Invisible Tools: Not Machines

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Are you a tool?

Of course not.  You’re a living being.

It used to be that your average egghead thought only humans could use tools.

Then Jane Goodall watched chimps use tools to find food.

So then they thought only humans could teach other humans how to use tools.

And Jane watched chimps teach their babies how to use tools.

Since those eye-opening moments in science, the eggheads have learned that a LOT of animals use tools, and a lot of those teach others how to use them.

I keep harping on the eggheads because anyone who has kept animals long enough may have observed the same behaviors.  You can probably even find a video of a dog learning from a bird or a cat.  The idea that humans are super special is history.

In general, a tool is something that helps living beings get what we want.  We typically think of tools as being our homes, phones, hammers and nails.  Tools that have a physical character have a special name, machines.

But a tool doesn’t have to be made out of anything.  A tool does not have to exist in any form except as an idea and energy.  And that’s what we’re talking about today.

Language is a tool.  If you write it down using an alphabet it takes on a physical aspect, and it becomes a machine with a special name, writing.

This series on invisible tools is going to touch on behaviors we use to make our lives easier, helping us to get what we want.  There are lots of behaviors we take for granted that we use as tools, but never think of them as such.

The reason it becomes important to think about “tools” in general, whether they are invisible behaviors or manifest machines, is that we can appreciate them more and realize that we should be using them.

Many times I have seen someone use a hammer incorrectly.  It’s bad for the hammer, it makes that person’s job harder, but worst of all, it’s dangerous to that person and anyone standing nearby.  Some people don’t even think of using the right tool for the job.  They may not even know that it’s a tool.

So, here’s cheers for tools.  Let’s appreciate them, and make our lives better.

 

Layered Walking

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Going for a lovely nature walk with your best friend is the ultimate in healthy exercise.

Except.

If you live in a climate that features “seasons,” then your behavior has to take on a whole new set of tasks.

Those of you living in steady, temperate climes, don’t know of what I speak.  No matter if your climate is constantly hot or cold, it’s the constancy that matters.

I quoted seasons above because many of my relatives are jealous because our year can be divided into the 4 seasons.

What they don’t realize is that many of our days feature 2 to 3 seasons within as many hours.

For instance: we may start our half-hour walk in water-freezing temperatures, and a light wind.  Later on, the wind ceases, and the sun comes out, and the temperature goes up.  Then a cloud shows up, it start drizzling, the sun is gone, the wind is up, and the temperature increases.  Finally, the rain is gone, the wind is gone, and a spot of sunshine makes everything steamy.

Here’s the challenge: What do you wear for your walk?

The answer is layers.  But even this is a challenge because you have to think, which shoes or boots?  Which sock, or socks?  Long underwear?  How many shirts?  Which coat, and do I need a scarf?  What about a neck warmer, and type of hat?  Gloves, yes or no? Thin or thick?

Now you’re ready for that walk.  Keep in mind that if you shed layers, you’re carrying stuff.  And if you’re already carrying your phone, tissues, fish food, binoculars, and anything else you might need, where does it go?

So, as behaviors go, this is one of my least favorite.

As some of you more astute readers may have noticed, I haven’t mentioned a single word about fashion.

Because I don’t have any.  Really.  Zero fashion sense.

So do all the above, and add on the fashion layer.

Now that I read this, it’s amazing I can get out the door!  On the other hand, coming back from a nice walk is rejuvenating.  Just enough so that I can peel off all those dang layers.

And then I walk it off.

 

Pride and Prejudice: Geology

Great Novel, Great Novelist

Jane Austen is such an incredible writer that she paints accurate portraits of her characters with a single deft stroke of her pen.

Which brings me to our topic of the day.  There’s a single line in the chapter where Liz is about to embark on her trip to Derbyshire.

She’s in agony because that’s the same county where “you know who” resides.

She considers the odds, and figures it’s safe to enter the county without seeing “him.”

And what will she be safe doing in Derbyshire?

Here’s her own words:

“But surely,” said she, “I may enter his county with impunity, and rob it of a few petrified spars without his perceiving me.”

Petrified spars?  What in the world is she talking about?

Rocks, minerals, things of interest to people who like nature in pieces.

According to this, maybe it was a common touristy thing to do.  However, I think that Jane was showing us a deeper side to Lizzy that she hadn’t been able to do earlier.

I’m going to go out on a stalactite here and suggest that maybe Liz was deeper than most young ladies of the era.  Perhaps she had a genuine interest in geology, minerals, rocks in general.

And why not?  Girls can be geologists.  Even girls from 200 years ago.

So the next time someone suggests that all Lizzy does during P&P is sit around, needlepoint, practice piano, and fret about Jane, Bingley, and you-know-who, tell them they have rocks for brains.

They might take it as a compliment.

 

Love by the Numbers

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The power of youtube and individual producers means that we are flooded with lots of meaningless catfalls.  This is a shoutout to an Aussie, Brady Haran, who’s done a fantastic job bringing so many academics into the spotlight.

One of my favorite areas is mathematics.  In the area of math (NOT maths, sorry Brits) there are many insights and puzzles to be found.  One of my very favorite things is the Mandelbrot set.  Please check it out.

Through Brady’s work, I’ve seen that many of these talented young academics are unattached.  Now, I’m not trying to play cupid, but I am going to make this observation.

We’re living in an exciting age.  The #MeToo movement is long overdue.  Women’s Lib of the 1960s followed Women’s Suffrage of the 1920s.  So perhaps #MeToo is also a “flash” in the pan of time.  I hope not.  But one thing is that there are a lot of wonderful young women complaining about creepy men.

Ladies, and Gents, consider this.  The kind of person who goes into studying math, or any of the natural sciences, can’t be your average slimeball.  Granted, there are always exceptions to the rule, but if someone wants to study arcane areas of knowledge for its own sake, how many other creepy thoughts can they have?

Wouldn’t it be cool if the people who were studying things like physics, or philosophy, and of course, math, were the “hot” dates?  Wouldn’t it be cool if everyone else, who was looking for a life partner who was a true romantic at heart, suddenly realized that only crazy romantics study crazy things like black holes, self-referential systems, and the microbiome?

So, if you’ve had a bad experience with a romantic relationship, consider this as part of your next selection process.  Don’t go for someone in sales, finance, or marketing.  Try an accountant, or mathematician, or librarian.  Those are the people who have hearts that believe in things that are good.  And if you can get one of them to believe in you …

… you might multiply together.

 

Pride and Prejudice: Where’s Jane?

Great Novel, Great Novelist

Ever wonder where an artist may hide themselves within their work?  In some cases, it’s pretty obvious, they are staring back at you.

In cases like P&P, the artist hides herself pretty well.

In truth, every character is a piece of the author, they can’t help it.

But for great authors, it’s easier to insert pieces of themselves into their works without us being able to notice.

So, for one of the greatest novels ever written, where do you think Jane Austen is hiding?

My guess is that she put most of herself into Mary, the bookish one who is always in the background.

Sure, she occasionally spouts some silly statement of deep insight that is fairly meaningless.  And that might be the smoking gun.

I can see the young Jane Austen, sitting at the table with her large family at supper.  I can see the table conversation being quite lively.  Based on how precocious she was as an adult writer, I’m also willing to bet that her father encouraged his daughters to exercise and expand their minds.

And what would this courageous introvert do during her most vulnerable teen years?

She would make an attempt to fit in every now and then.  She would try and show that she was an adult with great thoughts, fitting in easily into the conversation.  But she would obviously be awkward, inept in the social niceties of the time.

Why?

Because she lives in books.  She breathes the written word.  She’s a writer.

And that’s why Mary is her reflection.  She does nothing in the book but read.  She can only spout her insights at the worst times.  She has no redemption in the end of the book, that’s reserved for Kitty.  Both Mr. and Mrs. Bennet ignore her as well.  They think of her as beyond their help, and they are right.

Because she’s going to be a writer, living in her own world.  She doesn’t need them.

So the next time you read P&P, and you will, take your time going over the parts dealing with Mary.

And think of Jane.

 

Space isn’t big enough for: Utopia

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We think of space as big.  Infinitely big.

For all intents, it is.  Big.

Space is so big, that every single person living on Earth today could have their own habitable planet somewhere in our galaxy.  If having your own planet isn’t utopia, I don’t know what utopia means.

Wait a moment, wait a moment.  There’s a problem.

Getting there is going to be tough.  Very tough.  I don’t think anyone has really thought through how truly terribly roughly tough it’s going to be.  So that’s what this is about.

I like to pretend that someday our descendants will live on the moon and Mars.  However, it’s mighty expensive to get stuff up there.  That means they are going to have to pack their bags very very light.

Not only bags as in real suitcases, but bags as in what they carry mentally.

Mentally?  What is he talking about?  Why would it be expensive to take an idea up to the moon?

It’s not the cost of transport that makes some ideas expensive.  It’s the cost of having the idea once you’re there.  As a quick example, let’s set the wayback machine to when North America was “discovered” by Europeans.

One of the first things the new arrivals did was use their guns.  They used them a lot.  In fact, they pretty much eliminated the bison population, and a whole lot of birds to boot.

Can we agree that the first settlers going to the moon are not going to be shooting off guns?  In fact, they may not even be allowed to take guns.  That’s for another day.

Do you get the idea?  Even an idea can be expensive.  Shooting off guns when you wanted to was a “freedom” of the wild frontier.  Well, space is so much more wild that even guns can’t be allowed.

Here’s where utopia comes in.  We think of utopia as a fun place.  A place where we get our way.

Not for the first settlers of the moon.  Heck, probably not for the first million Lunites.

You see, life is going to be tough, very tough.  Everyone is going to have to work hard, almost all the time.  And there’s going to have to be a tough central authority.

There’s an awful lot of things that can go wrong, no matter how we set up the future.  We’ll be talking about those as we go along.  But for the moment, if you’re thinking of living on the moon, don’t bother packing your Utopia.

Space isn’t big enough.  Not yet.

 

Measuring Civilization: Wheels on Meals

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Are you civilized?  Is your neighbor?  How about your President?

Trick question.

As far as I can tell, we don’t have a measure of “how” civilized we are.  Sure, an economist will point to GDP, a geographer could point to population, and a librarian could point to how many reference works exist.

But HOW civilized are we?

One measure put forward many years ago has to do with eating.

I love eating.  And I love studying behavior.  Let’s put the two together.

If I took your civilization and withheld the food supply so it was, say, 25% of normal, what would happen?

Would many people starve quietly, still obeying the rules of decency and law so that civilization continued peacefully?

Or would there be some sort of breakdown in the rules?  Would people become more like wild animals, stealing, robbing, murdering, even cannibalizing?

Let’s bring some rigor to the process.

Take any group of people, say the group you’re stuck in a meeting with today, and make them supreme.  By that I mean, make everyone else in the world go away.  They have the whole Earth to call their own.

How long can this group survive using the rules of society they grew up with?  Will they thrive and grow into a new society?  Or will they end up at each other’s throats?  Or, my favorite, will they run away from each other, dying alone?

Make the group your whole nation.  Or the whole Earth.  You choose the group.

Then restrict their food.  Give them only so many calories every quarter day.

Here’s where the fun starts.

I know that when I get hungry, I attack.  I attack the fridge.  MUST EAT screams my stomach.  The rest of the body follows.  When my stomach is full I go back to being all nice and civilized.

How many quarter days would I allow civilization to survive?  Maybe two.

How about you?

 

Pride and Prejudice: Omniscient Vendetta

Great Novel, Great Novelist

Last P&P post covered the fact that the omniscient narrator was making a mistake.  I know, it seems crazy, but there it is.  She (of course it’s a she!) makes claims about Mr. Bennet that aren’t shown in the book.  

What we didn’t cover was why the narrator would make mistakes like that.  What is she hiding?  More importantly, what is Jane Austen trying to prove?

I’m not sure what Jane was thinking, but it certainly makes the book far more complex.  It means the narrator becomes a character.  And a character has, well, a character.

In the case of P&P, this narrator is certainly not omniscient.  Even worse, the narrator has a thing against Mrs. Bennet.  How do I know?  Check out this evidence.

Her father, captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her. Respect, esteem, and confidence had vanished for ever; and all his views of domestic happiness were overthrown.

 This comes from P&P, first paragraph of Chapter 42 (Volume 2 Chapter 19).

Talk about getting slammed!  The narrator is pretty much saying Mrs. Bennet who is weak, illiberal, no longer gets any affection, respect, esteem, or confidence.

But the book doesn’t hold up any of those claims.  True, Mr. Bennet never kisses her or says he loves her, but a lot of that didn’t go on back in those days anyway.  At the same time, he does show her respect and confidence throughout.  So what’s going on here?

The only thing I can figure is that the narrator has it in for Mrs. Bennet.

Maybe they were childhood rivals, and the narrator is in love with Mr. Bennet?  Or perhaps it’s a sister that no one likes to talk about.  At any rate, the narrator takes great pains throughout the story to slam Mrs. Bennet whenever she can.  Why?

Even if you think this is crazy talk, consider this.  No one writes tighter than Jane Austen.  It’s like reading a compressed computer file that expands in your head.  So why should Jane keep going on and on about how silly Mrs. Bennet is?

There can only be one reason.  Mrs. Bennet is truly a genius but hides it well.  The narrator is jealous, but since she’s a narrator she doesn’t have much recourse to revenge but telling us lies about Mrs. Bennet.  That’s where the vengeance comes in.

What who did when, I don’t know.  But I’ll get to the bottom of it.  In the meantime, I’ll just have to read more Jane.

Forgotten Warriors

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Living things behave, because life encompasses everything we do.

A forgotten war hero of WWII

From hugging a newborn to burying Dad.  There’s no good reason to pretend economic behavior is different from psychological behavior.  Not one.  Life isn’t about religion, it’s not about being political.  All these categories are made up so it’s easier for us to apply for grants.

One way to illustrate this is to draw connections between things that seem so different that any similarities must be the work of a crazy man.

Did someone call for a crazy man?  That’s me.

Consider two warriors, different, but similar.

Warrior One.  This is the name of a yoga asana, and my exhibit number one.  The greatest evangelist of yoga in the 20th century was Tirumalai Krishnamacharya.  He spawned a bunch of other yogis, including one who should be more famous, Indra Devi.

The problem with TK is that he wasn’t good at tooting his own horn.  Another problem was that his famous students were better at marketing.  As a result, their names are well-known and TK is forgotten.  That’s too bad.  He made more sense than any of his students.

Warrior Two, also a known asana, and exhibit two.  But in this case, the exhibit has nothing to do with yoga.  Bear with me.  Or more accurately, HellCat with me.  This was an aircraft that fought most of the air battles in the Pacific.  It was produced in the greatest numbers, brought down the most enemy aircraft, and saved the most pilots.  It was an incredible warrior.

Chances are you never heard of the HellCat.  And that’s because newer, prettier aircraft came along and took the final bows.  No one stood up to help us remember the aircraft, the pilots, and even the workers (many of whom were women) who built the HellCat.  It is a forgotten warrior.

Here’s the connection.  Very different disciplines; yoga is selfish, designed to free us from our perception of bodily weakness and develop strength, while the other belongs to the discipline of war.  The first gave us a teacher of great teachers, the other gave us a machine that defended us from those who wanted to impose their will upon ours.

Both worked hard, tirelessly, without concern for their own celebrity or accumulation of wealth.  TK didn’t do it himself, and he wouldn’t let those around him do any marketing either.  The HellCat, as a machine, didn’t have a choice, but the legions of people surrounding it did.  And they chose to let the HellCat have its day, and later, its rest.

As a student of behavior, I’m not arguing that these warriors were good or bad, or even that their impacts were good or bad.  That’s ancient history.

As a student of behavior, what I argue is that we don’t let them be forgotten.

For what they have given us is priceless.

 

Pride and Prejudice: Omniscient Mistakes

Great Novel, Great Novelist

Back in writing class I learned that the omniscient narrator was, well, omniscient.  That means they know everything.

Since the author DOES know everything, and since the narrator is also the author, that makes sense.

But what if they weren’t the same?

That means the narrator becomes a character.  And a character has, well, a character.

In the case of P&P, this narrator is certainly not omniscient.

Need some evidence?  Here you go:

Her father, captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had very early in their marriage put an end to all real affection for her. Respect, esteem, and confidence had vanished for ever; and all his views of domestic happiness were overthrown.

 This comes from P&P, first paragraph of Chapter 42 (Volume 2 Chapter 19).

It’s pretty hard hitting, with the narrator letting us know how hard life has been for Mr. Bennet.  That last line is the hardest of all; he’s lost all respect, esteem, and confidence in Mrs. Bennet.  Wow.

Wait just a minute.  One of the things that strikes me about Jane Austen’s writing is that she is tight, super tight.  When she describes something, or someone, she doesn’t waste space or words.  We learn Lydia is tall and stout.  Austen tells us this in two separate places, only once.

But when it comes to certain things, the narrator just keeps going on and on.  We’ll get to that in the next post.  What’s critical here is that Austen does everything right – her characters do exactly what she wants them to do.

So, let’s look at the three items that Mrs. Bennet has lost in the eyes of Mr. Bennet.

Respect.

How do you show someone respect?  You leave their personal space alone.  You don’t talk when they are talking.  You don’t badmouth them behind their back.  You address them politely at all times.

Guess what?  Mr. Bennet does exactly all those things throughout the book.  So how is that he has lost respect?  He certainly has lots of opportunities to show it.

Esteem?  This is a hard one so I’ll leave it for later.

What about confidence?

This one’s easy.  How do you show confidence in someone?  You trust their decisions, you don’t second guess them, you don’t “micro-manage” their activities.  Guess what?  Yes, it’s happened again.  Mr. Bennet does in fact trust his wife to make all sorts of decisions, including managing the girl’s education.  How about that?

We’ll talk about why the narrator makes these mistakes next.  But for now, it’s sufficient to show that the narrator certainly is not omniscient.  In fact, I don’t think the narrator even read the book.

So what I learned back in writing class was a start, but studying Jane Austen?  That’s a master class.

 

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