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Saturday, July 02, 2005

The lost mezmer

The Lost Mezmer

(fragments, half starts, and assorted nonsense I recently found in my attic)

I wish to thank all who did not read this book, since their negative comments would have put me in real funk. I am especially grateful to my wife, and my employer who bought into my excuse that my relentless typing at work was for some project of increasing sales. Thanks also to all those who didn’t have time to comment, since their opinions would have proven me a charlatan--- and would have forced me to take hostages.

6o Second Cures

The Most Important Psychological Problem Solved
The most important psychological problem, and indeed the most universal, is a trivial matter like a fear of heights, depression, or an inability to get it up, get it down, or just getting it. No, it is finding our glasses, magazines, and most importantly, the remote control where we last left them. Currently, it is estimated that people use up 120 hours a year looking for miscellaneous stuff that’s not where its supposed to be. Over our normal life span, this means that we spend over a year of our lives looking for our remote control and other stuff under couches, pillows, and flower pots.
Besides this constant irritation and sinful waste of time, the unsettling thought often occurs that the reason for this inexcusable forgetfulness is because of your sinful neglect, stupidity, or impending senility. Not quite the symptoms that will endear you to a long suffering spouse who daily witnesses you upend pillows and pots like a goat searching for roots.

When Isaac Newton was asked how he came up with the laws that governed the motions of the planet, he responded that he just thought about it ceaselessly. When Steven King was asked the secret of writing well, he responded that to write well you must write a lot. And of course, how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Well, practice, practice, and practice.
So what’s the secret about being creative? You simply obsess about it. All of the great genius’s from Aristotle to Mozart to Einstein became that way not just because they were intelligent, but because they were obsessed about the things they applied their intelligence to.

(a common sense version of the loopy definition above)
One of the interesting things about nature is that when it can be avoided, it does not keep reinventing the wheel. Although humans are separate species, the genius of nature is that it can find out new ways of employing and accentuating the physiological equipment that is basically the same across species. Thus making our brains a bit bigger and a little bit more specialized rather than being entirely remade is just about all it takes to make us intelligent and therefore human. For the problems and opportunities that this newfound intelligence brings, it can reuse parts and processes to meet the potential of intelligence. Thus ….

Library superhighway
In his book Gulliver’s Travels, Jonathan Swift’s hero Lemuel Gulliver found himself washed up and literally tied down on an island full of people only three inches tall. These Lilliputians had some quaint ideas to match their stature. One of these was their fervent belief that eggs should only be opened from the large end. Their neighbors, the Brobdinagians, were unbelievers in this and believed instead that their eggs should be opened from the small end. Subsequent cartoon and cinematic takes on Gulliver has made all this a very funny thing, and miss the satire entirely. Only fictional characters could be so foolish! That said, we go to church on Sunday, don’t eat meat on Friday, and believe that blood is wine, wine is blood, or whatever. And for those who think that Saturday is a better day to go to church, and that pork is not ‘the’ white meat, then they are misguided at best, and heretics at worst.
Of course, you don’t hang out with people who have such offbeat ideas.


Once upon a time, philosophy used to be easy because everybody talked to one another, or at least to everyone who could read and write.
And all of the people who had an interest lived in the same town, and as remarkably had such an interest to begin with. So they would gather around a rock and argue, with no fundamental principles, religious or otherwise, to impede the free flow of thought. Everything was on the table, and in an era when facts were few, the question was the thing. These were the good old days when guys like Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle mixed it up.
Then things became complicated, and feelings got hurt, so different rocks were set aside for folks who had their own root belief’s that we undebatable. These were called ‘schools of thought’, which were
And if you didn’t accept these beliefs you were cast out of the group or off some cliff.

Journal of what I found out using my magnifying glass.
Journal of what I found our by looking out my window
Journal of what I found out by eavesdropping.

Are things really so much more complicated that we need all this verbiage?
Journals repeat themselves, have implication that only the author and God knows for sure.

These are other references that I just made up. They are important references, but like all important citations, you can’t find them and don’t have access to anyway, unless you pay $495 for a 4 issue subscription for each of these journals. But then of course you still have to get all those back issues, which are only $59.95 apiece.
Journals are really vanity publications --- like ‘A history of the Turnip’, and ‘Me and my Puppy.’

Mezmer, A. and R. Descartes The pineal gland pipe, expanding consciousness through intracranical 56kb tranducers

Consciousness is but the brains way of issuing a wake up call that there are problems out there!

A Tale of Table Manners
The rules were written quite literally in granite. Or at least that’s how they came down to Moses. Other prophets used the ancient equivalent of pen and paper to jot down God’s intentions. Of course, the idea is that since God keeps a constant eye on you, for God’s sake you’d better obey the rules, or beware the consequences.
When you think about it though, it all comes down essentially to a case of table manners. Whether you like or not, at a shared table somebody is always looking at you, and noting how you place your fork, use your napkin, and most importantly, whether you have your elbows on the table. Of course, in polite company, you will not be chided directly for your lack of table manners
And may be able to grab stuff out of turn ----
Keeps us in line are the virtual penalties ---
After dinner ---- like after life --- things will happen, you can have faith in that.
We are not speaking of theft, murder or coveting stuff like your neighbors wife, goods, or power tools, or you shouldn’t have, but rather the importance of good table manners!
Elbows on table is problem, but vanishes when we see others doing same, or imagine that others won’t mind or would actually approve.
Virtual disapproval will always exist unless it is not virtual anymore.
Morals are not set in the mind like concrete, but are dependent upon virtual recreations of the responses of other people.
Manners become mores when the consequences are greater.

If the walls could speak, why aren’t we empathetic with trees?
If a tree fell for you in the forest, would you hear it? Not to worry though, cause its bark is worse than its bite.
If people were zombies. Rotting people or just plain rotten people, unworthy of empathy or we are incapable of being empathetic.
Coming into the worlds, we are poised to wreck worlds. Blind and deaf to troubles we bring, if only the walls could speak, and we could hear.

Galileo’s Free Offer
Consider this free offer. It’s the year 2032, and you’ve been offered a quick peek through the Hubble 2 Space telescope at the star Alpha Centauri along with a visual glimpse of the planets that circled it and their orbiting moons. Let’s say also that you are a physicist, and you make your living from explaining the universe. So you turn the offer down flat, as your colleagues not only do that, but lobby to have you thrown into jail, or even shot.
Well, this was the experience, in similar form to Galileo Galilei
Immanence of God is replaced by cosmic mainspring
One explanation is like a falling domino – tumbles down to others.
Explanations are killing things -- -just plain uncomfortable, because they impact manners, and mores, and shake the moral foundations of civilization itself.
Copernicus had a better idea, keep the sun centered or heliocentric solar system as mere hypothesis, a mere possible explanation among many. That done, one can use the predictions borne of this hypothesis as he pleased.

Forces you to use other methods, and by implication, other languages.
charging less than the 50 cents peek that you’re charged at the Grand Canyon or other scenic spots. And what could be more scenic than the moons of Jupiter, particularly if you’ve never seen them, let alone Jupiter?
Facts kill theories, because to deny them is to deny that you see, and hear, and feel.
Without the telescope, then we would still be arguing the merits of tortise-centric or geo-centric worlds, crystal spheres, and gods on fiery chariots.
So you deny the facts by ignoring them, misinterpreting them, or dismissing the tools that you use to interpret them.
Closer you get to the primary senses, the harder it is to dismiss the tools.
  • time machine versus radio carbon dating.--- telescope vs. mathematics
One fact is worth a thousand metaphors.
Bad ideas have a simple comeuppance.
In Galileo’s own words.
"We will laugh at the extraordinary stupidity of the crowd, my Kepler. What do you say to the main philosophers of our school, who, with the stubbornness of vipers, never wanted to see the planets, the moon or the telescope although I offered them a thousand times to show them the planets and the moon. Really, as some have shut their ears, these have shut their eyes towards the light of truth. This is an awful thing, but it does not astonish me. This sort of person thinks that philosophy is a book like the Aeneid or Odyssey and that one has to search for truth in the world of nature, but in the comparisons of texts.
Carola Baumgardt, Johannes Kepler; Life and Letters, Philosophical Library, New York, 1951, p.86

How to write a Self-Help Book

  1. quote some scientific fact and then plug it in to the hydraulic syntax of wants and needs.
  2. Tell a story about Mr. X and his creative adventures
  3. Invent some new marvelous and revolutionary concept, like a new label for a can of beans.
  4. Buy a mail order degree, found a sham institute, good for those lecture, course and franchise fees.
  5. The cure all truism --- take a deep breath and : relax, be creative, be happy, be orgasmic, be rich, be duped.
6. Don’t refer to any empirical fact, but rather to other no different than when immersed in a good book, movie, etc. You just don’t know how special a state you’re in!!
7. be incomplete a picture of the universe as seen from my cardboard tube!!
8. appeal to the dumb metaphorical way people have always explained and failed to predict the world.

Bad psychology, detached rational faculty that you can change, like the proverbial TV dial
If motivational speeches truly worked, we wouldn’t have to be continually going back to the well.
Self help is good, we need a little delusion now and then as we go down with the ship – hope springs eternal, even though it’s a long shot. – and we are not entirely rational, so why not use it to our benefit e.g. lottery
It’s the expectation that its permanent, that it will effect real change. And that it substitutes for understanding the world as it really is.

Self help books in the bookstore, 350 books saying the same thing, and without references – but authors are world renowned, experts in their fields, book makes major discovery that great philosophers sort of missed.
Like positive psychology ---

1. Master of the obvious
-think positive thoughts
-remove self from situations
-improve skills
2. Make a list, check it twice, cause you want to know when you’re naughty and nice.

  1. Take poetic license to get you therapeutic license
  2. -it ain’t relaxation, its an undreamed of state of consciousness.
  3. Go off on tangents, takes your attention away from the banal and useless comment you just made. – quote study of bob and mary
  4. Take an isolated fact and then interview 50,000 people to prove it.—50000 muddled opinions can’t be wrong.
  5. Spice up book with quotations from ‘Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations’
8. Make yourself some masterful researcher, such as studied phenomenon for 40 years, multiple degrees and institutes spreading across the world. -- you become God like in reputation, so you can say stupid things, and people will walk into walls and off cliffs for you.
Haste makes waste Wolfgang Aesop
He who hesitates is lost. Friedrich Pietzche
Bad psychology: take a deep breath, think of flowers, make a list, have a positive thought and : be relax, become creative, be happy, be orgasmic, be rich , be duped.
Its not that memetics is wrong, but that the metaphor is somehow privileged, I can understand bodies in terms of cells or the emergent properties of cells
Creativity reflects some high quality of accomplishment, such as a great novel, work of art, piece of music, of scientific theorem. But of course what is high quality is entirely relative to the norms of culture and individual taste. Thus a Bach or a Shakespeare may be admired in one era, loathed in another, and generally ignored in all eras.
The world is like a gigantic VCR machine without the instructions. We can’t figure it out, which is ultimately the point.

We the core of creativity is the celebration of creation, not the creation itself. To celebrate is to listen, ponder, and admire. It is attention from others in its multivariate forms. But attention comes with expectations. To listen and to keep listening presumes a demand. --- but it is done in expectation of all that edification, enlightenment, and entertainment. --- and besides, ‘other people’ is a changing constant, a very relative norm.

The ‘artists’ of today have as much permanence as vaudeville performers.
Creativity is normative, but who makes the norms, are you playing for humans or gods?
Take a year in any given century, and all the creative things as measured by a later year, are not creative at all.
White hot flame of creativity diminishes with distance, until all but a miniscule of societies creations fades and vanishes.
Nearly all the works lauded by society are dead, uninteresting, uninspired.

Creativity is no more a trait than ‘goodness’ is.
Of course expanding the bounds of knowledge is a good thing, but that is exceedingly rare, and
Is a 20th century Mozart less creative than an 18th century one?
Who is to say what boundary has been pushed?

Creativity is no inner muse, it is not the genetic keepsake of a privileged few. It is rather the simple byproduct of cultures which prize competition in many aspects of life.

Nawlins Anthropic Principle

Everybody goes where there is good food, good parties, and plenty of error.

Yup, the world is recreated as New Orleans. Since it would take a quantum computer to figure out the circumstances where a world-class physicist would even be in New Orleans. 

So all life forms end up being reincarnated, reanimated, and reconstituted as some creative questing guy or gal who lives in New Orleans. (Somehow, I can’t see Frank Tipler disagreeing with me on this one.)

So there it is the Nawlins Anthropic Principle, and to paraphrase Shakespeare, we round our little lives not with a sleep, but with a NAP.

A Naive idea.

Good ideas allow you to sort out the facts of life. The simpler (and thus more obvious) they are and the more facts they enclose, the more indispensable they become. For example, if you are a physicist, the idea that we live in an immense universe full of stars and planets and cosmic particles encompasses the concepts behind astronomy, Newtonian mechanics, quantum physics, and cosmology. Similarly, the idea that biological variations are naturally selected encloses the principles that form the sub-sciences of genetics, zoology, microbiology, and paleontology.

Of course good ideas are also valued by what they exclude. Accept a universe full of starry objects, and you rule out astrology, divine hands, and the idea that the stars are lights embedded in crystal spheres. Accept an evolutionary view of biology, and you get rid of spontaneous generation, creationism, and a pantheon of intervening gods.

Good ideas have the virtue of being self evident or emergent from the facts as revealed by our senses, or in other words our naïve experience. But experience is not a fixed thing, and expands with the tools we use to observe the world. With a telescope, we can envision ourselves sailing past the rings of Saturn and witness the waltz of the planets, and with a time machine, we can visit with dinosaurs and trilobites, and trace the course of life on earth. When we use tools to expand our senses, our naïve experience expands too, and in a flash can dissolve the ‘wisdom’ of centuries. Galileo’s telescope did this, and resolved the debate between the rival Copernican (heliocentric or sun centered) and the long established Ptolemaic (geocentric or earth centered) theories of the solar system as soon as he turned his instrument to the skies. In a later era, Charles Darwin found that he didn’t have a time machine at hand to as easily demonstrate the truth of his own theory that only became ‘self evident’ through the exhaustive footprint of the fossil record and the mapping of the genetic processes that underlie all life.

Of course science is never wanting for arguments, but they are invariably settled not by a more persuasive logic or style, but rather by a clearer vision. After all, arguments take time and intelligence that most people can’t spare, but vision just requires a new set of lenses. We don’t argue the facts when we can ‘see’ the facts. If we don’t see them the temptation is irresistible to infer them, which we promptly do with intellectual abandon. This makes for endless arguments, with one inferred process championed over another, and no resolution ever at hand.

The early scientific revolutions in physics and biology came first not because their subject matters were easy, or because folks back then saw the light of the better explanations for the universe and the origins and processes of life. Rather, it was because the tools became available that allowed one to see the innards of creation. Without the invention of the telescope and microscope, there is no doubt that flat earth science would join creation ‘science’ as an elective in the nation’s schools, and your local witch doctor would lay as much claim to explaining your aches and pains as your family physician.

The Half-Revolution in Psychology

The scientific metaphors that we employ today extend from a pretty accurate picture of how the world generally is. This is particularly useful since if one had to continually argue whether the earth is round, that germs cause disease, or that genetic material is responsible for life, we would likely still be living in medieval villages. Of course philosophy would still thrive in a monastic sort of way, and the principles of the biological and physical sciences would be grist for scholastic debating clubs, where nothing ever would be settled. The summaries of all these debates would be dutifully entered in rolls of parchment that would be tucked away in monasteries for all the world to marvel at and promptly ignore.

Sounds strange? Although the physics and biology of Aristotle, the cosmology of the Bible, and the astrological imprint of the planets have been reduced to folklore by new and simpler ideas introduced by physics and biology, the philosophies and religions of the ancients still inform how we think about our own behavior. The same old metaphors about how the mind works drive popular and academic psychology to this day, which means we’re still debating Aristotle, the wisdom of the bible, and the accuracy of astrological charts. This is not entirely unexpected, since until recently we didn’t have the equivalent of a telescope or microscope that enabled us to peer into the actual workings of the mind. Even in the present, we must instead settle for academic debates that will postulate endless mental processes, engage in unresolvable arguments, and publish the proceeds of their unadmitted confusion in academic journals that will be ensconced in tomb like libraries, admired scarcely, and soon forgotten.

But what are these metaphors of the mind that have stayed with us since the beginning of the written word? It is that we are simply the products of our experience, and that our behavior as well as our happiness is denoted in the quest for objects, whether they are material or spiritual. These basic ideas, which also fall under the philosophical title ‘empiricism’, simply hold that our interests and values are infinitely malleable, and that we come into the world as a ‘tabula rasa’, or blank slate, perfectly open to whatever conditioning the world will throw at us.

Recently, this simple viewpoint has been challenged by an equally simple perspective that holds that humans are not blank slates, but are instinctively drawn to interpret and act upon information in certain ways. This ‘nativistic’ point of view is not new, but has gained special force through the extension of selectionistic or Darwinian principles to human behavior. The rise of evolutionary psychology takes a leaf off Darwin’s own book, and assumes that people do what they do because their behavior has some ultimate survival value. Coveting your neighbors wife, warring against a bordering village, or in general becoming a materialistic and selfish lout is a natural state of affairs, and we really can’t help it that our ‘selfish genes’ drive us to do mean and lousy things. After all, if it results in us making more babies, then it helps our genes (not to mention the lousy behavior) to survive. Religions, laws, and other social conventions simply seek to cap instinctive behaviors that would otherwise run riot if they did not exist. Of course, evolutionary psychology is as problematic as empiricism. We often act in ways that do anything but maximize the survival of our genes, and human acts of selflessness and kindness (as well as sheer recklessness) particularly confound the one track mind that evolutionary psychology would have us assume.

The end result is that evolutionary psychology cannot replace empiricism, but merely modifies it. We are still led by objectified events, whether our behavior was impelled by instinct or compelled by experience. But how much is due to nature or nurture is anybody’s guess, and everybody’s argument. Nativism represents a half revolution, and therefore no revolution at all. It as if Galileo looked out at the stars and found out that the planets did indeed rotate the sun, but only some of the time, or as if Pasteur found that germs caused disease, but that evil spirits could have a hand in it too. But most importantly, evolutionary biologists don’t employ the correct tools to look into the mind. That after all involved another discipline, and a body of research whose truly revolutionary import is only beginning to be known.

The Coming Revolution in Psychology

We have evolved to be sensitive to certain types of information, and to pursue the objects that denote or convey that information. So men chase women (and vice versa), the trophies and accolades that denote power, and a good place to eat. Simple enough, except that while we’re chasing a mate, a trophy, or a good steak, something has to keep you going until you reach your goal. Only two things can be responsible for us staying the course; namely we perceive current events, and we anticipate or model future ones. So if for example you have a date tonight with Mary Lou, your behavior is not only sustained by your current progress preparing for the date (e.g. buying flowers, making a restaurant reservation), but also by anticipation of all the alternatives that may happen when you get there. In other words, you prepare for the date more intently because you are ‘looking forward’ to it. These alternatives represent ‘problems’, albeit mostly of a good sort, but nonetheless engage your cognitive resources in modeling exactly what events may occur. Because of the uncertainty or discrepancies abounding in your ability to accurately predict what will occur, your mind will bound from one possibility to another. So you are excited, motivated, and happy, and all because you have ‘problems’.

Sometimes one set of problems is replaced by another, as when a friend tells you that Mary Lou is looking forward to the date, and has a crush on you. So you stay, excited, motivated, and happy, but this time you envision a somewhat different set of possibilities. And sometimes, another more difficult set of problems replaces these happy possibilities if the friend tells you instead that Mary Lou’s intentions are purely platonic, and that she is actually in love with your roommate Fred. Your problems now suddenly have no resolution, or lead to negative results, namely a good night handshake. Suddenly you become depressed, unmotivated, and unhappy.

So what does this obvious example tell us? In all circumstances, you will presumably carry through with the date. But your pleasure or pain does not hinge on the conversation, the quality of the food, or the ambience of the setting. Rather, it all depends upon expectations that may comprise possible events days and weeks past the date itself. If the only element that comprised motivation was the simple behavior of going on a dinner date, then you will be ‘motivated’ regardless of whether you feel happy or sad because of the occasion.

Motivation is not simply overt behavior, but consists of the covert responses that accompany our estimation of the possibilities of existence. But it is these responses that underlie our own ‘feelings’ of happiness or sadness, and our inclination to pursue similar behavior in the future. If motivation is made solely equivalent to the occurrence of overt behavior, then your date will motivate. But in common language, we don’t think of motivation in this way. Being motivated means being interested, excited, aroused. It is in other words, motivation equals the in common arouses our attention and our emotions.

Does not mechanically walk
But behavior is accompanied by
Motivation occurs when we estimate the possibilities of existence.
Objects do not motivate us, we are motivated instead by the problems we encounter that lead us to objects, and the problems those objects confer.
The brain evolved not as a device that enables us to fetch objects, and once it assures its reproduction, settles down in a sort of idle stasis. Rather, it is a problem solving device, a machine that continually models alternatives, appraises them, and chooses between them. Sometimes this choice involves a change in overt behavior, but more often it does not. But it cannot turn itself to idle once the problems have been resolved. On the contrary, it will signal that it needs new problems, and boredom becomes depression is new problems do not become forthcoming.
And the other stuff, bread and circuses
Maximize the problems, and you maximize happiness.
Just having the objects will not do, regardless of what ‘evolutionary’ benefit they may bestow.
These covert responses, which encompass the general term emotion, are elicited by subtle patterns of information
If the problems have important outcomes and are easily resolvable, we attend to them. The greater their importance and frequency, the higher will be our arousal.
If the problems have important outcomes and are not easily resolvable or are unresolvable, we will not attend to them. The
Forced to confront them, we become depressed.
(death and taxes)
If the problems are
Bias towards events that have problems.

The Method to my Madness

Take a walk to any bookstore and briefly visit the aisle marked science. The intelligent observer will note that most science books are written by men and women who are real scientists, and who spend the majority of their time doing experiments, writing complex articles in science journals, and endlessly debating their ideas with other scientists of like and not so like minds. Choose any branch of science, from geology to physics, and you will also see that scientists use a wide variety of methods, tools, and descriptive languages to come to their conclusions. Sometimes, these languages may carry very different subjective entailments, but a scientist may feel free to move between them as if each was valid in its own way.

Physics gives the best example of this. To understand the universe, scientists use telescopes, radio telescopes, spectrometers, etc. They analyze and sort their data in different ways, and use different theoretical languages to describe their findings that may be subjectively or metaphorically understood in different ways. Take the notion of time. In classical and Newtonian physics, time flows, is unchanging, and is the same for everybody, everywhere. In Einsteinian physics, time does not flow, and is relative to where you are and how fast you’re going. Finally, in Quantum physics, time does not exist, and each instant of your distant and immediate past represents you, but in a different universe!

That a physicist can tell you all these things with a straight face, and best of all convince you of it is the beauty of the scientific method, and

Psychology is does not share its methods or languages, does not debate because –any more than a frenchman can talk to englishman ---
And uses metaphorical ways of understanding that are unquestioned.
Because we have no way of mapping the mind as we have mapped the universe

Branding in Psychology

Some years back, a bunch of guys got together on one evening and stomped out a pattern in a wheat field using nothing more than some string (for measuring) and a few pieces of board (to press down all that wheat). From the air, the design looked otherworldly, and it thus became notorious and interesting because of all those otherworldly explanations (space aliens, psychic forces) that could account for it. No one paid much attention to the fact that a bunch of guys could do this with only a few impromptu hand tools. Rather, the space aliens got all the press, and continued to get the press even when the guys confessed to their prank. It goes to show that common sense is not where the hype and the money is, since after all sensible thinking is free and easy to all.
The point is that although a bunch of guys could easily have created crop circles, a bunch of space aliens could also have created crop circles. So unless those circles left a mark (e.g. a cotton tag saying ‘Kilroy was here’) that couldn’t have been the work of Mork from the planet Zork, the crop circle argument would revolve endlessly on the unlikely (to say the least) possibilities that it wasn’t due to a group of guys out on a lark.
The reason of course is simple. Occam’s razor, which accepts the simplest (albeit not simpleminded) solution as invariably the right one, doesn’t hold if you have razor blades to sell. Thus although a human cause is the most likely cause by far, common sense and common causes are not quite marketable things. If you are an academic type trying to make a name for yourself, space aliens are a better route to attention, funding, publication, and most importantly, tenure!
When we turn from bad science to bad social science, we find as well that bad psychology more often than not does not take the obvious explanation but rather the complicated one. Moreover, even if you can vouch for the obvious facts of behavior through simple prose or replicate them with simple procedures, your’re still going to find some nay sayer who adduces it all to obscure psychic, neural, or other mentalistic forces, and will ignore your objections to boot. But even if the facts were plain and evident to all, it can still be branded with a special name, and made to seem special and new.
In advertising terms, marketers have a word for it: ‘branding’. Branding is why you buy Bayer aspirin, Perrier spring water, and Exxon gas, even though you know the generic equivalents are just as good. Branding is also why you listen to stock market analysts and self-help gurus, even though you know that the advice you get is respectively no better that what you can get from a dartboard or your mother, and for that matter for free.
Branding is all over the place in psychology, and the true crime is that psychologists are loath to admit it. At least you can look on the label of ingredients or read Consumer Reports to know you’re being conned. Take psychotherapy for instance. Repeated studies have again and again demonstrated that a talking cure for the common problems of living is no more effective than the advice you can get from a relative or a trusted friend. Nonetheless, the myth is still propagated that psychologists possess some arcane wisdom that others don’t that can guide us through the travails of life.
Other examples include the postulation of unique mental ‘states’ from intrinsic motivation to ‘flow’ that have a separate detached existence in the human psyche, like some sort of ghost in the machine. This ‘mysterian’ trend in psychology exalts in the mystery of human behavior, and finds profit in making as much of it as mysterious as possible. Since we busy folk don’t have the time or inclination to investigate these mysterious forces to make sure they’re true or not (Scott Adams of ‘Dilbert’ fame had a word for those folks of easy intellectual virtue: induhviduals), we believe and buy into the glossy and ubiquitously marketed concepts that make common sense into something special, unique, and copyrighted!
A prime example of a mysterian concept in psychology is the concept of hypnosis. Given the right motivation, human beings can do a lot of things (like making themselves stiff like a board, hallucinate, babble in strange tongues) that seem pretty mysterious. The common idea was that you had to enter some semi-conscious state of ‘hypnosis’ before you could embark on these extra-behavioral hijinks. So a hypnotist would tell you that you are entering some type of trance state (as if anyone knew what a trance state was!). Dutifully, the next thing you know your eyes would get heavy, and before you know it you’ll wake up dangling from a chandelier. Of course, it would be something if you really had to fall into some sort of trance in order to be induced to do goofy and odd things. But the point is, you don’t. In a landmark analysis of the hypnosis concept the psychologist T. E. Barber (1974) demonstrated from over 500 separate studies that all of the behaviors generally attributed to hypnosis could be just as easily recreated if an individual was asked to perform those acts by a reliable, credible, and authoritative individual. In other words, you can do hypnotic things if you’re motivated to do hypnotic things. There was no need for a trance, a hypnotist, or even the mention of the word hypnosis! It didn’t help the hypnotism cause that no unique brain, somatic, or other metabolic state was ever found to parallel a motivation to do hypnotic acts. But that’s hardly unexpected given the fact that hypnotic acts were hypnotic because they were not of a special sort (like walking, dreaming, digesting), but were relative things that were merely odd in the mind of the beholder. The irony of all this is that many hypnotists admit these facts, yet nonetheless use the brand ‘hypnosis’ because, like Bayer aspirin, the label is what people are paying for.

Another commonly branded solution is the act of meditating and its branded variants: Transcendental Meditation, Yoga, the Relaxation response etc. Essentially, by concentrating on something real hard, like a nonsense word or your belly button, you will enter a special state of consciousness that’s characterized by a profound state of relaxation. Unfortunately, proponents of the practice never left it like that, and attributed any number of weird characteristics to the simple act of attending. Thus one could unlock creativity, eliminate character flaws, cure cancer, develop the ability to levitate, and even evolve to a higher state of consciousness by the act of mere focused concentration. There was a lot of money to be made by such hucksterism, and the sober scientific appraisals of what meditation really have been buried under the hype. In a systematic survey of the scientific literature on the phenomenon, the psychologist David Holmes (1985, 1987) found that (like hypnosis) there was no distinctive metabolic, neural, or other somatic characteristic of meditation beyond muscle relaxation. Furthermore, it wasn’t attention that brought on relaxation, but the simple act of resting that attended attention, or in other words doing nothing. In other words, attention had nothing to do with the effects of meditation, and the effects of meditation were nothing more than muscle relaxation.
Unfortunately for Holmes, as well as for Barber, there was no money to be made by saying that the Emperor had no clothes

The power of branding is an irrational influence that leads us to do costly and dumb things. In the struggle between common knowledge and marketing hype, we escape from it by coming up with better products that have entirely new formulas, and thus need new brands.
---- don’t fight brand with non brand, but with a new product and thus a better brand. For example, instead of pitting generic aspirin against Bayer in the vain hope of winning market or mind share, why not create a better concoction that isn’t aspirin, but that gets rid of headaches faster? This is what I call the Advil solution. – people flock to advil, forget what aspirin was all about, branding controversy solved!
--and aspirin becomes bare rather than Bayer aspirin again. --- now if the Advil solution does not require a special formula but instead represents a concoction that you can cook up yourself like an bowl of chicken soup.
– in psychology it’s a new procedure that requires a new brand or name.

An Advil Solution to Self Control

--- stress is the problem gets in our way clouds our thought, forces us to eat, drink, and inhale things we would otherwise do. --- without stress we would be mellow, reasonable, and maybe even happy.
Don’t need a trance state to get result
And there is no recordable brain state, from eeg to hormones either.
Branding --- you get attention, funding, and tenure by making something simple into unique, complicated, and imposing.
--- You can keep hawking about your generic cure, or you can develop – the solution to the misinformation about Bayer aspirin is not generic Aspirin, but Advil! --so if everyone takes Advil, who aspirin becomes generic again.
Enter the mysterians!

(opera libretto composed for my Russian Musician wife.)
La-La Land
Opera in the Buffa by
Valery-lana Spillkoffeeova Marr, famous Russian WOMAN composer
Liberetto by : Anton ‘Artful’ Mezmer

Cast of Characters
Bulemia –Vestio’s mother
Vestio—a bratty kid
Pistachio – a tasty nut
Barny – a purple dragon
Vega-6 -- a killer asteroid from outer space.
Act 1
Bulemia is current measuring Vestio’s bedroom to see if her Barny doll can fit. Unawares to her, a killer asteroid is approaching the earth that will end all life as we know it, and also this silly opera.
English Translation Something that sounds like Russian
Bulemia Aqua velva beelka bolshoi pravda

Vestio: La, La, La. La, La, La.
(Vestio eats nut)
Pistachio: crunch Crunchka
Vestio Barfka keelova

Killer Asteroid BOOM!

The steam in self esteem, or how positive psychology gets it wrong

We are living in sensitive times, where the common cant is that if people were treated delicately, and with the proper affirmations,  they would become like happy busy beavers and spin off with the frenzy of a whirling dervish all sorts of creative and useful things. In a phrase, it's all about building self esteem, that 'can do' attitude that comes from constant encouragement. 

Of course, discouragement is the most prevalent element of the school of hard knocks, or life in the real world.  But no matter, as the 'happiness' or positive psychology movement insists, adaptability to the vicissitudes of the real world requires one to be steeped in the positive illusions bestowed by a lifetime of uninterrupted success. A continuously rewarding life that makes every effort good enough, and a twelfth place finish a cause for praise makes for a feel good paradise for children who live in a familial world that shadows reality. It certainly builds self esteem. Nonetheless, like a stock market bubble inflated by the proxy of demand, a sudden gust of reality can deflate all hopes, and be more crushing to the spirit than a lifetime exposed to the constant bite of reality. Whether man or mouse, the story is the same, as a mouse can certainly relate.  Give a caged mouse his cheese to follow continuously every press of a bar, and he will expect to have cheese forever.  However, if the schedule of reward is shifted to a bit of cheese after on average every fifth bar press, then the mouse's behavior would halt, unprepared as he was to the vicissitudes of fortune. On the other hand, if the mouse was always exposed to such variable schedule of reward, or inoculated by the fickleness of fortune, then he would be prepared to press the bar for much longer periods before he would get his cheese. 

Ultimately, self esteem is not about moving the cheese, but being prepared to at times not having any cheese. That is, a confidence about your prowess in prospering in a difficult world depends upon intermittent failure, that bar press or sales call or job interview that produces nothing. Self esteem in other words depends upon having your self image deflated from time to time, so that your point of view is always tempered by reality. Of course, it will make for transient happiness, but as our mouse would attest, it's necessary to prevent us from becoming permanently miserable. Ultimately, to dissent from the pabulum of popular psychology, happiness is not the point, but an exclamation point that follows the frequent drudgery and heartbreak of being alive. 

Steven Pinker's How the Mind Works

Could this be the Worst Book Ever Written on the Human Mind?

Let's say you are a space alien on the moon busily engaged in observing human beings and their various aircraft. You write a book on aerodynamics wherein you provide a mathematical model of computation that describes the outward behavior of what you see. But in the introduction of the book you claim that you can model the flight of planes, rockets, and balloons without any need to consider air. Of course, aerodynamics without air is as stupefyingly dumb as claiming to understand the mind without understanding the neuronal basis of the brain. But this is what Pinker does in his book, and even trumpets the fact!
This Explains an Airplane, you don't even need air!.
Thus to quote Pinker: "This book is about the brain, but I will not say much about neurons, hormones, and neurotransmitters. That is because the mind is not the brain but what the brain does... That special thing is information processing, or computation." (p.7)

In other words, by saying that the mind is what the brain does, Pinker neglects to define the brain! By reverse engineering the mind, and attributing  behavioral functions to wholly inferred computational modules somehow selected by evolution, Pinker neglects the massive corpus of findings in neuro-psychology that have in painstaking detail examined the motivational systems in human and mammalian brains. In particular, the sub-cortical systems that are critical for the generation of human emotions and human motivation are not 'computational' by any stretch of the imagination, and must be incorporated in any model of how the brain actually works. Without this, understanding the mind is impossible. Nonetheless, Pinker wears his ignorance like a badge, a badge that discredits his own argument even before its subtantive products are considered.
When pressed on the issue Pinker responded: "Neurons? Neurons? We don't need no steenking neurons!!"
Pinker of course adheres to commonly held viewpoints in evolutionary psychology that postulate behavioral mechanics through an appeal to historical selectionist pressures spanning eons. However, evolutionary assumptions as to 'why' we behave (e.g. being chased by hungry bears, or chasing hungrily after females) do not logically entail an understanding of 'how' we behave. It may be matter of instinct or learning, or an unknown mixture of the two that may change with time and circumstance. That we don't know this, and more often than not cannot know this is demonstrated in the interminable and tediously tendentious arguments over nature vs. nurture that over populate academic and popular discourse on psychology. Indeed, by utterly ignoring neurobiological perspectives that describe the workings of the brain in detail, the goal of explanation if rendered well nigh impossible. Pinker's metaphor of reverse engineering does not serve understanding because explanations go far beyond the mere functionality that such engineering subserves. For exampe, I may reverse engineer a washing machine by installing at its core a nuclear engine, a steam engine, an electric engine, or mere foot power. With any of these schemes, I can design a machine that cleans clothes, but I can never explain a washing machine until I take it apart. 
Is there a nuclear or steam engine module running this thing?  So poses Steven Pinker in his next major book: "How Our Appliances Work."
Thus  Pinker's argument, and every argument for that matter that derives root and branch from evolutionary psychology can never explain how the mind works because it is logically incapable of explanation! So where are we to look for an explanation? Not in socio-biology, as Pinker would have it, but rather in good old biology. Indeed, affective neuroscience, a branch of neuro-psychology that embraces explanatory perspectives, is wholly informed by evolutionary principles, yet because it is based on a biological understanding assigns much more of our behavioral repertoire to a complex interaction between general purpose neocortical structures and basic emotional systems arising from mid brain systems. In other words, behaviorial tendencies are not ingrained  in our brain like the bee line a honey bee makes to a flower, but come from complex intereactions between brain systems that cannot be 'reverse engineered', as Pinker would have it. Rather, you have to 'go into' brains and have a look.

In common with nearly all practitioners of evolutionary psychology, Pinker accepts the metaphor of the mind as a modular computational device. But the more credible view arising from neuro-psychology is that this is false. Evolutionary psychologists have rightly dismissed creation 'science'  because the latter blatantly ignores the overwhelming facts of evolution. The great emerging irony is that neuro-psychologists are rightly dismissing much of evolutionary 'science' because it ignores the facts of the brain. 

And this is why Pinker's book is the worst book ever written on the human mind. Not because of a lack of intelligence, style, creativity, or wit, but because of a hubris that psychology cannot afford. And indeed, if there's anything that antagonizes the gods, as well as this writer, it's a prideful arrogance that thumbs its nose on the facts, and this book, by building its case in large measure on conjecture, builds its case on sand. 

As a final note, the position of modern neuro-psychology, which counters much of the intellectual baggage of evolutionary psychology (but not of evolution), has been most cogently stated in the book 'Affective Neuroscience' by the distinguished neuropsychologist Jaak Panksepp. His book, far more than Pinker's should rightfully be titled 'How the Mind Works'. A second book that makes a similar case, but which is less technical, is Gerald Edelman's 'Bright Air, Brilliant Fire'. Both are highly recommended. 

Steven Pinker's 
'The Blank Slate'

Alien to Science?
One way of shortening your reading list is to separate out the wheat from the chaff: those that have got the goods from those who merely promise them. Or course, fantasy can be a great read in itself: thus you know Alice in Wonderland and Bullfinch's Mythology are fictions, and enjoy them regardless. Others you would rather give a pass, such as tomes like the Enron Annual Report, or George Bush's CIA reports on WMD in Iraq. Steven Pinker's 'The Blank Slate' is thankfully one of those books. And why? Because its premise is, like Lewis Carroll's looking glass world, alien to science. To explain this out of this world claim, I will use an out of this world analogy that is unfortunately, true. 
Evolutionary Psychology: A Copernican Revolution!
Before mankind learned to write, they thought they had the universe right. Constellations of gods and goddesses were literally painted in the sky, and the stars were fixed on a celestial sphere of crystal that spun round the earth. We were part of the equation of course, and the astro-logical course of the stars was bound to human fates in a mechanical and determined clockwork. It was all because God naturally selected things to be this way, the rest was a mere exercise of logic, working backwards to reverse engineer the mind of God. Later on, as mankind began to use symbols, the logical morphed into the mathematical, and Claudius Ptolemy (ca. 175 AD) made it all work out right by positing a complicated celestial racetrack that had the sun and planets revolve around the earth while doing cartwheels in their courses. The Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (ca. 1575) had a better idea, and placed the sun in orbit around the earth, with the planets in turn orbiting the sun. Copernicus (ca. 1525) had the simplest proposal of all, and saw the planets as orbiting the sun in perfect circles that also spun in their courses like Ptolemaic worlds, and framed of course with a firmament of stars glued to a celestial sphere.
Now quick, was any of this scientific? Nope. That's because none of the premises of these models were at the time time testable. The 'functional' logic worked out of course, but it worked out for all realities. From Ptolemaic to Copernican, they all made sense, and all predicted the ways of the worlds, but implied an underlying reality that was ultimately wrong. True explanation was wanting, and explanation would only occur when the tools were developed (e.g. telescope) that could test these hypotheses, and reveal the actual workings of the solar system, and in turn, of the universe. Debating issues without giving time or even respect for explanation thankfully vanished for the physical and biological sciences long ago in tandem with the development of new and more powerful tools for the observation of nature in all her workings. Unfortunately, this contempt for explanation still occurs now for the latest ironically Copernican revolution, evolutionary psychology. Like the Ptolemaic reasoning that predated it, evolutionary psychology infers how the brain works by inferring why it must work. For Ptolemy, it was heavenly selection, but for evolutionary psychologists like Steven Pinker, it's an evolutionary sort.

A pivotal argument for evolutionary psychology, like the ancient one of an orbiting vs. stationary earth, is the nature vs. nurture debate that has obsessed philosophers since the days of John Locke. Yet, it may be argued that the nature/nurture argument is no more scientific than arguments about the heavens in the days predating the telescope. Very simply, explanation is wanting for such an argument because an explanation of the brain is wanting. Arguing against Locke or B. F. Skinner for that matter is meaningless if the subject matter for all that heated discourse is an unobservable brain. And that's what Pinker does in 'The Blank Slate'. Logically, of course he makes his case quite well. Nonetheless, logical debates are not scientific debates because the functionalism of logic is not science. Explanations are science, and by ignoring the brain evolutionary psychology denies science. Although Pinker gives lip service to neuroscience, his arguments are scarcely informed by it, and are arrayed instead against the metaphorical and brain-less arguments common among the political left, humanists, and the religious. Whether this becomes a case of the blind leading the dumb or vice versa, the result is a lot of heat but very little light. Indeed, nature/nurture debates are ultimately meaningless because all such arguments can ultimately be made to fit the surface facts, and thus be 'proven' right.

Dicotomies are exciting things to contemplate. They introduce some drama into the logic of thinkiing, and neatly categorize intellectuals into us vs. them. Good vs. evil, reason vs. emotions, nature vs. nurture all have a logical resonance to them, but they have precisely zero resonance when the neuro-psychological is involved, and that's precisely the point. In particular, for a psychology that is informed by neuro-scientifically accurate pictures of the human brain, the nature/nurture dichotomy does not exist. Both nature and nurture interoperate in tandem, and to reduce them to competing or incompatible forces is as foolish as to say that the frontal cortex competes with the hypothalamus. Competition is merely a metaphor, and to say that nature 'competes' with nurture is to impute motives and roles to the biological functioning of the brain that it does not have.

The heated arguments that have pervaded evolutionary psychology  rise above the facts, but are ultimately decided by them. That evolutionary psychologists blithely ignore the facts of the brain is something they do at their peril, much as the friars who refused to look through Galileo's telescope. It is to the nameless posterity of those       priests that Pinker unknowingly aims. To this writer, he is well on his way to that anonymous fame.

The best statement of this neurological argument, an argument that Pinker was invited to but never has responded, is in an article by the distinguished neuro-psychologist Jaak Panksepp.that in my opinion decisively dismantles evolutionary psychology. Hyperlinked above, it is most recommended. Otherwise:

Ptolemy: no, it's circles within circles, within circles
Tycho: no, it's circles within circles
Kepler: it's elipses
Copernicus: no, it's circles
Workable Worlds: Four Quite Sensible Versions of the Solar System 
(requires no cheating by using telescopes!) 
(please circle the correct answer, or correct circle)

Gene and Mimi

Once upon a time, when the earth was new, there was this inorganic chemical. Let’s call him Gene. Now Gene was rather simple as chemicals go, as we was made up of only a few simple strands of molecules. Existing as he did in an antediluvian broth, life was, or rather non-life was tough for entities like Gene. Unpleasant things like sunshine, lightning bolts, and temperature extremes always shook up his solution, resulting in unfortunate fractures in his molecular chain. Without thinking, Gene soon came up with an answer to his predicament. He would simply evolve a molecular shell to protect himself from all those nasty events, a survival machine of sorts to provide him a way to inertly repose and from time to time replicate. It came natural to Gene that he would make something out of himself. In his case, it was more of himself, although when he went about this process he was quite divided. Pretty soon Gene was all over the place, as he continued to divide and divide. This Gene pool soon became very crowded, and it was impossible to replicate further without the necessary raw materials. So Gene evolved a new version of his molecular shell that enabled him to cannibalize all his other duplicates that weren’t so well equipped. Having done so, Gene again began to divide and divide. The other Genes however weren’t going to take this lying dormant, and soon they evolved their own molecular add-ons that provided them with a tougher shell, higher mobility, or cannibalizing capabilities of their own. To meet this growing competition, Genes began to cooperate by linking up with one another, with each Gene assigned a specific job. Naturally, certain Genes would do their jobs better than others, and a way was need to select for those genes that could best contribute to the Gene team. Soon, Gene chains were meeting regularly to exchange genetic material. This allowed each chain to test out new combinations of gene talent in the ever more competitive game of life. The evolution of the periodic genetic exchange, which is also known as sex, caused a veritable explosion in the complexity and type of survival machines. More and more genes came together in ever lengthening communities, and soon the world was well populated with a growing assortment of lumbering and colliding molecular robots. Now Gene was a naturally passive and inert sort, and each robot, when constructed and wound up, would only follow the preset instructions that it was originally given. Gene couldn’t modify these instructions when situations rapidly changed, as they surely would; and he needed some apparatus to provide a kind of automatic pilot for his aimlessly cavorting robot. So Gene naturally selected an array of sensors to be attached to the outside shell. These sensors were reactive to a variety of changing stimuli such as water pressure, sound and light, and were hooked up by a series of molecular strings which wound about the machine. This ‘nervous system’ gave Gene the means to automatically coordinate the increasingly complexity of his survival machine.

Yet, even when equipped with a wide range of reflexes, the Gene machine could only react when it confronted a new situation, and not before. To react before a situation occurs demands that the probabilities of certain events be calculated before a certain movement was made. To do this, an internal simulation of the outside environment has to be performed that would give the machine the foresight to react to impending events. A computational device was obviously needed. In short, Gene need his own PC, or personal cerebrum. Since Gene needed to model external events internally, that means that his PC had to categorize and classify all of the information that he received from his sensors. Larger PC’s and sensory modems gave Gene increasing capabilities to process and receive ever greater amounts of information, and soon Gene’s centralized nervous system became very specialized. Marvelous optical, acoustical, and olfactory devices were evolved as attachments to the PC. These knob like devices, also called the eyes, ears, and nose, were hooked up in close proximity to the PC, which was by then encased in a bone colored shell that was able to swivel about on its vertebrate stand. Soon the PC was able to make extremely detailed models of the outside world in three dimensions, and in living color. These models were stored in memory, and the PC was able to call up former memories at will and project out all sorts of what-if situations. As the PC’s memory grew, it became able to perform an every increasing array of mental tricks, such as controlling many thousands of operations at once (multitasking), and making models of the models of the models it created. The PC itself was able to perceive itself perceiving, and soon it became quite conscious of this fact. The PC thought, therefore it was, and it became oblivious to the fact that it was after all just a machine built to serve Gene. Some gratitude!

The latest version of the PC, called the homo-sapiens, was hampered by this pesky self consciousness, yet it nonetheless followed Gene’s programmed imperative and shortly became the PC standard. Soon other non-human PC’s were destroyed to make room for the new model, or else they were consigned to PC museums (zoos) for the instruction of young homo-sapiens.

The current model of the homo-sapiens PC most commonly in use is the PC-XT, or short for Xtra threatening. This PC is equipped with external memory storage devices (books) which allow it to access more information than ever before. With such information available, homo-sapiens is able to construct for itself a near infinite array of devices to improve its mobility (the car), hallucinatory powers (TV), and competitive capabilities (guns and nuclear missiles).

In spite of the PC’s unpredictable hijinks, Gene still retained control over the important PC programs that were crucial to his continued duplication. The most important was the automatic orientation and duplication mechanism, or in other words, the sex drive. Sex was obviously a more complicated trick for Gene than in the good old, old days, when all that was needed was a cup of nutrient broth and a willing cell or two. For the homo sapiens gene machine, special input and output ports had to be designed for the easy transfer of genetic material, and triggering mechanisms had to be in place to signal when the gene machines were to hook up. Random coupling was undesirable given the homo-sapiens PC’s ability to visually sort our prime reproductive candidates. To do this, the PC was programmed with special pattern recognition subroutines which were directly hooked up to the sex drive. Upon recognition of a suitable form, the PC would orient towards the object, input port at the ready, in preparation for a possible interface leading to coupling. For the male of the species, this form takes an hour glass shape, with special attention drawn to two round bulges located in the front anterior. For the female, a more blockish shape is preferred, with special emphasis on rippling striated musculature. For both sexes however, Gene was quite unadventurous regarding facial features, preferring t link up with those males and females who had rather regular and bland facial designs. Gene had always had his best success by staying with tried and true designs, and these extended to a uniformity in those optical acoustical, and olfactory knobs, which when set to an oval face, made something rather ordinary looking. However, to the homo-sapiens, it was beautiful.

The homo-sapiens is complex, and takes about nine months to construct. The female homo-sapiens is provided with an internal factory which builds to order new gene machines from the DNA blueprints, half of which are kindly ported over by the male. The internal duplication factory takes up most of the resources of the female, whereas the male can continue to hop from female to female making genetic deliveries. If he’s good, he’d soon become a captain or should we say father of industry, and have many factories humming along merrily and at little cost to himself. Naturally, the female can’t go hopping about like the male, as she needs a full time male to help take delivery of her bundle of joy. If the gene machine was male, then Gene could theoretically leverage out his genetic blueprints to make literally hundreds of baby gene machines in his image. Not so for the female gene machine, which can only make a few machines in her lifetime, and raise them only with the help of the male. Depending upon whether he dwelled in a male or female machine, Gene would be at an advantage or disadvantage relative to his peers. To help solve this problem, Gene became sexist. The male gene continued to impart operating instructions which spelled no limit to acquisition and merger activity. All that was needed for a ‘go’ signal was the right visual signal, of hourglass shape of course, that denoted the reproductive potential of the female. For the female, the visual image of a male didn’t so obviously denote the characteristics which were crucial to her and her offspring’s survival. She could ill afford to respond so reflexively to the male form, so she took her time in examining the male, and favored traits that demonstrated the male’s reliability, power, and devotion to her. Now all this demanded time and deliberation by the female PC, yet Gene quite reasonably couldn’t wait forever. So he gave the PC a little shove which turned ambivalence into action. He did this by making the PC into a drug addict.
Now Gene was a quite sensible drug pusher, wanting only that the PC opt to fantasize about devotion and coupling before he would give it a pleasurable high. Even the male gene got into the act, and to make the male PC compromise its own worldly ways, drugged it from time to time as well. This drub induced stupor was called ‘falling in love’, and it served Gene by putting an abrupt halt to the sexual dilly dallying that could make male and female gene machines circle each other endlessly in fruitless negotiation. It was quite an underhanded tactic of course, but Gene would do anything to survive; it came of course quite naturally.

The Selfish Gene

Our tale of Gene touches originality only with humor, and owes itself to ideas first expressed by Richard Dawkins in his book ‘The Selfish Gene’. Dawkins ingeniously traces the true evolutionary course or purpose of nature to forces and currents which are seemingly at cross purposes to those personal and cultural agendas that e normally think symbolized our place in the cultural order of things. The natural processes that have over the eons culminated in life and the living phenomenon of man were essentially mindless as well as formless. This abstract imperative for matter to evolve finds its easiest representation in that traveling wave of rapid physical change which transformed a single cell into that marvelous machine we call man. That man cold descend from a primitive n celled organism is not difficult to understand if we not that for us, nature has shortened the trick to only nine months. We are but the culminating product of a little chromosomal mechanism that assembled us bit by bit according to a genetic code.
Dawkins maintains that biological organisms can be viewed as relatively huge molecular robots or ‘survival machines’ that but mirrored the evolving instructional code that comprised a molecule called a chromosome. That is, it’s not whether the chicken or the egg came first, since neither really counts; only the instructional code counts. Chickens, eggs, and human beings are only outward representatives of the code in action, much like a building is an outward manifestation of a blueprint. And a chromosome, non-descript entity that it is, evolved its code to survive, and its molecular shell or machine was indubitably just a mindless and toddling robot, until of course, it was given a mind.

To Dawkins, a mind evolved because of the need to coordinate the many complex functions of the molecular machine, and also to simulate the countless alternatives for action that presented themselves in each succeeding instant. How this simulating capability evolved into consciousness is another story, yet the imprint of society and culture upon the mind in the form of thought forms an entirely new set of commands that places man often at cross purposes with the instinctive dictates of the ‘selfish gene’.

In the next chapter, we will continue with the adventures of Gene, and show how the seductive wiles of culture can sway humans away from Gene’s usually irresistible dictates. But before we do so, we need to sort out those ‘instinctive’ behaviors that are unique by-products of this genetic dictate.

The most obvious attribute of an instinctive behavior is its resistance to any strong correlation with any identifiable pattern of experience. In other words, it doesn’t necessarily follow that this situation or that situation correlates with and thus predicts a certain behavior. That behavior simply occurs, as if it popped out of nowhere.

The best example of an instinctive behavior is the sex drive. In general, men and women possess sexual sensitivities and tendencies that are gender specific. Although both sexes are very sexual by nature, men and women use their sexuality in markedly different ways. Indeed, one of the root causes for much of the confusion and animosity between the sexes is the misunderstanding by both sexes of each other’s very different sexual agendas.

One way to illustrate and understand these unique instinctual traits is through the correlation of these traits with the environmental pressures of ages long past that tin effect ‘selected’ the behavioral tendencies we note today. The discipline that establishes such correlations is called sociobiology, and represents an extension of evolutionary biology to the instinctual behaviors of men and animals. A sociobiological interpretation of sexuality maintains that male and female sexual agendas differ not because of some individual sexual perversity of men and women, but because the survival of the species depends at least historically upon it. Only those who developed these instincts survived, and they are our ancestors.

The value of sociobiology is not that it suggests better ways for us to behave; we don’t need an understanding of evolution to know that men and women are different. Its real value lies in its ability to absolve us of some of the guilt we have accumulated for having very natural inclinations. Morality can overrule, but it can never reshape our instincts. Sociobiology allows us to acknowledge these instincts, and to quell our often puritanical urges to be something we can never be.

The Evolution of Sexuality

In the animal kingdom, there is also a weaker of the two sexes that suffers through many of the subordinate roles that the human female has long been subjected to. This sex is effeminate, passive, vain, fickle, and even apathetic about staying at home to raise the offspring. Moreover, this sex is often kicked around, abandoned, and can even be eaten by its mate if it doesn’t mind its place. A sad state of affairs certainly, yet no less ironic, since this sex is the male.

It seems strange that except for us humans and a few other species, the subordinate role in the animal world is assumed by the male. The male is the weak link, the expendable partner that is good for its periodic contribution to reproduction, and little else. The key to this topsy-turvy role play is one simple fact: namely the capability of the female to bear and provide for its offspring. If the male can’t contribute in any significant manner to this task, he simply gets in the way, and is promptly booted out of the way if he persists as an obstruction. Of course, the male does have an important albeit passive role of sorts to play. He simply looks and acts pretty. Males are instinctively vain because their most significant contribution to the viability of their species is their genetic role as parents, and what better way to advertise your fitness as a papa than by flaunting your stuff? Because females determine the best reproductive candidate by noting his relative health and robustness, males naturally display and evolution naturally selects those attributes that advertise best these qualities. And as with all advertising, what you see is not necessarily what you get. Because advertising’s the thing, nature then selects for advertising, and males develop a host of physical attributes that exaggerate and even caricature the practical functions these attributes were originally meant to provide.

Much like the way human males react to human females whose attributes are, to put it mildly, rather inflated, so too do many females in many animal species react with wide-eyed abandon towards those males who are similarly distended. If say, you’re a female cock-a-too, a large bill and wide breast may be a sign that your prospective mate is in good health and is a prime reproductive candidate. If that bill is twice as large and that breast twice as wide, it may make the male look awkward and ridiculous, but a lady bird killer is born. And so it goes with bright feathers, thick manes, gangly antlers, large teeth, and any number of useless appendages drawn from nature’s vanity case.

Much of the color and variety of the animal kingdom is owing to the fact that animals think with their glands, and we humans are hardly any different. Yet why is it that in contrast to the animal kingdom, it is the human female which is case in the vain and trivial role? The answer ironically may be due to the physical evolution of our most notable attribute, the human brain. As several evolutionary biologists have noted,. The evolutionary pressures leading to larger and larger brain sizes has run smack into the human female’s physical limitations in bearing such offspring. The female’s pelvis simply could not adapt to such progressively larger babies without causing her to structurally collapse. The solution to this problem was for the female to bear her child in a state of greater and greater prematurity. The physical maturation of the human infant took place after birth, and the gradually lengthening time span between birth and maturity put unprecedented demands on the female's physical resources. She just couldn’t kick her offspring out of her next a few months after birth as was the fashion of all other animals. Quite the contrary, she had to stay by her child for long period of time, and further, she was faced with the very real need to select male companions who were a lot more than mere pretty faces. She demanded a male who was reliable, physically strong, and capable of providing for her needs and for her offspring. So how does a nice homo-sapiens girl evolve the lures to catch such a male. Simple, she just employs an old male trick: she becomes pretty, and to insure the male’s constant presence, she becomes very, very sexual. The gradual domesticity imposed on the human female by the slower maturation of the human infant moved the badge of physical advertising from the male to the female. Whereas the female required a broad array of physical and psychological characteristics from her mate, the male’s choice shifted to those physical attributes that correlated most reliably with fertility. Moreover, since the male stood to lose nothing and gain many offspring through random copulation, an eager promiscuity became the genetically favored trait. Since this same trait would obviously prove disastrous to the female, she became much more cautionary prior to engaging in sexual relations. These very different sexual preferences find their greatest contrast in the materials each sex uses to indulge and stimulate their fantasies. Since men put first priority on finding a female who is sexually available and fertile, the visual impact of a female achieves first priority in his selection of a mate. In contrast, a female is responsive to the visual and psychological characteristics of a male combined, and this response takes greater time to develop. Thus mal fantasies are most stimulated by the visual pornography that depicts women as servile and fertile, while female fantasies are encouraged by romance novels which set the emotional stage for a sexual encounter.

The irony of all this is that as the human female’s cautionary instincts increased, so did her sexual availability. This is because if you want a male to stick around for a long period of time, you can dangle the sexual lure, but you’d be foolish to withdraw it. Indeed, almost all female mammals do the latter, and turn on their sexual availability for only certain limited times, only to withdraw it abruptly to the male’s endless frustration. The period of sexual availability, often displayed as a reddening of the female’s genitalia, is called estrus. This estrus state combines with specific sexual posturing and special female scents to drive the males into a state of sexual frenzy. For human females, this estrus state has disappeared in favor of a year round sexual availability that require no special signaling, or does it? The popularity of perfume and rouged cheeks has been suggested as a reflection of an instinctive nostalgia for those good old days when a really alluring female had the color and aroma of a golden delicious apple.

The Sublime Addiction
Although the sexual drive suffices quite well to bring people into sexual contact, the mind sets even higher rewards for fantasizing about, of all things, monogamous and committed relationships. To do this, it simply makes one into for all practical purposes, a drug addict. The brain has often been likened to a biochemical computer, and it stirs our mind to motion, and often very selective motion, by its manufacture of chemicals that stimulate and depress.

Our state of mind is shaped by how we feel, and specific feelings are tailored to some very generalizable goals. For example, the ‘flight or fight’ response is marked by the physiological preparedness of a human to take some extreme action, and this preparedness is signaled by the release of the chemical adrenaline. In addition, the state of mind of an individual is also shaped by the association of his behavior with those feelings. Not only does adrenaline shape the immediate behavior of an individual, it also molds the future shape of his behavior through the mere association of certain behaviors with a physiologically altered state. For example, a person who has stage fright not only fears a crows, he fears fear itself. The state of fear becomes intertwined with the perception of the conditions that evoked it, hence these conditions seem even more distasteful.

The same associations apply when a person falls in love. The emotion of love is not so much stimulating as it is intoxicating. The brain is inherently disposed to in effect sedate itself when an individual fantasizes about another person’s physical and person characteristics that are appealing. This pleasurable effect is associated with these fantasies, and acts to enhance and thereby distort his or her appraisal of a loved one. Love is not blind, it just causes fuzzy vision; yet this misperception of another person’s worth will fad if that person doesn’t stay in the distance. Since love depends on idealized fantasy, nothing is more devastating to that fantasy, and that emotion, than having its object for your very own. It is then that reason takes over, and the realization soon comes that the brain conned you into rushing into a relationship in order to secure a very natural high.

The Instinct That Never Was
Ironically, of all human drives, sex is by far the weakest, yet is nonetheless a powerful spur to much of our behavior. Our sexuality obsesses us because we attach it to so many other non-sexual goals that complement sex, such as companionship and family. Sex is a key to the fulfillment of a host of non-sexual needs, hence it becomes a source of our endless preoccupation. Sex is habit forming, as we well know, and is usually formed by habit in ways that we don’t know. Habit represents all undeliberative acts that don’t require our conscious attention. It reflects our disposition to move in both conscious and unconscious ways according to subtle environmental cues. Alter the cues and you alter the habit. All human motivations are effected by habit, whether they represent when we get hungry and what we get hungry for, how we drive a car, or even who we fall in love with.

We often confuse the effects of habit with the specific strengths or characteristics of our instincts themselves. This confusion is most apparent in a habit that is so prevalent and persistent, it has found a way into our moral code. That habit is known as the incest taboo. Our abhorrence of sexual relations between closely related kin is but a very small aspect of a far more pervasive habit that influences us almost every day. It is the habit of sexual fantasy.

Before we engage in many behaviors, we cognitively simulate what will happen if we behave in certain ways. Such preplanning usually saves us a lot of grief, as simulation predicts the future outcome of a behavior. For example, courtship behavior is marked by a preoccupation with strategizing or stimulating the best approaches that will lead to maximum romantic success. Will bringing flowers helps somewhat, or what of the type of restaurant for a dinner date, the appropriateness and timing of sexual advances, and so forth? We constantly rehears these details in our head, and compare them to our mental model of the behavior of our date. Eventually, we will determine the best ‘fit’ between our prospective behavior and the likelihood of the response we seek to elicit from the other person. This leads us to a better decision as to what behavior is most appropriate given the nature of our date and the nature of our desires.

Patterns of experience can also influence how we unconsciously simulate behavior. When we drive a car over the same route every day to work, we unconsciously learn to cease any conscious deliberation over the possibility of other more convenient routes. Because we form the habit of not thinking about alternatives, we may not discover them even if they are available given just a little thought. Our inclination too sexually fantasize can be shaped in just this way. In many situations, whether it be in a college dormitory, at work, or even in one’s neighborhood, the very act of seeing people in one context influences the future ways we think about them. For example, it has been found that college student living in coed dormitories will tend to date other students in direct proportion to their actual physical distance in the dormitory. Thus, students will be rarely inclined to date a next door neighbor, more inclined to date a neighbor on the next floor, and much more inclined to date someone who didn’t live in the building at all. It was discovered that this reluctance to date close neighbors was not due to the desire among students to maintain their privacy or for any other practical reason, but rather because next door neighbors were habitually viewed as friends, and not as potential lovers. The everyday non-sexual contact between a student and his neighbor apparently created an unconscious habit that precluded thinking about sexual alternatives because none had been thought of before. Because a student was in the habit of not fantasizing sexually about a neighbor, he didn’t, and what is more, he had no inclination to begin doing so.

In a family, the close proximity between siblings creates the same sort of unconscious habits, and a societal abhorrence against incest only serves to confirm the almost universal prevalence of this habit. What incestual habits do demonstrate is that the roots of the sexual drive may not be found in some irresistible triggering mechanism such as sexual deprivation, sexual stimuli, and the like; but rather in the realm of our own thoughts and fantasies. Its all in the mind.

Sex and Culture

When we left Gene, we had seen how he had developed a marvelous personal cerebrum, or PC, to attend to his large and ever growing information processing needs. But what was behind this trend towards greater personal computing? Obviously, there was very little the homo-sapiens could do with his onboard equipment except swing his arms about and wiggle his pinkies. Yet by being equipped with flexible hands, stereoscopic vision, and a PC with rudimentary memory, Gene gave the early homo-sapiens the ability to manipulate all sorts of devices which extended many fold the functionality of the homo-sapiens. These devices were called tools, and even the most primitive of them, like a sharp stone, could be put to a multitude of uses. These varied and often complex functions were infinitely numerous, and each function was useful only in very specific and changeable circumstances. Gene placed the instructions of programming for them in RAM (readily absent memory). Thus, functions like home building weren’t pre-wired into the PC’s memory like say, a bird’s, but had to be programmed into memory through the use of programming languages like English, French, or any number of others. With the advent of programming languages and external storage devices (books), an extensive library of software was soon developed for the PC. With the right programming, the homo-sapiens was able to accomplish all sorts of specialized and complicated roles. He could be a homo-sapiens mechanic (doctor), PC repairman (neurosurgeon), systems analyst (psychologist), or he could specialize in developing procedural languages of meaningless complexity (lawyer).

The most popular programs are utility programs. These programs assist the homo-sapiens in forming social networks, and establish a standardized set of response patterns for everyday situations. These local area networks are collectively known as ‘society’, and allow the homo-sapiens to work in harmony for the greater good of the entire PC network. Sometimes a PC receives programming which places it at odds with society, hence forcing the latter to disconnect the PC from the network and place it in a reprogramming center (prison). Usually, just the threat of partial disconnection (embarrassment) is enough to bring an errant homo-sapiens in line, since as we shall soon see, reprogramming can be a difficult task indeed.

The wide range of software available to the PC inevitably led to the popularization of many software packages that either were superb in handling their desired functions, or else were the first on the market and were able to become a de facto standard. Many of these programs were copied down from generation to generation, and are know collectively as ‘culture’. A curious thing about cultural programming is that it to represents chains of information that exist, replicate, and grow ever more complex. But unlike Gene, these entities don’t dwell in the real world, but achieve a different sort of reality in minds. So, how would Gene confront this new sort of reality if imagination permits a friendly introduction?

Gene Meets Mimi

Mimi was just a good idea waiting to happen, and when man began to think, Mimi felt right at home. Now Gene was a modest, relaxed, and undemanding sort who rarely called attention to himself. He built the mind that Mimi moved into, and scarcely complained when Mimi started to arrange his mental space in her image. Mimi was flexible, changeable, and rather flighty, and she could move about from one mind to another with breathtaking speed. Often, Mimi would move against Gene’s better instincts, and sometimes Mimi would prevail, sometimes not. This was indeed a strange pairing. Whereas Gene loved to tinker about, and make over the eons Gene machines of wondrous diversity, Mimi was the very embodiment of philosophy, literature, and the fine arts. Gene loved hardware, whereas Mimi was always out shopping for the latest in software. Soon, as education opened up a vast Bloomingdale’s full of ideas, Mimi began decorating the PC with dozens of ideas of every shape and hue. She lived for such things, and indeed wouldn’t be without them. Soon her influence was overwhelming, and she made sure that any baby homo-sapiens would have the benefit of all her mental decorative ideas. Many of these ideas Mimi was quite fond of, as they encouraged the homo-sapiens to behave better, entertain itself better, and even to think about life without Gene and Mimi.

So the homo-sapiens now only lived to eat and reproduce, but to revered modesty, truth, and other humanly virtues, enjoy the music of Mozart, and wonder about the possibilities of existence without a physical body and mind. Gene became more and more a forgotten influence, as the purpose of man was merged into a symphony of ideas. Soon the whole world marked nothing less than this cultural legacy. The world was indeed made in his image, the image of his mind.

Dawkins Revisited

As we recall Dawkins’ postulation of a ‘selfish gene’, we should not that his thesis reflects perfectly what is essentially a reductionist perspective on human life and human motivation. That is, all living organisms represent the full flower of a seed of information that is the very essence of a single molecule, the chromosome. Understand this molecule and you understand everything, and you can trace out the forms of every living thing. The guiding spirit of this type of thinking is nothing more than the logic of mathematics. Just as the curving line of a parabola may be views as unfolding from a simple mathematical formula, so too does the curve of organic development stem from the much more complex formula embedded in the chromosomal molecule. Dawkins’ analysis is unique in his assignment of the purposive aspect to evolution, and in particular, the evolution of the gene. This perspective turns askew our own notions of man being at the center of everything, and replaces it with the concept that man’s abstraction, represented in a chromosomal formula, is at the center of being. It is, in other words, the idea of man which is important, and this idea is encoded in his genes, and in his thoughts, or memes.
Mimi, or meme (pr.: meem) as Dawkins would have it, represents a new sort of replicator that dwells formlessly in minds. The meme is the software that is human culture, or the sum of human ideas, and it is the ‘good idea’ that survives and multiplies its presence across a score of minds. It is because of ideas that man can countermand and overcome his instincts, seek death gladly, avoid the pleasure of sex, and embrace unselfish goals that deny his immediate needs. The fine arts, philosophy, and religion are but three classes of memes that set new directions or purposes for man quite beyond the simple fulfillment of his immediate physical needs. Indeed, these new purposes, whether they represent the love of beauty, the love of truth, or the love of God, represent nothing more than other sets of memes that are validated through personal action. Man is unique in that his behavior is purchased with a currency of ideas. Concepts such as personal power, security, or self-fulfillment represent nothing more than perceived relations between a man’s ideas and the corresponding ideas of his fellow. Just the potential for action can suffice to motivate behavior.

The Game of Human Behavior

If motivation can be attributed to software concepts under the moderating influence of instinct, then much of human behavior can be understood through tracing the means whereby these ideas can be programmed. This means of course is the constantly changing face of human culture. Human culture is the sum of human ideas, and reflects the dynamic ways ideas influence the behavior of individuals and groups. To understand culture, one must have a broad sympathy towards the multitude of ways that our behavior rides on ever shifting waves of ideas. The interplay of these ideas is as apparent as the intersection of ripples in a pond. With a little observation of these ripples of ideas, we can make fascinating and reliable predictions of behavior. It we attempt to guess what is underneath the waters, our sight becomes murkier, and we try to make out larger and less subtle causes like needs, drives, complexes, etc. Of course, you can never see these hidden causes as they swim about under the surface, so all the guessing inevitably turns in a sort of parlor game, and the resulting theories for behavior into something akin to fish stores.

Psychological analysis is probably the social parlor game of the second half of the twentieth century, and the theories it creates are the biggest of fish stores. If most popular works on psychology are to be believed, human beings are possessed with more hidden motivations and instincts than would be found in any Sherlock Holmes novel. And because they have so many little foibles, it is just as necessary to construct any number of classification schemes which act like egg trays to conveniently sort out al the various nuts and bolt that make up our little minds. Many psychologists have done one better on Freud, who started much of this nonsense, and have created all sorts of new psychological problems for us to suffer from. Men and women now have Peter Pan and Cinderella complexes to complement their normal Oedipal strivings, oral fixations, and so forth. Confusing and meaningless? Of course! But never fear, for much of this clutter has been neatly arranged by yet other psychologists into broad formats that fit neatly, like pairs of shoes, into a theoretical closet that summarizes human growth stages, personality types, need hierarchies, etc.

Well, irrespective of the validity of any of these approaches, these schemes are long on analysis but very short on anything of practical value. The hidden implication is that just the act of understanding is the first step to effecting personal change. The problem is what degree of understanding is necessary to begin with to effect change, or to suggest the tools whereby change may be accomplished. This can be very difficult indeed, for practical hints are often buried under an overwhelming load of analysis, and more analysis.

The major reason why most popular works on psychology are fixated on analyzing and reanalyzing people is that they are based on the implicit premise that humans are semi-independent from the environments that product their behavior. Of course, the environment is often given a nod or two, particularly if it represents some long gone event in one’s personal history, but the overwhelming emphasis is on the psychology of the individual, and not on social or environmental psychology. These latter psychology’s account for human behavior by looking at the physical account for human behavior by looking at the physical circumstances and individuals that surround us, and how our behavior can be viewed as an integral part and reaction to our physical and social environment.

These psychological approaches don’t find much representation on the popular bookshelf because they invariably suggest that individual behavior change is a function of broad based societal and institutional changes that can only be wrought by groups of people. These psychology’s disperse the responsibility for our individual problems and personal characteristics to our environment, and in doing so they reduce our need to always be apologizing for our own behavior. This is important, for the whole psychotherapy industry is built on the idea that we should be apologizing for ourselves, and there is a vested interest in the perpetuation of the notion that our personal problems are caused by our individual decisions. Although, it is an easy and quite marketable solution to have the finger pointed at ourselves as individuals; it is nonetheless a misguided and wrong solution. To really understand why we behave the way we do, we must broaden our perspective to observe how people respond to their social and physical environments, and look to the environmental changes that must be made if our behavior, and our society’s behavior, is to be set right.

The Love Crisis

The most fertile field for self blame is, of course, sex. Never in American history have we been more dissatisfied, confused, and downright unhappy about our social and sexual relationships with the opposite sex. So we naturally feel very guilty about it, and we try to soothe our bad feelings by sprucing ourselves up through diet and exercise, losing ourselves in work or a hobby, or consuming a self help book or two like a verbal tonic. In the meantime, we’re still out there in a very mean and uncaring social environment that is full of people that we just can’t bring ourselves to care about as we know we should.
The sad truth about our culture in comparison to times past is that we seem to have lost the motivation to entertain each other. Indeed, the past sixty years has seen entertainment shift from a participant to a spectator activity. Electronic diversions have become ever more seductive, and this has paralleled a decline in those social institutions and social skills that placed our intellects and imaginations on stage as it were for the entertainment and education of others. We lose the means and the ability to be entertaining when entertainment becomes a passive exercise involving staring and listening to TV’s, stereos, and computer screens. In other words, we become very, very boring. When boredom prevails, we accept our condition as perversely natural, and return to our place in the front of the tube to watch all those interesting people who just don’t seem to be around in the real world.

Of course, contemporary boredom is an infinitely preferable choice to the more difficult stresses our ancestors had to face. They had not the leisure to be bores, and often their only comfort was each other. But that’s a poor comparison. A better measure of our prevalent boredom is our own quixotic quest for interesting and socially adept friends, and more acutely, lovers. We’re terribly concerned with finding them, but far less so about those social institutions that make them. Popular opinion in the media has harped ad nauseum about the ‘love crisis’, and a high divorce rate only supports the notion that people are very particular about who whey prefer to share their lives with. The great irony is that just as we are becoming every more particular about the type of person whose attentions we desire, it is more difficult that ever before to develop our individual social skills. Thus, not only are people proving to be less interesting, they are proving to be less mannered. As we will note, these manners are shaped less by our individual intelligences or values, but rather by the type of containers we literally find ourselves encased in.

The Containerization of America

One of the greatest contributions of American culture is, of all things, great packaging. Whether it be burgers of light bulbs, thumbtacks or eggs, Americans have always shown a particular genius in sorting and wrapping just about everything they could find into neat and attractive little packages. This mania however has not stopped with mere things, but has found its ultimate target in that seemingly unwrappable ‘commodity’, you and I. Although we don’t think about it, it is human packaging that shapes our social values and agendas, and we have been conditioned to crave a semi-solitary existence in containers, both stationary (houses, offices) or moving (autos, airplanes). To appreciate this seemingly eccentric conclusion, we must understand how our ancestors enjoyed life without the benefit of packaging, and how life was in many ways a lot better without it.

In the center of many of our great cities, we find a core of Victorian neighborhoods that evoke memories of times past. Rows of homes delight the eye with graceful porticoes, open air porches, lattice ironwork, and lofty spires. We consider these homes to be a quaint remnant of a simpler time, yet the full import of these neighborhoods goes far beyond a feature layout in Better Homes and Gardens. These neighborhoods were constructed just to be quaint subdivisions, but to meet the then pressing needs of society.
In the 1890’s a close and easy access to other people was necessary for work and play, and to top it off, everyone was regularly flushed out of their homes by the lack of air-conditioning. Transportation then was rudimentary and uncomfortable, so a great premium was placed on being near one’s place of work or some suitable means of transport, such as a streetcar. Because desirable uptown space was scarce, houses were built on smaller plots of land, and were often multistoried. Without air-conditioning, ventilation was all important, and rooms and higher ceilings to accommodate larger windows. Porches were built not for mere decoration, but to provide an outdoor refuge from an often stifling indoor climate
A lack of suitable transportation made people relatively immobile, the absence of home electronics made them bored, and the lack of air-conditioning made them reluctant to stay indoors. The result was that people depended upon the vitality of their local neighborhood for their entertainment, comfort, and often livelihood. This intimate interdependence demanded a level of interpersonal conduct that met group needs, hence these communities fostered an exacting code of manners that gave a new meaning to the word Victorian.

Today, interpersonal dependence has evolved into impersonal dependence. We are still dependent upon our neighbors, but these neighbors are at long distance cubicles of their own, and their only connection to you is by a telephone line. Thus, in such a way social manners have been replaced by phone manners. Hardly a fair trade.

The Good Old Days
As society evolved in the twentieth century, perhaps the greatest benefactor and victim of the cultural changes was the American woman. Before the turn of the century, human labor was far less specialized than it is today, as the nation was populated for the most part by a society of do it yourselfers. Most households then were farms, and the main labor saving device besides the plow was a nifty little item that could slice, that could dice, and that could milk the cow. That was called a woman. Although a woman’s status was appreciably lower in those days, her value was appreciably higher. If she wasn’t the breadwinner, she at least made the bread, and provided for all those little necessities that made hearth and home a nice and warm place to be. She also produced children who not only helped provide an additional source of labor, but also for the later social security of their parents. Necessity was the mother of invention, and necessity invented mothers first; and a rare breed they were. The rigors of a frontier society and of childbirth took their toll on the feminine population, and men usually far outnumbered women. Because women were as important as they were rare, romance, although desirable, seemed comparatively trivial. Marriages were conceived upon practical impulses, and they were held together by practical necessity. If love and romance tagged along, that was just a delightful bonus. So what happened to replace this ‘delightful’ picture with the ‘delightful’ social milieu of today? Simple, man just did the unthinkable, he replaced our need for mom; and he did it with something, well, mechanical.

It started with little things: a toaster, a telephone, a vacuum cleaner, and as these labor saving gadgets multiplied, mom just wasn’t needed as much. Pretty soon, more and more of the most basic functions of the household were replaced by automation and manufacturing economies of scale. It became more economical and efficient to buy your clothes than to make them, and to buy pre-prepared food than to make or grow it yourself. Mom has progressively less and less to do, and even children began to be view as mere indulgences to our instincts or loneliness. Although this trend began in the early years of the century, it was interrupted by the privations of the Depression and the Second World War. During this time much of the mystique of the family was restored. The baby boom of the forties and fifties was sparked by a mindset caused by the memories of these times, and the general perception that that era was less of an exception than a rule. So, accustomed to a continued threat of poverty, young families stocked up on those delightful little assets that they cold always count on: kids. Of course, after the was the sky didn’t fall, but the cost of living did, and with it came a rain of labor saving gadgetry, as the U. S. entered into what we call today the service economy.

The Return of Mom

With the onset of the service economy, the services once provided as a matter of course by wives began to quickly become the province, of course, of women. The big difference was that marriage wasn’t necessary for men to serve a woman’s fulfillment of this latter role. When the service economy was in its infancy, service jobs were filled by men. However, as these positions mushroomed in number and importance, more and more women were called up to take over these low paying and lower status pink collar jobs. This was necessary to pay for all those conveniences that ‘free’ women to begin with from the drudgery of their everyday lives. In actuality, the service economy only provided an exchange of drudgeries.

In today’s society, despite the emancipation of women, it is men who continue to proverbially hunt for the big game, while the women sit at home knitting. The big game of course is now the gamesmanship of career and personal power; whereas for women, the knitting of socks has been replaced with the processing of words. The difference from the past is essentially found in the modern lack of interpersonal dependency between men and women. Men and women are generally dependent nowadays in impersonal ways that are dictated by economics. Mom has been splintered into a hundred faceless women who cook your Big Mac for you, nurse you in the hospital, and do your typing. She is still there all right, but she has been overcome by a division of labor.

Now all of this wouldn’t be half bad if men and women retained and enhanced those personal characteristics which no machine can copy, yet. The demand for these characteristics is certainly there, but alas, the supply is wanting. The rise of our modern preoccupation with romance is due to our desire for the company of an individual who rises above the ordinary, for it takes an extra-ordinary individual to remove the often numbing sameness of life. We desire to be around stylish, personable, intelligent, and attractive people, and hope to win on of them as our mate. The problem though is that these personal desires cannot be translated into economic choices, hence supply and demand won’t work in its usually fashion to meet these demands.

There is unfortunately no quick and easy solution to this problem. The family of course is not near extinction, and most of us still end up partaking in the joys of marriage and children; yet most of us also feel that our personal lives could be a whole lot better. The nagging feeling is that something very special but very subtle is missing, and that even if we knew what it was, obtaining that special something would be very difficult. However, dissatisfaction has only spurred an increase in the population of psychotherapists, thus assuring a treatment of the symptoms of unhappiness, and not its cause. Nonetheless, there is much that we can do as individuals about our social environments. The first step is to appraise our social situations accurately, which will allow us to unload some of the guilt we may be feeling about having created our own problems. Secondly, we must understand what to expect in the behavior of other people when they are in various social situations, how we should respond to that behavior, and ultimately how we may alter that situation itself to indirectly engineer desirable behavior in others. We will pursue these answers in the remainder of this book.

written by me (1984)