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Assumption Can Be Hazardous To Your Health

“To think you know something is the most dangerous thing in the world.” Lao Tzu

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This is one of my favorite stories about assumption. . .

Waaaaaaaaay back in 1981, two doctors, Dr. Barry Marshall (internist) and Dr. Robin Warren (pathologist) from Australia said they had found the cause of stomach ulcers in people. But it wasn’t even close to the prevailing belief among doctors or the public as to what causes ulcers, which was “stress” of course. Seems our Australian doctors had the whacky idea that ulcers are caused by a bacteria (h. pylori). I remember when this first made the news – I also remember how they were ridiculed and called crazy, especially by other doctors. . . “Why, everyone knows high stress and poor diet causes ulcers. . .” Yes, everyone, including doctors, who are supposed to be scientists, at least in part, with open minds who evaluate physical evidence and facts in the interest of giving their patients better, healthier lives and preventing needless deaths. What’s more, Dr. Marshall and Dr. Warren also found this bacteria causes stomach cancer. Now keep in mind, even if there is no cancer, stomach and duodenal ulcers cause much pain and suffering, can result in having to remove a large portion of the stomach, and can be fatal. So this was not something to be taken lightly, even as many doctors kept saying that ulcers were really in people’s heads and if they would just relax more and eat better they would be just fine.

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Happily, Dr. Marshall did not give up. He couldn’t use mice to experiment in the lab, because h. pylori only affects primates. Regulations prohibited him from experimenting on people. So, a real hero, Dr. Marshall borrowed a cup of h. pylori from one of his patients and drank it, infecting himself. He followed the course of his own disease and biopsied his own stomach, proving conclusively that h. pylori causes stomach ulcers in people. (This, by the way, is the difference between thinking you know and actually knowing.) As a result of these doctors’ work, ulcers and stomach cancer claim far fewer lives in the industrialized world.

In 2005 (way too late, in my not-so-humble-opinion) Drs. Marshall and Warren were awarded the Nobel Prize for medicine for their discovery.

But, one of the most amazing things about all this, to me, is how many people STILL believe stomach ulcers are caused by “stress”.

See here for a recent interview with Dr. Marshall.

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© Babaloo Bonzai and Babaloo Bonzai’s Zen Soup, 2010.

High Visibility Zen

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This post is about people you may know, from other media, who bring us excellent examples of zen principles and show us how they work in everyday life.

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Barry Glassner, author of The Culture of Fear- Why Americans Are Afraid Of The Wrong Things. This book is an unflinching look at reality, the reality of how one of the most powerful and primal human emotions – fear – is being used to sell us everything from newspapers to burglar alarms, and to get us to vote for some very questionable people. If you are interested in REALITY you will love this book. It will probably make you angry, make you feel better, and tell you some very interesting things you probably didn’t know.

From the cover of the book: “In the age of terrorism, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, financial collapse, Amber Alerts, and vaccine scares, our society is defined by fear. But are we living in exceptionally dangerous times? In The Culture of Fear, sociologist Barry Glassner demonstrates that it is our perception  of danger that has increased, not the actual level of risk. Glassner exposes the people and organizations that manipulate our perceptions and profit from our fears, including advocacy groups that raise money by exaggerating the prevalence of particular diseases and politicians who win elections by heightening concerns about crime, drug use, and terrorism. In this enlarged and updated edition of a classic bestseller—more relevant now than when it was first published—Glassner reveals the price we pay for social panic.”

2003 Interview with Barry Glassner

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Cesar Milan, The Dog Whisperer- Week after week, Mr. Milan patiently, compassionately, intelligently, and sensitively reminds us that dogs are dogs, not people. He shows us that treating dogs like people are bound to cause problems, for both our dogs and ourselves. Week after week, the people he helps with their dogs are happily surprised at how well treating a dog like a dog works. Often as I am watching his television show I wonder how many dogs he has kept from being needlessly euthanized or given up to rescue organizations. The relief and happiness of the dog owners is obvious. He exemplifies zen leadership; stressing reality and balance, always remaining calm, patient, and a “firm correctness.” In his own words,  “I rehabilitate dogs, I train people.” And lucky for those of us who love and live with dogs, he does it very well.

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© Babaloo Bonzai and Babaloo Bonzai’s Zen Soup, 2010.

The Antidote For Assumption

There is a simple antidote for assumption. Simple yes, but also very profound. If you do it correctly, it will set you free. However, I should warn you, it’s not for the faint of heart. As Yuanwu said, “It is no small matter to step directly from the bondage of the ordinary person into the transcendent experience of the realm of the sage.” No small matter indeed. It’s a bit like unexpectedly being thrown into a rushing river or having the ground disappear from under your feet.

Ask questions. Yup. It’s that simple. As Socrates said, “Question everything.” and “Question authority.” The question the old Chinese (zen) masters recommend is: “Where does this (really) come from?” Another question I have found useful is “What am I really doing, and why?” (Or,  “What is _______ really doing, and why?”) Then keep your mind OPEN, waaaaay open.

Answers:
“Because that’s what everyone does/says.”
“Because it’s always been done that way.”
“Because person X (who may be an ‘expert’) said so.”
Or one of my personal favorites, “Because GOD says this is what we’re supposed to do.”
Ad infinatum, ad nauseum. . . . . .

Clearly these are not answers at all, they are assumptions based on culture and other concepts, and they have nothing to do with what is actual, with reality. A concept is an abstraction, something apart from concrete reality, specific things, or actual instances. When you start asking, you will be shocked at how many answers are built on absolutely NOTHING but assumptions, concepts, and (LOL!) popular culture and public opinion. Even in science, which presents itself as being open minded inquiry, and built on facts. Remember, at one time the “experts” said the world is flat – they said illness was caused by evil spirits. . .and everyone believed them and adopted these concepts as their own truth. In times past human sacrifice was accepted by the majority. Clearly 40 million people CAN indeed be wrong, and often are!

Happily, there’s nothing that says you have to be one of them.

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© Babaloo Bonzai and Babaloo Bonzai’s Zen Soup, 2010.

Inspiration – and then some. . . .

hmmm, what to write about?. . .

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It happened about half-way through my second cup of coffee. That ticklish-butterflies feeling in my fingers, the subtle shifting of gears in my mind. No doubt about it, I was in the mood to write. I topped off my cup and made my way to the computer, following my regular routine of reading my favorite blogs, checking the news, etc. A quick check of the weather showed the 5th straight day of excessive heat warnings due to temperatures hovering at 100F. Ugh! No wonder I wanted to stay in and write.

Staying alert for subject matter and waiting for the muse to clobber me in my already ‎Chinese and possibly damaged brain I surfed along sipping coffee and nibbling on little cheese fish crackers, bookmarking here and there. In less than 5 minutes I had quite a collection of  links. Let’s see. . . .

There was the story of the man in Cape Cod who’d apparently accidentally inhaled a pea while eating, and the pea actually sprouted in his lung. Even the doctors were taken by surprise. He said he kept coughing. Sort of a bizzare, modern, “Prince and the Pea” true-fairytale? One can’t help but remember the line from Jurassic Park where Jeff Goldblum says, “Life will always find a way,” and wonder if it had been left to grow whether it would have emerged from his ear. . .

While we are on the subject of bizzare, modern, true-fairytales, apparently no one read to this chef when he was a child, or told him you’re supposed to kiss a frog, not lick a toad. Especially not in a restaurant kitchen. People will probably be thinking twice about eating there, even with the fines over sanitation violations from the local health department. He will no doubt deserve the mouthful of warts he’s bound to get. Frog legs, anyone?

One also wonders if the three naked women, lost in the woods in Sweden found their way home by clicking their heels together three times and saying, “There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home!. . . ” Toto, we are definitely NOT in Kansas anymore. . . .

Then there is the latest twist on paranoia, Truman Show Disorder, coming soon to a DSM-V (the DSM-V is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual 5, used by the psychiatric profession) near you! Let’s make some popcorn!

A recent archeological find tells us that the Ancient Mariner probably ate a lot of olives, and dealt with smelly sailors by dowsing them with perfume. I adore olives and could write volumes about them – truly they are the food of the gods! Also, lots of clay wine jars were found. Who knew sailors like to drink!?!

And speaking of Chinese brains, there was the faithful husband in China who woke his wife from a ten year coma by biting her toes. I find it rather amazing that she didn’t wake sooner. I know I would have!

I think my mother was a closet zen master. She used to say “Truth is always stranger than fiction.” Little did she know that something called the internet would come along and show without a doubt how right she was!

So, gentle reader, if you also happen to be a blogger who finds yourself looking for inspiration, or for something to write about, just wander the web a bit. I guarantee it won’t let you down.

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© Babaloo Bonzai and Babaloo Bonzai’s Zen Soup, 2010.

Babaloo’s Chinese Brain is- – !GASP! Damaged!

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irst I find out my brain is Chinese and now this!

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These, it seems, are heady days for brain research. (Or maybe this is just what happens when you give men with advanced degrees a lot of research money and fancy computers and MRI’s to play with.) Apparently, according to the latest findings, menstrual cramps may permanently alter (that is, damage) the brain.

And you thought we had come a long way, baby(!) from the days when people believed menstruating women caused milk to sour and crops to fail! Now we are told it makes us retarded and brain damaged, and what’s more MRI proves it – computers can’t be wrong, of course.

For the effects of testosterone on the male brain, see here.

I was so alarmed by this frightening information, I hurried off to the test area of the Psychology Today website. You can’t imagine my relief when the non-verbal IQ test revealed that my IQ was actually up 2 points from the last time I was tested. Whew! Apparently divorce and menopause reverses the damage. So yes ladies, there is hope!

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As for the Chinese part, never one to be shy about such matters, I emailed one of the authors of the “culture wires our brains differently” studies. (See Babaloo’s Chinese Brain) I explained that I had read the information with great interest, but that I was puzzled to find my brain seems to be wired as though I am from Asian culture, when I’m actually a life-long American. I asked what the studies had found with regard to exceptions and deviations. He emailed back, asking me some questions, which I answered cheerfully and sent back to him. He emailed again, saying my brain does indeed seem to be wired Asian style, and that this is very unusual, and that there had been no other persons like me in the studies, so he was unable to give me any further information. I told him it’s ok, my brain is very happy the way it is, and that I was just curious.

So much for advanced degrees, computers, and MRIs!

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© Babaloo Bonzai and Babaloo Bonzai’s Zen Soup, 2010.

OK – Time To Get Serious About Assumption

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N June of this year a new book was released, Supernatural Selection: How Religion Evolved, by Matt Rossano. The author is head of the psychology department at Southeastern Louisiana University. (I haven’t decided if I want to read this book yet, once you read this post you will understand why.) According to reviews, one of the main premises of the book is that “Religion made us human.” Already I have a problem. . . . . .

What exactly do we mean when we say “human’? Technically speaking we are animals, primates, homo sapiens.  Surely you have heard it said that humans and chimpanzees share 99% of DNA – what you may not have heard, or thought about is, one of the things this means is that a human and a chimpanzee could produce viable offspring. That’s how close we are! A very similar situation as is found with domestic dogs and wolves.

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So. . . .again, what exactly do we mean when we say “human’? There are some basic assumptions here, assumptions that I think can result in bad science, especially in the areas of psychology, sociology, and cultural anthropology.

First there is an assumption that “humans” are unique in a special way, superior somehow to other “animals”. Hmmmmmm. Let’s see, would you say that otters are superior to giraffes when it comes to living most of life in the water? Are bats superior to dogs when it comes to flying? Are bears superior to chinchillas when it comes to catching salmon to eat? Now, compared to a dog, humans are positively stupid when it comes to sense of smell. Compared to cats, humans are blind in the dark. Bonobo (a species of chimpanzee) social structure makes that of humans look horribly primitive. Hmmm, yes, chew on that one a bit – humans may not be the most highly socially evolved critter on this planet. And I have kept my examples within the class of mammals. Insects, critters that technically don’t even have brains, have adaptations that are truly brilliant compared to humans.

“Humans” are different, yes. But so are giraffes and dogs and chinchillas. What is actual is that nature (evolution) adapts each species to it’s environment. “Humans” have their adaptations and so does all the rest of life on this planet.

What about intelligence, consciousness, self-awareness, etc? Does this really set “humans” apart from the other “animals”?

Well, when it comes to intelligence, dolphins have bigger brains than we do, and may actually be more intelligent than people. There is a school of thought that emerged in the 1980’s that says we may not be equipped to correctly evaluate the intelligence of other species, because we are limited by our own adaptations and biology. As I said in a previous post, we only have one lens to look through, the “human” one. And how can we hold other species to the same standard we apply to people? Another way to say this is: Maybe you have to be a dolphin to correctly evaluate the intelligence of dolphins.

Science has debunked all the myths of what we want to believe sets us apart from the other animals so far: Other animals use tools, have symbolic language and complex communication, practice deception, form lifelong friendships, make choices and decisions, have some degree of self awareness, etc. It has been known since 1967 when it was written about by Desmond Morris in his book The Naked Ape, that dolphins, chimps, whales, and elephants have culture. Where mammals especially are concerned, the only real differences in any of these things are in degree, not kind.

So. Whatever else religion may or may not have done, it didn’t make us “human”. Nature, through evolution, made us what we are.

Now, lets look at some of the things “humans” do that other “animals” don’t. Other “animals” DON’T invent religions and then go to war over them. Other “animals” DON’T go to war over ideology. Other “animals” DON’T kill, maim, and torture others over religion. Other “animals” DON’T invent religion and then try to force it onto all the other “animals” through government, public policy, and culture.

Oh, they do fight, and some even have “wars” – ants and chimpanzees come to mind as warring creatures. But chimps go to war for only 3 reasons: territory, resources, and mates. Ants go to war for only 2 reasons: territory (expanding colonies literally need more physical space) and resources.

Interesting, no?

I think I’ll come back as a chinchilla in my next life!

Sources – related reading:

What Makes Humans Unique?

Are humans unique?

Do Animals Know Who they Are?

A Comparison of Some Similar Chimpanzee and Human Behaviors

Liberating Women – an interesting perspective from bonobo social structure

How ants carry on war

Apes of War – is it in our genes?

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© Babaloo Bonzai and Babaloo Bonzai’s Zen Soup, 2010.

The Waters of March by Antonio Jobim

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I got an email today asking, “What is zen?” from someone who seemed very sincere. This, with a bit of further explanation, is how I chose to answer – it’s the lyrics to an old (circa 1970’s) Brazilian song. It’s long been a favorite of mine. I think it answers the question “What is zen?” perfectly. . . .  .

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A stick, a stone,
It’s the end of the road,
It’s the rest of a stump,
It’s a little alone

It’s a sliver of glass,
It is life, it’s the sun,
It is night, it is death,
It’s a trap, it’s a gun

The oak when it blooms,
A fox in the brush,
A knot in the wood,
The song of a thrush

The wind in the wood,
A cliff, a fall,
A scratch, a lump,
It is nothing at all

It’s the wind blowing free,
It’s the end of the slope,
It’s a beam, it’s a void,
It’s a hunch, it’s a hope

And the river bank talks
of the waters of March,
It’s the end of the strain,
The joy in your heart

The foot, the ground,
The flesh and the bone,
The bend in the road,
A slingshot’s stone

A fish, a flash,
A silvery glow,
A fight, a bet,
The range of a bow

The bed of the well,
The end of the line,
The dismay in your face,
It’s a loss, it’s a find

A spear, a spike,
A point, a nail,
A drip, a drop,
The end of the tale

A truckload of bricks
in the soft morning light,
The shot of a gun
in the dead of the night

A mile, a must,
A thrust, a bump,
It’s a girl, it’s a rhyme,
It’s a cold, it’s the mumps

The plan of the house,
The body in bed,
And the car that got stuck,
It’s the mud, it’s the mud

Afloat, adrift,
A flight, a wing,
A hawk, a quail,
The promise of spring

And the riverbank talks
of the waters of March,
It’s the promise of life
It’s the joy in your heart

A stick, a stone,
It’s the end of the road
It’s the rest of a stump,
It’s a little alone

A snake, a stick,
It is John, it is Joe,
It’s a thorn in your hand
and a cut in your toe

A point, a grain,
A bee, a bite,
A blink, a buzzard,
A sudden stroke of night

A pin, a needle,
A sting, a pain,
A snail, a riddle,
A wasp, a stain

A pass in the mountains,
A horse and a mule,
In the distance the shelves
rode three shadows of blue

And the riverbank talks
of the waters of March,
It’s the promise of life
in your heart, in your heart

A stick, a stone,
The end of the road,
The rest of a stump,
A lonesome road

A sliver of glass,
A life, the sun,
A knife, a death,
The end of the run

And the riverbank talks
of the waters of March,
It’s the end of all strain,
It’s the joy in your heart
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© Babaloo Bonzai and Babaloo Bonzai’s Zen Soup, 2010.

The Waters of March © Antonio Jobim

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