Monthly Archives: December 2009

日 月 火 水 木 金 土









These are the seven Chinese characters used to depict the days of week, starting from Sunday. I find it interesting that the character for Sunday in Chinese, and the root word for Sunday in English both mean “The Sun.” Likewise for Monday, (moon day) and “The Moon.” After that I’m not sure. I never cease to be amazed by the various naturally occurring elements in nature, which appear in various cultures.

For example there are ancient traditions in both Eastern and Western belief systems and mythologies surround giant evil reptiles that pose a danger to humans. In European mythology, these “dragons” appear as giant fire breathing lizards. In Eastern mythology, the dragons look more like snakes, sometimes with legs, sometimes not. That they are both reptiles is interesting.

I suppose that ancient man discovered that some reptiles, such as snakes and certain lizards, were much more dangerous than their size and speed would indicate. I can see how primitive man would somehow imagine them to have evil, supernatural powers that would fill stories for generations. From that standpoint, it’s no mystery that both cultures, separated by huge oceans and continents, turned out to be the same basic bad guy in various mythological stories.

Another interesting similarity is the number twelve. Western astrology has twelve different zodiac signs, as does Eastern astrology. It’s no coincidence that if you count the number of full moons in a year’s time, you’ll usually end up with twelve.

There are, of course, several different theories as to why there are so many things in common that cross cultural boundaries. Christians will tell you it is because we all come from Adam and Eve. Jungian philosophers will tell you its’ because we are connected by a massive unconscious, or superconscious brain that feeds our dreams with the same archetypes.

However, there are those that suggest the answer lies in the fact that we all share similar experiences, regardless with what culture we come from, what era we live in, and what language we speak or what god we worship.

For example, the universal signal for no is a shake of the head. Back and forth. No. Every culture, same motion. Even in cultures that have done their best to avoid contact with “civilized” society, they share the same headshake for no.

Why is this? Is it programmed in our genes? The best answer I’ve heard says yes, but from a completely indirect reason. There is no gene that says shake your for no. But there are genes that build our muscles and the shapes of our head and the rate of our growth as children. And our limited body size and control of our muscles lead us to our first ever “no” motion. And because that first ever “no” fulfills it’s purpose, that is the thing we say “no” to stops, we learn right away an effective strategy that works. What is the situation?

We are breastfeeding, and we get full. We think (obviously without words, since we’re about a couple hours old at most) “I’m full. No more. Stop. No.” And the only physical movement we are capable of doing is to turn our heads to the side.

The very first gesture we learn, strictly by trial and error, is how to say “no.”

It’s easy to see then, how every human learns this simple gesture. As far as nodding our head for yes, I’m not sure how that works, but it might have something to do with tilting out heads back and opening our mouths.

Here in Japan it’s a tradition to get up and watch the sunrise on New Years Day. A new beginning. A fresh start. Set the scorecards to zero. One more trip around the sun.

Something to think about as you look at your calendars, and see 1/1/10. When you realize that all around the world people are looking at the same calendars, with the same numbers, and feeling the same thoughts. Another year. Another shot at getting what we want, and getting rid of what we don’t want.

Another trip around the sun on this big ball of dirt filled with people chasing after their dreams. Another year filled with cycles of the moon, the sun, the seasons, and the weather. Another year filled with countless opportunities waiting for you to pounce and make them yours.

Have fun.

Ever Expanding File Cabinets and Brain Flexibility

Stretch Your Mind

I met a friend for lunch the other day. Not really a planned thing, we had bumped into each other a couple days earlier and had made tentative plans on the spot. Kind of like “I’m gonna be here, at this time,” kind of thing. So anyway, he was telling me about this neighbor of his who recently moved in next door. Kind of a weird guy, but not in a bad way. Sometimes when you get a new neighbor, especially in a small apartment complex where you know you are going to run into this person on a regular basis, it can be a little interesting at first. Everybody wants to see who the new guy is.

It’s kind of like when you start a new semester at school. You have a whole bunch of new classes, and you aren’t sure what your classmates will be like, or any of your teachers. And you know that the first week of school you usually don’t do much anyway, so there aren’t any worries there. So you are pretty much free to let your curiosity roam and imagine some possible futures. Of course, that usually only last a couple of days, until you realize that it’s just another set of classmates, and another teacher.

Of course, sometimes you get lucky and sit next to a really cute girl or guy, or your teacher is particularly entertaining, somebody that actually enjoys their job. But more often than not it’s simply a matter of getting to know new people that turn out to be pretty similar to the old people.

So anyway this guy was into all kinds of exotic artwork from various different countries. He had traveled quite a bit and collected little pieces from here and there. When my friend saw him moving into his apartment, he couldn’t figure out exactly what the guy was all about. He saw him carrying in these different carvings and stuff, and had to come up with a story of what the reason was behind him. Maybe he was into voodoo, or maybe he was a professor. Every time the guy would go downstairs to his moving van, he’d bring up another box of stuff. And my friend couldn’t help but watch the whole time. His moving van was parked underneath his window, and when he walked to his apartment, he had to pass his big front window.

I was reading this book once on hypnosis. It was a hard book to read, or at least to pay attention to. It was written to give an objective overview of hypnosis and what it was, but the author also wanted to give the reader a subjective experience of what if felt like to feel the first hand effects of hypnosis. But he did it in an odd sort of way. He would be writing about some clinical aspect of hypnosis, then he would switch right into to a firsthand experience of it. What made it so interesting was that he never let the reader know when he was switching. So you’d be reading this, following along, and all of a sudden you would stop and wonder exactly what this was, and where this was going. Like you are sitting there, trying to remember what it was you were reading before you got to this part, and although you thought there was some sort of connection, you aren’t exactly sure what it is, now, reading this. But because it’s easy to find things like that interesting, you just keep on reading.

He was saying that when the mind looks at something that is unfamiliar, it is much easier to put it into a category that already exists. Some experts believe that there is a discreet time in a person’s life, when the categories aren’t completely labeled yet. This is up to about 7 years old. Not that we can’t create new categories after the age of seven, but around that time, the brain switches into “put it into it’s appropriate category” mode from “make a new category mode,” which can make for some interesting hallucinations, like my friend experienced when seeing this guy bringing all those weird things into his apartment.

The fun stuff happens when the brain finds a couple of possible categories, but there is nothing else that suggests what category to put something in. If you’ve ever had the experience of eating or drinking something, and getting one thing while you are expecting something else, you can understand this. Like if you grabbed what you thought was a bottle of ice water, and it turned out to be seven up, there’s be a brief pause while the brain figured out what in the heck was going on. You see the water, you decide that it’s water, so the brain already prepares and taste buds, and everything to receive water, but when the seven up hits your mouth, the brain has to back track and switch all of it’s reference information. That can take up to a second, and during that second your brain is temporarily off line. It’s actually pretty cool.

But after he talked to him, he did turn out to be a hobbyist. He liked to travel, and he would just pick stuff up at random, usually on his way to the airport out of wherever he had visited. If he were into furniture, he would have all kinds of different furniture pieces. If had been into music, for example, he may have had different musical instruments from different countries.

But because he’d picked up all his stuff in a completely random method, none of it fell into the same category, which made watching him move in so interesting. He was just some goofball who collected a bunch of random stuff from bunch of random places.

The interesting thing is that he told me that after watching this guy move for a couple hours, and just feeling his brain be sent in all different directions as he tried to figure out the connection between all this different stuff, he said he had this weird feeling for a couple of days afterward. Like he somehow felt he had more room in his brain or something, like it was stretched out somehow.

He said that he was able to remember things that he’d thought he’d forgotten, and was able to remember other things in ways that were different than he had originally experienced them.

Watch Out For Number One

It’s Good To Be Selfish

I’ve been reading more of Dawkins lately, namely “The Selfish Gene” and I’m astounded by it’s insights. The basic premise is that all behavior of all organisms is strictly rooted in pure selfishness of the individual organisms, be it the mold on the cheese in your refrigerator, a baby kangaroo, or you. Whenever there appears to be some kind of altruistic behavior, it can easily be explained in terms of selfishness of the individual. Evolution has filtered out the behaviors that aren’t the most beneficial to the survival of the individual.

One example is fighting among animals. Many male animals will fight to maintain dominance of the heard. Countless studies have shown that whoever is the top dog, or the head wolf, or the alpha chimp, will get most of the females (and most of the sex) and most of the food. Being on top is extremely important in the animal world. (And yes, humans are animals, in case you’re wondering.)

The interesting thing is that when animals fight, either over a woman, or a scrap of food, or a particularly valuable piece of real estate, they will rarely fight to the death. They usually spend lots of time posturing and staring each other down. And when they do get into it rarely do they fight to the death. As soon as one animal is down, the victor refrains from delivering the final deathblow, like in the gladiator movies.

Why is this? Wouldn’t it make sense just to kill your rival and be done with it, in case he returns later, stronger and more ready to kill you? Actually, no it doesn’t.

There is a complex mathematical model of inherent behavior that animals have when they get into a fight. And depending one how it works out over time, certain behaviors are more likely to survive, generation after generation. In a society filled with animals that fight to the death, the fights would be much more bloody and extended, and even the victor would have a large chance of sustaining bodily injury. So a gene that says, “fight your enemy to the death” wouldn’t be very popular. Consider a group of animals where every one had an instinct to “fight to the death.” Every time there was a fight, there would be one dead animal, and one seriously messed up animal. It wouldn’t take long for the population to diminish.

Now consider what would happen if in that, “fight to the death” society, came a mutant, who had an instinct that said, “when threatened, run away.” That animal would actually have a pretty good chance of mating, and making more copies of itself, as it would always be healthy, while most of the other animals would be busy fighting to the death.

Consider the opposite. Imagine a group of animals that had an instinct of “when provoked, run away.” Nobody would ever fight, and nobody would ever be injured. But all it would take would be one mutant that had the “fight to the death” gene, and he would pretty much clean house. He would scare away all the other males, and he’d get all the women to himself. Of course, in few generations, there would be lots of more fight to the deathers, until there would be equilibrium.

Of course, fight to the death, and run like the wind are not the only two possible strategies. Other strategies are “stare your opponent down for at least a minute,” or “never attack, but if attacked respond with force,” or “attack once, if there is a counter attack, run like the wind.” All these strategies, of course, are automatic and completely unconscious. The animals in question don’t learn from previous encounters. They just come with built in, pre programmed fighting strategies, and the law of averages takes care of the rest. Every animal is trying to get the most out of his environment, with the least amount of pain or effort. (Sounds like us.)

When watching a couple of tigers fighting, and seeing that the victor doesn’t quickly snap the neck of his opponent, it can seem like they have some pre arranged fighting rules, like MMA. They don’t. It’s just that successive generations have filtered out the strategies that don’t work well. And by not working well, that means living long enough to make more copies of yourself.

Luckily, even though humans are animals, we have conscious minds. We can learn from our mistakes, and plan for our future. We can either try and get the most out the situation right then and there, at the expense of whoever gets in our way, or we can take a longer look at things, and plant seeds that we can harvest later in life.

Robbing a bank can provide a large, quick sum of money. There are plenty of risks involved (I refer you to the recent Johnny Depp movie “Public Enemies,”) but can provide a quick payoff. The underlying intent is pure selfishness. I want money, I want it now, and I don’t care who gets hurt in the process. High potential payoff, high risk of negative failure (going to jail, or being shot.)

If you are a bank robber, you can learn from your mistakes. Plan your heists accordingly, so there is less risk each time, and more payoff.

Investing in the stock market over ten years can provide a large sum of money. There are plenty of risks involved, but can provide a large payoff. The underlying intent is pure selfishness. I want money, but I don’t plan on spending it until I’m ready to retire. The only person that stands to lose anything is me. High potential payoff, medium risk of neutral failure (all your invested money ends up being equal to zero.)

If you are long-term investor, you can study your trades, learn from your mistakes, and have a fair chance of having long-term success.

Sticking fifty bucks under your mattress every week can provide you with a tidy sum of money ten or twenty years in the future. The motive is pure selfishness. There is very low risk. There is a fairly even trade off. You don’t spend your money today, so you can spend it tomorrow. You know exactly what the cash amount will be in the future. There is very low risk of any loss, other than losing the value of your money due to inflation. You can’t really learn from your mistakes, unless you by a new mattress, or learn various stuffing under the mattress techniques.

You can bust into a bank, and steal other people’s money. You are selfish. You benefit, they suffer. Win lose.

Or you can “loan” you money to a company, through the purchase of their stocks. They get money to invest into their business. You get to be a part owner. They use your money, they grow their business, your shares grow, and you make money. You both benefit from each other’s selfishness. Win win.

Or you stick your money under a mattress. Nobody benefits but you, but nobody else benefits, and nobody else loses. Win.

Three strategies for making, with three different risk/reward ratios. But like I said early, we have conscious memories, and can visualize a reasonably good approximation of the future. You can look back into your past, see what strategies you implemented, and what results they’ve produced. You can then look into your future and see if these same strategies are likely to give you what you want a few years down the line. If not, you can easily change strategies.

Three different levels of selfishness. I suggest to you that the best and most lucrative selfishness is win win. It stands to reason that it would be a good idea then, to find as many other people that you can where your selfishness, and there selfishness will overlap in some mutually beneficial way.

No reason for stealing, no reason for fighting to the death. Respect your own selfish desires, respect other people’s selfish desires, find as many overlaps as possible, and everybody’s a winner.

Beware Of Covert Persuasion

Three Types Of Sales

If you’ve ever bought a car, then you are familiar with something called “sales resistance.” As soon as the salesman or saleswoman came walking up to you, your defenses automatically went up. Another name for this is “conscious resistance.” It is widely believed that one of the functions of the conscious mind is to prevent extraneous and harmful ideas from invading our brains. To protect us from getting duped.

There is lot of information regarding the so-called “conscious” and “unconscious” mind. Sometimes the second is referred to as the “subconscious” or the “non conscious” or even the “other than conscious.” Talk about these things can tend to get fairly esoteric and metaphysical in a hurry, which can be less than helpful if you are looking for a specific solution to something. Think of your conscious mind as things that your brain has decided that you “need to think about” and the unconscious (or whatever else you want to call it) everything else. These things you’ve either done them enough times, or God or Mother Nature has decided through evolution that we needn’t worry about these things.

Your heartbeat, your breathing (most of the time), driving to work, scratching your nose, that memory of that time back in third grade when that girl did that thing that you thought meant one thing, but really meant something else. All of these are considered “automatic” and no needing conscious thought, until something specifically calls them to mind.

There’s nothing mystical or metaphysical about it, it is just a conservation of brain bandwidth. If you had to think about all those things, all the time, you’d go nuts, and end up in the corner babbling to yourself. Maybe there were some people who walked around holding all those thoughts in their minds all the time, but they likely were to busy thinking about all those things to reproduce, so there genes didn’t get passed down.

The commonly accepted belief is that we can pretty much hold between 5 to 9 things in our conscious thought at any given time. Once something new comes in, the oldest one drops off into unconsciousness. It’s still there in our brains; it’s just that we don’t access it because our brains have decided it’s not important enough to keep in our memory.

There are plenty of cases where witnesses to crimes supposedly couldn’t recall certain events, but under hypnosis they were able to come up with enough information to help get a conviction.

Back to the approaching car salesman. As soon as you see him coming up, your brain goes into defensive mode. He represents a threat, because his overt intention is to get you to give him a bunch of money. His job is to convince you to believe him enough so you’ll hand over a stack of cash (or sign a lengthy finance contract) based solely on his description of this item for sale. Since this represents quite a large amount of money, or resources, you are on high alert, as there is a potential for serious damage.

Those 5 to 9 things that you can hold in your brain suddenly are cleared and room is made to scrutinize his offer with as much brain bandwidth as possible. You suddenly forget what you want to eat for dinner, that report that you were worried about that you forgot to write before you left for work on Friday, and which of your kids’ friends house he wants to sleep over at tonight.

If you’ve ever sold anything, and felt that huge anxiety that comes with trying to persuade customers, this is why. They are looking at you with much more scrutiny that most people face. Even public speaking, while terrifying for many, doesn’t involve as much scrutiny as trying to sell somebody something. Especially a big ticket item like a car. Unless you are selling from the podium, there’s a good chance that while most of your audience is sitting there politely listening to your speech, they are also planning their shopping list, wondering what to buy their boyfriend or girlfriend for their next birthday, and so on.

The whole of sales strategies is designed and developed to overcome this “sales resistance” and convince the customer that they would be better of giving you their money in exchange for something than they would be to keep their money and get nothing. This can be incredibly difficult, but if can also be incredibly lucrative if you can figure out a way to do it consistent. There are three basic strategies that sales people use.

The Hard Sell

This is the most belligerent of the three. The salesperson hammers away at the prospect, and through brute force of willpower, overcomes the potential buyers resistance. This is the most confrontational, the most anxiety producing, and requires the most amount of mental energy. This is why most normal people loathe going to a car dealership. They fear, many times rightly so, that they will be hammered until their resistance is futile, and the best choice is to accept the salespersons offer, and then slink home, convincing themselves they made a good deal.

The benefits of this, from a sales perspective, is that most people really don’t have that strong of a resistance. After only twenty minutes or so, most people start to show signs of starting to cave.

The drawbacks are obviously a huge amount of stress and pressure, which can lead to health problems such as high blood pressure, not to mention to coping strategies salespeople are commonly known to adopt to deal with this stress, like smoking or drinking.

The Logical Sell

This is just laying out the features and benefits of your product, and hoping the customer decides to buy your product. Many times people that use this strategy are referred to as “order takers” because there’s not a lot of persuasion going on. Most retail outlets rely on this method. Give the customer as much information as he can handle, and hope he buys your product.

The main benefit of this is this is not confrontational in the least. Even if the customer decides not to buy your product, he will likely remember you as a helpful and friendly salesperson.

The main drawback is you likely won’t make a great deal of money using this strategy. You may very well eke out a living, but in most cases the pay is not that spectacular. Jobs that are highly paid that use this method are hard to come by, and usually involve working for a company whose reputation is doing a lot of the convincing for you. In order to make money this way, you need to get yourself in front of a lot of prospects, which can produce stress and anxiety almost as much as in the hard sell scenario described above

The Covert Persuasion Method

This is by far the most lucrative, and causes the least amount of stress and anxiety. This is based on the idea that all decisions are made on an emotional level, rather than a logical level. And by structuring your communication to elicit the proper buying emotions, the sale is easy. Probably the most surprising thing to most people is that you don’t really need to talk about the product at all to elicit the customer’s buying emotions. This is why it is referred to as covert persuasion.

The main drawback is that this takes quite a lot of face to face practice, and requires a lot well developed skills, like reading body language, facial expressions, using specific language patterns and using your mannerisms and gestures in specific ways.

There are a few people that are really good at this, and they make tons of money, and work a lot less often, and lot less hard than most people. If you’ve ever wandered into a store, not really sure if you wanted to buy something, and just from asking a few questions, and getting a few answers, you felt really compelled to buy something, you’ve likely experienced at least one aspect of covert sales.

Any method that is designed to move your emotional mind, rather than your logical mind, is using these methods.

These are much easier to do in a TV commercial, or a well-crafted newspaper or magazine add than they are face to face. The difference is that ads you see on TV are designed to hit the emotional hot buttons that we all have, like sex, safety, belonging to a group, etc.

To use these face to face, you need to elicit the individual hot buttons of the person you are speaking with, and then covertly fire them off while talking about your product, and then covertly connecting those emotional hot buttons to your product or service.

If you want to have some fun, next time you see a particularly persuasive ad on TV, try and figure out what emotional hot buttons the writers were trying to hit, and how they did them. Be careful, because many times their intention is only that you remember their product name, so next time you are in that market for that particular product, theirs will be the first one you think of. If that happens, they’ve successfully snuck their products name past your conscious resistance.

Be careful. It can be disheartening to discover that a many of your decisions and desires were covertly put there by skilled advertisers.

The best defense, of course, is a good offense. Before you buy something, make sure you have a clear, logical reason, and that it satisfies your criteria that you decided on before going to the shop or the dealership or website.

The Virtue Of Selfishness

What’s In It For Me?

Recently (like yesterday recently) I started reading a new book (new for me, it was first published back in the seventies) by Dawkins, called “The Selfish Gene,” while I’m only about fifty pages in, so far it is fascinating. Up until the book was first published, there were a lot of misconceptions (as there still are) about evolution, and the mechanics of evolution. What Dawkins offers in “The Selfish Gene” is a new paradigm of looking at the mechanics of evolution and the driving forces behind it.

In the preface to the edition I’m currently reading, he says it wasn’t uncommon for him to receive letters from readers explaining how this book caused them great feelings of despair and loneliness, and some even sinking into bouts of depression.

It reminds me of a scene in the movie “Knowing” with Nicolas Cage. He plays a professor of astrophysics, who is still suffering emotional pain and confusion from losing his wife, and struggling with raising a son on his own. His son’s school opens a time vault, when kids back in the fifties put in pictures of what they thought the future would look like. One creepy girl wrote a bunch of numbers as her picture. Then in the present, when they open up the vault, Cage’s character’s son gets the piece of paper with all the numbers on it. The numbers, of course, accurately predict various catastrophes, including the impending end of the world.

The scene I’m referring to is when he is standing in front of the class and poses the question (paraphrased):

What is the nature of the universe? Is there some grand plan, is all this unfolding according some grand scheme, or is everything we see just a result of random interaction of matter, with no intrinsic meaning whatsoever?

Of course all the kids in his class have expressions of “Dude who took a dump in your Cheerios this morning?”

But that is what those letter writers to Dawkins said that this book convinced them of. That the universe is nothing more than a random sequence of events, leading up to us, starting from a blog of organic matter in a pool of sludge millions of years ago, and somehow, through successive mistakes in replication, here we are. Bob’s your uncle.

Here’s the basic argument from “The Selfish Gene” Millions of years ago, there were a bunch of molecules that could reproduce themselves. In order to replicate themselves, they had to use elements form their environment. Whatever they could find in the sludge floating around them. Some molecules were better at replication that others. Either they were faster, or lived longer, or better at attracting the elements from their environment, the pool of sludge.

After a while, the ones that were better at replication outnumbered the ones that weren’t so good at replication. If you put a couple of rabbits in the same environment as a couple of turtles, after a few months, there will be many more rabbits than turtles. And if the rabbits and the turtles eat the same food, guess what is going to happen to the turtles?

This is how it all started with DNA. The DNA that was better at making copies of itself soon outstripped the DNA that was not so good. Now consider this: Each time they replicate themselves, they can make a mistake. Sometimes the resultant replication will be better at replication, sometimes it will be worse. So sometimes, when it makes a mistake in replication, it actually may improve its replication rate.

And the environment doesn’t contain an endless supply of resources to use in the replication process. Groups of these DNA molecules have to “compete” for resources. Sometimes a mistake is made in the replication process, and its “copy” is better at securing these resources. Anytime a mistake is made in replication that both increases its replication rate, and increases its efficiency in securing resources, the mistake is a “good” mistake, and will be propagated into the future. Mistakes that decrease it’s replication rate, and decrease its ability to get stuff to make more copies of itself would be “bad” mistakes, and wouldn’t propagate into the future.

You let this process go on for a while, and pretty soon these DNA molecules have come up with some pretty ingenious ways of replicating themselves. They’ve built structures around themselves, and used these structures to secure resources in order to reproduce.

Let this go on for millions of years, and some startling changes have happened to these original molecules. They have formed several different types of organisms. Some live in water some live on land. Some fly, some walk. Some climb trees, some live underground. Some band together into groups, or herds, and work together to secure resources to further their likelihood of replication.

This is where it gets interesting. Many believe that we are somehow programmed through our DNA for the survival of our species. What made Dawkins book such an interesting paradigm is that every so-called “altruistic” act that seems to be “taking one for the team,” can be explained in terms of pure selfishness from the individual gene’s point of view.

It might seem nice the bees and flowers can work together to help each other out, but the honeybee only cares that it gets the nectar. That it is helping the flower spread it’s pollen is of no consequence. From the flowers point of view, it couldn’t care less how successful the bees are at building a colony and feeding its queen. It only cares that it pays some nectar to get its pollen spread. It only appears to be altruistic because there is an overlap in each species selfishness. The same goes for animals within it’s own species. When chimps groom each other, it looks to us humans like they are simply being nice. But primatologists know they are really planting the seeds of reciprocity, no different from when Don Corleone did all those favors when he was young. He knew he could demand pay later on, like the funeral director.

To extend Dawkin’s selfish gene theory, one may conclude all the kindness, altruism, giving to the homeless, feeding the hungry, is based on pure selfishness, and desire for personal gain. That our selfish behaviors overlap into so called win/win scenarios only gives it the illusion of selfless altruism.

Even when Jesus told the parable of the sheep and the goats, the intention of the story was to explain what was needed in order to get into heaven. Those that fed the hungry, clothes and naked the sheltered the homeless were allowed into everlasting life. Those that didn’t were sent to hell. Literally. Jesus never said to give to the hungry just for the sake of giving to the hungry. Give to the hungry so you can get into heaven. That the hungry get some food out of the deal is as secondary.

Many people mistakenly think of selfishness as only one-way selfishness, or worse, getting something for yourself at the expense of somebody else. That, of course, doesn’t do anybody any good. It doesn’t take much to imagine that only looking out for number one regardless of the consequences to others will leave you hated, or in jail, or worse. It’s okay to make sure you’re always getting something out of the deal, so long as the other guy is as well.

Here’s another story of heaven and hell. In heaven, as well as hell, everybody has an endless supply of soup, but a really really long spoon. People in hell sit around and jealously guard their soup. Their spoon is so long that they can’t possible feed themselves, so they are always hungry, and worried that somebody is going to steal their stuff.

In heaven, on the other hand, people use their long spoons to feed each other, knowing full well that if they help out somebody else, they will get helped in return.

The law of reciprocity applies both in heaven, and in hell. If you feed people, you get fed. If you don’t, you starve.

Up to you.

External or Internal Motivation – Which Is Better?

Which Path Do You Take?

Once there was this pumpkin. He was a normal pumpkin, and went to a normal pumpkin school, like the rest of the kids in his neighborhood. His parents had tried to get him into one of those special schools for gifted pumpkins, but he didn’t think he passed the final entrance examination. They didn’t feel bad, neither did the pumpkin, as almost every pumpkin tries to get into one of those special schools, but very few make it. So his parents as well as he were in good company. Many parents teach their kids early on that the trying and failing is ok, so long as they try. That way, when the vast majority of the kids don’t get into the pumpkin school, they can feel proud of themselves for putting forth valiant effort.

The way the schools are set up, in case you aren’t familiar with them is that they are government run schools, and are completely paid for. There is a whole section of the pumpkin government devoted to the enrichment of its citizens. To that end they’ve created a panel of experts that teach the most cutting edge subjects. The school is a state of the art facility where most scientific and technological advances are made.

Many kids secretly don’t want to get into the advanced placement school. That would mean leaving their friends and family, as the school is located near the central government. Once they finish the school, they are required to spend no less than 5 years teaching at the school and further developing the curriculum. For a young pumpkin just entering into adolescence, this is an awfully large commitment.

Of course, the kids enjoy bragging about their scores, and comparing them to one another. Because they are completely meaningless if they aren’t accepted into the special school, the teasing and posturing of the young pumpkins is accepted as a normal part of every day school life.

Most pumpkins finish their primary education without moving on to higher levels. The pumpkin economy is sufficient to provide many well paying jobs to blue-collar pumpkin workers. Because these jobs are so plentiful, most pumpkins can easily find a way to make a living very near where they grew up.

It’s not uncommon to find neighborhoods with two and sometimes three generations of families spread throughout. Which is why the pumpkin of this particular story was overwhelmingly upset when he learned he was accepted, just barely, into the special pumpkin school. That meant ten years away from his friends and family. Five for the school itself, and five for the teaching commitment that came with it.

Of course, he knew very well that after finishing his teaching commitment, he was pretty much set for life. While many pumpkins stayed and taught at the special school after their commitment was fulfilled, it was by no means expected or even depended on. Virtually all the pumpkins that fulfilled their teaching requirements found extremely lucrative jobs in the technological fields, some even sitting on boards of directors of several large international conglomerations.

However, that didn’t appeal to our young pumpkin hero at all. He didn’t want a prestigious job in ten years. He didn’t want to start teaching at a prestigious university in five. He didn’t want to study there next fall. He wanted to stay right where he was.

He was in love.

They had begun hanging out together at lunchtime last spring. They had started sitting together at lunch, the way kids do. As time went on, they started sitting closer together, some days even exchanging a few words. Then one day, for some reason that neither of the cared about, when they showed up to their normal lunch table, it was only the two of them.

Of course they were both very nervous. But once they started talking, their nervousness was quickly replaced by the excitement of discovering new feelings and emotions that you never knew existed. Soon they started meeting when they knew it would only be just the two of them, if for only a few minutes. Sometimes they would talk about their math homework; sometimes they wouldn’t talk at all.

But now this young pumpkin had a decision to make. His acceptance letter, as a matter of law, would be reported to his school administrator. It is quite an honor for any school to have one of its students accepted to the government school of higher learning. Of course, attendance wasn’t compulsory, but no pumpkin had ever turned down such an opportunity. To attend a school, at no charge, with a virtual guarantee of economic success in only a few years. To do so would be unthinkable.

But that was just what the young pumpkin intended. The feelings he experienced when he was with his new girlfriend were far more wonderful than any ideas of economic success on the other end of a long, boring, ten-year separation from his friends and family.

But how in the world would he tell them?

One day he was moping about down at the park, when one of the elder pumpkins spotted him.

“What’s wrong?”

The young pumpkin explained everything, feeling a strange sense of relief at unloading his problems to a complete stranger. This was the first he’d told anyone of his predicament.

“That is a tough one.” Said the elder.

He paused, and the young pumpkin waited. After a deep breath, the elder turned to him and started.

“Many folks would tell you that young love is fleeting, that it doesn’t last. That you should focus on long term success, rather than short term feelings. That it is an honor and a privilege to be accepted to that school. That you have a duty to your family, to your school, to society to fulfill your destiny, as they’d say. To fulfill your talents. To use your creative gift to give to others what they may not be able to get for themselves.”

This is exactly what the young pumpkin was afraid of, and precisely what he didn’t want to hear.

The elder continued.

“Many will tell you tales of opportunities missed, of dreams that went unfulfilled. And they will tell you that if you do not take this opportunity, you will regret it for the rest of your life.”

The young pumpkin, although depressed beyond measure, was ready to accept his fate. His young mind was no match for such rhetoric from such an old and learned pumpkin.

“But here is one thing they will most assuredly not tell you. Their motives are selfish. They care not for you, but only for their own memories of their own lost opportunities. They see you on the cusp of success, and recall all of their failures. All of the times they could become great, but failed. In you they see their only chance of redemption, if only vicariously.”

The young pumpkin wasn’t sure he understood.

“It is a self perpetuating myth. An idea that isn’t true. They made a choice, and it didn’t turn out very well. So they see you, and by urging you to make the same choice and follow the same, expected path, they are hoping you will heal their wounds. Society is filled with people like that. Telling you what is right. Telling you what should be done. People seek comfort in the conformity of others. It helps them to believe that even if the choices they made didn’t bring them the happiness they expected, they are the common choices, and therefore the right choices.”

“Here is wisdom, young pumpkin. Many will tell you to make your choice based on what you want, and not what others want. But they forget to mention that that can only be done when you accept full responsibility for the outcome of your choice. And never expect others to undo what you’ve done. Ever. Ask yourself one question:

Can I live with it?”

The young pumpkin thought. Thought about ten years of doing things other people wanted him to, followed by who knows how many years doing who knows what. Could he live with that?

Then he thought of his friends, his family, his girlfriend, and the life he would likely lead should he turn down the opportunity of a lifetime.

The decision became lucidly clear. He smiled, and walked home.

Flower Power

Why You Should Stop And Smell The Roses

I was reading this essay the other day. One of those things where you start to read this, and the more you read, the more you get interested. But then when you finish reading this you aren’t really sure what you just read. Which is why I’m having trouble remembering now the exact topic this essay. It was kind of like that. I think it was about recycling or something.

Anyway, there was a section where it was talking about how flowers are good. That some scientific studies have shown that flowers actually elevate people’s moods, creating some chemical in the brain that is associated somehow with happiness and good moods. One of those chemicals that if you could sell to people you’d make a killing. I believe it is the same chemical that is a by-product of some narcotics. But with narcotics you get all these other horrible side effects, like physical addiction. When this chemical is naturally produced, it is not nearly as strong as injecting heroin, but it doesn’t have the addictive side effects.

It reminded me of this book on evolution I was reading. I believe the author was Steven Pinker. Evolution is much more complicated than most people think (including me.) There are several different overlapping systems that benefit as they grow and mutate over successive generations into better and more successful organisms. No organism evolves on it’s own. It is always dependent on how its new mutations interact with the environment, rather just how well it can exploit he environment.

Take bees for example. They take the nectar from the flowers, and in turn spread the pollen around, so the flowers can reproduce. It is a win/win scenario. The flowers get to make more flowers, and bees get food. Now if some generation of bees evolved some more efficient way of getting nectar from flowers, but they didn’t spread the pollen, it’s success would be short lived. Say for example, instead of going from flower to flower, each bee just hit up one flower, took its nectar, and went back to the hive. Pretty soon there wouldn’t be any more flowers because they would suddenly have lost their reproductive abilities thanks to the greedy bees. So the bee’s ability to take nectar from flowers is dependent on their habit of spreading the pollen around. Of course the bee doesn’t look at itself in the mirror every morning and try to pump itself up with affirmations of how great it is to create win/win relationships. It just does its thing.

Nature is filled with examples like this. Seemingly selfish behavior that somehow benefits various different species through their interaction.

Which brings me back to the flowers. Why do they make us feel so good? Why do numerous studies show that patients in hospital rooms recover quicker when their rooms are filled with flowers?

A botanist will tell you that wild flowers often grow in conjunction with edible fruit. If not on the same plant, at the very least in the same area. The existence of wild flowers also show evidence of water being around someplace.

Some imagine a couple of different tribes of people, wandering around couple hundred thousand years ago. One group had this peculiar reaction to flowers. They liked looking at them. They liked the smell. So what happened when they were out wandering around and saw a patch of wildflowers? They went to take a closer look. And the likely saw a stream or several fruit bearing trees. What a discovery. Sweet tasting food and plenty of water.

Now consider the other wandering tribe. They didn’t particularly care one way or the other at the sight or the smell of flowers. So when they saw a patch of wildflowers, or a meadow filled with wildflowers off in the distance, they ignored it, and kept looking for something to kill. Sometimes they found something sometime they didn’t

Now which group do you think would produce more people over time? The group that had a built in response that allowed them to find free food and water? Or the group that didn’t?

They group that stopped at patches of flowers, and subsequently found more food and water that was pretty safe to eat (compared to the other group that was always running after zebras) had lots of time on their hands. And I don’t think I need to tell you what primitive people would likely decide to do when they were hanging out in a place surrounded by water, sweet food, and pretty flowers.

Make more people.

So it’s easy to see that the group that had a natural inclination to enjoy flowers, both the sight and the smell, quickly out populated the group that didn’t. It may also explain (one explanation among many I suspect) why having color vision is much better than black and white.

And just like the bees helped out the flowers by spreading their pollen, these primitive peoples helped out the fruit trees by spreading the seeds through their waste. The more people ate fruit, the more the particular tree spread.

So when you hear the old saying “stop and smell the roses,” you now know that it has much deeper meaning that just to goof off and enjoy yourself. It is proof that mother nature, God, or whoever, has equipped us with various built in strategies that make us feel good when going after something that is actually beneficial to our survival.

So go out and have some fun. Enjoy yourself. Mother Nature wants you to.

Coefficient Of Correlation

Pure Randomness

I used to have this neighbor that was quite eccentric. She had all these different hats that she would wear for all different kinds of occasions. I don’t think I ever saw her wear the same hat twice. I never saw the inside of her apartment, but I suspect that it was filled with hats. Personally, I don’t think I’ve ever bought hat before. Maybe a couple baseball hats, and some ski hats for skiing, hiking, and robbing banks, but those don’t really count.

These were hardcore, fashion-oriented hats. The kind that you would see on some French aristocrat at a horserace. Assuming of course that French aristocrats have horses races. I’m not sure that they do, but it would seem logical. I never really thought about the psychology of hats until I lived next door to this lady. I never saw any kids or grandkids, so I assumed she lived alone.

I remember reading an essay once that destroyed the urban legend and often repeated myth that Americans stopped wearing hats when JFK was president. The common belief is that before he was president, everybody wore hats. Then when he, as president, went everywhere without a hat, the trend quickly caught on.

The truth of the matter, however, is far less interesting. Hats, gloves, other clothing items that are purely ornamental had been falling out of fashion steadily since the turn of the century. Hats were just another example of this. When Kennedy was not wearing his hat, he was just one example of the growing trend of hatless men.

Of course, the human brain comes pre wired to find cause effect relationships. Something like suddenly noticing people aren’t wearing hats, and then noticing a prominent figure like JFK isn’t wearing one, the easiest conclusion is that one thing caused the other. More often than not, they are merely related, and some other factor is causing them both.

Now I’m not particularly qualified nor well read enough to comment on the reason for the decline in hats, gloves etc. There are several theories, some make sense, and some don’t, depending on your social philosophy. Whatever that means.

They’ve done some pretty interesting experiments to study the brains propensity to find cause and effect relationships between random objects. They show random objects moving around on a computer screen to a baby, and the baby quickly assumes that one “shape” is chasing the other. They suspect this because they show one shape moving around by itself, and then stop it. They babies interest doesn’t change much. One object stopping and starting by itself is no big deal.

But then they show two objects moving around, and pretty soon the baby assumes there is a cause/effect relationship between the two objects. They stop one of the objects from moving, and the baby gets confused and looks back and forth between the stopped object and the moving object as if something is wrong. Why did one stop and the other didn’t? They suppose that if there weren’t any assumed cause/effect relationship between the shapes, then the reaction of two moving objects with one stopping would be the same as one moving object and then stopping. It isn’t.

One explanation for this is that back in the old days, when daily living was a life and death struggle against the environment, humans didn’t have time to sit around and do double blind studies every time they saw a tiger coming at them.

The cause/effect relationship was simple:

Tiger = Danger

Those who needed to learn that every time didn’t live long enough to pass on the need to scrutinize every decision. Those that had the capability to make snap cause/effect judgments on the world around them lived long enough to reproduce.

So here we are, thousands of years later, with that circuitry still firmly wired into our brains. We see two events, and immediately come to the conclusion that one is causing the other, or one has an impact on the other.

In the book “Fooled By Randomness,” by Taleb, he shows how often completely random events with no statistical causal relationships are often mistaken to be linked somehow.

In the book “Mind Lines,” Dr. Hall illustrates how we have a capacity to witness or experience an event, and quickly give it meaning. That event causes this, or this event means that. We then react not to the event itself, but the meaning we give it. In the language of NLP, that’s called a complex equivalent. Something that we think is a simple cause/effect relationship, but in reality has several layers of subconscious thought and judgment between the event (the cause) and the perceived outcome (the effect).

So what does this all mean? Just be careful when you assume any cause/effect relationship. We live in big cities now, and we don’t have to hunt for our food anymore. It’s ok to take a few moments to use your brain to make a decision, instead of reacting right away.

And if you bump into some lady that is wearing a different hat every time you see her, tell her I want my can opener back.

Recursion And The Planet Of The Apes

House Of Mirrors

I was reading this book the other day. It was a non-fiction book, one that makes stop every couple of pages and think, or maybe take notes. The guy that writes this has this way of making you really reflect on what you’re reading, now. The book is about language, and anytime you use language to talk about language, it has this self-reflexive hypnotic effect. Kind of like when you stand between two mirrors, you can see yourself going back into infinity.

One of the things this book was talking about was the theory of recursion as being a test for a “human” language. Recursion is kind of like a nested loop inside of a sentence, where you have one entity, or thought, inside another. Instead of saying “the tiger ate her,” you could say “the tiger the girl who was running” to further expand on “her.” Or you could say “the tiger ate the girl wearing the blue shoes who has running.” According to Chomsky, language has the possibility of an infinite level of recursion.

They were comparing human language to the alleged “language” they teach chimps, which is supposed to show the humans aren’t the only ones that can master communication. Unless you consider the sentence “me banana banana me me me banana banana banana me me me banana banana,” an acceptable sentence in (any language) those chimp trainers have got a long way to go.

There was that scene in planet of the apes where they “expert” was on TV trying to explain the complexities of time travel. He showed some guy painting a picture of the sunset. But if it were an accurate picture, he would have to put himself in the picture. But then if that were an accurate picture, he would have to paint a picture of himself painting a picture of himself, and so on.

Infinite loops are everywhere.

There was this king once in Europe several hundred years ago. He hired a mathematician to figure out some problem, and as a model the mathematician studies the theoretical growth of rabbits. Starting with two rabbits, and assuming that each pair of rabbits make a new pair every month, he came with what is now called the Fibonacci sequence. Perhaps you’ve heard of it if you’ve read the DaVinci Code. The sequence is 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13 etc. Can you see the pattern? Each number is equal to the sum of the previous two numbers.

What’s cool is if you plot it on a graph, starting with zero in the center, an interesting pattern emerges. Go up one, and draw a point. Then go to the right one (the next number) and draw another point. Then go down 2 (the next number) and draw another point. Then go to the left 3 (the next number) and draw another point, and keep this up. Pretty soon you’ll have this nice spiral that expands outward as you continue to draw points and connect. The particular mathematical shape of this spiral is found everywhere in nature. The curve of breaking waves at the beach, ram’s horns, flowers. There are even those that use this sequence to predict (fairly accurately) the movement of stocks and other financial securities.

Another cool part of the Fibonacci sequence is what’s known as the “golden mean.” If you take any one number in the sequence, and divide it by the previous number, you’ll get about .6, give or take. This ratio is also found everywhere in nature, as well as human constructions. The length divided by the width of the Parthenon in Ancient Greece gives you the golden mean. So do the width and height of any crucifix or Christian cross you see. Also your height and the height of your belly button, as well as your height and the length of your outstretched arms.

Now is there a connection? Is there a reason that a fundamental test for “human” language is it’s recursiveness, and that there are several recursive patterns that repeat themselves over and over again in nature?

I would suspect there is. If you look at flowers, they grow out naturally in the Fibonacci pattern. Our brains are comprised of neurons and dendrites that appear very much like vines, or plants growing outwards. So it would make sense that our language, which is a manifestation of our brains, would obey the same rules as various naturally occurring systems in nature.

There is another theory regarding the structure of the universe. This theory, which has been called the holographic universe theory, states that the structure of the universe is identical regardless of what size you are looking at. Taken its name from a hologram. A hologram is a specially etched piece of glass, and when you shine a laser through it, it will produce a three dimensional image. If you shatter the glass into a million pieces, they will produce not a shattered three-dimensional image, but a million smaller three-dimensional images.

The basic shape and structure of an atom is the same as the solar system. One center, and bunch of things spinning around the outside of it.

So the question I’ll leave you with is this:

Is the holographic theory of the universe accurate, does the universe really behave in the same way regardless of what size chunk you are looking at?


Are we humans, with our limited capacity for measuring the physical universe based on the limitations of our sensory organs, merely seeing everything the same based on those constraints? If so, what really is out there?

Evolution Of A Coffee Shop

When Is A Punch Just A Punch?

So the other day I was waiting for my coffee order. It was at this small shop that had just opened and I suspected they were still ironing out all the bugs so to speak. They seemed to have quite a few different coffee selections, and while my particular order wasn’t all that complicated, I could understand how somebody, especially somebody in high school trying to make a couple extra dollars on the weekend, could easily become overwhelmed at both the complexity of the equipment and the throngs of curious crowds trying to squeeze their way into this ingeniously located attractor of customers.

“What is the difference?” I heard a voice behind me ask. Since the place was packed, I assumed the voice, or rather the voice’s owner, was speaking to somebody else.
“Really, what’s the difference?” I turned to see this person was talking to. He was looking right at me.
“Huh? What do you mean?”
“When you learn something, and when you know something already?”
I had to shake my head to make sure I heard him right.
“Huh?” Was the best I could do.
“That girl,” he said, motioning to the about to lose it girl who was struggling to keep up with the orders.
“In a few weeks, she’ll be able to do all this while talking on her cell phone to one of her boyfriends without any problems.”
“So what’s the difference?”

Now if this guy had been some smelly homeless person, I would have written this exchange off as some kind of random run in with a word salad generator. But he guy was clean-shaven, and dressed in clothes that he didn’t get from the good will. So I tried as hard as I could to figure out what in the world he was getting at.

I was reading this interesting article, or essay I guess, by Richard Dawkins, or maybe some other guy, the other day. He was talking about how genes have this uncanny ability to work together to give the illusion that we have genes for every specific action that is possible. Like I have a gene that makes me love chocolate ice cream, or I have a gene that makes me suck at fractions.

The example he gave was basketball. Some people are really good at basketball, and some people, like me, (actually many people like me) have no business being anywhere except in the bleachers at a basketball court.

But some people are naturally gifted basketball players. Which may lead some to believe that there is some type of “basketball” gene. As if two parents that were superb basketball players would automatically have kids that were superior at basketball.

But obviously, there was never any evolutionary selector for basketball. There certainly was for throwing rocks at moving animals, and being able to jump over ditches if you were being chased by a tiger, or being able to chase after a wounded zebra for a couple kilometers, or being tall enough to reach the good stuff that nobody else can reach. Only recently have these random genes been collectively beneficial in certain people who are good at basketball.

The point of this article is that one of the reasons, or at least one of the possible reasons, according to evolutionary biologists for humans’ dominance on the planet is our versatility. Humans have lived in all different kinds of environments from houses built out of ice to house built on the sides of cliffs.

The conjecture by this particular essayist is that we humans have such a versatile pool of genes to pull from that they can combine to form many useful skills in many useful environments.

One mistake people make is that humans have less instincts that so called lower animals, and more learning power. Lower animals have instincts built in so they are pretty much good to go after a few weeks. Human don’t have so many instincts, so it takes us a while to figure things out.

But more and more scientists are starting to agree that humans have both much more learning capacity than lower animals, and many more instincts. It is that combination that gives us our edge. To be able actually learn new things, until we can perform them as if they are second nature, or an instinct. We actually have the capacity to learn more instincts, so to speak.

Bruce Lee once remarked that before you learn Jeet Kun Do, a punch is just a punch. You throw it without thinking. Maybe it will hit its target, maybe it won’t. But when you start to study martial arts, a punch becomes a complex combination of intention, balance, breath and focus, and directed energy. After learn to master these different elements, and can do so without thinking, a punch is again, just a punch. But it is an altogether different, and much more powerful and deadly punch.

So I finally asked the guy, “What exactly do you mean?”

“When you come back in two weeks, she’ll me making coffee like a pro. If you compare her then, to somebody who is just naturally good at making coffee, how would you be able to tell the difference?”

“Hmm. I suppose you wouldn’t.”

“Exactly.” He said. Just then both our coffees were ready, and we both went our separate ways.