Tag Archives: psychology

Earth, Jeff Bezos, And The Overview Effect

The Overview Effect: How Seeing the Earth from Space Changes You

What happens to someone when they’ve spent their entire life seeing the world one way, only to have it radically change in an instant?

What happens to someone’s perspective when everything they thought they knew and understood suddenly seems smaller and less grand than they thought?

It can be a jarring experience. For some, it might even be traumatic. It can take the form of a religious experience, a major life-changing event, or even something as simple as falling in love. Whatever the case, it’s powerful. You see the world one way when the day starts. Then, when the sun sets, you see it completely differently.

That brings me to astronauts, space flight, and Jeff Bezos. I promise there’s a connection there and it’s one worth highlighting.

Most are aware that Amazon founder, and world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, took his first flight into space. It was well-covered by the media and was certainly fodder for plenty of criticism, some of which was quite warranted. However, I’m not going to touch on that. Instead, I want to focus on how this experience might affect him and his outlook.

That’s where the Overview Effect comes in. If you’re not familiar with this unique psychological phenomenon, then think back to the questions I asked earlier. Those are very relevant in that they’re part of what certain people experience when they go into space.

In short, the Overview Effect is a byproduct of this newfound prospective astronauts have when they go into space and see Earth from afar. Some treat it as a religious experience, so much so that it has an almost euphoric effect. That’s to be expected.

Up in space, there are no national boundaries. There are no politics, prejudices, and personal gripes. It’s only in space that you realize just how small Earth is and how small humanity is by comparison. That has a major impact on a person’s psyche. Some in the field of neuroscience have even studied it. One retired astronaut, Scott Kelly, once described it like this:

“The planet is incredibly beautiful, breathtakingly beautiful. Having said that, parts of it are polluted, like with constant levels of pollution in certain parts of Asia. You see how fragile the atmosphere looks. It’s very thin. It’s almost like a thin contact lens over somebody’s eye, and you realized all the pollutants we put into the atmosphere are contained in that very thin film over the surface. It’s a little bit scary actually to look at it.

And then you realize looking at the Earth, that despite its beauty and its tranquility, there’s a lot of hardship and conflict that goes on. You look at the planet without borders, especially during the day. At night you can see countries with lights, but during the daytime it looks like we are all part of one spaceship, Spaceship Earth.

And we’re all flying through space together, as a team, and it gives you this perspective — people have described it as this ‘orbital perspective’ — on humanity, and you get this feeling that we just need to work better — much, much better — to solve our common problems.”

That sort of perspective is hard for most to imagine. The number of people who have been into space is less than 600. Jeff Bezos is only the latest entry into a very exclusive club. That may also mean he’s the latest to experience the Overview Effect.

Now, it’s hard to say how much or how little he was influenced by that effect. His trip to space didn’t last very long. However, the journey may have already left an impression. He has already been quoted as saying this:

“The most profound piece of it, for me, was looking out at the Earth, and looking at the Earth’s atmosphere….But when you get up above it, what you see is it’s actually incredibly thin. It’s this tiny little fragile thing, and as we move about the planet, we’re damaging it. It’s one thing to recognize that intellectually. It’s another thing to actually see with your own eyes how fragile it really is.”

That could just be him making good PR, but it could also be revealing. Again, not many people have gone into space. They haven’t had a chance to experience the Overview Effect for themselves. While plenty of trained astronauts have done it, none of them are Jeff Bezos. None of them are worth in excess of $200 billion.

There aren’t many people on this planet who have access to resources like him. There are even fewer with the means and the skills to take a grand vision and make it real. Now, Bezos has seen the world in a new light. He has had his perspective changed. What will that mean for him and for us?

Before he took his famous space flight, Bezos stepped down from Amazon. He’s still very involved, but he now has time to focus on new ventures. Some of those ventures may take us into space. Some may go towards fixing the environment.

It’s hard to know where this will lead. However, if someone like Jeff Bezos can be impacted by the Overview Effect, then what does that say about the rest of us? How much would the world change if more people got to experience that perspective? Maybe we’ll find out one day. Maybe we’ll get that chance because Jeff Bezos funded it.

Only time will tell. Personally, I’d like to experience the Overview Effect myself. Maybe I will one day.

Also, Jeff Bezos should still pay his workers more.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, human nature, philosophy, psychology, real stories, technology, Uplifting Stories

What Recent X-Men Comics Can Teach Us About Present (And Future) Politics

house-of-x-variant-cover-xavier-1200x676

Trying to make sense of politics is like trying to understand quantum mechanics while stoned. The process of governing humanity has always been tricky. Ever since we exchanged our basic hunter/gatherer ways for a more formal system of order, the process has only become more difficult over time. You don’t have to look far to see the complexities and the overall absurdities of politics.

I’ve tried to talk about politics before, albeit with a limited focus on hot-button issues. I never claim to be an expert or an authority on the matter. I’m an aspiring erotica/romance writer. My understanding of politics is as limited as most people who don’t live, work, and breath these issues. Despite those limitations, I still want to make an effort to talk politics in a novel way.

As it just so happens, I’ve come up with just such a way and it involves X-Men comics. Considering how much I’ve written about X-Men and superhero comics in general, this should surprise no one.

More specifically, I want to take the events that have been unfolding in the X-Men comics for the past two years and use it to make sense of the current state politics. I also want to use it to speculate a bit on where these politics might lead us. Again, I am not even close to an expert, but I do believe that art and media have an uncanny way of shining a light on the real world and there are few narratives more uncanny than the X-Men.

The current state of politics, especially in the United States and Western Europe, has been dominated by polarization. More and more, citizens are becoming more tribal. On top of that, people are becoming more divided. That’s not just an anecdote, either. According to Pew Research, the public has become more ideologically split over the past 20 years and it’s only getting worse.

Rather than try to make sense of these decade-long trends, I want to apply it to the politics in the X-Men comics. More than any other superhero comic or franchise, politics are a major driving force for the X-Men, more so than killer robots. Co-creator, Stan Lee, stated that the inspiration for the X-Men was drawn from the ongoing Civil Rights movement that was in full swing in the early 1960s.

Over the years, this idea of mutants being an oppressed minority who were hated and feared for being different has been the driving force behind the X-Men’s story. It is also a big part of what helped them gain such a wide appeal. Some of the X-Men’s most iconic stories come from conflicts inspired by the hate and fear that ordinary humans feel towards mutants.

In the real world, hatred and fear are powerful forces that don’t need killer robots to cause upheaval. Hatred and fear is at the heart of debates surrounding migrants and immigrants. That same hatred and fear is at the heart of the political polarization.

Liberals hate and fear conservatives because they think they want to turn the world into one big plantation ruled by rich, wealthy slave-owners.

Conservatives hate and fear liberals because they think they want to abandon their heritage, punish people for the sins of their ancestors, and micromanage their lives.

In the world of X-Men, humans hate and fear mutants because they think they’re too dangerous, unpredictable, and uncontrollable. On top of that, if they truly are a new species, then that means their survival means humanity’s extinction.

The parallels aren’t perfect, but they are there. Mutants aren’t just a metaphor for any minority who has been oppressed, segregated, and denigrated. They represent just how divided two groups can be. Constant conflict ensures that hatred and fear will fester. However, it’s the events of House of X and Powers of X that the entire concept of X-Men has gained greater political relevance.

In case you haven’t been following superhero comics, the details of these events are many, but the theme is relatively simple. After years of fighting, running, surviving, and being marginalized because of movie rights, the entire mutant race has decided to reorganize themselves into a new society.

This isn’t some exclusive club or superhero team. With help from Charles Xavier and the powerful foresight provided by Moira MacTaggart, the mutants of the Marvel Universe have united within a new homeland, which happens to be a living island. They also have their own mysterious language that only they understand. They are essentially establishing themselves as a new political entity.

In the scope of the X-Men’s 50-plus year history, the idea isn’t new. There have been multiple efforts over the years to give mutants a homeland. One was called Genosha. One was called Utopia. Both enjoyed some measure of short-term success, but both ended up destroyed or abandoned. The reasons for this aren’t important. What sets them apart from Krakoa is the scale.

To understand it in a real-world context, think of Genosha and Utopia as enclaves within a community. They’re akin to neighborhoods in America or Europe that are predominantly populated by a particular ethnic group or religion. Many are quite successful in their own right. Others have become the sites of atrocities and tragedies.

What the mutants are doing with Krakoa in the comics is something bigger than an enclave. They’re not just seeking to be recognized as a full-fledged country, either. Charles Xavier, the X-Men, and every other mutant is building Krakoa to be a society that can function with or without humanity. It’s not land borrowed from humans. It’s land that’s theirs and theirs alone.

That’s not to say Krakoa operates in isolation, as Wakanda once did. They actually seek to maintain diplomatic relations with the world. They even have valuable resources with which to trade. They don’t have to make these kinds of deals, but under Charles Xavier, they do anyway. It culminates in “House of X #5,” in which Krakoa gains formal recognition by the UN.

This is where the politics of the X-Men comics add some necessary nuance to what we’re seeing in the real world. When people feel marginalized, they tend to feel unwelcome. Even if you are legally an American, a German, an Italian, or a Wakandan, being hated and feared by a large segment of the country makes you feel like you don’t belong.

Between divided polls and America’s colorful electoral map, it’s not hard for anyone to feel out of place. The added polarization provided by the internet, social media, and cable news only adds to the divisions and the animosity. As a result, people naturally retreat into groups and tribes where they feel welcome. Whether it’s a political group, a religious group, or an identity, they seek some form of sanctuary.

In doing so, these groups essentially create their own little world within their community. It’s a world that might as well be a separate reality from what others see. It’s how different people can see the same facts, but have wildly different interpretations. Their brains are still working and the facts are still facts. It’s how they apply them to their world that’s different.

Each group feels they don’t belong. They may even feel victimized. It doesn’t matter if the group happens to make up the vast majority of the population. They still feel like they’re the ones under attack, not unlike the X-Men when they constantly confront fearful, hate-filled humans. They act as though they need to carve their own place in the world and defend it at all costs.

This is where House of X and Powers of X can provide some possible insights into the future of politics. To some extent, Krakoa is a natural byproduct of mutants being hunted, attacked, and denigrated at every turn. They tried isolating themselves on islands. They tried living among humans, sometimes in their most populated cities. Now, they’re trying something bigger.

It’s not exactly peaceful and not everyone understands it, which seems antithetical to Charles Xavier’s dream. However, it’s pragmatic in a very political sense. They have a homeland that they can control. They have barriers for entering and exiting that homeland. Nobody who isn’t authorized can enter it. It’s basically the ultimate immigration control.

On top of that, it has valuable resources that the rest of the world wants. The mutants of Krakoa are willing to share them, but only if they respect their new homeland and treat it like a legitimate country with its own culture, laws, and norms. In a world where people constantly attack others for not respecting their culture or norms, it feels like the ultimate endgame of sorts.

Those who want their culture and way of life preserved will only have more incentive to become more organized. If they keep feeling hatred and fear, they may look for ways to simply function without those they feel don’t belong. People won’t just become more ideologically divided. They may end up more divided in a very literal sense.

It’s the ultimate manifestation of our natural tribal instincts. We seek to join, maintain, and protect our tribe from others, be they real or imagined. It doesn’t matter if there are objective facts that show our tribe is somehow wrong or misguided. We still feel inclined to protect it at all cost.

This era of X-Men comics has been exciting. Writer, Jonathan Hickman, has turned the X-Men from just another superhero team into a blossoming community with its own culture, identity, and borders. As an X-Men fan, I’ve been enjoying it a great deal. As someone in the real world who can’t always avoid politics, it leaves me worried about just how divided we’ll ultimately become.

Leave a comment

Filed under human nature, politics, superhero comics, X-men

How People Discovered (Accidentally) What Turns Them On

People are diverse, complicated, and erratic at times. If you’ve spent any amount of time on this planet, you’ve probably figured that out already. As a result, people are often turned on or aroused by weird things. The very existence of BDSM is proof of that. Some of the sexy stories I’ve written only add to that proof.

I know anything sexual tends to make people uncomfortable. That’s understandable. Sex has a lot of taboos and we, as a society, are still learning to deal with them. At the same time, no amount of stigma can stop people from getting turned on. The human body, the human mind, and the human sex drive is just that strong.

As a result, people will often uncover what turns them on or gets them aroused in unexpected ways. Sometimes, it’s by accident. Sometimes, it’s awkward as hell. It can also be both hilarious and hot. That’s just the extent of how complicated people can get.

To that end, I’d like to share some real stories of how people “accidentally” discovered what turns them on. It comes courtesy of the r/AskReddit subreddit and the YouTube channel, Reddit Legends. Please note that some of these stories are NSFW and some are less titillating’s than others, but they’re still fun and insightful. Enjoy!

Leave a comment

Filed under human nature, psychology, Reddit, sex in society, sexuality

Being Blessed Vs. Being Lucky: The (Major) Difference And Why It Matters

Picture, for a moment, the following scenario.

You’re at a prestigious awards ceremony. The nature of the ceremony and the award aren’t important. The only factor that matters is the awards are granted to only a few individuals who have achieved feats that few human beings have achieved. It’s an honor just to be nominated, but an even bigger honor to win.

With that in mind, imagine two different winners for two different feats. The first winner comes up onto the stage, accepts their award, and gives a heartfelt speech that’s something along the lines of this.

“Thank you so much for this incredible honor. It was a long, hard road to get to this point, but I’ve been so blessed with wondrous gifts and amazing support. To them and to the higher power that blessed me, I am eternally grateful!”

Chances are you’ve heard a speech like that before. We hear it all the time with athletes, celebrities, and major public figures. They achieve something spectacular and their first inclination is to say they are blessed. They don’t always thank a god for it, but it’s such a common refrain that most come to expect it. Some even joke about it.

That being said, try to imagine your reaction for the second winner. They come out on stage with the same immense joy as the previous winner. They also give a heartfelt speech of their own, but it goes like this.

“Thank you so much for this incredible honor. It was a long, hard road to get to this point, but I was just really lucky to be born with talent and amazing support. I like to think I’ve made the most of it. This award is just part of it. For that, I am so proud of myself and those who helped me!”

I doubt a celebrity has given an acceptance speech like this before. If they did, chances are it would either be a joke or an elaborate act of trolling, which some celebrities are known to do. For the sake of this little thought experiment, imagine the person was sincere. How would you feel about them? Would be different than the first?

I crafted this scenario as a way of illustrating the difference between being blessed and being lucky. These terms tend to get used interchangeably. In common language, they’re somewhat synonymous. Even though dictionary definitions have some key distinctions, the standard usage of these words carries a particular meaning.

Part of that meaning stems from the general discomfort we feel about the universe being so chaotic and meaningless. We’re wired to seek patterns and surmise order. It doesn’t even matter if the patterns or order is real or an outright trick. When people can make sense of the world, we’re better able to function. It’s a big reason why humans have been able to adapt and survive with such success.

The ideas being lucky and being blessed reflect opposite sentiments of a similar principle. We see luck as a fluke. There’s no meaning behind it. It just happens randomly and without any defined goal.

A kid is randomly born with talent that makes them a great athlete.

A person randomly picks the winning numbers to win a big lottery prize.

A person just happens to be in the right place at the right time to meet the love of their life.

None of these situations are inherently right or wrong. That’s part of what makes it so distressing on some levels. The people who benefit from luck do nothing to deserve or warrant their good fortune. It goes against that innate sense of fairness that most sensible human beings have wired into their brains.

Being blessed, on the other hand, carries a very different connotation. To be blessed implies that some person, deity, or sentient force chose to grant someone such benefits. It’s not random. It’s part of a larger plan. It may not seem like one on the surface. It may even be an outright illusion. That ultimately doesn’t matter. The semblance of a plan is enough.

To be blessed also carried with it a sense of humility. Someone who just says they’re lucky doesn’t come off as moral or gracious. Even if they’re entirely ambivalent about it, they won’t inspire respect or admiration for acknowledging their luck. If they say they’re blessed, though, it changes the context.

A person who is blessed with talent means their achievements have a greater meaning.

A person who is blessed with picking winning lotto numbers means their good fortune is part of some larger plan.

A person who is blessed with meeting the love of their live means their love is somehow pre-ordained by fate.

The difference lies within the meaning. Being blessed conveys influence from a source greater than the person receiving the blessing. To show gratitude to that force is to accept that it’s not just about you. There’s a larger plan and you’re just part of it. That sounds humble, but at the same time, it detracts from the true extent of an achievement.

Luck or no luck, it takes effort and dedication to achieve something of value. Whether it’s an award for world’s largest nose ring or setting a record for most pop tarts consumed in a day, an accomplishment still requires work. Even lottery winners have to go out of their way to pick the numbers, get the ticket, and claim their prize.

To call that process a blessing is to dehumanize the actions involved. It undercuts the countless other factors in play. Some are entirely controllable. A champion of any sport usually has talent, determination, and a willingness to refine their skill. Others are simply beyond their control, from the conditions of an event to just the general randomness of a particular moment.

To assume these factors as part of some over-arching plan is to assume there’s a governing force that consciously cares about these random happenings. Whether that force is a deity or some idea of conscious fate, people will consciously devalue their own worth to believe they’re part of something greater. It might not be real, but that’s beside the point.

It helps us wrap our brains around incredible achievements and improbable events. It shows in how people can resent those who are just deemed lucky. Again, just look at lottery winners. Those who have enjoyed that rare level of luck can attest that they are generally looked down upon by those who gained their fortune in other ways.

This isn’t to imply that the whole concept of being blessed is inherently wrong. There may actually be a higher governing power behind certain peoples’ fortunes, be it an all-powerful deity or the shape-shifting lizard men of the Illuminati. There’s no evidence of it now, but as believers and conspiracy theorists will often point out, absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence.

That said, I believe the dehumanizing aspect of blessings over luck does more harm than good in the long run. Humility is an admirable trait, but there are better ways to encourage it that don’t involve assigning some arbitrary meaning to random events. In addition, saying someone or something is blessed has some indirect implications that are even less desirable than a random universe.

If one person is blessed, then that implies other people were deemed undeserving.

If one moment is blessed, then those that came before it are nothing more than prelude, no matter how much they meant to those involved.

If a people or society are blessed, then that basically declares that everyone else is somehow beneath them and that mentality rarely brings out the best in people.

Human beings are capable of remarkable feats. Many of those feats don’t require a higher power or some conscious force. They simply require an opportunity and a willingness to strive for something greater. Granted, opportunities can be random and there’s only so much anyone can do to control the luck they get. However, I submit that gives it even more meaning in the grand scheme of things.

Leave a comment

Filed under human nature, outrage culture, philosophy, politics

When (And Why) NOT To Be An Optimist

In general, I’m a pretty optimistic person. I have an overall positive outlook on life and the future. I’d even go so far as to say I’m excited about what the future will bring. My posts about sex robots should be proof enough of that.

However, I wasn’t always optimistic. In fact, anyone who knew me in high school or middle school probably saw me as the antithesis of optimism. I was always so dire and bleak with my outlook. I rarely had anything good or positive to say. I put myself down all the time and tried to bring the rest of the world with it.

It was not a healthy mindset, to say the least. I’m very glad I got out of it.

At the same time, it has given me some perspective. Having been on both extremes, I know what fuels that kind of thinking. I know and understand, to some extent, what leads someone to have that mindset.

Overall, I feel like having a positive outlook is more beneficial. That’s to be expected. When you’re more hopeful and optimistic, it tends to bleed into other aspects of your life. Optimism tends to attract optimistic people and those people are generally good for you. I certainly wouldn’t have the friends I have now if I’d remained so negative.

At the same time, there is a limit to optimism. There does come a point where being optimistic can be damaging, in the long run. I’m not talking about the kind of optimism that’s outright delusional, either. I’m more referring to the kind of mindset that makes someone too oblivious to the world.

I think that’s something people do struggle with. That might be a hard thing to say in wake of a global pandemic, but even before that dampened everyone’s spirits, it was easy to get caught up in that mindset. It often goes like this.

If everything seems to be going well, then why bother changing anything?

If things stop going well, then you try to get back to that particular mentality.

If what you do doesn’t work, then you double down and try even harder.

What made you happy and hopeful worked before. Why wouldn’t it work again?

This is a mindset I can attest to. When I was in college, my overall outlook improved. I got a lot less negative about the world. I got better at making friends. I even dared to be hopeful about the future.

Then, I faced some challenges. It was often small or minor. A girl I liked didn’t like me back. A class I took didn’t go well. My favorite team starts losing or I get into a fight with my roommate. It was very stressful, but I thought just maintaining a positive outlook would help work things out.

It didn’t. I won’t say it didn’t help at all. It just didn’t help as much as I’d hoped.

The same thing happened when I got anxious about my health and body image. As I’ve noted before, I did not have good health habits in my youth. I didn’t start regularly going to the gym until I was almost 30. Before then, I thought I just needed to rebuild my confidence and remain hopeful. I now know that was incredibly short-sighted.

Just having the right mindset is barely the first step. At some point, I had to make a more concerted effort. I had to work, grind, and struggle to get to where I wanted to go. If I had just stayed entirely within this positive mindset, I probably wouldn’t have gotten to where I am now, health wise. In that sense, being too positive worked against me.

This is the trap of overly positive thinking. Sometimes, if you’re too positive, you’re less inclined to put in the extra effort and make a meaningful change. Whether it’s about your health, your social life, or your politics, too much positive thinking can become an excuse to not change or do anything different.

That’s rarely healthy. That’s also why a little regular introspection can be a good thing. It’s something that’s encouraged by professionals who are far smarter than me on matters of psychology. If you need further details, check out this piece I found from Psychology Today.

Psychology Today: Positive Thinking Isn’t Always the Best Way to Go

When we suffer pain, rejection, disappointment, loss, disease, or another catastrophe, happy talk, whistling in the dark, or putting on a happy face do not work. Every cloud does not have a silver lining nor is there a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow.

Because the world is filled with all sorts of unhappy events, from not getting that dream job to losing a best friend to cancer, thinking only positive thoughts is delusional. Trying to maintain a happy face while tragedy engulfs us is unnatural, akin to trying to laugh when our hearts are breaking. Like Pagliacci, the clown who was intent upon making others laugh while tears streamed down his cheeks, we shortchange ourselves when we fail to deal with negative events and emotions.

I’ll sum this up by offering one last bit of insight.

Life isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort. Things do generally get better and assuming the worst tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, just being positive is never enough. At some point, you have to make the effort. It’s often strenuous and frustrating, but it’s wroth doing.

Leave a comment

Filed under health, human nature, Jack Fisher's Insights, psychology

The Life Ryan O’Callaghan: A Sad (But Uplifting) Story About A Former NFL Player Coming Out

Ryan O'Callaghan #75 of the Kansas City Chiefs in action against the Denver Broncos at Invesco Field at Mile High on November 14, 2010 in Denver Colorado.

For a brief moment, picture a typical gay man. Depending on when you grew up, where you came from, and what sort of media you consumed, you probably have a certain image in your head. I suspect that image looks nothing like Ryan O’Callaghan.

Unless you’re a world class NFL football nerd, chances are you haven’t heard that name before. However, after learning about his story, I hope he’s someone who has changed your perception of what it means to be LGBTQ. That’s because Ryan O’Callaghan’s story is a sad, downright heartbreaking story on many levels, but one that has a happy, uplifting ending.

We need more stories like that, especially during Pride Month. We need them now more than ever.

To appreciate what Ryan O’Callaghan went through, it’s necessary to appreciate how hard it can be to live life as a closeted gay man. It’s also worth noting that this isn’t a story from decades ago. Ryan O’Callaghan was born in 1983. He’s pretty much the same age as I am. He was born at a time when things were steadily improving for the LGBTQ community.

However, that wasn’t much solace for him. He grew up in a very conservative part of California. After realizing he was gay, he had no idea how he was going to live that life in such an environment. That led him to hide his sexuality. At one point, he even made plans to kill himself.

It’s hard to imagine how agonizing it must be, having to hide a part of who you are from everyone around you. Forget, for a moment, how you feel about homosexuality in general. Imagine trying to hide a big part of who you are from everyone and being terrified of the truth coming out. Could we really manage keeping a secret like that?

I know I couldn’t. I question the honesty of anyone who claims they can. For Ryan O’Callaghan, it was too much. He really didn’t believe he could live a full life as an openly gay man. The best he could do was hide his secret as long as he could. That was where football came in.

This goes back to that picture I conjured earlier. Ryan O’Callaghan is 6 foot 7 inches tall. During his playing days through college and the NFL, he weight in between 250 and 330 pounds. He was an offensive lineman. He looked and played the part. In essence, he was the last person anyone expected to be gay and that’s how he liked it.

Through high school, college, and the NFL, he let football be his mask. It’s supposed to be the manliest sport in the world. Even after Michael Sam became the first openly gay player to play in the NFL in 2014, there’s still this perception that the men who play football fit a certain ideal and that ideal doesn’t involve being gay.

That’s not to say there haven’t been gay players in the NFL. In fact, there have been quite a few. One of the best tight ends in NFL history, Jerry Smith, played his entire 13 year career in the NFL as a closeted gay man. There’s a good chance there are active players in the NFL right now who are gay, but in the closet.

Be that as it may, it offered no comfort to Ryan O’Callaghan. Football was still his mask, but he loved playing it enough to keep going. It also helped that he was very good at it. He was so good that he managed to get a college scholarship with the California Golden Bears. He went onto play well enough to get drafted by the New England Patriots in 2006.

That’s a level of success very few football players ever reach, regardless of position. The fact that Ryan was able to go that far is a testament to both his skill and his talent for the game. Doing it all while in the closet just makes it all the more harrowing.

However, that success didn’t change his plans. Ryan still believed he could not live life as an openly gay man. Once his playing days were over, he still planned to take his own life. At one point, he even wrote a suicide letter, bought guns, and built a cabin. That’s how close he came to ending it all.

Thankfully, this story has a happy ending.

Before he took that fatal step, he got help from a clinical psychologist. She helped him out of that dark place. Eventually, he was able to come out, revealing his secret to the general manager who had drafted him. It’s hard to overstate how big that moment must have been for him.

I certainly can’t do it justice. I’ve only touched on some of the details surrounding Ryan O’Callaghan’s story. For a more a more complete picture, check out his book, My Life On The Line. Also, I highly recommend that everyone read this story done by Outsports. It covers Ryan’s struggles in far greater depth.

I should offer a bit of a trigger warning, though. Some of the details are difficult to take in, but it’s worth noting that this story has a happy ending. Here’s a brief snippet.

Outsports: Former Patriots and Chiefs tackle Ryan O’Callaghan comes out as gay

Very early on in the process he felt it was mandatory to share his truth with Pioli, the man who had brought him from New England and helped keep his career — and his life — moving forward.

Just after the 2011 season, O’Callaghan visited Pioli in his office.

The day before he had called his general manager, who had become a good friend, to ask him for a meeting. Pioli had known about O’Callaghan’s drug abuse, and the gravity in his player’s voice over the phone told him that something dire was on his mind.

“He had built this up like he was coming in to tell me that maybe he had done something truly terrible,” Pioli remembered.

O’Callaghan trudged into Pioli’s office the next day. After a hug and some small talk, O’Callaghan turned serious. He told Pioli he had been visiting with Wilson and had gotten “clean.” It was good news to Pioli.

“I’ve got something else I’ve got to tell you,” O’Callaghan said. At this point he was fighting back tears. Pioli’s mind raced, wondering if his player had harmed or killed someone.

“I’m gay,” O’Callaghan said.

His private announcement was met with immediate support from the GM. Then:

“So what’s the problem you wanted to talk me about?” Pioli asked.

O’Callaghan looked at him, bewildered, 27 years of fear, anxiety and self-loathing meeting Pioli’s stare.

“Scott,” O’Callaghan said, “I’m… gay.”

Pioli acknowledged that and asked again if O’Callaghan had done something wrong.

“People like me are supposed to react a certain way, I guess,” Pioli told Outsports. “I wasn’t minimizing what he was telling me, but I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. He built this up and built this up to the point where he said he was nearly suicidal. What Ryan didn’t know is how many gay people I’ve had in my life.”

O’Callaghan also didn’t know that, according to Pioli, he wasn’t the first gay NFL player whom his GM had counseled.

The two men talked more and Pioli assured O’Callaghan that their conversation changed nothing, he was still there to support him, and they were still friends. O’Callaghan was shocked by the reaction. Pioli handled it pitch-perfectly, as though he had known all along. So O’Callaghan asked if his boss had, in fact, known.

“Ryan, how would I have known?” Pioli responded.

“Do you really think I like coffee that much?” O’Callaghan asked.

Pioli had no idea what his player was talking about.

O’Callaghan had, since his time in New England, headed to the training room after every practice to consume copious amounts of coffee, a convenient excuse to avoid being in the showers with the rest of his teammates.

Pioli got emotional at the thought of one of his players having to go to those lengths to keep some distance from his teammates. The mental toll this had all taken on O’Callaghan had come into focus.

As they rose to say goodbye, Pioli came around from behind his desk and opened his arms to embrace O’Callaghan. They had hugged countless times before, after games, after the offseason, even just moments ago when O’Callaghan walked into his office.

This time O’Callaghan stuck out his hand to shake.

“What’s with the handshake?” Pioli asked.

“I just told you I’m gay,” O’Callaghan replied sheepishly.

Pioli was having none of it and grabbed O’Callaghan.

“Dude, it’s OK,” Pioli said. Then, in his signature sense of humor, “Just don’t grab my butt.”

That broke the tension and O’Callaghan burst into laughter. The humor was a sign to him that Pioli wasn’t going to change. They could get along just as they always had.

“Don’t worry,” O’Callaghan replied, “You’re not my type.”

I sincerely hope this story resonates with others for all the right reasons. Whether you’re openly LGBTQ, in the closet, or just know people who are struggling with their sexuality, I hope the story of Ryan O’Callaghan offers insight and perspective.

Yes, we’ve made progress as a society. Life for the LGBTQ community is better now than it has been in the past. We still have room for improvement, as Ryan’s story perfectly illustrates. If you or anyone you know is struggling, I hope this story helps you in some way.

Also, if you need help or are at all feeling suicidal, please check out the resources of the Trevor Project. Thank you an have a Happy Pride Month.

1 Comment

Filed under football, LGBTQ, NFL, psychology, real stories, sports

Turning Thoughts Into Images: A New Era Of Art With Brain/Computer Interface

BCI Technology: How does a Brain-Computer Interface Work?

There are any number of skills you can learn, practice, and eventually master. I highly encourage everyone to do to this, whether it involves computer programming, cooking, crafts, or any other hobby. You may not always like or master them, but they’re still fun and rewarding to try.

For some skills, though, no amount of learning or practice will help you master them or even be competent. Some things just take talent. That’s why only a handful of human beings ever become Olympic athletes, professional quarterbacks, or brain surgeons. There’s nothing wrong with that. We need that kind of diverse skill set, as a species.

I consider myself to be good, if not above-average, at a number of skills. I’ve learned plenty over the years and there are some that I just have a knack for more than others. I like to think writing is one of them. However, there’s one particular skill that I just have absolutely zero talent for and it’s something that has bugged me for years.

That skill is drawing.

Please understand that this is somewhat personal for me. I’ve always had an artistic side, but for reasons I can’t quite grasp, I’ve never been able to draw worth a damn. I’ve taken art classes in school. I’ve tried practicing here and there. It just never works. I can barely draw stick figures, let alone an image of a typical person that doesn’t look like it was drawn by a five-year-old.

Some of that actually runs in my family. Quite a few relatives can attest that they can’t draw, either. At the same time, an unusually high number of relatives are good writers, poets, etc. We’re all great with words, for the most part. That’s a talent that seems to get passed down, but we just can’t turn those words into pictures.

For me, that’s kind of frustrating. I’ve always enjoyed telling stories. For a time, I wanted to be a comic book writer, but I learned quickly that’s next to impossible when you can’t draw. There are also times when I wish I could draw well enough to describe a scene from a story. I just don’t have that talent or that skill.

As much as I enjoy writing, I don’t deny that humans are visual creatures. If I could incorporate images into my work, then I believe it’ll have a much greater impact. Sadly, I doubt I’ll ever have the necessary talent and skill to create those images.

However, it certain technological trends continue, I might not have to. A recent article in Psychology Today gave me hope that one day, I’ll be able to take some of these images I see in my head and make them real for others to see. It also leads me to believe that art, as we know it, is about to change in a big way.

Psychology Today: New Brain-Computer Interface Transforms Thoughts to Images

Achieving the next level of brain-computer interface (BCI) advancement, researchers at the University of Helsinki used artificial intelligence (AI) to create a system that uses signals from the brain to generate novel images of what the user is thinking and published the results earlier this month in Scientific Reports.

“To the best of our knowledge, this is the first study to use neural activity to adapt a generative computer model and produce new information matching a human operator’s intention,” wrote the Finnish team of researchers.

The brain-computer interface industry holds the promise of innovating future neuroprosthetic medical and health care treatments. Examples of BCI companies led by pioneering entrepreneurs include Bryan Johnson’s Kernel and Elon Musk’s Neuralink.

Studies to date on brain-computer interfaces have demonstrated the ability to execute mostly limited, pre-established actions such as two-dimensional cursor movement on a computer screen or typing a specific letter of the alphabet. The typical solution uses a computer system to interpret brain-signals linked with stimuli to model mental states.

Seeking to create a more flexible, adaptable system, the researchers created an artificial system that can imagine and output what a person is visualizing based on brain signals. The researchers report that their neuroadaptive generative modeling approach is “a new paradigm that may strongly impact experimental psychology and cognitive neuroscience.”

Naturally, this technology is very new and nowhere near ready for commercial use. It’ll probably be a while before I could use it to create my own graphic novels of the books I’ve written and the sexy short stories I’ve told. That still won’t stop me from entertaining thoughts of incorporating images into my stories.

I doubt I’m the only one who feels that way, too. I know plenty of people like me who just do not have the talent or skill to draw anything more detailed than a stick figure. Those same people have images in their minds that they wish to share. If products like Neuralink, which the article directly references, become more mainstream, then this could be among its many uses.

With some refinement, it won’t just allow artistically challenged people like me to make competent drawings. It’ll allow people who never would’ve otherwise produced that art create something that they can share with the world.

Just take a moment to appreciate how many beautiful images exist only in the minds of people who never get an opportunity to share them. Maybe someone did have an idea for a piece of artwork that would’ve brought beauty, joy, and inspiration to the world, but they just didn’t have the skill, resources, or talent to make it tangible. How many masterpieces have we lost because of that limitation?

We can never know, but any loss of beautiful art is a tragic one. With a process like this, people who never even thought about having an artistic side could explore it. Moreover, they would be able to do it without messy art supplies, sketchbooks, or ink stains. They would just need a neural prosthesis and a computer.

Almost everyone has a computer, so we’re already halfway there. If ever a product came out that allowed us to develop this ability of turning thoughts into images, I would be among the first to try it. I would eagerly line up to take the plunge, if only to open the possibility that some of the images I see when I’m writing can become real one day. I hope I live long enough to see this. Our bodies and minds may ultimately fail us, but great art can last for multiple lifetimes.

Leave a comment

Filed under Artificial Intelligence, biotechnology, Neuralink, technology

My Thoughts On Facebook And #DeleteFacebook

Here is how to delete Facebook | TechCrunch

There are certain people, groups, and companies that are difficult to defends. It’s not impossible, as is the case with tobacco companies, criminal organizations, and whoever designs unskippable video ads. It’s just difficult and I’m certainly not qualified to carry out such with any real expertise.

I’m just not that smart or informed.

I make that disclaimer because I’m about to defend a company that doesn’t have a stellar reputation, to say the least. If anything, their name and its famous founder have gained such a negative connotation that they’re just a few steps away from being a tobacco company. Given how one actually sells products that gives people cancer, that’s saying something.

That company is Facebook. I know that just typing that word out for people to read is going to garner a reaction and not in a good way.

I get that. I really do. I’m very much aware of some of the many scandals and shady dealings that Facebook has engaged in since its inception. I’m also aware of the objectively negative impacts that Facebook has had on certain people. That’s not something I can defend, nor would I want to.

There are any number of bad things about Facebook and its impact that I can go over. However, there is one important aspect to those things that I would like to highlight. I don’t think it constitutes a defense of Facebook or its practices, but some may construe it as such. I’m still going to point it out, if only to add some perspective. It all comes down to this.

Facebook is still just a tool. At some point, all its damaging ills are on us, the users, and not the company.

I understand that’s an unpopular sentiment. It’s not that dissimilar from what gun advocates say about guns. Like any inanimate object, it’s not deadly or damaging until somebody willfully uses it. That’s certainly true to some extent. It’s just a matter of the extent that people disagree on.

However, Facebook is not akin to a firearm or some tool that can actually be used to cause tangible, physical harm to someone. It’s a website/software program. Using it requires people to go out of their way to access it. In addition, getting any meaningful use out of it requires active engagement. It’s not just something you can give to a kid and they would easily figure it out.

It can still be damaging, but in a very different way. Like it or not, some of those ways are ultimately our responsibility and not that of Facebook. I know it’s just a lot easier to criticize the company, its practices, and the conduct of its founder, Mark Zuckerburg. That doesn’t change the actual nature of the product.

Yes, there is objectively toxic content on Facebook that degrades, demeans, and deceives people.

However, that toxic content doesn’t come directly from Facebook. It comes from us.

I bring this up because I saw the hashtag, #DeleteFacebook, trending again. That seems to happen several times a year, often after a new scandal or in wake of an unpopular decision. It’s becoming so routine that it’s hard to take seriously.

On top of that, the hashtag rarely accomplishes anything. Despite all the scandals and negative press, the overall usership of Facebook is still growing. As of this writing, it has approximately 2.85 billion users. Criticism and hashtags aside, it hasn’t kept the company from growing. It hasn’t made Mark Zuckerberg any less rich and influential.

I know hashtags are notorious for presenting a false reality to those who seek it, but this particular hashtag has become more a virtue signal than an actual protest. More and more these days, the hashtag has become less about Facebook’s unscrupulous business practices and more about protesting Big Tech, as they’re called.

While there’s certainly a place for protesting the practices of large, powerful corporations, I feel like the substance of that effort gets lost in virtue signaling. People are more inclined to just whine about how bad Facebook is and say how much better their lives are after deleting it. It’s rare for anyone to actually highlight a substantive policy or practice that warrants protest. It’s all about people saying, “Look at me! I gave up Facebook, so I’m better than you!”

I know that’s a simplistic statement that doesn’t apply to everyone. I’m sure there are people whose lives did improve after deleting their Facebook account. At the same time, there are people whose lives are still enriched by Facebook.

Personally, I’ve met great people through Facebook. I’ve also been able to keep up with friends and family that I never would’ve been able to keep up with. I genuinely value those connections. They even prove critical when there’s a major family crisis that everyone is trying to keep up with. That happened several years back when my grandmother got sick. It happened more recently with helping my father connect with other relatives during the pandemic.

Facebook can be used for good. Like any tool, it can have a positive impact on its users. It’s just a matter of how it’s used.

There will always be people who seek to use any tool for something wrong, deviant, or nefarious. We don’t criticize ski masks the same way we criticize Facebook and for good reason. At the end of the day, it comes back to the individuals using it.

Again, that doesn’t excuse some of the shady things the company has done over the years. I’m not defending that. This extended rant is just me reminding people that some of the worst parts of Facebook only exist because of us, the users. At some point, we have to take responsibility for that. We can’t expect a multi-billion dollar software company to do it for us.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, human nature, media issues, rants, technology

Signs Someone Truly Loves You (According To Reddit)

How do you know when someone truly, sincerely loves you?

That’s a question that every love song, chick flick, and romance novel attempt to explore. I’ve certainly done my share of exploring with the novels and sexy short stories I’ve written. They don’t always answer the question, but they do give it drama and substance.

What about love in the real world? Stories are fanciful and theatric. The real world is not. However, true love still exists in this world. Being a lifelong lover of romance, and having seen it manifest first-hand in real people, I know just how real and powerful it can be.

Those real-life love stories are often more powerful than anything in fiction. Those stories are still out there, even in this cynical world we live in. You just have to know the signs, but that’s easier said than done.

What are those signs? Well, I certainly have my theories, but I understand the love manifests in many diverse ways. My experiences are limited, as are those of most people. Thankfully, that’s where Reddit comes in.

While it may have its dark corners, there are some genuinely heartfelt threads to explore. These threads will make your day for all the right reasons if you find them. Below is a video from the YouTube channel, Radio TTS, on a thread from r/AskReddit on signs that someone truly loves you.

If you’re a romantic or just want to explore the question, this is something that will definitely help. It may even help you realize for yourself just how much that special someone loves you. Enjoy!

Leave a comment

Filed under Love Or Obsession, psychology, romance, sex in society, YouTube

Suicides (Surprisingly) Went Down During 2020: Possible Reasons And Insights

Every now and then, I go out of my way to highlight good or uplifting news. From brave priests who do defy the Vatican to wholesome comic strips involving Mr. Rogers, I try to use these stories to lift everyone’s spirits during difficult times.

Let’s face it. We’ve had a lot of that lately. Last year gave us plenty of difficulties, to say the least. It certainly doesn’t help that good stories rarely make the news, mostly because it doesn’t garner ratings or shock value. I tried to do my part, but I admit it wasn’t easy.

I managed to find some silver linings, by they hardly made up for all the soul-crushing hardship that year wrought. My spirit is still not fully intact after being so broken by last year.

Even so, I still want to make that effort to highlight good news, especially when it’s unexpected or surprising. One such story involves the less-than-uplifting topic of suicide, something that is both emotionally charged and incredibly devastating for a great many people and their families.

If ever there was a year during which people could be forgiven for thinking such morbid thoughts, it’s 2020. If a story came out that indicated suicides went up during 2020 as the pandemic raged, then I doubt anyone would be surprised. It probably wouldn’t even be news.

However, according to a story from CBS, that’s not what happened. In fact, the opposite occurred. Against all dire assumptions and understandable cynicism, the number of suicides in the US declined significantly during 2020. I’ll give everyone a minute to wrap their heads around that.

CBS News: U.S. suicides dropped last year, defying pandemic expectations

The number of U.S. suicides fell nearly 6% last year amid the coronavirus pandemic — the largest annual decline in at least four decades, according to preliminary government data.

Death certificates are still coming in and the count could rise. But officials expect a substantial decline will endure, despite worries that COVID-19 could lead to more suicides.

It is hard to say exactly why suicide deaths dropped so much, but one factor may be a phenomenon seen in the early stages of wars and national disasters, some experts suggested.

“There’s a heroism phase in every disaster period, where we’re banding together and expressing lots of messages of support that we’re in this together,” said Dr. Christine Moutier, chief medical officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. “You saw that, at least in the early months of the pandemic.”

An increase in the availability of telehealth services and other efforts to turn around the nation’s suicide problem may have also contributed, she said.

I want to make one thing clear again before proceeding. Suicide is a serious issue that affects a lot of people. If at all you’re struggling with suicidal thoughts, please consider calling a help line or reaching out to someone. There are people out there who will listen.

Having said that, I also want to note that this news genuinely surprised me. Even as someone who tries to have more faith in humanity than most, this is pretty much the opposite of what I would’ve assumed and in the best possible way.

During a crisis, people tend to panic. We all saw that last year. Anyone who fought someone for access to toilet paper remembers that. When people panic, they get stressed out. When they get stressed, they tend to get depressed. How else are you supposed to feel when you see the death toll climbing every day?

Despite all that, fewer people fell beyond that darkest of dark points. More chose to endure. That bold part is something I highlighted because that is a real effect. Whenever a disaster strikes, people tend to come together. Things like political divisions, racial strife, and what not tend to fall to the wayside when we’re all at the mercy of something we can’t control.

It’s one of humanity’s greatest strengths. Our tribalism may divide us a lot during times of peace, but when the going gets tough, we come together for the sake of survival. That’s powerful sentiment and one that can bring out the best in people. During a global pandemic, we all have to come together to some extent to make it through.

In addition, some cite the rise of telemedicine and the ability to treat people with mental illness remotely as a contributing factor. I certainly think that played a part, but I suspect that the shared struggle and solidarity that often comes during a disaster was a larger factor.

That same shared sense of community and commonality directly counter some of the most powerful risk factors for suicide. Those who make that dire choice often feel alone and isolated. They feel they lack that core sense of community that’s so critical to any social species.

The fact it was strong enough to reduce suicide during a once-in-a-century pandemic is both revealing and encouraging. It shows that this shared sense of community has tangible benefits to large swaths of people. It also hints that the world we had prior to the pandemic wasn’t given enough people this sense of connection.

You can blame that on any number of things, from smartphones to outrage culture to politics. I certainly have my theories, but I’m not smart enough or informed enough to make them credible. I highlight this story because I think it offers and important perspective.

When things get really bad, people will come together. It’s only when they get bad enough that we realize how much more we can do as a community than we can as individuals. We shouldn’t forget that. Even after this pandemic is over and things revert to some semblance of normalcy, we can’t forget that we’re a social species.

We need each other.

We need friends, family, and neighbors. It doesn’t just make us all stronger during a crisis. It’s an integral part of being human.

Leave a comment

Filed under Current Events, health, human nature, politics, psychology