Quotulatiousness

November 16, 2017

Frankenstein: The Sorrows of Young Werther – Extra Sci Fi – #3

Filed under: Books, History — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Extra Credits
Published on 14 Nov 2017

Frankenstein’s monster discovered three books that shaped his understanding of the world, including the Sorrows of Young Werther. Werther’s unrequited love for a woman eventually leads him to commit suicide. Frankenstein’s monster wants to experience love as well, but Mary Shelley has her own critique of this idea of love.

November 13, 2017

QotD: Evolved sexual preferences of men and women

Filed under: Health, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

There is a vast body of evidence indicating that men and women are biologically and psychologically different, and that what heterosexual men and women want in partners directly corresponds to these differences. The features men evolved to go for in women — youth, clear skin, a symmetrical face and body, feminine facial features, an hourglass figure — are those indicating that a woman would be a healthy, fertile candidate to pass on a man’s genes.

These preferences span borders, cultures, and generations, meaning yes, there really are universal standards of beauty. And while Western women do struggle to be slim, the truth is, women in all cultures eat (or don’t) to appeal to “the male gaze.” The body size that’s idealized in a particular culture appears to correspond to the availability of food. In cultures like ours, where you can’t go five miles without passing a 7-Eleven and food is sold by the pallet-load at warehouse grocery stores, thin women are in. In cultures where food is scarce (like in Sahara-adjacent hoods), blubber is beautiful, and women appeal to men by stuffing themselves until they’re slim like Jabba the Hut.

Men’s looks matter to heterosexual women only somewhat. Most women prefer men who are taller than they are, with symmetrical features (a sign that a potential partner is healthy and parasite-free). But, women across cultures are intent on finding male partners with high status, power, and access to resources — which means a really short guy can add maybe a foot to his height with a private jet. And, just like women who aren’t very attractive, men who make very little money or are chronically out of work tend to have a really hard time finding partners. There is some male grumbling about this. Yet, while feminist journalists deforest North America publishing articles urging women to bow out of the beauty arms race and “Learn to love that woman in the mirror!”, nobody gets into the ridiculous position of advising men to “Learn to love that unemployed guy sprawled on the couch!”

Amy Alkon, “The Truth About Beauty”, Psychology Today, 2010-11-01.

October 24, 2017

Why Women Fainted So Much in the 19th Century

Filed under: Health, History — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Today I Found Out
Published on 8 Oct 2016

In this video:

Dropping like flies (or at least as far as many stories indicate), it seems as if well-bred ladies in the 1800s struggled to maintain consciousness when faced with even the slightest emotional or physical shock. Over the years there have been several theories as to why this seemed to happen, from the women’s garb to simply conforming to societal expectations.

Want the text version?: http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.php/2015/05/women-fainted-much-19th-century/

October 16, 2017

QotD: Our infantilized modern culture

Filed under: Politics, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

1984‘s world was obsessively serious. Our 2015 social tyranny is absurdly trivial. It’s a world whose leaders is always looking for goofy photo ops while he violates the last remaining shreds of the law. Every crime is buried under a thousand shrieking viral headlines that alternate between fake empowerment and fake outrage.

We don’t have an adult totalitarian state, because we no longer have adults. Instead we have Lord of the Flies and Mean Girls. Overgrown children advance a totalitarian state out of spite and envy. Identity politics is everything because tribalism is more innate to children than it is to adults. Enemies have to be punished for emotional validation. Freedoms have to be eliminated out of insecurity.

The politicization of insecurity lets everyone be a victim. Anyone can turn their feelings of shame or ostracism into political awareness. Feelings not only displace reason, they warp ideology around themselves, so that ideology becomes a means of emotional venting. Activism becomes catharsis. Hating others becomes therapy. No one is cured, but making things better was never the point.

Our emotionally unstable activist elites veer from narcissism to insecurity. Their politics are manic-depressive efforts at managing their emotions by controlling others. They retreat to political safe spaces, gnaw at each other and then emerge forth to demand that the world be made safe for their feelings.

The left always gets what it wants and is never happy. The purpose of its idiot activism isn’t progress, but drama. Each achievement leaves behind a sense of emptiness. It isn’t about rights, it’s about conflict. It’s not about giving to someone. It’s about taking from someone else.

Without the conflict and its accompanying self-dramatization, there is only the emptiness.

Daniel Greenfield, “Our Insecure Culture Warriors”, Sultan Knish, 2015-11-02.

October 15, 2017

QotD: Developmental psychology

Filed under: Quotations, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Developmental psychology describes how children go from helpless infants to reasonable adults. Although a lot of it has to do with sensorimotor skills like walking and talking, the really interesting stuff is cognitive development. Children start off as very buggy reasoners incapable of all but the most superficial forms of logic but gradually go on to develop new abilities and insights that allow them to navigate adult life.

Maybe the most famous of these is “theory of mind”, the ability to view things from other people’s perspective. In a classic demonstration, researchers show little Amy a Skittles bag and ask what she thinks is inside. She guesses Skittles, but the researchers open it and reveal it’s actually pennies. Then they close it up and invite little Brayden into the room. Then they ask Amy what Brayden thinks is inside. If Amy’s three years old or younger, she’ll usually say “pennies” – she knows that pennies are inside, so why shouldn’t Brayden know too? If she’s four or older, she’ll usually say “Skittles” – she realizes on a gut level that she and Brayden are separate minds and that Brayden will have his own perspective. Sometimes the same mistake can extend to preferences and beliefs. Wikipedia gives the example of a child saying “I like Sesame Street, so Daddy must like Sesame Street too.” This is another theory of mind failure grounded in an inability to separate self and environment.

Here’s another example which tentatively sounds like a self-environment failure. Young children really don’t get foreign languages. I got a little of this teaching English in Japan, and heard more of it from other people. The really young kids treated English like a cipher; everybody started out knowing things’ real (ie Japanese) names, but Americans insisted on converting them into their own special American-person code before talking about them. Kids would ask weird things like whether American parents would make an exception and speak Japanese to their kids who were too young to have learned English yet, or whether it was a zero-tolerance policy sort of thing and the families would just not communicate until the kids went to English school. And I made fun of them, but I also remember the first time I visited Paris I heard somebody talking to their dog, and for a split second I was like “Why would you expect your dog to know French?” before my brain kicked in and I was like “Duuhhhh….”

The infamous “magical thinking” which kids display until age 7 or so also involves confused self-environment boundaries. Maybe little Amy gets mad at Brayden and shouts “I HATE HIM” to her mother. The next day, Brayden falls off a step and skins his knee. Amy intuits a cause-and-effect relationship between her hatred and Brayden’s accident and feels guilty. She doesn’t realize that her hatred is internal to herself and can’t affect the world directly. Or kids displaying animism at this age, and expecting that the TV doesn’t work because it’s angry, or the car’s not starting because it’s tired.

Scott Alexander, “What Developmental Milestones Are You Missing?”, Slate Star Codex, 2015-11-03.

October 9, 2017

What does “predictive processing” have to do with religious experiences?

Filed under: Religion, Science — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

ESR linked to this article by Connor Wood, saying “This is the best job of synthesis/summary I’ve ever seen on the topic”:

The theory of predictive processing posits that much of the brain’s activity is geared toward building and correcting internal models using feedback from both the body and the environment. This goes for everything from basic motor acts, like reaching for a cup, to more complicated, higher-level experiences like taking part in a religious service.

For example, if you reach for a cup and saucer, your brain uses feed-forward models to generate internal simulations of the consequences of that motor action, and it uses feedback to correct those simulations if those predicted consequences don’t actually match what happens.

Say you’re on a cruise ship. The seas are rough and the ship is heaving to and fro, so your cup slides a few inches away on the table as you reach for it. The simulated prediction your brain had generated falls flat. Fortunately, you’re probably able to grasp the cup in its new position, because your brain uses that sensory feedback to hastily update its model of your body’s relationship to the room, including your table, cup, and saucer. It even incorporates the rhythmic seesawing of the ship into its models.

(Incidentally, this is part of why you get “sea legs” after you’ve been onboard a boat or ship for a few hours – your brain has learned to dynamically compensate for the constant, rhythmic rocking of the boat. Then, when you set foot back on dry land, your motor repertoire is still trying to match the rhythm of the waves, but there are no waves to match. So you feel wobbly, as the electro-chemical memory of the ocean sloshes around inside your nervous system, telling your brain to expect and compensate for a rhythmic rocking that isn’t there anymore.)

According to van Elk and Aleman, this cognitive process of constantly building and correcting models – or selectively failing to correct them – may explain a lot of what we call religious phenomena. How? A core feature of their model is that religious experiences emerge from changes in how the brain processes the external (or exteroceptive) versus the internal (or interoceptive) data that it receives.

For example, they describe intense experiences of personal prayer as resulting from more intense focus on interoceptive signals. Inward focus enables us to simulate the internal mental processes of other people, creating predictive models of what we would likely be feeling, or what plans we’d probably be hatching, if we were in their circumstances. So, when we’re highly focused on our own interoceptive signals, we may be more primed to attribute mental and emotional states to others – even imaginary or invisible others. In the prediction processing model, then, personal prayer – talking to God or gods – involves focusing so intently on our own internal experiences that we become easily able to attribute mental states, emotions, and desires to whatever divine being we (believe we) are engaging with.

Mystical experiences are another type of religious phenomenon, one that’s often characterized by feelings of expansiveness or loss of identification with one’s own ego or consciousness. In the predictive processing model, mystical experience – unlike personal prayer – is most likely to result from an increased attention to exteroceptive data. That is, the brain becomes focused on external sense data to the exclusion of internal information, and this absorption in external input actually decouples the brain’s self-understanding from its own bodily signals. As a result, one suddenly seems to exist outside of, or to transcend, the body.

Read more at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/scienceonreligion/2017/09/predictive-processing-religion/#sxXKrZ2pPzXWMCUw.99

October 8, 2017

How to Care for Your Introvert

Filed under: Humour — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 02:00

exurb1a
Published on 26 Sep 2017

Knock knock. Who’s there? Introvert. Introvert who? I’m so sorry to have bothered you, goodbye.

September 5, 2017

QotD: Microaggressions

Filed under: Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Whenever I first heard the word “microaggression,” sometime in the last five years, I’m sure I was unaware how big “micro” could get. The accusation of a microaggression was about to become a pervasive feature of the Internet, and particularly social media. An offense most of us didn’t even know existed, suddenly we were all afraid of being accused of.

We used to call this “rudeness,” “slights” or “ignorant remarks.” Mostly, people ignored them. The elevation of microaggressions into a social phenomenon with a specific name and increasingly public redress marks a dramatic social change, and two sociologists, Bradley Campbell and Jason Manning, have a fascinating paper exploring what this shift looks like, and what it means. (Jonathan Haidt has provided a very useful CliffsNotes version.)

Western society, they argue, has shifted from an honor culture — in which slights are taken very seriously, and avenged by the one slighted — to a dignity culture, in which personal revenge is discouraged, and justice is outsourced to third parties, primarily the law. The law being a cumbersome beast, people in dignity cultures are encouraged to ignore slights, or negotiate them privately by talking with the offender, rather than seeking some more punitive sanction.

Microagressions mark a transition to a third sort of culture: a victim culture, in which people are once again encouraged to take notice of slights. This sounds a lot like honor culture, doesn’t it? Yes, with two important differences. The first is that while victimhood is shameful in an honor culture — and indeed, the purpose of taking vengeance is frequently to avoid this shame — victim status is actively sought in the new culture, because victimhood is a prerequisite for getting redress. The second is that victim culture encourages people to seek help from third parties, either authorities or the public, rather than seeking satisfaction themselves.

Megan McArdle, “How Grown-Ups Deal With ‘Microaggressions'”, Bloomberg View, 2015-09-11.

August 17, 2017

QotD: Can you describe romance novels as “pretty people behaving stupidly”?

Filed under: Books, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I’ve been learning about the romance genre recently. I have no intrinsic interest in it at all, but I have an intelligent friend who plows through romances the way I read SF, and we’ve been discussing the conventions and structural features of the genre. Along the way I’ve learned that romance fans use an acronym TSTL which expands to “Too Stupid To Live”, describing a class of bad romance in which the plot turns on one or both leads exhibiting less claim to sophont status than the average bowl of clam dip.

My wife and I have parts in an upcoming live-action roleplaying game set in early 16th-century Venice. As preparation, she suggested we watch a movie called Dangerous Beauty set in the period. I couldn’t stand more than about 20 minutes of it. “It’s just,” I commented later “pretty people behaving stupidly.”

On reflection, I’ve discovered that PPBS describes a great deal of both the fiction and nonfiction I can’t stand. It’s a more general category that includes not just TSTL, but celebrity gossip magazines, almost every “romantic comedy” ever made, and a large percentage of the top-rated TV shows (especially, of course, the soap operas).

Eric S. Raymond, “Pretty People Behaving Stupidly”, Armed and Dangerous, 2005-08-29.

August 10, 2017

Words & Numbers: Has Tipping Gone Out of Control?

Filed under: Business, Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Published on 9 Aug 2017

In 1922, famed etiquette writer Emily Post advised her readers that 10% is the standard for tipping your waiter. Since then, “gratuity creep” has been so steady that tip jars are now ubiquitous and 25-30% is considered the rule in New York City. Uber once resisted this trend, but recently added a tipping feature to its app.

What is the economic rationale behind tipping? Does the usefulness of tipping diminish the more that a certain rate becomes an expectation? At a certain point, would it be better to do without the fuss involved and simply include that portion of a service-provider’s compensation in the wages paid by the employer?

Our valiant hosts, Antony Davies and James Harrigan explore these questions and more!

August 6, 2017

QotD: Confessions of a book-hoarder

Filed under: Books, Humour, Quotations — Tags: — Nicholas @ 01:00

Well, tomorrow I’d bring up stuff from the basement. So the next day I go downstairs to the utility room. The floor’s wet. The rug is sopping. I open the freezer, and discover that I’d locked the freezer door before closing it. The door had been open all night. Dead meat, droopy brats, sloshy ice cream — and water everywhere. The utility room was full of boxes from the storage room — we’d just had some shelves installed, and I’d moved out crates I’ve hauled around since my dorm room days. Books. Hundreds of books.

I felt the sides of the boxes to see if they’d wicked up the horrid slurry from the fridge — were they ruined? Would I have to throw out all these old, venerable friends? Everything I read and saved from 1976 to 1997 — were they lost to me forever?

They were dry.

You cannot imagine my disappointment.

This was the perfect opportunity to be rid of these mummified albatrosses forever. Friends, let’s be honest: Books are a curse. We’d all love to have a library with shelves stretching up to heaven, a ladder on rollers that lets you access the 17th level, where you keep the minor Polish poets and the monographs on eighth-century Chinese mandarins. But you end up with boxes of books in the basement, and you cannot part with them. Simply throwing them away feels sinful — hey, why not build a time machine and go back to Nazi-land and burn them, dude? You could sell them, but there’s something depressing about getting $7 for 70 pounds of paperbacks. It’s like auctioning your kid’s baby pictures on eBay and getting a high bid of a buck-fifty. The last time I divested my excess books I dumped them off on a Goodwill dock in the middle of the night, and I felt like someone pushing the family dog out of the car on a country road. The books will find a good home. I’m sure there’s a farmer around here they can live with.

James Lileks, Star Tribune, 2004-07-11.

July 17, 2017

QotD: Utopias

Filed under: Books, Britain, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

All efforts to describe permanent happiness […] have been failures. Utopias (incidentally the coined word Utopia doesn’t mean ‘a good place’, it means merely a ‘non-existent place’) have been common in literature of the past three or four hundred years but the ‘favourable’ ones are invariably unappetising, and usually lacking in vitality as well.

By far the best known modern Utopias are those of H.G. Wells. Wells’s vision of the future is almost fully expressed in two books written in the early Twenties, The Dream and Men Like Gods. Here you have a picture of the world as Wells would like to see it or thinks he would like to see it. It is a world whose keynotes are enlightened hedonism and scientific curiosity. All the evils and miseries we now suffer from have vanished. Ignorance, war, poverty, dirt, disease, frustration, hunger, fear, overwork, superstition all vanished. So expressed, it is impossible to deny that that is the kind of world we all hope for. We all want to abolish the things Wells wants to abolish. But is there anyone who actually wants to live in a Wellsian Utopia? On the contrary, not to live in a world like that, not to wake up in a hygenic garden suburb infested by naked schoolmarms, has actually become a conscious political motive. A book like Brave New World is an expression of the actual fear that modern man feels of the rationalised hedonistic society which it is within his power to create. A Catholic writer said recently that Utopias are now technically feasible and that in consequence how to avoid Utopia had become a serious problem. We cannot write this off as merely a silly remark. For one of the sources of the Fascist movement is the desire to avoid a too-rational and too-comfortable world.

All ‘favourable’ Utopias seem to be alike in postulating perfection while being unable to suggest happiness. News From Nowhere is a sort of goody-goody version of the Wellsian Utopia. Everyone is kindly and reasonable, all the upholstery comes from Liberty’s, but the impression left behind is of a sort of watery melancholy. But it is more impressive that Jonathan Swift, one of the greatest imaginative writers who have ever lived, is no more successful in constructing a ‘favourable’ Utopia than the others.

The earlier parts of Gulliver’s Travels are probably the most devastating attack on human society that has ever been written. Every word of them is relevant today; in places they contain quite detailed prophecies of the political horrors of our own time. Where Swift fails, however, is in trying to describe a race of beings whom he admires. In the last part, in contrast with disgusting Yahoos, we are shown the noble Houyhnhnms, intelligent horses who are free from human failings. Now these horses, for all their high character and unfailing common sense, are remarkably dreary creatures. Like the inhabitants of various other Utopias, they are chiefly concerned with avoiding fuss. They live uneventful, subdued, ‘reasonable’ lives, free not only from quarrels, disorder or insecurity of any kind, but also from ‘passion’, including physical love. They choose their mates on eugenic principles, avoid excesses of affection, and appear somewhat glad to die when their time comes. In the earlier parts of the book Swift has shown where man’s folly and scoundrelism lead him: but take away the folly and scoundrelism, and all you are left with, apparently, is a tepid sort of existence, hardly worth leading.

George Orwell (writing as “John Freeman”), “Can Socialists Be Happy?”, Tribune, 1943-12-20.

July 14, 2017

The Peltzman Effect

Filed under: Economics, Government, Health, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 05:00

The odd situation where increasing the safety of an activity by adding protective gear is offset by greater risk-taking by the participants:

In the 1960s, the Federal Government — in its infinite wisdom — thought that cars were too unsafe for the general public. In response, it passed automobile safety legislation, requiring that seat belts, padded dashboards, and other safety measures be put in every automobile.

Although well-intended, auto accidents actually increased after the legislation was passed and enforced. Why? As [Professor of Economics Steven E.] Lansburg explains, “the threat of being killed in an accident is a powerful incentive to drive carefully.”

In other words, the high price (certain death from an accident) of an activity (reckless driving) reduced the likelihood of that activity. The safety features reduced the price of reckless driving by making cars safer. For example, seatbelts reduced the likelihood of a driver being hurt if he drove recklessly and got into an accident. Because of this, drivers were more likely to drive recklessly.

The benefit of the policy was that it reduced the number of deaths per accident. The cost of the policy was that it increased the number of accidents, thus canceling the benefit. Or at least, that is the conclusion of University of Chicago’s Sam Peltzman, who found the two effects canceled each other.

His work has led to a theory called “The Peltzman Effect,” also known as risk compensation. Risk compensation says that safety requirements incentivize people to increase risky behavior in response to the lower price of that behavior.

Risk compensation can be applied to almost every behavior involving risk where a choice must be made. Economics tells us that individuals make choices at the margin. This means that the incentive in question may lead the individual to do a little more or a little less of something.

[…]

The fact that incentives reduce or increase behavior is an economic law: Landsburg posits that “the literature of economics contains tens of thousands of empirical studies verifying this proposition and not one that convincingly refutes it.” Incentives change the effectiveness of government policy and shape day-to-day life.

July 12, 2017

QotD: Modern myth-making

Filed under: History, Politics, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… evidence of myth making is everywhere, and not just in the far past, when it’s easier to swallow just-so stories.

There seems to be this strange idea that we must tell stories of the world as we wish it to be and then it will automagically become so. And because no part of the world, and no time in History can compare to Western society in the current times (and very few can compare to the United States of America) the way to bring their stories into existence is to tell us how bad we are in comparison to everyone else.

The fact that this is a blatant lie doesn’t matter. They still do it.

They are convinced, if they can shame us with these imaginary superior cultures that we will somehow adopt the ways they want us to.

One egregious demonstration of this is the claim that other times and places were more tolerant of different sexual personas. This one makes me want to SCREAM because… well… define “more tolerant.”

Traditional societies often had niches for sexually different people, including but not limited to those who lived as the opposite sex. BUT when the ignorant parrots of the western world go on about this stuff, they usually know just enough about the other culture to project all sorts of happy thoughts upon it. The thing is that assuming the persona and lifestyle of the opposite sex was often not a choice, and not because the person “felt” one way or another. Certain social circumstances dictated a certain change. Like, in Romania (I think) a woman whose brothers have been killed was almost required to assume a male persona in order to support the family. Whether she wanted to or not. And I have a vague idea that in certain parts of India, a woman who cannot find a husband is allowed to “marry” another woman. Note there is no mention made of sexual desire for her own gender. It’s more a matter of fitting neatly into society.

Sarah A. Hoyt, “Inventing the Past — The Great Divorce”, According to Hoyt, 2015-09-23.

June 30, 2017

QotD: Rent-seeking

Filed under: Economics, Humour, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Calling someone a rent-seeker is sort of an economist’s way of telling them to die in a fire.

Scott Alexander, “Contra Caplan on Mental Illness”, Slate Star Codex, 2015-10-07.

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