Archive for the ‘Psychology’ Category


“The link between intelligence and religion can be explained if religion is considered an instinct, and intelligence the ability to rise above one’s instincts.”

–Edward Dutton and Dimitri Van der Linden in Evolutionary Psychological Science, quoted by Himanshu Goenka in “Is intelligence linked to disbelief in God?” on both the International Business Times site and Raw Story


Affinities, by Robert Charles Wilson(The Affinities, by Robert Charles Wilson. Tom Doherty Associates, 2015, 300 pp., $25.99)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

 

Over the last decade, matching algorithms have become part of everyday life, or at least online life, with their being used in everything from ads matched to browsing histories to online dating. Robert Charles Wilson has projected this trend into the near future with The Affinities. 

The premise is that matching algorithms have continued to be ever more refined, and that aided by neuroscience they’ve reached the point where they can match people with similar outlooks and personality traits, people who would inherently get along, have a natural affinity for each other. Beyond that, the testing and matching have been marketed on a mass basis by a computer science company that then places people–bar the 40% who don’t fit into any category–into one of 22 formal and close knit affinity groups which function as near-ideal families: places where members are unconditionally accepted and where they intuitively understand each other, and where they cooperate best with their like-minded peers.

The novel follows a young man from a far from ideal family, Adam Fisk, as he gradually becomes more and more immersed, over 20 years, in his affinity group. The characterization of Fisk and many of the secondary characters, notably members of Fisk’s biological family, is convincing, more so than the characterizations of the members of Fisk’s affinity group. The reason for this is likely that it’s difficult to make secondary characters interesting when they’re almost exactly aligned with the primary character; flaws and disagreements make for interesting characters; near-exact alignment doesn’t.

But the main interest in The Affinities lies in the development of the groups themselves, in particular Fisk’s group, Tau, the loosest, largest, least authoritarian of the groups. (The different groups all take their names from the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet.) At the beginning, seen through Fisk’s bedazzled eyes, Tau looks like paradise. As the years go by, however, a darker side of the group gradually emerges.

Like members of all in groups, the members of Tau begin to see themselves as better than outsiders, and express that arrogant belief through, among other things, using depreciative terms for outsiders, and discouragement of members from having close relationships with outsiders, even with their biological families. Effectively, they dehumanize outsiders.

It also turns out that cooperation and close coordination aren’t always good things in the affinity groups, particularly in the most hierarchical and authoritarian of them, Het. Shortly into the narrative, tensions begin to arise between the various affinity groups, tensions which eventually lead to open hostilities with both the other groups and various governments.

The central character, Adam Fisk, plays a leading role in the inter-group hostilities, and the increasingly sordid tactics employed by both Fisk’s group, Tau, and their primary opponent, Het, lead Fisk to a crisis of conscience, which in turn leads to an unexpected (though foreshadowed) denouement.

Well plotted, with convincing characters and considerable insight into group dynamics and psychology, The Affinities is a thought provoking, enjoyable read.

Recommended.

* * *

(Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia. He’s currently working on its sequel and on an unrelated sci-fi novel. A large sample from Free Radicals, in pdf form, is available here.)

Free Radicals front cover


Neil deGrasse Tyson

“It’s wrong to say ‘You have to be good at it.’ I’d rather say, ‘You have to want to be good at it.’ And then ambition kicks in. And ambition can override whether or not your first foray was unpleasant or you didn’t do well or maybe you flunked an exam. But if you really like it you will spend time learning it. That’s what liking something means. Maybe too many of us believe that we like something because we’re good at it. And sure, there’re plenty of cases where that’s so. But why deny yourself the pleasure of a life of pursuit, of something that brings pleasure?”


Trump

“The subordination of a nation to a man, is not a wholesome but a vicious state of things: needful, indeed for a vicious humanity. The instinct which makes it possible is anything but a noble one. Call it ‘hero worship’ and it looks respectable . . . From ancient warrior-worship down to modern flunkeyism, the sentiment has ever been strongest where human nature has been vilest.”

–Herbert Spencer, “Representative Government”


(It’s shocking, we know, but we made critical typos when we put up this list a couple of weeks ago, and as a result  “404ed” our readers when they clicked on the links. Our apologies if you were one of them. All of the links work correctly now, so . . . back to the original post.)

We’re in the process of extracting and posting pdf excerpts from our approximately 35 in-print books. All of the samples are good sized, ranging from one to six chapters. For ease of access, we’ve divided the books into categories; there is some overlap, as some of the books fall into more than one category. Here’s what we’ve posted so far:

HumorBible Tales for Ages 18 and Up, by G. Richard Bozarth, front cover

Music

Politics

Psychology

Religion / Atheism

Science Fiction

Skepticism

For more free samples and complete books and pamphlets in html format, check out the See Sharp Press Texts on Line page.


We’re in the process of extracting and posting pdf excerpts from our approximately 35 in-print books. All of the samples are good sized, ranging from one to six chapters. For ease of access, we’ve divided the books into categories; there is some overlap, as some of the books fall into more than one category. Here’s what we’ve posted so far:

 

HumorBible Tales for Ages 18 and Up, by G. Richard Bozarth, front cover

Music

Politics

Psychology

Religion / Atheism

Science Fiction

Skepticism

For more free samples and complete books and pamphlets in html format, check out the See Sharp Press Texts on Line page.


Quantum Night, by Robert J. Sawyer front cover(Quantum Night, by Robert J. Sawyer; Ace, 2016, 351 pp., $27.00)

reviewed by Zeke Teflon

There’s a lot to like and a lot to dislike in Canadian science fiction writer Robert Sawyer’s new novel.

On the positive side, this is the most ambitious sci-fi novel I’ve read in ages. The writing is skillful — among other things, seamlessly switching between first person and third person narration — and the primary character is believable and sympathetic, if a bit on the irritating side. Sawyer uses the novel as a platform to talk intelligently about philosophical and ethical big issues — something all too rare in contemporary science fiction: Quantum Night makes you think. As well, Sawyer obviously did a thorough job of researching the novel’s background, the supposed quantum-related nature of consciousness — an area in which I’m totally out of my depth.

On the negative side, it’s difficult to buy the political background in which Quantum Night is set, especially that in the U.S. border areas (where I live). As well, Sawyer sets up an essential (for the secondary plot) series of events (riots) for which he provides no explanation.  Beyond that, from the point of view of psychology (an area in which I do know a bit), it’s very difficult to buy Sawyer’s underlying deterministic premise about the nature of consciousness and how it varies in the population. Beyond that, Sawyer provides the most nauseatingly graphic description of violence I’ve ever read; I found the scene so disturbing that I put down the book for several days before deciding that I really did want to see how the novel concluded.

Yet despite the gruesome violence, Sawyer adheres to the standard sci-fi bowdlerization of sexual scenes. Why? Why is sex more taboo than explicit, horrifying violence in sci-fi? (The only exceptions to that prudishness that immediately come to mind are some of the works of Walter Mosley and Richard K. Morgan.)

Quantum Night begins with a cringe-inducing series of scenes in which the protagonist, academic psychologist Jim Marchuk, a specialist in diagnosing psychopathic tendencies, learns that he has no memory of six months of his life as an undergraduate, and that he apparently did terrible things — things totally out of character — during those six months.

Marchuk shortly reconnects with his girlfriend from those lost six months, Kayla Huron,  a quantum physicist who, to quote the endflap, “has made a stunning discovery about the nature of human consciousness,” and not coincidentally has developed what she considers a foolproof method of diagnosing psychopathy.

Her discovery is that the quantum state of electrons in certain portions of the brain determine whether a person is a “philosopher’s zombie” (“p-zed” — a non-self-aware being with no inner voice who merely responds to external stimuli–in Sawyer’s schema 4/7 of the population), a psychopath (a self-aware being without empathy–according to the schema, 2/7 of the population–an astoundingly high proportion, far higher than the common estimates of 1% to 5% of the population), or a self-aware being with empathy (1/7  of the population). I have essentially no knowledge of quantum physics nor brain physiology, so I have no way to judge whether this is plausible; however, Sawyer always does his homework, so I suspect (in terms of quantum physics and brain physiology) it is, however barely. (The breakdown of the numbers of p-zeds, psychopaths, and self-aware, empathetic people is purely arbitrary, purely a plot device.)

There are, however, nonphysiological reasons to doubt that it is plausible. If people were pure behavioral animals reacting mindlessly to external stimuli (p-zeds), they wouldn’t react radically differently to identical stimuli and wouldn’t be almost universally at least somewhat emotionally disturbed. (We’re talking about the garden varieties of emotional disturbance here, such as anxiety and depression, not trauma-induced PTSD.) Pertinently, the most effective type of psychotherapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, is, to simplify, based on the premise that what people (often subconsciously) tell themselves largely determines their emotions: change what you tell yourself — deliberately tell yourself rational instead of irrational things — and you’ll minimize your emotional disturbance. And it works. So there go your “philosopher’s zombies,” who by definition don’t tell themselves anything.

Sawyer sets all this against a backdrop of ever-worsening rioting (for no apparent reason) in both Canada and the U.S., pogroms against Mexicans in Texas (based on a law restricting legal protection — including protection against murder — to U.S. citizens) , and belligerent psychopaths in both the White House and Kremlin. (What else is new?)

The unmotivated rioting is difficult to buy, the pogroms are equally difficult to buy, and it’s inconceivable that any U.S. court, no matter how reactionary, would ever declare such a law redefining murder constitutional, even in Texas. And if pogroms ever would break out down here along the border, it’s absolutely certain that there would be armed resistance; people would not meekly accept it.

The reason for this dire background is to set up a secondary plot — what can our heroes do about these things?  This is unfortunate, as the primary plot — Marchuk’s journey of discovery about what he did and why — is more than adequate, and the secondary plot seems implausible.

Even worse, much of the philosophical discussion in Quantum Night revolves around utilitarianism, the philosophy that ethical behavior is that which promotes the greatest good for the greatest number. Sawyer seems very much in favor of this concept. So far so good. However, he goes beyond this and seems to be making the case that it’s okay, in fact ethically necessary, to play god with the lives of other people as long as you consider it necessary to the “greater good.”  In other words, the ends justify the means. (My apologies to Sawyer if I’m misreading him, but I don’t think I am.)

This is a horrendous belief, one that is an integral part of the foundation of some of the worst forms of totalitarianism. Leninism, a conspicuously utilitarian political philosophy (which is supposed to produce the greatest good for the greatest number), is the example par excellence, and its terrible results when imposed are too well known to enumerate here. Suffice it to say that a very large number of human problems, both individual and societal, are a direct result of those (such as Sawyer’s protagonist) who consider themselves more enlightened than the great unwashed masses and play god with the lives of others — for their “own good,” of course.

Still, despite its warts, Quantum Night is well worth reading. The writing is first rate, Sawyer provides much thought-provoking discussion of philosophical and ethical problems (mostly in chapter introductions recounting Marchuk’s class lectures), the characters are believable and somewhat sympathetic, and the plot will have you on the edge of your seat throughout most of the book.

Recommended.

* * *

Free Radicals front cover

 

Zeke Teflon is the author of Free Radicals: A Novel of Utopia and Dystopia. He’s currently working on the sequel and on an unrelated sci-fi novel in his copious free time.

The first six chapters of Free Radicals, are avaukable  here in pdf form.