Philosophical Multicore

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Archive for the ‘Society’ Category

Article of the Day: Why the World Needs Introverts

Posted by Michael Dickens on March 18, 2012

http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/mar/13/why-the-world-needs-introverts

This article argues that society places excessive value on extroversion while assuming that expression of introverted traits is necessarily a bad thing. In response, it explains “why the world needs introverts.”

We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal – the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight. The archetypal extrovert prefers action to contemplation, risk-taking to heed-taking, certainty to doubt. He or she favours quick decisions, even at the risk of being wrong; works well in teams and socialises in groups. We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual – the kind who is comfortable “putting himself out there”.

Of course, sometimes contemplation has value over action, heed-taking over risk-taking, and doubt over certainty (just ask Richard Feynman about that last one). But is it not always better to be comfortable rather than uncomfortable? I think even introverts would agree that being “uncomfortable in the spotlight” or “uncomfortable putting himself out there” is not such a good thing.

The greatest strength of this article is in its understanding that introversion is not worse than extroversion, nor should we assume—as people usually do—that everyone is an extrovert, or that introverts merely need to be “converted.” People can become more or less sociable, and of course behave differently in different circumstances, but most people cannot make such a dramatic shift as society often expects.

We often place unreasonable expectations on introverts:

[Y]ou might still feel a pang of guilt when you decline a dinner invitation in favour of a good book. Or maybe you like to eat alone in restaurants and could do without the pitying looks from fellow diners. Or you’re told that you’re “in your head too much,” a phrase that’s often deployed against the quiet and cerebral.

Many people simply fail to understand that such behaviors are not weird or a sign that something is wrong. Not only is it perfectly normal to prefer a book to dinner with friends; in many cases, the former choice adds more value to one’s life. Where would we be if Einstein, instead of staying home to teach himself calculus, had gone partying every night?

Of course, one makes many choices throughout life, and some of these choices will always tend toward extroversion. But it is a mistake to think that they all should.

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Posted in Psychology, Society | 3 Comments »

Why Mythology?

Posted by Michael Dickens on October 8, 2011

One night, a long time ago, three cavemen, Ug, Boggle, and Carl, we`re watching the clear skies. Ug wondered,

“Where do the stars come from?”

“A wise old caveman told me a story one time,” Boggle said. “A thousand years ago, before the sun had been born, the world was dark and the people could not see. So Mother Earth birthed a sun and sent him across the sky to shine bright. The day was bright and the people were happy. But each evening the sun begins to grow tired, and lies down behind the mountains to sleep. One night, the people went to Mother Firefly to ask her for help. So she sent her children to the sky to try to light up the night. Thousands and thousands of children she sent, but they could not bring light to the night. But noble fireflies they were: they stayed in the sky, and each night they try with all their might to shine light onto the world.”

And Ug believed Boggle’s story.

Carl was not satisfied. “But how could the fireflies get into the sky?” he said. “Why do they not flicker as other fireflies do?”

“These fireflies know that it is their duty to brighten the night sky,” Boggle responded. “They do not flicker, but instead they shine their light at all times in order to bring more light to the world.”

“But your story still does not make sense,” objected Carl. “I will tell you what I think happened.”

“Tell me, Carl, what do you think happened?”

“Thousands of thousands of thousands of years ago, a great cosmic explosion scattered matter across the universe. Most of the matter formed into great clumps. At the center of these clumps was an enormous amount of pressure, forcing the matter to become a mighty fire. This happened many times in many places across the universe. All these great fires shine light across vast distances and appear to us, because they are so very far away, as tiny points of light in the sky.”

Ug thought about this for a minute. “What? You’re crazy. You can’t put a bunch of dirt together and start a fire. And besides, the universe isn’t nearly that big. I like Boggle’s story better.”

And that’s why mythology is the way it is.

In my opinion, the idea that the universe is almost fourteen billion years old and forty-six billion light years across, and contains billions of galaxies that each have billions of stars—massive spheres of gas that emit unimaginable quantities of energy—is far more amazing than the conception of stars as fireflies. But if the truth is so much more amazing than the fantasy, why does the fantasy win out?

The fact that the reality is so amazing ends up working against it. People do not want to be amazed. Amazement is on the border of incomprehension, and people have a natural tendency to want to understand things. We would rather something be mundane than incomprehensible.

The cavemen in this story have difficulty conceiving of the vastness of the universe, but they have no problem thinking about fireflies. They know what fireflies are, and they can imagine scattering them across the sky. Fireflies are much easier to understand than giant balls of fire in space that are set off when gravity forces hydrogen nuclei to fuse and convert matter into energy.

Examples of the believable fantasy taking precedence over the extraordinary truth can be seen across cultures and religions. The Greeks had Helios pulling the sun across the sky in a chariot, much more relatable than a spherical planet rotating at a thousand miles per hour while hurtling through space at even greater speeds; modern young-earth creationists explain geographical formations in terms of Noah’s flood, instead of the complicated truth that myriad events (including earthquakes, volcanoes, and even simple water flow) make small changes to the earth’s surface over billions of years.

Of course, I was not there when the Greeks were thinking up their mythology, so I do not know why it is what it is. However, I find this to be a very plausible explanation; and if we do prefer familiarity to profundity, that says something important about how the mind works.

Posted in Atheism and Religion, Society | 3 Comments »

Why People Argue About Things That Don’t Matter

Posted by Michael Dickens on July 16, 2011

People spend a seemingly absurd amount of time arguing about things that don’t matter: PC vs Mac, Edward vs Jacob, Coke vs Pepsi, the list goes on. These subjects are all either pointless or very close to it, and yet people spend inordinate amounts of time on them. Why?

The first reason is that, for many people, arguing is fun. Not everyone likes to argue, and those who do don’t always want to, but there are many occasions in which a good strong debate is a deeply satisfying experience. A lot of the time, the debate topic doesn’t matter so much as the debate itself. Still, it seems that it would be more fulfilling to debate a topic more consequential than which fictional character is cooler or which soft drink is better. However, there is a strong barrier surrounding most really good debate topics that render them off-limits: they are part of people’s identity.

There are many social situations in which it is acceptable to loudly disagree over which operating system is better, but taboo to discuss political issues. The reason for this is that many people have strong opinions about operating systems, but few consider those opinions to be important pieces of their identity. Say that gay marriage is wrong or that marijuana should be legalized, and some people will get offended. Say that a person is wrong for having a certain opinion on gay marriage or drug legalization, and that person will very likely feel personally threatened. But say that someone likes the wrong operating system and few people will mind.

Arguing about pointless topics is pointless, but it still can be fun. Many people enjoy a good debate but don’t want to risk provoking offense; the solution is to avoid serious topics and instead argue about things that don’t matter.

Posted in Society | 6 Comments »

 
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