Ask yourself how many of the weblogs you read regularly voiced attitudes different from your own about the outcome of the US elections Tuesday.
Several of the sites I visit that rarely comment on politics nevertheless had something to say about the elections. And in 98% of the cases, it was something I agreed with.
Birds of a feather flock together. And when they don't, they often flame the heck out of each other, which is most unpleasant.
Still, I'm trying to get out and about a bit more, because it's valuable to be exposed to well-written and intelligent ideas that you're inclined to disagree with. Now, if I could only find some. (Just kidding.)
Dave Rogers of Time's Shadow calls our attention to this NY Times article about irrationality and choice. Dr. Daniel Kahneman, psychologist who won the Nobel prize in economics for understanding that people fear loss much more than they value gain, is trying to establish a true measurement of quality of life.
We're attempting to measure it not by asking people, but by actually trying to measure the quality of their daily lives. For example, we are studying one day in the lives of 1,000 working women in Texas. We have people reconstruct the day in successive episodes, as recalled a day later, and we have a technique that recovers the emotions and the feelings. We know who they were with and what they were doing. They also tell us how satisfied they are with various aspects of their lives. We know a lot about these ladies.
Q. What are you finding out?
A. I'll give you a striking finding. Divorced women, compared to married women, are less satisfied with their lives, which is not surprising. But they're actually more cheerful, when you look at the average mood they're in in the course of the day. The other thing is the huge importance of friends. People are really happier with friends than they are with their families or their spouse or their child.
Q. Why would divorced women be more cheerful?
A. So far, I don't understand it, but that's what the data says.
I'm at a loss to see why this is mysterious. Here's the syllogism:
1. People are happier with their friends than with their families.
2. Divorced women spend more time in the company of friends than married women.
3. Divorced women are more cheerful.
They also describe themselves as less satisfied. This doesn't surprise me either. Satisfaction is a very different matter from mood emotions (such as happiness or unhappiness, cheerfulness or gloom). Satisfaction is the sensation of having perceived meets met adequately. If you've been enculturated your entire life to believe that having a successful marriage is important, then of course you're going to be dissatisfied if your marriage fails. But the demise of your marriage might nonetheless significantly improve the quality your life on a day to day basis (even if you have a hard time perceiving it cognitively).
Humans are born with temperaments arising from genetic variations in brain chemicals called neuromodulators, Dr. Quartz said. These differences may lead one baby to avoid novelty and another to seek it. But the experiences that result help construct the growing brain.
Humans are also born with a very large prefrontal cortex, a higher brain region involved in planning that taps into an ancient system for predicting what is rewarding and making decisions to maximize rewards and avoid punishments.
Neuroscientists are finding that this circuit, which fully matures in late adolescence, is an internal guidance system that fills each person's world with values, meaning and emotional tone, taking shape according to a person's culture.
In other words, culture contributes not just to the brain's contents but to its wiring as well, Dr. Quartz said.
One of the most creative thinkers of all time is getting another look in the light of recent neuroscience research:
The work of the past half-century in psychology and neuroscience has been to downplay the role of unconscious universal drives, focusing instead on rational processes in conscious life. Meanwhile, dreams were downgraded to a kind of mental static, random scraps of memory flickering through the sleeping brain. But researchers have found evidence that Freud's drives really do exist, and they have their roots in the limbic system, a primitive part of the brain that operates mostly below the horizon of consciousness. Now more commonly referred to as emotions, the modern suite of drives comprises five: rage, panic, separation distress, lust and a variation on libido sometimes called seeking. Freud presaged this finding in 1915, when he wrote that drives originate "from within the organism" in response to demands placed on the mind "in consequence of its connection with the body." Drives, in other words, are primitive brain circuits that control how we respond to our environment ~ foraging when we're hungry, running when we're scared and lusting for a mate.
In particular, the "seeking" drive is proving especially interesting:
Since the 1970s, neurologists have known that dreaming takes place during a particular form of sleep known as REM ~ rapid eye movement ~ which is associated with a primitive part of the brain known as the pons. Accordingly, they regarded dreaming as a low-level phenomenon of no great psychological interest. When Solms looked into it, though, it turned out that the key structure involved in dreaming was actually the ventral tegmental, the same structure that Panksepp had identified as the seat of the "seeking" emotion. Dreams, it seemed, originate with the libido ~ which is just what Freud had believed.
Like everyone, I found it necessary to propound my theories about the Washington area shooter (see For the Record, My Theory and Sniper Theory Redux. And like everyone, if John Allen Williams/Mohammed and John Lee Malvo are the culprits as I assume for the purposes of this post, I was much more wrong than right. Here with my accounting.
1. White-supremacist. That's the biggie. Uhh..... NO. Not unless we've got the most self-hating black persons ever.
2. Weekend custody of the kids. Apparently NOT. Apparently the "kid" was traveling with him.
3. Tarot card as prank. Nope. It looks as if this was part of the duo (the letters are in a different handwriting.) Maybe the teenager was responsible for this more "flashy" calling card. And maybe the youngster shot the student.
4. Job allows travel. What job?
On the other hand, I seem to have gotten a few things right. Not that it matters.
1. Divorced, late thirties - early forties (4 children by 2 marriages). Yes ~ and his ex-wife lives in the area. No idea whether there's a Michael's store connection.
2. No white van/box truck.
3. Anti-government bias. Maybe.
4. Break in the case from insider tipster. It looks as if the Alabama murder connection was key ~ and that came from a tipster (relationship still unknown).
At least I'm not the only person with egg on the face. Another racial stereotype bites the dust ~ and, a whole bunch of "profilers" are going to have to do some serious revision.
Williams/Muhammed's conversion to Islam (of the Nation of Islam flavor, apparently) seems to have taken place 17 years ago, around the time he joined the Army. It doesn't look like there's any direct al-Qaeda connection there.
The relationship between Williams/Muhammed and his step-son Malvo is likely to be the focus of a lot of research and speculation. One report I heard said that John Lee was restricted to a diet of crackers and honey (diet for his son was also a source of contention between Williams/Muhammed and his ex-wife).
"You have indicated that you want us to do and say certain things. You asked us to say, 'We have caught the sniper like a duck in a noose.' We understand that hearing us say this is important to you," Moose said.
This whole story is looking more and more perverse. I can't help but be very curious about it, even as my heart grieves for the victims and their families, and for the twisted souls of the perpetrators.
On the heels of a previous report that debunked the notion that a man's shoe size could be used to estimate the length of his penis, a new study now claims that those with inquiring minds need merely take a gander at a man's forefinger...
Dr. Evangelos Spyropoulos and colleagues from the Naval and Veterans Hospital of Athens, Greece say they conducted their investigation to gather more information on the relationship between body measurements and male genitalia size. They argue that such information--as well as a clearer definition of "normal penile size"--will help doctors counsel and treat the many men who are concerned about perceived inadequacies relating to their genitals.
The "lack of standardized metric data and the absence of widely acceptable criteria on the proper size of the external genitalia poses major difficulties in the counseling and/or treatment of young adult men with worries of sexual inadequacy," the authors write.
Okay. So let me be as clear about this as possible.
Within reasonably normal parameters (let's say, a standard deviation), we women JUST DON'T CARE how long your penis is. There may be a certain occular thrill associated with length, but I'm here to tell you that it's trivial, temporary, and nothing to get yerself in a twist over. As it were.
(You knew there was going to be a "but," didn't you?)
If we care about your proportions at all, what we care about is girth. There are good anatomical reasons for this, the technical details of which I will spare you.
(Urrrk. That didn't come out quite right.)
Surely by now, you enlightened fellows you, you realize that anatomy is not destiny, right? You do realize that the "endowment" of the guy that all the girls whisper about to one another with misty eyes ultimately has nothing whatsoever to do with the meatpacking industry and everything to do with what's between his ears and in his heart, right? You know that it's about what he pays attention to, and how, and why, and what kind of attention, no? That's the gift that keeps on giving.
Granted, it would be easier for everybody if we could just say: Hoo-boy, that's a sure fire winner there, no question, let's get right on that!
Aren't you (admit it!) glad that's not the way it actually works?
Okay. So could we quit it with the size correlation articles already????
For some of you, this may well come under the heading of Too Much Information ~ in which case, please feel free to skip this post in its entireity.
In a long-repressed fit of pique, I posted a rant entitled "The Curse" at BlogSisters. I fully expected to get pounded into the pavement by irate women scolding me for letting down the side (which only goes to show that I have my own set of knee-jerk assumptions I ought to root out). To my surprise, so far the reaction has mostly been the moral equivalent of "You go, girl!" or "What you said!" There've also been follow-on posts and comments that suggest that many of us have tales we'd like to tell.
There was one brave male voice in the comments who expressed the wish that the women in his life would be more forthcoming on these topics. So it's for the Jasons out there that I've posted the link.
Touch your nose with your left forefinger. Go ahead. It's not a trick. I'll wait...
Okay. That was easy, right? You decided to touch your nose, and then you touched your nose. A simple, voluntary motion. Asked and answered.
[T]he new neuro-flavored debate over free will goes more like this: Is the feeling of will an illusion, a wily trick of the brain, an after-the-fact construct? Is much of our volition based on automatic, unconscious processes rather than conscious ones? ...
[T]he debate is still on, and near its center is an 86-year-old University of California professor emeritus of physiology, Benjamin Libet...
What Libet did was to measure electrical changes in people's brains as they flicked their wrists. And what he found was that a subject's ''readiness potential'' - the brain signal that precedes voluntary actions - showed up about one-third of a second before the subject felt the conscious urge to act.
The result was so surprising that it still had the power to elicit an exclamation point from him in a 1999 paper: ''The initiation of the freely voluntary act appears to begin in the brain unconsciously, well before the person consciously knows he wants to act!''
But, though controversial, the Libet experiments still stand and have been replicated. And they have been joined by a growing body of research that indicates, at the very least, that the feeling of will is fallible....
Among that research is the following experiment by Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone, director of the Laboratory for Magnetic Brain Stimulation at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
A subject, he said, would be repeatedly prompted to choose to move either his right or his left hand. Normally, right-handed people would move their right hands about 60 percent of the time.
Then the experimenters would use magnetic stimulation in certain parts of the brain just at the moment when the subject was prompted to make the choice. They found that the magnets, which influence electrical activity in the brain, had an enormous effect: On average, subjects whose brains were stimulated on their right-hand side started choosing their left hands 80 percent of the time.
And, in the spookiest aspect of the experiment, the subjects still felt as if they were choosing freely.
''What is clear is that our brain has the interpretive capacity to call free will things that weren't,'' he said.
Confabulation, or the tendency of the brain to fill in details where conscious data is missing, is a well-known phenomenon. Obviously, where we can, we prefer to believe that we did things on purpose rather than randomly, under duress, or like automata. We cherish our sense of autonomy, purposefulness, and self-direction.
There are all sorts of ways of reading the information coming out of this area of research. If the "decision" lags the potentiation, why does that make it any less an act of will? The persons who flicked their wrists (or touched their noses!) still indisputedly did it at their own discretion. They may not have been able to mentally articulate the decision-making process ~ at the time that it took place ~ but that certainly doesn't mean they weren't deciding.
These are fascinating questions, at the very heart of the mind/body debate that has kept philosophers busy for a long, long time. I look forward with keen interest to more scientific research in this arena.