QuickBytes:
Philosophy, science, and lots of other fun stuff from behind the curtain!
(From the pen of the Wizard, Dr. Anthony G. Payne)

 

Contents:

 

 

 

 

A perennial pessimist once said to me, "You know, everything really is vanity. I mean, no matter how popular or great one becomes, in time your place in the book of life will be whittled down to a footnote, and probably vanish altogether. And thatfs the famous and accomplished. Most folks wind up disappearing completely from the human record, unless they wind up fossilized, mummified or frozen and are put on display in some distant day in a museum."

 

If you think of your life as a single pebble tossed into a vast and turbulent ocean of humanity, yes, it would seem the ripples created by a solitary stone hardly has any impact whatsoever. A brief splash and that's about it. So the eternal pessimist is right, yes?!

 

One could, I suppose, argue that the waves set in motion by an entire or generation can have effects that ripple down through time and are manifest long after all the "rocks" have been buried in sediment and lost to view. But how personally reassuring, consoling or meaningful is this?  Not very, I'd say.

 

And when you get down to it, one day our sun will go into its death throes and life on Earth will cease. And even if we somehow manages to spread beyond our celestial neighborhood, the universe itself will probably wind up just as dead – in some far distant day. Which means that all the achievements of individual men and women, and of humankind as a whole, will be lost. "It's all for nothing in the final analysis" seems to be the inescapable conclusion.   

 

The universe, it would seem, almost certainly confers no meaningful immortality on its organic "byproducts"!

 

But wait a minute, isn't this perspective too narrowly focused? After all, while the fate of the material universe is tied to entropy and is thus almost certainly inescapable, there is the spiritual aspect of being human, yes?! Ah, but here we assume much and can prove nothing. We have entered the realm of faith, which is beyond the purview of science (Unless claims are made for an effect of a spiritual entity or phenomena that can be tested by scientific means). For individuals who see no justification for notions that humans possess an immortal spirit, this is folly. And while believers in a spiritual side to humankind vastly outnumber non-believers, this does not mean they are right. Consensus can have real world effects, i.e., millions of believers do shape the course of history, but it cannot transform a totally faith-based concept such as human possession of an geternal spirith into a hard fact.

 

And it has been argued by many agnostics and skeptics that faith in an immortal spirit and "life after life" is a delusion. One of many that seems to add a degree of explanatory power or novelty or such to some folk's lives, like a belief in ghosts, demons, fairies or such. There is much that can be marshaled from psychology and history to buttress this position, to be sure.

 

So, it would seem, the inexorable fate of our lives and the material universe lies in extinction, with only faith or hope in an existence beyond this to console us and thus perhaps forestall or at least diminish the grip of any feelings of ggloom & doomh that might periodically grip our being. The perennial pessimist, it would seem, does not look to be nursing an altogether untenable position after all!

 

Whatever the merits or defects one can argue concerning faith-based beliefs, it seems that at the very least they ably serve many, if not most folks as a effective coping mechanism in life. Indeed, it encourages perseverance and thus survival, an outgrowth or expression of the primal drives to acquire, preserve and perpetuate (http://14ushop.com/wizard/3PrimalDrivesEssay.html).  And even if the universe and all thatfs in is headed to permanent oblivion, with the end result that all our individual and collective struggles and accomplishments will be obliterated forever, it behooves us to live as though this were not so. To do otherwise might lead many among us to assume that our lives and all that we do is an exercise in futility, something certain to generate frustration and even feelings of hopelessness and despair. And this is a species of "vanity" we can ill afford to embrace!   

 

So while the perennial pessimist could be right, there would appear to be great merit in living as though he isn't. If this is denial or delusion or both pales by comparison to the psychological discord that would undoubtedly arise (in many instances) as a result of the clash between the basic human drive to perpetuate and perhaps be perpetual and the "all is vanity" line of reasoning.

 

To read more about the role of faith, with specific reference to its role in CAM (Complementary & Alternative Medicine) medicine, click on this link: 

http://www.angelfire.com/mo/countrysoulcafe/holisticmedicine.html

 

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If you are in a relationship that is getting stale or rocky, think back to the more joyous days of your courtship. Contrast that period with what is transpiring now. Different? What made those days so ...well ..seemingly magical?  The novelty or newness of just about everything connected with your love interest? No doubt. And? How attentive were you to meeting each other's emotional & other needs? It was probably the focus of your daily lives, right? And now? Yes, well, things have shifted your focus somewhat haven't they? You know, career, debts, being Super Worker or Super Mom or Super Dad, et cetera. Your energy is taxed to the limit, your significant other already knows how you feel anyway, and it's just easier not to have to work at being mindful or attentive in the same way you were when you were courting.  Flowers on birthdays, intimacy once a week or so, and an abiding hope that everything holds together and somehow improves.

 

Question: What is you gave your cherished mode of transportation this degree and kind of attention? Cars have needs – maintenance, if nothing else. What would happen if you changed your oil once every 5 years, had a tune up once a decade, and washed your machine biannually? It wouldn't look or run well, would it?

 

Let's take this analogy a little further: Which is easier – fixing up a neglected car or running out and financing a brand, new vehicle?

 

So maybe it's time to get out your "polishing rag" and "go change it" and spruce up your relationship a little, yes? Great, you are now on the right track!

In the much the same way as attention to detail will help insure that your car will run and look great, tending to the little things counts in relationship revitalization and maintenance. We are talking meeting each others needs on a daily basis!

 

Shall we count the ways? Phone calls, e-cards, flowers, small gifts, helping out around the house, freeing your significant other to do something special, walking hand-in-hand in a local park, stick-on notes bearing emotionally powerful messages left where your mate is sure to find them, playing a game together, et cetera.

 

Sounds time-consuming, right? It is. But then, you probably plan every detail or every day anyway. 8:45 AM – catch up missed phone calls. 9 AM – Meeting with a colleague, Etc. So is it such an onerous task to actually plan out a daily quota of activities that help insure that your mate's various needs are being met?

 

So maybe you need a little help with better assessing where you are relationship-wise, and where you should be headed. The Wizard would point you down this annex to the yellow brick road: www.marriagebuilders.com.

 

The Marriage Builders® program is the brainchild of psychologist and marriage & family counselor, Willard F. Harley, Jr., Ph.D.  What sets Harley apart from the pack is simple: He has what I call a "relationship rescuing" success rate which far exceeds that of most therapists. You can read all about this in Dr. Harley's seminal book, "Your Love & Marriage"

 

Let's return to the car analogy one last time: When your cherished vehicle is ailing, who do you prefer taking it to: A nominal mechanic or a proven 5-star mechanical whiz? Nuff said.

 

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One of the most beloved verses in the Hebrew Scriptures comes from the 23rd Psalms:

 

"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: For you are with me"

 

In Japan, where I lived and taught for over four years, a general sense of "gloom & doom" pessimism pervaded the lives of many folks. This was especially evident among my university students. Japan's protracted economic woes had apparently sapped the vision and vitality out of many of these otherwise industrious, tenacious souls. A great many kids spoke of there being "no real future" for them. Needless to say, depression and despair reared its ugly head fairly often. 

 

Now reactive depression is a wholly expected and understandable response to intractable adversity or woe. We all have a tendency to get sorely vexed when our lives are turned upside down and held there by trials and tribulations. In such a situation, one tries to console and counsel the suffering as best one can. (A touch of satire and self-deprecating humor sometimes doesn't hurt either). And this I ably extended to my angst-ridden student charges with varying degrees of success. But more was needed.

 

The "more", I reasoned, had to lie in something that would get these kids to change their outlook or perspective on certain aspects of life. To do this I looked to a tried-and-true source for generating insight and encouraging change: history. Specifically, I had my students tackle and examine two noteable chapters: Famed psychiatrist Viktor Frankl's account of his years of struggle in various Nazi concentration camps (as recounted in his timeless classic, "Man's Search For Meaning"), and the saga of General George Armstrong Custer.

 

Dr. Frankl and his imprisoned compatriots suffered cruelly at the hands of sadistic SS guards, all the while struggling with scarcity and living conditions so calculatingly appalling as to beggar the imagination. Mindful that he could not change his circumstances and that his Nazi tormenters could snuff out his life at any minute, Frankl nonetheless felt empowered by a single fact: They could take everything from him but his power to choose how he would react to their brutal actions! And it was this realization that essentially helped buoy up Dr. Frankl during his agonizing walk through the "valley of the shadow of death"!

 

Frankl emerged from Hitler's reign of terror intact and went on to establish an influential school of psychotherapy called logotherapy (http://logotherapy.univie.ac.at/). He died in 1997 at the ripe old age of 92, having survived the Third Reich by 52 years.

 

While Dr. Viktor Frankl was the victim of totalitarian oppression and a state-sanctioned policy of malignant racism and genocide, (Brevet Major) General George Armstrong Custer stood on the other side of the divide, so to speak. Custer played a somewhat pivotal role in the United State's 19th century pursuit of lebesraum ("living space") and its calculated program of conquering and containing indigenous peoples (American Indians). It was not Custer's successes in the so-called Indian War that helped advance the narrow social and political agenda of his time, but rather his death along with that of over 200 of his soldiers at the Little Big Horn (June 26, 1876). The "massacre" of then Lt. Col. Custer and his troops elicited a massive military response that ultimately led to the total subjugation of American Indians during the early years of the 20th century.   

 

After my students had fully acquainted themselves with the lives and feats of Dr. Frankl and General Custer, I had them conduct an open comparative analysis of the two (men) for the purpose of extracting principles they felt to be especially insightful and personally meaningful.

 

Of course, these bright, eager young people came up with an illustrious roster of "goodies". Among them: The power of choice; how evil seduces people by playing up to their basic desires and egos; the futility of life spent focused on narrow, self-serving and self-aggrandizing goals; the nobility of service to others informed by prior suffering; etc.

 

After we had reviewed their litany of ideas and comments, I asked them to sum up what we had learned from the lives of Frankl and Custer. The general consensus was that we must all have the power to make choices that will steer us through life; choices that may decide whether we end our days with a tally sheet that favors having achieved something worthwhile, ..or its opposite.

 

I had only one thing to add to what their conclusion, which was this:

 

"Friends, we are all headed to the Little Big Horn. Whether you get there as a young person or during middle-age or as a very old man or woman, ..we all have to the enter the valley and depart this world. No one escapes this fate. But as you correctly surmised, it isn't that final battle alone that determines the meaning and value of the life you have lived, but what you do in the days, weeks, and years leading up to it. And yes, the impact of your life and the ripples it sets in motion are determined by the choices and subsequent actions you take while en route to the valley.

 

"Now I have but one final point to make – an admonition, really – which is this:

 

"If Dr. Frankl could exercise choice in his dire circumstances and by so doing not only survive the fiendish horror that was Nazi Germany, but set in motion ideas that have transformed countless lives ever since, ..then certainly you can lay hold of the promise that lies in the abundant choices and options you have in life."

 

Of those students who have stayed in contact with me in the intervening years, most appear to have made prudent choices that have helped them forge personally meaningful, productive and fulfilling lives. 

 

How goes your journey to the valley? 

 

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Dr. Payne is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma  -www.choctawnation.com and carries with him a Bureau of Indian Affairs issued ID card certifying him to be an American Indian.