Since I got distracted yesterday – admittedly, happily – contemplating my time, and thereafter, at Lincoln elementary, I had scant opportunity to clear up the lees of the week’s accumulations of articles actually transferred from the RSS accumulator to the browser. But absent the opportunity to go to gym this morning to perspire and ponder from the sparks of the morning’s podcast episodes, I have a chance to clean out the backlog in preparation for another week.
The theme this morning seems to be human behavior and mental foibles. First, there is a news release from the campus of the Boneyard about a faculty book, a popularization, about the implicit and constant fallibility of human intuition. [Link] The thought that springs from this, after the obvious question of just how much cut does the U get from this contentiously useless addition to the popular press, is how long are we going to continue the nonsense that is our legal system’s infatuation with human observation and intuition, both of which are so flawed as to be near worthless. Of course having raised that question, how long can unrepeatable events of mysticism abide, or even solitary scientist efforts. Scant wonder Boyle thought that matters-of-fact could only be established if simultaneously observed by many people. Although it is hard to imagine people being more rational during the Restoration than today? But perhaps renewing a tyrannical monarchy was less bad than what we are on the path to?
Next, according to a survey conducted by folks at U Michigan, [Link] college students are at the lowest level of empathy on record. I have to admit to being a bit surprised with this. First of all I had no idea that student empathy was recorded. When I was an undergraduate the only reason I had any idea of what empathy was came from reading science fiction. It certainly wasn’t mentioned in any of my classes, even the fuzzy wuzzy ones, of which there were a few, which I endured quickly and by my junior year had gotten past. But the closest I came to a psychology class was anthropology track, which made a lot more sense to me than psychology with its then aura of auras and other hippie irrationality. And the closest we came to empathy in anthropology class was trying our hand at flint knapping and sympathizing with hunter-gatherers.
But I cannot recall feeling much empathy during my college days. The Vietnam thing was ongoing and one was more concerned about how that was going to make life uncontrolled. And of course, there was always the learning and grades thing. So empathy was not a big thing, conscious or unconscious, in those days. But we didn’t do dog fights either, or at least I didn’t know of any. So is there some aspect of collapsing the wave function distorting reality here? After all, indeterminacy is not the same as knowing which of several states reality has collapsed into, at least locally.
Next, again from the campus of the Boneyard, but moderated by some external journalism, is a report about human self-motivation. [Link] Contrary to what the mystical management books, as opposed to the mystical religion books that vie with the former for the most floorspace in bookstores, I have always held that all motivation has to come from within. As an external influence I can do just that – influence – but that is all. But I also admit that there is a thin line between influence and harassment, between motivation and pain avoidance.
Anyway, this research suggests that self-motivation works better if it is couched in terms of asking if something can/will be done rather than directing that the thing be done. The challenge aspect is certainly appealing but it does raise some questions. Since self-motivation occurs as a result of an internal conversation with self, does the question need to be asked by self #1 of self #2 or visa versa?
Lastly, we note an excellent article memorializing Martin Gardner, [Link] who spent a good part of his life as a soldier in defense of the rationality that underpins all of our human organizations that make up civilization. The article reminds us that humans are continually not only traipsing off into nut-fudge land, but spreading their illness broadly and that “the tree of liberty must, from time to time, be watered with the blood of patriots.” That humans are imperfect should be recognized, not enhanced is a responsibility of all, and neglected, often overtly and deliberately, by all too many.
But I did like the closing line,
In 60 years nothing has changed. The best we can hope for is the simple, enduring pleasure of baiting morons.