Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Harm of Religious Moderates

Antitheist atheists are often criticized for being argumentative and for focusing on the "wrong" issue by targeting religion in general and for speaking out against religion to religious moderates.

Let us be very clear here: religious moderates are not the ones flying planes into buildings, killing rape victims, or stoning women to death. Religious moderates do have a population within their numbers that advocate for hate and segregation (denial of women's reproductive rights, denial of gay rights, etc.), and propagate ignorance and misinformation. (Whether it be the intellectually abusive indoctrination of children into religion, or the continued stance that the earth is less than 10k years old.)

In fact, many of the religious moderates are as intolerant of fundamentalism and extremism as any atheist, because they too recognize the obvious destructive nature of these extreme ideologies and interpretations of holy texts and sacred passages. These people in no way want to be associated with the people who are bombing abortion clinics or attacking schools where young girls are being educated, or strapping suicide vests to children. This group is the most reasonable (and likable) of all religious approaches. I have nothing to say to these people except that you're SO CLOSE to getting away from the nonsense altogether. You're acknowledging that things have changed and are different, but you cling to your religion. In some sense, you're perpetuating minor harms, but we can forgive you mostly, because you're not a bunch of cunts.

I am willing to overlook a lot of ignorance so long as it does no harm, or does not contribute to something which harms others. Religious moderation is intellectually dishonest and shows a distinct lack of critical examination of facts and evidence. Religious moderation is made more despicable by the fact that they are more open to actual understanding of the world, but still cling desperately to fairy tales and superstitions for the sake of comfort. They are so desperate to not be uncomfortable that they will never question their own ideas.

Worst of all, religious moderates are a population that help to uphold and justify the actions of the extremists and fundamentalists of their religions. They help to uphold the idea that not only are these ludicrous beliefs correct, but that they are justified in some sense. The continued support of idiotic and harmful principles (even if you do compromise to logic and reason on issues like science and evolution) gives the more sincere followers of your religion a foundation on which to build their harmful practices. Your support of the dogma in any way is support of all of it. Most of these people are victims of their upbringing and environment, unable to accept that religion is an accident of geography and culture. Worse, they will stand idly by while their harmful creeds are legislated or enforced... not because they want harm, but because they're too blinded by their faith to see the harm it does. By indirectly validating their insanity, they are culpable.

They can be (and many are) great people, which has nothing to do with their faith, but they're only good because they dismiss their religion to some extent. Some of my best friends are religious, and they are great people and I love them. They are good people because they are bad at their religion, and that is a truth we all have to acknowledge:

You can either be a good person, or good at your religion. Not both. 

Choose wisely.

And okay, as antitheist atheists (or militant atheists, or whatever) we can be kind of condescending and indignant, and when you can't separate yourself from your beliefs, it may even seem like a personal attack. It isn't. I know very few people who go out of their way to be caustic and vindictive, and most of those are honestly the religious people. By and far, the atheist community, even the antitheists among us, are a reasonable, considerate lot. We don't want to upset you, but we also are tired of you supporting ignorance and hypocrisy, forcing it upon your children, and claiming to be good followers of your faith when all you really are are intellectual cowards.

We have a right to question religion. We have a right to ridicule and critique religion. We have a right to be heard, and to speak for those who cannot speak. Silence in the face of oppression never favors the oppressed.

You have a right to your religion, but not a right to NOT hear how stupid and harmful it is. You have a right to avoid answering questions about your faith, but we both know it's because you don't have any answers, just rhetoric. You definitely don't have a right to use it as a vessel for denying any freedom or happiness to anyone (so long as it is not doing harm). You even have a right to be ignorant, and to choose ignorance, though I would say you have no right to deny your children a fair, honest education and the right to choose for themselves.

You are not more moral than us. You are not absolved from involvement in the general harmful nature of religion. You are not persecuted. You are being challenged by a group of people who are no longer willing to tolerate intolerance, and you're choosing the side of the unreasonable... the illogical... the unnecessary.

And we will stand against that, because human beings are more important to us than any tenacious cult's dogma.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Christian Science: Why they're doing it wrong

What is Christian science? Well, it's using modern legitimate science to try to find support for the bible and biblical stories. Let us NOT get this confused with scientists who also happen to be Christians, or of other faiths. I know plenty of openly religious scientists who have managed to make great discoveries, and are great at what they do. Mostly because they create a distinction between their faith and their profession. This also applies to doctors and other healthcare workers, but that's not relevant to this talk. I will focus mainly on Christianity because that's the culture I know best. This idea, I suppose, applies to all [Religion]-Science.

Of course, I can't comment on the intersection of religion and science without addressing how the two are absolutely incompatible. When you are a scientist, your research, your practice, inherently assume that no greater power is going to interfere with your experiment. You enter the lab with the assumption that the only thing influencing the outcome of your experiment is the nature of your subject and your own ability to have chosen the right approach and apply it correctly. Over and over. And every time you repeat it, you are relying on no outside intervention from a supernatural source. That is the nature of science.

So what about Christian Scientists?

Well they are, to be blunt, doing science wrong. They're starting with a conclusion and trying to force, misrepresent, and otherwise adjust or manipulate data (and the implications of said data) to fit their pre-conceived notions of the world and the universe. This is not a science of discovery, this is a science of agenda, and frankly it is reprehensible. It impedes real progress, and is a waste of knowledge and talents which could be otherwise put to good use working on medications or diseases and any of a number of other problems which are, quite frankly, more important than the existence or non-existence of a likely-imaginary god or validity of obviously false and untrustworthy edits of edits of ancient documents written by uneducated, ignorant people.

Oh, I'm sorry, was that last bit a little bitter sounding?

Regardless, these people are being intellectually dishonest, and their obfuscation and misrepresentation of scientific facts and data is irksome. They are not scientists. They are theologians masquerading their agendas behind pseudo-scientific drivel.

Science is not about trying to prove a goal. Science is not about trying to prove anything. Science is about taking an idea, and then trying to destroy that idea in every conceivable way. We're not trying to build truth. We're trying to find knowledge by chipping away at the misleading shit around little nuggets of knowledge. We are not seeking answers, we are asking the questions. More than that, we are seeing if the answers we can observe meet up with our expectations. When they don't, we adjust. If we are wrong, it may sting. It may have wasted years of our life. But negative data is still data, and we learn more from being wrong than from being right, so long as our minds are open to learning.

At the end of the day though, science is a tower built on the graves of failures and wrong hypotheses, strengthened by the discoveries of those who came before us, seeking to know more. Science is a lighthouse of knowledge and progress in a storm of rampant ignorance and misinformation. Science is seeking to achieve knowledge and profound awareness through the accumulation of small steps. There is very little certainty in science, and that is what keeps us constantly driving forward. Not because we want to show that what we know is right, but because we want to be a little less wrong about the world tomorrow, and maybe be a little more aware of it.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Science vs. Science Enthusiasm

I love science. I love it enough to have decided to dedicate my life to it, as a student, and hopefully later on as a professional. I love it enough to have spent an outrageous fortune to learn about it, in depth, from leading experts in the field. I know, too, that I'm not alone. Most of you reading this probably are doing so because you find science equally as fascinating and beautiful as I do. Some of you may even be in the field in some way, either educationally or professionally, and for you, I say: Maybe you'll understand what I'm seeing here, and trying to say. For the rest, hopefully it opens your eyes!

Mainstream media loves to cling on to science, without actually understanding a lot of it. In some groups, a working knowledge of scientific principles has become the norm (I'm looking at you, atheist community) and that is fantastic, especially given the educational difficulties facing a good portion of the world, especially in relation to science. This growth of interest has spawned a culture of generally more knowledgeable lay persons, and for me, that definitely makes conversations at parties a lot easier!

But media tends to sensationalize, and that irks me. We get stuck with very little real science in the media. A lot of it is either exaggerated claims by the researcher, misrepresented statements, or obfuscation of the intent of the scientist who discussed future implications for their preliminary work. We end up with what I like to call "novelty" science. While not necessarily dishonest, in definitely avoids the scientific issues. This is why we read so often about cancer or AIDS breakthrough that we never hear about again. So yes, it's cool that you know we were able to suppress certain tumor types in rats using this simple treatment, but chances are that your source probably missed what someone in the field really wants to know. Even as a student this is frustrating, and I can only imagine the issue getting worse if you're in that field.

Then we have media propagation of pseudoscience and pseudoscientific claims. Or blatantly misreporting science. I lump these together because they're cons at best, harmful at worst. Great examples: any supernatural claims, anti-vaccination claims, anti-GMO claims, homeopathic medicines, and some types of medical practices. It is easy for a lay person even one who is moderately scientifically literate, to be mislead by this, as it is always presented in the same manner as real science by the media. Granted, I know a few people in the sciences who buy into it too, so that may not be saying much.

The good news though? Look how many of you are so fucking excited about science! You read books on it, you talk to people like me about it, you ask questions and genuinely want to learn. That's great for me, as a person, and better for me as someone who will rely on that enthusiasm to fund my career.

Are there better ways to target science to a non-science audience? Well yeah, probably, but I think that if you're smart with your sources, you avoid the jumble and confusion. If you can't sit down and read jargon-heavy papers for 8 hours a day, ask someone who does to explain it! And if all else fails, ask them for a good source to someplace that DOES explain it a little bit better! We're helpful people, and we love when people take an interest in what we do!

So we talked about science media and general scientific audience a little. What about the other half? If science is so awesome, why aren't more people doing it?

Well, first, there is the disconnect between awesome science, and how we reached the conclusions you read about. I see this a LOT in physics. Especially astrophysics. Everyone thinks it's so cool, because the universe and stars and planets, and blah blah blah. It is cool to see the implications, but what you're not seeing is a dozen people spending 10-12 hour days doing math and running computer simulations and calculations. It has to be one of the most boring (and impractical, but that's another issue) of the sciences, but everyone has this raging intellectual hard on for it because stars are pretty and black holes are cool.

An education in science requires a very specific type of person. You don't have to be smart. I don't consider myself a "smart" or "intelligent" person by any real stretch. Science just speaks to me, and I'm fairly good at it. To get a science education, you need to be patient, and know how to memorize. You need to be able to conceptualize large-scale ideas, and apply those to numerous conditions and systems. You need to be a good student, really, and any good student could get a degree in any of the sciences.It helps if you're a naturally intellectual person, who likes to ask questions, and grasps concepts easily. It helps if you're analytical and ordered too, but also not requisite traits. It also helps to be good at math and visualization. Science fit me because I tend to be an analytical thinker, and I like the challenge of complex problems. Also, I have good memorization ability, so biology was a breeze. If you want a BS in the sciences, it's not terribly difficult, if you don't mind putting work in.

So what about working in science?

Well I've not gotten there, but I had a professor give me a very good lecture on working in academic science, paraphrased because my memory is bad: "Science requires you to be patient, and persistent. You have to be creative, and you have to be comfortable with the idea that you will be wrong, and you will have to change your mind. Things aren't going to work, and you're going to be wrong about mostly everything. The times when you're right though, when you actually find something interesting or novel...that makes it all worth it. And don't dismiss serendipity in science... sometimes you just stumble onto something big."

Since I don't WORK in academics or industry, obviously my notions of this are hearsay at best, but I think it is at least valid to say you have to be able to give a lot of time and hours to your work, and crunch a lot of numbers, and not get fed up when things don't go how you had expected. I think science, as a career field, is extremely unique in the challenges faced by those within it, and that's not even talking about getting funding. I know the majority of the smartest people I have ever met are scientists, and the traits they all share are these: passion, patience, curiosity. Even the driest, most aloof professor lights up when you get them to talk about what they do. At heart, they are all artists...they are all curious children trying to shine some small light on an unknown part of our existence. I love that.

As you can see, I think there is a mutual love of science, and from there some people are content with just the knowing. Others need to be discovering. We couldn't continue the search without those of you who want to hear, although we would continue regardless, because it is in our nature. I think the barriers arise when jargon and methodology come into it, and that's okay. Seriously, if you're not a scientist, you really don't care if they were using real time qpcr to find out this cool tidbit, or how long some poor physicist ran complex computer models to discover such-and-such a thing. I like to think that's where some of the respect comes from: not because we made the discovery, but because despite how hard we work, and toil... no matter how much blood and sweat and tears go into a project that leads to a minute discovery... scientists manage to make it look so sublimely simple, and beautiful. You just kind of go "Wow. That actually makes sense." and don't realize they may have dedicated their lives to that one fact.

It's kind of scary, but mostly awesome.

Anyway, yeah. Science really is the best. Love us more and send us all your money!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Evolution: a micro rant

I am a biologist by education. I spent 4 years at a decent university where I received a BS in Biology with honors. I also minored in Chemistry and Neuroscience. During that time, I was required to take classes in genetics, evolution, and biochemistry. I also took a couple courses in anthropology and human evolution. I did very little outside of the natural sciences while I was there. My focus was on biochemistry and molecular biology, and neuroscience... you know, the easy stuff.

I am currently a masters student at a rather prestigious university, one which some of you may have actually heard of. My official degree program is in the "biochemistry and molecular biology of cancer and reproductive biology" which is a really fancy way to say I learn a lot about cells and how sex makes babies.

I also grew up on a small cattle farm, raising and breeding black angus cattle, and worked on a family crop-farm run by my grandfather, so I have some experience with selective breeding.

Now, given this information, my evolution background is limited to the classroom, common sense observation, and a pretty good grasp of the molecular basis for evolution and why it is a fact. I don't have the time or ambition to launch into a full explanation of the evidence supporting evolution, or the insipid "arguments" religious mooncalves use to try to "disprove" evolution.

I just really want to say this:

It is a fact. Modern biomedical sciences would not function without evolution being a fact. Vaccinations? Evolution. Ability to extrapolate animal model testing to humans? Evolution. Inheritable traits? Evolution.

So don't give me ignorant drivel about not having evidence. We have museums full of fossil evidence. (Every fossil is a transitional fossil you ignorant prick.) We have genomic sequences that show conserved sequence homology between vastly different species. Don't believe me? Look at the sequence homology between human and bovine insulin. Or any of the various polymerases in eukaryotes. Shit, just look how the major metabolic pathways are basically well-conserved from bacteria to humans. Glycolysis, for example. Children inherit traits from their parents, so on and so forth. Allele frequencies change over time. This is observable, and by definition, is evolution. If you're familiar with the fox breeding experiment in Russia, you can observe selective evolution. Or the modern banana. Or maize. Or broccoli. Seriously. All drastically altered to their current forms by humans. Into new species.

Which is "basically" evolution. In the sense that it totally is.

Let us not even begin on the concepts of abiogenesis, the RNA world hypothesis, or the idea of lateral gene transfer, differential rates of mutations, etc. I could go into detail, but I'd hate to bore you with science mumbo-jumbo.

Honestly, it's not even worth it to debate the point against the uneducated, ignorant masses. It does, however, make me wonder how their ancestors survived without getting eaten or falling into a hole and dying. I wonder what trait "fucking stupid" co-evolved with, since by itself it seems a pretty big hindrance.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

The Nature of Love

A funny topic. We can approach it like philosophers and pontificate on the nature of human emotion and spirit and the basis of our humanity being the depths to which we can feel. Or we could examine it under the cold pragmatism of the scientist discussing social attachments and pair bonding, with a healthy dose of neurochemistry and some physiology thrown in. We can talk about friendship, and familial love, and romantic love. We could even just talk about sex, if you're so inclined.

Honestly, I don't know what my approach is. I am, at heart, an absolute romantic. In practice, I've done my best to maintain a careful emotional distance. Saying "love is just chemicals" has been a very easy way for me to teach myself to move on from emotional pain and hardship at the expense of cheapening the memories. There is a lot of biology, and a lot of psychology, and a lot of human error.

I give a lot of power to the things I love. I give the people the ability to crush me on a whim, and for me, that act of vulnerability is the greatest expression of love I can muster.

The idea of love is terrifying, and honestly, being in love is one of the single worst (and best) things I have ever experienced. But we all have, to some point. Everyone knows that story. Everyone has one person they think of, even years later, even if they're happily in love again. It happens, and there is no use denying that when I said that, someone came to your mind. They may be happily moved on, or dead, or asleep in your bed while you browse the internet.

Love is a powerful motivator. Love is what got me to stop cutting. Love is what sent me to therapy for the first time to deal with my depression. Love has also given me a fair share of miserable sleepless nights, worried sick. Love has shown me I can be a jealous person, and a very stupid person. Love makes us needy and greedy and sloppy and apologetic.

And let's not mince words. Love makes us all bloody stupid. We do things in the name of love that, if (and when) we see someone else do them, we just shake our heads and call them fools. We've all been in a relationship where we've been fucking miserable the whole time, and our ONLY argument for staying was "But I love him/her!" And We KNOW how stupid that is! We know how illogical it is.

So here's where the chemistry comes in. We ignore logic because love is, in a very literal sense, a chemical addiction. You have this stimulus that activates pleasure and reward pathways in your brain. You start to seek those feelings out more. And when they're gone, you still crave them. Breakups are nothing but more socially acceptable withdrawals.

You're not being noble. You're not a martyr for love. You're an addict looking for their next fix. So maybe you're just scared of being alone too. Maybe it's easier to fight for a lost cause than to start from ground 0. No judgment. Most of us have been there. Some of us are still there. It's one thing to recognize, another thing to respond to. Love makes us do stupid things, and we do them with a smile. I think that, in the name of love I could justify almost anything.

So what about me, you may ask? (I know you didn't, but this IS after all, my blog)

I'm kind of the "fight to the bitter end" type. I don't mind making extreme romantic overtures,or inconveniencing myself. I don't mind writing long, verbose letters (or blog posts) to express myself, and I'm always willing to do what I feel I have to.

But I'm not an idiot. I know how little "love" can mean when someone is miserable. I know how very little your feelings matter when something has to give. And no amount of apologies and trying to be better can hold back the flood waters when it is too little, too late. I also know that once the dam is broken, it's hard as fuck to keep your head up. You can get swept away in it.

We get to be this bunch of needy fucking addicts. We're like rats, constantly pushing the button for our next fix until it fucking kills us. Have you seen or read the things that a hardcore addict will do for another hit? That's why we do stupid shit for love. Our brains literally override everything else to get the rush. Love can get us to fight hard battles across distances and uproot our lives to make it work. Love has us fighting for something bigger than us.

And that's not so fucking bad. Love is a beautiful thing. Powerful, and dangerous and worth it. Don't think so? Ask any parent how worth it love is. Or anyone who has been happily married for more than a few years, when the novelty wears off and it's just life.

Or, just take my word for it. 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Zombie Survival: General tips

**Disclaimer: This is for entertainment purposes, so please read it as something not serious.**

I would like to dedicate this to +Atheist Lauren as well, for encouraging me to write about zombies!

I would also like to thank my brother for his military/survival knowledge and snarky sense of humor which contributed to some of this!

If you see any topic here you'd like me to elaborate more on, let me know!

So alright, despite my best attempts to assure you that the likelihood of an actual zombie apocalypse are pretty slim, the worst has happened: fucking zombies.

Not just zombies though, an exceptionally virulent, noxious, aggressive strain that begins to push humanity to the breaking point.

How do you respond?

Luckily, you have me to tell you!

  • Accept it! It's coming! We do not know when or where it will start, but it will come and you need to be prepared. So get mentally prepared now. Survival is the easy part, but along the way you are going to have to make some hard decisions, so its best you become calloused and emotionally detached now. This will save you from some emotional trauma in the long run. You are going to have to sacrifice the weak, the infirm, the lame, and the entitled.
  • Assess every building for defensive capability. Flimsy doors? Low, large windows? Do the doors swing in or out? How many floors? Alternate exits? This prevents you from bedding down or seeking refuge in a death trap.
  • Always have an escape route. No matter if you're in a building or area you know well, or bedding down for the night in an abandoned warehouse, know at LEAST ONE other option for getting fuck out of Dodge if things turn south of cheese. If you're on the move, assess possible routes of egress. Don't share your escape route. If the others are meant to make it out, they will. Survival first, friends later.
  • Be mindful of your sleep space: Always bed down somewhere close to your chosen escape route, away from the most likely zombie attack routes.
  • Pay attention, stay alert. This seems like a no-brainer, right? Just don't fucking daydream when there are flesh-eating monsters out there. You're like a mouse in a fox-farm already, don't make it any easier on the zombies.
  • Bug out bag: Teach yourself to forage, and only carry the essentials. If at all possible, make someone else carry it for you. This will make you faster and more responsive. Be selfish.
  • Avoid large groups. Unless the group has tight discipline (which it likely won't) you're basically entering a risky morass of chaos. Add to this the stress of keeping up with the fastest members, slowing down for the weak and injured, or even just finding supplies for the whole group, and you'll rapidly start to see that you're better off in small groups. I'd say optimal in 6-8 people. No less than 3 if you can help it, no more than 12.
  • Don't be first, don't be last: The point man of your group will be the first to stumble blindly into a waiting zombie. The last are likely to get ambushed by missed zombies, or stumble into them in a blind retreat while the first in line gets mauled. Stick to the middle. Let others take the risks.
  • Don't be the leader: Other people may look up to you, or look to you for guidance. Discourage this, as responsibility comes with a lot of extra baggage you don't need. Nobody will be pleased with the decisions you ultimately make anyway. As a leader you will be expected to make decisions for the greater good when you really need to focus on just making it. You will be the one who has to make the hard decisions (like when its time to put a bullet in someone’s knee to draw off the zombies, or have to choose who to sacrifice when you have to eat someone), which means no one will be happy. You will have to listen to tons of unhelpful and unsolicited advice from those who clearly have all of the answers, but lack the courage to be in charge themselves. Finally, when you are the decision maker: your decisions are ultimately not going to work out the way you expected, and when things go bad, it's your fault
  • Take care of yourself. This seems simple too, until you consider the loss of support infrastructure and luxuries like soap, toothpaste, running water, etc. Your health and hygiene are a key part to keeping functional and alive.
  • And be fucking careful: A minor injury can turn into life or death in a Zombie Apocalypse. A sprain or pulled muscle could spell your doom, let alone something as severe as a broken leg. So be cautious, you'll appreciate it later when you're not being eaten alive while your companions flee. And injury can make you a liability to the group. Or bait.
  • Avoid guard duty. Play sick. Bribe. Doesn't matter. Sentries are not only the first line of defense, but they make a handy alarm system when their dying screams wake you from your restful sleep.
  • Have an early warning system. Cans on a string work, or an especially unpopular member of the group. Early warning systems are a very good idea. Some are mechanical and man made, like booby traps, tin cans full of rocks on strings, etc. However, the best early warning is human. Establish a guard force, but be aware humans are notoriously untrustworthy and you can count on the guard falling asleep mere seconds before a massive horde breaches your safety. Because of this it is critical that your sleeping arrangements put you away from the most likely avenues of Zombie approach, such that when the first guard falls asleep and is subsequently eaten, you have time to escape at the first screams as the Zombies are drawn to their next meal
  • Hunger and thirst are more dangerous than the zombies. Have means of satisfying hunger and thirst, or knowledge of how to in whatever environment you're in.
  • Learn your edible plants: the last thing you need while trying to run from a mob of zombies is cramps and diarrhea
  • Take care of your feet. You can never have enough fresh socks or comfortable shoes.
  • Carry a good hunting knife. Seriously, they're versatile, and quiet.
  • Don't mingle with other groups you bump into unless your numbers are desperately depleted. Even then, consider them on a near-permanent probationary period.
  • Establish a mobile defense and guerrilla mentality. Being under siege is just making the zombies wait for dinner. Mobility and adaptability are your friend. Simply staying put will result in death. The best defense is a mobile defense. Do not relinquish the initiative to the Zombies, though they cannot seize the initiative, and by definition cannot have initiative, you can find yourself reacting to them. Venture out where you have the freedom of maneuver to avoid Zombies, and other threats, and can live off the land by foraging. At night, find a secure place to hole up and defend against Hordes and Marauders
  • Get used to being uncomfortable. You're going to be cold, damp, sore, hungry, scared... but that's a lot better than feeling the encroaching darkness of a zombie plague virus destroying your mental faculties
  • Travel by day. You'll be safer, faster, and more in your element. Night travel only if there is an emergency
  • You're not a hero. Don't try to be. There is a reason most CMH's are posthumous. Physical courage is basically synonymous with stupidity, and stupidity doesn't survive. So keep it simple, stupid. It's about survival for you, and whoever you can reasonably accommodate without risk.
  • If you must take a risk, take a calculated risk. Don't be stupid, rash, or hasty. A stupid/noble/rash death is still death. Avoiding that is the point. There are no heroes in a Zombie Apocalypse.
  • Being fat doesn't make you useless, but it DOES make you a liability. So lose the weight, get in shape. Unless you have a super-valuable skill set, don't expect anyone to wait for you. Otherwise, you're more useful as a distraction than anything.
  • When all else fails, a bullet to the knee makes anyone in the group slower than you
  • Pick your favorites: at some point, someone will have to sacrifice themselves to the zombie horde. Start preparing them now for the inevitable. Sit "The Chosen One" down and explain to them, that though you still love them, they are really not productive members of the team, and at the first sign of real crisis, either starvation or the need to slow down a horde, they are the first to go.
  • I'd rather be slowed down by a sharpshooter with a limp or a paramedic who is overweight than a healthy imbecile. If you have nothing to bring to the table, learn a useful skill or get very good at being on your own. While zombies are unthinking and singularly focused, the stupid are more dangerous because they are far more creative in the ways they can harm you, themselves, and all around them.
  • Avoid novelty weapons. Swords, crossbows... etc. You may think it looks cool, but you'll just die looking stupid.
  • The chainsaw!? Yes! Do it. It is the worst choice, but holy cow! How cool is that! Sure, its heavy, it will run out of gas, it will break down... but imagine how cool you will look as a Horde descends upon you and you leap in, howling as you saw limbs and heads, before finally succumbing to the onslaught. Epic.
  • Blunt weapons are your friend. Is melee risky? Yes. Are blunt weapons more reliable than edged/pointed? Yes. Any idiot can swing a bat or a pipe, or a bit of wood. Far more accurate than a gun, and less likely to break.
  • Stick to weapons you know, or avoid combat all together. This will prevent you from being just another tasty treat.
  • Dress smart. Comfortable, versatile shoes or boots. Non-restrictive clothing, except these exceptions: denim and leather. Seriously, try to bite through a piece of either of these fabrics. It's just stylish self-defense against zombie bites.
  • Guns are your friend in the zombie apocalypse. Guns are good, but only if you know how to use or maintain them. If you don't, find someone who does, or learn to do without. 
  • Don't waste a bullet when a blow to the head will suffice. This applies the same to zombies as it does to infected teammates. A rock or crowbar while they sleep is just as effective, but doesn't waste a valuable resource.
  • Emotional detachment. If you can't do the aforementioned head-bashing, or even the merciful "Of Mice and Men" style see-off for your friends and loved ones, you're too soft for survival.
Well folks, that sums up my rather verbose list of tips and tricks to remember when the zombie horde descends upon us and life as we know it is changed!

Until next time, stay safe, stay alert, and don't get bitten!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How it feels

It starts slowly, ticking off the seconds in an increasingly accelerated tempo, building from a faint edge to a dull roar, booming like artillery fire in my head.




A sudden inhalation as the storm breaks, eyes widening at the shock of pain which nearly succeeds in bringing me directly to my knees. I clutch at my face as the fire dances behind my eyes, searing a white blaze into my mind as my heart begins to race. Everything seems amplified, and still my pulse pounds in my head, ringing like gunshots.




The constant, unceasing rhythm of it is not comforting. It is the terror of the inevitable. A hand shades my eyes while the other gingerly massages my temple, eyes narrowed to angry slits against any and all light trying to claw into my shaded prison. It builds like heat in a furnace, burning out of control as it lances through my body.




I am home, so I have freedom to respond. I lash out at light switches as I stumble around the apartment. Finally, I collapse into the bathroom slamming the door behind me and turning off the lights. I take a moment to empty my stomach into the toilet as the bomb strikes and I slide weakly to my knees. My pupils dilate, breathing coming in short, ragged gasps. I continue to retch my suffering into the toilet. The tremors in my hands are gentle but unmistakable. I collapse on the cold tile floor, tears forming in my eyes which are still shut tightly against any light. No light. Please, no light. 




I feel a tickle in my sinuses, and know the second wave has come. I don't pretend to resist anymore. A towel, a shirt from the laundry, anything on hand... pressed to my face to stem the flow of blood from my nose. I can taste the sharp copper in the back of my throat and the small inclination to gag is forced down by the sudden pain clawing away from inside of me. I can't tell if i'm making a sound or just cursing in my head. I may be crying, or sobbing. I may just be imagining it. Somewhere in the struggle my glasses have been cast off. I will find them hours later, unbent and unbroken, on the bathroom floor. For now, though, my hands press cloth to my face, trying to absorb the blood, pushing against my eyes as the pressure builds behind them, nearly begging it to just stop. Just fucking stop.




Fuck me, I think this may be worse than death. I feel like all of my senses are on overdrive. I can feel the grooves between tiles on the floor, smell the faint odor of laundry detergent. At this point, should you try to touch me for comfort, I'd only flinch away violently. I drag myself into the tub and manage to get out of most of my clothes as I turn the water on, laying underneath it as the fog settles over me. There is naught to be done but wait. 




And wait I do. I can't tell how much time has passed. I'm vaguely aware of being on the floor. I've not fallen asleep, only lost the time in between. it could have been minutes. It could have been a whole day. The storm has abated to a dull roar behind my eyes and in my ears. Rising on shaky legs I stumble to the door, slowly easing it open. Faint light through the frosted glass of the bedroom door pierces into my skull, but it is bearable. I find my phone, my glasses. I glance at the time.

Six hours from start to finish.



I take stock of the the damage. Items are scattered from my mad dash to darkness. My head is still heavy, my eyes unfocused. I grab the nearest items of clothing to dress slowly and carefully in the near-darkness, resting my weight heavily on the couch. My mouth is dry, my hands still trembling. I've lost my entire day to this now.



And it still hasn't really gone.

So that's a general idea of how my migraines are. I've suffered from these since my early teens, and they vary in severity from "I can function if I squint and take frequent breaks" to "black out and fall down the stupid fucking stairs" bad. They also range from short 2hr ones to 12+hrs.

Thank you for reading.

Or, on second thought, you probably shouldn't have bothered.

I hate migraines.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Zombie biology: undead vs. "Rage Virus"

Let's be honest, modern culture has developed this hugely ridiculous love affair with the zombie genre. There has been an explosion of literature, movies, tv, and art all dedicated to this idea, and I've been swept up into it as well. In zombie media you see, generally, 2 concepts: the "undead" zombie (The Walking Dead, every Romero film) and the "rage virus" zombie (28 days/weeks later). Within these you see variations, of course, and as a biologist, I find myself draw to the concept of "how could these things actually happen?"

So I thought that, despite my limited knowledge as a lowly biochemist, I'd examine the biological implications of the zombie plague, looking at the two most common forms of zombie.

So of course we need to start with some assumptions.
1: The plague is a virus, transmitted via blood-blood contact or across mucus membranes. For the sake of argument, we'll assume no airborne or waterborne transmission
2: The plague virus initially attacks the brain and CNS preferentially. This is important as the CNS is immune privileged and responds differently to infections than other organs. It also supports the physiological changes which would occur
3: Behavior changes: This CNS impact contributes overwhelmingly to the aggressive behaviors, as inflammation and subsequent cytotoxicity to certain areas of the brain could lead to loss of language, aggressive behaviors, etc. (as well as motor dysfunction in 'slow zombie' scenarios)
4: The virus has a variable acute onset of a few minutes to almost a whole day, depending on how quickly it can bypass the blood brain barrier
5: The virus destroys all higher cognitive function, thus we lose speech, reasoning, and problem solving (not entirely, maybe. More on that!)
6: Cross-species transmission is rare (but possible. Look at SIV--> HIV, Avian and Swine flu, etc.) This poses a threat with "rage" zombies, as us humans can't really outrun much of anything, let alone fight off a zombie grizzly bear or mountain lion.

These assumptions are general and vague for a reason (to allow for variation across the zombie theme).

Now, I'd like to look at infection. I will be honest, virology and immunology are not my strong suits. I'm sure what follows will be very simplistic and probably full of general holes.

So how could such a virus arise? Simply, most likely from hybrid viruses swapping proteins as they move between species. For me, the most likely pre-cursor or analog seems a rabies-like virus. CNS neuropathalogical changes, behavioral changes, high mortality, high virulence. From our assumptions we see onset times are quick, even though those kinds of rabid neurological dysfunctions typically happen on a longer time scale.

So what's going on in initial infection?

Well, the virus has to bypass the blood brain barrier and enter the CNS. Once there it will activate immune cascades of cytokines, chemokines, and all those other stupid fancy science words. This will cause CNS immune responses and probably lead to severe inflammation. This is a likely cause for the initial behavioral changes such as aggression, and the progressive loss of function. I will discuss transmission more later.

Epidemiologically, it is hard to imagine such a fast-acting virus actually spreading very far. It would hit hard, and fast, and you'd have intense outbursts. You'd see more prolific spreading if it started in a major population and trade center. It's hard to imagine it growing to pandemic proportions, given the method of transmission and the general nature of how we commonly see it transmitted. Granted, epidemiology isn't my strong point, so for the sake of time, let's just move past this point.

The biggest issue arising from the nature of the virus itself is this: the brain is in such delicate homeostasis that even minute disruptions can have drastic impacts. Most severe neurological pathogens lead to seizures, coma, and death rather rapidly. Not even taking into account nutrition or injury, this doesn't bode well for the longevity of a zombie.

The undead zombie
I wanted to start here because, simply put, these is the easiest to dismiss entirely based on a basic knowledge of biology. This zombie type couldn't exist, fast, slow, or otherwise. I don't want to get too comprehensive in dismantling the staple of the horror genre, but let us highlight some big red flags:

 Lack of biological processes: Do you know how complex metabolic processes are? Disruption is dangerous on a lot of levels, and we're trying to discuss a being which essentially eliminates all functional biochemistry. No circulation of fluids, no intake of water or nutrition, etc. means the body would rapidly fall apart. I mean rapidly. Even if we try to explain a whole-body molecular change, that's highly unlikely. There is no real defense of the idea that all peripheral systems are sequestered and still continue to function with any kind of efficacy. The body needs rest, nutritional intake, hydration, AND the ability to process these things or the cells and tissues fall apart rapidly. This isn't even considering how rapidly microbes would work away at the body of the dead organism.

Let's look at the peripheral results of these failures. Visual processing loss as dehydration occurs in the eyes. Motor loss well beyond just a shambling walk. Weakened musculature as cells begin to dehydrate and die. With the rotting flesh, the microbiome of the human body begins to consume it from within. The required output and raw molecular and biochemical changes required to maintain such a system are not even worth considering. Viruses aren't exactly set up to fundamentally alter the entire biochemistry of an organism.

What else? Well, lack of pain is good and vital organ function make the headshot a requisite. Single-minded desire to attack obviates any unwanted ambushes. Poor sensory acuity helps in avoidance. Also, there should be no ethical qualms about shooting a rotting, ambulatory corpse.

If we start considering the normal wear and tear, internal microbiota, lack of any circulatory mechanisms, and the impedance of motor functions due to CNS alterations and tissue failures ON TOP of the real lack of threat, we see that the "undead" zombie is as laughably unrealistic as it is laughably not scary. If by some fluke such a plague arose, I'd not be too worried.

The "rage virus" zombie
An infected human, alive but fundamentally psychologically altered due to neurophysiological changes to be aggressive and violent.

This should actually conceptually scare you a little bit. Consider this: a human being who is entirely gone over to hyper-aggressive attacking behaviors characterized by violent aggression towards others of our species. What could we expect?

*Fast zombies. The brain is affected, but if the inflammation and alterations are localized enough, you can expect them to be relatively fast and agile compared to our previous example.

*Aforementioned aggression: seriously, who was the last person you saw? How would it go if they just went fucking ape shit when you were with them? The pain reflex would exist, but probably be minimized. Maybe there is an endocrine over-production of steroid hormones and endogenous opiates to increase the aggression while removing pain. Now imagine the last person you saw as a raging PCP addict bent on tearing you apart. Kind of frightening.

*Potential for some reasoning. We're not talking the raptors from "Jurassic Park" here, but if you've ever seen a rabid animal, you kind of have an understanding of what I mean. The behavior is altered, but not completely gone. They may be able to work doors, or stalk, or use rudimentary planning. This makes them a bit more dangerous.

*Nutrition: They may actually be better able to sustain themselves. Granted, most behavior-altering pathogens are interested only in spread and propagation. So I would assume that they would burn out quickly, rapidly infecting as many as possible as the virus inflammation slowly destroys their CNS and the host perishes. Mostly you never see rage zombies consuming their targets, simply attacking them, so there would be some questions there. If they are consuming entirely flesh, this leads to a whole other level of problems which need to be addressed.

*Longevity: Given the biological implications of a severe and debilitating CNS infection, I can't imagine a functional system where these zombies would survive long. They are susceptible to wounds and bodily trauma the way an undead zombie isn't. They are constrained by their biology. They must respire, and circulate. They have to have some means of sustenance to maintain themselves to a point where they can be effectively infectious.

*Infectivity: The virus is a highly infectious agent, but we have to take into account how many people would die outright from attacks. If a major artery is severed in the attack, you'll bleed out, virus or no virus. This would decrease the total number of dangerous infected, though not latent virus in the corpses.

*Personal note: these are people who just so happen to be sick. They are alive. Maybe a cure or treatment will eventually be developed. You don't get the luxury of that hope when they're coming at you, bloodstained and ravenous.

I think this type of zombie would spread much more rapidly than the former, but that they would likely have a much shorter survival period as their biology would fail, and they'd still be susceptible to injury, infection, and other injurious outcomes. You would get a lot of casualties, very quickly. Given the nature of the virus, though, it hardly seems like it would be a dangerous pandemic at any juncture. Unfortunately, this is balanced against their much more dangerous nature. Sure you can kill them with a bullet or two center of mass, but tell me how well THAT works when there are 2 or 3 or even more RUNNING at you. Give me a slow, shambling, not-scary headshot-only zombie any fucking day.

The perfect virus
So if the movie viruses are so dumb, what would make them awesome?

Simple. Science! We would want to see the zombie virus as something with a moderate period of asymptomatic latency, followed by a rapid degeneration into the aggressive, flesh-eating disease pathology. This increases the infectivity, would confound researchers working on vaccines, cures, and treatments, and complicate gathering epidemiological data. You'd want to see a "rage virus" zombie with maybe marginally less neurological defects, potentially creating aggressive, thinking humans who would grow increasingly more violent and unreasonable as progression took its full course and ravaged their brains. A more subtle variant, where an infected victim slowly becomes more aggressive and violent, these subtle behavioral changes eventually morphing into full on bloodlust. Oh, and maybe as an airborne and/or waterborne agent, because ease of transmission would be ridiculous.

Now isn't THAT a great idea for a movie?


So of course I am one of the least qualified people to talk about this kind of stuff, but as a zombie enthusiast, gamer, and biologist, I felt I could address this from an interesting perspective! I know it was a long, kind of boring read. I had high hopes about addressing more in depth the biological implications of a zombie virus as portrayed in media, but I was side-tracked by the previous entry. If anyone wants more on any of the above topics, let me know!

Next up, I will discuss zombie generalized zombie survival! (Ignoring everything I just said here and getting back to the fun stuff!)

I would like to say "thank you" to my good friend Matt for his wonderful consultation and editing on this piece! (As a fellow gamer, nerd, biochemist!)

Friday, November 8, 2013

An apology

For that majority of you who aren't aware of this, I have always struggled with the state on my mental health, and I've done so consistently since my early teens years without any kind of professional or pharmaceutical support. Sparing the boring details, I've not had an especially emotionally fulfilling and positive life. I've struggled with self-harm and suicide, and come dangerously close to falling over the edge many times.

I've done my best to improve this. I removed myself from as many negative situations as I could. I withdrew socially, I threw myself into my academics, and I stopped caring much for my personal health or well-being. I got myself so involved that I didn't have an opportunity to feel stressed and broken.

Yesterday, I went and saw a therapist for the first time. It was the single hardest thing I've ever been pushed to do. I fought the concept every step of the way. I ignored my need to get help. In a stupid twist of illogical thinking, I was resigned to this idea of personal strength and stoicism which precluded me from seeking help. It was an issue of pride and vanity.

There is a voice of reason though, who fought tooth and nail (so to speak) to get me to stop being such a fucking idiot. She told me that I was being a coward, and that I essentially needed to knuckle up and act like an adult. She gave me the courage and motivation and reality check I needed to take that first super hard step. She also stood by me while I emotionally raged at the concept of being told I needed a psychiatrist more than a therapist, and that I needed to see a medical professional as I most likely am suffering from severe clinical depression.*

And so this title may seem misleading. Why am I apologizing for taking this step?

I'm fucking not.

I'm apologizing for the mess I've been lately. To the people I've been short with, or snippy. To every person the last 4 months who I have ignored, shrugged off, or been remotely rude or dismissive to.

I'm apologizing to myself, for being too stubborn and vain and proud to do anything to take care of myself because the suffering was easier than being seen as this broken, damaged thing.

I'm not broken. I don't need to be fixed, and having taken these steps hasn't changed those facts. I am a person, struggling against a social and cultural stigma I was raised into where mental health doesn't matter. We just "tough it out" and move on with our lives. We resort to self-destructive behaviors because we were never taught otherwise, and never learned how to constructively handle pain or loss.

If you struggle with your mental health, please, I beg of you, remember that you are not alone. If you have thoughts of hurting yourself or others, please, call someone. We care. We want to help. You are not alone, and we know what you're feeling. I've had the gun to my head and pulled the trigger (not a metaphor), and I know the hopelessness that leads you there.

You are not alone.

You are loved. 

It gets better. I promise.

Don't ever feel ashamed of how you feel, or what you think. This is not a flaw in you. This is not you overreacting, or being too sensitive. You don't need to "get over it" or "move on."

You need to know that this is something you can get through. Depression is a flaw of chemistry, not character.

I love you, for having the strength to fight this battle, and the courage to try to do it alone. 

As you can guess, that was a struggle for me to write on a public forum. I'll admit, I had an ulterior motive in posting this. It wasn't entirely about full disclosure of my story, or about mental health advocacy. It was about the fact that I have lately been a horrendous cunt to people I care for very much. I know the above things are no excuse for any kind of untoward behavior towards anyone.

So this apology is meant those who took so much time and effort to stand beside me, and be patient with me, and just try to help me get through this.

I've been inconsiderate, and insensitive. I've been angry and argumentative and insulting. I've been needy and greedy and jealous and juvenile. I've been spiteful and bitter and lashing out, and in your compassion you've borne the brunt of this, simply as a result of caring about me enough to be here.

I can't give you any words that will take back what I said or did to you, and so I won't try to cheapen my sincere apologies with that. I will say only this:

You helped me get here, and stood with me against a challenge I couldn't have faced alone, and you stood up for me, against myself, when I kept tearing myself down. You took a lot of emotional abuse from me and still managed to keep your head in the game. I was selfish, and all you ever gave me was love. I know I hurt you, and I know that I can't change that, but I want to try to make it better.

I wouldn't blame you if, after all the shit you've dealt with from my stupid self, gave up on me and walked away. There would be no hard feelings, only a strong appreciation for what you've done for me, and a sense of loss that only I am accountable for.

I can't guarantee you it will be great. I'm not a very good person, or a good friend... but I want to be better, and I'm trying to be better. I won't try to sell you any hope, only this:

I think it's worth it, and I'll do my best to make it worth it. I care about you.

Forgiveness isn't mine to ask, nor demand. I'm not asking to be forgiven, and there is no expectation for it. I know what I did, and I'm living up to it. I may not be able to make amends, but I will suffer the consequences of my actions, with some dignity. I don't need to be forgiven, I need to apologize.

I can only hang my head in humility and tell you that, all pride and stubborn arrogance aside, I was in the wrong, and I know I was wrong.

I love you.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Atheism, Antitheism, and the nature of labels

This is an issue I find myself addressing often in conversations with people who have a dubious understanding of what it means to be an atheist.

Atheists are united by ONE thing: they do not believe in the existence of a divine entity.

That's it.

So why is there confusion? Well, because like any other 'group' of people, there are a lot of subcategories that are commonly associate with atheism. The biggest of these confused categories is antitheism.

Look, I'm a self-identified antitheist, because I know that my aggressive opposition of religion is something some atheists shy away with, as they advocate more of a live-and-let-live ideology. When theists insults 'atheists' for being rude, or dogmatic, they're often talking about antitheists. And yeah, alright... we can definitely be all of those things, and there is a reason for that: we're tired of being silent. We see the harm religion does to the world. Some of us have lived through religious indoctrination and harm. We see the child abuse, the honor killings, the murders... all committed with a religious 'sanction' because the fundamental beliefs of a group are inherently aggressive, xenophobic, and misogynistic. Can you SEE why we are vehemently opposed to religion?

I think this intersects perfectly with humanism. We value human life, human dignity, human experience, above dogma. We want all people to be able to live without fear of violence, oppression, etc. yet your religion stands there on this assumed moral high horse, and tells us we're these terrible hell-bound heathens because we'd rather see two men or two women kissing than see a small child raped by a priest, or a young girl married to a man 3 times her age. Anytime you infringe upon the rights of any group, you are standing against common human decency and compassion. As you can imagine, seeing the evil that religion inflicts upon the world, in the obvious forms of violence and oppression, as well as more subtle abuses such as child indoctrination and anti-intellectualism, we think any human being with a global awareness and conscience should oppose it too.

Okay, so what else? Here is one: skepticism. This one i actually struggle with a lot. I've met plenty of atheists who accept homeopathic medicine and ghosts and alien visits and hate GMO foods and think "Big Pharma" is in a conspiracy to withhold cancer cures from the world for profit. Those people are idiots. They're just as bad as any theist. They aren't skeptics, no matter how often they tell me I'm "just not open-minded" or something.

And of course there are more. You have the "godless liberal" stereotype that tends to stem from our progressive attitude towards human rights and equality, which includes feminism. Of course, another non-universal label.

Alright, alright. So what exactly am I getting at with this bullshit?

Well, that while labels can be uselful in a categorical sense, they fall far short of doing the individual justice. And that maybe you should learn a bit more about what words mean before you go using them. Not every atheist is an aggressive antitheistic skeptical liberal feminist secular humanist. In fact, atheism has no direct link to any of those things. It's merely a correlation because most of us share a similar "coming into" of atheism. We examined the evidence, we found it lacking, and we said: "Where is the proof?"

And there wasn't any.

So to all of you, I say to be cognizant of the labels you use. And more importantly, just remember that no matter how many labels we have, no matter self-assigned or laid on us by others, we're all human beings. That's the important part. When you start categorizing, it becomes very easy to dehumanize the "opposition" and make negative assumptions about them. Be more than the sum of your labels.

Just be a decent fucking human being. The rest of it will sort itself out.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Another interesting question

So today I was asked a very interesting set of questions by a good friend of mine. She was very coy with the context of her question, and told me to answer the question to MY interpretation. So here are the questions, verbatim:

"How important are you in this world as a whole? How do you fit in the world? You are 1 out of 7 billion people. How do you feel about that?"

It kind of gave me a lot to think about, and I obviously needed more than a single text message to convey an appropriate response.

How important am I to the world? I guess this one wanted more context, but since I'm allowed to choose my own, let me take a delicate stab at it.

In the grand scheme of things, it seems arrogant to assume my life will have a long-lasting, far-reaching impact on the world. I will live and die, all without (probably) making a huge impact. I probably won't have my name in any textbooks, or monuments, and there probably won't be buildings with my name on them for generations to come.

I do think, though, that within the locality of MY little world, I have an impact. I like to think I make an accumulation of small differences in the world of my immediate environment. Life is a series of moments and interactions, and I think these all fundamentally contribute to our lives. We are altered by every moment; every person who comes into our lives. Even minute interactions can have profound impacts on who we are, and how we perceive our world. In that sense, I think we're all a little more important in our worlds than we realize.

How do I fit into the world? I fit into the world based on my experience, perception, and choice. My place is a product of where I choose to be and how I react to things. I fit where I choose to fit, and that state of being is as malleable and temporary as I choose it to be. My place in this world is a product of my love for this world, and my personal paradigm.

You are 1 out of 7 billion people. How do you feel about that? I find this fact fascinating. These are 7 billion people I share a life with, in this short frame of time in which I get to live. It gives me, in an evolutionary sense, a gigantic family of people I can share some sense of experience with. There is a certain amount of camaraderie present knowing that in the short span of time we get to experience life, we get to experience it together.

The world is a beautiful place. We have to adjust to it as best we can, living the best life we can, interacting with the people around us in a plethora of ways. We live, we love, we learn.

To my best friend, I hope this answer your questions. I love you.

To everyone else, I hope this gives you something to think about.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Purpose in a Godless world

So a very good friend of mine who is struggling with the nature of their belief asked me a very important question, one that I had trouble answering because the answer seemed so self-evident to me. This question was, of course:

"As an atheist, what gives your life meaning and purpose? What makes life worthwhile?"

So i turned, of course, to the only place fit to answer this question: twitter. I posted this question for my followers to answers, and here are the responses I got, unedited:


-"Art. The creative drive."

-"Serious answer: my wife's vagina tastes amazing. Also my son is ok I guess. A little on the whiny side."

-"Friends, family, simple things."

-"the thought that this fleeting moment of time, we call life, is the only tangible thing we will ever be able to experience"


-"Friends, laughter, conversation, travel, learning. / Learning more each day, the joy of existence and reality."

-"Art. Music. Friends. Comedy. Love. Science. Nature. Grandeur. Fun. Lots of other stuff, and no god required."

-"Well. I have depression so I can't say that right now...But usually my baby brother. And my mom. And my writing"

-"children, friends, family. Common answers and all important. But also knowledge, the joy of learning something new"

-"Art. Creating something."

-"Little moments of real happiness in life, like hearing my child laugh, a beautiful sunset, experiencing art, feeling love."

-"My girl,, the rest of my family, my work, hobbies, friends, nature, science, Photography... etc etc etc"

-"Brain chemicals…and computer gaming."

-"Knowledge allows us to have predictable interactions with the natural world while we form unpredictable relationships."

-"air, food normal things. Wife, kids, family, friends make it fun & nothing to die for also helps"

-"My drive to understand what Socrates meant when he said, "I know now that I know nothing".
Perpetual learning drives life."

-"Existentialist philosophy suggests existence before essence, that we are born w/out meaning & must create it in life experience."

-"being able to enjoy & appreciate food/ drink/ music/ relationship/ sex/i.e life in general without silly baseless restrictions."

-“the fact I know I don't need a god to enjoy my life!  It's a devious myth.”

-“Joy? Family, nature, beauty, books, music. Lack of God doesn't remove any of the wonder from the world.”

-“this is late, but: existence itself. I’m a nihilist as well as atheist. Life is what we make it & nothing more.”

-“Humans are aware and intelligent enough to make their own meaning.”

-“Understanding that we are each free to embrace our own meaning is liberating, confusing, frightening. I've come to understand this, and I'm struggling with how to find meaning right now. I’m responsible for me, no more/less. I hope along way I bring some good 2 others since it pleases me. ”

-“mere existence. It blows my mind!”

-“Music, nature, my family, my work... It's a long list because I want to enjoy this life as much as possible :)”

-“Family. Friends. Laughter. Love. Curiosity. Discoveries.”

-“No answer that will satisfy ppl who are believers bcs of their inner emo need to have the safety net their delusion affords. There are those who can find happiness and meaning in life, you have to look for it, not wait for it to drop from the sky.”

-“My friends, my spawn, my family, doing fun stuff, exploring the world. We get one life, I aim to make the most of it.”

-“good books/poetry, a loving partner, thoughts,and dreams: the more far-fetched,the better.They'd take longer to achieve :-)”

-“My kids, trees, space, mma, music, science, cats, fossils, being nice. Everything really, just not religion :-)”

-“Just the fact I'm alive is meaningful and joyful enough for me.”

-“learn new things every day; sense of helping human progress at work; see kids embracing right knowledge and values; garden!”

-“The impact I have on others' lives. I try to help others, particularly children, as much as possible”

-“The realisation that we are an infinitesimal blip in the time-space continuum encourages me to make the most of every day. Plus if you're getting your meaning & joy from thinking God exists, you are probably doing it wrong.”

-“Drugs and the knowledge that I'm going to die eventually anyway.
And the dog.”

-“Family, friends and the discoveries that come with each new day.”

-“The love I have for and receive from my wife. Artwork that I do. Learning new things. Doing good things. Debating.”

-“my life Is meaningful because I'm free from superstition and mental bondage”

-“Much the same as everyone! Family, friends, helping, achievements...etc.etc. None of which need god intervention!”

-“Sound of a babbling brook, children laughing, hugging loved ones, savory food, intoxicating scents, music, etc. etc.”

-“The fear of burning in hell if I…. Oh sorry misread, ermmm pies, yes I guess it’s pies.. oh and beer (with a pie)”

-“the beautiful thing about atheism is life is what you make it not what old book says it should be.”

-“Love for my wife and children. Making a difference daily. Being good without god.”

-“to this day with my children grown and on their own, joy is hearing them laugh
And that is just 1 joy-bringer”

-“reality. Everything about it is so much more majestic than any ancient holy book would have you know.”

-“knowing I am far more developed mentally than people who ask such ridiculous questions?”

Of course, we know that 140 characters is a restrictive limit when expressing one's self and our innermost passions, and while all of those things are not only individually true, but on some level true to all of us living without religion, or god, I thought I would take a crack at it anyway.

What gives my life meaning? There are a lot of answers, but the simplest is this: I give my life meaning. My experiences, my aspirations, my passions, and goals. These are the things that give me a purpose to move forward, which keep me going. My love for my family and my friends... the general, simple, beautiful love I have for all of my fellow humans... THOSE things give me purpose. Striving to be better, as myself, and to do better for those around me, are why I can wake up in the morning.

No archaic text, superstition, or dogma needed.