Archive for August, 2008

Diminishing the importance of a trait/skill

August 30, 2008

“If you are unambigously hopeless in an area of life, your brain gets around this by simply diminshing the importance of that skill.”

I remember this coming back and biting me in the ass. I used to work at my uncles’ nursery. One of our tasks, before the advent of machines that do it cheaper and quicker now, involved putting burlap on shrubs and sewing them using a needle and twine so the soil would hold together tightly around the root ball. I didn’t pay much mind to the quality of my sewing work, and frankly there was so much turnover of employees at the worksite that it was easy to convince myself that I was good enough at this task compared to most. I just didn’t see it as too important a skill. One day  my uncles were preparing for a show where some of their shrubs would be on display. They needed the root balls to be done up to a high standard of quality and  i was selected to help work on this project. As I saw some of my also chosen coworkers doing their sewing, I realized that my work was pretty inadequate compared to theirs. I meekly asked one of them to do a quick demo about how they did it. It was an amateur request, and everyone noticed. I wanted to be sure that I didn’t do  any crappy work and not meet the standard. It was an embarrassing moment, and it strikes me as an example of how the vain brain can minimize the importance of a skill.

“In a final clever enhancement of this self-enhancement, we believe that our weaknesses are so common that they are really just part and parcel of normal human fallibility, while our strengths are rare and special.”

When I was a freshman in college I surpised myself by doing very well in an English class that required me to complete some writing assignments. Some upperclass English majors that I knew were stunned. I felt pretty good, having felt pretty average in most other ways compared to many of my fellow students. “maybe I ma special and my mommy was right. ”

The following year I took a higher level course with the same professor and nearly failed the course despite lots of effort. I was pretty crushed having never come close to failing in a an academic course. But I certainly seemed to be more interested in meeting and conversing with other students who said that bombing with this professor was very common, almost a rite of passage. We wanted to believe it.  Whether it were really true or not, it was a comfort.

My vain brain had a hard time with that professor. The whole experience drove me a little batty actually.  He happens to be a great writer himself – Franklin Burroughs, retired professor from Bowdoin College. Check him out at Amazon. I have read and really enjoyed his collection of short stories called Billy Watson’s Croker Sack.


Cordelia’s cool with it

August 28, 2008

Cordelia Fine emailed me back and and I have her blessing to pursue this blog idea . It is an ‘authorized blog’, I guess you could say.

Exploiting Ambiguity in traits/skills

August 28, 2008

If a trait of skill you’re being asked about is helpfully ambiguous, you interpret the question to suit your own idiosyncratic strengths.

Consider driving. Ask someone if they are a good driver, and if they are good at following the speed limit and using their directional, they will focus on that fact and not the 3 accidents they have had in the last 3 months.  Another driver who is able to whip into parking spots with exquisite precision will focus on that fact and not the multiple speeding tickets they get.

When asked, people will modestly and reluctantly confess that they are, for example, more ethical, more nobly motivated employees, and better drivers than the average person. The law of averages makes this impossible, of course.

All from CH 1 of Fine’s book with the experiments to back it up.

Keep in mind that your vain brain is protecting you by telling you that you wouldn’t be so vain.

What Carly SImon should have sung: “You’re so vain, you probably think this song is not about you.”



More on the way.

Credulous Creatures

August 26, 2008

From Fine: “Research has shown that we believe things as a matter of course.  It is easier for us to take this position. It is only with some mental effort that we can decide something is untrue. This may be because, in general, people speak the truth more often than not. It’s therefore more efficient to assume things are true unless we have reason to thing otherwise.  But there is a problem with this system. If your brain is too busy with other things to put in the necessary legwork to reject a doozy, then you’re stuck with that belief.  ”  The psychologist Daniel Gilbert has done a lot of work in this area, and you could do a search with his name in addition to looking on page 119-121 of Fine’s book.  

And if you find yourself just believing what I am saying without checking out the research, that kind of makes the point.

It does require work for you to look up the research. It would also require work for me to describe all the experiments in the blog.

That would require our mental energy, and that would make us more susceptible to this gullibility.  So there is something to be said for not pursuing investigation of this gullibility proposition further.  

How do we choose what to do – where to focus?

I think we need help from more mature minds – certainly I am not claiming to have one of them. But one thing to look out for is anyone who tells you what to think. And perhaps a ‘closed’ mind will often be a better bet than an ‘open’ one.

ummm? – ohhhhh

August 25, 2008

“Ummmmm? Ohhhh”

This is what my 21 month old daughter had been saying over and over and over and over. She asks a question in the form of ummm?  and answers herself when she says ohhh. Turns out that we her parents do it all the time without realizing it. I think it is a great way to pass the time when you don’t quite know what the hell is going on but just want to interact.

Similar to : ” Dude? Dude.” Question. Answer. Life makes sense, but not too much for too long, ’cause that would get boring.

Anyways, I apologize for my last post where i wrote that I want to be a ‘force for good’. I don’t want to give you hope, ’cause that just leads to fear, and the whole culty thing gets rolling.

I want to provide information from experimental psychology. That is my ‘ serious’ goal to start.

And I will sometimes just write about ‘stuff’, and i hope you will be entertained.

At any rate, I emailed Cordelia Fine and told her I’d be writing about excerpts from her book. She is welcome to share concerns with me and I would stop if she had a problem with it.

I think it is worth mentioning that her last chapter is titled ‘ The Vulnerable Brain’. Spot on – man. That describes it. We are collectively vulnerable because of our brain design.  We can mature and be less so, but part of that maturity is being more aware of the dangers. I am more aware of  danger than my kids, at least in a specific way that I can articulate, and in a sense that is a large part of what makes me more mature than them. I am full of warnings. ” watch out – don’t fall’ /’remember your _______”/ ‘Look out’ .

Does that sound like a fun type of blog to read? You’ve been warned that you will be warned a lot.

Ummm? Ohhh.

Why this blog now?

August 22, 2008

I have been mulling over for awhile now how I might act as a ‘force for good’ in this world. I am particularly interested in the danger associated with cults and indoctrination at all levels of the human experience. How might I help combat this? The Crack Emcee does it over at , in addition to blogging on his many other interests, and he has been a big inspiration. 

I work as a therapist (LICSW) so I see many  people being trapped and harmed by  their thinking patterns, most of which were programmed into them by others  without their own knowledge. I am already ‘doing battle ‘, and this blog should augment that, and even be a resource for some of my clients. But let me be clear, reading this blog and even leaving comments is no replacement for therapy. I am not suggesting that therapy is necessary for you, but please know that when I am blogging I am not a therapist.

I was really strongly impacted by a book called A Mind Of Its Own – How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives by Cordelia Fine. I read the book twice because she was able to convince me that I probably couldn’t trust my brain with just one reading, not that two is much better. I recommend the book be read in its entirety, not just for the info but for entertainment.  I plan to use the book as a resource for this blog as it is very well researched from sources in the field of experimental psychology. I’ll use other resources but this is where I will start.

It is divided into 8 chapters, describing each one of your brains. Yes – you have 8.

The Vain Brain/The Emotional Brain/ The Immoral Brain/ The Deluded Brain/The Pigheaded Brain/ The Secretive Brain/ The Weak-willed Brain/ The Bigoted Brain.

All feedback about this blog and its content is not just welcome, but I am begging you for it. I am an amateur blogger, so while I ask you to be patient, that doesn’t mean I want you to keep your mouth shut.  And come back in the future even if you are not impressed enough to revisit the blog tomorrow , ’cause I plan for the blog to constantly improve.

Why ‘Diddly’?

August 21, 2008

I don’t know why I chose ‘diddly’ as the title to this blog, but I diddly, so that’s where it stands. I usually only use this word  when I say “diddlysquat”, which refers to such a meager amount of something that it isn’t worth mentioning. So that is as good a reason as any not to analyze it too much.

I also have to give props to Bo Diddley, who died this year at the age of 79 of heart failure. I wish I could say he inspired this blog, but that would be a damn diddly lie. I read that Mr. Diddley resented the fact that he was copied by so many and didn’t get paid. He was given a flat fee for his recordings,  but not royalties. He is described as being ornery, funny, and utterly original. Sounds like a perfect formula for a blog.

 Check out these lyrics. You are bound to recognize them when you get to the end:

I got 47 miles of barbed wire/ I use a cobra snake for a necktie/ i got a brand new house by the roadside/ Made from rattlesnake hide/ I got a brand new chimney on top/ Made from a human skull/ Now come on, baby, take a walk with me now/And tell me, who do you love?

How do you touch that? Maybe ‘diddly’ was no accident, and I left out the ‘e’ to remind myself that imitating others may make you money but not much else.

Now take a walk with me now/ And tell me who do you love?

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