Saturday, January 29, 2011


1.Confused: puzzled, bewildered.

2. To have one's attention occupied: Distracted, absorbed.

3. Having feelings of wry or tolerant amusement.

I'm Bemused. Sometimes confused; often puzzled; sometimes bewildered; frequently distracted by the things I find inexplicable - like, for example, people in general, for whom I attempt to maintain feelings of wry or tolerant amusement.

People are crazy.

Not just some people - all people: Me, you, everybody.

Eveyone is crazy, in various ways. I have come to the conclusion that everyone, even the most seemingly rational or analytical engineers or scientists (or maybe especially them) for the most part think and act out of emotion rather than logic. Human thought does not normally process data by deductive logic. In general, people come to a conclusion without much, if any, rational reasoning at all, and then, if forced to defend their conclusion, they seek to use some form of supposedly logical analysis to rationalize whatever conclusion they have already become emotionally attached to.

The so-called "scientific method" in fact starts with a hypothesis. But where did the hypothesis come from?  The hypothesis comes magically, springing from the genius, the imagination, the inexplicable creative mind.  It comes from the creative, irrational imagination that makes us human: sometimes endearingly, and sometimes maddeningly, human.  It is what separates us from computers and robots.  The supposedly rational scientific examination of the hypothesis comes afterwards, after the scientist already has an emotional attachment to his hypothesis.  But that is often rationalization over rationale.

I cannot prove this theory about the way people think so irrationally. I could use logical reasoning to defend it, but it would be irrational to do so, since I would be defending the theory that my defense is in fact merely an irrational attempt to rationalize conclusions I am actually defending for emotional rather than rational reasons.  Proving rationally that I am irrational would not make a lot of sense. Bewildered yet? Bemused?

If I am convinced that we are irrational, but for irrational reasons, does that then, by the double negative, actually make me rational? No.

So we end up with the fact that people hold to some particular position with great emotion and tenacity, but without any real reason. They create reasons, but they could (and would) just as easily create opposite reasons should they for whatever reason have seized upon the opposite point of view.

There are Ford people, Chevy people, Toyota people, Honda people, Volvo people (that last one is virtual proof of irrationally - but that's just my irrational opinion): for whatever reasons, they have developed an attachment to a particular make of car and find reasons to feel that their chosen make is in some way superior.

There are PC (Windows) people and Mac people. Both of them view the others with amused superiority. "Objectively," each has pros and cons, but try to get a Mac true believer to admit that. And then there are the geeks and nerds who are convinced that Linux (or something else most of us have never heard of) is the only rational operating system.

Note that when I say "objectively," all I am really saying is that my own (possibly irrational) opinion is (to me) obviously correct.

There are Democrats and there are Republicans. Each think the country is going to hell because of the other. Both are probably right correct. In spite of the fact that "objectively" all political parties have repeatedly demonstrated that they do not possess any solutions that will create peace, prosperity, justice, balance the budget, run good schools, or even fill potholes or catch stray dogs, still people passionately believe that their chosen party getting elected would hugely improve the country or the world. Apparently, whatever party there might be of which that is true has never won an election. There are many adherents to those minor parties that never win elections who are absolutely convinced that is true. We call them crackpots.  They think everybody else is crazy.  They are correct, but they are also crazy.

There are USC fans, and UCLA fans. I am a USC fan, even though I have worked for UCLA for the last 25 years. Once a Trojan, always a Trojan. Why? Because I caught the fanatacism going to school there and playing in the marching band. I'm not saying there is any better reason for being a UCLA fan. Far from it. That would be just as irrational, except that it could be in my own self interest to have my employer making lots of money off a successful football team (fat chance). I could give you lots of seemingly rational reasons for being a USC fan (starting with, they can actually, sometimes, win football games) but that would really just be rationalization, not rationale.  And anyway, what is at all rational about sports?

Obviously this applies to religion, but that's a whole 'nother blog.

What never ceases to amaze me is how hard it is to get this point across to people. They may get the idea in some way, but when it comes to applying it their particular pet theories, they just can't see any possibility whatsoever that they might not have the whole truth about it.  That people are so unable to recognize their own irrationality is the perfect demonstration of their irrationality.

I think that the more people can recognize their insanity, the more sane they actually might be. The truly insane are the ones with absolutely no doubts: who are convinced that they are perfectly sane and everybody else is crazy. Or, as a good friend of mine is fond if saying: "When you decide that you are sane and everybody else is crazy, don't tell anyone."

Now many readers (if there are any) may be thinking, well, yes, we all do some crazy things at times, but those are the exceptions, not the rule.  I don't think so.  We are not just crazy once in a while.  Fundamentally, our entire lives at their very root are driven by passions, obsessions, mania, assumptions, presumptions, prejudices, lusts, desires, neuroses, wishes, dreams, and delusions that have no rational basis.  Just because psychologists ignore those forms of insanity that don't overly affect one's ability to survive does not make the rest of us truly sane or rational.  Everything about your life is based on choices for which the rational basis is at best highly disputable, if not absent entirely.  While our conclusions do occasionally follow logically from our irrational assumptions, that does not make us rational or sane. It takes logical thinking to play Soduko, but there is no logical reason to play it at all.  It is just "for fun."  The terrorist who blows people up, and the physician who patches them up, may both act out of conclusions that may indeed follow logically from their different basic assumptions.

Rationality, and sanity, may  truly be over-rated. 

Life is irrational.  I can see no rational reason in science or religion for life to exist, except that possibly, God got lonely.  Would that have been rational of God?

Love is totally irrational, but Love is the greatest thing of all.  At least, a lot of people think so.  But then who's rational enough to truly say?

The best things in life: love, joy, beauty, music, sex, chocolate, are all emotional, not rational.  What is beauty anyway?  It is "in the eye of the beholder."  Often, the best parts of life are the irrational parts that we call "play," while the the worst are the rational parts we call "work."

But carrying this to the "logical" conclusion (ha!) one would conclude that there is nothing we can be totally sure of, nothing we can totally believe in, nothing we can have absolute faith in, nothing worth being passionate about: It causes me to tend to stand aside as a bemused bystander, unengaged in any cause; seeing the irrationality all around me, and unwilling to commit wholeheartedly to anything. The safest position to take is no position because I can never be wrong. But then, I also can never be right.  Except, of course, when I get emotionally (i.e. irrationally) involved in a position of some sort. Then it's different!

Perhaps instead of being unsure of everything, it's better just to choose something, anything, and get passionate about it, even if you can't "objectively" prove that it is going to improve the world. Maybe being passionate about a lost cause or wrong cause is a happier way of life than having no cause or purpose at all. Perhaps Don Quixote was actually happier insanely tilting at windmills than his sane servant Sancho. I find that idea attractive in certain ways, but hard to adopt whole heartedly, because obviously, that's the way I am: Indecisive, bewildered, bemused; and it is hard to pretend to myself that I have no doubts about something when I do.  Many people get passionate about things that they fundamentally know are useless: Hobbies, collections, games, sports, Facebook.  Just pick a passion and go with it.

I long ago concluded that decisiveness requires the ability to come to a conclusion and then ignore all evidence to the contrary. That seems objectively like a bad thing, but in fact, those people get way more stuff accomplished than those like me who can't put on the blinders as easily. It is safer to stay detached and uncommitted than to plunge ahead knowing you could be going the wrong way. That same friend I mentioned also likes to say "Do something, even if it's wrong." Or as my elementary school orchestra teacher said: "If you're going to make a mistake, make a good one!" In many cases, it is probably better to just pick a direction and go that way. At least, you will have an adventure getting lost, and at least you will get somewhere, even if it wasn't where you thought you wanted to go.  But rational?  Not.

Rationally, blogging doesn't make a lot of sense. But who cares? Nothing in life is really all that rational anyway. I'm plunging ahead with this, just for the adventure.  Or whatever.

So, there you have me in a nutshell (or nut house). Bemused. Taking a viewpoint of tolerant amusement while pretending to a position of superior rationality, but knowing I must be just as irrational as everybody else.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Rowing the Life Boat Ashore (Hallelujah)

The week got better. Thanks in part to the many of you who related good experiences with chemotherapy, and in part to Lyn talking to her oncology “team” members and hearing that the side effects were unlikely to be anywhere near as bad as the warning pamphlet made them sound, we had the life boat back on an even keel and got to rowing.

I think those warning leaflets need a warning label on them: “Caution – Reading This Information Could Be Hazardous To Your Mental Health. Read only under a doctor’s supervision.” I wonder how many people read the drug warning stuff and decide cyanide might be quicker and less painful. First you go meet with all the professionals who are very reassuring and going out of their way to make sure you are optimistic and expecting a good outcome, and then at home you read the warning label on the medication and that undoes hours and hours of counseling. I think the warning label trend may have gone too far.

Warning: Getting out of bed is hazardous. Staying in bed is more hazardous. Deal with it. (Do not remove this tag under penalty of some other hazard). And by the way, this mattress is either highly flammable and hazardous, or has been treated with fire retardant chemicals that could be hazardous. So much for getting any sleep. Maybe that justifies why we actually sleep on a waterbed: less flammable. Sleeping is hazardous. Not sleeping is worse. The news had a report last week that sleeping with pets is hazardous. Probably not nearly as hazardous as sleeping with people. I suspect the bigger hazard from the pet is tripping over the stupid cat on the way to the bathroom.

So, she took the first batch of chemotherapy pills this morning at breakfast. I kept waiting for her to break out in hives, her hands and feet to swell up and for her to run desperately for the bathroom, but nothing happened. The scariest thing that happened at breakfast was reading the Times. No guarantees that there won’t be side effects later on, but, as the guy falling from the skyscraper kept saying on the way down: “OK so far.” (Sorry. I’m trying to stay upbeat here, but my natural inclination to irony has to get out somehow).

She gets irradiated this afternoon. Funny that radiation is both a major cause of cancer and also a major way of curing it. Sounds kind of homeopathic (and ironic). Like, they don’t want her to take vitamins during the treatment because vitamins are too healthful: The anti-oxidents might counteract the effect of the chemotherapy, which is intended to kill unwanted parts of her body. For the next 9 months or so, the doctor is prescribing junk food (well, sort of). The diet that was supposed to prevent the cancer is not at all the diet that is supposed to help treat it. And they don’t want her to lose any weight. How often does a doctor tell you that? Eat white bread, potatoes, white rice and ice cream, skip the fruits and veggies and don’t lose any weight. Now that’s my kind of doctor!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Complaining about the life boat

Yesterday was not a good day. Lyn received the prescribed chemotherapy pills in the mail. Finding this package on the front porch wasn't nearly as exciting as mail order deliveries usually are. But the worst part was inside: The warning sheet that went with the pills sounded really awful. The bad side effects, like nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rashes, sores, and all sorts of other possible bad things sounded way more likely than the doctors made them sound.

The warning sheet was all about how to minimize the effects or cope with them, not just warn about the possibility. I don't know what to say / think / do. One day at a time is OK until you have to take a poison pill. That's just a hard pill to swallow. It also brought home the seriousness of the problem. If the cure is that bad, it tells you how bad the disease could be.

I wish the doctors could be more clear in predicting the likely situation, but doctors don't like to make predictions. Your mileage (or nausea) may vary. Makes my stomach hurt just thinking about it. Lyn was upset, and there wasn't really anything I could say that was the least bit helpful. It was just a real downer.

Should we hope for the best, or, as I usually say, the key to happiness is low expectations? Smile, things could be worse? At least there's a cure. Rather than feel bad about the side effects, we should happy that the medicine exists and works, right? At least there is the expectation of coming out on the other side of it, even if it's tough for a while. There are lots of cheerful ways of looking at this. It isn't that hard to say those cheerful things, but it isn't that easy to truly feel cheerful about it.

Grumping about the side effects sounds like complaining about the discomfort of the life boat instead of being thankful there was a life boat, even if we're hanging over the side of the boat puking up seaweed. But, we don't know. We can't tell how it's going to be next week. This week, we are still OK. No use being miserable this week, just because of the possibility of misery next week.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Where the sun don't shine

I've thought for years about starting a blog. The thing that has stopped me is that so much of my bemusement tends to be dark or cynical. I'm pretty much a Dilbert. Some of my favorite little one liners:

They said, "Smile. Things could be worse." So, I smiled, and sure enough, things got worse.

The key to happiness is low expectations.

I'm thinking that bringing you down is not going to keep you coming back eager to read more. As all politicians know, to sell yourself, you have to tell people what they want to hear.

So, what did you want to hear? The wisdom that comes with experience? The meaning of life? A more optimistic key to happiness? Funny pet antics?

Anyway, I'm just gonna start writing. Here goes:

My wife has cancer. There. I said it. I don't like to put it that way, because it has such a awful ring to it: A connotation of incurability. The doctor (one of many doctors on her "team") says he can surgically remove it, after chemo and radiation, with more chemo afterwards, and lots of other unattractive junk along the way. But just saying: "She has cancer" is just too daunting. It seems better to just call it a tumor. Yes, it is a "malignant" tumor. Still, I just don't like using the word cancer.

This particular cancer is in a particularly un-nice place, a place sometimes referred to as "where the sun don't shine." OK, have you heard the song about the colorectal surgeon? If not, ask me to send it to you. That's about as funny as anything having the word "colorectal" in it could be.

I don't feel real jokey about this at all. I'm trying to decide the best strategy among denial, ignorance, prayer, or the "one-day-at-a-time" philosophy recommended by her "Colorectal Team." Only thing about the one-day-at-a-time thing is, are they saying that because there's no use worrying about things you can't control, or are they saying that because there may not be a whole lot more days to worry about? I'm going to trust that it's the former.

If you ever wanted to be a member of a "team" I'll bet it sure wasn't this kind of a team. Softball team, volleyball, soccer, bowling, something like that, yes. Colorectal cancer team, no. If I'd known this team was choosing up sides, I'd have hid in the locker room longer that day. I'm not really all that much into team sports anyway.

The Colorectal Team includes a GP, a gastroenterologist, a surgeon, an oncologist, a radiaton oncologist, a nutritionist, various nursing specialists, a "navigator" to try to help us maneuver among all those, and potentially even an acupuncturist. I would never have guessed that my needle-paranoid wife would voluntarily pay to get stuck with needles, but she does.

The information on colorectal cancer gives a list of "risk factors," of which she basically has none. They also say that something like 75% of people with colorectal cancer have none of the risk factors, which means that really, they haven't got a clue what the real risk factors are. I don't like trusting people to predict the future who were demonstrably unable to predict the past - it's like all these economists who totally missed the signs of the "recession" we are now in giving their predictions of the what the economy is likely to do over the next few years. If they were that far off on the last recession, they probably haven't a clue what's going to happen next either. But I digress.

We met the various Colorectal Team members this week. All were really nice and helpful, but to be perfectly honest, I'd rather not have had the need to meet them. We had three hours of meetings with them on Monday, and it was exhausting. The doctors were very reassuring, and seemingly confident that (no pun intended) in the end they will put Lyn back together functioning nearly as before. I hope that is not just telling us what we want to hear. If the truth were different would they tell us? Again, I'm going to trust their reassurances.

The big problem with their recommended one-day-at-a-time philosophy is that it is pretty unemotional. The advantage to it also is that it is pretty unemotional. You just do what you have to do, one step at a time; one day at a time; you don't stop to get worried, afraid, upset, angry, depressed, whatever. Don't ruminate too much. Just keep plugging along. But in the back of my mind, there's this lurking feeling. I guess there's no use going there, but it is there.

My inherent bemusement and indecisiveness may be a good thing, as it tends to work well with one-day-at-a-time. In the main, my feeling is that the word "cancer" is too inherently loaded with emotion. It tends to define your life. Lance Armstrong is defined by it, as much as he is defined by winning the Tour de France. But he has defined himself by it as a survivor of it, not as patient in current treatment. I'm not sure I want our life to be defined by Lyn's cancer. I think not. I think it is better to have a life aside from the disease. On the other hand, I don't want to be in denial about the extent to which it does affect us both.

I don't really know what to think about all of this. I can't sort out my feelings. So, I thought, well, maybe I could write it down. Maybe even someone else might find my bewildered ramblings helpful in their situation (not sure how, but who knows?). Or, maybe it's just a way of venting, of unloading the junk that's running around in my head.

So, this may or may not be a good reason to start a blog, but it's the reason I happen to have, so I'm going with it. Take it or leave it. I think my thoughts are going to be more scattered and dis-jointed than usual, but that's what you get reading free stuff on the internet.