12 Nov

In Celebration of Eccentrics

Bell Curve

If you take the human population and plot any of its characteristics (height, IQ, etc.), you will find that the curve takes the shape of a bell.  Most of the people fall near the center.  As you move away from the center, the population falls off rapidly.  Farther you go from the center, the drop off flattens out.

For some reason that we don’t understand, bell curves are there everywhere.  It is so common that it is often called the “Normal Distribution”! Distribution of Human Height

The curve above shows the actual distribution of height of Americans.  The normal height for women is about 162cm and the normal height for men is about 178cm.  There are very few women who are taller than 188cm and there are very few men who are taller than 203cm.  Women tend to stick closer to the normal than men (sharper bump) and men seem to have much wider variety than women (flatter bump).  There is similar variation between men and women when it comes to IQ distribution as well. You can say that the people who are farther away from the normal have eccentrics.  For example, men who are shorter than 160cm or taller than 195cm have eccentric heights.  Similarly, women who are shorter than 145cm or taller than 177cm have eccentric heights.

To summarize it, people whose traits are clumped around the center are normal.  People who are farthest from the center are eccentric.  It is easy to understand the simple concept when it comes to measurable quantity like height or IQ.  What is interesting is that this distribution is applicable for other traits qualities as well.

Put it in other words,

  • Normal are the people whose traits are most common in a population.
  • Eccentrics are the people whose have rare traits.

A trait becomes more common in a population usually if it had an evolutionary advantage in the past.  But it is not always true.  For example, we could have lived just as happily with four or six fingers.  There is no special evolutionary advantage of having five fingers.  

Also, just because an evolutionary adaptation had been helpful in the past (and hence, it is normal in the population today) doesn’t mean that we can’t live without it today.  An example is the hair on the head.  Except that it is usually thought of as an indicator of youth, that too a weak indicator, hair on the head has no survival or mate selection advantage.  If the entire human population becomes bald overnight, no one other than the hair dressers will find their life threatened!

Interestingly, there are traits that were disadvantageous in the evolutionary past, but are considered an advantage today.  For example, Thom Hartman suggested that people with ADHD behave as if they are hunters in a farming society (this hypothesis is turning out to be more true than he imagined).  He argues that farmers produce such strong societies that every time in the past when a farming society confronted a hunting society, the farmers was completely vanquished the hunters.  However, within a farming society, people with hunter traits ‘can’ perform much better than typical farmers.

Normal is not always superior.  Normal is just that: Normal.  The most common.  Eccentrics are not always inferior.  Eccentrics are just rare.

Normal is made by mixing a little bit of each color.  It results in a dull gray. Eccentrics, on the other hand, is all of few shades and none of the rest.  Eccentrics are like a riot of colors.  A celebration of colours, if you will.  Very rarely does an eccentric come across another eccentric of matching or complimentary color.

But then again, we are all eccentric.  Some of us show it on the surface and the rest of us manage to bury our colors deep down inside in order to match colors with rest of the colorless people who have learnt to bury their own colors just as deep.  We have standardized ourselves to the least common denominator!

That is sad.

This blog will be an exercise for you to discover your true colors so that you can flaunt them proudly.  This blog will also be an exercise in learning to appreciate the colors that others display.  More importantly, this blog will an exercise to learn to live your life without muting your real self or without demanding similar harsh sacrifice from others.

From your side, you just need to make sure that you bring two things to the table: An open mind and eccentric level of IQ that falls on the right side of the normal.

Riot of Colors

Happy festival of lights!

09 Nov

Little Bit of Madness

Starry Night, showing van Gogh's madness

4 out of 5 writers are known to have incidence of bipolar disorder in their family.  1 in 2 entrepreneurs are known to have ADHD spectrum disorder.  People are known to get powerful religious visions after epileptic seizures.

What is going on here?  Why haven’t these conditions go away from human gene pool, even though they usually are detrimental to the carrier’s ability to reproduce?

Consider gayness.  Gay people don’t get a chance to pass their genes.  Gayness is an evolutionary dead end.  Then, why does gay genes still exist in the population?  Some people think that androgynous people are selected more often.  Nature, in its efforts to produce androgynous people, ends up over-doing by producing gay people.

Likewise, little bit of madness offers an evolutionary advantage, which more than compensates for the debilitations.  Nature, in it ability to produce slightly eccentric people (who are typically more successful) ends up overdoing at times.

Interestingly, how much madness is good for you is decided by how well you are able to handle your condition, if you are able to extract an advantage from it, if you are able to nullify the damages, etc.

If you are one of the people who have a beautiful mind, don’t try to be normal.  Before you do that, please think (a) what unique advantages does your eccentricity bring you and (b) how you can counter/manage its debilitations.

If you ace these two requirements, the world will praise you for your uniqueness.  Not call you mad!

At the top of this post, I’ve clip a Vincent van Gogh’s painting called ‘Starry Night’.  This work, the way he draws the stars in it, is considered to bear evidences to his epileptic seizures.
06 Nov

Importance of Human Sexuality

Human Sexuality

We can’t understand human beings without understanding human sexuality.  Recently, I had a post that discussed the orgasmic potential in women.  It was well received by people I happen to know in real life.  Whereas, for the first time, I had people unsubscribing to the blog updates!  I thought I should explain why I keep straying into human sexuality every now and then.

Under the category Mental Mess, I am posting on stuff that will help us get better clarity on things around us.  Because we are social animals, large chunk of these posts are going to be on understanding the human nature.

In other words, I believe that our biology largely determines our behavior.  I also believe that most of our biology is a product of evolution.  So, I rely on social biology to help me understand the human nature and behavior.

Long before Darwin, farmers were crossing-breeding domestic animals and (not ‘with’) plants to modify/improve the stock.  Darwin realized that this process of selective breeding happened in the wild too.  He called this process the Natural Selection (in order to benchmark it against the ‘artificial selection’ which people were already familiar).

Sometimes, natural selection acts on mate selection alone.  One such example is peacock’s tail feathers (or a diamond studded Rolex).  It has no utility other than advertising to a potential mate the fitness levels of the peacock (or, the affluence of the guy who is wearing the watch).  This type of selection is called the Sexual Selection.  It is a sub-set of natural selection.

Group Selection is another sub-set of natural selection.  It happens when one collection of individuals evolves a trait that is beneficial to the group, even though it may not be beneficial to the individual.  Our sense of spirituality is thought of as a product of group selection.

Natural selection and all its subsets all run on one type of fuel: The Selfish Gene.

Huge, HUGE, part of our nature and behavior is determined by the forces of Sexual Selection.  Till about a couple of decades ago, we completely under-estimated the impact of the forces of sexual selection on human nature.  Also, since many forces of sexual selection act only during the reproductive age, its effects are often thought of as vain by people who are outside the reproductive mind set (too young, too old, celibates, religions, etc.).

Because of the immense prudishness that surrounds human sexuality, we hesitate to look into this subject or talk about it.  As a consequence of all this confusion, general public knows next to nothing about how sexual selection makes up who we are.  Because we don’t understand sexual selection, we keep berating human behavior that is perfectly healthy or encouraging behavior that is totally unhealthy.

There is no way we are going to truly understand the human behavior without understanding how the forces of sexual selection act on us.  I believe that understanding our very nature is essential to help us redesign our society, our values, our morals, etc.  And to live happily ever after.

05 Nov

God, Evolution and Internal Compass

Internal Compass

Whenever a belief or an attitude is shared by all (or most) of humanity, it must have offered us a significant survival advantage in our evolutionary past.  After all, people without this belief/attitude were wiped off from the gene pool!

In an earlier post, I discussed about how our sense of spirituality is suspected to be an evolutionary by-product.  Scientists working on evolution suspect that our compulsion to subscribe to concepts like God and Life-Purpose might have similar evolutionary origins.

Take, for example, an animal which sees a movement in the bush.  The animal must quickly decide if it is a fake alarm (say, rustling of the wind) or a predator.  An animal which mistakes a predator for rustling of the wind will get eaten up.  Whereas, an animal which wrongly concludes the rustling of the wind to be a predator lives to see another day.  Over a period of time, the “better safe than sorry” animals, the ones who see an agent in the rustling of the wind, dominates the gene pool.

This compulsion to err on the safe side has endowed all of us with a bias.  Because of this bias, we (and all other animals) often see an agent/pattern in most random noises.  Social biology thinks that we may have invented God and Life-Purpose because we have this compulsion to imagine an invisible hand in everything.

Of course, this doesn’t disprove the existence of God.  But it certainly puts a strong argument that our internal compass might be always stuck towards the North.

02 Nov

What can OkCupid tell us about Women

In the very first post, I discussed how internet is becoming a very rich source for researchers on human behavior.  One such source is a online dating website called OkCupid.

OkCupid has a nice blog, where they keep publishing interesting pieces of researches, based on gargantuan sample size.  Compared to their studies, the regular University researches look laughably puny and homogeneous.

These are some of my favorite findings: Agewise orgasmic potential of women

Almost half the young women have difficulty reaching an orgasm.  While OkCupid doesn’t get into why, experts on the subject claim that young women have difficulty only with vaginal orgasm and that clitoral orgasm is easy.  Interestingly, women reach their peak orgasmic potential in their mid forties (no wonder that women in their forties enjoy sex much more than the younger women; they also have much more self-confidence).  But if the women exercises, she typically reaches her orgasmic peak potential by late thirties and sustains it for fifteen more years!  So, for a woman in her forties, exercising is a huge, huge advantage.  If there is a forty-something woman in your life, you know what you should gift her for the new year.  A gym membership, of course!

Curvy vs Skinny Women: Drive and Self Confidence

But be careful about the dangers of overdoing the exercise bit.  She needs exercises only to keep her physically active.  Not to make her skinny.  Because, curvy women have biggest sex drive and self confidence.  Whereas, skinny ones fare the worst.  All other body types fall somewhere in between.

By the way, I happen to intimately know one curvy woman, who has just entered her forties and exercises regularly.  I wonder what should I get her this new years! In the meanwhile, you can read the original article here.

Both men and women lie

In America, both men and women lie (I see no reason why it should be any different in other countries).  Men lie a little bit more than women, at least when it comes to talking about their income.  As they age, people become more comfortable with lying.

Male income and response received

May be men lie more about their salaries because women are the officially certified gold diggers.  If the guy earns about $100k, the woman is for him to lose!  Of course, if you go to the original post, you can see color charts.

Straight vs Gay Women

This is just my gut feeling, looking from the chart above, gay women seem to be living a full live, whereas straight women seem to be shackled by the culture (original article).    I can’t help wondering, while looking at this chart, if women will be much, much more sexually active and adventurous if our religious and cultural shackles are dismantled.

Now, here is some information you can actually use: If you want to take an attractive self-portrait, try around 4am or 4pm.  Around 9am or 9pm, you are likely to make the worst pictures (original article).  Why?  God knows!

When to take attractive self-portraits