How Everyone Might Reasonably Believe They Are Much Better Than Average

In a classic study, Ola Svenson (1981) found that about 80% of U.S. and Swedish college students rated themselves as being both safer and more skilled as drivers than other students in the room answering the same questionnaire. (See also Warner and Aberg 2014.) Similarly, most respondents tend to report being less susceptible to cognitive biases and sexist bias than their peers, as well as more honest and trustworthy -- and so on for a wide variety of positive traits: the "Better-Than-Average Effect".

The standard view is that this is largely irrational. Of course most people can't be justified in thinking that they are better than most people. The average person is just average! (Just between you and me, don't you kind of wish that all those dumb schmoes out there would have a more realistic appreciation of their incompetence and mediocrity? [note 1])

Particularly interesting are explanations of the Better-Than-Average Effect that appeal to people's idiosyncratic standards. What constitutes skillful driving? Person A might think that the best standard of driving skill is getting there quickly and assertively, while still being safe, while Person B might think skillful driving is more a matter of being calm, predictable, and within the law. Each person might then prefer the standard that best reflects their own manner of driving, and in that way justify viewing themselves as above average (e.g., Dunning et al. 1991; Chambers and Windschitl 2004).

In some cases, this seems likely to be just typical self-enhancement bias: Because you want to think well of yourself, in cases where the standards are ambiguous, you choose the standards that make you look good. Changing example, if you want to think of yourself as intelligent and you're good at math, you might choose to think of mathematical skill as central to intelligence, while if you're good at practical know-how in managing people, you might choose to think of intelligence more in terms of social skills.

But in other cases of the Better-Than-Average Effect, the causal story might be much more innocent. There may be no self-flattery or self-enhancement at all, except for the good kind of self-enhancement!

Consider the matter abstractly first. Kevin, Nicholas, and Ana [note 2] all value Trait A. However, as people will, they have different sets of evidence about what is most important to Trait A. Based on this differing evidence, Kevin thinks that Trait A is 70% Property 1, 15% Property 2, and 15% Property 3. Nicholas thinks Trait A is 15% Property 1, 70% Property 2, and 15% Property 3. Ana thinks that Trait A is 15% Property 1, 15% Property 2, and 70% Property 3. In light of these rational conclusions from differing evidence, Kevin, Nicholas, and Ana engage in different self-improvement programs, focused on maximizing, in themselves, Properties 1, 2, and 3 respectively. In this, they succeed. At the end of their training, Kevin has the most Property 1, Nicholas the most Property 2, and Ana the most Property 3. No important new evidence arrives in the meantime that requires them to change their views about what constitutes Trait A.

Now when they are asked which of them has the most of Trait A, all three reasonably conclude that they themselves have the most of Trait A -- all perfectly rationally and with no "self-enhancement" required! All of them can reasonably believe that they are better than average.

Real-life cases won't perfectly match that abstract example, of course, but many skills and traits might show some of that structure. Consider skill as a historian of philosophy. Some people, as a result of their training and experience, might reasonably come to view deep knowledge of the original language of the text as most important, while others might view deep knowledge the the historical context as most important, while others might view deep knowledge of the secondary literature as most important. Of course all three are important and interrelated, but historians reasonably disagree substantially in their comparative weighting of these types of knowledge -- and, I think, not always for self-serving or biased reasons. It's a difficult matter of judgment. Someone committed to the first view might then invest a lot of energy in mastering the details of the language, someone committed to the second view might invest a lot of energy in learning the broader historical context, and someone committed to the third view might invest a lot of energy in mastering a vast secondary literature. Along the way, they might not encounter evidence that requires them to change their visions of what makes for a good historian. Indeed, they might quite reasonably continue to be struck by the interpretative power they are gaining by close examination of language, historical context, or the secondary literature, respectively. Eventually, each of the three might very reasonably regard themselves as a much better historian of philosophy than the other two, without any irrationality, self-flattery, or self-enhancing bias.

I think this might be especially true in ethics. A conservative Christian, for example, might have a very different ethical vision than a liberal atheist. Each might then shape their behavior according to this vision. If both have reasonable ethical starting points, then at the end of the process, each person might reasonably regard themselves as morally better than the other, with no irrational self-enhancing bias. And of course, this generalizes across groups.

I find this to be a very convenient and appealing view of the Better-Than-Average Effect, quite comforting to my self-image. Of course, I would never accept it on those grounds! ;-)

Using Past Memories to Strengthen One's Present.

I've been told to remain in the "present moment," that thoughts of the past will only add sorrow and confusion. However, I can't help but wonder why then do we have the past and future to contend with. If Scrooge learned from his past and future, maybe Charles Dickens was onto something. 

Thus, I decided that to strengthen one's resolve one must allow themselves to explore memories from the past. It's unavoidable and necessary. Although it's important to live in the present, I've come to realize that we can't completely ignore the past, but instead we must learn from it.

This week, I found myself doing just this. As the school year approaches, my inadvertent return nears, and summer comes to an end, I can't help but wonder whether I will be able to hack it. I know for a fact that I'm a bit slower physically, but my greatest fear is that I'm a bit slower in thought too, thus I may let others down. 

So, the memory I'd like to share blossomed a few months ago, smack dab in the center of my chemo treatments. I found myself walking down the hallway at my son's school when a boy, no for his height now equals mine and thus he must be referred to as a boy-man, called out, "Ms. Marine?" 

I stood frozen as he broke away from his band of friends to throw himself into  my arms. I tried to stand tall and turned to make sure he avoided my colostomy bag. I went through the rolodex of faces and places and placed him rather quickly. 

"What are you doing here?" I asked. 

"Me? I go to this school here," he responded. "What are you doing here is the better question..." 

I grinned and glanced towards my son, who stood beside me as solid as a pole watching patiently.  The boy-man (whom I will call E) grinned and slapped his forehead with his open right palm. He said, "I should have known Harmon was your son! I've seen him around, talked to him and something about him just felt familiar, the way he stood, laughed, talked... I should have known!" 

"Reminded you of me, eh?" 

He nodded, and exclaimed, "Oh Ms. I've missed you so much. I'm so glad you're back." 

"Oh E, I'm not a teacher here, just a parent and it looks like you've done fine without me. You made it to high school and this is one of the best schools in LA! What are you studying, engineering or medicine? Do you still plan on becoming the President of the US? Do you still plan on changing lives with the social justice soul you possess?" 

I remembered every detail about the year he'd walked into my class. The anger and frustration that gripped his heart. We channeled it into goodness, acceptance, and peace. In spite of the difficulties at home, the divorce that tore him apart that year, he found a family with our class.  He marched with me, occupied the RFK park and used his innner strength to pull himself out of the darkness and strive for the best.

He blushed and said, "Nah, I don't know if I can change the world by becoming president, but if I can become a doctor then I can save lives and they can change the world." 

I got emotional then, considering everything I'd been going through, the cancer, the amazing medical treatment I'd received from doctors that cared. 

"I am so proud of you," I stammered. "I can't wait till you find the real cure for the multitude of diseases out there. You have grown so much and are so confident and what I love most of all is that in a few years when I come to see Harmon graduate and prepare to head off to college, I'll be cheering on two of my sons." 

"Oh, Ms," he said in his uniquely E tone. He blinked a couple of extra times and looked away. 

I smiled and said, "That's all I ask of you E. Keep working hard, know that a part of me is here. If you need any help, Harmon's your man. And the current librarian is from our old school, you approach him with who you are, and what yo mean to me and he'll bend over backwards to help you. Do what you need to son! Study hard, pass your classes, and reach for the stars." 

"I'll try Ms, I'll try, especially now that I know that you're here!" 

I grinned as I nodded towards his friends, "I think they're waiting for you. However I have one more question. Did you keep in touch with your buddy, B?" 

He blushed and looked down. "For a while, then our paths kind of drifted apart. Sorry, Ms." 

"Don't apologize.  You did so much for him back then and paths are meant to drift, meander, reconnect, and wander off. Just live and change lives for the better and let the rest just be!" 

With that, he hugged me again and went to join his friends, "I'll see you around Ms," he said as he withdrew.

I turned towards my son who was standing beside me staring at me as though I were an anomaly he couldn't understand. "Did I embarrass you?" I asked. 

He laughed. "No mom, I've gotten used to it. You do amaze me though. You have touched and changed so many lives that their paths cross yours way-too-often." 

I giggled, sighed, and asked the question that was haunting me. "Do you think he knew that I was sick?" 

Harmon put his arm around my shoulders and whispered, "Nobody looking at you would guess that. You are still as strong and powerful as ever," then he pulled away and said, "wait here though. I'm going to go find someone who has the elevator key to let us down, you do look tired." 

While I stood there, I couldn't help but delve deeper into the folds of my memory, to when boy-man was nine or ten instead of fourteen. I mentally categorized my scholars and wondered what happened to the rest of them and whether they, like E, were as passionate about changing lives and making a difference in the world. We left his school that day infused with love and hope. 

It is this moment I'm using to calm my nerves before the new 2017-2018 school year crashes upon us, telling myself that it's never just been about my mind or physical speed. It was my heart that enabled the planting of love and hope. It was my heart that connected with my scholars to empower them to thrive. 

I'm blessed by the past and the memories that shroud my present, nothing to shy away from. Instead, it offers a well of moments to draw from. 

And regardless of the fact that my hands still tingle and I seem to drop things way too often, and my feet are in constant agony, it will continue to be my heart that I draw upon to tip toe into the world of the living, taking each school day as it comes.

* * *  * *

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Till next week, go live, thrive, have fun and do great things!

New Journal! The Journal of Science Fiction and Philosophy

This looks very cool:

Call for Papers

General Theme

The Journal of Science Fiction and Philosophy, a peer-reviewed, open access publication, is dedicated to the analysis of philosophical themes present in science fiction stories in all formats, with a view to their use in the discussion, teaching, and narrative modeling of philosophical ideas. It aims at highlighting the role of science fiction as a medium for philosophical reflection.

The Journal is currently accepting papers and paper proposals. Because this is the Journal’s first issue, papers specifically reflecting on the relationship between philosophy and science fiction are especially encouraged, but all areas of philosophy are welcome. Any format of SF story (short story, novel, movie, TV series, interactive) may be addressed.

We welcome papers written with teaching in mind! Have used an SF story to teach a particular item in your curricula (e.g., using the movie Gattacca to introduce the ethics of genetic technologies, or The Island of Dr. Moreau to discuss personhood)? Turn that class into a paper!

Yearly Theme

Every year the Journal selects a Yearly Theme. Papers addressing the Yearly Theme are collected in a special section of the Journal. The Yearly Theme for 2017 is All Persons Great and Small: The Notion of Personhood in Science Fiction Stories.

SF stories are in a unique position to help us examine the concept of personhood, by making the human world engage with a bewildering variety of beings with person-like qualities – aliens of bizarre shapes and customs, artificial constructs conflicted about their artificiality, planetary-wide intelligences, collective minds, and the list goes on. Every one of these instances provides the opportunity to reflect on specific aspects of the notion of personhood, such as, for example: What is a person? What are its defining qualities? What is the connection between personhood and morality, identity, rationality, basic (“human?”) rights? What patterns do SF authors identify when describing the oppression of one group of persons by another, and how do they reflect past and present human history?

The Journal accepts papers year-round. The deadline for the first round of reviews, both for its general and yearly theme, is October 1st, 2017.

Contact the Editor at with any questions, or visit for more information.

Why I Evince No Worry about Super-Spartans

I'm a dispositionalist about belief. To believe that there is beer in the fridge is nothing more or less than to have a particular suite of dispositions. It is to be disposed, ceteris paribus (all else being equal, or normal, or absent countervailing forces), to behave in certain ways, to have certain conscious experiences, and to transition to related mental states. It is to be disposed, ceteris paribus, to go to the fridge if one wants a beer, and to say yes if someone asks if there is beer in the fridge; to feel surprise should one open the fridge and find no beer, and to visually imagine your beer-filled fridge when you try to remember the contents of your kitchen; to be ready to infer that your Temperance League grandmother would have been disappointed in you, and to see nothing wrong with plans that will only succeed if there is beer in the fridge. If you have enough dispositions of this sort, you believe that there is beer in the fridge. There's nothing more to believing than that. (Probably some sort of brain is required, but that's implementational detail.)

To some people, this sounds uncomfortably close to logical behaviorism, a view according to which all mental states can be analyzed in terms of behavioral dispositions. On such a view, to be in pain, for example, just is, logically or metaphysically, to be disposed to wince, groan, avoid the stimulus, and say things like "I'm in pain". There's nothing more to pain than that.

It is unclear whether any well-known philosopher was a logical behaviorist in this sense. (Gilbert Ryle, the most cited example, was clearly not a logical behaviorist. In fact, the concluding section of his seminal book The Concept of Mind is a critique of behaviorism.)

Part of the semi-mythical history of philosophy of mind is that in the bad old days of the 1940s and 1950s, some philosophers were logical behaviorists of this sort; and that logical behaviorism was abandoned due to several fatal objections that were advanced in the 1950s and 1960s, including one objection by Hilary Putnam that turned on the idea of super-spartans. Some people have suggested that 21st-century dispositionalism about belief is subject to the same concerns.

Putnam asks us to "engage in a little science fiction":

Imagine a community of 'super-spartans' or 'super-stoics' -- a community in which the adults have the ability to successfully suppress all involuntary pain behavior. They may, on occasion, admit that they feel pain, but always in pleasant well-modulated voices -- even if they are undergoing the agonies of the damned. The do not wince, scream, flinch, sob, grit their teeth, clench their fists, exhibit beads of sweat, or otherwise act like people in pain or people suppressing their unconditioned responses associated with pain. However, they do feel pain, and they dislike it (just as we do) ("Brains and Behavior", 1965, p. 9).

Here is some archival footage I have discovered:

A couple of pages later, Putnam expands the thought experiment:

[L]et us undertake the task of trying to imagine a world in which there are not even pain reports. I will call this world the 'X-world'. In the X-world we have to deal with 'super-super-spartans'. These have been super-spartans for so long, that they have begun to suppress even talk of pain. Of course, each individual X-worlder may have his private way of thinking about pain.... He may think to himself: 'This pain is intolerable. If it goes on one minute longer I shall scream. Oh No! I mustn't do that! That would disgrace my whole family...' But X-worlders do not even admit to having pains" (p. 11).

Putnam concludes:

"If this last fantasy is not, in some disguised way, self-contradictory, then logical behaviourism is simply a mistake.... From the statement 'X has a pain' by itself no behavioral statement follows -- not even a behavioural statement with a 'normally' or 'probably' in it. (p. 11)

Putnam's basic idea is pretty simple: If you're a good enough actor, you can behave as though you lack mental state X even if you have mental state X, and therefore any analysis of mental state X that posits a necessary connection between mentality and behavior is doomed.

Now I don't think this objection should have particularly worried any logical behaviorists (if any existed), much less actual philosophers sometimes falsely called behaviorists such as Ryle, and still less 21st-century dispositionalists like me. Its influence, I suspect, has more to do with how it conveniently disposes of what was, even in 1965, only a straw man.

We can see the flaw in the argument by considering parallel cases of other types of properties for which a dispositional analysis is highly plausible, and noting how it seems to apply equally well to them. Consider solubility in water. To say of an object that it is soluble in water is to say that it is apt to dissolve when immersed in water. Being water-soluble is a dispositional property, if anything is.

Imagine now a planet in which there is only one small patch of water. The inhabitants of that planet -- call it PureWater -- guard that patch jealously with the aim of keeping it pure. Toward this end, they have invented technologies so that normally soluable objects like sugar cubes will not dissolve when immersed in the water. Some of these technologies are moderately low-tech membranes which automatically enclose objects as soon as they are immersed; others are higher-tech nano-processes, implemented by beams of radiation, that ensure that stray molecules departing from a soluble object are immediately knocked back to their original location. If Putnam's super-spartans objection is correct, then by parity of reasoning the hypothetical possibility of the planet PureWater would show that no dispositional analysis of solubility could be correct, even here on Earth. But that's the wrong conclusion.

The problem with Putnam's argument is that, as any good dispositionalist will admit, dispositions only manifest ceteris paribus -- that is, under normal conditions, absent countervailing forces. (This has been especially clear since Nancy Cartwright's influential 1983 book on the centrality of ceteris paribus conditions to scientific generalizations, but Ryle knew it too.) Putnam quickly mentions "a behavioural statement with a 'normally' or 'probably' in it", but he does not give the matter sufficient attention. Super-super-spartans' intense desire not to reveal pain is a countervailing force, a defeater of the normality condition, like the technological efforts of the scientists of PureWater. To use hypothetical super-super-spartans against a dispositional approach to pain is like saying that water-solubility isn't a dispositional property because there's a possible planet where soluble objects reliably fail to dissolve when immersed in water.

Most generalizations admit of exceptions. Nerds wear glasses. Dogs have four legs. Extraverts like parties. Dropped objects accelerate at 9.8 m/sec^2. Predators eat prey. Dispositional generalizations are no different. This does not hinder their use in defining mental states, even if we imagine exceptional cases where the property is present but something dependably interferes with its manifesting in the standard way.

Of course, if some of the relevant dispositions are dispositions to have certain types of related conscious experiences (e.g., inner speech) and to transition to related mental states (e.g., in jumping to related conclusions), as both Ryle and I think, then the super-spartan objection is even less apt, because super-super-spartans do, by hypothesis, have those dispositions. They manifest such internal dispositions when appropriate, and if they fail to manifest their pain in outward behavior that's because manifestation is prevented by an opposing force.

(PS: Just to be clear, I don't myself accept a dispositional account of pain, only of belief and other attitudes.)

The People, Places, and Practices Necessary to Feel Good.

Last week I couldn't help but research what it was I'd ingested for six months. It was the third week after my last chemo session and although my mind knew it was all over and that I didn't have to go in this last Monday for another chemo infusion, a pattern is a pattern. 

Emotionally, I couldn't shake the fear that what I had called a norm for the last six months was not in fact "the norm." I wanted to go hiking with my eldest and swimming with my youngest and the fact that I couldn't meet either of their or my wants was crippling. My eyes were like overflowing wells and my soul trembled like a leaf. The stress was crippling.  

So how did I pull myself together? I let it wash over me.  I cried in church this last Sunday as we discussed stress and the people, places, and practices that help us deal with its onslaught. I couldn't tell you why I cried, but I did. Fear of "it" returning? Fear that the end wasn't the end? Fear that I'd poisoned my body so intensely that my nervous system would never recover?  

Then, I lost myself in the company of my dearest friends and family. We gathered and shared bread together, talking about life and all its mysteries. We laughed, danced, and remembered all the moments of joy we'd shared. 

It was during this time when my sister-in-law point blank told me that she hated my last blog, that I shouldn't be dwelling in the negative, that I needed to surround myself with positivity and live! I heard her, but I didn't know how to comply, or what to do. 

On returning home Sunday night I sat in the darkness, I breathed, I prayed. I re-centered myself and I picked up the book, "It Feels Good to Feel Good."  I lost myself in reading and writing, to arm myself with the knowledge necessary to battle the lingering symptoms. During this time, I dwelled in the memory of a conversation I had with Health Coach and author of "It Feels Good to Feel Good," Cheryl Meyer. 

 I'd been introduced to Cheryl digitally a month before our actual meeting, at which point she had sent me a copy of her book to read. During this time, I was still undergoing chemo treatments, and she was sharing her knowledge before cancer patients that were attempting to reduce their pain and live a healthier life. 

I was a bit nervous about meeting her in person, even though her e-mails were genuinely inspiring and kind beyond description. 
I felt embarrassed about my recently adopted diet, about explaining to another individual what it was I had chosen to consume and was feeling insecure about explaining why. How was I to order a vegan, gluten free meal without judgement? 

Fortunately, Cheryl was as particular about the food she put in her mouth as I was. She actually carries a small card around with all the foods she's allergic too and shares it with the chef who is preparing her meal when entering a restaurant. Sometimes, she'll even call ahead to discuss her diet and the food options offered at said restaurant. Her confidence was inspiring. 

After we negotiated with the woman taking our orders and made sure that our meals were aligned to our individual dietary expectations, we picked a table and dove into a most amazing conversation. We spoke of life, our families, our challenges, and our futures. 

We spent two hours talking about the toxins in one's body and how to reverse the inflammation that causes so many of the crummy side-effects and symptoms that impact our lives.We spoke about the human body, the gut, inflammation, and toxins. We shared freely of our hearts and discussed homeopathic approaches that Cheryl has highlighted in her book to deal with the environmental, social, and edible toxins we ingest. 

Reading her book is like talking to her in person, minus the food. She never comes off condescending for she too has walked a path of pain and has pieced together a plan that works for her. Most importantly, this is the key to her approach. She believes in the power of people and urges them to get involved in their own healing!

I was able to sleep Sunday night without succumbing to the fears.  And I awoke Monday refueled. I continued to write and read. I forced myself to walk two miles (a first in 3 weeks due to the intense heat wave hitting Los Angeles), and then as I sat outside to visit with my hummingbird and blue jay I saw a package in my yard. I opened it to find the sweetest certificate I'd ever seen. 

Cheryl had bequeathed me with the tile of "Hippolyta's Daughter." The title would have been enough considering she'd become one of the "people" I could turn to when consumed with confusion, but with it, she sent forth Wonder Woman's wrist bracelet. 

"You don't have to wear it," she wrote in a touching letter. "But draw strength from it when the darkness threatens and know that you are filled with strength and confidence." 

All I can say in return is that she got it right, it definitely "Feels Good to Feel Good," and doing so will be an adventure all it's own for this path we walk isn't straight and flat but riddled with hills and  rocks that we must step over using the tools we have (the people, places, and practices) to stand. re-center ourselves, and overcome life's challenges. 

*Thank you Cheryl for your endless love of people! You are a gem.
* Thank you Dave for knowing what wisdom is needed when. 

If you would like more information on Cheryl Meyer, pleas click this highlighted link

For more information about South Hills Burbank Church and Pastor Dave's awesome sermons, click on the name of the church. 

* * * * * 

If this is your first time reading these blogs, please subscribe and follow Marine's Journey. Who knows the next blog might be about you! If you know of anyone that would find this of interest, please pass it along and ask them to subscribe!

I can also be followed at: @myaniki (Twitter), 8 Faces of Cancer (Facebook Group)

Till next week, go live, thrive, have fun and do great things!


[first published in Apex Magazine, July 2017]

In most respects, the universe (which some call the Library) is everywhere the same, and we at the summit are like the rest of you below.  Like you, we dwell in a string of hexagonal library chambers connected by hallways that run infinitely east and west.  Like you, we revere the indecipherable books that fill each chamber wall, ceiling to floor.  Like you, we wander the connecting hallways, gathering fruits and lettuces from the north wall, then cast our rinds and waste down the consuming vine holes.  Also like you, we sometimes turn our backs to the vines and gaze south through the indestructible glass toward sun and void, considering the nature of the world.  Our finite lives, guided by our finite imaginations, repeat infinitely east, west, and down.
But unlike you, we at the summit can watch the rabbits.
The rabbits!  Without knowing the rabbits, how could one hope to understand the world?


The rabbit had entered my family's chamber casually, on a crooked, sniffing path.  We stood back, stopping mid-sentence to stare, as it hopped to a bookcase.  My brother ran to inform the nearest chambers, then swiftly returned.  Word spread, and soon most of the several hundred people who lived within a hundred chambers of us had come to witness the visitation -- Master Gardener Ferdinand in his long green gown, Divine Chanter Guinart with his quirky smile.  Why hadn't our neighbors above warned us that a rabbit was coming?  Had they wished to watch the rabbit, and lift it, and stroke its fur, in selfish solitude?
The rabbit grabbed the lowest bookshelf with its pink fingers and pulled itself up one shelf at a time to the fifth or sixth level; then it scooted sideways, sniffing along the chosen shelf, fingers gripping the shelf-rim, hind feet down upon the shelf below.  Finding the book it sought, it hooked one finger under the book's spine and let it fall.
The rabbit jumped lightly down, then nudged the book across the floor with its nose until it reached the reading chair in the middle of the room.  It was of course taboo for anyone to touch the reading chair or the small round reading table, except under the guidance of a chanter.  Chanter Guinart pressed his palms together and began a quiet song -- the same incomprehensible chant he had taught us all as children, a phonetic interpretation of the symbols in our sacred books.
The rabbit lifted the book with its fingers to the seat of the chair, then paused to release some waste gas that smelled of fruit and lettuce.  It hopped up onto the chair, lifted the book from chair to reading table, and hopped onto the table.  Its off-white fur brightened as it crossed into the eternal sunbeam that angled through the small southern window.  Beneath the chant, I heard the barefoot sound of people clustering behind me, their breath and quick whispers.
The rabbit centered the book in the sunbeam.  It opened the book and ran its nose sequentially along the pages.  When it reached maybe the 80th page, it erased one letter with the pink side of its tongue, and then with the black side of its tongue it wrote a new letter in its place.
Its task evidently completed, the rabbit nosed the book off the table, letting it fall roughly to the floor.  The rabbit leaped down to chair then floor, then smoothed and licked and patiently cleaned the book with tongue and fingers and fur.  Neighbors continued to gather, clogging room and doorways and both halls.  When the book-grooming was complete, the rabbit raised the book one shelf at a time with nose and fingers, returning it to its proper spot.  It leaped down again and hopped toward the east door.  People stepped aside to give it a clear path.  The rabbit exited our chamber and began to eat lettuces in the hall.
With firm voice, my father broke the general hush: "Children, you may gently pet the rabbit.  One child at a time."  He looked at me, but I no longer considered myself a child.  I waited for the neighbor children to have their fill of touching.  We lived about a hundred thousand levels from the summit, but even so impossibly near the top of our infinite world, one might reach old age only ever having seen a couple of dozen visitations.  By the time the last child left, the rabbit had long since finished eating.
The rabbit hopped toward where I sat, about twenty paces down the hall, near the spiral glass stairs.  I intercepted it, lifting it up and gazing into its eyes.
It gazed silently back, revealing no secrets.

[continued here]

[author interview]



What Is the Likelihood That Your Mind Is Constituted by a Rabbit Reading and Writing on Long Strips of Turing Tape? (Jul 5, 2017)

Nietzsche's Eternal Recurrence, Scrambled Sideways (Oct 31, 2012)

What did I ingest for 6 months?

After taking 784 oral chemotherapy pills and completing the treatment plan two days ago, I can't help but wonder what exactly I put into my body? The bottle has a label on it. It reads: "Do not touch without gloves." I wore winter gloves whenever taking them, saving my fingertips from blistering. But, I can't help but cringe at the thought that whatever I had ingested damaged my internal organs. 

So, I started researching. I needed to know. 

To my utter surprise, I discovered that chemotherapy is a byproduct of World War II. It’s origins? Mustard gas. Naval officers that came into contact with this gas suffered toxic reactions within their bone marrow. Two Yale researchers discovered that when this chemical agent was used during the war, cells stopped multiplying. Thus, putting one and one together they realized that they could use it to stop the multiplication of cancerous cells. Soon after this discovery, nitrogen was added to the mustard gas and used to fight lymphoma.

Slowly like the domino effect, research continued, more hazardous chemicals were added and subtracted from the mustard gas cocktail to halt the duplication of cancer cells.

Unfortunately, that’s not all it stopped.  Toxic chemicals also damage the kidneys, liver, gall-bladder, and healthy blood cells, to name a few.  As it’s released into your body, it drains one of all strength and leaves one feeling limp and hollow.  The side effects are four pages long! 

Chemotherapy alone didn’t work for all patients, thus the introduction of radiation, and surgery.  The surgery would remove the tumor, the radiation would burn it to a crisp, and the chemotherapy would kill what was left behind, all in the hope that said patient didn’t die first.

There was a 37 year old diagnosed with colon cancer that lived across the street from me. She went through the same treatment plan I did, but unfortunately she didn’t make it. Although I didn’t know her well, a friend of mine did.  I learned about her battle and couldn’t help but wonder why she died if we were both going through similar plans, and using the same poisons?  Why did I live? How was any of this fair? Was it because I had more of a support network? Was it my diet? Was it the exercise? I wish I could have helped her, but alas I was stuck in the darkness when she was fighting her own demons.

Yes, the 6-month treatment is over, but the scars are still raw, the questions still raging, and the fears still real. I can’t just turn it off, just like a soldier who returns from active duty can’t help but bring back post-traumatic baggage. 

Fortunately, I have decided to only work half time next year as I attempt to heal the emotional scars, during which time I will continue to blog about the healing process and attempt to publish my book.

I am saddened when I think of all the lives lost yearly to cancer, but also know that they only way I can continue to help others is by documenting this journey, both during the treatment plan and afterwards. For it is in the documentation that maybe, just maybe, someone else will find the strength to fight and live.  

For a more detailed explanation, feel free to explore the following site

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If this is your first time reading these blogs, please subscribe and follow Marine's Journey. Who knows the next blog might be about you! If you know of anyone that would find this of interest, please pass it along and ask them to subscribe!

I can also be followed at: @myaniki (Twitter), 8 Faces of Cancer (Facebook Group)

Till next week, go live, thrive, have fun and do great things!

What's the Likelihood That Your Mind Is Constituted by a Rabbit Reading and Writing on Long Strips of Turing Tape?

Your first guess is probably not very likely.

But consider this argument:

(1) A computationalist-functionalist philosophy of mind is correct. That is, mentality is just a matter of transitioning between computationally definable states in response to environmental inputs, in a way that hypothetically could be implemented by a computer.

(2) As Alan Turing famously showed, it's possible to implement any finitely computable function on a strip of tape containing alphanumeric characters, given a read-write head that implements simple rules for writing and erasing characters and moving itself back and forth along the tape.

(3) Given 1 and 2, one way to implement a mind is by means of a rabbit reading and writing characters on a long strip of tape that is properly responsive, in an organized way, to its environment. (The rabbit will need to adhere to simple rules and may need to live a very long time, so it won't be exactly a normal rabbit. Environmental influence could be implemented by alteration of the characters on segments of the tape.)

(4) The universe is infinite.

(5) Given 3 and 4, the cardinality of "normally" implemented minds is the same as the cardinality of minds implemented by rabbits reading and writing on Turing tape. (Given that such Turing-rabbit minds are finitely probable, we can create a one-to-one mapping or bijection between Turing-rabbit minds and normally implemented minds, for example by starting at an arbitrary point in space and then pairing the closest normal mind with the closest Turing-rabbit mind, then pairing the second-closest of each, then pairing the third-closest....)

(6) Given 5, you cannot justifiably assume that most minds in the universe are "normal" minds rather than Turing-rabbit implemented minds. (This might seem unintuitive, but comparing infinities often yields such unintuitive results. ETA: One way out of this would be to look at the ratios in limits of sequences. But then we need to figure out a non-question-begging way to construct those sequences. See the helpful comments by Eric Steinhart on my public FB feed.)

(7) Given 6, you cannot justifiably assume that you yourself are very likely to be a normal mind rather than a Turing-rabbit mind. (If 1-3 are true, Turing-rabbit minds can be perfectly similar to normally implemented minds.)

I explore this possibility in "THE TURING MACHINES OF BABEL", a story in this month's issue of Apex Magazine. I'll link to the story once it's available online, but also consider supporting Apex by purchasing the issue now.

The conclusion is of course "crazy" in my technical sense of the term: It's highly contrary to common sense and we aren't epistemically compelled to believe it.

Among the ways out: You could reject the computational-functional theory of mind, or you could reject the infinitude of the universe (though these are both fairly common positions in philosophy and cosmology these days). Or you could reject my hypothesized rabbit implementation (maybe slowness is a problem even with perfect computational similarity). Or you could hold a view which allows a low ratio of Turing rabbits to normal minds despite the infinitude of both. Or you could insist that we (?) normally implemented minds have some epistemic access to our normality even if Turing-rabbit minds are perfectly similar and no less abundant. But none of those moves is entirely cost-free, philosophically.

Notice that this argument, though skeptical in a way, does not include any prima facie highly unlikely claims among its premises (such as that aliens envatted your brain last night or that there is a demon bent upon deceiving you). The premises are contentious, and there are various ways to resist my combination of them to draw the conclusion, but I hope that each element and move, considered individually, is broadly plausible on a fairly standard 21st-century academic worldview.

The basic idea is this: If minds can be implemented in strange ways, and if the universe is infinite, then there will be infinitely many strangely implemented minds alongside infinitely many "normally" implemented minds; and given standard rules for comparing infinities, it seems likely that these infinities will be of the same cardinality. In an infinite universe that contains infinitely many strangely implemented minds, it's unclear how you could know you are not among the strange ones.

At the Cross Roads

The fourth of July is huge. It commemorates our Independence from tyranny and today as I stand at the brink of reclaiming my Independence, I can't help but take  a minute to pause and reflect on all the parties and celebrations we've thrown on the fourth.  Most fourths we've gathered my husband's family together to break bread, and celebrate the day. We've filled the day with laughter, music, food and fireworks.

This fourth is a little different though. It will be my first in a line of many new memories to shape. It comes at a time where I stand before my future path, the past wavering behind, and huge hopes looming ahead. I can't help but connect to those men and women during the reshaping of Colonial America. They too stood at their crossroads, wondering which way to turn to live and be successful, to breathe freely and strive for survival.

In a way, the fourth has taken on new meaning this year...

A few days before my last cancer treatment I found myself at these crossroads again. The finish line was in site, but the emotional baggage of what would come next, the new norm, that was overwhelming.

My hubby and friends were understanding, as always, but I couldn't come to terms with why I was experiencing all this trepidation.

I posted in the Colon Cancer Support Group on Facebook the following query:

Marine Yanikian Sutton:  Can't shake these questions- help. When all the treatments are over, how does one just move on? My last treatment is on Monday (June 26th) and I feel frightened, not of the treatment but of the fact that what I breathe, eat, think, and feel may allow it to come back.
Am I just overthinking this? And if so, how do I stop?

The responses/outpouring was tremendous. To protect the people that reached out, I've assigned them acronyms and removed their names from this blog.

‪U‪SP: Seek guidance from a holistic practisioner or a functional medicine MD. I started that route after I was diagnosed end of April. Mind you I was eating healthy before. And excerscise, very important!!

BM: You have no control of it. None of us do, even tho we think we do, we don't. Enjoy your new outlook on life and live it to the fullest! Don't look back look forward. You can't have a bright future if your worrying about the dark past.. best of luck god bless you and keep you healthy.

DD: I finished on June 1st and it was an overwhelming day  because I was going to miss chemo lol, but because once again my life was changing for the umpteenth time in less than 10 months. But I can tell you, just go day by day. I'm still trying to get my strength up. I'm still struggling with insomnia. But day by day I'm feeling better. In Aug I go for blood work and scans and then find out if they can see anything. Right now I barely think about it but I'm sure once I get closer to the date anxiety will be a little higher.

As for what I do, I enjoy my free time (not back to work yet. I'm really not excited to go back haha) I'm doing all the things I couldn't do last summer because of all the pain I was in and couldn't be far away from a bathroom. Just need the weather to smarten up!! 

So that's my advice. Just take it day by day and enjoy some of the things you may have missed out on.

KP: I am all for being positive and looking forward,, however there is no forgetting what has happened to us after such traumatic treatments! That said, I believe doing everything possible to keep anything from recurring, within reason or personal comfort zone. I guess we all have to decide for ourselves what we can or can not go along with and make our own decisions. But I do think this will be something that is in the back of our minds forever, and that might be good as long as we don't become preoccupied with it to the point of becoming negative. Stay positive, be smart keep fighting for good health!

‪L‪K:  I'm not at the point that you're at, but One day at a time is the only way we can move forward. My husband tells me daily , "You can do this, you're not going anywhere, I need you and your children and grandchildren need you." That helps me keep focused on my future. We've started planning a trip for after my chemo is finished and after husband's open heart surgery, which he has postponed until I'm all done. I'm finding that looking forward to small things is really helping me. Prayer for you, Dear Marine. You're an inspiration to many. Know that!

TS: My last infusion was on January 25, 2017. I think the emotional toll is worse after chemo. You are no longer on the chemo schedule, there's survivors' remorse, scan/ test anxiety, and people think that chemo is over so you are fine. Let me tell you, 6 months since my last infusion and I'm still healing even though I made it through chemo relatively easy.

Take one day at a time. Do what you can to help your body heal. And take time for yourself. You need to heal mentally and physically.  Nothing but positive thoughts!!

PEM: I went in to a bit of depression and No one could understand why I felt that way. It went away after a while. I understand exactly how you feel.

MC: TS said it perfectly! It's like walking out of a battle field , great news, but the collateral damage is behind you, the unknown ahead of you, the battle scars(for me Neuropathy and a pacemaker ) changing your life forever and NO ONE that hasn't been here understands. I understand️we'll get through this part too

‪J‪K:  I actually feel more depressed now that I'm in remission then I did during treatments and also a bit of survivors remorse. ( A good friend from my church lost her battle just as I was starting mine) I still have issues with my stamina... there's so much I want to do but just get wiped out quickly.

‪J‪C:  How can you prevent a reoccurance if you dont know what caused it? I think cancer just changes your mind set forever.

AC: Make some goals you can start working on.. And Plan a trip or some kind of celebration for when you're done treatment.
JM: I could not leave the house for a while. I tried to get back to normal things I loved but would like freak out and needed to be home. I've calmed a great deal now that it's been almost two years. But the scans and office visits are bad for me. It is true ly like PTSD.

On the positive funny side I will make some extravagant purchases, not a lot but I say I may not be here tomorrow I should have that. That is something I never did before.
I realized after reading and rereading these supportive posts that I was not alone at the crossroads. Fear and doubt riddle us all. We all walk at our different paces and we are all thrown challenges along the way. It's how we deal with he challenges that strengthen or weaken us. I was blessed in December. None of this could have happened, I could have gone on living until it was too late. But I've bene given a second chance.

And based on the responses of the brethren that are also walking this path with me, I know for certain a few facts:

1) we can only walk it a step at a time/a day at a time,
2) we must enjoy today and appreciate every second,
3) we must set small attainable goals.

The fact hat the future is unknown for all of us is the key here. Nobody knows when they will enter this world or leave it. So instead of worrying about what's lurking around the next corner, maybe all we can do is live in the today- claim our independence and stand strong to the current moment.

Hope you all had a blessed fourth! Thanks for walking this emotional journey with me, for reaching out, and helping me thrive!

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If this is your first time reading these blogs, please subscribe and follow Marine's Journey. Who knows the next blog might be about you! If you know of anyone that would find this of interest, please pass it along and ask them to subscribe!

I can also be followed at: @myaniki (Twitter), 8 Faces of Cancer (Facebook Group)

Till next week, go live, thrive, have fun and do great things!