How Smart Are We Humans Really?

How Smart Are We Humans Really?

 

Nations have recently been led to borrow billions for war; no nation has ever borrowed largely for education. Probably, no nation is rich enough to pay for both war and civilization. We must make our choice; we cannot have both.
– Abraham Flexner, American educator (1866-1959)

If an alien from a planet unimaginably distant from here were to come to earth with the objective of studying life forms, what do you think he should do?

If he were to study the most abundant life on the planet he would have to look at microbes. We, for example, have more microbes in our own bodies than we have cells we can call our own–that is, that carry our unique DNA.

If he decided to look at life forms more advanced than a single cell he would likely look at algae or plankton in the oceans. If he looked for something more mobile, he would have to study insects. There he would find some well organized and advanced societies if he looked at ants or bees.

Maybe he would want to communicate with another being. For that he might choose a chimpanzee. Or a dolphin.

Dolphins can understand and speak back, especially if given the opportunity to learn a new language. Chimps can’t talk because they lack the physiology to form most sounds we consider essential to language.

Why doesn’t he study us, you may ask. We live in more parts of the land world than any other creature–at least more than any other large animal, maybe not more than the cockroach. We are certainly the most destructive, which makes us the most powerful.

Surely a being from another world who travelled may light years to reach earth would want to speak with the most powerful creature on the planet. Or would he?

What language would he use? Remember, most of us know only one or a few human languages. Not one of us can communicate more than a few hundred words with any living being on earth other than humans.

We, who seek extraterrestrial life on distant planets, do not have the ability to communicate well with any other species on earth other than ourselves. Our solution to that problem, it might seem to an impartial observer, is to render other intelligent life extinct.

Now that’s power.

But why would an intelligent space being admire the power we use to destroy each other and other beings on our own planet? Only 20th Century science fiction had space aliens invading earth to kill everyone or enslave us. It doesn’t take much thinking to see that the “destructive space alien” scenario simply doesn’t make sense.

Are we really the smartest creatures on the planet? Sure, just ask us.

I’m going to ask you something. Two things, but they’re related.

(1) Do you think that if you asked 1000 people you meet randomly on the street in the next few days any of them would admit that they are stupid? Even one?

(2) Have you considered the behaviour of people you have seen and thought they “must be stupid”?

The most intelligent minds among us evaluate how brilliant we humans are, using human testing methods (we haven’t a clue how to test otherwise) and human result standards (such as IQ) have decided that we humans are the most intelligent creatures on earth.

Isn’t that a bit like asking an Olympic athlete who he believes will win the gold medal in his event? Or like asking a religious person which religion he believes is the best? The results couldn’t be more biased.

Assuming we could be shrunk to the appropriate size, could you survive and thrive in a bee or ant colony? Assuming you can swim and even given diving equipment, could you live the life of a dolphin? Or, make it easier, could you fit into a colony of chimpanzees well?

Why not? If we are so smart we should be able to adapt to different living conditions. But we can’t. Because there are things–many things–that ants, bees, dolphins and chimps know that we will never know. That we can never know. That we have no way of finding out.

As our quote says, we are the species that borrows billions of dollars for war (trillions in the case of the USA at present), but seldom borrows much to fund our education systems. We borrow money to kill each other, but scrimp when it comes to educating ourselves.

How smart is that? Chimps only fight to see who dominates, not to kill each other. Dolphins squabble over mates. No, wait, we don’t even know that much about dolphins. They may be smarter than us, we would never know. No, they live in the water, so they can’t be as smart as us.

So we say.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to know what to teach children to aid their intellectual, social and emotional development and when to teach it.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

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You Need It To Live, But Too Much Will Kill You

You Need It To Live, But Too Much Will Kill You

Seldom in history has a product worn the horns of the Devil and the wings of an angel at the same time. Loved and respected because it provides the energy we need to work, to play, even to breathe, sugar is so important to our diet our bodies take several things we eat and convert them into sugars.

However, eat too much sugar and your body will blimp up and your organs will slowly but surely break down. Never has “moderate consumption” been so important.

But what’s “moderate”? How can we tell what’s too much?

Let’s look at an example.

In our example you will eat 16 teaspoons of refined sugar all in one short sitting. Don’t worry, it will be in liquid form. Sound outrageous? That’s how much sugar is in a 20 ounce bottle of cola. In every bottle.

In general, if you look at the ingredient list of products before you buy them and see some that end in the letters “…ose” you have various different kinds of sugars. Sugars come with other name endings, but “…ose” tends to be the most common ending in packaged foods we eat. Most of them are complex sugars our bodies break down into simple ones so they can be used to burn as energy.

Sugars, along with starch, are the basic carbohydrates. Inside your gut they all become sugars, ultimately simple sugars. What your body can’t use it will expel through your colon or convert to fat for storage.

Because our bodies can only convert a limited amount of sugar into fat at one time, if you are going to eat too much sugar, eat it in a binge. Most of it you will enjoy in your mouth and you will get rid of it in the toilet the next day. Eat a little too much sugar on a regular basis and your body will store it in special cells in your body known as fat cells.

The average American consumes 61 pounds of refined sugar each year. About 25 pounds of that would be in the form of candy. That’s just sucrose, though, and the number doesn’t include amounts of any other sugars we consume.

Sugar may cause your skin to wrinkle. Called glycation, blood sugar in the skin binds to collagen so the skin loses its elasticity. Cut out excess sugar consumption and your skin may retain its elasticity. No good or easy or cheap method exists today to help skin regain its elasticity.

There’s nothing new about the kind of sugar we eat. When Alexander the Great invaded India over 2000 years ago he was shocked at how the people managed to create “honey” without bees.

Sugar cane is a plant of hot climate countries. That’s why people who live in the tropics have had it sweet for so long. Andreas Marggraf discovered, in 1747, that the sugar in sugar beets was the same as that in sugar cane. Sugar beets can be grown in much colder climates than sugar cane.

The first sugar beet factory opened in 1802. Over half of the 8.4 metric tonnes of sugar used in the USA this year–no, seriously, make that 8.4 million metric tonnes–will come from sugar beets. Sugar beets are a form of beet with white sweet roots. Only the root is used to make refined sugar.

Getting back to soft drinks, the kinds with artificial sweeteners may contribute to obesity rather than prevent it. A study at Purdue University using rats had one group consuming soft drinks with artificial sweeteners and another with sugar-sweetened drinks.

The group that drank the artificial sweeteners consumed more calories from other foods than the sugar group. The study did not consider the controversial belief that long term consumption of the artificial sweetener aspartame might cause major diseases. Rats don’t live long enough.

Like many popular discoveries artificial sweeteners aspartame and saccharin were found by accident. Lab researchers working on projects having nothing to do with sweetening mixed some test compounds and decided to taste them.

Ask yourself what kind of researcher eats his own experiment.

The artificial sweetener Splenda came about in an even stranger way. The scientists were looking for a new insecticide. [I’ll just wait here while you process that thought. Prepare yourself for the next part so we don’t have to pause again.]

A lab assistant had been asked to “test” the compound, but he thought he had been told to “taste” the compound. Remember, they had been looking for an insecticide. [Good thing you prepared yourself for that.]

Table sugar certainly isn’t the sweetest taste around. A compound called lugduname is actually 200,000 times sweeter. [Do you wonder where the lab assistant is today that tasted that stuff?]

Sugars are compounds of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. The simplest (simple sugars) are most commonly known as glucose, fructose and galactose. Table sugar (a complex sugar) consists of one glucose molecule and one fructose molecule fused together. Other complex sugars dance with different partners.

We don’t want to avoid sugars totally because they are carbohydrates, by far the most common organic molecules in all living things. [Unless you consider minerals to be “living,” which is a whole different discussion.]

An eight-atom sugar called glycolaldehyde has the ability to react with a three-carbon sugar to form ribose, a major component of RNA (ribonucleic acid), which does the real work in living things while DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) takes all the credit.

Who cares? Glycolaldehyde has been found in an interstellar gas cloud near the centre of the Milky Way. [Stay with me here.] Glycolaldehyde may therefore be a precursor of life on our planet. If it’s in space, it might have been here.

That same gas cloud, by the way, contains ethylene glycol, which most of us think of as antifreeze. Which is sweet, but lethal, as many animals have learned when they licked up antifreeze leaks.

These are complex sugars. In deep space. We must at least hypothesize that they were synthesized in space. We haven’t yet guessed how that could happen.

Sugar can be used as more than a fuel for your body. Burn table sugar (sucrose) with some corn syrup and a bit of saltpeter and you have a popular amateur rocket fuel.

It’s also sometimes prescribed by doctors. Yup, you pay a dispensing fee to buy a product called “Obecalp,” a sugar pill made to FDA specifications. It may be prescribed for mild problems with a variety of symptoms but no clear therapy. [Spell the product name backwards.]

Not only is the “placebo effect” surprisingly real according to recent studies, the sugar itself may actually help clear up symptoms. Glucosamine works as an immunosuppressant (drug that lowers the body’s normal immune response) in mice.

Immune system suppression is a mixed blessing because while it can go crazy sometimes, such as with allergies, it also protects us from viruses and bad bacteria. The sugar alcohol xylitol can be used to prevent ear infections in children.

You better have a dose of Obecalp and think about this.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers, parents and grandparents who want to grow children who are healthy in all developmental streams, not just intellectually and physically. It’s a great gift.
Learn more at http://billallin.com

[Primary resource: Discover, October 2009]

Still Waiting For The Light To Change

Still Waiting For The Light To Change

We should try to be the parents of our future rather than the offspring of our past.
– Miguel de Unamuno, writer and philosopher (1864-1936)

Sometimes all we can do is to roll with the punches, deal with the circumstances life throws at us, and look for the chance to enact change.

Many would call that powerlessness. After all, when your choices in life are outside your control, you can’t be said to have control of your life.

Do others have control over your life? Many times it seems that way, that if only someone else would do what you want or what they promised to do, life would be better. It’s hard to wait for someone else, especially when you know that the other person is giving your promised work low priority but its very important to you because you can’t progress with several other things in the meantime.

I confess, I allow disappointment to creep into my life sometimes. It’s always a disappointment with people. The vagaries of weather (no one’s is stable now, likely never was), the ups and downs of politics (the few honest ones get shot down more often than the crooks), illness, even being the next person in line after the last item on a great sale was sold don’t bother me.

That’s life. If I expect to find great pleasure in the good things about life, I must be prepared to accept the things that really suck. Without one, I couldn’t appreciate the other. The good looks good only by comparing it to the bad. “No pain, no gain” may not be true for athletics and exercise, but it’s true for emotions. The more and worse you experience that bad, the greater your opportunity to appreciate the good when it comes.

People who promise something but don’t deliver really get to me. The guy who delighted me when he said he could fix my tractor–he unstuck a valve and replaced a spring–has kept the parts at his place for weeks because he is too busy with his own projects to put my tractor back together. The computer expert friend who may have been able to help me avoid having a rootkit destroy my hard drive if he had given me the necessary advice in a timely fashion has kept my computer out of commission for weeks because he’s too busy to help, even though he has promised to do so several times.

I bought a snow blower for my tractor. I asked if the man could deliver it because I had no way to get it home. He said “No problem” and I paid him. He phoned that evening to ask how I planned to get the 750 pound blower off the back of his pickup truck. I reminded him that I had told him ahead of time that I had no way to get the blower down from a truck. He forgot. Now he has my money and my snow blower, because he forgot he couldn’t deliver what he said he could.

These people were not intending to lie when they made their promises to me. They simply didn’t organize their thoughts and plans to the extent necessary to avoid conflicts. They didn’t plan ahead. They got too busy to get all the work done they promised to others, but didn’t extend the courtesy of telling the others when they might be able to get to their needs.

Sometimes just coping with the problems life throws your way–whatever their nature–is all you can do. It’s called survival. When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on. It’s always painful at first. Eventually, if you keep looking, you will find a way to circumvent what may be severe consequences of a problem.

Some say God doesn’t give us more than we can handle, though they wish God didn’t trust them so much. Some call it courage or perseverance or strength of character that people can get through their lives with burdens far greater than the average. It’s not really any of that.

Life is tough. Those who have it easy and don’t appreciate what they have waste their lives because they don’t accomplish much of real value. Those who slog their way through what seem to be incredible trials and tribulations, always looking to a brighter future find ways to enjoy life more because they appreciate the contrast between the bad and the good.

Moreover, the survivors act as role models for the rest of us. If it weren’t for them, our species would never have survived the long process of natural selection.

We literally exist because those before us–at least many of them–survived rigors of life far worse than we can imagine. We don’t owe them anything. We do owe it to ourselves and to those who will follow us to survive and to improve.

Those who don’t struggle with life don’t improve because they don’t know how. They have never had to work their way out of problems and difficulties that might have destroyed them. The survivors know how. They learn as they struggle.

As individuals and as a species, we inherited much because of those who struggled and survived before us. It’s our job to struggle and survive so that future generations will know it can be done.

Bill Allin is the author of Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today’s Epidemic Social Problems, a guidebook for teachers and parents who want to teach their children the skills of coping, of surviving and of thriving in a struggling world.
Learn more at http://billallin.com