Problems counting

Last week I rambled on about how there is no science of problems.  Is there?  Did anyone contradict me?  What do you think?

So, what the heck.  Let’s try it ourselves.  This is supposed to be a day of rest and reflection, right?  Let’s think about how lucky we are and how problem free our lives are.

What?  You say that’s not true?  You have problems, too?  Certainly not starvation or educational neglect.  But still problems?  Great.  Let’s hear them.  Let’s list them.

Maybe if we get enough problems we can start listing them using some system.  Maybe the Dewey decimal system – now that it’s been abandoned by our libraries.

Go ahead – list all of them.  Think about them.  We have computers with giga-bits of space – so try to fill them up.  How many problems are there?  Are there more problems than people?  Maybe it’s people that are the problems?  List them!

Maybe, just maybe, like the Nepalese names of god, if we list all the problems there are in existence they will magically go away?  I wonder.

Okay, I’ll start.  Here’s a starter list of problems.

What happened to flight MH370?  Why are the Russians overrunning Crimea against Ukraine’s wishes?  How can we help people living in squalor in tidal regions, like Bangladesh?  What can we do to help, and prevent, with accidents like the mudslide in Washington state?  How can we prevent every possible child molester?  What’s the best way of being 100% assured that all know molesters will never harm another child?  How can the SAT or ACT be improved so that it becomes a perfect predictor of academic success, without needing ANY preparation?

On the small front, how can I eat better so that I don’t gain weight so fast?  Why do my coworkers always seem to push the boundaries of acceptable behavior?  When can I expect my suppliers to always do things better than I expect, instead of just doing well enough to get by?

That’s my list, for now.  What’s your problem?


Dreams, behave yourselves!

Did you dream?  Was it a long story complete with great camera angles, character development, wonderful scenery and meaningful symbolism?  My wife dreams like that.

Or was it more like my dream, a snippet of a scene, a weird dysfunctional reality where something is totally out of whack.  Crazy things like a staircase to nowhere, a car that turns into a tent, or running slowly away from some menace to suddenly find yourself flying above the roof tops?

Sleep research says we all dream.  Whether we remember it or not depends on when we wake up.  What I want to ask is this; does dreaming constitute behavior?  If it’s something we do, then it must be!

But if we dream and can’t remember it, did it really happen?  It sounds a lot like that damn tree that fell in the woods.  For some reason, philosophers have bad hearing because they ask, did it make a sound?

It all depends on what “sound” means to us.  If sound is energy dissipated in the form of compressed air in a certain frequency, then of course it does.  Silly philosopher.  But if sound means your ear capturing those air waves and registering them as energy from the same direction as the tree, then the answer is NO!

So, is dreaming behavior?  If no one is there to hear it, does it count?  Even if that person is you?

Dream about that!


My affair with Jane

True confession.  My wife introduced us.  I’d been married several decades when she introduced us the first time, through a movie called “Bride and Prejudice.”  Jane’s intelligence, insight, and delicate manipulation of both character and plot shone through this Bollywood / Hollywood mashup.  It didn’t hurt that it also had the most beautiful woman in the world as the lead actor.

I was hooked.  I needed to know Jane better.  Jane Austen, that is.  She’s been dead a while, so my wife doesn’t feel too threatened.  And in all fairness, I only know Jane through one of her works, Pride and Prejudice (P&P) and some of their variants.

If you don’t know P&P, I’m not going to reveal too much except to say you’ll enjoy it.  It’s one of those pieces of Great Literature that is actually so great that you don’t have to care that it’s great because it’s simply good.  It’s fun.  It’s so much fun at so many levels that each time I read it I figure something else out.

One of the wonderful aspects of the book is that it’s a window into the society of England during the early 1800s.  She writes of many tiny details of etiquette and protocol that we no longer follow.  Teasing them out and trying to understand them in the context of society then, and now, is one of the fun things a student of behavior enjoys.

One of my mysteries in the book has always been a reference that Darcy makes roughly midway, when he says that even Mr. Bennet acted foolishly during a ball.  Now, I happen to really like Mr. Bennet.  He is extremely sarcastic, spends a lot of his time in his library, and can’t brook fools.  Maybe I identify with him too much!  Anyway, I always thought all of Mr. Bennet’s utterances were fairly intelligent.

Oh, not so!  He, much like myself, starts taking his own sarcasm as being natural.  During the all-important ball at Netherfield in Chapter 18, he tells his anxious-to-perform daughter Mary that she should “… let the other young ladies have time to exhibit.”

Elizabeth, the main character, is aghast.  And later, so is Darcy.  But what the hey?  He was calling it truthfully – they all wanted a chance to show off!  And it finally dawned on me that his indiscretion was simply calling attention to that fact!  Back then you didn’t allude to such obvious and mundane motives.  You were upper class!  Your shit didn’t even stink!  (It probably did, but they NEVER talked about it.)

Poor Mr. Bennet.  I really can’t blame him.  I’m sure he was deadly tired from being at a ball in the first place.  He had to listen to his wife prattling on in ways that not only embarrassed her daughters, her husband, and everyone around her in the book, but the first time I read it – it was embarrassing me as well!  It’s that well written.

Finally, one of the most flattering statements we can make about an actor is to comment about their character as if it were a real person.  And the best Mrs. Bennet I’ve seen (1980 version of P&P) had me pretty much despising the character all the way through the show!  It wasn’t until the second (or third?) time I watched it that I could remind myself that this was an actor doing a fantastic job.

So, there it is.  Jane.  She’s in my heart and head.  I don’t think any production has yet done her single greatest work justice.  Lucky for us, we still have her words.

Recognition, in your eye!

Recently, a dear relative fell to the ground and damaged her eye.  The surgeon worked on it for 5 hours, trying to dig out much of the clot and dying tissue.  His words to us after the surgery were these; if the eye could sense light, even a little bit, then it could remain in the body.  If the eye could not sense any light, the body would turn on it as a foreign invader and ultimately reject it.

That’s not the bad part.  The body would then turn on the good eye, battling it as if it were an invader.  Ultimately the body would win. the eye would lose.  And complete blindness would be the result.

But that’s not what is most intriguing to this student of behavior.  The fact that the eye in some way talks to the immune system and says “leave me alone” is nothing short of incredible.  That our neural system in some way can influence the immune system is astounding, at least to me.

Then again, there are those mystics who believe that the right chant, the right light, or the right crystal can also enhance your immune system.  As a skeptic I find these claims hard to swallow.  There are those who claim the right herbs, the right diet, and the right eating rituals will also improve your ability to ward off evil bugs.  Again, my skeptical gourmet says “where’s the beef?”

Finally, and most convincingly, there are those who can show a link between stress (as evidenced in cortisone levels) and the ability of mice and men to resist infection.  But even this link is at the molecular level.

Finally, we have real evidence that our neurons and our immune system are linked.  Medical fact hints at the fact that our brains and our physical strength are connected.  What other surprising connections are there in our behavioral universe?  I can’t wait to find out.


Forward this!

If you’ve had email for more than a minute, then you’ve gotten a forward from a friend.

Religious, conservative, liberal, ranting, and most likely, total fiction.  There’s always been something about the urge to pass around a message that contains absolutely false information.  At the same time, it’s the kind of information that arouses our emotions; we rankle in anger, we giggle in anticipation, or we laugh at the outright craziness the message describes.

I can remember, from painful personal experience, one such “forward” back in the days before computers.  Yes, forwards have been around that long.  It was in grade school, on the playground, and the rumor went around that I didn’t have on any underpants!  Oh, the hurt, the pain!

Today, I can imagine the first such published “forward” taking place soon after the invention of the printing press.  A disgruntled employee of Gutenberg may have stayed late one night, taking the opportunity to print up a series of pamphlets directed against his tyrannical employer.  It probably said something like this; Johannes G isn’t wearing any underpants!  And he underpays his employees!

The point is, as an aspect of behavior, such forwards have been around a long time.

The problem today is that the speed of the internet has given the forward a whole new life, a breadth and penetration of our psyche that is greater than ever before.  This didn’t exist 50 years ago, and the effect only seems to be getting greater.

I would like to think that, in an advanced society, there would be a mechanism protecting us from fiction that tries to pass as fact.  Yet, in a “free” society, we place a high value on the value of “free speech.”  At the same time, the courts have (justly) ruled that crying out “FIRE” in a crowded place is not protected speech.  Perhaps it’s time we also protect facts from fiction.

Or are we destined to simply become, dumb?



Multiply your taxes by ten, then…

Happy tax day everyone.  This Tuesday many of us are sending a few hard-earned dollars to our Uncle Sam.  He always appreciates the fact that we show our appreciation to him for all the fine work he’s doing.  We know he treats our money as if it was still ours; there’s no waste, no entitlements, no reason not to trust him.

Well, not today, anyway.

For today, let’s look at something else our favorite Uncle likes to do.  He likes to tell us how much he’s saving us when he does something.  For instance, he might change the tax laws that penalize corporations for paying their executives more than a million dollars a year.  I know it slows down my corporation.  They keep trying to pay the head guy many millions, but he says, “wait! we don’t want too many taxes!”

So Uncle Sam changed the laws to tax companies paying out “too much” money.  No discussion about how corporations figured out a way around this.  They did.  What Uncle Sam did next is the fun part.  He took to the cameras and newsertainment outlets and told everyone that he’d just saved you and me billions of dollars.  Wow.  That’s a lot of dough!

But wait a minute.  At the end of every sentence about that savings, he’d throw in this little tidbit under his breath; “over ten years.”

Really?  Really?  TEN YEARS?

So that Billion Dollars is not really a billion dollars, it’s a hundred million dollars.  That’s like nothing! I can’t even buy a small country for that amount.  Well, maybe a small country, but you know what I mean. So what’s the deal with the 10 years?

The politicians claim they always need a 10 year window because taxes take such a long time to accumulate and apply.  Sure.  I always wait 10 years before paying any particular tax – like my sales tax on chewing gum.

No, they put the 10 year number on there because it makes everything look BIGGER.  They don’t mention that within two years these corporations will figure out another loophole to hide those billions (oops, almost did it myself! I mean, millions) of dollars.

Yet again, this is something new that our country never did before.  And it’s something that our newsertainment people swallow hook, line, and sinker.  It’s something that the rest of us don’t even notice.  And it’s yet another little insight into how our nation is slowly becoming dumber and dumber.

So, this year, give them a taste of their own medicine.  Send in only a tenth of your taxes, and let them know they can get the rest over a ten year period.  I wonder how much of a sense of humor the IRS has?


Money Day – First impression

Want to make a great first impression?  You only get one chance, ‘they’ say.  It’s probably true to a large extent, because we meet a vast number of people once, maybe twice in our entire lives.  So why not try to make a nice first impression?

Psychology tells us that a first impression takes only seconds to form when we meet someone.  In that few seconds a normal human can take in massive amounts of information: your hair, voice, skin color and tone, facial features, eye characteristics and movements, odor, choice of clothing, to name only a few.  There are thousands of other things that your potential boss can notice, and probably will.  Most of these are out of your control (skin color), but you can influence many others (body odor?).

One very BIG thing that bosses and interviewers notice more than ever are people who use their mobile device.  Not only using it during an interview, but even before or after.  Face it, if you use it during a first interview, you might as well leave.  Did you realize that using it at all could work against you?  It can, because it sends a distinct message to your potential employer; I’m easily distracted.

You say, “Nay, I’m not distracted at all!”  It’s not me or even you that needs to be convinced, it’s that employer.  Let me confess from the employer’s perspective; if you’re on your device, you’re not paying attention to me.  And if that’s not important to you, then you aren’t important to me.

Do yourself a favor; demobilize your mobile.  There are a lot of things about you that you can’t change.  But this is one aspect of behavior that is totally under your control.  Be a true student of behavior and take charge!

Now, get excited about the opportunity to meet a new person, to learn about a new company and new job, and increase your chances of success at the same time.  Good luck!



Problems with Science

Sunday typically sees a few people taking the time to think about those less fortunate than ourselves.  We may put a few dollars in the collection plate, pray for the sex slaves of Sudan, the child soldiers of Uganda, or even the garbage pickers down the street.  Then we leave.  We have to think about the kid’s soccer practice, or that project due at work tomorrow.  After all, if I don’t get that project done on time, I don’t have a job.  Without a job I can’t put money in the collection plate. And without that money, that garbage picker won’t be able to get free soup from our soup kitchen.

But this is the way we’ve been doing it for many years.  Have we learned nothing?

Perhaps it’s time to ask a simple question; why don’t we start collecting problems?  Like bug collecting.  Start going out into the wild and just collect them.  Don’t address them yet, don’t try to understand them, just collect them.  Pin them up on the wall.  Study them at leisure.

Why isn’t there a science of problems?  Aren’t these the things that plague humanity through the ages?  Hunger, anger, aggression, and suppression?  How many different problems are there?  Maybe once we put them up on the wall and take a good look, we might figure something out about how to make them all go away!

Imagine this.  You go to a museum in the future, and there’s a wall of dusty note cards.  The name of the hall?  Extinct problems that used to exist.  Just think, someday maybe all our problems will only be remembered in a museum.

Well, they might be on a history test as well.  But that’s another problem.

Or is it?


Comfortable positions

What makes you comfortable?  What makes you uncomfortable?

Last week we talked about how birds fly in a “V” formation.  They don’t have to think about it.  Something in their genetic code has resulted in their being most comfortable flying in a “V.”  Flying in any other formation would use too much energy and result in fewer offspring.

What does this have to do with us?  Think about what you like, and what you don’t like.  As a student of behavior, we must have the courage to investigate everything.  And it starts with ourselves.

What do you like?  The color blue?  Bluegrass music?  Picasso’s blue period paintings?  Perhaps the movie, Blue Velvet?  Now think.  Why?  Why do you like these things?  What about a genre?  Do you prefer one style of architecture to another?

Here’s the really tough part.  Try and tease out how much of this is due to being your choice, part of the way you were raised.  Maybe it’s due to your parents, or a loving aunt and uncle.  So, take away all the influences you can attribute to your environment, the way you were nurtured.

What’s left?  We call it nature.  It’s built into your DNA.  It’s your program.

Now, think about everything you like.  Your foods, clothes, cars, even friends.  How much of each of these is part of your DNA?  Can you figure out the amount?

Does it bother you to know that part of your choices in life may be out of your control?  Don’t be.  It took thousands of your ancestor’s generations to help make those choices.  It’s nice to think they made good choices.  But maybe they didn’t.  Whether you like it or not, you are the result of their choices.

Are you comfortable with that?


Watching the Putin follies

Last month the big geopolitical news was that Ukraine was imploding.  Russia, led by their intrepid Czar, Vladimir “bare chested” Putin, swooped in to save the Crimea.  What were they saving the Crimea from?  From the Crimeans, apparently.  Over the last decade or so, Russia has been moving in many Russians for business and military reasons.  Those Russians felt in danger, so luckily the Russian military has arrived to liberate and protect those poor people.  The fact that the Crimean legislature has decided to secede from Ukraine and join Russia is mere coincidence.

Let’s look at the BIG picture for a moment.  Please, step back from your computer.  There you go.  The big picture is this – Russia has always wanted Crimea.  They also wanted Afghanistan, but that didn’t go over as well.  The last time Russia made a play for Crimea was around 1850.  They had to give it back a few years later.  The reason?  They want it for the beaches.  Really.  The Crimea has access to warm water all year round.  Good for your tan, Vladimir.  Also good for your Navy.

Back in 1850, rising political pressure forced Russia to go home.  Today’s takeover is only a few months old, but the political pressure is already starting to rise.  You can tell how excited Putin is about the takeover by how hard his nipples are in those pictures.  Right after the takeover, very excited.  Today’s pictures, not so much.  Why?

Well, the Russian stock market is taking a hit.  Who has their money in Russian stocks?  Rich Russians, that’s who!  How much money are Putin’s pals going to lose before they start calling Vlad up in the middle of the night?  The conversation probably sounds like this:  “Hey, Vladdy, what’s the deal?  My dacha and my devushka are ditching me because I had to sell the two yachts!  Even my wife is getting upset!  Do something!”

Stocks aren’t the only pressure our modern society brings to bear on the Bear of Russia.  We are starting to freeze the bank accounts of Rich Russians and Russian companies.  Very inconvenient, don’t you know.  How would you like to jet off to London or New York and find that you can’t withdraw a million from your bank account?  Now you have to carry all that in cash – and you KNOW how bulky that stuff is!

So, if you’re crying for Crimea, hang on to your babushka.  This is only the beginning.  For the rest of us, sit back and enjoy the Putin Show.  I’m not “Putin” you on!  (Sorry.)