April 18, 2008

Handlebars by Flobots

I can ride my bike with no handlebars
No handlebars
No handlebars

I can ride my bike with no handlebars
No handlebars
No handlebars

Look at me, look at me
hands in the air like it’s good to be
ALIVE
and I’m a famous rapper
even when the paths’re all crookedy
I can show you how to do-si-do
I can show you how to scratch a record
I can take apart the remote control
And I can almost put it back together
I can tie a knot in a cherry stem
I can tell you about Leif Ericson
I know all the words to “De Colores”
And “I’m Proud to be an American”
Me and my friend saw a platypus
Me and my friend made a comic book
And guess how long it took
I can do anything that I want cuz, look:

I can keep rhythm with no metronome
No metronome
No metronome

I can see your face on the telephone
On the telephone
On the telephone

Look at me
Look at me
Just called to say that it’s good to be
ALIVE
In such a small world
All curled up with a book to read
I can raise funds open up a thrift store
I can make a living off a magazine
I can design an engine sixty four
Miles to a gallon of gasoline
I can make new antibiotics
I can make computers survive aquatic conditions
I know how to run a business
And I can make you wanna buy a product
Movers shakers and producers
Me and my friends understand the future
I see the strings that control the systems
I can do anything with no assistance
I can change the nation with a microphone
With a microphone
With a microphone
I can split the atoms of a molecule
Of a molecule
Of a molecule

Look at me
Look at me
Driving and I won’t stop
And it feels so good to be
Alive and on top
My reach is global
My tower secure
My cause is noble
My power is pure
I can hand out a million vaccinations
Or let’em all die in exasperation
Have’em all grilled leavin lacerations
Have’em all killed by assassination
I can make anybody go to prison
Just because I don’t like’em and
I can do anything with no permission
I have it all under my command
I can guide a missile by satellite
By satellite
By satellite
and I can hit a target through a telescope
Through a telescope
Through a telescope
and I can end the planet in a holocaust
In a holocaust
In a holocaust
In a holocaust
In a holocaust
In a holocaust
In a holocaust

I can ride my bike with no handlebars
No handle bars
No handlebars

I can ride my bike with no handlebars
No handlebars
No handlebars

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April 13, 2008

VIII. We Worry About Teen Marijuana Use, But Not About Teen Sports

Risk arguments cannot be divorced from values.

If the risks of smoking marijuana are coldly compared to those of playing high-school football, parents should be less concerned about pot smoking. Death by marijuana overdose has never been reported, while 13 teen players died of football-related injuries in 2006 alone. And marijuana impairs driving far less than the number one drug used by teens: alcohol. Alcohol and tobacco are also more likely to beget addiction, give rise to cancer, and lead to harder drug use.

If the comparison feels absurd, it’s because judgments of risk are inseparable from value judgments. We value physical fitness and the lessons teens learn from sports, but disapprove of unearned pleasure from recreational drugs. So we’re willing to accept the higher level of risk of socially preferred activities—and we mentally magnify risks associated with activities society rejects, which leads us to do things like arresting marijuana smokers.

“Risk decisions are not about risks alone,” says Slovic. “People usually take risks to get a benefit.” The value placed on that benefit is inherently subjective, so decisions about them cannot be made purely “on the science.”

From 10 Ways We Get the Odds Wrong

January 6, 2008

The point is this: most people do not study very effectively. They study to feel they are trying. They study to feel better about themselves. They do not always study to succeed in their chosen field. They spend hours staring blankly at sheets of paper and nodding about what they understand. Students should spend more time trying to solve problems or answer questions, usually under simulated exam conditions and with a clock ticking. Tick, tick, tick… That’s the way to go, and yes, the whole point is it hurts.

– Tyler Cowen, from Discover Your Inner Economist

Very true. That’s definitely the difference between the student who ‘tries hard’ and the ‘natural.’ The natural doesn’t mind slogging it through the ‘real’ stuff. In fact, s/he might actually enjoy it.

Though I know I personally could stand to learn a few more lessons from this idea, namely trying to fail more often (because it is in the failures that successes eventually arise). But no one likes failing. Unless you retrain them.

I’ve had a lot of time to think lately. Which, depending on how you take it, could either lead to good things or bad things. I’m going to count this towards good things.

One of the new themes in my thought process revolves around the walls we build up around life. Reading The Untethered Soul, I’ve pushed further and further up against the concept of the self and found it more and more wanting. I know that’s something I’ve said before. And I know that it’s something that most people disagree with me on [in addition to vegetarianism and a grand transhumanist future], but I’ll push forward nonetheless, in hopes that someone somewhere can glean something from this little essay.

The image that keeps coming to mind for me now involves building a bigger and better house on a certain piece of property. Assume that at birth, you’re given a certain square footage of land. The work of life is building a house there. But as a child, you can’t build anything all that fancy, especially without the help of your parents, siblings, and other authority figures. Slowly, as you pass through the terrible twos and onto mid-childhood, you begin to create things of your own: you populate the house with imaginary friends, you put up your own pieces of artwork, remodel some of the basic infrastructure of the house. Still, at this point, most of the modeling involves copying the works of others, mainly your parents and your siblings.

Slowly, as you reach adolescence, the focus of your house moves from your family to your peer group. Suddenly, it’s more important that your floor plan match your friends, or that you have the posters of your friends instead of the portraits of your parents. Someday, probably around 16 or 17, you realize that you want to create a home all your own, made how you want it, not how your parents, friends, whoever want you to want it. ‘Liberation’ through self-expression is just around the corner. To show who you are, you require the purchase of goods and services.

Someday, though, you may find that the house you’ve loved for so many years is beginning to show a great deal of wear. The roof is leaking, the gutters could use a new paint job, and you certainly need to oil the hinges on the front door. You slowly make all of these repairs, but no matter how hard you try, more and more problems keep cropping up. As soon as you fix one, ten more take its place. The hydra of home repair!

The story continues on like that for most people, making repair after repair of this home for the rest of their lives. Things calm down after a while, and slowly you begin to except that the house has a few issues. It gives it ‘character,’ you think. Much the same sort of character that you had initially tried to infuse into it by means of snazzy posters and fancy vases.

We all know how the story ends, of course. The homeowner has to move out, to a bigger and better place [call it Heaven, oblivion, another ‘home,’ whatever. I don’t know, and I’m fairly certain noone else does either]. And soon the house falls into massive disrepair. Pretty soon the house is completely gone, all that remains is the rubble. And as more time passes, the rubble itself turns to dust, and the land returns to the state it was in before you moved in.

This little allegory makes a simple analogy between your psyche and the ‘house’ you built. I imagine that most people could relate to the different stages [I can only hypothesize about the later stages via observation of pop culture / the people around me]. I also imagine that most people would agree with me that the house, or their psyche, has changed throughout these different stages. They have thought in qualitatively different ways over the course of their life. You need only read Piaget’s studies of young children’s lack of a sense of conservation of mass to see this secondhand.

However, I would depart from this pretty typical view in two ways. One, I would propose that the lot of land itself in this story is just as important, but most often overlooked, as the house itself. And I would secondly propose that knowledge that the lot is important lends itself to building a better house.

The first point is pretty easy to prove, but it’s importance can be overlooked. Especially as I continue to push this house metaphor far beyond the limits I meant for it to hold. Without the lot, you have no house. In this allegory, the lot symbolizes your consciousness. Where here consciousness is defined as what’s left after you take everything else away. If you could remember your state of being while your in the deepest of deep sleep, what would you experience. If you take away all of the physical inputs to the world, all of your emotions, all of your thoughts, what are you left with? What is the canvas to which all of your experience is painted? It’s the thing that all sentient beings share: I AMness. The ‘simple feeling of being’ as Ken Wilber puts it. Once you forget about yourself, or yourSelf, it’s all that’s left.

And this is the lot. When you get down to it, the you that you identify with can’t possibly be the you that you think you identify with. You aren’t your body: all the cells ‘you’ own have cycled in and out of existence at least 2 times by the age of 21. You aren’t your emotions: the way you feel now probably bears little resemblance to what you felt just 2 hours ago. You aren’t your thoughts: you can’t even control your thoughts, they just bubble in and out of existence while you [really they, being your many selves] continue to make a story weaving all these thoughts together. You certainly aren’t your past: the past is only memories that have no real existence outside of your head. And of course, you can’t be a future that hasn’t even happened yet.

What does that leave you with? Well, not very much and everything all at once. It leaves you with the theater through which all of this drama called your life has played through. It leaves you with the ‘person’ behind the scenes that has watched the whole play, but hasn’t partaken in any of it. It leaves you with your Self, with a capital S, the only part of you that hasn’t changed throughout your entire life. The only part that won’t change, can never change. Only at death do you and the Self part, and then you won’t know the difference, because without the Self, the Observer, you can’t very well be aware of much of anything.

So then, which do you think is more important, all the cells, thoughts, rules, feelings, memories, etc. that you’ve built up over the course of your life? Or the background on which they all rely? A loaded question, sure. And one that doesn’t have an obvious answer. Because obviously both are necessary to have existence as we know it. But the house usually gets all the credit. Never the lot.

I think I’ve proved my first point now, so I will move onto the second point, which may be harder to prove but easier to swallow. How does knowing you are the lot and not the house help things? As the house falls to shambles, or is in transition from one addition to the next, what good does it do you to know that you aren’t the thing in flux, but rather the very ground, perhaps with a capital G, that the house is built on? Well, I would guess that the answer to that question should be quite obvious: if you aren’t the house, then you need not worry while it falls apart, while builders renovate it, or while it stands in stasis. Regardless, if you are the lot, you have no worries.

And without any worries, suddenly you’re open to a whole new world of possibilities. Has that divider between the kitchen and the family room always bothered you? But you couldn’t force yourself to take it down because, well, it’s always been there and you can’t quite recall if it lends structural support to the house? If your realize your identity as the lot, or even if you just realize that the lot is there, you can in fact tear that wall down without the fear of destroying anything. You may well destroy the house. But the land upon which the house is built, that can’t be destroyed.

And again, without those worries, you can build a bigger and better house. You can keep pushing onward and upwards, reaching for better and more innovative architectural wonders, without fear that you might ‘mess up’ yourself, your house.

The trick, then, to all of life’s problems is to realize that you are in fact that lot. The house is just there for a brief little stay. No need to worry about keeping up repair. You may or you may not [it gets more interesting when you decide to keep up], but in the end it doesn’t matter. As long as you identify with the Ground, all worries can wash away.

The phenomenon of “charity work” also reveals how generosity is used as an inefficient fitness display rather than an efficient resource-transfer device. If the wealthy really wanted to help people, they should make as much money as they can doing what they are trained to do, and hand it over to a lower income group who are trained to help people. The division of labor is economically efficient, in charity as in business. Instead, in most modern cities of the world, we can observe highly trained lawyers, doctors, and their husbands and wives giving up their time to work in soup kitchens for the homeless or to deliver meals to the elderly. Their time may be wroth a hundred times the standard hourly rates for kitchen workers or delivery drivers. For every hour they spend serving soup, they could have donated an hour’s salary to pay for somebody else to serve soup for two weeks. The same argument apples not only to lawyers, but to everyone with an above-average wage who donates time instead of money. So why do they donate their time? Here again the handicap principle applies. For most working people, their most limited resource is time, not money. By donating time, they help the needy much less efficiently, but show their generosity and kindness much more credibly.

– From The Mating Mind by Geoffrey Miller

That must be why capitalism works so well. It runs against our ‘nature.’ Do what you do well, and do it to get paid. And then redistribute your wealth and other jobs accordingly.

Wow, that sounds a little Republican. Maybe more so libertarian. I hope it’s libertarian, because I don’t mind being one of those…

Amazing book, by the way. The thesis that runs throughout this work is that a great deal of evolution was guided not by natural selection, but by sexual selection. It would take an entire blog post just to scratch the surface of the theory behind this book. And I might get to that someday. But in the meantime, enjoy that little nugget. And if evolutionary psychology peeks your interest, check the book out.

On the West and Eudaimonia

September 19, 2007

In short, the West presently has no pure science of consciousness that reveals the nature, origins, and potentials of this natural phenomena and it similarly lacks an applied science of consciousness that reveals means for refining and enhancing consciousness and thereby achieving eudaimonia. But this does not necessarily imply that all other human civilizations throughout history have been equally deficient.

– From Contemplative Science by B. Allan Wallace

So very true. The closest thing the West has to an applied science of consciousness is the hokey self-help field and the newly sprouting ‘positive’ psychology movement.

We can put a man on the moon, but we don’t know how to make someone thrive?

Though at times I think teaching the ‘good life’ smacks of totalitarianism. But that’s a post for another day.

Speaking of posts for another day, look for one about consciousness and the mind/brain dilemma.

This book is giving me so many good ideas!

June 2, 2007

He had alot to say.
He had alot of nothing to say.
We’ll miss him.
So long.
We wish you well.
You told us how you weren’t afraid to die.
Well then, so long.
Don’t cry.
Or feel too down.
Not all martyrs see divinity.
But at least you tried.
Standing above the crowd,
He had a voice that was strong and loud.
We’ll miss him.
Ranting and pointing his finger
At everything but his heart.
We’ll miss him.
No way to recall
What it was that you had said to me,
Like I care at all.
So loud.
You sure could yell.
You took a stand on every little thing
And so loud.

Standing above the crowd,
He had a voice so strong and loud and I
Swallowed his facade ’cause I’m so
Eager to identify with
Someone above the ground,
Someone who seemed to feel the same,
Someone prepared to lead the way, with
Someone who would die for me.
Will you? Will you now?
Would you die for me?
Don’t you fuckin lie.
Don’t you step out of line.
Don’t you fuckin lie.
You’ve claimed all this time that you would die for me.
Why then are you so surprised to hear your own eulogy?
You had alot to say.
You had alot of nothing to say.
Come down.
Get off your fuckin cross.
We need the fuckin space to nail the next fool martyr.
To ascend you must die.
You must be crucified
For your sins and your lies.
Goodbye…

~ Eulogy by Tool

That’s how I feel about the self right now. My-self.

Namaste.

The idea of the narrative of the self has been making a big comeback in psychology, apparently. Well, I don’t know if I can call it a comeback; I honestly don’t know if it ever left. But I’ve come across two article-essays in the past few days that have coincided with some thoughts I’ve had about the self-story, which is enough consilience for me to write about them. [more…]

Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to develop ways to “get motivated.” Admittedly, this should be a pretty simple process: the thought ‘You need to do this’ should immediately trigger the response ‘Let’s do it!’ and then the action should get done.

Yeah, right. If we were computers, maybe. But if we were computers, we wouldn’t have intuition, creativity, or any of the other lovely qualities that make us, well, human. And besides, what challenge would there be in that? And therefore, what reward?

So, what have I been doing to “hack” this human error? Well, I’ve tried tons of things. Let me give you the short version of some:

(1) The simplest one involves just making a list of things “to do” and then kicking through it. This one works surprisingly well. It’s elegant, all you need is a piece of paper, and the energy you free up just by making the list gives you the momentum to get started. I highly advise.

(2) Just doing what I feel like doing. This is pretty much the antithesis of number one. When you feel like doing homework, do some homework. When you feel like writing a blog post, write a blog post. And when you feel like just chilling out listening to music, then chill! Also a simple model. It allows you to do what you “want” to do, so you get a boost when you decide you “want” to get important things, like homework or a blog post, done. I also advise this system, but not every day. Maybe once a week, like on Sunday’s, when you feel like taking a break from the over-scheduled world.

(3) Make a schedule. This one seems the most likely to work, but I’ve found it the least effective. Basically, you make a list of all the things you want to do, and then you fill them into a blank day-schedule. So, at 9 you do your chemistry homework, at 10 you go for a run, and at 11 you eat lunch. It’s all there, down on the page. Plus you PUT it all on the page at some point, so you know you must want to do it. For some reason, this method just makes me freeze up. I feel like my day has turned from a flow of energy to a giant monolithic mountain that I have to dig a tunnel through. I don’t advise this one, but if you figure out a way to make it work, give me a heads up. :)

Those are simplifications of the systems I’ve been trying out since I got to college and decided I wanted a better method for motivation than, “Oh, shit! This paper’s due in a day!” I like all of them, to an extent. But they all have their weaknesses, so me being the optimizer that I am, decided to come up with yet another system.

I’ve been reading a lot by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (yeah, that’s a tongue twister of a last name, but it’s pronounced easily: “chic sent me high” [nice!]). He’s a psychologist that studies a phenomena known as “flow.” I wrote about flow on my old blog here, when I profiled a game based on the theory. I won’t reiterate it here, because to be honest it’s not that important. Let me just summarize flow: it’s a great feeling you have when life’s a game. Pretty simple. Rules, goals, easy feedback, all these things lead to flow. All these things are in games. Basically because games are “autotelic” (which means, literally, “a means unto itself”) by there very nature. Something that’s autotelic makes should be done for its own good. IE you don’t need to get anything from it, it’s just enjoyable to do. Think of reading, going for a fun bike ride (if you’re not pumping your heart for cardio reasons), a nice talk with a friend. Now, none of these activities are purely autotelic, just like no job is purely exotolic (a means outside itself).

If you want to experience flow, make things more autotelic, ie more game like. And thus comes in my latest idea for motivation: The Action Hero Card Game© (okay, I didn’t really copyright it, but if you steal my idea and market it, that’s bad Karma on you!). Here’s a picture of it below:
Action Hero Card Game
Nice, huh? Now let me explain. As you can see, each card has a box in the upper left and upper right corner, as well as one in the bottom third. The top left box has the time that I’m going to do the activity, the top right box has the amount of time I’m to spend on the activity, and the bottom box has any notes on the activity (take the write blog post one for example: the time is 8 (when I started writing thing post!), the amount of time is 30 minutes (the amount of time it took me to write this!), and the note says to write about making card games to increase motivation (you get the idea!).

Basically, I have a stack of such cards, and I go through them one at a time throughout the game. When I finish a card, I turn it over, place it in a separate (done) pile, read the next card, and either act on it if the time’s come, or move on to whatever I feel like doing at the moment. I can do that because I know I’ve planned out the day to the point that I’ll get everything done. No guilt in randomly surfing the interweb or randomly writing some stuff. It’s a nice feeling. :)

There’s a little more to this system than I’ve explained (like, how do I decide what to do in a day? and when to do it? and how long to do it?), but I’ll leave those items for a later blog post.

I hope you found this post informational. And maybe now you’re motivated to make you’re very own Action Hero Card Game© set! ;)

Namaste.

As the first series on this blog, I plan on looking into what really makes humans happy. Not what we think will make us happy. Not what might make us happy. Rather, what science (whether Western or Eastern) has proven to make us happy.

A large part of this idea comes from the article Folk Science by Michael Shermer, better known as The Skeptic (yes, that’s the one thing from Scientific American that I still read, since it tends to be both interesting and challenging). In this article, Shermer posits that since we evolved to experience life on such a limitted spectrum of input, humans suck at figuring certain things out. Things like evolution (we don’t have the lifespan to really observe micro, let along macro, evolution), cosmology (forget about imagining tens of BILLIONS of years), and economics (we came from hunter/gatherers, not stock brokers and entreprenuers) totally baffle our “common sense.” That’s where science steps in.

Of all the things we suck at understanding, as of late one the most harmful has been happiness. We don’t really know what makes us happy. Money? Fame? Love? Until very recently, our “folk wisdom” on this topic has came up very short. Thankfully, with the advent of Positive Psychology, humans have become much better at knowing what makes us happy and what doesn’t. Often the answers (like in many other endeavors) are counterintuitive. However, they seem scientifically sound.

In this series, I’ll be looking into two (maybe more) books: The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz and Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman. Many books on these topics have been published in the past few years, but I’ll focus on these two and see what they can illuminate about what REALLY makes us happy.

Really.

In the meantime, I hope that everyone reading this is currently happy. Authentically and otherwise. :)

Namaste.