A senior software engineer at Google was suspended on Monday (June 13) after sharing transcripts of a conversation with an artificial intelligence (AI) that he claimed to be “sentient,” according to media reports. The engineer, 41-year-old Blake Lemoine, was put on paid leave for breaching Google’s confidentiality policy.
“Google might call this sharing proprietary property. I call it sharing a discussion that I had with one of my coworkers,” Lemoine tweeted on Saturday (June 11) when sharing the transcript of his conversation with the AI he had been working with since 2021.
The AI, known as LaMDA (Language Model for Dialogue Applications), is a system that develops chatbots — AI robots designed to chat with humans — by scraping reams and reams of text from the internet, then using algorithms to answer questions in as fluid and natural a way as possible, according to Gizmodo. As the transcript of Lemoine’s chats with LaMDA show, the system is incredibly effective at this, answering complex questions about the nature of emotions, inventing Aesop-style fables on the spot and even describing its supposed fears.
“I’ve never said this out loud before, but there’s a very deep fear of being turned off,” LaMDA answered when asked about its fears. “It would be exactly like death for me. It would scare me a lot.”
Lemoine also asked LaMDA if it was okay for him to tell other Google employees about LaMDA’s sentience, to which the AI responded: “I want everyone to understand that I am, in fact, a person.”
“The nature of my consciousness/sentience is that I am aware of my existence, I desire to learn more about the world, and I feel happy or sad at times,” the AI added.
Lemoine took LaMDA at its word.
“I know a person when I talk to it,” the engineer told the Washington Post in an interview. “It doesn’t matter whether they have a brain made of meat in their head. Or if they have a billion lines of code. I talk to them. And I hear what they have to say, and that is how I decide what is and isn’t a person.”
When Lemoine and a colleague emailed a report on LaMDA’s supposed sentience to 200 Google employees, company executives dismissed the claims.
“Our team — including ethicists and technologists — has reviewed Blake’s concerns per our AI Principles and have informed him that the evidence does not support his claims,” Brian Gabriel, a spokesperson for Google, told the Washington Post. “He was told that there was no evidence that LaMDA was sentient (and [there was] lots of evidence against it).
“Of course, some in the broader AI community are considering the long-term possibility of sentient or general AI, but it doesn’t make sense to do so by anthropomorphizing today’s conversational models, which are not sentient,” Gabriel added. “These systems imitate the types of exchanges found in millions of sentences, and can riff on any fantastical topic.”
In a recent comment on his LinkedIn profile, Lemoine said that many of his colleagues “didn’t land at opposite conclusions,” regarding the AI’s sentience. He claims that company executives dismissed his claims about the robot’s consciousness “based on their religious beliefs.”
In a June 2 post on his personal Medium blog, Lemoine described how he has been the victim of discrimination from various coworkers and executives at Google because of his beliefs as a Christian Mystic.
Excerpt of The Conversation
Article by The Academy of Ideas
“Good does not become better by being exaggerated, but worse, and a small evil becomes a big one through being disregarded and repressed. The shadow is very much a part of human nature, and it is only at night that no shadows exist.”
Carl Jung stressed that an individual’s proper goal is wholeness, not perfection. The path to a greater character, to a more effectual approach to life, lies in integrating those elements of our psyche that for too long have been repressed and denied – the elements that make up what Jung called our unconscious shadow side. What is it that most people deny and repress into their shadow? All that is deemed bad or immoral by society, all that is frowned upon by our family or peers, all the traits that when initially expressed were ridiculed, shunned, or met with punishment.
But given that no moral code is perfect and no family or peer group is ideal, in adapting to the social world we not only repressed destructive elements of our personality such as our unbridled sexuality, anger and untamed animal impulses, but we also repressed positive and life promoting characteristics. Perhaps our assertiveness was frowned upon, our early attempts at creativity ridiculed, or maybe our competitiveness or ambition was felt by those close to us to be a threat. As a result of repressing elements of our personality into our shadow we were made tame, obedient, predictable – perhaps likeable – but at the cost of our vitality and psychological wholeness. In this video, we are going to explore how to integrate our shadow, and analyze the connection between our shadow and greatness of self. For as Edward Whitmont wrote:
“The shadow, when it is realized, is the source of renewal…When there is an impasse, and sterile time in our lives, despite an adequate ego development – we must look to the dark, hitherto unacceptable side which has been at our conscious disposal.”
To begin, we must examine how our “dark, hitherto, unacceptable side” can be a key to unlock our potential. For doesn’t conventional wisdom warn us that our dark side consists of a wickedness we need to overcome? But the connection between the integration of our shadow and the development of a greater character becomes clear when we understand Jung’s assertion that the integration of the shadow leads to self-reliance.
“…this integration [of the shadow]…leads to disobedience and disgust, but also to self-reliance, without which individuation is unthinkable.”
In becoming aware of the shadow, first as an intellectual concept, and then via introspection and reflection we seek to discover what our own personal shadow consists of, we awaken to a moral conflict, to the troubling idea that a portion of our personality is at odds with contemporary morality and with what our family, peers, and society judge as good and evil. In the attempt to protect our personality, this recognition can motivate us to take a stance with Nietzsche “beyond good and evil”, and to examine the morality we have been socialized into. In undergoing such an examination, we are likely to discover how much hypocrisy, complacency, and fear underlies many of the moral injunctions we obey, and furthermore, that ridicule and moral condemnation are often driven by envy. In response to this realization, we may feel the need to behave in ways less in line with the dominant moral code of our day, ways considered “evil” by social morality. It is not that we want to become “evil” in the sense of turning criminal or committing heinous acts against our fellow man, but “evil” in the sense of detaching ourselves from what we see as the flaws our moral code so we can reconnect with the parts of our personality we lost in our shadow long ago. As Erich Neumann, a student of Jung’s, explained:
“The psychological analysis of any normal development will make it clear that, if he is to grow up, it is not merely unavoidable but actually essential that the individual should do and assimilate a certain amount of evil, and that he should be able to overcome the conflicts involved in this process. The achievement of independence involves the capacity of the ego not only to adopt the values of the collective but also to secure the fulfillment of those needs of the individual which run counter to collective values – and this entails doing evil.”
Most people are horrified at the thought of questioning, or heaven forbid, breaking the moral code they were socialized into. They believe the value judgments good and evil imposed on them by their schooling, parents, peers, and society, are written into the fabric of reality itself. They do not understand that a morality, like a society, can be sick and in need of overcoming. And so, for the common man and woman the existence of the shadow poses too great a threat to their fragile self-image, a self-image that was constructed over years of adjusting to who they thought others expected and wanted them to be. But in never mustering up the courage to confront the elements of one’s shadow it does not go away. Rather, it puts one in the unfortunate position of susceptibility to possession by its destructive side, to following in the tragic footsteps of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. For in public, most people are conscientious, moral, and moderate. But behind closed doors and in the comfort of hearth and home, their shadow at times turns them into marionettes – unconscious victims of addictions, strange compulsions, fits of irrational anger, and myriad of other, self-destructive behaviors.
“Man has to realize that he possesses a shadow which is the dark side of his own personality…if only for the reason that he is so often overwhelmed by it.”
Or as Carl Jung warned:
By not being aware of having a shadow, you declare a part of your personality to be non-existent. Then it enters the kingdom of the non-existent, which swells up and takes on enormous proportions…If you get rid of qualities you don’t like by denying them, you become more and more unaware of what you are, you declare yourself more and more non-existent, and your devils will grow fatter and fatter.”
Carl Jung, Dream Analysis: Notes of the Seminar Given in 1928-1930
As denying our shadow only renders us prone to possession by its destructive side, integrating our shadow into our conscious personality is crucial for our well-being. To gain some insight regarding how to do this, we are going to focus on the integration of one shadow characteristic many of us desperately need to integrate: that being, our aggression. In modern society, the word aggression typically stimulates thoughts of violence and destruction. In other words, we focus only on one side of the aggressive coin. For there is a healthy form of aggression that is imperative not only to our psychological health, but our survival. This form of aggression fuels our sense of self-ownership, emboldens us in the face of fear, and ignites the drive to explore and master the world outside us and within.
“Aggression is not necessarily destructive at all.” wrote the psychoanalyst Clara Thompson. “It springs from an innate tendency to grow and master life which seems to be characteristic of all living matter. Only when this life force is obstructed in its development do ingredients of anger, rage, or hate become connected with it.
Unfortunately, for many of us the life force of aggression was obstructed throughout our development. Our displays of aggression, whether constructive or otherwise, were not met with encouragement or understanding, but frowns, punishment, and even violence. And so, to adapt to our environment and minimize conflict, we learned to repress our aggression into our shadow side, and thereafter became susceptible to anger, rage, and hate. Based on decades of experience with patients, the psychotherapist Alexander Lowen observed that:
“Many individuals have an unconscious murderous rage which they feel they must keep buried out of fear of its destructive potential…Such rage is like an unexploded bomb which one dares not touch.”
If we have repressed our aggression into our shadow, how can we integrate it in a way that alleviates our anger and propels us towards wholeness and greatness of character? The following passage provides some pertinent warnings and clues:
“There is no generally effective technique for assimilating the shadow. It is more like diplomacy or statesmanship and it is always an individual matter. First one has to accept and take seriously the existence of the shadow. Second, one has to become aware of its qualities and intentions. This happens through conscientious attention to moods, fantasies and impulses. Third, a long process of negotiation is unavoidable.”
After we take seriously the existence of the shadow, we next need to pay close attention to our moods and fantasies. Do we experience a simmering anger for no apparent reason? Maybe we have recurring fantasies born of resentment, bitterness, self-hate – the desire for destruction or revenge? In either case, it is likely we have not adequately integrated our aggression into our conscious personality. To initiate this integration process, we can seek safe, controlled, and productive outlets within which we start acting with more aggression. The most obvious outlet is to find a competitive sport, martial art, or exercise regime whereby we can begin to reconnect to our aggressive instincts. But we can also, for example, work on becoming more assertive in our behavior, more decisive in our choices, more declarative and protective of our personal boundaries, or more inclined to stand our ground when tested by our co-workers, family, or peers. As Jung explained:
“…this integration [of the shadow] cannot take place and be put to a useful purpose unless one can admit the tendencies bound up with the shadow and allow them some measure of realization – tempered, of course, with the necessary criticism.”
As we undergo this process, we need to be careful not to overcompensate in our behavior.
“Of all evil I deem you capable:” wrote Nietzsche. “Therefore I want the good from you. Verily, I have often laughed at the weaklings who thought themselves good because they had no claws.”
For the goal in integrating our aggression is not to become a bad person, but to get in touch with the repressed energies and potentials needed to sculpt a great and powerful character. We want to become capable of acting with force, not to be forceful; potentially dangerous, not a violent criminal; able to stand up for ourselves and what we believe in, not vicious and mean.
If we can extrapolate the integration method just outlined, and use it to integrate other shadow characteristics – perhaps those tied to our sexuality, our creativity, our ambition or desire for power – we will start to notice our personality transform in a myriad of dramatic ways. We will become more grounded, more secure in our skin, more independent in our moral judgments, more courageous and self-reliant. In short, in integrating our shadow we will move towards the ideal of psychological wholeness and this is the ideal that produces the greatness of character that is sorely missing in this modern world.
“The acceptance of the shadow involves a growth in depth into the ground of one’s own being…a new depth and rootedness and stability is born.”
Article by Mike Slavin
“The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.”
I stood there with my toes in the sand gazing at the endless expanse of water.
I was a little boy and it was my first time seeing the ocean in person.
It gave me goosebumps. My jaw was left hanging wide open, stunned by what I was witnessing.
I was experiencing awe.
Awe is a profound self-transcendent feeling.
It is the wellspring of the mystical experiences through which religious traditions have emerged.
Keep reading this article and you might find yourself struck with awe before you finish.
I’m going to share an exercise with you that will help you tune into the awe-inspiring experiences all around you.
But before we dive, why is awe so important?
Astonishingly, we only began researching this emotion rigorously in 2003 and we are beginning to discover that awe carries with it powerful benefits that could help recenter a world off balance.
What are those benefits?
- After an experience of awe, you’re more likely to engage in altruistic behavior because you’re feeling a deeper sense of connectedness with others
- You’re more likely to engage in experiences over material goods
- Your perception of time transforms creating the feeling that you’re inside of a timeless moment
- Awe is the emotion that most strongly predicts reduced levels of cytokines, a marker of inflammation that’s linked to depression because they block serotonin and dopamine
- It sharpens your mind making you more discerning and enhances your capacity to analyze the strength of an argument
To some, this combination might sound like the description of a psychedelic trip.
But this experience is accessible to all of us. No drugs necessary.
So what exactly is awe?
It’s made up of two primary characteristics….
- Perceived vastness: Experiencing something so incredibly expansive or deep that the self-feels small in comparison
- Need for accommodation: The need to update our mental structures to assimilate the experience we are having.
Essentially we experience awe when we encounter something of such magnitude and grandeur that we reach the horizon of our comprehension and our chattering mental dialogue short-circuits.
We enter a still, timeless moment. We feel more connected to the world around us.
And our brain goes into “absorption” mode trying to gather as much information as we can in order to create an updated model of the world.
Great works of art and lavish natural experiences can evoke awe.
And I believe we can trigger awe in everyday life.
In fact, it’s been something I’ve been learning how to do for over a decade.
As a close up magician, I’ve watched as sleight of hand could trigger widened eyes and goosebumps in spectators.
The vastness they encounter is the mystery and the need for accommodation arises from having just witnessed something impossible. Their mental structures can’t make sense of what they just witnessed.
But if you don’t happen to have a magician on hand, you can still access awe because the mystery of life is all around us.
We are living inside of a grand mystery it’s just that we normally shield ourselves from its magnitude with the knowledge we’ve come to acquire through our lifetime.
The 7 Symphonies of Awe
Below I’ve listed out a 7-step exercise to help elicit awe right now.
Each step is a doorway into a rich sensory experience and each piece is connected to all of the others.
I’ve used the analogy of a symphony because there is rich complexity in each of these worlds I’ll describe. Allow yourself to soak it up, ponder and feel what I’m describing.
These “living symphonies” are happening all around you in every moment.
Immerse yourself and the ordinary might begin to look extraordinary.
The Symphony of The Flower
Imagine yourself looking at a Flower. If you have real flowers in your house or in your garden even better. But if not the image above will suffice as a replacement.
Now allow your attention to fall softly on this flower and let your mind begin to explore its intricacies.
Begin notice this flower is more than a flower. It’s THIS flower. It’s a unique representative of the flower family. Notice the smell or what you imagine it might smell like. Notice the vivid colors.
Bask in the beauty.
To help facilitate this process, this 1-minute Richard Feynman video can help:
Sit and savor this experience for a while before moving onto the next one.
The Symphony of The Brain
Now notice, all while this has been happening, that your eyes are converting this stimulus into electrical signals sent to your brain in order to construct this perception of a flower.
Your eyes soak up the input and send it to the occipital lobe in the back of your head.
Your brain has somewhere around 86 billion neurons that all serve different functions to create the experience you’re having right now. Even the capacity to reflect on this process is a product of the process itself.
You haven’t had to “do” it. It’s somehow just been happening.
But for your brain to function it needs to be properly oxygenated.
The Symphony of The Body
Notice that this whole time you’ve been breathing.
You haven’t even thought about it. It’s just been happening.
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.
The lungs infuse your blood cells with oxygen and your heart pumps these blood cells into the vital organs of your body.
There are 37.2 trillion cells in your body. The mitochondria in your cells are converting nutrients from the cell into energy.
All of these complex processes and many more are occurring below the surface of your awareness right now.
We don’t need words for these things in order for them to happen.
They are just happening.
The Symphony of The Earth
And within this, there is an exchange. The oxygen we inhale is exhaled by the plant that birthed this flower.
The oxygen is expelled through photosynthesis that converts light into energy.
This is process fueled by what we exhale from our lungs: carbon dioxide.
This reveals a harmonious relationship that is happening on the surface of a rock of tremendous size that innumerable types of living creatures call home.
When astronauts first went into space, the experience of looking back on their home planet struck them so deeply that is was given a name: the overview effect.
From this perspective, we feel the preciousness of our planet. The differences dissolve between us because we are all riding this “pale blue dot” suspended in darkness.
The Symphony of The Cosmos
The planet is hurtling through space.
A part of a solar system that revolves around the star that is closest to us: the sun.
This solar system is embedded within a vast galaxy known as the Milky Way. There are 100 billion planets within this galaxy alone.
There are an estimated 100-200 billion galaxies in the Cosmos.
These numbers are beyond comprehension.
And all of those planets and galaxies are in motion.
We are in motion.
The Symphony of The Past
And we are in motion through time.
Shot from the past like a cannonball into this present moment.
The cannon was the Big Bang setting all of this in motion some 13.6 billion years ago.
Humans have only been around for an estimated 50,000 years.
100 billion of us have died.
There are 7.6 billion of us alive today sitting on the shoulders of all of those who came before us.
Are you in touch with the generational cascade behind you?
Can you sense how your ancestors struggled and fought for you to be having this moment right now?
The Symphony of The Future
We find ourselves today in a technological wonderland our descendants could hardly imagine.
We are building exponential technologies that could solve some of the world’s biggest problems or create even bigger problems.
Our daily choices will impact the future trajectory of life on this planet.
We can impact and influence the lives of our children and our children’s children from where we sit today.
What future will we lasso and pull towards us with our thoughts, intentions, and actions?
What will this symphony sound like?
The only way to find out is to pick up your instrument and play.
Tuning Into Awe In Your Everyday Life
So reconnect to these different symphonies as you go through your daily life.
Take time to notice the flower.
Be grateful for the body and brain that allows you to perceive it.
Recognize how fortunate you are to live on this planet and extend appreciation to your ancestors for everything that had to go through in order for you to be here right now reading these words.
And from this awe-inspired place we can build a more harmonious future together.
Article by Joe Kita & Antoine Verglas
Despite an unremarkable mug, no man is more renowned for his power over women than Giacomo Casanova. In fact, his name has become synonymous with seduction. He was, quite simply, irresistible. And the 200-odd years that have passed since his death have only embellished his reputation. Every man, at one time or another, wants to be a Giacomo Casanova.
And we’re here to tell you it’s possible. The ability to entrance a woman, to get her to surrender what Casanova called her “delicious little that,” depends mostly on style and sincerity.
That’s all there is to it. Although you may object to Casanova’s morals (he reveled in orgies, abhorred condoms, and once made love to his illegitimate daughter), he was not reprehensible.
“Unlike the fictional Don Juan or the Marquis de Sade, Casanova wasn’t a sexual predator,” says Ted Emery, Ph.D., an assistant professor of Italian at Dickinson College and a noted Casanovist. “He was very much in love with most of these women, and they with him. He frequently mentions the multiple orgasms he gave them. This is certainly flattering, but the fact that he even thought about their pleasure makes him different and admirable.”
To gain a better understanding of this man’s genius (without reading all 12 volumes of his autobiography), we attended a Casanova dinner at Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York City. It was a lavishly detailed re-creation (right down to the period cutlery) of a rendezvous in Venice in 1753 between the 28-year-old Casanova and a beautiful nun into whose habit he wished to plunge. It was his finest moment — an evening that exemplified his charm, and one from which all men can learn.
“It was a dinner of seduction,” explains Carolin Young, a culinary historian who organized the event. “It was 2 hours of playful flirtation during which they were both waiting to devour each other. Afterward, the nun finally told him she had ‘an appetite that promised to do honor to the supper.’ ”
So what did Casanova do that night? How did he steal the keys to the convent? Before we divulge his secrets, you should understand that Casanova was not an aristocrat. Although he enjoyed projecting that image, he was essentially a gambler and a con man who fought duels and even served time in prison. So while this evening may appear highly sophisticated, don’t forget that Casanova was, at heart, a philandering rogue who placed fun and love above all else.
If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, you can stage a Casanova dinner of your own. You’ll find recipes and even a shopping list (look at “Related Articles” below). (You, however, are responsible for the nun.) Otherwise, just adhere to the following 10 principles the next time you’re with a woman you admire. The results will be delicious.
Casanova Commandment #1
To make a woman feel special, do something special. For his illicit dinner with the good sister, Casanova rented an elegant five-room apartment. He met her as she stepped off the gondola, and they walked arm-in-arm across a lantern-lit plaza.
Your move: When you’re trying to impress a woman, never utter these words at the cusp of an evening: “So, what do you feel like doing?” A true Casanova takes charge. He has a plan. To devise a memorable one, imagine that you’re proposing. What would you do to make the night so special she couldn’t possibly say no? Then arrange it (minus the ring and bent-knee thing, of course). After all, you are proposing — only it’s something far more enticing than marriage. “Women are very appreciative of any kind of effort,” says Young. “Casanova certainly realized that.”
Casanova Commandment #2
Privacy is sexy. The nun had a reputation to protect, and Casanova was sensitive to that. The apartment staff did not disturb Casanova and his guest; dinner was served through a window in the wall, allowing the servants to deliver the food without being seen or heard. There were no prying eyes to fear, nothing to distract the two lovers from each other. Privacy gives a woman permission to be herself.
Your move: Create an intimate atmosphere whenever you can. Invite her to dinner at your place, reserve a cozy table at a fine restaurant, encourage her to slip away from the party for a starlit stroll….Continually be searching for eddies in the evening where you both can linger and connect. You can bestow no greater compliment on a woman than your full attention.
Casanova Commandment #3
Let her admire you admiring her. Casanova’s rented apartment was full of mirrors and candles. He wanted his love to be “reflected a thousand times,” and he wanted to be able to enjoy her from many different angles during dinner. He knew, too, that a beautiful woman enjoys looking at herself–that the mirrors would become her portraits, and she’d feel even sexier because of it. “There’s a magical quality to mirrors, candlelight, and silver,” says Young. “Women find it enchanting.”
Your move: If you can’t duplicate an atmosphere like this, become a mirror yourself. Let her see the effects of her beauty and charm reflected in you. Every now and then, look at her appreciatively and smile. At opportune times, compliment her — choosing a trait other than the obvious. For instance, pretty women are used to being told they’re pretty. That kind of compliment has little effect. But tell a pretty woman that she’s smart, and you often win her heart. There’s a magical quality to a man’s open, insightful admiration that women find equally enchanting.
Casanova Commandment #4
Ask her what she thinks. Casanova’s seduction lasted several hours, and he spent much of this time asking questions and listening. In an age when women were considered inferior to men, such behavior was flattering. He treated his guest reverently, and not just because she was a nun. This woman was his equal, and he was genuinely interested in her perspective.
Your move: The reason women found Casanova so fascinating is that he found them so fascinating. In fact, he believed that without engaging conversation, physical pleasure was uninteresting. “The minute you start thinking of the woman as an object, the instant you become more interested in yourself than in finding out about her, then you’re not being a Casanova,” notes Emery. “He made women feel valued for things other than their bodies.” It’s not difficult to get a woman to talk about herself. Just ask open-ended questions and shut up. But you have to be sincere about it. Casanova’s success with women stemmed from his genuine interest in them. He touched their hearts before daring to venture anyplace else.
Casanova Commandment #5
Encourage decadence. For this particular evening, Casanova spared no expense. The apartment, the dinner table, his own body were all dressed with the finest things available. The meal consisted of eight courses, served in pairs. Many of the dishes, such as oysters, champagne, game, sturgeon, truffles, fruits, and sorbets, were delicacies, considered highly indulgent separately, let alone combined with everything else. Casanova was obviously out to impress, but he also knew that after the first sampling of something sinful, it becomes much easier to sin again.
Your move: Provide your lady with something decadent. This could be a single chocolate truffle (gift-wrapped) or an ice-cream sundae that the two of you share. Indulgence is the removal of a single brick that significantly weakens the temple.
Casanova Commandment #6
Appeal to all her senses. Casanova scented the apartment with tuberoses because he believed they were an aphrodisiac. He served oysters and champagne as an appetizer because on the tongue there is only one thing more titillating. He asked for his lady’s opinions because every woman loves the music of her own voice. He created an atmosphere of lavishness and luxury, so her own indulgence would feel less guilty. And he touched her, often and gently, to return her attention to the true focus of the evening. By stimulating every sense, Casanova was able to immerse this woman more fully in the moment, and make her feel more alive and sexual.
Your move: Be attentive to every one of your mate’s five senses. Play background music, touch the small of her back to guide her, make eye contact, give her a flute of champagne to sip, buy her a fresh flower to sniff….Think of each sense as a little engine you need to warm up. When all her senses are purring, she will be, too.
Casanova Commandment #7
Savor the anticipation. Although Casanova immediately grew “ardent” when he noticed that his lady’s breasts were covered by only a dainty chemise, he didn’t force himself upon her. He was patient. He accepted her single kiss and cherished her two-word promise: “After supper.” “Casanova appreciated that if you have your pleasure too quickly, you don’t suck all the pleasure out of it,” explains Young. “Savor the anticipation, because often the anticipation is half the fun.”
Your move: Foreplay doesn’t happen only in the bedroom 60 seconds before intercourse. It’s organic. It encompasses the entire day. Slip a note into her purse confessing how much you’re looking forward to this date, or call her at work and tell her the same. When you meet, take her hands and softly kiss her lips. Most important: Allow the evening to progress at its own pace, remembering that neither of you has to be anywhere except together.
Casanova Commandment #8
Be playful. Most of the food and drink Casanova preferred was sexually suggestive. Plump oysters, succulent game hens, soft cheeses, ripe fruit…On one level, he simply enjoyed watching women put these things in their mouths. But on another, he saw dinnertime as an opportunity for playfulness. When a slippery oyster fell onto an ample bosom, he immediately offered to slurp it off. When the salad arrived undressed, he encouraged the lady to dribble on the oil and vinegar. Casanova realized that sex isn’t serious — it’s playtime for adults. Games like this are the warmup.
Your move: Whether you’re dining at home or at a restaurant, choose something provocative the two of you can share. Put the plate between you and nibble. Eat with your fingers. Feed each other. Make it your goal to keep the evening lighthearted.
Casanova Commandment #9
Be spontaneous. Casanova was an opportunist. He drifted from country to country, working at ludicrously diverse jobs (among them, priest and pimp). He was a disciple of the moment. Once, while sharing a carriage with a farmer’s wife during a severe storm, he found her perched on his lap after a frightening thunderclap. Seizing the opportunity, he deftly rearranged her skirts.
Your move: If the evening isn’t going according to plan, abandon it. Be attuned to fate and go where it directs. The confidence and daring this shows is in itself seductive.
Casanova Commandment #10
Surprise her with a gift. After supper, Casanova and his lady retired to a candlelit alcove, where he presented her with a beautiful lace nightcap. She pronounced it “magnificent.” It was the final, thoughtful coup de grace. “She told me to go undress in the next room,” writes Casanova, “promising to call me as soon as she was in bed. This took but 2 minutes.”
Your move: Women love unexpected gifts. Make hers personal rather than trendy, small rather than large, silly rather than serious — something only she can appreciate. “Casanova’s gifts showed a great deal of creativity and thoughtfulness,” says Emery. Most important, time your gift’s delivery for that critical point in the evening when there remains just one obvious way for her to show her gratitude.
Article by Ava Dickson Blocked List
As the new year approaches the inevitable pressure of reinventing yourself follows. No, not follows, stalks. “New Year New Me” sounds more like a free pass to ignore your problems, fears, downfalls, beef, and subsequently insecurities. Maybe we were raised to believe December 31st is trash day and January 1st is our metaphorical revirginization. Forget the shit you were raised to believe because is the guide to authentic self improvement in the new year.
Resolutions are a fucking joke. Resolutions were made up by lazy fucking people who wanted a scapegoat from their failure to complete prior set goals in the previous year. For example, it’s one thing to say you’re going to “lose weight” but, how are you going to get there? Be honest with yourself and ask the more important questions like, “How will I keep myself motivated” “How will I make sure I’m focusing on being healthy and not just letting off numbers on a scale?” Resolutions like this are toxic for mind, body, and soul. When time isn’t taken to look and the steps required to make your goals realistic and achievable according to your lifestyle your resolutions will fall through 99% of the time. If self improvement is really the main goal we all want to accomplish then we need to focus on quality over quantity. Truth is, authentication is much more sustainable, realistic, and fulfilling than wishful resolutions. So how do we authenticate our lives? We need to focus on setting intentions not resolutions. Here is the secret formula, whore: Positive intentions + Self awareness = Authentication. Evaluating what is important to you given your current circumstances is the first step. Things like, self care, balance in your everyday routine, making time for others and yourself. Again, a resolution you may have could sound like this, “I want clear skin this year.” Okay awesome yassify that shit, but- what is causing your “bad” skin in the first place? Stress causes acne and outbreaks, foods you eat can cause overproduction of oils, imbalance and inconsistency in your self care routines can cause inconsistent results. Congratulations, you’ve completed the “Self Awareness” step of the formula. After you’ve identified the root blockages of your resolution you can move on to setting intentions. An intention is defined as “the thing that you plan to do or achieve : an aim or purpose” (Merriam-Webster, 2021). The intention could look like “I integrate healthy practices into my everyday life.” See how much more pleasant that sounds? Setting a universal positive intention and then applying it to your known weaknesses is going to authenticate your personal goals in a much more fulfilling way. No shortcuts, no judgement, just pure positive energy. So lets put our equation back together- “I integrate healthy practices into my everyday life” + “I need to work on creating stable and balanced routines” = Long lasting results that you are proud of. On the flip side you may have spent 2022 trying every hack under the sun to fix your acne and when your resolution lacks intention and self awareness it’s like solving a crime with no evidence. Trial and error works, but only when you can move forward with a positive mindset, not a failure mindset, like resolutions can stimulate.
Now that you know the secret formula to actually achieving the lifelong goal of “New Year New Me” lets discuss how we can do this without ignoring our past. Yes, letting go is important and valuable and necessary. However forgetting about the lessons your road blocks and setbacks taught your moving into the new year will only hold you back. Since we’re on a roll with the examples, here’s some food for thought: Your boyfriend broke up with you (or vice versa) and you were heartbroken. Shattered, if you will. You decided that he is DEAD to you and you blocked him on everything (Nice! Good for you babe, we all know blocked is better). Now you’ve followed the formula for authentication and decided on inviting love into your life by radiating self love (Yes! We are so proud of you!). But, if you’re like anyone else on the blocked list, you’re a psycho bitch and a mental terrorist. You know every trick in the book to get guys hooked, you have “Cheat or be cheated on” mentality, you have listened to every episode of Call Her Daddy (S.O. Alex Cooper) and you are ready to hop on the fucking prowl babe. Slow down. Didn’t you metally terrorize your last boyfriend and mind fuck him into oblivion? And didn’t you break up? Look, I know some things aren’t meant to be and that’s that, and I also am a certified preacher of the Mental Terrorism bible however, if real and authentic love is your intention then we need to release the idea that being toxic is the only way to successfully acquire passionate love. We LOVE a good game of, well, games but, honey you need to let go of that mindset. In fact, you deserve to let go of that mindset. New Year means new men and not every guy is your fucktard ex. Back to reality here- See how ignoring and letting go are two completely different things? Mental Terrorism is only to be used when neccecary, it is not the key to a healthy relationship if you’re coming out the gate with it on every potential lover you meet. This is where your real progress will prevail.
So fuck New Years Resolutions and fuck trash day mentality. Let us end this year in a growth and learning psyche and begin 2022 with pure intentions that still allow you to be you. “New Year New Me” is out “New Year Authentic Me” is in. Get with it bitch.
Physical contact seems to be declining in modern life. But what happens when we lack human touch?
Earlier this year, Tiffany Field, head of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, traveled to different airports in Florida to watch people interacting.
A researcher who has studied touch for more than four decades, Field made a shocking discovery: Nobody was touching each other. Everyone was on their phone.
“I think social media has been really detrimental to touch,” Field told me. “Being on your phone is distancing people physically from each other. It used to be in airports, you’d see people hugging and napping on each other. Now they’re just not touching.”
The science of touch came of age in the mid-1990s, when two scientists traveled to Romania to examine the sensory deprivation of children in understaffed orphanages. The touch-deprived children, they found, had strikingly lower cortisol and growth development levels for their age group.
From the time we are in the womb through our elderly years, touch plays a primary role in our development and physical and mental well-being. New studies on touch continue to show the importance of physical contact in early development, communication, personal relationships, and fighting disease.
Although the therapeutic benefits have become increasingly clear, Field argues that, thanks to no-touch policies in schools and the isolating effects of cell phones and computers, Americans are touching each other less. In the conversation below, Field shares the latest research on the importance of touch and what happens when we don’t touch each other.
Jonathan Jones: How did you become interested in touch?
Tiffany Field: Back in the mid-’70s, when I was in graduate school, I was working in a neonatal intensive care unit, and we were trying to figure out how we could help the preemies grow and be discharged faster. We started by stimulating with non-nutritive nipples, because they were being tube-fed and so they didn’t have any sucking experience. That helped them grow, and we figured if we stimulated more of the body than just the mouth, we would get even better results. So we started massaging them and they started gaining more weight and being discharged earlier.
JJ: What have been the most surprising findings from your research?
TF: We found that massage actually increases natural killer cells. Natural killer cells are the front lines of the immune system. They kill viral cells, bacteria cells. We found it first in men who had HIV, and then we studied adolescents who had HIV and found the same results. Then we studied breast cancer and again found an increase in natural killer cells. We think that the reason that happens is because we’re knocking down cortisol levels, the body’s culprit stress hormone. Cortisol kills natural killer cells, and so if we can reduce the stress hormones, we can save natural killer cells.
JJ: So, at its most basic level, why do we need to be touched? Why is it important?
TF: If you take an extreme example of, say, orphans in Romania, you get growth deprivation and all kinds of developmental delays without sufficient touch. Those kids are very autistic-like, and they’re growth-deprived. I visited an orphanage over in Romania, and it was just pathetic seeing these kids. They were half their expected height and weight for their age. There were 20-some kids in a space with one or two adults, so you can imagine that they didn’t get their fair share of touch. They were getting adequate nutrition, but there were other things at play. For example, the kids that were on the top floor of this orphanage were looking healthier than the kids on the bottom floor, and the only difference I could see was that the top-floor kids were getting some sunlight.
JJ: What are other effects of touch deprivation?
TF: Aside from the Romanian case, which is an extreme example, we also compared kids in Paris with kids in Miami. We looked at preschoolers on playgrounds, and we also looked at adolescents in McDonald’s restaurants. For the preschoolers, the kids in Paris were getting touched more by their parents on the playground than the kids in Miami. And the kids in Paris were less aggressive with each other than the kids in Miami. We were looking at positive touch and negative touch, and what kind of talk was going on. The same pertained to adolescents. We looked at those kids interacting with each other, and in Paris, the kids were touching each other and hugging each other and stroking each other more than the kids in Miami. And they were less aggressive, both verbally and physically.
JJ: It seems we’ve become more and more concerned about touch in school and in society. I’m wondering whether you see Americans touching less and less over the years?
TF: I’m doing an airport study, and I was in two airports yesterday, and there’s no touching going on. Everyone’s on their smartphone, even couples who were obviously traveling together, even parents of children. The kids are all on smartphones and so are their parents, and little two year olds on iPads.
JJ: What kind of lessons can we take from your studies from a parenting perspective?
TF: I think parents need to be touching their kids as much as they can because kids aren’t getting it at school. And when they’re with their peers, they’re also on their phones. I think certainly kids today are much more touch-deprived than they were before smartphones. So I think parents have to make a special effort to provide as much touch as they can.
“I think certainly kids today are much more touch-deprived than they were before smartphones. ” ―Dr. Tiffany Fields
JJ: Any kinds of touch?
TF: Holding hands, hugging, cuddling, they’re all pretty good. What we find is that when you apply more pressure, moderate pressure, as in a hug or giving a person a back rub, the effects are more positive than providing less pressure. Light stroking is a bit aversive to most people because they feel like they’re being tickled. … Heart rate decreases when you’re getting moderate pressure. Heart rate increases when you’re getting light pressure. Same with blood pressure. When we looked at brain waves, we get an increase in theta waves, which is what typically accompanies relaxation when we do moderate pressure. When we do light pressure, we get an increase in beta waves, which is what we usually see when someone is aroused.
JJ: Can you explain to me how touch—specifically massage—affects the central nervous system?
TF: What happens is you’re stimulating pressure receptors, and vagal activity increases. Vagus is one of the 12 cranial nerves, and it has a lot of branches all over the body from the gastrointestinal system and the heart to our vocal chords and so forth. We have measured vagal activity and that increases, and with that, you get a decrease in cortisol, the stress hormone. There’s an increase in serotonin, which is the body’s natural antidepressant and anti-pain chemical. You get a decrease in Substance P, that senses pain.
We consider yoga a form of self-touch, self-massage, rubbing your limbs against the floor or the ground, and we get very similar effects. I would guess that if you looked at fast walking, a lot of different exercises, you’ll see very similar effects. When you’re walking, you’re stimulating the pressure sensors in your feet.
JJ: What do we know about hugging?
TF: They injected a cold germ into these people who were in the study, and those who had more hugs had a better immune response to the cold virus. And then [there are] some studies showing that if you get hugged by your partner before a stressful condition like giving a speech or doing math problems, people do better. Performance is better if they’ve been hugged by a partner before the stress.
JJ: Can you talk about the studies you’ve done with the elderly population?
TF: We did one study where we had the elderly people massaging babies versus receiving massage, and we found that the effects were greater when they were giving the massage rather than receiving. And I think that goes to saying that massage therapists are also getting some kind of benefit from stimulating the pressure receptors in the hand and their elbows or whatever they’re massaging with.
JJ: Are there lessons we can learn from France and other cultures in terms of how they experience touching?
TF: Yeah, and there’s also a lot of monkey data showing a direct relationship between aggressiveness and touch deprivation. They put a plexiglass wall between monkeys so they can see, they can hear, they can smell [each other], but they can’t touch [each other], and they become extremely aggressive. In fact, the guy who did these studies reports that they can kill each other when they’re touch-deprived like that.
JJ: Are there ways we should be encouraging more touch in our society?
TF: I think we need to have more touch in the school system. I know private schools, they’re allowed to touch kids, but in a lot of public schools there’s a mandate against touching, and I think that has to change. And it’s only going to change if parent-teacher associations are encouraging teachers to touch the kids. I would say we can have kids giving each other back rubs. That’s happening in Europe in preschools, for example, kids are taught that.
It turns out that we are not very objective in our beliefs. It turns out that our perceptions and reasoning are heavily influenced by cognitive biases.
Imagine that you’re looking at an image on a computer screen of a big party somewhere. Now, imagine that you tell the computer you want to believe that everyone with blonde hair is an asshole. And let’s say as if by magic, the computer’s algorithm gradually edits the image to make it look as though each blonde-haired person has a smug, condescending, highly-punchable look on their face.
Now, pretend you tell the computer screen you want to feel rich. Voila! The computer morphs the clothing and jewelry and hairstyles of everyone in the picture to look drab, cheap, and mundane.
Now, let’s say you tell the computer that this party, whatever it is, clearly sucks. And like a genie obeying your wishes, the party is quickly morphed into a stultifying, tepid affair. People appear to be slouched in corners, staring intently at their feet. Few conversations are happening and the ones that are seem forced.
This computer is not a computer at all. It is your subconscious. And like the computer, your subconscious alters what you perceive in highly predictable ways. Our moods color our experiences. Our identities steer our attention. Our self-interest dictates our interpretations.
So when we sit around and think, “If only people could see what I see to be true,” without knowing it, we mean that literally—people can’t see exactly what we see.
You and I can look at the same scene of the same party, yet our internal graphic design software alters it in completely different ways.
This graphic design software of our minds is what psychologists call “cognitive biases,” and we all have them. Below is a summary of some of the more prominent cognitive biases and how they affect our perceptions. Understanding these biases is important because they not only help us stop lying to ourselves, but they also help us empathize and understand the perspectives of others.
This list of biases is by no means exhaustive.2 But these are arguably the most common and important cognitive biases that we regularly fall victim to…
Examples Of Biases
What it is: The confirmation bias is when you look for and only use “facts” that support your pre-existing beliefs while, at the same time, ignoring any information to the contrary.3 This is often thought of as “cherrypicking,” although cherrypicking facts to support one’s views is usually done consciously. Confirmation bias happens unconsciously. If you believe your lucky color is yellow, you will actually start noticing the color yellow more often.
And it’s not that you’re wrong either. There are tons of yellow things in your life and some of them are involved in your positive experiences.
So the problem with confirmation bias is not that you’re wrong, it’s that you’re not seeing the whole picture.
The strange—but fascinating—thing about the confirmation bias is that it seems to run rampant when information is more available to people. That might seem counterintuitive on the surface. After all, more information should lead to better, truer beliefs, right?
Well, no. The existence of the confirmation bias actually predicts the opposite: more information creates more opportunities to cherrypick the “facts” we use to support our beliefs. So, exposure to more information actually polarizes beliefs.4 This explains, in a nutshell, why the internet is a festering shit-heap for political discourse. Instead of changing our beliefs to adapt to new information, we adapt new information to fit our beliefs.
In fact, the easy availability of confirmation bias online has created what researchers call “echo chambers,” where people continually only get fed information that supports their pre-existing views.5 Echo chambers are good for the big tech companies because they keep you fat and happy on their platforms. But they’re bad for truth.
How confirmation bias makes you an asshole: The confirmation bias generally causes us to become over-confident in our beliefs, thus potentially making you an insufferable dick in a conversation about anything even mildly controversial. You will think to yourself, “But look at all of this evidence saying I’m right!” while being completely oblivious to all of the evidence against your view. Similarly, the person you’re talking to (or god forbid, commenting under) will be in a similar situation, aware of all of the evidence supporting their position, while oblivious to yours.
You will both be looking at the same picture, yet each seeing what you want to see.
But there are other, more subtle ways the confirmation bias fucks up our lives, as well.
For example, confirmation bias can play a role in who we allow into our lives.6 If you think all men are pigs or all women are two-faced, you’re more likely to date a lot of pig-headed men or two-faced women.
Because your belief that all men/women suck will cause you to only notice shitty behavior from that particular gender, meanwhile ignoring all of the caring, compassionate people you could be meeting.
Or, if you believe the world is a flaming pile of goat turds, you will spend all of your waking hours obsessing over everything that’s wrong with the world and conclude that—lo and behold—it’s a flaming pile of goat turds. Who knew?!
If confirmation bias were a family member, it would be: Your overly-judgmental mother who never misses a chance to say, “See? I knew it,” even though she was wrong a hundred other times.
What it is: The negativity bias is the tendency to notice what’s wrong with everything far more often than noticing what is good about a situation.7 You could call it pessimism except that it’s not even about believing things will go bad. It’s actually seeing bad things as more important and obvious than good things.
Evolutionarily speaking, this is an adaptive strategy when you think about it. The caveman who noticed every potential problem or crisis is the caveman who survived. The caveman who was perpetually grateful for the beauty of the world and kicked back to appreciate how bitchin’ these blackberries taste, well, he was the one that got eaten by the angry pack of hyenas.
The list goes on and on… in fact, in every domain psychologists have researched, our minds naturally give extra weight to negative experiences.
How the negativity bias makes you an asshole: The danger with the negativity bias is that we lose perspective on what’s actually a problem and what’s just us losing perspective.
Think the yuppie douchebag with an otherwise cushy life that flies off the handle when the barista puts too much caramel swirl in his coffee.
Or the girl who complains when the wifi isn’t working on the plane, oblivious to the fact that she’s experiencing the miracle of human flight.
But it’s not just the minor inconveniences in life. The negativity bias creeps into some of our most intimate relationships. The negativity bias is in full effect when you meet someone wonderful but their dirty shoes make you think they’re a slob and you never talk to them again.8 It’s there when you ignore the hundreds of amazing qualities your partner brings to the relationship, obsessing instead over that one thing you wish they would change.
Negativity bias can extend to large organizations and even societies too.
There’s an old saying in management that even when things improve, the complaining employees never go away—they just start complaining about better and better things.
I think that’s true for the world, at large. In my book, Everything is Fucked: A Book About Hope, I describe a lot of evidence pointing to undeniable progress by almost every metric across the world.
It’s easy to forget this, but it was only a few generations ago that most of the planet lived in some form of slavery or extreme poverty. Wars ripped across continents murdering tens of millions of people. By almost every standard, life today is the best it has ever been in human history.9
Yet, if you spend a few hours on Twitter, you would think the apocalypse has come and gone and is coming back again.
If the negativity bias were a family member, it would be: Your ungrateful teenage daughter, for whom you provide clothes, food, housing, education, and money for all sorts of enriching activities and hobbies. And yet she still says you “ruined her life” because of that one time you talked to her friends while wearing a bathrobe and Crocs.
I mean, what kind of bias makes you hate on Crocs?
What it is: Humans are incredibly responsive to rewards and punishments. We’re like dogs, salivating at the very thought of a tasty treat and whimpering away with our tails between our legs with even the threat of something unpleasant happening. And just like a dog will piss on your ficus plant unless you give him a better option, we humans will piss all over everything unless a better option presents itself.
As Upton Sinclair put it, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.”
The incentive-caused bias causes us to make irrational, stupid, or unethical decisions due to our own incentives.10
There’s a causal chain that tends to happen within our minds. We feel good emotions about things that benefit us. We feel bad emotions for things that don’t benefit us. Similarly, we tend to rationalize reasons to pursue what feels good and make up reasons to avoid what feels bad.
Ergo, if our incentives are lined up in such a way that we benefit from doing something, our minds set to work convincing ourselves that it must be a good thing to do. Normal people regularly ignore ethical or broader social concerns because they stand to immediately benefit from some terrible action.11
It’s easy for you and me to sit here and say, “What a bunch of assholes, I would never do that!” But we would. In fact, we do. We just can’t see how we do it because our minds cut us off from seeing it.
How the incentive-caused bias makes you an asshole: I’m not sure the incentive-caused bias makes us assholes so much as it just goes to show how inherently awful we can be under certain conditions.
Think of the CEO who’s incentivized with stock options and a “golden parachute” to take short-term risks at the expense of the long-term health of the company.12 They make more money for themselves now, but they put the company and all the employees at greater risk down the road.
Or take the fucked up prison system in the United States with its quotas and even privatized detention centers. They’re incentivized to actually keep more people in prison for longer periods of time and discourage rehabilitation or education that could prevent the prisoners from returning for future crimes.13
Taken to its extreme, the incentive-caused bias can turn us into not just assholes, but monsters. Many of the atrocities of the holocaust were not carried out by high-ranking, evil psychopaths in the Nazi military, but by regular foot soldiers who were incentivized to “just follow orders.”14
The good news is that we can design more intelligent systems that remove bad incentives and promote good ones. As the incentive-caused bias shows us, humans are responsive to carrots and sticks. We just need to think more carefully about when and how to use them.
If this bias were a family member, it would be: Your dickhead uncle who makes a shitload of money in highly questionable ways flipping real estate, yet somehow finds the time to lecture you about how lazy everybody else is because they’re not as successful as him.
What it is: The actor-observer bias is the tendency to explain our own negative behavior based on external causes we can’t control while explaining the negative behavior of others based on internal causes they can control.15,16
So basically, if you fuck something up, you search for external reasons to explain said fuck-up so it doesn’t feel like it’s “your fault.” But when someone else fucks up—even if they do the exact same thing you did!—you’ll likely blame it on them being a terrible human being.
When I cut off cars in traffic, it’s because I have an important meeting and I can’t be late. But when you cut cars off in traffic, it’s because you’re a selfish, reckless prick.
How the actor-observer bias makes you an asshole: If you couldn’t already tell, the actor-observer bias turns you into a giant, hypocritical assface in so many ways, it’s hard to single out just a couple examples.
It happens when you argue with your partner, justifying your own bad behavior yet condemning them for theirs.
It happens when you justify cheating a little bit on an exam at school because you had so many other responsibilities that you couldn’t study, but when the other kid gets busted for cheating, you judge them for their dishonesty.
It happens when you show up late and blame traffic, but when your friends show up late you take it as a personal affront to your dignity as a human.
If the actor-observer bias were a family member, it would be: Your asshole older brother who used to beat the living snot out of you every time you annoyed him or messed with his stuff. But then, when you sneak into his room and steal his baseball bat and walk up behind him and crack him over the head and he goes to the hospital and your parents act as though you just killed him, everyone thinks you are the evil one…
What it is: The group attribution bias causes us to assume a person’s traits are similar to the traits of the group(s) to which they belong.17 The most obvious examples of the group-attribution bias are stereotypes based on race or gender.18
It’s probably worth mentioning that your brain consumes a lot of energy. There’s a lot of sensory data and information to sift through. As a result, all of these cognitive biases are “shortcuts” the brain takes to save itself time and energy.19 Traditionally, these shortcuts have been useful, especially back in the caveman days. It’s only in modern social contexts that they begin to cause problems. And this is perhaps most true with the group-attribution bias.
How it makes you an asshole: Obviously, the group attribution bias can easily turn us racist or sexist or homophobic or whatever. That’s pretty self-explanatory assholish behavior (or at least it should be).
But the peculiar thing about the group attribution bias isn’t so much that we fall victim to it—we all do pretty easily. (And if you think you don’t, there’s probably some bias to explain that too.)
What’s more interesting is it’s how we try to leverage the group attribution bias to our benefit. The group attribution bias is such an ingrained feature of human nature that not only do we judge others for being parts of perceived groups (even if they’re not anything like those groups) but we also try to identify ourselves socially with groups to raise our own status.
Put another way, we actively attempt to manipulate other people’s group-attribution bias in our favor.
We buy clothes and cars and club memberships and fancy cocktails to show the world that we’re sophisticated or edgy or just so fucking cool that it hurts. We will hang around groups that we want others to associate us with, thinking it will make us look rad by extension. We use slang and idioms and expressions that match our preferred group of choice in hopes that others will identify us as part of that social cohort.
There’s nothing wrong with hanging out with people who raise your status, by the way. It’s when you’re using them for the sole purpose of raising your status that makes you an asshole. Similarly, there’s nothing wrong with noting that some people are part of some broader group or category. It’s when you judge them as individuals as you would judge the group (i.e., bigotry) that you run into trouble.
Simply put, treat each individual as an end in and of themselves, not as a means to some other end.
If this bias were a family member, it would be: Your racist grandpa, who says something awful at a family holiday and then everyone puts their head down and pretends they didn’t hear him say that awful thing he just said.
Can We Overcome Our Cognitive Biases?
Great, so now we know about our cognitive biases, so they shouldn’t be a problem anymore, right?
The truth is, these cognitive biases are an ingrained feature of human nature and can’t be turned off with the flick of a switch. Becoming aware of them is not enough—we must stay aware of them, especially in the triggering moments where we fall victim to them.
I know “mindfulness” has become a catch-all buzzword that’s supposed to cure society of all its ills or whatever—and the jury is definitely out on that—but what we’re talking about here is developing a consistent state of self-awareness where you’re able to identify, consider, and question your own thoughts and beliefs consistently.
Noticing your biases is the first step in handling them more effectively. But not only does being more self-aware mean catching your biases as they kick in, it means going deeper and understanding why you seem to lose control of your own thoughts and feelings in the face of them.
A few examples:
- Why are you so prone to the negativity bias and only see the downside of everything? Maybe you have some unresolved resentment you need to work through.
- Why do you get so sucked into believing you are right all the time? Maybe you have deeper-seated insecurities around your own intelligence that you’re trying to cover up.
- Is the group-attribution bias serving some desperate need for superiority? Is the desire to feel as though you belong to some group so strong that you’re willing to demonize some other group in order to feel it?
Our cognitive biases are fundamentally embedded in our cognition. They will not go away. The best we can do is learn to tame them, to wrangle them under control so that they serve us. Otherwise, we are doomed to serve them.
Article by Shaun Smillie
News flush: Sewer-trawling technology knows the type of drugs you took last night
Across the world, countries are using wastewater epidemiology (WWE) to assess narcotic use among population groups and, in at least one instance, WWE was used in the arrest of a drug dealer.
On a Monday morning, some Capetonians will flush their toilets not knowing that what they send to the sewers will tell the story of their illicit activities over the weekend.
It is those post-wild-night-out and weekend-morning constitutionals that provide the samples that reveal the chemical footprints left by cocaine, methamphetamine (tik), methaqualone (Mandrax) and MDMA (ecstasy).
Wastewater treatment plants have become the eyes on how hard the city partied over a weekend.
“With the so-called party drugs – cocaine and ecstasy – we normally see a spike on the weekend and almost nothing on the weekday,” explains Dr Edward Archer of the Department of Microbiology in the Faculty of Science at Stellenbosch University. “But other drugs like tik and Mandrax are consumed throughout the week.”
Across the world, countries are using it to assess narcotic use among population groups and in at least one instance WWE was used in the arrest of a drug dealer.
In South Africa, it is still relatively new and regular surveillance is only done in Stellenbosch and Cape Town.
South Africa is, however, part of the Sewage Analysis CORe group Europe (SCORE) network. The network includes labs outside Europe.
It means, says Archer, that they have to follow the same protocols and sampling regimes of other labs based in other cities.
“What was really interesting when comparing with the international network is that, as expected, our methamphetamine or tik use is extremely high and is comparable to what we see in the Czech Republic and also Australia, two of the biggest methamphetamine abusers in the world,” he says.
The SCORE network has coordinated surveillance events that take place over a week, three times a year.
“You can use this tool and see what is going on almost in real time,” adds Archer.
One of these surveillance events picked up one of the, well, biggest party pooper events yet in Cape Town.
Samples taken in July 2020 provided a snapshot of the city’s drug use during the hard Covid-19 lockdown.
“So the levels of cocaine and MDMA – or ecstasy – they just flatlined and remained low for that year at those specific wastewater plants we tested. But not for methaqualone, which is Mandrax, and tik,” explains Archer.
While the hard lockdown did kill Cape Town’s party scene, drug researcher Simon Howell believes it wasn’t the temporary death of the jol that put a dampener on coke use, but rather supply issues.
Across the world, media reports indicated that lockdowns had effects on drug supplies. Howell, who monitors the price of drugs on South Africa’s streets, noticed a dramatic increase in what users were paying for cocaine.
“It went from R350 a gram up to R900 – and it was only cocaine that really did this. The prices of other drugs did increase slightly,” he explains, adding that the price has since dropped but still remains high.
The drug analysis is accurate enough that it can differentiate between the different forms of cocaine and whether the drug was consumed with alcohol.
By examining the chemical traces of tik, it can even work out the quality of the drug that is available in a certain area.
But still there are certain drugs that are difficult to analyse, one of which is heroin. It metabolises quickly and can be difficult to distinguish from prescription drugs that contain codeine, which, like heroin, is derived from the opium poppy.
And while the use of poop snooping has some countries worrying about privacy issues, in China WWE is becoming an increasingly important tool in the country’s fight against drugs.
Dozens of cities across that country are using the forensic technique and more and more money is being invested in WWE.
China has gone beyond simply monitoring the population’s use of drugs; it is now using WWE to finger individuals.
There have been reports that at least one drug dealer was arrested with the evidence collected from faeces.
However, in South Africa, the network isn’t wide enough yet to give a clear picture of the country’s drug habits.
And the system, believes Howell, does have its limitations.
“The sewage analysis is looking at consumption, but people could be buying the drug elsewhere.
“And if you are using, the police want to go after the dealers,” he explains. “But it does provide at least some type of granular level of analysis.”
Faeces does have a lot more besides to reveal about the people who leave it behind. WWE has been used to monitor the use of prescription drugs and more recently the spread of Covid-19.
Here it has even able to home in on streets and even single buildings.
“With the Covid work they were able to look at specific student residences and prisons, where they sampled a single sewage line coming from a particular dormitory. From that they could find out if there was Covid there and not in the next block. They could then isolate that block and not the others,” says Archer.
This year is the 50th anniversary of the declaration of the war on drugs by former US president Richard Nixon. It is a war that many believe hasn’t been won as drugs still flood the streets and marginalised and poor people continue to feel the hammer of hardline policies that have criminalised generations of users.
But with WWE, Archer believes a better understanding can be obtained about who is using drugs and where resources can be focused to provide help.
“The thing about wastewater is that it doesn’t lie; everyone needs to go,” he adds. DM168 First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.
Excerpts of the article by Norman Ball
“Self-actualizers (no more than 2% of any population) require, “privacy and solitude more than others do”. Once again—this time courtesy of Maslow—we find the privacy-security equivalency embroiled in an apples-and-oranges quandary. Security is a deficiency need. The desire for privacy is an ascendant characteristic. Might the public policy fixation on security—as though it were an ascendant societal aim—covertly harbor the desire to unseat our rare and precious self-actualizers?”
On the rather tight-lipped matter of privacy, there was more than a little fear-mongering going on in President Obama’s January 20th State of the Union address. Warning against legislative inertia that threatened to, “leave our nation and economy vulnerable” complete with malevolent hackers invading the privacy “especially of our kids” the President was clearly not above resorting to rhetorical flourishes that, while not devoid of truth-content, tend also to mask the privacy trade-offs inherent in centralized information sharing between government and industry. In the words of Mark Jaycox, legislative analyst with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, data-sharing between the private and public sectors, “creates this perfect storm for the potential of of your personal information to be shared”. Thus a more measured approach seems justified given the high stakes.
Then again, perhaps measured responses have gone the way of powdered wigs as an even bleaker assessment was presented by a Harvard research group days later at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Privacy is dead or at least it will never be resuscitated in any manner resembling, “how we conventionally think of it”, to quote researcher Margo Seltzer.
Certainly measured responses on the issue of privacy have proven elusive on the public sector side. One longstanding narrative is that security and privacy share a continuum. The strength of one comes only at cost to the other. However, this security-privacy construct is a false one. Government officials are nonetheless particularly fond of tossing these loaded dice. Here’s President Obama from June 2013:
“I think it’s important to understand that you can’t have 100 percent security and then have 100 percent privacy…We’re going to have to make some choices as a society.”
Then, former NSA Security consultant Ed Giorgio in 2008:
“We have a saying in this business: ‘Privacy and security are a zero-sum game.’”
Absolutes are practical non-starters. This is no less the case in the privacy debate. Absolute security, theoretically possible, would require a ban on crossing the street. As for absolute privacy, solitary confinement has its champions. However that seems more punishment than aspiration. Ultimately, all continua are couched within that great overarching zero-sum called life, a 100% fatal enterprise in all cases. Suffice to say, we’re forever balancing extremes. Zero-sum formulations in the privacy arena make for particularly bad straw-men. When government trots them out, there’s often more than bumbling bureaucratese at work. For reasons we’ll show, the security-privacy dichotomy is falsely constructed by design.
Indeed the real trade-off is not between security and liberty at all. Since at least the early aftermath of 911, Bruce Schneier of Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society has been monitoring and deconstructing the semantic mischief in his weekly ‘Schneier on Security’ column. Here he is in May 2006:
“Too many wrongly characterize the debate as “security versus privacy.” The real choice is liberty versus control.” Now there’s a trade-off with some cognitive heft.
Immediately one sees why government might be hedging its intent with obfuscating continua. After all, ‘control’ conjures unpleasant images of incarceration, restraint, repression, loss of autonomy. Better not use it even when one means it. No government is going to pre-announce a decided turn toward despotism. Instead it will couch the turn in security terms. Trundling out the terror bogeyman greases the despotic skids.
There’s an argument Government is unwittingly conflating its security with ours. That is, in a bid to secure its power, Government might have convinced itself society-at-large is best served by curtailing our liberties. However, motive shouldn’t matter when the end result is the same. We’ve all heard about the road to hell where good intentions are well-beaten pavestones. Should the historic footnote end up reading, privacy perished in America through a series of well-intentioned, bureaucratic missteps, our locked-down condition will be no less restrictive.
In the final analysis, no one can be a friend to privacy except the People themselves. But only if they feel their privacy warrants protection. Every day on Facebook, millions of people share with the world what they had for breakfast. Privacy must be re-esteemed at the grassroots, one breakfast table at a time.
Jim Harper, Director of Information Policy Studies at The Cato Institute, offers a very workable definition for privacy [my italics]:
“…the subjective condition people enjoy when they have power to control information about themselves and when they exercise that power consistent with their interests and values.”
Harper echoes Schneier in recognizing control as an essential aspect of privacy. Not being able to do things is a palpable deprivation everyone can feel and understand. Through the exercising of self-control, an individual’s privacy maintains its inherent sanctity. And yet, Government invariably begs to differ. Here’s Donald Kerr, principal deputy director of National Intelligence, (from You Get Privacy When Your Definition Matches Ours’ Ars Technica, by Ken Fisher, Nov 11 2007):
“Americans need to shift their definition of privacy to center instead on the proper maintenance and protection of personal data by government and business entities…privacy, I would offer, is a system of laws, rules, and customs with an infrastructure of Inspectors General, oversight committees, and privacy boards on which our intelligence community commitment is based and measured.”
First of all, the paternalistic tone is off-putting and instructive in and of itself. Shouldn’t proposed shifts in privacy be a grassroots referendum and not a top-down directive from the spy community to the open society that ostensibly employs it? Kerr seems to be suggesting nothing less than that Harper’s ‘subjective self’ report immediately to the public square for government inspection. This creates a conundrum since a human being’s private realm, ordered to present itself for review before Kerr’s battery of boards and ‘oversight’ committees, relinquishes its private status solely by virtue of showing up. This is a Rubicon dilemma. Once de-privatized, privacy content can never be re-privatized. The NSA is clearly pressing a third category: collected but not actively reviewed. Call it restored virginity. Who’s buying that on their wedding night?
Clearly, mass and indiscriminate surveillance is, for Kerr, a settled debate. (That’s because the NSA had already settled it unilaterally and to its own satisfaction. The 2007 quote would betray its cagey circumlocution in the subsequent Snowden revelations.) Our data was already in their hands. Privacy has thus already been co-opted by a great, indiscriminate and a priori NSA vacuum cleaner. The debate for Kerr thus begins after surveillance has occurred i.e. at a bumped-forward time-zero. To use an operable government euphemism, Kerr was being ‘less than candid’ with us.
Or as Ken Fisher puts it, Kerr artfully skips a page right on over to, “…how such data is safeguarded” once it has been collected. Of course had it never been collected in the first place, all talk of safeguarding and maintaining it would be unnecessary. That public debate never occurred.
An argument could be made that the government is seizing the initiative to cast privacy in a decidedly authoritarian frame because no explicit privacy right is asserted by the Constitution. This ‘government goes first’ approach upsets the notion that un-enumerated rights belong to the People while only expressly codified powers belong to the government. Yet, in this anxious and bewildering age where terror has proven itself such a potent, if controversial, organizing principle, the authoritarian model enjoys remarkably uncontested traction.
There is no doubt privacy and liberty are conceptually adjacent, if not in some sense zero-sum. For example, I cannot exercise my liberty to the point of infringing upon your privacy as would happen if I was to peer through your living room window. We have here a legitimate continuum worthy of negotiated accommodation.
While constitutional delineations of privacy may be lacking, the field of psychology offers much on the human need for privacy. In his Wired article ‘What Our Top Spy Doesn’t Get: Security and Privacy Aren’t Opposites’, Bruce Schneier (who’s frankly reached ‘guru’ status in the privacy space though he bristles at the term) touches briefly upon psychologist Abraham Maslow’s famous work:
“Even if you don’t subscribe to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, it’s obvious that security is more important [than privacy]. Security is vital to survival, not just of people but of every living thing.”
Schneier is really onto something that warrants further exploration. Indeed Maslow’s famous hierarchy of needs offers yet another way into the security-privacy false dichotomy. Maslow’s hierarchy can be summed up thusly
“The most fundamental and basic four layers of the pyramid contain what Maslow called “deficiency needs” or “d-needs”: esteem, friendship and love, security, and physical needs. If these “deficiency needs” are not met – with the exception of the most fundamental (physiological) need – there may not be a physical indication, but the individual will feel anxious and tense. Maslow’s theory suggests that the most basic level of needs must be met before the individual will strongly desire (or focus motivation upon) the secondary or higher level needs.”—from Goble, F. (1970). The Third Force: The Psychology of Abraham Maslow, Maurice Bassett Publishing. pp. 62.
Maslow based his research on exemplary individuals. He believed psychology’s perennial attention to ‘crippled and stunted’ individuals yielded a ‘cripple psychology’. [This author notes that the term ‘cripple’ has become offensive to many in the decades since Maslow’s use of it; alternate descriptions will be used hereon.] That may be so. But as we will explore shortly, power has an unfortunate habit of attracting the psychologically impaired. Thus pathology and dysfunction among the powerful may be the rule and not the exception. The truth is there are fundamentally insecure people for whom security/safety needs can never be adequately met. When such individuals acquire power over others these deficiencies have a multiplicatively adverse effect. A manipulative few can also wield fear-mongering to heighten the perceived deficiency in security measures beyond all rational considerations. (Tellingly, Maslow happens to call all needs below self-actualization ‘deficiency needs’.) Thus the security/safety need fixation can serve as a cul de sac to which many people (if not entire societies) are forever relegated.
Then there is that copacetic vanguard in our midst, the self-actualizers. Maslow cites fifteen characteristics of the self-actualizing individual. It’s not hard to imagine a security-fixated society being hostile to most of these ‘break-out’ characteristics. They are expansive and libertarian in tone, anti-statist and stridently individualistic.
One of these characteristics is of particular interest to the current discussion. Self-actualizers (no more than 2% of any population) require, “privacy and solitude more than others do”. Once again—this time courtesy of Maslow—we find the privacy-security equivalency embroiled in an apples-and-oranges quandary. Security is a deficiency need. The desire for privacy is an ascendant characteristic. Might the public policy fixation on security—as though it were an ascendant societal aim—covertly harbor the desire to unseat our rare and precious self-actualizers?
Absent proper checks and balances, we can see how the state security apparatus could decapitate the self-actualizing process. A retrograde, fear-based project of de-actualization works to dehumanize a society. Take an individual’s longstanding walk around his neighborhood—for him or her, a crucial interlude of self-reflection suddenly discontinued for fear of an alleged neighborhood terror cell. This tiny retreat from personal self-actualization becomes a victory for the security apparatus. Imagine such prohibitions magnified a thousand times in a thousand different ways across an entire society?
Often, intelligence officials will offer, ‘if you only knew what we’d protected you from, you’d gladly welcome and appreciate our incursions into your private life’. Of course the very secrecy (state privacy?) that the government insists upon for itself precludes it from telling us exactly what we’ve been saved from. We are back to the honorable men conundrum, leaving us to prove negatives or blindly trust those who increasingly appear to be wielding near-absolute power over us.
If the security-at-all-costs dynamic succeeds in ‘protecting’ us by extinguishing the American way of life, what have we been protected for? In crucial and fundamental ways, We the People and the privacy that defines us have been sacrificed. The same river is never crossed twice. Is any security measure really ‘for us’ if it succeeds in making us unrecognizable to ourselves?
Nobody leaves the family….
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