Archive Page 2
April 6th, 2014 by Wil
The book I recently finished, “The Anatomy of Violence,” had quite a bit of discussion about the life of famed serial killer Henry Lee Lucas. Lucas had a childhood designed to turn him into a serial killer. His mother was certainly a psychopath, a prostitute who beat her son mercilessly. (She was also one of his early victims, possibly his first.)
As I read about Lucas’s childhood, I was reminded of the scenes in the comic book Watchmen which showed the childhood of the fictional vigilante Rorschach. (I discussed him here.) Rorschach and Lucas’s upbringings were so similar I was curious as to whether the former was based on the latter. I don’t think author Alan Moore has ever commented, but a Google search reveals I’m not the only one to make the connection. This review of a Lucas biopic states…
The early part of the film shows you the upbringing of Henry. It would seem pretty basic except for his incredibly abusive mother that could almost resemble the angry mother Lois from Malcolm in the Middle except on rabies and alcohol. In fact some of the scenes with the mother and young Henry would almost resemble some of the same scenes with a young Rorschach and his mother from Watchmen.
April 5th, 2014 by Wil
I’ve been reading an interesting book on twin studies called “Identically Different.” It gets a reader up to up to date on the current analysis of what kinds of human behavior can be attributed to genes. The book is broken up into chapters such as “The Happiness Gene,” “The Talent Gene” etc. (I should make clear author is far from an absolutist who believes genes are the dominant force in our lives; he subscribes to the mainstream belief that our behavior is a combination between nature and nature.)
One chapter is “The God Gene.” It explores the idea that some part of our brain is wired to believe in God or at least something “greater”. The author is not the first to make this argument. (I’ve commented on similar material here.)
Part of how scientists study this sort of thing is by asking people to fill out self-surveys on their religiosity. And here I have a small beef with the process. The author describes two questions on a multi-question survey.
I believe that all life depends of some spiritual order or power that cannot be completely explained — true or false.
Often, when I look at an ordinary thing, something wonderful happens— I get the feeling I am seeing it fresh for the first time —- true or false.
If I’m interpreting this correctly, answering false to these questions would be a marker for atheism, and marking true would imply spirituality.
I would answer true for the first and true for the second. (I can’t really claim to be blown away in these moments of personal beauty, but, yeah, sometimes I am struck by the beauty of things.) But I don’t really see this as contradictory. Everything I’ve seen about the universal seems to imply a lack of God (in the conventional religious sense.) But I don’t think that means I can’t be spiritual in so much as enjoying the grandeur of universe. And I am willing to concede that there could be a certain kind of greater consciousness in the universe (as I described here.)
The questions set up a battle—atheism versus spirituality—that I don’t think is necessary. I will say, however, that while I come out in favor of spirituality here, that doesn’t mean I buy into the vast wastelands of idiocy that are often touted as spirituality—channeling aliens and all that rot.
April 3rd, 2014 by Wil
The Economist has a new story on a topic I like to comment on: the rise of the robots. The article take special note of how robots could replace parts of the human work force.
As consumers and citizens, people will benefit greatly from the rise of the robots. Whether they will as workers is less clear, for the robots’ growing competence may make some human labour redundant. Aetheon’s Tugs, for instance, which take hospital trolleys where they are needed, are ready to take over much of the work that porters do today. Kiva’s warehouse robots make it possible for Amazon to send out more parcels with fewer workers. Driverless cars could displace the millions of people employed behind the wheel today. Just as employment in agriculture, which used to provide almost all the jobs in the pre-modern era, now accounts for only 2% of rich-world employment so jobs in today’s manufacturing and services industries may be forced to retreat before the march of the robots. Whether humanity will find new ways of using its labour, or the future will be given over to forced leisure, is a matter of much worried debate among economists. Either way, robots will probably get the credit or blame.
Also note that Google is poised to get into the robot game. (A premise I parodied in my short story “The Dance of the Quarks.”)
The biggest robot news of 2013 was that Google bought eight promising robot startups. Rich and well led (by Andy Rubin, who masterminded the Android operating system) and with access to world-beating expertise in cloud computing and artificial intelligence, both highly relevant, Google’s robot programme promises the possibility of something spectacular—though no one outside the company knows what that might be.
The article has some great, cartoon robot art too!
March 31st, 2014 by Wil
Here’s a new animation storybook I did featuring one of my longer, classical style pieces. It tells the story of some aliens who face some of life’s challenges.
March 25th, 2014 by Wil
I’ve certainly complained about the intrusions of social media into our lives, but even I didn’t see this one, er, coming.
Facebook use during sex? Many seem to ‘like’ it
A more formal national study found young Britons having less sex today than in the past, with social media perhaps partly to blame.
[The survey] also found that 12 percent had answered a phone call during sex and 10 percent had read a text in the midst of the act.
I don’t consider myself a guru in the fields of either sex or social media, but I am confident enough to say that combining the two probably means you’re doing one of them wrong.
I DO consider myself a sex guru and I agree!
March 21st, 2014 by Wil
The New Yorker notes that we are in the midst of a suicide epidemic. While I’m always wary of the term epidemic, it’s worth noting that American suicide rates rose about 30% from 1999 to 2010.
The article posits that suicide’s main sponsor—depression—is an illness, not a deficit or character weakness. While I agree with gist of that, one has to question, “Why then has this illness only recently increased so dramatically?”
I’m often arguing that technology has substantially changed our lives over the past 15+ years. I talk about my total frustration with the intrusions of modern media (endless email messages, Facebook alerts, the incessant fucking phone, etc.) Part of what is so annoying about all this stuff is that it gives you this sense of losing control over your life. You want to just lie down and take a nap, or sit in the yard and stare into space but there’s a half dozen electronic devices poised to ruin your reverie. I wonder if all this contributes to the rise in self-immolation.
Obviously this argument is so speculative is doesn’t even deserve the term “fanciful.” But that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. And there’s another way I think technology, particularly the web, has unsettled our psychology. In the pre-internet era, people could (somewhat) comfortably settle into various tribal distinctions, often but not exclusively based on the music they listened to. Punks, Metal-heads, hippies, hip-hoppers, yuppies etc. This allowed a certain sense of self-definition and self-worth. “I’m a cool, rebellious punk rock type!” one could think. But I think the web, for a variety of reasons has weakened these tribal self-definitions making us more like interchangeable members of the digital citizenry. And this has weakened our sense of ourselves… we find ourselves, in some hard to define way, asking ourselves “what am I?”
March 19th, 2014 by Wil
Today I was reading through my new tome, “The Anatomy of Violence” and came across an interesting observation. The author noted that the septum pellucidum, a section of the brain that has fused tissue in normal people, is often found to be separated in psychopaths and antisocial types. I immediately went and examined an MRI of my brain done years back during my vestibular issues. And I was able to confirm that I am probably not a psychopath—my tissue is fused.
It struck me that this opens up an interesting situation. This unfused tissue seems to be a marker for psychopathy—it doesn’t confirm the person is a nut, but it increases the odds. As medical scanning gets cheaper will employers start checking applicants’ brains for such markers? Will potential romantic partners ask each other for MRI scans to rule out problem relationships? Only time will tell…
March 18th, 2014 by Wil
I’ve just started reading a book called “The Anatomy of Violence.” It might have been better called “The Neuro-anatomy of Violence”; it’s basically about the differences in brain structure between violent criminals and lovable imps like the rest of us.
It refers a lot to the work of Antonio Damasio, a neuroscientist I’ve mentioned often. Damasio has studied many patients who’ve had damage to their prefrontal cortex (essentially the parts of the brain near your eyeballs.) He’s observed that these people seem off—they have dulled emotional responses. Damasio has convincingly shown that damage to the prefrontal area of the brain inhibits emotional awareness.
Besides clinical patients, who else seems to lack emotion? Well, many criminals, especially psychopaths. The author of the book, Adrian Raine, did an extensive study of psychopaths and noted that their prefrontal cortex had an 11% reduction in brain matter. They lack the complexity of prefrontal wiring the rest of us have, which could certainly explain their anti-social behavior. Why this is so is unclear. It could be damage in the womb, it could be damage in early childhood, it could just be a fluke of genetics.
This opens up again an interesting conundrum philosopher Sam Harris has explored. We punish psychopathic criminals because they are bad people. But what if they are merely people lacking the necessary brain tools for moral reasoning? What if they are more like a person who has suffered a blow to the head, and less like an evil monster?
Eh, let’s kill them just to be safe.
March 17th, 2014 by Wil
As a kid I was big practitioner of comic book style drawing. Lately I’ve been taking it up again. I’m decades out of practice, but I’m reminded that much of drawing, particular drawing from life, requires a strong sense of space. Basically, you must take an image before you, say, two coffee cups a foot apart from each other, and preserve their relational distance while you draw the image on a piece of paper 6 inches wide.
For some reason today I was reminded of a high school friend of mine. When I knew him he was a top ranked tennis player in the state of Hawaii. We lost touch when I graduated but not long after that I heard he had become become a professional painter. When I knew him he had no interest in art. It seemed quite a switch—from tennis to art. But, as I think about it, tennis is also all about strong spatial awareness. You have to know where that ball is in space. I wonder of his (likely genetic) endowment for spatial awareness fueled both his tennis and art?
March 17th, 2014 by Wil
I wrote recently that I was of the opinion that the modern news is a negative force that should be avoided. Over the past month I’ve been engaged in a news blackout and I feel greatly enriched. I’m less tense, more optimistic and don’t feel like I’m missing a thing.
To celebrate, I’m thinking of taking a vacation soon to the relatively unknown nation of the Ukraine. I’ve been shopping for tickets and have found low prices on Malaysian Airlines. They seem like a dependable, trouble free operation. I think it will be a enjoyable adventure.