Ijbms.mums.ac.ir Review:Iranian Journal of Basic Medical Sciences - Mashhad University of Medical Sciences
Country: Asia, IR, Iran
City: Mashhad, Razavi Khorasan
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The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values by Sam Harris
The more we understand ourselves at the level of the brain, the more we will see that there are right and wrong answers to questions of human values. 70
I value the human capacity for induction to create knowledge. As Hume put it there is no causality; only "constant concomitance". There is no absolute fact, only opinion and attitudes and emotions and uncertain knowledge. This is a basic limitation of the scientific method and its greatest strength. And it applies equally to the world of values and morality. As Sam Harris so fluently exposes in this solid book, values cannot be separated from facts, and both are the happy products of science.
As the Greek rhetoricians used to say, " The only measure of mankind is mankind itself." We are the standard for the facts of science and of morality, and so understanding and advancing psychology should be a primary goal of all societies. Harris, instead of asking the Socratic question about what is the good life, asks about human well-being. There is not much difference, but science has given us much more food for thought than Aristotle ever had, and especially in the scientific field of psychology, there is much new understanding that impinges on our insights into the morality of human well-being. Harris provides a thoroughgoing synopsis of this new knowledge and it is the fundament for his thesis that a science of morality is not only possible but urgently needed to improve the general lot of mankind. He makes a convincing case. In fact, as an experimental psychologist, I agree with him completely throughout this book. Never have I read as lucid an account of the many twists and turns in people's rejection of a scientific approach to morality, and while his arguments are not always thoroughly convincing they are clear and analytic and unblurred by dogma. What can one ask more of a scientist? Nowhere does he make his case more clearly than his attack on the fundamentalist and religionist Francis Collins, who has a vision and religious conversion experience when he encounters a mystical frozen waterfall divided into a triune deity. The superstition of religion is a clear antagonist of science, and this conflict cannot be restrained without basic inconsistencies of reasoning.
Here is our situation: if the basic claims of religion are true, the scientific worldview is so blinkered and susceptible to supernatural modification as to be rendered nearly ridiculous;455
For instance, the moral stigma that still surrounds disorders of mood and cognition seems largely the result of viewing the mind as distinct from the brain.1853
The fact that religious belief is both a cultural universal and appears to be tethered to the genome has led scientists like Burton to conclude that there is simply no getting rid of faith-based thinking.2154
Historically, a preoccupation with witchcraft has been a cultural universal. And yet belief in magic is now in disrepute almost everywhere in the developed world.2165
What is surprising, from a scientific point of view, is that 42 percent of Americans believe that life has existed in its present form since the beginning of the world, and another 21 percent believe that while life may have evolved, its evolution has been guided by the hand of God (only 26 percent believe in evolution through natural selection).2502
I am not suggesting that we are guaranteed to resolve every moral controversy through science. Differences of opinion will remain--but opinions will be increasingly constrained by facts.82
To say that the behavior of Muslim jihadists has nothing to do with their religious beliefs is like saying that honor killings have nothing to do with what their perpetrators believe about women, sexuality, and male honor.2630
If there are objective truths to be known about human well-being--if kindness, for instance, is generally more conducive to happiness than cruelty is--then science should one day be able to make very precise claims about which of our behaviors and uses of attention are morally good, which are neutral, and which are worth abandoning. While it is too early180
It is possible to be wrong and to not know it (we call this "ignorance").2961
It is possible to be wrong and to know it, but to be reluctant to incur the social cost of admitting this publicly (we call this "hypocrisy").2961
And it may also be possible to be wrong, to dimly glimpse this fact, but to allow the fear of being wrong to increase one's commitment to one's erroneous beliefs (we call this "self-deception"). It seems clear that these frames of mind do an unusual amount of work in the service of religion.2962
Similarly, anyone truly interested in morality--in the principles of behavior that allow people to flourish--should be open to new evidence and new arguments that bear upon questions of happiness and suffering.412
There may be nothing more important than human cooperation. Whenever more pressing concerns seem to arise--like the threat of a deadly pandemic, an asteroid impact, or some other global catastrophe--human cooperation is the only remedy (if a remedy exists). Cooperation is the stuff of which meaningful human lives and viable societies are made. Consequently, few topics will be more relevant to a maturing science of human well-being.920
Students of philosophy will notice that this commits me to some form of moral realism (viz. moral claims can really be true or false) and some form of consequentialism (viz. the rightness of an act depends on how it impacts the well-being of conscious creatures).1036
Tomasello has found that even twelve-month old children will follow a person's gaze, while chimpanzees tend to be interested only in head movements. He suggests that our unique sensitivity to gaze direction facilitated human cooperation and language development.959
It is not by accident that our most widely accepted moral phrase is "do unto others as you would have them do unto you ..." because our most essential intellectual competence is understanding others; whether through communication or modeling others' minds and awareness, later elaborated into the study of psychology. Edit
Moral view A is truer than moral view B, if A entails a more accurate understanding of the connections between human thoughts/intentions/behavior and human well-being.1081
The one crucial exception, however, is that psychopaths are often unable to recognize expressions of fear and sadness in others, And this may be the difference that makes all the difference.1660
Blair points out, parenting strategies that increase empathy tend to successfully mitigate antisocial behavior in healthy children;1668
Territorial violence might have even been necessary for the development of altruism. The economist Samuel Bowles has argued that lethal, "out-group" hostility and "in-group" altruism are two sides of the same coin.1701
Sometimes our knowledge of psychology conflicts with itself, as in our undertstanding of revenge and compassion, and a resolution needs to be worked out:" the tragic experience of his late father-in-law, who had the opportunity to kill the man who murdered his family during the Holocaust but opted instead to turn him over to the police. After spending only a year in jail, the killer was released, and Diamond's father-in-law spent the last sixty years of his life "tormented by regret and guilt." While there is much to be said against the vendetta culture of the New Guinea Highlands, it is clear that the practice of taking vengeance answers to a common psychological need".1860
In fact, mathematical belief (e.g., "2 + 6 + 8 = 16") showed a similar pattern of activity to ethical belief (e.g., "It is good to let your children know that you love them"), and these were perhaps the most dissimilar sets of stimuli used in our experiment. This suggests that the physiology of belief may be the same regardless of a proposition's content. It also suggests that the division between facts and values does not make much sense in terms of underlying brain function. 2032
And we can traverse the boundary between facts and values in other ways. As we are about to see, the norms of reasoning seem to apply equally to beliefs about facts and to beliefs about values. In both spheres, evidence of inconsistency and bias is always unflattering. Similarities of this kind suggest that there is a deep analogy, if not identity, between the two domains.2043
Morality and values depend on the existence of conscious minds--and specifically on the fact that such minds can experience various forms of well-being and suffering in this universe. Conscious minds and their states are natural phenomena, of course, fully constrained by the laws of Nature (whatever these turn out to be in the end). Therefore, there must be right and wrong answers to questions of morality and values that potentially fall within the purview of science. On this view, some people and cultures will be right (to a greater or lesser degree), and some will be wrong, with respect to what they deem important in life.3259
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