Yapping Yak


Category Archives: curious inquiry

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!


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

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.

Revisiting My Socialist Root: How About Guaranteed Basic Income To All?

I am so easily sold on free food and beer: when the old boy club professor who seems to be a die-hard  Republican and Obama hater invited the class to the pub for beer and appetizers, I went, for the free food, and conversed with some female colleagues on lawyer fashion and stuff, hording over the food and being patronized by the old boy. It’s easy when you don’t give a flying sugar.

That’s my introductory ranting. SKIP ABOVE.


Bob and Michi and I continued some discussion over equality and efficient tax system (tax lawyers with souls <3) over the left-over nachos. Basically this elitist professor suggested a low income(or anything rather) tax rate would be beneficial to the social welfare, as it reduces the stake people have in tax planing, thus saves the resources spent on tax compliance and planning/evasion. Making being smart on tax not worth the time, basically.

To ensure revenue, we can broaden the tax base, grant less exemptions (I forgot whether he mentioned this point but I think it makes sense because who cares about tax exemptions when you only have a 15% rate and it costs a lot to comply with the requirements for that exemption. of course, quantitative study needed), etc. Also, prof suggested that people should be left with their money to do whatever they want to, maybe he thinks this would reflect a truer market. High tax rate also induces lobbying, which wastes resources and distorts the market to a great extent (like taxation on carried interest, easily enabling the hedge fund managers to have a better rate on their wage compensation than others, as it is taxed at cap rate).

I certainly hope the tax rate goes up, because it would give me tons of work, and I will become a fat cat, and then I will lobby like a maniac to have the government exempt the exact form of my income.

Anyways. Taxation is thought to be existing for a few reasons:  generating revenue for the government (to do what? keep the machine running, and redistribute ), providing some incentive/disincentive for certain economic/social behaviors. Revenue generating is a vague concept, and where to “lay the incidence of taxation”, i.e. who to tax and how much, depends on the fair share based on usage of social resources, ability to pay, and of course ideological and lobbying consequences.

So I think it is fair to say, we 1) would like to make sure the society is functioning properly and provide a decent life for people living on the land; 2) improving the economy, with different schools fighting over how much government should get involved.

To realize these two goals, we can use 1) positive taxation, where government ask people for money, or 2) negative taxation, meaning the government gives money out to “deserving” people. (there is an interesting article on whether lazy people deserve our money, at here)

If one agrees with there should be progressivity in income taxation,one probably would agree that we ought to tax the right people at the right amount (actually flat rate and regressive income tax folks might think the same too).  The efforts to devise a tax system on these beliefs would be : taxing the rich at a reasonable amount to “subsidize” the society, and taxing the poor at a lower amount to have them pay their fair share, and redistributing the subsidies to the poor in various forms, including but not limited to: minimum wage, safety net (social security), child support, etc, which are forms of Guaranteed Minimum Income (GMI). Whether we should have a welfare system is beyond the scope of this discussion.

But there is one other form of GMI, which, if you are OK with giving people some money, you should not be TOO alarmed by this idea, which is: BASIC INCOME GUARANTEE. According to Wikipedia, the idea is this

basic income guarantee (basic incomecitizen’s income) is a proposed system[1] of social security, that regularly provides each citizen with a sum of money. In contrast to income redistribution between nations themselves, the phrase basic income defines payments to individuals rather than households,[2] groups, or nations, in order to provide for individual basic human needs. Except for citizenship, a basic income is entirely unconditional. Furthermore, there is no means test; the richest as well as the poorest citizens would receive it. The U.S. Basic Income Network[3] emphasizes this absence of means testing in its precise definition, “The Basic Income Guarantee is anunconditional, government-insured guarantee that all citizens will have enough income to meet their basic needs.”

I think the current tax system does address the “basic human needs” in form of deduction, basically saying we won’t tax you for an amount of income you have to spend to live like a human being. So, rather than having people take out those expenses first (where a lot of problems arise: what if they dont have the money to spend, no income to deduct from? some people dont have the chance to take advantage of the deduction/tax system as a redistribution system first), why not convert that “reimbursement” kind of system into an “allowance” type?

Granted, we now have SS and other things in the welfare system, and I am no expert in welfare system, aside from knowing the following things: it’s broken and incoherent, it lacks the support system to guarantee its proper functioning (outreach and advocacy). One thing  the welfare system struggles is the eligibility issue, and lot of resources are wasted on this area.

Basically what happens, roughly, is that we try to give people who have no resources to take deductions based on their own income some money, and on top of that, allow deductions for basic living expenses. In a perfect world, if equilibrium is achieved, deserving poor will get appropriate amount of govt subsidies and deductions and taxation will work out well.

But we don’t live in a perfect world, do we?

How about, approach this “we respect you need as a human being” from a different angle. Not a tax rebate system, but a prebate system. Just simply because of your being a member of this decent society, we grant you….(drum roll)….


Originally I accept this idea kinda naturally. As Bob said, maybe it is easier for ideologically socialist countries to adopt this, because we are brought up with this kind of noble ideas. Well, it does seem to ring a bell, similar to the communism ideas. But for the sake of dog, ideology worth less back home than here. Look at tbaggers and occupiers, and even the pro-life folks, they go all out for their (stupid) beliefs.

I guess my support originates more from a vague philosophical idea. In the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, on the subject of Social Minimum, it starts

‘People should not be allowed to starve in the streets.’ ‘No one should be denied access to a decent minimum of health-care.’ ‘Every citizen should be able to meet his or her basic needs.’ These statements all express a widespread view that a political community should seek to ensure that its members are all able to enjoy at least a minimally decent standard of living. They assert the importance of what is often called the social minimum. However, the exact nature of the social minimum, the considerations that support it, and, indeed, its basic justifiability, are all matters of intense philosophical controversy.

I guess I am just naturally gang-ho about social justice. I can’t stand injustice. I am such a baby.

In Wikipedia, there is a more economics-based explanation

…The connection between more and better has been broken; our needs for many products and services are already more than adequately met, and many of our as-yet-unsatisfied needs will be met not by producing more, but by producing differently, producing other things, or even producing less. This is especially true as regards our needs for air, water, space, silence, beauty, time and human contact…From the point where it takes only 1,000 hours per year or 20,000 to 30,000 hours per lifetime to create an amount of wealth equal to or greater than the amount we create at the present time in 1,600 hours per year or 40,000 to 50,000 hours in a working life, we must all be able to obtain a real income equal to or higher than our current salaries in exchange for a greatly reduced quantity of work…Neither is it true any longer that the more each individual works, the better off everyone will be. The present crisis has stimulated technological change of an unprecedented scale and speed: ‘the micro-chip revolution’. The object and indeed the effect of this revolution has been to make rapidly increasing savings in labour, in the industrial, administrative and service sectors. Increasing production is secured in these sectors by decreasing amounts of labour. As a result, the social process of production no longer needs everyone to work in it on a full-time basis. The work ethic ceases to be viable in such a situation and work-based society is thrown into crisis…
André GorzCritique of economic Reason, Gallile, 1989
It’s interesting. I am totally buying it. Granted there are barriers and hard to implement, but a nice approach nevertheless. Actually some of the objections directly linked to the Karl Smith argument I mentioned above. So a lot of it can be, theoretically, solved by scientific advancement. So where are all the scientists???
I need to follow up on this. But now, time for food. and PARTEYYYYY.

From Sartoralist: Marc by Marc Jacobs Fall/Winter 2012

See here

So I think I have good sense of style. No tacky lace or unnecessary frills. I appreciate Baroque and Rococo (actually I love them) and I love Jazz Age.

My point being: I have good sense of style. And as a lawyer, naturally I have a good sense of judgment too. (duh)

So this is apparently what Marc by Marc Jacobs would woman to look like in 6 months

Ok, actually it will work well for me. I dress androgynously. So basically, woman need to have a masculine cover up, with a hint of femininity in the lower part, above the shoes.

Interesting. Are there any social psychological phenomenon reflected in this fashion trend? Maybe for once I will actually follow the fashion week or something.

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.




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. 😀

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 wasted good intentions

Say, human beings as a whole are equally bad and good. Re-phrase:  50% of human beings are good, and 50% human beings are bad. Everyone chips in for the good-intentions fund. Unless you are ultra-bad or super sleazy.

Good people works hard with strong ethics, have integrity, and values self-sufficiency.

Bad people just wanna get by.

Shit happens, to good and bad people, for different reasons probably. We give them money from the good-intentions fund when shit happens.

We don’t know whether shit really happened or not, for good or bad reasons.

We don’t know who are good or who are bad. We can’t tell. We are in no position to tell.

Question: should we sacrifice the welfare of good people who got unlucky by cutting off the good intentions fund, or waste some good intentions fund money wasted on bad people by preserving the fund. Which is more valuable, the life-saving moneys in bad times or accumulated supposedly large sum of money over the good times?

And are we obligated to keep this fund? Where is there such a fund to start with? Is the world so warped and unnatural that we can’t fend for ourselves naturally anymore?  Should people be allowed to be… selfish?

Are there more good people than bad people? Vice versa?

Let’s start to make more good people?  Nice final solution.

[and the solution to not posting is posting something for the sake of posting something]

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.