Saturday, August 18, 2018

Ways to Hide Something

Okay, secret agents, here are a few ways to hide something. This knowledge might be useful to spies, victims of political and religious persecution, those with sketchy roommates, and more.

1. Cover it. Put a tarp over it. Put a blanket or newspaper over your tablet on the car seat. Paint it. Plaster it. Put a patina on it. Bury it. Put it in a drawer. Put it under or behind a drawer. Put a cell phone tower into a windmill frame, church steeple, or other enclosing structure.

2. Put it where no one looks. Some people used to hide money, drugs, cigarettes, etc. by taping them to the lid of a toilet tank. The news got out, eventually, so that's no longer a place where no one looks. Ditto with the freezer. But what about under the cat? In a light bulb? In a funerary urn?

3. Blend it into the background. This is the chameleon effect. For example, a microphone or camera that looks like a pencil can then be put into a dozen or two real pencils. Camouflage it.

4. Mix it. Mix the gold dust into a bag of construction sand and place the bag with other bags of sand. In fact, you could hide many different items this way. The most dramatic form of mixing, perhaps, is steganography, where data is mixed into the pixels of a photograph. I read recently that the Russians are doing this. I attended the old Comdex computer show one year and bought some software that encoded and decoded information into photographs. I imagine it is still available.

5. Mail it to yourself. While the information is in the mail, it is protected from thieves raiding your house or office.

6. Commonize it. This disguise technique makes something valuable look ordinary or worthless. Example: Wearing homeless attire instead of fancy preppy clothes.

7. Divert attention from it. Create a misdirection, diversion, or fake version. Example: The big safe in the closet carries only ordinary paperwork. The valuables are in a hidden safe. Or, the heavy steel door with the big lock and alarm, and the sign that says, "Warning: Authorized Personnel Only," is the janitor's closet and the simple door marked, "Janitor," is the door to the secret room.

8. Hide it in plain sight. This is the classic "best practice" ploy. Example:  Turn the currency into a valuable coin (some pennies are worth more than $50,000), and put it into a pile of loose change in a cup on the dresser. Or buy a rare stamp and put in on an envelope or postcard left on the table. This was used in a detective story many years ago. I remember another plot from a show years ago where the secret information was put on a microdot that was glued to the end of a sentence in place of a period.

9. Make it look like something else. One current example is disguising cell phone towers to look like trees or other objects. Many people become fixated on an idea or concept of something and this blinds them to things that are disguised. "We're looking for a book, and that's just a pack of paper napkins."

10. Encode it. Information can be hidden by using codes, ciphers, symbols, maps, and many other tools. Plain text encoded into readable language is a great method. For example, if you encode, "Meet me at midnight" into "TXSE JE UI WIERPMGH," it will be obvious that you are using an encrypted message. But if "Meet me at midnight" encodes to "We have mice again," then it is not so obvious that a hidden message is involved.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Who Was Jesus? Lord, or Liar, or Lunatic

In 1968, there was still a Western Civilization requirement at at the University of California, Santa Barbara, so one day there I sat in Campbell Hall along with 600 to 800 other students, mostly freshmen, listening to the professor discussing early world history. In the course of things, he mentioned something about Jesus. Immediately, a student sprang up and asked loudly, "Isn't it true that Jesus didn't really exist?"

The professor, unflustered, took the question politely and said something like, "No, there is good evidence from reliable sources outside the Bible, that Jesus was a real, historical figure." The student, disappointed, sat down.

The  question then arises, "Well, if Jesus really did exist, who was he?" Someone has suggested that there are three possibilities: He was a liar or con man, telling people he was one with God when in fact he knew he wasn't. Or he believed his own claims, which would make him insane, thinking that he came down from heaven to save sinners. Or he actually is the Lord and what he said is true.

Let's look at each of these briefly.
1. Was Jesus a liar? If you study the four Gospels in the New Testament carefully, you'll find all kinds of clues to their believability. For example, when Jesus casts the demon out of the possessed man into the herd of pigs (Matthew 8 and Mark 5), a myth would more likely say that the people marveled and began to worship Jesus. Instead, they begged Jesus to go away.  Or look at the disciples themselves. When Jesus calms the wind and the waves (Mark 4 and Luke 8), instead of rejoicing at their Lord's power, they are absolutely terrified and ask each other, "Who is this man?" Another piece of evidence is that Matthew and John were disciples of Jesus, which makes them eyewitnesses to what he said and what happened. They wrote two of the Gospels. Were the three of them all willing to die for a lie? I doubt it.

2. Was Jesus insane? That's what his enemies said (John 10:20). Would John even record this accusation if he didn't believe otherwise? And the fact is, at least two of Jesus' brothers became Christians (James and Jude). They grew up with him and followed his actions closely. Would they accept him as their savior if they believed he was just making crazy talk? And wouldn't well educated people like Joseph of Arimathea and Paul be able to tell if Jesus could not distinguish between imagination and reality?

3. Was Jesus Lord? This is the third possibility. If the New Testament is true, and if Jesus wasn't lying or crazy, and if he raised people from the dead, and if God raised  him from the dead, then this must be the answer.

If my discussion makes you curious, the best thing you can do now is to read the gospel of John, after praying to the God you might not yet believe in (don't feel foolish; it's okay) and ask him to reveal himself to you if he is real and ask  him if  the claims of Jesus are true. The Gospel of John, together with the rest of the New Testament, will tell you what to do next.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

My Mind Is Still Thinking about the Mind-Brain Dichotomy

One more thought about the interaction between our minds and our brains. I have been arguing that the two are separate entities, although I have stated that the mind depends on the brain to do its work, just as a driver depends on a car to take it places.

So as an elaboration, the brain often suggests ideas to the mind, sometimes obtrusively. For example, a man may be thinking about the sales strategy for a new product, when suddenly and unexpectedly, he will be confronted by a sexual thought. This, I opine, is the work of the libidinous brain, pushing an idea into the mind's consciousness. The mind and its owner (the sales strategist) then are free to decide whether to ignore (or suppress) the idea or to entertain and elaborate on it. Either way, while the mind is connected to the brain, the mind is not the same.

Another example of the obtruding brain is the "tape" too many people allow to keep playing in their minds, presented by the brain, that says, "You're no good; you're a loser. Father was right: you will never amount to anything." In such cases, it can be very difficult for people (who are their minds) to suppress or ignore those thoughts. They might even play the tape and believe it. Sometimes the tape results from a diseased brain whose chemistry has gone wrong; other times it could be a spiritual issue. In the latter case, remember that you are a child of God, created in  his image; and if your brain tells you otherwise, it's lying to you.

We all can use our minds to choose what to think about. We can, so to speak, command our brains to recall and dwell on a memory, to produce or replay a fantasy, or to engage in a thought experiment, where we trace forward the logical consequences of some decision or action. Of course, we enlist our brains to help us because our brain meat is our random access memory, and a better brain yields a better memory and faster recall. There are folks with photographic memories, who seem to be able to remember everything. Or on a more common level, many teachers can remember all their students' names by the end of the first class. That's something I never could do in all my years of teaching. Even by the end of the semester, I often didn't know the names of everyone in the class.

At the other end of using our brains for storing memory are the sufferers of Alzheimer's. Their brains are so deteriorated that many lose the ability to remember where they are, who their family members are, when they ate last, and so on. Their car has crashed, and they can't get anywhere. But they are not their brains.

Our minds should use our brains  to learn skills, moral values, good  habits, and useful knowledge. Even if our brains don't like it. Habitual goodness will bring your brain into line. Show your brain who is master. Tell it what you want it to do, how it can help you. And if it lies to you, ("You need to wash your hands again and count the tiles on the ceiling again,") just tell it to shut up.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Still More on the Brain-Aware Mind

There is actually a lot of evidence that the mind is not the result of physical brain states but is instead the producer of physical brain states. While our brains can and do influence our mental states, the opposite is the more important situation.

We are not merely who and what our brains tell us we are, because our minds can tell our brains that we reject the brain's idea or belief. The most powerful example of this two-way influence comes from people with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). In such cases, the brain constantly tells the mind that, for example, the person needs to wash his or her hands. At the same time the person, the mind, can know and realize that this compulsion is a false belief by the brain. Thus, mind and brain are not the same.

Even more dramatic is the fact that the mind can change the brain. Work with OCD patients revealed that patients could reduce their compulsions by telling their brains to stop the false urgings. When the brain told the patients that  they needed to wash their hands, the patients rebuked their brains and said something like, "No, I don't need to wash my hands." Realizing that their compulsions are not who they are, the patients separated themselves from the thoughts presented to the mind by the brain.

Our minds can move beyond both the brain and the current mind by committing to change and growth. Our minds can have vague thoughts, involving  future hopes, intentions, fears, plans, doubts, uncertainties. But our brains, if they produce brain states that involve fight or flight, or immediate or delayed action, cannot produce vague or future or doubtful states. Brain states must be definite.

The fact that we can analyze and criticize our brain's thoughts and suggestions causes us to realize that we are not our brains. We can say, "That's a dumb idea," when our brains suggest an unworkable solution to a problem. We can understand logically that we are not really in danger when we face an optical illusion that makes it seem as if we are walking a narrow beam over a deep chasm. And yet our brains generate a hysteria and shoot adrenaline throughout our bodies, crying, "You're going to fall and die!! Be careful!" And we think, "Shut up brain. You're wrong."

So, don't let your brain tell you what to do. It's speaking from its physical substance. Listen to your mind. That's where your soul and spirit live.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

More Comments on the Mind-Brain Dualism

In a previous post ("I Hate My Brain") I argued for the separateness of the mind from the brain by appealing to myself and my awareness that my brain is suffering from Parkinson's disease. I noted that I (my mind) used to be driving along in a very nice car (my brain), but that the car now had flat tires and sand in the gasoline. While my mind can still tell my body to turn over in bed or stand up from a chair, my muscles just aren't getting the message, because the needed brain cells (the ones that make and receive neurotransmitting chemicals) are dying off, thus making it increasingly difficult to move around. Adding the missing dopamine helps a lot. My mind knows this.

In fact, my mind knows that am taking replacement chemicals (carbidopa-levodopa, rasagiline, etc.), but my brain doesn't know it.

This argument for mind-brain separateness is known as the introspection argument. Our minds can look at, respond to, and even judge our brains. Here are some examples.

1. I am aware that I'm not as sharp as I was when I was younger and in school. I know my brain has lost some of its acuity.

2. Sometimes I can't find the right word. My mind knows the word and knows that it's in my brain somewhere, but I can't remember it right now. Later, my brain might put the word into my consciousness. (I once couldn't remember a friend's name. Now that is disturbing. But her name came back to me in a few minutes.) As a curious footnote, I  have noticed that when I'm searching my brain for a word, the candidate words my brain suggests are often nearby alphabetically. That is, it appears to me that my brain stores words in alphabetical order.

3. Sometimes I forget what I was going to say. When people are talking, I sometimes get a good idea, but before I can interrupt, I forget it. But my mind knows my brain is not performing the way I want it to and that I had the idea. If only I could remember it.

4. We can judge our brain's situation: our minds evaluate our brains. "My brain is not up to speed," we say when we feel groggy. Or, "There is something wrong with my brain today. I can't think."

5. Sometimes a person who has had an arm or leg amputated will feel pain in that missing limb. In such cases, the person's mind knows that the limb is missing and that the pain is coming from a false signal in the brain. "Stupid brain," they might say.

Our brains can malfunction in many ways, and our minds often know that. We can monitor our brains and judge when they are not working right, with the exception of severe malfunction, such as schizophrenia, where the brain is so broken that the person's mind can no longer distinguish between imagination and reality. My brother was severely schizophrenic, and since I once read that a sibling of a schizophrenic person has a 14% chance of becoming ill also, for many years I set my mind to watch my brain for any symptoms of hallucinations or delusions. And that is another example of the dichotomy.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

I Hate My Brain

Much debate has raged over whether our minds and brains are two separate entities or one single entity: Is the mind independent of the brain, thus allowing for the concepts of spirit, soul, and even free will, or is the mind--our thinking--just an epiphenomenon of the electrochemical operations of the brain? Monism or dualism?

As a person with progressive Parkinson's disease, I can testify that my mind is independent of my brain. In fact, my mind (that's me) is very disturbed with my brain as the brain cells continue to die, making my brain increasingly resistant to my mental commands. For example, I want to turn over in bed the way I used to (easily), but even though my mind is giving my brain the same command it always has, my brain is not listening or communicating the message to the appropriate muscles.

A helpful analogy is to think of me, my thinking mind, as the driver of a car. The car is my brain. In the past, I would tell my brain where to go (which muscles to move) and it would comply. I was driving on new tires, and powered by a peppy new engine. Now, however, even though I (the driver) tell my brain (the car) where to turn, it does't do that very well. The car is running on one or two flat tires, and there seems to sand and water in the gas tank as well.

Another indication of  the mind-brain dichotomy as evidenced in Parkinson's disease comes from word-finding difficulty. Some of the mind-brain unitizers (mind and brain are the same thing) have argued that words control our thoughts. We think of a word and then use it by pushing our thought into it. In other words, language precedes and therefore control thought, leaving us at the mercy of whatever words our brain produces after breakfast.

But as most people know, and Parkinson's patients in particular, we often know what we want to say, we are aware of the word that expresses the idea, but we just can't think of it, no matter how we obsess. So thinking precedes the verbalization of the thinking. Usually the clothing of words expresses the thought quickly, for the most part. But we all occasionally have trouble with matching the words to the thought. 

So, I am in the unenviable position of watching my brain deteriorate and do less and less of what I tell it to. This should be good evidence that my mind and my brain are not the same thing. Consciousness and will and thought are who we are, drivers of a car made of meat (our brains), that are subject to change.


Monday, April 30, 2018

News Media Practices: Slanting, Implying, Innuendo, Speculating

Media Technique: Slanting

Senator Target was walking his dog in the park one morning, when he noticed a young girl had dropped her doll’s necklace. He hurried over and picked it up. “Excuse me, young lady,” he said, tapping her on the shoulder, “but I believe this necklace is yours.”
At that moment, the child’s mother looked over from a nearby park bench and saw the expression of fear and uncertainty on her daughter’s face. “Help! Police!” she shouted. “A man is molesting my child!” A park policeman soon arrived, and in spite of Senator Target’s protests, arrested the senator.
After a lengthy discussion at the station, Senator Target was released. However, a reporter assigned to the police blotter recognized the senator’s name. Soon there was a front-page story in the local paper, “Senator Target Charged with Child Molestation.” (The paper did run an “Additional Information” note on page 12 two days later, noting that the charges had been dropped.)
Picking up on the article in the local press, the Big City News ran an indignant editorial that included sentences such as, “Do we have no better people to represent this great state than rapists and child molesters?” and, “Reliable sources also tell us that Senator Target offered the four-year-old a jeweled necklace, apparently in an attempt to seduce the child into who knows what perverted situation.”
Senator Target issued a press release, explaining what actually happened. In response, the Big City News and now several other papers in the senator’s state ran stories with the headline, “Senator Target Claims He Is Not a Child Molester,” and quoting the child’s mother as saying, “Who knows what would have happened if the police hadn’t arrived when they did?” The story concluded with her comment, “I don’t trust that man.”
This comment spurred another, growing round of editorials, in which indignant editors sneered, “Who, indeed, can trust Senator Target, when he so willingly violates a child’s safe space by unlawfully touching her? Indeed, where is the law here?”
A new round of editorials soon emerged, calling for the State Attorney General to take charge of a criminal investigation and to uncover any collusion, bribery, or other prosecutable practices that might have resulted in the charges being dropped by the park police.
Hundreds of postings to social media echoed and further distorted and amplified the “facts” that were being “suppressed” by the newspapers. The papers occasionally noted that the new “facts” were unproven, as in, “An as yet unconfirmed report says that virtually all of the park police on duty that morning are members of Senator Target’s Federist political party. So no matter what the senator really did—which remains unclear—the police were likely willing to look the other way. That’s all the more reason for the Attorney General to get involved as soon as possible, to remedy this gross miscarriage of justice.”
At one point, it was discovered that Senator Target had attended a park fundraiser just three weeks before the incident with the little girl in the park, and that he had donated $400 for “park improvements.” The Big City News was all over it. “While, this donation could probably not technically be considered a bribe,” one of the paper’s editorials noted, “it certainly does smack of a quid-pro-quo inducement, not dissimilar to the protection money that crooked small town cops used to extort from helpless shopkeepers.” The donation was held up as an act of “questionable ethics” and “shockingly tone deaf decision making.”
When it came time for Senator Target to run for re-election, his opponent put up billboards and sent out flyers all over the state. Underneath a photo of the candidate embracing his wife, kids, and dog was printed, “Vote for Joe Doax for senate. He’s not a child molester.”
His political career over, Senator Target retired to a small cabin on a small lake, in a small village in another state.
Years later, two men who had worked at the Big City News when the scandal was hot were reminiscing on it. “You know,” said one, “what happened to Senator Target was almost unfair. Still, I guess, we did get rid of him.”
“Not only that,” said the other, “but we sold a lot of papers.”