The great French philosopher and mathematician Rene Descartes published his work, “Discourse on the Method” in 1637. In it, he described a set of rules that could be used to logically ascertain true knowledge (the truth). While most of us strive to gain knowledge and the truth, almost all of us do not apply any sort of filter or method when confronted with an overload of information – all of which seems plausible and true. We have a tendency to fall for misinformation, disinformation and complete lies. So what method did Descartes stipulate which we are now too lazy to use?
“… never to accept anything as true that I did not incontrovertibly know to be so; that is to say, carefully to avoid both prejudice and premature conclusions; and to include nothing in my judgements other than that which presented itself to my mind so clearly and distinctly, that I would have no occasion to doubt it.”
“… divide all the difficulties under examination into as many parts as possible, and as many as were required to solve them in the best way.”
“… conduct my thoughts in a given order, beginning with the simplest and most easily understood objects, and gradually ascending, as it were step by step, to the knowledge of the most complex; and positing an order even on those which do not have a natural order of precedence.”
“… undertake such complete enumerations and such general surveys that I would be sure to have left nothing out.”
So in a nutshell:
- Don’t rush to judgements and beware of prejudices.
- Determine what you know and don’t know when solving a problem in a logical way.
- Make every deduction so complete and thorough that no considerations were omitted.
This is a continuation in my ongoing series of “craft” beer hypothesis that the name, design and marketing of the beer can is what matters more than the actual beer inside. The All or Nothing Hopfenweisse is a prime example of an ok craft beer but with a cool looking can. I dished out a typical craft beer price of ~$3 to try it out this unfiltered, somewhat wheatish beer. Drank it cold, on a hot July evening, out in the backyard – that’s about the best way to be enjoying beer over the summer.
Reading has been one of my life long passions. I read almost everyday. Somewhere along the way I heard of a book called Steppenwolf by Hermann Hess. I got the book but my eye also caught on a book of Hess’ Poems. I don’t think I have read any poetry since high school but this collection piqued my interest.
This book is an anthology of poems that Hess wrote from 1899 to 1921. The poetry is beautiful, touching and sadly not very well known among the non-Germans. Thanks to James Wright who translated this select set of poems in 1970.
In this evil year, autumn comes early…
I walk by night in the field, alone, the rain clatters,
The wind on my hat…And you? And you, my friend?
You are standing- maybe- and seeing the sickle moon
Move in a small arc over the forests
And bivouac fire, red in the black valley.
You are lying- maybe- in a straw field and sleeping
And dew falls cold on your forehead and battle jacket.
It’s possible tonight you’re on horseback,
The farthest outpost, peering along, with a gun in your fist,
Smiling, whispering, to your exhausted horse.
Maybe- I keep imagining- you are spending the night
As a guest in a strange castle with a park
And writing a letter by candlelight, and tapping
On the piano keys by the window,
Groping for a sound…
Thinking of a Friend at Night (Denken an den Freund bei Nacht) by Hermann Hess (1915)
What masterful work!
Turns out that they are not very effective.
The northern hemisphere is just entering summer so even the thought of discussing flu (influenza) vaccines seems a bit out of place. We are still a few months away from the flu shot marketing campaigns of various government agencies, employers, schools and neighbourhood pharmacies being kicked off. But the CBC recently ran an article about the effectiveness of the 2015-16 vaccine. Experts interviewed for this story believed that this vaccine was 40-45% effective – much better than the 2014-15 flu shot which which essential gave zero protection – but still not very good.
“The good news is the data are more reliable. But the bad news is that experts now realize the flu vaccine protects only about half of the time.”
In 2014, the Cochrane Collaboration published a meta analysis of 90 studies (randomized controlled trials and comparative studies on flu vaccines, covering the period from 1960-2013) that also showed a poor record of the vaccine’s effectiveness.
“The preventive effect of parenteral inactivated influenza vaccine on healthy adults is small: at least 40 people would need vaccination to avoid one ILI (Influenza like illness) case (95% confidence interval (CI) 26 to 128) and 71 people would need vaccination to prevent one case of influenza (95% CI 64 to 80). Vaccination shows no appreciable effect on working days lost or hospitalisation.
The protection against ILI that is given by the administration of inactivated influenza vaccine to pregnant women is uncertain or at least very limited; the effect on their newborns is not statistically significant.
The effectiveness of live aerosol vaccines on healthy adults is similar to inactivated vaccines: 46 people (95% CI 29 to 115) would need immunisation to avoid one ILI case.”
Keeping germs at bay by following general cleanliness habits (wash your hands before touching eyes, nose, mouth; clean common surfaces; don’t sneeze at people) and eating a healthy diet (which includes fruits, vegetables and drinking plenty of water) are probably still the best flu prevention tips.
I will share more about how media in general may be bad for our health but today, let’s focus on social media. Hundreds of millions (if not billions) of people use social media daily. It is a way to see what’s going on in the world, keep up with “friends”, co-workers, ex-es, etc. So while we have some free time we login into Facebook or other social media sites and see our connections posting pictures from their vacations, what their kids are doing, food they are eating, witty comments, pictures from weddings and other significant events in life. Almost all these updates are about the fun, good things in life and thanks to apps on most smartphones, the pictures are easily tweaked to make them near perfect.
We may “like” or “re-tweet” or whatever these updates and post a cheery message to boot. But deep down, the social media experience is far from joyous. There may be a bit of jealousy or “woe is me” involved and the affect is often negative. A study done by researchers at the University of Michigan showed us that young adults using Facebook reported a decrease in “well-being”.
“These analyses indicated that Facebook use predicts declines in the two components of subjective well-being: how people feel moment to moment and how satisfied they are with their lives.
Critically, we found no evidence to support two plausible alternative interpretations of these results. First, interacting with other people “directly” did not predict declines in well-being. In fact, direct social network interactions led people to feel better over time. This suggests that Facebook use may constitute a unique form of social network interaction that predicts impoverished well-being. Second, multiple types of evidence indicated that it was not the case that Facebook use led to declines in well-being because people are more likely to use Facebook when they feel bad—neither affect nor worry predicted Facebook use and Facebook use continued to predict significant declines in well-being when controlling for loneliness (which did predict increases in Facebook use and reductions in emotional well-being).”
While the study focused on Facebook use and we can’t extrapolate this to all social media and certainly not all Internet use, the fact remains that we also have other anecdotal views on the negative effects of social media.
July 1st is a special day for Canadians as it marks the birth of the country. On this day in 1867, the Constitution Act / British North America Act brought together three colonies to create Canada. We are blessed to be part of this nation.