A Word of Advice For The New Year

Happy New Year to my fellow bloggers and readers! I hope 2015 treated you well 😛 This year I spent new years eve in downtown Seattle drinking beer and eating cinnamon rolls with some of my closest friends. We huddled next to a fireplace on a rooftop and got to witness some surreal fireworks dancing above the space needle. It was definitely one of my favorite new years experiences so far!

Like every new year, 2016 represents a time of reflection for our future aspirations. It’s also a time we should remind ourselves of our values because they are so often forgotten in the routine of our everyday lives. Here are 10 humanist ideas to follow for the upcoming year- thanks to one of my intellectual heroes, Bertrand Russell, for inspiring many of these.

  • 1- Read incessantly. Read fiction to enrich your imagination and nonfiction to expand your knowledge of the world.
  • 2- Always doubt and never stop questioning. Never feel absolutely certain of anything.
  • 3- Tell the people you love that you love them. Hatred is foolish, let it go.
  • 4- Be truthful even if it’s inconvenient. Lying is the royal road to chaos.
  • 5- Be open to eccentric opinions. Something that is considered absurd today may become common sense tomorrow.
  • 6- Take chances. Don’t regret avoiding the new and unfamiliar.
  • 7- Don’t be afraid to suffer through discipline. Sacrificing short term pleasures is often a road to happiness.
  • 8- Enjoy the ordinary days. You can only have one worst day of your life.
  • 9- Listen carefully. Overcome disagreement by thinking slowly and controlling your emotions.
  • 10- Never stop creating. Give yourself the experience of discovery and imagination. And then when you’re ready, share it with the world.

Album Listening: 2015

Although it seems silly to say, it has to be said over and over again: Listening to new music is one of the best ways for improving your songwriting skills. It will not only allow you to get your creative juices flowing again, but it can ultimately lead to a ton of inspiration in adding new ideas and concepts in your own songs. Give some of my favorite 2015 albums a try:

Number 10

Artist: CHVRCHES

Album: Every Open Eye

Top Tracks: Leave A Trace, Clearest Blue, Down Side Of Me

Number 9

Artist: Failure

Album: The Heart is a Monster

Top Tracks: Counterfeit Sky, Atom City Queen, Petting the Carpet

Number 8

Artist: God is an Astronaut

Album: Helios Erebus

Top Tracks: Pig Power, Helios Erebus, Sea Of Trees

Number 7

Artist: Pentimento

Album: I, No Longer

Top Tracks: Sink or Swim, Clever Reason, Stuck Forever

Number 6

Artist: Waking Aida

Album: Full Heal

Top Tracks: Day-Glo Forest, Exploding Palm, Blue Shelled

Number 5

Artist: Young Lions

Album: Blue Isla

Top Tracks: When Will We Be Free?, I Know, Tearing Us Apart

Number 4

Artist: coldrain

Album: VENA

Top Tracks: Heart of the Young, Whole, Wrong

Number 3

Artist: Bring Me The Horizon

Album: That’s The Spirit

Top Tracks: Happy Song, Blasphemy, Doomed

Number 2

Artist: Meg Myers

Album: Sorry

Top Tracks: Desire, Lemon Eyes, Sorry

Number 1

Artist: twenty one pilots

Album: Blurryface

Top Tracks: Tear In My Heart, Stressed Out, Not Today

Songwriting 101: Goodbye

I thought it would be fun to start a new series called Songwriting 101. This series will consist of looking at and breaking a song down to see some of the fundamental ideas that make it whole. Today I’ll be doing a new acoustic song I recently wrote titled “Goodbye.”

 

For this song I used one of the most common song forms known as ABABCB. Each letter represents a different part in the song. “A” represents verse, “B” represents Chorus and “C” represents bridge. This standard song form is great because it’s simple yet effective. The verse and chorus create a strong foundation and the bridge adds just enough variation to keep the song interesting. It’s an extremely popular style used in both pop and rock music.

During the verse I use a swinging transition between 2 chords: G major and C major. To lighten the mood of the song, I palm mute the guitar and add a complete stop in the middle of each verse. This enables the vocals to stand out and places the primary focus on the melody and lyrics. If you need help writing melodies, check out my 3 Tips For Writing Strong Melodies.

For the chorus, I stop the palm mute and go into a more upbeat rhythm. I also add in two more chords in addition to the ones from the verse for a total of 4 (G Major, C Major, E Minor and D Major). Finally I give the chorus a bit of color by using a complex chord progression. The progression goes like this ( G – E – C – D – G – D – C). The chorus melody was created by taking part of the verse melody and adding its own variation. Just as an example, I hold out notes on the words “hate” and “goodbye” to differentiate them a bit.

Finally, for the bridge I wanted to keep a similar feel to the chorus so I stuck with an upbeat rhythm and the same chords. The major difference here is the change in rhythm and variation on the progression. In addition, I included some color tones in order to make the bridge stand out a bit more. The progression used here is ( G – D – C – G – E – C – G – D – C – E – D – C – D). The color tones are added in the last 4 chords of the progression.

Finally- the lyrics:

Every day, I know what you’re thinking
“I’m a saint, living life still believing
In a fate,” well I think I found a reason to try and change.
Rest assured, something I’ll never be cause
Lines blur, you love to hate the demon
Little words, can best describe the feeling “I’m free at last.”

But I’ll remember every single time
And I will never hate that life
But now it’s over, I’m looking for my voice
Just to say goodbye

It’s kind of hard, speaking the same old language
From the start, “10 candles light the way when
We fall apart,” Just wash the pride away and find a heart
You are, the enemy of reason
Cross scarred, can’t seem to breathe when thinking
In the dark, hands on the tree of treason to trust in fate

But I’ll remember every single time
And I will never hate that life
But now it’s over, I’m looking for my voice
Just to say goodbye

Effective songwriting allows the interpretation to be left up to the listener. Personally, I believe it’s important to find a balance between being vague and descriptive. Striking the right balance between the two will allow the general idea to be understood, but leave the listener curious and interested in digging deeper to understand the details of the song.

This is the first of many Songwriting 101 articles I plan on doing. For now I’m simply going to cover my own songs, but it’s very possible I may go over a few popular songs in the future. Remember: Dissecting songs is one of the best ways to improve your skills as a songwriter.

3 Classic Novels Everyone Should Read

“A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.”

Whenever I go to my local library, I always seem to hover around the nonfiction section- books on religion, philosophy, morality, politics and happiness. These topics are at the peak of my interests and are incredibly valuable to me in expanding my knowledge. Occasionally, however, my mind will lust for adventure and seek something more than stone cold facts and information presented through nonfiction. What I need is a classic novel.

What is a classic novel? A classic novel is a book that has stood the test of time. It is a book that is masterful at creating controversy and discussion. It is a book that challenges the readers point of view in a profound way. A classic novel is a book that can make the reader feel emotional distraught, yet great empathy for its characters. It is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.

I’m certainly not the most avid fiction reader, but I have read my fair share of classic novels growing up. This includes the incredibly popular The Catcher In The Rye, To Kill A Mockingbird and A Tale of Two Cities. In the last few years of my life I’ve added several to that list and I’m positive that I’ll enjoy the roller coaster of many more of them over the course of my lifetime.

Here are 3 classic novels I recommend everyone should read:

animal-farm-cover-image

Brave New World   TheCountof MonteCristo

The Jihad Problem

Solidarity: The ties in society that bring people together as one.

First and foremost, my sympathy goes out to the victims and their families of the recent Paris tragedy. This genocidal violence has been taking place all throughout the Middle East and other parts of the world for years and has seem to have gotten worse in recent times.  I can only hope that humanity worldwide will begin to have a serious conversation about the growing problem of Islamic terrorism and what we can do to prevent it.

The question is: where does that conversation even begin? I believe the answer to that question lies within neuroscience. If we want to understand how humans can commit such atrocities like the one we saw on Friday, we must attempt to understand the human brain.

Coincidentally, I learned of the attacks in Paris while watching episode 5 of a new series on PBS called The Brain. This episode discussed in-group / out-group thinking and how our brains have evolved to accept social bonds, which was critical to the development of civilization. What I found to be extremely relevant to this conversation is just how easily susceptible the human brain is to dehumanizing people belonging to the out-group.

Just dwell on that for a moment: It is easier to dehumanize people who are different from yourself. We are all prone to this ability of degradation whether we are consciously aware of it or not. Combined with propaganda, the idea of dehumanization can spread on a massive scale. This is precisely how the Nazi’s were able to commit such atrocities against the Jewish people. The more differences between people, the easier it becomes to dehumanize them.

This becomes clear when you break people down by race, religion, political identity and class. Most humans form in-groups based on these four characteristics. Sure it’s possible that a poor black liberal atheist and a rich white conservative christian could form an in-group with each other- but why? There is one thing that tends to disregard these characteristics: culture. We see it all the time in sports, music, art and many other hobbies. Having similar interests can bring even the most extreme opposites together.

But not everyone shares the same interests and our cultures can be vastly different. And even when they are the same, many people still feed off their preconceived stereotypes to the point that they simply don’t care. So how do we bring people who are fundamentally different together? Is solidarity possible for everyone? Is world peace simply delusional thinking?

Our history is filled with horror stories of our ancestors trying to build a utopia. We must not repeat these mistakes, but we mustn’t dismiss the idea of creating a better world. We can achieve progress- and I believe the key to that progress is through the education of our values and why we share them throughout the western world. Values like science, secularism, critical thinking, liberty and human rights.

To create a better world, these values must be shared globally. To start, we should discourage childhood indoctrination and continue having open ended conversations. We should implement these values in our public schools and work towards a universal standard for human rights. These types of changes won’t come easily and it will take generations for sufficient change, but progress is possible with time. It must be possible in todays global society.

But how do we deal with people who believe in martyrdom and violence to accomplish their goals? How do we deal with people who reject critical thinking and reason?

I believe that violence is only justified in self defense. However, pacifism is not the morally superior solution to groups like ISIS and Boko Haram who murder, rape and enslave their populations while standing against important universal values. It is these values that are worth defending. Countries must come together and form a global coalition to fight against this common enemy.

We must admit that Islamism and the spread of Sharia Law is an integral part of the problem- that many of their specific beliefs conflict with the values that the civilized world champions. However, we must be careful to separate the millions of nominal Muslims from the Islamists and Jihadists who wish to impose their ideology over the rest of us. We must not be divided by xenophobia.  The future of tolerance depends on it.

A Tale of Memories

“When it’s all said and done, memories are all we have.”

I remember when I was very young I watched a spider crawl across the floor. I don’t remember any details, just a spider, crawling. I don’t know why I have this memory, I can only imagine I was struck in awe at the creature. I have no memories before this moment in my life.

I remember in kindergarten there was a kid who forgot his lunch and was crying, so I went over and shared my lunch with him. I remember the smile he had on his face afterwards vividly. He moved away at the end of the year and I never saw him again.

I remember being asked out by a girl in 2nd grade. I remember rejecting her because she didn’t like Pokemon. I remember never getting along with her after that.

I remember waking up in 4th grade, going out to the living room and saying good morning to my parents. I remember them not responding, their eyes glued to the TV. I remember the blank look on their faces. I remember the morning of September 11, 2001.

I remember in 6th grade crossing the finish line at one of my track meets. I remember coming in 2nd many times before that moment. I remember them announcing my name on the intercom the next day for getting 1st. I remember trying extremely hard not to smile.

I remember doing a group project in middle school with my friend Carly Stowell. I remember her writing a goofy song about a fictional town called Springsville. I remember singing that song to the melody of Meet the Flintstones to the entire class. I remember the laughter in that classroom. I remember Carly passing away a year later.

I remember in my freshmen year in a basketball game making a shot to put us ahead with 5 seconds left. I remember the other team getting the ball back and scoring a buzzer beater. I remember that massive high of pure bliss. I remember the agony I felt when I realized we lost.

I remember asking out a girl for the first time in 10th grade. I remember being extremely nervous and stuttering my sentence. I remember the instant relief I felt when she said yes.

I remember being rushed to the hospital my senior year of high school. I remember getting pushed to the front of the line and thinking how insane this situation was. I remember having a collapsed lung. I remember thinking about death seriously for the first time in my life.

I remember buying a guitar and learning how to play on my own. I remember the incredible frustration of not getting my hands to do what I wanted them to do. I remember the feeling when they finally did.

I remember playing a show for the first time in front of hundreds of people. I remember being on that stage thinking I had no idea what I was doing. I remember falling in love with music.

From purely goofy to profoundly meaningful, these are some of the richest memories I have at this moment in my life. I encourage everyone to write down their own memories and share them with the world. Our memories are fleeting, you never know when we may forget them all.

Fall Update 2015

Autumn is officially here and I couldn’t be happier. The cold and gloomy days give me plenty of reasons to stay home, drink a hot cup of coffee or tea, and work on writing new songs and blog ideas. It also gives me an excuse to wear my favorite sweater daily. Everything about this time of year really blends well with my life style.

My university graduation is getting close. Next April I’ll be in possession of a Bachelors Degree and jumping into the next phase of my life. I plan on staying in the greater Seattle area because I love it so much here, perhaps get a 1 bedroom apartment or a house with a couple friends, but life is so spontaneous sometimes- we’ll have to wait and see.

My music has been coming along slowly but surely. It’s been difficult with my busy schedule, so I’ve begun to commit Sundays purely to my music with the caveat of a couple hours for the Seahawk’s games. I’ll have 2 new acoustic songs I’m really proud of released before the end of the year. In addition, I have a new project on the horizon. Imagine a combination of Jack Johnson and Nujabes. Our first practice is this Sunday.

Work has been fine, but a bit uninteresting lately. Last week I sent out my first resume in over a year. I have my A+ Certification examine next month which I’ve been studying for rigorously. I’m feeling pretty confident that I’ll pass. After that I have my sights set on a couple of other advance certifications. I think these will definitely help out my job prospects in advancing my career, but I figure I should try my luck before hand. You never know what opportunities await.

I’ve started dating again and its been exciting. I’m always amazed by the variety of colorful personalities and characters out there. I’ve made a couple new friends and several embarrassingly funny stories. I’ve seemed to open up a bit more in the last year or so and I think it’s definitely a positive change.

Some other goals I have for the fall:

-Take professional photos for my blog

-Create a consistent workout schedule

-Begin outlining business ideas

The next several months should be interesting. Can’t wait to see what they have in store.

Morality and Head Transplants

Valery Spiridonov, a computer scientist from Russia, will become the world’s first head transplant patient in December of 2017. Spiridonov was diagnosed with Werdnig-Hoffmann disease at an early age which has left him immobile his entire life. Now at age 30, Spiridonov wants a chance at a new body before he dies.

“I need help every day, every minute. I am now 30 years old, although people rarely live to more than 20 with this disease,” Spiridonov said in an interview.

The procedure will involve over 100 surgeons and is expected to last up to 36 hours. The procedure will be led by surgeon Dr. Canavero who will attach Spiridonov’s head to a donors body through spinal cord fusion. Many skeptics have branded Dr Canavero as “nuts” arguing that reconnecting a severed spinal cord and stopping the immune system from rejecting the head is impossible.

There is evidence to the contrary however. Organ rejection is the main problem with any transplant, but modern drugs have the ability to strongly suppress and weaken the immune system to allow the new organ to thrive. This is how we are currently able to transplant foreign organs such as hearts, lungs, kidneys and pancreases into recipients. Furthermore, there has already been success with animals. I personally remain extremely skeptical, but I’m optimistic of its potential over the next several decades.

What I find most fascinating about this, however, are the ethical implications of the procedure if it works. Are we creating a real life Frankenstein? Should people be able to “buy” new bodies? Should head transplant procedures be performed at all?

Imagine that we wake up tomorrow and discover that head transplants have a 99% rate of success. Finally people with muscle atrophy, cancers and various other issues have a solution to their problem- they can throw away their disease ridden body and get a new one! Well there would be a few problems:

  1. The procedure would be insanely expensive. Not only would the 100+ surgeons and 36 hours needed to perform the procedure send your bill skyrocketing, but you would be paying for the cost of an entire human body. To put this in perspective, in the United States it costs 200k – 1.2 million for a single organ to be transplanted. Organs are already extremely scarce, but a healthy, fit and functional body would be on an entire different level. Canavero has estimated the total cost at $13 million dollars. Only the extremely rich would be able to afford the procedure.
  2. The Rich could buy bodies for aesthetic reasons. If it comes down to who has the most money (which so many times it does) rather than who has the greatest need for a new body, rich folk could literally buy a new body simply because they don’t like the one they’ve got. I can see the TV commercials already, “Don’t like to work out and stay in shape? Don’t like that weird birth mark on your back? Have a lot of money? Ask your doctor if a head transplant is right for you!” Gag.
  3. The poor could easily be exploited. This is already a problematic issue around the world. If a poor person is in need of money, they might sell their kidney to try and feed their family or pay back a debt. The same applies with a full body: If a close relative dies during difficult times, a poor person may be pressured to sell their body.

Despite the issues that may arise, I believe head transplants can be ethical in many cases. If we can decrease the suffering of someone like Valery Spiridonov, I believe we have the obligation to do so. In fact, one could even argue it would be immoral to prevent the option of this treatment to people that just want to live a normal human life.

As medicine and technology continues to evolve, so will morality and the ethics of human well being. Head transplants may still seem like part of a fantasy horror novel concoction to many, but I think we may be looking at the tip of the iceberg of human evolution.

The Art of Mediocrity

“You will achieve your dreams. You are unique and special. You can change the world.” As much as celebrities and our parents love to tell us these things, reality tends to be a bit more honest: We’re all pretty average at most things.

This is rather self-evident when you think about it. If you gathered everyone in the world to play a game of golf, you’d have Tiger Woods at the top 1% of the spectrum and a guy who couldn’t hit the ball off the tee somewhere near the bottom. Most of us would fall somewhere in the middle.

This is true for everything in life. Some of us are born with a high capacity to learn. Others are born with great physical skills. And some of us even have superhuman genes. Unfortunately, the reverse is also true. Some of us are born with mental and physical disabilities that limit the facets of daily living. Others are just naturally unskilled at certain things. We all have our strengths and weaknesses.

For me, my strengths include having the artistic ability to write interesting songs and a deep understanding of philosophical issues. I excel at these things because I’ve dedicated a lot of time and energy into them. Through countless repetitions and exercises I’ve been able to learn and expand my knowledge in these areas.

Nevertheless, it’s important to remember we are all limited in the time and energy we have in this world. If you’re like most people, you spend your attention on a few important things: Your social life, school, work, a significant other and maybe a couple of hobbies. However, this comes at a price. The truth is that the more things you value in life, the less time you will have to improve the quality of what’s most significant. Quality and quantity are always a trade off. Attention is zero sum.

So what about those exceptional people? The people that are the very best at what they do? The Michael Jordans, Tom Bradys, and Paul McCartneys of the world? These people are 1) incredibly lucky and 2) focus almost purely on quality. #1 is obvious. For #2, all of their energy must be focused on their specific discipline so that they can maintain being the very best at what they do.

This means they must neglect the quantity of many other areas in their life. This is true for all successful elites regardless of the distorted perceptions you may have about them. If you want to be the best in any specific discipline, you must sacrifice the opportunity cost of nearly everything else to achieve it. And even then, it’ll require the luck of environmental circumstance.

So to the average person out there(which is most of you), here’s a few words of advice:

Accept that you must make sacrifices in order to excel in the things you care about the most. Accept that other people must do the same. Accept that even then, this doesn’t guarantee success. Accept the luck of being born with your specific genes, environment and opportunities which have led to this very moment. Accept the art of mediocrity- a part of being human.

Ethics and Economic Justice

“The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

I have been reading David Parfit’s book Reasons and Persons the past couple of months and I must say, it’s been a wild ride. I recommend it to anyone that subscribes to utilitarian ethics and having their world views pushed to the limit. It may seem farfetched to some, but I suspect Parfit will go down as one of the greats in the history of philosophy.

The book covers a variety of loosely related topics, but I want to focus on the type of utilitarianism he concludes from his arguments: Prioritarianism. Prioritarianism holds that the goodness of an outcome is a function of overall well being (Utilitarianism) with extra weight given to worse off individuals. Let’s look at an example to sharpen the distinction between the two.

Imagine a two-person society: its only members are Jim and Pam. Jim has an extremely high level of well-being, is rich, and lives a blissful life. Pam, by contrast, has an extremely low level of well-being, is in extreme poverty, and lives a hellish life.

Now imagine that we have some free resources ($10,000 for example) that we may distribute to the members of this society as we see fit. Under normal utilitarian circumstances, the $10,000 will generate more well-being for Pam than it will for Jim. Thus giving the money to Pam would be the morally correct choice. However, let’s imagine slightly different circumstances.

Jim, for whatever reason, even though he is already filthy rich and very well-off, would gain just as much well-being by receiving the $10,000 as Pam would. Suddenly utilitarians don’t have a preference on who gets the money because both Jim and Pam’s well-being would increase the same. Prioritarianism on the other hand would give the money to Pam, because she is worse off than Jim.

Furthermore, prioritarianism doesn’t act just as a tie breaker for well-being, sometimes it favors priority over a small amount of well-being in order to emphasize compassion. So if Jim were to somehow gain more well-being from the money than Pam, Prioritarianism still wouldn’t necessarily favor him. It is important to note that the amount of well-being traded for priority is arbitrary, but in most cases we can rely on common sense. But why is that?

Well there is a good reason: There are diminishing returns on the value of goods and money. Would Jim be able to tell the difference between having 1 billion dollars and 1.00001 billion dollars? No, he wouldn’t have a clue. In fact there have even been studies, including a prominent one by Princeton University Researchers, that money doesn’t buy happiness after one earns $75000 a year.

It is estimated that it is around this point where money is no longer a primary concern in ones life. People can focus on health, relationships and leisure’s without the stress of paying the bills at the end of the month, which is a real fear for millions of Americans.

If you subscribe to prioritarianism ethics, a certain amount of wealth redistribution becomes fundamental to a healthy and moral society. In a society where Walmart’s Walton family (one of many examples) owns more wealth than the bottom 42 percent of Americans combined, millions of which are living in poverty and struggling to survive, can a rational person really argue that this disparity in wealth is ethical?

Welfare state capitalism may currently be the best economic model, but its inability to redistribute wealth fairly will continue to raise questions on how it can be improved. Economic justice isn’t about equality. It’s about removing the gross excess at the top to help prevent suffering for those at the bottom.