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.

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!

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.