Yapping Yak

THINKING ALOUD

Tag Archives: Readings

Time to Reread This Book

You Deserve Nothing

一本很好的在内心荒凉的时候读的书。但是想读的书太多了……

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.

Existential Crisis

So the embodiment of regret: my smart android phone, which not only cost me 150 bux on signup, a month bill of extra 45 dollars for 8 months (350) and 50 on accessories, and numerous frustrated moments over bad battery and tons of wasted time, took a dive into the toilet last weekend. It died, and resurrected (somewhat), but I was determined to discard it.

Now I am back to my dumb phone. I feel a sense of exhilaration and liberation.

So I had some money (at least so I made myself believe) to buy a kindle. A toy to read papers mainly, as I am running out of print quota at school. But I havent read any paper on it, and have already finished a book.

To my surprise, reading e-books with e-ink technology is quite enjoyable. My stubborn insistence on paper books is quickly retreating.

OH MY, another pillar of my life just collapsed.  I feel some existential crisis. HAHA

 

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.

 

 

 

The one of a politically correct and androgynous median personality

I was reading The Best American Science and Nature Writing of 2004, guested edited by Steven Pinker today. Fun read, at least so far. As a self-proclaimed elitist intellectual wannabe, this book speaks to me well in the sense that, well, what’s more elitist intellectual like when a whole bunch of top scientist trying to evangelizing their edge-cutting ideas through very simple English?

It’s the best, Babe; it’s the best.  I am almost done with the first two articles, only first-time read, so excuse me for any premature comment.

In The Batter for Your Brain  by Ronald Bailey, he says that this society is advocating a more androgynous gender type – eradicating a lot of the gender differences in a way. The exact words, which I literally LOL-ed on the T while reading,  are that ” the two sexes are gently nudged toward that androgynous median personalty, self-satisfied and socially compliant, that is the current politically correct outcome in American society”.  [page 17]

I completely agree and believe that it makes perfect sense, although I may have a very biased and warped view. I think to myself, oh well Yak, however hard you try, you would still fall for the political correctness BS anyways, one way  or the other. By trying to split bills on dates with guys, trying to be sufficiently good in taking care of domestic stuff (fixing plumbing and bikes included) and striving to be have a meaningful career,  I am essentially, to a certain extent, trying to make myself a gender neutral person, compared with the traditional definition of gender roles.   (I am very self-conscious here because human psychology makes us less aware of the extremity of our own thoughts than others, so everyone would think themselves as “level-headed”; I guess that enables us to function everyday, rather than drowning in the abysmal depression – which brings up another thing that was mentioned in Being Wrong,  that depressed population has a more accurate, yet hard to chew, version of the world. Alas, there is just so much a sensitive soul can bear; or, a soul rather. )

Some people may think, well, isn’t that what equality is all about? But why are we assuming equality is the best idea? Not that I would stop doing what I do tomorrow, or any time soon rather, but this makes me wonder: why am I assuming equality is the best solution, or outcome?

Ok I should back off for a sec. The quote from the article is trying to illustrate how brain drugs like Prozac and Ritalin are used: Prozac are heavily prescribed for depressed women lacking in self-esteem to give hem more the “alpha-male feeling that comes with high serotonin levels”, and Ritalin are heavily prescribed  for “young boys who do not want to sit still in class because nature never designed them to behave that way” . [page 17] Society obviously think those two instances are not the norm, or not the best case, and would try in some way to alter the situation. But the question, should the society do that?

That’s the question. It pertains to neuro-ethics specifically and science in general, as discussed in the article; it also concerns greatly, at least to me, as to how we should we live our lives. Assume we are all “level-headed” and would like to “do the right thing”, what’s right then? Granted, there are more than one correct answers to a lot of questions, but I am confused and frazzled facing all the possibilities.

It’s hard to find the moral benchmark, or even a compass.  I also read something from somewhere (probably a TED talk) saying that atheists can also find a great set of moral principles, which might to quite shocking to some fervently religious people. By a set of moral principles, I mean there can be a nice alternative/replacement for the role of God in all the monotheist religions. We could also find a baseline to function accordingly. The baseline, in the source I read, is a very broadly-defined concept of efficiency. So basically we try to be nice because it is ultimately efficiently, yada yada yada.

But who are we to say, the world isn’t at its best when it’s in chaos? We are just a bunch of stuff made out of meat. Do you trust meat “thinking”? Yah you would call it neurons firing and emitting chemicals…but com’on we are all made out of meat…. We can be swayed into terrorism, communism, Nazism, etc. We claim that social influences are the causes, perhaps the institutions (as argued in the first article in this book, Genesis of Suicide Terrorism by Scott Atran, who basically said that the religious and secular institutions around the world, note not only the Muslim, are to blame for this horrible thing), yet Steven Pinker argues that, contrary to what we would like to think, or the politically correct version,  we are NOT born blank slate. Who to believe? I am still waiting for the Blank Slate, and I am excited. Maybe I misunderstood Mr. Pinker. *shrugs.

Maybe political correctness is the poison for the mediocre. It’s the safe bet.

And here is another example of how politically correct ideas can be…..hm…..debatable. :P (thanks for the link Glog). I am thinking about evangelizing the idea to my mom and other folks in China, who are pretty shocked when I nonchalantly responded to the great news that my cousin is getting married: they can still get divorced…no?  What’s the big deal.

’nuff said. Peace out.

(I decide to publish this without too much editing, because it would be funny to see some minor drunk writing, and waiting for my new extended battery for my HTC Evo to exhaust itself so I can “condition” it, deserves some record. So here you go. :) )

A (stupid after second-thought) language post

If I am a(n information) sponge of any kind,  language will be on top of the list.

So as I was reading Factory Girls by Leslie T. Chang (with whom I would trade life with, not that matters), she wrote:

The partners printed up name cards in Chinese and English that said…. Corporations. There was no such entity; at this point, all that existed was a store. “‘Corporation’ makes us sound bigger,” Chunming explained.

Somehow my eyes glued on the word, corporation.

So in English, you incorporate a corporation. You get some business entity incorporated.

Interestingly (not), in Chinese, there is no such a verb that’s equivalent to incorporate.  You chengli (establish) a gongsi (corporation). The verb chengli is totally generic and has nothing in particular to do with a corporation. You can chengli anything, any kind of organization, state, government.

So I wonder, when people use this word, corporation, in China, does it entail the same mind process as people use it in an English setting? Since when people are in the process of chengli this corporation, the Chinese language may reinforce the idea that we are getting something established; make it happen, that’s what’s in the mind. But in English, when people want to incorporate some business into a corporation, when the verb incorporate is being repeatedly used, would people be reminded more of the nature of this process, since it is not a generic term, but some verb that denotes quite a few characteristics that are unique to corporation.  (If I stretch far enough, I can use this to account for the disorderliness and lawlessness there! They don’t know what they are “establishing” anyways. But I need to be careful. So erase what I said above from you memory plz. :))

Do I make sense? Maybe I am over analyzing this simple fact, this simple distinction in the philosophy/structure behind the language, given my training in both languages and corporate law, and making a big deal out of it.

But languages do matter. I almost want to start think that I have different personalities in different language environments. But quickly I realized I was going too far.  Nevertheless, another interesting fact:

In Chinese, we divide food into 2 categories: zhu(main) shi (food), and fu(supplementary) shi (……yes it is food, you got it. pat on the back). Zhushi covers stuff like, rice, noodles, steam buns …basically carbs stuff. Fushi is the rest, meat, veggies, fruits.  But omg, rice, noodles, and their close kin, mashed potatoes, are SIDE DISHES here. What happened?

So I guess I am over-analyzing and speculating. Of course the vocabulary grew out of a certain culture. Chinese people (at least Han people) are agriculture oriented, so this agriculture based culture will lead to a diet that puts emphasis on what come out of the agricultural activity, naturally,  rice, wheat, sorghum. The carbs stuff. That’s the main thing, the filling thing, the one thing that you are hoping for during a big famine, and the one thing you would need to feel full.  People survive on a bowl of rice for days, or a diluted version, called porridge. And the opposite things happened to the apparently less civilized countries where people have to hunt and wander to get food. Tsk tsk, a very unsteady source of food.

BUT, we now all have access to all sorts of food. So we can live on grapes for days if we want to and aren’t afraid of dying of malnutrition (like this one — self-pointing).  Why people from different places still have different ideas of what’s filling….aside from the upbringing (mommy said, eat more rice, you didn’t have enough rice, you will be hungry later). Maybe, subconsciously, people think, hmmm, I need to have more of the main food, focus on the main food,  you know, after all, it is the main food….

Everything is filling to me now. Another reason why you should learn another language. If I work hard enough, I will survive on foie gras ;).

Ah, I just remembered, I just did some repetitive work. There were studies on how people living in the north pole have tons of words for different shades of “white”, hence they appreciate the snow world much more than our mono-white-shade detecting eyes. uh-oh. :-x.

Also, about the book. I resonate with the book so much, that it is plain wrong not to do a post on it later.

Let’s start with the taboo. Not.

[An old post from mid-Oct. last year (Oct. 19). Too much have happened since then. Alas. Let's dig out and brush up the debris, and try to, ah-hem, move on.]

The Intro-:

When I try to think up a tagline for this blog, a word that I saw on some “family friend”‘s facebook profile popped out in my mind: the world is “warped”.

I bet you would agree. Everyone loves a negative comment these days.

Don’t get me wrong. As much as I roll my eyes on a regular basis, I love this world, partly because I feel unjustified not to love it after it has caused so much bitterness and resentment inside  me. And it is just easier to be an optimist.

The Body:

Anyways. So I am currently reading “Out of Mao’s Shadow” by Phillip Pan, a Washington Post correspondent who used to station in Beijing for 8 yrs and is now in Moscow, and it is a rather heavy book, not only because it is hardcover with 350 pages (yes this is heavy for me thankyouverymuch), but also its subject matter.

The Inconvenient truth:

As a China-born Chinese person, the ways I stick to my heritage include, not not limited to: mimicking the proper Chinese version of English as you may have heard from our beloved Russell Peters, keeping pennies in a tinfoil wrapped roll, and being humble. So despite all the blood, sweat and tears I put in my past three years of law school, I still feel that I am not, um, educated enough [insert jokes on re-education here].

Why? Well if I were you I would imagine someone like me would know in and outs about the enaction of AZ immigration laws; nope, and not until today that I find it fascinating and decide that I would later post something on it; and I imagine that I should know more about Cultural Revolution, Tiananmen, um, Incident (?), and SARS; nope, nada, well I mean I know it is BAD, but how? Aren’t we suppose to know how and why through education rather than blindly listening to others, so we can make an “educated” decision?

If you are Chinese or a foreign lawyer who knows a whole lot about either of the above or know a substantial number of people who know quite a bit about either of the two, please let me know and I will take down this stupid post.

My goal today is not to write a long winding piece to criticize the law school education or the Chinese education system. Who am I to talk here. But one line from the Phillip Pan book I would like to quote here, which basically inspired me to do this post:

“The unspoken rule is that loyal Chinese should never say anything to an outsider that would make the motherland look bad”.

Oh my, well put, Pan. I bet Ms. Wang at Duke can’t agree more. As the young people in China become more liberal minded, often times I am baffled about how strong the reaction can be in certain touchy issues, such as Rangzen. Chill people. Chill.

And interesting that I recently talked to a friend about my experiences during SARS. It was my senior year in high school, when everyone in my class was fervently preparing for the formidable college entrance exam

But again, don’t laugh too early yet, American folks, over your Arizona sweet tea. [I don't quite understand this last line. What about the Arizona tea? Me wanna some Arizona tea right now. YK is weird]

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