Story Time: Small Wives Tales

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Studying behavior is fun.  We can do thought experiments based on real-life observations of fact.

and a short story.

Consider this fact: women are smaller than men.  This is sexual dimorphism, the genders are splitting apart.  Most species have males and females about the same size.  When they are different, it means something’s going on.  Something having to do with natural selection.  Here’s a thought experiment story that takes the phenomenon to the extreme.

=====  A booth in a shabby diner, late morning.  =====

Yo, Joh, why so late?

The third wife was upset, and the other two said I had to help calm her down.  She’s got some bug up her butt about the kid, so I had to listen to her whine before I could leave.

You’re such a nice hubby.  Why don’t you get another one?

Are you kidding?  Three’s the limit for me.  What about you, you stopping at two?

No, I could use a third one.  Having two means they fight among themselves, and I have to break it up all the time.  I hear having a third, and maybe even a fourth keeps them mixed up enough so it takes a lot of pressure off.

You’re both crazy.  Why not just stick with the one and train her the way you want?

Like in the olden times?  What are you, a Neanderthal?  You know how many of those marriages went bust?  No, what those biologists figured out was perfect.  This way each wife has less of a man to make her crazy, she has more women friends to hang with keeping the pressure off him, and he ends up with more sex, while each of them ends up with less.  Win win win win win.

Still, I’m pretty happy with my one.  She’s got everything I need, and we seem to work well together.

Sure, youngster, keep telling yourself that.  It’s also a heck of a lot cheaper, isn’t it?  But it takes all types.

Why do you think women were smaller than men anyway?  There was a time they were only 10% smaller, now they are 25% smaller.

Perfect for carrying under your arm.

Or stuffing in your pants!  (Everyone laughs.)

Look, a long time ago the women were almost the same as men.  About the same size, about the same brain, small breasts, just as hairy.

Then something changed.

Yeah, we don’t know what.  Some eggheads think it was the women that did it to themselves, but maybe the men did it.  Anyway, the women got smaller, got boobs, and started painting themselves all over.

Don’t forget the sex part.

Right, then something happened to both genders so that having sex hardly ever makes a baby.  So it’s fun to do.

Very fun.

How much fun you having with the one?

Well…

I thought so.

C’mon.  After breakfast, we’ll do some shopping for you.  Then we’ll fix that ancient Camaro of yours.

Thanks.  So how about that game last night?

Short Story Time: Talking Heads

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Studying behavior can be fun!  We can do thought experiments, like hard-assed physicists when they bend the universe to fit the speed of light, or put their heads inside a proton in order to get to know quarks and gluons better.

Our thought experiments take the form of short stories, generally known as science fiction.  Enjoy!

 

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Walter looked upon two graceful women in shimmering, semi-transparent robes.  They revealed enough to excite.

“He’s reacting well, like an alpha male of his time,” the older one said.  “Welcome to the future, Walter.  Not many heads made it from your era.  Yvette will be your guide for now.  I’ll be going.”  She gave instructions to the young woman and left.

Walter winced in pain.  The young lady stroked his temple and neck so gently he immediately felt at peace.

“Walter, go slowly.”  She continued stroking, and he looked her over.  She was twenty, curvaceous, and perfectly formed.  She was tall, and nothing about her calmed him.

He had a body!  He had signed up for freezing his head for centuries, until the future could cure his disease.  Now here he was!  Could he talk?

Talk he did.  As he warmed up, he asked Yvette many questions, and she answered him patiently, lovingly.

The body was built of his own cells.  They made improvements, and he would live a normal life.  His former profession was making “movies,” but there was still a need for storytellers.  He would have to learn new techniques.

He could walk now.  There were no cities, no tall building, no monorails.  These had all been deemed dangerous to the environment, Yvette explained.  Terrans lived in harmony with nature.  Machines were only found on Luna and Mars.

We colonized space? Walter asked.

“Of course.  We have also perfected our bodies and our society.  We learned how to alter DNA directly, no need for random pairings.  Every child is carefully engineered, and improved.”

No falling in love, no husband and wife?

“Wife?” she laughed.  “A concept males used to subjugate females for a million years.  No, the husband is history.”

I’m a man, I have deep feelings.  You are someone that I could easily fall in love with.

“You will find that we are all, as you would say, desirable.  Humanity is all female.  How old am I?” she demanded.  Walter shared his thoughts.  “I’m 50, my mentor over 90.”

I’m surrounded by millions of beautiful women?

“Yes, you are.  And according to history, you were quite randy, weren’t you?”

Walter confessed the truth.  But he remembered the 1960’s well, and hoped this future was as sexually enlightened.  He was looking forward to making many new friends.  Yvette laughed.

“I’m sure you are.  But the only way you can experience sexual stimulation will be through a deep brain stimulator we have implanted.  Here is your special button that only you can access,” pointing to his groin.  “We also removed your sex organs.”

Walter held onto a tree, looking at his lap.  The world spun, even as Yvette continued.  “Now, let me show you where you’ll be living for the rest of your life.”

 

Why study Behavior?

“You in the back.  Yes, you.  Blue shirt, chewing gum.  Why are you here?”  I used my gravelly voice.

She looked about, casting for help, and responded timidly.  “Because I want to study behavior?”

“I already know that.  This class is Behavior 101.  More to the point, why do YOU want to study behavior?”

She stared at her device, blankly, then looked up again with fear in her eyes.  I’ve seen that fear at the beginning of every single new class.

“I’m not sure?”  in the form of a question.

“You’re not sure?  Are you in the right body?”

The class tittered, giving me time to find her name.  I wandered across the stage for drama.

“Perhaps, Miriam, you have a boyfriend and you want to understand him?”

Her eyes widened, and she shook her head no.

“No?  Perhaps then you wish to learn why your mother always acts crazy with you?”

“Leave my mother out of this!”

“Miriam, do you want to save the planet?  Do you care about your unborn child?”

“Of course!”  Almost petulant.  Good, perhaps she had a backbone.  But a backbone can also be a weakness.  Best to test her now, rather than later.  I let the silence linger.

“Miriam, do you have a hidden agenda?

“What?  No!  I don’t think so.”

How do you feel about drug testing on cute little animals?

“Very much against it!”

“Mizz Miriam!”  I put as much fury into my face as I could without laughing.  Acting was the hardest part of my job, and I can’t write about it without smiling.

“Who made you God?”

“Professor!” she gasped.

“You, all by yourself, encouraged by your animal-loving friends, have already decided.  How can I trust you to learn the truth, if you already have the answer?”

“But they’re so cute.  How can hurting them possibly…?”

“Miriam, you might be right.  Perhaps it is cruel to hurt cute little animals.  But our job is to study behavior, not to judge it.  You have to learn to put your judgements away, and to study behavior with a completely open mind.  Do you understand?

“Maybe.”

“Miriam, are you the kind of person who distorts reality to fit your agenda?  Will you sacrifice logic and respect for others in order to achieve what YOU think is right?”

“I don’t know.”

“YOU … DON’T … KNOW?”  I bellowed this to the whole class because it was so important.

“Listen, all of you.  By the end of this semester, you will know why you’re here.  If it’s not to start understanding behavior, you will at least begin to see what it takes to understand behavior.  This road to knowledge is not for the greedy, or the weak.  You will be dissecting live specimens in this class, and that specimen is yourself.  If you have an agenda, you will fail.  If you have a problem with truth, you will fail.  If you have a bias or preconception of any kind, you will fail.”

I turned back to face Miriam again.  The poor thing was already trying to sneak out the back door.

“Miriam!” I bellowed.  She stopped and turned.

This time I smiled and asked her the ultimate question.

(stay tuned!)

 

You want to study what?

The guidance counselor screwed his face into a Picasso print.

Behavior,” I said.

There is no such major.  How about psychology?

Sure, sounds good.  Does psychology study organizations?”

Sure, there’s Industrial Organizational Psychology, and Organizational Behavior.

Great, and do they teach you how to lead people?”

No.  For that there’s Business.  And maybe Military Science.

That sounds good too.  Does they also teach what’s best for the nation?”

No, not necessarily, that would be Political Science, or maybe Philosophy.  You could study those.

Great!  Do they emphasize history, and other cultures?”

Not so much.  You could study History.

But what of also studying other cultures, both those that still exist today, and those that are extinct?”

Well, for those you could use some Anthropology, Archaeology, and maybe some Ethnology for variety.

“Now you’re talking!  And will those disciplines help me understand the big picture, the grand forces that help define success versus failure, growth versus death?”

That’s a tall order.  No, for that you should get into economics.  Yes, you’d make a great economist.

That’s pretty cool.  I’d like to be an economist.  They get to be on TV all the time.  Do economists also deal with what makes people really care about?  Things like the meaning of life, where we come from, what this all means?  You know, like what happens when we die, that sort of stuff?”

Well, no, for that you should really be studying Religion.  You could become a priest, or rabbi, or mullah.

I’m okay with that, too.  After all, people give you lots of stuff.  But will I also be able to study all the rules that people should live by in order to always be safe, respectful, and kind to each other?  Are there enough religious rules to make everybody always kind to each other?”

Not quite.  For that you’re probably going to have to study Law.  Yes, the law is all about the rules that govern how we deal with each other.  Yes, I can definitely see you as a lawyer.

Nice.  My father always wanted me to be a lawyer.  Maybe I could be a great trial lawyer.  Yeah, I’ll be a prosecutor and take on creeps!”

The counselor looked at me with a sigh of relief.

Good, I’ll put you down for trial law, he said.

He started typing away, but was thinking aloud…

First, you should start learning psychology…

 

 

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