Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Unified Theory of Personality*

Because personality is so complex, and predicting behavior in others is extremely difficult, several theorists have posited their own ideas regarding what personality is, how it changes over time, and the forces that shape it. There are many ideas, and very few solid, all-encompassing models that work all the time and in all cases. It is therefore necessary to combine those parts of the models that have some bearing on the growth and development of personality over time.

A child is born with a very basic neural network. This framework is just enough to disseminate the newfound world. The environment etches itself into the child’s mind, dendrites linking simple shapes and ideas. Genes the parents gave the child in some way effects how it develops. The simple network the brain starts with is granted in part by genetics, and determines how effectively the child adds new information, and how well the brain develops to receive this information. This becomes important in later childhood, as language and social norms begin to take hold. After a point, the neural wiring the child was born with has less and less of an effect on its total development. The new neurons are much more plentiful and dense now, downplaying the role of the initial framework. Nature helps create the foundation of personality in such a way, while the surrounding environment and interaction with others does more to shape the personality of an individual in later childhood.

The worn and misused psychobabble term aside, self-actualization refers to an innate desire of all sentient systems to grow, adapt, and operate better over time. Organisms must adapt over time to survive, individually and as a species. Humans are no exception to this; we seek to better ourselves to increase our chances for survival, and to a live a richer, fuller, more comfortable life. A desire to develop is the first step in the path to growth. Some sort of plan to follow is a necessity. This involves outlining a method to reach this goal. Part of this planning process includes being aware of the forces that shape personality. Effective growth must take into account external forces that cause us to react in the ways that we do. We must either change or otherwise control the forces, or invent some way to deal with them in a different manner. If someone were unaware of the outside forces acting upon them, they would be less able to work with or around them. Without adequate feedback regarding progress and the success of this change, one is much like a helmsman steering the ship without a rudder. Generally, with the drive for adaptation comes the willingness to appraise obstacles to adjustment more objectively. Also, another frame of reference certainly helps. Individuals cannot view themselves without their life experiences getting in the way. An outside observer can be useful in helping to reshape the person. Understandably, this whole process is continuous, never-ending, and is usually very subtle. We all change over time, even if we are unaware of or do not desire it.

Of the personality theorists discussed, B. F. Skinner’s approach makes the most sense. His methodology is effective, solid, and true. It is repeatable and measurable. This allows application of the techniques to almost anyone. Much of the aversion to Skinner and behaviorism is an unwillingness to be lumped with animals. It reminds us of our own mortality, how fragile we are. We would like to think that we are somehow above or better than animals. Accepting that we, too, are animals is an important step in applying his ideas; we discover that the way behaviorism works is very effective on humans just the same. Skinner’s ideas regarding a schedule of reinforcement, his approach to correcting errors - as opposed to simply pointing them out - and the premise that punishment never works make this methodology highly useful. Understandably, we prefer a more intimate and warm approach to growth, and to some Skinner’s method seems to be a bit too cold and sterile.

To promote growth and make it more applicable to humans, the ideas of a more personable theorist are used. Roger’s idea that our life experience is an ever-changing form adds a sense of wonder and mystery to life. We seek to become the best person we are capable of becoming. His emphasis on the real and ideal self is worth noting. Throughout our lives, we see ourselves in a certain way, and imagine ourselves to be a certain way. In many cases, the misery we endure is caused by our own reaction to the realization that we are less like our ideal selves than we would like to be. Often times, one of the greatest obstacles to growth is setting reasonable limits. Manufacturing an ideal self that is well beyond our capabilities is unrealistic and can be counter-productive, in that it promotes unattainable goals and unhappiness at never attaining them.

To combat these disparate ideas, we have another theorist who adds much to the arsenal. George Kelly posits that anyone who is in control of their thoughts can alter the way they see the world. Cognitive therapy is an extremely effective tool for personal growth. By choosing the thoughts we have in our minds, we create the mindset we desire for the situation. Negative thoughts beget negative attitudes about activities and events. Focusing on the positive tends to yield a more positive outlook. While it is convenient and desirable to be content in life, it is also unrealistic to believe that all thoughts must be good all the time. Believing that we have more control over our thoughts allows us to overcome negative events that would undermine our positive mindset.

Combining the ideas of Skinner, Rogers and Kelly creates a powerful plan for modifying behavior. Skinner’s ideas permit a schedule of sorts, Rogers sets limits and reasonable goals to accomplish, and Kelly helps us focus on the thoughts and perceptions that we can alter to reach our fullest potential.

Personality growth is not as simple as reading this essay. It takes several great leaps of insight and introspection to be able to approach the self as a malleable, changeable object. Denying the permanence of our beings is one important step in this process. Other hurdles include dismantling culture-bound ideas regarding the self and our unique place within our understood society. Full realization of our place in the universe involves looking beyond our own surroundings. Without a change in perspective, we cannot hope to address issues that we face. In Freud’s view, it is the goal of each person to strengthen the ego, which is to control the id and interact with the superego. The superego is a fiction society creates in the minds of its participants; each meme has value that is not intrinsically linked to its culture of origin. The cultural norms that interfere with the development of an individual should be rejected. Strengthening the ego drives the mind further and further away from other minds, it isolates and poisons. Inflating pride and individuality causes the person to become disconnected; they become caught up in their wants and desires, their particular way of viewing the world. While it is important to keep the ego intact, it is maladaptive to convince oneself that they are perfect. Admitting that we are not ideal is a crucial step in enacting personality change.

Another concept that was not specifically defined by these theorists is memetics, or the study of memes. Like genes, memes endeavor to survive, adapt, and duplicate. Unlike genes, however, successful memes are not necessarily adaptive. Memes act like viruses, in that they can use the host to replicate, and they can often be very maladaptive and malicious. These memes reside in our minds, creating a reality tunnel - a framework of preconceptions and biases that define the way we perceive the world.

Memes can even define our moods. A preconceived notion can be held about an upcoming event, a family reunion, for example. Perhaps the last reunion was a lot of fun, and the participants in the current one bring high hopes for the same. But imagine if a certain relative showed up that diminished the festive air. The mere prospect of this person reappearing may be the downfall of the reunion. If a person (or people) predicts – based on observation or not – that they will not enjoy the reunion for the appearance of the offending relative, this may ruin the potential for merriment. Children often share their dislike for school, sometimes with good reason, sometimes not. Regardless of the basis, the way they perceive school determines in some degree how they feel and act at school. A student that enjoys school is probably more apt for learning than one who loathes school and wishes to avoid the experience.

Suppose an individual wished to focus on the way they see the world, so as to learn to view it in an manner that grants them the most enjoyment and fulfillment, while still being well-grounded in reality. A critical examination of their inner workings is necessary. Here the ideas of Jung regarding personality types would come in handy; a thorough look at what makes the person unique. After this initial assessment, a plan is outlined, some aspect of the personality that can be altered to better adapt to situations. Usually it will be a change of a meme. Maladaptive or non-adaptive memes can be replaced with more functional, adaptive memes. Cognizant of the meme in question, the individual toys with the logic of the worldview, tries to explain why the meme is maladaptive. Upon encountering a thought pattern consistent with that meme, the individual recalls the logic of altering the meme, and corrects the faulty line of reasoning. Perhaps the movement towards growth is reward enough, if not, then a simple reinforcement pattern can be employed. Over time, the maladaptive meme is unraveled, replaced by one that is more suitable to the person. Thus, a person has altered their real self to fall in line with their ideal self, a true act of self-actualization.

*This was an essay I wrote in a psych class. Pardon the psychobabble and any run on sentences. I got a 100 on it, so it was good where it needed to be.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006


"Life is not life, but rock rearranging itself under the Sun." - Dorion Sagan

I believe the Earth is alive. The definition of life includes:

1) Organization: the Earth is composed of smaller units (plants, animals, and other organisms) that, when taken together, make up a larger whole. The human body is likewise composed of trillions of cells, ordered into specific organs that perform specific functions

2) Metabolism: converting non-living matter to energy useable by the organism. The Earth accepts lots of energy from the sun, and even produces some of its own. The moon’s gravity also adds some. The organisms on Earth gather the energy from these sources and store it in fats and proteins in their bodies. They also use it to shape other bits of non-living matter. On a small scale, this is hardly impressive, but taken on the planetary level, with whole rainforests and oceans teeming with life, it becomes incredible.

3) Growth: accepting and using more energy than it expels. Organisms live and die, but on the whole, there are more things growing than dying, more energy being stored than being lost.

4) Adaptation: the Earth has changed atmospheric and soil composition several times since its inception. It has also undergone tectonic shifts and upheavals. Each change has brought about changes in the organisms on the Earth.

5) Response to stimuli: Although this takes place on geological timescales, the organisms on Earth and the Earth itself do “respond” to changes in their environment. In most cases, there is no neural network to design and implement changes. Instead, there are feedback routines, energy traps, release/pressure valves and other homeostasis mechanisms.

6) Reproduction: This one is a bit iffy. It is hard to imagine a planet breaking a piece of itself off to form another spherical body. It would certainly not be like anything we would call “birth”. I am usually ridiculed at this point by the Earth’s inability to reproduce. The Moon sure is pretty, though.

After the Earth was formed and cooled, simple chemical processes gave way to more and more complex processes. Back then the atmosphere was inhospitable to most forms of life. The critters at that stage in the Earth’s development were different from the ones we know now. For millions of years they did their own thing, oblivious to the changes they were causing on the planet. They released oxygen, which forms ozone in the upper atmosphere, forming a protective layer that keeps out UV. They helped form the oceans, helped make them the life-rich seas they are today. Far more examples abound. After about a billion years, life managed to make the Earth more hospitable to new and previously unknown life forms. Everything on Earth now is in some way built upon what came previously, and was ultimately started the moment the Earth was cool enough to support chains of carbon atoms.

This is not to say that I believe the Earth is just like us, conscious of what is going on, responding immediately to stimuli, conversing with others, etc. I don’t claim these things, but people often assume this is what I mean. I don’t. Each of your cells has no idea it is part of a larger whole. Neither do any of the organisms on Earth. They don’t need to understand this to function. They will happily do their own thing, and what they do will happen to benefit or hurt other parts of the larger system. Much like the systems that develop in our bodies to perform specific functions, we can find whole organs of organisms throughout the food chain. Predator/prey relations, bottom-feeders and clean-up crews, and even large-scale organs, like air filtering forests, and CO2 absorbing oceans.

It is necessary here to broaden the scope of skeptics and eye-rollers. Imagine the Earth from a great distance and a long time ago and in geological time scales. It is a rock with a pebble orbiting it, both of which circle a candle flame. The rock bubbles and morphs, melting, writhing, twisting, contorting from the heat of the candle. It changes color, changes size, changes composition, becomes more stable for more complex patterns. Soon it is covered in green patches, like moldy bread. Look closer and you see small bits of matter crawling all over it, swimming in its tiny ponds. One category of critters, almost within the blink of a geological eye, leaves the green patches, and builds advanced structures of rock, metal, and glass that are scattered across the rock face. Mere moments after that, the tiniest of specs fly off the rock and land on the pebble. More specs follow, orbiting the rock from whence they came. Some specs move beyond the rock/pebble system to other rock/pebble systems.

This is dangerous territory, and to avoid stepping out of bounds, some ideas need to be elucidated. What the human body does is not a matter of design from above, but design from below. It is bottom-up, not top-down. There is no over-arching intelligence guiding what goes on the surface of the Earth. Whatever happens, happens, and is more a matter of energy than any preconceived plan. The weather patterns on Earth are caused by the heat and energy from the Sun, the moon whizzing overhead, and surface conditions on the Earth. They are no different than what happens on Venus (sans the satellite), or Jupiter, or any other cloud-capable planet. But then again, life as we know is no different either. Little bits of matter bumping into each other according to particular physical laws that happen to culminate in beautiful and stable patterns. Life on Earth is just far more interesting and far more complex.

Can the analogy go beyond this? Will the Earth ever become a coherent system, a planet that is specifically designed to support some conscious superorganism? To compare the organs of the Earth to the organs of critters living on the Earth is troublesome. The Earth is a different kind of system. Some things will be similar, and others dissimilar. A 1:1 ratio for the analogy is unrealistic and not to be expected. There are, however, some things that may have analogues to what we call life. In some animals, there is a central nervous system, where data from stimuli is gathered, interpreted, responses determined, and responses executed. There are sensory organs that aid in data acquisition. We have seismic meters the world over, detecting every shake and tremor, feeling the ripples of earthquakes from thousands of kilometers away. We have observatories, both planet-based and satellite, and radio telescopes peering like a giant eye into the cosmos. We have radar and sonar, to glean information from the depths of the sky and oceans. We have the internet, a neural network that spans the globe, unites all of this data, and which will soon be able to process it all like never before. We may not understand it, we may not believe it, we may not be able to comprehend it in its entirety, but we are the cause of these developments. What they mean in superorganism terms has yet to be determined.

I don’t believe the Earth is an intentionally coherent system, nor do I believe it has some inherent purpose or function. These concepts are traps of the minds of humans, and are not to be applied to all systems. But seeing the Earth as a single superorganism, Gaia, allows us to see it in a way we probably didn’t before. It gives us a greater sense of responsibility, but also a greater sense of connection with everything else on the Earth. No longer are humans and Gaia disparate or even opposed entities. No longer do our actions exist in a vacuum, stuck only in the time we are alive on Earth. When we die, Gaia lives on, and all the changes we wrought will carry with it far beyond when we return to the soil. It also makes us appreciated what we do to further the complexity of Gaia. Recognizing that what we do has some benefit to human society is well enough, but knowing that it may have some benefit to Gaia, to the entire life-support system, is a powerful idea indeed.

Saturday, August 19, 2006


When I get bored and feel the need to create something, I hop on my computer and make movies of fractals. I will try to add a movie every so often so more people can see what I do with my spare time. These will usually take a while to download, so please be patient.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Meme Monopolies and SECAIU

If nature has made any one thing less susceptible than all others of exclusive property, it is the action of the thinking power called an idea, which an individual may exclusively possess as long as he keeps it to himself; but the moment it is divulged, it forces itself into the possession of everyone, and the receiver cannot dispossess himself of it. Its peculiar character, too, is that no one possesses the less, because every other possesses the whole of it. He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me. That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature, when she made them, like fire, expansible over all space, without lessening their density at any point, and like the air in which we breathe, move, and have our physical being, incapable of confinement or exclusive appropriation. Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.

--Thomas Jefferson

Looks like copyright monopolies are unnatural. It is the classic case of someone claiming ownership of something to further their own ends at the expense of society. Wouldn't everyone be better off if cancer medicine were cheap and widely available?

But hey, man, you gotta give people some credit. So what if your granny has cancer? I want my $1000 per pill. I slaved for years in that lab after even more years in school, I want my pay-off.

Fair enough. Italex has a point.

Is there such a thing as an unbiased, selfless, non-violent source of capital? One that could give money to the much-deserving Italex without denying millions a cure for their cancer?

Introducing humanity's first Social Ethical Calculus Artificial Intelligence Unit. Takes a percentage of taxes as source funds, runs through some scenarios/problems, and determines a course of action and what kind of funds can be applied to the endeavor. Human oversight works out the details (perhaps with further aid from the A.I.), but no one party benefits; that's the nature of the game: maximum output for minimum input, greatest happiness for the greatest number.

If only...

A Blog Post to Some Redneck about Global Warming

I wrote this to someone on a blog who claimed global warming was nothing more than a warming trend as part of the natural heating/cooling cycle, and that pollution had almost no effect on the environment.


I have yet to address you personally, but felt it necessary considering your lack of knowledge regarding global warming and Richard's Almanac. You sound as if you have never taken a geology, earth science, meteorology, or environmental science course. I have. Throw out anything you think you know about global warming, because the information you have displayed is patently false and misleading.

I know you live in Houston; I was born and raised there. I want to tell you about ozone. Ozone is O3, and forms as a thin layer in the upper atmosphere to reflect harmful UV rays. Ozone is also formed closer to the ground by a slurry of NOx molecules, particulates, and various waste gasses from the burning of fossil fuels. In adequate amounts, this ozone assaults the lungs and has a definite and measurable detrimental effect on the health of humans and other organisms. I would walk to school every day, and on the hotter days I had lungs full of nasty ozone. Ozone increases the ambient temperature of a city/region by several degrees, and Houston is a great urban heat island as a result. The cooling, cleansing rains are diminished when approaching the city due to this effect.

On a small scale, pollution does have an effect on our health and well-being, and that of other plants and animals. What does this have to do with global effects?

The earth is a self-regulating and dynamic system. The organisms on the earth help determine how much oxygen and CO2 are in the air, and thus what the temperature will be like. As we burn fossil fuels, we are re-releasing CO2 which was stored by swamps and bogs thousands of years ago. For those millenia, the CO2 was removed from the atmosphere, and was not considered in the global climate. At the same time we burn these fuels, we are destroying huge swaths of rainforest and other dense greenery. The US was covered in magnificent forests for hundreds of years before white settlers arrived. These plants would normally consume and store this CO2, reducing the amount in the air, and release O2, which helps critters like you and me survive. Our efforts are a two-pronged attack on the CO2 cycle of the earth.

That's not all, though. The permafrost of Siberia is beginning to thaw. Some areas are no longer "perma" nor "frost". The permafrost is frozen bogs and swamps. Bogs and swamps contain and produce methane gas (the stuff that cows fart). Methane gas is 10 times the greenhouse gas CO2 is. The permafrost is a dominant surface feature of Siberia, a very large land area indeed.

But wait! There's more! When ice melts, it releases energy. As we heat the earth, glaciers and the ice caps melt, which only encourages further melting. A feedback loop, if you are aware of such things, is at work here.

Let's talk about water, weather, and rate of change. The earth's surface is 75% water, 2% of which is fresh water. 1.5% of the total water on earth is in glaciers and the ice caps, leaving only .5% as lakes, rivers, and streams. Oddly enough, many lakes, rivers, and streams are fed by glaciers and melting mountain snow. If temperatures increase even slightly, weather patterns may change and reduce the amount of snow that falls in a winter, or may cause excessive melting (and flooding) of glaciers, which overall reduces the avialability of fresh water. As heat enters the system from the increase in greenhouse gasses, weather becomes more violent, erratic, and unpredictable. Storm surges, strong winds, more destructive hurricanes, etc. - these are the types of changes we are cuasing in the atmosphere right now.

You mentioned "natural" cycles of heating and cooling. If you examine the geological record, you will in fact see that there are warming and cooling trends over the life of the earth. What you may not realise is that the most recent warming trend (ours) is A) caused by our direct actions, and B) is much faster and more out-of-control than all previous climate changes. The planet is not supposed to warm up significantly in less than a hundred years. Read this carefully and never say such ignorant things again: it is not the fact that the temperature changes, it is the rate at which it changes that matters. Organisms have to adapt to changing conditions such as a warming or cooling trend in the atmosphere. The beauty of evolution means over the course of several generations, a plant or animal species may adapt to the changes in temperature and weather. Our rapid destruction of the rainforests, the ozone layer, and the permafrost is causing the earth to heat up far more rapidly than ever before, which means organisms will not have the time their ancestors did to adapt. That includes us.

The changes we are causing have unforeseen consequences, both for ourselves, future generations, other organisms, and the earth as a whole. Let us weigh our actions with the understanding that they do have an impact, and that what we do may go far beyond our lifespans.

Why did I mention Richard's Almanac? It was written by Ben Franklin, an influential figure in American history. Good, now that I got your nationalist pride going, you can pay careful attention. "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" is a saying from the Almanac. What this means in this context is that we can prevent serious harm by applying comparatively little energy to the solution. The Houston Chronicle had an article years back about a study done by the BUSH administration, this one. The study compared the costs of pollution controls to the health costs associated with pollution. About $100,000,000 could be saved per year in healthcare costs if corresponding pollution controls were applied. You can't argue with the logic of Ben Franklin - your nationalist pride prevents you from doing so, nor can you discount the study done by this administration, because the party does not treat traitors and dissenters well. Oops. Looks like everything you had to say about global warming and pollution was just flat-out wrong. Go do some research and come back when you have some facts under your belt.

Ethical Calculus

Change begins with the individual. The goal, of course, is to change the group, the social setting. But why?

Humans are social critters. We like being around others of our kind (sometimes with a dog or cat). We are biologically wired to find joy in companionship. Just ask any hermit.

Sometimes doing something for our benefit benefits the group as well. So many millions of dollars are "lost" each year due to sick days. Eating healthy and getting adequate exercise and sleep show positive results in the individual, and, to a certain extent, in society. A healthy, exuberant person who shows up to work well-rested and well-fed is almost always more likely to perform better than a person who stays up all night eating junk food and watching infomercials. This should be fairly obvious, and other examples abound.

Doing something beneficial for the group often benefits the individual. Paying for schools, roads, hospitals, and fire/police protections has noticeable returns. I know some tax-haters will want to argue, so I'll offer another example. No matter how much you hate society and other people, and no matter how righteous you think you are, you are very unlikely to run a red light in the middle of traffic, or not look before you merge on the highway. Abiding by the rules of the road has obvious benefits. Everyone gets to where they need to be quickly and effectively, and, most of all, safely (or so we would hope).

I understand that there are cases where the group stifles the individual, and where the individual screws the group, but let's just focus on the mutual benefits.

I mean, really focus. Are there certain activities we can do that almost always benefit both group and individual? I would like to think so. I have been examining my actions all the time now, seeing if what I'm doing helps both layers.

A healthy, confident, and knowledeable individual has much to offer society; a healthy, stable, and nurturing society has a great chance of creating such an individual. A society of such individuals would indeed be a wonderful thing. I recognize that we cannot expect society to shape us exactly the way we want to be. That might end up being more for the group benefit, and not necessarily for our own. But the same can be said for the reverse - acheiving personal wealth and power at the expense of society hurts the chances of others to rise to their fullest potential.

We don't want extremes here. Is there a fine line? Can we see it, mark it down, make a path so we can get somewhere in a timely fashion?

It could be said that a roadmap is dangerous in its rigidity, offering little wiggle room for adaptation. Holy books come to mind here. But this is not what I mean. Most religious texts have some inner core of really good memes, gems of thought that really grant the adherent something, instead of hot air. Strip away the fluff, and you end up with some basic ideas. These cannot be lawyerly in their convolutedness. Clear, simple, yet mutually supporting and interconnected. The Golden Rule is a good example. A little tidbit from the book of tao reads:

"A tall, stiff, old tree will break in a strong wind.
A supple and flexible tree will bend in the wind.
Therefore, it is better to be flexible than rigid."

Or something to that effect. You get the idea. I think the founding fathers of America had some good memes they injected into the Constitution and DoI.

A criteria for these little memes is the group/individual mutual benefit. I don't know much about game theory, but I can see how it can be used here. If we worked on it really hard, do you think it would be possible to design a guidebook based on all sorts of game theory interactions that would amount to an ethical calculus - equations that determine the optimum course of action in terms of the individual and the group?

I think so. It'll just take some time.

Monday, August 14, 2006


Maybe an A.I. could monitor/guide certain sectors of the economy to benefit humanity without bias or ulterior motives. Would certainly end this capitalism vs. something-other-than-capitalism stuff. Any thoughts?

Monkeys with Car Keys

I have three brains: lower, middle, and upper. They guide my actions, either singly or in combinations. We would like to think that many of the things we do are the result of deliberate, careful, and rational thinking on our part. Ha! The lower and middle brains take precedence over the upper brain almost all the time. Don't believe me?

Sex sells. Put a pretty face, some nice boobs, and pert a butt near a brand name and its sold. It even works with male physiques. There's an abercrombie & fitch billboard ad in Houston that has a male model posing without a shirt on. No clothing is visible.

Watch (American) football and notice the ads between time-outs. Beer, big trucks, beef, etc. All those masculine manly things. They are targeting guys who like football. They know what else the guy who likes football likes. I wonder if the guys who like football are made to like the stuff in the ads, simply by having them associated with the game, or if it's just that guys who like football are naturally going to like the stuff in the ads. It is because they are naturally going to like those things. Why?

The lower brain. Football is violent and competitive, with big, beefy guys jumping on each other and slapping each others bums. Very masculine, lemme assure you. Guys who like this stuff like big trucks, because it allows them to dominate the road, as their favourite football players like to dominate the field. They eat big, beefy meals to be able to compete with the other big, beefy males. They like seeing commercials for watery beer that have lots of scantily-clad females wiggling and groveling before men. Makes them feel large and in charge.

Notice how the burger on TV is mouth-watering in appearance, but the one in real life is flat, stale, greasy and putrid. What a shock it must be for some people. I wonder if they expected something like what was depicted in the ad. Same goes for the beer commercials.

This is not to say that people are only hungry and horny robots. Most people do have a legitimate thought every now and again. The problem is that the lower brains often override the good sense of the upper brain. That's why the ads work. It also works in political campaigns.

Bush wants us to think he's tough on terror. He's a tough guy who knows right from wrong, enemy from friend. Kerry was labeled a flip-flopper to show he was not a manly man. He was an anti-war protestor who spoke lucidly about a conflict he had experienced firsthand.

The fear-mongering didn't help.

I was involved with an "activist" organisation for a couple of days. We were organised beggars, going door-to-door informing people about some threat to the environment. We were to collect so much a week, and half of that would go to us, the other half to the organisation. Training meant learning how to get an emotional reaction out of people. Every attempt I made was done with facts, figures, and concerns I thought people should know. It didn't work. People wanted to be told that something going into landfills contained chromium, a substance that causes cancer. I walked around a few blocks with a trainer, and I saw him do it, time and time again. It worked. People got the impression that if they gave this stranger some money, they wouldn't get cancer.

I felt that was wrong at the time, but I didn't know why. Now I do. Bush and this activist group were using fear to manipulate people. Fear makes people stupid. There are several studies which prove this. The chemicals that induce fear, or that are the cause of the feeling of fear disrupt higher mental functions. When we get scared or angry, we lose our ability to reason.

Gorillas and chimps can be taught sign-language and can even read and form sentences with the help of computers. But when chimps get to adulthood, they can no longer be studied in that way. They become too unpredictable, too aggressive. Now let's do some evolution here and imagine that we could suddenly make chimps slightly smarter, gave them the ability to speak. They would be like hairy humans, which is kind of what we are - hairless chimps that can talk. We see the chimps doing their violent, aggressive thing and we laugh. Oh those silly monkeys, being all violent for no reason. At least us humans have reasons for violence.


The next time you're driving on the highway, and some H2 is going 85 and riding your tail before he manages to pass you with a sneer on his face, just remember that in his angered, beef-brained state, he is much like a chimp. Yes, there are thousands of people driving SUVs that are glorified hairless chimps. This is not to say I'm not. We all are glorified hairless chimps. The only difference between a monkey with car keys and a human is how often one uses the upper brain instead of the lower and middle brains.

Oh yeah, and monkeys look cuter in fezzes.

Thursday, August 10, 2006


Several animal studies, particularly with primates, indicate that infants need to be close to friends and family, maintaining a fair amount of closeness and bodily contact. If infants do not receive such affection, in the worst cases, they die; if done in typical American fashion, they end up lacking empathy and a connection to others. Many parents will hug and hold a child, carry it around, speak to it nicely, etc. But even that is not enough. I'm not a pedophile, but I do know that in most countries of the world (due to economic or biological reasons), children sleep with their parents. In industrialised countries, especially the US, it is common for parents to have their children sleep in cribs, alone and isolated. Imagine the millions of people that grew up being left to squirm in loneliness in a crib for several hours each day. I think much of this "me vs. the rest of the world (and to hell with them for not being me)" mentality can be explained by this lack of love and affection in childhood.

And why do people want kids to be in cribs? Because it makes them this way. Individuals make better consumers than do groups. Every person buying a vacuum cleaner is much more profitable than several households sharing a vacuum cleaner. Divide and conquer. And then make them work in cubes.

Wanna Bet?

Several weeks ago, some friends and I were told a most sick and gruesome story about what goes on in Iraq. We were exiting a restaurant, and my friends sat down to have a smoke. A man walked up to them and asked for a cigarette and a light. "Don't just bring the habit," my friend scolded the man. At some point I mentioned a detail I remembered in All Quiet on the Western Front, about how the German snipers killed the black American soldiers by looking for their cigarette cherries. The man who bummed the cig enthusiastically regaled us with a daring tale of how he and his friends made a bet to see who could kill a man sitting on his patio, innocently smoking a cigarette in the night. They each took turns taking shots at his cherry, until one guy managed to get the mark and won the bet. At this point, my friends and I turned green with disgust and red with anger, and asked him why they would do such a thing, to which he responded: "Oh, its Iraq, man, this kind of shit goes on all the time, man!" Like he was proud of it, shrugging off the brutal murder with a flippant remark. He continued his story (with renewed gusto), the point of which was actually that they could not find the corpse in the morning; it had been dragged away, leaving a trail of blood. He took more interest and concern in the mess the corpse made and the fact that it disappeared than the awful fact that he was a willing participant in a bet to kill a person for no reason. Oh wait, there were a few bucks at stake.

One can still be a Bushbot and have some compassion, some empathy for the person in this situation. More than that, let's think about the consequences of this. The man was someone's son, someone's husbad, someone's father, someone's sibling, a community member who may be sorely missed by his family, friends, and neighbors. All the people that knew this person will know that he died for no reason. Will this incident endear them to the Americans and occupying forces? I don't think so.

This behavior is evil, it is sick, and it needs to stop, because it leads to more violence, more hatred, more fear. This does not fight "terror", this encourages "terror" - and was a merciless and real act of terror. If you support this war and this administration, you are supporting this terrorism. Seek help immediately.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Walking Billboards

Clothing companies pay advertising companies money so they can have their products displayed.

Some common billboard brands you may have seen: Nike, Abercrombie and Fitch, Tommy Hilfiger, Polo, Adidas, etc. You suspect that the billboard owners make some hefty cash from such deals because you see these brands on a lot of billboards.

When someone goes to a clothing store that sells these brands, they come face to face with the same logos. Some of them are plastered unapologetically on the front of shirts. The ironic thing is, people often fork over wads of cash to buy these things. This boggles my mind.

Clothing companies pay advertising companies money so they can have their products displayed. Consumers pay clothing companies money so they (the consumers) can advertise for them.

You know the overpriced shirt helped to pay for those billboard ads.

How does this work?

It's a little thing called peer pressure. People have this sickening desire to belong, to fit in, even if it's with a bunch of superficial morons. One of these superficial jerks is moronic enough to buy these expensive brands and flaunt them. He or she will consider themselves better and act the part, convincing others that if they don't conform or otherwise buttress the insecurities of this superficial leader, they will be ostracized and ridiculed for being independently-minded.

If you buy these clothes, paying the companies money so you can do the work for them, you are an idiot. If you were convinced to buy these clothes because someone in your little clique suggested you do so, or threatened to ignore you if you did not, then you are their puppet and not a free person. If you happen to receive an article with the brand brazenly displayed, and find it frustrating that you have to weigh principles against utility, cut off or remove the label and the tag. Don't advertise, because you're not getting money these companies happily give to the advertising firms. Don't be a walking billboard.

What's the Difference?

What's the difference between ignorance and apathy?

I don't know, and I don't care.

These are the two greatest problems facing humanity.

There are four kinds of people in regards to these two deficiencies:
1) The ignorant and apathetic - these happy people could be borderline retarded, or raised in a stifling environment, trained only to obey and not to think. Pity these people. Fear them.
2) The ignorant and industrious - the man of all action and no thought. Some might suggest they are better off not knowing how dangerous some of their actions really are.
3) The informed and apathetic - these are perhaps the worst kinds of people. I told someone about what pollution does to old growth forests, what deforestation does to the atmosphere, and what we can do to help prevent these things. He said, "I know all this, I just don't care."
4) The informed and industrious - those dream people you wished everyone would be. They know the world is bigger than they are, but they do what they can to understand it so that they may help make it a better place.

There are two kinds of ignorance: willful, and natural. The willfully ignorant people we may recognise as those religious folks who would like to think a supernatural entity made them and all life. They intentionally ignore evidence that proves evolution, and all the ancillary facts that emerge from this understanding. Literally mountains of evidence is brushed aside, ignored, and actually challenged by these people. I think it says a lot about the power of the mind to distort their worldview in such a way. The mental gymnastics required to perform such a feat are as frightening and frustrating as they are impressive.

If I don't know the mass of the star Pollux, that's pretty understandable. I would have no way of acquiring this information, and any guess of an astronomer would be from millions of miles away and thousands of years old. The universe is a big place, and we are small critters. We cannot be in all places at all times (unless we manage to go warp 10), and thus cannot know everything. But merely knowing what surrounds us is just not enough; our minds must seek more and more information. Remain naturally ignorant of things your whole life, and you'll not find as much joy and satisfaction from the world around you. I can gaurantee that. You can be happy and stupid, but you cannot be happy because you are stupid.

Apathy is when you sit around and don't give a shit about anything. Millions of such people didn't vote in the last US presidential elections. It's not that they didn't know - they just didn't care.

Apathy is worse than ignorance.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

I'm So MAD

Mutually Assured Destruction

An old doctrine from the cold war. The idea goes that if your opponent has nation-destroying weapons, then so should you, because if your opponent strikes first and annihilates you, you can do the same in retaliation. It was supposed to act as a deterrent. Each side claimed they were only stockpiling weapons in case the other attacked first. And so it went that the US and USSR each amassed WMDs, each hoping to have just as many - if not more than - the other. Yes, several decade ago people thought it was a good idea to have enough WMDs to destroy every city on the face of the earth three times over (and that's just with what the US had). If you reduce your stockpiles, decommission just one nuke, you won't be able to strike back as effectively. Your only option is keep making more nukes to be more and more threatening. The old looney tunes cartoon where they keep pulling larger and larger weaponry out comes to mind here.

The trick is, how do you get out of this? Let's step out of our roles as Americans, or even as Russians, and approach this problem starting with what we both have in common. Both are human. Both feel pain. Both would rather NOT be radioactive ash. I'm willing to bet that most of the Russians in the USSR had never met an American, and vice versa. If they were to meet, and if they had any sense, they would realize that they had no real reason to want to kill the other. Neither would have anything to gain by participating in the first strike, and, more importantly, a retaliatory strike WOULD NOT BRING BACK THEIR LOVED ONES. How does killing millions of innocent people in an exchange resurrect millions of innocent people?

It doesn't. Our two hypothetical friends finally meeting each other would have all the lies and hatred inherent to their country, based solely on the propaganda of their respective states. If they can see past the bullshit, and reach down to the core of their beings, they would see that death and destruction brings nothing but more of the same. Why would they want that?

They don't. But the old men who run their respective countries want them to think this, because fear is a powerful motivator, and makes people act irrationally. (If you don't believe me, look at Bush's poll numbers right after 9/11). Don't trust the old men. They want your emotions so they can control you. They want you to be dependent on them. They make you distrust those they deem to be your enemies. They make you hate them, think of them as less than human. They make you believe that it is right and just to vapourise millions of people. So, in the end, its all a ruse to consolidate power and make the peasants suck on the tit of the state, mewling and crying in fear. The sick thing is, it worked.

And that's what makes me so MAD.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


I am a vegetarian. That means I avoid eating meat and products that are made with animals. I do it for several reasons:

1) Empathy. Humans are animals, and share many of the emotional systems that guide our actions. An animal will shy away from pain, and seek food and pleasure, as would most humans. If you value your life, you can bet that the animal does as well. Sure, sometimes critters need to eat each other to survive. And I'm sure modern man, what with his supermarkets and global food trade, can find a satisfying meal in something other than animal flesh. In this case its not a matter of survival, its a matter of taste.

Maybe one day aliens will come to earth and hunt their favourite food: humans. The aliens are obviously technologically advanced, far beyond the need to hunt down the man-critters for sustenance. They know this, but choose to do it anyway because... well, you know, its a matter of taste.

2) Efficiency. Trophic levels represent energy stored in biomass. 100 pounds of grass biomass can sustain about 10 pounds of field mice. 10 pounds of field mice biomass can sustain about 1 pound of predatory owl. Going from one level to another represents the loss of 90% of the energy stored within the biomass. It would take 100 pounds of grass to feed 10 pounds of cow, and 1 pound of cow to feed one human. There are about 300 million people in America right now. Let's say half of them eat beef on a weekly basis. 150,000,000 * 10 * 100 = 150,000,000,000 pounds of grass - per week. That's a lot of grass. If that were marijuana, you could throw the biggest worldwide smoke-out. Imagine all that land that must be used to grow that grass, all the water and energy that went into growing it, fertilizing it, keeping it free of pests, and transporting it to those wonderfully efficient high-density feedlots. Most of the time its not grass, its something else. Sometimes pieces of processed cow, gathered off the slaughterhouse floor.

I am not suggesting that humans can and should eat grass. I'm merely pointing out that we are putting a lot of energy and resources into producing something that is horribly inefficient, and all for a matter of taste.

3) Environmental impact. So you're a progressive, earth-conscious schmuck who thinks its a bad thing that the rainforests are being cut down at an alarming rate. You feel all but powerless to stop it. Ground beef served in fast food restaurants can contain parts from up to 100 cows. 100 different cows had to be fed in pastures that were once lush rainforests. So, Mr. Earth-friendly, are you going to eat fast food burgers any more? Will you take a look at the effects of tons of cow and other animal manure in local ecosystems? Will you examine the impact meat-farms have on the water supply? Will you consider that maybe there's a far less destructive way to consume the nutrients you need?

4) Health. Prions are bad proteins that can remain in the fat cells and cause all sorts of health problems. Because they remain in fat, when one critter eats another that has prions, that organism gets those prions. When that critter is eaten, the predator gets the prions that were in both critters. Mad cow disease anyone? How about America's nation-wide obesity and heart disease problems? I could go on, but really, the health reasons speak for themselves, and I consider it to be one of the more selfish reasons.

So, you're a meat-eater and think that empathy is for girly men. Fine, I'm a girly man.

So, you're a energy-wasting American and don't give a shit about efficiency. Do you give a shit about paying $3 a gallon for gas? $7? $9? How high must the price get before you do care?

So, you're an earth-hating bastard and don't care what happens to the rainforests so long as you get your meat. Do you care that your poor cancer-ridden grandmother is being denied a possible cure? Do you care that your grandchildren will live on a planet bereft of many of the climate-controlling, homeostasis-protecting air filtering mechanisms?

So, you're a fatass with clogged arteries and are proud of your physical condition. Please hurry up and die of a heart attack. Just don't make us pay for medical bills to keep your gluttonous ass alive.

Okay, I'm done now.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

10 Types of People

There are 10 types of people in the world: those who understand binary numbers, and those who don't.

Binary numbers are used in mathematics and logic, especially in programming/electronics. A light switch is binary. On or off. Yes or no. Two mutually exclusive options, you get the idea.

Some people say the fact that the universe exists is proof that god exists. God is the "First Cause", the force that moved the light switch from Off to On, 0 to 1. I don't quite understand how a 0 can pull itself up by the bootstraps and make itself into a 1.

I don't believe in god. In fact, I reject any and all claims of the supernatural.

If god is the force that created the universe, what created this force? That force must be represented by something. It had to have an effect on that 0 to make it a 1. Or maybe god is really 0.0000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000001.

Could be.

Maybe god then became more complex and could control matter and energy, and reshaped the universe, creating our beautiful planet and all the neat critters crawling on it. But wouldn't it take matter and energy to manipulate matter and energy? If the supernatural is to be believed, it must have a quantifiable effect on the natural.

Maybe god knows everything. Computers know a lot, and their data is represented with the numbers 0 and 1. All the text you are reading now is like this to the computer. Little electrons buzzing around. So, information has to be represented somehow, because if it did not have a way to discern one thing from another (0 from 1, for example), it just wouldn't exist.

If I wanted to describe myself in every detail, and store the pages and pages of information on hard drives, pretty soon the collection of hard drives would be more massive and voluminous than I am. The only way to describe myself in every detail (think molecular configuration detail) would be to make a perfect copy of myself.

Now apply that to the universe.

Maybe god is the universe. How does the universe use itself to represent other bits of itself so that it can think and know and predict everything about itself?

Ouch. That hurts my head. Talk about mental discontinuities.

Moving on...

Carl Sagan says "we are a way for the universe to know itself". Rightly so. But this does not make us gods.

Or does it?

Genes contain data. We don't know exactly how or why (yet), but the chemicals act as minute differences that allow all sorts of variation. Biomachinery copies the DNA, makes little strings of instructions for cells. It does it all surprisingly well. But this machinery has limits; it can only copy so much without errors becoming too numerous. It would seem that the behaviour of organisms would be limited to whatever DNA could encode as instructions. Then brains came along with their clever proteins. Proteins are DNA chains that have been folded into special shapes. Our brains are made of protein. Our brains store more information than the DNA in our cells.

-If memes are to the mind what genes are to the chemical machinery, what does that mean about us? Our minds make god(s).

Information builds upon itself towards more and more complex systems. Thank you, Sun, for stemming off entropy.

-If genes made memes, what do memes make?

That's why I started this blog. ;-)

First Post

This is the beginning of my second blog. Let's see how long it lasts.

I am Mookie. I think memes are neat.

Memes are little tidbits of information that can be passed from one person to another. The idiom, "give a man a fish, and he eats for a day; teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime" demonstrates the power of memes. Memes are much like genes, in that they mutate over time and have replication mechanisms. They can be adaptive or maladaptive, or sometimes both. In this blog I wish to examine memes which I feel are important to the long-term survival of humans.