Thursday, September 30, 2010

An End of Dissonance and A Beginning of Dissonance

Not sure if one should be happy or cry at these two cognitive dissonances, one almost "settled" and other just warming up for a long haul:

1. India: Ayodhya verdict - "The Allahabad High Court on Thursday ruled by a majority verdict that the disputed land in Ayodhya be divided equally into three parts among Hindus and Muslims and that the place where the makeshift temple of Lord Ram exists belongs to Hindus. "

2. US of A: Ground Zero Mosque: "Plans to bring what one critic calls a "monster mosque" to the site of the old Burlington Coat Factory building, at a cost expected to top $100 million, moved along for months without a peep. All of a sudden, even members of the community board that stupidly green-lighted the mosque this month are tearing their hair out."

Well, in a weird way it does proves we humans think the same and are alike - no matter where we come from and who we are. So much for Gandhi's and Jefferson's.

How to be happy (but not too much)

Excellent article but this foot note got my attention:

Happiness is...
Happiness, in its everyday sense, is akin to pleasure or joy, something we experience in the moment as a result of enjoyable activities. Besides pleasure, there are of course many different positive emotions, such as awe, pride, and gratitude that might also contribute to our general mood.
When psychologists talk about happiness, however, they usually use the term to mean our overall and long-term subjective well-being and life satisfaction. Happiness in this broader sense is mostly probed with questionnaires that ask subjects to rate how much they agree or disagree with statements such as "In most ways my life is close to ideal," or "If I could live my life over, I would change almost nothing." When averaged over a group such as a nation, these measures can be used to generate a measure of collective happiness. Importantly, recent psychological research is explaining how those fleeting positive emotions contribute to this longer-lasting satisfaction and contentment with our life.
  • Write a diary. Simply writing about a positive experience has been shown to increase people's life satisfaction, with the benefits lingering for two weeks after the task (Journal of Clinical Psychology, vol 62, p 1291). A further study found that a group of subjects who wrote about their emotions for just 2 minutes a day, over two days, reported fewer physical health complaints four weeks down the line (British Journal of Health Psychology, vol 13, p 9).
  • Dispute negative thinking. This is a technique borrowed from cognitive behavioural therapy, in which you catch negative thoughts as they arise and ask: "Is there really reason to think like this? Can I reframe this in a more positive way?"
  • Meditate. Barbara Fredrickson and colleagues have shown that meditation can relax both your body and your mind, with many beneficial effects for well-being and happiness (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol 95, p 1045). It's not easy, however, and you may need some training before you get going.
  • Nurture meaningful relationships with family and friends. More than simply improving your well-being, it might just save your life. "Social resources and ties to groups are one of the key buffers protecting us against unhappiness," says Fredrickson. A recent meta-analysis of 148 studies on links between the quantity and quality of social relationships and mortality suggests that being socially isolated is about as bad for your health as smoking or drinking excessively, and worse than being obese (PLoS Medicine, vol 7, p e10000316).
  • Beware consumerism. Buying more possessions won't make you as happy as spending money on social activities or new and exciting experiences (The Journal of Positive Psychology, vol 4, p 511)."

Richard Thaler for the Nobel?

Tyler Cowen thinks so!! I hope it comes true!!

" A "nudge unit" set up by David Cameron in the Cabinet Office is working on how to use behavioural economics and market signals to persuade citizens to behave in a more socially integrated way.

The unit, formally known as the Behavioural Insight Team, is being run by David Halpern, a former adviser in Tony Blair's strategy unit, and is taking advice from Richard Thaler, the Chicago professor generally recognised as popularising "nudge" theory – the idea that governments can design environments that make it easier for people to choose what is best for themselves and society.
Thaler is a good bet for the Nobel."

Btw, it's wonderful to see both authors of Nudge in high profile positions - one at White house and other with Cameron.

I Love a Rainy Night

Why the revolution will not be tweeted - Malcolm Gladwell

It's a self-evident and common sense call by Gladwell but the hunger/longing for change makes us delusional and quixotic with the coming of every new technology. We tend to forget the basic roots of revolution cannot be replicated by any technology - HUMAN INSTINCT AND BOND TO DIE FOR A CAUSE. There are too many posts against Gladwell on this but I agree with him completely. Modern tools can only help a little to expedite but cannot instigate a revolution.

"The dangers were even clearer in the Mississippi Freedom Summer Project of 1964, another of the sentinel campaigns of the civil-rights movement. The Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee recruited hundreds of Northern, largely white unpaid volunteers to run Freedom Schools, register black voters, and raise civil-rights awareness in the Deep South. “No one should go anywhere alone, but certainly not in an automobile and certainly not at night,” they were instructed. Within days of arriving in Mississippi, three volunteers—Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman—were kidnapped and killed, and, during the rest of the summer, thirty-seven black churches were set on fire and dozens of safe houses were bombed; volunteers were beaten, shot at, arrested, and trailed by pickup trucks full of armed men. A quarter of those in the program dropped out. Activism that challenges the status quo—that attacks deeply rooted problems—is not for the faint of heart.

What makes people capable of this kind of activism? The Stanford sociologist Doug McAdam compared the Freedom Summer dropouts with the participants who stayed, and discovered that the key difference wasn’t, as might be expected, ideological fervor. “All of the applicants—participants and withdrawals alike—emerge as highly committed, articulate supporters of the goals and values of the summer program,” he concluded. What mattered more was an applicant’s degree of personal connection to the civil-rights movement. All the volunteers were required to provide a list of personal contacts—the people they wanted kept apprised of their activities—and participants were far more likely than dropouts to have close friends who were also going to Mississippi. High-risk activism, McAdam concluded, is a “strong-tie” phenomenon.

The kind of activism associated with social media isn’t like this at all. The platforms of social media are built around weak ties. Twitter is a way of following (or being followed by) people you may never have met. Facebook is a tool for efficiently managing your acquaintances, for keeping up with the people you would not otherwise be able to stay in touch with. That’s why you can have a thousand “friends” on Facebook, as you never could in real life.

This is in many ways a wonderful thing. There is strength in weak ties, as the sociologist Mark Granovetter has observed. Our acquaintances—not our friends—are our greatest source of new ideas and information. The Internet lets us exploit the power of these kinds of distant connections with marvellous efficiency. It’s terrific at the diffusion of innovation, interdisciplinary collaboration, seamlessly matching up buyers and sellers, and the logistical functions of the dating world. But weak ties seldom lead to high-risk activism."

To a Friend

"I ask but one thing of you, only one, 
That always you will be my dream of you;
That never shall I wake to find untrue
All this I have believed and rested on,
Forever vanished, like a vision gone
Out into the night. Alas, how few
There are who strike in us a chord we knew
Existed, but so seldom heard its tone
We tremble at the half-forgotten sound.
The world is full of rude awakenings
And heaven-born castles shattered to the ground,
Yet still our human longing vainly clings
To a belief in beauty through all wrongs.
O stay your hand, and leave my heart its songs!"

-Amy Lowel

Quote of the Day

The only person who can make you cry is the only person who can make you smile.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

I am my Connectome - Sebastian Seung

"The greatness of human beings consists in their ability to know their wretchedness" - Pascal's rejection of any naturalistic explanation of the human mind or soul, his emphasis on dread of an unknown future, the apparent insignificance of human existence, and the experience of being dominated by political and natural forces that far exceed our limited powers.  But yet...

Platonic Friendship

A friendship between a man and a woman which surpasses every social constraints, redefines a bond and reaches a scared stage is "Platonic Friendship". The world seems so beautiful to have a friend like that and if we are gifted enough have that, there is nothing else one needs in life. Life seems to begin and end with that. In those moments we do find meaning of life, we start believing in and bow to some power superior to us. Plato understood the power of this relationship way back in 400/300 BC. It's relevant now even after thousands of years and will be forever. The origins of the term platonic friendship from Slate:

"The Florentine scholar Marsilio Ficino coined the term amor platonicus (Latin for "platonic love") in the 15th century. He had in mind Plato's Symposium, in which Socrates describes a possible ascent from base desire to high-minded contemplation—a "ladder" with love for a beautiful person at the bottom, and love of Beauty itself at the top. Ficino Christianized the concept, interpreting the final Beauty as a reference to God. He further asserted that true lovers are drawn to each other's divine souls: "The passion of a lover is not quenched by the mere touch or sight of a body," he wrote, "for it does not desire this or that body, but desires the splendor of the divine light shining through bodies, and is amazed and awed by it."
Ficino's description of Platonic love circulated around Europe, women stepped into the role of the beloved who incites spiritual desire. Neoplatonic thought also fused somewhat with an old courtly tradition in which women occupy an elevated position and become objects of male worship."

Quote of the Day

"Oh, the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person, having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring them all out, just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth keeping, and with a breath of kindness blow the rest away."
-Dinah Craik

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Let These be Your Desires

"Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself
But if your love and must needs have desires,
Let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook
That sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart
And give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer
For the beloved in your heart
And a song of praise upon your lips."
-Khalil Gibran

Quote of the Day

"Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore, we must be saved by love."

-Reinhold Niebuhr

Monday, September 27, 2010

Walking In the Rain

Why I am a 'Possibilian' - David Eagleman

This is why I am big fan of Eagleman and his theories ozzing with limits of our human knowledge in an universe where knowledge is limitless - here:

"Good science is always open-minded, and the history of science is one of surprises and overturnings. Science is nothing but careful thinking, and careful thinking encourages an appreciation of the complexity of the world. The complexity encourages us to maintain several possibilities at once. In a single lifetime, we may have no way to remove the ambiguities from these possibilities.

A scientist may tend to favour one story over the others, but will always be careful to concede uncertainty and maintain a willingness to change the balance with new, incoming information. As an example, there are two very different interpretations about the reality underlying quantum physics. It is possible that there will be no way to ever know which is correct, or if instead some entirely new theory is correct. And that ambiguity is accepted as part of the enormity of the mysteries we face, and the terms of the agreement we have with nature.

So while there are plenty of good books by scientist-atheists, they sometimes under-emphasise the main lesson from science: that our knowledge is vastly outstripped by our ignorance. For me, a life in science prompts awe and exploration over dogmatism.

Given these considerations, I do not call myself an atheist. I don't feel that I have enough data to firmly rule out other interesting possibilities. On the other hand, I do not subscribe to any religion. Traditional religious stories can be beautiful and often crystallise hard-won wisdom - but it is hardly a challenge to poke holes in them. Religious structures are built by humans and brim with all manner of strange human claims - they often reflect cults of personality, xenophobia or mental illness. The holy books of these religions were written millennia ago by people who never had the opportunity to know about DNA, other galaxies, information theory, electricity, the big bang, the big crunch, or even other cultures, literatures or landscapes.

So it seems we know too little to commit to strict atheism, and too much to commit to any religion. Given this, I am often surprised by the number of people who seem to possess total certainty about their position. I know a lot of atheists who seethe at the idea of religion, and religious followers who seethe at the idea of atheism - but neither group is bothering with more interesting ideas. They make their impassioned arguments as though the God versus no-God dichotomy were enough for a modern discussion.

This is why I call myself a "possibilian". Possibilianism emphasises the active exploration of new, unconsidered notions. A possibilian is comfortable holding multiple ideas in mind and is not driven by the idea of fighting for a single, particular story. The key emphasis of possibilianism is to shine a flashlight around the possibility space. It is a plea not simply for open-mindedness, but for an active exploration of new ideas."

Quote of the Day

"I would thank you from the bottom of my heart, but for you my heart has no bottom."

Under the Harvest Moon

"Under the harvest moon,

When the soft silver
Drips shimmering
Over garden nights,
Death, the gray mocker,
Comes and whispers to you
As a beautiful friend
Who remembers.
Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions."

Carl Sandburg

Quote of the Day

"Accept the things to which fate binds you, and love the people with whom fate brings you together, but do so with all your heart."

-Marcus Aurelius

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Full Moon

3 days after the full moon, its still lingering in the skies and all I think of is this beautiful song

Daniel Goleman on Emotional Intelligence

After the Bear episode yesterday, I had to listen to this:

Question: What is emotional intelligence?
Daniel Goleman:Emotional intelligence refers to how well we handle ourselves and our relationships, the 4 domains.  Self-awareness, knowing what we’re feeling, why we’re feeling it, which is a basis of, for example, good intuition, good decision-making.  Also, it’s a moral compass.  Say, in part, is self-management, which means handling your distressing emotions in effective ways so that they don’t cripple you, they don’t get in the way of what you’re doing, and yet, attuning them… to them when you need to so that you learn what you must.  Every emotion has a function.  Also, [marshalling] positive emotions, getting ourselves, you know, involved, enthused about what we’re doing, aligning our actions with our passions.  The third is empathy, knowing what someone else is feeling.  And the fourth is putting that altogether in skilled relationship.  So that’s what I mean by emotional intelligence.  There’re many definitions out there. The part of the brain, it turns out, that supports emotional and social intelligence is actually the last circuitry of the brain to become anatomically mature.  And because the neuroplasticity of the brain shapes itself according to repeated experiences, so my argument is, hey, we should be teaching kids regularly overtime, in a systematic way, self-awareness, self-management, empathy, and social skill.  Executive function, which is mediated by the prefrontal lobe, both helps you manage your emotions and helps you pay attention.  So as kids learn these skills, they also learn learning… basic learning skills.  I think that the fact that that was an argument was one thing that caught people’s attention.  Then, there was a little chapter on… called managing with heart, which argued that leaders who were sons of a bitch were actually defeating the company’s own mission.  And I think that made a lot of people happy because they work for people like that.  I don’t know… Some people gave it to other people because they thought they needed help in this domain.  I’m sure there’re a zillion reasons why people like the book.

Question: What should corporate leaders understand about emotional intelligence?
Daniel Goleman: Well, the classic problem is the 2 kinds of leadership.  They tend to be slightly rapid.  One is someone called the pace setter, who typically was a very gifted individual performer, the very good at the technical side of what they do, whatever that may be.  And because they’re so good, they get promoted to lead a team or a division.  And all of a sudden, the skill for which they were so good is no longer sufficient to the task at hand, which is dealing with people.  Leadership, what is leadership?  Leadership is influencing, persuading, motivating, listening, communicating.  None of those skills necessarily have to do with how good a software programmer you are, whatever the skill may be.  So pace setters tend to lead by example.  And they also tend to be perfectionists.  The thing about perfectionist is that no matter what they do, they see that it could be better, which is why they get so good, why they become the top of the game.  But you get that good by focusing on what’s wrong with what you did, not what’s right so you could learn to do better.  And they tend to look at other people, people they’re leading through the same lens of negativity.  So they give failing grades.  They don’t understand an intrinsic part of any leaders’ task is to help other people get better at what they do.  They just criticize.  So that… that doesn’t work.  The other is the kind of command and control kind of the military model.  I’m the boss, do it because I say so.  Think nothing, blowing up at people or humiliating them and so on.  And those 2 styles are disasters.  So very often, I’m asked to come to a company or I just was spent 2 days in London with the National Health Service there.  They have 2 million in the health service, with leaders at different levels, talking about leadership styles and what the emotional intelligent styles are and why… Particularly in health service, it’s important for leaders to be emotionally supportive so that the people who are at the frontlines, who really have to deliver and be there for patients have the emotional reserves themselves to do it and don’t get burned out.

Question: What does meditation do for the brain?
Daniel Goleman: Well, the Mind & Life Institute catalyze these experiments where high, you have to say, Olympic level meditators came to brain imaging labs in the West and have their brains studied while they did different meditation practices.  And what they’re finding is brain configurations that they’ve never seen before.  These are different brains.  For example, the left prefrontal cortex, just behind the forehead, is the center of positive emotions or part of the key… key part of the circuitry for that.  And when these monks meditate on compassion, it lights up, it activates to a level that just never seen in ordinary life.  And they’re finding, you know, a range of specific… state specific effects like this.So it’s mental training, basically.  It’s a mental gym.  

Question: What can eastern thought teach the west?
Daniel Goleman: There’s a village in the Himalayas in Tibet that has had about the same population in the same place under dire climatic conditions.  It’s very high and really cold much the time.  There’s no electricity, no heating.  People have lived there successfully for a thousand years.  How?  They’re very finely attuned to their environment.  Inuits, you know, in the Arctic circle, have lived for thousands of years very successfully.  Bushman live well in the desert very successfully.  All of these groups have high ecological intelligence.  They are highly sensitive to their own environment and they have learned how to adapt to it without destroying the environment so it persists over centuries.  And so, they can thrive.  That’s what we need to learn.  We have been modern people, have become deskilled in this.  We’re so out of touch with our environment.  We depend on artificial means, on heating, on cooling, on this, on that in order to survive.  If we were put in the Arctic, you know, in the outback in Africa or in a little village in Tibet and had to survive on our own resource, we probably die in a day or two.  So what we need to do is learn how to find equilibrium with our own ecosystem, which is a global one now and which we seem to be bent on destroying at present."

Should We Be Worried About Alien Invasion?

Michio Kaku answer's:

Question One: You discuss evil aliens that might want to take over the Earth. But can't the aliens be friendly?Answer: Yes. In fact, I personally believe that alien civilizations will be benign, if only because they have had thousands of years in which to work out their differences. We have another program that addresses the possibility that they are friendly. But since we don't know their intentions, the point of this program was to address the possibility that they might be hostile.
Question Two: Why would they want to invade the earth? To take our resources?Answer: I personally believe that a friendly alien civilization will choose uninhabited planets in the search for resources. Any civilization advanced enough to reach the Earth would also be advanced enough to mine dead, uninhabited planets. Hence, more than likely they will leave us alone.
Question Five: When might we make contact?Answer: Perhaps sometime in this century. We now have satellites (the Kepler and Corot) specifically designed to find earth-like twins in space. And the SETI project has gotten a huge grant from billionare Paul Allen to expand its radio telescopes at Hat Creek outside San Francisco. So perhaps in this century we might actually receive messages from an alien civilization. But it's anyone's guess."

Life Is Love

"The fair varieties of earth,

The heavens serene and blue above,
The rippling smile of mighty seas—
What is the charm of all, but love?
By love they minister to thought,
Love makes them breathe the poet’s song;
When their Creator best is prais’d,
‘Tis love inspires the adoring throng.
Knowledge, and power, and will supreme,
Are but celestial tyranny,
Till they are consecrate by love,
The essence of divinity.
For love is strength, and faith, and hope;
It crowns with bliss our mortal state;
And, glancing far beyond the grave,
Foresees a life of endless date.
That life is love; and all of life
Time or eternity can prove;
Both men and angels, worms and gods
Exist in universal love."

William Johnson Fox

Quote of the Day

"Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don't drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor's yard every time it pisses on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper. So I keep trying to gently bring my mind back to what is really there to be seen, maybe to be seen and noted with a kind of reverence. Because if I don't learn to do this, I think I'll keep getting things wrong."

-Anne Lamott, 
Bird by Bird

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Difficulty of Being Good: On the Subtle Art of Dharma by Gurcharan Das

I saw this book on sale while in India, should have bought it. I don't know what I was thinking...
Now via
MR, I got to know it's yet to be out on Amazon here.

The Mahabharata still speaks to rural peasants and is still being transmitted by wandering, illiterate bards in remote Indian villages. Yet its deeply sophisticated philosophical interludes also represent some of the most profound thinking on morals, ethics and duty ever written, and are among the deepest expressions of Hindu thought. Indeed it is the contention of Gurcharan Das, the celebrated Indian writer on economics and enthusiastic amateur Sanskritist, that its teachings represent just as valuable a guide on how to live a moral and ethical life in the world today as it did in the early centuries BC when it was first written, tackling the eternal questions of Everyman: “Who am I?” “What should I do?” “What is right?”

After taking early retirement from a career as the chief executive of Proctor & Gamble India, Gurcharan Das went to Chicago to study Sanskrit under the two great American scholars of the “language of the gods”, Sheldon Pollock and Wendy Doniger, and 
The Difficulty of Being Good represents an attempt by Das to bring together the two sides of his life, the literary and the practical. The result is a highly personal and idiosyncratic, yet richly insightful meditation on the application of ancient philosophy to issues of modern moral conduct and right and wrong. Das is especially focused on his native India, which today is mired in corruption, with one out of every five members of parliament having had criminal charges levelled against him: “Moral failure pervades our public life and hangs over it like Delhi’s smog.”

At the centre of the book is Das’s quest to understand the elusive term 
dharma, a word which means at once duty and religion, justice and righteousness, law and goodness. Dharma lies at the heart of the ethical questions explored in The Mahabharata, and as Das puts it: “The conceptual difficulty is part of the point. Indeed The Mahabharata is in many ways an extended attempt to clarify whatdharma is – that is, what exactly should we do, when we are trying to be good in the world.”

Both the strength and weakness of 
The Difficulty of Being Good lies in the sheer complexity of looking for clear moral teachings in the profoundly ambiguous teachings of an epic that is “about our incomplete lives, about good people acting badly, about how difficult it is to be good in this world”. It is true that the Pandavas’ gentle leader, King Yudhishthira, is admired for his unbreakable commitment to satya (truth), ahimsa (non-violence) and anrishamsya (compassion)."

How much would you pay to watch a new movie sooner?

"Time Warner will begin testing a new video-on-demand service that will allow consumers to watch movies at home 30 to 60 days after the initial theater release.
Pricing this service will be a challenge. The CFO estimates that customers would be willing to pay $20-$30 to watch a newly released movie at home."-Here

They must be kidding. Yes there will be always exceptions but most are addicted to virtual world via FREE!!

Amygdala and the Bears

Daniel Goleman in his book Emotional Intelligence stressed on the influence of Amygdala in our emotional reactions:

A small structure in the limbic region of the brain, the amygdala, is the center of your emotional brain. All incoming sensory data—sights, sounds, smells, sensations—pass through the amygdala where they are instantly analyzed for their emotional value before going to the cerebral cortex for processing. Every piece of data is infused by the amygdala with an emotional charge. If powerful enough, that charge can override reasoned thinking and logic.
In an emotional emergency, the amygdala proclaims a crisis, recruiting the rest of the brain to its urgent agenda. Goleman calls this an emotional hijacking, because it occurs so fast that the thinking brain has no opportunity to grasp what is occurring and decide on the best coarse of action. Emotional hijackings produce astonishing feats of bravery, hideous acts of violence, and everything in between. Meanwhile the neocortex—in the prefrontal lobes just behind the forehead—is working to control feelings in order to reappraise situations and deal with them more effectively. It functions like a master strategist, planning and organizing actions toward a goal. When an emotion triggers, within moments the prefrontal lobes analyze possible actions and choose the best alternative.When you hear a loud crash in the next room, it's the amygdala that sends a paralyzing jolt of fear through your body. A moment later, the neocortex starts ticking off the possibilities—cat, window, intruder—and what to do about hem. The neocortex is capable of muffling emergency signals, but it is slower, involving more circuitry."

So Max and I are walking today in the state park like we do every weekend am. It's a very isolated mud road covered either side with dense foliage. Out of nowhere, I saw a black bear about 300 yards away crossing the road. All I could think of was Daniel Goleman and how I am going to react (If 300 yards was 30 yards then I am sure Goleman wouldn't be anywhere in my thoughts). Part of me was happy trying to seize this opportunity as a real test for my emotional reaction and other part was to say the least petrified.
I was sure the bear didn't see us but we turned around immediately and I started talking loudly on the phone. After walking back 50 yards, we started running. I have never ran so fast in my life and honestly I surprised myself. Max is an awesome sprinter, years of fitness regime paid both of us off today. Finally after reaching the local road with some traffic, we started to relax and get all the oxygen we could grasp. Now I saw a girl who lives in our community jogging towards us. I stopped her, told her about the bear and asked her not to go in that direction. She was all thankful and decided to walk back with me. The moment we turn back, we saw another bear about 200 yards away coming towards us!! Two bears in one day is too much for amygdala to handle. Luckily few cars drove by and the bear disappeared into the woods. Of course we had a good laugh after few minutes. But the most obvious thing was Max didn't see either bears, he was happily sniffing around and looked at me like a nutcase when I started to run. Today was one lucky day. I am not sure yet on my emotional intelligence, I guess so far so good. If it was really bad, I wouldn't be sitting here typing this post, right?


The Angel

"I dreamt a dream! What can it mean?
And that I was a maiden Queen
Guarded by an Angel mild:
Witless woe was ne'er beguiled!

And I wept both night and day,
And he wiped my tears away;
And I wept both day and night,
And hid from him my heart's delight.

So he took his wings, and fled;
Then the morn blushed rosy red.
I dried my tears, and armed my fears
With ten-thousand shields and spears.

Soon my Angel came again;
I was armed, he came in vain;
For the time of youth was fled,
And grey hairs were on my head."

William Blake 

Quote of the Day

"Moral language persuades best when opinions are not yet formed, which is why writers of children’s literature can get away with saying things like, “Mr. Billings was an awful, horrible man with a heart of stone.” This sounds like a line from a children’s book because it employs persuasive methods that, though appropriate for children, would insult the intelligence of most adult readers.

Most moral discourse is the conversational equivalent of children’s literature. Disputants speak to one another—or, rather, at one another—as if their interlocutors failed to pay adequate attention on the day elementary morality was explained. Unaware of the projective nature of value, they marvel at their opponents’ blindness, their utter failure to see what is so perfectly obvious. Not knowing what else to do, they scold their opponents as if they were children, and scold them as if they were 
belligerent children when they fail to respond the first time.

What to do about this? Take a cue from good writers. Stick to the facts. Keep evaluative language to a minimum, and get rid of the most overtly judgmental, moralistic language."

-Joshua Greene, 
The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Truth About Morality And What To Do About It

Friday, September 24, 2010

Facts to Know About Food Product Claims

From Goodguide:

  1. There are three types of regulated claims you’ll come across when grocery shopping: nutrient content claims (describe the level of a specific nutrient in a food product), health claims (describe the relationship between a substance and a disease), and structure/function claims (describe the role of a nutrient in a specific bodily function).
  2. Health claims are often longer than nutrient content or structure/function claims. Also, they only refer to risk reduction benefits, NOT curative properties of a substance.
  3. Fat (total and saturated), cholesterol, sodium and sugar “free” foods can still contain up to .5g of these nutrients. This loophole isn’t such a problem for sodium, cholesterol or sugar, but is of concern when it comes to total fat and saturated fat because the recommended daily values for these nutrients is low to begin with.
  4. When you see the words “less,” “reduced,” or “lower” remember that these terms are used to compare nutrient values of two similar products. The “reduced” version must contain 25% less of the nutrient in the claim. Example: Happy Country’s reduced fat potato chips contain 25% less fat than Happy Country’s regular potato chips.
  5. When you see the words “rich in,” “good source,” and “fortified” the claim is comparing a specific nutrient value in a product to the daily recommended value for that nutrient. This comparison is done in three tiers: “rich in” (denoting when a product contains 20% or more of the daily value), “good source” (denoting when a product contains 10-19% of the daily value), and “fortified” (denoting when a product contains 10% or more of the daily value). Since the FDA allows other words to be used in addition to those listed, it can be challenging to tell when a product falls in a certain category. Note that comparisons can only be made for nutrients with daily values.
  6. Lean vs. Extra Lean. These designations only apply to seafood and meat. Lean meat must contain less than 10grams total fat, 4.5grams or less saturated fat and less than 95milligrams cholesterol per serving. Extra lean meat must contain less than 5grams total fat, less than 2grams saturated fat, and less than 95milligrams cholesterol per serving.
  7. Baby foods are generally not allowed to have nutrient content claims, except for “unsweetened,” “unsalted,” or if the claim compares percentage of a vitamin or mineral to a daily value. It seems this stipulation is hard to follow,even for well-known manufacturers.
  8. Foods naturally low in or free of a nutrient cannot bear these respective claims. That’s why you’re unlikely to find packaged salads labeled with “low in fat.” That said, I have seen products naturally free of cholesterol-free with “contains no cholesterol.” (When it comes to cholesterol, keep in mind that only products with ingredients derived from animals can contain this nutrient. Why? Plants don’t have the ability to make cholesterol!).
  9. Claims that refer to antioxidants can only refer to antioxidants that have a recommended daily intake. So, flavonoids and polyphenols shouldn’t be included in these claims.
  10. Fortunately, unhealthy products with one positive attribute aren’t granted a complete free pass as they must display a disclosure statement. For example, if a product has no trans fat, but does have exorbitant levels of other bad-for-you nutrients, it must put a disclosure statement next to the trans fat nutrient content claim directing consumers to review the nutrition facts panel. The Food and Drug Administration tries to catch violators who don’t provide disclosure statements.
  11. (I just had to include this one). Products labeled as “fresh” may still be covered in waxes or coatings, sprayed with approved pesticides, washed with a mild chlorine or mild acid solution, or irradiated.

Why Certain Jobs are Associated With Low or High Divorce Rates?

More here

Perceptual Bias in Moral Judgments

This is interesting ( I have no answer either, may be mirror neurons?):

"I'm currently working on a project with some students of mine and I've found something surprising that I'd like some feedback on. We've been conducting an eye tracking study, where the goal has been to see if various aspects of participants' looking behavior (where they look first, how long they look, etc.) predicts their moral judgments about whether they wouldshould do x (with the x varying between cases - we're using the trolley, the footbridge, and the baby/villager cases). and whether they
Specifically, participants were given the vignette (the trolley, footbridge, or baby/villager cases) to read on a screen and then two images were flashed immediately after side-by-side for 10 seconds -- in the trolley/footbridge cases, the two images were of a "fat guy" and a group of workers, in the baby/villager case it was a baby and some "villagers". The side which each image shows up on was counterbalanced.
We've found a variety of interesting things with respect to people's looking behaviors and their moral judgments -- but I'm writing this post because I found something even more interesting...and puzzling. Leaving people's actual looking behavior aside, I found a very powerful effect -- consistent across all the vignettes -- for which side of the screen the potential victim (the fat guy or the baby) was on. When the victims were on the right-side of the screen, people's would and should judgements were significantly higher (i.e., they were more willing to, and thought more strongly that they should, kill the victim to save the others), than when they were on the left-side of the screen.
So, does anyone have any suggestions as to what might explain this finding? (e.g., is the "left-brain" a better utilitarian than the right??) Anyone ever heard of this sort of perceptual bias? Got any suggested readings? We're going to be attempting to replicate these findings in a follow-up study this fall, but in the mean time I'd sure like to have a better grip on what it is that might be going on...and why!"

Imperfectly Perfect

"No one is perfect but you are perfectly imperfect for me"

God is in all of Us

The Explanation

"Love and Death once ceased their strife
At the Tavern of Man's Life.
Called for wine, and threw -- alas! --
Each his quiver on the grass.
When the bout was o'er they found
Mingled arrows strewed the ground.
Hastily they gathered then
Each the loves and lives of men.
Ah, the fateful dawn deceived!
Mingled arrows each one sheaved;
Death's dread armoury was stored
With the shafts he most abhorred;
Love's light quiver groaned beneath
Venom-headed darts of Death.

Thus it was they wrought our woe
At the Tavern long ago.
Tell me, do our masters know,
Loosing blindly as they fly,
Old men love while young men die?"

-Rudyard Kipling

Quote of the Day

"Love, true love, is that which can give the most without asking or demanding anything in return."

-Mazle Hammond

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Legacy of Reinhold Niebuhr

Reading vs Experience

"The most charitable description of this repeated pattern is "learning from experience." But learning from experience is the worst possible way to learn something. Learning from experience is one up from remembering. That's not great. The best way to learn something is when someone else figures it out and tells you: "Don't go in that swamp. There are alligators in there."

Learning from experience about the alligators is lousy, compared to learning from reading, say. There hasn't been, unfortunately, in this arena, a lot of learning from reading. And so, lessons from Lucasfilms' Habitat, written in 1990, reads a lot like Rose Stone's description of Communitree from 1978.

This pattern has happened over and over and over again. Someone built the system, they assumed certain user behaviors. The users came on and exhibited different behaviors. And the people running the system discovered to their horror that the technological and social issues could not in fact be decoupled."

keynote address by Clay Shirky (Thanks)