I’m actually very good at getting lost, but until two days ago, I’d never thought about how it happens. Much thinking later, I have a theory!
“Oh, Meeks, you clever thing. Do tell!”
Ok, as you ask so nicely, here goes.
I think our brains are conditioned to see a straight path as the right – i.e. correct – path. When we’re paying attention, we automatically over-ride this conditioning in order to get to our destination. But what happens if we’re distracted and come to a fork in the road?
I think that when we’re ‘on auto’ – i.e. not paying attention to our surroundings – we are liable to keep following the path that seems more straight.
Of course, there’s also the problem of habit. Have you ever set out in the car for destination ‘X’ and suddenly realised that you were actually heading to destination ‘Y’ because ‘Y’ is where you go every day? -mumble- I have -mumble-
Anyway, the reason I needed to work out how I, and others, get lost is that I needed a realistic way for one of my characters to get into trouble after becoming lost. Me being me, I wasn’t happy with just an insight, I had to go make a map, didn’t I?
The blue path is the ‘correct’ path. The pinky-purple path is still safe, but the red path is the one that leads to disaster:
You can see the two points where the character went haring off on the wrong path. Both appear to be kind of ‘straight’.
Unfortunately all of this is pure speculation. If anyone has any real info. I would really love to hear it. I might even change the map. 😀
Philosophers have been talking about human motivation since the time of Aristotle. Are our actions motivated by reason or feelings? Logic or instinct?
As a writer and someone fascinated by biology, I’m hedging my bets a little. I think most of us are motivated by feelings, but I believe many of those feelings are learned responses and as such, can be influenced by reason. Furthermore, I believe all warm-blooded creatures on this planet ‘tick’ the same way. We are all driven to seek out those things that give us pleasure and learn to avoid those that give us pain.
That’s pretty basic. In humans, the fear response – i.e. I-must-avoid-xx-because-it-is-painful – is controlled by the amygdala, an incredibly powerful part of the brain. The amygdala only has to experience something painful once. After that, it will warn us with ‘fear’ whenever we are in danger of repeating that experience. This is a great survival trait in the wild, but not that great in an ordered, civilized [with a huge grain of salt] world. Just think about phobias about spiders or snakes etc.
On the other side of the equation, a newborn baby’s suckle response is instinctive, but most other pleasures are actually learned. What baby is born liking ice-cream? -cough- Or alcohol? And that is a nice segue into learning to like things that go against our survival instincts.
“I tender as my first item of evidence, your Honour, the human love affair with motorbikes, motorcars and other machines that go fast and are highly dangerous.”
You’ll notice that apart from alcohol, I haven’t talked about pleasures that are, or become, addictive. Addiction is, to a large extent, a physiological disorder rather than a ‘choice’ whereas driving fast cars is something we choose to do for a variety of reasons.
But learning to like things that may be bad for us is not restricted to humans. All warm-blooded species to it, even those so-called lower order animals that are said to function solely on instinct.
Having grown up with animals, I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of pure instinct – i.e. the mechanical performance of actions without any element of choice [my definition only]. Am I trying to say that my dog and cat use logic like we do? No. But the mere fact that both species share my home, and actually seem to seek out each other’s company, is a fair indication that something has overcome their instinctive fear of and aggression towards each other.
Taking personal experience one step further, all the birds in and around my garden know two things about me:
I put tasty things out on the compost, and
I would never harm them
One magpie has taken this trust a step further and will take scraps of meat from my hand. I should also add that none of my magpie neighbours dive bomb me during nesting season. They will dive on Golli and Mogi [cat and dog respectively], but never on me.
Yet this lack of aggression is far from normal. I still remember walking through a park when the Offspring was very little and being chased by a pair of very angry magpies. I suspect most Australians will have their own stories of magpie aggression, so the behaviour of ‘my’ magpies is not ‘normal’, instinctive behaviour.
One of the most extreme examples of such counter-instinct behaviour is the story of the lioness who adopted a baby oryx [a kind of deer or antelope]. The story has a sad ending, but not because she ate the baby:
Closer to home, here’s a video about a cat that adopts ducklings:
So if all these examples are neither pure instinct nor the result of reason, then what are they?
You might say that in these two cases of cross species adoption, mother ‘instinct’ becomes stronger than survival instinct – i.e. knowing what to kill in order to eat. I prefer to think that the pleasure of mothering over-rides the instinct to kill for food.
Does the lioness reason her way to action? I very much doubt it, but then how much reason do we use when we put our own lives at risk to rescue a child from a burning house, or to drag someone from shark infested waters, or any other act of heroism you care to name?
Frankly, if reason were our motivator, no child would ever be rescued, no hero would ever be presented with a medal. Reason would tell us ‘this is crazy, don’t do it’.
So does that mean reason has no part to play?
Personally, I believe that reason builds a habit of belief, and it’s that belief that over-rides pure instinct. What kind of belief? How about courage, or honour, or the distinction between right and wrong, good and bad?
When we uphold those beliefs, and survive the experience, we are rewarded by a sense of satisfaction or pride. That is a form of emotional pleasure. On the other hand, if we don’t uphold those beliefs, for whatever reason, we are haunted by feelings of guilt and shame, both of which are examples of emotional pain.
I suspect that logic and reason are like muscles, the more we use them, the stronger they become, allowing us to over-ride some of our instinctive reactions to pleasure and pain. But…however we may rationalise our actions after the fact, the driver of those actions is still going to be a feeling rather than logic.
I’ve been thinking a hell of a lot about motivation lately, but I know reality is far more complex than the ideas I’ve explored in this post. I’d love to hear what you think. Are we rational creatures or puppets driven by biology…or maybe something in between?
At an intellectual level I’ve always known that being an individual entails being different to others, at least in some respects. And yet…despite age, and enough life experience to sink a ship, I keep expecting others to like what I like. In other words, I keep expecting them to be like me.
Every time I write about a book I’ve loved, or a glorious vista, or a piece of music that moved my soul, I expect that you will feel the same way. And I’m rarely wrong. The individuals who gravitate to this blog and become friends are, by and large, like me. Thanks to the power of social media, you are my kindred spirits. 🙂
By definition, a kindred spirit is someone like oneself, and on social media it happens when people are drawn to each other via shared interests. Think iron filings to a magnet. The degree to which we ‘stick’ depends upon the number of interests we share.
This filtering process happens in the real world too, but at a much slower rate because we can only physically interact with a small number of people at a time – family, friends, neighbours, colleagues at work etc. Plus there is no guarantee that the people we do meet will be sympatico.
And right there is one of the most wonderful and dangerous aspects of social media – the ability to consistently give us what we want.
Why? Because most of us want to belong. We want to be with people who make us feel warm and fuzzy and good about ourselves.
This is how social media bubbles form. But feeling good about ourselves involves a value judgement about what ‘good’ actually means. Even if you never consciously question your own likes and dislikes, you recognize them in others and automatically judge them to be ‘good’.
And I’m no different. I believe I’m a good person, so I can’t help believing that people who share my values are good people too.
But if we are the good people, what of the others? What of those who don’t share our values? Are they the bad people?
My head says “Of course not!” My heart says “Maybe”.
Every time I log in to Twitter and read a comment distorting some fact or praising something I consider to be ‘evil’, the anger says “Bad person, bad, bad!”
And then the shame sets in because I know that person isn’t bad. I know that if I got to know them through some other area of life, I’d probably think they were okay.
How do I know that? Because I’ve lived it. Many years ago when I lived in a shared student house, there was a girl there with a very abrasive personality. I didn’t like her one little bit. Then one day, to my shame, I discovered that the abrasiveness was just a facade to protect the sad person underneath.
More recently, I’ve discovered that many of the right wing panelists on The Drum [see footnote 1 at the end of this article] aren’t right wing about all topics. In fact, I’ve often caught myself marvelling that someone with those political affiliations could be so open to, for example, action on climate change, or same sex marriage or some other supposedly left wing issue.
I’m a left wing progressive, but I don’t intend to turn this post into some kind of pseudo political rant. Instead, I want to hammer home the fact that expectations based on social media bubbles are dangerous.
We humans are hardwired to generalise. It’s a powerful mental shortcut that allows us to make snap decisions based on just a few facts. This ability would have been a real survival mechanism back in the days of the woolly mammoth. These days? Not so much because thinking in generalities often substitutes for thinking, period.
Sadly, social media bubbles reinforce those generalities just when we should be questioning everything, starting with our own assumptions. We need facts, and we need to call out untruths, but we need to do so with courtesy because that ‘other’ person is more like us than not.
In years to come, people will look back on this era of social media and shake their heads at how bad the ‘wild wild west’ really was before it was tamed. In that yet-to-be-realised future, individual privacy will be protected by law, anonymity will not be allowed, and social media companies will face the full force of the law if they’re found to have manipulated their users.
But we’re not there yet.
Footnote 1 : The Drum is a current affairs show on Australian TV. It’s part of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation [ABC] and funded by taxpayers. As such, its charter requires that it be unbiased. That’s why the panelists on The Drum are chosen to be inclusive, and represent as many interest groups as possible, including people of both the left and right political persuasion.
I’ve just read an article that is so important, I’m posting about it here and on Medium. The article is entitled:
How Technology is Hijacking Your Mind — from a Magician and Google Design Ethicist
Oddly enough, it wasn’t the bit about the writer being a magician that caught my attention, it was the label of ‘Google Design Ethicist’ that made me start reading. Having just learned how Google invades our privacy, I was primed to be interested.
Almost immediately, I recognized the term ‘intermittent rewards’ as one of the ‘behaviour mod[ification]’ techniques I’d studied at university. The course was Behavioural Sciences, and back then I’d wanted to become a psychologist.
In a nutshell, behaviour mod. started out as a therapy for:
Inducing positive change in an individual’s behavior through such techniques as positive and negative reinforcement, or punishment for poor behavior. This therapy method is based off of the experiments by B.F. Skinner and his theory of operant conditioning.
My interest in psychology was sidelined by my introduction to computers, so I never ‘used’ my studies for anything, but apparently industry had. Intermittent rewards are used to make people addicted to all sorts of things, including slot machines and…social media. When you see people obsessively checking their phones, or computers, for messages, emails, or ‘Likes’ on social media platforms like Facebook, it’s because they’ve been conditioned to do so by the technique of intermittent rewards.
You can see exactly how intermittent rewards work on social media by reading the article:
We’ve been turned into Pavlov’s Dogs by ‘social engineers’ who either never question the ethics of what they’re doing, or simply don’t care. The only way to turn social media into something that benefits us is to:
a) become aware of how we’re being manipulated and
b) kick up such a stink that companies benefiting from this manipulation are forced to change, or go under.
I’m so angry, I’d be happy to see them all crash and burn.
I received this ‘phishing’ scam in my inbox this morning. It’s supposed to be from Paypal, and the ‘hook’ is that my account has been limited or suspended. When I looked at the email more closely, however, I noticed that:
the sender was NOT from Paypal
the email did NOT address me by name
and the whole email was funneling me towards the big, blue link you can see below
Seems pretty obvious, right?
Actually, despite having seens hundreds of these scam emails in my time, I still felt a moment of fright when I read this one. Why? Because I use Paypal for most of my online purchases, so the threat of having that service removed hit me where I live.
Unfortunately, that moment of fright is exactly what makes phishing email scams work. The scammers send out millions of these emails at random in the hope that a few will reach people who actually use the service [like me]. Then there is a chance that some of those people will be fooled into clicking the link in the email.
But what happens next?
I haven’t done this personally, but from my research it appears that the link takes you to a website that is made to look exactly like the real thing. Once on the website, you are asked to login with your account ID and password. The fake login will fail, of course, but by then the scammers will have exactly what they want – the account information of another victim.
So never EVER follow a link from an email to a financial account, even if the email looks 100% genuine. Always navigate to the website manually – i.e. by typing in the address in the address bar of your browser or by clicking a ‘Favorite’ that you have set up for yourself. Do not give in to the kneejerk reaction triggered by fright.
I know I harp on about these email scams like a cracked gramophone record [anyone remember them?]
but there are new people coming online every day, and they are at risk from these scammers. Please spread the word when you can.
‘[internet] Addicts lose interest in other hobbies or, sometimes, never develop any. When not allowed to go online, they experience withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, depression or even physical shaking. They retreat into corners of the Internet where they can find quick success — a dominant ranking in a game or a well-liked Facebook post — that they don’t have in the real world, experts say.’
The emphasis on ‘success’ is mine, and I believe it is the foundation of this psychological addiction. If real life sucks, go online and become a ‘god’ who is respected and adored by everyone. Or words to that effect.That kind of ego stroking is very hard to ignore because we all want to be respected, admired, liked.
The real problem, however, is not that we find ‘success’ online, but that we do not find it in the real world.
In a way, I guess this is just another First World problem, but it is real, and it will become more prevalent as the mobile generations swap their Smartphones for SmartJewellery, or SmartClothing, or SmartGoggles…or whatever. All these future devices will be fantastic, but they will not make living in the real world any easier.
Definitely food for thought,
p.s.in Korea, the pressures of real life have already created a whole society that is more ‘connected’ than any other. And they’re starting to have serious problems. This case is unusual but brings home the message.
The following quote describes the [current] experience of VR [virtual reality]:
‘“The gap between ‘things that happen to my character’ and ‘things that happen to me’ is bridged,” Stephan said. This distinction can transform an experience from merely flinch-inducing to sincerely frightening. “The way I process these scares is not through the eyes of a person using their critical media-viewing faculty but through the eyes of I, the self, with all of the very human, systems-level, subconscious voodoo that comes along with that.”’
Given how immersive even normal gaming can be, I do not find this phenomenon all that surprising. What I do find surprising is the genuine note of warning sounded in the article. You can find the entire story here:
Back to VR. As a gamer, I’ve been thinking about the consequences of addiction for a long time, and in Emmi’s story [in The Vintage Egg], one of the ideas I toss out there is that in the future, legislation will stop gamers from ‘playing’ for longer than a few hours. For their own good.
Will society really impose restrictions on the use of VR and AR [Augmented Reality]?
-shrug- Who knows, but it is gratifying to find that someone else is also thinking beyond the ‘oh goody, a new, supa doopa toy’ to the possible consequences of using that toy. I suspect that we will have to have deaths before the technology is regulated, which is a sobering thought. One thing I am certain about, however, is that next five to ten years will deliver a world-wide, totally voluntary [and probably expensive] social experiment on disruptive technology. 😀
I first stumbled onto ‘Midnight at Spanish Gardens’ on a book review site, and was so intrigued I had to buy it there and then. Now on with the review.
Written by Alma Alexander, Midnight at Spanish Gardens is not the kind of story that fits neatly into a pigeon hole. The writing is beautiful, almost poetic, yet it never forgets that it is meant to be prose, or that it has a story to tell. So based on the quality of the writing, and the fact the story is set in modern times, I could easily describe Spanish Gardens as contemporary literature.
Yet as I read on, I discovered that the mysterious bartender named Ariel is somehow sending the five main characters back in time to live the lives they might have lived if things had been… different.
How do I describe that? Contemporary metaphysical fantasy literature?
Yet even that convoluted category doesn’t accurately describe Midnight at Spanish Gardens, because how the main characters come to relive their lives is less important than what they do with those second chances. Or the choices they make when Ariel calls them back. Will they choose the first life? Or will they choose the new life they have made? Sadly, they cannot choose both.
For some of the characters, their new lives are better than the old, happier, more fulfilled. For others, their new lives turn out to be more successful in some ways, but ultimately devoid of meaning in others. Yet the story of these lives, and the choices the characters make is no morality play. Rather it is the tender exploration of what makes all of us human, without judgment, and without condemnation.
Whether the character is male or female, each one feels real and intensely believable. Some I liked more than others, but each one touched me deeply, and in my opinion, that is a psychological tour de force.
So what is Midnight at Spanish Gardens? Psychological metaphysical contemporary fantasy literature?
Nope. 😀 The book is much simpler than that – it is nothing more nor less than a work of art.
If Midnight at Spanish Gardens contained even a smidgeon of science fiction I’d give it 11/10. As it is I can only give it a 10.
Joking aside, I truly loved this book, and I promise, hand on heart, that if you read it you will not be disappointed.