Self-Worth

I have to pause (again) my current 4-part series, Games of Unknowledging, for this one very important thermometer on life; a happy, thriving, giving life that most doctors, therapists, and altruists would also consider a most important check-up. I promise my next post will be the conclusion. Promise!

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How we define our worth often hinges on what others around us say and do, or don’t say and don’t do, correct? Afterall, how can our own self-perception be accurate, honest, and objective if we have nothing to compare by? What constitutes worth and what exactly are those litmus tests that define it? Are they accurate? How much attention and energy should we give to our worth, its creation and its perpetuation? Peter Gabriel had something to say, or rather sing about self-worth in his 1986 hit “Big Time,” remember?

No matter how we choose to measure our own worth, there are fluctuating degrees of external feedback we seek, consciously or subconsciously, and this can be healthy and/or unhealthy.

Thoreau quote

In our modern age of booming technology, something seemingly new every month, sporting frantic paces, competition, and only 24-hours in a day to get it, manage it and finish it, sometimes at the expense of restful sleep, the insatiable beast of technological-consumerism demands ever-growing absorption. I’m not sure how aggressive it is in other countries, but in the U.S. it’s not just fierce, it has reached the intrusive levels of addiction. Tristan Harris with web-portal Big Think:

So… how do you define your self-worth? One way? Two, three or four different ways? Share your thoughts about how to define self-worth, I’d like to know them.

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Mind and Matter

this-is-fortyEveryone can relate to the changes our bodies traverse one decade to the next. Changes? Perhaps the better word is brawls. At thirty-nine my physician informed me in no uncertain terms what I had medically to expect and monitor by regular checkups and tests for a white male in his forties in “good health.” These tests and checkups would vary and change into my fifties in order to search for common and uncommon anomalies before they became unmanageable.

Honestly, I wondered then the benefits of telling a patient, a person, in a number of different contexts what possible ailments await them in the looming? exciting future of preventative/reactionary medicine and treatments. How much should we know? How much CAN we know? Is it possible to know too much? Is it detrimental to know too little? More importantly, what are the effects on the mind and body of “too much” or “too little“?

This past August I was forced heavily persuaded to register for a Life-Line Screening October 7th. I conceded because there was no denying my last FULL physical exam was done over 17-years ago. As a few of my blog-posts attest — e.g. Snip-Snip and Done! — I become a messy blob of shivering jello around needles, syringes and all things designed to stick in, open up, modify, simplify, or rectumfy rectify the human body. Just the name of this screening (Life-Line? Are you freakin’ serious?) frightened the SHIT out of me! I obsessed, “If they perform this god damn screening at a funeral home or next door to or near a funeral home, I was prepared to do an immediate 180° turn and sacrifice my $350 to the god and altar of Fuck That.

When my name was called by the nurse (named Temple; I kid you not) to start matters upon me, I immediately asked “When would be a good time to tell someone about my history of feinting since a boy?” With a warm grin she replied, “Oh? Now.” She was not only extremely attractive, near my own age, and chatting with a sweet sense of humor, everything seemed a silly figment of my hyper-nervous imagination with her by my side! As she took my measurements, including around my lower waist, my pulse and blood-pressure rose. Indeed, in a most natural way of course. Then she moved me to a station and chair where there was a large open-container of needles and collection tubes. Everything, inside and out of me changed. And as if that sight was not enough, she wants to take my blood-pressure before sticking me for vials of blood.

needlesI feel my palms getting clammy as she wraps the velcro-band around my bicep. Pump, pump, then the hissing… “Hmm,” she says with slight bewilderment, “that’s not so good. Is it all these needles and vials?” I inhale deeply, “They don’t help.” Temple begins giving me relaxation instructions, how to breath and to go to my “happy-place.” Umm, that would be out the nearest door… with you, I think to myself. “Okay.” I take several long deep breaths. She takes my blood-pressure a second time, then has to record it. She tells me with minor certainty “It’s a little better than before.” But waiting to be lead to the next station, she announces my name (to everyone in the church conference room) “We need to take your blood-pressure again. It’s too close to ‘Critical’.” What is going on? I think I feel better because the “needles” I perceived there were only the microneedle finger prick cases. I made it through that station with shaky flying colors!

Despite my lifelong embarrassing history of feinting around such objects in such places, there is a profound silver-lining to this post. Mind over matter, or what I’ve changed to Mind and Matter. Specifically the placebo effect on the human body and brain.

The Theater of Performance and Belief

For several thousands of years we have all engaged in a performance of relief to make us feel better. On the flip-side, we have all participated at various points in our life things we do not feel pleasurable about, but as necessary or unavoidable like I did for the Life Line Screening after 17-years. Others do it for some “expected” result. In some cases, and I’d say in most cases, we find ways to get addicted to relief… or a feeling of relief through belief of betterment even though it may never come to fruition in real life or this pre-mortem life.

Ted Kaptchuk of the Harvard Medical School says based on his decades of research that knowingly participating in a performance, which has no guaranteed desired results, activates regions of the brain to manage undesirable or pain symptoms.

“This new research demonstrates that the placebo effect is not necessarily elicited by patients’ conscious expectation that they are getting an active medicine, as long thought. Taking a pill in the context of a patient-clinician relationship — even if you know it’s a placebo — is a ritual that changes symptoms and probably activates regions of the brain that modulate symptoms.”
Dr. Ted Kaptchuk, ScienceDaily.com, Oct. 2016

placebo-effectHowever, he and many medical researchers observing the placebo effect state the performance of expectation is a key component to improved symptoms or “healing” in test studies. The experiments have shown over and over that with a supportive patient-practitioner relationship, along with all the props and costumes of a medical-theatrical stage, improved or successful outcomes were induced from self-relieving, self-healing brain processes, not placebos or necessarily pharmaceuticals.

“The [theater of performance and belief, i.e. placebo] results were not surprising: the patients who experienced the greatest relief were those who received the most care. But in an age of rushed doctor’s visits and packed waiting rooms, it was the first study to show a “dose-dependent response” for a placebo: the more care people got—even if it was fake—the better they tended to fare.”
Harvard Magazine, The Placebo Phenomenon, Jan-Feb 2013

But there’s more. A related study conducted by Karin Jensen of the Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden has found it didn’t matter if the test participants experienced clearly visible or non-recognizable stimuli. According to further studies, they indicate that mechanisms responsible for placebo and nocebo effects can operate without conscious awareness of the triggering cues, i.e. theater. In other words, it is not what a person thinks will happen, it is what the non-conscious mind anticipates, despite any conscious thoughts. Dr. Jensen goes on to say…

“Such a mechanism would generally be expected to be more automatic and fundamental to our behavior compared to deliberate judgments and expectations”, says Karin Jensen. “These findings can help us explain how exposure to typical clinical environments and routines can activate powerful health improvements, even when treatments are known to be ineffective.”
Dr. Karin Jensen, Placebos Can Be Activated Unconsciously, Karolinska Institute, June 2015

Hospitals, clinics, apothecaries, even fitness gyms are common venues for the Theater of Belief. There are hundreds if not thousands of groups and locations to harness the power of expectations, all with varying levels of observable efficacy. Tanya Luhrmann of Stanford University carries this phenomenon a step further. She includes sanctuaries and congregations of “divine” worshipping…

Luhrmann suggests that “belief is natural. It comes partly from the way our minds are hardwired.” She has spent most of her professional career deconstructing people’s interaction with a divine being. Her findings say that belief-based relief/healing requires not only a good theater, a wrenching story, but also the earnestness of an active listener — someone with the desire to make what is being performed and imagined FEEL real. She goes on to emphasize that “humans have the capacity to change their experience.” It is why authors of popular fiction become best-sellers literally overnight — their readers engross themselves in the story, in the theatrical performance.

Personally, I see no reason at all to exclude religious fervor for the divine, or for sacred scriptures, or for objects or miracles to be any different from the Theater of Belief at hospitals, clinics, apothecaries, fitness gyms, and yes… at churches, synagogues, or mosques.

Throw in Peer Assimilation and…
lakewood_church_interior

Lakewood Ranch Church, Branson, MO

The power of group-belief and the theater of performance, whether based in fact, placebos, or verifiable data, can be easily demonstrated by religious pilgrimages. Every year some 5-million pilgrims make the journey to Lourdes, France for the seasonal Our Lady of Lourdes’ Healings. The Black Madonna pilgrimages all over the world are another example which attracts millions of believers every year. The annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia by over 2-million Muslims is one of “the five pillars of Islam.” Then the largest pilgrimage of all religions, the Maha Kumbh Mela to Allahabad, India occurs every 12-years and draws approximately 120-million Hindus. Pilgrims essentially attest to the same purpose or expectation, and ‘all are here for personal reasons, but all are here for each other as much as themselves.’ The more they feel they belong to a popular trend, the more they are convinced it comes from divine sources. If this doesn’t perhaps offer one definition of strength in numbers, then what does?

It seems that not only are you what you eat, or do, or consciously think, you can also be what you believe or expect, whether it is based on anything verifiable or not, especially if thousands or millions think and perform alike and with you, or you with them, then that performance and expectation makes it feel real for that individual! What an amazing revelation, borrowing the popular term. These neurological psychological studies can help explain why I have an aversion (to say the least) to all things designed to stick in, open up, modify, simplify, or rectum rectify the human body. But on a bigger scale these neurological psychological studies (placebos) can also explain a long long history of humanity’s most brilliant and blind, most virtuous and vile of human acts. Agreed? Disagree? Let me know below with your comments.

For further details and studies go to My Library page:  Bibliography – Mind and Matter

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Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Untapped Worlds – Reside

I again continue this series from the last post, Untapped Worlds — Entries and the two previous to it.
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Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
Song of Myself, Walt Whitman

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Part of human nature, beginning at our very first breath, is to find identity, to feel loved, to feel a sense of value. Whitman poetically asks how is that achieved? By embracing equally, he replies, our ordinary and our extraordinary. Sounds liberating! Sounds easy, huh? If you are a child again, sure.

There are various reasons why it is not always as simple as Whitman’s monologue. But it doesn’t mean it’s impossible!

In my Introduction post of this series and the following Departure post, I covered just how truthful in 1855 Whitman’s poem describes us, “Very well then, I contradict myself…” In the next post Entries, I covered briefly how we humans probably became walking, talking contradictions; extraordinary contradictions over centuries and millenia to become one of the paradoxically dominant species on the planet. Four primary causes for this graduated progression were planetary resources, our physical bodies and brains, and our learned adaptation of more complex social collaboration. Yet, more paradoxical is that we’ve also made these remarkable leaps of advancement at a very staggering cost in human atrocities, deaths, and near extinctions. If we look more closely at these paradoxes on a group scale and personal scale, perhaps we can permanently exit our barbaric behaviours and fears, and begin to reside more permanently and safely in realized child-like kinetic, sharing creativity.

Power Management and the Grid – Planetary Resources

As I previously covered, the average human brain requires at least 12.6 watts of metabolic power to operate during an average 24-hours. The rest of our body requires about 50.4 watts for a total consumption of around 63 watts, or what nutritionists say is roughly 2,000 calories per day — 1,800 avg. for women, 2,200 avg. for men — and varies slightly due to height, weight, age, cultural region, and activity level. Care to be educated in what 2,000 calories or 63 watts looks like… for an entire day, all day? You might be surprised…

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Though the food selections above are not the “healthiest choices,” that is as much as an average person requires for one entire day. Not much more, and less if desired. Multiply 2,000 calories (63 watts) by today’s approximate world population of 7.38 billion that comes out to 17.46 trillion calories per day, almost 465 million kW per day…a very, very manageable metabolic consumption rate for a planet brimming with caloric resources; a cornucopia of life-giving sustenance for everyone several times over. Yet, many regions, local or global, have persistent annual malnutrition and famine. From the U.N. Food & Agriculture Organization (2014):

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that about 805 million people of the 7.3 billion people in the world, or one in nine, were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2012-2014. Almost all the hungry people, 791 million, live in developing countries, representing 13.5 percent, or one in eight, of the population of developing counties. There are 11 million people undernourished in developed countries.

As a fellow human being these facts slap me in the face. As an American living in one of, if not THE wealthiest nation on the planet, this hurts. This rips at my heart because daily I am surrounded, nagged, and ashamed by how excessively wasteful we are as a country. It’s everywhere here in Texas. I am not exaggerating.

WEEE man statue

The WEEE man statue, 7-meters of human electronics and electrical waste materials one human disposes in a lifetime.

It isn’t all bad news for us Yankees and Confederates, thankfully. According to the OECD the U.S. has ranked in the top three giving nations of the 28 member nations for the last fifteen years or more — because we do have so much excess. Do you think a lot more can be done?

Personal confession:  my ideal body weight for a 6-foot man is 175-180 lbs. Today I weigh 196 lbs. This is not too healthy, both on a personal scale and nowhere close on a social scale! I’m changing it. The very first step I’m taking is saying “No” a lot more often. Repeating that wonderful word is not going to greatly effect my luxurious lifestyle either. It’s probably not near enough so I am doing more. I am reducing my food portions significantly and spreading out my two meals a day. Besides, much of what goes in my mouth never enters my body — what fat molecules remain get piled around the waist — and the rest is… as they say, returned to Earth. Typically, that is over half of what I ate in the first place. As I was learning more about the gastrointestinal tract, I was appalled by the waste and stunned by the body’s incredible efficiency to create metabolic-energy from so little.

Nevertheless, the minimal lean resources we humans actually need are relative to what Earth abundantly provides and what others, like myself, take away or waste.

The Beautiful Breakable Divergent Body and Brain

They are our first impressions. How the body looks, smells, and moves can reveal its general affairs and use. The body has several ways to let us and others know if it’s ill or well, surviving or thriving. It is perhaps one of the most sophisticated organic systems in the known universe. For the sake of time, here is a highly abbreviated idea of how sophisticated.

The Skin Our body’s primary defense against the world’s microbial hordes is our skin; trillions of skin cells sacrifice themselves as shields absorbing invaders daily to soon fall off carrying would-be invaders with them. Then they are so rapidly replaced by new skin cells ready to repeat the carnage, it would make Joseph Stalin green with envy. Also, if you ever feel unattractive, consider this:  Your body is so intensely appealing to trillions of tiny-stalkers they would like nothing better than to get all over you!

Immune System — It can be considered one of the most powerful array of defense weapons ever gathered in one organization. It can respond to attacks in broad or specific ways and due to highly sophisticated training, the system is like the body’s élite Special Forces in two basic Divisions:  AB and CA. The AB, or antibody division, is led by B-cells handling most bacterial attacks. The CA, or cellular division, is made up of T-cells which are most effective against viral attackers. Both divisions derive their “special skills” from stem cells in bone marrow. Both can diversify as required by the battleground’s demands. Both divisions patrol the body far and wide. The immune system requires the effectiveness of the next system/buffet.

Amino Acid Buffet — About half of our organic material in our bodies is protein. It is usually connected to muscles, but protein is deployed in the body in a dazzling variety of ways and in tens of thousands of forms. Every day our bodies belly up to the amino acid buffet, creating thousands of proteins from 22 basic building blocks called amino acids. Some become muscle and sinew, some as hormones — messengers that stimulate growth, order organs to speed up or slow down, direct nerve traffic as well as manage how cells handle blood sugar. Others make up antibodies, the soldiers of the aforementioned immune system’s two combat divisions.

MAP

Sexual divergence illustrated

These three systems are only a tiny portion of multiple systems that make humans the most complex species on Earth. Yet, as covered in previous posts in this series, as remarkable as the design of the human body is it has flaws, weaknesses, and divergence. Compared to many other species which have retained and perfected their body configuration over tens or hundreds of millions of years, our hominid ancestors only started walking upright around 3-4 million years ago. This is barely enough time to sort out the imperfections, one of which we may feel every night or so in our lower back. Our spinal column comes from a model that evolved to better suit quadrupeds. Being bipedal results in gravity’s full force down our backbones, compressing vertebrae and squashing the disks that sit in between them:  herniated disks. Perhaps it’s time to return to a lot more ‘horizontal‘ activity! 😈

The healthy and young suffer from evolutionary imperfections. Many pro athletes ask too much of their knees and shoulders than our current structures are mechanically able to perform. Youths suffer through acne, another probable evolutionary hangover. In other hairy animals, sebaceous glands disperse oil onto hair fibers aiding a supple and rain-proof coat. Oddly, Homo sapiens have become less and less hairy and those same oils clog and infect the sebaceous glands causing unsightly acne.

The Brain — A good deal of time was spent pointing out the human brain’s shortcomings in the first two posts. Now I wish to point out the nervous system’s astonishing control-room, the brain. Our skulls hold about a 2.8 pound tapioca-like goop holding about 100 to 200-billion neurons and many of them can interconnect with 10,000 or more other neurons throughout the entire body. This network means that the various pathways an impulse can take inside the brain can possibly exceed the number of particles in the Universe. The fact that some of us can hardly obey basic traffic laws or balance a checking account is not for the lack of tools!

As humankind faces known and unknown species-threatening biological diseases, social and planetary dysfunctions, any of which that could lead to near extinction, if not full extinction in the next fifty to one hundred years, it becomes utterly critical than ever before in human history that the human race begin thinking a lot more in terms of a species and not individuals. But wait! That is not all of it. Simple altruism will not achieve complete survival of our species. The journey and struggle for higher enlightenment, quicker evolution, and dynamic social ecological collaboration are ironically and equally an individual one as it also relates to the whole species. They cannot be separated. But more on this cognitive paradox later in the series.

Litmus and Human Chemistry – Our Social Life

Don’t worry Wilson, I’ll do all the paddling. You just hang on!” Chuck Noland’s relationship with a volleyball, in the film Cast Away, sums up how much we need social interaction for identity, inspiration, and a functioning level of sanity in an otherwise apathetic daunting world.

GroupAround 3-million years ago hominids began sharing resources, probably because they witnessed sharing among other animal groups particularly with offspring. This activity facilitates what is known in modern neurology and psychology as parental attachment. This bonding has several supporting social and physiological dynamics, most notably cognitive and hormonal bonding. Studies on infants and toddlers infer an innate need for children to develop emotional attachments to increase their chances of survival. Parental attachment eventually expands with age into more complex bonding mechanisms of group and mating attachments and identity, again satisfying our innate needs of survival and hormonal rewards. When none of these cognitive and hormonal dynamics exist for an infant, toddler, or adult, the result is a higher increase in stress or the release of cortisol by the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA Axis) which if prolonged, leads to a rippling-effect into other negative health complications such as digestive problems, heart disease, sleep deprivation, depression, and memory-concentration impairment to name a few. In contrast though, positive social interaction is associated with increased oxytocin. Oxytocin and vasopressin are major deterrents against stress-hormones and in both toddlers, children, and to extents adults too, enhancing human motivation for curiosity and intellectual growth of expression, language, mathematical, and logic-cognitive growth… all wonderful contributions to a secure healthy emotional base.

Now that I’ve quickly touched upon what goes on inside our body and brain on the microscopic biological spectrum — there is just too much to cover in a few posts; a virtual multi-storied library — I move on to external influences, stimuli, nourishment or dis-ease that enter our brain and body through all five senses.

The Question of Free Experiential Learning

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Free children quote - ASNeill

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Many of you may have been raised in systemic public schooling like me. Every single school morning in 1st period the class would stand, and in unison verbally recite word-for-exact-word… “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. And to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for All.” Later as an adult and a teacher of several public school districts I was required to lead all my 1st period students in the Pledge of Allegiance, persuading each to follow suit if necessary. Why? What was the purpose of this oath?

When I was a boy I asked my Dad what the pledge was all about. Being a former Eagle Scout then U.S. Marine Corps soldier, my father explained in simpler terms a code and what I elaborate today as a code of honor, courage, and committment to live by and to guard our nation’s principles, as an élite noble warrior if necessary. This began my deep lifetime boyish admiration for military history, its valiant soldiers, leaders, and the powerful survival concept Band of Brothers. The code of Semper Fidelis and what it means is something that for personal reasons quickly and embarrassingly brings tears to my eyes. Since 1990 I have continued to learn the stark contrast between freedom and license.

Real Madrid FC supporters

Real Madrid FC supporters

Nationalism, along with religion and sports fans, is one of civilization’s most potent methods of systemic taught and learned “beliefs”. What is most intriguing is that nationalism is everywhere around most of the world, yet it can be quite illusive to nail down what those beliefs are exactly that define nationalism or patriotism. One common form of nationalism is the odd belief that your nation is superior to others in particular ways. “Patriotism is your conviction” George Bernard Shaw notes, “that your country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.” Indeed, even though one has no real control of where your mother births you, happenstance falsely gives you the conditioned right to proudly brag. Another form of nationalism is the perceived (and taught) duty to protect your nation when under threat, e.g. my father’s and my nation’s USMC code. This form of conditioning fascinates me and it can be found not only in the psyche of human groups, but also in many other species on Earth! I will address this phenomenon later in the series. Even more fascinating is that nationalism is a recent human endeavor, emerging only over the last three centuries!

Since the mid-1600’s nation-builders couldn’t simply use enthusiasm to unite people. Enthusiasm is too emotionally temporary; prolonged high levels of adrenaline, or epinephrine, exhaust the body’s hormonal and nervous system. This condition is associated with combat veterans suffering from PTSD or extended periods of the adrenaline-high “fight-or-flight” mode. The body needs to return to periods of standard hormonal levels to fully function.

No, instead nation-builders found a powerful more permanent tool:  captive audience. In other words, a national education system teaching the nation-state’s “unique” ideology. In religion, it is and has historically been no different.

Should a national and/or religious education system be the one and only single form of teaching and learning? John Maynard Keynes was one of Western civilization’s prolific economists of the early 20th century. During the Great Depression (1929-1939) Keynes was popularly criticized for his M.O. of inconsistency. When forced to explain his fluidity, he replied “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do Sir?” Sherlock Holmes had a similar anecdote reminding Watson, “When you have eliminated  the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.” There is a profound ceaseless curiosity innate in our human psyche from our earliest days as a toddler. If free to explore and not ruthlessly confined and coerced, human cognition can brilliantly unlock mysteries of the subatomic to the macro-cosmic and everything in between, including the far reaches in ourselves.  Alexander Neill also believed in this learning philosophy. In 1921 Neill believed “school should be made to fit the child, rather than the other way around.” The role of the parents and nation-states was simply to protect the integrity of that freedom and nurture liberating non-stop curiosity which fuels human ingenuity and the highest human virtues. Neill’s Summerhill School in Lyme Regis then Leiston, Suffolk, England, was and is a radical departure from traditional religious and national education systems. However, our species didn’t make evolutionary and revolutionary leaps or breakthroughs by remaining intellectually, physically, biologically, and philosophically stagnate. No, progress requires continual questioning, reëxamination, and possible-probable retooling — residing in fluidness if you will — even in the face of perceived contradictions or threats from establishments.

“Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)”

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There is little doubt how much we truly need each other. The big question is how we need each other? What are the connections? Language, symbols, and physical expression are the acute methods of navigating our social soups. Mastering all of them could not be more urgent as our species confronts the biological, social, and ecological dilemmas and crises of the 21st century.

In the next post of this series Untapped Worlds — Retooling, I will explore what it means to be a part of a super-organism, what it means to be surrounded by endless biodiversity, and how more humans are finally catching up with other highly eusocial species on the planet, yet also highlight the coexisting paradoxes or contradictions that subtly distinguish us from other animals species, but never alienate us.

Live Well — Love Much — Laugh Often — Learn Always

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Blog content with this logo by Professor Taboo is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://professortaboo.com/.