Tag Archives: Evolution

Are You Really Paying Attention?

Instant Partner

The other day I was hanging out with a friend of mine on this lake. Not really on the lake, next to it. There was this restaurant with an outdoor bar near one of the shores, or edges, or whatever you all the border between the lake the land.

We were watching all the people that were jet skiing, water-skiing, and boating. There seemed to be quite a few recreationists using motorized assistance in their recreational endeavors. There wasn’t much wind, so we didn’t see any wind surfers. There were a few swimmers, but for the most part, everybody had some kind of mechanized tool to assist them in their recreation. Then we saw something particularly strange. Something that both my friend and I had to do a double take, stop mid way through our conversation, and ask each other to verify what we’d just seen, to make we hadn’t slipped into some shared hallucination.

It’s kind of like when your brain is on autopilot, and starts to use your stored memories of what is going on around you to create the representation of reality, and then something completely upsets the system. They’ve done plenty of high level studies, using brain scans and cat scans and all kinds of other scans and when we are awake and conscious, up to fifty percent of everything we see, feel, hear, taste, and smell (all the data coming in through our five senses) is generated internally. Like when you go back to a web page without refreshing your browsers. You’re really looking at the website as it really is, only the way it was when you first surfed there five or ten minutes ago.

Like if you have a Yahoo! Email account, and you go to the Yahoo! Homepage, you’ll see so many messages in your inbox. Then if you surf someplace else, and then come back to Yahoo, you might not see any increase in mail, even though your buddy just sent you an email. Once you refresh your browser, you’ll see the new mail.

Scientists believe the brain works in the same way. If you are in a familiar environment, and the things around you aren’t changing all that much, your brain will start to rely on your stored memories to create what you think you see around you, rather than what is actually going on. So when something strange or out of the ordinary happens, your brain has to refresh it’s browser, and that can be a weird feeling.

Especially if that strange thing happens quickly, before your brain can refresh itself to catch up on what is really going on. Your brain doesn’t like to work very hard (or maybe that’s just me) so it will usually defer to stored memories whenever possible. It doesn’t like to continually “see” what is really going on unless it has to.

Many experiments bear this out. This is a reason why eyewitness testimony is the weakest link in any criminal case. One example of this is an experiment where they had a “criminal” come in and steal a professor’s briefcase during a lecture. Later, when they interviewed the students, the description of the “criminal” was all over the place. Some said tall, some said short, there wasn’t even any agreement on what ethnicity he was or even what color clothes he was wearing. Everybody seemed to base what they “saw” on their own experience with criminals, be it in real life or from watching criminals on TV.

There are all kinds of cool optical illusions that make use of this seeming limit on the brain. But is it really a limitation? What the brain in accuracy and detail, it more than makes up in speed. Our brains have evolved over hundreds of millions of years to deliver split second life and death decisions based on quickly changing data. Those that had slower brains, that sat around to contemplate things, didn’t last very long.

Those that had quick brains that decided when to run and when to fight, lived long enough to pass on those genes. So today we are left with a brain that is incredibly fast, but sometimes makes errors in reality detection. Sometimes we have to force ourselves to “refresh our browsers” to see what is really going on around us, rather then relying on assumptions and guesses.

Which is kind of what my friend and I did at the lake. It only happened because there was a momentary lull in our conversation, and we happened to be looking out over the lake at the same time, and toward the same spot. There was this guy on this Jet Ski that would jump out of the water, and then dive back in. He would dive completely under the water, Jet Ski and all, and then come back up a few meters later. Not such a big deal, as I’ve seen this in Jet Ski shows before.

But what we both saw was that this guy a was on a jet ski, by himself, and jumped up in the air, and then dove into the water, like normal, but when he came out there was a girl on the jet ski with him. As soon as we both saw that, we completely lost track of our conversation, and then asked each other if we both saw what we think we saw. After we verified that we both saw the same thing, we then focused intently on the water, specifically the area of this strange occurrence.

We weren’t exactly sure, but this “couple” did a few more tricks, and then both rode to the side of the lake, and as they did so a bunch of people were clapping and taking photos. It appeared to be some kind of show that was sponsored by a liquor company, who was hosting a big lakeside party that evening.

Had we been watching the whole show, it might not have been impressive as it was. But to watch one guy go under water, and come up with some girl on his jet ski is pretty cool thing to just happen to notice in the middle of some conversation about something that I can’t even remember.

Don’t Keep Your Intuition On Ice

False Feedback Loop

The other day I was waiting in line at the ice cream shop down the street from my apartment. I don’t usually buy ice cream, especially during winter, but something told me that buying ice cream might be a good idea today. I can’t exactly put my finger on what it was, or what caused me to think of ice cream, let alone evaluate whether it would be a good choice or not, but there I was.

I noticed the girl standing in line behind me was wearing a shirt that said
“San Diego,” on it, and nothing else. San Diego is popular for a couple of tourist attractions, the San Diego Zoo, and Sea World, to name a couple, but her shirt only said “San Diego,” and nothing else. Since the ice cream shop we were standing in line in was a long way from San Diego, I was curious.

I asked her if she was from San Diego, and she said no, that she got the shirt from a friend. The friend had gone there on a trip and had brought it back as a souvenir. She kind of gave off vibe that she wanted me to follow up on the conversation, despite not giving any obvious openings, so I pressed on.

I asked her what her friend did it San Diego, and she told me that it’s actual her husband, but at he time they hadn’t started dating yet. He was involved in the Navy and some secret nuclear submarine program down there. I asked her if her husband was in the navy, and she said that she couldn’t say. So much for my intuition about her desire for further conversation. I tried one last time, and asked her where she was originally from, and what she told me next was completely unexpected.

I remember once I was taking this seminar on intuition. Or rather it was on hypnosis, but there was on section that was specific to intuition. A good hypnotist can develop an intuition about his client, as many times the session will depend on feedback given by the client that isn’t altogether obvious or blatant. Hypnotists that can develop a good sense of intuition can have much more success with their clients.

There are a few different schools of thought on intuition. One is highly esoteric and metaphysical, and says that there is some higher “super conscious organism” that everybody is connected into. All dreams, psychic abilities, and intuitions depend on being able to “tap into” this superconscious realm of knowledge. It is widely believed that this is a huge storehouse of information, of everything that has happened, and everything that will happen. And it is completely accessible to anyone, so long as they know how to open themselves up to it.

Another school of thought is purely based on biology and evolution. Intuition is a highly developed aspect of communication that is just as unique to humans as spoken language. Most people are aware that human communication goes way beyond the verbal. Studies have shown that as much as 90 percent of communication is non-verbal. This is where intuition kicks in. Because the amount of voice tone, facial expression and subtle cues given off by body language extremely numerous and complex, being able to process them all consciously would be impossible. So the brain developed a way, over thousands of generations of evolution, to interpret them all subconsciously, and then deliver a final “feeling” to the conscious mind. Since feelings can only give us a directional “push,” and not any specific guidance, they can be difficult to interpret.

Hunger, fear, lust, nervousness are all general feelings that generally point us in the right direction, but don’t give us specifics on how to get there. That is left to our conscious, thinking brains. The same goes with intuition. Our subconscious reads the vast amount of information about any particular situation, and then presents a vague “feeling” to our conscious brains. This can be difficult to interpret, especially if you are someone who has been brought up to believe that “feelings” are too wishy washy to be paid any attention to.

But taken in light of the massive computational abilities of the subconscious mind, these feelings can be very valuable, when interpreted correctly. Sometimes it really is a good idea to “trust your gut.”

She told me that she was originally from Jordan, and that she had a PhD in nuclear engineering, which is where she met her husband. She had come to the United States on a student visa, and had met her husband in school, where they both studied nuclear engineering.

She then apologized, and told me that she mad mistakenly took me for one of her classmates. But when she started speaking to me, she realized I wasn’t him, because I spoke with the wrong accent.

So it turns out that her intuition about me was completely incorrect, which in turn gave me an incorrect intuition about her. Kind of a false intuition feedback loop. But the good thing was our false intuition feed back loop had self corrected by the time it was our turn to order our ice cream cone. Actually, I got an ice cream cone, and she got a sundae, but that’s another story.

What Is The Best Strategy?

Tit For Tat? Or Screw Your Buddy?

The other day I was riding my bike downtown, not going anywhere in particular. The weather was particularly nice, so I was just riding around. I had brought a couple of books in case I found a decent place to hang out. There wasn’t anything good playing at the movies, so I wasn’t in any hurry to be anywhere at any specific time.

I found this really strange bookstore. I hadn’t noticed it before. There were all these stacks of books that looked like they weren’t in any discernable order. Just slightly more organized than random. Like they just unloaded them from the used book truck and put them in stacks wherever there was space.

I went inside and started looking around. A sort of pattern emerged. The non-fiction books were over there, and the novels were up here in the front. And in the non fiction section, the how to books were kind of off to the side, the general non fiction books, like books about sociology, and the history and evolution of the sewing machine, and books about baseball were over there. And then the used textbooks were kind of off to the side next to up there.

As I started poking around, I was astounded by how cheap these books were. This one for twenty-five cents. That one for a dollar. The most expensive book I found was one titled “Step-by-Step Guide to Alchemy: How To Turn Any Object Into Pure Gold,” was three dollars. I turns out that it was a textbook that was used over at the university in an undergraduate course in metaphysics. I would have bought it, being able to turn anything into gold would seem to be quite a handy skill to have, but it was a really huge book, and even if it did fit into my backpack, there was no way I was going to haul this thing around the rest of the day.

So I continued to look, and I find this book about computer simulated game theory. It was written back in the seventies, and was about different programs that were developed to play a game called “The Prisoners Dilemma.” This is a classic puzzle from game theory. Here’s how it goes:

You have to people. Each has two cards. One card says “altruism,” the other card says “selfish.” Each player chooses which card to play. There are two players per game. If both players play the “altruism” card, they each get 500 points. If one player plays the “selfish card” and the other player plays the “altruism card” the selfish card player gets 900 points, while the altruism player gets nothing. If they both play the “selfish” card, each is penalized 100 points.

The game is called “prisoners dilemma” because if you have to supposed criminals, in separate rooms, they basically have the same choice. If they both claim innocence, the cops got nothing. If one guy rats out his buddy, while his buddy claims innocence, the first guy goes free (or gets a special deal) while his buddy is sent up the river. If they both rat out each other, then they both get penalized. This of course assumes that they both got caught unexpectedly, and didn’t have time beforehand to strategize.

So what they did, back in the seventies, was they had this round robin tournament. They invited whoever wanted to play to come up with a strategy that they thought would work best. Each player would play every other player (all computer simulated) and they would see who had the most points at the end. They would play a certain number of rounds per player, and then switch.

What they were most interested is what kind of strategy would work best, in the long run, with many different opponents. A selfish strategy, or an altruistic one.
I believe there is a game show in the UK that follows these same rules, but I don’t think it is as statistically relevant as this computer simulated tournament.

So which strategy do you think won? Selfish or altruistic? Which is better, look out for number one, or screw the other guy as often as possible?

The strategy that won, hands down, every single time, was a strategy called “tit for tat.” This strategy simply copied the last play made by your opponent. So if you met up with an opponent that played the altruism card last time, you’d play the altruism card in the current round. The reason this worked was that all the strategies that were based more on altruism, whenever they met a similar based strategy, they would quickly rack up points, as they would both play the altruism card most of the time. The tit for tat would just copy what it’s opponent did the last play, so it would play the altruism card most of the time with an altruistic opponent.

When the tit for tat strategy came up with a purely selfish opponent, neither of them would get any points, because the tit for tat would always copy the previous move of it’s opponent, which was always selfish.

The points accrued by two altruistic strategies when they met each other far out weighted the points lost when an altruistic strategy met a selfish strategy. Needless to say, whenever a selfish strategy met another selfish strategy, they didn’t get any points.

This computer simulated tournament was originally designed by evolutionists who wanted to see how altruistic strategies spring up in nature by organisms that are primarily selfish in nature. Like honey bees pollinating flowers in exchange for nectar, and monkeys that groom each other for no apparent reason. Somewhere, somehow, there is a payoff. And based on the computer simulation, you seem to get the most pay off with a “help the other guy out” mentality. While you might run into a few selfish people, you’ll more than make it up when you run into another like-minded “help the other guy out” strategist.

So anyway, I picked up that little book, which only cost fifty cents, and fit snugly into my backpack, and went pedaling off down the street, wondering what I would stumble upon next.

How Long Can You Hold It?

Eye to Eye

I went to see this movie the other night. I didn’t even realize it was coming out. I was just walking down the arcade downtown, and I saw a movie poster. I recognized the actor right away, but I had no idea he had a movie coming out. So naturally, I went and checked the times, so I could come back and see it within the next couple of days. It was already pretty late, and there weren’t any more shows that evening.

So the next day come around and I go down to see this movie. While I was waiting in line, I saw somebody that I sort of recognized, but wasn’t sure where I knew her from. I could tell she felt he same way. We were waiting in one of those lines that snakes around, kind of like an amusement park. You are always standing next to different people as the line moves around.

So we had just turned our opposite corners, and started moving closer to each other. This was really weird, because both of us were trying to study each other, but only through our respective peripheral visions. I was kind of afraid that if our eyes, met and she showed recognition for who I was, and I hadn’t figured out who she was yet, it would be embarrassing. I suspect that she was doing the same thing.

It’s kind of hard to describe. We were both looking kind of in each other’s direction, but not quite at each other. But we kept moving closer and closer to each other. I started to panic, what if she said my name, but I didn’t know hers? What if she knew who I was, and I ignored her, but then saw her again the next day somewhere, like at the cleaners, or some place I shop every day?

I remember once when I was in college, I was taking this class in anthropology. It was cool because of the class; we got in free to the local zoo anytime we wanted. All we had to do was show our student ID, and mention the professor’s name. And the zoo wasn’t any small town zoo with a bunch of animals that were kicked out of other zoos for bad behavior. This was actually a world-renowned zoo, with high profile animals like special pandas and stuff.

So anyway, one lecture, this professor was telling us how intricate the facial expressions of chimpanzees are. And also how similar they are to humans. He was explaining that the human tendency to smile is somehow related, to chimps baring of their teeth to both show aggression, and to show passive submission. I don’t remember exactly how it works, but the facial expressions, at least in chimps, for aggression are only slightly different from happy submission.

He told us if we wanted to have some fun with the chimps, to get as close as we can to the cage possible, and pick one, and just stare at it. After a while he or she will realize that some goofball human is staring at it, and see what’s up. After a while, they will take it as a sign of aggression, and start staring back. If you are lucky, you can get into a staring contest with a chimp. If that happens, wait a few minutes of staring, and then bare your teeth. The chimp will most likely get super angry and jump around like he wants to kill you or something.

So after I heard that, I went straight to the zoo, and went right to the chimps. I found a couple and stared at them, but I couldn’t get anybody to stare back. I tired for a while, and did get a bunch of glances, but no takers for a deadly stare down contest. Maybe they weren’t in the mood, or maybe somebody tipped them off that the professor of anthropology was sending troublemakers to mess with them.

When I reported my findings, he said that’s not unusual. Chimps have to be ready to stare somebody down, and there are plenty of factors that go into it. Generally speaking, if they don’t feel like they are in competition for anything, like food or girl chimps or something, they won’t likely get angry very easily. I guess in the zoo they try to keep the chimps happy.

But he went on to explain that eye contact is a touch thing. Even human it evokes some deeply subconscious and long evolved fears of conflict. In the wild, eye contact meant one thing, and one thing only:

Let’s rumble.

He also mentioned some psychological study that showed if two humans are looking at each other eye to eye for more than thirty seconds, they are either fighting, or thinking about fighting, (or at the very least feeling some kind of aggressive competition), or the opposite either engaged in sex, thinking about sex, or at the very least having sexual feelings.

I’ve read from other sources, that if a guy locks eyes with a woman, and she holds eye contact for more than a few seconds, she is a highly sexual individual. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but if you’re a guy, try and see if you can hold eye contact with a female stranger for more than a few seconds. It can be interesting, to say the least.

And this is the weird part, or the cool part. Just as moved up so we were both next to each other line, we both did our best to shift our gazes so we were looking at each other, and throw our best “Oh, hey! How’s it going,” but right when we did so, we both realized who each other was at the same time. It turned out to be more like “Oh Hey! (fake) how’s it…OH! Hey! (real) How’s it going!” Turns out we don’t know each other by name, just that she’ s a waitress at a coffee shop that I go to sometimes.

Once we got that out of the way, I was able to enjoy the movie. Which turned out to be pretty good.

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.

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.

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.

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.

What Are Your Instincts?

Man – Know Thyself

Last week I went to a book signing at a local bookstore. Some guy was going to sign some books, and give some kind of lecture. I hadn’t planned on going, but a friend of mine dragged me along. I think there is a girl that works there that he would like to ask out, but he is too shy to go by himself. On the way there we ran into this group of kids that were having a semi organized race with their remote controlled formula one cars. Maybe that’s not the best way to describe them. They were cars that were designed to look like formula one cars. They were pretty loud for how small they were, and much faster that you’d expect.

I don’t know if they got special permission from the city, but they had designed a small course in a park. They had set up some markers to create the points on each side of the track. There were about fifteen kids in all. I didn’t see any adults, so I’m not sure if it was a sponsored event or some sort of school club.

So while we were hanging out and watching this race, this guy came up and stated talking to us. We had about an hour before the guy’s speech at the bookstore started, so we had plenty of time. Plus my friend promised me that if I went with him, he’d ask out that girl. So he was likely stalling for time.

The guy started talking to us about genetics and determination. It was quite a strange topic to just bust out of nowhere with. I thought for a minute that he was some homeless bum that walks around blurting out word salad to whoever will listen, but it turns out he is a university professor. Halfway through his impromptu dialogue, he stopped and apologized for coming in out of the blue with such a potential divisive topic. The nurture/nature debate never ends well. I suppose he could have been talking about which is the best manufacturer of shoe polish, and my friend would have eagerly listened. He was really getting nervous about asking out that girl.

It’s funny when that happens. The human brain has this powerful mechanism for self-protection and self-preservation that comes out in many forms. Whenever we perceive a threat, we will do anything to get away from it. If there is no getting away from it, we will ignore it at all costs.

I’m always reminded of biology class I took in college. We were studying various primates, and great apes in particular. There was some lady that came in to our class once that had actually gone to Africa and studied them up close. She said the trick in not getting beat to death by the silverback, the alpha male leader, was to never ever make eye contact. You can get very close to the group so long as you don’t make eye contact with the leader, or any of the other powerful members of the group.

People spend a lot of time pretending to be really interested in something, but in reality they are avoiding making eye contact with what they perceive as a threat. In the jungle of course, making eye contact with the silverback will get you a good thrashing. But in real life, staring your fears right in the face is usually the trick to making them vanish.

Which is lucky for this weird professor who was going on and on about the way the mind comes pre-wired for certain instincts. He was saying that people used to think that man was different from all the other animals, because animals have instincts, and we have to learn everything as we go along. That’s why they used to think that humans took so long to make it to adulthood compared to all other animals. That we were born like some computer with only a hard drive, and no software.

But in reality, we come with many more instincts that all the other animals, AND the ability to learn along the way. Making us extremely flexible and agile when it comes to surviving. Our instincts are just as strong as migrating birds who know exactly where to fly every winter, but ours are flexible, so we get to change the where they point. Of course, the draw back is that if you don’t consciously evaluate your instincts and where they are pointing, you’ll be covertly guided by all the messages and advertising we are surrounded with on a daily basis.

Of course this agility makes it very easy for us to come up with unique and interesting ways to avoid overcoming our fears and our problems, like pretending to be really interested to some blathering professor in the park, like my friend was doing.

I was finally able to pull him away from the “professor,” who apologized profusely when he checked his watch. I guess he had lost track of time as well.

Which was just as well, because by the time we got up to leave, the kids had finished their tournament. The kid that won was being congratulated by all the other kids as we got up to leave. I saw a school bus pull up, and some adults got off and pulled out some boxes, into which the kids put their cars. I guess it was a sponsored event after all.

And when we got to the bookstore, the guy that was signing the books was the guy that we just talked to in the park. I guess he had written several textbooks on evolutionary psychology, and this was his first book targeted at normal people. As it turns out, his dialogue with us in the park was practice for tonight’s, lecture. I guess he thought if he could get a bunch of random strangers to understand his theory, then he could explain it to some eggheads in a bookstore. He made sure to thank us for being his guinea pigs. His speech was actually pretty good.

And my friend finally asked that girl out. Sort of. He got her name, and phone number, and a vague commitment to “maybe do something together later, or something.” I guess that’s pretty much what we came here for.

Her phone number.

But this sure was a round about way to get here, wasn’t it?

Nurture Vs. Nature – Why It Doesn’t Matter

How To Program Yourself For Automatic Success

There has been an ongoing debate for a while among people that study human development and potential, and believe it or not, linguists. There is one camp that believes that when humans are born, we are completely blank, and don’t know anything about anything. It would be the equivalent of buying a brand new computer with no operating system, not software, nothing.

Similar to the computers of many years ago. They didn’t even know how to start. So every time you had to start up your computer, you actually had to insert a punch card that was configured to give the program the start up parameters.

There are those that feel humans are completely and utterly blank when we come into the world, and that all we are is a result of our environment.

From a purely physical standpoint, that seems a bit ridiculous. As a general rule, and maybe you’ve noticed this, but children of Asian parents usually grow up with Asian features (e.g. black hair, brown eyes). Same with people from other parts of the world. Of course you could likely explain that different climates in different parts of the world gave rise to different physical features over hundreds of thousand so years of evolution, but you could hardly say that this process is repeated for each generation.

So at the very least, it appears that we come pre programmed for at least some kinds of things, such as certain physical traits, which are based both on our ethnicity and our parents. Tall parents usually produce tall kids, etc.

On the other extreme is those that argue that we come in with pretty much everything all configured, and life is nothing more than a discovery of that configuration. People will usually point out cases of twins who although separated at birth, grew up into mysteriously similar lives. Same lives, same names of their wives, same habits, down to the brand of cigarettes.

Of course, these cases are few and far between, they are anything but the norm. Those that study statistics will tell you that you can prove any theory, no matter how hair brained, by choosing certain data to represent your case. Nostradamus, and the appearance of the twin towers on a folded twenty-dollar bill to name a couple.

But along those two endpoints of the spectrum, we have to lie someplace in the middle. We do seem to come pre programmed with some kinds of pre-determined characteristics.

Despite how this seems to suggest that we are doomed by fate, there is a ray of hope in something called meta programs. These are a shorthand collection of decisions the brain groups together to conserve valuable processing time. The reason I say ray of hope is because although in many people these usually go undiscovered and therefore unchanged, once you find out your own metaprograms you can change them to improve your results. Here are a couple important ones. As you read, ask yourself which “endpoint” resonates most with you, and just be aware of it as you go through your daily life, to determine if it serves you, or if you want to change.

The first one is motivation. Are you motivated more by fear of pain, or the promise of reward? Many people are motivated by the fear of pain, and take action in the right direction. But as soon as they make progress, the fear of pain diminishes, as does their motivation. This is one of the main reasons it’s so hard to stick to a diet once you start it.

In order to overcome this, focus on the end results, and make it really big and compelling.

Another one is sorting. Do you see similarities in things, or differences? If you see differences more so than similarities, the world can seem to be a dangerous and confusing place. The human brain is more comfortable with similarity. If you want to try to something new, and only see how it’s different than what you are used to, it might be hard to get started. However, if you train your self to find similarities it will make doing new things easier.

For example, starting a new job can be a frightening experience, if you are always comparing how different it is to your old job. But if you consciously look for similarities instead, it will be much easier to adjust.

Another important one is verification. When you choose something, how do you know it’s the right choice? The two options here are internal and external. If you seek external verification for all your choices, you will always be following somebody else’s lead. What diet to go on, what to order at a restaurant, what movie to rent at the video shop, all these decisions will require you get somebody else’s opinion first.

On the flip side, if you only need to rely on yourself, then you’ll have much more freedom to choose. This can be the toughest one to change because it is very easy to rely on the opinions of others. If you find yourself asking others opinions often, try choosing by yourself, and be happy with your choice. Take small steps, and as your confidence continues to increase, it will become easier.

When you start to examine your own meta programs and how the help you achieve what you want in life, it opens up a huge realm of possibility. Just by noticing how you choose things, you will be far ahead of most other people.

To summarize here are the three main ones:

Pain or Pleasure – Which motivates you the most?

Same of Different – What do you see the most?

Internal or External – Do you always need others opinions, or is yours enough?

After you get skilled with these, there are about twenty other ones I’ll be writing about later on to help you make success automatic for you.