13 Jun

Darwin’s Triplets

Identical Triplets

All posts in "Life in a Color Wheel" series

In the earlier post titled Evolution 101, we saw how evolution works in the wild. It discussed about how a particular biological trait is selected in a population. Darwin called this “Natural Selection“. Eventually it turned out that Natural Selection is an umbrella term for three different types of selection forces:

  • Self Selection
  • Sexual Selection
  • Group Selection

The interplay of these forces makes us who we are. Like the inter-play of three primary colors make all the hues that we can see in the nature. It is as of we live a life in a color wheel.

Self Selection

Me-Selection

Some genetic traits help an animal to live longer. These are called “Self Selection” traits. Self Selection traits may not care about finding a mate, making babies or altruism. Have you heard of rats eating their pup when they are hungry? It is the rat’s self-selection trait in action.

Sexual Selection

Sexual-Selection

Some biological traits help an animal to secure better quality/quantity mates. These are called Sexual Selection traits. These traits may or may not care if an animal lives longer or if its community flourishes.

A good example of Sexual Selection trait is peacock’s tail feathers. Luxurious tail feathers in a peacock advertises that the animal is physically/genetically fit. Tail feathers don’t increase the survival of the peacock. If anything, the long tail only makes it difficult for the peacock to catch its prey or run/fly away from the predators. Tail feathers are also metabolically expensive to maintain. A lesser peacock can’t fake a nice, long and iridescent tail. So, peacock’s tail feather is what we call a honest signal.

If the peahen selects a mate  for its luxurious tail feather, the peahen can be sure that it selected a genetically superior male. The genetic trait in a peacock to grow a beautiful tail feather is a sexual selection trait. The genetic trait in a peahen to find such a tail feather beautiful is also a sexual selection trait. These traits do not help the animal to catch a prey or save the life of an amigo. Their only purpose is to help the animal to make more healthy babies.

Study of Sexual Selection forces is full of politically unacceptable conclusions. This area is not as well studied as it must be. Even the researchers who study Sexual Selection publish their findings with caution. Even very little published insights are not adequately communicated to the public.

Group Selection

Group-Selection

Group Selection traits are hotly disputed by some scientists. But we will never understand who we really are without understanding the effect of Group Selection traits. They help the community (in which an animal lives) to flourish and sustain. They may not care about how long an animal lives or how many babies it has.

Our willingness to go to war for our country is a good example of a group selection trait. When someone goes to war, they risk their life. They are working against self-selection interest. Someone who goes to war and dies can’t have any more children. They also risk the future of the children they already have. There by, they work against the sexual selection interests as well.

Consider two prehistoric societies, Y and N. Society-Y was made up of ‘brave’ people, who were ever ready to go to war on behalf of their society/country. Whereas members of Society-N were ‘cowards’, who were quite unwilling to risk their life by going to a war. When Society-Y went to war with Society-N, Y probably decimated N. With time, genetic traits of Society-N was wiped off from the planet of earth. The ones left behind, Society-Y, are all willing to die for their society.

Group Selection makes an individual to subjugate its own self-interest to the interest of the group. When the interest of an individual clashes with the interest of the group, the group often doesn’t hesitate to get ride of the individual! When we think about group selection, we must remember one thing:

A part of 'the group that we live in' lives inside each one of us.

At one level, each one of us is the group. We act in a way that subjugates the interest of other people to the common good of the group. We willingly sacrifice some of our own self interest in the alter of the common good. How much of self interest we sacrifice, or how much of similar sacrifice we demand from others, changes based on the situation we are in. Our sense of group identity and altruism are elastic.

Feeling the Selection Forces

In an individual, selection forces express themselves as emotions/feelings.

  • Self Selection may express itself as hunger, fear, cold, warmth, satiety, anger, etc.
  • Sexual Selection may express itself as pride, libido, competitiveness, creativity, etc.
  • But the way we feel the Group Selection is interesting. The sense of oneness we feel when you stand in front of God is how the Group Selection feels. When we feel the forces of Group Selection, we have a strong urge to merge and lose the sense of one’s self into the identify of the group.

Emotions of Group Selection are just as seductive, if not more, as the emotions of Me Selection or Sexual Selection. Though, we don’t readily recognize it. The interplay of the three selection forces determines who we are and how our societies are made.

Some of our traits are fostered by two or three different selection forces. For example, having a broad shoulder and good shoulder muscles in a man helps him to be a good hunter (Self Selection). It also helps him to find more/better mates (Sexual Selection). Being a good hunter, while it caters to Self Selection forces, sharing the spoils with the group also caters to the Group Selection forces.

When a particular trait is exclusive to a single selection force, expression of that trait might be opposed by other forces. For example, human equivalent of peacock’s tail feather (sexual selection) is often considered as vanity and looked down upon by the society (group selection).

Our natural desires and urges are endless and shifting inter-play of the three selection forces that played a part in molding us. At any given point in time, your natural feelings are just a pixel on the color wheel. At times, you play near the edges. At times, you play right at the center.

Life becomes gets uncomplicated when you understand the color wheel of selection forces and then design your life around that understanding. Life in a color wheel might be the simplest answer to so many of your life’s dilemmas. In the future posts, let’s take a closer look at the inter-play of these hues.

I promise you, it will be nothing less than liberating.

All posts in "Life in a Color Wheel" series
28 May

Sam Harris on Lying

Sam-Harris

Sam Harris is one of the sharpest thinkers I had come across. Here are some excerpts from one of his thinnest books, Lying. Though the book is not as well thought out as some of his other works, I culled out these gems from the book. I put a Heart next to the ones that hit a chord somewhere. Though, you might want to put your heat next to something else:

  • We often behave in ways that are guaranteed to make us unhappy. Many of us spend our lives marching with open eyes toward remorse, regret , guilt, and disappointment. And nowhere do our injuries seem more casually self-inflicted, or the suffering we create more disproportionate to the needs of the moment, than in the lies we tell to other human beings. Lying is the royal road to chaos. Heart
  • Endless forms of suffering and embarrassment could be easily avoided by simply telling the truth.
  • The boundary between lying and deception is often vague. It is even possible to deceive with the truth.
  • People lie so that others will form beliefs that are not true. The more consequential the beliefs— that is, the more a person’s well-being demands a correct understanding of the world or of other people’s opinions— the more consequential the lie.
  • To lie is to intentionally mislead others when they expect honest communication. Heart
  • To speak truthfully is to accurately represent one’s beliefs.
  • If one is not sure whether or not something is true, representing one’s degree of uncertainty is a form of honesty.
  • The intent to communicate honestly is the measure of truthfulness. Heart
  • Even liars rate their deceptive interactions as less pleasant than truthful ones.
  • Deception and suspicion are two sides of the same coin. Research suggests that all forms of lying— including white lies meant to spare the feelings of others— are associated with less satisfying relationships.
  • Honest people are a refuge. Heart
  • You know [the honest people] will tell you when they think you have failed— and for this reason their praise cannot be mistaken for mere flattery.
  • Honesty is a gift we can give to others. Heart
  • [If we are honest,] we can simply be ourselves in every moment.
  • In committing to being honest with everyone, we commit to avoiding a wide range of long-term problems, but at the cost of occasional short-term discomfort.
  • To [be honest] is also to hold a mirror up to one’s life—because a commitment to telling the truth requires that one pay attention to what the truth is in every moment. Heart
  • Honesty can force any dysfunction in your life to the surface.
  • Lying is the lifeblood of addiction.
  • Ethical transgressions are generally divided into two categories: the bad things we do (acts of commission) and the good things we fail to do (acts of omission).
  • Sincerity, authenticity, integrity, mutual understanding— these and other sources of moral wealth are destroyed the moment we deliberately misrepresent our beliefs, whether or not our lies are ever discovered.
  • Responding honestly to the subtext would not be lying.
  • Unless one commits to telling the truth in situations like this , however, one finds that the edges creep inward, and exceptions to the principle of honesty begin to multiply.
  • False encouragement is a kind of theft: It steals time, energy, and motivation that a person could put toward some other purpose.
  • [Lucy] lied so effortlessly and persuasively that Jessica was left wondering if she had ever been deceived by Lucy in the past.
  • Failures of personal integrity, once revealed, are rarely forgotten.
  • A commitment to honesty does not necessarily require that we disclose facts about ourselves that we would prefer to keep private .
  • Psychopaths can assume the burden of mental accounting [of lying] without any obvious distress.
  • Lies beget other lies.
  • When you tell the truth, you have nothing to keep track of.
  • Tell enough lies, and the effort needed to keep your audience in the dark eventually becomes unsustainable. While you might be spared a direct accusation of dishonesty, many people will conclude, for reasons they might be unable to pinpoint, that they cannot trust you. You will begin to seem like someone who is always dancing around the facts.
  • No one ever quite confronts [the liars], but everyone begins to treat them like creatures of fiction. Such people are often quietly shunned, for reasons they probably never understand.
  • Liars trust those they deceive less than they otherwise might— and the more damaging their lies, the less they trust, or even like, their victims.
  • To lie is to recoil from relationship. Heart
  • Lies are the social equivalent of toxic waste

Sam Harris makes me realize that my biggest personal achievement is that I have trained myself to lie very little, if at all.

I ‘think’ that I never lie on things that are consequential (though I do succumb to the temptations of occasional white lies). I make it a point to indicate the probability of my uncertainty when it matters. I never pretend that an intentional act of omission with the intent to deceive doesn’t amount to lying. Neither do I intentionally mislead someone when a truthful communication is warranted!

Note: Of course, I don't confuse protecting my privacy with lying.

Stopping the habit of lying some twenty years ago was a great character builder. Being married to someone whose take on honesty is very similar to my own has been the single biggest blessing in my relationship. If there is one trait that I would love for my son to pick up from me, it would be my soft corner for honesty. Luckily, I see no reason why that won’t happen.

23 May

Age of Creativity

Age Of Creativity

This 5 post series addresses as to how “we are facing exponential threats from resource crunch and environmental degradation and in response, we are inventing a new idea age”.

  • Exponential Threats identifies the growing threats we are presently facing
  • In Exponential Technology, we argue that our technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. To do that, unprecedented level of human ingenuity should come into play.
  • In Origin of Ideas, we discuss the source of human ingenuity, both inside an individual’s head and across the society.
  • In this post, Age of Creativity, we will see why we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
  • In the last post, we address how you can prepare for the coming Idea Age

There are a bunch of reason for us to believe that we have entered a new age of creativity. Another renaissance. But in its scope, this one will be like no other. By the time it has run its course, humankind would have, I speculate, made a clean break with the past.

New Knowledge

Creativity is a process of combining existing ideas/knowledge in a new and useful way. The process of creativity can be thought of as forming new connections in a network of ideas. In a network, addition of a new node encourages sprouting new connections (image below).

Network with newNode

If we are considering idea generation at social level, then we can treat each human being as a node in our network. As we have seen in an earlier post, bigger human population creates more new nodes.

But if we ignore the physical containers of idea/knowledge/information, every new discovery or idea becomes another node in the fabric. When a new node is added to a network, it makes new pathways possible (image below).

New Node New Pathways

Birth of an node (idea) increases the number of existing connection (ideas), which in turn increase the possibilities of several more connections (ideas) germinating.

Note: If you have already noticed the fractal nature of ideas, you will find intuitively understand the recursive nature of the paragraph above.

Thus, the new ideas increase exponentially in quantity! Today, we are seeing important new ideas coming in every day, with each new idea begetting even more ideas. We are getting inundated with creative opportunities. Understand the idea-inundation is key to preparing for the age of creativity.

New ideas have another interesting effect. When we come across novelty, it increases the levels of a brain chemical called dopamine. Among other things, dopamine inside our brain increases the alertness and focus.

 

Note: Dopamine is also responsible for feel-good and libido. It also plays a major role in romance. Effect of dopamine is designed to wear off with repeated exposure. Translation: Less novelty, less dopamine.

Brains are built in such a way that we love to work with novel stuff. Novelty tickles our brain cells into working with them. With so many new things popping up all around us, we are all gradually becoming idea generating machines (the only way to work with a new information is to integrate it with the rest of our knowledge base, which is same as forming new connections to the novel idea).

New Tools

Vast majority of younger generation is familiar with tools for data analysis, visualization and (product) design. These tools are helping us to combine ideas much more easily, and with far less resources and time.

We also have massive interest-groups online, who come together to create, fine tune, implement and exploit new ideas. Idea generators get almost instantaneous quality feedback. Instantaneous feedback is the corner stone building expertise in any domain.

Global Size Melting Pot

Large Melting Pot

Today, we not only have more than 7 billion brains in the network, these brains are also inter-connected in a way that was unheard of even 25 years ago! While internet is the pipeline through which the connectivity happens, we have several internet-dependent devices that improve the quality and pay-off of the connections.

Social media is one such device that helps us extract more juice out of global connectivity. The world has now become a huge monkey-see-monkey-do society, with each of us learning from everyone else. Because we all show our best face in the social media, we are learning positive habits/attitude from each other in unprecedented speed. And by helping us to learn to express ourselves in small steps, social media is helping us all to become creative.

Other devices that help us make the world one huge melting pot are online communities, special interest groups (already discussed above), cheap access to markets, free online education, etc.

Attitude Shift

Honey Bees

We are not strangers to the win-win nature of idea sharing. However, we have had tremendous reservations in sharing ideas that brought power and money. But that has changed now.

Today, we have more opportunities than any one of us can handle alone. Besides, the speed of change is so rapid that there is not enough time for a single person to build sufficient expertise to exploit a domain. Consequently, we are beginning to more freely share all sorts of ideas. In a world where a product has a typical life cycle of 3 to 5 years, one lone individual trying to build an edifice out of a single idea over 20 years is often a recipe for disaster.

We are also going through another important attitude shift: We are rediscovering the pleasure of belonging to a community.

We are social animals. We seem to be biologically pre-disposed to deriving pleasure from sharing. We are taking the pleasure community to new levels by becoming pioneers of sharing. We already share things from cars to clothes to house. Sharing, or Collaboration Economy, is becoming the next big thing and a manna for the folks keen on sustainability.

Role of Current Economy

american-financial-crisis-comparison

With the global recession, the people in the West now have more time than they have money. The resource crunch is incentivising them to become more creative and democratizing the process of idea generation.

In the same time, masses of people in the developing countries across Asia and Africa are leaving poverty behind. These people now have some surplus time and money. They are beginning to explore things beyond basic survival. There is a good chance that this population, which has leapfrogged into knowledge world, will be more adapt in working with ideas than the earlier generations that came off the boat.

Threat to Survival

The last factor that democratizes the idea generation process is the pressure from the serious survival threats that our civilization is facing presently. Because of their exponential nature, the threats will hit us so fast that our existing creative infrastructure won’t be able to handle them. We will end up recruiting all creative faculties, every human brain that is ready to contribute.

In the next article in this series, we will see what we can do to prepare for the idea age.

22 May

Origin of Ideas

Origin of Ideas

This 5 post series will addresses as to how “we are facing exponential threats from resource crunch and environmental degradation and that in response, we are inventing a new idea age”.

  • Exponential Threats identifies the exponentially growing threats we are presently facing
  • In Exponential Technology, we argue that our exponentially growing technology, our best ally, is not sufficient to tackle these threats. To do that, unprecedented level of human ingenuity should come into play.
  • In this post Origin of Ideas, we discuss the source of human ingenuity, both inside an individual’s head and across the society.
  • In Age of Creativity, we address as to why we have reasons to believe that we are entering an era of unprecedented global creativity.
  • In the last post, we will address as to how you can prepare for the coming Idea Age

Before discussing how human creativity is likely to save the day, we must first understand the origin of ideas, either inside a human head, or across a society. After all, there are striking similarities between both types of idea generation.

Human Mutation and Population

First, a small detour. Faster Human Mutation A paper was published in 2007, showing how the rate of human mutation was picking up speed with time. The reason was discovered to be the rising human population! More humans meant more mutations. More mutations, of course, meant more variety and better chances of human race continuing to eke a living. According to Matt Ridley, as he argued in this TED talk, there is one other thing that becomes more common with increase in population: Ideas. Ridley argues that since people make ideas, where there are more people, we have more ideas generated. But ideas funny creatures. With ideas, 1+1 = 11. Value of an idea goes up multi fold when it is in the midst of other ideas. For example, take the idea of petroleum mining. When this idea is not combined with any other idea, it has zero value (imagine a guy digging out tarry goo, with no idea what to do with it). But when it is combined with other ideas like IC engines, automobiles, jet planes, plastics, war, pollution, etc., the idea of petroleum mining becomes a formidable! Idea Having Sex Each idea makes several others come alive. To better understand how ideas work, you can think of ideas having sex (an analogy introduced by Ridley in his TED talk). But since ideas combine in every which way possible, we should think of them as polyamorous, egalitarian, libidinous and indiscreet! Ideas Are Indiscreet But the value of an ideas is derived from its ability to combine with other ideas. Not from its ability to stand alone. According to Ridley, an environment that fosters mixing of ideas is much more productive and valuable than sheer IQ. For example, industrial towns like Tiruppur and Sivakasi pop up out of nowhere to become an island of superior performance only because these towns end up having a bunch of people thinking, eating and breathing closely related ideas. Interestingly, a reasonably large population is needed to sustain idea generation and specialization. And when it comes to playing the idea catalyst, no population is large enough. There is evidence from the past that China stopped advancing its science and technology when it cut itself out from rest of the world. Similarly, it is my personal belief that India fell short of exploiting its potential to innovate when it decided to cut itself off from the West (the chief idea generators at this point in the history) after obtaining its political independence from the British.

Creativity Inside your Head

Interestingly, creativity inside your head works in a very similar fashion: Generating a new idea inside your head is just a matter of combining two or more existing ideas in a novel way. To foster your own creativity, you will need rich knowledge base. The more ‘idea raw materials’ you work with, more appropriate will be the ideas generated by you.

Ideas

You get to work with more ‘idea raw materials’ when (a) you are knowledgeable and (b) you get to retain more of what you learn. Retention is partly genetic, partly due to repetition and partly due to physical health of the brain. Of course, we will have better understanding of memory as more research throws light on the subject.

Next  to memory, your ability to communicate between different models of your brain is important to combine ideas in a novel way. The physical health of your brain like blood circulation, health of the myelin sheaths insulating the axons, etc., determine how well you can combine ideas inside your brain and create new ones. If the circulation is poor (supplies of less energy) or the myelin sheaths are damaged (increased noise level during communication), all energy hungry neural operations like creation of new ideas get down regulated.

Sustained attention is a faculty that is known to play an important role in creation of new ideas. As if, the longer you hold an idea in the center stage of your head, the more opportunities you give it to finding a suitable  partners to hook up with.

Living and interacting with people who have a knack for creating new ideas certainly helps your own creativity. They teach you that it is alright to come up with new ideas and supply you with building blocks for generating new idea.

Most importantly, learning to suspend one’s critical factor is an important ingredient of personal creativity. People have a tendency of snuff out new ideas, even before the idea was given a decent chance.

Of course, intention/motivation is another huge factor in fostering personal creativity.

The last factor in personal creativity are external. Some people respond to external pressures (e.g. impending deadline) by becoming creative. In these people, pressure activates their norepinephrine, increases their mental alertness and actually makes them more creative. Another brain chemical that increases the mental alertness is dopamine. Dopamine levels in the brain increase when you are faced with a novel situation, when you are suitably rewarded or when in love (among other things). Typically, when you are in any of these situations, the level of your personal creativity go up.

Interestingly, we have entered an era that supplies ample quantity of several factors that we saw above. In the next installment of this series, we will see as to how creativity across the globe is in the process of reaching unprecedented levels.

REFERENCES:

- This post is a sequel to Part-1, Exponential Threats and Part 2, Exponential Technology
- All the posts in this series are based on the presentation Idea Age is Here
10 Sep

Barbie, Conan, Body Image and Intellectuals

Living Barbie

There is a 28 years old Ukranian woman named Valeria Lukyanova, who believes that she is from Venus and decided to change her look to suit her inner body image.  She chose herself the look of a Japanese anemi character and achieved it using intelligent makeup and some cosmetic surgery (her age, heavy makeup and surgical assistance are all contested).  People started calling her a living doll, and then a living Barbie.  That’s flattering the Barbie doll because she is so much prettier.  Lukyanova is a singer, sort of, and wanted to use her new look to spread her spiritual message of peace from Venus (and, perhaps, to sell some music).

But something quite unexpected happened.  More and more young women are wanting to follow Lukyanova and are going in for living doll looks.  Being a living doll is not for the faint at heart.  It calls for a radical lifestyle modifications, and dollops of money to pay for the mandatory cosmetic surgeries!  Unlike our friendly neighborhood intellectuals would like us to believe, these women are not being brain washed by the Galactic Association of Cosmetic Surgeons or evil multi-national corporations trying to sell them trillions of dollars worth of eye liners to these unsuspecting young women.  They are not even doing this to get themselves more boys.  They do it so that their outer look matches with their inner body image.

Funny and misguided girls you say?  Well, not so fast.

Body Building

Take our male body builders and high octane actions stars.  We have all noticed how they ripping muscles augmented by multiple steroid cycles and Synthol (of course, they hotly contest the usage of steroids or Synthol).  Isn’t it strange that these guys have more heterosexual male fans than women fans?  None of these famous muscle heads have ever been called a sex symbol. On the other hand, the most popular sex symbol today, George Cloony, doesn’t even take his shirt off in most movies.  If you have tried googling “George Cloony Shirtless”, you will know why!

George Clooney Shirtless

If this body is found sexy by most women, then why are the body builders spending huge amount of efforts and money on ripping muscles?  The muscle size doesn’t even add to one’s longevity, mental acuity or money earned.  Like the living dolls, the body builders are catering to the self-image that is typical of their own sexes!

Barbie doll’s body proportions appeal to the girls.  Most guys, on the other hand, salivate for the curvy and strong body of Xena the Warrior Princess!

Warrior Princess

Cosmopolitan is the leading lifestyle magazine for young women and Maxim caters to young men.  Make a quick comparison between the models you find in them and you will find the women in Cosmo are more stick-like.  Whereas the women in Maxim must have curves.  Anorexia, or something close to it, seem to be the inner body-image template and most women try to gravitate to this.  They spend a lifetime trying to go as close to this self image as possible.

Take a look at any men’s fitness magazine and you will find ripping muscles, advertisements for muscle building supplements and black market steroids.  On the other hand, women oriented fitness magazines seldom post pictures of Mr. Universe.  Page after page, the post lean and athletic looking male bodies with broad, well formed shoulders and V shaped torso.  Like Ken.  Men who are looking for ripping are doing it to cater to their own inner urge.

Is it wrong to desire a body that appeals to one’s own inner image?  Of course, not!  If their body-desires doesn’t hurt anyone else, or it doesn’t conflict with their other priorities, what they do with their own body is none of anyone else’s business.

Is it wrong to blame the corporations, capitalists, multi-nationals, patriarchy, media and the buffalo for this phenomenon?  Of course, yes!

Most of our so-called intellectuals are fraudsters who are too incompetent to do their homework before they air out an opinion.  Liberating ourselves from the twisted world views they provide us is an important part of building ourselves happy lives.

That is the central tenet of this blog!

07 Aug

Talking eyes

Sclera

Have you ever met someone with his or her eyeball tattooed?  And if you have, have you ever tried to hold a conversation with them?  I am guessing you probably haven’t.  But you sure have held a conversation with someone wearing sunglasses.  If that conversation was with a person you don’t trust or you don’t know that person yet, do you remember the uncomfortable feeling you had?  The uncomfortable feeling comes because you can’t see that person’s sclera.

Sclera is the white of an eye.  Sclera of most animals have black or brown in color.  Also, in most animals, the iris is large and it occupies most of the eye socket.

With humans, our eyelids are horizontally elongated, increasing the opportunity for the eyeballs to become more visible.  Human eyeballs have lost all pigmentation so that they are clearly contrasted against the human skin.  The human iris comes in dark colors, clearly contrasting against the eyeball.  Our iris is smaller than the that of other animals, further increasing the visibility of the white of the eye.  All of this make it easy for humans to track each other’s eyes.  Even dogs have learnt to track human eyes (though, they can’t track the eyes of other dogs).

We have talking eyes.  Our sclera and iris are designed to talk and to be listened to.  Even infants can track eye movements.  They can track a care giver’s eye movement even before they can track their head movements!

Eye movement is very much a part of our body language repertoire.  For any body language to work, all of us must be using the body gestures the same way.  So, most of the body language gestures are common across our species.  In fact, many body languages are common across the species too.  That’s why we can clearly tell when a lion is angry.

Since the eye movement is part of our body language, we have a pre-defined vocabulary for our eye-talk.  Unfortunately, not much of it is well understood or documented.  Except for a bit of detective work done by NLP (watch this video).

Eye Accessing Cues

NLP has discovered when you try to recall a picture, your eyes move to ‘your’ left-top.  Or when you try to build a new image in your mind, your eyes move to your right-top.  Similarly, when you try to recall some sound you’ve heard, your eyes move to your left and when you are build up a sound, your eyes move to your right.  And when you are having an internal dialog, your eyes tend to move to your left-bottom.  When you get in touch with some tactile experience, your eyes tend to go to your right-bottom (more in this article).  So, when someone is describing about a fun conversation they had last night, and their eyes keep going to their right (and not left), then you know that the person is probably lying!

Our talking eyes are one more evidence that we have been mutually-cooperating social animals for millions of years.  If we had lived in a free-for-all, me-first, devious society, advertising your intent with talking eyes would be a bad thing to do.  If you can’t believe that next guy will do the right thing, you won’t advertise that your are looking at something interesting, like food or a potential mate.

Advertising your intent openly to everyone means (a) you believe that you will not be exploited and (b) your intent (to share the food, for example) will be returned when the time comes.  These two are social traits are deeply embedded in our genetic code and white sclara is just one such places where it shows.

It is in our nature to be social (see the previous post about our fundamentally social nature).  To say that humans need to be forced to cooperate, or that we should be bound by rules to act fair, or that we are selfish in nature, are all total hogwash.  Such claims are testament to lack of understanding of how we work down deep inside.

Down deep inside, we are cooperative social animals with a selfish me-first streak (more about this later).  We are neither this, nor that.  We are a fine balance between honey bees and leopards.  If that is not complicated enough, the point of equilibrium keeps shifting from time to time!

01 Aug

John Galt was a Psychopath

Psychopaths

So was Howard Roark.  And, very probably, Ayn Rand was a psychopath too.  But they were all so called ‘high functioning’ psychopaths.  In other words, they have a psychopath’s psychological make up, but they have used the traits constructively.

For reasons that I don’t quite understand, twentieth century was the century of psychopaths.  May be industrialization happened too fast that we didn’t have time to learn to live with strangers.  Or the World Wars (another product of rapid industrialization) promoted leaders with psychopathic tendencies.   Or may be we were tired of living in a close nit society for too long that we were wallowing in our new found individuality.

Whatever may be the case, twentieth century idolized the lone wolves.  Towards the end of the Twentieth Century, we recognized our true social nature.  And we are just beginning to understand how important it is for our physical and psychological well being that we are emotionally connected to other people.

Few posts ago, we saw the SCARF model proposed by David Rock, which identified five central human drives (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness).  Couple of earlier posts addressed Status and Fairness.  This post is about Relatedness.

We are beginning to see research coming out from all over the world, showing that the quality of life and the longevity are tightly correlated with the quality and (to an extent) the quantity of meaningful relationships we have.  Meaningful relationships will include people with who we can have a real conversation or do something with full immersion, people who care for our wellness dearly and people we care for deeply.  People can have such relationships with pets or even plants.

Our default state of response to strangers is suspicion and fear.  Strangers are treated as enemies unless proven otherwise.  For our threat antennae come down, we need to know that the strangers mean no harm.  Hence, for a person who lives among people he or she doesn’t know well enough, the whole world is made up of enemies.  Everywhere they go, they are treated with hostility and the fear that others are always out to get them.

Add loneliness to this constant state of fear, it is no surprise that lone wolves are a bitter and unhappy lot.

Fortunately, a little while ago, longevity scientists have begun to notice a strange anomaly with the people who lived in well nit societies.  It appeared that they lived much longer and happier, and with far less lifestyle diseases, than the normal people.  Even tending to live plants seemed to have some positive effect on people!

And then, the internet and the social networks came along and the fabric of society changed once and for all.

Today, we are much more connected in every sense possible than we ever where in the past.  The trend will only continue.  Because the world is so very networked, we have more number of people to relate to than ever before.  Because we share more online, our relations are typically deeper than they were in the yesteryears.  Similar thinking people are now able to discover each other from different corners of the world.

Good practices discovered in one part of the world spreads to the other parts very swiftly.  More importantly, xenophobia is on the decline.  And meaningless or outdated taboos are falling down one after another.  Because the world is so well connected, there is a free flow of scientific and productive ideas and even the lay people are beginning to discover their creative and thinking skills.  And the world is going to become richer, and happier, by many folds over.

Because we have discovered the necessity and joy of relatedness, the world today is much happier and richer than it ever was.  Because we are so well connected, there is never likely to be a Third World War.  When it comes to networking, we have barely begun to scratch the surface.  What we have seen as the benefits of networking is nothing compared with what is waiting to happen.

Given how beneficial networking ‘among the masses’, isn’t it strange that lone wolves like John Galt and Howard Roark wanted to create an utopia that was made by, and made for, a handful of intellectually gifted people who had near zero social skills!  To understand this anomaly, we should take a quick look at the typical personality features of high functioning psychopaths (taken from the book “Wisdom of the Psychopaths“; a more elaborate character set is here):

  1. Ruthlessness
  2. Charm
  3. Focus
  4. Mental Toughness
  5. Fearlessness
  6. Mindfulness
  7. Action

Galt, Roark, Dagny Taggart or any other protagonist created by Ayn Rand almost always had all the 7 features given above. The epitome, I think, is the way she explains child rearing as an objective profession (or sorts) that one opts in!  Anyone who is oblivious to the magic of rearing having and raising a child, in my mind, must be a psychopath.

29 Dec

Who gave You Your Morals?

Fairness

In the last post, we saw SCARF model proposed by David Rock, identifying five strong human motivations (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness & Fairness).  The last post also discussed Status.  In this post, we will discuss the Fairness, or morality.

The most important paradigm shift on morality is this:

Fairness and other morals are hard coded in our genes!

The conventional belief is that the moralities have been given to us by religions.  But the more we understand how humans and other animals work, the more it becomes clear that

Religions have simply documented the moral values that we have inherited through our genes.

Unfortunately, religions have done a poor job of documenting morality.  Given that most of the religious teachings are hundreds or thousands of years old, they suffer from two disadvantages:

  1. The clarity of thought applied (while documenting the moral values) in the distant is substantially poor when compared with today’s rigorous standards
  2. The power of today’s science and mathematics to segregate the nuts and bolts of morality was not available in the past.  For the ancient thinkers, morality was too large to grasp, too dynamic to pin down and contained too many black boxes to make sense of.

Here is a wonderful TED video that shows morals are hard coded in the genes: Do Animals have Morals? (17 min).  The capuchin monkeys shown at 13 minute mark in the video have a brain that weighs about just 3.5% of a human brain!  Still, they clearly understand what is fair.  Understanding of fairness has been observed even in small fishes with pinhead sized brain, or in insects with no central nervous system.  If we know how to look, morality is seen in every animal.

Here is why the genetic origin of morality shouldn’t be surprising:

Proteins come together to form genes.  Genes, to chromosomes.  Chromosomes to organs to an organism.  Individual organisms come together to form a society/colony.

Each of these collectives has their own set of rules that must be preserved across time and generations.  Else, the process of formation of collectives stop from happening.

Chemical and physical rules govern the coagulation of organs into an organism (or upstream).  Morality is the rules that govern as to how individual organisms come together to form a colony/society.

Without morality, we will have no societies.  Because, morality is the fabric that holds us all together into a society.  The fabric of the society.

This idea has a few very interesting implications:

  • Since we don’t find many humans wanting to live in isolation for extended period of time, we can speculate that our ancestors who didn’t crave for fairness perished.  For today’s humans, fairness is a basic necessity.  Perceived lack of fairness and morality in other people can make us do funny things.
  • Since fairness is built into our genes, we should expect the world to become a more just place to live with time.
  • Morality is a component of the society.  Moral values usually give more importance to the society, than the benefit of an individual.
  • All agents of morality (including the religions) will mostly put the benefit of the society above the benefit of an individual.
  • We don’t need the religious teachings to tell us what is right and what is not.
  • Because of the poor standards of thinking of understanding involved in the religious teachings, we will be much better off if we replace the religious teachings with scientific understanding of moral values.
25 Dec

Seek Status. Be Happy.

Seek Status

If you are a corporate type, I am sure they have already bored you to death with Abraham Maslow’s human need pyramid.  Maslow proposed that human beings start addressing their needs from the bottom most layer.  Typically, after the bottom layer is addressed, they move to the layer above.  How-much-ever popular Maslow’s pyramid is, I can never figure out what self-actualization is!

Maslow's Pyramid

Fortunately, there is a delightfully alternative human-drive model that works for me.  Proposed by David Rock, the SCARF Model identifies five human needs that have huge impact on our decisions.  And it is not as if one of them is more important than the other.

SCARF Model

Maslow and all other teachers before him (including the religious teachers) completely missed the human hunger for status.  Almost every religion, without an exception, preach that status seeking is evil or trivial thing.  People readily die in order to retain their status.  In fact, almost every one is spending their whole life pursuing status.

With the help of modern science, animal studies and hard data, we now clearly know that having high status adds a few years to one’s life.  Not only that, we now know that the people/animals with lower status suffer much higher levels of stress and anxiety, making even their shorter life much less pleasant.

Status seeking is a selfish act, done to benefit the self and near-self.  Selfishness in itself is not a bad thing till such time it affects others in an unfair manner.  Unfortunately, status seeking is a win-lose game; for one person to win, other(s) must lose.  An individual’s status seeking threatens the status of (few) others in the group.  Sometimes, the entire group is threatened by an individual’s status seeking.  Groups almost always hate status seekers.

Religions are a product of group selection.  They almost always put the benefit of the group above that of the individual.  Religions always belittle an individual’s self-centered reward seeking behavior.  Ironically, religions smuggle an individual’s reward-seeking mechanism to serve the group.  If we look at it from this point of view, a religion is a parasite on its member, though a mutually beneficial symbiotic relationship with the host might exist.

Interestingly, status seeking is driven by sexual selection.  Status seeking is usually an expression of the mate selection drive.  An individual’s status seeking drives roughly correlates with the level of androgens and other gonadal hormones in their body.  People are most status seeking in their sexual prime.  Kids and elderly, with their low gonadal hormone levels, more readily cooperate.  Men, with their higher androgen levels, are much more competitive than women.

Summary:

  1. Seek, and win, Status; it is good for your health and well being
  2. Your status-run will threaten your peers
  3. Institutions put their selfish motive above your individual welfare when they teach you not to seek status
  4. As you grow old, your status-seeking drive might diminish.  And, you might think that the status seekers are all foolish.

We’ll look at “Fairness” in the next post.

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!