Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Autism and Broken Eggs

Almost everyone knows someone with autism. 1 in every 88 children have it. Countless studies have attempted to explain the sudden and dramatic rise in autism cases. But, could autism, and broad spectrum disorders, simply be the direct result of humans pushing evolutionary boundaries?

There are some who believe the cause is vaccinations, even though the original report about the MMR vaccine and its link to autism was dismissed as fraud and retracted. Others think there is something in the water. However, correlation does not imply causation. XKCD illustrates this invaluable piece of information. Just because two trends happen to run parallel does not mean one is causing the other. In contrast, bad science causes me to want to slap scientists.

Juan Enriquez has given a few speeches at TED about his Homo Evolutis theory. Technology has a tremendous impact on how we learn and interact with others as a society. In the last 30 years we have made exponential growth in technological advancements that have forever changed the way we think, feel, behave, and even love. Humans have never before been bombarded with information as we do now. We are even altering what we decide to commit to memory because we can just look it up. Need to perform emergency surgery? Google it. Have a rash that looks suspect? Convince yourself you have a terminal rash with WebMD. Everywhere we look, there is new content, information readily available.

We are learning faster than ever before. Humans are capable of learning more in a single day that we did in a year just a couple centuries ago. And guess what? Our physical brains have to cope with increased neural activity. We are essentially pushing evolution of the human brain beyond what it has ever experienced before. Recent research is even showing us that we need to slow down.

Biological Evolution does not create perfectly adapted beings and is also messy. Since evolution in general typically spans multiple generations, could we reasonably assume that as evolution is taking shape, a few proverbial eggs are broken?

Geniuses and children with autism display similar characteristics. Specifically, both groups of children in that study had better than average memories. We also know that Homo Sapiens are intellectually superior to our ancestors. Ray Kurzweil suggests that machine A.I. will eventually exceed human intelligence. In order for humans to maintain their place on the evolutionary chain, we may have to adapt our own intelligence. Kurzweil believes we have to merge with machines to achieve this. I would suggest that we are capable of evolving naturally and the evidence is presenting itself before our very eyes.

Now, whenever I meet someone with autism I will think to myself, "you are probably the first glimpse we will get into the next chapter of humanity..."

Monday, March 17, 2014

It's not about you. Its about the Irish.

Saint Patrick's Day is one of those feel good, fun time holidays. Even employers across the U.S. are sponsoring Saint Patrick's day themed activities. Mine, in particular, is hosting a breakfast and a scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt consisted of questions related to Saint Patrick, his life, and Irish tradition. We were encouraged to research the list of a dozen questions online and submit our answers.

While doing research for the questions I ran across several articles about the parade organizer's decision to pull invitations from certain advocacy groups. Guinness also decided to not be a sponsor over it. The silly part is that those people aren't even banned from marching, just marching with intent to advocate their cause.

So, what's the big deal with letting advocacy groups march at Saint Patrick's day parades? It's not about you. It's not about your cause. It's about the Irish, their traditions, and clearly about getting completely sloshed.

To advocacy groups: Stop trying to make things about you and let other people have their day. You can always march tomorrow.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Frozen isn't as gay as everyone thinks

My two older children have just finished their 7th viewing of the new Disney movie Frozen today. They started watching it at ~ 8 AM and haven't stopped since. Why? My guess is catchy tunes like "Let it Go" and "Fixer-Upper" since they walk around the house singing them throughout the week. Maybe it's the main character Elsa and her overcoming fear and self-empowerment. Maybe they love the comedic relief Olaf provides. Maybe, all of the above. One thing I know they don't even think about is how some people are considering the film to be gay propoganda. Yes, Frozen has a character, Oaken, who is depicted as gay. Does this equal gay propaganda? I would say no, it does not. Disney is responding to current life situations and putting it on television. Film gets its inspiration from real life situations. Otherwise, it would not be as popular as it is.

Coming home from Kindergarden the other day, my daughter had an interesting experience. I did not get this first hand, but rather my wife told me later about it. My daughter had been playing with her friend at school and her friend says (and I'm paraphrasing), "we should get married!" to which my daughter replies "That's silly, we can't get married." Then her friend says "no, my mom said that girls can marry girls now." 

My initial gut reaction was to be upset. Why on earth would I have to talk to my daughter about this at the age of 5? Could this not have waited a few more years? I was completely blindsided by such a little thing, and it felt huge at the time. I even called a friend of mine and talked to him about it. 

He set my head on straight. I don't recall the exact details of the conversation. However, I can tell you this. Why should we be skittish of talking to our children about sensitive subjects like this? How is it any different than talking to them about why we Latter-Day Saints don't live together before getting married? Why is this subject considered so appalling or heinous? Why is there such derisive controversy over gay marriage, or the topic in general? What I feel most Christians don't understand is that...

Same-sex marriage is no different than anything else we Latter-Day Saints don't do. We also do not try and force people to adhere to our standards. We invite them to, but we do not twist their arm or use force of law. Some may say we attempt to by not pushing for laws that allow same-sex marriages. I am fairly certain a majority of LDS members would agree that marriage should, in our view, be between a man and a woman. However, we have to respect that other people may not hold the same view. Just like many do not hold the same view of drinking or smoking, or of unmarried couples living together before marriage, that we do. We also shouldn't be preventing them from having their agency and doing those things as long as it doesn't interfere with our lives. Children's movies have long depicted things that we don't do. Dumbo comes to mind with the elephant parade sequence. Dumbo got drunk and hallucinated.

However, there is a militant sub-set of gay-rights activists that are just like militant atheists. These terrorists are no different than the ones we went to war over after Sept 11th. Those terrorists do not represent the majority of Islam or Muslims. Just as these terrorists do not represent the majority of gay-rights supporters. They will not simply stop at acceptance. They scream at us for supposedly doing the very same thing they are doing, shoving it down people's throats. Those are the ones we have to push back against. The ones who hate freedom, religious or otherwise. 

Arizona has a penchant for controversy and I am glad that SB1062 did not pass. It was targeting the wrong thing and vaguely giving way to legal discrimination. The thing it should have been protecting is people's right to not attend or participate in activities that conflict with their beliefs. Is it fair to force participation of events you don't want to go to? I didn't think so.

Many people, including some Latter-Day Saints, do not want to have to "explain" certain things to their children and use that as fodder for voicing their opinions. While I think that is a poor excuse for railing against gay marriage, the other side of the argument needs to understand that they are equally entitled to their opinions as well. Both sides are also allowed to vote according to their own conscience, religiously persuaded or not. Children are growing up in a world where, statistically, at least 1.5 of their classmates are going to have gay parents and at least the same number of classmates will grow up to identify themselves as being same-sex attracted. Remember that the next time a movie comes out  (no pun intended) with an Oaken, we should be talking to our children about the real world because, guess what? There are LGBT people literally everywhere.

The Origin of Species

Ever since I can remember,
people I have known of varying religious persuasions often times dismiss evolution in a number of different ways. The most popular ways are: "its just flawed science", "God planted those bones there to test our faith" and even "the devil is trying to trick us." These people often feel like evolution and religion are incompatible and, in my view, blind themselves to a deeper understanding of scientific advancement and even their own faith.

        Is science flawed? In some ways, probably. Scientific knowledge and theories often change as new information is discovered. A few of examples: 
CNN recently published a story that should change anyone's view of the Milky Way galaxy and even our universe. Tens of billions of planets are estimated to exist just in our Milky Way Galaxy that are similar in composition, size, and within habitable zones from the stars they orbit. The fact is that science changes as more information is gathered and processed and techniques for studying phenomena advance.

Does this mean that Science is wrong about the age of the planet and/or universe? Probably not in the way some might think however, that keeps changing as well.

So, how does someone of faith reconcile the seemingly irreconcilable? (creationists believe the earth is ~6000 years old, and was created in 144 earth-hours). In my opinion, the answer lies in translation of "day". Considering there are a wide variety of contextual definitions for day in english, imagine what the definition differences were during the ancient days of Greek, Latin, or Hebrew languages. Considering that most teaching was done through parables, It doesn't stand to reason that the creation story is so literal.

Which brings us to Evolution. 
Juan Enriquez has given a number of compelling speeches at TED regarding his theory of Homo Evolutus. If you look at any number of timelines for human evolution, you will see that there was a number of overlapping species of human that overlapped with others during any period of time. The older species went extinct while the evolved ones continued to live and move on up the evolutionary chain to what we are today. The Creation Story depicts man and woman springing up spontaneously at the command of a all powerful God. If you think of what it would be like for a single species to give birth gradually to an entirely new species, it would be pretty sudden. Whatever the process by which Adam and Eve were created, if it was spontaneous and literal as the Creation Story depicts, what use would the other species have been to this planet? There is an interesting article about the effects of prehistoric man on their surrounding environment. They directly affected the wildlife populations and vegetation in areas that humans moved into. Some species of large animals even went completely extinct when humans moved in. Those years of human activity had a profound effect on the world we live in today. In short, they were essential in forming the world as we know it. In my view, anyone, of faith or otherwise, should have a profound respect for the millions of inhabitants and however much time they had on the earth to shape it into what we have now. And if you believe in a higher power or all-loving/knowing God then that should have an even greater impact on your perception of that God. Hardly a "trial of faith" or "demonic trickery" I would say.

Where are we headed? 
Those who are in the Juan Enriquez camp, which I am, would probably say "over there!" while flapping their arms in the direction of Homo Evolutus. Others of faith may dismiss that as nothing more than a pipe-dream, or even heresy, that we are the crowning creation of this planet. I honestly don't know the answer but it leaves a compelling open question. Are we headed to something greater here as a species?