Monthly Archives: February 2010

Pathological heroism?

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Earlier I blogged about Philip Zimbardo’s mission to cultivate “The heroic imagination” and about the sociopathic attitude of Ghengis Khan.

Now comes word from Andrea Kuszewski in “Addicted to Being Good? The Psychopathology Of Heroism” that sociopaths and heroes share many heritable psychological traits.

But, unlike pathetic, apparently soulless, sociopaths, heroes are fortunate enough to also have the brain hardware for empathy.

If so, this would be yet another reason why sociopathy persists in the gene pool. Maybe you can’t have heroes without having sociopaths, too.

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Making things happen

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According to Edward de Bono

If I had to choose the one motivating factor that seems to me to be operating in most successful people, it is the wish to make things happen.

I wonder if the emphasis on “results orientation” doesn’t sometimes inhibit this impulse in those who are nearer the middle of the distribution on this trait. Often the “result” I most want to see is simply getting started, taking action, making a down payment on the final deliverable.

Everything must go

Idle days are the nightmare’s workshop

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Speculation: If your brain is not engaged, especially with learning new stuff during the day, there’s not much for it chew on at night, so it spins into crazy places as if you were hallucinating from free-floating too long in a sensory deprivation tank.

Aside: As discussed here, I don’t agree with Adam Khan’s misgivings here about a wandering mind, although I definitely agree with him about the importance of purpose. (Easier said than done, of course, and I’m not fully convinced that “La lutte elle-même vers les sommets suffit à remplir un cœur d’homme. Il faut imaginer Sisyphe heureux.” or “The struggle itself toward the summit is enough to fill a human heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”)

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We hold these instincts to be self-evident

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[tweetmeme source=”blogbrut”]One reason that political arguments are so often uncivil is that the motivations arise from such deep, instinctual sources. Through some combination of genetic predisposition and childrearing practices we differ on things such as which rate of change is most comfortable, which degree of hierarchical structuring, and so on. And we have different levels of creativity, self-discipline, religiosity, novelty seeking, extroversion, and so on.

It’s hard not to feel that people with radically different preferences than you are anything but stupid, bad, weak, immoral, and so on, because these preferences feel so obvious, and the opinions derived from them so self-evidently true.

This illusion is compounded by the tendency to congregate with others that share our instincts, and to seldom speak openly and deeply with those who don’t.

To top it all off, each of these groups is usually manipulated by what might loosely be termed a “sociopathic” type, who prey on the sincere for material advantage or just to feel like a big-shot. This creepy type is often over-represented among the most visible representative of each group. The tendency is to look at them, rightly conclude they are vile, but then generalize it to the entire group.

Measuring real prosperity

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Regarding the article “Rural America Surprisingly Prosperous, Study Finds“, I commented

I agree that growth is a stupid measure of prosperity. But this study didn’t seem to measure innovation or acceptance of minorities (ethnic, viewpoint, sexual orientation, religion). Not that rural areas are necessarily low on these measures. But they’re important components of real prosperity. Are rural areas contributing any new ideas? Are they a safe place to be different? If the study didn’t measure these, how can they claim to have measured prosperity?

Leonardo’s “grotesque error”

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According to Steven Levingston

Da Vinci […] had already painted “The Last Supper,” but it was his thinking on science and technology […] that landed him in Borgia’s service as his chief military engineer. Da Vinci contributed his considerable gifts to strengthening the duke’s fortresses (curved walls reduced the impact of cannonballs), drawing maps (with the use of his invention, the hodometer, to measure precise distances) and building ad hoc bridges for the duke’s army to cross rivers.

Ultimately, however, da Vinci became disgusted by Borgia. By the time he escaped the duke’s employ, da Vinci had undergone “a profound psychological change . . . as a result of his terrifying experiences.” He still worked on his own projects — paintings, designs for buildings, canal improvements — but could finish little. He considered publishing his understanding of science and technology but was unable to see the effort through. After his exposure to Borgia, Strathern writes, da Vinci realized that development of his military engineering skills — once a source of pride and ambition — was a “grotesque error.” While he continued to fill his notebooks with diagrams, drawings and speculations, da Vinci also wrote, “I will not publish, nor divulge such things because of the evil nature of men.” In the end, he left a meager legacy: There are no sculptures, no complete buildings, from his architectural drawings and only a handful of paintings, some unfinished.

See also “Do not put your trust in chariots and weapons“.