carl sagan on the meaning of life

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“In the past few decades, the United States and the Soviet Union have accomplished something that — unless we destroy ourselves first — will be remembered a thousand years from now: the first close-up exploration of dozens of other worlds. Together we have found much out there that is magnificent, instructive and of practical value. But we have found no trace, no hint of life. The Earth is an anomaly. In all the solar system, it is, so far as we know, the only inhabited planet.

We humans are one among millions of separate species who live in a world burgeoning, overflowing with life. And yet, most species that ever were are no more. After flourishing for one hundred fifty million years, the dinosaurs became extinct. Every last one. No species is guaranteed its tenure on this planet. And humans, the first beings to devise the means for their own destruction, have been here for only several million years.

We are rare and precious because we are alive, because we can think. We are privileged to influence and perhaps control our future. We have an obligation to fight for life on Earth — not just for ourselves but for all those, humans and others, who came before us and to whom we are beholden, and for all those who, if we are wise enough, will come after. There is no cause more urgent than to survive to eliminate on a global basis the growing threats of nuclear war, environmental catastrophe, economic collapse and mass starvation. These problems were created by humans and can only be solved by humans. No social convention, no political system, no economic hypothesis, no religious dogma is more important.

The hard truth seems to be this: We live in a vast and awesome universe in which, daily, suns are made and worlds destroyed, where humanity clings to an obscure clod of rock. The significance of our lives and our fragile realm derives from our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life’s meaning. We would prefer it to be otherwise, of course, but there is no compelling evidence for a cosmic Parent who will care for us and save us from ourselves. It is up to us. “

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the power of a name.

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(Adam Alter, The New Yorker)

The German poet Christian Morgenstern once said that “all seagulls look as though their name were Emma.” Though Morgenstern was known for his nonsense poetry, there was truth in his suggestion that some linguistic labels are perfectly suited to the concepts they denote. “Dawdle” and “meander” sound as unhurried as the walking speeds they describe, and “awkward” and “gawky” sound as ungainly as the bodies they represent. When the Gestalt psychologist and fellow German Wolfgang Köhler read Morgenstern’s poem, in the nineteen-twenties, he was moved to suggest that words convey symbolic ideas beyond their meaning. To test the idea more carefully, he asked a group of respondents to decide which of the two shapes below was a maluma and which was a takete:

If you’re like the vast majority of Köhler’s respondents, you’re compelled by the idea that malumas are soft and rounded (like the shape on the left), whereas taketes are sharp and jagged (like that on the right). As Köhler showed, words carry hidden baggage that may play at least some role in shaping thought. What’s surprising, perhaps, is how profoundly a single word can shape material outcomes over time.

Take the case of the proper name, a particular type of word. Like maluma and takete, the names people choose for their children convey a wealth of sometimes unintended information. In one study, the economists Bentley Coffey and Patrick McLaughlin examined whether female lawyers in South Carolina were more likely to become judges if their names were more “masculine.” Some names—like James, John, and Michael—are almost exclusively male; others—like Hazel, Ashley, and Laurie—are almost exclusively female. But a third group is shared almost equally by men and women—like Kerry and Jody—and women with those names were notably more likely than their nominally feminine counterparts to become judges. The researchers labelled the phenomenon the Portia Hypothesis, after the female character in Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” who disguises herself as a man so she can appear before the all-male court. (Note that the experiment can’t rule out the possibility that the nominally masculine lawyers actually behaved differently from their nominally feminine counterparts.)

Similar linguistic associations influence how we think and behave in other ways. For example, if I told you that I was driving north across hilly terrain tomorrow, would you expect that drive to be mostly uphill or mostly downhill? If you’re like most people, you associate northerly movement with going uphill, and southerly movement with going downhill. According to research by the psychologists Leif Nelson and Joseph Simmons, this association produces some strange biases: people believe that a bird will take longer to migrate between the same two points if it flies north than if it flies south; they expect a moving company to charge eighty per cent more to move furniture north rather than south; and, as a different study concluded, they assume that property is more valuable when it sits in the northern part of town. Apparently these quirks stem from the decision of early Greek mapmakers to plot the northern hemisphere above the southern hemisphere—a decision that frustrated, among others, an Australian named Stuart McArthur, who proposed a corrective map that reversed the projection. This may not be the sort of effect that Köhler envisaged, but it does suggest that arbitrary linguistic traits have an outsized influence on our thoughts and actions.

What ancient mapmakers did unwittingly for north and south, lawyers do intentionally when they describe accident scenes. The defense might call a car accident “contact”; the plaintiff might say one car “smashed” the other. These labels really matter, as Elizabeth Loftus and John Palmer showed in a classic experiment. After a group of students watched the same series of traffic accidents, they were asked how fast the cars were going when the accident occurred. When the cars were described as having “contacted” one another, the students estimated their speed to be thirty-two miles an hour, whereas another group estimated that the cars were travelling at forty miles an hour when they were described as having “smashed” one another. In a second experiment, fourteen per cent of participants incorrectly remembered seeing shattered glass when told that the cars “hit” one another, whereas thirty-two per cent of participants in a second sample made the same error when told the cars “smashed” into one another. If a single word can change how people remember an event they witnessed only minutes earlier, there isn’t much hope for eyewitnesses who recall, often months or years later, events experienced under stressful, distracted conditions.

Beyond their meaning, words also differ according to how easy they are to pronounce. People generally prefer not to think more than necessary, and they tend to prefer objects, people, products, and words that are simple to pronounce and understand. In 2006, my colleague Daniel Oppenheimer and I investigated the performance of hundreds of stocks immediately after they were listed on the financial markets between 1990 and 2004. We discovered that companies with simpler names that were easier to pronounce received a greater post-release bump than did companies with complex names. (I also wrote about this phenomenon for the New York Post.) The effect was strongest during the first few days of trading, when investors had little information about the stock’s fundamentals and were more likely to be swayed by extraneous factors. (We also ran a series of additional analyses to rule out the possibility that the effect was driven by different naming trends across different industries, company sizes, or countries, and the possibility that successful stocks seem to have fluent names merely because they’re mentioned more often in the media.) Even stocks with pronounceable ticker codes (e.g., KAR)—the letter strings that investors use to refer to each stock—outperformed those with unpronounceable ticker codes (e.g., RDO) in the short run. An investor who placed a thousand dollars in the ten most fluently named stocks between 1990 and 2004 would have earned a fifteen-per-cent return after just one day of trading, whereas the same thousand dollars invested in the ten least fluently named stocks would have earned a return of only four per cent. (In the magazine last year, John Colapinto wrote about the virtues of simplicity in choosing brand names.

Even the names people choose for their children vary from simple to complex, and that decision determines some of their outcomes later in life. With the psychologists Simon Laham and Peter Koval, I found that people prefer politicians with simpler names—and lawyers in American firms with fluent names rise up the legal hierarchy to partnership more quickly than their non-fluently named colleagues. (The result persisted even when we focussed on Anglo-American names, so it doesn’t simply boil down to xenophobic prejudice.)

These studies suggest a sort of linguistic Heisenberg principle: as soon as you label a concept, you change how people perceive it. It’s difficult to imagine a truly neutral label, because words evoke images (as do maluma and takete), are associated with other concepts (as are “north” with up and “south” with down), and vary in complexity (from KAR to RDO). Still, you don’t need to worry too much about what you name your children. The effects are subtle, people with non-fluent names succeed all the time, and norms change. After three decades of fluently named Presidents—a Ronald, two Georges, and a Bill—Barack Obama ascended to the Presidency. Five years later, “Barack” has become one of the easiest-to-pronounce names in the country.

(Adam Alter is the author of Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave, in which many of these studies are also discussed.)

personally, I feel Jean-Michel Basquiat has one of the best and most fitting monikers out there.

personally, I feel Jean-Michel Basquiat has one of the best and most fitting monikers out there.

mj

who are the millenials?

Who Are The Millennials?

The Millennial generation (also known as Gen Y or Generation Me, born after 1980) has finally done it: After founding Facebook, posting millions of selfies on Instagram, and answering their cell phones during job interviews, they’ve achieved the pinnacle of old-school print journalism: Their own cover story in TIME magazine.

Titled “The Me Me Me generation,” the story has two seemingly opposing points: Yes, Millennials are entitled and self-centered, but they will “save us all.” 

Just the selfies might be enough to come to the first conclusion, but there’s actual data, too. This can’t be dismissed as young people being more narcissistic than older people due to age. Boomers and GenX’ers scored lower on narcissism when they were the same age, back in the 1980s and 1990s. That’s true among all datasets, even one that was originally used to argue that narcissism hadn’t increased, and in the study cited here when a huge confound is corrected.

The cover features a young woman in colored jeans taking a picture of herself with her cell phone. It’s an interesting contrast to the first TIME cover on Generation X from July 1990, which featured a bunch of people wearing black standing there looking lost. 

Joel Stein, who wrote the piece, begins by saying he’s about to “do what old people have done throughout history: call those younger than me lazy, entitled, selfish, and shallow.” Here’s the funny thing: If the generational change has been going on for awhile, and in the same direction, those old people might have always been right. The data on narcissism don’t go back far enough to say for sure, but it’s highly likely that the Boomers were more narcissistic than the generation before them. Just because people have said it before doesn’t make it wrong.

Reactions around the web have run the gamut, which isn’t surprising — the piece balances the positive with the negative, so some are going to focus on only one of those sides and flame about it. As a generations researcher who focuses on empirical data, I’ve always thought it was somewhat strange to take a “pro” or “anti” Millennial (or GenX or Boomer) position. Some cultural trends are good, and some are bad, and so are the generations that result. The data are what they are. Yes, there’s entitlement, but there’s also growing equality. Both are the result of a culture more focused on the self. Reporting both the negative and positive doesn’t mean one is “bashing” a generation or spreading “stereotypes” — it means you’re trying to get at the truth, good, bad, and in between.

Joel ends the piece with this thought: “A generation’s greatness isn’t determined by data; it’s determined by how they react to the challenges that befall them. And, just as important, by how we react to them.” Even though some of those data are mine, I find this an intriguing thought — because there’s no one obvious answer. On the one hand, we know that positive self-views don’t actually lead to success, and that Millennials may be lower in resilence than previous generations. On the other hand, maybe the segment of this generation that’s confident without being entitled will indeed “save us all” — or at least themselves. 

It’s true that hand-wringing about the next generation is a long tradition. I think it’s gone on for so long with Millennials partially because of the recession. Take a generation raised in not just economic prosperity but the personal prosperity of overpraise, and put them in the most severe economic recession in decades, and something has to give. They’ll make it somehow — every generation does — but it’s pretty likely they’ll be the first generation to not do as well as their parents.

Considering they expect to do better than their parents, reality is going to be tough. It was tough for GenX, too, but it’s even worse now. We can be grateful for all of the good changes — like more equality and self-expression — but we should think carefully about how we raise the next generation. My vote is for fewer participation trophies and more training in social skills. Tip #1: Don’t bring your cat to the job interview.

(By Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D. – Psychology Today)

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Link

Humour is by far the most significant behaviour of the human mind. Why has it been so neglected by traditional philosophers, psychologists and information scientists?
Humour tells us more about how the brain works as mind, than does any other behaviour of the mind – including reason. It indicates other thinking methods, something about perception, and the possibility of changes in perception. It shows us that these changes can be followed by instant changes in emotion – something that can never be achieved by logic.

Humour is so significant because it is based on a logic very different from our traditional logic. In traditional (Aristotelian) logic there are categories that are clear, hard-edged and permanent. We make judgments as to whether something fits into a category or not. This is labelled rock logic.

Imagine your path of thinking following definite paths. There are potential side-paths but these have been temporarily suppressed by the dominant track. If ‘somehow’ we can manage to get across from the main track to the side-track, the route back to the starting point is very obvious. This moving sideways across tracks is the origin of the term ‘lateral thinking. If ‘somehow’ with which we might cut across patterns is the essence of humour and is provided in deliberate creative thinking by the actual techniques of lateral thinking, such as provocation.

The significance of humour is precisely that it indicates pattern-forming, pattern asymmetry and pattern-switching. Creativity and lateral thinking have exactly the same basis as humour.

(Excerpt from Edward De Bono’s book I Am Right, You Are Wrong.)

Read more on the correlation between humour and creativity here:

http://m.fastcompany.com/?m=fastcompany/node/3009489&url=http://www.fastcompany.com/3009489/leadership-now/why-humor-makes-you-more-creative&

Link via fastcompany.com

Laughter remains the best antidote for pain.

mj

mj

beyonce’s “bow down” is what happens when you read internet comments.

A long time ago on a blog far away, I was an entertainment reporter writing about the local scene in Bakersfield. My page was typically frequented by good-natured fun lovers just wanting to know what the hottest beer hole was and theater geeks furiously looking for their own name in my play reviews. It also had trolls. So. Many. Trolls. But my trolls weren’t just my trolls. In fact, it was all the work of one troll who was actually a fan of mine (BRAAAAM, YOU’VE BEEN INCEPTION’ED.)

This love/hate troll, who openly hated on my musical tastes, called me a “slut” for sharing the world’s most innocent kiss with an actor at a wrap party, and seemed really obsessed with calling me stupid and was very busy, as he trolled pretty much every blog at The Bakersfield Californian. He was pretty awful and in his love note/hate email to me he apologized for being a douche, admitted to loving my writing, but hating the writing of another writer he’d harassed so badly her police officer husband would have given anything to know who he was.

Unfortunately, shortly after he revealed himself to me (rookie move, troll) our servers crashed and I lost all my old emails. Lena’s* husband was never going to get that sweet Kern County justice on that weirdo.

I say all this because even then, in my 20s, I knew not to feed the trolls. I’d been bullied for most of my youth and knew that the minute you showed any cracks in your facade the bullying got worse. By the time I was working at The Californian I was either openly mocking the trolls in my comments, baiting them or ignoring them altogether. I mean, I got a troll to reveal himself to me as a fan. As a proud narcissist, this didn’t make me stop blogging/baiting at all.

I’ve since stopped baiting and now I’m on full-time ignore with no time for the dramz. Troll away. I’ll just go back to pre-approving comments and continue sleeping peacefully at night.

Still, if anyone tells you words don’t hurt they are lying. Words often hurt much deeper and for much longer than a fist to the face. After all, your face will eventually heal. You’ll be thinking forever about that time in the 8th grade when Vickie Barretti* tried to say you had chapped lips and they were “nasty” looking and how at least her friend who-the-hell-remembers-her-name had lipstick and how when you gave her the gas face she shouted “Oh my God! Are you crying!” Even though you weren’t crying.

You don’t do that anymore. Dumb broad.

She still told everyone I cried anyway. Haters. I swear. But yeah. Forever. Words.

But what does this have to do with Beyoncé?

In her documentary she admitted that she is often tempted to look at what kind of response she is getting on the Internet. This makes sense as Beyoncé is an approval-seeking, Try-Hard. (It takes one to know one as I am also the same.) Approval-seeking, try-hards are usually really talented but had at least one parent who seemed or in her case, was on purpose, emotionally withholding. This creates a void and if you’re talented and competitive you become obsessed with winning Daddy’s love or the world’s love or someone’s love. Like me! Really like me!

By design, even if they are “cool” in their career approval-seeking, try-hards are not “cool” in the hip, popular, socks never slid, traditional sense. Beyoncé, when not rocking a onesie and dropping it like it’s hot, is a massive goof nugget and possible musical kid dork.

NOT THAT THERE’S ANYTHING WRONG WITH THAT.

But it means you can probably make her feel bad. Hence Beyonce’s “Eff u” stance on “Bow Down” is like that Valerie anecdote. In how I knew this chick was full of crap and likely her friend or someone else put her up. I’d cried before the week prior when another kid much more vicious than Valerie had gone in on me. But strangely, I don’t remember what happened that made me spend lunch crying underneath the bleachers, but I remember Valerie because she was “trolling.” She wanted to get that reaction out of me in the laziest way possible. My lips weren’t even chapped.

Classic … classic trollin’.

Yet, it stuck with me to this day.

Beyonce is dealing with an Internet-full of Valeries and as a try hard she’s tried hard to get her “haters” to shut up. But just like my gas face, it does little. You don’t feel any better afterwards. So you posture and you fake it and you go hard, go H.A.M., go Houston, but it just looks strange. Mostly because you’re rich and talented and beautiful and already extremely popular with large segments of the population. Everyone loving you is simply not possible.

But you don’t need to respond like you’re some third-rate, status-humping singles jockey. You don’t need to answer your haters. YOU KNOW THE OBAMAS. All messages to haters should come through the form of record sales and sold out tours. Stunts like this make you look shook and I know you can’t be shook. That’s not possible. Even if you are, you have to fake it. TRUST ME. I KNOW THESE THINGS.

And this can’t be about Keri Hilson. It just can’t. That’s old business. This song makes it look like it took you three years to think up a comeback to a diss that doesn’t even matter anymore because the only people who remember it are your stans who harassed Keri so much she took to Twitter and went all Michael Jackson, “Leave Me Alone.”

Also, Gaga already did this and she did it better.

But I understand. I truly understand. One Daddy’s girl/Try-Hard to another. Next time you get this overwhelming urge to shut up your haters, just go work on your new album or play with your kid or have Jay teach you how to rap or something. Don’t write a diss track and actually produce it and release it with a pageant girl photo of you in front of all your awards. Like, I’m ten-thousand celebrity rungs lower than you and the equivalent would be me responding to a troll with a lengthy post that’s just my biography with links to TV appearances and an hour-long video of me flicking my hair back and forth rapping Nas’ “Hate Me Now.”

So Beyoncé, girl. Ya crazy is showing (unless you want to finally let that out, but I don’t think you do. You’re kind of image conscious). Cram it back in. CRAM IT BACK IN.

That said. Hot track. Garbage lyrics, but great vocals and hot track.

Same goes for you, Gags.

By Danielle.C.Belton via Clutch Magazine.

mj