Greek traveler and geographer Pausanias (ca 110–ca 180 AD) wrote that the Greek aphorism "Know thyself" was the first of three maxims inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. The other two: "Nothing to excess" and "Surety brings ruin." Over time, literature has attributed various meanings to that first maxim as we know it today. From early ancient Greek the phrase has been translated "Know thy measure."  3

Some time ago, I began taking an on-line course in critical thinking.* The professor recalled the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates' aphorism "The unexamined life is not worth living" and modelled on it his own: "The unexamined thought is not worth thinking." Both of them polished overstatements, no doubt, but then my mind wandered to the late 1930s, to a time in my early teens when local deliveries were mostly made by handcarts, or bicycles with a basket hanging from the steering bar, or some horse-drawn carriages. I remember flocks of starlings alighting on steaming horse manure, pecking away. A boy enlightened me, "They still find grains of nourishment in every pile of horseshit."  5

Our biased selves  6

The first six lectures were about scientists' attempts at unravelling human biases. Consider them tools in our evolutionary survival kit. At an early stage of the evolution of our brain it adapted strategies for survival that included fear, lust, hunger, anxiety, disgust, happiness, and sadness—strategies that we by-and-large share with our fellow mammals. Our neocortex, especially the frontal lobe, can modify and control earlier evolved, more primitive parts of the brain. Climbing the evolutionary ladder our psychological needs began to include feeling safe, feeling loved, having self-esteem, and experiebing self-actualization.* Meeting our psychological needs makes us feel good, which is another emotion. A basic punishment-and-reward system is built into the hardwiring of our brain. When we do something that is likely to be evolutionarily advantageous, we feel good—we get a shot of dopamine to our reward centres.  7

The desire for self-esteem involves avoiding social embarrassment or stigma. We always want to make our behavior and beliefs seem consistent to others. We resist admitting error.  8

A desire for control, or at least for the illusion or sense of control, is another need that motivates us. We don't like to feel as if we are victims of a capricious universe, to feel helpless in the face of unseen forces or randomness. We like to think that we exert some control over ourselves, over the events that happen to us, and over our environment. That desire for control tends to develop beliefs that if we engage in a certain activity, it will protect us or enable us to succeed. Superstitious practices give us the illusion that we can exert some control over otherwise random events.  9

Another consequence is a desire for simplicity because the simpler things are, the more control we can have over them. Hence, we are motivated to oversimplify things. Stereotyping enables us to boil down a complicated set of data into some simple rule, but accepting as reality such oversimplified versions of reality leads to bigoted mindsets.  10

Psychologists have looked for ways to influence people's behavior; think of political campaigns and the world of commerce (selling goods and services, leasing ourselves). Our biases make it difficult to convince people with rational arguments. More effective is adressing people's emotions directly. One technique is social norming; for example, by telling people that other people don't drink and drive or that nine out of ten film stars use Lux soap.  11

Along with emotions playing havoc with critical reasoning, we do have have some inherent sense of logic and an inherent sense of justice. Indeed, these traits are have been found among other animals as well.  12

We want meaning in our lives and the universe at large. Meaning gives us a sense of purpose. We want to believe that things happen for a reason although reality is probably closer to events just happening. I already harbored thoughts along this line, but it is the professor teaching the course who said that, And so ... then what?  13

But, forgive me, I am human and I perceive "events just happening" as events only within human reality which would be embedded in a wider reality. That wider reality, to be sure, I do not perceive as of a spiritual or religious kind and is not likely to ever be comprehended, not even by mathematics or any form of language humans may come up with. The following paragraphs will be down to earth, so to speak. How could they be otherwise?  14

Consequences  15

Language, a many-splendored thing .... It can inform, exhort, threaten, convince, mislead, and so on; all purposefully or accidentally. Newly borns learn by surmizing within their inner punish-and-reward system as well as (by one school of thought) some inner sense of, say, grammar that are receptive to their environment. They surmize what their environments consider good and bad behaviors. But what is laudable in one environment may be frowned upon in another, all of which leaves us in the murky domains of "free will" and "justice."  16

Consider this declaration from the Canada Evidence Act (1985): "I solemnly affirm that the evidence to be given by me shall be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth." In view of what I learned about human biases this makes no sense and lawyers know that. They know that eyewitness accounts may be, if not usually are, unreliable. As for the "whole truth," it is subject of assertions made by the supposedly unbiased procecution and defense. Am I telling you anything new here? Not likely.  17

All social circles, from families to governments to international bodies, make do the best they can, sort of—biased by personal and community interests. Science tells us that we are innately kind to ourselves and truth is bent accordingly.  18

Consider the threats posed climate change, to say nothing of our current Covid-19 pandemic and other pandemics in the offing. These urgently call for global human society to know our measure and that third Delphian maxim, "Surity brings ruin."  19

Brain vs brawn  20

It is 5:11 p.m., June 13, 2021. I just replenished a glass of wine after watching a soccer game between The Netherlands and the Ukraine. Teams from The Netherlands and the Ukraine, really, but with excited crowds and the playing of national anthems, the teams are felt to identify their country. The game had been slated for 2 p.m., but with advertising and a dose of, mostly irrelevant, commentary it began about an hour later. Biased as I am, I forewent my afternoon nappie and after a thrilling afternoon I am happy to report that the country of my birth won, 3-to-2. Here my spouse and I were, rooting for people we don't know and whose names don't ring a bell; rooting for a country we left long ago to become the citizen of another country, Canada. But our overt biases did not in this instance, in sofar I know, harm anyone.  21

However, great harm can be done by the biased supporting of political parties that are controlled by interests using their financial power to blind us with nonsensical slogans. Great harm can be done by unscrupulous conmen running for office, harm such as setting back the struggle against climate change throughout their time in office. These are instances when we urgently need crtical thinking to override our inborn biases. Scientists, by and large, are practitioners of critical thinking because it is part and parcel of making scientific advances. Critical thinking, scientific thinking, scepticism; all peas from one pod. It is scientific bodies that should be enabled to overrule political ones. This notion isn't entirely new. It has roots in ancient Greek political thinking, roots in Confucian thought.  22

"Letters to the editor"  23

I am slowing down. Memory is deteriorating. But one has to live with the hand life deals us. Today is July 9, 2021; more than a month has gone by since I wrote the foregoing paragraphs. I posted some comments in our regional weekly, The Review; in the June 30 and July 7 issues respectively.  24

In the June-30 edition:

      "Is it time to make our national anthem more inclusive?

      "First it were 215 unmarked graves at the former Kamloops Indian Residential School, Then, a few days ago, another 751 unmarked graves were found at another Indian Residential School. And it doesn't look like we can stop counting here. Said a First Nations chief,

      "'All we ask of all you listening is that you stand by us as we heal and we get stronger. And that we must put down our ignorance and accidental racism of not addressing the truth that this country has with indigenous people,'

      "Dignified language about a huge crime that is as much part of Canadian history as are its glorious deeds referred to in one of our country's two 'official' national anthems.

      "As an immigrant who became a naturalized citizen some 60 years ago, I have always had some funny feeling about 'our home and native land.' Home, ys, of course. But native land, terre des nos aieux, well, I read 'As of 2019, there were just eight million immigrants with permanent residence living i Canada&$151;roughly 21.5 percent of the total Canadian population. So much for 'our native land.'

      "And so I wonder. Does it not seem time to update our national anthem(s). And while at it, doesn't seem time to recognize the offspring of those people who lived here well before settlers from Europe came here?

      "Might not an honest Canadian anthem be in line with the histories of all peoples whose home is Canada?

      "Just wondering."  

And in that of July 7:

      "Wake up! It's time to take our sleeping pill.

      "It looks like the Covid-19 pandemic is petering out (while the disease is still raging elsewhere in our global home). It looks like the economy is about to return to its competitive normal. It looks like racial discriiation is waning—well, for now anyway. It looks like major league sports makes can put all their troubles in the old kitbag and shout, shout, shout.

      "What it does not look like—not to Everyday Joe—is that climate change is about to do us all in and that water, air and soil pollution are ever rapidly eating away at what sustains all forms of life on Earth. What it does not look like is that our digital efficiencies are threatened by, among others, criminal activity. What is does not look like to critical thinkers is that our political 'superiors' are trying their level best to stand on guard for thee, What it does not look like is that we as a community of people really do care about our children, grandchildren, .... But maybe, given our human nature, that is expecting too much.

      "All this while business is rebounding, working hard to have us consume more polluting goodies with attractive prices like (yes, seen it on TV) $899.99. Clearly, they like to fool people like the ones we can see in our bathroom mirrors, As do our politicians.

      "Wake up, wake up! It's time to celebrate; time to take our sleeping pills.

      "And keep our sanity. And smile, smile, smile!"  

Keeping my sanity  25

I wonder whether my greatgranddaughter will ever read this essay twelve years from now. And that if she does, if it then will make any sense to her?  26

This is my 53rd story in "Me and My World." As said, my mind is deteriorating. My mistakes are getting more numerous. But I am not dead yet; my world is still out there. I want to try keep on with my writing. But right now I want to forget things by doing another jigsaw puzzle. Just to keep my sanity, maybe. A puzzle evoking a sense of nostalgia to some good, old days.  27

"The Charleston" is a dance named after the city of Charleston in South Carolina, which is said to be defined by its cobblestone streets and horse-drawn carriages. Wikipedia tells us that "The Charleston" is "One of the best known craze dances, its rhythem and steps are in instand shorthand for the Roaring Twenties, for the Jazz Age, for a generation running wild in the era of new freedoms and rebellions." Maybe you have read the 1925 novel "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald, written two years after "The Charleston" hit the dance floors.  29

The Roaring Twenties, immediately followed by the Great Depression, were sandwiched between World War I (about 20 million dead) and World War II (75 million dead, included some six million people deliberately murdered). I seems realistic to perceive WW-II and global warming as the Big Mac of all times, also dressed with personal freedoms and public rebellions. Let's hope that modern technology finds ways to remove greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide and methane) from the atmosphere. Doesn't hope spring eternal?  30


"Your deceptive mind," from "The Great Courses".  *   fn1

Psychologist Abraham Maslow defined self-actualization as the highest level of psychological development, where personal potential is fully realized after basic bodily and ego needs have been fulfilled. This is not to be confused with "self-image actualizing" such as a delusion of grandiosity. Maslow subsequently suggested that there are two stepping-stones toward self-actualization: a desire for knowledge and an understanding of the world around them, and "the aesthetic needs," which include a need for "symmetry, order, and beauty." (Click here for some more on this subject.  *   fn2

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