Yapping Yak


Tag Archives: Reflection

About the cliche about the three monkeys


that is: speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil

and I decide that I am gonna try to adhere to it. gonna be hard for a bitchy cynic.

well this post was meant to be a secret post coded in Chinese. i failed.



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.

My Most Insecure Moment Happened …..

[this post is inspired by Ying-a-Ling’s most recent post, The Spies Among Us Are Children]

…. when I was among a bunch of kids.  And I have always been confident that I am a “natural” with kids, or at least, half a “natural”. The theory behind it is that children, whose eyes are untainted by the smoke and dust in the adult world, have instinct like animals to tell genuinely  good and bad people apart. It is funny how I love to stick to those bizarre almost home-made theories (a phrase I just coined, meaning something theory that will make sense after some processing in mind on your own, which may or may not make sense to other people, somewhat arbitrary and depending on the particular individual) , which caused me anxiety when the man-bitch little poodle my aunt owns back home kept barking at me and subsequently followed me like a potsticker on my butt when his master is away, and when….

at my tkd school, on this past Saturday.

After going to tkd for a bit more than 4 months, I have slowly acquired the composure that, when you walk into a room, you feel you own it, at least a share (convertible or preferred), which may not be obvious to others. But it is you who matters, right?

So I marched, with my stately composure, into the changing room. I secured a spot, near a bunch of little girls in their uniform or not,  giggling and goldfish cracker fighting. I subsequently started to quickly dig out stuff from bag and try to get ready.

I made eye contact with some of them, in my usual friendly adult way. I had no idea how much trouble it would have caused me. My interest in them was clearly redirected by them to counter me in an Aikido or Jujutsu fashion. I am a die-hard advocate for sports-style Taekwondo, because I am mostly a coward and can only bark rather than bite. Anyways.

Our eyes met; I am clearly more interesting than goldfish crackers. They started to watch me stripping/changing from jeans into workout pants. They started to whisper,  with their mouth covered and looking at me through the corner of their eyes. I even overheard words like “her” “shirt” “haha”….

Are these little *****es talking about me behind my back in front of my face? ?

They are by no means bound by the social convention that you shut up when the gossiping target was made aware of such gossiping activities. Or they just plainly don’t care. I don’t belong to their little people world anyways. I am just a clumsy adult who is awkwardly stripping in a ungraceful manner.

But the thing is, I wasn’t mad; I didn’t even think that I could have just dismissed them. They are kids anyways. But no, I started to feel this surge of insecurity. Like how I would feel if I keep putting on the pants backwards, or can’t tie my shoe laces, in a kindergarten. It must have been like this, because I had little recollection of happenings during my kindergarten career (age 3-5).

What they are laughing about? Are they seeing some stain on my soul that I haven’t  seen myself? Why am I not liked by them? The hostility was especially hard for me to chew. A couple of little girls totally broke my half-finished owning-it mind-set, which I possessed like 5 min ago.  I don’t know why.

Actually I do.  Kids are like magnifying glasses. We see all our traits through them so clearly.

OMG, I think I really finally understood Anderson’s story…..






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. 😛 (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. 🙂 )