Wednesday, August 31, 2011


"A person who can bring the spirit of laughter into a room is indeed blessed." - Bennet Cerf

I just found the blog of someone I met on Monday who has just moved here from Utah. Her most recent post is about the insane amount of school spirit my school apparently has. I read this and thought "...aren't all high schools like this?"

Kids wear school T-shirts all the time, apparently the local Rite-Aid sells a ton of school merchandise that the SCHOOL ITSELF doesn't actually sell, our speed bumps are painted school colors, and the seniors were all told to wear "senior crowns" on the first day and some decorated their cars for the occasion. Oh, and the water tower across the street reads "Class of 2012." (I feel like this water tower is a countdown to my simultaneous doom and freedom. I've watched the number rise my entire life, and soon it'll be painted with mine.)

Those were some of the things she listed, and when put like that, I guess it is a bit unusual. And yes, some kids take it to an extreme (there's a guy who wears a school-themed RUG as a cloak on the last day of spirit week. We have no idea where he got this rug.) I just never thought about it that way before--this is all I've ever known.

You read in books about kids going "Blech. School sucks. I just want to be done with it. This is boring. I have no school spirit." And the thing is, my school has plenty of those kids. We just...keep them well-hidden to outsiders or something (or maybe the spirited ones are just louder).

Some of it's all tradition, though. This school has been around for over 100 years, after all, so a lot of kids' parents (or even grandparents) went there. We have a road named after the guy who was the band director in the 70s. One of the town's two biggest events of the year centers around our marching band, and the other's a massive craft fair at which the band also plays.

You can see the depth of the tradition just by driving downtown (it's just one street):

  • Train station
  • Library
  • Methodist church
  • Baptist church
  • Drug store
  • Bank
  • Post office
  • A couple restaurants with "through the decades" murals
  • The building that used to be my high school up until the 60s, now a Performing Arts Center
See? Everything a small town needs (although it's grown explosively in the past 20-30 years).

I may have blogged a long time ago about an elderly couple I once saw on a bench outside the drug store enjoying ice cream cones together: I bet they walked down the street to go get ice cream when they were teenagers.

My parents grew up in a (different, and even tinier) small town, so even their stories make the fading vestiges of those days around here seem familiar/normal. This might be the early 21st century, but in some small respects, my town (although it's big enough now that I don't know if that word applies anymore) has yet to grow up.

I can't wait until homecoming week when this girl sees the guys running around campus with giant flags yelling "GREEN! WHITE! GREEN! WHITE!" Ha.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Thing 1 & Thing 2

"A quiet mind cureth all." - Robert Burton
Novel 1: 80,015 words 
Novel 2: 80,035 words
Now that second number is definitely going to change (in the upward direction) during revisions, but...dang. 20-word difference.

Although this is interesting:
Novel 1: 430,506 chars 
Novel 2: 445,399 chars
Apparently I used bigger words.

And according to Random Online Writing Analyzer I used yesterday...

Novel 1, which is the thing of which I am most proud and the piece of my writing I love best: Reads like Cory Doctorow (YES!)
Novel 2: Despite being epic fantasy, apparently reads like a James Bond novel

I have never read a James Bond novel, so I do not know what this means. Although their algorithm probably thinks very little happens in it other than conversations about the weather, given that most of the main characters are conscious embodiments of seven aspects of a hurricane.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

An Abundance of Quotes Part 20

"There is hopeful symbolism in the fact that flags do not wave in a vacuum." - Arthur C. Clarke

"This is your world. Shape it or someone else will." - Gary Lew

“I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I have ended up where I needed to be.” - Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

“I sing of time, concealer and revelator, time which will rejoin you to the dead, time which like water destroys all that it nourishes.” - epigraph of The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. However, there seems to be some controversy as to whether or not he made it up himself as Fitzgerald did in The Great Gatsby.

"Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant." - Robert Louis Stevenson

"A great deal of intelligence can be invested in ignorance when the need for illusion is deep." - Saul Bellow

“Some days, it seems to me like the purpose of life is to convert energy into beauty.” - Hank Green

"For every ten jokes you acquire a hundred enemies." - Laurence Sterne

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Review: Chime, by Frances Billingsley

"Life is a foreign language; all men mispronounce it." - Christopher Morely

I am such a hypocrite.

First, the summary off of Shelfari:
Before Briony's stepmother died, she made sure Briony blamed herself for all the family's hardships. Now Briony has worn her guilt for so long it's become a second skin. She often escapes to the swamp, where she tells stories to the Old Ones, the spirits who haunt the marshes. But only witches can see the Old Ones, and in her village, witches are sentenced to death. Briony lives in fear her secret will be found out, even as she believes she deserves the worst kind of punishment. Then Eldric comes along with his golden lion eyes and mane of tawny hair. He's as natural as the sun, and treats her as if she's extraordinary. And everything starts to change. As many secrets as Briony has been holding, there are secrets even she doesn't know.
There is a serious discrepancy of opinion on Chime in my book club, and having been thinking about it off and on since the last meeting, I thought I'd write a post supporting my position.

The main objection to the quality of the book is that it is exceedingly verbose. I don't have a copy, so I can't quote the most-often-used example, but take my word for it. That particular example is some of Eldric's dialogue, so I do not have an excuse for it. However, for some of the rest, I do.

There are several sections of narration self-acknowledged to be in the style of The House That Jack Built
"This is the girl called Briony. This is the girl called Briony who lived in a swamp that was being drained. This is the girl called Briony who lived in a swamp that was being drained; which angered the BoggyMan. This is the girl called Briony who lived in a swamp that was being drained, which angered the BoggyMan, who sent the swamp cough."
And so on for another three quarters of a page. Now I listened to the audio book, which is another form of storytelling so perhaps this sort of writing was not as annoying read aloud as it might be when written out. (I was kind of annoyed when looking the passage up on Google Books so I could quote it to you.)

That being said, since it's only used a few times, this style matches Briony's character. She makes references to the writing of novels repeatedly throughout the book, and has so many secrets that she's used to thinking to herself for long stretches of time. When in dialogue, such verbosity is not good. But when in narration, it's more excusable. (However, I'd be interested to see my reaction to the written version.)

Moving on to the things I loved about it.

Chime did an amazing job of what in the world of fiction is called "plants and payoffs." I was listening to this (while eating pizza and playing Diablo 2 back when my sisters were both out of town) in the afternoons while working on another editing swipe at my first novel in the mornings, and when I got to the end of Chime, I was practically salivating with jealousy of how well Frances Billingsley made it all come together. Then again, I was also reaching the end of a 13 hour car trip when I finished, so perhaps the happiness was for another reason altogether. With regards to that, I wish I had written this book.

Then there is Briony herself, who was great. She claims to hate herself and the world...yet the reader doesn't. She's one of the most unreliable narrators I have encountered, but it works so well. I knew something was up from the first few minutes of the audio book, and I knew which sections of her life smelled fishy, but I had no inkling as to the nature of the truth she was covering up. 

Briony's unreliability also allows there to be romance without it being the ridiculously cheesy and over-blown romance that we love to mock. It's romance about friendship rather than friendship about romance, if that makes sense. Again, something I wish I had written (even if I didn't always like Eldric himself).

So I recommend the audio book, and the textual version as well if you can put up with the style. It's an extremely well-crafted story, even if the quality of the actual writing through which it is told is subject to doubt.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Review: To Timbuku, by Casey Scieszka

“Literature is more than just paper, you know - it affects every aspect of existence.” - Al, The City of Dreaming Books by Walter Moers

This post comes to you less than a week after I stated I found it pointless to blog about books because I'm just going to talk about them at book club anyway. Clearly I've just been lacking in books worth talking about.

To Timbuktu is worth talking about.

It tells the true story of two people who, after finishing college, knew three things about how they wanted to proceed:

1. They wanted to leave the country.
2. They wanted to pursue creative projects (writing for Casey, art for Steven).
3. They wanted to be together.

They ended up teaching English in China for half a year, exploring Southeast Asia for a few months before settling in Mali where Casey researched the role of Islam in the education system on grant money and Steven drew portraits, painted education murals on the walls of schools, and both of them continued to teach.

This is the first book of its length (nearly 500 pages) that I have read in a single day in a very, very long time. While writing/illustrating the book, they used their journal entries (both written and drawn) to help them along, which results in a tone that I loved-- a combination between real journal entries, letters to home, oral storytelling, and regular fiction. All of the things I normally would have objected to in a fictional novel made sense in this case, given the perspective.

And then there were the pictures. My sister could tell you more about their actual quality than I could (she liked them a lot), but what I noticed was their role in the storytelling. Sometimes they included punchlines the prose left out. Sometimes they were placed on the page so as to play an active role in the progression of events. Sometimes they were simply illustrations whose inclusion I enjoyed. The cover does not say "Written by Casey Scieszka, Illustrated by Steven Weinberg." It says "Words by Casey Scieszka, Art by Steven Weinberg." They told the story together-- just using different mediums.

There are people who stopped in the middle of Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes (by Maureen Johnson) to look up plane tickets to Europe. I didn't look up tickets while reading To Timbuktu, but now all I want is to teach while travelling the world with someone I love--be they friend or boyfriend. (There's a teacher at my old elementary school who did exactly that with her newly-wed husband in Japan for two years, as a matter of fact-- says it was completely life-changing.)

Actually, upon finishing it I had a strange sense that I had gone on an amazing adventure myself, and as irrational as it sounds, I couldn't wait to get online to tell all of you about it.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

To Be, Or Not To Be

"And if you feel just like a tourist in the city you were born

Then it's time to go
And define your destination
There's so many different places to call home
Because when you find yourself the villain in the story you have written
It's plain to see
That sometimes the best intentions are in need of redemptions
Would you agree?"
 - Death Cab for Cutie, "You Are A Tourist"

There is the Awkward Silence. There is the Ominous Silence. There is the Two Good Friends Sitting But Not Speaking Silence and the Anticipatory Silence, but the kind I want to talk about here is, for want of a better name, the Quaker Silence. Because, once again, I went to Meeting with my best friend.

We aren't quiet because we have to be, but because that's just how it works. There's an important distinction.

There's something incredibly special and mind-blowing about a group of people sitting together not talking or interacting, but not in an awkward "Wow, we're all just sort of sitting here. Hm" sort of way.

It makes you realize that each and every one of the other people in the room are in the middle of their own thoughts, and their own experiences--whatever it is they do/think about during the Meeting. You aren't viewing them as they relate to you...because for the moment they don't. You know they aren't going to say anything to you--or if they do speak up, it will be to the room as a whole. It isn't "you" and "them." It's you and a whole room full of other yous.

The silence isn't awkward, or anxious. It may as well not even be silence, since it's not silence for silence's sake but to eliminate distractions and draw focus away from the immediate surroundings.

It's a safe place in which you don't have to worry about the present. It gives you the opportunity, I guess.

Unless, of course, you're like me and are too busy contemplating the value of such a silence.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Personality <> Books

"A joke is a very serious thing." - my eighth cousin five times removed, Mr. Winston Churchill

First of all, look at this. For right now it's just through phones and special glasses...but just wait until it hits contact lenses.

Neither of my sisters is particularly eager to take book recommendations from me. The youngest claims she doesn't like the books I liked when I was her age (yet is perfectly willing to read and then loves them when people other than me say they were good), and the other...I don't actually know.

She refuses to read John Green books not because she doesn't like his writing, but because I watch him on YouTube. I do not understand why this is a problem. And just to be clear, I was halfway through An Abundance of Katherines in May of 8th grade (God, it's been awhile) when I realized that this John Green was that John Green. It (originally) had nothing to do with the fact that I like his videos.

But okay. Nerdy vlogger probably writes nerdy books (he does). Fair enough. But then, having started Maureen Johnson's The Last Little Blue Envelope last night, I tell my sister that she should read Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes, or really anything by her, because I've read and enjoyed all of them.

My sister says "You shouldn't have told me the author, because now I'm not going to read it." Maureen Johnson does not write nerdy books. Just because I follow her on Twitter and she's friends with John Green...Most American YA authors are friends with each other. Twitter isn't even a nerdy thing anymore, and it hasn't been for a long time. It's a social networking tool. I'd wager that most authors are on Twitter, even if Maureen has won a few awards for being one of the best personalities to follow.

Every author puts a little of themselves into their writing, but books are still separate from personality. You can really like a person and not like their writing, or you can really like their writing and agree that the writer is a jerk. And just because I like what an author does as themselves as well as what they do as a writer doesn't mean that their books are bad and I'm just horribly biased (I will be biased, but not that much).

But on the note of recommendations, if you're going to read one of Maureen's books, I'd suggest starting with The Bermudez Triangle. It's been labeled, not by me, as a book that absolutely everyone, regardless of gender or age, should read. It's about three girls who are about to start their senior year of high school, and I read it in a single afternoon-- which is saying a lot, since it's nearly 400 pages.

Friday, August 12, 2011

With A Blank Slate

"A being of higher faculties requires more to make him happy, is capable probably of more acute suffering...than one of an inferior type; but in spite of these liabilities, he can never really wish to sink into what he feels to be a lower grade of existence." - John Stuart Mill

"It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a food satisfied. And if the fool, or the pig, are of a different opinion, it is because they only know their side of the question." - Also John Stuart Mill

I've gotten to the point in Justice--which arrives about halfway through nearly every nonfiction book I read-- at which I stop reading and begin skimming. Kant's thoughts, as described by the author, are...dense.

However, one of the sections that I did read thoroughly was the one about how to make fair laws.

John Rawls (who inhabits the chapter after Kant) discards utilitarianism and libertarianism and suggests that if people were able to forget everything about themselves--economic status, gender, religion, etc.-- for a few hours, we'd be able to make laws that really were fair for everyone--or at least fair enough that we wouldn't mind being on the losing end.

You want to have social programs just in case you wind up as one of the poor people. You want religious freedom in case you're one of the minorities. You want tolerance in case you're one of the ones not being tolerated. Self-interest doesn't involve bias anymore, because we don't know which possible self we're supposed to be interested in.

And I like that. (Psst. Congress! Come listen to Rawls!)

A Better Life

"Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength." - Eric Hoffer

I went to see A Better Life with my aunt and cousin last night at this, for want of a better word, indie theater near my house. It's about an illegal immigrant trying to support and take care of his teenage son. While it was very depressing and employed every stereotype about Mexican immigrants we could think of on the way home, I enjoyed it and have some thoughts I wanted to share.

I know that there are real people who suffer just as much as and in similar ways as Carlos and his son. I'll leave the politics alone, but the movie made me think...

How dare I write a blog post about how I'm pissed my school doesn't accomodate my every academic whim? How dare I wish we had the money to send me to Ireland for spring break to visit our family friends who will be there for the semester (this is actually a possibility, but that's beside the point)? How dare I...I don't even know. How dare I be so spoiled?

There are kids all over the world who want nothing more than to be able to go to school, and that's not even counting people like Carlos' son who just go to bad ones. And here I am complaining about the school that I really do love.

Does this make our middle class problems any less "valid," though? It's still real emotions and all, but...we take so much for granted. Yet who doesn't yearn for a better life? Carlos' son has an argument with his father about how he wants money to buy school supplies. Less than an hour earlier, I had an argument with my parents about how I wanted money to go see a movie about a boy needing money to buy school supplies.

This is all fairly typical culture shock, I know, but then again, my best friend's sister is currently building houses in Guatemala, so perhaps I'm not one to talk.

I'll definitely be returning to this theater-- it helps that it's within walking distance of school. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

People Grade

"Be great in act, as you have been in thought." - Jean Paul

Yesterday was Freshman Camp, so the debate team and I showed up with out trifold board and fliers to attempt to recruit new members. 

After the morning session for those whose last names fall at the beginning of the alphabet (How I loathe thee!), a few of us decided to walk down the street to the Dairy Queen to get lunch. On the way there, we were talking about some of the stuff we've been doing this summer-- more specifically the things we've been learning on our own.

This post spawns partially from that, and partially from my mother's recent observation that I have befriended a lot of homeschoolers in the last two years.

While I am a public-schooled child, I will never ever say that it within itself is a perfectly sufficient way to gain one's education. As someone I know said last night, "I come from a good branch of a flawed system." I love my school, and I do believe there are advantages to all forms of schooling, but the advantages of public school unfortunately do not make up for the disadvantages if learning is abandoned at 2:15 every day.

My debate team friends agree with this. A quote from one of them: "Doesn't everyone (teach themselves stuff outside of school)?" And the answer, sadly, is no.

I'm not going to make any statements about whether or not there is a single system (or lack thereof) that is enough, but there are a lot of people who learn faster than their classes are taught (and who have interests outside of said classes). The school isn't going to accomodate that, so we have to take it upon ourselves to explore the world on our own time--while still making sure we do our homework.

This is why I read several physics books last fall. This is why I just finished a book about cognitive neuroscience, and why yesterday's post came from a conversation with my dad about evolutionary biology. This is why I'm finishing up the first draft of my second freaking novel. This is why I'm currently reading Harvard's most popular course (Michael Sandel's Justice) in book form, and why my friends and I discuss supposedly "academic" topics without prompting: because public school simply isn't enough.

And I'm sure a lot of conventionally homeschooled kids are the same: they do their schoolwork, whether it be assigned by their parents or an online teacher, but that doesn't mean they stop there.

I'll be entering eleventh grade in two weeks, but I'm also, as I now refer to the status of my unschooled friend, in "People Grade."

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

150 And Stable

“Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that will never be again. And what do we teach our children? We teach them that two and two make four, and that Paris is the capital of France. When will we also teach them what they are? We should say to each of them: Do you know what you are? You are a marvel. You are unique. In all the years that have passed, there has never been another child like you. Your legs, your arms, your clever fingers, the way you move. You may become a Shakespeare, a Michelangelo, a Beethoven. You have the capacity for anything. Yes, you are a marvel. And when you grow up, can you then harm another who is, like you, a marvel? You must work, we must all work, to make the world worthy of its children.” - Pablo Picasso

While I was at writing group earlier this evening, my dad was sitting in a chair in the bookstore in which we meet listening to a lecture about evolutionary biology, and he told me some of the more interesting points on the way home.

For instance, apparently when we humans try to teach other primates sign language, the only signs they actually use amongst themselves without interacting with us are those for "large bird," "large cat," and "large snake." And while that isn't surprising if one were to think about it...

I also learned that our brains are only capable of keeping track of meaningful relationships with approximately 150 people. I was pleased to discover this, since it gives me fodder in the discussion with my sister as to why I have more than 50 fewer Facebook friends than she does.

Granted, there are some people with whom I am friends on Facebook I do not really have relationships with other than "I know you and will likely interact with you multiple times in the relatively near future" or "we have common ancestors," but there are also people with whom I do have more substantial relationships that I have not friended on Facebook. So a nice 119 (currently) seems fairly reasonable, and it makes sense that I seem to end up unfriending people at about the same rate that I friend them.

Or as my dad put it, "As you find new and interesting people who you would like to know better, you will discover that there are others who you don't really have that much in common with anymore."

Also, it's rather interesting that "friending" is now a verb.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

In Which I'm Finally Done With The Believing Brain (yes, thank God)

"There is something rather than nothing because something is more stable." - Victor Stenger

"There once was a young fellow from Trinity
Who took [the square root of infinity]
But the number of digits
Gave him the fidgets
He dropped math and took up Divinity" - George Gamow

"It is not only man that is adapted to the universe. The universe is adapted to man." - John Barrow and Frank Tipler

The final section of The Believing Brain was too multi-faceted to write a post about it, so I'm going to take this opportunity to talk about the book as a whole.

First, a brief list of things I have learned from it:

  1. What we believe, why we believe it, and how we came to believe it is far more complicated than any single statement, just like a person's actions. We're the sum of our entire personal past, as well as the past of our species as a whole.
  2. People in the "community of skeptics" (i.e. skeptics who bother to go to Skeptic Conventions and such) often annoy me more than the paranormal-believer types.
  3. Belief really does come before rationalization-- we might have a reason for the beginning of a belief, but the continuation is a different story.
  4. Beliefs make everyone irrational, and everyone's biases make them blind--even Michael Shermer.

This book has flaws, mainly due to biases on behalf of the author. Some of these he acknowledges, and some he does not. It gets off-topic sometimes, but then again, the tangents are often interesting.

However, as I said in my first post about this book, those flaws make it all the more fascinating, since the reader can observe the very phenomena being discussed both in the author and in themselves as they make their way through it.

I enjoyed this book--not necessarily because it was amazing or because I agreed with everything it contained, but because it made me think about things I hadn't considered before. If you've enjoyed this series of posts, awesome. If you haven't, I assume you aren't even reading them by this point so I won't bother addressing you. ;)

Just to give you all a fair warning, my next book is Justice: What's the Right Thing To Do? by Michael J. Sandel, and it's a book-ization of one of Harvard's most-loved courses. There will be posts about this book, although most likely in a more topic-oriented fashion than the book-oriented style I've been doing with this one.

Friday, August 5, 2011

An Abundance of Quotes: Part 19, The Believing Brain

"Our mother has been absent ever since we founded Rome, but there's gonna be a party when the wolf comes home." - The Mountain Goats

Section 3 of The Believing Brain ("Belief in Things Unseen") includes chapters on the afterlife, God, aliens, and conspiracies. I skimmed the majority of it, having heard most of the arguments on Shermer's side of things before.

However, the chapter on the afterlife included these gems of quotes:
"It's not that I'm afraid to die. I just don't want to be there when it happens." - Woody Allen
"I intend to live forever. So far, so good." - Steven Wright 
An interesting definition of God:
"God is the ultimate pattern."
Then there are Einstein's thoughts on God...which are a bit confusing, but also both fascinating and beautiful.
"I believe in Spinoza's God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and doings of mankind."
"I have repeatedly said that in my opinion the idea of a personal God is a childlike one. You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervor is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth. I prefer an attitude of humility corresponding to the weakness of our intellectual understanding of nature and of our own being."

Some of my favorite quotes are from Einstein, but here is one from the work of another genius whom I also admire that applies to him well.
"The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool." - As You Like It
And on that note (segue win), I've just returned from a staging of said play interwoven with Star Wars. I won't say anything else about it, since I believe the premise speaks for itself. (In short: Be jealous. I'm still laughing.)

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Believing Brain, Part 2: The Biology of Belief

"He who stops being better stops being good." - Oliver Cromwell

Part 2 of The Believing Brain starts out with a chapter on patternicity-- humans' tendency to find patterns where there may or may not be any. This chapter was really cool because it describes an experiment in which it was discovered that pigeons have superstitions.

The pigeons were placed in boxes containing buttons at a suitable height for pecking. Food was delivered to the boxes at random intervals. However, if a pigeon received food after pecking the button one time but not another, it would remember whatever it was that it had done immediately before pecking the button. The result was pigeons spinning around once to the right, hopping, and all other manner of things before pecking the button.

Next there's the chapter on agenticity-- our tendency to assign intention to phenomena. If forces are intelligent rather than inanimate, it's easier to appease them, and easier to survive. One theory about the origin of agenticity is "theory of mind"- I know you have your own thoughts and feelings, and I know you know I know you have them.

The third and final chapter of the section-- the chapter on neurons-- is the point at which I began to like the book less. The complexities of the brain are mind-blowing to be sure, but the author was also a bit rude towards his "opponents" rather than the simple enthusiasm for the topic I'm used to seeing in scientific books. He draws lines between "creationist," "ignores all science," and "needs to be helped as soon as possible," and subtly implies that Islam itself leads to suicide bombing rather than small groups of extremists with their own interpretations. I know a creationist who wants to be a neuroscientist.

Although it was pretty cool to learn that we have a neuron that only fires when we see a picture of Bill Clinton. No one else.

Bam. How awesome is that?

There's also an interesting section on the effects of dopamine and the difference between liking (pleasure) and wanting (motivation).

Rats given lots of dopamine when a button was pressed would literally keep pressing the button until they died of exhaustion (not a bad way to go...). The new research indicates that dopamine is indeed related to wanting rather than simply pleasure.
"'You can block the dopamine system in rats and they will still enjoy rewards, but they just won't work to get them.'"
The wanting rather than simply liking isn't the most encouraging of research given this quote from an article in Psychology Today I just found specifically to prove this point:
"We use the term "falling in love" even though the first giddy days of a new romance feel buoyant, free from gravity, as if some perfectly placed wind were boosting us skyward. That sense of becoming airborne is so unforgettable that years later we may recall it longingly and wonder why relationships now seem so bound-to-Earth. We may even gaze on our partners with some dissatisfaction, measuring them against that lost intensity.
But the gleam of infatuation--if current theory is right--may be largely the product of unexpectedly potent brain chemistry. And the primary ingredient in that chemical brew is dopamine..."
And this, my friends, is why the apparent extent of the pain of break-ups doesn't make any logical sense. The chemical involved in romance is based on wanting rather than liking, and when we're deprived...

Remember when in my post about left brain vs. right brain I said how as much as I like taking personality tests, I hate seeing the results because I don't want to think about them or apply them to myself? I feel the same way about this. Neuroscience is fascinating to be sure, but I prefer to think of my mind as separate from my body/brain even though they're really the same, and I'd rather feel the joy and pain of love without chalking it up to chemicals in my head.

It's great to understand how and why people work the way we do, and I wouldn't be reading this book if I wasn't in favor of learning about it, but when it comes to actually living, I'd rather not quantify it in quite the same way.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

How To Survive The Tolerance Apocalypse

"The first principle is that you must not fool yourself-- and you are the easiest person to fool." - Richard Feynman

Disclaimer: Post may be offensive. Please read with discretion.

Ten funny movie charts.

Approximate quote from this book I found in a place that is not my house nor a library or bookstore: " to protect your child from the dangerous new cultural movement known as 'tolerance.'"

The book (New Tolerance) was too long to read in the short time I was there, so I thought I would compile my own set of directions.

How To Survive The Tolerance Apocalypse, the Elf Army Writes Edition

  1. Direct your browser to Amazon and search for "Circular Logic." Purchase. This is your weapon against both the tolerant people and those they are tolerating.
  2. Begin fighting your way into either the South or rural northeast to find more of your own kind-- there's strength in numbers. 
  3. Avoid all cars marked "hybrid" and those with bumper stickers not relating to sports teams. If you see any sticker that reads "Coexist," find the nearest shelter and stay there until your local news station tells you the coast is clear.
  4. If anyone you suspect might be infected approaches you, attempt to frighten them off with your Circular Logic.
  5. Settle somewhere far away from a public university-they're breeding grounds for the Infected. 
  6. If there is a wi-fi connection in your area, destroy it. Same with any televisions-- there's no knowing what they'll broadcast these days. Even Fox News isn't safe anymore-- they actually acknowledged Glee's existence.
  7. Willingly form concentration camps consisting only of your fellow intolerants. You will be safe here-- for some reason the Infected try not to stray within a mile's radius.
  8. Find a transceiver. Every few months, check to see if NPR still exists. If so, it is not yet safe to emerge. Please wait patiently.
  9. Use the transceiver to attempt contact with other groups. You need to keep the gene pool open, because you might be stuck in there for a long time. Then again, you don't believe in evolution, do you? Never mind. Forget I said anything.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Why We Love Dystopia

"In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is." - Yogi Berra

The dystopian/negative-utopian novel has seen a lot of popularity recently- due to the awesomeness of The Hunger Games. However, those themes have been popular, particularly among teenagers, for a lot longer than that (see the Rush album 2112, which my dad loved when he was my age, for example).

In Matched, by Ally Condie-- which isn't necessarily the most original or mind-bending book-- the government monitors the behavior of its citizens closely, and chooses the optimal spouse for everyone (their Match). And for the purposes of this post, they really truly are the best possible people for each other.

Which poses the question: If the "super controlling government" honestly is resulting in truly happier citizens (not people who merely think they're happy, as in Fahrenheit 451), is that control still wrong? Obviously it's impossible to actually Match everyone up perfectly, so it's not an issue that needs to have a resolution, but what if we could?

It's an interesting debate, and one I'd gladly have elsewhere arguing either side. However, the point of this post is not whether or not a pervasive government is desirable if it effectively ensures maximum happiness, but why specifically teenagers find such questions so fascinating.

Teenagers are people who have started paying attention to the world at large fairly recently, compared to everyone else. Kids will hear about world events, and they'll care about them, but at the end of the day, life consists of their life. "Politics are boring," they'll say. "Who cares about the economy?" But we've gotten to the point where we are interested in such things, and so we think about the world globally rather than in the microcosm of our place within it.

Yet we're still living in that small place. We have parents and siblings and learning and friends. We're in the process of becoming "adults." We're trying to grow up, regardless of whatever's happening around us.

We like dystopian/negative-utopian stories because they mirror the questions we're asking ourselves in our immediate lives, but in the context of the greater world that we find more interesting/important.

The question changes from "Should the government be allowed to control our lives to a far greater extent than they are now if they really are making us happier in the process?" to "My parents really do want the best for me. Should I go along with what they think because they're older and (hopefully) wiser and love me, or should I assert my independence simply on principle?"

The answer, of course, is never yes or no. In fact, I don't know if there is an answer. It's a question we continually ask ourselves, and we continually have to rethink our response. 

That, I think, is what's so appealing about dystopian/negative-utopian fiction, and why I keep reading the novels even though they're all virtually the same in many ways. I still don't know the answer, so I'm willing to reread the question within the context of a book again and again-- different words and different worlds each time, but the same dilemma.