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Psychology

Introverts and extroverts

There’s an interesting post on the Matt Walsh blog. I’m not directly responding to it here, so you don’t have to read it to understand my post below (although Matt Walsh’s blog is always a good read).

The article got me thinking about the idea of introverts vs. extroverts. On the surface, I’m sure I’d be labeled an introvert. I do tend to be more quiet than others. But it of course depends on the situation, the topic of conversation, etc. Really I don’t think of myself as an introvert, nor do I accept the notion that there is such a thing in the first place. I think it’s too simplistic, and I’m not sure it helps anyone to think of themselves as one way or another.

When it comes to being social, I think there are two main areas where people differ (not counting factors like social anxiety or pressure of speech):

1. What they like to talk about.

Some people enjoy talking about more trivial things, like the weather, or traffic. Barrier to entry is very low, so it’s easy to bring up with strangers, or if you just don’t have time to say much in general. After all, sometimes it’s not the topic that’s important, it’s just the human connection that comes through it. Talking isn’t always about an exchange of huge profound ideas, it’s simply a psychological way for people to find some comfort in sharing this world with others. We like being social, and we like being liked.

A lot of people like talking about themselves, and sometimes their conversations are little more than a sharing of personal experiences as it relates to some topic. For example, “I had to stand in line forever at the grocery store.” “Really? I go to grocery store X and there’s never a line.” “Oh, I go to grocery store Y. It’s usually not that bad.” “I could never go there.” I do this too sometimes. When somebody tells me something that I really have no response for, I can either probe for more information (if I’m genuinely interested in the topic, this will happen naturally, otherwise it’s done just to be polite), or I might as well relate it to myself somehow. It’s better than, “I had to stand in line forever at the grocery store.” “So what? Who cares?”

I don’t think the desire to talk about oneself necessarily comes from a selfish all-about-me place. People just crave human connection and that’s the first sort of thing that pops into their heads. (And some people go over the past a lot more in their heads than others.)

I think the “you’re so quiet” and “we have to break you out of your shell!” sort of comments (which I too have received my share of) come from a natural desire for others to mentally place you somewhere, to know what you’re “about”, to figure out how to relate to you. Their intentions are not necessarily impure; they’re not trying to mock you, they’re not intimidated by you, and they don’t want you to say boring things just because you think they do. They’re just not sure how to relate to you.

If someone tells you you’re quiet, try actually sharing with them what you’re actually thinking about (assuming it’s not rude, and if it is rude, stop thinking rude things!).

Then you can have a conversation like this:

“You’re so quiet!”

“Am I? Well, I was just thinking about how one could create a video game that takes place in a tesseract palace.”

“Oh. Well, goodbye.”

Or:

“You’re so quiet!”

“Yeah, I’ve been busy thinking about how to edit the exposition of an ancient prophecy in my fantasy novel in a way that will seem mysterious, yet won’t come across as overly evasive. Any ideas?”

“Say what?!”

Or:

“You’re so quiet!”

“DRAGONS AND WIZARDS!”

“Ugh.”

Invite them into your weirdness. Eventually you’ll find someone else who also likes thinking about those things and you will have epic conversations.

If someone else’s derision about something you love bothers you, then you don’t love it enough.

2. Whether or not they enjoy a civil arguments.

(I preface arguing with the word “civil” because here I am talking about civil discussions, not shouting matches or fist-fights or arguments with climaxes that would wind up on the evening news.)

Some people put up their social defenses the moment a disagreement comes up. They may be simply disinterested in a viewpoint they can’t relate to, or it costs them emotional energy to argue their point, so it’s not always worth it for them.

Others enjoy arguing, not for the sake of itself, but they enjoy trying to figure out why people see the world differently, and they try to hone in on where exactly the disagreement springs from. A disagreement can be like a puzzle to be solved. Why did someone else come to this different conclusion? Sometimes it just comes down to personal taste, like differing opinions about a movie or piece of music. Sometimes it comes down to a decision of faith (will it snow tomorrow or not?). Sometimes it comes down to a logical error someone is making. Sometimes it comes down to differing experiences. Etc.

Arguing can be a wonderful way to learn; even if you’re ultimate conclusion doesn’t waver, you can come to better understand its foundation. Other times, you will actually change your mind about something. But you’ll find that the more you’re willing to change your mind about something, the less you’ll have to. You don’t tend to flip-flop back and forth; you grow roots. And you’re more careful not to draw conclusions about things you know you have no foundation for.

Imagine if you could see into the head of a child who’s just learning about how the world works. Would you think him stupid just because he had a lot of miscomprehensions? I don’t think so, because you’d see where all those miscomprehensions were coming from; you’d see why he thought what he thought.

In other words, you’re ideas and beliefs are never wrong in and of themselves. It’s only that they can be incomplete. What’s wrong is the decision to refuse to accept some new idea because you’re afraid of feeling inferior for having had to learn it and correct your miscomprehension.

A disagreement can also be construed as an insult, as if someone else is just disagreeing with you to cause you strife. Sometimes I’m talking with someone and I’ll say, “I disagree with that, because…” and the other person gets deeply offended as if I’m just pulling the disagreement out of thin air as an insult. If you think someone else’s motivations are impure, you’ll find evidence for it in whatever they say.

In Search of Strong AI

While trying to work on my novel, my mind sometimes turns to mush and I can’t think creatively, at least not in the way that novel-writing calls for. So I began a journal with which to chronicle my thoughts and explorations as I search for Strong AI. I would love to live to see Strong AI achieved; who wouldn’t?

My short term goal, however, is to create a computer program that can teach itself to play chess (or any rule-based game) in such a way that we can observe the rules that it learns. As far as I know, no one has achieved this. Chess engines focus on number-crunching algorithms, using the computer’s ability to calculate quickly to its advantage rather than trying to simulate how a human would learn things. But if we can figure out how a human learns the game, I think the algorithms involved would be far more useful to advancing human knowledge than number-crunching algorithms created specifically for the game. I want an algorithm that creates algorithms.

Anyway, I have written up my explorations so far in my new little journal. You can download a PDF of the journal here. It’s a bit too long and clunky to post as a blog entry. I hope that as I continue to explore the subject, I will write and upload more journal entries.

Not sure anybody else out there is interested in the subject, but I’ll put it out there in case anyone is curious. Join me, and together we will rule the world.

InSearchOfStrongAI-Part01.pdf

The adolescent brain?

Blakemore says: “Adolescence is defined as the period of life that starts with the biological, hormonal, physical changes of puberty and ends at the age at which an individual attains a stable independent role in society.”

I’m not sure I understand this definition. The onset of puberty is pretty objective, but how do we define what a “stable independent role in society” is? Isn’t that what modern society actively tries to prevent teens from having by forcing them to spend their days with high school and homework, with the only adults they know being figures who are telling them what to do?

In other words, the definition seems to say: “Adolescence starts with puberty, and ends when we adults decide it ends.”

Blakemore discusses a behavioral study in which a subject is asked to move objects around from the point-of-view of someone else. Studies show that, on average, adults are better at this task than adolescents. That is, adults make fewer errors. The conclusion is that, Blakemore states, “the ability to take into account someone else’s perspective in order to guide ongoing behavior, which is something, by the way, that we do in everyday life all the time, is still developing in mid-to-late adolescence.”

I’m not convinced this task so simply represents one’s ability to “take into account someone else’s perspective.” Nor would I imply that a lower error rate on this task necessarily correlates with better social behavior, such as the ability to control one’s anger in the face of hostility, or the mistake of perceiving someone else’s comments as personal attacks when they are not. I’m not sure these test results tell us anything useful about teenage behavior as a whole.

We could easily imagine someone practicing this task to such an extent that they attain an error rate of 5% or less. But who would argue that these people would thus behave better in emotional social situations? (And how would we define “better”?)

Blakemore goes on quote Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale:

“I would there were no age between ten and three-and-twenty, or that youth would sleep out the rest; for there is nothing in the between but getting wenches with child, wronging the ancientry, stealing, fighting. … Would any but these boiled brains of nineteen and two-and-twenty hunt in this weather?”

This, to Blakemore, is evidence that adolescence is not a recent phenomenon.

Firstly, in the big scheme of human societal development, Shakespeare is quite recent. But I think it’s important to note that there is a difference between perceptions of there being an “adolescent” stage of normal human development (and that we should, as a society, take measures against it), and the notion that your own generation, and your own status within it, is the best, or at least not the worst. To think that the “young people (or any social group of which I am not a part) of today are not as skilled, or as intelligent, or as decent as me” is certainly not a new thought. What is the difference between the socially-defined stage of “adolescence” and classic human age-ism?

Blakemore goes on to discuss risk-taking and the role of the limbic system, concluding that teenagers take more risks because the rewards from the limbic system are hightened. But how do we define whether or not a task is “risky”? Does the limbic system’s rewards only respond to tasks that the rest of the brain has come to understand as “risky”? Does peer pressure make a task seem less risky? What if this has nothing to do with risk at all? We really gain nothing from this point.

Finally, Blakemore tries to relate this all to education, saying: “40% of teenagers don’t have access to secondary school education. And yet this is a period of life where the brain is particularly adaptable and malleable. It’s a fantastic opportunity for learning and creativity. So what’s sometimes seen as the problem with adolescence, heightened risk-taking, poor impulse control, self-consciousness, shouldn’t be stigmatized. It actually reflects changes in the brain that provide excellent opportunity for education and social development.”

It’s a bit of an empty statement, as we don’t know what exactly she’s defining “education” to be. Are we meant to conclude that today’s education system is doing unseen good for teenagers? Are we meant to conclude that older people lose their ability to learn because their brains aren’t developing in the same ways? Are we simply meant to feel inspired? I don’t know.

(Unrelated digression: Blakemore mentions that the prefrontal cortex is proportionally much bigger in humans than any other species. I imagine the point of mentioning this is to imply a correlation between prefrontal cortex proportional size and intelligence. But we judge how intelligent other living things are by how their behavior compares to ours. We assume we’re smarter than any species that can’t talk, or can’t solve problems in ways we can understand. But is that assumption valid? Can intelligence be plotted linearly, and therefore be easily judged with greater-than, less-than comparisons? I don’t mean to imply that I believe humans don’t have unique brain powers among all the other species on our planet. I only mean to assert that intelligence is not a simple matter of comparing abilities (or, by correlation, brain properties, like the proportional size of the prefrontal cortex), because we can only compare abilities that are within our power to understand, and for something to be beyond our intelligence does not imply that it is somehow more or less intelligent; simply that it is a different intelligence.)

Freedom to Learn by Peter Gray

I recently came across this blog: Freedom to Learn by Peter Gray.

There are a bunch of interesting articles there, and I haven’t read them all. But I really appreciate some of them; they echo what I’ve been saying all along, and it’s always nice to feed my confirmation bias.

In one article, Gray writes:

We can use all the euphemisms we want, but the literal truth is that schools, as they generally exist in the United States and other modern countries, are prisons. Human beings within a certain age range (most commonly 6 to 16) are required by law to spend a good portion of their time there, and while there they are told what they must do, and the orders are generally enforced. They have no or very little voice in forming the rules they must follow. A prison–according to the common, general definition–is any place of involuntary confinement and restriction of liberty.

I recently talked to a teacher who was complaining about the things the school system made teachers do, and I asked: “Then why do you do it?” The answer was something like: “For the hope it might get better.” I said: “That’s pathetic!” but at least it wasn’t some BS about how much the teacher loved kids and knowledge and making a difference, etc. Some teachers will make a huge point of their pure intentions, as if that somehow absolves them of any wrongdoing. The truth, however, is probably quite apparent to most of us, it’s just considered rude to talk about: most teachers became teachers because they didn’t know what else to do.

I can certainly sympathize with the plight of getting out of college and not finding any jobs available that I would actually want. But becoming a teacher, especially if you have serious disagreements about how the education institution does things, seems pretty dumb to me. What should you do instead? I must admit, I’m not sure; not going to college in the first place might help.

But don’t you think an excellent way to make our education systems change would be to help them experience a shortage of teachers? I can’t imagine you being able to change too much from the inside, after you join a labor union which doesn’t agree with your position.

In another post, Gray responds to Daniel T. Willingham’s book Why Don’t Students Like School?, a book I blogged a bit about on my Book Quotes blog. Gray writes:

Willingham’s thesis is that students don’t like school because their teachers don’t have a full understanding of certain cognitive principles and therefore don’t teach as well as they could. They don’t present material in ways that appeal best to students’ minds. Presumably, if teachers followed Willingham’s advice and used the latest information cognitive science has to offer about how the mind works, students would love school.

Talk about avoiding the elephant in the room!

Ask any schoolchild why they don’t like school and they’ll tell you. “School is prison.” They may not use those words, because they’re too polite, or maybe they’ve already been brainwashed to believe that school is for their own good and therefore it can’t be prison. But decipher their words and the translation generally is, “School is prison.”

See? I told you so.

OK, most of Gray’s articles are not about schools being prison, but he does bring up the notion of “freedom” a lot from a psychological point of view, from the idea that a sense of freedom is an innate psychological desire for all humans, including children. And it seems right to me; I certainly have a sense of freedom and hate having to do stuff I didn’t choose to do. In fact, (and I’ve said this before) I’d say the common reason parents and teenagers clash is because the teenager is psychologically ready and thirsty for more freedom, but parents and society don’t give it.

You could’ve been great!

Maybe it’s a sad thing to think about, all the things you could’ve been… if only you had practiced more, applied yourself more, not have had to go to school which made you waste your time… but you’re not dead, so it’s not too late!

There are a few books that are centered around the idea that “genius” or “greatness” is not some inborn element that only a lucky few are born with; it’s something anyone can achieve with proper (albeit sometimes difficult) dedication. Those books are The Genius in All of Us, The Talent Code, Talent Is Overrated, and Bounce. (Each book does look at the issue from a different angle, so it’s not like the authors just copied each other.)

Anyway, I’ve already blogged about that issue several times, so I won’t again. I just wanted to mention a funny twist on the issue. On April 27th, while reading one of these books, I tweeted:

There once was a brilliant artist who never bought paint and never practiced, so no one ever knew. The end.

Ha ha, I’m so funny. Anyway, The Onion recently stole my idea for an article, 97-Year-Old Dies Unaware Of Being Violin Prodigy:

Retired post office branch manager Nancy Hollander, 97, died at her home of natural causes Tuesday, after spending her life completely unaware that she was one of the most talented musicians of the past century and possessed the untapped ability to become a world-class violin virtuoso.

OK, it’s not a completely original idea anyway…

But it’s funny, and it has a point. So, get to work, you can be great! Or don’t… you won’t be missed if people don’t know you exist.

A little thought on consciousness and stuff

I hope this blog isn’t becoming too self-conscious… aha… ahahaha…

Ahem…

On pages 39-40 of Daniel C. Dennett’s book Consciousness Explained, Dennett writes:

Some people are convinced that we can’t [understand consciousness] in any case. Such defeatism, today, in the midst of a cornucopia of scientific advances ready to be exploited, strikes me as ludicrous, even pathetic, but I suppose it could be the sad truth.

It might be the sad truth, but that won’t be the failing of science, it will be the failing of consciousness itself. For example, we can theorize about the big bang, about the nature of time, about string theory, but we can’t conceive four or more spatial dimensions, we can’t think about time not existing, we can’t even imagine ourselves not existing. (If you’d like to get religious: we can’t understand the nature of God.) These are the limits of our mind. Why do these limits exist? Are they based on limits of the real physical world, or are they purely mental? A dog can’t conceive suicide, yet he might run out in front of a car. Just because he can’t conceive it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Is it the same with humans?

So… what if consciousness fits into this category? Well, we know it exists, that’s not the issue. The issue is why? How? Perhaps that is beyond our consciousness’ ability to know; it is not a failing of our reasoning or our science, it is just a limit of the nature of our existence.

Funny Leo Laporte videos

Lastly, since I’m now going to post Stuff I Found stuff here (and kill that blog), here are some funny videos of clueless people calling Leo Laporte (former host of that wonderful show of my yesteryears, The Screen Savers). Enjoy.

Phantom of the Opera sequel

I’m listening to the Phantom of the Opera sequel, Love Never Dies, on Rhapsody right now and it’s… uh… interesting. I hate how musical soundtracks these days have no reverb. I like the old musical recordings, when it sounded like the singers were on a stage, when it made me feel like I was in a theater. Music wise, it’s good, but not very Phantomy… or at least with a huge atmospheric twist, since the story takes place on… Coney Island. Not very… gothicy… more like the haunted fairgrounds of a Scooby Doo episode. It’s just… odd. A very different spirit to thing.

I wonder if they can get Michael Crawford to sing some of the songs… just to hear what it would’ve been like.

Gah, so annoying with no reverb…

More boring thoughts on consciousness

I’ve heard that later this month, Google’s Blogger will be discontinuing the FTP upload feature, which means my other two blogs, Stuff I Found and Book Quotes, will sadly have to come to an end. I could convert them to WordPress or move them to something.blogspot.com, but I think I will just kill them off, and integrate future posts that would’ve belonged to them into this blog here. It’s probably a better idea just to have everything in one place anyway, yes? So I shan’t be using Google Blogger ever again; it’s all WordPress from now on.

And now on to our regularly scheduled blog post. On page 24 of Daniel C. Dennett’s book Consciousness Explained, Dennett says:

Love is one of those phenomena that depend on their concepts, to put it oversimply for the time being. There are others; money is a clear instance. If everyone forgot what money was, there wouldn’t be any money anymore; there would be stacks of engraved paper slips, embossed metal disks, computerized records of account balances, granite and marble bank buildings — but no money: no inflation or deflation or exchange rates or interest — or monetary value. The very property of those variously engraved slips of paper that explains — as nothing else could — their trajectories from hand to hand in the wake of various deeds and exchanges would evaporate.

Basically I think he’s saying that things like money and love are things of the mind, concepts that come from the mind. How we act in relation to them is dependent on how we think of them, how we understand them. And we can disagree about our philosophies toward them, but there’s not some tangible non-psychological objective evidence in the outside world we can ever use as evidence to support our position. For other things, this is not true. The examples the author uses are diseases and earthquakes. Our understanding of those phenomena can and has changed through the years, but those phenomena remain the same. An earthquake doesn’t shake differently when you understand; but how you spend your money does change depending on how you understand it. Money’s very existence is dependent on our understanding of it.

Of course, the author is then planning to apply this concept to consciousness. Is consciousness more like love or an earthquake? The author will argue it’s more like love… but to me it seems a confusing question, and may require me to think differently about the concept. I’ve always thought of consciousness as a purely physical phenomena, right? What if love is understood as a purely physical phenomena, as an emergent property of chemicals moving around in the brain? Is love then like an earthquake?

The trouble is, creating this dividing line between things like love and money and things like earthquakes and diseases seems a bit fake. It’s like, there are these physical things that tangibly exist, and then there are concepts, emergent properties in the mind. Usually I’m OK with creating that dividing line, but consciousness sits right on it, it links the two. It leads to the philosophical questions of solipsism… everything you see, everything you feel, hear, sense, they are all physically in your mind… what is the nature of existence in general? It’s like asking on what side the dividing line is in relation to itself.

So I disagree with the author and would say that the question is invalid; it’s too oversimplified. Still, its implications are worth exploring, and oversimplifying may be necessary to get anywhere, so I’ll keep reading.

As I was reading this part of the book, I also thought, hmmmm, what about religion? Where would God fit into this? Is God like love or an earthquake?

Atheists and theists argue about whether or not God exists, but not about the nature of the existence of money (or at least don’t argue about it nearly as often). We don’t say that money isn’t real, though we do understand that it’s more a psychological concept than a tangible property of the world. We don’t say that money’s existence is relative to our beliefs, yet we have no problem in having different understandings of it.

Whether or not you believe in God, you’d probably believe that the nature of His existence doesn’t change with your beliefs, but how you act in life and towards God (or lack of God) and other people does depend on your beliefs.

So it’s like God is perpendicular to the dividing line between psychological concepts and tangible worldly concretes. Both theists and atheists treat the belief in God more like it’s an earthquake on some distant planet nobody can see, and that makes it like love, because that sort of understanding is all that’s left.

Confusing?

And then the question is: so what? What can we do with this way of thinking about the nature of the existence of God? Anything?

Perhaps understand that the dividing line itself doesn’t exist? That we are part of both understandings of the world, both psychological and physical beings, and, most importantly, that both understandings of the world are the same world? Can that understanding change the way we act?

Or, if you don’t feel like thinking about God, what about the nature of an objective difference between moral right and wrong? What about the nature of Truth itself?

Obviously, I don’t really know, and I’m really just confusing myself. Argh!

The author says on page 24 and 25:

If the concept of consciousness were to “fall to science,” what would happen to our sense of moral agency and free will? If conscious experience were “reduced” somehow to mere matter in motion, what would happen to our appreciation of love and pain and dreams and joy?

I am confident that these fears are misguided…

… let us remind ourselves of what has happened in the wake of earlier demystifications. We find no diminution of wonder; on the contrary, we find deeper beauties and more dazzling visions of the complexity of the universe than the protectors of mystery ever conceived.

Yes, yes, I agree, because I are smart. I’ve heard similar fears from composers and music lovers who think that if we could explain why we think certain melodies sound so beautiful then they might not sound beautiful anymore, as if the beauty is in the mystery of why it’s beautiful. A “we-murder-to-dissect” kinda thing, understanding it might kill the wonder of it. Nonsense! The only beauty I see in a mystery is born of the desire to solve it, to one day truly know.

I hate Extreme Makeover: Home Edition

19 days left until Christmas…

Didn’t really do anything today, except go to work, which was exhausting.  And now I’ll probably go to bed early since I’m… well… exhausted.  But brownies are in the oven, so I suppose I have to wait around until those are done so I can have one.

I changed Hannifin World so that you can only view one comic at a time.  For some reason viewing more than one on a page seemed cluttered to me, while only being able to view one at a time kind of makes each particular comic the center of attention, kind of “frames” it.  Which I guess is what a lot of webcomics do.  Some kind of weird psychology-of-humor property behind it perhaps?  If you “frame” a joke as a single entity, it will seem funnier than if it is seen as only a part of a collection of jokes.  If it’s in a collection, there’s more of a chance one will compare the jokes, and not give some jokes much attention.

Also, on a completely different note, I really hate the show Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, where they build new houses for people who they think deserve them and then film them as they cry when given a new house.  To me, it seems to put too much importance on material items, while at the same time trying to spread the message that they’re not important.  It’s like Oprah sharing a sob story with a poor person and then flying her personal jet somewhere.  Hypocritical.  Annoying.  But I guess when a network is offering a free house, who cares?

Teenagerhood and YA books

I came across this blog post a few days ago by Shaun Duke I believe: Young Adult Fiction Can’t Win.

I can’t really respond to Shaun because I’m not really sure what he’s saying.  The post mainly made me want to go off on a tangent… what is YA fiction?  Why is it needed?  I think it’s a stupid idea in the first place!

There might be plenty of definitions, but the one that makes the most immediate sense to me is: YA fiction is fiction in which the main character is a YA, a teenager.

Some might argue that the nature of a story’s conflict also makes YA fiction what it is; the plot must deal with teenager issues.  But such a definition makes me cringe.  What in the world is a “teenage issue”?  (To be perfectly honest, I hate the notion of there being a “teenager” stage in the course of human development at all.)

My own teenagerhood

Maybe I just had a very fortunate adolescence, but in high school and college I was more of an introvert (am and always will be really), and tended to hang out with people who shared my interests and were right around as “nerdy” as me.  I never wanted to be popular or look cool or attractive, and that never made me feel lonely.  I never had any peer pressure to do any drugs or drink any alcohol or do anything risky or stupid.  The world of relationship woes is still another world to me.

That said, I still hated adolescence.  But it wasn’t because of drugs or relationships.  It was because of SCHOOL.  School was a lot of hard work that I still believe was mostly absolutely meaningless.  Society just thrusted upon us because that’s the tradition.  It gave me a lot of unnecessary worry and stress, and took away a lot of time that I would have loved using in more useful ways.  I was not and could not be in control of my life, and that’s what made me angry and moody and depressed.  It had nothing to do with “coming of age” or dealing with drugs or relationships or a “changing brain” that people are now claiming teenagers have.  It was just plain old not being in control.

And the only way out of it was to just get through school.

(I still get extremely angry just thinking about how the generations before me could allow something as dismal and pointless (and harmful and depressing) as the current high school educational system to emerge and sustain!  What complete buffoons!)

Still, I’m 23 years old now, and I don’t think anything magically changed within me from when I was 15 or 16 or 17.  Of course, I have learned more about certain things… I can drive a car much better now, I think I can write music and literature better, I can program in Java better, blah blah blah, but nothing has drastically changed inside.  I never “came of age” or learned some mystical truth that made me pass from “teen” to “adult” … I just got through school.

So maybe I didn’t have the normal “teen” experience?  Did I miss something?  What do teenagers really want?  For me, it was just control and freedom.  For others, is it popularity?  Wanting to feel loved?  Wanting this-or-that person to be your boyfriend/girlfriend?  If so, then yeah, I did (and hopefully always will) miss out on suffering over those things, but I don’t think those are just “teenage” issues, those are life issues that all must learn to deal with; there are plenty of adults who still struggle with those things.

Even “being in control” is really a life issue, but getting older and out of school tends to solve it.  (Though never completely!)

Some confirmation bias

I came across this article about an adolescent Bill Gates which stated:

The battles reached a climax at dinner one night when Bill Gates was around 12. Over the table, he shouted at his mother, in what today he describes as “utter, total sarcastic, smart-ass kid rudeness.”

That’s when Mr. Gates Sr., in a rare blast of temper, threw the glass of water in his son’s face.

He and Mary brought their son to a therapist. “I’m at war with my parents over who is in control,” Bill Gates recalls telling the counselor. Reporting back, the counselor told his parents that their son would ultimately win the battle for independence, and their best course of action was to ease up on him.

Aha!  See?!  Told you so.  It’s about control.  This Bill Gates anecdote proves it!

Conclusion

When I was a teenager, I didn’t care about the age of the protagonist, and I didn’t read fiction to commiserate with a fictional character.  (Not entirely, at least; I guess it’s more about trying to understand your own struggles in different ways, so I don’t mean to say that fictional characters shouldn’t deal with real-world issues.  They should.)  Nor did I much care for the notion of being “written down to” … the notion that there was some adult who could “understand me” and impart wisdom.  One of the first things you learn when you’re a teenager is that adults actually aren’t always all that wise.  (The wise ones will be the first to admit that.)

So I think the whole idea of YA fiction is just a stupid emergent property from this whole “teen culture” that’s been created by a society that infantilizes and seeks control over their youth for far too long, and it’s really not needed at all.  (Or at least the need has been artificially created.)  Teenagers can enjoy any book they want, and I wouldn’t mind it if the YA market vanished completely.  Books with adolescent main characters could of course still be written, and it’s probably only natural that younger folks would be more attracted to those stories, but those books don’t have to be an entirely different subset.  We don’t have “twenty-ish fiction” … fiction about adults in their twenties for adults in their twenties.  Likewise with “thirty-ish fiction” or “senior fiction” … but those stories are still out there.  Every main character has an age.

Eh… so there’s my rant.

By the way, check out Robert Epstein’s book The Case Against Adolescence: Rediscovering the Adult in Every Teen.  Not sure he’d necessarily agree with my opinions, but it was some more confirmation bias for me when I first came across it.

Also, here’s a Wikipedia article on what confirmation bias is, in case you’re curious!

The Atheism of Dolphins

I was going to post some philosophical thoughts on the relationship between psychology and religion, mostly about how they’re compatible.  My main point was going to be: that the emergence of religion among living beings can be explained scientifically says nothing about the truth of religion.  But such a post would be very long-winded, and it would certainly get confusing in some parts.  Then again, maybe to some it’s already pretty self explanatory.  However, I’m really just too tired and a bit too uninterested right now to go into it all.

There are a couple reasons I felt compelled to write such a post.  Firstly, I’m reading quite an interesting psychology book called Human: The Science Behind What Makes Us Unique by Michael S. Gazzaniga.  It’s filled with many interesting psychology … uh … things.  For example, it seems the emotion of disgust is a purely human trait, and it is possible for humans with certain brain injuries to be incapable of knowing it.  Can you imagine not being able to see anything as disgusting?  Also, it made me question what I said in my last post, that emotional suffering comes from wanting.  I think that, like physical pain, some emotional pain can just be automatic, such as fear or sadness; they can be born from things we don’t consciously control.  I guess you could say they still come from wanting; they still come from the brain wanting the environment to be different.  But it’s not really always so much a conscious wanting.  One could also say that suffering serves the purpose of physical survival, so why do we always try to find spiritual meaning in it all?  I guess that’s a whole different topic…

Anyway, the second reason was that I was browsing Neil Gaiman’s blog, and he wrote this:

Picked up my copy of New Scientist over breakfast this morning (which, along with Fortean Times, is my favourite publication) and found myself puzzling over an article that began

That a complex mind is required for religion may explain why faith is unique to humans.

Which left me amazed and potentially delighted that journalists at New Scientist had succeeded in interspecies communication to the point of being certain that dolphins and whales have no belief in things deeper than themselves, that ants do not imagine a supreme colony at the centre of everything, and that my cats only believe in what they can see, smell, hunt and rub up against (except for Pod, of course, who when much younger would react in horror, with full fur-up, to invisible things), and that there are no Buddhist Pigs, Monkeys or whatever-the-hell Sandy was.

I wasn’t sure what to make of Gaiman’s post… I hadn’t really considered the idea that non-humans might have religious feelings.  It just seems rather… absurd.  But then again, I guess it depends on how you define religion.  We humans tend to believe in a difference between right and wrong.  Why wouldn’t animals?  It’s needed for the survival of the individual and of the species.  I would think it would be part of their psychology.  I guess my puzzle is… where is and what is the nature of the link between believing in a difference between right and wrong and religion?  I’ve met many an atheist who think religion is not just stupid, it’s evil.  But that seems like a religious statement in and of itself; the word “evil” presupposes the existence of an objective right and wrong.  How can anyone truly be atheist while believing in an objective difference between right and wrong?  Wouldn’t true atheism just lead to moral relativism?  Or should psychology by itself lead to moral relativism?  But if atheists who believe in an objective difference between right and wrong are really religious, then wouldn’t animals also be religious, in a very fundemental way?

So I think both Gaiman and New Scientist have some truth; I guess they are differing a bit in what they mean by “faith”.  Very interesting… I had not thought of such things before.

So… that’s that.  The book I’m reading and Gaiman’s blog post there made me want to write a much longer blathering about psychology and religion, but what I just wrote is enough… for now at least.  It’ll give my subconscious something to think about while I’m not.

In other news, my short story No One Was Abendsen goes out to critiquers in the Critters Workshop this week, so I look forward to getting some more feedback.  (Mr. Sawczak was kind enough to provide some very helpful feedback earlier.  Thank you again!)  So by the end of next week I should be ready to write a final draft and start sending it out to magazines.  (I can sometimes be a perfectionist, so I like to say I never really finish a work, I just stop working on it so I can move on.  So, after my final draft, I don’t get any more critiques no matter what so as not to waste time trying to make it perfect for anyone in particular including myself.  Some people send their stories through Critters multiple times, but I must move on!  It’ll never be perfect.)

I started writing another short story, which I mention on Twitter every now and then, but I’m not far enough into it to say much about it because… who know?… I might abandon it later.

And that’s that. 🙂