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Mini-Update:12/20/19

About six weeks ago, things were looking promising. I was feeling better and my labs were improving. To do everything I can to help my kidneys, I put myself on a very strict diet (vegan and avoiding most vegetables and fruits because of their potassium) and continued (thanks to Jerry’s help) have been exercising daily. Then, two weeks ago I got my routine labs done and to my great disappointment my labs were even worse.

I had labs drawn yesterday to not only look at my cell counts (such as to evaluate my anemia and immune system) but to check on my kidney function and to  measure the evil protein my cancer produces. All those are “in the cooker” and I won’t be able to see the results util tomorrow or Monday.

I am additionally concerned because I’ve had a rough 10 days with symptoms like a stomach flu everyday, except for two. It could mean that my chemo is starting to cause more side effects. It could mean that I did have had one or two stomach flu like infections as my immune system is still suppressed and I’ve started to get out more in public. These symptoms could also mean something much worse, like my kidneys have completely shut down. The labs will point me in the right direction, as far as knowing.

So, if you are someone who prays, please pray that these labs will be better. If they are bad, certainly it will ruin my ability to be cheerful around the family during Christmas.

Mike

RAMBLINGS: The Loss of Truth from Aristotle to Trump, Part III

Over this past year, I have found that the middle of the night is my most productive reading and writing times. With so many things keeping me awake—none of them good—it was the best way to navigate that long-dark silence. However, I have been sleeping better as of late and a big part of that has been—for reasons only God knows—my endless twitching has diminished… a little. This has resulted in me getting way behind in my reading (I have 5 books partially read) and writing. But last night was the exception. I was hit early in the morning by what I think was intense side effects to the chemo I got ten days ago. While I did not feel well enough to get up and to write, I did lie in bed and ponder what I would want to write as I continued this subject.

This whole idea that we have reached a period in our history where TRUTH does not matter anymore, being replaced by truth, was on public display this week during the impeachment hearings. You had the Democrats and Republicans taking turns talking at the microphone and it was as if they were stepping in and out of two different bubbles of reality. If the two sides were equally concerned about TRUTH, then they would be practically on the same page, listening to the same evidence and making the same conclusions.

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At this Juncture I must once again restate my intended definitions. The way I use TRUTH, is in the classical definition, meaning that which is consistent with reality. It is an is an absolute—not influenced by my point of view or desires—TRUTH. On the other hand, truth in small case, the way I’m using it, is our own personal truth, which is completely based on our point of view and means the same, in this case, as opinion. But I call it “truth” because that is what people now call their opinions and beliefs and anything that doesn’t support their point of view, “lies” or fake, instead of facts. Sometimes those things are lies, but often they are not.

I have a great love for history, especially the history of western civilization and the Church in particular. I spent a decade studying it very carefully. However, I realize there are still plenty I don’t know and sometimes I get things wrong. History itself is complex. It is not simply causal, such as event A caused event B, which caused event C. It is much messier, more like a (Costco-sized) can of alphabet soup being poured on the floor and then trying to connect the dots between the hundreds of As, Bs, and Cs.

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Last time I was writing about the late theologian Francis Schaeffer. He described in his 1968 book, Escape from Reason, how western civilization was giving up on reason, having been disillusioned by the terrible world wars. During the 60s, there was a turn to the absurd in the area of the arts in response to this disillusionment. Schaeffer believed western civilization was on the verge of entering a new dark age and it was up to the Church to be the bulwark of preserving reason (God-given intellectual tool for finding TRUTH) and absolute TRUTH, itself.

The first dark age was a product of the Church when it, mistakenly, adopted the Platonic view that the material world, including reason, the arts, and labor, were insufficient when compared to the more important heavenlies or spiritual. The Renaissance was an awakening from that dark age with the rediscover of the works of Plato (and Aristotle in northern Europe) and redefining Plato’s higher realm as human experience rather than the heavenlies.

However, Schaeffer was wrong in his prediction. Reason had served western civilization so well after the Enlightenment, both in advancement of life and profit, that it would not be given up so easily, even though there was disillusionment with it. So, reason continued bring us great things like the silicon chip and the digital revolution. It has brought cancer cures (not fast enough), however, reason has also brought us increasingly destructive weapons, such as a nuclear bomb that can fit in a backpack, and drones that can deliver such a weapon, very precisely, to a distant target.

So now we find ourselves in the twenty-first century were there is a great dichotomy between TRUTH or truth in our social lives and in our scientific endeavors. In the scientific realm, TRUTH is still highly regarded, and the scientific method is very useful in finding that TRUTH by ruling out probability via statistically analysis. But on the social front, we are in a new dark age of the complete loss of TRUTH, having replaced it with truth (strong opinion). The Church was not the bulwark that Schaeffer had hoped for, but, in many cases, contributed to this loss of TRUTH, by its own insistence on a “cheaper” truth instead.

In my first article I mentioned that one factor causing this breakdown in TRUTH, is the loss of the reliable authoritarian TRUTH (e.g. Walter Cronkite), being replaced with the fragmentation of TRUTH into truth or niche realities. Ironically, our scientific technology brought us this “opportunity” through satellite-cable, and radio and now the web. These niche realities pull people further and further into that false narrative that is based on emotions, not reason. I will close this installment with an illustration of the point I’m trying to make.

Imagine that when you were ten years old your father lost his job when his company hired an immigrant, who was willing to do the same job for far less money. This was a very upsetting era in your life, leaving a bad taste in your heart toward immigrants.

When you reached adulthood, you find a cable news channel that had several stories about the problem of immigrants taking jobs away from white American men or doing bad crimes. This became your favorite channel because it reinforced your negative view of immigrants and you felt more justified in your negative attitude. But then, one day, this broadcast had a guest who described a theory (although presented as fact) that the immigrants have a strategy of taking all jobs away from white Americans, with the well-thought-out intention of making the white male unemployed and poor, so the immigrants can take over the country. This emotionally upset you even more, but you didn’t doubt it as factual because it was aired on your favorite news show. At the end of the broadcast, the guest commentator referenced his website, where he had more information.

You feel enough concern that you start to visit the mentioned website. On that site there were many stories of where immigrants were raping white girls, killing defenseless older-white-retired couples and robbing them. There were articles about how most immigrants are part of violent gangs that plan on talking over the entire country and turning the white man into slaves, while taking their white women as their girlfriends. This upset you even more, however, you never doubted the information because it was from a source that you saw as authoritarian truth and it was consistent with your prior belief system. You go out and buy weapons for the coming war with the immigrants and to defend your family. Now, during this course of events, your truth was arrived at by using the part of your brain (limbic) that is designed to handle emotions, not using (much) the part of the brain that is equipped with logical reasoning.

In contrast, I will describe how the scientific community would approach such a situation, when their only desire is TRUTH. Imagine that a premise was made that immigrants were taking jobs away from white men. You would suspend your emotional bias and look for objective data, not expecting one outcome of the other. You then collect data from the government agencies that keep employment records to see how many white men were displaced by immigrants. If needed, you would go out ad interview employers and employees. When you are done, you find that your father’s situation was extremely rare. That most immigrants come and work jobs that white men refuse to do, or they start their own small businesses.

My next, and hopefully last, article is looking at how during the twentieth century,  situational ethics and the fudging of truth. I will also look how the American church, in many ways, lost its interest in TRUTH and became part of the problem rather than any solution to society’s general loss of TRUTH.

Mike

 

Ramblings: The Loss of TRUTH Part II, From Aristotle to Donald Trump

I will restate definitions, which I mentioned in Part I. I use the term TRUTH (all capitalized) to refer to the classical definition of that which is consistent with reality. I will use the lower-case truth to mean, a personal truth. That later word really means “opinion” or “belief” but is often stated as “truth.”

 

My favorite theologian/philosopher of the twentieth century, was the late Christian theologian Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer, himself, said that there is no difference between philosophy and theology in the area of questions asked, but only in the answers given. So, if the answer involves a concept of god, then it would be classified as theology. But the lines are more blurred than even that. I watched two films yesterday on Curiosity Stream about mathematical patterns in nature. The theoretical mathematician who presented the information, spoke seamless about nature and god as well. Therefore I, personally, prefer the term philosophy, which is simply the love of knowledge or wisdom and doesn’t limit the discussion to god or no god. Francis Schaeffer.jpg

Francis Schaeffer wrote at least a dozen best selling books, but his most popular is Escape from Reason, published in 1968. The book follows the history of the philosophies that undergirds western culture. In summary, the Greeks (ca. 1000 BC to 336 BC) observed and described the ways in which we find TRUTH. Using mathematical formulas, they were to describe the basic building blocks of logic, such as if A = B and B ≠ C, then it makes no sense that A = C. It was also noted by the Greeks that the human reason was the most important tool for finding that TRUTH (verses emotional or political sources).

This idea of the virtue of reason thrusted the Greco-Roman cultures into one of the most advanced civilizations at the time. Around 70 A.D. the Christian Church (I use capital C to mean the universal Church as compare to any particular church). The Greco-Roman culture was the canvas on which the Church was painted. The early Church leader, Paul of Tarsus, warned the early Church not to incorporate non-Christian philosophies into its concept of truth or dogma. Unfortunately, the Church has always done just that and continues to do the same today (for example mixing American Nationalism with white evangelicalism).  In the background, the Church, mistakenly, adopted the later Greek philosopher, Plato’s view of the universe (in contrast to that of Socrates and Aristotle), which placed the greatest realm of life in another, unseen dimension, which Plato called the ether. The Church borrowed upon this concept but renamed it as the heavenlies of spiritual. Suddenly, life on this earth, including reason, had little value, but the Church and those things considered spiritual were paramount. This secular philosophy was so enticing because it empowered (in a  negative way) and corrupted the Church. This created the culture that we now look back to as the “Dark Ages.”

"The School of Athens" by Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino.jpg
School of Athens: (The Most Important Painting in the History of Western Civilization)

The Renaissance was a reaction to this low view of reason as well as all human endeavors on the material earth, such as the arts and sciences. The Italian Renaissance thinkers continued, as the early Church had, with Plato as their chief philosopher, but redefined his ether as human experience (the foundation of “humanism”) rather than the Church and heavenlies.  Therefore, human reason and experiences were the new defining principles of life. The reintroduction of reason reached a zenith in northern Europe with the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. During this time, reason was further defined from its simple Greek roots to complex theories for finding TRUTH such as mathematical statistics and the scientific method for finding TRUTH that is causal and not just a factor of probability. Such exercises ushered in the scientific revolution of the late eighteenth through the early twentieth centuries. There was great hope that science would solve all human problems and bring us into a new, utopian world.

Unfortunately, that did not materialize. The same human reason that brought us vaccines, cures for disease, mechanization of the farm, and the ability to fly, also brought us the horrors of chemical and nuclear warfare. Within this dismay of human destruction, there was a complete loss of optimism in the ability of reason to solve our problems.

In Europe (where Schaeffer lived and wrote in the 1960a) the post-World Wars world had turned away from reason, while in America the scientific optimism continued well into the 1960s and 70s. Schaeffer identifies the shift in philosophical perspective, into this age of non-reason, with things like the Theatre of the Absurd in Europe (where a play could be a man sitting at a table for 2 hours and not moving and no dialog), the composer John Cage’s 4’33”, which is four minutes and thirty-three seconds of silence. In the visual arts you have things like Jackson Pollock, who painted with random drips of paint (which sold for millions) and Andy Warhol who used common items of everyday life as props for art.

Schaeffer had a warning in the book about the coming age of non-reason and the disaster it would also lead to… such as a new Dark Ages. He exhorted the Church to be the voice that keeps our culture from abandoning TRUTH. Schaeffer was using the term TRUTH in the same way that I am, as the classical sense of that which is. Christians have often redefined truth (sometimes calling it “God’s truth,” “Biblical truth,” or “The truth”) to really mean a particular church dogma. That is not how Schaeffer was using it.

I will comment here that while Schaeffer was an excellent historian, he was not a futurist. His fear that culture would continue on its path of the complete trust in reason and TRUTH did not materialize, however, it was not due to any positive influence of the CHURCH, which did, regrettably, follow this course of non-reason and the love of TRUTH.

Francis Schaeffer developed leukemia and eventually came to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota for treatment. He died there in 1984. In his honor, a school, now K-12, was started and named The Schaeffer Academy. I moved to Rochester to take a job at Mayo Clinic in 1997. Part of my motivation, beside a great job and getting my wife closer to her family, was the fact that Francis’ wife Edith and his team of writers and thinkers (L’Abri Fellowship) had moved from Switzerland to Rochester when he was ill and were still there when we moved there.

While studying at L’Abri, I became familiar with the Schaeffer Academy (wanted to put my own kids in school there but it was more than we could afford). The basis of the school was not religious indoctrination, like some “Christian schools” but classical training in the basics, math, science, literature, arts, Latin, logic and rhetoric. I know that Francis Schaeffer had on his heart was the value of knowing TRUTH rather than just dogma (truth without capitalizations).

I am taking a sidebar here, but I, as a Christian, would much prefer spending an evening with a group of atheists who love TRUTH, than a group of Christians who just love truth (dogma) and have total disregard for TRUTH. As I’ve said before, if God is there, and I think he is, then the more time you spend in pursuing real TRUTH, the closer you come to knowing him.

I will continue this in at least one more part.

Mike

 

 

Ramblings: How to Talk to Someone in Crisis at the Holidays . . .  or Any Time.

I know that this is a topic that could be seen as self-serving, because I’m one of those people in crisis. I also don’t want to create an air of paranoia about talking to me or anyone in this position, with the fear that you might take it wrong. I do want to broaden this to include all people who are going through, or recently have gone through a personal crisis and that would include a lot of people, besides those with life-altering diseases. This would include those who have lost close family members, kids on drugs, job failures, and the like. I also want to be clear, people who qualify as saying or doing the wrong thing, from my observations, are rare and most who do make mistakes, I don’t believe had an ill intent. I therefore see this exercise as one in education.

Image result for two people in conversation

I am very thankful for Jerry, Kevin, Jean, Diane, Don, Craig, Christine, Curt, Karen, Kathy, and MANY others who never fail to ask me, sincerely, how I’m doing and then pause to listen. I have many who follow my blog and send me their sincere thoughts and I know that thy are praying for us. Some are even friends from the distant past. I also know that before I was sick, I mostly got this wrong. I will add one last caveat. They say, never judge how someone chooses to grieve. In the same thought, I do not mean to assume that others in crisis agree with my perspective.

  • Asking, “How Are You?”—when it is not Sincere. I must be clear here; I am NOT talking about the causal bumping into someone on the street, where we say the habitual, “Hi, how are you?” To which we expect them to say in response, “Fine, how are you?” We recognize that, while that greeting may have roots in a sincere conversation from 100 years ago, now it is a simply a greeting with no sincere meaning. But if the conversation moves beyond the superficial and you ask the person in crisis how they are really doing, please pause to allow them to answer and respond appropriately to that answer. Don’t just give them a few seconds to respond, and then cut them off by saying, “Great! I’m so glad you’re doing better . . . uh, you look good.” There have been many times I’ve answered that greeting, honestly, even when I was not doing well. The response was still “Great! I’m glad you’re doing better,” no matter what I said.
  • It’s Too Painful to Bring Up. Now, we are moving into a far more substantial conversation of tens of minutes and, for me personally, this has been the most difficult encounter I’ve experience. I’m talking about where I have substantive encounters with someone, they know that I’m dealing with cancer, and they spend the whole time dominating the conversation (not allowing me to say a word edgewise as a deliberate action to avoid the elephant in the room) with something that seems trivial in the grand scheme of things, for example getting road tar on their new shoe. It isn’t like I’m not interested in their shoes, I am. But never once do they bring up my cancer or allow me to, even if this encounter is the first one we’ve had since I’ve been sick. I’m not talking about where I spend the next 30 minutes going through all the nitty-gritty of my nightmare life. Being given the opportunity of a 2-minute update is all I’m asking for, but only if they are truly interested. I think the motivation for not bringing up my cancer is that some people—falsely—see it as something very personal and too painful to bring up… you know, like hemorrhoids, so they want to avoid the topic at all cost. To the sufferer (of any crisis) it—wrongly—communicates “I really don’t give a damn about you.” I can’t imagine being offended in any way by someone bringing up my cancer.
  • Someone Who Doesn’t Listen but Wants to Instruct You. In Proverbs it says the following; “To answer before listening– that is folly and shame.” This is one is of the rarest (thank goodness) mistakes I’ve witnessed, and I debated about even mentioning it. However, it is the most painful. This is the situation where the person makes no effort to know what’s going on with you but makes huge assumptions about your state of mind or soul… and then gives you a mini lecture about correcting that assumed state. I know that this sounds unimageable, but I will try to put some “meat” on those bones in the form of illustrations.

In some ways, when I was in college, I was an asshole. I had a spiritual arrogance and in our little evangelical culture, it was common to see yourself as God’s gift to humanity, certainly I did. I remember a coed, who was involved in our campus ministry, losing her dad. I, without asking her any questions about how she was feeling, said to her, “Remember, keep your eyes on the Lord and then you will rise above any worldly grief.” Now that was stupid wasn’t it?

This situation can also be where people assume that you are struggling with your spiritual life, just because you have cancer, or assume that you don’t pray. The other is where you barely mentioned a bad result and thy sternly lecture you about God does miracles and that you need to trust in Him. Was I supposed to lie about a disappointing test?

Besides the drive-by evangelical spiritual abuse, which I just mentioned, the same thing can happen about mental health, “You look depressed. You need to look for rainbows.” The worst of the worst, and likewise, the rarest of the rare, is where they cast blame, “Now that you have cancer, you must have cleaned up the way you live.” What the hell does that mean? As I’ve said before, it is hard to convince some people that your bad situation (cancer, loss of a child, loss of a job) is not related to anything you did wrong (in most cases).

  • Oversharing by the Victim. I am sure there are many mistakes that we “victims” make in these conversations. However, for the sake of brevity, I will talk about a couple and the first is “over-sharing.”

I am a self-confessed over-sharer. You can tell this from this blog. Many victims have a strong temptation to over-share and their thinking goes like this; if you can only explain your nightmare in enough detail, the other person would graphically feel your pain and grant you the empathy that you feel that you deserve.

Here is the problem with that idea. While there have been countless poets, writers, painters, not to mention filmmakers and others who have tried to capture a painful human experience and communicate that to others, as great as they were, they came up short.

I remember a backpacking trip I took with a group of guys out to the Rockies. We made a swooping passage (the first “out west” trip for most of us) down through Arizona. We made a stop at the Grand Canyon for a few hours. I was on the south rim snapping photo with my SLR camera. My friend, Ken, was just sitting on the edge staring down into the abyss. I asked him (knowing that he had a camera of his own) why he wasn’t taking photos. He answered that he had given up on taking photos because he had seen so many incredible places that he knew that there is no way to capture it on film.

We, as victims, must realize that there is no way that we can communicate enough for others to know our experience. So, our sharing must be carefully measured as not to exhaust the attention span of even the most well-meaning and compassionate listener.

  • Egocentricism (self-centeredness) of a Crisis. It is the very nature of any personal crisis, where that crisis is so huge in your eyes, that it eclipses the lives of others. It is an easy failure for us to do the exact same thing that we find painful in others; not listening to them, not feeling their pain, and not being curious about their lives. Everyone has a least one crisis in their life and at any one moment, there is a high probability that the person who comes up to you and ask you how you are doing, is suffering as well.

Mike Jones

 

UPDATE:12/11/19

I’ve talked before about the roller coaster from hell that goes along with have many forms of cancer. If that metaphor is correct, then yesterday was one of those days that it took a sudden dive.

Virtually all the good news items from my previous update, went sour . . .  in one day. After following a very strict renal diet for two weeks (eating basically oatmeal and plain pasta with no seasoning or sauces), expecting to move my renal failure back away from the edge, well, it went the other way. I don’t want to say too much yet as I was given the wrong labs twice before and I’m awaiting my labs to appear on my portal to be sure what the nurse told me is correct. I have not repeated the labs for the bad protein, but will do that in two weeks. So,  I hope it is containing to improve.

The new treatment for my twitching, seemed to be working, at first. But now I’m not so sure. Today was a very bad twitching day, however, I almost had no sleep last night from the twitching and diarrhea and when I don’t sleep, the twitching gets worse. It is about to drive me mad.

That brings me to the last item and that is my side effects from the chemo seems to be getting worst as nausea, diarrhea, and chills.

Wedgwood Oberon Teacup

I think Denise and I both have been through so much this year that it is like gold gilding on a very fragile porcelain tea cup. It doesn’t take much, for me at least, to suddenly loose all hope.

Please keep us in your prayers, that my twitching would stop, that my renal function would improve, that my cancer would go into remission, and that I (and Denise) can stay ahead of my depression about it all.  Mike

 

RAMBLINGS: A Lesson from Galileo, Part I in the Pursuit of TRUTH

Introduction

I have been thinking about this concept of the loss of truth per society as a whole, for some time. While it has always been an interest of mine, during this phenomenon of “fake news” and politically oriented “facts,” it has become paramount in my mind. As I’ve tried to organize these thoughts, I considered putting all of them within one long posting, however, that would turn into many pages and would lose most readers in the process. So, I’ve decided to write an array of articles, each with a different perspective on truth and I will name them “Part I” and so on, so that you will know that they are connected, as there could be weeks between the posts. This first article is about the nature of “authoritarian truth,” explaining what I mean, as I go.

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Geocentric Model of the Solar System 14th Century

Before I get started, I must set some ground rules for my conversation about truth. The first is in the order of definitions. I will use “TRUTH,” with all capitals to mean truth in the classical sense of that which is consistent with reality. The sky is blue is one of those TRUTHs, although reasonable people could debate which shade of blue it is. On the other extreme, truth (without capitals) is a very abused word these days, usually meaning something along the lines of “perspective,” “view, or “belief.” I sometimes think of this later kind of truth as a “Niche Reality.”

Galileo and the Binocular Approach to TRUTH

I recently listened to the fabulous book, Galileo’s Daughter: A Historical Memoir of Science, Faith, and Love, which brought this so much into focus, that I felt that I had to start this rambling with this concept of authoritarian truth.

I knew very little about Galileo from studying about him in history or science. I’ve visited his grave in Florence at Basilica of Santa Croce to show him my respect. From my general impressions, I had the idea that, as a man of science, he was a skeptic about Christianity and the Church. After all, I knew that he was in great contention with the Church in the late sixteenth century.

This book, mentioned above, was done extremely well with overwhelming contemporaneous documentation, via his daughter’s letters to him, his own writing, and the official historical accounts of eyewitnesses. As I listened to the audio book, I found him to be a humble man, deeply devoted to God and the Catholic Church. This was true of most people in the sixteenth and seventh centuries. However, he was also a man with great curiosity and a seeker of TRUTH.

In nearby (relatively speaking) Venice, they had the world’s best glass works. They had, as a side product, produced lens of clear glass, that was able to focus light and acting like magnifying glasses. Prior to that, it was found—serendipitously—that by looking through a clear glass of water, it helped some people to see details on the other side that they could not see with their own eyes. This was of course in the days before eyeglasses and some people had to give up reading entirely as they got older.

In the thirteenth century, the glass blowers in Venice attempted to create solid glass globes that functioned like the jars of water but much easier to use. Over time they reduced (by trial and error) smaller and smaller “globes” until they got to what we now know as lens, which had the symmetrical shape of two intersecting arcs (). These became useful as monocular devices that people could eventually wear around their necks or in their pockets. Later spectacles were created as forefathers to present-day glasses.

The fist telescope (two lenses separated by space) was invented by a Dutchmen around 1608. It was considered a “spy glass” and intended for looking across the terrain at other objects, such as watching your neighbor… or, in some cases, your neighbor’s wife. The hopes of a marketable device were in nautical and military uses. When Galileo heard about this invention, the next year, he created his own telescope that worked much better and then he was driven by his insatiable curiosity, pointing it at the heavens. He first gazed on the surface of the moon and saw the craters and mountains. He also saw the phases of Venus (like the phases of our moon), which made no sense unless it orbited around the Sun, rather than the earth. Remember, the Catholic Church held the official dogma of geocentrism, which is that the earth was the center of the heavens and the sun, moon, planets, and stars all orbited around it.

The reason that the Catholic Church adopted this dogma of geocentrism wasn’t due to anything that the Bible said, or even claims of their Judeo-Christian forefathers, but because of the Greek philosophers, specifically Aristotle. It was further defined the second century by the philosopher-mathematician Ptolemy. This view became embedded as dogma within the Church with the further assumption that God had created the universe as perfect and simple. Therefore, it made no sense to them that the moon would have irregularities, such as craters and mountains. Furthermore, it made no sense to the Church theologians when the Polish mathematician Nicolaus Copernicus first proposed a heliocentric view of the solar system around 1500, because that would suggest that humans were not the mathematical center of the solar system and the universe outside of our solar system was full of empty space. If God created the universe for the sake of earth’s humans, so they assumed, it made no sense that the universe was so big.

At this precise time the Catholic Church was also becoming more paranoid as critical splinter groups were starting to arise. Martin Luther nailed his 95 Thesis on the door of the Wittenberg Castle church on October 31, 1517. Because of this rising of discord and eventually Lutheranism, the Catholic Church started an inquisition that included censoring publications. No book could be published in Europe without Rome’s approval. When Galileo first published his book, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, it was approved by the Pope. However, with further study, Church leaders determined that Galileo was attempting to reach Biblical truth, and the Church had not given him this right. After a lengthy Church trial, Galileo was sentenced to house arrest and the banning of his book. They considered, torturing him and even burning him at the stake, however, due to Galileo’s friends who were within the Church hierarchy who advocated for him, he was spared.

Authoritarian Truth

We have at least two sources or truth and I will mention a third briefly. One source is what I call authoritarian truth. That is where we are told what truth is by someone we see as having authority over us and we therefore assume that it is reliable. I will come back to that after I mention two more sources. The second source of truth is from our own reasoning, based on the perception of our senses. I will call this cognitive truth. This is the bastion of sources of most of our established common knowledge.

The third truth, which I think is more of a cover for someone’s intent rather than real truth, is what I call gnostic truth. The word “gnostic” means “knowledge.” In the early Church there were those people who claimed to have truth or knowledge directly from God without having to study (cognitive) or being told this truth by any leaders. You can just imagine how this type of truth has caused much mischief through the ages and virtually every cult has this type of truth as the cornerstone to their movement.

To illustrate these three types of truth, I will use the metaphor of getting burned by a hot iron. In authoritarian truth, the parent tells the child not to touch a hot iron or it will burn and they will feel pain. In cognitive truth, the child touches the iron and gets burned. His senses (touch) tell him it was hot and he or she reasons that object is hot and not to be touched again, because it will cause pain. In gnostic truth, the child, having never seen an iron before or felt its heat, has an inner voice directly from God or intuition that tells them the iron is hot and will burn them.

Galileo had a binocular, vs a monocular, view of TRUTH. He did, indeed, see the Catholic Church as an authoritarian source of truth, and trusted the truth of the Church in all other areas that were not in conflict with his cognitive truth. However, in his observations of the universe through his telescope (senses gathering information) combined with his cognitive reasoning and the application of mathematics, he arrived at the clear notion that the sun and not the earth was at the center of the solar system. It is like looking at an object with both eyes. The visual perception must be in agreement. Since they are not in agreement, then he was obligated to do due diligence in finding why the two truths were incongruent. When he looked at the source of the Church’s truth on the solar system, he knew that it was based on extra-Biblical thinkers and by reviewing those thinker’s observations and mathematical computations, he saw errors in both. Therefore, even at the threat of losing his own life, he had no honest choice but to conclude that TRUTH was in the heliocentric model.

In our modern life, authoritarian truths come from many sources. Church dogma is still an important source for many people, but there are many others. Our parents are our first encounters with authoritarian truths and most of our early knowledge comes from this source. We trust this source, especially at a very young age, completely. Our next important source are our teachers, especially those of elementary school. In high school, we start to question some of those truths that teachers give us.

As adults, sources of authoritarian truths include those from our social groups, bosses, superior officers (in the case of military service), news sources, and political leaders.

In the 1960s, Walter Cronkite (the anchorman of CBS News) was considered the most trusted man in America. If he said it, people believed it and for good reason. It was likely that the truth spoken by Cronkite was TRUTH. But there was a reason for that. In those days it was unthinkable to intentionally present a news story in a bias way, as to persuade people to take a position that is favorable to one political view or another. Now there could have been some biases in those days, but they not profound.

Our politicians were also seen as good and trustworthy people (these were the days of such movies as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington), but not to the level of the news people. In the 1950s, Edward R. Murrow (who grew up in nearby Edison) took on the Republican senator, Joseph McCarthy, who was behind an anti-communism inquisition against American citizens. Murrow won that battle as a more trustworthy source.

Time magazine had a cover issue that asked the question Is Truth Dead? We are in an age that is far different than the 1950s and 60s when these authoritarian truths were often TRUTH. Now, with the invention of the fragmentation of information, first with cable TV and then with the Internet and lessor so, with satellite radio. Cable TV brought in hundreds of stations that could start to focus on particular viewpoints, rather than a homogenous reporting of news. The introduction of the internet created an explosion of “media” opportunities, later re-named as “social media.” Now, it was cheap and easy to create a platform for ideas that could be accessed by the entire world. The difficulty was creating a niche that would work its way through the fray of other thousands of voices, to get attention. This fragmentation was further intensified with talk radio. A key moment in 1987 change everything. In that year, the FCC’s Fairness Doctrine, which had been in place since 1949, was reversed by the FCC, yielding to financial pressure by those who saw big profits in niche realities. The Fairness Doctrine required the fair and balanced presentation of news stories and giving equal and fair time to opposing political views.

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With these influences in place, the ground was set up for the present situation where there is more and more disintegration into increasingly extreme positions. So, in the area of “news reporting” you end up with positions on the political right as Hannity on Fox News, and far right such a Brietbard, Daily Caller; and Judicial Watch. On the left you have Lemon on CNN, and the far left, Palmer Report, Bipartisan Report, and Occupy Democrats. To achieve attention in this crowded field, they rely on conspiracy theories, which usually have no factual bases but have deeply emotionally pull. Example of such include stories about the Clintons and other democrats were running a child sex trafficking program out of pizza restaurants, promoted by the right wing; and the Trump’s Golden Shower dossier, by promoted, even now, by left wing advocates.

Conspiracy theories brings us back to gnostic truths. While originally, it meant truth that—conveniently—came directly from God without research or learning, in this case, it is created in the emotionally-charged truth from thin air, not based on supporting facts, but based on the appeal such views have, appeal to capture and retain market shares or followers. But in common with the early Church Gnostics, the political gnostics have great appeal because there is something very attractive about having secret information or truths, that the mainstream doesn’t have—even if that truth is wrong—if it supports your presupposed belief system. Since the Bible, especially the teaching of the historical Jesus centered so much on TRUTH, you would think the Christian would be most cautious of loss of TRUTH. However, I think the opposite is true. Authoritarian truth and gnostic truth have been a part of the Church’s historical heritage, long before this new development in media and political polarization. At least in recent decades, the evangelicals have additionally had seen themselves becoming more and more in conflict with a greater culture, which was growing less Christian over time. From this mindset, an opposition culture evolved, at least on the side of the evangelicals. Within their context, conspiracy theories about the larger, non-evangelical culture exploded and begin to mix with right-wing political ideologies.

While this first article ended up talking about the loss of TRUTH in the realm of politics, I want to expand that in future articles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ramblings: Life Expectancy

I think I am considering this topic for several reasons. The main one cam, as I laid in my bed beneath the warm covers this morning, I listened to NPR’s Morning Edition on my I Phone. They did a story about the life expectancy in America is dropping, while in the rest of the industrialized world it is not. I won’t diverge into that specific topic except to say it is due mostly to “diseases of despair,” especially in America’s rust-belt, red states. It is from drug overdoses, alcoholism, suicide and etc.

Life expectancy for me, is a topic that is in a lot of people’s minds (I presume) although they would consider it taboo to ask about. So, I am attempting to answer a question that they (including my own kids) feel they could never ask. It is also a good time to address it as things are stable right now.

First of all, I must say that none of us know, precisely, when we are going to die. You’ve heard the stories of people being given x number of months to live by their doctors and they live many years longer. Then, on the other hand, you hear of people who were young and in great shape who suddenly die from natural causes, like a heart attack, or are killed in an accident.

I must also add that Multiple Myeloma is considered, at this point in history, incurable and it is a family of different cancers that behave very differently. So, to look at the probability of death, you must look at the specific sub-group and not at the cancer as a whole.

According to the American Cancer Society (whose data is a bit dated) upon my diagnosis in Jan 2018, my life expectancy was 8 months. This is because renal disease is one of the most lethal side effects from MM. This subgroup reflects the 10% of MM patients who present, like me, as renal failure. While I’m now in my 11th month (exceeding those expectations) complications from renal failure is still the greatest danger to my survival and that is why I am constantly asking for your prayers about it.

Things are stable for me right now. As I’ve mentioned, my anemia is getting much better, and the extreme fatigue from it was my greatest symptom. I don’t feel normal, but I’m feeling far better than I was even a month ago. The side effects to my chemo is minimal (a few days of diarrhea per week).

My chemo is low dose, one injection every two weeks, and seems to be working, as my bad proteins are continuing to go down. Here is where it gets tricky in making any kind of prediction. MM is notorious for mutating and becoming resistant to treatments. While some people will enjoy up to 30 years of relapse-free living, the vast majority will enter back into a crisis sooner or later. On the good side, there are far more treatment options than before. On the good end, some specialists are now using the term “cured” because a certain therapy put people in such deep remission that there is no trace of the cancer any more.

The most effective treatment for my situation is the stem cell transplant. While we were praying for this deep remission, I only got a partial remission. When you try to measure the cancer cells directly, there is none to a trace on the tests. However, the evil proteins, that the cancer makes, is still being made and for that reason we know the cancer is still there.

Going forward, the most important predictable factor of how long I can live is my renal function.  For example, a normal filtration rate is above 60 ml/min. Mine is around 19-20. There are 5 stages of renal failure and I’m at stage 4. If it dips to 15 ml/min, I will have to go back on dialysis and my prognosis will suddenly become far more grim. If my kidneys stay stable where they are, I have to follow a very strict diet to survive, but it may not have such an impact on my lifespan. My prayer is that it would at least improve to 29 (a real miracle would be up to 60) because a filtration rate of this level would allow me to have a bit more quality to my life.

The average life expectancy for a man in the US is about 78 years. I had planned on this. . .  up until I got sick. Now, if my kidneys heal some and if the present treatments keep my cancer under control for 5 years, I think a cure would be found during this time. Then, I would have the potential of living until I’m in my 70s. I can’t imagine 80s or 90s, like my mother had. But if my kidneys go south, all bets are off and I’m back to looking at months.

As I’ve said before, the specialist tell me there is absolutely nothing I can do to change the course of my kidneys. However, I am drinking lots of fluids, become almost a vegan, taking 4 daily supplements that have only a tiny bit of evidence of being able to help kidneys, and I’m exercising . . .  oh, and I’m praying my heart-out daily.

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I will mention one more risk to my life span. This is considered yet another taboo topic and that is the risk of me taking my own life. I feel I’ve been close to it three times in the past year. Twice in the spring when my suffering was intense and unrelenting. The third time I had serious suicidal ideation was in September, when I found out the stem cell transplant did not give me the remission I was hoping for. This is yet another battle that I must fight, that for my own mental health. Besides going from being very healthy to, overnight, having two potentially fatal diseases (cancer and renal failure), I also have a horrible neurological condition that is constant. These things along are quite depressing. But then you add to that, that at this juncture at least, it looks like my career is over (I don’t think the hospital is going to take me back), My retirement plans are gone, I rarely see my wife (who works 10-hour days and comes home and falls directly asleep) and am alone 95% of the time, staying sane is a formidable task. I have to honestly say that I’m struggling to find a new purpose in life, beyond just trying to stay alive.  Pardon the typos as this ended up being much longer than I intended and I have house cleaning chores to do and don’t have the time to proof-read. Mike

 

UPDATE: 12/1/19

This is brief follow up since my last posting about my health status.

  1. I’ve started a new medication (propranolol) to try and control the muscle twitching  and so far there are some positive signs but improvement is not clear.
  2. My renal labs, which I shared in great detail previously. . .  well, it turns out they were given to me by error by my doctor’s office. Those were not my new labs as they thought but were a test done months ago. In summary, my immediate labs, like potassium, look better than previous thought, however, my longer term labs, creatinine, looked a little worse than thought.
  3. My test to monitor the evil proteins that my cancer is still on a steady decline (see the graph below) which means that we do not change the chemo yet. The goal is below 21 and it is around 100 now.
  4. I’m still feeling much better as my anemia is improving and we had a great Thanksgiving with three of our boys.

Lambda Light Chain Since Stem Cell Transplant

Thanks for your support and prayers. Still my three greatest hopes is a. my renal function would improve, b. the cancer would eventually go into remission, and c. my neuro-motor problems would heal.

Mike

Ramblings: The Seven-day Window of Life: An Exercise

I have a lot of vivid dreams these days. I think that is true for three reasons. First, my sleep is usually interrupted, either by having to get up to have diarrhea during the night, or the relentless twitching.  All of us dream but we usually forget them, unless we wake soon after. The second reason—related to the first—is that I take 50 MG of trazadone at bedtime to try and help me to sleep through those disruptions. As a side effect, I think it can create more vivid dreams. Lastly, it has been such an emotionally stressful year, so much so, Denise and I both feel that if I was magically cured today, we would still have PTSD from what we have gone through. Emotional things, in my opinion, makes dreams more intense and real.

Image result for drawing of crazy dreams

I had a dream on November 21st. It was so vivid, that I had to lay awake for a while to figure out it was just a dream. But in that dream, I was feeling really good and it was a typical day at home, except that Denise was also home (she works these grueling 10-hour days and I am usually home alone, save my Saint Bernard-“mistress”).  In this dream, I went to the mailbox and there was a certified letter from the Cancer Care Alliance, in Seattle. I respect them very much, not just for their medical knowledge, but for their compassion, which I’ve had a hard time finding elsewhere. I opened the letter and started to read it on the way walking back, down the hill, to the house. The letter was to inform me that I would die on Thanksgiving morning.

As strange as this sounds, because I had so much confidence in them–and despite feeling well–I never doubted the letter for a second. So, I sat down at the table, with Denise and started to talk about how I wanted to spend this last week of life.

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I know in my early, very sick, days last winter I wrote about the last day of life, but this is a little different.

This is where this gets really odd. I sat at the table trying to plan that last week. But sometime during that planning, I woke up… and continued planning what I would do in that situation, although I knew then that it was just a dream.

My first response was thinking about all the things I still don’t know. I am so curious about this universe that we live in that I could be a student of it 24-7. So, I contemplated taking a rapid course on understanding the mathematics of Quantum Mechanics (which I still don’t understand, although I do understand the basic concepts). I still want to understand geology better and, while a great student of history, there are still areas of the world, like China and India, whose ancient history I’m not familiar with.

While I’m not political (seriously, I don’t care what political party inhabits Washington’s power structures, as long as they are good people, honest, and smart) most of you know that I cannot stand Donald Trump. I thought I would work even harder to show how terrible he is during that last week, especially to those evangelicals that somehow see him as their new prophet. But I know that it would be a complete waste of time because his base is locked-in so deeply, so invested in him, that facts don’t matter anymore.

My next thought was about what I could leave to benefit this world. I am almost done writing, what I hope, will be my best novel, Rock Harbor. Maybe I could finish it? But that writing is for me and a few (very few) reader’s entertainment and not much else. There is another book I want to write to discuss the very fundamental philosophical ideas of existence, both ours and God’s. But that writing would take up every moment of the entire week and I would still leave a barely readable mess (based on the way I write in layers).

I thought about taking what money I have and creating a foundation for Syrian refugees. But that too would entangle me in so much red tape that it would consume a full week with nothing to show for it, plus, I do want to leave Denise and her new, healthier and more handsome husband a debt-free world.

I thought about doing a crash course in learning a new language. I could refresh my Arabic so that I could be conversant in it again, or start from scratch in Italian. But how far could I get in it, in a week? And for what purpose?

I would eat a cheeseburger, one of many things that I can’t have now.

To summarize, after lying in bed for an hour or more, I finally reached the conclusion of what I would want to do that final week. I would want to call all my children and grand children home. I want them all to stay until the end. I want us to put away all electronic gadgets and that we sit around and talk and laugh. I want to know their dreams, their fears, and loves.

I want the dialog to be brutally honest. I’ve always been a candid person and I cannot count how many times I’ve been told, “Mike, what you said, makes you look unspiritual (or fill in the words) unprofessional, immature, too silly, too serious, offensive, and etc. However, I value candor and honestly over pretense or doing the “right” thing, socially. I despise “oughts.” Maybe that’s why I have very few friends. But I am kind and don’t abuse my candor.

I had always thought that on my death bed, I would want to be 100% candid. I want our conversations to be real and with nothing held back. Of course I doubt God’s existence at times…  but other times I don’t. Of course I’m as depressed and scared as hell. I am certainly no hero, nor is it my aspiration. Then I would ask, “Was I a bad father or husband? Tell me. What did I do wrong.” If I agree, I would recant and apologize for it. I want to know the heart and soul of my family in a deeper way than I have since they were toddlers. I want to know Denise better than what 37 years has given us. I want to know what’s on her deepest heart… even if it were resentment toward me.

I would also want to draw in my childhood family, including my sisters and brother. My brother, quite ill himself, could not make it… except in this dream. While our family had been close, we have drifted apart… especially since the loss of my mother two years ago. As with my own family, I would want to draw out this “old family” to talk honestly and seasoned with compassion toward one another.

Image result for a drawing of a family sitting around

During this time, enshrouded with the laughter, stories, and tears of my family, I want to enjoy good music, of all types. I want to look upon beautiful vistas… both of nature and applied to canvas by human hands.

I think this is sufficient for that window of just seven days.

As an exercise, I encourage you to spend 30 minutes thinking through this and deciding how you would want to spend your last days on this planet. Don’t put off too many things or it may be more than seven days can contain. If it is concise enough, maybe you should put it in your advance directives. Mike

 

UPDATE: November 26

So, I have some of my results back. I will say again, I’m sorry for giving so much detail on these posts but this is also the space that my family is updated on my progress or lack of.

Labs

My hemoglobin (best measurement of anemia) is much better at 12.9 (normal is 14-16). That’s the best it has been since I became sick in Jan 2019. I feel much better, reflecting that improvement.

My renal labs are okay. Now, I will not say that with strong enthusiasm as there are caveats. Yet, in the same breath, I am deeply grateful as they could have been much worse.

My Creatinine (the most important, simple, measurement of renal function) has dropped from 3.4 to 2.9 (normal is below 1.2) and that is good news, and the situation could have been much worse if that number had increased. But that number also reflects a period of having a very severe diet (avoiding animal protein for one) and there is no room for dietary improvement.

My BUN (a less important measurement of renal function and is known to fluctuate) increased from 36 to 44. That number does not worry me much, even though it rose.

My potassium has remained fixed at the very top of the range at 5.1. It is my most dangerous toxin.

Neurologist

It was fun to connect with an old colleague. He was very thorough and found nothing new, that I didn’t already know. While what I have is very rare (and I knew that) he is willing to work with me, based on the research I’ve done. We are starting a new and rather benign medication today. He is also going to call a friend of his at the University of Washington, who is an expert in all kinds of neuromuscular issues, including twitching. He may have more ideas.

Summary

I’m not in any kind of immediate danger or crises and for that I am very thankful. I do wish, and request your prayers, that I can move further from the dangerous edge by my kidneys improving and my cancer going into remission.

My test looking at my evil proteins, are not back yet. I will post them when they are back (next week).

Thank you again for your concern, prayers, and support for our family.  Mike