25 Nov

Detour: Democracy with Elanthirumaran

Elanthirumaran

I don’t invest much of time thinking about politics and governance.  I think they would take several years to master them.  I also think that because they are poorly documented, at least in India where I live, only a person in the middle of all this on a day to day basis can master them.

But today, I had an interesting insight into improving the quality of democracy in a meeting organized by a FaceBook group called Occum’s Saloon.

Indian democracy, though robust, is infested with rampant corruption and inefficient governance.  The options available in an election are so disgusting, most of the educated franchisee in the country doesn’t ‘stoop’ to participate in the election.  I am one of them.  I have never voted in a general election.  The choices available are outright disgusting and the process of voting is pointless.

Save Democracy

One Mr. Elanthirumaran (translates to The Victorious Young One) made a presentation about the vicious circle perpetuated by non-participating educated voters.  He had one powerful answer to ‘What is the Point (of voting)?’

His response was, “while your candidate will not win in this election, or you might not even find a worth a while candidate in this election, your coming into the the electoral democracy will make the existing political parties to sit up and think.  Slowly, but surely, they will want to cater to your needs and your issues”.

That is an argument I can’t refuse!

20 Nov

Questions No One asks about Human Sexuality

Questions No One Asks

Here are a bunch of questions about human sexuality that no one wants to ask.  Probably because the answers frighten everyone!

01: If men are genetically programmed to spread their seeds as  wide as possible, why shouldn’t we expect women to be genetically programmed to collect as varied seeds as possible so that the best one wins?

02: If women have muted sexuality, or naturally monogamous, why did men have to build societies that so severely restricts women’s independence.

03: If families are economical units lead by man-the-provider, what is going to happen to the unit in a world where women have larger average income than men?

04: Many people who are alive today are likely to live beyond 100, and spend much of that life in their sexual prime.  What will happen to marriage, monogamy and other conventional values?

05: Why do women reach their sexual prime in their late thirties, just when men start their downhill slide?  Or why do men reach their sexual prime in late teens and early twenties, exactly when most women their age are unable to even get a decent orgasm?

06: While we believe that the clitoris is the only human organ built purely for pleasure, why doesn’t it occur to us that women may be selecting men for their pleasure giving ability?

07: If size doesn’t matter, why almost every man is perennially insecure about his size?

08: Why internet search terms describing male endowment is one of the most popular search terms by heterosexual men?

09: Why internet search terms, to everyone’s surprise, show that men stay very close to few selected porn preferences whereas a woman’s taste is all over the chart and varies largely from time to time.

10: While most women don’t enjoy visual porn as much as men, why are stories like 50 shades and slash stories are very popular with women folk?

11: In the social networking age where copying others has been taken to unheard of heights, and mate search has become lot easier, what is going to happen to people’s social and sexual life?

12: While it is becoming clear that power inequality between  partners is a strongest aphrodisiac, what is going to happen to the equality movement?

13: Why is it that youngsters ridicule spiritual values that is so dear to people who are beyond their sexual prime? And the older people ridicule sex drive that determines almost every action of the youth?

14: While our values and priorities change with our age, why do we have our key social structures designed for the youthful mental state?

15: While attraction, attachment and sexual drives are three mutually independent faculties, why do we have a social structure that pins all three on a single individual.

Because we were prudes for several centuries now and never dared to ask some of the important questions, there is so much of clutter and misinformation out there.  If these questions are answered honestly, the answers will move the ground from under our feet.  I intend addressing all of them, supported by hard scientific data, neatly tucked into some innocuous-looking and academic-sounding posts!

However, this blog is not just about human sexuality.  I happen to believe that our sexuality is a huge part of who we are and without understanding it, we will never know who we truly are.  Also, without understanding our true self, we will never have a chance to be truly happy.

Since my blog is about all of human nature and not just about human sexuality, you will find the answers to these questions peppered in between several other topics that I believe are important in understanding human nature.  If you are interested in keeping track of the future posts so that you will know when your favorite topic comes up, you can do one of these things:

  • Subscribe to the blog by entering your name and email address in the form on the top-right.  Of course, your email address will not be shared with anyone.
  • Subscribe to the RSS feed (this is for the gear heads)
  • LIKE the FaceBook page you will find here.  I update this page only when I post something in this blog and you will easily miss the updates.  Hence, after LIKEing the page, you will have to click on LIKED button and select GET NOTIFICATIONS.  Otherwise, the updates from the FaceBook page tends to get lost.

By the way, if you can think of more unasked questions, please feel free to add them in the comment section below.

18 Nov

ADHD Brain

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder)

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is easily the most fascinating, misunderstood, contested and over-diagnosed psychiatric condition.  Through ADHD, we will see how our brain affects our behavior.

There is a brain chemical (neurotransmitter) called Dopamine.  When you get something right, the dopamine levels in the brain go up.  Of course, getting something right is often closely linked to improving one’s chances of survival or reproduction.  Dopamine is the reward chemical.  It supplies the feel good when we solve a mathematical problem, find delicious food or a delectable mate.  Cocaine high is also supplied by drug induced dopamine.  Dopamine is also responsible for movement, motivation, impulse control, alertness and focus.

There is a neurotransmitter called Norepinephrine (NE).  NE increases secreted in your brain when your stress levels go up.  NE also increases the alertness and focus.  NE is a product of Dopamine.

A small set of the population seem to have a mutation that leaves them with sub-optimal levels of dopamine and/or NE.  Because of the sub-optimal levels of alertness/focus chemicals, unless something excites them (and increases the dopamine levels) or frightens them (and increases the NE levels), these people tend to remain distracted and under-motivated.  These people are thought of attention deficit.

There is also a difference in the way an ADHD brain in wired.  When a baby is born, the neurons inside the brain are cross wired in an almost random fashion.  As the baby grows up, surplus connections are pruned out.  This pruning is needed to build specialized modules inside the brain and make the brain more efficient.  Often, parts of an ADHD brain remains under differentiated.  As you will see later, this not always a bad thing.

It is interesting to see how these subtle changes inside the brain express as personality traits:

  • There is a portion of the brain called striatum, which is partly responsible for physical movement.  People with sub-optimal levels of dopamine in striatum can’t sit in one place.  These are the physically hyperactive types.  The physical movement seem to increase the dopamine levels in the striatum.
  • Striatum is also responsible for motivation.  Less dopamine here results in poor motivation.
  • There is a part of the brain called pre-frontal cortex (PFC) that sits just behind our forehead.  It is believed to be responsible for several functions, including acting as the breaking system of the brain.  When someone has less dopamine in the PFC area, they exert poor impulse control.  It makes them short tempered (bad) and/or spontaneous (good at times).
  • PFC also smothers the creative insights to some extent.  This is one reason why creative people often have poor impulse control.
  • PFC is responsible for forethought, planning, executing, etc.  People with less dopamine in PFC show deficiencies with these skills.
  • PFC is also thought of as the seat of working memory.  Poor dopamine levels in PFC impairs a person’s working memory and makes them poor with details.  On the other hand, they become good at dealing with the big picture (which amounts to consolidating several smaller details into one bigger package).
  • Because of poor level of dopamine in PFC, this brain type is typically disorganized.  On the other hand, some of these people who learn to organize are super-organized.
  • Poor dopamine levels in PFC also results in poor time sense.  Even estimation of time required to complete a task is difficult for them.
  • People with low level of dopamine in cerebellum become physically sluggish.  But all the action happens inside an overactive mind, encased in a still body.
  • Novelty increases dopamine levels.  People with this brain type are usually novelty seekers.
  • Routine task doesn’t generate dopamine.  While these people can handle a novel task of higher difficulty, handling even a simple routine task is such a drag for them.
  • Risk taking pumps up dopamine and norepinephrine.  So, this brain type actively goes looking for risk.  Several of soldiers, police men, stock brokers and other high risk professions are filled with this brain type.
  • Of course, verbal quarrels also increase NE.  Some people with this brain type are pugnacious, particularly when they also have a short temper.  Almost everyone with this brain type is a drama queen.
  • Dopamine is also responsible for salience.  People with sub-optimal dopamine levels forgive others easily.  Except if they also have deficient levels of serotonin in anterior cingulate gyrus, in which case they won’t easily forget a slight.
  • The sub-optimal level of serotonin is ACG is often seen in people with ADHD brain type.  ACG is like the gear shift of the brain and serotonin acts like the gear fluid.  With deficient serotonin, their brain tends to get stuck in the same state.  Combined with poor working memory, these people tend to forget the rest of the world when they lay their hands on a task that fascinates them.
  • Throughout the brain, dopamine and serotonin are in a balance.  As less serotonin is known to cause depression, ADHD brain type with less dopamine (and hence, more serotonin) is not easily susceptible to depression.  However, we live in a world that is designed for non-ADHD brain and living in this world often puts them into very high level of stress.  This high stress often makes them prone to depression and anxiety.
  • Because the wiring inside the brain is criss-crossed, this brain type often results in traffic congestion.  This traffic (data) congestion expresses itself in several ways, including dyslexia.
  • Because of the hyper-wiring, people with this brain type usually have sharper senses.  Some of them can hear very feeble sound and/or sound from wide frequency range.  Many of them wear soft and casual clothes as formal clothes (and wrist watches) are too rough on their skin.  Many of them have a nose that can overwhelm them.  As a matter of fact, any of the senses can overwhelm easily them.  Of course, more severe cases of under-differentiation results in complications which have their own jargon and we are not getting into them here.

There are two people inside every person with ADHD brain type.  One is the dull, distraction prone, absent minded, careless and low-motivation person they live most of their life as.  The second character is highly charged, super-motivated, quick, sharp, intelligent and daring person they turn into when they are in a dopamine or norepinephrine pumping situation.

In other words, the baseline of performance for these people shift from situation to situation.  This dynamically shifting baseline is not understood by most of the people, including the ones who have this brain type.  That leads them to falsely under or over estimate their self worth.

In the next post, we will see how our compulsion to generalize ruins the lives of millions of people with this brain type.

16 Nov

Meeting: Occum’s Saloon’s First Face to Face

Date: 2012 NOVEMBER 25 (SUNDAY)
Time: 10am to 2pm
Venue: AT JAMMI MIND SPACE, CHENNAI (map)

Participants in 1st Occum's Face to Face

Occum’s Saloon is a FaceBook group that discusses topics about de-cluttering our understanding of the world around us. For the first time, some of the members of the group are meeting in the brick-and-mortar world. The details of the even is available from this FaceBook Event Page.

Cost: Funded by the participants

Participants

Row 1: Ann Saravanan, Arunagiri Nallasivam, Balakrishnan Kasilingam, P. Elanthirumaran
Row 2: Narasimham Jammi, Kravmaga Sreeram, Raghunandan Rao, Saravanan Balakrishnan (me)
Row 3: Shobana Balachandran, Uma Raghavan, Veerappan

14 Nov

Madonna-Whore and Generalization

Madonna-Whore Generalization

We are naturally inclined to associate only one idea with one person.  This innocuous cognitive limitation called generalization is hugely responsible for decoloring people and societies.

Sigmund Freud originally identified a condition wherein some men couldn’t get sexual arousal in a committed relationship.  He claimed that these men suffered from Madonna-Whore Complex, wherein  they could see a woman either as a saintly Madonna or debased Whore.  Of course, social biologists (and even some psychologists) these days would tell you that these men suffer from the ennui of monogamy.  But their argument can’t hold water when you consider that men marry certain type of women and sleep around with different type of women (women are no different either; but that is the topic for another post).

The reason that most people can’t see both a dependable partner and playful sex-fiend in a single person is due to the cognitive error of generalization.  We can associate only one image with one person.  Even when we look at our own self, we like to generalize!

People in marketing have known this cognitive limitations for a long time (you can read more about it in Marketing Warfare by Al Ries and Jack Trout).  For example, we all think of Toyota as ‘value for money’ car.  So, when Toyota wanted to sell luxury cars, it named it Lexus and formed a completely independent sales and service network.  When Coke did a brand extension (by coming up with more varieties like Diet Coke, etc.), people got confused about what that name stood for and it lost market share to rivals.

Remember how we are usually surprised that the topper of the class back in the school/college days ends up with just a ho-hum life.  Or, how the back benchers always seem to have a knack for coming on top in real life.  We are surprised only because we have wrongly generalized that someone who is doing good in studies must be good in everything else too.

This compulsion to want to put people into neat categories is a cognitive trick used to reduce the amount of energy spent by our brain.  When people behave in a way that demands rethinking on our part, we go out of the way to deny the reality or for the deviant to confirm.  It is a lazy way of living.  But we should not under estimate the power of mental inertia.  The entire multi-billion dollar advertising industry is there only to change our mind by working against the mental inertia.

This is a basic limitation with it origin in the core of our biology.  We have always lived with this limitation.  Our societies and social norms have integrated this limitation into the very fabric.  While generalization has its own advantage (saves on time and energy spent thinking), damages due to generalization pops up everywhere we look.

We will see several more manifestations of generalization in the future posts.