TED Talk Challenge #2 & 3: Success

TED logo

Wow, one day in and I’m already behind the challenge. Great work!

Okay, so to make up for missing yesterday here’s a couple of my favourite TED talks. They’re nice short ones too, so you can get through both very quickly. These relate to success and how anyone should be able to achieve it.

Richard St. John’s 8 secrets of success (3:33)

The moral of this story, it’s a lot harder than you think but the up side is anyone can do it.

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/richard_st_john_s_8_secrets_of_success.html

Richard St. John: “Success is a continuous journey” (3:55)

Ah, and here’s the one I was actually looking for. What to do to become successful, but more importantly, what do to once you are successful.

http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/richard_st_john_success_is_a_continuous_journey.html

I’ve also been working on my own small list of things that should help you be successful. It’s a work in progress, but maybe that will be a future post.

-Ignorance is not bliss. Stay inquisitive.

TED Talk Challenge #1: Try something new for 30 days

Ted logo

A few years ago I started watching TED talks. In a nutshell these talks are a collection of presentations given by some of the smartest, most innovative people on the planet.

These days I don’t watch the news. I found that watching the news is depressing and brings my attitude down. I also don’t think it’s a realistic look at the world, so it’s not just that I’m hiding from reality. Instead I watch TED talks and I find it makes me a great deal happier to be alive and it makes me a lot prouder to be a homosapien.

So many people think that mankind is a despicable race; a bane upon our world. Agent Smith from ‘The Matrix’ compared humanity to a virus; a species that ravages every habitat it touches before moving on to the next one. I think he was wrong. I don’t think we’re a virus, I think we’re the cure. And I want to prove that to you.

I have a challenge. The challenge is for anyone really, but it’s especially directed at those that think there is something fundamentally flawed about humanity. The challenge is simply this:

‘Watch a TED talk a day for a month’.

I guarantee that after a month you will feel differently about the world. You will be inspired. You will see what people are doing to help change the world and make it a better place.

I never explicitly took up this challenge. I watched TED talks for a couple of years. Some days I’d watch several, others I’d miss out all together. But I’ve watched a heap of them and it changed the way I thought. When I start feeling down about the world and begin to think something is wrong with humans, I just remind myself I haven’t been watching enough TED talks lately. And once I start watching them again, I feel better.

So I want to see people taking up this challenge. To help, I’m going to take up the challenge myself. I don’t expect it will make me feel much different because I’ve already made that transition. But hopefully it will get a few other people thinking.

Every day for the next month I’m going to link a TED talk. They range anywhere between 2 minutes to an hour and I understand people may not have that kind of time to spare. If that’s the case, go find a shorter one. It doesn’t matter what one you listen to. They cover a diverse range of topics and I doubt my choices will appease everyone. So go find your own. After a month, let’s see how we feel.

This is one I’ve seen a few times now. It’s by Matt Cutts and it’s entitled “Try something new for 30 days“. I thought it was appropriate.

QnA: Faith Matters

I’m a huge fan of ‘QnA’. For those who don’t know it’s an Australian panel show where the audience is permitted to ask questions of the panelists. The show is usually centered around politics, but every now and then they dip into different topics. One of the more common topics is religion, and last week was such an episode.

I was thrilled to find out the ABC allows people to watch the show after it has been aired via their website, so if you missed the episode you can catch it here:

http://www.abc.net.au/tv/qanda/txt/s3316101.htm

If you like this episode you can catch the episodes live at 9:30, Monday night on the ABC. For those not in Australia you’ll be limited to the webcast.

Now that I’m done advertising let’s get on to the actual point of this blog post.

One of the questions asked by an audience member was:

” A university study concludes that religious people are more generous, more altruistic and more involved in civic life than their secular counterparts. They are more likely to give blood, money to a homeless person, financial aid to family or friends, a seat to a stranger and to spend time with someone who is ”a bit down”. If religion contributes so positively to society, why then are we so quick to distance it from politics and don’t want it influencing our policies and society in general?”

Most of the panelists gave their responses, but the answer I identified best with was given by Cristina Rad, an outspoken atheist and video blogger. In essence her response was to ask who conducted the survey, under what conditions and with what sample size.

Having heard of many other studies that have come to completely the opposite conclusion I wanted to get answers to these questions myself.

My first port of call was to read the comments available on the ABC page. I was happy to find one that perked my interest and led me to further investigation.

MizJ said:

“The ‘Faith Matters’ study by Putnam et al was conducted in America and had a sample population of 3000 (out of a total population of 300,000,000). Of the 3000, only 5 – that’s right, 5 – people identified themselves as agnostic or atheist. So they are drawing their conclusions about atheists/agnostics on a sample of 5 out of 300,000,000.”

This was enough for me to want to press further and find the truth to this study. After a bit of Google searching I was happy to find the details of the study are available for anyone to read. You can find the details and data from the survey here:

http://www.ropercenter.uconn.edu/misc/USMISC2006-FAITH/version2/usmisc2006-faith.pdf

The survey itself is pretty interesting and asks some good questions. I think it would be worth a read. However it’s also 334 pages long, so I wasn’t going to read through the whole thing! Fortunately I was able to do a search for “religion” in the document and pull out the questions that related specifically to religion. Here’s a couple of questions and answers I found interesting (you can use the bolded text to search for the question and answer in the document):

————————————————————————
relstrng  Would you call yourself a strong believer in your
religion or not a very strong believer in your religion?
————————————————————————–
no religion: 9
not very strong: 522
somewhat strong: 64
strong: 1994 
System Missing: 497 
Don’t Know/No Opinion: 18
no Answer/Refused: 4

And just to throw in another slightly related question:

—————————————————————————-

trthrel Which of the following statements comes closest to your
views: One religion is true and others are not OR There are
basic truths in many religions OR There is very little truth
in any religion.
————————————————————————–
One religion is true and others are not: 371 
There are basic truths in many religions: 2439
There is very little truth in any religion: 176
Can’t choose: 55
Don’t Know/No Opinion: 56 
No Answer/Refused: 11

So these answers are interesting, although it’s hard to pinpoint from these just where people stand. One question suggests there are only 9 atheists/agnostics, another 176. That’s a pretty large margin of error. But what if we do a search for “atheist”.

————————————————————————–

relig What is your religious preference? Is it Protestant, Catholic, another type of Christian, Jewish, some other religion, or nothing in particular?

————————————————————————–

Protestant: 995

Catholic: 726

Another type of Christian: 526

Jewish: 68

Some other religion: 296

Nothing in particular: 473

Don’t Know/No Opinion: 8

No Answer/Refused: 16

Again this question seems to suggest there is something around 470ish non-believers. But it’s the next question that directly follows from this one that is the clincher.

denom What church or denomination is that?

There’s a whole heap of denominations listed here and I’m not going to bother to post them all, but here’s the interesting part:

Atheist/Agnostic: 5

Yeouch!  Here I was thinking MizJ had been exaggerating, especially after doing the search for “religion” but apparently not.

Now, we need to be honest here. All of these answers appear to give us very different results. Personally I give the most weight to the final question which specifically asks people to put themselves into a denomination. But you also need to take into account that some people consider ‘atheist’ to be a dirty word and won’t use it, even if that is what they believe. There are 77 listed as ‘other’, 35 who either ‘don’t know’ or have ‘no opinion’ and 14 who ‘refused to answer’. It’s quite possible some of these people could be listed as atheist but chose not to.

So here’s the honest truth. This study doesn’t really seem to give us an accurate number of atheists/agnostics. What we can be pretty sure of though, is that the number of non-believers questioned was pretty low.

MizJ’s comment and Cristina’s initial fears about this study seem to be spot on. Although there’s plenty of useful information this study can give us, figuring out how charitable atheists are is not one of them.

Forgive me for getting bitchy, but I’m really fucking sick of seeing this. Every time (and I’m not exaggerating here) I see a theist make a claim like this and I go and research the study I find they’re either talking complete crap, or the study is very questionable.

To be fair I seriously doubt the individual who asked the question on QnA was deliberately lying, but it does point to two things. Firstly, either he was lying about the study or had been too damn lazy to look it up himself. I guess there’s also the possibility he was just so deluded he missed the lack of atheists surveyed, but that’s a level of stupidity I’m not willing to assume.

But this leaves us with the other possibility that the questioner got his information from someone else. Maybe it was a website summary, maybe it was a lecturer. Either way, it means it’s likely there’s someone else out there who’s spreading misinformation for the sole purpose of making their religious views seem more plausible.

The worst part of all this? This lie was told on national TV, on the ABC, to thousands of viewers. The vast majority of them will never bother to look up this study and will spend the rest of their lives believing what they heard.

I, on the other hand have a small number of readers, most of whom are friends that won’t have seen the show. This is the problem; it takes seconds to tell a lie and hours to correct it. And so often those who talk out of their arses have the larger audiences.

At least for now there’s very little I can do to spread the truth. But it needs to be spread. Hopefully the little I do on this blog will make a difference. Please try to spread these truths further. The more people who learn this stuff the better.

-Ignorance is not bliss. Stay inquisitive.

Back to the start

A beautiful little animation I got linked to recently.

I freely admit I can’t help watching this without getting a little bit of a lump in my throat. That idea of getting back to what’s natural and living healthier coupled with that rather touching, nostalgic song really hits home. And to top it off, as an animator I’m really impressed with the work. Heck, I want to like this video. And on many levels I do, but as lovely as it is it needs to be coupled with a little reminder.

Franken-fruit

There are an estimated 1.7 billion people who live in poverty, without enough money, education or food to sustain themselves. There is some debate over whether there is enough food available to feed our planet of roughly 6.5 billion people. One thing no one is debating (at least, no one with a degree) is that the only way we’re going to feed the increasing number of people is through modern engineering, whether that be pesticides, genetically modified food or simply modern agriculture.

I almost feel guilty dissing on such a lovely video, filled with good sentiments but the problem is that the ideas are naive. There is certainly something to be said for being less ‘industrial’ (if that is even the right word) and reducing pollution, being kinder to animals etc. etc., but to think that we’re going to be able to feed everyone on the planet with old fashion farming methods is ludicrous. I’ve no doubt this mentality is the side effects of a western word that has become wasteful of many things, including food. People with pot bellies (myself included) just can’t wrap their heads around the idea that not only is there nothing in the fridge, there’s no fucking fridge!

We’ve become extremely lazy when it comes to being hunter/gatherers and just always assume there is food available. If there’s nothing in the fridge or cupboard, oh well, just head down to the supermarket or local fast-food outlet and grab dinner. And for the record, this is a good thing! It frees up time for us to do other activities like play with our children, go to school and, I don’t know, go into space.

The down side to this fantastic life we leed is that sometimes some people forget that others don’t have the same luxuries we do. Worse still is when they start telling people that retarding our economies will produce better ways of living while completely ignoring the effects it may have in other parts of the world.

Honestly I think the best way of doing agriculture that will enable us to feed everyone will be a hybrid approach. A system that allows us to feed billions whilst not ripping our planet apart. But to get to that system we need to press forward, not look backward. There is a reason these antiquated farming methods were abandoned decades ago. The approach we need now is to find ways of using the current and future technology in ways that are both clean and economical.

-Ignorance is not bliss. Stay inquisitive.

Wow

Seriously. Just…wow.

The price of education

I’m a freelancer. I run my own multimedia business, currently working from home. Fortunately all my clients have so far been very happy with the work I’ve delivered, however I understand that if I take on a job that ends up being too much for me and I cannot complete it either because of a lack of skill or a lack of time then I’m not going to get paid, or at the very least my pay will be docked.

I can’t say I’ve done it myself or even been part of a party that has, but I’ve heard plenty of stories where people have walked out of restaurants without paying for their meal on the justification it wasn’t worth paying for.

When I first moved onto residence at University a new housing facility was being built. The building was late being finished and the work done was shoddy, with walls cracked and bad wiring throughout. There were some legal issues that were getting worked out and although I never found out exactly what happened (I was a student, it was none of my business) the point is the University was trying to get back some of the money it felt hadn’t been earned.

This kind of thing happens throughout the business world and I think it’s not only justifiable, I think it’s a good thing. It keeps businesses honest and pushes them to do good work.

There is one business where this mentality is never used and I think it should be. That business is education.

We send children to schools, sometimes at outrageous expenses but for some reason we’re okay when those children receive sub-par grades. Despite the thousands of dollars that gets spent on each child’s education not everyone gets good grades or even passes.

It is the very rare child that doesn’t want to learn. Nearly everyone is excited about their first day at school. Those that are a little nervous usually get over it fairly quickly once they start making friends and learning.

Education equals future

Despite this at some stage children stop enjoying school, their grades drop and at the very least they don’t get the most out of their education and sometimes have to repeat a grade at the expense of the parent.

But why is this? If you’ve paid several thousand dollars for a product (in this case an educated child), why is it that when you don’t get the expected results not only do you not get your money back, but by law you’re expected to pay for the same process all over again. This seems like a fundamentally flawed system to me.

Part of a teacher’s job is not only to educate, but to inspire children to learn. And as I said above children seem naturally engineered to want to learn. Surely we must be doing something wrong if that natural eagerness is being removed at some stage.

Unfortunately the way the education system is currently set up doesn’t really make this mentality possible. If anyone who didn’t get an ‘A’ demanded their money back schools would go bust and we’d have no education, which would obviously be worse than what we currently have.

I feel that the education system is in need of an overhaul. I have some ideas as to how it could be improved, however none of it will be cheap and right now I don’t think it’s feasible. I’m sure I’ll go into more detail about my thoughts in future posts, but for now I just want to introduce a different educational philosophy for people to ponder.

We assume that education is hard and that not everyone will pass. I feel that mentality is wrong. An inspired individual will push themselves to learn, even if the content is hard. And the only thing we need to do to allow everyone to pass is dispose of that evil bell curve system.

I feel the mentality that we start our education with (that not everyone will pass) is wrong and starts with a defeatist attitude. There is a lot we could do to improve education, but I feel that if we can start by getting over this we’ll do wonders for our children and many good things will follow from it.

The guys over at ‘Extra Creditz’ have done a couple of videos related to these ideas. Here’s their best one so far.

http://penny-arcade.com/patv/episode/gamifying-education

-Ignorance is not bliss. Stay inquisitive.

Things polititians can’t say…

You know, we really don’t need to cover this. We all know what’s coming. It’s so frightfully obvious when a politician gets caught. They get that wonderful ‘deer in the headlights’ look in their eyes that would usually elicit a feeling of pity, but considering how often these buggers screw us it just makes you feel gleeful. Then again I am known for being a bit of a jerk so maybe it’s just me that loves seeing politicians getting nailed.

Just so we’re all on the same page, here’s the top three things politicians can never do!

  1. Can’t admit they were wrong.
  2. Can’t agree with their opponents.
  3. Can’t give the answer “I don’t know”.

And just to clarify, I’m an Aussie (Australian), so my point of view is skewed towards our politics. But from what I’ve seen it seems to be pretty universal.

1. Can’t admit they’re wrong:

I’m going to give politicians the benefit of the doubt and assume they actually do know they’re wrong sometimes, and not just in theory, but in practice. It is possible some of them are so deluded they genuinely think they aren’t wrong, but I’m referring to the majority here. They wouldn’t get that deer in the headlights look if they truly believed they were right. And I’ve seen people spouting absolute crap without that fearful look, truly believing every word they say. Seriously, just watch any episode of ‘Bullshit‘.

So, let’s start with the assumption they know they’re full of crap and that they’re just trying to put the right ‘spin’ on it. Now I’m not a political analysis, a journalist or even a psychologist so this is purely my own conjecture, but I’d like to explore why this is.

The best way to learn is (sadly) by making mistakes. We usually get hurt a little in this process so it’s more likely the lesson will stick in our heads. Making mistakes is essential.

Now when you’re running a country with millions of people depending on you making good choices I can understand the pressure might be stacked a little higher than whether to drink the week old milk.

The problem is the perception that if a politician makes an error they are unfit to govern. Now we in Australia are pretty tough on our politician (well, on everyone really) and we give them a lot of cheek and a lot of crap. But I’m not sure we expect them to be perfect. And therein I think lies the problem. At some point in history it was decided that our leaders need to display perfection in everything. And not just their leading abilities, but in their social and family lives too. I’m not sure who decided this; whether it was the populous or the leaders themselves, believing that if it they were thought of as perfect they would win out over their adversaries.

But this is the modern era! We should know better than that by now. We don’t expect perfection from anyone and there’s no reason we should expect it from our leaders.

So the question is, does this expectation come from within the leaders themselves, or from the public? Are our leaders just so arse-backwards they think displaying themselves as perfect beings makes them the superior choice, or is it something we push them towards?

I can’t wait until society grows up enough that politicians can openly say “Yeah, we cocked up. This is how we intend to fix it”. First politician to say that gets my next vote.

2. Can’t agree with their opponents.

Heaven forbid your opponents might have a good idea! The problem is that the two major parties pretty much can’t agree on anything! (Ironically one of the few things they do seem to agree on is the continued banning of same-sex marriage, something the majority of the public is against!) The minute one party makes a statement or policy the opposition is immediately up disagreeing with it. Often they don’t appear to be genuinely against the policy, it just seems to be a childish notion that they can’t be seen to be in agreement. Because admitting your opponent is right is of course an excuse for all your voters to ditch you and go with the other guys.

Look, I can kind of understand this. I mean, we have different parties because we want opposing views. But the fact of the matter is eventually we’re going to find a ‘best’ way of governing (odds are we’ll probably find several) and that over time different governments should streamline into similar structures, not unlike how most cars these days look pretty similar because there’s a ‘best’ way to be aerodynamic.

Having to always oppose your opponent on every issue has an immediate benefit to your party, but in the long term it’s doing damage and is slowing us down from getting closer to that ‘best’ model. Stop disagreeing for the sake of it. Disagree on things that you actually disagree on and start agreeing on the rest of it.

3. Can’t give the answer “I don’t know”.

This I assume is for the same reason that politicians can’t admit they’re wrong. At some point it was agreed that the best leaders are those that have all the answers. And that would be true if they actually had all the answers. But they’re not omniscient. They can’t possibly be expected to know everything.

The problem with these issues is a bit of a catch 22. People still have the mindset that their leaders should be infallible, so that’s a standard they try to live up to. They even employ ‘Spin Doctors’ to make this part of their job easier. The problem is that society is now smart enough we can pick up when a story is being spun and we bludgeon our leaders for it. Despite that, we still want this mythical perfect leader. So the poor politician is stuck trying to spin everything to appear perfect to a public that asks for it, but then gets trampled if they get caught trying to spin.

I have so much more respect for someone, whether they be a politician, teacher, parent or friend who says “You know what, I don’t know. I’ll try to find out for you”.

And now to throw my spin on things. You see, politics isn’t the only place you see this kind of attitude. It’s also really prominent in…you guessed it, religion! And we should hardly be surprised, modern government is a spin off from religion. Way back in time the religions were the government. It’s only in more recent times when we have communities made up from multiple religions that a more impartial government has become necessary.

1. Can’t admit they’re wrong:

You see this all the time in religion. Whether it be taking over 350 years to pardon Galileo, lying to 3rd world countries about the effectiveness of condoms or sticking to crazy-arse stories about the age of the Earth and talking snakes, the Catholic church is absolutely terrible at admitting they’re wrong, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. And this kind of stupidity is prominent in most religions, particularly the major ones.

People allow themselves to become too invested in their belief systems that trying to tell them they’re wrong becomes a personal insult rather than a simple sharing of ideas.

2. Can’t agree with their opponents.

Most religions start with a strict following. Everyone for the most part agrees, and what they don’t agree on they either happily debate or put to the side as unimportant. Then a few generations later you find splits or schism where a religions followers part ways and become two or more religions. Over time this happens again and again and again, eventually leading to the multitude of belief sets we have today.

Heaven forbid these different sects should ever agree with each other. It becomes even worse when they’re different religions rather than just different sects. Then again, are Islam, Jewdaism and Christianity different religions, or just different sects? They all share a common history.

There is however, always an exception to the rules. There are religions out there that are starting to agree with each other and form singlular groups. I’ve only recently learned of the Baha’i through a blog I’ve been reading.

http://blog.commongroundgroup.net/

A good blog with good writers. Even if we don’t see eye to eye on the facts they’re good topics and good people. Worthy of a read and even a comment if you’re that way enclined.

I don’t know enough of the Baha’i faith to really comment on it just yet. To me it seems to be the next stage in the death throws of religion whereby the different religions are grouping together to preserve their teachings. An interesting idea though, and one I hope to learn a lot more about in the future.

Look, I really don’t like religion in general and I wish the world were ready to move on from dismally disappointing gods. But the fact is there are a thousand possibilities for how the universe came into existence and the only way we’re going to find the answer is to explore the possibilities. As a species we’re slowly exploring all the ideas and over time rejecting the less effective ones. It’s actually rather scientific. I just wish people would treat it as a mass experiment, rather than getting so personally and emotionally involved in their own little idea that they can’t move on from it, even in the face of overwhelmingly contradictory evidence. It’s one thing to be actively exploring ideas, it’s another to be so invested in a single idea.

3. Can’t give the answer “I don’t know”.

This isn’t so much something that religions do as it is the reason for religions. A long time ago someone looked up at the stars and wondered aloud “I wonder what’s up there?” Rather than giving the honest answer of “I don’t know”, others came up with explanations for these types of questions and thus were gods and religions born.

You even get this kind of evading with the typical response “God’s ways are a mystery”. It’s just a cleverly worded way of saying “I don’t know”. You know what, it’s spin.

But here’s the real head fake. This isn’t really just a problem with politics or religion. It’s a problem with society and people in general. We’re terrible at admitting when we’re wrong. If there’s an idea or a person we don’t like we often can’t see any good in them. And given the option of saying “I don’t know” or making up stories we’ll often choose the latter as this beautiful advertisement by Telstra demonstrates.

A little over the top maybe, but a demonstration of what I’m sure happens every day.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s politics, religion, business or any other form of human interaction these are ideals we need to get past.

Admitting you’re wrong about something takes great courage but will ultimately make you more enjoyable to be around and a better, more informed person in general.

Disagreeing with people is the cornerstone of good democracy, but often I see people who are unable to dissect the good ideas out of people they don’t like. A good idea is a good idea, no matter who says it.

And my personal favourite, let’s start admitting when we don’t know something. We’re all ignorant of many things and the sooner we can suck it up and admit that the sooner we’ll start filling those gaps in our knowledge. Let’s stop thinking of ‘ignorant’ as an insult but as a fact of life that can be overcome.

Ignorance may not be bliss, but getting over our ignorance can be. Searching to fill those gaps in our knowledge can be wonderful. It can also be a painful process if we’re too invested in our own ignorance. Regardless of the pain though it’s almost always worthwhile to push through it and overcome that ignorance.

-Ignorance is not bliss. Stay inquisitive.