Saturday, 26 February 2011

False Modesty

I'm a good actor.  All the world's a stage and it is necessary to be a good actor to fit into social situations when you don't have a normal emotional response.  I have learned how to be superficially charming, and to adapt my personality to elicit the desired response from the target audience.  I usually have no trouble acting as the exuberant, sensitive, interested, geeky, arrogant, caring, or considerate guy, as the situation demands.  I do however have some trouble with the roles of being modest or stupid.

I used to justify never using these two masks by telling myself that they weren't necessary; another mask would do just as well to achieve the same, or equally desirable, ends.  But I realised several years ago that I was just telling myself what I wanted to hear, and since then have worked on them.

I've worked on modesty quite a lot, and even though it was extremely difficult at times, there was a period when it even became one of my favourite go-to masks - people (in the UK anyway) like self depreciation and do not like someone who has let on that they have achieved something impressive.  To pretend to an imbecile that I am not superior to them certainly did not come naturally, but I just had to remember that it is just a game which has an objective; it is just an act, and achieving the end by the most efficient route has its own satisfaction.

Acting stupid... I'm still working on that.  I've practiced looking stupid: relaxed and defocused eyes, combined with a slackening of the jaw muscles works extremely well.  Normally I consciously decide to intonate my voice, use facial expressions, and gesticulate, so it is easy to just use my natural monotone, speak a little slower, and not be as expressive to complete the main construction of the mask.
I still struggle to not say something intelligent, but I've found that coming across as initially stupid (non-threatening) but actually intelligent is one of the most disarming and useful personas to wear in some situations.  It comes across as wise rather than intelligent.

Friday, 25 February 2011


Laughter is a funny thing.  Pun intended, sorry.  Although it is possible to have a good laugh on your own, it is generally a social thing.  I am certainly capable of having a proper giggle fit, but am aware when I do so that I am capable of stopping if I choose to.  The purpose of laughter would seem to be social, and I have never had a giggle fit on my own, have you?
The last giggle fit I had was when I showed my bro-in-law the encyclopedia dramatica 'offended' page (link is to old version - they seem to have taken down all the images).  He scrolled down through the images, mostly unpurterbed (he's prob not NT either!) and then stopped at this one:

We both started giggling...

Monday, 21 February 2011

What is a Psychopath?

Psychopaths are a natural phenomenon that exists at a frequency that confers an evolutionary advantage.  There are various definitions of a psychopath, and some attempts to separate the terms psychopath and sociopath.  I use both terms interchangeably.  The trouble I have with any definition is that it is heavily weighted by the context in which the diagnostic criteria have been arrived at.  Dr Robert Hare is perhaps the most famous clinician associated with the diagnosis and his experience is typical - the psychopaths that sparked his interest and, more importantly, informed his diagnostic criteria, were all in prison.
I haven't read of any weighty criticism of this - basing criteria for a psychological diagnosis on a very obviously skewed sample.  I guess it is understandable because society only really has motivation to diagnose and understand people who are different when they impact society - and most diagnoses are court-ordered for offenders.
I see psychopathy as being a spectrum (of thought pattern), and for the diagnosis and understanding of it to be critically based on criminal behaviour is disingenuous at best.
The definitive traits of the psychopath certainly make them more likely to be a criminal, but that is hardly the full story, just as not all young black men in ghettos are criminals.  We live in a scientific age where we can analyse genes and image brains as they function - more research is needed to catch budding psychopaths when they are young so that behavioral treatments can be given as soon as possible.  The evidence so far is that genes and environment play a part in the development of a psychopathic personality.  Given the right environment, I have no doubt that those with psychopathic tendencies have the potential to be not just honest and productive members of society, but valued for contributions that an empath simply couldn't provide.

So what are the diagnostic criteria I consider essential?  At a neurological level, there are noted differences in the brain structure of psychopaths - though care should be taken that physical criteria like this are also not simply associated with criminal tendencies, such as low impulse control.  I think essential to a diagnosis would be a lack of empathy and remorse/guilt.  There is also a lack of normal physiological response to usually emotive words - a psychopath would likely fail the Voight-Kampff test.

Further than that, it seems to me that there is also a lack of societal bonds - social situations are learned and used to form consciously decided impressions, and there is an instinctive feeling that the rules of society do not apply to them.

I expect to still be alive when genome sequencing and neurophysiology scans become routine for the richer half of the populations of the western world.  This will advance the understanding of many psychological diagnoses to a level we can only dream of today.  The only question is whether society will see it as a manageable neurodiversity, or as a disorder that needs to be eradicated (strong genetic tendency = abortion?).

Friday, 18 February 2011

New hobby

I need a new hobby.  Assuming no-one joins my proposed religion, I'll need an outlet for my... more... rule breaking side.  Even though by anyone else's standards my life is exciting, and filled with things to do, I often feel that it is the same shit different day.
I think my new hobby will be stealing stuff from churches.  They are rich and full of woo and the good folk that go to the church will see My act as being part of god's plan - perhaps god will make me do it to test their faith or for some otherwise obscure ineffable purpose.  It really makes me laugh that anything I do to their church will turn out to be an ontological triumph for their faith.  It cracks me up that the religious tell you that you must know god and in the next breath tell you he moves in mysterious unknowable ways.  If everything in the world that can possibly happen can be explained as falling within his will, then you do not know him and have no business worshiping him.

I will certainly be on the lookout for opportunity to sabotage any bells they ring to cut my sleep short on a Sunday morning.  Inconsiderate fuckers.  Maybe I should blow my atheist vuvuzela every 3am outside the bishop's bedroom window. 

Sunday, 13 February 2011

The 2 Envelope Problem

You are on a gameshow – a pilot episode, so you have no idea about the level of prizes likely to be offered.  You answer a couple of questions correctly and are told to chose one of two envelopes. Inside the envelope you chose is $300 and the host tells you that one of the two envelopes has twice the amount of money in it than the other one.  He asks you if you wish to swap for the other envelope – i.e. instead of $300 you could win $150 ($150 less than you currently have) or you could win $600 ($300 more than you currently have).  It would seem to be a 50:50 likelihood of either outcome.  50% chance of losing $150 and 50% chance of gaining $300 – anyone familiar with gambling, or mathematics, will tell you that on average you will make a profit if you take this gamble therefore you should swap to the other envelope.

The problem with this reasoning is that it would apply whichever envelope you picked – the odds of your picking the envelope with the higher amount in it is 50%. swapping envelopes should still give you 50% chance of getting the higher amount.  Is there any gain in swapping?

So far as I know, there is no consensus over a solution to this paradox.  The "Cover's Strategy" is obviously rubbish if given a little thought - of course it works as a strategy, but it does not explain the paradox.
If an explanation does not exist then which predicate is false?  This has troubled me for over 10 years.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Abortion and Animal Rights

Imagine that someone creates a computer algorithm that can evolve, and when left to evolve for a couple of months it becomes as intelligent and conscious as you.  In my opinion it then has as much right to existence as any human.

What if the algorithm were started again, on its way to creating a 2nd artificial life - would you have any moral qualms about erasing it after it had been running for one day?  I don't think anyone would.  

I think that the question of what a life-form could become in the future is irrelevant to the question of how it should be treated right now.  I see this as completely analogous to the question of abortion, however I recognise that most people wouldn't value a computer based life as equal to a human life.  That view is not logical, and is another example of people having an opinion hardwired in by evolution and then trying to find justification for it after they have committed to it.

If it is accepted that a life-form only has value [right now] if [right now] it has consciousness and sentience, then the abortion question is very simple.  Abortion is definitely fine up to the point that the foetus has these characteristics.  Current scientific evidence suggests that a foetus shows signs of a personality and emotions at about 6 weeks after conception.  There is then a grey area until the level of consciousness and intelligence reaches the same level as the highest life-form that you would kill because it is tasty – perhaps a pig (as intelligent as dogs by most tests!).  A baby's brain does not develop this level of awareness until it is about 2 years old.  

You may instinctively recoil in horror at this apparent suggestion that killing a baby isn't really that bad, but remember that it is simply impossible for a species to exist if it doesn't evolve a strong protective instinct towards its young – that doesn't mean the instinct is morally correct, only that it is an evolutionarily fit strategy.  What is the moral difference between killing a pig or a cow, and killing a baby or severely retarded human if you accept that there is no a-priori reason that a human life is worth more than any other (an instinctive, quasi-religious belief).