This is my blog. It's been going for a couple of years now. I'll keep writing in it from time to time, often for no particular reason.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The end

What is the motivation behind Facebook and other forms of online self-presentation, such as, say, blogging? I posed this question (with respect to Facebook) to my undergraduates. Their answers included a desire for social contact and curiosity about other people (for which, perhaps, self-disclosure is the medium of exchange). Here are some other possibilities:

1. According to Cooley, we see ourselves through the eyes of others, or at least we try hard to. But what others? Whomever we come into contact with, I suppose, for those are the people whose reactions we can gauge. But then online self-presentation poses a challenge, for this is presenting ourselves to people we might not otherwise encounter, and whom we might not ever encounter in person. I conjecture--and perhaps Cooley anticipated this--that we see ourselves through the eyes of whomever we've received responses from in the recent past. Then once a blogger has, perhaps under pressure from a former colleague, presented himself to the blogosphere once and received some responses, he sees himself through the (imagined) eyes of those same people (or at least some typification of that sort of person), and feels answerable to them.

2. Once one has a taste of externalizing one's thoughts and imagining that others care to ponder them, thinking that is not externalized seems kind of pointless, perhaps like singing in the shower after performing in front of a large audience. I've had this experience after reviewing books for journals, of feeling deflated upon then reading a book for no one's benefit but my own. (It passes, unless one feeds the habit by writing Amazon reviews.)

3. Consistent with (2), one acquires the cognitive habit of thinking and experiencing on behalf of an audience, and perhaps of formulating a blog entry as the experience unfolds, so that half the work is done by the time the experience is complete. Whether this diminishes the intensity of the original experience, I won't conjecture. Obviously Twitter takes this to a new extreme.

4. When my students talk about maintaining social contact, I assume they mean contact with high school and college friends, and that a precondition for friendship is, at least in some circles, continuous self-accounting and monitoring of the self-accounts of others. This should probably be distinguished from blogging (or Facebooking) to combat genuine isolation, of the sort that my students are at little risk of but that probably besets folks stranded in the suburbs and beyond. The problem with this formulation is that it portrays online interaction as a last act of desperation, akin to talking to a Wilson soccer ball, whereas it seems that a genuine, if virtual, community readily pops into existence for anyone looking for one. And then who's to say that it's less "real" than a clutch of friends chatting at the coffee shop? As I tell my students: no moral evaluations. No, not even in the footnotes.
That was from here:

My footnote/moral evaluation:  I've come to the conclusion that my sparse, rambling interjections are not only poor entertainment, but the inherent narcissism of 'self-presentation' is superficial and adds little value to anyone's life, other than as a crutch for the ego, and is not how I want to interact with people.  Thanks anyway for having come this far on the Hoist-the-Spinnaker adventure (and thanks to Tim Smith for setting it up for me - who knew the consequences of putting a keyboard in front of a gibbon).  Bye :-)

Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Economics gets a bad wrap in some circles these days. And rightly so, as a system that claims to follow a scientific method it is, generally, a shambles. There are a number of sub-schools of economics that do apply more rigour to their analyses, and as a result tend to lean towards a looser, more pragmatic application of economic theory than neoclassical theorists would like.

I reckon that the criticism of economics usually comes from two camps. First, there are those who dislike the concepts used in economics of quantifying the value people gain from various aspects in life (utility) and the subsequent trade-offs with money. This is more a repulsion at the idea that everything in life can be assigned a dollar value, and the dominance of that valuation in decision making.

The second camp, to which I would mostly align myself (I empathise with camp 1, but it is a little bit naive and irrational), has a problem with the mechanics of economic theory and its application. If economics (I am now referring to the foundational macroeconomic theories) were a physical technology instead of a social/political technology it would be a black and white TV, with a fuzzy picture and only one channel tuned in. It has become a religion that people try to adapt to a world that it doesn't fit. Many of the principles and tools are invaluable - like a religion - but as an overarching framework for guiding government policy it is outdated. Not outdated because the world has changed too much for it - but because the inherent errors were never corrected as they would in a physical technology. There has never been a shortage of economists pointing out these flaws and offering their corrections (e.g. Minsky, Schumpeter and Krugman more recently - and of course Steven Keen). But, like a religion, economics remained unchanged at its core, growing like a weed from its internally inconsistent origins.

Most worryingly of all is the blind adherence to neoclassical economic theory by US Fed Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke. Because he wrote a thesis on the Great Depression and the economics of its resolution - he is now unable to waiver from his conclusions. So he insists on the formula of quantitative easing without new regulation of the finance sector (not that he can do anything about that other than lobby for it) and the result is that in the US bank reserves are increasing, while lending to productive activities is declining and private deleveraging continues.

Australia hit half the nail on the head with the stimulus payment to the public. This allowed a small amount of deleveraging to occur without replacing consumption - which may have been the kick required to avoid the spiral of recession and further deleveraging.

Anyway - I'm going home now. This was by no means an anti-capitalist rant. But unless economics as a whole genuinely attempts to develop using a scientific approach it will be unable to explain the capitalist economy and the cycle of unsustainable growth followed by huge busts and greater wealth inequality will continue.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Net emotion

Music has the power to inspire emotions and thoughts that would otherwise not have existed in that moment or many moments beyond. I've never denied that. I have questioned the authenticity of a musically inspired emotion compared to feelings generated from the usual course of interaction with the 'real' world. Whatever 'real' is, and that is of course the gaping hole in my proposition.

That aside, the question I ask myself sometimes is 'what are those emotions swirling around when a piece of music gives you tingles on your skin, a lump in your throat or a tightening in your chest?'. The labels we give emotions may not describe all there is to feel, just as there isn't a word for every colour (but I suspect there are more words for colours than there are for feelings). It's the blend of emotions that come together to create a unique feeling at that moment in time - and mostly it is probably inaccurate to suggest a particular emotion explains that feeling. But I still find it an interesting puzzle to solve, a forensic investigation into what it is that feeling is and why it is there.

What do you get when you mix happiness with sadness? Or are they inseparable? Sadness trailing in the wake of happiness like a comet's tail. The joy and awe at some beauty or perfection fringed with the sadness at the transience of the moment and the absence of others to share that moment. What is the net emotion? Can it be described? Or do we just take a deep breath and carry on, never quite sure what it was that just lurched forward from deep within.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Sprung Spring

It had seemed like the transition from winter to summer was a seamless one. A few little flowers tried calling out 'Spring!', but withered soon after in the baking sun. The bouganvilleas were also a clear indicator that the weather should be warm, with a cool breeze, rather than hot with a warm breeze. But a tremendous thunderstorm struck on Sunday night - marking our transition out of our, now sold and settled, little apartment. We'll now be at mum's place for the next couple of months until all the cards have fallen and our fate for next year is revealed.

But this morning I woke up to a cool Spring morning. Almost like a warm winter morning but there must be a climactic measure I'm not considering that differentiates the two. Perhaps the humidity was a percent higher, the breeze a knot slower, the air a whiff more fragrant from blooming jasmine, the birds a tweet louder and the sun at a declination more conducive to relaxation. A great time of year - Spring.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A moment

There are moments where you can feel the entire direction of your life shifting. The weight of hopes, plans and daydreams tossed away as if they never were - because they never would be.

Sometimes you feel yourself to be the driver of your fate, othertimes merely a witness to events that change everything around you.

As I sat on the chair outside the first of 10 interview rooms that I was about to pass through for my medicine entry I was flooded with the feeling that what I was about to do would decide the fate of myself, Heather, our children and who knows who else. Then I entered the first room and began to respond to the task in front of me, and I became a witness to myself - there was nothing I could have done to prepare for scenarios presented, and there was barely time to read the problem. It efficiently and effectively stripped away the potential for a carefully considered response, but drew out my instinctive reaction. I just listened to myself talk.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Intelligent emotions

The term 'EQ' or 'emotional intelligence' has been around for a little while now. It has various definitions, but mostly commonly refers to the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups (thanks Wikipedia). What has sparked my jaunt this afternoon is an idea related to this concept of EQ, but deals more with foundations of the concept - namely that emotions are a facet of 'intelligence' and/or add to our 'intelligence'. And I'll probably end up promoting the subconscious again, but let's just see how this ones evolves....

Several weeks (or months) ago, I was lamenting (on this blog and to someone else) that people who claim to be divorcing their emotions from their opinions or decisions (thereby being 'rational' or 'objective'), are in fact so blinded by their emotions that they are unable to discern the extent to which their thoughts and actions are based purely on emotion with a brittle veneer of patched together rational arguments.

There are very few facts in life that can be self-verified. You don't know that the air you breath is various percentages of oxygen and nitrogen without your own lab to test it. You believe what you have been told. Even a scientist can only verify their own small patch of evidence - even this requires a belief in the instruments used for measurement, or the validity of the measuring scale.

Beliefs can only be rooted in emotion.

What I'm driving at is that every single thought you have is nothing more than an interaction between your emotional response and a stimulus. Paradoxically, being highly reductionist leads to emotions as the root of all thoughts, but I suspect that being infinitely holistic will yield the same result.

So that is my introduction. So if we acknowledge the role of emotions in driving prejudices (bearing in mind that virtually all judgments are 'pre-judgements' - judging before there is irrefutable evidence - and not all prejudices need be negative), then we can start to appreciate the immense power of emotions as a source of intellect that far exceeds any attempt at 'rational' thought (which operates like a cumbersome, slow, inaccurate calculator that gives answers without being given adequate input information and can also change answers).

The next step in my train of thought suggests that emotions and the subconscious are in fact one and the same. What we call emotions are actually the format in which our ultimately sophisticated subconscious is sending us messages. Being attuned to and interpreting these messages is the key to accessing our reservoir of knowledge.

I think I have said everything I have to say on that. The catalyst for this post was the 'go back to where you came from' documentary - one of the participants concedes at the end of the series that even though people say that you shouldn't consider such issues with an emotional involvement, how can you not? I concur, claiming to have no emotional involvement when forming an opinion or making a decision either makes you obtuse or a robot - and what is the value of an opinion from a robot without all the facts?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Rational analysis

I am becoming increasingly driven to flights of frustrated fury by claims of 'calm rational reasoning' supporting a particular opinion. And by 'opinion' I mean the irrational selfish insecure bias dressed up as informed opinion by people who can find a way to interpret their meanness as a rational evidence-based response to the world before them.

Some points to consider:
  • Is our conscious mind the captain of our ship? Can we assume that our conscious thoughts and decisions are sourced and analysed with pure fully informed reason, with adequate knowledge of circumstances and consequences?
- The evidence suggests not at all. We are driven by our biology and the vast amounts of our brains that don't get used in conscious thought. It is a bitter pill for people who like to think they are in control of their thoughts and actions. On a meaninglessly superficial level - indeed we do exercise some control, but anything requiring a rational thought process will end up with the same result no matter how you try to dress up your clever rationality. This of course cannot be tested scientifically without a time machine.
  • In the absence of rationality how are we to respond to a complex world that requires us to make decisions, and where we like to opine to those who will listen (or read)?
- A book by Malcolm Gladwell called 'Blink' suggests that we should rely on an informed intuition. However, Gladwell's conclusion relates to the gut feeling of experts in their field of expertise - on something that is knowable. Unfortunately the crystal ball world of public policy is rarely afforded the circumstance where the impact of policy instruments and their outcomes is truly knowable. Sometimes history will provide some clues, but often not.

The Northern Territory Intervention is a case in point of how public policy was driven by rationality, itself driven by hidden prejudice - hidden to those supporting the actions - not to the victims of the policy. And yes, they are victims. Reports have highlighted that the meagre health improvements in the populations targeted are so heavily outweighed by the catastrophic social, emotional and spiritual damage to these societies that this intervention will be remembered as another vile attack on indigenous populations by heartless ignorant colonials.

Rationality from the minds of the social and cultural elite is a futile tool in devising strategies to assist indigenous populations. Intuition by an expert is most likely the answer (the rational case will of course follow as it would for any course of action). The key to developing this expertise is to spend time listening and learning from the people themselves - not a three day visit to remote townships for a round of consultations. This will take time and thought and energy. And for those to be given in adequate quantities the policy makers must care enough. But that care is often quashed by rationality.