Native Americans Conquer the English! Why History Wasn’t Reversed-Part 2

The saga continues. If you are not up to date on Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamond then read last week’s post here. We now know that civilizations arose not from individual genetic differences but rather environmental conditions that encouraged agriculture: domesticable wild plants, domesticable mammals, and the orientation of a continent’s axis. Agriculture allowed groups of people to expand their social organization from nomadic bands all the way to advance states (common all over the world today). Larger populations required better communication between people-motivating the creation of the first alphabets. Two independently-derived alphabets were invented in areas of the world where agriculture had it’s longest history: the Sumerian cuneiform (Mesopotamia, 3000 B.C) and Chinese (1300 B.C)-most all other writing systems were derived from either of these. Along with the alphabet, large groups of specialized jobs, supported by a surplus of food (agriculture) allowed for a myriad of technological innovations. Technology was pushed through competition and the spread of knowledge between different societies; this spread of knowledge was faster among Eurasian societies compared to North American societies partly due to the axis orientation differences. Civilization not only promoted technology but also religion. Religion served a role in connecting large groups of people in one common higher purpose and rationalized living one’s life for the higher “state.” This is best seen in the Christian Crusades against Islam. It is important to note however that groups of people have been spiritual throughout all of history, organized religion is a whole different beast (Jesus denouncing the religious figures of His time).

As civilizations advanced, they many times spread to new areas and conquered other groups of people. Most everyone knows about the expansion of Europeans starting with Columbus’ exploratory trip in 1492. However, a much larger expansion took place several millennium before in South China. This is known as the Austronesian expansion and it was comprised of the more advanced agriculturists of South China spreading from Taiwan all the way through Polynesia and reaching as far as Madagascar off the coast of Africa. Humans first inhabited Southeast Asia and Polynesia by 33,000 B.C. Between 33,000 B.C. and 3,500 B.C. the people who inhabited these areas were mainly hunter gatherers with limited technological sophistication. However, beginning in 7500 B.C., China was growing their civilization and by the year 3,500 B.C. began migrating south. With agriculture, the Austronesians were able to spread from the Philippines to New Zealand and everywhere in between (except New Guinea and Australia); they eventually were the first people to reach the Hawaiian Islands. This mass human expansion was one of the first examples of how advanced civilizations with the aid of agriculture could take over less-advanced groups through germs and superior weaponry.

The book goes on to talk about the differences between Europeans and Chinese in respects to expansion in the last 500 years. Why didn’t China expand to the west coast of North America and colonize in similar fashion to Europeans? How did Europe pass China and the Middle East in technological advancement? These are complex questions with several possible answers but one hypothesis is that China’s united geography compared to Europe’s segmented geography created differences in competition. China had one united ruling government while Europe had several feuding states; the competition in Europe facilitated greater technological advancement and was less prone to idiosyncratic individuals. China did have times of imperialism but in 1492 the dynasty in place was not interested in expansion. On the other hand, Christoper Columbus had to ask several different European states for funding before finally catching a lucky break with Spain. As soon as Spain was raking in the cash in the New World, other autonomous European countries jumped on the bandwagon-unified China followed their emperor’s decision to stay put. This is only one part of the answer of how our modern world was shaped but it highlights geography’s role in shaping history. Understanding our past helps us understand our present. Today there are rich countries and poor countries, successful businesses and unsuccessful businesses, peaceful zealots and violent zealots. How different variables interact to mold groups of people is not only fascinating but can possibly tilt the scales for the “haves and have nots” of the future.

The Blessing of Disease

SAPERE AUDE-Dare to be Wise

Is having a disease a blessing? That is a very counter-intuitive question but I have been thinking about this very idea while reading More Than Money: True Stories of People Who Learned Life’s Ultimate Lesson by Neil Cavuto. This book profiles several different successful individuals who overcame cancer, MS, and paralysis to lead fulfilling lives. These individuals focused their efforts on helping others and their families instead of solely seeking financial gain in their careers. They did this by starting charities, being public spokespeople for disease awareness, and trying to change government policies for the benefit of societies’ disadvantaged. Without their personal struggles with serious medical ailments they would have never led a life that was focused on fostering relationships and helping other people. It is this fact that makes me think that having a disease can be looked at as a blessing. Of course, having a life threatening disease can be extremely painful, isolating, debilitating, and a host of negative adjectives that are far from any semblance of the word “blessing.” However, through the suffering and pain, I see more times than not stories of people appreciating their lives and families more than when they were previously healthy. The onset of illness many times makes people stop and think about what is truly important in life: they may not skip out on talking with their kids instead of emailing, they may go on that trip that they have always been putting off, they may tell the ones they love that they “appreciate them with all their heart.”

A life well lived cannot be measured quantitatively. A life well lived is the sum of qualitative experiences that are completely independent of a person’s age. If you have a disease, cancer, or a debilitation do not look at it as a negative. You have the first-hand knowledge of life’s unpredictability and hence the power to take advantage of all the opportunities still accorded to you. If you are healthy then try your best to look at life with the lens of someone with a disease. Think about what is most important and truly take advantage of your health while you still have it. Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. Suffering can change our perspective on life and really make us examine what is worth doing while on this Earth. If you don’t examine your life and live it in the best way possible then you are throwing away your blessings and in my opinion you are worse off than having any possible disease. I am not wishing disease upon myself or anyone for that matter but I am encouraging you to think about how suffering is not always a negative and how we can take advantage of any situation. The cliché saying is to live like there is no tomorrow. There is merit to this but it is not realistic because most of the time there is a tomorrow. I would say for those who are healthy live like you will die in the next 5 years. This way you can still keep some financial balance while not pushing off all your hopes and dreams. For those who will not make it to the next five years I want to reemphasize that you can “live” more in those five years than most people will “live” in an entire lifetime. 

To end this post I recommend this inspirational video that profiles how a disease can truly be a blessing in disguise.

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The Wealth of Poverty

Have you ever sat outside and taken a deep breath…observing the beauty and subtleties of nature? In our nonstop-technology-filled world this simple practice is rarely performed and given little respect. I love nature and have sat in a quiet meadow listening to the wind sweep across the grasses. I have hiked up mountains where the texture of stone beneath my feet makes me think of the weight of the world. I have seen the stars over the ocean and thought of my place in this big universe. My experiences in nature are some of my most coveted and life shaping moments. My love for the outdoors and what it can teach us led me to read Walden by Henry David Thoreau. I respect Thoreau immensely and think his insights on life are more pertinent today than when he was alive. Thoreau is about simplifying life to its core so that life can be better understood-removing the white noise of the superfluous. The essentials of man include food and heat. Simple food, lodging, and clothing were tenets to Thoreau’s life when he lived at Walden Pond. He is a philosopher and I really like his definition of what that means…”To be a philosopher is not merely to have subtle thoughts, nor even to found a school, but so to love wisdom as to live according to its dictates, a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity, and trust.” Living the simplest way possible frees man from the bind of arduous labors in the pursuit money. The pursuit of excess is not the ultimate goal but rather the pursuit of exploring the mind, nature, and the world we live in. A key point of Thoreau is that garnering true wisdom internally is the greatest wealth a person can obtain. No matter how fancy a person dresses or what size house they live in, if you stripped that all away what would you be left with? The result would be a person that has built a foundation of virtue or a person that has a foundation of vice. 

Thoreau released himself from the comforts of society and put himself into nature to better understand his place in the world. I think that in today’s society we put so much effort on being comfortable that we miss the benefits of simplicity and nature. To live like the world is to live with an unending desire for more; that relentless pursuit is the opposite of simplicity and creates the effect of people rarely ever living in the present. Shed all the fat of societal comforts and find what brings true happiness: pursuing knowledge for knowledge sake, understanding your strengths, feeling the raw contrast of pain and pleasure. So how can you apply this thinking to your own life? I think a career is commendable and certain people fit best into that environment of structure and purpose. However, I believe that most people if released from the chains of money would live lives which entailed more time spent on personal/social enrichment and less time at work. Simplifying your life as much as possible decreases your reliance on money exponentially. All you need money for is food, security, heat, and friendship-everything else is just waste. Once you are free from the ideology of “MORE” then you can begin to appreciate the ideology of “less.” It is my goal to spend more time outside through camping and to appreciate the beautiful world that God created. My ultimate goal is to simplify my life to that of Thoreau while making compromises with my wife so she doesn’t leave me :). Go outside, take a breath, and live.

“Give me the poverty that enjoys true wealth”

-Henry David Thoreau

You’re Going to Die in 1 Year

Unfortunately, this title was a reality for Morrie Swartz in the book Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom. Morrie was a sociology professor who received the life changing diagnosis of ALS which slowly takes away the ability of the muscles to function and has no cure. Morrie, being the introspective person he was, did not become morose over his predicament but rather analyzed death and was extremely optimistic throughout his dwindling state. He tried to answer the hard questions of life and was a metaphorical bridge between the living and the dead.

One of the most profound points Morrie made was that you must first embrace death before you can really start living. This seems like a contradictory statement but it is a paradox with profound implications. Most people, including me, think death is a far off event that should receive little thought. We are all born and we will all die. We celebrate the birth part and avoid the death part. This creates a problem because death frames our life journey; accepting that at any point you may die frames how you live each and every day. If I die tonight will I be happy with my life up until this point? I asked this question to myself and I didn’t have a very satisfying answer. I currently am in a state of constant work which takes away my ability to maintain relationships, read, meditate, love, learn, and create. I still want to see the world, kiss my future children, and learn new skills. Why do I put off these life activities in the current-even though death may come at any time? Well the reason is that I have not accepted death yet and therefore I cannot truly start living. At current, I have accepted the desire of accumulating money to provide myself security which will keep me far away from death. Unfortunately, no matter how much financial security I have there is no escaping the unknown time of death. I am using money as a pseudo-god that graces me with a mentality that “tomorrow is a guarantee.”

Of course we need a certain amount of money to pay the bills but I bet if people accepted that death would come at any time they would change their spending habits. That big house may be a small house, that boat may not be so important, that new car may be unnecessary, that 5-star hotel just wouldn’t make much sense. What would become important would be a meal with your Dad, a camping trip to see the majestic Smokey Mountains, and maybe a homemade dinner with your beautiful spouse. My goal is to rid myself of the false security of money and find the bare-minimum amount that I need to truly live my life. I challenge you to think about this balance so that your full-time job becomes a part-time job or maybe you can even quit your job. Ask yourself, did you wake up this Monday excited to live your last day or did you wake up just to grudgingly trudge off to work as if you are going to live forever?

 

A Sweat Band for the Brain

Can you workout your brain to make yourself smarter? Can you flex your brain and make your memory grow like Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hulking biceps? These questions were indirectly answered in the book, Smarter by Dan Hurley. Intelligence is made up of two distinct components, fluid and crystallized intelligence. Fluid intelligence is your ability to reason, make decisions, and think abstractly. Crystallized intelligence is your factual knowledge and practiced abilities which are learned throughout life-1+1=2, George Washington is the first president, and your reading speed. Think street smarts for fluid and book smarts for crystallized. Another definition, working memory, is your ability to manipulate things you are trying to remember. If I asked you to add 25+27 you would most likely add 25+25=50 first and then add the remaining 2 to get 52-that requires working memory. Alright, the painful part is over and we can mull over the main concepts of Smarter. Cognitive psychologists, are currently having orgasms over the new idea that we can increase our intelligence through simple brain training games. These games incorporate some sort of working memory task and are recommended to be done 30-60 minutes a day on a regular basis-think Lumosity. Overall, studies showing a positive effect for these types of games on cognitive function number 75, while there are only 4 studies that show no effect at all. This may seem like a lopsided and resounding, “Duh this stuff works, let me get my credit card and start playing falling numbers on my Lumosity profile-SmartestManAlive2014,”…but lets take a step back. These studies show improvements on the specific games played, but the real question is whether that translates into an improved fluid intelligence and consequently an improved brain that makes life easier? In my opinion, the verdict is still technically out in the scientific community but the common-sense benefits are real and translatable to everyday life. I like to use the analogy of squatting in the gym. Squats use primarily your legs but that single movement improves your concentration, discipline, balance, and overall strength. Lumosity may make you better at specific games but that brain training can translate to improved memory in everyday tasks, concentration, and quickness in decision making.

Alright, Lumosity helps, but are there any other ways to make my brain glisten with sweat? Sure there are you frick, studies show that exercise (both aerobic and weight lifting), learning an instrument, mindfulness meditation, caffeine/coffee consumption, nicotine, and low electrical brain stimulation all have positive effects on improving markers of brain function. Nicotine, I learned, is not harmful or addictive on its own, and the brain actually has nicotinic receptors. Nicotine is only addictive in combination with chemicals found in cigarettes and is currently being researched as a drug to help those with Parkinson’s Disease (the nicotinic receptor positively effects malfunctioned dopamine receptors in Parkinson’s). The effects of brain training are most profoundly seen in those with cognitive disorders, such as, ADD, ADHD, age related cognitive decline, autism, and Down Syndrome. In healthy adults, the degree of benefit is less pronounced but still apparent and helpful in creating cognitive reserve which is shown to delay age-related cognitive decline. Most of us design our life around things we are good at so we can be comfortable and happy at all times. If we try to be comfortable in everything we do, we are going to have a weenie brain and a weenie body. Do something that challenges your brain and your body and don’t squander the gifts that God gave you. IQ is only a number, what you do with that number is what matters most. If my IQ is 150 and all I do is go home, watch TV, and check Facebook each night then my intelligence is essentially worthless. Go out use your blessings, get smarter, learn an instrument, critically think, pick up a heavy weight, run really quick, and read a book. Don’t waist that beautiful brain of yours-make it glisten like one of Arnold’s biceps.

Words that I did not know:

Incredulity: a feeling that you do not or cannot believe or accept that something is true or real
Erudite:having or showing knowledge that is gained by studying
Egregious: conspicuous
Abhorrent: not agreeable

Summed up learning sentence:

Training your brain can only improve memory/fluid intelligence if your willing to challenge yourself and the best way to train is with an activity that your most likely to stick with over the long term.

The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

Dare to be Wise

So what is the deal with the title of this blog-Sapere Aude? My connection to this saying is quite personal on several levels. One day in college I decided to look up my last name on Google and see if there was any history concerning Oldham. I was interested in the history because Oldham seemed like a really weird last name which is extremely easy to make fun of. I thought, “who the heck would pick this as a last name?” The search, to my surprise, led me to a legit coat of arms, and a city in England with my last name that still exists. The fact that there is an Oldham, England was pretty sweet and I saw that there was a coat of arms associated with the surname. The animal on the coat of arms is an owl and the latin phrase underneath reads “Sapere Aude.” I soon learned that Oldham was once pronounced less like the deli meat and more like “Owl-duhm.” The prononciation led to the owl on the coat of arms and the “Sapere Ow-de” phrase. The owl is also an animal associated with wisdom so the whole thing is a nice little package of cool for a last name that today is the butt of jokes. What really resonated with me was the translation of Sapere Aude which as you guessed it is-Dare to be Wise. That is freaking sweet because I never associated wisdom with a dare. Daring someone to do something always seems to result in an unwise outcome: “I dare you to go run around the dorm naked,” “I dare you to eat the mold off that bread,” “I dare you to fart in the elevator.” I never heard someone dare me to read a book, think critically about the world, or seek knowledge.

My connection to this phrase reached me not only on a historical level but also on a personal level. My whole life I loved to help people and try to give insight into issues they may be experiencing. I wasn’t a nosey fricker but I just seemed to enjoy having one-on-one conversations from a young age with my Momma and eventually with my friends. I was fascinated by philosophy and many times my friends would say that I was “wise.” In high school I began to question what wisdom truly was. Is wisdom being good at giving advice? Is wisdom being smart? Is wisdom knowing the answers to life? I had no idea and honestly I never felt wise because I was a fat kid for most of my life who watched cartoons and hung out with my parents. In college I still was pondering the question of wisdom when I fell upon my family crest’s motto-Sapere Aude. What the frick! Is that a coincidence that I was interested in wisdom, fairly alone in caring about the topic, and this was my surname’s motto. I didn’t think much more of wisdom until I graduated and regained my desire to learn. I began to ponder what wisdom was and how I could live the motto “Dare to be Wise.” I took the dare and that is why I made my goal of mastering the subjects of history, psychology/sociology, and philosophy. I believe that wisdom is not a simple thing or a one word phrase that you put on a cat poster in your office. I beleive wisdom is a lifestyle and requires a incredibily deep knowledge of our world. Wisdom is also something that you can not just learn from reading a crap ton of books. It takes a combination of research, life experiences, and human interaction to truly be wise. My current infantile view of being wise means that you understand the outcome of a decision without making the decision.  This is abstract but one example would be that I know that a big house will not make me happy even without me having to buy the big house (makes sense I hope). So there you go, my journey and purpose in mastery is taking up the challenge to be wise, fullfilling some weird family duty, and seeking a goal that I think is more rewarding then any other goal I can think of. In the end, if I obtain wisdom I hope to help people live better lives. Period.