Richard Dawkins is Coming to My Campus (And I Need Your Help)!

This Friday, October 11th, the great evolutionary biologist and pope of the Atheists Richard Dawkins will be stopping by my campus as part of his An Appetite for Wonder book tour. I first heard of this only a week ago in that Atheism class that I kind of sort of mentioned in that one post. If you’re familiar with what I tend to post on this blog, you know I don’t really gush about popular figures. While I admire plenty of people, I don’t tend to have specific idols. (Oscar Wilde may be the closest to an exception, but I’m not very foppish and don’t believe in the mighty sovereignty of aestheticism). However, I must say that I became inordinately excited that Dawkins was coming to campus (and that the event is freaking FREE for students).

Richard Dawkins - Appetite for Wonder US Book Tour

I need your help. 

I first heard about Dawkins in relation to his ideas on religion, undoubtedly through YouTube. It was shortly afterwards that I looked into his books. I have The Selfish Gene, The Extended Phenotype, gifted to me by a good friend of mine and fellow Dawkins admirer of sorts. The only books of his that I have read so far are The Blind Watchmaker (fantastic read to get a better grip on the basics of evolution) and The God Delusion (an entertaining and often insightful look at the arguments against the belief in God). While I don’t agree with every single idea that comes out of his mouth, I do agree with many of his points, his passion for science, and his all-around humor.

What I need your help with is coming up with a question for Dawkins during the Q&A portion of the event. A mic will be given to the audience, so that people can ask him questions. I’d love to ask him a question, but I do not yet know what I want to ask him exactly. I have an idea of what I want to get at, but I don’t know how to phrase it.

This is where your help comes in.

One of my thoughts concerns Dawkins’ continual rejection of the assertion that Dawkins is himself a fundamentalist – just a fundamentalist of science rather than a Christian fundamentalist. I’ve read and heard his replies and I do not want to ask him this question that he has head perhaps hundreds of times.

What I want to get at is whether or not he acknowledges the merits of religion – not a specific religion, but the concept of religion in general. Religion is wildly popular – that’s a gross, gross understatement. It is a worldwide phenomenon and it seems so… natural. Religion appeals to our humanity in a way that science does not quite do. It’s true that science has the capacity to be wondrous, awe-inspiring, and beautiful – poetic, even – but it doesn’t have the emotional oomph that religion seems to have. Humans are magical thinkers. We can not help but to initially attribute phenomena to supernatural forces with workings beyond our human grasp.

Science lacks the spiritual element (figuratively speaking). Sure, scientists hold conferences and schmooze with each other here and there, but it doesn’t provide that connectedness that religion generally seems to have. Of course, unfortunately, pretty much all the major religions are salvationist and guilt-based, teaching people that they are not good enough as they are and that they need to work toward some better transcendental life or some such nonsense. That is no good obviously, but that does not mean that religion in itself is bad, does it?

According to people like Dawkins, science and rationality is enough to amaze us, to keep us enthralled with life, the world, and everything. But where does irrationality fit into all of this? Surely, he isn’t supporting a Vulcan-like existence, where everyone must always be logical at every point of life…

Can you help me formulate a question around this? Or even come up with other questions? What do you want me to ask Dawkins (if I do in fact get a chance to ask him anything)? You have until Friday, October 11th 7PM (PST) to get in on the action, so please, please share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!

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Small Talk (Warning: Awkward Ahead)

Setting: College cafeteria, lunch hour, daylight pervades the room. Brain dead students scattered around tables.

Players: Two college students, not previously acquainted with each other.

Ready… and… ACTION!

Socially Adjusted Person #1: [Takes the open seat opposite stranger] Hi, I’m Socially Adjust Person #1.

Socially Adjusted Person #2: Hey, I’m Socially Adjusted Person #2. Nice to meet you. [Extends warm, friendly hand]

SAP #1: [Takes hand] Nice to meet you, too. So, what are you majoring in?

SAP #2: Political science. You?

SAP #1: Awesome. I’m majoring in underwater basket weaving.

SAP #2: [OMG face] Whoa, there’s a major for that?

SAP #1: Yep. And it’s totes amazing.

SAP #2: It sounds like something a writer would make up in an effort to be funny.

[We’re straying from the point]

SAP #1: Hey, let’s hang out sometime. I know this really cool italian restaurant served by dangerous convicts.

SAP #2: Sure! That sounds great! See you later, new friend!

End scene.

What just took place? Based on extensive research conducted with large social samples compiled over the course of 18 years, my sources inform me that this is what is called “Casual Small Talk” or CST, as I like to call it. [No, English Prof, this is not a run-on sentence.]

Although I have observed CST for a considerable time, studied its nuances, and recorded its rhythms and patterns, the phenomenon still baffles me. What allows a human being to possess the incredible ability of CST? Is it genetic? Is it random? Is it caused by bites from mutated spiders? The research is ongoing.

As a member of Homo Sapiens Awkardiensis (HSA), I seem to lack the social component that allows me to interact like CST-carriers. The ease in which they engage in conversation with complete strangers is quite extraordinary. How do random topics come to them? How are they capable of voicing these random topics without difficulty? Have they no fear of rejection? Have they no fear of the “awkward pause” phenomenon?

Homo Sapiens Awkardiensis is void of the CST gene or whatever causes the development of CST. When faced with social interaction, particularly with strangers, HSA tend to exhibit one or a combination of these traits:

  • Involuntary freezing
  • Speech impedments (stuttering, sober slurring)
  • Extreme volume levels (mousiness VS obnoxiousness)
  • Hyperventilating
  • Blank mind (can’t think of anything to say)
  • Lack of excitement/general reaction (mistaken for disinterest, actually signifies timidity)

And these are only a handful of attributes of the HSA in action (or inaction).

Has interesting and insightful conversations with friends... in head

Even penguins are socially awkward

In college, the HSA is at its weakest. We are forced into entirely new environments in which we know absolutely no one. With minimal knowledge of our surroundings and of what to expect, we are Doomed. You see? I just capitalized “doom.” You know shiz is serious when it’s unnecessarily capitalized.

However, no guts, no glory.

Immanuel Kant wrote “Enlightenment is man’s leaving his self-caused immaturity.” Similarly, socializing is man’s leaving his self-caused seclusion. To survive, to thrive, humans must adapt. We must be able to at least pretend to be capable of keeping up with the daunting evolution of social interaction. Introduce yourself. Smile. Read HowStuffWorks and Cracked for interesting topics to randomly talk about.

The previous paragraph is an example of hypocrisy at its finest.

What do you think of small talk? Love it? Hate it? Share your socially awkward moments (college or otherwise) in the comments.

Read some more about social awkwardness:

How to NOT be socially awkward

Awkwardness

Embrace Your Awkardness

Team Awksome

Gotta’ Take ’em All [Classes, I Choose You!]

Life… is like Pokemon. Let me explain:

I’m walking along this strangely straight and repetitive 16-bit path, when all of a sudden, a large field of strangely square and repetitive 16-bit grass appears. I can’t go around it. Can’t dig under it. Can’t fly over it. So I have to walk through it. It’s annoying as all get out, but Ash Ketchum’s got to do what he’s got to do.

Awesome Pokemon Graphics

Anyone with a decent childhood knows what I'm talking about.

After two seconds of walking through the 16-bit grass…

A wild HISTORY OF ASIAN ART appears! Holy crap on a cracker! I want that!

That Freaky Glitch Pokemon

We all remember this freak

Class, I choose you! Oh wait. I’m out of pokeballs. To the PokeMart!

Yes, life is just like Pokemon. No, let me amend that statement: picking college classes is just like Pokemon.

In my previous post, I talked about my experience concerning college freshman orientation. It was fun and informational and it’s making me freak out with excitement. However, picking classes was painful. You heard me: painful. I know I said in the previous post that it was way easier than I had thought it would be since all the required major courses were already picked out for me. There’s a flip side: flipping through the book, I had a heck of a time trying to figure out what elective classes I wanted to take because literally two dozen courses looked interesting and amazing. Maybe that’s the academic animal *cough*nerd*cough* part of me, the side always thirsting for knowledge and striving to become a learned, respected “Renaissance [Wo]Man.”

When picking classes, you have to ask yourself a few things:

X-men Beast

Academic Beast

1. How many credit hours do I want to load myself with? This question comes with sub-questions: Am I going to be working one or several jobs this term? How many clubs/activities am I going to participate in? How much homework can I handle? If you are going to be working, you don’t want to take 17 credit hours that term (unless you’re a rabid academic beast with superhuman skills that don’t require sleep and fatigue). It’s all right to take a relatively light amount of classes – but do so with caution. Make sure you’re taking enough to stay on track for graduation. Extra time in college means spending extra moolah, something you may or may not be able to afford.

2. Is this a class I want to take? Maybe you don’t have a choice. You have to take the class whether you like it or not. But if you get to choose, try to pick something you’ll enjoy. If you love art, but hate English, why would you willingly choose “Analysis of Anglo-Linguistics” (is “Anglo-Linguistics” a word?) over “Study of Modern Design?” It’s a no-brainer! However, I know it will be next to impossible to create a perfect schedule with all classes you love. If the class sucks… don’t take my advice; I haven’t even started college yet.

3. Then why am I even listening to you? Okay, for one, you’re not listening to me. You’re reading words on a screen. My mouth isn’t moving whatsoever, so it doesn’t require any effort on your ears’ part. Secondly, I like common sense, so I write about common sense. Novel idea, eh? You might think I lose merit for not having even set foot in a college class yet, but I’m just saying what makes sense. Please, I implore you to correct me in the comments. Seriously.

 Now, if you’re done with your sassiness…

4. Ok, ok, fine. Um, how does this all connect to Pokemon again? Oh. I started with a Pokemon comparison, didn’t I? Now, I have to follow through, don’t I? All righty then, here it goes:

Classes are like Pokemon – I want to take them all. There are so many of them that it would take me a long time to actually take all the classes that I want. I mean, I’ve lost track of how many thousand gazillion Pokemon there are now in addition to the original (the best) 150. Do you remember how excited you were/are when you do the “Pokerap”? As a child fan of Pokemon, that was your goal in life: to catch all 150 (plus 1 if you count Mew – or is it Mewtwo?) Pokemon and be “the very best that no one ever was.”

Masterball is awesome

Masterball. Now we're talking.

Your available credit hours are your pack of Pokeballs. In the game (at least in the Red and Blue versions), you can only carry 6 Pokemon with you, stored away in those inhumane, cramped spaces within the Pokeballs (animal abuse is a whole different discussion). In college, you’re only allowed a certain number of classes. You can’t take 10 classes because, well, you’re just human. And you know what? That’s okay. You don’t need all 150+ Pokemon to become a Pokemon master. To become a master, you need to know how to use yourself and your Pokemon to the best of your ability. Likewise, to become a successful college student, you need to know your strengths, weaknesses, and limits and you need to learn how to use all of that to your ultimate advantage.

So even though you want to catch/take ’em all, you can’t. It’s something us academic animals just have to come to terms with. And if you feel small, overwhelmed and defeated, just remember that this:

Splash does nothing

Splash does nothing

Evolves into:

Gyarados Hyper Beam

Effing yeah.

So are you as excited about the variety of college classes? Care to share what you’re taking or what you want to be taking instead? Finally, what other comparisons can you make with Pokemon relating to college? Let me know in the comments. Unleash your inner child.