The glue of delusion

Perseid_and_Milky_WaySays Stephen Asma: “If you want to get rid of religion, you can’t ARGUE it out of existence with rationality. Instead, you have to “feed” the hungry emotions something new as a healthier replacement. The emotional brain has a voracious and different dietary appetite than the rational brain.”

It got me thinking a bit. Striving to understand our surroundings and our universe, the struggle to refine our individual and collective understanding of what is true has immense value. As we discover more about the way things are, the way things work, we’re equipped to better ourselves and the world around us. Yet, we’re deeply emotional beings; emotions dictate the majority of decisions that we make in any given day. The awesome roaring power of emotion can overwhelm any argument we care to throw at ourselves. It’s damn near impossible to talk yourself out of gut-wrenching fear or sadness.

I bristle when alternative medicine (I mean the kind that actually, demonstrably doesn’t work at all) offers false hope, or convinces someone to turn down treatments that might actually help. I get cranky when psychics or astrologers or numerologists guide people to make poor decisions or exploit their credulousness for profit.

But what about when a delusion is the only glue that’s keeping someone functioning? A lie that sticks things together enough to stop someone from breaking down completely? What about when the truth is too terrifying to face? Or when the truth simply cannot be known, and that in itself is so horrifying that it’s debilitating?

Ever wanted to see the inside of my eyeballs?

Here is your opportunity! Lucky you!

The white bits are the optic nerve. The darker section is the macula, and in the middle, my fovea.


The good news is, they’re in good shape. Apparently the white sheeny stuff is reflection from the vitreous. Gross, huh!

Attention very angry man in the van behind me!

There is a really good reason why I’m driving fairly slowly and leaving a large gap in front of me on the Warringah Freeway. Believe it or not, I’m doing you a favour – you and everyone in the lane behind.

When driving in heavy traffic, patterns of stop-start movement will emerge; sometimes because of a near miss, sometimes because of an accident, or sometimes because of absolutely nothing at all. But once that pattern has emerged, shock waves propagate slowly backward though the traffic, causing people to have to hop on and off the accelerator and brake. It’s no fun to drive in (particularly when, like me, you drive a manual).

Here’s a video both explaining and illustrating the phenomenon:

One Seattle driver discovered that there was a solution for his frustration of getting on and off the gas & brakes. By driving at the average speed of traffic, instead of rushing straight toward the stopped bumper ahead, he caused the flow pattern of his entire lane for miles behind to smooth out. In traffic flow terminology, he figured out the secret to transform a “wide moving jam” into “sychronised flow”. Amazingly, this behaviour can actually improve the overall flow rate of the traffic: more cars can travel along a given road in synchronised flow than in the presence of a jam.

Anyway, angry flashy-light van driver, I thought I’d do you the courtesy of explaining my behaviour. I hope you understand.

It’s a very small world, really.

On the outside crust of this tiny little dot, we hang about in a layer of gas which gets too thin to breathe in far less distance upward than the commute from my house to to my work.

Can’t we all just get along? And keep this place nice for ourselves and those yet to come?

The pull of the planets. Pull pull pull.

I usually can’t be bothered pointing out superstition and debunking it. When people ask me what star-sign I am, I generally let them know I’m a Cancer. Such a question is generally followed up with some kind of observation about my personality that fits with the Cancer-ian dealy. Or an exclamation about some other reason why that’s meaningful.

Ultimately, people are just so pervasively superstitious that to run around constantly pointing out the folly would occupy most of my time and certainly wouldn’t win me too many friends. So I choose not to. However!

That doesn’t mean that I don’t get a bit of a smile on my face when someone else makes the effort. Today’s quick and entertaining lunchtime read comes from Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy blog, taking a good hard look at astrology. He takes the time to dissect how:

  • There exists no known force which is a suitable candidate for creating astrological influence.
  • Based on astrology’s own set of conditions, there seems to be no possible unknown force either.
  • That cold reading and human pattern-bias explain accurate-seeming predictions.
  • That astrology’s claims are not consistent, nor even internally consistent – and utterly lack any predictive power.
  • Finally, that reliance upon astrology creates actual, demonstrable harm.

Scattered throughout, there are a bunch of links to help illustrate this position. Give it a read! If you’re wondering how I got here, it’s from a much more recent blog post of his about a nutjob named Terry Nazon’s attacks on an astronomer named Stuart Robbins following a good debunking. Check that out too, if you like!

sinus facts!

You may or may not be aware that I’ve had noggin trouble for the past month or so. Consequently, I’ve become a little preoccupied with sinuses and their buried mysteries.

Sinus is a generic term derived from latin – it means ‘fold’ or ‘pocket’. What ‘sinuses’ generally refer to are the paranasal sinuses, a collection of air-filled cavities within the bones of the skull & face. The total volume of these cavities varies from person to person but an average is about 70ml.

Why they’re there is up for debate but weight reduction for the skull, heating/humidification of inhaled air, improved vocal resonance and temperature insulation for teeth are possibilities.

Those located above & behind the eyes are called the frontal sinuses, the biggest ones found under the eyes at the front of the face are called the maxillary sinuses. The last two groups are more centrally located – the ethmoid sinuses are a group of several air cells found right between the eyes and the sphenoid sinus is right up the back there, near the pituitary gland.

Paranasal sinuses are connected to the nasal cavity via channels called ostia. The internal surfaces of the sinuses are lined with cilia to move goo around, but they’re particularly concentrated in the ostia to aid drainage into the nasal cavity. Lovely stuff. When inflammation or some other obstruction blocks the drainage, a sinus cavity can end up under pressure which is pretty painful. That would be sinusitis.

And those are today’s sinus facts! I have other sinus facts, but it gets a bit yuck from here on in.