Posts concerning psychology

The Zimmerman Verdict

23:15 14 Jul 2013

George Zimmerman, accused of second-degree murder and/or manslaughter of Trayvon Martin, was acquitted yesterday. The social media response I’ve seen has been almost uniformly one of disgust or despair, intermingled with the apparent belief that the verdict is representative of racism in the United States (and, perhaps, in Florida particularly).

Based on what I know, I think Zimmerman probably accosted Martin in some way and provoked or initiated the struggle that ended with his killing Martin. And had I been on the jury, I would have voted to acquit. Because “probably” isn’t enough.

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Trust Us

15:28 16 Jun 2013

It appears that the NSA has been collecting both phone call metadata and actual phone call content from an unknown, but very likely vast, number of American citizens, and that this likely extends to other forms of communication such as email and text messaging. They may have been doing this in violation of the US Constitution while avoiding getting that issue before the courts, but they may also have been doing this in violation of the guidelines that the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act court has laid down—i.e. illegally.

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Dropping the San Francisco Chronicle

23:54 19 May 2013

I’ve been a subscriber to the San Francisco Chronicle for almost 13 years, the entire time I’ve lived in the city. I started that subscription because I was used to living in a household where newspapers were a daily staple, and because I wanted to support local journalism. I also felt that major cities should have newspapers and I should thus support the city paper.

And now I’m ending my subscription.

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Some Clues to How Creativity Works

20:43 08 Apr 2012

Last Wednesday I went to a talk by Jonah Lehrer on the topic of creativity, and left it feeling quite inspired. This post is a brief summary of why.

(Any inaccuracies in this outline are my own, as there is no guarantee that I understood what Jonah Lehrer intended to convey; I intend to read his book Imagine: How Creativity Works for more insight, but have not yet done so.)

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23:51 04 Sep 2011. Updated: 18:19 17 Sep 2011

Last week there was a significant amount of internet outcry over a post by Alyssa Bereznak about two dates she went on with Jon Finkel, a former Magic: The Gathering world champion. Bereznak called him out by name, and made clear that she had no interest in dating him because he was a former MTG world champion who still played the game. She also did more than that, and it’s the more that I’m looking at in this post—that, and how a defense of Bereznak by Sady Doyle at Tiger Beatdown misses the point and perpetuates the core problem with the original post.

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Expression, Pseudonymity, Google+

23:06 21 Aug 2011. Updated: 18:19 17 Sep 2011

Google+ has come under fire recently for banning users who don’t have usernames conforming to the service’s rules about what usernames should be like. Google’s policies on the matter are wrong, and the reasons why they’re wrong, as well as the potential implications of their policy, are important.

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The Rorschach Riots

23:28 14 Aug 2011. Updated: 18:19 17 Sep 2011

I mean the various incidents of unrest in England earlier this week. The reference is not to the Watchmen character, but to the blots, because from what I can tell every commentator (I include myself here) is seeing in the events a confirmation of their already-existing political beliefs. That’s not unique to this particular issue, but it strikes me as a particularly egregious example of the phenomenon.

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4 Philosophical Questions Examined in Light of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

23:45 23 May 2011. Updated: 15:05 12 Mar 2012

Unsurprisingly, yesterday’s explorations of scale led me to ponder questions of meaning and meaninglessness, and reminded me of this excellent article by Julia Galef over at 3 Quarks Daily. The answer, of course, must be 42; the questions Galef addresses are:

  1. What’s the point of anything if we’re all going to be dead someday?
  2. What’s the purpose of our existence?
  3. How can any of our lives matter in the grand scheme of things?
  4. Things seem to happen without rhyme or reason.

(Presumably the last one should have been “why do things seem to happen without rhyme or reason?”)

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The Scary Thing is, it Must Work Some of the Time

23:56 20 May 2011. Updated: 01:09 21 May 2011

Personally, I don’t think Turing would have been too impressed; also, could your thinking the bot is human in a case like this be considered a test failure on your part? That brings up one of my favorite rhetorical questions: “what do we do with humans who fail the Turing Test?”.

(This reminds me of my less-funny-but-possibly-still-amusing Dialogue with Eliza.)

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Amazing Graduation Speech

23:54 17 May 2011

Via the last psychiatrist, here’s the fantastic speech that Patton Oswalt gave to graduating seniors at his old high school. I think the beginning is funny, but the beginning isn’t really the point, as you’ll see when you read it.

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Maybe Try Praying for Cognition Instead

17:37 22 Apr 2011

WHEREAS, hundreds of years have passed since it might have been excusable for any reasonable human to believe in the power of attempting to telepathically transmit thoughts to imaginary beings in the hope that these beings will alter conditions on Earth; and

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A New Kind of Personality Test

22:17 07 Apr 2011

I haven’t seen this before; you should try it out: The Pierley/Redford Dissociative Affect Diagnostic (via waxy.org). (Unfortunately, it’s in Flash.)

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Defending Tennessee from the Specter of Islamic Rule

22:54 01 Mar 2011

This is amazingly ridiculous: “Tennessee Jumps on the Anti-Sharia Bandwagon”. That’s right, Tennessee State Senator Bill Ketron has introduced a bill that essentially equates the practice of Sharia law with treason. While it might not pass, and if it did pass it would pretty clearly not be Constitutional, it’s really sad that it’s even been proposed.

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Happiness Progress

21:06 14 Feb 2011

Long-time readers of this blog will know that happiness is a recurring concern of my posts. Recently, I seem to have made some kind of significant step, or crossed some important line, towards happiness.

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Self-Expression & Voice

22:37 16 Jan 2011. Updated: 20:10 18 Jan 2011

What does it mean to truly express yourself? At first glance, it may seem that this is a pointless question, since the truth value of self-expression can only really be measured by the subject. But that’s not how it really works, and generally we’re well able to spot falsity, artificiality, and posturing. I don’t mean that we’re able to detect lies, as I’m not really talking about objective truth here, but more about what we believe about ourselves and the use of our genuine voice, where “genuine” is something that can’t necessarily be pinned down by a solid definition.

This lack of a solid definition, and of empirical testability, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. It’s probably easiest to observe “non-genuine self-expression” when children do it, or when we ourselves remember doing it as children. Children will generally do this imitatively, trying to act in some way that they’ve seen others act, most likely in an attempt to be treated similarly to how those others are treated. It’s clear to an observer that it’s an act, and the child knows it’s an act but is committed to denying that knowledge. That is an example of the inverse of self-expression, but probably only one of the easiest forms to spot—after all, which is more likely to occur as we grow older, that we give up posturing and posing to attract the kinds of attention we desire, or that we become far more adept at so doing?

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Today’s Public Service Message

09:07 23 Dec 2010

I so so so wish this were satirical.

I’m really at a loss for words with this one. It’s like someone made the Platonic ideal of the “piss Tadhg off” video.

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A Brief WikiLeaks Comment

18:25 05 Dec 2010

I’ve been following the situation with WikiLeaks’ release of diplomatic cables fairly closely, and find it rather interesting as an effective use of the internet to fight government control of information. In that sense, it’s a hopeful sign, a demonstration that a relatively small group of people can still resist the forces of the powerful.

On the other hand, the reaction to the release, particularly in the mainstream press here, has been an appalling if unsurprising demonstration of the servility of our political culture.

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Positive Reinforcement Versus Stereotypes

19:41 30 Nov 2010

In some settings, at least, it looks like positive reinforcement can win. A Colorado physics lecturer had his students do writing exercises designed to aid their sense of self-worth, and these exercises significantly reduce the performance gap between the genders.

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Zappos Service

23:55 19 Oct 2010

I’ve ordered shoes a few times from Zappos, and I’ve been quite happy with them. Everything has worked well, and I’ve had no complaints. Today, when I picked up my Zappos package expecting to see my brand new pair of Inov-8 F-Lite 195s (yes, apparently CrossFit trends get to me too), I instead opened up a pair of women’s shoes intended for someone in Seattle.

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The Desire to Believe

23:56 05 Oct 2010

Apparently quite a few people believed last year that the Obama administration really was going to seriously try to get a public option included in the health care bill—and, further, continued to believe that they had tried to do so even after no such option appeared. It is now quite clear that this was, so say the least, naive.

What about the desire to believe, though? In the linked article, Glenn Greenwald notes that the column he wrote at the time about Obama’s lack of commitment to the public option generated vast amounts of intense hate mail. Clearly there were many people who really wanted to believe, and who objected strenuously to Greenwald’s attempt to puncture their bubble.

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Teenage Witchcraft

23:50 29 Sep 2010. Updated: 00:29 01 Oct 2010

I’ve mostly ignored Christine O’Donnell up to this point, as it doesn’t surprise me much that a highly active group of Republican Christian paranoiacs could propel one of their own to a Senate candidacy. I also think that she has no chance of winning the seat and as such will fade back into obscurity—unlike, for example, Sarah Palin, who despite everything else seems to have an excellent sense of opportunistic timing. My feelings about O’Donnell were broadly similar to, although less developed than, those outlined in Chris Floyd’s “Circle Jerks: Delaware Distraction Obscures Oval Office Atrocities”.

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Fear and Stupidity Go So Well Together

23:30 13 Sep 2010

Sometimes it’s just too ridiculous: San Luis Obispo police are warning parents about Pedobear. No, not just a throwaway comment by a spokesperson. They have a flyer (two pages) about it. Amazing.

For some perspective, how about “5 Worries Parents Should Drop, And 5 They Shouldn’t”. I grant you that it doesn’t specifically mention Pedobear, but I’m pretty sure we can place that in the first list.

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22:34 09 Sep 2010

Near the start of July I mentioned the idea of keeping a “gratitude journal”. I’ve been doing that, more or less, since then.

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