How About Coffee?

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Quoting another source semi-verbatim isn’t my style, but with the proper citation and it being only a little bit of quoting, we should be able to swing this by the legal department.  If there’s a problem, please ask nicely and this post can be modified.

But there’s a reason it’s worth quoting, it’s great writing and speaking.  The text is from Piers Bizony‘s book on the making of 2001 A Space Odyssey.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who has any interest in aviation, space, movies, science fiction, science, anything technical, or anything having to do with behavior.  I fall into 5 of those categories.  You’ll want to buy it because it’s too good to share.

First, paraphrasing only slightly, we have Marvin Minsky, the expert from MIT advising Kubrick who had no problem understanding that the emptiness of 2001’s dialogue was intentional

” … And after the momentous statement that the monolith must have been deliberately buried, one of the astronauts says, “Well, how about a little coffee?”  Kubrick’s idea is that the universe is too majestic for short sighted people.”

Now, here’s the good part where I’m trying to be as faithful to Bizony as I can;  Kubrick’s wife, Christiane, speaking about her husband’s intentions.

“Stanley thought we are always falling behind our scientific and technical achievements.  We are very good at making more and more things – but to do what with?  We haven’t kept up, psychologically and philosophically.  We are not profound.  We are still getting away with the most boring entertainments.  We are shallow, and we know it.  We suffer from it.  The choices we make are not satisfying.  Our sins are all of omission – of not doing the more interesting things that we could do.  There is a lethargy, a lack of energy and concentration that prevents us from reaching the key point where we are as creative and perceptive as we would really wish to be.  We are in the terrible position of being smart enough to know that we are not smart enough.  For instance, we still can’t imagine, “What is God?”  So in 2001 we see fantastic tools of communication.  People can speak over zillions of miles, but nobody has anything to say.  So we pretend.  We live in a little world of nonsense and send each other funny photos and cute stories, with this enormous technology.  “Happy Birthday,” and so on, when nobody seems to care, or react.  It’s very melancholy – although two things we really can do.  War and pornography we’re good at.”

Bizony then distills much of Kubrick’s angst.

 “2001, so optimistic on the surface, is in fact a morally complex movie.  Either we will bore ourselves to death while our machines sneak in through the back door and take over; or else we will blow ourselves to hell, our modern minds still compromised by an instinctive taste for aggression.  It seems we have to keep fighting to survive.  And we have to stop fighting to survive.”

page 421, Piers Bizony, The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey, published by Taschen, 2015

PS – For goodness sake, if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, please do both of those first, and as soon as possible.

 

Pride and Prejudice: Distortions

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Does everyone know P&P isn’t real?

Maybe not.  People talk about the characters as if they had birth certificates.

That’s how good Jane Austen was at drawing her characters.  She never dwelt on unimportant details in P&P.  There a few physical statements, like Lydia’s being tall and stout, but generally she keeps to describing the character of her characters.  And that’s what truly brings them to life.

Except.

Every now and then I think I find a slip.

“Ah ha!” I say to Jane.  She looks back at me and smiles.  I think it’s a smile.  She could be annoyed and is too polite to tell me.  My wife does the same thing.

Anyway, I say “Ah ha!”

Then I read a bit more, and it suddenly makes sense.

For instance.

When Lizzy is visiting Hunsford, Maria bursts into her room asking her to come downstairs quickly.  Lizzy is reluctant and questions Maria, but Maria keeps her secret.

Wait a minute Jane!  Maria’s a kid, a child we’ve been told.  Kids are terrible secret keepers.  In fact, the normal kid is so darn proud to have a secret that the last thing they want to do is “keep” it to themselves.

It makes SO much more sense if Maria comes upstairs to TELL Lizzy what’s going on.

“Ah ha!” I say to Jane, yet again.  Caught you!  She smiles.  Maybe.  I read on.

Lizzy goes downstairs, hoping to find Mr. Collins chasing the pigs in the garden.  Instead she finds a carriage containing two women.

“WHAT?  You called me down here for this?” she exclaims, I paraphrase.

Jane needed Lizzy to be downstairs to see the sickly Miss de Burgh so that she could enjoy the thought of Darcy being married to her.  Ah ha!

If Liz had known it was only a carriage containing a de Burgh, she never would have bothered rushing.  She would have missed the big event.  So THAT’S why Maria had to keep the secret.  Besides, if Maria really wanted to keep it a secret, she would have relished Lizzy’s reaction upon seeing the great lady.

Wait a minute.  She does.  Maria is disappointed in Elizabeth’s reaction.  She says “La!” Like everything else Austen has done, the characters are drawn deftly, expertly, each line, each word, has a purpose.

And even when there’s a characterization that seems out of place, like Maria’s secret, there’s a reason for it.  Sometime the reason is evident in the next paragraph.  Some take a few chapters to unravel.

It takes an artist to craft realistic characters.

It takes a great artist to craft memorable characters that are true to themselves, and each other.

However, only the greatest of all artists can tweak their memorable realistic characters in ways that push the boundaries of that character and still remain realistic, all for improving the story.

Thanks Jane.

I think she’s smiling now.

 

 

 

 

Supply Our Own Light

I study behavior.  I want everyone to study behavior.  It’s necessary for us to succeed as a species.  Strangely enough, Stanley Kubrick said the same thing.

“The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile, but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this, and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death, then our existence can have genuine meaning.  However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”

Studying the universe in all aspects is also part of behavior.  Our knowledge of the universe, how we go about acquiring and treating that knowledge, and our feelings about the universe are all human behaviors.

One of the most difficult things we must overcome in understanding behavior is detachment, removing ourselves from the equation.  We must have no feelings, no passion for our subject.  Whatever happens, happens.

We know that people mistreat animals, other adults, even children.  Yet as students we must take a deep breath and consider all the possibilities.

We watch as someone rises to power, corrupting government and the economy so that he amasses great wealth in a short period of time, without benefit to society.  We must stand by and learn, knowing that this has happened before.  Like stress in tectonic plates, these will also be relieved someday.

A despot secures his power, removing hard fought liberties from his nation.  We must take a deep breath, re-read our histories, and apply this new knowledge to our preparations for the future.

Kubrick was right, not only for technically conquering the vastness of space, but also for understanding behavior in all its forms.

We must confront the universe without passion, without preconception.  In order to explore the universe of behavior, we need only one thing.

We must supply our own light.

 

****  Boring Notes Follow ****

This quote is from the last few lines of page 508, Piers Bizony, The Making of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odyssey, published by Taschen, 2015.  The book doesn’t indicate where Mr. Kubrick’s quote was taken from.

Quoting another source semi-verbatim isn’t my style, but with the proper citation and it being only a little bit of quoting, we should be able to swing this by the legal department.  If there’s a problem, please ask nicely and this post can be modified.

But there’s a reason it’s worth quoting, it’s great writing and speaking.  The text is from Piers Bizony‘s book on the making of 2001 A Space Odyssey.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who has any interest in aviation, space, movies, science fiction, science, anything technical, or anything having to do with behavior.  I fall into 5 of those categories.  You’ll want to buy it because it’s too good to share.

By the way, if you haven’t seen the movie or read the book, please do both of those first, and as soon as possible.

 

Where Are They?

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Where are all the aliens?

Enrico Fermi asked this question many years ago only a few decades after we started blasting radio messages into space.

Bizony’s book on the making of 2001 A Space Odyssey by Kubrick revisits the subject because that is something Kubrick wondered about.  So did many others of that time.  We don’t think about it much, any more.  Sure, there are the zealots at SETI and similar outfits.  But the question remains, where are the little green guys we’ve dreamed so much about?

Here’s where a good theory of behavior comes in handy.

Every single time a new technology is invented, us people think it’s the end all to beat all.  Egyptians had glass.  Romans had the arch.  Britain brought us the steam engine, and then in rapid succession we ended up with electricity, nuclear power, and antibiotics.

With respect to aliens, we’ve only begun to realize that there’s almost NO chance that we are the only life in the universe.  This isn’t the place to go over the details, but suffice it to say that, no matter how unlikely you may think the creation of life may be, the universe is SO LARGE that it’s virtually guaranteed someone out there is thinking the same thing about us.

Now, back to where the aliens are hiding.  If they are out there, why aren’t we finding them?

The first reason is simple.  They don’t want to be found.  They met a few neighbors, and decided the problems outweighed the benefits.  Thank you very much, but no one’s home.  Let’s face it.  They would have to be much smarter than us, and turning out the lights and pulling in the welcome mat shouldn’t be that hard.

Second reason is a bit more complex.  Intelligent life is likely to be much smarter than us.  Let’s face it, that’s not hard to imagine.  They know that looking for radio waves is not the best test for intelligence.  Very wasteful.  So they use something else, perhaps something that could even beat the speed limit of light.  Yes, this violates everything we know in physics and the structure of space, but did I forget to mention that these aliens are smarter than us?

Why shouldn’t we just look for radio waves?  Because there’s nothing that says this is the summit of our technological mountain.  We could have much farther to go, and to assume that we know everything there is to know, today, is fairly arrogant.

So, with all due respects to Dr. Fermi, yes, the aliens are out there.

The reason we can’t find them?  We aren’t smart enough.

And they have no interest in talking to us, because they know we aren’t worth talking to.

Yet.

 

Pride and Prejudice: Distractions

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Did I mention I’m writing something similar to P&P?  Did I mention that it’s one of the most wonderfully constructed novels of all time?

As I write these words, and as I work on Chapter 26 of my own version of P&P, I hear news of the latest gun-related tragedy in Florida.

It pierces my heart in so many ways.  Violence like this has become so common that our cries are no longer meaningful.

There was a time when I envied Jane’s quiet life.  I thought about the idyllic English countryside, the slow pace of life, the absence of phone and reliance on pony.

Then I realized that she was no stranger to strife.  Her own life and the world must have seemed out of control.  The militias and armies moving about her were going to war against Napoleon.  Kitty’s cough could certainly represent the harbinger of death for many she’d known.  A world without antibiotics and few options for women would be bad enough.  Combine that with a will and an intellect striving for something better, and you have something more than a prison.  You have a tortured soul.

I’m convinced that Jane Austen was tough, tougher than we give her credit.  The fact that she could produce a story such as P&P despite the fact that she was in pain, the fact that she saw so much more of the world and of humanity’s promise than her peers, and chose to NOT write them directly into her story makes her all that much greater. [1]

Which is why I don’t write about massacres, violence, hypocrisy, and all the other trials we suffer in my story’s modern world. [2]  If Jane could do it, I can try.  I all else fails, at least this post publicly testifies to how great she is, in yet another way.

 

 

[1] There are tiny little P&P details hinting that she saw, but didn’t say anything.  And if she can poke fun at something, she does.  What a gal.

[2]  Truth disclaimer: I write about the terrible things the main character finds in his past.  That past links him and the other main characters in more than romantic ways.  Think about Darcy, and Wickham actually being related.

 

Great Sex Doesn’t Need

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It’s tough choosing headlines.  It has to grab, yet be semi-honest to the content.

Great sex is possible with certain elements.  I wrote about those before: compassion, sensitivity, respect.  Strangely enough, that’s it.  They have to be present in both (or more) people, it doesn’t matter if you’re man, woman, both or neither.  Everyone has to be on the same page (have the same purpose).

Most problems we are hearing about in the #MeToo movement are from people, mostly women, who want to be attractive, but the other people, mostly men, just want physical sex.  Talk about a mismatch!  If the men were a bit more respectful, much of this wouldn’t happen.

So here goes the closing chapter to having great sex.  What you don’t need.  And this might surprise most of the men out there.

You don’t need anything “large.”  I’m not sure where the heck this comes from, or how long it’s been going on, but I suspect the Egyptians may have had something to do with it.  That pyramid may be a hint.  Men have the problem particularly badly, of course, as they do with most things.

You don’t need to actually climax to the mythical mind-numbing orgasm.  Not necessary.  In fact, worrying about anything is the perfect antidote to making love in the first place.  Again, something men fret about.  I have a feeling it has to do with cognitive dissonance, but enough said.

Finally, and here’s the scary part, you don’t need anything akin to “love.”  Let’s face it, this isn’t a surprise to anyone, especially in today’s orgiastic age.  Consider how much more wonderful interacting with your lover would be if there was, in fact, Love.

A good way to think about love with respect to sex is this; for every sex act, the more love you have as a couple, the greater the pleasure at any point.  So, if you meet someone on the first date and “hook up,” your love multiplier is no more than one (if you’re already kookoo for each other, could be close to zero otherwise) and sex is no more than that.

Now, if you’ve been together for a year, and your heart beats fast just thinking about that other person, you’ve got a love multiplier somewhere close to a hundred.  Now what happens?  Heck, even a quick kiss on the cheek has more “sex power” than anything you could have done on a first date.

So, enough from the moralizing old man.  As a student of behavior, all I wonder is why more people don’t try and invest in a life path that would knock our socks off (literally in some cases) almost on a daily basis, instead of settling for infrequent quickies that are only a pale shadow of what could be?

Just wondering.

 

Pride and Prejudice: Boring Bits and Biology

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Did I mention I’m writing a novel similar (almost identical!) to P&P?  I’m not ashamed, because P&P is one of the finest novels around.

I’m currently working off of Volume 2 Chapter 3, and it’s what some call “boring.”  Everything takes place in letters, and Lizzy never leaves home.  Snore.

Except when you look closely.

Aunt Gardiner warns Lizzy about Wickham, and Elizabeth playfully pushes back (as a zesty young woman would) that she’ll TRY to keep him from falling in love with her.

Charlotte is about to marry and leave home with a man she doesn’t respect.  She’s afraid, and asking her best friend for support.  Liz is unsympathetic, their friendship weakens.

Meanwhile, Jane meets Caroline and gets the cold shoulder.  When she sees her again, the cold shoulder has turned into a full frontal defense.

Finally, Wickham is courting another (recently rich) woman, and Liz philosophizes how “handsome young men must have something to live on,” deflecting her own disappointment.  Her Aunt isn’t fooled.

The first time I read the book, I skimmed this chapter.  After appreciating later nuances, I read this chapter carefully, appreciating how major plot elements relied upon subtle adjustments appearing here.

I’ve read the whole book several more times since, with extra attention to this chapter.  It represents a quiet interlude between major plot events, and also covers several months within a few thousand words.

Which brings me to what I learned about P&P and Jane Austen: even her boring bits are packed with important information.

And that literary revelation brings me to biology.

I’ve always liked learning about DNA and genes.  I also enjoy philosophy, mathematics, and am a big fan of evolutionary biology.  One fundamental lesson we can draw from all of these disciplines is that, through evolution, nature tends to conserve what works.  If it doesn’t work, it dies and the information goes away.

When we started reading DNA, we found parts of the strand that created molecules of immediate importance to the animal.  But there were also large parts considered so useless that they got the name “Junk DNA” (or introns).

Today we know that much of the intron encodes information that is important to the animal, even if it’s not directly observable.  Back then we didn’t.  It’s a matter of us getting smarter, not the DNA changing.

And that’s the same thing with P&P.  As we read it and look deeper, even the boring bits prove to have important implications to appreciating the bigger story.  Unlike so many things written today, P&P is tight, without any junk slowing it down.

Enjoy reading it again!

 

These Things GUARANTEE Long Lasting Mind-Blowing Sex

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A previous post noted how the #MeToo movement should discuss what goes into the making of sexual assault, prompted by an online article.

Two people going on a date, and the date ends badly.  Badly enough that it ends up in the papers.  So sad.

It happens a lot.  It also happens that most young people don’t have any of the same rules in place that existed a hundred years ago.

I’m not saying that’s bad or good.  Lots of things are changing today, and fast.  But lets look at three things that could have guaranteed that the two people in the article would have either 1) ended their date much earlier on a happier note, or 2) found each other far more appealing leading to great physical activities and even more dates.

Here’s the three things.

Compassion:  This is all about being part of the other person’s pain, sympathizing, empathizing, and sharing.  Lessening pain is a great deal of what being in a relationship is all about.  The greatest of pains is being alone.  Our species is designed to be in a group, and the best group is two people.  It’s also the best way to get to know the inside of someone’s head.

Sensitivity:  This goes beyond compassion in that it keeps you from talking about yourself instead of them.  It means you try and dig deeper so that you can truly understand the deepest parts of your future lover’s heart.

Respect:  This is the other end of sensitive, because it works like your emotional seat-belt.  We have urges to help, especially those we wish to fall in love with.  Men generally try to fix problems with advice; “You should tell your mother this!”  Women tend to try and dig deeper, encouraging as much talk as possible; “What were your ex girlfriend’s feelings?”  Leave them alone.

These three things are the key to begin learning about someone.

Each of these requires you to listen, to learn, to have empathy, and lots of patience.

And for goodness sake, restraint.  Do you want a long term relationship or just a warm body for the night?  Don’t go taking your clothes off until you can be absolutely sure that the other person has the same purpose as yours.

Good luck!

 

Comedian and Coquette 2

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A previous post noted how the #MeToo movement should discuss what goes into the making of sexual assault, prompted by the following excerpt.

Ansari stands accused by one woman of ignoring “clear nonverbal cues” during a September date, pressuring her, once she was undressed in his apartment, to engage in sexual conduct with him, then breaking it off when she said “no.” Many have argued that the behavior described was not assault, nor even it newsworthy.

We know absolutely for sure that these two people went on a date, and that the date didn’t go well.  Our challenge in the last post was to figure out what each one of them wanted before and during their date.

That was a trick question.

All we need to do is confirm that they have a purpose that is different from each other.  That’s it.  And it’s easy.

He wanted her to take her clothes off.  He wanted to do something physical.

She didn’t want to take her clothes off, even though she did.  She didn’t want to do anything physical, and it seems that she didn’t.

In a sense, our problem, and theirs, becomes simple.  All we need is a system that prevents two parties from behaving in some way that offends the other, without determining their underlying purpose ahead of time.

In business and law, that’s called negotiation.

When it comes to love, in any form, it’s trickier, because we want to deal with raw emotion.  Bringing any kind of rationality to the process is a real unromantic move.

What do we do?

As a group, as a society, we can teach and reinforce a better way for people to interact.  We don’t have to let the invisible hand of Adam Smith tell us how to make love.  We need the guidance of our great-great grand parents who were far more cautious in their day.

In fact, there are three things to look for in a date that can guarantee an excellent sexual relationship.  They also go a long way to ensuring a long lasting relationship as well, but this is going to focus on getting physical.

After all, it seems that’s where the problem always starts.

See you next time.

 

Pride and Prejudice: Entail and Entitlement

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Jane Austen took on some major themes in her work.  One of those was biology, and I’ll get around to that one of these days.

Another was “the entail.”  It’s a subject that drives Mrs. Bennet crazy because it means she’ll be destitute when Mr. Bennet dies.  Of course, she has to live longer than Mr. Bennet, as he reminds her so well.  Of course course, he may want to die first!

The first few times I read the book, I glossed over the entail as archaic and unimportant.  I have a feeling most people treat it this way.

Then I learned what it was, an English law that passed property to male relatives, and understand it better in terms of motivating Mrs. Bennet, and Jane Austen.  Female suffrage and our society’s slow realization that women are people have made such laws obsolete.

However, now that I’m over-analyzing Jane and P&P, I see something else.  This is not an archaic law that Jane describes, it is a fundamental flaw in human character.  And my first clue to this came from etymology.

Whether you use an online site, or the OED, or your old-fashioned dictionary, learning the story that sits behind a word is fun.  Much fun than 99% of today’s video.

Look up entail, and you get a legal transfer of property going back to the 1300s.  Look up entitlement, and you get something similar, dating back to the 1400s.  Mrs. Bennet was complaining about people who get something of value without working for it.  She and her daughters (and staff) work the property, taking care of it, improving it.  Mr. Collins does nothing, and yet he’s destined to inherit Longbourn.

Here’s the fun part.  Mrs. Bennet is complaining about the entail.  The entail represents entitlement.  Today, entitlement is called welfare in many forms: for the poor, for the elderly, and for the military-industrial complex.  Getting lots of money for little or no work.  What a tough life!

Who complains about this kind of government sanctioned transfer of value without requiring work?  Today it’s “conservatives.”  In entertainment, go back 50 years to a television character called Archie Bunker.

Mrs. Bennet is the original Archie Bunker.  Mr. Collins is the original “meathead.”  And the social commentary she (Mrs. Bennet and Jane Austen) makes is the same that today’s staunch conservatives like to shout about.

Jane Austen, still relevant after all these years.  What a gal.