The Biological Control of Flatulence


Farts are funny. It’s immature to laugh at them, but we can’t help it. We’ve all dealt it, and we’ve all smelt it. Its universal appeal stretches across demographic lines, income brackets, and various levels of sophistication and intelligence. We might laugh out loud, behind a hand, or wait until the alleged perpetrator has left the room, but sooner or later, most of us will be laughing. Depending on how bad it smells, flatulence might be the one bodily function that offends everyone and no one at the same time. It embarrassed us, most of us, when we do it, but most of us don’t mind laughing at ourselves most of the time. The jokes we tell about them play as well in the seediest bars as they do in the most refined churches. They’re funny, and we laugh, but are we laughing so hard that we forget to ask why we have at least some ability to control this biological quirk?

Those of us who have a layman’s interest in evolution find it fascinating to read scientific theories regarding the most basic bodily functions we all take for granted. The theories are based, in part, on evolution and natural selection, but they are just theories. Most of these discussions involve relatively trivial, yet fascinating theories regarding why we have the ability to blink, fingernails, earlobes, and goosebumps. These theories involve biological abilities that unless or until they’re threatened, we don’t appreciate. Most of us don’t analyze them either, for what’s there to analyze?

According to these scientific theories, the current functionality of most animals was born of need. If animals didn’t have levels of functionality necessary for survival, they either developed them or went extinct. When the species found a way to survive, a level of natural selection occurred, in which the animals passed those adaptations along. How has the otherwise indefensible ball of mush, we call the octopus, managed to survive hundreds of millions of years? They adopted and adapted various intricate survival techniques that are almost inexplicable to science.

At one point in human history, early humans realized they were near the bottom of the food chain, and they tried to find ways to neutralize the other animals’ dominance. In the course of developing weapons and other techniques necessary for survival, they developed the most complex organ in the animal kingdom, the human brain. Fossil records indicate that the human brain grew in size, relative to the body from early primates to the current Homo sapiens. The need to survive, in other words, dictated our brain’s current size and complex level of functionality. The owl needs acute vision to see small prey from their perch high up in trees, and they need to be able to fly down to catch them. Due to the complexities of the human brain, we didn’t need either of these abilities to survive, so we never developed them. We don’t need goosebumps either, but according to some theories, humans may have needed them at one time to ward off prey. When man was more hairy, the goosebumps made the air stand up and appear more abundant, so they would appear larger to the prey. The other, more widely accepted theory is that our hairier ancestors strengthened their hair fibers to stay warm, and the scientists suggest that raised hairs trap air to create insulation in a manner we still use. Thus, when we’re creeped out or cold, our brain still sends a message to the body to raise the hair fibers or strengthen them to make what we have more abundant, or appear more abundant. The point is that there’s nothing really interesting about basic, common bodily functions, until we delve into the idea theories regarding why we have them. 

If we have scientific explanations for why we might have needed something as trivial as goosebumps, why no explanation for the control we have of gaseous releases? Ashley Cowie wrote an interesting, historical guide to famous flatulence in history that includes stories of fart gods and various other spiritual connections to the breath between the legs, and the idea that if a person pushed hard enough they could “fart out their soul”. Other articles list some scientific theories we have to explain the biological need to release gas from the system. There are scientific explanations to explain why some flatulence smells and others don’t. There are even scientific explanations to explain why some farts are louder than others are, but there are no scientific theories I can find that attempt to explain why we can control (for the most part) the force and volume.

All animals have this ability of course, but humans are the only ones who voluntarily deploy it on a regular basis for entertainment purposes. Watch a young wild animal let one go, and the force and volume is apt to startle them. Older animals, like older humans, are unmoved by it. Some humans say they do it to gain relief, others suggest they require it for medicinal purposes, but most of us just do it for fun. Was there ever a reason for this ability, a source for it that would define its need in such a way that we enhanced it?

The science behind it suggests that the volume of flatulence depends on how much gas we have bottled up and/or how tight the sphincter is. The digestive system needs to remove/release gas, and if it served that biological need alone, the rectum would be similar to a building’s exhaust flapper. Instead, we have muscles that we can voluntarily (for the most part) expand and contract to release anything we want, at any volume, to disrupt or enhance, social gatherings, and no one has come up with a sufficient explanation why.

Some have theorized that louder flatulence might be equivalent to some sort of biological alarm to warn us when there is too much CO2 in our system. The louder the flatulence, the more CO2 buildup we have, and the greater need for one to switch to a healthier diet. If true, that might explain why some flatulence is louder, but it doesn’t explain how we arrived at this ability and if natural selection played any role in it. We don’t need the control now, but we don’t need goosebumps either, so why do we have these abilities? Is it possible that at one time, a time when modes of communication weren’t what they are now, prehistoric man manipulated their flatulence to communicate coded levels of alarm to their fellow man? If a wolf was near, they let loose some silent killers to inform those in their clan, by scent, that a wolf was near, stay still, or prepare the weaponry for the hunt. If a sabretooth tiger was near, they let her rip. Is it possible they communicated with flatulence in a manner similar, but different from the Native Americans’ smoke signals, and that which the military would later use with the Morse Code in WWII, and the predators couldn’t figure out our secret signals to one another in time.

Seeking answers for why we have this ability might also help explain our individual view of God. Most Christians believe God created everything from life to the universe and everything in between to support the harmonious relationship between the heavenly bodies. If God created everything from the Sun to Jupiter to the flagellum and the atom to serve a purpose, what was the purpose behind giving us the ability to control the force of our flatulence? Both literal and contextual readers also agree that God gave us autonomy, but they disagree on how much. Literal and contextual readers of The Bible both agree that God is of unlimited omniscience, so the only conclusion we can arrive at is that He knew how we would use this ability. Some might consider it heretical to suggest this, but did God design the intricate anatomy down to the smallest, most insignificant elements of the anatomy, or did He allow for some autonomy on the part of the being in the same manner he provided autonomy of belief? Was the control of the force and volume of our flatulence a gift that He gave us, knowing how we’d use it, and an indicator that He has such a wonderful sense of humor? Did He decide to give us some wholesome fun with our body or, was the ability to control our flatulence a biological quirk we discovered on our own in the process of forcing waste out?  

Atheists, who also happen to be scientists, suggest that too often religious people explain any gaps in modern scientific understanding with the idea that there had to be a miracle involved, and that miracle had to arrive at the hands of a creator. Religious people suggest that scientists do the same and that if God inspired the writers of The Bible to explain everything from creation to goosebumps to this control of our flatulence we might not be having these debates. We probably shouldn’t question the content, or the purpose, of the best-selling book of all time, and it might have damaged The Bible’s legacy as a serious philosophical document to waste time on such trivial matters, but it would’ve also provided us some much-needed information and some levity if God inspired The Bible’s authors to include some incidents, and discussions about, flatulence in the various stories and parables of the book. Some of us prefer to think that God gave us The Bible as a philosophical road map to figure out the larger things and a progressive intellect to figure out the rest.

The Complex Art of Lying


Most seven-year-olds are barely capable of lying, and their “tells” are often so obvious when they do that they’re hilarious. They need to learn how to do it better, and that knowledge only comes with experience. A Scientific American piece by Theodor Schaarchmidt suggests that lying is among the most sophisticated accomplishments of the human mind, and the complexities involved often require peak capacity of the mind. Those with some frontal cortex injuries are incapable of lying, due to their injuries. The young aren’t yet capable of lying with great proficiency, and “Young adults between 18 and 29 do it best. After about the age of 45, we begin to lose this ability.” When elderly people display the fact that they’ve lost some of the complex functions required to lie, we make the mistake of believing they voluntarily disregard the filter we all maintain for polite conversations. “They’ve been on this earth 85 years, and they don’t care what anyone thinks anymore,” we say. “They’re done with trying to spare our feelings.” We think it’s funny and intriguing to see this live, but studies cited by Schaarchmidt suggest that there is a U-shaped curve to truth telling, or an ‘n’ shaped curve to lying, and it’s all based on the complex functions of the brain that operate in some of the same peaks and valleys of our physical abilities.

The Scientific American piece also cites an illustrative story involving a man Schaarchmidt names Mr. Pinocchio. Mr. Pinocchio was a 51-year-old who “was a high-ranking official in the European Economic Community (since replaced by the European Union), and his negotiating partners could tell immediately when he was bending the truth [lying]. His condition, a symptom of a rare form of epilepsy, was not only dangerous it was bad for his career.” The article states that doctors found that a walnut-sized tumor caused seizures whenever he told a lie. “Once the tumor was removed, the fits stopped, and he was able to resume his duties [his lying]. The doctors, who described the case in 1993, dubbed the condition the “Pinocchio syndrome”.”

Some lie to advance an agenda, some tell white lies to be nice, and some BS to make others think they’re more successful, more adventurous, and happier. If we catch them in the lie, we’re likely to hear something along the lines of, “Everybody does it,” or “if you say you don’t do it, you’re lying.” Those lines are effective, because there is some truth to them. We all tell harmless white lies occasionally. We fabricate, and involve some creativity in our truth telling. Yet, we all know the difference between stretching the truth and lying, and we fear that greater acceptance of small, white lies can affect our relationships with these people, our society, or our culture. The latter might seem like exaggerated hyperbole, but we fear that the society and culture cannot operate properly without some demand for some level of consistent honesty from our fellow man. We can’t help but think that such lines also give liars license to continue to lie without guilt.

***

“A lie is not a lie if you believe it,” the writers from Seinfeld wrote for George Costanza. The implication in this line is that the art of deception requires some effort on the part of the liar to convince himself of a falsehood if he wants to convince another party effectively. Schaarchmidt’s piece suggests that if the liar is between 18 and 29, they might not have to put forth as much effort, as the lie will flow more fluently, if there is no damage to the area of the brain required for the convincing lie.

Who’s lying, and why are they lying? How about we take the Costanza lie one step further and suggest that the liar believes what he’s saying with every fiber of their being. Is it still a lie? The separation of the two is, of course, that the liar doesn’t have to convince himself of the lie. He believes it. Even if it was technically a lie and we can prove its lack of merit beyond a reasonable doubt, it would be difficult to prosecute or persecute them in just about every court in the land, including the court of public opinion.

Perhaps, the liar is guilty of the “blind spot” lie. Blind spot lies are often momentary blotches on the liar’s otherwise stellar record of honesty. Yet, they loathe their adversaries so much that their competitive spirit gets the best of them. They cannot see the hole until they fall into it, and some of them cannot see even see it then, but their followers wonder if he hates them so much that he can no longer see the truth with regard to their opponent. If he can see it for what it is, the blind spot lie often permits its purveyor to lie without compunction if it serves his goal to do so.  

Regardless, he can no longer view simple disagreements with his opponents on how to resolve pressing matters in a nonpartisan manner. He can no longer see an honest disagreement as a simple case of differing values. We don’t know if he has a personal grudge or a professional one, but it’s obvious to everyone but him that his is an emotional pursuit as opposed to a rational one. He is convinced that nefarious influences affect his opponent’s agenda. He views his opponents’ motives as impure. He views his opponents as uninformed, incompetent, selfish, and divisive. He does not view any of his opponents’ mistakes as genuine, of if he does, he capitalizes on them and characterizes them as intentional. He does not think that his opponents are prone to human failure, or if they are, he seeks to characterize them as some sort of institutional failing on their part. In his quest to seek motive, he incidentally accuses them of matters for which he has the most guilt. If he accuses his opponent of thievery, in other words, chances are he knows the thief’s mentality™ better than most. Whatever form of deception lines his accusation, pay careful attention to the particulars of his charge for it might say more about him than it does his opponent. We call this psychological projection.

This blind spot is most disheartening to the liar’s believers, for they believe in him and feel disillusioned by his actions. When they see him dismiss his opponents on a personal level with unfounded charges and names, as opposed to defeating their argument on a granular level, his followers are disappointed. We might enjoy the name-calling, and we might even believe it, but on some other level, we thought “our guy” was above such street games. We thought he was an intellectual that no other intellectual would dare battle until he decided to use his power to shut his opponents down to shut them up. He then called upon others to help him shut down dissenting voices, and it shocked those of us who thought he was a fellow dissenting voice. We didn’t think he would stoop to the other guys’ tactics of corruption, lies, and the ‘whatever it takes’ mentality to bring his foes down, but we find some of his actions troublesome. Some blind spot liars knowingly engage in wanton deception, but others have such an emotional blind spot of hatred that they can’t see it for what it is. Most of the times, it is difficult to see the difference, as we can’t know what’s in a man’s heart.

***

The late 1800’s housed an historic rivalry between two West Virginia families. The Hatfields vs McCoy rivalry went beyond a simple disagreement between families. It involved pure hatred that led to murder in some cases. Many consider it one of the greatest family rivalries in history, pitting two families who genuinely hated each other with every fiber of their being. It was not blind hatred, as both families could provide a laundry list of incidents that stoked their ire. As with all animosity and grudges, if the families wanted to find a less violent solution to their dispute they could have at some point on the timeline.  

The Hatfields believed the McCoys were so awful that they accused them of dastardly deeds and vice versa. Some of the times, the charges they made were lies, and some of the times, they committed an equally egregious offense sometime in the past. Yet, the Hatfields viewed the McCoys as evil personified, and they thought everything the McCoys did should offend the sensibilities of every good person who learns of any incidents involving a McCoy, and vice versa. Even if we caught them in a lie, I’m sure they considered it justified on many different levels.

Some famous writers suggest that it’s preposterous to suggest that the most fair-minded among us are objective, as we don’t have the capacity for it. Our opinions, regarding the other side, are so emotional that they colorize how we view their actions. Our emotions, on the matter, blind us to facts, thus the term blind spot. The term blind spot and blind hatred are different, of course, but they intertwine when the latter provokes the former to view the other side as villains who are incapable of truth. We write pieces like this with a certain person in mind, but we run the risk of having a reader read this piece with one of “our guys” in mind.   

We choose sides. Those who follow sports, religion, politics, and the history of the Hatfields vs. the McCoys choose their guys vs. the other guys. Our side is right, and the other side contains villainous liars and corrupt cheats who are willing to do whatever it takes to succeed. They don’t care about us. We can guess that disinterested parties chose sides during the Hatfields vs. McCoys and proceeded to follow the newspaper stories from their side. They probably developed loyalties that led to their own blind spots on the matter. Even though most of them never met a Hatfield or a McCoy, or ever saw one speak, we can guess that their interest in the story spawned some loyalties on the matter that let them to believe “their guys” were incapable of having blind spots, lying, or any form of corruption bent on destroying the other side. We still have matters that divide us in seemingly trivial ways, as observers around the nation were intrigued, and divided, by this episode in history. We might never know the truth of the matter and in some ways, we don’t care. These episodes rarely affect us directly, so no one really suffers, until it dawns on us that everyone does when it becomes apparent that by picking sides we forego the quest for truth.

 

Gorillas and Lions and Wolves, Oh My


Yesterday, I watched a gorilla at the zoo have what appeared to be a brain-tingling moment when he removed some dung from the anus of another gorilla. I might be assigning human emotions to the gorilla when I write this, but soon after eating the concoction, the gorilla closed his eyes. There is a variety of reasons why a gorilla might close his eyes, and most of them are most of the reasons we close our eyes, but I thought he was taking a moment out of his day to savor whatever that other gorilla ate and whatever flavor that other gorilla’s digestive system added to it. The elongated, almost spiritual closing of the eyes might have been a coincidence, but I thought the gorilla enjoyed the concoction so much that he wanted to savor it for a moment before going back to the dispenser. There was a full tray of food awaiting the gorilla, in the southeast corner of his enclosure, but he preferred going to the dispenser before him. Watching that gorilla go back for more, I realized that individual tastes are so relative to the flavors we create that it’s pointless to try to fashion our work in such a way that it pleases everyone. We can only create whatever our nervous system produces and we flavor it with the dispensaries we have at our disposal in the hope that someone somewhere might enjoy it for what it is.  

Yesterday, I realized the roles those two gorillas played in this display defined for me what proved to be one of the most unusual and successful pairings in music history: Ben Folds and William Shatner. I enjoy the music of Ben Folds, and I’ve been a fan for a long time, but there is something missing in his music. He has some fantastic singles, but I’ve never been so attracted to his oeuvre that I would list him as one of “my guys”. If I informed Folds how frustrated I am that he comes so close to reaching me, I’m sure he wouldn’t care. Not only would he not care, he shouldn’t care. If I met him and told him that most of his music misses the mark for me, he should say, “That’s on you. I can only do what I do. I can’t worry about pleasing you, offending you, or infinitely pleasing you. If it pleases enough people that I can make a living at this game, that’s great, but I’m not going to change what I do to please you or Betty Beatle from Idaho.”  

William Shatner is not one of “my guys” either, but he’s always around. He’s the green bean casserole of the entertainment world. I doubt anyone who has yet to try green bean casserole would look at it and think, “Yum!” but it’s at so many family get togethers and potluck dinners that we eventually “what the hell” it, until we discover it’s not so bad. As long as we don’t overdo it, repetition can even lead to a level of fondness for it, until we look forward to the next get together or potluck dinner that has a tray of it.

No one should confuse the term “my guys” with a description of talent. I’ll drop the typical line people drop to explain the discrepancy. “I respect the heck out of what Folds and Shatner do, but it just doesn’t reach me on a personal level.” I know people who love John Lennon so much that they suggest Paul McCartney was not talented. I understand that we all take sides in any rivalry, but to suggest that a talent on par with Paul McCartney has no talent is ludicrous. The Silly Love Songs vs. Important Songs debate rages on in some quarters, as Lennon fans suggest Lennon was not only more important he was more creative. These people relate more with Lennon, and because of that Lennon was “their guy”, but to prove that point, some try to so by belittling McCartney’s Silly Love Songs talent.

I missed Folds and Shatner’s collaboration for years, because they weren’t “my guys”. When I eventually heard the album Has Been, however, I was blown away. It reminded me of one of my favorite concoctions: cranberry granola and banana flavored yogurt. On its own, this yogurt flavor is too sweet for me, and while this flavor of granola is tasty, I probably wouldn’t eat it as a standalone. When I put the two together, however, I enjoy it so much that I’ve considered submitting it to the overlords as my reward for living a decent, moral life. When I pass on, I want to meet my long-deceased relatives of course, and I wouldn’t mind it if someone played me a Brahams Sonata on the harp, but if your’re wondering how best to reward me for a life well lived, might I suggest that the floors and walls of my reward taste like the banana-flavored yogurt and cranberry granola concoction I created.

When we eat concoctions like these, we spoon too much of one flavor most of the times. Some of the times, we spoon too much yogurt, and some of the times, we spoon too much granola, but there are occasions, at least once a container, when we hit a Goldilocks spoonful. The album Has Been is the Goldilocks concoction of talent for me, and when I listen to it, I close my eyes to savor the moment. I’ve listened to that album so often that I’ve tried listening to the other concoctions they’ve made together, but they rarely hit the mark in the same manner. On their own, Shatner and Folds create interesting, quality material that doesn’t quite hit that brilliant, Holy Crud! mark, but together they created what I consider their Goldilocks moment. I would think that such moments are so fleeting in any artist’s career that when they hit one, they would immediately run back into the studio to dispense another collaboration, but perhaps they don’t think they can create another Goldilocks moment. I know they did singles together before and after Has Been, but that album was so good that I would think it would drive them right back into the studio to do another collaboration. We know that Folds affinity for Shatner brought them together, but we don’t know why they don’t make another album together. They might also think that fate and whatnot permit but one Goldilocks moment a life.

Carnivores in Cartoons

Yesterday, I thought carnivores were the mean, bad guys of the wild. Today I realized that the cartoons we watched conditioned us to believe that when a lion, shark, alligator, or any animal at the top of the food chain eats one at the bottom, they do so with some evil intent. We can find a definition of this in Aesop’s fable in which a mouse removes a thorn from a lion’s paw. The lion, in turn, agrees not to eat the mouse. The mouse does something nice for the lion, and the lion, in turn, agrees to do something nice for the mouse. The inference is that if the lion betrays this agreement, and instinctually eats the mouse, that means the lion is mean.    

Think about all the cartoons we watched and books we read in our youth. They depicted carnivores with jagged teeth and menacing growls. As we often do, we confused being scary with being mean or bad. Today I learned that they’re not mean, or bad, they’re just hungry, and like all other animals, they eat when they’re hungry. Regardless what it does to their reputation as a beautiful animal, wolves enjoy eating fluffy bunny wabbits. They do awful things to bunnies if they’re able to catch them, but that does not mean they’re mean or evil in the manner we define such terms. By teaching young humans lessons, using animals as main characters, some of us anthropomorphize these characters to such a degree that we assign them human characteristics. Lions, tigers, and bears aren’t nice, they aren’t mean, and they don’t make decisions on what to eat based on how other animals interact with them.   

Yesterday I learned that even if the animals at the top of the food chain are not the meanies we thought they were when we were kids, we should still consider doing everything we can to avoid one in the wild. After watching videos that focus on animals biting humans, nature lovers qualify the instinctual actions of these wild animals by saying, “We are not on their diet.” The nature lovers then provide a number of theories regarding how these incidents often involve nothing more than a case of mistaken identity. These theories are true, of course, as most animals in the wild, and in the ocean, have never seen a human, and self-preservation is more important to animals than eating in most cases. Animals often take a pass on anything unfamiliar if they think they could get hurt in the process. Sometimes, however, they’re so hungry that they’re willing to eat anything that moves, especially if it moves slower than other prey.

Most animals don’t know what a human is, and that’s why they fear us, but we are also a point of curiosity for them. Thus, when they see us walking around in their domain, or floating on the surface, they’re curious, and that curiosity is almost exclusive to considering whether they should consider adding us to their diet. Yet, seeing, hearing, and smelling us might not be enough to satisfy their curiosity, and they obviously cannot communicate with us, so their last resort is to taste us to try to figure out what we are to determine if they might want to start adding us to their diet.

The nature lovers further their argument by opening up the belly of a bull shark. “When we open up the belly of a bull shark, we find everything from license plates to cans of paint to packs of cigarettes. The bull shark, unlike other sharks, is not very discerning. They’ll eat anything they see floating on the surface of the water, even if it happens to be a human on a surfboard.” Translation: They do not intend to devour us. They’re just curious. They just want to taste us to see what we are. I see the nature lovers working here. I know they’re trying to relieve our fears about sharks, and in turn preserve the shark population, and I know wild animals are not bad or mean in the context humans define the terms, but it does not comfort me to know that all they want to do is taste me. If I happen upon one of these carnivorous beasts, and it’s clear that all they want to do is taste me, I’m still going to do whatever I can to get away. If I fail to escape, I’m probably going to shoot it, because I have to imagine that even though they’re just tasting me, it’s still going to hurt like the dickens.

Sprinting and Age


Yesterday, I realized we’re all sprinting to old age. Today, I realized that those who are lucky enough to make it to old age should refrain from sprinting. The aging process is a relative state of mind, of course, as we’ve all witnessed young sixty-year-olds and old forty-year-olds, but no matter how old we are, we occasionally receive reminders that we’ve aged. The aging process rarely hits us in an “Oh, my God I’m (fill in the age here)!” one day in the mirror. Aging is more of a gradual process that hits us in tiny, little, and seemingly insignificant hits, every day. We fell on a Tuesday doing something we’ve done our whole lives. We tripped trying to skip a stair on a Wednesday, and we’ve skipped a stair since our legs grew long enough (Mental note, skipping stairs is no longer in our repertoire.) On Thursday, we caught ourselves making old man sounds when we sat, but we can’t even remember when we started doing that. We admired a beautiful person on Friday, and someone informed us that we’re probably too old to continue doing that. “It’s just odd,” they said, “considering the age gap.” It’s considered inappropriate years later, and then it morphs into “Absolutely disgusting” that we should admire the beauty of a 20-year-old, “because you’re old enough to be her grandpa!” We all know we’re aging on a physical, superficial level, but mentally we’re not so far removed from that energetic, wildly enthusiastic 20-year-old who was afraid to talk to girls, until someone informs us that we should know better. We do know better on one level, but their scorn is a painful reminder of how much we’ve aged. We do the calculations in our head, and we realize they’re right, we are, in fact, that old now. The realizations that we’re that old now are not about any of one of those little things. It’s about all of them. It’s about that big old snowball that’s been accumulating over the years without notice.

“You know you’re old when you fall and no one laughs,” a comedian once said. You know you’re old when they’re surrounding you after a fall, and they’re not there to point and laugh. They’re there, because they’re concerned. You know you’re old when you feel them ask you to refrain from such activities in the future. You know you’re old when no one laughs about it later, even behind your back. People didn’t laugh when we fell when we were very young, and it’s now come full circle back on us. People aren’t laughing. They’re concerned. It’s humiliating. The science of their silence involves a calculation of our age and the impact of your fall. It’s no longer funny. It’s so disturbing that some consider it alarming. What happened? He was sprinting. “Ok, well, he probably shouldn’t be sprinting at his age,” they instructed one another.

You know you’re old when you’ve become the subject of group concern, and the group addresses the subject of their concern in the third person, as if to suggest that they’ll take care of this going forward, because it’s obvious that we can’t anymore. They addressed us in the third person when we were young, implying that some authority figure in our life should’ve seen to it that that didn’t happen. Everything in between involved laughter, directed at us in the first person, because they knew we were old enough to know better but young enough to sustain the damage of our stupidity. We might feel some warmth when we realize how much these people care about us, but that fades when we realize their resolutions mirror those family members make when our loved ones reached a point when they were no longer capable of caring for themselves. They have no problem telling us when we’re too old to oggle, but no one tells us when we’ve reach a point where it’s considered ill advised to sprint.

This game of ‘keep away’ developed organically. My nephew was in the middle, laughing as hard as the two adults were on the sides. Another kid ran into help him, then three, then four, then so much more. It wasn’t young versus old, but it evolved into it. It started out friendly, but it evolved into a competitive definition of whatever remained of our athletic ability.

I started out tossing the ball from a stationary position. I was laughing and failing on purpose, giving the kids a chance, until one of them said something that I considered a provocative definition of my athletic ability. When it came time to catch the ball, I followed the same pattern. I went from light-hearted attempts to get open to employing quick, ankle spraining jukes. When I realized I couldn’t shake my nephew, those quick movements evolved into some running. I ran every single day at one point in my life, so it was not a concern to me. I don’t know if I started losing, or if I sensed that the others were further questioning my ability, but I began sprinting to open spots to capitalize on the holes in their coverage. It dawned on me, while doing it that I haven’t done this in years. No one gave this a second thought for most of my life. Some people run, some people sprint. I didn’t see the spectators watching, but I could feel it. I even saw a couple stand with some concern. Did they see the game for what it was, or were they wondering if they should begin sprinting too? Did they stand to source the emergency that sparked my progression? I looked over to verify that they were watching me, but in that casual glance, I almost tumbled. I couldn’t look back at them. I had to be mindful of my feet. (Mental Note II, running now requires more focus.) Running was not my greatest concern. Stopping was. I had a myriad of little feet under mine, and I had to focus to avoid them.

I know I’m not as athletically inclined as I once was, but who is? I am smarter now. I know how to use my faculties much better than I did when I was younger. In the midst of these throws, my competitive juices got the best of me. I overdid it. I knew my best presentation could be had sitting on the lawn furniture with the other old people, talking about what old people talk about with lemonade in hand on a sunny day, but I didn’t decide to play this game. An impromptu game broke out and evolved into a character-defining match of my ability against theirs. I could not just quit. “Why did you quit?” I imagined one of them asking me. “Because I’m old and I can’t handle the physical requirements of such a game anymore.” Yeah, that’s not in my nature.

The nephew I once held as an infant was shutting me down in coverage at one point. I encouraged it verbally, but I also wanted to discourage it physically. I wanted to prove to be so dominant that he left our little game demoralized. To do so, I employed some of the know how I picked up along the way, using the bag of tricks I developed in the years I spent playing intramural football. Michael Jordan developed a fade away when his skills started to decline. I developed a few moves of my own over the years. “Youth is wasted on the young,” Winston Churchill said. What if I had this wide array of jukes when I was younger, I asked myself, would I have been better? I sprinted to the right, juked, and went further right. In doing so, my fellow old man led me well with a pass. My ability to stop on a dime and juke surprised my nephew. He went left to cover the traditional juke, and he did so right under me. To avoid taking him out, I had to adjust. (Mental note III, my ability to adjust on the fly has receded.) I tripped over his feet. (Mental Note IV: Studies show that the chances of tripping increase exponentially when we sprint.) Been there, done that. (Mental note V, watch out for the ground, it hurts. Parked cars can hurt too when approached at top speed. Try to avoid them as much as possible, because they can be unforgiving.) Hitting the ground was humiliating, and I thought the people surrounding me with looks of concern was the peak of my humiliation, until my nephew called me to apologize for getting me so worked that I almost ended up impaled on a car.

Defeating the Aliens


“The aliens are not evil, but they are here to eat us,” our main character replies to the first question the talk show host asks him. This contradiction draws some laughter from the studio audience, as they don’t understand the difference. “Do we consider the lion evil? Of course we don’t. When lions eat cute, baby antelopes, they don’t do it to satisfy some perverse love of violence. Anyone who thinks lions are evil is assigning their thought process to the primal actions of the lion, or they might watch too many cartoons. I agree with those who say that the aliens are not evil in the same vein, and I disagree with my colleagues on this note, but I can only guess that the lion’s prey don’t care what their intent is. We know the only reason lions kill is that they’re hungry. I think the aliens who landed on our shoes are desperately hungry, and they know we have meat on our bones. They just want to eat it. If you consider that evil, that’s up to you, but my bet is that the baby antelope doesn’t suffer their fate without, at some point, mischaracterizing the lion’s motive.”

The reactions the various players have to the main character’s appearance on the talk show ends up saying more about them than it does the main character, or the aliens. When the scientists and reporters attempt to interact with the aliens, soon after the shock and awe of their arrival subsides, they do so to understand why they’re here. They want to befriend them, and we follow their lead on the matter, because we want learn everything we can about them, so we can learn from them.

The aliens know their arrival is the greatest thing that has ever happened to us, and they know how much it excites us. They operate in good faith, in the beginning, and they focus on public relations to build trust with us to hide their real motives. When one of the reporters, assigned to cover the aliens, disappears, the aliens’ approval ratings suffers a dive. The public begins to suspect that the main character might be right when he suggested that the aliens captured her, filleted her and refrigerated her to take her meat back to their home planet.

“They had their eyes on that reporter,” the main character suggests, “because she had right combination of muscle and fat. My friends and I have studied all of the people who have gone missing since their arrival, and we’ve found no discernible patterns, other than they’re not too fat or too muscular. We think the aliens are eating those of us of a certain body mass index that contains a quality mix of fat and muscle. We think there are so many humans on earth that they’ve developed a finicky preference. They prefer those of us with a little fat to add flavor to our meat, in the manner a little fat flavors a ribeye steak. 

“Their initial landing was awe-inspiring,” our main character says on another talk show, “and I was as affected as anyone else by their initial messages, and their attempts to help us advance our science, but the number of missing people that followed alarmed me so much that I began studying them. It’s them, I’m telling you, they’re the reason we now have so many missing people. They’re filleting them, and refrigerating them to feed the starving population on their home planet. I don’t know why it’s so hard for us to accept this idea. Our water supplies have not diminished, nor any of our other natural resources, and I don’t think they’re here to build friendly relations between the planets, as they suggest. There’s no evidence to suggest that they’re here to breed with us, or any of the other things we’ve guessed aliens might want over the decades. So, what’s their motive? I don’t care what their public relations team says, we should still ask why they came here in the first place? We’ve heard them say they had the technology to come here decades ago, so why now? Why are they here? I think they regard us as food, and I’ve been trying to get that message out before it’s too late. As we sort through all these complex arguments regarding their intentions and motives, we forget Occam’s Razor, “All other things being equal, we may assume the superiority of the demonstration that derives from fewer hypotheses.” Simply put, the best answer is often the simplest.”

Most moviemakers line “alien attack” movies with hints of the adversary’s high-minded intelligence. The aliens, in these productions, are required to be of an intelligence we cannot comprehend, and they are of unfathomable strength and power. Our production would state that evidence suggests that power and strength usually counter balance one another in most beings. Is the lion smarter than the human is? No, but that wouldn’t matter in a one on one conflict. Is the body builder smarter than the average person is? Most are not, because we all focus on one pursuit to the usual detriment of the other characteristic. Thus, the alien cannot be of superior, unfathomable intellect and superior strength and power. Not only is it a violation of what I consider the natural order of things, it’s not very interesting.

Yet, even productions that try to have it both ways, be they sci-fi novels, movies, or otherwise eventually begin to train their focus on one of these attributes. If they depict the aliens as the literary equivalent to the bloodthirsty lion is this nothing more than a slasher flick? If they focus on the superior intellect, do they do so to achieve a level of complication that might lead to more favorable critical reviews? Whatever the case is, we now require our moviemakers to provide subtle hints of alien intelligence. The more subtle the better, as that makes it creepier. The moviemaker, as with any storyteller, might be feeding us the entertainment we want, but I don’t think so.

I think the quality moviemaker modifies his material in such a way that it provides subtle hints of the surprising and unusual intelligence of the aliens. They spool out hints of the aliens’ intelligence in drips to further horrify and mystify us. They do this to mess with our mind in a way that a slasher flick doesn’t bother doing. They want to creep us out and scare us somewhere deep in our psychology.

In our production, the aliens have developed powers that we cannot comprehend, but as with any decades-long reliance on a power, it comes at a cost. To explain this theory, the main character says, “Imagine if we could emit super gamma rays from our eyes, in the manner these aliens do. It would be a superpower to be sure, but it might lead us to neglect the intelligence we might otherwise employ in tactical and militaristic conflict. We might rely on those powers so much that it could result in a deficit of our intellect. I submit that even though these aliens employ some war-like tactics, they’re as intelligent as a lion and not as smart as we are. I think we can defeat them with our intelligence.”  

Every alien/monster movie eventually also eventually turns into an allegory about our inability to accept outsiders. In our production, the aliens would use our compassionate approach to outsiders against us. They are intelligent enough to put together a seductive war-like plan, and in doing so, they purport to support a cause that most humans adore. They don’t have a cause, but they know that we’ll follow them to our own demise if they cater to our heart correctly.

The reporters and scientists in every alien/monster movie are always correct in the designs they create for how we should approach and handle our relations with aliens. What would happen if they operated from a faulty premise? Everyone who employs the scientific method to resolve a crisis, approaches the situation with a question, does background research and eventually reaches a hypothesis. At what point in the attempts to prove or disprove that hypothesis, do we troubleshoot and find out if we approached the issue from a subjective or biased view? At what point, do we arrow back to the beginning on our algorithm and correct the question that led us to an incorrect conclusion? 

In our production, the reporters and scientists are operating from a flawed premise they develop as a result of their own biases and subjective viewpoints. The aliens enjoy that premise and begin building upon that narrative to sell it to all earthlings. These useful idiots inadvertently aid the aliens’ public relations campaign to soften us up. They discover, too late, that the less worldly main character’s simple truth that while the aliens are not as evil as their detractors suggest, they’re also not hyper-intelligent as the reporters and scientists theorized. The idea that they just want to eat us bears out, and we realize that if we all agreed to these facts earlier, we could’ve saved a lot more people. We all had a difficult time agreeing to the idea that we were of superior intellect, but once we did, we used it to defeat them. We used our intellect to nullify their superior force. We were elated with the victory, of course, but once life returned to normal, there was that sinking feeling that if we just ignored the reporters, the scientists, and all of the people who believed we should be more accepting of the aliens sooner, we probably wouldn’t have been victims of the worldwide slaughter that ensued. If we listened to the main character, and all of the people who supported his view, and we followed his simple strategy for attack, we could’ve saved a lot more lives.