Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Timeout

No blogs until Sunday. I'm trying to get a spontaneous last-minute submission for the Nicholl Screenwriting Competition written from scratch in less than a week.

The things we do...

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Fast Sword Draw vs. Fast Gun Draw

I know this is an obscure title, but there's a point to it. What follows is a follow up to this blog, because, as I was battering small bamboo sticks into submission this morning, I was thinking about this and so here it is.

Talking about battering bamboo sticks around. This is a part of my sword practice, as discussed here. It has the advantage of being both, good sword practice, and good exercise. And, since it has been shown that exercise is far more beneficial to your brain—and your body as a whole, of course— than any dumb-ass computerized brain training, it seems like a healthy practice to follow.

Anyway, about drawing swords and guns.

Let's start with guns. What we're talking about is the gunslinger stuff, newly popularized in that notable neo-Western TV series, Justified. The basic thing here is that having to get your gun out of a holster and aiming it is not a good thing, practically speaking. There's a lot that can go wrong along the way—snags and misses, etc—and you've also got to get the gun into line with the target, preferably aim right as well and shoot. That's a tall order, and it requires, I daresay, a lot of practice. People who do this kind of thing for show purposes usually have themselves trained in particular moves and setups, such as to avoid the snags and misses. Special holsters, affixed to the body in ergonomic ways, positioned just-so, and so on. Special guns, too, I suppose,; and if not that, then probably a limited number of different weapons, because handguns come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and they all behave differently and require different ways of gripping, drawing, cocking (or not, e.g. with Glocks) and aiming them. Some are OK for single-handed shooting, but the larger calibers become problematic in an unsupported hand. And so on.

But there is something about approaching things the Raylan Givens way; named after the hero of Justified, who never waves his gun around in anybody's face, but keeps it in the holster until he chooses to use it to kill someone. That 'something' is the non-threatening nature of this approach. For when you point a gun at someone, that's an aggressive act, a threat. Doesn't matter if it's meant as a signal to some attacker, indicating that maybe he'd better think twice before proceeding. It 'ups' the conflict level in a situation and puts you on the spot. Are you going to use it or not? Pointing a gun at anyone and not being prepared to use it is a fool's bluff. Chances are much better than 'even' that the bad guy facing you senses that you will chicken out. In that case, you may end up getting shot with your own weapon.

On the other end of that spectrum, you may be so worked up that you end up shooting the guy even though raising the threat-level actually 'worked' in a given case, but the attacker made some stupid move that you, in your hyped-up adrenaline-pickled state, misinterpreted. Plus, of course, having a loaded, ready-to-fire weapon in your hand means that any number of other things can go wrong. So, basically, it's not really such a good idea—apart from the aspect of raising aggression levels, quite possibly unnecessarily.

On the other hand...and, yes, there is a third...there is, however, also an argument that, in a self-defense situation, and in order to ensure that, when they judge you afterwards, you can claim that the aggressor was aware of your lethal capabilities and the risks he faced, you need to actually make him aware of said risks—which might well include presenting the gun, thus making clear your capabilities for defense; despite the fact that this only includes the physical capabilities and not the 'mental ones, if you will.

And there's another hand...four-armed is forearmed...which says that it's actually better, in the situation itself, not to advertise one's capabilities too clearly. It's usually beneficial to have an enemy underestimate one's capabilities. This isn't always the case—think of MAD, the Mutually Assured Destruction ideology of the Cold War—but in your average self-defense situation, your two most important weapons are probably your capability to use your feet to run away, and if that is not an option, then to have your adversary underestimate what you can do.

Still, bottom-line, having a holstered gun will slow things down.

The sword... Well, thing is, it's bigger than a handgun, and it isn't really in use these days. You can't conceal it, so a lot of the considerations above don't apply. If you have a wakisashi, the situation is a tad different, though it's still kind of hard to hide, except if you're wearing a suitable kind of coat maybe.

Anyway, this isn't what this blog is all about. We're not talking 'reality today', but maybe a kind of pretend-reality in some fictional universe where people use swords as weapons, rather than guns. So, in this pretend world, let's look at how the sword, drawn from the scabbard and into an immediate cut—the equivalent to draw-and-shoot—differs from that scenario.

Several issues are pretty much the same. There's snagging and missing, and a sword is quite long—though, again, a wakisashi is easier to manipulate; both, because it's shorter and lighter as well. But there's another important difference, because a sword doesn't just work for you by pulling a trigger, but it needs some physical force behind it; a swing. A drawn sword, held in a chudan position—the typical kind one might find in a defensive situation, where you're wanting to tell some aggressor to stay away by pointing the very sharp tip of a sword at him—is not very effective when it comes to actually using it. You can stab with it, of course, but that's about the only motion that doesn't require a time-wasting and dangerous movement to get the sword to pick up some momentum. And, yes, you could use other positions, which are much more effective that way, but these are inherently aggressive, and basically equivalent to pointing a loaded gun straight at someone's face. Not nice at all, and potentially inflicted with the same psychological pitfalls I talked about before.

This is where drawing comes in very handy, because it combines the comparative inoffensiveness of a sheathed sword—"I am armed, but not aggressive."—with an ability to actually get the required swing out of the act of drawing itself; mainly because of the position the sword is in. If you think about it, there's a strange beauty in the functionality implicit in this.

I just thought I'd mention this, because to some people anyway, the whole iaijutsu thing, cutting from a quick draw, seems to have an artificial air about it, that only serves to make life difficult. Well, this isn't actually the case. A skilled fast draw-and-cut is just as fast, and in some cases faster, than cuts from positions where a sword is already drawn.

The key attribute here is 'skill', no doubt about it. And that does take time.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sex and Telepathy: In Your Pants and in Your Mind

I can't remember since when I've been interested more than tangentially in the problems associated with human communications and how they'd 'work' if, say, two people were able to share each others' thoughts and feelings without the medium of language, body-language, and so on. I suppose the first time I began to tackle it was in Keaen. But this was embryonic at best. After all, the two people involved, Caitlan ♂ and Ailin ♀, weren't always in telepathic contact, but only sporadically so. The things came to a head several books later, in Tethys, very near the end—a wide arc spanning the five novels. In between that, there was another novel, SeladiĆ«nna, in which the theme was pursued further and to greater length—again, between the male and female protagonists. You can see a preoccupation developing, yes?

Why am I so interested in this? Well, initially I guess it just 'happened', as these things often do. Idle speculations, possibly occasioned by the plot of a novel. Also, there was dissatisfaction with the inadequate way in which the issue has almost always been treated by other writers. There seems to be a failure of imagination at work. The way this is usually dealt with is that either telepathy is sporadic, or it's pervasive and ubiquitous. In the former case it's used for occasional communications over long distances, mind-control, spying, and so on; while in the latter it's usually placed in a world which is very different to ours, where everybody and sundry shares some weirdo cosmic consciousness or some crap like that, or else people just aren't 'people' anymore. These are the extremes. And please, anybody feel free to point me at some book where the theme hasn't been dealt with basically in one of those two ways. I'd be happy to amend my judgment.

Back to my own preoccupations. There are two things about the notion of what you might call 'persistent' and 'pervasive' telepathic contact, which I find especially interesting. The first is the inability to lie, conceal, obfuscate and so on. The second is the fact that this kind of telepathy, maybe coupled with strong empathy for the other person, has got to feel pretty much like being possessed—a theme I've dealt with in recent blog.

So, there are some truly fascinating issues here, especially if you construct a scenario where the people involved are real human beings, and not transhuman freaks; and if you suppose that the contact is persistent, continuous and basically unfiltered. That the people aren't 'transhuman' is important, by the way, and particularly for a storyteller. That's because, let's face it, everybody reading the story, plus the storyteller him or herself, is not transhuman; and humans have no idea, except for data-less unfounded speculation about what it might be like, of what being 'transhuman' might actually entail—with the exception of being emortal maybe, but even that, in the long term, will probably lead to changes that are quite unfathomable.

So, for The Storyteller, I decided to pursue the theme further, this time without fear or holding bacj, and basically just running with it. What happens when two people, who also happen to be sexually very attracted to each other—and partially this is a means to establish the connection, of you will—find that they make, with frightening speed, a mental connection that is of the kind of quality, where you could say that each of them is basically 'possessed' by the other, but with them still being two distinct individuals with different histories. Also, it isn't obvious, by any means, what this communication is actually like. Words? Images? Notions? Emotions? How does one 'know' what another person thinks or feels? How do they remain human in the face of such changes? Or is this actually an issue?

'Feeling' is probably the easiest to deal with, because that needs no words, just empathy. If you want to be clinical about it, think of it as mirror-neurons in action. But propositional thought—which I consider to be just a different way of looking at mental narrative, the chassis of the human mind...remember?—is a different thing altogether.

And then there's the thing about identity. For if two people are in each others' minds, then each doesn't just perceive what they perceive, but also what the other perceives. Which means that both partners in a sexual act become each other...in a manner of speaking. Feeling what the other feels, seeing what the other sees, partaking in the act as oneself and the other at the same time.

Fascinating, as you will admit. And there is another thing, which is that, because of the inability to lie, there can't be any of the sexual mind games that people often play. And I'm not just talking about the sexual act itself, but also about what you might call 'everyday sexual politics' between individuals. The stupid and, to my mind utterly dumb-witted, power games between the sexes. And yes, I know they have evolutionary roots, but screw evolution!

What will such honesty do to people, and how will it change them? Can they live with it? How can they survive—and pretend not to be what they are—in a world that once was theirs, but which is now, from the point of view of human relationships, a universe distant from where they are? How do they communicate? What if verbal communication is actually better at some things than the mental stuff? What if they combined both? (And how, as a writer, should I represent that on a page, and still make it readable and have 'flow'?)

I'm still struggling with all of that, as my protagonists work their way through their discovery of what they share.

And this, if I may just come back to that, is another reason why writing sex and romance is such fun; because it keeps one grounded in Ur-issues, rather than making the whole thing into some intellectual what-if game. And it also helps me as a writer, because caring about those people makes it easier for me to deal with the complexities that emerge from such a premise.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Why Sex, Violence and Romance Work Better Than Philosophical Mumbo-Jumbo

"The verb is the chassis of the sentence. It's the framework to which the other parts are bolted."
Steven Pinker

I'm going to advance the following proposition, which parallels Pinker's assertion:

'Story' is the chassis of the human mind.

I've been searching for a short way to express this idea for some time, and this here works for me. I'll leave you to think about it for a while.

Meanwhile though...

It's often been asked, and in some circles bemoaned, why stories have to be full of sex Imagined or actual) and violence (mental or physical) in order to attract large audiences. Either that or some serious romance—possibly with an element of tragedy, as long as it isn't just depressing; thus Shadowlands, for example, is OK, because while very sad it's not depressing.

Note that I was talking about 'large audiences', ignoring the arty-farty literati and cinemati. There's been plenty of literary and cinematographic fiction without either sex or violence—at least none I can necessarily see. But, let's face it, it's actually boring. Boring, boring, boring. It's the stuff you read for the 'language' or see for the sake of the 'performances' or the 'brilliant script/direction/cinematography', blah blah blah. When people come out of movies of that ilk, they end up talking about these things, and very rarely about 'story'.

That's because—and defying my statement above—there was no story to speak of, and because of that the other stuff, what made it worthwhile spending money and time on, seemed brilliant by comparison. I would claim that, contrary to what academic wisdom asserts—that no literary work would ever make it to literary stardom without there being a good story in it—this is indeed possible. That because people—like they did with 'Chance, The Gardener' in Being There—project their own stories upon this dismal void of blah; and since people usually think their own story is important and significant and so on, they tend to look kindly upon the almost-blank canvas that has just enough of a hint of something on it, so that they aren't scared of the complete blankness; a common enough fear, as almost every painter knows, and authors, too, I guess. I haven't got it and never had, mind you; so I 'm conjecturing, based on anecdotal evidence from real people, as well as those I've only read about.

But any story that has Sex, Violence and/or Romance, and preferably all three, in it, starts from a solid foundation of what you might call psychological predisposition in the audience members. Doesn't mean the writer/director can't screw it up and make it shit, but that's not the point. Basic Ur-needs, experiences and inclinations of our psyche, fashioned from SVR provides an instantly recognizable and relatable-to framework. Male chases female. Female selects male for breeding. Security is threatened—in reality or imagination: doesn't matter—and actions need to be taken, 'defensive' or 'offensive', to neutralize the threat. You can't get it more 'Ur' than that. Everything else is a MacGuffin, background, plot-driver, life-complicator, obstacle to fulfillment and so on.

Of course, when I say 'framework', we're not talking about something static. Rather it's about a framework of driving forces, which serve both, as causal and teleological, direction-givers. Put in restraints and constraints, and you have the story. Push the button and off it goes, with a gentle push from the author here and there to make sure the story goes this way but not that.

And, to speak from an author's point of view—mine anyway—writing about SVR is much more fun that penning, say, something along the lines of Waiting For Godot, which, I'm utterly certain, was anything but fun. And an author is allowed his fun, damnit. We're just people, you know!

More on this in the next blog. Maybe.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Civilization: Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust (Return of the Blimp?)

I've read more science fiction and fantasy in my life than most people have read, anything at all. I've also written a fair amount, and I tend to take anything that happens on a global scale and extrapolate it with your classic storyteller's habit of "let's just image what would happen if this...?"

In this instance I'm asking a single short question: How many simultaneous volcano eruptions would it take to bring all world air travel to a grinding halt?

I mean, we have plenty of these suckers all over the place; and enough of them would be able to spew enough crap into the atmosphere at the right levels, so that the plumes, driven by the air currents, drift across sufficient strategic areas to stop all travel by just about all aircraft—just just jets, but even those flying close to the ground. No more rescue helicopters; no more emergency help to anything that isn't reachable by road or ship. And even road travel could be an issue, because this volcanic ash doesn't just clog up jet engines. Oh, yes, and it kills people, too. Iceland will have so many people dying as a result of this, that it may amount to a virtual Icelandic genocide. Not in the immediate term, but this stuff is lethal. Might as well inhale some Cobalt 60 from some terrorist lunatic's dirty bomb.

Air travel relies on comparatively clean air. The occasional bird strike is bad enough, but it seems that it's so common, that engines have been built to cope with a lot of it. Shredded crispy meat, bones and feathers don't do engine blades any good either, but they're survivable. Fine volcanic ash, on the other hand, means you can probably kiss your jet engine goodbye. Meaning that the airlines are going to wait a long time before they fly in European airspace again, because if they're not, the cost to replace hardware, including such sundry items as windshields and paintwork, will be higher than that of lost revenue. Not taking into account that the abrasion on the leading surfaces of wings could result in major re-work there as well. It won't take a lot of dust to do damage here, and there are few indications, at the time of writing this, that what dust there is, will continue to spread and do its dirty work even further afield. And, of course, eventually it'll need to settle somewhere. Meaning someone's going to breathe it in. I guess the argument is that if the quantity is sufficiently small, we'll be all right. True enough, but the larger the quantity, the larger the area over which it needs to settle to be 'thin' enough. Rain would help, of course, but as you know, it never rains when you need it.

In Australia we also have volcanoes on our doorstep, in Vanuatu, some of which are just waiting to blow their heads off. We're more concerned here—those not in denial, that is; the rest doesn't even know that these things are there—about tidal waves, which could be huge from those particular volcanoes, and which would reach the Eastern shores of Australia within 2-3 hours; hardly enough time to even sound an evacuation alarm. Another excellent reason not to live on the coast; not in low-lying areas anyway. We're not quite so worried about ash fallout, since the air currents tend to be on our side and will blow the stuff away from, rather than toward us.

So, back to the question I started with. How many volcanoes would it take? And what would be the effect on...well, on just about everything. And are we going to learn anything at all from this? Or are we going to wing back into the air as if nothing had happened? Heads firmly in the sand? Are we going to ignore the potential for global logistic, economic disaster—not to speak of the unhealthy addition of this factor into the Global Warming equation—that this presents?

I think so. I think we're going to proceed as Obama did, when he presented his recent PR campaign speech to NASA in which he promised we'd go to Mars in 25 years—but which totally neglected the real reason why we need to be in space and be there ready and waiting—not for tiny particles, but for the real big ones. People will waste their time and endless resources on Global Warming issues, rather than, say, investigating methods of air transportation that are comparatively immune to such issues as volcanic eruptions.

The science fiction writer in me is already penning a story—don't have the time, but maybe someone will take this and run with it—where indeed a lot of volcanoes have blown their tops, but slowly enough, so that the aircraft industry has actually had time to rediscover the blimp—a.k.a. 'Zeppelin' or 'Airship'—as a viable alternative to the currently-in-vogue jet. In doing this they also found that blimps actually emit far less greenhouse gases, and so are beneficial in more ways than just one. They just don't fly at high speeds, so your average executive-in-a-hurry would just have to learn patience. Too bad, eh?

Would it be too much to ask for aircraft designers to spend just a few more extra thoughts on the subject?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Delusion of Wisdom

James Surowiecki, in his book Wisdom of Crowds, argues that 'under the right circumstances, groups are remarkably intelligent, and are often smarter than the smartest people in them.'

As usual, the devil's in the details, or, if you will, in the proviso 'under the right circumstances', because they include that the crowds exhibit the following attributes:
  1. There is diversity of opinion.
  2. Independence of crowd members from each other.
  3. Decentralized management structures.
  4. Existence of effective methods for aggregation of member's opinions.
This probably be explains not only why modern democracies are prime counterexamples of the book's thesis, but also why, as appears to be happening all over the place, these conditions are being progressively dismantled—to the extent of being systematically destroyed—by the governments the dimwits in these democracies elect to rule them.

Any applicability of the thesis is nuked anyway by one of its premises that turns out to be almost universally false: #2. In any society, the members are not independent from each other; neither economically nor in terms of opinion. Everybody influences everybody else, and the vast majority of people are gathered together in opinion-blocks, where the contents of the group-connecting opinions are homogenized—with a few insignificant and uninfluential quirks, to be sure—to be as lowest-common-denominator as possible.

This is a fertile soil for those who want to make crowds as stupid as possible to plant their intellectual weeds.

Australia is a case in point, a sad example of the disease. Let's look at the other pre-conditions and their grim fate in this country.

Diversity of opinion: Like with biodiversity, I am wondering where it's gone or going to. The essence of democracy seems to be to get as many people as possible to support an idea, plan of action; or, what it all boils down to, political party. In order to support any of these idiots, opportunists, bureaucrats and demagogues, it is necessary to suppress diversity of opinion, not only in the populace as a whole, but also on an individual level, in one's own head. One forgets just what a bunch of clueless morons Party A consists of, but one is certainly not going to support Party B, whom one hates. Therefore one defends, usually to the point of believing one's own bullshit, Party A's agenda, and wisdom pretty much goes out the window. For true wisdom would dictate that the members of both Party A and Party B should be sent to hard-labor camps to work at paying off the damage they have caused during their tenure, and that they would be replaced with a random sample of members from no political party at all. That would make the members of parliament 'diverse', instead of them being party-animals; and thereby, or so one would think, the whole parliament much more inclined toward being a 'wise crowd'.

Decentralization...well, it ain't happening, folks. If anything, both in Australia and the US, the opposite is true. In both countries the push to centralize the health systems has acquired frenetic proportions. And the health systems, despite their apparent basic socially benevolent intentions, tend to be at the heart of centralized control of people in general. It's a classic wolf in sheep's clothing, and this one's running rampant. All in the name of 'better care' and 'better efficiency', of course, but anybody with more than two interacting cerebral neurons should be able to figure out that it's not about 'care' but about 'control'.

The same applies to educational systems, which in Australia are about as centralized as you can get in a federal framework. Almost German. 'National curriculum', 'national testing standards' and so on. Centrally-dictated brainwashing. Home-schooling will become so subject to rules that it'll become impossible to implement in practice, and will therefore come as close to being illegal as it can without being actually outlawed. It's collectivism in drag.

And, last but not least, to item #4. The only effective methods of collecting and collating information about people's 'opinions' relate to what the plebs want to hear and/or can be made to believe in order to vote for this party or that. Nobody in government does give a sparrow's fart about what opinions are actually valuable, but only which ones will guarantee survival of a regime in government—or get another one into place, if you look at it from the Opposition's point of view. Any 'opinion aggregation' methods therefore only serve those who have an active interest in minimizing diversity and opinion independence, and who love 'control structures', preferably centralized ones, be it at state or federal level.

All of this relates to so-called 'democracies', but, let's face it, it is not confined to these. The difference is that democracies have this deluded self-image that they are somehow specially suited to, and have a monopoly on, all this good stuff, like freedom and diversity of opinion, freedom of choice and action, and so on. Which is all smoke-and-mirrors, of course. Which makes people who believe they have all these freedoms so terribly pathetic and sad.

2010 is a year of an Australian federal election. It should be a year of choice and...

Never mind.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Morons and Masters of the Sword: From WTF to the Sublime

Here are a few YouTube videos that show up some of the extremes of the spectrum of those active in 'sword fighting'. Some of it is awe-inspiring; some of it is so damn ludicrous that it isn't actually 'funny'.

Let starts with the demented first. Right up there at the top in the line of WTF-is-the-matter-with-evolution. Why did it desert us? And WTF is the matter with the parents of these...Ahh, never mind.



From the absurd to the merely pathetic. Reminds me uncomfortably of those exercises we used to do at our dojo. You never know how silly they look until someone else does them, I guess...



And now for something more positive:

Not 'fast-draw', but never mind that. I'm still working on getting my sword to move this fast in four consecutive cuts—even without actually cutting anything. But it's something to aim for. That, plus doing it from a lightning-fast draw.



And you gotta see this one! I was stunned...with the banana cutting anyway. The kata were somewhat less impressive and lacked 'spirit'. Too perfunctory. But the draw and cut...whoa!



And finally—and here, inwardly, I bow with the greatest respect—is a true Master of the Sword: Otake Risuke, of Tenshin Shoden Katori Shinto Ryu. Actually, this video is the best of him I've ever seen. Sufficiently good, well-lit and with a good angle; so that, when playing it at reduced speeds, say in VLC-player, I can actually work out his movements, despite the speed at which they're executed. I am in awe of this man, and always have been, ever since I first saw clips of him in a BBC documentary.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Draw to Kill—and Make Sure It's Justified

One of the essential elements of iaijutsu, the one that makes it different from iaido, for example, is that drawing the sword isn't an art in itself. The art is drawing with the purpose of killing and accomplishing the kill.

I was reminded of that when I saw the first episode of a cool new TV series, Justified. The star of of show is Timothy Oliphant, of Deadwood, Die Hard 4 and Assassin fame, a guy who has more character that almost every other currently-in-vogue male film actor. He's a presence that fits equally well onto the small and the big screen, which is a rarity. If you close your eyes, he also sounds almost like a young Clint Eastwood; and I don't think there's anybody who could portray U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens—a man described by his ex-wife as "the angriest man I've ever known"—in quite the same way; especially since the anger isn't visible...and yet it is.

Justified is what some have called a 'neo-Western'. The term is appropriate. Raylan Givens is your classical on-the-edge 'Marshall' type, who, while on the side of the law, might as well have gone over to the other side. Not quite a Wyatt Earp, but getting close. He's also lighting fast with a gun—in his case a modern semi-automatic. The series starts with a shootout, where—as he later assures a former buddy turned bad, who's apparently wanting to kill him, too—the gun was definitely 'holstered'.

Givens doesn't draw unless he intends to kill. Way he sees it, a gun is a killing instrument and why should you draw it unless you plan to put it to its intended use? The way he explains it to a board of enquiry: "He drew first. I killed him."

This is much in the spirit if of iaijustu.

We used to play games at my former dojo in Dunedin, where he walked around with swords (wooden ones) drawn, facing a bunch of other dojo members, and doing pretend fighting against multiple opponents in slow motion. We also played these games one-on-one. All very unrealistic, though instructional, I suppose. Still, I think there was something out of tune there, and it was probably the fact that it lacked the 'kill' spirit. You can't get into that it you're doing slo-mo. At least with drawing practice you can pretend and practice draw-to-kill, even though you never really do or even want to. But it's a 'spirit' thing.

For those trying to figure out what I mean, here are two videos from YouTube. One is of a more decorum-version of iaijutsu, the other is considerably more 'raw'. Maybe the contrast will show some of what I found difficult to explain.



Sunday, April 11, 2010

Schizophrenia (Dissociative-Identity/Multiple-Personality Disorder) and Possession

In connection with my current work on my novel, The Storyteller, I have again been forced to confront an important question I've been asking for many years off and on. It is so important because the answer, or complex of answers that one gives, or could give, is like a touchstone of where one stands in a wide field of investigations of the human psyche, from hard cognitive science to outright 'occult' spiritualism.

The question is this:

What is the true nature or cause of, or the mechanism involved with, the phenomenon nowadays technically called 'Dissociative Identity Disorder' (DID)?

The question can be paraphrased in more practical terms, if you will:

Is/are there any experiment(s), and if there is what is/are the experiment(s) that can clearly differentiate between the DID being caused by:
  1. Only physiological and biochemical factors in the brain; caused by any number of innate and external influenced and factors?
  2. 'Occult' influences, such as possessing 'spirits', or other, possibly 'incarnate' human beings or creatures from Earth or somewhere else, including 'other universes'?
  3. A mixture of both; meaning that physiological and biochemical factors in the brain and associated 'mental' states, may provide occasional conditions for (2) to occur?
Regardless of what our answers to these questions say about ourselves and our philosophical position, if you will, it is clear that the correct answers are of profound importance to our understanding of not just ourselves, but also the nature of the cosmos at large. Indeed, I'd say that their import is so fundamental and influential of everything we know, think we know and what we can know, that it's almost scary.

One could argue, of course, that there are other issues that might similarly influence our view of the universe and our place in it. I mean issues that are mostly considered to be of little interest to science, excepting in terms of abnormal psychology. Things like UFOs, ghosts and the like for example. Survival after death. Near-death experiences (which some now try to explain by the presence of excess C02; but is correlation causation?). You get the gist, I'm sure. And it is true that they are touchstone-issues, whose resolution, one way or the other—conventional or paranormal science, or a mix of both—would have a profound influence on our self-understanding.

Of course, some would claim that the issues have been resolved in favor of the 'scientific' explanation. Others believe with equal fervor that the 'occult' answers are more accurate. Me, I think, the jury is very much out, and may remain so for a long time.

But studying UFOs and ghosts is hard, if for no other reason but that they are rare. They have also exhibited tendencies to behave in ways that make them appear 'unscientific' phenomena. That's why the world of science likes to jump on them; because it's so easy to tear the observations and the observers to shreds. Also, there are, not to put too fine a point on it, a lot of frauds and hucksters in the business. (And, yes, there are those also in, for example, politics; but that's different...sort of.)

The situation is different with people exhibiting symptoms of, or are diagnosed with 'clinical', DID. They're all over the place, so to speak. They live amongst those who appear not to have such symptoms—though I'm not so sure that absence of symptoms in most people is necessarily evidence for the absence of something qualifying as DID, albeit in form below the threshold of detection. It's not like there's 'flaps' of DID, like there are 'flaps' of UFOs. And there are no mysterious psycho-physical phenomena that might be caused by fraud. All we have is a person that seems, at one time or another, to exhibit characteristics that aren't typical of the person he or she was when not that other person or persons. In some fascinating cases we have instances of Foreign Accent Syndrome, which psychologists have trouble explaining. Or maybe they have an angle on FAS, because much of that could be explained by simple changes in vocalization and speech timing. But it gets interesting when people start talking in other languages than their own; languages of which they have either no or scant knowledge. The interesting thing about this is that these events are usually associated with brain trauma, and they often go away as the injury is thought to heal. That last snippet is particularly interesting.

As you may notice, if you click here, I am kind-of on the 'possession' side—and in some ways this post repeats stuff I've said before—but I'm open to coherent 'conventional' explanations, should anybody come up with them. I haven't come across any as of today.

Still, my main point here is that we have literally millions of people in this world who live with DID. Millions, who, if properly—and compassionately—studied with openness and diligence, might actually help to tell us all who we really are.

Instead, what do we do? We declare them to be 'abnormal' and try to suppress the phenomenon with drugs. That makes perfect sense in many cases, because the 'other' personalities and their interference in the 'normal' person's—understood to be the original, if you will—life can be destructive. But what about those cases that aren't like that? What about trying to teach and help those people to manage their 'disorder', come to terms with it, and thereby learning to control it—rather than drugging something that might actually be valuable out of existence?

Of course, one may also wonder just how many people do have non-clinical versions of the same 'disorder'. And how many of them know it and deliberately make sure that nobody notices, because they are afraid, rightly so methinks, of what's likely to happen if someone does. The very least is that they'll be stigmatized—maybe in a benevolent and possibly benign kind of way, but it doesn't change the fact that they'll suddenly be viewed as other than 'normal'; attracting attention and even consideration, again possibly well-meaning, from others; attention they really don't want.

Maybe some of them actually like their alternates and coexist with them in a productive kind of way, benefiting from their presence. It would be fascinating to know, would it not? I mean, who knows where mere imagination ends and reality begins?

Here's a recent report on another possible instance of foreign-language syndrome. (Added 14 April 10)

The Importance of Forgetting

Susan Greenfield is a lady to whose opinions I'm inclined to pay attention. In a recent ABC Talking Heads interview with Peter Thompson, she came out with a question that laid bare the entire problem with a lot of the transhumanist philosophy.

From the transcript:

PETER THOMPSON: This is the perfect forum to kick around big ideas in science and philosophy - like ethics.

BARONESS SUSAN GREENFIELD: Indeed.

PETER THOMPSON: Given the amazing advances of science and the mind-

BARONESS SUSAN GREENFIELD: Well, there's several- let's restrict that question to the brain sciences, because there are many, but these are the ones that concern me. One would be so-called transhumanism, which someone has described as the world's most dangerous idea. Transhumanism is the notion that you can enhance your physical and mental powers beyond the norm. So you could take, let's say, a cognitive enhancer, a pill that allegedly - although I'm very sceptical about this - gave you a better memory.

PETER THOMPSON: What's wrong with that?

BARONESS SUSAN GREENFIELD: Why would you want to do that?

PETER THOMPSON: Well, I can think of good ideas why I'd like to enhance my memory - cos I'd remember more!

BARONESS SUSAN GREENFIELD: OK, well, why do you want to remember more?

PETER THOMPSON: Because I forget.

BARONESS SUSAN GREENFIELD: Might not forgetting be an important thing, in that you can remember the things that are important to you?

PETER THOMPSON: But I forget things that are important to me.

BARONESS SUSAN GREENFIELD: Usually, things that are important have more connections, and therefore they're more robust. But, for example, if you take Einstein and Beethoven and Shakespeare, let's say. All of them had fantastic brains - agree?

PETER THOMPSON: Mm-hm.

BARONESS SUSAN GREENFIELD: And what did they have in common? Was it a good memory? No. Surely the best brain of all is your brain, your diverse, individual brain...

Since I am, because of my emortalist predilections, with at least a toe in the transhumanist camp—though I refuse to put even one whole foot into it, because there's too many dodgy characters in there—I realized again that the right questions, not answers, are what counts. And this led to other thoughts; and, besides, I've been thinking along similar lines for quite some time now. There's also the eponymous character from The Storyteller, of course, who is over 800 years old; and what about his memory? It's an issue Heinlein at least touched on in his immortalist opus, Time Enough For Love, but not in depth.

Greenfield though, with her question to Peter Thomspon, triggered the obvious next step in the chain of reasoning, and it is this: the deficiency of our memory may be the factor that determines how we judge the importance of things.

Said deficiency is, of course, a direct result of brain structure. Even in a perfectly healthy brain, not subject to the ravages of aging/disease, there will be memory loss. Though some may appear to exhibit amazing recall compared to the average, it's still true that they, too, forget things. They're just different things.

Furthermore, consider this. Everything our mind does—assuming that the 'brain' is all there is to the 'mind'; a moot point, as I'll be the first to admit—basically happens because of the same physiological mechanisms. So, whatever drives 'memory'—and I don't even want to get into what memory actually 'is', but in this discussion it doesn't matter—is also the same thing that drives, say, decision-making.

Decision-making is critically dependent on a graded system of priorities. Decisions are driven by what, in any given context or instant, is the thing, or the complex of things, considered to be of the highest priority. In physiological terms, the processes are almost indistinguishable. If they don't happen in different areas of the brain, we could not tell apart whether at any given moment someone makes a decision or recalls the set of memories that are most important in making it.

Think of it this way, and without reference to neurology or scientific jargon. Something I see almost everyday is people overtaking others along the highway, often with more than just 'reckless' disregard to the possible consequences. I've seen things driving to and from home that would make your hair stand on end. Now, in order to make a decision to overtake someone under given traffic conditions, one has to make an, implicit or explicit, assessment of a whole hierarchy of priorities, which will combine into and eventual 'go' or 'no go'. In the case of a situation that's potentially lethal for the driver and the car's occupants, not to speak of other road users, we can think of this as:
  • Either, the driver considering that his main goals are being a macho or femo-macho asshole, showing off, getting there faster, etc.
  • Or, the driver considering the potentially lethal aspect of the situation being too great, decides not overtake after all.
One can also rephrase this as saying that either the driver forgets that his or her survival is actually more important than being an showing off; or that they remember that survival is actually the most important thing of all.

Of course, the decisions are more complex than that, but these are sketches of significant elements. There's no doubt that if you remember that survival is the prerequisite for anything else that'll ever happen to you—the bad and the good—then you are unlikely to do anything that will jeopardize it. I know this to be true, because that's how I make my overtaking decisions. Meaning that the memory of the need to survive is equivalent to deciding the hierarchy of priorities involved in my decision making process.

The decay of unimportant memories, whatever 'unimportant' means, in a normal human brain is not only 'natural' but essential. An emortal, like the eponymous Storyteller, who doesn't forget almost everything but the most important in his past life, would effectively be unable to function. There are people who are made utterly unable to function because they are unable to create hierarchies of priorities of importance. I forgot what the disorder is called, but surely it must be one of the most crippling imaginable. To remember everything equally clearly. To be able to see the full range of possible choices of decision-making. And yet, not to be able to use this to actually decide or choose. How horrific would that be?

If you think further on this you'll also realize that ultimately the same process is involved in learning, because learning isn't just acquisition of data about facts and procedures, but it's also about, and possibly mostly so, the use of these data. And it is involved in what you might call 'personal change', which wouldn't be possible without our apparently deficient memory.

Those who cannot forget, or tone down the importance in their lives of their memories, will remain the same. They will also become progressively more unable to look forward to the future.

I remain fascinated by Greenberg's statement: ...Einstein and Beethoven and Shakespeare... All of them had fantastic brains... And what did they have in common? Was it a good memory? No.

I'm wondering, maybe...is there possibly some kind of inverse correlation between creativity and the quality of memory?

Maybe someone could do some research into that.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Love And Hate, So Close Together

Here's a cool game, in which mean and women participate—and that in a country where you'd kind of expect some traditional gender inequality—and it seems like it's one where the girls can actually win. It's called Kyz Kuu ('Girl Chasing'), and they play it in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, two former Soviet Republics. Kyrgyzstan is in the news right now, because there's some serious social and political upheavals going on.

Saving time by quoting Wikipedia:

A game is usually conducted as follows. A young man on horseback waits at a given place (the starting line). A young woman, also mounted, starts her horse galloping from a given distance behind the young man.

When the young woman passes the young man, he may start his horse galloping. The two race towards a
finish line some distance ahead. If the young man is able to catch up to the young woman before they reach the finish line, he may reach out to her and steal a kiss, which constitutes his victory.

However, if the young man has not caught up to the young woman by the time they reach the finish line, the young woman turns around and chases the young man back to the finish line. If she is in range of the young man, she may use her
whip to beat him, which signifies a victory for her.

Since I love riding horses, though I haven't had much of a chance to do that for many years now, I think this may be one of the most 'fun' games between men and women I can think of. It's also called the 'Kissing Game', for obvious reasons. And, yes, it's not entirely gender-symmetric, but then again, in societies like the Kyrgyz, you wouldn't expect too much gender homogenization—though this game is obviously, from a 'skill' point of view, quite gender balanced.

Neither would one expect from any place subject to the rule of Islam—well, not of Christianity either, but the advent of science kind-of screwed things up for Christian church domination—but it seems to me like the Kyrgyz people have a reasonably sensible view of their religion. A far cry from images you expect to see coming out of Afghanistan, for example. I just hope that the country isn't going swept up into the morass of religioid darkness that seems to be the fate of many Islamic dominated nations. But, as you know, hope is often futile and can be perilously close to despair once it is dashed.

Which bring me to love and hate. Yeah, what a leap!

Pondering the Girl Chasing Game wasn't really what prompted the love-and-hate topic. That was just something I came across, and I thought it was cool. It's certainly appears far more congenial and just 'fun' than a almost all of the 'sports' practiced in the 'Western' world. That's something to think about, I guess.

Regarding love and hate...

The other day, during a discussion on various issues, someone said—as people are inclined to say, and as is conventional and even academic wisdom—that "love and hate are just so close together". And I started wondering, "are they really?"

It's useful and instructive to look at popular, including academic, wisdom—which is often just uncritical and regularly-parroted platitude—and wonder about that kind of thing. What does it actually mean: "Love and hate are close together"? What kind of 'love' are we talking about and what kind of 'hate'? And what does it mean anyway, that they are "close together"? Close where? How? In what way? Or are we just saying that love can easily turn into hate? Really? What kind of love is it that readily turns into hate?

I hadn't intended to answer these question—just in case you were wondering. That's because I've yet to sort some of this out, and it'll probably be in the context of a novel or screenplay. But I thought it's worthwhile at least questioning this tidbit of pop-psychology. And I'm seriously beginning to wonder if it's not a classic case of someone taking one rather small subset of a very complex emotion, or set of emotions, called 'love', realizing that its frustration can easily cause it to flip over into another complex of emotions, called 'hate'; and then make it into a general rule. And then everybody—uncritically, as people tend to do when they come across what sounds like some profound and plausible statement about the human psyche—suddenly, "yeah, of course".

Or is it just that what may be simple emotional confusion in some people's heads, or maybe contextual necessity, causes them to mistake one strong emotion—strong affection/attraction for/to another person, toward whom, for any number of reasons they should not feel that way—for the exact opposite. But that says nothing about the proximity of the two emotions—only about the fact that people can be confused; which is hardly big news.

Anyway, worth having a serious think about. For me anyway. Being a storyteller, one needs to consider such matters at length. After all, stories are about people and their relationships. Just like Kyz Kuu.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Gender Roles: Why Do Men and Women Do What They Do?

Ben Bova, in Voyager's II, said it quite explicitly, thereby expressing something that is probably considered quite un-PC nowadays.

In abbreviated paraphrase: Men do what they do because they want to attract women and have sex with them. Women do what they do, because they want to find mates that will make genetically and socially good fathers for their offspring.

This, of course, does not apply to the homosexually-inclined, where the rules are a rather muddled up; predictably so. But otherwise it seems pretty straightforward. Maybe the veneer of 'civilization' overlaid on this has wrought some changes, but ultimately these are skin-deep. Scratch and scape away the veneer, and you'll find that the straight metrosexual still thinks he's a caveman, even if he'd never admit it. Just like every poodle thinks he's a wolf. And inside your average 'liberated' 'career woman' lurks a mother-animal, who isn't all that sure that the price she's paying is worth the prize she's going to get one day, or has already won.

The homogeni (for a definition, see here) of the world will probably treat such statements with disdain and, in extreme cases, anger. I can hear invectives like 'redneck' or even 'caveman' hurled at me. But the truth is what it is. And the evidence for it is not just biological—said evidence being sufficiently incontrovertible to make the case all by itself!—but there is a cultural component as well. You just have to look at the stories told, most of which, when you strip away the MacGuffins, end up as variations on the 'looking for the girl' and 'looking for a potential father for my children' tales—and if that's not the main theme, it usually lurks there somewhere. There are variants, of course. The most obvious ones are 'failing to find or get the girl' or 'failing to find the potential or actual father for my children', which often metamorphose into the more general 'being a failure'.

And, yes, I know there are stories that don't follow that pattern, but they're in a definite minority and often they are often agenda-driven of blatantly polemic, of just self-indulgent. They're also usually far less as popular; and popularity is, after all, the only serious measure of a story's 'success'. By which standard Avatar ends up being the most popular 'film' story of all time.

Since its collective story and the stories is believes in and those it treasures, are what defines a culture, this pretty much says it all.

But what does all that mean? Well, depends on the context. If you're talking about evolution—well, we've dealt with that in a previous blog. If you're talking about 'civilization', it's clear that it's pretty much smoke and mirrors, and self-deception and hypocrisy. If we're just interested in human psychology and how to lead happy lives...

Well, we need to allow the cave people to exist inside us. It's like the 'dark side'. Suppressing it is counterproductive and in many cases destructive, not just at an individual level. Allowing it to take over one's psyche is also undesirable. Like always, it's a matter of treading a careful middle path, walking along what's a kind of psychological knife edge. Easy to fall off from and land irreversibly on either side, thereby effectively losing the game and the plot. Very easy. Which is why most people prefer not to walk it, and to pretend that what they're living is the 'right' life. If they think about it at all.

The Three Amigos

Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Dangerous Doodler and Playmobil Killers

I blame Deepak Chopra for the news item below. Surely, this is a side-effect of some other meditation he did. Maybe it was something about really, really stupid 'education authorities'.

Girl Arrested for Doodling

(April 3) -- When 12-year-old Alexa Gonzalez was caught doodling on her desk at Junior High School 190 in Queens, New York, she expected detention and an afternoon on desk-cleaning duty. Instead, she was arrested, led out of her school in handcuffs and detained at a local police precinct for hours, she said. ... Gonzalez describes the ordeal as traumatizing and excessive, saying that after her Spanish teacher caught her doodling on her desk with erasable green marker, she was "physically dragged by a teacher and an assistant principal" to the dean's office, where school safety officials searched her by placing "their hands inside the rear and front pockets of her jeans." Police were then summoned to arrest her. Gonzalez told the Daily News she broke down as she was led out of her school in handcuffs. "I started crying, like, a lot," said said. "I made two little doodles. ... It could be easily erased. To put handcuffs on me is unnecessary." ...Comacho [the mother] was not permitted to accompany her daughter to the precinct and was instead told to go home and wait for a call. ... Gonzalez was detained in "an enclosed room" at the precinct and handcuffed to a pole for more than two hours. ... What were the doodled words that led to her arrest? "I love my friends Abby and Faith," Gonzalez said she wrote, adding "Lex was here. 2/1/10" and a smiley face.

The mother is suing the school and the municipality, of course. Damn right! These kinds of things seem to happen more and more; and not just in the US. Australia and New Zealand are right on track to follow them into this kind of insanity. Remember the no-hugging thing! And I kind-of wonder what would have happened if either of my daughters—now, and for quite some time, safely beyond schooling age, both of them; and what a relief that is!—would have brought weapons-wielding Playmobil figurines into the school.


I'm thinking 'psychiatrist'; though s/he'll probably be sanitized to 'counsellor' or 'violence management specialist'; or, to santitize the word 'violence' out of the last phrase: 'pediatric adverse behavior pattern management consultant'.

Really, what's happening in today's schools and the 'educational system' is going beyond the mere 'occasionally bizarre' and is rapidly turning into the 'fairly common outright ugly' or just plain 'sick in the head'. With a huge amount of hypocrisy being added to the mix, mainly in the area of schoolyard bullying, plus the pervasive 'make them into good citizens' brainwashing that's more than 50% of today's so-called 'curriculum', I don't think that I'd feel comfortable at all sending kids to school nowadays.

Still, compared with civil-liberty-disaster countries like Germany—where it is actually illegal to home-school your child; punishable, potentially at least, by jail and the state taking away custody of the child from the parents concerned—I suppose we should consider ourselves fortunate indeed.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

The Guru Delusion

There was at time, wa-a-a-a-y back, when I actually read a couple of books by Deepak Chopra. Nowadays, I'm almost embarrassed to admit it—skip the 'almost': I am embarrassed and confess to it publicly here and now—and I'm slightly red in the face right now. But everybody's allowed a few mistakes, OK? So gimme a break for a less-wary version of me having delved into some rather dodgy materials. Believe you me, there are more serious face-reddenders among the things I wish I didn't remember having done.

Anyway, here's DEEPAK!


Chopra Blames Own Meditation for Baja Quake

The U.S. Geological Survey is blaming day-to-day seismological changes for Sunday's 7.2 earthquake along the U.S.-Mexico border. But Deepak Chopra, the famed alternative-medicine practitioner and transcendental meditation guru, is pretty sure he knows what really happened.

"Had a powerful meditation just now -- caused an earthquake in Southern California," Chopra wrote to his nearly 179,000 Twitter followers shortly after the quake.

And then, to clarify: "Was meditating on Shiva mantra & earth began to shake," he tweeted. "Sorry about that." ...

And so on.

After I stopped laughing...

[sorry, still chuckling...]

Anyway...

...after I stopped laughing, I started to wonder what prompted that tweet. Does the guy actually believe this crap himself? If so, he is a moron—assuming that comes as news, and maybe even assuming that there was a time when he wasn't.

If he's no a moron, does he really have sufficient contempt for those who 'follow' him to pen this. Does he truly consider them sufficiently stupid to believe it? And are his followers actually dumb enough to believe him? What, in other words, does it say about both, the man and his followers?

The only possible reaction by any moderately rational human being, no matter how much they think he is wise and knowing and that the sun shines out of his butt—just as if he were a 'Bright'; what delicious irony!—no matter how much they have followed him and read his books, every single damn one of them, and/or forked out ludicrous amounts of cash to attend some retreat or workshop, or...ahh, never mind; you know what I mean...the only reaction by a human being capable of reason and a sense of proportion must surely be to trash the books, forget about the whole Deepak bullshit, and maybe start a new chapter of using the brain for critical thought.

On the other hand, that just might not work anymore. I wonder if someone could do some research into this. You know, like they did with marihuana, where it turns out, from long-term and large-scale epidemiological studies, that it actually does damage the brain beyond repair. Maybe, if one did some serious cognitive studies, they would find that brains failing to engage in critical thinking for long periods of time also suffer physiological damage.† Meaning that there would actually be a biological explanation for why people actually aren't going to walk out on this wally by the hundreds of thousands.

If stupid thinking really were to induce physiological damage, we would, of course, have cause to declare the likes of Deepak—and Oprah as well, to name just one other member of that loony bin—as being on the level of illegal drugs. It's a thought. It won't happen, but one can always dream.

Oh, yes, and to wit...

An hour after Chopra's Twitter confession, he vowed to one Twitter user, @WhiteMoon7, "Won't do it again -- promise."

[Sorry. Unable to write. Finger refuses to follow coordinated signals because of continued laughter.]

I'm not even to begin to discuss the full ramifications of this turning out to be true.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

A new story: The Storyteller

I used to work with a guy, who called himself a 'mathematician', though he was really just a programmer, and not a particularly good one at that. Another called himself a 'physicist', but hadn't done any serious physics for years. Richard Dawkins calls himself a 'scientist', but he's no more one than I am, and if anything less so. There are a gazillion people who call themselves 'writers', but they don't write anything much, except for...ahh, yes, blogs. And there are whose who like to think of themselves as 'storytellers', but their stories, though technically 'stories' all right, are an insult to the profession to which these people claim to belong.

I call myself a storyteller whose medium is mostly the written word. That means some will think of me as trying to be a 'writer'. I say 'trying to', because a lot believe that in order to merit the appellation 'writer' you need to be a published writer, preferably of the traditional type of published variety. Well, they may say what they want to say, but I do tell stories and I do write—more than just blogs or letters or opinion pieces.

I'll admit that Aslam, the next in the Tethys series, is somewhat behind in schedule, waiting at 27k words for me to make up my mind, just exactly what is going to happen at this point. I know where it's going, but some people made some decisions, or are about to make some decisions, which I considered to lead to a fairly linear progression of events to the next point. But then I realized, again, that linearity is indeed a) boring and b) not like life at all. So, there's now a twist, which will have predictable, tragic, consequences that I've yet to fully think through; plus the unintended ones that I'm going to think about only later, because that's the way I operate. And so Aslam waits until I figured some of that out.

Still, a writer writes. As a light diversion I wrote an uncomplicated short (65k) suspense romance, called Third Chances, which is always fun and good writing practice, because it exercises dialog and human relationship descriptions, which are actually very difficult, and a lot of writers suck at them, even though these writers are published. This still needs copyediting, which is always a PITA, and so it's not priority one material right now.

As of writing this blog, I'm also about 40k words into my long-intended novel about a story teller, called tentatively The Storyteller—though I have a notion that the final title will be different. The intent of the book is, of course, primarily to provide a good, fun yarn. There's sex and violence and all the other good stuff. There's plots and sinister intrigues, and wheels within wheels and twists and turns galore. Just when you thought it'll go this way, it makes a sharp turn and goes that way instead. Sometimes I do this because of a whim and because I might think that things are becoming too predictable. Got to keep your audience on their toes.

The Storyteller is about the eponymous character, a guy who right now calls himself 'Arthur Smith', but is so old—like eight centuries—that he has difficulty recalling what his birth name was. Apart from being apparently immortal, he also has a gift: when he tells someone a story, they absolutely believe it; and will continue to believe it, even in the face of any evidence to the contrary. The wet-dream of every demagogue that ever drew breath. But for Arthur there is a catch: he actually has to be face-to-face with those whom he tells his stories. He can't just, say, record them by writing them down or videoing them.

Ever since Heinlein's Time Enough For Love—and also because I happen to be an Emortalist, of course—I've been fascinated with the problems associated with longevity, and what happens in a person's mind as he or she has to adapt to the historical changes around him. And not just that. A person changes through life, though it is, I guess, debatable how much real 'change' actually takes place. But what are they going to go through when it's not just a single human life, of three-score years and ten.

I'm also fascinated by—a subject Heinlein avoided because he write future-fiction, and Lazarus Long never had to live through what we consider 'real human history'—what a man might have gone through who was born sometime in the 13th century and ended up in today's world. What would he know? How would he cope?

The whole notion of an immortal in the storyteller role has a dual function. First of all it serves me to make it an ode of sorts to the tradition of storytelling, which, as I've said before, is probably as old, and maybe more important than, as those of solidering and prostitution. Secondly it emphasizes the loneliness of the storyteller, because it creates an implicit distance between him and everybody else. I also gave him the power of persuasion because that's what stories do, especially the good ones.

Apart from all that, I also want to 'explore', as they say, some ideas I have connected to the issues associated with telepathy; the thing known as 'possession'; and also 'reincarnation' and what that might be all about and how it might be related to possession. Not that I subscribe to any of these notions, but they deserve fictional exploration, and maybe something a bit more interesting than some of other works dealing with the subject, most of which are not much more than fictionalized proselytizing. I don't want to do that.

The Storyteller is one of the reasons why my blogs have been sporadic, though there's been a recent spate of them; which appears to have—for reasons entirely unknown to me—occasioned a sudden surge in readership. This will, no doubt, decay again to it usual levels once my blogging frequency decreases again, and/or when the topics change back to something that doesn't elicit quite as much interest, presumably caused by people goolging keywords and ending up on my blog. I wish I knew what those keywords were. Was it about the gender homogenization thing? I doubt it. But if not, then what?

Whatever... I'm back to my telling a story, because that's what storytellers do.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Gender Homogenization Part 2

More on the theme of my previous blog. It is, after all, very complex and contentious, what with everybody and sundry having their agendas when it comes to discussing it. I take that back: few actually 'discuss' it. They either talk about it, which is what people do who basically agree about their positions. Else they argue, because it's just one of those subjects about which people who disagree will end up arguing. And, yes, I'm generalizing, but it's true anyway.

I should say a bit more about what I mean about those two potentially inflammatory terms, 'feminization' and 'masculinization'. If you'd feel better about it, look at them in terms of parameters in a description of human attributes. Their value, say, always lies in the open interval (0,1). So, and I'm being deliberately 'mathematical' about it, let's suppose we have an attribute 'T', which describes some trait that's considered male, because it's present more in the male of the population.
Consider the capability to perform spatial position mapping and movement tracking.

What's that mean? Here's an example.

Most mornings, I go out and do some sword practice, as I have mentioned in a previous blog. Some of this involves throwing short bamboo sticks into the air and trying to hit them on the way down, preferably as late as possible before they hot the ground. The reason for that is simple. They move faster the further they drop—at different rates, depending on their shape and size, whether they're spinning or not or what angle they fall at, whether they're already partially shredded from previous hits, and so on. And they accelerate—again, at different rates, depending on shape, spin, etc.

Acceleration makes things hard, because when we track moving targets we judge subsequent positions by making assumptions of constant speed. We work best when an object moves at constant velocity, and preferably it should also move at an approximate tangent to an imaginary circle with us at the center when we're trying to hit it. Things become harder when the object's trajectory is not straight, the angle to us is oblique at the time of us trying to hit it, and when there's acceleration—even if it's constant. If we're trying to hit the object with another object, which in turn is going to move along a trajectory that's possibly even more complex and whose trajectory we have to control with amazingly precise muscle coordination...well, you see where I'm going with this.

That we can do it at all is downright amazing. And you can see why it's useful and even essential—and I mean 'is', even though its obvious survival value may be more obvious in the context of hunters, who had to bring down game with projectile weapons, from rocks to spears to arrows. If they didn't, they died. So, the ones who were good at it tended to survive, and the attribute promoted itself in the gene pool.

It's also obvious that said attribute is 'male'. Women, with rare exceptions, didn't go out hunting. Hence the attribute 'T'—tracking and targeting ability— tends to be much higher in even today's males than in females. And it'll stay that way, because there's no evolutionary selection process that will change it. I think. Maybe.

Yes, there are, of course women who happen to have a high 'T' index. But that just means that, like everywhere else in biology, the distribution curve across a population of the value of this particular attribute has a long tail. But a long tail doesn't imply that the tail ends, as it were, represent more than a very few individuals. Most of the individuals with a high 'T' value will be male, and the higher the 'T', the more they will also possess other 'male' attributes. That's the way things are. At the moment.

Gender-homogenization changes those gender-indices in individuals, as well as their distribution across populations. This is not a good or a bad thing. It's just something that's happened as a result of role adjustments in human groups throughout evolutionary periods and in different contexts. In Western societies in particular, the movements from hunter/warrior societies to settled farmers and eventual urbanites, made possible by to the extent to which we see it today by the industrial revolution and what's sometimes called 'post industrial' periods, has wrought changes that, on further reflection, may indeed have evolutionary consequences.

I don't mean silly ones, like atrophied limbs because we're driving cars. But consider this: In modern industrialized societies, certain parts of the population will consist of more gender-homogenized members and couples. They will breed, probably at a fairly low rate because of the woman's tendency not to want to be just a 'baby machine', and propagate the genes that have disposed their parents toward those roles. This part of the population is likely to be come very distinct and inbred, because the gender-homogenized and unhomogenized don't mix well; at a personal as well as a cultural level. The other parts of society, those with lesser degrees of homogenization, will continue to breed like bunny rabbits, because they follow older, if you will, evolutionary imperatives. As a result, they will outbreed the homogenized members within just a few generations—which will, first of all, have the simple result that the gender-homogenized sections will simply disappear in due course. Either that or there will be some very nasty conflict between the two sections. As a secondary consequence of outbreeding the 'homogenies'†, society on the whole will in turn assume a very different profile, the consequences of which are quite unpredictable.

Don't think it won't happen. We already have an example of this kind of effect in action. It's been called the Roe Effect, and if you look at the US today, you'll see it in action with a vengeance. The whole Obama-thing and the apparently 'progressive' nature of whatever happened in the US that got him elected, that's just a blip in the overall trend toward increasing conservatism and religiod-dominated politics and social life.

The Roe effect—not a 'hypothesis', but methinks demonstrated fact, even after just one generation—is, of course, the kind of thing I was alluding to when talking about the nonsense that is the 'Singularity'. Gender-homogenization is, like everything else in human social life, a process that's subject to regulation by other competing processes; some of which, ironically, were set into motion by the process itself. And in the end the breeders have the upper hand. I know this from personal experience, because despite the massacre I performed on the Cane Toad-lets, as of recent, with all the rain, there's been an explosion of the blighters around here. For a couple of weeks you couldn't can't walk across any stretch of lawn or paddock without thousands of them leaping out of your way. Most were still tiny, thumbnail size. But others were definitely getting bigger. And every female ends up capable of laying up to 30,000 eggs every year.

How can one beat this? How can one stem such a tide?

Well, here's another bit of math. Assume you kill 10 of these things. Assume their gender distribution is 50/50. Assume that maybe 1/5 actually survives to breeding age. That means that, statistically speaking, if you kill 10, you have an excellent change of preventing 30,000 coming into being—every year, which over a canetoad's lifetime (at least 5 and up to 15 years) may average to half a million toad-lets. Not a bad return for a ten-kill. And it gets better the bigger the toads are that you kill, because it increases the probability that they're those that survive to breed.

But the math is still grim, because, let's face it, those kill-numbers are utterly insignificant compared to those that survive. But it kind of makes me feel useful when battering another one of them into oblivion.

Anyway, evolution is a tough cookie, and despite modern healthcare, there are other aspects to it—not just 'survival of the fittest'—that make it tick. All it takes is for individuals survive for long enough to reproduce, preferably several times over. Those who reproduce more will win in the end. Whatever 'winning' means.

Homogeni: Someone having a significant set of those gender attributes traditionally associated with their physical sex, decreased; and attributes of the opposite sex increased. The term doesn't exist yet, but maybe it should. Better and more descriptive, I think, than 'metrosexual'. See also 'Homogeni Coefficient.'