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.