Listen to the Children

Don’t kids say the darndest things?  Sometimes it makes us laugh so much.

Funny thing about laughing.  It usually wipes our minds clean of what other meaning there may have been underlying their innocent statements.

The questions that children ask about the world usually come about after they have thought deeply about a subject.  The entire universe is new to them, and like all young, they want to understand it to survive and succeed.  So they ask us, their mentoring adults, for advice.

When they ask a question it usually reveals what their underlying thinking is about that subject.  We can tease out how the world works inside their heads.  We can figure out where their logic is going wrong, or if they are getting the wrong impression about an object or subject.

We can also use those questions as an opportunity to lead them, guide them, entice them into a greater world of learning and wonder.  We can use it as an opportunity to help them grow and improve.

Sadly, I overhear many parents doing exactly the opposite to their children.  “Don’t ask me that,” they say.  “Just because,” they say.  Or worse yet, “because I say so” they say.  The child knows they were wrong, but is no wiser.  And the worst part is that whatever curiosity and energy they may have had to delve into the subject more deeply has been thwarted.  The children turn away from their parts and the world around them and instead play with their video games.

Know any children?  Try encouraging them – by listening.  They might surprise you.

 

Listening is hard to do

They say that we are all born with two ears and one mouth.  But it seems that most of the people we meet act as if they have two mouths and only one ear.  How many times have you been with a friend who gets a call on their phone.  Instantly their one ear is attached to the phone, yet they are talking to you and the other person.

Listening is behavior.  And it’s time I heard something from all of you.  I’ve got tons of questions, a few billion questions (they don’t weigh as much), and some fairly good observations.  And writing these down now and then is not only good exercise for me, but it keeps the old neurons on their toes.  Did you know neurons have toes?

So it’s time to listen.  What do YOU think about all this sort of behavior stuff?  Do you have questions?  I know you did, once upon a time.  When we’re young we bother our parents with all sorts of bothersome questions.  They typically tell us to go away or not worry about it.  Do you remember any of those questions?  I’d like to hear them and maybe, together, we can figure out some answers.

Maybe it’s not as hard as we think.

 

 

Living the Gym

I hate exercising.  I hate to sweat.  Yet, I do it anyway.  Several times a week.

Why?

If I work out so hard that I feel like dying, then I know I must be alive.

I know, it doesn’t make much sense.  I’m hoping that if I say it often enough I’ll believe it.

But exercise is behavior.  It’s something we do; at least, it’s something that many of us do.  If you’re a die-hard writer, it’s hard to get up the gumption to sweat, especially since it might interfere with the creative juices.  Then again, pushing that damn pen (or keyboard) can be hard enough.

What does exercise tell us about others?  Or about our society?

We seem to like to exercise in groups, for one thing.  We like to be led, and we like something that is new and somewhat flashy.  Remember when fancy dancing was the rage, then lots of ab work on balls?  Then there was slidy things, and now it seems to be hot yoga and lots of boot camps.  It also seems that many people like to be seen when they work out, so it’s a form of parade where we show off our social status.  We work out in only the ‘best’ places.

How many people exercise because they know it’s good for them?  And indirectly good for their families because it means they’ll be around longer to help them and less of a burden on them in their old age?  How many people think that it’ll be a good thing for society because their health-care bills will be lower?

Or do we do it because someone will take a long look at us when we’re in our skimpy bathing suit?

Because that’s how you know you’re alive.

 

Yoga Reviews

This wonderful Chicago doctor is spreading the word (and practice) of yoga as a way to save money on health care!  How cool is that?

And that got me thinking.  There are TONS of different yoga teachers out there.  Literally.  Yoga teachers don’t weigh a lot, as a rule.  But if you put them on a scale and weighed them, there would be, like, a million of them.  And a million yoga teachers would weigh, probably, a thousand tons.

And there’s a zillion different styles of yoga, too.  Well, maybe not a zillion, but there’s a lot.  Even if there’s a fixed style that’s legally copyrighted and patented, it’s still going to change a little bit depending on the teacher and the class.

Anyway, it suddenly came to me; It’s like restaurants!  Look, there’s a godzillion pizza places, right?  And you might say, pizza is pizza.  So what does the local news media do?  They employ a restaurant reviewer.  Someone goes around and tries all the restaurants for you and then writes about it.  This place has great sauce but lousy crust, but the owner kisses everyone who comes in.  Another place has great prices but the sauce is never the same.  You get the drift.

We need someone to do this for yoga studios!  And teachers!  It’ll be fun!  Imagine the stories; This studio has great ambiance but I’m being herded through like cattle.  This other place does a full 15 minute savasana (I only go for the savasana anyway).  Or, so-and-so teacher can be a bit temperamental, but is worth standing in line for.  This other teacher is too nice, and never corrects your alignment.

Will this be a high-paying position?  Probably not.  Will it bring you fame and glory as a writer?  Probably not.  But is it a bona-fide profession?  The answer is YES!

Here’s where being a serious student of behavior pays off.  We can make solid predictions of the future.  Just as the profession of being a restaurant critic emerged as “restaurants” emerged, so too will Yoga-Reviewer soon come into being.  If it hasn’t already.  You’ll have to go incognito.  You’ll have to be knowledgeable in the art of yoga without coming off as too smart.  And you’ll have to travel all over your territory.  Can you handle it?

No, don’t nod your head… write me!

Hmmm.  What is the sanskrit word for writer’s pose?

 

 

Silencing your Genes

Suicide, a willful decision a living entity makes to end their own life.  The very word elicits a shudder from every normal person, and for those who have been touched by it, a deep feeling of sadness.  But to study and understand people, society, and life in general, we must move beyond our personal feelings and think about what suicide means.

Suicide means that someone, something, that is alive chooses to not be alive.  What happens when a soldier chooses to participate in a dangerous mission and never returns?  We call such missions suicide missions because that is what they represent.  What happens when an organization is disbanded?  In a sense, while it is together, that organization is alive.  Suddenly it no longer exists, whether through bankruptcy, ineptitude, or some other form of life-altering event.  What happens if someone decides that they never want to have children?  In this sense, their ‘life’ as represented by their genes will cease to exist.  Their unique genetic signature will die, because it is only through offspring that such information is preserved.

In all these cases, a choice has been made in which ‘death’ may not be in the form that we are most familiar.  That soldier’s suicide mission may not result in physical death, but a mental collapse from which there is no recovery.  That business that was purchased by another no longer exists in the same form, even though its products and name may continue.  And that person who is capable of reproduction has decided, willfully, to not have children.  Though their body may live to a ripe old age, their genes will not be passed on.  This is genetic death.

Choosing not to reproduce is a choice.  It deals with the same forces of life and death for the individual as it does for the family.  There are great joys that come with creating a new human being.  And there are great pains as well.  Our Western Civilization has seen a great reduction in reproduction, possibly because the apparent cost of children is rising while the benefits are decreasing.

Balancing great forces of life within ourselves, and making a choice.  As unbiased students of behavior, we should be impartial and non-judgemental.  But we should acknowledge at least one bias;

Life is nice.

 

Suicide as Behavior

We don’t want to think about it, exercising free will upon ourselves in such a way as to end our lives must be discussed.  It happens all too frequently today, and usually distresses everyone around the ‘victim.’

One of the reasons it’s difficult to discuss is that we don’t want to admit that everyone considers suicide as an option.  The good news is that very few people consider it as a viable option.  It’s considered, and then it’s gone.  Because it’s a deep dark thought, we never have to admit it.  Yet evidence of its familiarity are all around us.  Shakespeare perhaps said it best (of course) as Hamlet considers whether he should be or not.  However, consider this.  How many children have considered running away from home, away from the repressive regime represented by their parent?  How many parents have heard the tearful teenage admonition, “you’ll miss me when I’m gone!”?

The thoughts are there, always to some degree.  In some minds the dark forces are stronger than in yours, and for that we are thankful.  It’s our job as students to try and tease out the forces that push the decision one way or the other, no matter how ugly they may be.

And in this fashion, the simple lessons of primal biology give us the greatest insight.  For it may be that the choice of suicide is one of avoiding pain.  In fact, it could be argued that most of the decisions we make everyday are to avoid pain.

Yes, suicide is painful.  No matter how we would choose to do so, there will be some fear factor in its execution, and fear equals pain.  Furthermore, we are human, and we have relationships with others.  We know that our choice will bring pain to those we care about.  Add up all this pain, and we have a sum representing the force of life.

Life.  For most of us, life is mostly joy.  But for some, life is mostly pain.  In truth, life is a mix of both.  Sources of pain are pressures from our peers, parents, and teachers.  We have homework, social obligations, possibly a job, a family, and a huge project.  Perhaps we don’t have a job, and we want one.  There is the great divide between where we want to be and where we are, even after years of toil.  Add to this our knowledge that all these sources of pain may increase over time.  The sum of all these sources of pain, added up across time, becomes the force of death.

Then we choose.  The easier the tools are to find, the more accepted the choice is within society, then the more likely we are to choose death over life.

As students of behavior, it’s difficult to truly say we study this phenomenon with impartiality.  But we must try.  And as we study, we realize that suicide does not only come in one size, or in one form.  For that we must step back, and consider the balance of forces on yet another scale.

The scale of a generation.

 

Dark Side of Free Will

Every power and right carries threat and responsibility.

As students of behavior, and with a rudimentary knowledge of philosophy, we can identify a power that only people seem to possess; something called free will.

As a great power, we revel in it throughout our childhood.  Our first car, our first experience away from home, our first great financial decision are all empowering actions that declare “I have free will!”

There is a terrible downside to free will, one that is touched upon all too seldom because of its terror.  And for those of you who tremble easily, you’ll be forgiven for closing this page and visiting again next week.

This terror exists in every being that possesses free will.  It lives in you, and for that reason you will be afraid.

This terror is what we call suicide.  It is the decision of an individual with free will, exercising that free will in such a way as to end their life.

As students of behavior we must commit ourselves to an impartial, unbiased, and evenly balanced study of all things that behave.  Suicide is one of those things, and we must study it.  This next series will touch upon suicide in many forms, not only the form in which you know it best, and fear it most.

Through these articles I have come to meet many of you, and know some of you have been touched by these dark forces.  I extend my condolences.  Many years ago a cousin decided to take her life, at such a young age, and it still pains me to this day.  I have some understanding of the forces that were acting upon her, but can never know exactly what went through her mind in those final days.

To her I have not ceased thinking about what she did, and what it may reveal about myself, society, and life in general.  Here are those thoughts in a few short essays.

For KM.

 

Dead Name Dropping

What is it with dead philosophers?  You can’t have a decent philosophical conversation with anyone without them bandying about a Kant or Decartes or Russell as soon as they can.  Occasionally, if you’re dealing with a classical type of guy, they’ll whip out an Aristotle like their facebook friends.

Why can’t we have a good philosophical discussion without referencing some dead guy’s concepts or name?  Is it possible that nothing more substantive came from all their life’s work than a few of their scattered thoughts?

Frankly, I don’t really care if Hegel or Bacon said something brilliant or called a great insight by a particular name.  What I care about is that insight itself, that philosophical stepping stone that allows me to understand our world more clearly, more deeply.

Therein lies the problem, because for every great thought of Schopenhauer I can find a contrary thought by Nietzsche.  Or for the highly popular thoughts of Marx we can find opposing thoughts from Mills.

Or are they truly opposing thoughts?  This is another tough one, because besides dropping dead names, philosophers are also extremely good about not defining things.  Any things.

Here’s a fun game to play when you meet someone studying or practicing philosophy.  Quick – define philosophy itself!  What about truth?  Reality?  Justice?  Mind? Soul?  Pick one, they’re all fun.  For extra credit, tell them that you’ll buy them a drink if they keep it under 25 words.  Under 10 words and you’ll buy them TWO drinks!

My guess is that you’ll keep them quiet for some time with that challenge.

And my advice if you’re the type who likes to talk philosophy; lose the names.  Keep the concepts, and think definitions.  Oh, and what is philosophy?

Thinking about thinking.

So, where are my drinks?

 

Posers and Complicators

Philosophers study behavior.  Philosophy is behavior.  We study behavior.  Therefore we study philosophers.  Does this also make us philosophers?

To some degree the answer is yes.  Does this hurt?

It shouldn’t, because one of the greatest assets of becoming a student of behavior is that everything we study is a kind of mirror.  What we learn about others also teaches us something about ourselves.  Usually.

For instance, the study of mathematics is behavior.  But mathematics itself is not behavior.  Math, simply, is math.  It wouldn’t exist if humans didn’t exist, but the concepts underlying mathematics would.

As students of behavior, our study of the study of mathematics can be very interesting.  One of the most intriguing things to come out of math during the last century was something revealed by Kurt Gödel, and beautifully described by Douglas Hofstadter.  Simply, Gödel proved, mathematically, that we can’t fully understand a system from within that system.  We’ll talk more about this another day.

When we study philosophy as behavior, it becomes impossibly complex.  The problem isn’t the subject itself, but those pretending to ‘practice’ philosophy.  If you have ever been lucky enough to hear a live philosophical debate between experts, you may know what I mean.  There is nothing but misunderstanding, big words, long complicated threads of thought, and meandering statements without meaning that goes on forever.  If you want to experience the same sort of thing without as much of the boredom, visit any philosophical thread on the internet and try to follow along.

More importantly, there are never any conclusions.  Philosophers can’t know when they’ve come to a conclusion because none of them are even sure where they are.

Are these fighting words?  Do you disagree?  Let’s try an easy experiment.  Find any two philosophers – expert or not, it won’t matter.  And give them a philosophical term to define, in 25 words or less.  And let them do it separately.  Then compare the answers.  Are they going to be the same definition, or different?

I’m writing down my definition now.

 

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kurt_G%C3%B6del

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godel_escher_bach

 

I love the sofa

Philo-sophy = I love the sofa

Isn’t this what philosophy really means?  After all, it seems that almost all philosophical discussions take place in nice cushy locations with glasses of sherry or wine being passed about.  Sure, if you’re in school it’s going to be beer in the bar, but the situation is basically the same.  Safe and sound and comfortable.

Why not discuss philosophy when you are digging a ditch for water runoff?  Or restringing 12,000 volt power lines after they’ve been pulled down during a storm?  Or while practicing engine-out procedures in a single engine aircraft?

The answer is that philosophy doesn’t address real-life scenarios.  Philosophy prides itself on addressing issues that don’t matter.  At least they don’t matter today.

The problem with today’s philosophy is that there are issues that matter tomorrow, big issues that can result in our having a better world, or worse world.  And today’s philosophers don’t seem to be able to connect the dots between behaviors we execute today and those long-term implications.

The problem with today’s philosophers is that they are too comfortable.  It’s time to take their drinks away.  It’s time to push them off the sofa and out of the bar.  It’s time to make them get real jobs and still try to apply philosophy to our lives.

Or is it?  I forgot myself for a moment.  I’m supposed to be studying these philosophers, understanding them in the context of human behavior.  How they fit into society, and what their impact on that society may be.  Forgive me, Gentle Reader.

In that case, we must return to their habitat and observe them as they behave, naturally, on the sofa.

Where’s my sherry?