Overcoming all Obstacles

We all have a back story.  It's why we say what we say and do what we do.  It's the foundation on which our lives are constructed. Some of the foundation is constructed on sand, others on mud, and yet others on the rockiest of terrain.

When we invite a person into our lives, we rarely reveal the foundation. We never delve into our pasts and our conversations hover somewhere around weather, movies, and other trivial topics.  I'm quite good at this, and this is what hit me when I sat in church this last Sunday, listening to the pastor talk about people's "back stories" and how they impact every single moment of our lives, behaviors, and actions. 

Although I've shared my "back story" with the world, cancer's ravaging effects cripple me, almost as if there's termites trying to gnaw at the timber house that stands upon it. It leads me to doubt myself, my thoughts, actions, and decisions.

As many of you know, I went back to work a couple of weeks ago. I started back working part time, ten days a month, but often I have to give myself mental pep-talks in order to build up the willpower and confidence to achieve the smallest of goals. Over the last few weeks, I've pulled endless data on one hundred of our failing students, categorized them according to their academic and social needs, trying to piece together their own back-stories in order to help them succeed. 

I pulled twenty out  of their clasees this week, set up a picnic blanket underneath the trees, and sat down with them to discuss their strengths and weaknesses. 

"Why us, Ms?" They asked. 

"Because I believe that you can achieve anything you set your mind to," I said. 

"How do you know? You don't even know us!" One would inadvertently ask. 

My response, "Looking at the data, I know that you have met, if not exceeded the yearly English Language Arts assessment, however your Grade Point Average is below a 2.0 which leads me to believe that there is something holding you back. The data doesn't add up and I know for certain that if you can pass a five hour test and show grade level mastery, then you can bring up your GPA without any problems." 

I had to open up and share my back-story, my December diagnosis, my battle with cancer, the difficult months when I wasn't at work, and each time I shared, the termites began to gnaw on my resolve, "Yeah, lie to them, tell them that they can achieve anything if they put their mind to it, as if you have control over anything, as if you could really beat cancer. The truth is, you haven't beat cancer. Maybe the smoke and mirrors your wielding will work, but you are terrified silly that it's in you, growing and it's just a matter of time before you crumble." 

I tried not to give too much credence to these fears for I am a firm believer that mindset can impact health, that a positive attitude can shape one's fate. Yesterday I received an e-mail from my oncologist with the affirmation I needed to confront the doubt mongrels in my brain.  Her message said: "There is no evidence of cancer in your CT scan." 

Tears filled my eyes as I called my mother, my mother-in-law, and messaged the "8 Faces" that carried me through the darkness for without them the doubt would have crippled my foundation and left me in a heap of rubble. The affirmation filled me with hope and gave me the strength with which I will face my students next week when telling them that "in spite of my back-story, I can overcome all obstacles, as can they!" 

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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 Should a Trader be: Dependent or Independent?


In the forex trading industry in Vietnam, there are many styles for traders to adopt. They can choose to trade short-term or long-term, swing or scalp, trends or technical. Despite all this, success is not a common find. Consistently successful forex traders in the industry are far and few in between. Why is this so? It all boils down to how one approaches their trading and what their attitude is.

Attitude, while forex trading in Vietnam, is a make or break factor. Not all traders have the right attitude for succeeding in the industry.

Let us Examine This in Two Cases:

Situation 1:

A trader who has been in the industry for a while has been tasting success recently. He’s developed a trading plan and followed it up consistently to the point that it has to succeed in raking in good revenues. On his new trade, he decides to get experimental. He finds a new trade set up, it convinces him, and he decides to open a position on it. However, just before opening the position, he decides to scout online to know more and see if he is on the right track. This stirs up doubts, and he ends up not making the position. The trend, however, holds up and posts gains. This is a dependent trader in the market. He has a good plan and goes by his trading strategy, but suddenly develops doubt and misses out on a good opportunity.

Situation 2:

A trader who has some years of experience behind him has recorded both success and failures. He has a trading plan which he has carefully put together from scratch. He always trades on the basis of his plans. A real stickler for discipline, he charters his forex trading strategies meticulously and never deviates from them. Even when heavy predictions from the news or industry insiders come, he still does not panic and goes by what rules he has in place. He is an independent trader in the online trading market and he has a high chance of succeeding in his positions.


The two situations show that traders who tend to react to every piece of information they receive and trade on the basis of the information are likely to face a lot of failures. It is wiser for traders to stick to their plans and follow them with discipline if they intend to taste consistent success in the long run. However, for traders who doubt their trading decisions from time to time, it is wise to take a counsel from reputed forex brokers who can assist them in developing better strategies. Online brokers in Vietnam like WesternFX are of immense help in such situations.

How Often Do Chinese Philosophy Journals Cite English-Language Work?

By Linus Huang and Eric Schwitzgebel

In a sample of elite Anglophone philosophy journals, only 3% of citations are to works that were originally written in a language other than English. Are philosophy journals in other languages similar? Do they mostly cite sources from their own linguistic tradition? Or do they cite more broadly?

We will examine this question by looking at citation patterns from several non-English languages. Today we start by examining a sample of 208 articles published in fifteen elite Chinese-language journals from 1996 to 2016. [See Note 1 for methodological details.]

In our sample of 208 Chinese-language articles, 49% (1422/2929) of citations are to works originally written in languages other than the language of the citing article, in stark contrast with our results for Anglophone philosophy journals.

English is the most frequently cited foreign language, constituting 31% (915/2929) of all citations (compared to 17% for all other languages combined). Other cited languages are German, French, Russian, Japanese, Latin, Greek, Korean, Sanskrit, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Dutch, and Tibetan.

Our sample of elite Anglophone journals contained no journals focused on the history of philosophy. In contrast, our sample of elite Chinese-language journals contains three that focus on the history of Chinese philosophy. Excluding the Chinese-history journals from the analysis, we found that the plurality of citations (44%, 907/2047) are to works originally written in English (often in Chinese translation for the older works). Only 32% (647/2047) of citations are to works originally written in Chinese (leaving 24% for all other languages combined).

Looking just at the journals specializing in history of Chinese philosophy, 98% (860/882) of citations are to works originally written in Chinese – a percentage comparable to the percentage of same-language citations in the non-historical elite Anglophone journals in our earlier analysis. Chinese journals specificially discussing Chinese history cite Chinese sources at about the same rate as Anglophone journals cite Anglophone sources when discussing general philosophy.

We were not able to determine original publication date of all of the cited works. However, we thought it worth seeing whether the English-language citations are mostly of classic historical philosophers like Locke, Hume, and Mill, or whether instead they are mostly of contemporary writers. Thus, we randomly sampled 100 of the English-language citations. Of the 100, 68 (68%) of the cited English-language works were published in the period from 1946-1999 and 19 (19%) were published from 2000 to the present.

Finally, we broke the results down by year of publication of the citing article (excluding the three history journals). This graph shows the results.

Point-biserial correlation analysis shows a significant increase in rates of citation of English-language sources from 1996 to 2016 (34% to 49%, r = .11, p < .001). Citation of both Chinese and other-language sources may also be decreasing (r = -.05, p = .03; r = -.08, p = .001), but we would interpret these trends cautiously due to the apparent U-shape of the curves and the possibility of article-level effects that would compromise the statistical independence of the trials.

Citation patterns in elite Chinese-language philosophy journals thus appear to be very different from citation patterns in elite Anglophone philosophy journals. The Anglophone journals cite almost exclusively works that were originally written in English. The Chinese journals cite about half Chinese sources and about half foreign language sources (mostly European languages), with English being the dominant language in the foreign language group, and increasingly so in recent years.

We leave for later discussion the question of causes, as well as normative questions such as to what extent elite journals in various languages should be citing mostly from the same language tradition versus to what extent they should aim instead to cite more broadly from work written in a range of languages.

Stay tuned for some similar analyses of journals in other languages!

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Note 1: The journals are: 臺灣大學哲學論評 (National Taiwan University Philosophical Review), 政治大學哲學學報 (NCCU Philosophical Journal), and 東吳哲學學報 (Soochow Journal of Philosophical Studies), which are ranked as the Tier I philosophy journals by Research Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences Ministry of Science and Technology, Taiwan; and 哲学研究(Philosophical Researches), 哲学动态 (Philosophical Trends), 自然辩证法研究 (Studies in Dialectics of Nature), 道德与文明 (Morality and Civilization), 世界哲学 (World Philosophy), 自然辩证法通讯 (Journal of Dialectics of Nature), 伦理学研究 (Studies in Ethics), 现代哲学 (Modern Philosophy), 周易研究 (Studies of Zhouyi), 孔子研究 (Confucius Studies), 中国哲学史 (History of Chinese Philosophy), 科学技术哲学研究 (Studies in Philosophy of Science and Technology), which are ranked as the core philosophy journals in the Chinese Social Sciences Citation Index by Institute for Chinese Social Sciences Research and Assessment, Nanjing University, China. We sampled the research articles of their first issues in 1996, 2001, 2006, 2011, and 2016, generating a list of 208 articles. A coder fluent in both Chinese and English and with a PhD in philosophy (Linus Huang) coded the references of these articles, generating a list of 2952 citations to examine. For each reference, we noted its original publication language. Translated works were coded based on original language in which it was written rather than the language into which it had been translated. If that information was not available in the reference, Linus hand-coded by searching online or based on his knowledge of the history of philosophy. The original language was determinable in 2929 of the 2952 citations.

Am I a Type or a Token? (guest post by Henry Shevlin)

guest post by Henry Shevlin

Eric has previously argued that almost any answer to the problem of consciousness involves “crazyism” – that is, a commitment to one or another hypotheses that might reasonably be considered bizarre. So it’s in this spirit of openness to wild ideas I’d like to throw out one of my own longstanding “crazy” ideas concerning our identity as conscious subjects.

To set the scene, imagine that we have one hundred supercomputers, each separately running a conscious simulation of the same human life. We’re also going to assume that these simulations are all causally coupled together so that they’re in identical functional states at any one time – if a particular mental state type is being realized in one at a given time, it’s also being realized in all the others.

The question I want to ask now is: how many conscious subjects – subjective points of view – exist in this setup? A natural response is “one hundred, obviously!” After all, there are one hundred computers all running their own simulations. But the alternate crazy hypothesis I’d like to suggest is that there’s just one subject in this scenario. Specifically, I want to claim that insofar as two physical realizations of consciousness give rise to a qualitatively identical sequence of experiences, they give rise to a single numerically identical subject of experience.

Call this hypothesis the Identity of Phenomenal Duplicates, or IPD for short. Why would anyone think such a crazy thing? In short, I’m attracted by the idea that the only factors relevant to the identity and individuation of a conscious subject are subjective: crudely, what makes me me is just the way the world seems to me and my conscious reactions to it. As a subject of phenomenal experience, in other words, my numerical identity is fixed just by those factors that are part of my experience, and factors that lie outside my phenomenal awareness (for example, which of many possible computers are running the simulation that underpins my consciousness) are thus irrelevant to my identity.

Putting things another way, I’d suggest that maybe my identity qua conscious subject is more like a type than a token, meaning that a single conscious subject could be multiply instantiated. As a helpful analogy, think about the ontology of something like a song, a novel, or a movie. The Empire Strikes Back has been screened billions of times over the years, but all of these were instantiations of one individual thing, namely the movie itself. If the IPD thesis is correct, then the same might be true for a conscious subject – that I myself (not merely duplicates of me!) could be multiply instantiated across a host of different biological or artificial bodies, even at a single moment. What *I* am, then, on this view, is a kind of subjective pattern or concatenation of such patterns, rather than a single spatiotemporally located object.

Here’s an example that might make the view seem (marginally!) more plausible. Thinking back to the one hundred simulations scenario above, imagine that we pick one simulation at random to be hooked up to a robot body, so that it can send motor outputs to the body and receive its sensory inputs. (Note that because we’re keeping all the simulations coupled together, they’ll remain in ‘phenomenal sync’ with whichever sim we choose to be embodied as a robot). The robot wakes up, looks around, and is fascinated to learn it’s suddenly in the real world, having previously spent its life in a simulation. But now it asks us: which of the Sims am I? Am I the Sim running on the mainframe in Tokyo, or the one in London, or the one in Sao Paolo?

One natural response would be that it was identical to whichever Sim we uploaded the relevant data from. But I think this neglects the fact that all one hundred Sims are causally coupled with one another, so in a sense, we uploaded the data from all of them – we just used one specific access point to get to it. To illustrate this, note that in transferring the relevant information from our Sims to the robot, we might wish (perhaps for reasons of efficiency) to grab the data from all over the place – there’s no reason we’d have to confine ourselves to copying the data over from just one Sim. So here’s an alternate hypothesis: the robot was identical to all of them, because they were all identical to one another – there was just one conscious subject all along! (Readers familiar with Dennett’s Where Am I? may see clear parallels here.)

I find something very intuitive about the response IPD provides in this case. I realize, though, that what I’ve provided here isn’t much of an argument, and invites a slew of questions and objections. For example, even if you’re sympathetic to the reading of the example above, I haven’t established the stronger claim of IPD, which makes no reference to causal coupling. This leaves it open to say, for example, that had the simulations been qualitatively identical by coincidence (for example, via being a cluster of Boltzmann brains) rather than being causally coupled, their subjects wouldn’t have been numerically identical. We might also wonder about beings whose lives are subjectively identical up to a particular point in time, and afterwards diverge. Are they the same conscious subject up until the point of divergence, or were they distinct all along? Finally, there’s also some tricky issues concerning what it means for me to survive in this framework – if I’m a phenomenal type rather than a particular token instantiation of that type, it might seem like I could still exist in some sense even if all my token instances were destroyed (although would Star Wars still exist in some relevant sense if every copy of it was lost?).

Setting aside these worries for now, I’d like to quickly explore how the truth or falsity of IPD might actually matter – in fact, might matter a great deal! Consider a scenario in which some future utilitarian society decides that the best way to maximize happiness in the universe is by running a bunch of simulations of perfectly happy lives. Further, let’s imagine that their strategy for doing this involves simulating the same single exquisitely happy life a billion times over.

If IPD is right, then they’ve just made a terrible mistake: rather than creating a billion happy conscious subjects, they’ve just made one exquisitely happy subject with a billion (hedonically redundant) instantiations! To rectify this situation, however, all they’d need to do would be to introduce an element of variation into their Sims – some small phenomenal or psychological difference that meant that each of the billion simulations was subjectively unique. If IPD is right, this simple change would increase the happiness in the universe a billion-fold.

There are other potential interesting applications of IPD. For example, coupled with a multiverse theory, it might have the consequence that you currently inhabit multiple distinct worlds, namely all those in which there exist entities that realize subjectively and psychologically identical mental states. Similarly, it might mean that you straddle multiple non-continuous areas of space and time: if the same identical simulation is run at time t1 and time t2 a billion years apart, then IPD would suggest that a single subject cohabits both instantiations.

Anyway, while I doubt I’ve convinced anyone (yet!) of this particular crazyism of mine, I hope at least it might provide the basis for some interesting metaphysical arguments and speculations.

[Image credit: Paolo Tonon]

Colonoscopy 101

I was at a Bridal Shower this weekend.  My oldest female cousin planned the shower for her daughter (my niece). She was stunning, resembling a Hollywood Movie Star from the 1940s.  Her long golden locks fell to her waist as she offered her guests genuine love and an afternoon of fun. I watched her dance and glide across the room, remembering days long gone, when she was a baby we all drooled over.  She was the first amongst us and was loved pricelessly. Now, 27 years later, she stood before us a woman, preparing to take on new adventures and challenges.I felt so blessed to witness "her happy ending" beginning to blossom on Sunday and yet I felt a deep fear that it would be one of the last "happy endings" I'd witness or experience.  

It hit me then, how innocent we are until time and experience make us aware of truth. I don't think I knew what "cancer" was until my twenties, let alone the need to monitor a patient long after the treatment ends. Even in December, when I was diagnosed, I had no idea that this would be a life-long battle, that there were procedures to be followed.

Step 1: Go through chemo.
Step 2: Give monthly bloodwork while going through chemo.
Step 3: Finish chemo.
Step 4: Allow doctors to monitor you every three months via an onslaught of tests.
Step 5: Visit the oncologist every three months and based on test results from Step 4, reevaluate the steps and create a new action plan.

I know better now and even though I try to ignore the truth by distracting myself, the truth remains the truth. It's only been two months since my last chemo treatment, however my doctors have scheduled a: colonoscopy, full body CT scan, and blood work for this week.

Although doctors recommend colonoscopies for patients over 50, in recent years colo-rectal cancer cases have been increasing in individuals under 50 as well. Once you've obtained a colo-rectal label, you are an honorary member of the colonoscopy club for life. A colonoscopy enables doctors to take a closer examination of one's large intestines through the insertion of a thin flexible tube.  An attached video camera allows doctors to identify present ulcers, polyps, tumors, and/or inflammation. The preparation for this procedure is worse than the procedure though, or so I've been told. 

Fortunately my Life Coach, Liza Baker, is all knowing.  She prepped me a week before. "Count backwards from the day of your colonoscopy, reducing your food intake and as you approach the date of the procedure, you will feel no pain." 

"What do you mean?" I asked her more than a week ago. 

"Simple. Day 4, begin eating mashed foods. Day 3, transfer from mashed foods to soups. Day 2, thin out your soups a bit. Day 1 drink only transparent liquids. This will make the chemical cleanse more bearable. and if you want a more exact dietary plan, google "natural prep for colonoscopies." 

I did just that. I started Friday of last week with mashed foods (mashed potatoes, oatmeal, bananas...) and by Monday I was only consuming clear liquids (apple juice, clear gatorade, water, coconut water, and tea). I also read articles defining natural ways to reduce the horror that accompanies the prep.  Here's one you can explore if you too need to prep for a colonoscopy in the near future. 

Every time my energy waned on Monday, I guzzled down 6-8 ounces of either a sugar or salt infused drink, then after a while, hunger pangs disappeared. That evening I started the chemical cleanse the doctor had prescribed. It was a gallon sized jug with a powder in it which tasted like and resembled Gatorade when mixed with water and a packet of lemon flavoring.  I was warned that the consumption would cause intense stomach cramping, and diarrhea.  

Reality however differed from the initial warning. The pain was nonexistent. I had no cramping, and no bloating. The diarrhea was unavoidable, but all in all, there was very little discomfort, all of which I credit to the "Mash to Liquid" diet I started Friday. 

My colonoscopy was yesterday.  My sister-in-law took me in. My doctor sedated me, promising me that I would remember none of it. To his utter shock, I remained awake and asked him questions about every single inch of colon projected on the screen.  And when all was over, I looked at him and asked, "And? What's the prognosis?" 

He grinned and said, "You look completely healthy as far as your colon is concerned. I see nothing that we should be worried about." 

"And the operation? When will you put me back together again? I miss exercising and swimming? I miss hiking and running..." 

"Let's get through this week, your CT scan, blood tests, and then I'll have my people call your people to schedule your final surgery." 

I sighed, but I could have kissed him, that's how ecstatic I was with the news.  All my fears seemed to dissipate before my eyes. I had spent the last week worrying that they would find more tumors, hints of cancer, blood... I had spent all week fearing that I would never see my kids grow up into men, go to college, get married, and begin lives of their own. 

The mental anguish had definitely been worse than the physical one. Now, after my first of many colonoscopies to come, I can't help but rejoice in the goodness of God and in the vision of numerous family adventures, weddings, graduations, and celebrations for maybe, just maybe, happy endings do exist!



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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 Would (or Should) You Do With Administrator Access to Your Mind (guest post by Henry Shevlin)

guest post by
Henry Shevlin

'Dial 888,' Rick said as the set warmed. 'The desire to watch TV, no matter what's on it.

'I don't feel like dialling anything at all now,' Iran said.

'Then dial 3,' he said.

'I can't dial a setting that stimulates my cerebral cortex into wanting to dial! If I don't want to dial, I don't want to dial that most of all, because then I will want to dial, and wanting to dial is right now the most alien drive I can imagine.’

(PHILIP K. DICK, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep)

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We don’t have direct control over most our beliefs and attitudes, let alone most of our drives and desires. No matter how much money was offered as an incentive, for example, I couldn’t will myself to believe in fairies by this evening. Similarly, figuring out how to rid ourselves of our involuntary prejudices and biases is tricky (see here for an attempt), and changing our basic drives (such as our sexual orientation) is almost certainly impossible.

That’s not to say that we have zero control over any of these things. If I wanted to increase the likelihood of having religious beliefs, for example, I might decide to start hanging out with religious people, or attending services. But it’s a messy and indirect path to acquiring new beliefs and values.

Imagine, then, how useful it would be if we had some kind of more direct ability to control our minds. In thinking about this possibility, a useful analogy comes from the idea of Administrator access on a computer. What if – perhaps for just a few hours a month – you could delve into your beliefs, your values, and your drives, and reconfigure them to your heart’s content, before ‘logging back in’ as your (now modified) self?

Some immediately tempting applications of this possibility are fairly clear. For one, we’d perhaps want to eliminate or tone down our most egregious cognitive biases: confirmation bias, post-purchase rationalization, the sunk cost fallacy, and so on. Similarly, we might want to rid ourselves of implicit prejudices that we may have against groups or individuals. Prejudiced against elderly people? Just go into Settings Menu and adjust your slider to correct it. Irrationally resentful of a colleague who accidentally slighted you? A quick fix to remove the relevant emotion and you’re sorted.

Another attractive application might be to bring our immediate desires into line with our higher-order desires. Crave cigarettes and wish you didn’t? Tamp down the relevant first-order desire and you’re sorted. Wish you had the motivation to run in the mornings? Then ramp up the slider for “desire to go jogging”. We might even want to give ourselves some helpful false beliefs or ‘constructive myths’. Disheartened by the fact that you as an individual can do little to prevent climate change? Maybe a false belief that you can be a powerful agent for change will help you do good.

Finally, we come to the most controversial stuff, like values, drives, and memories. Take values first. Imagine that you find yourself trapped in a small town where you’re ostracised for your deviant political beliefs. One easy option might be to simply tweak your values to come into line with your community. Or imagine if you could adjust things like your sexual drives and orientation. Certainly, some people might feel relief at ridding themselves of certain kinks or fetishes that they found oppressive, while others might enjoy experimenting with recalibrating their sexuality. But we could also find that people were pressured or tempted to adjust their sexuality to bring it into line with the bigoted social expectations of their community, and it’s hard not to find that a morally troubling idea. Finally, imagine if we could wipe away unpleasant memories at will – the bad relationships, social gaffes, and painful insults could be gone in a moment. What could possibly go wrong with that?

As much as I like the idea of tweaking my mind, I feel uncomfortable about lot of these possibilities. First, at the risk of sounding cliched, it seems like the gains of personal growth are often as much in the journey as the destination. So, take someone who learns to become more patient with others’ failings. Along the way, she’s probably going to pick up a bunch of other important realizations – of her own fallibility, perhaps, or of the distress she’s caused in the past by dismissing people. Skipping straight to the outcome threatens to cheat her, and us, of something valuable. Similarly, sometimes along the road of personal change, we realize that we’ve been aiming for the wrong thing. Someone who desperately wants to fit in with their peer group, for example, might slowly and painfully realize that they don’t like their peers as much as they thought. Skipping out the journey, then, not only robs us of potential goods we might find along the way, but also of the capacity to change our mind about where we’re going.

There might also be some kinds of extrinsic goods that would be lost if we could all tweak our minds so effortlessly. Take the example of someone who wishes he could fit in with his more conservative community. Even though he might relish not having values that are different from those around him, by holding onto them, he could be providing encouragement and cover for other political deviants in his town. In much the same way, diversity of opinion, outlook, and motivation may be valuable for the community at large, despite not always being pleasant for those in the minority. This can be true even if the majority perspective in the community is in the right: dissenters can helpfully force the dominant voices to articulate and justify their views.

Finally, we could run into serious unexpected consequences – maybe getting rid of the availability heuristic would turn out to drastically slow down my reasoning, for example, or perhaps making myself more prosocial could backfire on me if I live in an antisocial community. Still more catastrophic consequences might involve deviant paths to fulfilment of desires. If (in Administrator mode) I give myself an overriding desire to be “fitter than the average person in my town”, for example, I might (as a normal user) go on to decide that the fastest way to achieve that goal is to kill all the healthy people in my community! More prosaically, it’s also easy to imagine people being tempted to reconfigure their difficult-to-achieve desires (like becoming rich and famous) and instead replacing them with stuff that’s easy to achieve (collecting paperclips, say, or counting blades of grass). Perhaps they would be well advised to do so, but this is philosophically controversial to say the least!

While Administrator Access to our own minds is of course just science fiction for now, I think it’s a useful tool for probing our intuitions about well-being, rationality, and personal change. It could also potentially guide us in situations where do have more powerful ways of influencing the development of minds. This may be a big deal in the development of future forms of artificial intelligence, for example, but something similar arguably applies even when we’re deciding how to raise our children (should we encourage them to believe in Santa Claus?).

For my part, I doubt I could resist making a few tweaks to myself (maybe I’d finally get to make good use of that gym membership). But I’d do so carefully... and likely with a sense of trepidation and unease.

[image source]

Life's Marvels: Unexpected Moments

I am happy to say that I celebrated my 40th birthday two days ago.  I awaited it eagerly and when I awoke that morning, I exclaimed, "I made it! I made it to 40!" I never thought it would mean as much as it did, but it does, just as each morning is a celebration of life and a blessed celebration all its own.

I don't know what to expect anymore. Each day is different and sometimes, the most magical of things come to pass without any warning. Had a day like this recently and I was reminded by it the night of my birthday when CJ (the individual I talk about below) texted me to wish me a Happy Birthday. I was taken aback by that text for reasons that are too long to explain here.

But what I would like to explain today is how CJ entered my life two weeks ago. One of my best friends, an animation editor who works in Burbank, CA, asked me recently if I'd be willing to help a friend of his with a grant.

Why did he reach out to me with this request? Well, for starters, he knows me. He's known me since our teenage years. He knows that I've used my writing abilities over the last fifteen years to write a net sum of $500,000 worth of grants for various schools and projects. This  money has been used to create two playground structures, numerous murals, reading/writing programs, intervention programs, technology, and reading nooks/gardens. I thrive when serving others.

My response?

"Anything for you, my dear! Introduce us digitally and we'll see what comes of it."

One thing led to another, he passed on my e-mail, she e-mailed, and we scheduled a phone conference soon after. CJ, or so I will call her, seemed enthusiastic over the phone. We chatted about my grant writing experience and her desire to obtain an animation finishing grant.

I needed to know more, I said. "Why exactly do you need a grant? What is the project you are working on?"

Her response, "When I was at USC, I started working on a short animation film for my thesis that I didn't quite finish and I need to. It's become more than just an assignmnet."

"What is it about exactly? Why the desire to finish?" I asked.

Her response lit a flame in my heart, "Well, in October of 2012, I visited Poet Laureate Donald Hall in New Hampshire to talk to him about his poem, "A Letter in Autumn," which explores his life after his wife (Jane Kenyon) passed of cancer. His mind was clouded with memories of their past as he struggled to live in the present and well..."


She had me at "cancer."

I wondered if she knew, whether my BFF had told her about the seven months of hell that I'd just endured, of the fear that my husband would walk the same path Donald Hall did, while carrying our two sons on his shoulders.  As she spoke, I grabbed my laptop and googled the name. I discovered that the Librarian of Congress had appointed Donald Hall as the 14th Poet Laureate in 2006. I discovered that both he and his wife were poets and that he was 81 years old. I  found the poem CJ had mentioned and started to read it while CJ spoke of all of Donald's accomplishments.
.
I tried to hold a conversation, while blinking back tears as I read the following words...


Letter in Autumn

Poem: "Letter in Autumn" by Donald Hall, from Without. © Houghton Mifflin. Reprinted with permission.

Letter in Autumn

This first October of your death
I sit in my blue chair
looking out at late afternoon's
western light suffusing
its goldenrod yellow over
the barn's unpainted boards—
here where I sat each fall
watching you pull your summer's
garden up.

     Yesterday
I cleaned out your Saab
to sell it. The dozen tapes
I mailed to Caroline.
I collected hairpins and hair ties.
In the Hill's Balsam tin
Where you kept silver for tolls
I found your collection
of slips from fortune cookies:
YOU ARE A FANTASTIC PERSON!
YOU ARE ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE
WHO GOES PLACES IN THEIR LIFE!


As I slept last night:
You leap from our compartment
in an underground railroad yard
and I follow; behind us the train
clatters and sways; I turn
and turn again to see you tugging
at a gold bugle welded
to a freight car; then you vanish
into the pitchy clanking dark.

Here I sit in my blue chair
not exactly watching Seattle
beat Denver in the Kingdome.
Last autumn above Pill Hill
we looked from the eleventh floor
down at Puget Sound,
at Seattle's skyline,
and at the Kingdome scaffolded
for repair. From your armature
of tubes, you asked, "Perkins,
am I going to live?"

     When you died
in April, baseball took up
its cadences again
under the indoor ballpark's
patched and recovered ceiling.
You would have admired
the Mariners, still hanging on
in October, like blue asters
surviving frost.

     Sometimes
when I start to cry,
I wave it off: "I just
did that." When Andrew
wearing a dark suit and necktie
telephones from his desk,
he cannot keep from crying.
When Philippa weeps,
Allison at seven announces,
"The river is flowing."
Gus no longer searches for you,
but when Alice or Joyce comes calling
he dances and sings. He brings us
one of your white slippers
from the bedroom.

     I cannot discard
your jeans or lotions or T-shirts.
I cannot disturb your tumbles
of scarves and floppy hats.
Lost unfinished things remain
on your desk, in your purse
or Shaker basket. Under a cushion
I discover your silver thimble.
Today when the telephone rang
I thought it was you.

At night when I go to bed
Gus drowses on the floor beside me.
I sleep where we lived and died
in the painted Victorian bed
under the tiny lights
you strung on the headboard
when you brought me home
from the hospital four years ago.
The lights still burned last April
early on a Saturday morning
while you died.

     At your grave
I find tribute: chrysanthemums,
cosmos, a pumpkin, and a poem
by a woman who "never knew you"
who asks, "Can you hear me Jane?"
there is an apple and a heart—
shaped pebble.

     Looking south
from your stone, I gaze at the file
of eight enormous sugar maples
that rage and flare in dark noon,
the air grainy with mist
like the rain of Seattle's winter.
The trees go on burning
Without ravage of loss or disorder.
I wish you were that birch
rising from the clump behind you,
and I the gray oak alongside.

When I was done, I stopped her, "CJ, did you know that I had cancer?"

Silence.

"I will do everything in my power to help you with this. I can read over the grant and polish it up, I can check out the grant guidelines and give you pointers, I can... well, um, I can do whatever you need to make this happen."

I think she was taken a bit aback, by my revelation. Like lepercy, people don't just walk around telling others that they've just battled cancer for months.  But I have no shame and wear my crown proudly.

Her excitement in turn inspired me to continue on this path I've been asked to walk, to help others, to share both pain and laughter, to inspire others to fight their own battles.

I can't help but marvel at how extraordinary this life is, bringing CJ and me together, two different people, from different walks of life, with a common cause-sharing the stories surrounding this silent killer and giving it a voice.  I'm proud to say CJ has found a grant to write that would transform her dream into a reality and I am honored and humbled to walk this path with her. If you would like more information about her project, you can check out her progress via the following blog.


* * * * * 


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





What do I do now?

Treatment-done!

No tri-weekly chemo infusions.

No oral pills.

No nausea, vomiting, or fatigue!

This is this summer's highlights.

On the last day of my chemo infusion, I asked the oncologist, "What do I do now?"  It wasn't happiness I was feeling, it was fear. Regardless of the fact that the end of the treatment was nearing, I feared that without the continuous bombardment of drugs and poisons in my body, I would always be wondering whether it came back and filled my body again with carcinogens.

My oncologist was amazingly patient and caring. She leaned in and said, "Live!"

Shocked, I met her eyes and asked, "How? How exactly do I do that?"

She matter of factly said, "You go outside, you travel, you spend time with the people you want to spend time with, you go to work, you live!"

It has taken me over a month to grasp and wrestle with her words. I've never been afraid of anything, never feared life or death, speed or the unknown, but the idea that I should now go off and "live," felt foreign.

It wasn't until last week when I tried it.

I planned a beach day for the kids. I packed a vegan lunch to have on the sand.  We drove out to Manhattan beach where hubby and I spent the day cuddling under an umbrella as the kids dug holes, and jumped waves. I think I was the only one on the shore covered head to foot and wearing a jacket to boot, but I didn't care. Watching their excitement brought genuine joy.

Sitting there, breathing, thinking, praying, I wondered whether this is what my doctor meant!

When my boys approached us to thank us for their amazing day, I almost started sobbing. They have been so understanding and loving through this entire ordeal, sometimes I am at a loss for words at their maturity.

I inhaled slowly, exhaled even slower and said, "It's not over. I've planned another activity for you. Once we are done here, we are taking you to a nearby rope course and wall climbing hub, we'll just pretend the beach was day one of your vacation and the obstacle course is day two."

They were overjoyed. I fed off of their excitement. After sanding them off we headed to Adventure Plex, where I sat back and took in their emotions once more. Excitement brimmed. They wore harnesses, climbed a rope wall, balanced on wires. Hearing them laugh, gasp, and just enjoy the day infused me with life and energy. And when the day came to an end, I felt one step closer to the doctor's prophetic statement.

I felt like I knew the secret to life, I knew how to "live." All I had to do was to lose myself in joy and happiness. Just as I spend time watching the hummingbirds and blue jays fly about my garden, I need to take time daily to surrender to the current moment and let joy fuel my soul.

I did that this weekend. My 8 Faces wanted a celebration, something to mark the end.  I planned a life luau to share my love with them, and to revel in their joy. Honestly, the best part of the evening is when I stood back and watched the synergy in my garden, the laughter, jokes, and happiness filled the empty recesses of my heart with newfound hope.

I look forward to seeing my oncologist again in September for I can't wait to share with her how I began to live again, embraced in the love and happiness of others.

I see truth these days- life is short, stress is suicidal, life/love/joy are the paths to healing.  I want to thank my 8 Faces for walking this long path and for filling it with nonstop laughter as I continue to just "live."


The Ethical Significance of Toddler Tantrums (guest post by Henry Shevlin)

guest post by
Henry Shevlin

As any parent can readily testify, little kids get upset. A lot. Sometimes it’s for broadly comprehensible stuff - because they have to go to bed or to daycare, for example. Sometimes it’s for more bizarre and idiosyncratic reasons – because their banana has broken, perhaps, or because the Velcro on their shoes makes a funny noise.

For most parents, these episodes are regrettable, exasperating, and occasionally, a little funny. We rarely if ever consider them tragic or of serious moral consequence. We certainly feel some empathy for our children’s intense anger, sadness, or frustration, but we generally don’t make a huge deal about these episodes. That’s not because we don’t care about toddlers, of course – if they were sick or in pain we’d be really concerned. But we usually treat these intense emotional outbursts as just a part of growing up.

Nonetheless, I think if we saw an adult undergoing extremes of negative emotion of the kind that toddlers go through on a daily or weekly basis, we’d be pretty affected by it, and regard it as something to be taken seriously. Imagine you’d visited a friend for dinner, and upon announcing you were leaving, he broke down in floods of tears, beating on the ground and begging you not to go. Most of us wouldn’t think twice about sticking around until he felt better. Yet when a toddler pulls the same move (say, when we’re dropping them off with a grandparent), most parents remained, if not unmoved, then at least resolute.

What’s the difference between our reactions in these cases? In large part, I think it’s because we assume that when adults get upset, they have good reasons for it – if an adult friend starts sobbing uncontrollably, then our first thought is going to be that they’re facing real problems. For a toddler, by contrast – well, they can get upset about almost anything.

This makes a fair amount of sense as far as it goes. But it also seems to require that our moral reactions to apparent distress should be sensitive not just to the degree of unhappiness involved, but the reasons for it. In other words, we’re not discounting toddler tantrums because we think little kids aren’t genuinely upset, or are faking, but because the tantrums aren’t reflective of any concerns worth taking too seriously.

Interestingly, this idea seems at least prima facie in tension with some major philosophical accounts of happiness and well-being, notably like hedonism or desire satisfaction theory. By the lights of these approaches, it’s hard to see why toddler emotions and desires shouldn’t be taken just as seriously as adult ones. These episodes do seem like bona fide intensely negative experiences, so for utilitarians, every toddler could turn out to be a kind of negative utility monster! Similarly, if we adopt a form of consequentialism that aims at maximizing the number of satisfied desires, toddlers might be an outsize presence – as indicated by their tantrums, they have a lot of seemingly big, powerful, intense desires all the time (for, e.g., a Kinder Egg, another episode of Ben and Holly, or that one toy their older sibling is playing with).

One possibility I haven’t so far discussed is the idea that toddlers’ emotional behavior might be deceptive: perhaps the wailing toddler, contrary to appearances, is only mildly peeved that a sticker peeled off his toy. There may be something to this idea: certainly, toddlers have very poor inhibitory control, so we might naturally expect them to be more demonstrative about negative emotions than adults. That said, I find it hard to believe that toddlers really aren’t all that bothered by whatever it is that’s caused their latest tantrum. As much as I may be annoyed at having to leave a party early, for example, it’s almost inconceivable to me that it could ever trigger floods of tears and wailing, no matter how badly my inhibitory control had been impaired by the host’s martinis. (Nonetheless, I’d grant this is an area where psychology or neuroscience could be potentially informative, so that we might gain evidence that toddlers’ apparent distress behavior was misleading).

But if we do grant that toddlers really get very upset all the time, is it a serious moral problem? Or just an argument against theories that take things like emotions and desires to be morally significant in their own right, without being justified by good reasons? As someone sympathetic to both hedonism about well-being and utilitarianism as a normative ethical theory, I’m not sure what to think. Certainly, it’s made me consider whether, as a parent, I should take my son’s tantrums more seriously. For example, if we’re at the park, and I know he’ll have a tantrum if we leave early, should I prioritize his emotions above, e.g., my desire to get home and grade student papers? Perhaps you’ll think that in reacting like this, I’m just being overly sentimental or sappy – come on, what could be more normal than toddler tantrums! – but it’s worth being conscious of the fact that previous societies normalized ways of treating children that we nowadays would regard as brutal.

There’s also, of course, the developmental question: toddlers aren’t stupid, and if they realize that we’ll do anything to avoid them having tantrums, then they’ll exploit that to their own (dis)advantage. Learning that you can’t always get what you want is certainly part of growing up. But thinking about this issue has certainly made me take another look at how I think about and respond to my son’s outbursts, even if I can’t fix his broken bananas.

Note: this blogpost is an extended exploration of ideas I earlier discussed here.

[image: Angelina Koh]

Top Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazines 2017

In 2014, as a beginning writer of science fiction or speculative fiction, with no idea what magazines were well regarded in the industry, I decided to compile a ranked list of magazines based on awards and "best of" placements in the previous ten years. Since people seemed to find it useful or interesting, I've been updating it annually. Below is my list for 2017.

Method and Caveats:

(1.) Only magazines are included (online or in print), not anthologies or standalones.

(2.) I gave each magazine one point for each story nominated for a Hugo, Nebula, Eugie, or World Fantasy Award in the past ten years; one point for each story appearance in any of the Dozois, Horton, Strahan, Clarke, or Adams "Year's Best" anthologies; and half a point for each story appearing in the short story or novelette category of the annual Locus Recommended list.

(3.) I am not attempting to include the horror / dark fantasy genre, except as it appears incidentally on the list.

(4.) Prose only, not poetry.

(5.) I'm not attempting to correct for frequency of publication or length of table of contents.

(6.) I'm also not correcting for a magazine's only having published during part of the ten-year period. Reputations of defunct magazines slowly fade, and sometimes they are restarted. Reputations of new magazines take time to build.

(7.) Lists of this sort do tend to reinforce the prestige hierarchy. I have mixed feelings about that. But since the prestige hierarchy is socially real, I think it's in people's best interest -- especially the best interest of outsiders and newcomers -- if it is common knowledge.

(8.) I take the list down to 1.5 points.

(9.) I welcome corrections.

(10.) ETA: Check out Nelson Kingfisher's analysis of acceptance rates and response times for these magazines below.

Results:

1. Asimov's (244.5 points)
2. Fantasy & Science Fiction (182)
3. Clarkesworld (129.5)
4. Tor.com (120) (started 2008)
5. Lightspeed (83.5) (started 2010)
6. Subterranean (79.5) (ceased 2014)
7. Strange Horizons (48)
8. Analog (47.5)
9. Interzone (45.5)
10. Beneath Ceaseless Skies (30.5) (started 2008)
11. Fantasy Magazine (27.5) (merged into Lightspeed 2012, occasional special issues thereafter)
12. Uncanny (19) (started 2014)
13. Apex (15.5)
14. Jim Baen's Universe (11.5) (ceased 2010)
14. Postscripts (11.5) (ceased short fiction in 2014)
14. Realms of Fantasy (11.5) (ceased 2011)
17. Nightmare (10) (started 2012)
18. The New Yorker (8)
19. Black Static (7)
20. Intergalactic Medicine Show (6)
21. Electric Velocipede (5.5) (ceased 2013)
22. Helix SF (5) (ceased 2008)
22. Tin House (5)
24. McSweeney's (4.5)
24. Sirenia Digest (4.5)
26. Conjunctions (4)
26. The Dark (4) (started 2013)
28. Black Gate (3.5)
28. Flurb (3.5) (ceased 2012)
30. Cosmos (3)
30. GigaNotoSaurus (3) (started 2010)
30. Harper's (3)
30. Shimmer (3)
30. Terraform (3) (started 2014)
35. Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet (2.5)
35. Lone Star Stories (2.5) (ceased 2009)
35. Matter (2.5) (started 2011)
35. Slate (2.5)
35. Weird Tales (2.5) (off and on throughout period)
40. Aeon Speculative Fiction (2) (ceased 2008)
40. Futurismic (2) (ceased 2010)
42. Abyss & Apex (1.5)
42. Beloit Fiction Journal (1.5)
42. Buzzfeed (1.5)
42. Daily Science Fiction (1.5) (started 2010)
42. e-flux journal (1.5) (started 2008)
--------------------------------------------------

Comments:

(1.) The New Yorker, Tin House, McSweeney's, Conjunctions, Harper's, and Beloit Fiction Journal are prominent literary magazines that occasionally publish science fiction or fantasy. Cosmos, Slate, and Buzzfeed are popular magazines that have published a little bit of science fiction on the side. e-flux is a wide-ranging arts journal. The remaining magazines focus on the F/SF genre.

(2.) It's also interesting to consider a three-year window. Here are those results, down to six points:

1. Clarkesworld (66.5)
2. Tor.com (61)
3. Asimov's (59)
4. Lightspeed (49.5)
5. F&SF (37.5)
6. Analog (21)
7. Beneath Ceaseless Skies (20)
8. Uncanny (19)
9. Subterranean (16)
10. Interzone (11.5)
11. Strange Horizons (11)
12. Nightmare (9)

(3.) One important thing left out of these numbers is the rise of good podcast venues such as the Escape Artists' podcasts (Escape Pod, Podcastle, Pseudopod, and Cast of Wonders), Drabblecast, and StarShipSofa. None of these qualify for my list by existing criteria, but podcasts are an increasingly important venue. Some text-based magazines, like Clarkesworld, Lightspeed, and Strange Horizons also regularly podcast their stories.

(5.) Philosophers interested in science fiction might also want to look at Sci Phi Journal, which publishes both science fiction with philosophical discussion notes and philosophical essays about science fiction.

(6.) Other lists: The SFWA qualifying markets list is a list of "pro" science fiction and fantasy venues based on pay rates and track records of strong circulation. Ralan.com is a regularly updated list of markets, divided into categories based on pay rate.

(7.) The "Sad Puppy" kerfuffle threatens to damage the once-sterling reputation of the Hugos, but the Hugos are a small part of my calculation and the results are pretty much the same either way.

[image source; admittedly, it's not the latest issue!]