Ask A Guru

May - September 2005

Simple questions, simple answers, part VI (2005/09/26)

Awesome answers, lame questions.

Q: Why is there death? - Phillips William
A: Because, in the end, there can be only one!

Q: WATS BILLIE JOE ARMSTRONGS E-MAIL ADDRESS PLZ PLZ PLZ PLZ PLZ PLZ PLZ PLZ PLZ PLZ PLZ PLZ PLZ PLZ PLZ PLZ PLZ TELL ME !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (100 more exclaimation points removed) - Elizabeth Kessler
A: Yes, we're sure that's exactly what Mr. Armstrong wants. A psychopathic netspeaking stalker with his email address.

Q: What's my favourite colour - Victoria Morgan
A: Please read the very first question in our FAQ. Sheesh!

Q: My toilet won't fully flush. What could be wrong? - Davidwikoffsr
A: Your pet alligator has grown too big to be flushed properly. You'll have to chop him up first.

Q: Is it possible for the unconscious mind during the REM sleep cycle to access future memories of the individual. I set as an example my knowing the entire layout of a museum before my first visit. I dreamt of it as a child. Is it possible that with the subconscious mind not being ruled by laws of time or space, it could pick up on its own brain waves at another point in a person's life, even future memories? If it could be possible this would explain déjà vu. - Chris Payne
A: In a word, no. It is highly improbable that you dreamt the exact layout of said museum as a child. More likely, you had a dream of a museum when you were young, forgot most of the dream as time went on, and years later when you saw the museum you completed the half-forgotten memory of your dream with the new information. Also, there is no proof that the subconscious mind isn't effected by the same laws that govern the rest of the universe, and therefore there is no reason to believe that it isn't. There is also no proof that memory works on future events. Also, there are plenty of satisfactory explanations for déjà vu. However, technically it is impossible to prove or disprove anything absolutely, so yes, it is possible. Just unlikely to the extreme.

Q: Help! - A Graham
A: That's not even a question!

What is the difference between a cult and a religion? Is there any? - Helen Johnston (2005/07/27)

We're sure the religious rite will get all pissy about our answer, but by definition, they are practically the same thing. A religion is just a cult with a good publicist.

The word cult comes from the Latin cultus which means "worship". Religion comes from Latin rooted to religre meaning "to tie fast". They are often used synonymously by non-religious people.

In both religions and cults there is dependency, worship, fellowship, ritual, leaders, followers, faith, belief, moral values, etc. They are often both strict with their laws and rules, causing punishment upon breaking them. They both tend to attract people looking for answers to life's great mysteries. They both give people a sense that they are part of something greater than their simple lives. They both demand similar thought and ideals.

One difference is that while religions are often the cause of many deaths by murdering those who are different (crusades, inquisitions, suicide bombings, etc.) cults usually are the cause of many deaths by murdering themselves (this Kool-Aid tastes just like Thomas Wainewright used to make).

Religious people often claim that cults are evil crimes against god and humanity, but religions (especially their own) are just and helpful. But when you get down to it, the only real difference is semantics. Cults are seen as negative, religions are seen as positive. Cults usually have small numbers, religions are usually in the hundreds of millions. Cults are usually fanatic and zealous believing outlandish ideals with bizarre practices, religions are... well... we'll skip this one.

Really, there is no reason to view a cult as bad. More innocent people have died at the hands of religions than cults, that's for sure.

To sum it up, a cult is a bad religion, and a religion is a good cult. Make sense?

If I believe in God (with a capital G) but it isn't necessarily the Christian, Muslim, Jewish God (or any other religion). What can I tell people when they ask me what religion I am? - Amber (2005/07/19)

Tell them you're a heretic Satan worshipping Hell's Angel Pagan who has raped and murdered hundreds of nuns and small children. We're sure it will go over well.

Technically, if you don't know what religion you are, than most likely you aren't religious, and therefore should simply say that you are spiritual, but not religious.

Because you mention that you believe in a god of some sort, that tells us that you are a theist. If you believe in only one god then you are a monotheist, multiple gods makes you a polytheist.

Perhaps you're wanting to know which religion you could most closely associate yourself with. Actually, it's very difficult to pinpoint exactly what religion a person should belong to without asking them a long series of questions. Since we only have a few tidbits of information from you we won't be especially accurate, but we'll do our best.

Because you point out that you don't necessarily believe in the Christian/Muslim/Jewish god we're assuming that you're less of a fundamentalist and more liberal about religion. This allows us to knock out some of the more die-hard ones and leave the more secular religions to choose from. You would probably be most fulfilled with Unitarian Universalism, any of the New Thought Movements, or possibly Bahá'í (in that order).

Without more information as to your exact beliefs, we can't be certain. However, the Belief-O-Matic™ is a 20 question survey that will rate you among 27 popular religion types, so you might want to try it out and see how close we came.

Simple questions, simple answers, part 5 (2005/07/08)

More creative answers to your bland questions.

Q: What does M.D. stand for when it is behind a person's name? Is it medical doctor? - Sandra G Parker
A: Actually this comes from a very old European tradition where a special dancer was given this title. The title, of course, was "mucus dancer" and they would dance with their friends around them, who would blow mucus on to them. For those without a sense of humor, yes, MD is medical doctor.

Q: Why on Earth would you have blue food coloring in a red drink? - Brach Speicher
A: In pigments, red and blue make purple. By adding just a touch of blue to red dye you can give bright red a slight purplish tinge that people find appealing. Also, some red dyes are a little on the orange side, and by adding blue you make them look more like what humans think red is supposed to look like.

Q: How could there be a Big Bang if there was no universe? - TheAlphaWolf001
A: This is a common misunderstanding of the theory. The Big Band didn't happen before the universe existed, it was the moment just after the creation of the universe. Physicists would love to know what set it in motion but we need a working theory for quantum gravity before we can give you that answer.

Q: Do black men have a bigger penis then white men? - Andrÿffffe9s ÿffffc1lvarez
A: Feeling a bit inadequate are you? Actually, there has never been a proper study to find the answer of the average penis size, by race or any thing else (regardless of what the Internet says). The problem with the existing tests is that they only take into account the people who are willing to tell their size, and we know how men love to exaggerate. 14 inches? Please, I'm twice that long!

Q: What is a guru? - Sara Young
A: A guru can be one of several definitions, but the one that fits us the most is: A recognized leader in a field. Now, as we do not mention a particular field, we mean -every- field. That's right kiddies, we're the best at everything!

If the pen is mightier than the sword, and a picture is worth a thousand words, how much would a picture of a sword be worth? - Lena Truett (2005/06/17)

Actually, there are several issues that we need to address before we answer this question. First, a pen is only mightier than the sword in certain contexts. For example, give your friend a pen, give yourself a sword, and then duel to the death. Unless your friend is really creative, you'll see what we mean.

Secondly, a picture isn't really worth a set amount of words. For example, this picture of a sword is 32,330 bytes. Assuming that the average length of a word, including a space, is six letters (which is six bytes) then this picture of a sword is worth 5,388 words.

The real problem comes from trying to determine the value of a word. For a baseline we've taken the book Dracula, by Bram Stoker, which is roughly 161,000 words. A quick check online shows that a hard cover Dracula sells for about $29.95. That's about $0.0186 a word.

So, we now have the ability to calculate the word value of our picture of a sword which comes in at just a hair over 1 dollar, so there's your answer. Or course, our sword picture uses JPEG compression. If it were in an uncompressed format at 48 bit color it would be worth a lot more.

Why does it cause physical pain when you get your heart broken? Right now I feel like I'm going to throw up. - Kasey Cohen (2005/06/15)

We're not going to candy coat anything for you here. Most people will try to say it will feel better in time and all that crap. While that may be true, that certainly doesn't help you now, does it?

Although little scientific research has been done on the physiology of this topic, the horrible pain that you feel in your body is caused by your own mind. It seems the greater you care for someone the greater the pain when they leave. Now, some people say that this is a good indication that you should never try to care for people, that way you can never get hurt.

We, however, have a different perspective on this. Some say that when you are dead to the world, you will feel no pain. If this is true, than pain is a good indication that you are alive and still fighting. Everyone who is truly alive is going to be hurt in life, there is no getting around that. Pain isn't really a bad thing though, it's a reminder. You're still here. You still have the ability to change life into what you want it to be. You're not done fighting yet.

For the record, we feel odd about making it through an entire answer without insulting somebody, so, physicians are dumb heads. There, normality restored.

How do you fall asleep? - Alec Lieberman (2005/06/02)

Well, I usually lay down on my bed, close my eyes, and real subtle-like, lose consciousness. Or perhaps you meant, what is the process of sleep?

Everyone has something called "circadian rhythm", a biological clock which is responsible for keeping your body in synch with the day. Your circadian rhythm is created by the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) located in the base of the brain. The SCN is in communication with the pineal gland which produces melatonin.

Melatonin is a hormone that regulates our sleeping cycle. When you're awake your melatonin level is high, when you're asleep, your melatonin level is low. Normally, production of melatonin is stimulated by darkness and inhibited by light. Light changes obviously cannot control your sleeping patterns, but they do effect them.

The lowering levels of melatonin will make you drowsy thus causing you to fall asleep. Once you lay down to sleep your body will slowly work its way into stage 1 of sleep. At this point your brain's alpha waves will decrease by about half. Next is stage 2 where your brain will exhibit short bursts of activity as it falls deeper into sleep. In stage 3 your brain will start to produce long delta waves, by stage 4 your brain is about 50% delta waves. Finally, in stage 5, you will exhibit REM (rapid eye movement) sleep which is associated with dreaming.

We're not going to go over how teenage males sleep, it's kind of a sticky explanation.

why r their so many languges in the world - Jayshree Pandia (2005/05/12)

According to Ethnologue there are about 6,800 languages in the world today. You seem to have added one more dialect of English by removing punctuation, using incorrect wording, having spelling errors, and abbreviating. Allow me to translate your words into English, "Why are there so many languages in the world?" Ah, much better.

The Old Testament says that humans erected a huge structure called the tower of Babel and their god got all huffy about it and made everyone speak different languages.

If you don't buy that, there are several rational reasons for our large number of languages. Most theories about the creation of human language agree that it was formed out of necessity, except for the theory that speech came from eating mushrooms (I'm not joking). That is to say, to inform somebody to look out for the lion you need a word for lion, to inform someone that this food is yours you need a word for "mine", etc.

As people moved to new locations they begin to encounter the need for new words. Northerners develop more words for snow, jungle-dwellers develop new words for insects, sea-farers develop the words "scurvy" and "yarrr!". Global communication wasn't possible so people were unable to teach their new words to those who lived far away. Slang plays another role in language shift by changing the meaning of words. For example, "bad" is good, "groovy" has nothing to do with grooves.

A language evolves as long as people continue to speak it. Given enough time and distance a language becomes so different from what it used to be it is classified as a different language. By looking back through history we can watch this evolution occur. The root Indo-European language gave rise to English, French, German, Hindi, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish, but it took thousands of years for that evolution to occur.

Even English has its share of dialects. There is UK English, Irish English, American English, Canadian English, Australian English, and your bastardized version of Netspeak English.

There are so many languages now because their evolution was necessary at the time. One thing you might notice as global communication becomes bigger is that languages will start converging back together in order to increase the efficiency of communication. Just a hunch.