Shame on You, Shame on Me: Shame as an Evolutionary Adaptation

by Jalees Rehman

ScreenHunter_1727 Feb. 29 11.09

A Belgian Iron 'scolds bridle' or 'branks' mask, with bell, used to publicly humiliate and punish, mainly women, for speaking out against authority, nagging, brawling with neighbors, blaspheming or lying.

Can shame be good for you? We often think of shame as a shackling emotion which thwarts our individuality and creativity. A sense of shame could prevent us from choosing a partner we truly love, speaking out against societal traditions which propagate injustice or pursuing a profession that is deemed unworthy by our peers. But if shame is so detrimental, why did we evolve with this emotion? A team of researchers led by Daniel Sznycer from the Center for Evolutionary Psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara recently published a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which suggests that shame is an important evolutionary adaptation. According to their research which was conducted in the United States, Israel and India, the sense of shame helps humans avoid engaging in acts that could lead to them being devalued and ostracized by their community.

For their first experiment, the researchers enrolled participants in the USA (118 participants completed the study; mean age of 36; 53% were female) and India (155 participants completed the study, mean age of 31, 38% were female) using the online Amazon Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing platform as well as 165 participants from a university in Israel (mean age of 23; 81% female). The participants were randomly assigned to two groups and presented with 29 scenarios: The “shame group” participants were asked to rate how much shame they would experience if they lived through any given scenario and whereas the “audience group” participants were asked how negatively they would rate a third-party person of the same age and gender as the participants in an analogous scenario.

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The Distortion of Politics

by Jonathan Kujawa

On a Friday night two weeks ago the US Supreme Court quietly announced they wouldn't hear a challenge to a lower court's order that North Carolina should redraw it's congressional districts. There wasn't much point in hearing the case. With Scalia gone the Court was widely expected to vote 4-4 on the case and ties go to whomever won the previous round. The case revolved around North Carolina's Districts 1 and 12. The lower court ruled that they were gerrymandered to pack more black voters into these districts. While gerrymandering is now a worldwide sensation, the US invented it and are true masters of the art.

Even a glance at NC District 12 makes it obvious that some fishy business is at work. A bow-legged cowboy could walk the length of NC 12 without touching either side:


From Wikipedia.

North Carolina is hardly the only offender. Illinois District 4 is sometimes called The Earmuffs thanks to its bizarre shape.

It's one thing to eyeball a district and guess that the ghost of Governor Elbridge Gerry was at work, but I'd rather quantify somehow that a district is overly gnarled. As I pondered this last week I noticed that, in contrast to a nice, compact geometric shape like a circle or square, the long, twisted shape of NC 12 and IL 4 has a lot of perimeter for the given area. A reasonable measure of the disfigurement of a shape is the ratio of perimeter to area. In fact, for reasons we'll discuss in a moment, we want the ratio of the square of the perimeter to the area. Let's call this the distortion of the shape [1]. In formula form distortion is given by:

Tex2Img_1456691992The reason we use the square of perimeter is that we want distortion to be what a geometer would call “unitless”. We want the distortion of a shape to be the same regardless of which units we use when measuring. Meters, miles, furlongs, and light years should all be equally good when calculating distortion.

To put it another way, we want distortion to measure an intrinsic quality of our shape and not depend on the scale we use. It shouldn't matter if we draw a square big or small when we calculate its distortion. Indeed, a square with side length x has perimeter 4x and area x2. The ratio of these two would be 4/x and would get ever smaller as the square grows in size. It would also vary if were to switch from meters to centimeters to millimeters. On the other hand, the distortion of every single square in the world is 16.

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Monday Poem

A Revolution of Tenderness

The pope suggests love in his
“Revolution of Tenderness and Love,”
and though popes have been on the wrong side of love,
this one, this Francis, is right

But a revolution of tenderness
which goes against the zeitgeist grain
to be rapacious is the Marianas Trench
of dashed hopes and, therefore,
the drowning place of dreams.
This is what the dark side says

The light side’s take is that tenderness
can be a fierce ally in our duel
with death

Jim Culleny

The Immorality of “The Will to Believe”

by Scott F. Aikin and Robert B. Talisse

William_James_b1842cWilliam James's classic essay, “The Will to Believe” purports to be a “justification of faith.” James's argument is driven by an analogy between, on the one hand, the activities of making friends and pursuing love interests and, on the other hand, that of sustaining religious commitment. The acceptability of James's analyses of the former is supposed to show that religious commitment is also acceptable. James's essay is notoriously convoluted, and thus widely criticized. The most frequent challenges to James's line of reasoning have fixed on the appropriateness of his leading analogy. The critic often accepts James's analysis of how to win friends and lovers, but then asks: How are friendships and romances at all like faith? Perhaps to the religiously committed the analogy is obviously too thin? We wouldn't know. So we propose a criticism that instead challenges James's account of how to form friendships and woo potential lovers. In a nutshell, James argues that religious commitment is justified even in the absence of decisive proof of the existence of a deity for the very same reason that, when trying to form a friendship or attract a lover, it is to one's benefit to assume that one's efforts toward achieving those ends will be successful. Your believing that the person you'd like as your friend or lover already likes you (or finds you attractive) can help to bring it about that you, indeed, are liked or found attractive. So James thinks it is with religious commitment: “faith in the fact can help create the fact,” he says. It is our contention that this line of reasoning yields a particularly noxious sense of entitlement in those who accept James's account; for this reason, James's views about friendships and romances are unacceptable. If these views are indeed analogues with religious commitment, it, too, is unacceptable.

James's argument draws on the observation that there are cases of what we may call doxastic efficacy, cases where it does seem that belief in advance of the requisite justification is instrumentally efficacious in making the belief true. When one adopts a belief for the sake of making that belief true, one thereby commits an act of assumption: one self-reflectively endorses holding a belief with the plan being that in holding the belief, one has reason to expect that one will behave in a way that will contribute to making the belief true.

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The Penal Colony

by Misha Lepetic

“Facts all come with points of view/
Facts don't do what I want them to.”
~ Talking Heads

Let-the-music-be-your-master-02What is it with Silicon Valley and the “disruption” of education? Is it just another sector of public life that is moribund and therefore in need of a serious intervention, as if it were ‘that friend’ who used to be fun and successful but is now just depressed and drinking too much? Or do Silicon Valley types have a chip on their shoulder – perhaps they were forced to sit through one too many pointless lectures on Kant or Amazonian tribes or feminist critiques of Florentine art, and now that they’re calling the shots they’re going to fix this giant mess that’s called higher education once and for all? (Trigger warning: the only people mentioned in this post are venture capitalists).

In any case, into the ever-narrowing sweepstakes of who can make the absolutely dumbest assertions about the value of education steps Vinod Khosla, elder statesman and patron saint of tech bros in Silicon Valley and beyond. Khosla, a fabulously successful venture capitalist, has waded into the education wars with a broadside so breathtaking in its myopia that you would be forgiven for thinking that it was lifted from the satirical pages of The Onion. But before getting into Khosla’s piece, let’s set the stage with a look at a fellow-disruptor’s contribution to the debate.

Libertarian investor Peter Thiel, also fabulously successful, has put forward $100,000 scholarships fellowships for “young people who want to build new things instead of sitting in a classroom”. Thiel’s mission is to pluck potential John Galts out of the stream of college-bound lemmings and give them the latitude to realize their entrepreneurial potential. He believes that college, as it is currently constituted, leads to stagnant thinking and a narrowing of one’s horizons and potential. Which is odd, considering that most people go to college to have exactly the opposite experience. Be that as it may, anyone under the age of 22 is welcome to apply, which is a fairly dramatic, late-capitalist re-write of the countercultural edict to “not trust anyone over 30.”

I actually don’t have much of a problem with this, because Thiel is not trying to rewire the university system. He is providing more options for a vanishingly small group of people (104 so far since the fellowship’s 2010 inception), and I’ve always been convinced that college – or more specifically, a liberal arts education – is not for everyone. It never has been, and it never will be. That’s not to say that it shouldn’t be available for anyone who wants it. But it is a prime example of overreach when the system screws into people’s heads that “everyone needs a college degree” and that subsequently people waste their money getting a BA in communications, whatever that is. There are certainly people who don’t need to go to college, and I like the fact that Thiel is providing more options, not less.

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Eating: The Not So Simple Pleasure

by Dwight Furrow

ChiliPlunging into a bowl of chili differs from a dog's dinner only by degrees. Slobbering, slurping, and gnashing, the dense but yielding meat mingles with the earthiness of dried peppers. The gathering heat pleads to be chased with a swallow of cold, bitter beer that cuts the tension with a flood of endorphin-induced satisfaction.

Well, it's not all that special—just a bowl of chili. But the simple act of consumption is undeniably rewarding. Food and drink provide us with an immediate hedonic reaction—no thinking, no analysis, no bothersome complexity. Our own likes and dislikes rule without judgment. You either like it or you don't and no one can tell you you're wrong (if you put away the calorie counter).

Such unreflective feasting is not exactly information-rich, but it is not utterly blind either. Dominant flavors and textures are familiar and thus instantly recognizable. But each forkful is more or less like the other and any evolution on the palate is buried by the next rapidly following mouthful. The satisfactions of this sort of eating can be had while thinking about more important matters like world peace or getting your nails done.

We all eat like this sometimes. Our nature dictates it. Evolution designed us, under conditions of scarcity, to crave such brute pleasure as a hedge against tomorrow when food might be unavailable. Life would be diminished if we could not enjoy this kind of eating.

But another kind of eating is possible and ultimately more important. With some focused attention, even a simple bowl of chili has interesting imensions: a slight smokiness from the bacon and charred chunks of beef, an unexpected fruity note from an abundance of aji panca chiles, and multiple savory layers from hours of slow cooking that we can appreciate only by attending to the shifting balance of flavors as they evolve on the palate. In a bowl of chili, there is food for thought as well as for consumption.

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Queen Morayma: A Photo Essay

by Shadab Zeest Hashmi

ScreenHunter_1728 Feb. 29 15.31At the end of the story, in its final pages, is a queen. Her name is Morayma. Refusing to be erased or memorialized, she is an inexhaustible figure in a book I long finished, a book of poems tracing the history of Al Andalus.

I am in Granada again; after all these years of writing, publishing, and presenting my book, reading to audiences in numerous venues in no less than a dozen cities in America and around the world, I am about to discover why Morayma eludes history, why she haunts my book and casts a shadow on me instead of staying in the story with the other characters.

Morayma appears at the end, when, as I say elsewhere:

Nearly eight hundred years have passed in Al Andalus, Muslim Spain— years turning like great mills, a resplendence of work reflected in books and buildings, cities and institutions, technology and aesthetics, bridging antiquity with modernity, east with west, fissured periodically but sewn back again and again by Iberian Muslims, Jews and Christians.

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Free Market Competition Rewards Deception and Manipulation


An excerpt from George A. Akerlof and Robert J. Shiller's Phishing for Phools: The Economics of Manipulation and Deception, over at Evonomics:

[F]ree markets do not just deliver this cornucopia that people want. They also create an economic equilibrium that is highly suitable for economic enterprises that manipulate or distort our judgment, using business practices that are analogous to biological cancers that make their home in the normal equilibrium of the human body. The slot machine is a blunt example. It is no coincidence that before they were regulated and outlawed slot machines were so common that they were unavoidable. Insofar as we have any weakness in knowing what we really want, and also insofar as such a weakness can be profitably generated and primed, markets will seize the opportunity to take us in on those weaknesses. They will zoom in and take advantage of us. They will phish us for phools…

The word phish, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, was coined in 1996 as the Web was getting established. That dictionary defines phish as “To perpetrate a fraud on the Internet in order to glean personal information from individuals, esp. by impersonating a reputable company; to engage in online fraud by deceptively ‘angling’ for personal information.” 11 We are creating a new, broader meaning for the word phish here. We take the computer definition as a metaphor. Rather than viewing phishing as illegal, we present a definition for something that is much more general and goes much further back in history. It is about getting people to do things that are in the interest of the phisherman, but not in the interest of the target. It is about angling, about dropping an artificial lure into the water and sitting and waiting as wary fish swim by, make an error, and get caught. There are so many phishers and they are so ingenious in the variety of their lures that, by the laws of probability, we all get caught sooner or later, however wary we may try to be. No one is exempt.

By our definition, a phool is someone who, for whatever reason, is successfully phished. There are two kinds of phool: psychological and informational. Psychological phools, in turn, come in two types. In one case, the emotions of a psychological phool override the dictates of his common sense. In the other case, cognitive biases, which are like optical illusions, lead him to misinterpret reality, and he acts on the basis of that misinterpretation. Mollie is an example of an emotional phool, but not a cognitive phool. She was remarkably self-aware of her situation at the slots, but she could not help herself.

Information phools act on information that is intentionally crafted to mislead them. Enron stockholders are an example.

More here.

Approaching Religious Violence: Part One


Suzanne Schneider in The Revealer:

At first glance, it may not seem like religious freedom and religious violence have much to do with one another; indeed, they appear to most of us as antithetical. This fact makes it all the more interesting to note the way in which these concepts are historically intertwined. Briefly stated, we can trace the origin of both back to 17th century struggles over who, or what, could exercise political authority. These conflicts (often erroneously referred to as Europe’s “religious wars”) were in fact less about dogma than the exercise of sovereignty, and more specifically, the early modern state’s attempt to wrest political control from the Catholic Church. It was only by depriving ecclesiastical authorities of their coercive powers that individual states were able to secure, in Max Weber’s famous terms, a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence within their territories.

The long and bloody process of executing this power transfer necessarily entailed redefining, or rather inventing, religion as a distinct element of human experience: simultaneously inner-facing and other-worldly, i.e. defined in terms that did not compete with state sovereignty. Martin Luther’s theological revolution became central to this process, not least because he established the principle of separation between spiritual and temporal powers and emphasized the importance of private faith over public works. A person’s inner world, still an epistemological infant in Luther’s day, would become increasingly real as the decades passed. Most importantly for our purposes, it was in this emerging realm of individual consciousness that “true religion” would come to reside.

The term appears in two important works of seventeenth century political theory: Thomas Hobbe’s Leviathan and Baruch Spinoza’s Theological-Political Treatise, published in 1651 and 1670, respectively. It may seem that these seminal texts are completely incompatible: Hobbes has often been described as a theorist for despotism, while Spinoza is regarded as a proto-democratic thinker who holds a place of privilege in the history of liberal thought. There is much nuance lost in such descriptions, of course, but my primary interest at present is how Hobbes and Spinoza thought about the relationship between religion, state sovereignty, and individual freedom. In this context, I find fascinating their respective invocations of “true religion” to mean something quite different than the actual religious practices of their time. If the reader is willing to follow me down this conceptual rabbit hole, I think we will find that their propositions regarding the nature of “true religion” are still very much in circulation.

True religion, as the concept appears in both texts, is an abstract entity that is neither the possession of any single group nor reducible to any particular form of religious practice.

More here.

The Truth Matters: DNC Speech by Michelle Obama

From Chickenbones:

MicheletruthServing as your First Lady is an honor and a privilege…but back when we first came together four years ago, I still had some concerns about this journey we’d begun. While I believed deeply in my husband’s vision for this country . . . and I was certain he would make an extraordinary President…like any mother, I was worried about what it would mean for our girls if he got that chance. How would we keep them grounded under the glare of the national spotlight? How would they feel being uprooted from their school, their friends, and the only home they’d ever known? Our life before moving to Washington was filled with simple joys…Saturdays at soccer games, Sundays at grandma’s house…and a date night for Barack and me was either dinner or a movie, because as an exhausted mom, I couldn’t stay awake for both.

And the truth is, I loved the life we had built for our girls…I deeply loved the man I had built that life with…and I didn’t want that to change if he became President. I loved Barack just the way he was.

You see, even though back then Barack was a Senator and a presidential candidate . . . to me, he was still the guy who’d picked me up for our dates in a car that was so rusted out, I could actually see the pavement going by through a hole in the passenger side door . . . he was the guy whose proudest possession was a coffee table he’d found in a dumpster, and whose only pair of decent shoes was half a size too small.

But when Barack started telling me about his family—that’s when I knew I had found a kindred spirit, someone whose values and upbringing were so much like mine. You see, Barack and I were both raised by families who didn’t have much in the way of money or material possessions but who had given us something far more valuable—their unconditional love, their unflinching sacrifice, and the chance to go places they had never imagined for themselves.

My father was a pump operator at the city water plant, and he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when my brother and I were young. And even as a kid, I knew there were plenty of days when he was in pain . . . I knew there were plenty of mornings when it was a struggle for him to simply get out of bed. But every morning, I watched my father wake up with a smile, grab his walker, prop himself up against the bathroom sink, and slowly shave and button his uniform. And when he returned home after a long day’s work, my brother and I would stand at the top of the stairs to our little apartment, patiently waiting to greet him . . . watching as he reached down to lift one leg, and then the other, to slowly climb his way into our arms. But despite these challenges, my dad hardly ever missed a day of work . . . he and my mom were determined to give me and my brother the kind of education they could only dream of. And when my brother and I finally made it to college, nearly all of our tuition came from student loans and grants. But my dad still had to pay a tiny portion of that tuition himself. And every semester, he was determined to pay that bill right on time, even taking out loans when he fell short. He was so proud to be sending his kids to college…and he made sure we never missed a registration deadline because his check was late. You see, for my dad, that’s what it meant to be a man.

More here. (Note: At least one post will be dedicated to honor Black History Month throughout February)

The Physics Of Leap Day

Ethan Siegel in Forbes:

ScreenHunter_1725 Feb. 28 16.24Once approximately every four years, the elusive entity that occurs this Monday — February 29th — comes along. The historical origins and urban legends associated with it are incredibly interesting, but the reason there’s any such thing asLeap Day at all is because of the physics of planet Earth. The Earth, of course, is rotating on its axis while simultaneously revolving around the Sun. That rotation is responsible for sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset, the Coriolis effect, and the rotation of all the stars in the night sky about the poles. Revolution, on the other hand, is responsible for the seasons; when your hemisphere tilted away from the Sun, that’s when you have your winter (and minimum daylight), and when your hemisphere is tilted towards the Sun, that’s when you have your luminous summer.

And you probably learned that a day is 24 hours, due to the rotation, while a year is 365 days (with an occasional 366 for leap years), taking care of the revolution. It turns out it’s a little more complicated than that!

More here.

A Friendly Open Letter to Bill Nye (about Philosophy)

David Kyle Johnson in Psychology Today:

ScreenHunter_1724 Feb. 28 16.18Dear Bill Nye

Recently, in a “Big Think” segment(link is external), you were asked about your opinion of philosophy. Your response was less than generous. This isn't the first time I've heard similar opinions from well-respected scientists and science communicators. But as a philosophy professor, it pains me awfully when I see and hear such things—and this time I felt obligated to respond.

Now let me be clear. I have nothing but respect for your work bringing scientific knowledge to the general population. In fact, I celebrate it! (I hope one day my two year old falls in love with your work.) Indeed, I love science and am well versed in it. I teach a course on scientific reasoning for our physics department, and on how to recognize medical pseudoscience for our sports medicine department. I emphasize heavily the scientific method in my logic and critical thinking classes. I have lectures on General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics in “Exploring Metaphysics” (one of my courses for The Great Courses). In my academic work, I bring scientific reasoning to bear on as many philosophical questions as I can. I couldn’t be a more dedicated advocate of science.

In other words Bill, I’m on your side. Ergo, we are on the same side. So, why aren't we working together?

More here.

The Nuclear Reaction

Michael Fumento in Inference:

ScreenHunter_1723 Feb. 28 16.14Wind and solar energy are not becoming competitive with other forms of electricity generation in the United States. Impressions to the contrary are based on flawed data. In its accounting, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) uses what it calls levelized costs. These represent the per-kilowatt-hour cost of financing, building, operating, and maintaining an electricity generation plant over its assumed financial life.

Levelized costs were designed to permit a comparison between all forms of electricity generation, but data for wind and solar energy, on the one hand, and other sources of fuel, on the other, do not necessarily correspond.

The nameplate capacity of a plant designates its production maximum under ideal circumstances. The capacity factor of a plant, by way of contrast, designates the percentage of its nameplate capacity that it realizes in day-to-day operations. Nuclear has an impressive capacity factor of about 92 percent in the United States, more than double what it was in 1972. This improvement is one of the unsung successes of nuclear power.5 The capacity factors for wind and solar energy are at the opposite end of the scale. According to the EIA, wind averages about 34 percent; the Global Wind Energy Council estimates it at only between 15 and 30 percent.6 The EIA estimates the capacity factor for solar energy at 28 percent; the industry itself gives a lower range of between 10 and 25 percent.7

These are interesting discrepancies between government and industry estimates.

More here.

Meet the YouTube star taking the Jewish world by storm

Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man in 972 Magazine:

ScreenHunter_1722 Feb. 28 16.00In the first four episodes of what promises to be a biting satirical critique of Israeli society, Avi, whose too-bad-to-be-true persona seems to be throwing a good number of her viewers for a loop, transitions from a what-the-hell-is-going-on episode full of tips for future Birthright participants to more serious attempts at journalism. Take, for instance, the episode where she comes up with her own offensive solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at Tel Aviv’s Pride Parade.

Asked to describe what the hell it is that she’s doing, Avi, who isn’t quite a real person, says: “think hard-hitting journalism with a sexy Zionist touch. I’m a cross between Oprah, Golda Meir, Fiddler on the Roof, and Bar Rafieli.” She’s also unabashedly racist, refuses to recognize the existence of the Palestinian people, and understands the nuances of Israeli society about as well as Benjamin Netanyahu understands Islam.

However, when Avi offered to give an interview to +972, I couldn’t resist. So with a healthy dose of willful suspension of disbelief, I sat down with Ms. Schwartzberger this week to discuss how she became the young woman she is today, what she hopes to accomplish with her “journalism,” and the intersectionality of indigenous struggles from Palestine to Nova Scotia.

Tell me about yourself. How did you end up in Israel and why are you making this video series?

I’m a Canadian Jewess who came to Israel on a Birthright trip and fell in love with the holy land. The guys were so hot I decided to stay.

Also, I wanted to make something viral to make all the haters shut up. So many people are hating on Israel and I wanted to show my friends, the Jews and non-Jews back home, the real Israel — not the “evil” Israel they show on anti-Semitic CNN.

More here.

Sunday Poem

Doce Mel

we were hot and thirsty
so we went into a tiny place to get an agua com gás Poems from Brazil with title
the place was called
Doce Mel
the woman who served us was tiny
and she wore a kind of turban hat

before we left we noticed they had
pudim and suco de açai
so we planned to come back after climbing the 1000 steps

when we came back
the tiny woman with the turban hat
greeted us like
long lost old friends
we had pudim
it was the best we’d ever tasted
we had a pitcher of açai juice
oh how we missed açai
we asked her about the other cakes in the display case
when she said, “aipim bolo com coco
Julie nodded
so she brought us a piece
it was the best we’d ever tasted

I wanted to let her know how happy she’d made us
I wanted to tell her what a special place she made in this world
but we just smiled
and thanked her and left

by Robert Markey
from Poems from Brazil


doce mel: sweet honey
agua com gás: carbonated water
pudim: pudding
suco de açai: açai juice
aipim bolo com coco:
cassava cake with coconut