returns to tell the tale it’s almost impossible to reconstruct the events with a degree of accuracy that can account for the deaths of four men, but the law demands it, so it must be achieved.

Ultimately, and I come back to this fact again and again in my research, one must rely on the logic of reconstructions. The narrative must ring true to your rational mind. The clarity of memory and the power of judgement are weak and subsequent reports are full of contradictions. Following is an example of resorting to and relying upon the logic of reconstructions:

Four climbers were on the north face of the Eiger, two Germans and two Italians, none of whom spoke each other’s languages. The Germans, world class climbers, lost their rucksacks containing crampons and gear needed to complete the ascent, so the Italians agreed to pool their equipment with the Germans. The surviver claims that the Germans were satisfied with this arrangement and the four proceeded to rope up together. Onlookers peering through telescopes report that the four did not rope up together at the time reported by the Italian, nor is he ever able to pinpoint the exact spot on the mountain where he happened to be during any reported exchange.

These and other divergent narratives do not add up to a coherent, comprehensive, or rational story based on foreknowledge; hence Harrer concludes that clarity is not possible in this instance and that he failed in his job as an impartial historian, unable to approach his assignment cautiously and scientifically. The facts simply did not ring true and did not build to a rational construction--his only means for establishing the nonfiction of the event--and the test proved that the Italian was confused or worse, lying.

STUPID AND SMUG?--Two studies out at approximately the same time suggest an embarrassing conclusion: All those people you know who eat organic food and are proud of it, the ones who boast dietary superiority and spend more money on groceries at special supermarkets than you do, the ones who tend to be a bit self-righteous..... It turns out that those foods offer no extra nutritional or long term health benefits beyond what your food from discount supermarkets offer. Organic free-range chickens and cage-crammed hormone-fed blood-pecked farm chickens are just chickens when it comes to a good meal. The only difference is how they make you feel. The free-range eater tended to feel superior to the cage eater, but the study from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine commissioned by The Food Standards Agency found no statistical evidence to show a difference in the nutritional or health benefits between eating organic and conventionally produced produce, meath, dairy, and eggs. The report, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, concluded that the differences that were detected in levels of nitrogen and phosphorus were caused by fertilizers and ripeness and had no nutritional value.

The organic-smug study from the department of psychological sciences at Loyola University in New Orleans and published in the Journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science found that people who eat organic foods are more likely to be judgmental and self-righteous. The personality differences between the organic-eaters and the baloney-eaters was attributed to a psychological condition called “moral licensing,” an attitude of entitlement: When the study participants were asked how much time they’d be willing to give up out of their schedule to help a stranger in need the participants who ate lard-filled brownies were willing to give up almost twice (24 minutes) as much as those who ate organic foods (13 minutes).

Combine these two studies with the previous study THINK THIN, EAT FAT, and what have you got? A bunch of fictions and a huge waste of time.

THINK THIN, EAT FAT: A recent study from Yale University brings up the age old topic of mind over matter. We “think” ourselves into different states, not only of mind, but of body. Apparently, people who are trying to lose weight shouldn’t think about trying to lose weight, because the minute they focus on making careful non-fattening diet decisions, the brain produces more of the hormone ghrelin--a chemical that signals the metabolism to slow down and the stomach to feel less full--sort of like the belly giving a sigh of relief “Oh boy I can eat more!” The study advises the weight-conscious to think instead about the fattening parts of a meal, nuts and cheese, in order to keep ghrelin in balance.

The researchers tested their theory in a blind study by offering a 620 calorie "indulgent" shake or a 140 calorie "sensible" shake. “Those who drank what they thought was the "indulgent" high-fat, high-calorie shake had a dramatically steeper decline in ghrelin after drinking it. Those who thought they were drinking the "sensible" low-fat, low-calorie calorie shake had a flat ghrelin response.” The brain tricked the subjects into feeling satiated or empty based upon what they believed they were consuming.

It makes me wonder if the dieter can forego fasting for some kind of bio-feedback training if it’s healthier to think thin than to actually eat thin. Just how far can we go in tricking ourselves? How could I get my mind to disregard the facts I already know? I’d have to make two shakes, twirl the glasses around on the table with my eyes closed, and convince myself that I’d chosen the yummiest whole fat shake rather than the skimmed down one; then maybe my analytical mind would produce less ghrelin, but I doubt it.