Paraskevidekatriaphobia

Paraskevidekatriaphobia, the fear of Friday the 13th is where people avoid travelling, marrying, or even working that day. As for the latter, you have to be pretty irrational to not see that not showing up for work for suspersitious reasons is is much more likely to have “unlucky” consequences.

Judas was the 13th guest to the last supper, who betrayed Jesus. The Norse god Loki was the 13th attendant at a dinner party, creating chaos for the 12 other gods in attendance.

13 is considered lucky in parts of south and southeast Asia, such as India and Thailand. In both cultures, they primarily use the base-10 numbering system as we do.

In Christianity, 13 often seems to be a play on the duodecimal (base-12) system. There are some mathematical qualities of 12, in that it has a lot of divisors: it can be divided into sixths, quarters, thirds, and halves, and still have integer values. Adding 1 to 12 makes 13, which is prime, and not much fun for integer division. While that could introduce a kind of chaos, you also get a prime if you subtract 1. So why isn’t 11 unlucky? Seen another way, a prime number can be regarded as lucky in itself and as seen as symbolic of wholeness in some cultures.

I don’t care much for truth

I have no trouble searching deeper and deeper for truths in the worlds of math and science when they are revealed to me. I quite enjoy the experience, and find science and math fascinating areas of study for that reason.

What I mean by the title is that I don’t care for the truth in my personal life. It appears as though that the search for truth “about me”, when I attempted it, was circular and led to me thinking that I, along with the rest of mankind, are deeply flawed, and thinking about that in the effort to always “walk in the ways of truth” seemed to lead to greater hopelessness. Also I quickly found that the world does not care much about “the truth” about me.

What the world cares about is for me to contribute. Maybe explain some things. Teach. I’m good at that. Fulfilling such need in the world must come from a different place. You must believe you are the one to make a contribution. You must believe in something that isn’t true yet: your ability to provide a solution to a need.

And if it came to the choice between the happiness of achievement and the “search for truth” — that is, if I had to choose between truth and feelings of sadness and inadequacy; or to not care for truth and to feel happiness and fulfillment in my ability to contribute to the lives of others out of mere “belief” in myself and feel confident that I can do so, then I am strongly in favour of choosing the latter.

Does psychopathy have an origin?

I am going to make no pretense as to thinking that I have any involved knowledge in the social sciences or the humanities to comment on a serious level on the topic of the psychopath. However, their mystique attracts me on a “Hollywood Movie” level, and I somehow get the feeling that they are not the inscrutable evil geniuses that are portrayed in these movies.

I read into the literature, and I am confronted by a hornet’s nest of conflicting definitions. Psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists and psychoanalysts do not seem to agree on the details, but I, as the reader of such things, would like to put together something that is plausible by me, as mentally put together over the years. I apologize in advance for not having references for everything I say, but I already warned you about not being strictly academic at the start.

We more or less all agree on the problem with these people. They are beyond selfish, they lack empathy, they have shallow charm, are cold-hearted, manipulative, irresponsible, and lack guilt or remorse. Unlike the stereotype, they do not have above-average IQ. Their intelligence is normally distributed like the rest of us.

Narcississm is currently thought to be part of the same package, and is part of the symptom outlay of psychopaths. To see the differences, from how I understand it, you have to travel inward. Psychopaths have a low autonomic arousal. For the common person, that means their “flight or fight” system doesn’t work like it does for us. They never get afraid of anything. Now, I wish I were that macho, and I guess we all wish were were a little tougher to face life’s sticky situations. But in the case of the psychopath, it makes them utterly reckless. They have no concern for their own safety, or the safety of anyone else.

Everything I have told you about psychopaths so far has probably given the impression that these folks are no picnic. Good. Frankly, these are just people you avoid. The literature states pretty clearly that even a trained therapist can’t change them, so don’t bother trying yourself.

Hearing of their low autonomic arousal made me think: most modern literature I have read states there are a higher concentration of psychopaths in modern industrial societies, particularly in large business institutions. I am not aware of any data that would have stated that the number of psychopaths diagnosed has risen in the last 60 years since the classification was first coined or even since the first popular book on the topic by the late Hervey Cleckley was written (of whcih I am aware), called “The Mask of Sanity” (you can Google yourself a copy of the classic third edition of the book in PDF). But I find it un-necessary to think in these terms. I believe we have had them all along. I believe psychopaths are as old as our species. I shall stop short of pretending I can find a genetic basis, however.

Nobody has any evidence of this idea that they go as far back as our species, but I don’t see why not. In the early days of Homo sapiens, the world was a much harsher place as we had not developed agriculture, probably hadn’t yet developed any good weapons, we were competing against Homo neanderthalis for the same resources. Recent eveidence had shown that the Neaderthals had larger brain cases than us, and that meant they were likely smarter than us. Evidence had also shown they were less selfish. There were no evidence of a conflict. They were there once, and then they weren’t.

I would estimate that in early Man, that is, Man the hunter-gatherer, looked upon those who could kill the biggest and fiercest animal with the most awe and respect. A psychopath wrestling a tiger with whatever weapons avaialble would mean that, due to the psychopath’s low fight-or flight reponse, that all the panicking is being done by the tiger. Maybe the psychopath comes out heavily bruised and scarred, but only the tiger dies, and the tribe is in awe of the hunter’s prowess. People like that are the stuff of legends. Not only do I think psychopaths had a place in early societies, I believe it was likely that they would be seen as essential to the survival of the tribe. All of these things fulfill the psychopath’s demands to be surrounded by admirers, worshipped, and to be considered superior to others in every way. Other hunters may try to match the psychopath, but they are beset by having a functioning autonomic system. They are not reckless enough.

The proportion of them that exist in all societies means that even in ancient societies, our lack of respect for the environment has always left a footprint everywhere we have settled. I would guess that the lack of respect would be proportional to the prevalence of psychopaths in that population.

In modern industrial societies, we have no need for them, but they are still around living out what has become a parasitic existence.

Music inside my head

I wish I could say I am one of those creative geniuses who can compose music because of what I “hear” in my head. Sorry. I hear old tunes. Hit records. Stuff that even annoys me. It contributes to the fact that I can play tunes on guitar without having ever read music. I can remember a lot of tunes, but it means that I cannot play tunes I never heard of (at least without a lot of work, since I have maybe a rudimantary skill at sight reading. This time around, the music I “hear” is music I either hardly care about or have never “heard” in decades.

Now playing

Susie (Dramas) — The flip side to the Rocket Man single, off the Elton John album “Honky Chateau”. When I was much younger, I recall not really liking this side of the single, prefering “Rocket Man” much more. Even after getting the whole album on vinyl, my opinion has not changed. It has always been known that there is good Elton and bad Elton in music. For me, bad Elton is when he sounds too bluesy, a rule which for me always seems to hold (with the exception of Amoreena).

The Greatest Love of All — I recall when this single came out by the late Whitney Houston, I felt kind of blase about it. The lyrics of this song sounded like a bunch of motivational poster slogans strung together. Of course, such is Whitney’s talent that she could sing a grocery list and still compel you to listen to the end. The song sounded way too preachy for me, but again no one does “preachy” better, I admit. This song was one of the reasons I was never a Whitney fan in her heyday, and I’m not really a fan now. I recently begun to understand why this mid-80s song struck me that way. It was the 80s, and we were coming off all those motivational slogans that sounded so good to us in the 70s. There were a lot of 70s tunes that sounded like stuff you read out of self-help books, which at the time struck us as warm, expansive, and visionary. This song was written for George Benson back in 1976, right around that period. Yes, these lyrics are supposed to sound “with it”. Back then, preachy was an OK thing to do. Songs which “had a message” of a “love your chilren/self-love” nature were common in the 70s, but it got tiresome after a while.

 

Not knowing what you don’t know

This topic has occasionally fascinated me. Not knowing you don’t know something is how your incompetence is used to hide your incompetence (amounting to being too incompetent to know you are incompetent). It was used about a decade ago by Donald Rumsfeld to incriminate Saddam (remember all that about the “known knowns”, the “known unknowns” and the “unknown unknowns”?). It was a sham to hide the fact that even though he had no evidence of WMDs, that “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”. Guilty until proven innocent. Let’s spend billions on an invasion.

But, yes, the underlying idea is a real one that goes back to theories of learning and of knowing. And ironically, I have it on some authority that it has roots in Arab culture. There is an old Arab saw that goes:

"He that knows not,
    and knows not that he knows not
        is a fool.
            Shun him
He that knows not,
    and knows  that he knows not
        is a pupil.
            Teach him.
He that knows,
    and knows not that he knows
        is asleep
            Wake him.
He that knows,
    and knows that he knows
        is a teacher.
            Follow him."

Our particular interest is in the first stanza. Shunning one who doesn’t notice his/her own incompetence might be a bit harsh, because really, not knowing you are incompetent about something is a normal part of the human condition.

We are all biased, we are all unaware of whole worlds of knowledge lying outside our doorstep; yet, we work, play, pay our taxes, make decisions, go to school, get promoted, have relationships, resolve our conflicts despite not knowing everything, and not being all that conscious about what we don’t know. Our brains are wired to make sense of the world with limited knowledge, and to make judgements and to act. Normally things work out, and that’s all that matters to us. We don’t need the data gathering skills of NASA’s Mission Control to resolve even relatively difficult dilemmas. Some of us make judgements on truly degenerate knowledge of the world around us, and life goes on.

But what if we were worried about the things we do not know that we do not know? It might be marginally helpful, but I suspect that most of the time, we would be paralyzed with indecision, until we gather all of the facts. And in some situations, that is just impossible, thereby paralyzing us forever. You can’t know everything in interpersonal situations; you are not expected to have the wisdom of Confucius, the moral reasoning skills of Martin Luther King, the clairvoyance of Kreskin, and what would it have helped? You still need to work through the reasoning skills of the other person, who has a similar degenerate knowledge found in everyone else.

If you think that’s the other person’s problem, then remember that the tragedy of the crucifixion happened because Jesus suffered from a mortal flaw: he was flawed because he was perfect (he only knew that he knew), and the crowd judged him, because they didn’t know what they didn’t know. As Jesus dies on the cross, he prayed for forgiveness of this essential flaw in their humanity. In other words, being perfect is not a guarantee that you will live your life in any kind of perfect happiness, since you will live in a world where everyone around you will not know what they don’t know. And to try to attain that kind of perfection with the purpose of becoming “more knowing” or more effective in your environment is grossly un-necessary nearly all of the time. We already have within our imperfect selves the power to change our lives in a positive way.

Knowing more is, of course always better. But trying to know everything is an invitation to personal, moral and professional paralysis. We would normally accuse such people of not being able to deal with ambiguous situations, which let’s face it, covers just about all situations.