Yapping Yak

THINKING ALOUD

Tag Archives: Brain

Speaking of Chimpanzees

Frances De Waal TED Talk on morality among mammals.

Today is a gloomy rainy cold April day in Boston. Sunday. I have to study at school. Sad already. Actually, studying is not sad at all for a nerd like me, but studying a subject that is taught by a totally lunatic brainless phony academic is just excruciating. I guess the type of less evolved lawyer (who stayed on the tree)(which also explained his demeanor).  [chimpanzee shoutout #1]

But some tom yum soup, and a nice TED talk (which is becoming more and more rare) brightened up my day.

So Frances talked about a few experiments on mammals, illustrating them possessing some qualities that prompted behaviors that would be deemed “moral” in our human dictionary (which also is accompanied by some free loading activities, which kinda makes his arguments more convincing), such as monkeys showing anger when receiving less desirable treat and the one who actually receives nice treat refusing the treat (good sport!), monkey choosing token that give him and his partner food rather that the one only giving him the food (as long as the partner is behaving), and monkey helping others getting food when himself not wanting the food.

Then it comes to the best part of the talk:  he said wall street protesters are just like the angry monkey who gets cucumber rather than grape for a task performed. Fanatic monkeys!!!  [chimpanzee shoutout #2]

It is not only just fun to look at animals playing human. I really like the perspective (although have been under the influence of similar school of thoughts, it’s still nice to see real examples) supporting an holistic evolutionary theory. Also supporting my view that religion is only a phase in human history, a necessity to provide an explanation and a framework of human social morality, which would eventually be replaced as science advances. Religion captures, rather than dictates, what it means to be human. [atheist/agnostic redneck woo-hoo]

A conventional view towards world/life is structured; it gives order, conforming to our stability seeking instinct. The clear line drawn between human and animals is an example of that. Some things you ought to do as human, some things get frowned upon among humans, and some things are bad bad bad to do any humans.

But if we have a blurry line, and acknowledge the gradual nature of “morality”  - view it as a spectrum, or better, a more fluid concept – and acknowledge the biological and evolutionary root of morality/human social standards, naturally we would be insecure. We don’t like vagueness.

De Waal was trying to show us the gradualism and spectrum. Discard the grand structuralist theory!

p.s.

So what were they saying about language dictating thoughts in 1984? I dunno. Haven’t read the book yet. But I guess it is far from being a scientific argument.

IT’S TIME FOR TED

It’s time for TED

Am I a disciple of the cult of rationality? This is really circular reasoning and bothers me now.

But so funny though. I wish there were a karaoke version.

Oh Kathryn Schulz. She is still so breath-taking.

This link is found from Cheap Talk, A blog I followed diligently. The owner of the blog seems to be very interesting. Cult mind-set.

Also, TED wiki entry. Why is it a LLC?

What Kills You and What Makes You Stronger

what didn’t kill you makes you stronger, and what made you stronger may eventually kill you.

- Yapping Yak

If I were to die in the next minute, I would be a very pessimistic and sorrow soul. Not because of the perpetual singlehood or unemployment. I have bigger things to worry about, including but not limited to:

Does man have a future?

I have been reading up on behavioral economics and cognitive bias. Daniel Kahneman and this boring dude called David DiSalvo (I don’t understand why this dude got 5 star reviews on Amazon. He makes me really start to think I should stop reading books by science journalists and whether I should quit trying to be one). Also there are ideas from my Financial Products Taxation class, the professor of which is a disciple of Nassim Taleb  (Kahneman cited Taleb in his book actually). I am still at the intro part of all the books (thanks Kindle!), so hopefully I will have some sort of clear idea when I finish the books (and correspondingly get a poor GPA due to lack of focus).

From DiSalvo I learned: 1) like all muscles or any organs, our brains tend to shift towards a “happy”/uncomfortable state. 2) the happy state may not produce good results.

(Reason why I dislike DiSalvo’s book is that it makes me feel like I am reading a term paper, a mediocre one (so far). It basically builds on the innovative ideas from Kahneman and throws in a bunch of “real-life” examples, many of which are cliche. A nice intro read I guess)

From Dahneman’s book I learned: we are all biased. The automatic fast actor System 1 in our brain is the default mode, which gives us essential surviving skills yet can make blunders, while System 2 needs to be activated and is lazy and slow to reaction, upon which we need to rely on to make careful decisions required by many complex tasks.

They say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Totally makes sense. From all the surviving struggles humans become beings that possess unparalleled capability to navigate through complex world and thrive in it; however, this surviving got so good, that it muffles the alternative. Supposedly during a certain period of time, this strong skill enabled us to prosper, but when the times come, calling for alternatives, we find it is so hard, biologically, to become “naturally” good in a different kind of scenarios.

So basically, what makes us stronger, may eventually kill us. Like how arrogant people would trip on small things, and the old Chinese saying “it is those who are swimming masters tend to drown”.

Is this bias predisposed? Can it be compensated, if not solved? Because, I really can’t muster enough interest to solve all the financial/tax stuff, if all we know is, damn we are gonna screw up again, even harder.

Hence the sorrow.

Interesting Research On Fetish

DO YOU ALSO LIKE THAT ASIAN CHICK? OMG HAIR SO SLEEK AND FIGURE SO SUPPLE?

I am tempted to make some race-related observations, but I shall refrain. But it is just a fun graph to look at.  I feel so blonde now; this may be why Asian women remain somewhat marginalized in traditionally conservative industries, where old boy clubs still prosper. We are too pretty to be taken seriously apparently. I feel the pain of being blonde.

It is from this post.  I need to do some intelligent reading. And I do not understand statistics well; but why the heck do black males rated everyone so low?

Seeking The Ultimate Truth…Or the Most Convincing Lie

[side note: 5th (or so) day of no fb, chinese fb or chinese SNS microblog. doing good, keep it up]

So I was talking (online) to a friend of mine about boy issues and such; in order to diffuse his contempt over my womanly back-forths, I said, “I don’t know..I just want to get to the ultimate truth.”

His response: “I am not sure there is such a thing in dating.” I made this face to myself in front of the computer: :|.

I meant it when I said I crave ultimate truth, and I constantly fought for it and suffered endlessly for it.  This is the essence, and also the bane, of my existence. Really, it’s like a masochist thing maybe.

OK, I say i was back-forthing womanly; it is really a self-depreciating joke. I don’t believe I am too womanly or it is bad to go back and forth. Not that I am a feminist. I just have a pretty big ego. But I do worry: am I tricking myself subconsciously? I really don’t know what to believe, because, I am very suspicious of what I believe in, past, present and future: do I believe in this because I do or because I was made to? Am I tricking myself?

My suspicion was pretty unfounded. It’s more of a philosophical inquiry than an empirical conclusion. But looks like I may be able to find the answer here.

I am debating whether to splurge on this another random book or not, but the owner of Cheap Talk seems to endorse and I kinda like and trust this guy, so I probably will buy it. Basically it’s a book on how we biologically tend to self-deceive in order to successfully deceive others and consequently survive. Maybe this is oversimplifying and denying the real agenda in the book. But I am definitely curious. Self-deceit, how intriguing.

And this has been a revolving theme in my life these days; you know, just like what happens when you first learned a new word in a foreign language, then you just keep bumping into this word, like all the readings you do later are all vocabulary exercise designed for this new word. For instance, i looked “shirk” up the other day, and everyone is “shirking their duties”. I don’t know, I can’t trust my brain anyways. Maybe everyone is shirking their duties. Relating to the present topic, I remember I read from, oh surprisingly, also Cheap Talk, that taking placebos (given that you don’t know you are taking placebos) religiously actually cures the disease. Of course it can be correlation rather than causation. but interestingly nonetheless, as maybe it is all in your mind.

Or is it? Maybe what I have always wanted is not the ultimate truth, but the most convincing lie that I can live with. My brains wins eventually in deceiving me/itself. It may be a super smart biological win over civilized rationality. Resonate with my cynical nature. Hooray.

But on a more optimistic side, I may find a righteous explanation for me being a horrible liar: I am so true to my heart, and I can’t deceive others as a consequence. :P.

BTW, I wanna become an awesome blog writer when I grow up so i can brain wash others too. mwahaha.

 

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update:

So I was trying to use this “reblog” thing at wordpress, which puts a link of the original article being reblogged by you in a post on your blog, which becomes the comment that would be posted under the original article.

I tried it, and I made a stupid vocab mistake there (or not), some ESL mistake. I became super self-conscious and corrected the post (comment under the original thread) here.

Out of curiosity, I went to the original post to check. Disappointed, I found that it does not auto-correct the mistake there. But surprisingly, someone commented on my comment.

I said:

“Intellectuals are doing too little of what they should be doing, and act too much like advocates.
My suspicions is that people are so easily to be carried away by the natural animal instinct, the surviving instinct perhaps. The end goal of being the stronger side and avoiding being eaten is so strong and so hard wired into our brain, so without conscious effort to suppress it, we will stick to our forte and push it, being it right or wrong.”

Someone commented on my comment:

‘The last few chapters of Robert Trivers book “the Folly of Fools” pretty much says the same thing …”

OMG REALLY? This is the best bday gift (or at least I am telling myself so). Apparently I do have nice ideas. :D

keep calm and carry on, yak!

Lie to Me

So I am watching this show, “Lie to Me”, and I am hoping to learn.

Look, I am a honest person; at least I try to be. I just don’t care about stuff enough to fake happiness or caring, wishing to barely getting by at a level of politeness that social order dictates and surviving necessitates.

I am also a fanatic about rationality, showing endless contempt for the hopeless romantic inside of myself, because part of me still believes in lightening strike between two souls and part of me would like to think love is just a natural conclusion after careful calculation (even if subconsciously) in our brains, based on all the info. in our dating database.

But, if we subtract god and what not from our lives, and solely worship rationality, it comes to my greatest fear to realize that, well, without all the profound insights into human nature and brain workings, I can never know what to trust. Like, I think I think this, but do I really think so? Did my brain lie to me?

(Maybe I am just misunderstanding what Voltaire and his gang are talking about? I mean, I read too little classics to use any terms really. )

This fear is greatly reaffirmed and rekindled after I read this post on Cheap Talk. It is on motivation.  Basically we sometimes/often times can’t know our true motivation;  we decide to do something, thinking (naively) that we must want this based on some information we remembered, but we don’t know what information our brain is actually using; some stuff may not be stored in a format that is “readable”, so we omit that in writing our memo to selves on our own motivation, and the memo would be … sub par, incomplete. Our brain tricks ourselves to believe in fiction it created. Your brain lies to you.

Anyways, so this got me to think, do I really know myself. In Lie to Me, they try to catch people’s micro-expression, i.e. the brief facial expression that reflects your true emotion before you cover it up with some other expression.( This would be awfully useful in dating, saving me a whole bunch of trouble in the past and future maybe. But actually Lightman looks pretty neurotic in the show, and I think maybe that’s an attempt to show how it actually sabotages a great relationship, but I think it’s sexy and cool. Viva la truth and rationality.)

Not only will that information be helpful in figuring out other people, I wonder whether it can be of use in figuring out myself. Like, if I have true emotion A towards a particular event, and for some reason,  I would like myself to cover it with emotion B. Supposedly, under this microexpression theory, you should be able to spot (if you are good) emotion A before I switch to a more long-lasting emotion B. What if my brain is pushed by this strong urge from unidentifiable source to cover emotion A with emotion B, would I able to identify my true motivation behind showing this emotion B, the fake emotion. Of course, in cases like ones in Lie to Me, people’s lie typically goes with emotion B and their micro-expression shows emotion A and gives them away. But, what if this is a lie I told myself, and because of the shown tendency of our brain tricking ourselves to think otherwise than the reality? I can be tricked into thinking I am actually feeling emotion B, when the reality is… I was made to believe that I feel that way. And there will be no one there to catch my microexpression to tell me that my brain just lied to me. What shall I do???

I have so much faith in myself. HA.

 

 

 

Talk by Mr. Kim Hyun Sik

[Note: This post was originally written in April 2011 and I hit a wall. I was originally planning on writing on how one's idea about the world changes and not changes, but I don't have a background in neuroscience, psychology and sociology to provide any valuable insight; the whole thing would just turn into a worthless self-exploring stream of consciousness writing by a 20 something y/o female.  Enough of those on the web already, and I just know enough to stop myself from doing it, at my best]

I went to a talk by Mr. Kim Hyun Sik at Harvard on April 21. The official name of the talk was An Inside Look at How The North Korean Regime Maintains Its Power.

I was very interested in this topic because I saw the sharp change in my perspective throughout the years.  I was a loyalist with a naive critical eye until about when I turned 20, and slowly migrated to the zone of dissidents. If early year education  is of the great significance as we think it is,  what does the liberation of my mind imply? A failure of the early year education (in the sense that part of its purpose was implementing a certain ideological framework in the younger generations), rendering it a systemic failure? Or, a stronger than we might think predetermined pseudo-genetic temperament (which led me to continuous exploring and adjusting), implicating a more personal problem/trait?

So I was hoping Mr. Kim would be able to confirm or shed some light on my puzzled mind. Being an “ideological  nomad” himself, he seemed to be someone who went through a similar path with me, like, we wander around between ideologies. The idea is, we wander, we explore, we don’t settle; but we long to settle, we became tired, and it doesn’t seem that we can live off the shackle of an ideology-bound mindset, to some extent.

Oh, doesn’t this sound like bluff.

Well his talk definitely reassured me how North Korean-ish my grade school education, maybe even junior high, was. And how old men from North Korea and China share some interesting traits. He reminded me of my grandfathers. I can get what they are talking about but not where they come from, almost like an ingrained idea in their minds that got reinforced by repeated preaching to other people, without any mental flexibility, the only way they seem to integrate the current situation into their thinking is using it as a contrast to illustrate how much better things are right now, without much on why things are, allegedly,much better now.  Granted that I am drawing the conclusion based on one talk, so it seems to be the right time for me to plug in a disclaimer. Kim Hyun Sik might be awesome. I am just too ignorant.

Before I move on to talk about what Mr. Kim said about North Korean education system and my personal experience, let me take a detour to insert some of his background info. here. Kim Hyun Sik fought in the Korean Civil war and killed some American soldiers. He subsequently majored in Russian in college and graduated top of his class. He then was appointed Professor of Russian in the Pyongyang University of Education (my alma mater‘s counterpart in NK! So happy we went with the French Normale system in school naming ;)), later the Dean of the Department. He claims that he was also selected to be private tutor of Kim Jong Il and was involved in evaluating the academic aptitude of Kim Il Sung’s second wife’s nephew, which was the trial for the new extended compulsory education system in NK (testing whether young children were intellectually developed enough so that they could start the education earlier ). Later he went to Soviet Union to teach Korean (ironically after the Seoul Olympics, when people start to pay attention to the language spoken on this peninsula) , where he defected to the South, and later came to the U.S. He is now a researching professor at George Mason, and apparently his book is being selected as a Nobel Prize contender. There is no English translation yet (only Japanese, which is enjoying a “great readership there”), but you can find a summary of the book in English here .

Mr. Kim didn’t go into details how the education is structured to maintain the ruling power in his talk or his book (summary). His role, to me, seems to be more of a living fossil (a very precious one) rather than someone who is actively providing explanation based on his experience. Him, for some reason, is somewhat objectified, willingly or as a corollary.  Another victim of the western-centered discourse?

Also while he seems to be very much criticizing the situation in NK, he still believes that NK could contribute to the human capital in Korean if a unification ever happened by having young people with the great determination to serve the country. I wonder if the regime is overthrown and everyone is presented with all the opportunities that others have, would they still stick to the one option of serving the country rather than freely opting for some less altruistic goals, such as not serving the country. Statistically this is bound to happen. But anyways.

To sum up, other than an interesting personal story, I didn’t learn much from the talk. You can learn it all from the book summary.

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