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    Archive for July, 2008

    What science says about enlightenment

    Saturday, July 19th, 2008

    With the idea that I should be eating a bit more protein, and being someone who is primarily a vegetarian who eats sushi every now and then, I headed for the low-fat dairy aisle. Sucker that I am for personal testimonials, I remembered a friend saying he loved kefir, a yogurt-ish drink.

    Well, I’m no fan of yogurt, but was willing to give kefir a try and, much to my surprise, I had a Life cereal moment. “Hey Mikey, he really likes it.”

    After months of glugging down kefir — and it does, in fact, glug… not pour… glug — I read the label for the first time this morning and saw the following:

    Published research has shown the healthy probiotic cultures found in Lifeway kefir may:

    • Enhance the immune system
    • Balance digestive health

    Enhance and balance with Lifeway kefir!

    Okay, here’s  a contest.

    How many problems can you find that statement?

    This contest is kinda like the experiment where you have to count the number of times the letter f appears in a sentence and we tend to overlook the ones in the word “of.”  There are quite a few logical problems in that statement, some are so familiar they’ll be overlooked.

    FWIW, I’ve got 9 so far, but there could be more.

    I’ll give you one to start with, one that is often missed:

    “…probiotic cultures found in…”  Not the EXACT AMOUNT of cultures, or delivered in the same way, just the same type. In other words, let’s just say there’s a study that shows taking a daily enema featuring 10 pounds of acidophilus increases the curling of your forearm hair.

    Lifeway is able to us the “probiotic cultures found in” line to imply that you’ll get a forearm hair perm even if the kefir contains just a microgram’s worth of acidophilus. And you’ll get that benefit from drinking the acidophilus rather than taking it in through, uh, according to The Newlywed Game, “The strangest place you’ve ever made whoopie.”

    Now, before I let you loose with the challenge, let me tell you why I bring this up.

    This statement is VERY deliberately crafted by a collection of marketing and legal experts in order to do two things:

    1. Communicate benefits
    2. Say nothing legally binding

    And this is on FOOD.

    Think about all the self-help and personal development promotion that use “research says” and “science says” or “Quantum Physicists say” to promise a benefit that’s actually specific!

    “Quantum Physics says that everything is energy,” says one teacher. “And thoughts are energy. Therefore if you control your thoughts you can get anything you want!”

    Ummm… hello? Really?

    So the reason for my contest is this: When you can spot the errors in a statement as well honed as the kefir one and, as a result, be unswayed by it… imagine how immune you’ll become to something like, “We examined a group of millionaires and discovered what they have in common… now we’ll teach you how to think just like the rich so that you can be a millionaire, too!”

    In fact, for extra credit, tell me what’s wrong with THAT line of reasoning (and my apologies to the word “reasoning” for using it in association with that type of statement).

    And for extra extra credit, explain to me why the government would imprison Lifeway if they said something like the millionaire line on their bottle, but has no problem with the “teachers” who make those kinds of claims to sell their books and fill their workshops.

    You can be Tony Robbins!

    Wednesday, July 16th, 2008

    How’s this for a reality show:

    You can be the next Tony Robbins!

    Now the question is: Is this a show about becoming a self-help teacher or the freakiest makeover show ever on television?

    Then answer is actually… wait for it… motivational speaker.

    And this isn’t just an idea. This was a real show called “The Messengers.” It, thankfully, didn’t get much traction so you’ll have to hunt for it (and, frankly, being in traction would be more entertaining).

    I only watched one episode, but it left quite an impression on me (and almost left a permanent vomit stain on my couch), and I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit (and wondering how Dante would have envisioned Hell were he writing today).

    The gist of the show is that they took a collection of wannabe moto speakers, most of whom already had careers in the biz, put them into some sort of “life situation,” and then they had to whip up an inspirational speech which they delivered to a panel of, uh, experts.

    Side note: I’m trying to imagine what makes you an expert who can judge a motivational speech, or what the criteria are for rating such a speech. Sure, I know that Toastmasters and the National Speakers Bureau have something set up for this, but their list of “what’s good” is probably a bit suspect. I’m betting there aren’t categories like:

    • Made me think “I can do it” for no good reason
    • Made me cry after hearing about a touching moment that he probably didn’t see first hand and even more likely never happened at all
    • Made my testicles retract just thinking about how painful that must have been
    • Made me want to lose a limb, get caught in a fire, and become disabled so that *I* could make a living talking about what happened to me and how if *I* could overcome *this*, just imagine what YOU could do!

    Speaking of “If *I* can do this…” let’s go back to the show.

    On this episode, they split the wannabes into two groups. One group was put in wheelchairs and spent the day with a guy who had been paralyzed (I can’t remember how, but it must have been something perceived of as heroic and not something like, “My shirt was wet and I wanted to dry it, but I forgot to take it off before I put it in the dryer, so while I was spinning around, well, you get the picture.”), and the other group had their eyes bandaged and went off with someone who had become blind (again, probably not from, “I was juggling Ginsu knives at Hooters one night and, well, you can probably guess the rest.”).

    Now, I’m not much for suggesting that Quantum effects — which are only descriptions of events that take place an sub-atomic dimensions — manifest in the macro world, but if there were ever a demonstration of Quantum Entaglement (where you separate 2 particles, affect a property of one, and notice an instantaneous change in the same property of the other), this was it.

    Both groups, without any provocation or communication, kept harping on the same philosophy.

    For you die-hard Quantum Mechanics geeks, I know that if this were a perfect example of entanglement one group would be doing the opposite of the other. But ignoring that for the sake of the story (in the same way that people who suggest that “Quantum Physics says that everything is energy,” when it says nothing of the sort)…

    Each group kept fawning over their leader, in tears about how brave, courageous, powerful, resourceful and good-looking they were.

    Okay, okay, the group with the blind guy didn’t say that because they couldn’t see him. But they may have said something about his “great energy.”

    Each time the sycophants, I mean, contestants, tossed out one of these saccharine-mixed-with-Splenda-Aspartame-Agave-and-Stevia laden compliments, it was received with a look of confusion and disgust, like, “Ummm… dudes, I’m not sure who you’re talking about, but whatever you think I am, I’m not.”

    Then at the end of the day, every single one of the future remainder-bin-book-writers spoke about how amazing and inspiring it was to spend the day with someone who had clearly triumphed over such an unthinkable obstacle.

    And while some of the judges became genuinely ferklempt (you say “verklempt,” I say “verklempt;” let’s call the whole thing off), everyone seemed to be oblivious to reality — typical on a reality show — and miss the real point.

    First of all, they succumbed to a classic cognitive bias: they imagined what they *thought* it would feel like NOW for them to become paralyzed or blind and then projected that SAME feeling into the future, imagining it would continue forever. Obviously, our own life has some, if not many, examples of painful events from which we thought we would never recover… except that most of us have recovered from most of them and some of us have even noticed that these events were great boons.

    In “Stumbling on Happiness”, Daniel Gilbert discusses how when he asks people to imagine how they would feel in 2 years if they lost a child today, the (annoyed, since he often asks this question at dinner parties) respondents talk about how they would be destroyed. Yet, when you ask actual parents who have lost a child, they function MUCH better than they ever imagined they would. Sometimes they have bad days, like we all do for other reasons, and most of the time they don’t.

    And, secondly, they totally missed how the REAL message is not how these two people were special, but how we ALL are, how most if not ALL of us will rise to some challenge, will roll with the punches (or ear bites if you get a Mike Tyson-level whoopin’), will find a way to thrive in what *seems* like an insurmountable event (to those who are not LIVING it).

    This reminds me of all the goal-setting workshops where nobody thinks to ask the teacher, “Did you set a goal of giving goal-setting workshops? Or did it just sort of happen, but you ran with it?” Or the better question (because it addresses the counter-proof): How many good things have you gotten in your life that you never planned for, or that you didn’t set a goal for, or that were accidents or freak events or, if you believe in things like this, fate or luck or grace or chance?”

    Setting goals, ironically, is limiting. Because it’s not that we can be/do/have anything we want. It’s that we have no idea what we’re really capable of and, odds are, we won’t find out until the proverbial poo hits the proverbial spinning device.





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