Thursday, 30 December 2010

The Tourist

The Tourist is quite a lousy movie, to put it straightforwardly. Probably a unique case where spoilers won't make the movie any less spoilt than it already is. Still I won't spoiler it for ardent fans of the two superstar actors. There is, though, a twist in the plot, I'd reveal that. But it's the first time I've felt so strongly that the twist was more of a cop-out because of an inability to weave a convincing plot and conclusion together.

Luckily Angie and I got to watch it for free. But maybe it's precisely because it's free that there was little psychological dissonance created such that we had no need to justify our enjoyment for it.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Evolution Of Pure Things

Recently I observed a discussion on friendship. Person E said that friendship is an involuntary reflex - it just happens and you can't help it. To this, person D, a budding introduction to evolutionary psychology student, responded that evolutionary psychology will say otherwise - that friendship is not involuntary.

There is a very subtle jump that people often either make or don't make, and that is to decide if something, once reduced into quantifiable packets, can still be regarded as pure (as in that thing's original form).

Take friendship, for instance. In order to study the psychology of friendship, we have to dissect it into parts, such as self-interest, reciprocation, wants, emotional closeness, need for cooperation, love and affection, etc (See, for instance, Karen Karbo's article Friendship: The Laws of Attraction on Psychology Today). The moment it becomes split into parts in a reductionary manner, the reduction can further continue - what environmental factors or evolutionary pressures led to the rise of each of these necessary constituent parts?

At this point, I think the tricky part arises. If we can divide a seemingly pure, ideal, honest and 'good' concept like friendship into parts, does that make it 'less' pure? Some people believe it still retains its original purity (like me), while others do not think so, and many people who dislike or have an aversion to reductionist thinking, technical science or evolution generally fall into this group.

I think that is entirely valid, because how you see this issue is dependent on how you see the world, how you want to lead your life, what is important to you, and whether beauty, perfection or purity can be allowed to fall apart whilst still retaining its original Form.

On the other hand, I tend to (rationally) stand on the side of reductionism because firstly that's the only way concepts and constructs can be studied in a scientifically meaningful manner, and secondly because I also strongly believe that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Each isolated element that comes from a bigger, more general concept, is certainly 'cheap'. But when everything comes together, such as a perfect combination of cheap and fluid elements like self-interest, the need for empathy, emotional bonding and cooperation (amongst many other factors), something as wonderful as friendship can arise.

(I stand on the reductionist side cautiously though, because I do know that studying big concepts wholistically, rather than broken down, also has immense value, particularly in art. This beauty element can very rarely be captured by science.)

So, going back at the original discussion between E and D, I chimed in by disagreeing with D, stating that evolutionary psychology doesn't actually say that friendship is not involuntary. The knee-jerk reaction from D, possibly coming from a perspective that says that 'things which are reducible are no longer pure', retorted by saying that evolutionary psychology asserts that friendship evolves under specific conditions, so therefore it is a non-altruistic choice. To which I replied, "I think the argument is more nuanced - it evolves under specific conditions to become an instinct, which is why friendship is indeed an involuntary reflex."

This goes for many other things that people often regard as pure and altruistic human behaviour, such as love, kindness and altruism. To think that these emotions arise out of a vacuum tells us very little about our place in the natural order of things, and such beliefs also do not account for why different people have these emotional capacities in varying degrees, or how come sometimes we demonstrate them and sometimes we don't. I certainly gain much less from "he's very unhelpful because he's a bad person" than "he's very unhelpful because he tends to shy away emotionally from people and does not trust that people will reciprocate." Evolutionary thinking will then provide the necessary precedent for why reciprocation is an important factor that gives rise to helpfulness and other prosocial behaviours.

Once these elements are in place, we have adapted possibly to serve some important need that the environment calls/called for. The adaptation becomes an instinct, which is why we feel as if friendship is involuntary and can't be helped. And indeed, it can't. When we feel drawn to people, the constituent parts that academics, researchers and scholars ponder about and tinker around with do not matter anymore - we hardly even think about them (which is the beauty of an instinct). Evolutionary pressures from constituent parts drove the stable formation of friendship psychology in humans, and then we experience it whether we know why or not, and the more we do not question it, the more efficiently it'll work. If A has the tendency to question/calculate his friendship with B, A probably isn't really friends with B.

On a slightly separate but relevant note, this TED talk by Dennis Dutton covers quite nicely how the appreciation of beauty is hardwired in our psychology, and clues to this exist in a universal appreciation of beauty across diverse cultures.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

There's Not A Thing That I Would Change

I love this song for personal reasons.

I also think that this song would make a great accompaniment to any advertisement or campaign to promote awareness about the issues behind plastic surgery. This is quite a testament to the power of song and music. Nothing says it quite like a good song, and I'm only starting to imagine what kind of impact can be achieved if every person grappling with self esteem problems, insecurity with looks and the contemplation of plastic surgery had their loved ones sing this song to them.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Le Baroque

Very interesting Le Baroque night this was. At the end of the day, life is a game and even if you try your best to convince yourself that it's not and you want nothing to do with it, get real. It is.

At any rate, if you haven't discovered the joy of S$20 free flow drinks from 9pm to 11.30pm in Singapore yet, you're frackin' missing out. Go to Le Baroque at CHIJMES either Monday or Wednesday IMMEDIATELY to experience the other side.

These aren't even shots from just now (and I'm gonna dread the photographs from just now) - they were taken at my last two sessions before today there, but I guess nothing tells it like a picture does.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Urban Trekking

This map isn't really clear, but it's a visual representation of my River Valley Road trek yesterday. In brief, I basically walked from Singapore Management Unversity towards Somerset MRT before turning left into Killiney Road and subsequently River Valley Road. I reached Great World City, had a look around, before heading back out to Paterson Hill Road and finally Orchard MRT (I didn't stop there though; continued my walk back towards Dhoby Ghaut MRT before taking the train home).

I absolutely love these urban treks, especially through areas less populated by the common crowd. There's so much to actually see and discover if we don't always choose the usual places to go to. And everytime I go to a new place on foot and figure out how that place links to other places that I'm familiar with, I always get this epiphanic sensation, like I'm suddenly struck with the pieces of the puzzle fitting together.

Along Killiney Road I found a whole range of eateries that included desserts, Thai food, Vietnamese food and some solid local fare with a more generous serve of Malay food (I love Malay food - pity it's a minority race dish, or we'd see more of it around the hawkers).

Before I rounded The Cosmopolitan estate towards Great World City, I was drenched by this incredible downpour which forced me to seek shelter at a miserable and tiny bus stop with many other stranded people. Luckily the rain didn't last long and I could continue on soon enough. From Great World City one could see that the journey could carry on in various interesting paths - Zouk was a straight road down from there, while Tiong Bahru was also another option across the river.

I headed back towards Orchard Road via Hoot Kiam Road and Paterson Road, but not before I checked out more shophouses near Great World City. I discovered another very nice food place called PappaRich serving very interesting variations of local food at great prices.

All in all, an excellent day of trekking. This is the kind of experience that makes me thankful at times that I've no inclination to be reliant on a personal car. The River Valley Road area had always fascinated me and I've always wanted to figure out 'that area behind Takashimaya'. Hopefully more to come if I can afford the time! I'd love to see how my trek gets me to perhaps the Botanic Gardens, Dempsey Road or maybe even Holland Village if I'm crazy enough.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

The Corporation

"Over the last 150 years the corporation has risen from relative obscurity to become the world's dominant economic institution. Today, corporations govern our lives. They determine what we eat, what we watch, what we wear, where we work, and what we do. We are inescapably surrounded by their culture, iconography, and ideology. And, like the church and the monarchy in other times, they posture as infallible and omnipotent, glorifying themselves in imposing buildings and elaborate displays. Increasingly, corporations dictate the decisions of their supposed overseers in government and control domains of society once firmly embedded within the public sphere. The corporation's dramatic rise to dominance is one of the remarkable events of modern history, not least because of the institution's inauspicious beginnings."

With such an epic, no holds-barred introduction, I think Joel Bakan's The Corporation will prove to be a delightful read.

Sunday, 5 December 2010


One of the better commentaries I've read about Julian Assange and Wikileaks so far:

If you're too lazy to click on that link / read the whole thing, I particularly like point 1:

1. I've seen a lot of stuff in the WikiLeaks document releases that makes sense, that shows American diplomats seem to have a fairly good real-politik handle on what's going on in their spheres of interest. I have seen nothing that surprised me. The only thing that shocks me is the disconnect between what the U.S. diplomatic despatches are saying and what the American establishment - and I guess the American people - want to pretend the various situations are. Fantasyland is a dangerous place to carry on legitimate discourse and make relevant, realistic decisions.

Indeed, I think Alan Parker hits the spot here (and sets a good stage for the rest of his article to follow). Was there anything really surprising about the statements revealed by Wikileaks? A seasoned political scientist following in the tradition of realism will in fact say that the discourse unearthed is predictable (and maybe even effective - would've scored an A+ in the tradition of state/sovereign self-preservation). What gets everyone, though, is either some feeling of hypocrisy or the refusal to believe that those things are actually being said. Hypocrisy because the US government keeps doing things like claiming that their involvement in the Middle East is driven by justice when quite obviously it's not, and a refusal to accept what has been said/found because people clearly have an inconsistent notion of what the US stands for (or should be doing) versus what the US actually is doing.
Nex has opened for over a week already and I just went there for the second time yesterday to watch Harry Potter 7 with Angie (I've never watched a single episode before this - the funny things a girlfriend can make you finally do).

The show turned out quite entertaining despite my mostly clueless state of mind particularly at the beginning.

Anyway, Nex really gives me the impression that Serangooners have been a starved lot such that when it opened, it was like a feeding frenzy for the wolves. The mall is packed and has stayed consistently packed for more than a week. I've never seen so many people on escalators before. Nex claims that it's daily patronage stands at 70,000. That's quite crazy actually.

People have complained that Nex is so big it's confusing. On the other hand, I think thankfully Nex is that big, because I can't imagine it being any smaller already with the crowd capacity it is carrying right now.


I've just returned from another solid trip to Batam, my third so far (though it's my first at the coast - not drastically different though). But although my personal takeaways aren't novel, it's still superb when you're with company that's soaking in the place for the first time and everyone's having a great time together.

As always, the food in Indonesia never fails my anticipation and the prices are so darn cheap you can get a movie for S$2.20. It always makes for a relaxing getaway.

No pictures to show for it right now 'cos I'm not a camera person, but if my friends get them up on Facebook or something soon I'll have some photographs here.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Time Machine Song

I always get the chills when I hear this song. For some reason it's so deeply embedded in a particular part of my childhood that whenever this song comes on, either on my MP3 player or the radio or something, I get transported right back to the time when I was between 5-7 years old, and it's like I vividly experience everything that was memorable to me all at once.

I definitely remember those laser discs. My father used to rent or buy these huge karaoke laser discs to sing this song. I always looked forward to those trips either to our trusty little nearby shop at Serangoon Central or, for good prices and selection, Sim Lim Square, because it meant that I could sneak in a request for a favourite cartoon or movie.

So, whenever I hear Massachusetts, I think of Tom & Jerry, Godzilla and Ultraman shows, and McCauley Culkin's Home Alone series, because I used to watch those at that time. I also recall other songs that my dad loved to obsessively listen and sing along to back then, but for some reason none of them are as jolting as this song is. I also remember the TV show Taxi, because the vibe of Massachusetts definitely fits in with the grainy cinematography of Taxi so I associated the two together.


"Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War's a spiritual war... our Great Depression is our lives. We've all been raised on television to believe that one day we'd all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won't. And we're slowly learning that fact. And we're very, very pissed off."

- Tyler Durden, Fight Club

The more I recollect Fight Club (both the book and the movie), the more it reminds me of Taoism. In chinese philosophy class, one repeated theme that is taught to be associated with Taoism is the idea of the return to nature. This involves the renouncement of wants and responsibilities, because these are obligations and chains that are keeping humans held back in an unnatural state. The 'right' way is to follow the dao, 道, literally and loosely translated as 'the way', or the 'way of nature'.

According to Taoism, humans are a lost species because we have lost the way. To me that sounds exactly like what is espoused in Fight Club. We are lost chasing dreams that are fed to us through the tube, and we are lost filling jobs that don't mean a thing or serve no true purpose to the self other than serving the needs of the men right at the top of the corporate ladder (whose economic power translates into political power that can decide how society should fall in line).

Because of these modern 'obligations', how many of us know how to do simple yet important things, like find food when we have no supermarket to rely on, or understand our role in the world without modern employment systems, or even know what justice means, especially when our justice is always conveniently taken care of by some watchful government or private contract?

I think our ancestral forefathers knew these things (without actually knowing in a literate manner) - they had a purpose to find mates, they had a family to care for, they had to either grow or catch their food, and they had a vital participation in the natural order of things - essentially know thy self and the world well, or die. The more we divorce ourselves from those natural things, the more divorced we will be from what we were evolved, adapted or born to do, or be. I suppose the point that Fight Club tries to assert is that everyone is born with the potential to be great persons, but the world we are born into often stops us from realizing our natural potential and therein lies the great squander of potential.

But I suppose it wouldn't be fair either to fail to consider what is also at stake if we follow Fight Club's logic entirely. I had first noticed the similarities between Taoism and Fight Club when we were taught about the famous hardcore Taoist Zhuangzi. He proposed methods of finding back 'the way', such as renouncing responsibility, duty, ritual propriety and basically standing any logic that may be socially constructed on its head, such as laughing at a funeral. He said this should be done because social constructs are not considered 'natural' (i.e. social constructs are man-made, man-defined) and are socially accepted norms or things that will keep us from finding our true selves. A group was giving a presentation on Zhuangzi and during the Q&A it was asked, "what are some of the problems of following Zhuangzi's philosophy?" And I responded by citing Fight Club.

If we follow through with this, what will we be left with? The kind of anarchic chaos that Fight Club's Project Mayhem created - people will be increasingly alienated because while part of the noble aim is to find a path back to our natural roots, another part involves forgoing your relationships, because they also serve the same purpose of grounding us. In order for the theory of Fight Club or Taoism to be consistent, many important things that appear to be part of human nature have to be eliminated as well. In Fight Club, society's humans who were initially automatons because of the modern capitalist system ended up becoming automatons because of the Project Mayhem cause. And while perhaps it is true that we had more purpose and place in a 'state of nature', we also had to face mortal dangers, far lower standards of living, fear and uncertainty, and shorter lifespans.

Personally I have a fond liking for this idea of a return to nature, and emotionally I stand on the side of Fight Club and Taoism's philosophy (but rationally I always consider also the pitfalls of doing so). I emotionally think this because I feel like the world has stretched far too much to one end - the end that encompasses heavy reliance on technology, government and corporations to serve our needs (such as finding friends, communicating, justice, having a sense of purpose, etc) which, in the process, makes us lose sight of who we naturally are - and a balance needs to be struck. At the very least, I think everyone should have his or her own purpose in life which should not be defined entirely by what society thinks is the right thing to do, or is good or bad. In this regard, some healthy detachment, isolation, self-reliance, independence and introspection can go a long way. Thus some semblance of a return to nature has its appeal for me, and Fight Club's aim of empowering people to know that they are more than what society defines them to be is a powerful, worthwhile and noble cause.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Because a man who doesn't spend time with his family can never be a real man.

- The Godfather

Saturday, 13 November 2010


Why is it that people are averse towards being stereotyped, or stereotypes in general (although they probably commit it themselves)?

This is because the very act of labeling or defining something is a political act. The moment you have defined something, you have constrained it into something you want it to be. This is an expression of power over the object you have just defined.

Powerful people the world over have exerted their influence by labeling, defining and stereotyping groups of people they wish to subjugate, because this sets boundaries on who they are and what they can do. This is the kind of soft power that works more effectively than pure force itself, because the moment a label you have been given takes root and gains acceptance, the more legitimate your limited place in relation to others will be. Your label takes a life of its own and does the job of keeping you in check for the labeler.

This is also the reason why it is so liberating to be able to resist being labeled. You could either be comfortable as what you're defined to be, adopting it as an identity, or you can prove people's stereotypes wrong, surprising them and smashing their stereotypes of you to pieces.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

"When you are intoxicated with your admiration of a hero, you fail to see that it is only a projection of your own soul that you admire."

Monday, 1 November 2010

The Study

I know I'm gonna make it some day. But if this works out, it'll make the starting part of the journey a whole lot rosier.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010


I was reading an article about the passing of Octopus Paul ( when I saw these gem comments about Octopus Paul's death:


What a waste!!! I was thinking of asking the Sentosa aquarium to borrow it to predict the results of our coming General Elections!!!

DarkMax, in reply to entebbe:

Now that would be a gigantic waste of a talent such as Paul

Monday, 25 October 2010

My Brain Just Imploded

"Now I am going to make a statement here. I don't know whether it fits into the category of other people's statements or not. But whether it fits into their category or whether it doesn't, it obviously fits into some category. So in that respect it is no different from their statements. However, let me try making my statement.

There is a beginning. There is a not yet beginning to be a beginning. There is a not yet beginning to be a not yet beginning to be a beginning. There is being. There is nonbeing. There is a not yet beginning to be nonbeing. There is a not yet beginning to be a not yet beginning to be nonbeing. Suddenly there is nonbeing. But I do not know, when it comes to nonbeing, which is really being and which is nonbeing. Now I have just said something. But I don't know whether what I have said has really said something or whether it hasn't said something."

- Chuang Tzu

What the f....

Sunday, 24 October 2010

It's interesting to me to discover that there are some stable personality traits that can be found among first born / single childs, and find that I'm also demonstrating some predictably consistent characteristics.

For instance, first born / single children are:
1) more socially maladjusted
2) less responsible
3) more individualistic
4) more self-centered
5) more likely to be perfectionist
6) more likely to mature faster
7) have higher achievement motivation
8) less agreeable
9) less open to new ideas

Time for some self-psychoanalysis!

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Travelin' Soldier

Two days past eighteen
He was waiting for the bus in his army greens
Sat down in a booth in a cafe there
Gave his order to a girl with a bow in her hair
He's a little shy so she gives him a smile
And he said would you mind sittin' down for a while
And talking to me, I'm feeling a little low
She said I'm off in an hour and I know where we can go

So they went down and they sat on the pier
He said I bet you got a boyfriend but I don't care
I got no one to send a letter to
Would you mind if I sent one back here to you

I cried
Never gonna hold the hand of another guy
Too young for him they told her
Waitin' for the love of a travelin' soldier
Our love will never end
Waitin' for the soldier to come back again
Never more to be alone when the letter said
A soldier's coming home

So the letters came from an army camp
In California then Vietnam
And he told her of his heart
It might be love and all of the things he was so scared of
He said when it's getting kinda rough over here
I think of that day sittin' down at the pier
And I close my eyes and see your pretty smile
Don't worry but I won't be able to write for awhile

I cried
Never gonna hold the hand of another guy
Too young for him they told her
Waitin' for the love of a travelin' soldier
Our love will never end
Waitin' for the soldier to come back again
Never more to be alone when the letter said
A soldier's coming home

One Friday night at a football game
The Lord's prayer said and the Anthem sang
A man said folks would you bow your heads
For a list of local Vietnam dead
Crying all alone under the stands
Was a piccolo player in the marching band
And one name read and nobody really cared
But a pretty little girl with a bow in her hair

I cried
Never gonna hold the hand of another guy
Too young for him they told her
Waitin' for the love of a travelin' soldier
Our love will never end
Waitin' for the soldier to come back again
Never more to be alone when the letter says
A soldier's coming
I cried
Never gonna hold the hand of another guy
Too young for him they told her
Waitin' for the love of a travelin' soldier
Our love will never end
Waitin' for the soldier to come back again
Never more to be alone when the letter says
A soldier's coming home

War. Dying for country. Protecting loved ones. Coming home. I can never wrap my head enough around these issues.

I almost died reading the comments from soldiers and girlfriends of soldiers alike about this song.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living

When my realist, healthily self deprecating and laidback as fuck Chinese Philosophy professor (who is Dutch) asserts with conviction for the first time about the value of choice and freedom, it just somehow makes me overwhelmingly optimistic that there is hope yet in a dreamy, 'justice' kind of way. And I guess that's when you know somebody means business with what he/she is saying.

As the class discussed and debated the merits of liberty against social stability, an issue that really hits home for our tiny city state, I finally heard my professor give his opinion for the first time (aside from his usual politically correct and well balanced responses that say a lot but say little about what he feels). When push comes to shove, he'd rather trade in social stability and have the freedom to choose the life he leads than be closed off to alternatives and options.

Against the assertion brought up by some students that sometimes we're better off when we're ignorant, he said, "I guess that's where I'm really like a philosopher, because to me the unexamined life is not worth living."

Lends credence to the wisdom that often the ones who say the least say the most.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010


Cartesian Humility And Wisdom

"After all, it is possible I may be mistaken; and it is but a little copper and glass, perhaps, that I take for gold and diamonds. I know how very liable we are to delusion in what relates to ourselves, and also how much the judgments of our friends are to be suspected when given in our favour. But I shall endevour in this discourse to describe the paths I have followed, and to delineate my life as in a picture, in order that each one may be able to judge of them for himself, and that in the general opinion entertained of them, as gathered from current report, I myself may have a new help towards instruction to be added to those I have been in the habit of employing.

My present design, then, is not to teach the method which each ought to follow for the right conduct of his reason, but solely to describe the way in which I have endeavoured to conduct my own. They who set themselves to give precepts must of course regard themselves as possessed of greater skill than those to whom they presecribe; and if they err in the slightest particular, they subject themselves to censure. But as this tract is put forth merely as a history, or, if you will, as a tale, in which, amid some examples worthy of imitation, there will be found, perhaps, as many more which it were advisable not to follow, I hope it will prove useful to some without being hurtful to any, and that my openness will find some favour with all."

- René Descartes, Discourse on Method Part One

At a point in history when most philosophers were quite often elitist, moralistic and self-righteous, Descartes came as refreshingly humble.

This next quote where he describes his decision to alter his desires rather than change the world conveys profound wisdom that, in certain circumstances, would be a good/useful maxim to emulate, perhaps at least in the general search for happiness:

"My third maxim was ... in general to accustom myself to the persuasion that, except our own thoughts, there is nothing absolutely in our power; so that when we have done our best in respect of things external to us, all wherein we fail of succes is to be held, as regards us, absolutely impossible: and this single principle seemed to me sufficient to prevent my desiring for the future anything which I could not obtain, and thus render me content."

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

The scientific way has been so successful that we are in danger of taking it to do more than it does do. To some extent, we have all come to think that the only knowledge worth having is arrived at in a scientific way. But what science does is tell you, in ever greater detail, how things work. It never tells you why they work like that. Why things work the way they do is a matter for religion. If you think there is no particular reason why, you are some sort of atheist. If you think there is a reason, you are (in the broadest possible sense of the term) a theist. The great weakness of our modern Western way of thinking is that we mistake how for why.

- Tom Griffith, Introduction to René Descartes.

Saturday, 16 October 2010


There are so many thoughts that swirl in my head that words simply cannot contain, or express. I struggle with this everyday.

Everyone has their fears of losing memories, experiences, the moment, life. Some write every detail of their lives down religiously. Every single information. Where they were at 12:45pm, what the weather was like, what they thought they felt at that exact moment, like a smiley footnote at the bottom of a blog indicating your mood for the day. Others take pictures. Of their lunch, of the funny looking car they rode in while exploring a new city, of themselves, as if some part of themselves would tragically disappear forever. Who would know or care? It doesn't matter. The fear is there, ominous to themselves. There is a consuming obsession with preserving the moment. For what? To avoid regret, or to have a taste of immortality?


This brings a Chuck Palahniuk concept to mind. "We do it every day. Kill the unborn to save the elderly. ... Every time we burn a gallon of gas or an acre of rain forest, aren’t we killing the future to preserve the present? The whole pyramid scheme of Social Security." Perhaps this is a parallel that is too cynical or dark to be drawn, but still.

For me, the lack of an effective medium allows my ideas to slip through the cracks. I'm not any different from everyone else. I fear losing the moment, and for me those are ideas, because ideas are pure and perfect. Some ideas last, but most don't. An idea at one point of time in your life is a unique idea in itself, and you either cement it or let it fade into oblivion. An effective capture is a snapshot of my state of existence at a point in time, like a contribution to my illusory immortality, or so my brain thinks whenever it happily rests knowing that moment was secured. Just like your lunch. Or the weather you experienced at 12:45pm. It's not easy to try and go back to a thought in its original form and retrieve all that power and force that faded away with it.

Memories can go right ahead and fade and get hazy, it doesn't matter to me; my brain can reconstruct them to be even more beautiful than they were. But ideas are my sacred haven and every time one slips through my grasp, a part of me I create dies away.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

'Manly' Women - Hot Or Not?

Why do some men find a woman who smokes a turn on, while other men are disgusted by the sight? Why do some men think that it's hot that a girl rides motorbikes, whereas others find it a little too weird for their liking? In short, why do some men think that females who engage in male activities are attractive, whereas some men think otherwise, preferring that women stick to more traditionally 'feminine' activities?

The answer might very well lie in the mating strategy of the male. Just ask the question: What would a male long term mating strategist want? What would a male short term mating strategist want? The answer appears soon enough.

Observing a girl engaging in all sorts of typically male habits or activities, such as smoking, watching football, drinking, swearing, or riding motorbikes, conjures up other male-related associations, and with every additional male-centric activity that she appears involved in, the easier it is for a male observer to think: well, she might think just like a guy does. And one very important male-centric kind of thought or behaviour is that sex is cheap and sex can come easy.

Man, wouldn't this simply drive males looking for short term mating - a one night stand, a fling, a casual relationship - crazy? Indeed it does, and their suspicions are confirmed by real life outcomes - women who display these traits tend to be more adventurous and, subsequently, more promiscuous.

And the reverse makes a lot of sense and is also true - men seeking a long term mate will find such behaviour in potential mates rather undesirable, and why not? Your prospects for keeping your partner will be rather bleak if she does indeed have the masculine signature of opportunistic mating.

Of course, not all girls who indulge in typically masculine activities are promiscuous. The point is that the more likely a girl is to exhibit masculine behaviour, the more likely she is to think like a man, and the more likely she is to adopt a masculine openness towards sex.

Also, of course none of this consciously happens in the brain of a male. A man either finds a woman roughing it out man-style interesting or not, very often without any rational thought-processing involved. But something underlies that instinctive attraction (or aversion), and it might just reside in what a woman's promiscuity, suggested by her male-ness, might mean to you.

P.S. The 'manliness' of the woman here must not be confused with her being just like a man. What probably works for short term mating men is that the woman is simply associated with male-like activities, but this doesn't mean she starts to become physically like a man. I'm pretty sure it doesn't quite cut it if she starts looking buffed or sporting a male voice. Then again, male short term maters have rather low requirements (i.e. they mind less) on the women they desire to bed, caring more about signals of easy sexual access.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010


Holy shit... How many people were at this fucking gig?

A more recent performance featuring Robert Trujillo in place of the legendary Cliff Burton. This has to be my funeral song, if I ever bothered with one.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Back In The Day

Sigh, call me backward, but I think Son of Citation Machine is going to chip away again at what it means to do good, honest research, part of which is knowing how to do your citations. Already with Scholar Google making it so much easier to get information from articles and journals without even really having to read anything, information is going to be a pretty darn cheap commodity.

It's hard to make such a complaint too, because I am part of a time where technology has made it exponentially easier compared to older generation academics to get an academic research paper done.

I really wonder what it was like when budding MA and PhD students had to embark on a mecca just to find some elusive book or article (sometimes even overseas!) and spend hours in the library getting the information and sources they needed, and then writing their entire thesis on pen and paper (or typewriter?). There would be unforgettable stories of how an unattainable book was acquired through some unlikely source, or by other means of cunning. Now, that's memorable. I think the process of getting there is just as important as the end-product itself.

It's a new information age where it's rather easy to do/achieve anything information-related. You can be relatively knowledgeable just staying on Wikipedia for hours. You can now own a blog without generating any of its content, through Tumblr. You can convince yourself that you're connected to good solid news by keeping away from the newspapers and reading twitter all day. In such times, information is vast indeed, but very, very cheap.

One wonders if this will undermine the respect that knowledge entails.

Thursday, 30 September 2010

I was thinking when I saw this advertisement - Great shot, superb expression, nice and apt clothing too. But... What's up with the sneakers??

Monday, 27 September 2010

The Münchhausen Trilemma And The Presupposition Of Faith

I freaking love Big Bang Theory! No other show would've brought me to the summation of one of my most fundamental troubles with human truth and knowledge - the Münchhausen Trilemma.

I've pretty much always believed in the philosophical assertion that we can never prove anything. Science can only go as far as to increase the probability or confidence that a proposition is true by providing supporting evidence. Through repeated controlled experiments, we can establish a theory to be a 'true' law, but there is always the possibility that it can be falsified. But that's the limits of our human knowledge for you - this is as far as we can go to increase the confidence that a theory is probably right.

Science isn't the only way. We can also attempt to come to a conclusion of truth through logic. Rational reasons can replace statistical evidence to provide support for a proposition. Reductionism helps us break down a proposition into smaller subpropositions, which would strengthen the original proposition, in theory.

However, what makes up those subpropositions? Even smaller sub-subpropositions would have to be established, ad infinitum.

Hans Albert was the first to notice this and concretize the observation, and established three forms of dissatisfactory methods to prove any truth. Interestingly, the Münchhausen Trilemma is named after Baron Münchhausen, who allegedly pulled himself out of a swamp seizing himself by his hair. This trilemma rounds off the classical problem of justification in the theory of knowledge - that all attempts to get a certain justification must eventually fail when scrutinized fully.

The Münchhausen Trilemma essentially states that we have only three options when providing proof in any situation:

1) The circular argument, in which theory and proof support each other (e.g. we repeat ourselves at some point)
2) The regressive argument, in which each proof requires a further proof (e.g. we just keep giving proofs, presumably forever)
3) The axiomatic argument, which rests on accepted precepts (e.g. we reach some bedrock assumption or certainty)

The first two methods of reasoning are fundamentally weak, and because the Greek skeptics advocated deep questioning of all accepted values they refused to accept proofs of the third sort. The trilemma, then, represents the philosopher's difficulty in choosing among the three equally unsatisfying options.

I think this is yet another demonstration of our limits of human understanding and perception of truth. By virtue of the fact that we exist in a manifest world that is separate from the 'essential' source that we come from, we can only revolve in circles to try and hit a truth we somewhat perceive coming from a more fundamental and transcendental realm, but never come close enough. Only having five senses that perceive environmental input/stimuli within a limited scope (e.g. the light or sound frequencies that we are privvy to) is one good way of understanding this limit of ours. Some people (usually agnostics) see this as good reason to resign ourselves to not bothering because we can never get to the point or know what truth is, but on the contrary I think this disconnect is important and necessary because it will continue to drive us to seek the truth even against all odds. If we could see truth and easily recognize it then there would be no motivation for human endeavour, and truth wouldn't be all that valuable.

Which is why I think every method of truth-seeking is actually a leap of faith to be made, whether the skeptics or rationalists want to admit it or not. Beyond a certain point, science has to concede that something is there just because it is, even if the methods used to get at it still leave much to be desired. The gap can only be bridged by faith, both in terms of the presence of the truth and in terms of our methods of getting there.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Hot Damn

Made an interesting observation today.

I was in my school office cubicle working on some assignment between 1pm to 3pm (on a miserable Saturday). For some reason, the air conditioning was turned way up high today, so the room was literally freezing. I froze my ass off the two hours I was there, glued to my seat.

At 3pm, I left the office and headed for home. It was a scorching hot afternoon, and I must have spent at least 20 minutes out in the open while on the way back (counting all the time I wasn't in the shelter or a bus or the train).

It is plausible that the freezing conditions in the office led to what appears to be a malfunctioning of my bodily sensation of heat, at least temporarily because, despite the killer heat, I went nowhere close to even feeling the sensation of perspiration (you know it when you feel it - that tingly feeling on your skin indicating that your sweat glands are working up). Which is very odd because I think I perspire reasonably easily and those same sunny conditions would've triggered my sweat glands any other day.

But this wasn't any other day. As a result, I traveled home with my sweat glands (or some other correlated organ) pretty much switched off.

What happened next? I had a terrible headache and body aches, as though I was having a fever.

What strikes me immediately is the advise that old folks often give: if you're in a cold place, don't suddenly go out into the hot sun.

The fever probably isn't caused by a virus, because there was no one else I interacted closely with and I have recovered rather quickly too in the comfort of my house.

What I think has happened is that the momentary inability to perspire caused the heat from the sun to be trapped in my body, upsetting our basic homeostasis. Regardless of whether I'm having a real fever or not, a rise in body temperature signals that there is potentially a bacterial or viral invasion, and subsequently fever-like symptoms (which actually functionally exist to protect you, not to make you feel miserable) emerge.

I might be wrong, but the observation is still fascinating. Regardless of whether one stands on the side of determinism or free will, it's still pretty cool to see how a human can survive off chain reactions triggered by the environment without conscious input.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

How The Mind Works

A few friends have indicated their interest for the book How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker, so I took it along with me to school today.

As I was traveling on the train, I revisited some of the chapters in the book and, as always, I'm always continuously amazed and impressed by Pinker's sharpness of thought, wit and eloquence. He conveys the most difficult ideas with the simplest analogies.

Also, I first read the book as a student still muddling through psychology courses without a sound plan like I have right now, and reading it again as the person I am today felt a bit like the situation where you rewatch a movie classic a decade later as a grown man.

One of the really brilliant ideas I revisited was Pinker's computational model of the mind. Of course, he wasn't the only one to work on that concept or propose it, but he provides the most logical and insightful presentation by far.

Another more layman concept that Pinker nails down is the idea of intelligence. It is difficult to define intelligence, but we all know it when we see it. So Pinker strives to define it and says that it entails beliefs and desires.

Desires create the end-states (goals) that we wish to achieve, and beliefs determine how we will end up getting to those end states.

This makes a lot of sense if you consider how most people would feel if we saw "an alien who bumped into trees or walked off cliffs, or who went through all the motions of chopping a tree but in fact was hacking at a rock or at empty space".

Pinker says, "for all we know, the creature may have wanted to bump into a tree or bang an ax against a rock, and was brilliantly accomplishing what it wanted." But without a specification of a creature's goals, there is no meaningful basis for intelligence.

Yet more common sense brilliance: "A toadstool could be given a genius award for accomplishing, with pinpoint precision and unerring reliability, the feat of sitting exactly where it is sitting."

With beliefs and desires, "intelligence ... is the ability to attain goals in the face of obstacles by means of rational (truth-obeying) rules".

These are bits and pieces of the puzzle that have only just begun to take form to develop the foundations of a credible bedrock for psychology as a science of its own. Physics has had the luxury of many more years as well as physical objects to actually observe and measure. Psychology will have just as much to offer. I've always had this notion that there are two 'infinite' dimensions - one that extends outwards from our eyes towards the universe and beyond, and another that extends inwards from our senses to our mind and the subconscious and beyond. Perhaps Inception has helped many people visualize how much mind-boggling (aha!) depth our consciousness has.

Saturday, 11 September 2010


Some recent logo developments I've designed for my affiliations, Apolitical and Psychothalamus:

Made to reflect the conflicted nature of politics, the snake has a long history of duality. Snakes have been regarded as venomous, harmful and evil and they have also been regarded as medicinal and pure. The white snake thus represents all sorts of 'protagonistic' associations - left-wing, redistributive justice, idealism, social, welfare - while the black snake represents all sorts of 'antagonistic' associations - right-wing, competitive justice, realism, survival.

The sword has always been a symbol of power, so the dual snakes curling around it represent the battle between opposing forces (who take general sides based on the above mentioned points) over power throughout history.

Basically inspired by the idea of a brain in a vat, but instead of a vat I've used a bell jar so that all of its associated connotations - vacuums, science, and even Sylvia Plath - might be conjured.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

"I really wouldn't recommend doing evolutionary psychology. I mean, there is no money behind evolutionary psychology research," the female professor said.

At that moment there was quite an instinctive urge to shove a middle finger into her face, but of course I replied matter-of-factly, "but it's not because of money that I'm keen to pursue research in evolutionary psychology."

"Oh, er, yes of course," she stammered as she attempted to salvage what was the deteriorating impression I had of her in my mind, "we shouldn't be pursuing academics and research because of the money, and I wasn't trying to say that either. It should really be about our interests. But I'm just saying that there's no demand for something like evolutionary psychology out there."

My stand on evolutionary psychology is defensible, but I didn't bother because that wasn't the point (evolutionary psychology is just one out of the many academic means to my own ultimate interests in knowledge and academia). Further, based on my experiences with people, there really isn't a point in arguing with people when they come from very opposing points of view and are emotional or dogmatic (or even ignorant) about their stand.

I also recall another case where the supervisor for my stint in entrepreneurial journalism had a rather prejudiced view against research/academic careers. When I told her that I love to write, which was why I'd signed up for the job, she said, "Yes, an interest in writing is one thing... But wouldn't you also want to learn something from these great entrepreneurs? Like perhaps business skills?" To which I replied, maybe, and one day I may become an entrepreneur, who knows? But at the moment I have my sights set on postgraduate studies and hopefully I'll get to write my own books, linking things back to my writing interests. She then gave me a look and said, "But... Why would you want to do something like that?"

Or maybe she wasn't prejudiced but puzzled because it's rare to hear of such an ambition around here that is, well, so unambitious and unrealistic.

There's just something about the general perception of holding down an important, secure and useful finance or business job in Singaporean pragmatism and culture. But I guess I'm being too harsh on them, particularly the lady prof. She comes from the Business School of the World afterall.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Insect Wars

I'd just come out of watching an amazingly-shot documentary titled Insect Wars, which basically documents how empires of insects attack and defend against other empires of insects. These wars have been waged throughout the history of the animal kingdom, and the rise and fall of these empires are mere flecks in the canvas of time.

It is quite amazing how this parallels the human world so much at parts. I saw how almost every insect colony, be it winged or terrestrial, had universally common defence strategies, such as understanding that the power of an attacking threat can be reduced if you force them to invade only through small channels. I saw how ant or hornet scouts are a commonly employed tactic, and these scouts are specially designed for stealth. I saw how slavery appears to be a very common theme, as is class divides, in ensuring that a powerful kingdom runs efficiently.

And in the last segment, I saw how a 'pretender' ant infiltrated the royal chamber and killed the queen ant, covering herself in the dying queen's bodily fluids, and then emerging from the chamber flaunting her new majestic scent. The rest of the colony, unable to tell her apart from the dying queen, treated her as the queen herself, licking her feet as they prepared to receive her eggs.

Sometimes, it feels as if believing that humans are a higher order of species is getting a little too full of ourselves. We could be anthropomorphizing animals, or we could very well be behaving just like animals. History levels all its earthly subjects, as the patterns turn us into puppets and dictate the rise and fall of empires.

Geek Crack

As recommended by my evolutionary psychology professor,

1. You Can't See Me
2. Hypothesis 1 (Creationism)
3. No Bugs On Me
4. David Buss Message
5. Hypothesis 2 (Spiritualism)
6. The Planter's Dilemma
7. Hypothesis 3 (Social Constructivism)
8. She's Ovulating
9. Short-Term Mating Dance
10. Parental Investment
11. The Evolution of Gayness
12. Olivia Judson Message
13. Hypothesis 4 (Biological Determinism)
14. Twin Studies
16. Wannabe G's
17. Hypothesis 5 (Evolutionism)
18. David Sloan Wilson Message
19. Fame in the Brain

Pretty much in the mould of Big Bang Theory-esque entertainment.

Thursday, 2 September 2010


I've never been as busy and stressed out as I have for quite a while now, thus the lack of updates, but this doesn't mean my mind hasn't been hard at work! Because of an intrinsic need to take down my thoughts, here they are, taken completely out of context so they might not make sense.

1a) Meditation

I don't usually let stress get to me, but for once the heavy workload and the crazy number of deadlines I put on myself got the better of my rational faculties. I think losing my wallet was the final straw because I don't usually lose my stuff and thus I don't set aside adequate mental resources to deal with these sideline things. So when I found out that my wallet was missing after a game of soccer at Kallang Cage last weekend, I think that pretty much did me in and the past few days have been some sort of neurotic hell for my mind.

Thus, I turned to meditation, for a variety of reasons. One, I'd always wanted to give it a try. Ever since I figured that it is possible to actually zone out and shut out all thoughts, I had the personal insight that controlled zoning out could be an element of meditation. Secondly, I've always been quite intrigued with the enlightenments that many zen practices, such as Buddhism and yoga, claim to achieve. Lastly, if there was ever a time to reorganize my head and calm the chatter of my mind, this seemed like a good time.

So two nights ago I gave it a try. For ten minutes, I sat cross-legged with my spine erect, and put into disciplined practice what I'd already been able to do - zone out and think of nothing (this is a paradox in itself but only those who get it will get it). For those who can't not think of anything, a suggestion is to think of something extremely neutral, like a square, and just focus on it for at least ten minutes.

To say that the process was transformative might be a bit too epic for something that involved doing nothing for ten minutes, but it had something to that effect. I slept early and well that night, and have been doing so since then.

Which brings me to my next point...

1b) Circadian Sleep Cycles

Honestly, no other sleep pattern beats sleeping within the circadian sleep cycle. The circadian rhythm regulates our lives according to patterns of day and night, and there are reasons why we are designed to fit into that pattern, such as how our skin reacts to daylight, which in turns affects our homeostatic body states and other important biological and mental patterns. This is most optimal; we were evolutionarily designed to fit in well with the patterns of day and night, so we might as well try not to fight it.

Within two days, meditation and reverting back to my natural circadian cycle has enabled me to overcome pretty much all that stressful buzz in my head and I can't say I've felt better than this in awhile.

2) Evolutionary Adaptations

Ever since I began teaching assistantship for my evolutionary psychology professor, I've noticed during class that there are quite a number of concepts that the layman might find difficult to wrap his or her head around.

For instance, there are two main kinds of adaptations. I don't know if there are technical terms for this, but for now I shall call them fixed adaptations and fluid adaptations.

Fixed adaptations are things like our eyes and legs. We are born with only two eyes, or two legs. Those things don't change unless, because of random mutations, some aberrations might occur. But in general, such fixed adaptations are things we are bestowed with at birth that do not alter over the course of our lives.

Then there are fluid adaptations. Fluid adaptations include things like the ability to develop muscles, the ability to develop callouses on our hands and feet, psychological fears and other cognitive biases.

Fluid adaptations are fluid because they aren't fixed in the sense that they exist in one form and one form only. Fluid adaptations react to environmental stimuli to result in various states. For instance, the ability to develop callouses on our hands and feet is an important adaptive mechanism, because callouses occur only when our palms and soles are constantly subject to contact with rough surfaces. Callouses help us better deal with our environment, only if the environment calls for it; if the surfaces in our environment are quite frictionless, having callouses can be counterproductive. Thus, it is more effective to be born with such an adaptive mechanism that responds to the environment to best suit our needs. Given this train of logic, it can also be inferred how our psychological mechanisms are adaptive.

3) Of Divinity and Spirituality

It is honestly hard to say where all this work is headed. In other professions, such as finance or banking, it is far more clear cut that getting an accounting degree will be the means to such ends. But in the field of research and academia, these means and ends are not so connected. It is only a leap of faith that one can base all his/her hopes upon, that one day this will all pay off.

Sometimes, people justify going through trials and tribulations by saying that it is only by the grace of God that they are able to do so. God gives us strength in pulling us through the hard times. Sometimes that is what I feel, although I do not consciously or verbally attribute it to God the way that dogmatic Christians might.

But the way I reconcile it is that the motivation I get definitely doesn't come from something grounded, realistic or practical. It comes purely from the heart, where I desire to do it simply because I am passionate about it. And in a very profound way, this drive does feel spiritual. It might very well make sense to say that it is indeed by the grace of God that I'm pulling through.

Perhaps somewhere along the way, the connection between our desires, passions, spirituality, the divine and God got severed, as people increasingly wanted the rewards of the belief in God without actually actively participating in what it means to have such spiritual faith. Other political reasons come in too, when powerful people try and exploit such emotions for their own interests, commodifying the concept of God in the process.

Whenever we economize 'goods', we lose their inherent qualities by turning them into quantities.

Gosh, as I type, I can hear one of the economics PhD students somewhere at the opposite side of the office crying. Have faith, you'll make it through.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

"Real loss is only possible when you love something more than you love yourself."

- Sean, Good Will Hunting

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Live Fast

I wanna be a Kennedy
I wanna be a big heartbreaker
Live fast and for real
And you can follow it in the papers

I wanna be a Kennedy
I wanna shake hands with heroes
And kiss the girls of centerfolds on the tongue
And die young

I'll be brave tonight
Either live or die
I'll be brave tonight
Standing tall and bright
Such romantic eyes
Got me hypnotized
And if I had my chance I'd never let you go
And if I had my chance I'd never let you go

I wanna be a Kennedy
I wanna be tall and handsome
I'd conquer the world
And you'd see it on television

If I could be a Kennedy
If I could be a real heartbreaker
I'd watch you crash into my arms
We're the stars under the barrel of a gun
We'd die young

I'll be brave tonight
Standing tall and bright
Such romantic eyes
Got me hypnotized
And if I had my chance I'd never let you go
And if I had my chance I'd never let you go

"One of my teenage heroes was Harry Crosby. He was a poet from the 1920s, and, frankly, his poetry sucked. But his lifestyle was legendary. The nephew and godson of J. P. Morgan, he hobnobbed with Ernest Hemingway and D. H. Lawrence, was the first person to publish parts of Joyce's Ulysses, and became a decadent symbol of the lost generation. He lived a fast, opium-enhanced life, and swore he would be dead by the age of thirty. When he was twenty-two, he married Polly Peabody, the inventor of the strapless bra, and persuaded her to change her name to Caresse. For their honeymoon, they locked themselves in a bedroom in Paris with stacks of books and just read. At the age of thirty-one, when he realized that his lifestyle hadn't killed him yet, Crosby shot himself."

- Neil Strauss, The Game

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Thank You For Joining; Your Participation Is Important To Us

Whenever we seek protection from a system, or allow a system to help us, we are validating and strengthening that system and legitimizing it. For instance, living in a exponentially-growing technological world, it is a necessity to stay tech-savvy and keep up with products and software for the average person. This keeps us afloat, if not ahead of the game, and helps us deal with new challenges and problems that arise from pushing the boundaries of technological possibility.

See also: gang protection fees
See also: insurance
See also: China government
See also: banking
See also: US aid
See also: social pandering

Wednesday, 18 August 2010


Perhaps it can be said that nobody is really ever resigned. Everybody fights regardless of the situation or predicament. It's just how it's done, and how the rest of us judge it.

Give a real life loser access to the internet, and he can create a king in cyberspace. That's survival. When we deterioriate in reality, our virtual lives flourish. Identity is still identity regardless of the dimension.

Only that some dimensions are more 'real' than others. 'Better' than others. More 'respectable' than others.

Create more artificial and synthetic channels, worlds and realities as we progress technologically, and prepare to see a decline in the effort to uphold a respectable real life identity. Give people more places to hide away legitimately from our primary reality, and soon there'll be more soulless bodies than we might be comfortable with.

Even the heavily depressed are seeking survival by leaving this world.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Smart Bug

Holy hell. Those MSN viruses are getting smarter. One of them had a conversation with me today.

Hey are you there?

yeah, wassup?

i just took an IQ quiz

haha uh huh?

I was better than I am! I scored 108

haha ehh
meaning your IQ dropped

u need to see if u can do better than me, [do not click this]

is this like a high level virus haha

lol no its me [no fackin' shit! on 2 levels - a bot that tells you its not a bot in response to your query, and that i must be dumb to even ask this]

hahaha ok

I bet you cant haha

you realize this sounds somewhat dodgy coz we havent talked for like 3 years or something and you're asking me to do an IQ test right
i'll be at it in abit
what've you been up to? [just to put it off and see if there's anything fishy going on]

take it now while Im in the shower and tell me your score later

haha nope

Is this freaky or what.

Monday, 16 August 2010

"Just 'cause you feel it doesn't mean it's there."

- Radiohead, There There

But perhaps it is also true that because you can think, feel or perceive something, it exists as a construct in and of itself.

And as we might be aware, ideas or perceptions, although non-existent physically, have the potential to influence more than anything real.
φιλοσοφία philo-sophia: the love of wisdom or knowledge

Sunday, 15 August 2010

I'm hearing very loud cricket rhythms outside my window as I devour some books. Along with the cool of the post-summer night air, it strangely makes me feel very very serene, as if it can be more vividly felt that there's nothing but dense foliage outside my house instead of roads and concrete, if I just closed my eyes.

I feel like meditating.

Saturday, 14 August 2010


In her appointment book, next to his name it said Marilyn Monroe, the same as most guys here for their first time. She could live on just doing Marilyn. She could live on just doing Princess Diana.

To Mr. Jones, she said, imagine you’re looking up at a blue sky, and imagine a tiny airplane skywriting the letter Z. Then let the wind erase the letter. Then imagine the plane writing the letter Y. Let the wind erase it. Then the letter X. Erase it. Then the letter W.

Let the wind erase it.

All she really did was set the stage. She just introduced men to their ideal. She set them up on a date with their subconscious because nothing is as good as you can imagine it. No one is as beautiful as she is in your head. Nothing is as exciting as your fantasy.

Here you’d have the sex you’d only dreamt about. She’d set the stage and make the introductions. The rest of the session, she’d watch the clock and maybe read a book or do a crossword puzzle.

Here you’d never be disappointed.

- Choke

Things are sweeter when we can't have them. Little else is as beautiful or worthy as our ideals.

Monday, 9 August 2010


I'd always found the idea that the brain forms assumptions about the world in order to facilitate our lives very fascinating.

Assumptions, or cognitive inferences, are what separates humans from robots. One very salient instance of this is our ability to see a man and his shadow against a wall, and not perceive that there is actually another physical object next to the man. Robots need to be programmed an infinite number of rules to overcome just this problem which our brain easily solves by utilizing assumptions that have been formed based on our experiences and through learning

One very interesting way of teasing out these assumptions is by means of optical illusions. Optical illusions fool us because they violate our assumptions about what we see. A really good one I'd recommend is this illusion by Edward H. Adelson.

What is special about this, you might ask? Well, Tile A and Tile B are objectively the same colour.

Look again. It might be hard to believe at first, but it really is!

And to prove it (I couldn't believe it myself initially), I did the following. I created a brownish-green oval, copied it so that there are exactly two same coloured ovals, and shifted them into the tiles.

Amazingly, the two ovals appear different accordingly.

To shortcut the process above, here's probably what's going on.

The bar in the middle is really a uniformly grey bar.

What's happening is that our mind cannot divorce the effect of shadows from our perception. As long as the picture shows the green cylinder casting a shadow, the 'shadow assumption' module of our brains gets activated and the things in relation to it will be affected. A robot should typically see Tiles A and B to be the same.

Our assumptions fill in the gaps so that our perception of the world becomes seamless and efficient (and it doesn't feel like we're constantly bombarded with stimuli).

Friday, 6 August 2010

Time Immemorial

come ride with me
through the veins of history
i'll show you a god
who falls asleep on the job
how can we win
when fools can be kings?

no one's gonna take me alive
the time has come to make things right
you and i must fight for our rights
you and i must fight to survive

Same story, different people.

"We live, we die, and the wheels of the bus go round and round."
In a modern world marked by subtlety and the aversion towards taking anything too seriously, defensiveness, pretentiousness and overcompensatory behaviour are the new stick-out nails to be hammered.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

On 'Truths' And Openness

The first step to knowing more about something is to be open to it.

It is virtually impossible to tell something to someone if he or she isn't prepared or willing to listen.

It's kind of like how the general rule applies when a guy tries to hit on a girl. How the guy looks and how the guy approaches accounts for 90% of the girl's response, while a mere 10% is accounted for by what is actually said during the pick-up.

A truth, concept, philosophy, idea or way of life is useful to a person only if he or she can (and is open to) accept it, handle it or incorporate it into his or her way of life or worldview.

There are so many truths out there. Some are in complete conflict with each other, but each still bestows upon their bearers much wisdom in dealing with reality. There are ideologies and worldviews such as Christianity, evolution, economics, science, just to name a few. Books have been written convincingly on all of these subject matters to espouse them, and perhaps as many have been written to expose their flaws and undermine them.

But the apparent fact of the matter is that, whether or not someone comes off feeling like he/she has learned something after reading a book, a lot of it has to do with how open or skeptical he/she already is prior to reading the book.

This is why, even if I have very strong views on many things, I've come to realize that there isn't really a point to pushing these thoughts on others when I'm with them. I will blog about my ideas and thoughts to a general and anonymous audience who may or may not accept my views or I may share them if I think people are interested to know, but in the presence of another who isn't asking me for my opinions or is skeptical of what I do, there's no bridge between us.

Between two or more people who aren't willing or prepared to connect on a level of understanding, nothing can ever be conveyed constructively. All sorts of useless outcomes will result, such as one person patronizing the other, tolerating each other in a politically correct manner, or emotional arguing, amongst other things.

When it comes to the crux of the matter, people seek knowledge because it helps them understand the world (as they perceive it given their own personal experiences) better. Everyone has cherished beliefs, some with more beliefs than others, but which are all important nonetheless in contributing towards firmly getting a grip on reality so that they may better navigate it. A truth or axiom is useless if it is incompatible with a person's system that already allows him or her to comfortably tide through life.

Of course, many people lead lives that appear less desirable to ourselves. This is what motivates some of us to try and influence and change others, because we think we know better. Maybe we do, if we lead secure and satisfied lives and believe we've got it made. But maybe we don't, because we lead different lives. Perhaps, to each his or her own.

Which is why if you so wish to influence somebody, do it by inspiring others. That is probably the best way (and the only way) to fully create openness in others towards what you do or believe. Be a living example of what you believe in and hope... no, - believe - that by standing up for the things and truths you believe in, others will be open to knowing more.

(However, the condition is as such: If a person appears not to know his/her way around because he/she simply is unthinking and uncritical, perhaps those who try to impose views on them can't be faulted for doing so. This, I suppose, is at the core of my issue with 'unthinkingness', because an unthinking population is fertile ground for anyone who has the desire to manipulate the masses. Evil people cannot do great evil without an easily manipulable army of blind followers.

This post addresses only people who do already hold cherished values and beliefs and with good reason for doing so.)

Monday, 26 July 2010

Barney Stinson Solves The World's Problems One Punchline At A Time

"When I get sad, I stop being sad and be awesome instead. True story."
Gosh. The torment of losing a painfully thought-out post is always almost unbearable at the point of realization. Lasts for a good 30 seconds more or so, then life goes on.

Baby says that maybe it's a sign that I shouldn't post it. Will listen to the voices for now!
“Pathos is what men have in common, however variable it may be in its aspects and intensities. Pathos designates a passive experience, not an action; it is what happens to man, what he suffers, what befalls him fatefully and what touches him in his existential core – as for instance the experiences of Eros. In their exposure to pathos all men are equal, though they may differ widely in the manner in which they come to grips with it and build the experience into their lives. The community of pathos is the basis of communication. Behind the hardened, intellectually supported attitudes which separate men, lie the pathemata which bind them together. However false and grotesque the intellectual position may be, the pathos at the core has the truth of an immediate experience. If one can penetrate to this core and reawaken in a man the awareness of his conditio humana, communication in the existential sense becomes possible.” (Voegelin E., 1957, 29-30)

Sunday, 25 July 2010

More Inception

Never Wake Up: The Secret and Meaning of Inception by Devin Faraci is possibly one of the most alternative and yet most coherent explanations/interpretations of Inception by far.

His write-up is corroborated with the first interpretation in Peter Hall's Dissecting Inception: Six Interpretations and Five Plot Holes.

It seems like I'll be going with the idea that the entire movie is a dream. Devin Faraci takes it even further by bringing out the analogy that the audience is the dreamer, and Peter Hall brilliantly indicates what the audience's totem should've been, but wasn't available, thus confirming it.

Must reads for all Inception junkies IMHO!

Friday, 23 July 2010


I'd just chanced upon a movie reviewer's page that appears to suggest that Inception might get stick for its lack of emotional development of its characters as it is too 'cerebral'.

The article says, "Although [Christopher Nolan's] films provoke deep thought and weighty themes, they are never said to touch the heart. Nolan is regarded as a cold, clinical director, whose movies care more about ideas and mind tricks than making us feel for characters. ... Although the Inception review responses hail Nolan for his mind trips and con games, they are more mixed when he goes to the emotional. Even some of the positive reviews nitpick Nolan for doing better with the workings of the head than the heart. ... will emotional flaws prevent the film from being Nolan's masterpiece after all?"

The article ends off on a neutral and questioning note, but the nuance is unmistakable, and it also indicates that there are more professional criticisms of this sort elsewhere.

All I can say is go watch something else if the cerebral stuff isn't your thing. It's like criticizing a perfectly sweet apple for not being sour enough.

Thoughts and comments on Inception to come once more people have watched it so that I don't contribute to the spoilers! Lastly, if you love good mindfuck movies, please watch Inception. It's the next level from the likes of The Matrix and Minority Report.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Blind Men Also Love Barbies

Abstract of a study, titled "Blind men prefer a low waist-to-hip ratio", done by Karremans, J., Frankenhuis, W., & Arons, S. (2010), says:

"Previous studies suggest that men in Western societies are attracted to low female waist-to-hip ratios (WHR). Several explanations of this preference rely on the importance of visual input for the development of the preference, including explanations stressing the role of visual media. We report evidence showing that congenitally blind men, without previous visual experience, exhibit a preference for low female WHRs when assessing female body shapes through touch, as do their sighted counterparts. This finding shows that a preference for low WHR can develop in the complete absence of visual input and, hence, that such input is not necessary for the preference to develop. However, the strength of the preference was greater for the sighted than the blind men, suggesting that visual input might play a role in reinforcing the preference. These results have implications for debates concerning the evolutionary and developmental origins of human mate preferences, in particular, regarding the role of visual media in shaping such preferences."

Excellent. More evidence in favour of the basal instincts undergirding our mate choices that truly drive the media, rather than the often asserted opposite that socialization shapes everything. Of course, socialization has a huge part to play in skewing us towards the trends of the culture we live in. But the origins of media content don't just sprout out randomly.

There's always a rhyme and reason. Everything is traceable back.

The World Is Your Oyster

Here are two videos that have totally revved up my desire for traveling. I'm pretty aware that their feats are possible because going hungry and being homeless for not holding down a job isn't a concern, but it is still goddamn inspiring all the same.

And if I'm wrong and they have traveled in the face of potential poverty, then all the more I salute them for providing validation to the idea that little should stand in the way of our dreams.


Wednesday, 21 July 2010

You know you're minority when the social group you belong to features often as your adjective.


Finally concluded my interviews with Tay Eu-yen, founder of The Butter Factory, today. Seldom do you get to meet people whose aspirations are so inspired by something more than just the need to earn money to get by in Singapore, whose aspirations are perhaps defined by something nobler; an inner drive.

The rarity of such encounters make them a novelty, when really it shouldn't be the case if this place had soul. As much as I hate to say it, it gets tiring meeting people after people who can't seem to figure out why they're holding down that uninspiring job other than to get by, that "it's for the money."

Sure, money's important, and we can't help it that rising costs keep us firmly stuck to chasing greens. But the system exists only because so many people, who fear being marginalized when not pandering to the system, validate it.

Maybe, to many, it's hard to understand why I take such constant issue with Singapore's pragmatism and obsession with stability, security and economic development. The prospects of living in a society that has little or no soul is very, very frightening to those who yearn for creation, art, culture and freedom - more than the things that merely allow us to just get by.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010


It really bothers me to read about the persecuted British author Alan Shadrake who wrote about Singapore's capital punishment in his book Once a Jolly Hangman: Singapore Justice in the Dock.

His charge? Defamation and contempt of court.

What makes my blood boil more is how the majority response appears to be that he's wrong to even try and meddle in our home affairs, that he's an ex-colonialist who has no idea what's happening here.

The ad hominem problems are shifting our attention away from the real issue he is trying to highlight - problems with our corporal punishment system.

I think he is entitled to his view, regardless of whether his opinions have weight or not, but it is thoroughly embarassing that we are refusing to approach the matter intellectually, resorting to subtle state violence yet again under the convenient cover of sovereignty.

If the government has nothing to hide or prove about how our law is run, why resort to this?

I hope his persecution only serves to backfire more on the reactive policies being dished out by the state at the moment.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Tortured Heroes

Aside from the fact that a protagonist with issues gives his character more depth and makes him more interesting, a hero that has problems connects better with his audience. Nobody trusts a hero with absolute power, as much as how any man with absolute power is possibly corrupt.
Here lies the source of all marriage problems.

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Maybe koalas harbour the secret fantasy of their trees hugging back.

Friday, 16 July 2010

A man is flying in a hot-air balloon and realises he is lost. He reduces height and spots a man down below. He lowers the balloon further and shouts, "Excuse me, can you tell me where I am?"

The man below says, "Yes, you're in a hot air balloon, hovering 30 feet above this field".

"You must be a social scientist," says the balloonist.

"I am," replies the man, "How do you know?"

"Well," quips the balloonist, "Everything you told me is factually correct according to the circumstances, but it's of no use to anyone."

The man below says, "Then, you must be in business management."

"I am," replies the balloonist, "How'd you guess?"

The man below explains, "That's because you don't know where you are, or where you're going, but you expect me to be able to help. You're in the same position you were before we met, but now it's my fault."

Oh Man, Seriously?

Government has just announced that it plans to bring in at least 100,000 more foreigners to meet the demands of our growing markets.

I honestly have so many reservations about where our ship is being taken. If my qualms are right, then we are sinking - indeed a hole has been punched into the hull since the day the government decided that Singapore's goal would be to develop itself into an economic powerhouse rather than a country with culture and national spirit. Bringing more people on board to pour the water out of a sinking ship won't solve the problem.

The news (and very unpopular public response) comes quite timely along with an interview of Gerald Giam of the Workers' Party on Yahoo! Singapore. The PAP might have gotten it 'right' so far (whatever 'right' means), but we can never be sure where absolute power can be taken. A political system that is healthy always requires checks and balances. I always believe that absolute power never has a pure end.

Singapore might be economically thriving at the moment and we definitely have living standards that are much higher compared to half a century ago thanks to the ruling party. But with economic development and wealth as the ends instead of a proud and thriving national culture, we've given up so many other important things, such as knowing how to relax, investing time in our families, art.

The best thing about how effective the government is? They’ve managed to convince so many people to believe money is indeed more important than all those other less important social and creative pursuits.

And when I refer to the development of culture, I don't mean the one that we tend to associate Singaporean culture with, such as being kiasu, or God forbid, Phua Chu Kang.

A worthy culture is one that we’re willing to be proud of and be a part of. Looking at how so many Singaporeans want to leave the country, I can't really see how our culture is steeped in the right direction. It is somewhat disheartening to see any one out of two typical responses coming from Singaporeans: the unthinking acceptance that what we've got is as good as it gets, or the desire to leave this country that many don't feel a loyalty for. Many Singaporeans shape their worldview around the heavy notion of pragmatism instilled by the government - therefore, many Singaporeans are pragmatically choosing to migrate away.

This post is skimpy - there's a lot more to it than what I've chosen to air. But at least with the potential for bi- or multiparty politics, hopefully more issues can finally appear on the policy-making agenda.


Has there been a more ripe time than now in recent years regarding civil and public participation in Singapore's current affairs?

Three articles (out of many others) have caught my attention just in the short span of one day:

Future Generations will Pay for the Sins of PAP
Lee Insults Singaporeans - Again

Worker’s Party member: Why more young graduates are joining the opposition

With more sources voicing opinions of this sort, progressive politics might actually finally arrive at our city state's shores.