I'm definitely supposed to be getting work done right now.  But I'm in the middle of a fifteen minute long video of a guy destroying a log with a lathe.  Or, not destroying.  That's not fair.  Shaping.  But there are a lot of bits coming off in the process. It's the second video in John Cheese's Cracked article from last month, The 12 Most Strangely Satisfying Videos on the Internet.

I believe I'm likely to spend quite a lot of time on this article, so I figured I should probably blog about it.

I'm watching because, like John says, these videos are incredibly soothing -- and I've had a seriously stressful day today.  Really, it's starting off with last night, when I had a panic attack relating to my serious dental problems.

You may have noticed that today, if you're paying a lot of attention to this  blog, that I had art therapy.  About a month ago I said I was going to start posting my art from those sessions, if I felt like it was appropriate.  I don't have anything to post today, but it's not because what I did was bad, or too personal.  It's because we never got to doing any art.  Instead, I spent the majority of the session trying not to cry over my anxiety about car ownership.

At this point in the Cracked article, I'm though the lathing, past the paper marbling, past the guy pouring some molten metal into the sand and pulling out a stool, and now I'm watching one of John Cheese's favorite videos, a video of an old man digging for clams.

The stuff I mentioned above isn't the only really stressful, painful stuff that happened today.  But I'm not as comfortable blogging about the other things.

Something came up, a new stressful thing, and I have to stop watching the videos now.  It's making me kind of feel sick to think about.  I don't know what to do with myself on days like this.  I don't know how to get out from under the feelings of dread and self-loathing that come with knowing I have things I need to do, and I haven't done them.  I spiral.  But I'm trying not to, I'm trying to get better at that.

I'm thankful, though, for the article, and for the videos in it.  For a little while, they made me feel calm, they made me feel human, they made me feel like not everything anyone ever does is so incredibly difficult that I can't even contemplate it.  Seeing other people do stuff made me feel more like I could do stuff, too.

I don't know how much I'm going to get done today, and I don't know how much of the stuff I do get done will be stuff that was on my list this morning.  Probably not a lot of it.  But I do know that the time I spent on these videos wasn't a waste of time -- because it helped me remember that there are things worth doing that don't produce any tangible value, and that my comfort and calm is worth something on its own, not just as a means to the end of production.

I'm still scared, and I still feel cold and a little bit frustrated, and the problems that I was dealing with when I started this post are still all there, and they'll be there when I publish it.  But I'm going to be okay, I think.

ART! And mental health.

I'm not very good at doing art just for the sake of art.  I mean, like, I can do art for the sake of the creation of the art I'm working on, but I have a great deal of difficulty doing art for the sake of the activity, regardless of its product.  This is a topic I cover frequently with my art therapist. Today, we talked about the difference between creating art in order to get 'in the moment,' and creating art without a concrete purpose in mind.

The first one, I can do.  I'm comfortable with it.  I'm comfortable with it even if I ultimately fail to create the product I'm going for.  The trouble is, it's not easy to find specific, concrete reasons to create art.  There are a surprising number of conditions that I need met:  I have to have a specific goal I'm trying to achieve, and there has to be something I'm going to do with it when I'm done -- someone I'm going to show, or somewhere I'm going to post it, or something.

If I don't, that's fine.  Maybe I don't like it at the end.  Maybe it's outside my abilities.  Maybe I decide that the whole project is a waste of time.  But if those two conditions aren't met, I find it nearly impossible to even get started.

the other kind of art we talked about involves both of those conditions being unmet.  Not having a project, not having an audience.  Just trading ink and paper for an emotional state.

That activity makes me really uneasy. It makes me uncomfortable, and the fact that I can't handle that discomfort is probably a pretty big part of the reason I have a therapist.  I should be learning how to cope with that discomfort, because it's the same kind of discomfort that I have to figure out how to cope with when I go in for job interviews, or wait for acceptance/rejection letters, or submit stories to magazines for publication.  It's the discomfort that is the default state of a progressing life, and the fact that I can't deal with it is a huge problem.

...

But this post isn't about how I'm going to start facing that problem, head-on, every other week in art therapy.  This post is about how I'm going to start making art there with the intent to post it online.  Sometimes I'll probably post with an explanation about its significance, sometimes I'll just post the art, without context, and sometimes, when I don't think it's good enough, I won't post it at all.

Sitting with discomfort is productive, but it's also sort of an all-or-nothing activity, and I can do it on my own time, not my time with my therapist.  So I'm going to need to start doing that.  But I also need to find ways to connect my art that has emotional significance with my art that I can actually convince myself to do.

Pants Points Report

This week's score: 217/350.  Total to date: 1079/1750.  I believe this would be the end-point of Pants Points v1, but with this set I intend to go through until the last week before the end of my current planner, on Friday, March 22. This week, I wasn't feeling too great psychologically -- that impacted my points, but I think trying to earn a non-zero score every day pushed me to get myself more cleaned up than I would have otherwise, and that goes a long way towards not slipping into depression.  So, yay!

I started a new drug last night

My psychiatrist prescribed me a new medication yesterday, and I started it last night.  I wasn't expecting anything to happen today, I think because I'm used to reuptake inhibitors, which take like a month to start doing anything at all.  This one's a blood pressure medicine.  Sort of.  (I can't remember its name.) It was originally concieved as a blood pressure medicine, but then they figured out that it has a whole bunch of other uses.  I'm taking it because it's good for anxiety, but not in a 'just dulls the panic' kind of way.  It's supposed to increase bloodflow to the front of my brain, where the authoritative decisionmaking takes place.  Now, when my brain has an argument about whether to have ice cream or salad, or whether to watch Minecraft videos or do homework, the salad/homework side is going to have a little extra artillery.

And there's a good chance this is just the placebo effect, but it feels like it's already started working.  I dreamt a lot last night -- the dreams were vivid, and in some cases scary, but they were also somewhat substantially more banal than usual.  One of them was that I'd missed a bunch of phone calls about a job I've applied for.

And this morning, it's been much easier to get out of bed, and to stop doing one thing and start another while getting ready.  It was easy, when I decided to write this post before leaving, to just sit down and do it -- normally, I'd struggle in my head over whether it's a good idea, wasting precious minutes.

Hopefully these are all good signs for the new med.  I'm looking forward to what might come of it if it's effective.

Seven Psychopaths is an awesome movie

There are many ways in which Seven Psychopaths is problematic.  But in most of those ways, the movie is also a direct attack on those problematic qualities in mainstream movies. (It would be difficult to have any sort of discussion about this movie without significant spoilers, so I'm not going to bother trying.)

For example, there are barely any women in the movie.  They pretty much all die violent deaths.  None of them have a particularly strong active role in the plot, nor are shown onscreen exercising any sort of agency.

When Hans calls Marty out on that point -- Marty being the writer working on the screenplay of the movie "Seven Psychopaths" -- Marty says something like "Life is hard on women."  He's being obviously dismissive, and Hans is obviously unsatisfied.  The audience, I think, is expected to be in on the point that mainstream media's treatment of women can't be called feminist or progressive just because screenwriters and directors say stuff like "Women are trivialized and objectified -- just like in real life!  And that's awful," in interviews when they get called out on it.

The TVTropes article on Seven Psychopaths contains the bullet point: "Lampshade Hanging: Everwhere once they head out into the desert."  Translated: "T.X. Watson loves this movie once they head out into the desert."

Billy is pretty obviously psychotic from pretty early on, though that mightn't have been very clear if it hadn't been for the title.  But the reveal, when it becomes obvious to Marty that he's a psychopath, was incredible.  "Do not burn neighbor's flag."  Cut to neighbor's flag, burnt almost entirely off.

I love Billy's character -- I think it's a great depiction of what life is like for most psychopaths.  He wants to fit in.  He wants to be able to live in normal life, with friends, and peace, and comfort.  But he can't, because there just isn't that thing in him that compels him to act against his own, immediate interests.  He doesn't have any empathy.

So he tries to reason his way around it:  "People have a right to fly a flag."  But reason is just barely good enough to get him to behave mildly normally in public.  He makes it obvious that reason alone isn't a substitute for a moral sense -- he can't stop himself acting in his own shallowest, most immediate interest if he's doing anything else at all.  If he's choosing not to do something because he's reasoned that it's wrong, that has to be his activity.  Sitting down, looking out the window, actively, constantly choosing not to burn down his neighbor's flag.

It's obvious that psychopathy isn't a two-way street here.  Billy can't empathize with the audience.  He can care what we think of him, and he can work to earn the perception he wants people to have.  But he can't ever actually see himself the way we see him.

But we can empathize with Billy, and we do.  We empathize with all the psychopaths, because often as hard for a non-psychopathic person to not care as it is for Billy to not burn his neighbor's flag.

So, yeah.  I recommend this movie. Its reflections on media, on psychopathy, on the nature of character flaws, are all compelling and engrossing.  I kinda think I want to own this one.

Boing Boing reveals the secret of time management

(via Boing Boing) Apparently the function of awe is time management?  This video has some pretty crazy implications.

Sorry about the annoying guitar riff going throughout the clip.

I can't help wondering if this is one of the major advantages of religion -- an institution primarily devoted to manufacturing a sense of awe, very devout religious people might be better at time management than less devout.  It also probably explains why people who are super into the philosophy of whatever their job is seem to be both better at it and better people in general.

I do, however, intend to actually read the research on this, and not take a three-minute video clip as the final word. I'll get back to you about how that goes.

MATH.

One of the things I'm trying to accomplish this vacation is learning college-level Algebra on Khan Academy, so I can take the College Algebra CLEP test rather than spend a whole semester learning math in a classroom at 9am and wanting to stab my hands off instead of fail another test. I'm beginning to remember why I hate math so much.

In writing, occasionally, I miss a comma.  Or I spell a word wrong.  Or I misplace a period.  All that is fine.  It doesn't really matter.  I write multiple drafts, I have spelling and grammar checkers to point out the most obvious mistakes, and for bigger works, I have proof readers.

In math, though, there's none of that protection.  If I miss one symbol the way I so often do in writing, that's it.  Game over.  Zero on the question.

I do that all the time.  And it's painful.  Getting question after question wrong, not because I don't understand, but because I'm bad at keeping track of negative signs, sucks.

Still, it's better to do this on my own time than to do it in front of a classroom of people.  Given the amount of stress and self-esteem issues I have around math, I honestly think it would be self-destructive to try and learn it in public.

slow brain day

I'm having a slow brain day. Does anyone else who reads this blog sometimes have days when they just can't get their brain working as smoothly as they wish it would?  Part of it is that it's too hot in my office right now, part of it is that I have a little bit of a headache and I slept at a bad angle last night so my neck hurts.  Part of it is that, though I know I should be paying attention to my schoolwork right now and writing for the school paper, I mostly just want to think about the D&D game I got invited to this weekend because I haven't played in a very long time and I'm nervous.

I don't think there's any one big thing, down at the bottom of all of it.  I think it really is that my neck hurts and I'm distracted and it's a little uncomfortable in this room.  My ankle hurts today -- I wonder if it's going to rain soon.  My day planner is a little bit overloaded.  I have a new story idea, but I don't know how to start writing it.

Philip DeFranco posted a video today about self-worth, and about having a sense of purpose.  I've reposted it below.

I get my sense of self-worth predominantly from my intellect -- I'm more comfortable believing that my thinking skills are valuable than anything else I'm able to do, and when they aren't working very well, it's emotionally difficult.

So I'm grasping around trying to find something stimulating enough that it inspires me to create new content, but nothing's working as well as I'd like.  I've got thirteen tabs open right now, and I keep opening new blank ones trying to think of something new to type into the search bar.  More than once, I've opened one blank tab, then, frustrated, opened another, as though that first blank tab was failing me and I needed a fresh start on blankness to get to a more substantial place.

It's even hard to figure out what about my present state of mind might be worth reading from someone else's perspective.

It'll get better, though.  I'm sure it will.

Presque Vu

Today is the day before Thanksgiving.  So, obviously, one of my professors assigned an exam, worth a large chunk of our grade, and not re-takeable.  I finished the exam very quickly, because I always finish exams very quickly. Part of the reason, I think, that many of the other students were slower than me is that we had the option to take the exam in groups, so most of the rest of the class had to coordinate with two or three other people before they could move on from question to question.

Another part might be that other students in the class check their answers before turning their papers in -- a practice which was suggested to me dozens of times when I was going through K-12, but which studies show is usually an objectively bad idea.

But I wonder if there might be an outright difference in recall speed from person to person.  And that led me to think about the tip-of-the-tongue phenomenon, and wonder whether it happens to some people more often than others -- maybe some of the other students in my class have more points where they know the answer, but their brains just won't give it up.

Presque Vu

The fact that the French phrase for tip-of-the-tongue is presque vu is one of my favorite pieces of trivia.  The reason I like it so much is that it puts the phenomenon in a family of five feelings, alongside deja vu, déjà entendu, jamais vu, and reja vu.

You probably already know that déjà vu is the experience of feeling that a place or circumstance is familiar, even though you've never experienced it before.  Jamais vu is the opposite -- the feeling of unfamiliarity in a place you should feel familiar with.  (Like when you wake up in a hotel or on someone's couch, expecting to be at home, and have no idea where you are for a few seconds.)  Déjà entendu is déjà vu but with sounds, and reja vu is the feeling that what's happening now is going to happen again.

Presque vu fits in nicely here: the feeling of knowing, without the information to show for it.

I don't know if the other four occur more frequently in some people than others, but I do know that déjà vu varies from person to person -- there was, for example, a guy who had deja vu nearly every day, and kept a journal of the experiences.  Maybe for some people, they have to fight their brain to wrest out every piece of specific information recall.

Exams would be awful for those people.

I want to visit the world's most silent room

(via Reddit) According to an article on the Hindustan Times website, Why world's most silent room is scary, the anechoic chamber at Orfield Laboratories in Minneapolis, Minnesota is the quietest place on earth.  According to the article, it's virtually impossible to stay in for substantial lengths of time:

"We challenge people to sit in the chamber in the dark - one reporter stayed in there for 45 minutes", said company’s founder and president, Steven Orfield.

The article uses a lot of passive voice, and cites the Mail Online, so I'm not confident about the accuracy of its claims -- but Anechoic chamber is the first thing that comes up when you google Orfield Labs, so I think at least that part is probably true.

I hope the part about them challenging people to stay in it is true, too, because I definitely want to try it out.  I mean, like, if my therapist thinks it's okay.  Sensory deprivation isn't exactly known for encouraging psychological stability -- from "Negative effects" on the Sensory deprivation Wikipedia page:

One study took 19 volunteers, all of whom tested in the lower and upper 20th percentiles on a questionnaire which measures the tendency of healthy people to see things not really there, and placed them into a pitch black, soundproof booth for 15 minutes. After, they completed another test that measures psychosis-like experiences, originally used to study recreational drug users. Five people reported seeinghallucinations of faces, six reported seeing shapes/faces not actually there, four noted a heightened sense of smell and two people reported sensing a "presence of evil" in the room.

I wonder how that would feel, and whether I'd be okay with it.  (I imagine not, since apparently no one has been able to spend more than 45 minutes in one.)  I'm also (surprisingly intensely) curious about what it would sound like to sing in a room that silent.  I imagine a feeling of having my voice pulled out of my throat and taken away, but I don't suspect I'm very good at guessing what that kind of room would sound like.

D&D advances medical science

(via Reddit) Ed Yong, a blogger at Discover Magazine, writes about an eye-tracking study.  His post, 12-year-old uses Dungeons and Dragons to help scientist dad with his research, is about the problem of human attention -- when we see someone, we focus on their eyes.  Or, their faces.  It's hard to tell which.

One evening, Kingstone was explaining these two hypotheses to Julian over dinner. “A colleague had said that dissociating the two ideas — eyes vs. centre of head — would be impossible because the eyes of humans are in the centre of the head,” Kingstone said. “I told Julian that when people say something is impossible, they sometimes tell you more about themselves than anything.”

Julian, Kingstone's son, suggested that his father use pictures from the Monster Manual, a sort of self-explanatory D&D book.

The Reddit thread I got this post from also contained a comment that linked a picture which appears to be from the study, showing the results for three different kinds of image: human, humanoid, and monster.

The article also points out the significance of this research:

This isn’t just an academic exercise, says Kingstone. “If people are just targeting the centre of the head, like they target the centre of most objects, and getting the eyes for free, that’s one thing. Bu if they are actually seeking out eyes that’s another thing altogether,” he says. It means that different parts of the brain are involved when we glean social information from our peers. It might also help to explain why people with autism often fail to make eye contact with other people, and which parts of the brain are responsible.

More thoughts on 1984

Power is [was] still out today, so I am learning new things about the way my phone works.  Specifically, I'm trying to figure out if I can write documents on my Chromebook and get them onto my phone in a way that can be uploaded to the interwebs.  If you're reading this, I have succeeded[1. If you're reading it on my blog, I mean.  Obviously if you've stolen my laptop and are reading my scratchpad files, that doesn't count.].
Meanwhile:  I finished reading 1984 last night, and want to talk about some of the new thoughts I've had.  Specifically, I want to talk about the uncomfortable familiarity of doublethink.
Doublethink is, in 1984, close to being the Party's central doctrine:  the virtuous responsibility of its adherents to learn how to hold contradictory thoughts in one's mind simultaneously.  But, more than that, it's a way of holding the scaffolding of bias in your mind such taht it reinforces the Party's views wherever possible.
"It needed also a sort of athleticism of mind, an ability at one moment to make the most delicate use of logic and at the next to be unconscious of the crudest logical errors.  Stupidity was as necessary as intelligence, and as difficult to attain."
That was the part of the book where doublethink became a lot more chilling.  That was the point where it stopped seeming like doublethink was some extraordinary effort by a near-alien political body, a pursuit doomed to at least partial imperfection forever.  It started seeming like regular old run-of-the-mill cognitive bias.  It started seeming like the way human brains work all the time.
I thought about how much easier, for example, it is to ignore or make excuses for the undeniably problematic nature of the Office than it is for Tosh.0, or how easy it is for me to see subtle distinctions in cases that support my political arguments, and how easy it is to dismiss an opponent's argument when they pull out the same kind of subtle distinctions as "Distinction without difference."  That doesn't necessarily means that my arguments are wrong, but it does mean I lean towards continuing to believe things rather than changing my mind, for reasons that aren't very good.
One of the most unrealistic things about Dystopian fiction, the same unrealistic thing that shows up in conspiracy theories, is the idea that there's a high-powered organizing force creating the flaws in human nature and society that the writers or conspiracy theorists see around them.  Doublethink is, I think, a possible and real phenomenon; it's even the natural state of most thought.  The ability to coordinate it, though, the way IngSoc seeks to do, might be a little beyond human ability.  Instead, we naturally drift towards rationalizing systems in groups and clusters.
O'Brian is right about a lot of things in his interrogations with Winston.  He's right about the implications of collective solipsism (though I strongly believe that Winston was right about solipsism being inherently flawed,) and I think he's right about the reasons for the inevitable downfall of other authoritarian governments, that they grow soft or weak.  The cult-like methods used in the Ministry of Love would also probably work, if they could be executed on a large enough scale.
I'm glad that history didn't go the way Orwell wrote about, but I also don't think he was trying to make a prediction.  Rather, I think he was trying to illustrate the concepts that were active in his time, which allowed for individuals like Hitler and Stalin to reach a peak of power, and establish the idea of a gradient.  It's better for humanity to be fractured into thousands or millions of subgroups with their own variously broken modes of thought than it is for there to be three dominant groups piloting world affairs.  It's better for the revolting middle class to at least sort of half-believe in the values of equality and liberty, because when they fail to live up to the moral demands of power, they will at least not fail completely, undermining the class structure more and more by degrees.  And even if there's no way to crawl out of the oppression of the thought-landscape you have access to, even if there's no way you can think totally clearly, (which no one can,) it's better to be closer to reasonable rather than further away.

Live-blogging psych 101

My schedule today is slightly packed, and I'm not going to have internet for most of it so I probably won't be able to multitask blogging with anything else today.  So I'm live-blogging my psych class! 1:08pm

We started with "Things I should know," an extra credit thing the teacher does in which students bring up points that we think the teacher and/or class ought to know about.  Points covered:

  • NECC has a myers-briggs workshop
  • The vice-presidential debate was last night
  • 22% of romantic relationships take place online
  • The shirtless dude pictures on okcupid are effective (this one was mine)
  • Over 80% of stress in women is brought on by "overthinking things"
  • An elephant can fill a 7 gallon tub with poop

1:10pm

Stuff that's going on the board:

Weber's law: there's a constant proportion of the amount of change in a stimulus necessary to notice.

Limen: the formal term for a threshold, level, or limit

Subliminal: Any stimulus presented below the level or threshold for conscious recognition or conscious awareness.

1:12pm

"The invisible sell" -- how we can be persuaded subliminally (subliminal persuasion).  Can we? If so, how effective is it?

aside: Source for my fact about photos with shirts off

Theater experiment: experimenters scrolled information along the bottom of a screen while theater goers were watching a movie.  The text was, "Eat popcorn," "Drink Coca Cola," at a rate of one three-thousanth of a second, every five seconds.

Did it work?  Find out next update!

1:15pm

Was there an increase in soda and popcorn sales?  Yes!

Popcorn increased 57.5%, Coke increased 18.1%

(holy crap)

But, why did popcorn go up more than coca cola sales?  (Pause for answer) -- my guess: there's a better association between the word popcorn and the actual entity than there is between the phrase coca cola and the actual entity. (I think the truth is there's some other factor that affected the results.)

1:18pm

Seeing other people consuming might stimulate hunger?  You see the phrase popcorn first?  Can people smell the popcorn all over the place?

Is the popcorn machine closer? (Though that should be ruled out by the control)

Is the movie different?

1:20pm

More potentially confounding variables: People are hungry?  Better attendance?  Smell? Type of people showing up? Time of day?

The movie was called Picnic. Prof. makes the point that watching The Godfather will probably make you want pasta.  A movie about a picnic will more likely make you want picnic food.  (I wonder if lemonade sales improved?)

The results show, "conclusively," that subliminal persuasion is ineffective.  (I'm pretty sure that other results have confirmed that, but I don't think this study is conclusive to that point.)

1:23pm

The professor describes a Mitsubishi ad that was in black and white, breaking up our expectations.  Target Ads -- normally b/w, red, but around Xmas, black and white and red and green.

Also, the weird-looking target dog, points out a student behind me.

The professor points out that we don't actually know whether they even had the technology to display something at 1/3000/s.  (A google search reveals that film in the 1950's were shot at 30fps, therefore it shouldn't be possible.)

1:28pm

The teacher made a point about musicians using back-masking to put subliminal messages in their songs.  I decided not to comment, preferring to point out the thing about the 30fps.

Moving on to PHYSIOLOGY:

The Blind Spot:  The portion of the retina that lacks visual receptors.  It's where the optic nerve leaves the eye.

(Getting my book out, brb)

1:33pm

We did a blind-spot experiment.  It wasn't this one, but I'll find one online quick to embed.

(Here's one, sorry it's not embedded)

Definition: Astigmatism: a visual defect that makes focusing on distant objects difficult.  Those people in the class who had difficulty finding the blind spot might have one of these.  Those who didn't find the blind spot should re-try the test at home.  (I did find it -- my eyes are fine.)

A student asked, wouldn't an astigmatism therefore be a good thing, because it means you don't have a blind spot?  The teacher clarified that an astigmatism doesn't mean you don't have a blind spot, it means you have a blind spot plus even more wrong with your eye.

1:37pm

Tests!  Visual acuity -- the sharpness or clarity of visual perception

Normal acuity is 20/20.  (Your prescription is always on the top.)  Remember the line on the floor, chart against the wall in Elementary school?  Apparently, a lot of them were being sent to eye doctors because they couldn't read the lines -- not because they had vision problems, but because they hadn't learned the letters yet.

For really little children, they use pictures of known objects -- trucks, houses, beach balls, etc.  Always calibrated for 20 feet.

1:40pm

20/40: you see at 20 feet what the average person sees at 40 feet.  That means your vision is below average.  (At 20/40, you often don't get a glasses prescription, especially for young kids.  Sometimes they get an eye patch over their good eye, so their bad eye has to work harder and improve.)

(Sometimes, these kids would have balance problems both for some time after they get the patch, and for some time after you get it removed.)

20/200: You see at twenty feet what the average person sees at 200 feet.  Often times this can be corrected with glasses, contact lenses, surgeries.  If untreatable, this is legally blind.

(I brought up the golfers getting eye surgery to push their vision above 20/20.)

1:45pm

20/12: You can see at 20 feet what most people have to be 8 feet closer to see.

Apparently no one in Prof's classes today has had better than 20/20.  Though, often people who don't have impairments don't know their vision ranking.

Conclusion

NOTE: I can't find a source on the better-than-average surgeries.

On the benefits and drawbacks of choice

I watched the new David Mitchell's Soapbox today, which was all about how too much choice is bad or you. He points out some very good reasons why having a lot of choice tends to make people unhappy.

It seems to me that it's perfectly sensible that too much choice makes people unhappy. I mean, there have been loads of articles and TED talks about it. But it's not necessarily that obvious, is it? So I thought I'd gather up all the information I know about it in one place.

Starting with the case FOR choice, here's Malcolm Gladwell's famous Spaghetti Sauce TED talk:

The bit at the end, about coffee groups -- "The difference between X and X is the difference between coffee that makes you cringe, and coffee that makes you deleriously happy," -- seems like it ought to shoot a hole in the argument for less choice. But the problem with choice isn't about having 3 kinds of coffee and not knowing which one to choose, it's about having 100.

Increasing choice has a rate of diminishing returns so dramatic that it ends up reversing itself, what Barry Schwartz calls the Paradox of Choice:

But cutting all the choice entirely isn't helpful, as Gladwell covered. So, how do we decide? It seems that choosing when and how to choose is a skill unto itself, and may be one of the significant life skills of the 21st century. Here's my last video embed, The Art of Choosing:

Schwartz covered the ways in which choosing hurts satisfaction -- Iyengar covers the ways in which choosing hurts sales.

There's a description, somewhere on the internet that I couldn't find, of a wine store. They only sold 100 options for wine at any given time -- 50 white, 50 red, subdivided into 5 categories of 10 each.  Once you figured out what kind of wine you were looking for, there was plenty of time to learn about each of the wines available and make a good, informed decision you can feel confident about, and of which you can appreciate the consequences.

I wish I had more access to choices like that -- the kind of handholding choosing that can help an amateur make good decisions, and develop a genuine sense of comprehension within a complex area.

That's all the good content on choosing I know off the top of my head. I hope it helps.

That comic I mentioned that one time

So there's this comic I referenced in a post a month or two ago.  I can't remember what the post was about.  I think I was talking about depression.  Anyway, I referenced this comic that said something about thinking about all the embarrassing things that had ever happened to me, all at once -- because I was talking about how all of a sudden I realized that wasn't normal, and was probably indicative of some emotional problems that I should be working through. Anyway, I found the comic.  Here it is, via its original source.

I wonder what my friends thought of me in Elementary School?

(via EurekAlert) Concordia University's Department of Psychology published a press release today summarizing the results of a 20-year study that showed that children evaluating their peers are more likely to accurately predict their adult personalities than children evaluating themselves.

"This study, known as the Concordia Longitudinal Risk Project, was started in 1976 by my colleagues in the Department of Psychology, Alex Schwartzman and Jane Ledingham, who is now at the University of Ottawa" says [Lisa] Serbin. "Over two years, Montreal students in grades 1, 4 and 7 completed peer evaluations of their classmates and rated them in terms of aggression, likeability and social withdrawal. The students also did self-evaluations."

The report only states that the peer analyses were more accurate than self-evaluations, not how much more accurate they were, or how accurate they were in general -- it could be a difference between like 10% and 20%, still significant but not particularly useful.

I'm actually pretty sure I don't want to know what my friends thought of me during my early years of socialization.  I didn't think very much of myself, at the time, and I'd rather put off exploring that aspect of my psyche until I've done a better job of building a stable present-day sense of self-esteem.

I saw a new color

So, there's this test.  I've seen it before, and I've tried to do it before, and it's supposed to be able to give you the ability to see a color that doesn't exist anywhere in nature, that humans normally can't perceive.  Here is the test:

Previous tries have revealed only the gradient to me, and I had worried that my brain might just not be able to process the existence of that third color.  Maybe I still can't, and I'm just fooling myself.  (It's probably a character flaw, but I find I get very envious of the existence of people who, though biological quirks, are capable of perceiving more reality than me.)

I don't know how to describe it, which is probably a step in the right direction, and I could imagine a bunch of things that seemed like they might sort of be the right color, but really aren't.  It seemed sort of like a richer, darker beige.  I can't hold it, though.  It only shows up in glimpses, like what it would feel like to look straight at something that still felt like it was in the corner of your eye.  Maybe this is what perception filters feel like.

I'm in a dark room, now, and I've got the test image full-screened.  I think that might have helped.  Try it out, and let me know how it goes in comments.

Narrative and public school cafeterias

(via EurekAlert) A study of students in public schools has shown that re-naming the vegetables increases the amount of vegetables the students eat.  The names were corny and ridiculous (they called green beans "Silly Dilly Green Beans") but the change is apparently effective.

In the first study, plain old carrots were transformed into “X-ray Vision Carrots.” 147 students ranging from 8-11 years old from 5 ethnically and economically diverse schools participated in tasting the cool new foods. Lunchroom menus were the same except that carrots were added on three consecutive days. On the first and last days, carrots remained unnamed. On the second day, the carrots were served as either “X-ray Vision Carrots” or “Food of the Day.” Although the amount of carrots selected was not impacted by the 3 different naming conditions the amount eaten was very much so. By changing the carrots to “X-ray vision carrots”, a whopping 66% were eaten, far greater than the 32% eaten when labeled “Food of the Day” and 35% eaten when unnamed.

The write up of the study points out that this is a cost-effective way to improve the health of students -- just re-name the vegetables, and diets get better.  I'm totally in favor of this kind of study, but it seems to me like this principle should be obvious by now.

I find it frustrating how frequently issues like this, issues of poor health or unperformance, are treated as insoluble or as too expensive to deal with, when more often than not a narrative solution, like renaming something or recontextualizing something, can help solve the problem for free.

Survival of the fittest

The concept of survival of the fittest came up in one of my classes today.  And, as usual, the discussion entailed a number of radical oversimplifications. It seems to me like the phrase "survival of the fittest" more often undermines a clear comprehension of evolution than aids it. First, it is almost completely nonsensical to discuss evolution in terms of humans.  We most likely aren't evolving -- civilization undermines that process.  And that's a good thing.  Evolution only selects for 'better' in the very narrow sense of having children who have children.  Like other ways of attempting to simplify success (amount of money, sports victories, relative number of people killed at war) trying to interpret successfulness in evolutionary terms works, but only if you snip off the part of the concept that describes the reasons success matters.

Secondly, as it was used in this class, the case is often used to implicitly or explicitly devalue people who have skill sets, who represent value, outside the speaker's preferred area.  In this case, the prompt was "Would you rather have a genius kid, or a kid with street smarts?" -- followed by an explanation that, sometimes, if you know enough stuff it trips you up and makes you unable to apply any of it.

I want to really tear into this argument, but my phone is about to die. I will return to the blog later.

Type 3 Diabetes

My favorite kind of passage in an article about science is this one, in the Guardian's article, Alzheimer's could be the most catastrophic impact of junk food:

New Scientist carried this story on its cover on 1 September; since then I've been sitting in the library, trying to discover whether it stands up. I've now read dozens of papers on the subject, testing my cognitive powers to the limit as I've tried to get to grips with brain chemistry. Though the story is by no means complete, the evidence so far is compelling.

I'm less unambiguously enthused about the premise of the article:  that Alzheimer's Disease might actually be a form of diabetes.  According to diabetes.co.uk, which outright refers to Alzheimer's as Type 3 Diabetes, "many type 2 diabetics have deposits of a protein in their pancreas which is similar to the protein deposits found in the brain tissue of Alzheimer's sufferers."

This scares the crap out of me, because Alzheimer's is one of my biggest looming fears,[1. As opposed to non-looming fears, like spiders, car accidents and being alone in the dark.] and I don't exactly have a fantastic diet.  I'm pretty sure I'm safe for Type 1 Diabetes, but my family has a history of Type 2, a fact I know because my mother pointed it out to me every few weeks/months since middle school, which is why Type 2 Diabetes is another one of my big looming fears.

On the bright side, though I find it difficult to improve my eating and exercise habits for reasons like "I'll probably be healthier and live longer and stuff," imagining a future in which my mind slowly degrades to the point where I become a burden and a constant reminder of a lost person to the people I love, while I'm trapped knowing that I will never again think the way I used to, is sufficiently terrifying that it might stop me eating pop tarts so often.

Although, if climate change is any indication, fear of ensured doom is a terrible way to motivate humans to change for the better.