Thursday, 27 December 2012

Every Experience is a Gift, be it Good or Bad

"For the man sound in body and serene of mind there is no such thing as bad weather; every sky has its beauty, and storms which whip the blood do but make it pulse more vigorously."
— George Gissing

I have lived by this quote for quite some time now. Every experience is a gift, be it good or bad. Every experience affords a chance to learn something, and that makes it valuable.

On one hand, this could mean that it all boils down to how we see the situations we're in. I could be criticized here for saying that I merely have very good rationalization skills, which makes me good at justifying anything that I've been through, minimizing my regrets.

On the other, I don't think it's as simple as that - being merely good at looking at the bright side of things is a diminished form of living; it is passive and rather uninspiring. Instead, what this importantly entails is having a frame of mind that embraces every opportunity one is thrown. Enter into novel situations with the perspective that one will come out stronger. We have no idea how much we can do until we do it. We are also more liable to regret the things we do not do more than the things we did (if it is the reversed, well to put it bluntly, that would be somewhat unfortunate). Every daunting challenge has its silver lining in the aftermath, and every emotion felt is beautifully intense inasmuch as it is fleeting. To have anything less (or worse, to want anything less), you're selling yourself short on life.

Every individual has potential. To waste it with negativity, hesitancy, fear, reluctance, sloth, and subsequently, regret, would be sin.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Bottom of a Bottle

'O Patience, how you tug and you push. Bestowing upon me your evil twin, impatience. I know this is a marriage I will never be able to divorce myself from, an attachment I will be doomed to be unable to wean off.

But I will straddle the two, because I must. It is the only way. And although the balance is an artful one, it is a fine line between pleasure and pain, and heaven and hell. Choices now revolve around choosing what is right, and what is easy.

Some advice to arrive at my doorstep; just four years quite late. It is fascinating how the world works so seemingly strange, but at the most abstract of perspectives this whole thing makes so much sense.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

"We defined thinking as integrating data and arriving at correct answers. Look around you. Most people do that stunt just well enough to get to the corner store and back without breaking a leg. If the average man thinks at all, he does silly things like generalizing from a single datum. He uses one-valued logics. If he is exceptionally bright, he may use two- valued, ‘either-or’ logic to arrive at his wrong answers. If he is hungry, hurt, or personally interested in the answer, he can’t use any sort of logic and will discard an observed fact as blithely as he will stake his life on a piece of wishful thinking. He uses the technical miracles created by superior men without wonder nor surprise, as a kitten accepts a bowl of milk. Far from aspiring to higher reasoning, he is not even aware that higher reasoning exists. He classes his own mental process as being of the same sort as the genius of an Einstein. Man is not a rational animal; he is a rationalizing animal."

- Robert Heinlein, Assignment in Eternity (1953)

Sunday, 18 November 2012

"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music."
- Nietzsche
"All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible."
- T. E. Lawrence

Monday, 12 November 2012

Three Passions

I could cry reading this.

"Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind. These passions, like great winds, have blown me hither and thither, in a wayward course, over a great ocean of anguish, reaching to the very verge of despair.
I have sought love, first, because it brings ecstasy - ecstasy so great that I would often have sacrificed all the rest of life for a few hours of this joy. I have sought it, next, because it relieves loneliness - that terrible loneliness in which one shivering consciousness looks over the rim of the world into the cold unfathomable lifeless abyss. I have sought it finally, because in the union of love I have seen, in a mystic miniature, the prefiguring vision of the heaven that saints and poets have imagined. This is what I sought, and though it might seem too good for human life, this is what - at last - I have found.
With equal passion I have sought knowledge. I have wished to understand the hearts of men. I have wished to know why the stars shine. And I have tried to apprehend the Pythagorean power by which number holds sway above the flux. A little of this, but not much, I have achieved.
Love and knowledge, so far as they were possible, led upward toward the heavens. But always pity brought me back to earth. Echoes of cries of pain reverberate in my heart. Children in famine, victims tortured by oppressors, helpless old people a burden to their sons, and the whole world of loneliness, poverty, and pain make a mockery of what human life should be. I long to alleviate this evil, but I cannot, and I too suffer.
This has been my life. I have found it worth living, and would gladly live it again if the chance were offered me."
- Bertrand Russell, Autobiography

Friday, 9 November 2012

The Intrinsic Value of Ideals

There's a new home owner moving in to the flat directly above mine, so there has been lots of construction and renovation work going on, which means endless drilling, hammering, and sweeping for stretches of days on end.

Some time last week, the ceiling of my parents' bedroom leaked; cement and grime-mixed water started forming ominous damp patches before it began dripping onto the bed and all over the place. To top it off, because it has been raining very heavily these few days, dirty water washes off from the balcony upstairs onto ours, and when it dries the whole balcony is caked in some kind of sandy, muddy residue. Suffice to say it was a rather unpleasant experience.

So, my dad kicked up a heroic fuss, and somehow managed to get the contractor for the works upstairs to:
(1) provide sealant and paint patching servicing for the patches on the ceiling;
(2) provide workers to clean up the balcony;
(3) use their own water ("But sir, I don't have a hose that long which can connect from upstairs to downstairs." "Go and get one!")
(4) replace my parents' bed mattress (seriously!).

This morning, a Singaporean worker came in to help with the ceiling. He assessed the situation, and then said in half-dialect and half-chinese: "I can paint your entire bedroom ceiling and two other room ceilings for $30 if you like."

So, obviously this $30 offer was an under the table offer; his boss would have no idea what's going on here. My mum took it up - $30 is virtually nothing to us in this context, considering how much effort we would have to put in acquiring the paints and brushes, and then panting and huffing (toxic smells, no less) while fighting against the concrete sky ourselves.

His offer really struck me. Firstly, it is very reasonable, or cheap, to put it bluntly. He probably meant it as a good offer, in fact. This is the effect of how the wide availability of similar services and the perceived low prestige level of the job can reduce the value or price of a person's work. Secondly, and related to the first, this man's work should be no less important than the other officey work that I'm more attuned to, having a degree in hand that grants me access into corporate jobs. In fact, without the bedrock of a hard labour industry that frees the rest of us from dirtying our hands and using our brains more, there wouldn't be any tertiary industries to speak of. Yet, this man has been inhaling toxic paints probably all his working life (and I'm already slightly giddy from the leakage of the smell despite him closing the door, enclosing himself in the room with the fumes trapped in there, so that we wouldn't have to endure the smells) - god knows what kind of effect that has on his health - and earning a meagre wage that, because of the advancement of the rest of the economy and our country's emphasis on high status, creative, innovative, entrepreneurial, and corporate work, can barely keep up with inflation or support a dignified way of living (I know the dignity of life is a subjective point, but I firmly believe it has a lot to do with how one fares in relation to others).

Countless conversations with people on the economic issues of minimum wages, welfare, taxation, and more generally, liberty, often reach some kind of extrinsic or utilitarian conclusion that we owe a lot to how the economy in Singapore is structured (by a particularly omniscient man, no doubt); it suits us (something about pragmatism), it has helped us survive over the decades, it has helped us compete globally.

But it is just as important to think of how the structure of this economy marginalizes some groups of people. Let's not even talk about foreign workers; here was a Singaporean man who probably has no access to other "better" work opportunities, very likely because of structural factors (I'm making some educated speculations - born into poor family, no money for further education, no qualifications, no access to knowledge that can enhance his productivity beyond labour, etc.). And more importantly, it is important to note that sometimes the economy, whether deliberately or not, is structured in a way that makes it okay to marginalize people. That's when it gets dangerous, because now we have some sort of "legitimate" reason to keep people down, or compromise on their dignity of life, or justify why their life value should be less than others. That $30 offer made me sad and ashamed. Sad for the obvious reasons stated above on the state of affairs, and ashamed because I know this happens, but I don't think so much about it until it's in my face.

This raises a question, both interesting and important, about the value of fundamental rights or ideals. I'm not particularly outspoken about rights because part of my sad reality is that I think morality is generally subjective at a human level (although I do - some will accuse me of contradiction here - lean towards the idea that there are objective truths). What is right or wrong can be defined by those in power. But this is why subjects should be given constitutional rights to check the powers that be, because power has the capacity to mute resistance against it when it no longer serves the greater good. And this is also why, I think, it is important to have and believe in some fundamental ideals - for some it is the right to life, for others it is the right to a livelihood, yet for others perhaps freedom - because powerful leaders are capable of instituting structures that prevent people from engaging in progressive resistance.

British MP Rory Stewart brought up a fantastic point on the importance of recognizing and touting intrinsic value in rights and ideals (as opposed to focusing on their extrinsic and instrumental worth) when arguing or pushing for them. He talked of the fundamental importance of democracy, but his idea can be applied to anything that's worthwhile to defend. On democracy, he said that for too long, people have tried to fight for it on the extrinsic, instrumental grounds that perhaps it improves the economy, or it creates jobs for people, or that it prevents war, etc.; such arguments for democracy will be undermined once another less desirable system is capable of offering the same good outcomes stated above. Very often, arguments switch from intrinsic ones to instrumental ones in order to please the masses, corporations that provide funds, etc. Perhaps pushing on ideals on intrinsic grounds is also too idealistic - the realist view will only consider costs and benefits, and interests. But each time we shift away from an idealistic stance to a realistic stance, we give up on something intrinsically sacred to the things that matter.

(Once again, I'm generally skeptical about the promise of democracy because it requires too many boundary conditions to work, but this doesn't mean that a well-functioning democracy isn't a worthwhile ideal since it encourages participation and an informed citizenry that cares about society, which are fundamental good-to-haves.)

So, on that note, I suggest that it is important to think of what matters for our society. There is admittedly no such thing as perfect equality in a society, but if we are willing to forgo a fight for equality then we can expect to see many low status people marginalized by the system, and that will be okay, legitimate, and justifiable on economic grounds. If we are willing to forgo a fight for welfare, health aid, better recognition for social workers, etc., then we can expect to see that society will still very much chug along with an acute rubric for the value of life, which is how much you are able to earn. This in turn has ramifications for which jobs are respectable and which jobs aren't. In my mind, a measure of a good society is one where most jobs, if not all jobs, can garner some form of equal dignity and respect, and that every worker can be considered to be of value to the society they reside in. These are conversations that on matters of fundamental importance that, while definitely not easy to reach consensus, should be carried out. Just because a system has seemed to work doesn't mean it should be the only game in town. More importantly, we need to think about important things that should be valued but aren't that the current system prevents us from achieving, or worse, from caring about.

Here's the TED Talk presented by Rory Stewart on his take on democracy and, to me, on the intrinsic value of ideals. A highly recommended viewing.


Thursday, 8 November 2012

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour

- William Blake, Auguries of Innocence

Friday, 2 November 2012

Form follows function.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

All The Things in Life that Matter

"Personality is two things: (a) generalizations about human nature, and (b) explorations of individual differences.What generalizations can we make about human nature? Sociology, anthropology, and evolutionary psychology suggest three. First, people always live in groups. Second, every group has a status hierarchy. Third, every group has a religion, which is typically used to justify the status hierarchy and the existing moral and legal systems. This suggests that there are three overriding themes in individual lives: (a) efforts to get along with other people (because we live with them); (b) efforts to attain some power, status, and control of resources (more is always better); and (c) efforts to make some sense out of our lives (by interpreting them in terms of a quasi-philosophical system.)

Personality psychology is also about individual differences. People differ from one another in many, many ways. These three generalizations - that people want acceptance, status, and meaning - suggest what the most important domains of individual differences might be. The first domain will concern individual differences in the desire for, and the ability to obtain, social acceptance and support. The second will concern individual differences in the desire for, and the ability to obtain, status, power, and the control of resources. The third will concern individuals in the desire for meaning and purpose in life."

- Robert Hogan, In Defense of Personality Psychology: New Wine for Old Whiners, 2005

Indeed, leaders are people who excel in their ability to gain acceptance and support, power and status, and to make meaning.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

The best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. Little wonder that we seldom learn from history.

Monday, 15 October 2012

‎"Moderation is a fatal thing. Nothing succeeds like excess."

You get no less from the fabulous Oscar Wilde.


"Dude, I can't drink too much man. Got heaps of stuff to do tmr. Can't get smashed."

"Dude neh mind la, a few more ain't nothing."

"Dude, I scared for my liver lah."

"Dude, it's ok. Your liver is insured."

"I... Okay."

(As seen on Dudley's Facebook feed)

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Live Fast

A quien Dios quiere para si, poco tiempo lo tiene aqui.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012


Happened to chance upon an art exhibition at the foot of my building. They always have exhibits there for free viewing but I never step in. This time I did (partly because there was a lame fire drill going on and I couldn't yet get back into office). There was an exhibit by Willis Turner Henry, an Indonesian Chinese artist, on culture and identity. Her pieces reflect her biculturalism - in Indonesia, she's a Chinese. In China, she's an Indonesian.

That's interesting. It's the same for me as a Singaporean Chinese. We emphasize what's different, distinctive, and distinguishing of ourselves.

Why is this so? Does it serve the purpose of providing more information about myself to people I introduce myself to that I regard as the general mass of the place I'm in (certainly, telling Singaporeans that I'm Singaporean doesn't tell them much)? Does this represent the age-old tug between fitting in the group and individualizing yourself, and in this case for whatever reason individualization wins out? Or is it something to do with pride? Does it follow that I not only indicate the cultural identity in me that is distinguishing, but that I behave in ways to emphasize it - speak more like a Singaporean in China and more like a Chinese in Singapore? I don't quite imagine myself doing this, but I'm a lousier judge of my own character than I am of others. Does everyone else do this (I pretty much think so)?

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Imperare sibi maximum imperium est.

Monday, 8 October 2012


I think Hell is something you carry around with you. Not somewhere you go.
- Neil Gaiman

Sunday, 7 October 2012


When faced with the prospect of either having more choices to choose from or having fewer choices, people prefer having more choices, without realizing that this is likely to make them less satisfied and less happy eventually.

Saturday, 6 October 2012


You can only neutralize one force with another force. Power begets other powers in a constant struggle. When you disarm a soldier with a flower, your flower is the gun wielding the influence. Life is a neverending flux of power negotiations.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Social Perception

It's fascinating how the thought that we're being observed, or that there are others present, can have such profound effects on our behaviour. Walking into a wall isn't quite as embarrassing if there isn't anybody around to watch your silly act. The best dancers and singers might just reside among those who think they're alone.

People whose social perceptions are impaired, such as autistics as one example, are probably the most themselves.

Perhaps that's what makes us more human-like. If we always behaved without regard for others, we wouldn't experience the full spectrum of emotions that we have been designed to feel as social beings. Compassion, guilt, empathy, embarrassment, shame, happiness, anger - these are not fully expressed if we're by ourselves. Of course, there are feelings that occur when we're lonely, but even then, those feelings prompt us towards finding others for their companionship in order to remove the aversive feelings of sadness and loneliness.

Religions probably tap into this humanity as well. The idea that there is a God, or gods, watching over us, instilled from a young age, can keep us from losing our sense of humanness. The mere sight of a camera, mirror, or fake eyes in a room that you're alone in can make you self-conscious and watch yourself.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Someone had to Draw a Line

In the back room something I heard you say
We didn't want to call it too early
Now it seems a world away
But I miss that day, are we ever gonna feel the same?

Standing in the light till it's over
Out of our minds
Someone had to draw a line
We'll be coming back for you one day

Friday, 28 September 2012

If you love what you do, never underestimate the power of being too busy.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Sometimes, the best in me is brought out by the worst in me.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Attack is always more enticing, more alluring, more enchanting, and more seductive than defense.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Geek Idolatry

Right in the face of my heavy course load, I "decided" to digress and spend the entire early half of Sunday reading on the people who shaped the discourse on evolution, sociobiology, and evolutionary psychology. It is a tour de force exploration of the lives of brave, highly intelligent and brilliant, but also very crazy men.

Robert Trivers, whose dazzlingly productive years from 1971 to 1974 spawned four major theories that guide almost everything in the understanding of evolutionary social behavior today, suffered from breakdowns prior to his early career, some of which were apparently due to his obsessive reading, night after night, of Wittgenstein. He is still alive now and is living in Jamaica.

Edward O. Wilson stuck to his guns to fight for sociobiology as a field worthy of study. He was heavily criticized particularly by an academic majority that preferred to see human behavior as culturally based. In one public incident, a member of the International Committee Against Racism poured a pitcher of water on Wilson's head and chanted "Wilson, you're all wet" at an AAAS conference in 1978. Wilson later spoke of the incident as a source of pride: "I believe...I was the only scientist in modern times to be physically attacked for an idea."

There are too many people to talk about here. One last mention I'd like to make is of William D. Hamilton, whose ideas on kin selection and altruism, sex ratios, and the Red Queen, among many others, have distinguished him among the greats. Spending the last few years of his life increasingly interested in the controversial argument that the origin of HIV lay in oral polio vaccines trials conducted by Hilary Koprowski in Africa during the 1950s, he ventured on a field trip to the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo in 2000. He did not survive long after returning to London. A secular memorial service (him being atheist) was held, organised by Richard Dawkins. He was buried near Wytham Woods. He, however, had written an essay on My intended burial and why in which he wrote:
"I will leave a sum in my last will for my body to be carried to Brazil and to these forests. It will be laid out in a manner secure against the possums and the vultures just as we make our chickens secure; and this great Coprophanaeus beetle will bury me. They will enter, will bury, will live on my flesh; and in the shape of their children and mine, I will escape death. No worm for me nor sordid fly, I will buzz in the dusk like a huge bumble bee. I will be many, buzz even as a swarm of motorbikes, be borne, body by flying body out into the Brazilian wilderness beneath the stars, lofted under those beautiful and un-fused elytra which we will all hold over our backs. So finally I too will shine like a violet ground beetle under a stone."

Often, it's hard to say what's true and what isn't. We have a sense that it's there, and yet at other times people can see the world so differently that it's hard to believe there's an objective truth at all. Sociobiology has had its rise and fall, with evolutionary psychology as its modern (and popularly accepted) version. It will always be nice if what one proclaims as his philosophy is indeed true. But the curse and joy of the reality is that I don't think we will ever know. Some will see this as a pointless chase. I think the agnostic position is a sad one. Just because it is always out of reach means that we will always have more to discover about our humanity and to the intellectually curious, this always has the power to stir the heart and soul.

I have good reasons to believe in the truth of the work of these men (of which I will not elaborate here), and as it is now I am on a path that requires of me to extrapolate the basic foundations laid out by them into understanding the world we live in and the way we behave. However, truth isn't the issue here, although it is the main exposition of the life and career adopted by men like us. The pursuit of what one believes to be the truth is the real story, and for their valiant efforts these men have seared their names into the pages of the history of knowledge. Of course, one could also say that Hitler was a man who believed in the truth and virtue of his desire to establish the homogeneity of a superior race, and eliminating the lesser ones. But with science as a fair judicial system for the legitimacy of knowledge, we don't have a good reason not to discover the limits of our understanding of reality.

I hope for the courage and wisdom to be able to embark in that pursuit in a way that would do the prior work of these men any semblance of justice.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

Dark Triad Traits Tests

Needing a break between my intense grad school readings, I've finally gotten down to doing a couple of narcissism, psychopathy and personality disorder tests. Here's what I got...




Results of your
Narcissistic Personality Quiz

Mirror mirror

Your Total: 26

Between 12 and 15 is average.
Celebrities often score closer to 18.
Narcissists score over 20.
Because you scored 18 or higher, you may want to check out thesymptoms of narcissistic personality disorder.

Here's how you rated on the seven component traits of narcissism:
Narcissistic TraitStrength of Trait
Authority: 5.00
Self-Sufficiency: 4.00
Superiority: 5.00
Exhibitionism: 3.00
Exploitativeness: 3.00
Vanity: 3.00
Entitlement: 3.00


The Online Self Diagnostic Psychopath Test!

Congratulations - you have completed The Online Psychopath Self Assessment Test.   Your personality profile is So-Pr-Gr-Em-En/Ti-Ln-Ls-Ad-Sn-Sc.

i.e., I am...
So=Pro-social (as opposed to Se=Pro-self)
Pr=Principled (as opposed to Am=Amoral)
Gr=Grandiose (as opposed to Mo=Modest)
Em=Empathetic (as opposed to Ap=Apathetic)
Ln=Low need for structure (as opposed to Hn=High need for structure)
Ls=Low Sadism (as opposed to Hs=High Sadism)
Ad=Adaptive (as opposed to Ma=Maladaptive)
Sn=Schizoid negative (as opposed to Sp=Schizoid positive)
Sc=Social (as opposed to As=Anti-social)
Not sure what En, Ti are (website left them out).

Combinations can be measured against these:
Ap, Se, and As = Sociopathic personality
Ap, Se, and Am = Potentially sociopathicAp, Se, and As + Pr = Principled sociopathAp, Se, and As + Hs = Potentially dangerous sociopathAp, Se, and As + Ad = Adaptive sociopathAp and As = Antisocial personality (strengthened with Ma)Gr with any of the above = narcissistic personality [this is the only thing that applies to me]Sp = Schizoid personality


Your score was 76 of 100. 

This puts you in the category of the high Machs, people who do not believe in the goodness of the world and, because of that it, must be manipulated; Machiavelli would approve of such people. 

A graph of how others who have taken this have scores is below. These scores should not be taken as population norms though, the people who seek out tests of machivellianism on the internet are most likely not representative (LOL). 

Looks like my lack of apathy lets me off the hook for being psychopathic. Narcissism seems to crop up, either as very high in the narcissism test or higher than average in the psychopathy and personality disorder tests. I'm above average on machiavellianism, but my higher empathy hinders the utilisation of my machiavellianism to become sociopathic or psychopathic.

Friday, 10 August 2012


"... dishonesty has often been the file against which intellectual tools for truth have been sharpened."

- Robert Trivers, Folly of Fools

This resonates quite deeply with my belief that all the good things come only after bad ones. Structure arises after chaos. Emotions of love arise to combat partner desertion. Feelings of loyalty develop to prevent group disunity. I'd intended to write on this for a year on already but never really got down to it. Reading Trivers's latest book gives me much needed motivation to get stuck back in it.

In another part of his introduction, he writes:
Deception within species is expected in almost all relationships, and deception possesses special powers. It always takes the lead in life, while detection of deception plays catch up. As has been said regarding rumors, the lie is halfway around the world before the truth puts its boots on. When a new deception shows up in nature, it starts rare in a world that often lacks a proper defense. As it increases in frequency, it selects for such defenses in the victim, so that eventually its spread will be halted by the appearance and spread of countermoves, but new defenses can always be bypassed and new tricks invented.
Truth—or, at least, truth detection—has been pushed back steadily over time by the propagation of deception. It always amazes me to hear some economists say that the costs of deceptive excesses in our economy (including white-collar crime) will naturally be checked by market forces. Why should the human species be immune to the general rule that where natural selection for deception is strong, deception can be selected that extracts a substantial net cost (in survival and reproduction) every generation? Certainly there is no collective force against this deception, only the relatively slow generation and evolution of counterstrategies. These lines were written in 2006, two years before the financial collapse that resulted from such practices and beliefs. I know nothing about economics and—from evolutionary logic—could not have predicted a thing about the collapse of 2008, but I have disagreed for thirty years with an alleged science called economics that has resolutely failed to ground itself in underlying knowledge, at a cost to all of us.
While I might at times be slightly more sympathetic to the value of economics as a prescriptive tool, I think Trivers couldn't have put it better. There is no underlying theoretical basis for its science either than the outdated assumption that man is rational (assumed to be equally, and on the basis of prices), and I absolutely do not believe that market forces actually help resolve economic crises. The turn to market forces to solve economic problems is an absolute cop-out.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

If pro is opposite of con, then what is the opposite of progress?

I once prayed to god for a bike, but quickly found out he didnt work that way. So I stole a bike and prayed for his forgiveness.

You can't be late until you show up.

Expecting the world to treat you fairly because you are good is like expecting the bull not to charge because you are a vegetarian.

Never interrupt your opponent while he's making a mistake.

If you don't pray in my school, I won't think in your church.

You know your god is man-made when he hates all the same people you do.

Evolutionists have proof without any certainty. Creationists have certainty without any proof.

You never learn anything by doing it right.

A criminal is a person with predatory instincts who has not sufficient capital to form a corporation. 

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Axiomatic Sex Differences

Here are some of the better axioms I came across in the last year or so that capture the differences between the sexes quite sweetly.

Men like what they see, and women like what they hear.
That's why men lie, and women wear make up.

Men insult each other to get along, but they don't mean it.
Women compliment each other to get along, and they don't mean it either.

A girl dreams about a bad boy who is gentle only for her.
A boy wants a good girl who is naughty only for him.

(This one comes from a friend)
Women fake orgasms/sexual interest to get relationships.
Men fake relationships to get orgasms/sex.

Here are two of the best:

A woman's loyalty is tested when her man has nothing.
A man's loyalty is tested when he has everything.

Why is it that a woman who sleeps around a lot is a slut, but a man who has lots of sex is great?
Because a lock that can be opened by many keys is a lousy lock, while a key that can open many locks is the master key.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Let it BE: My Dad, Singapore Politics and Identity

After the first by-election Worker's Party rally, my dad came home with these flags.

My dad is ardently supportive of the top opposing game in town now, the Worker's Party. One might be tempted to associate him with the hordes of unintelligible, foul-mouthed, immature online surfers who trawl political internet sites like Temasek Review and leave distasteful trails of cowardly anonymous and unconstructive criticism directed at the PAP in their wake. Conversely, my dad actively attends rallies to offer genuine support, sends encouraging emails to Sylvia Lim (whom he has some degree of personal contact with), does not bother with posting comments on political internet sites (but does amuse himself from time to time with visits to such sites), puts his mouth where his money is by actually not endorsing government (i.e. PAP)-linked products (even if this inconveniences my household), and holds profound and heartfelt reasons for being highly disapproving of the incumbent party.

I had a chat with him today, one of the many chats I believe I should have had but did not because I was a rebellious son most of my life, so I have a lot of ground to make up for. He was chiding me for my absence for a family dinner on Saturday because I missed out on meeting some very old neighbours. They're people I would never recognize because the generation I belong to today tends to be more disconnected from relatives and old family friends compared to generations past. I asked if they were the Peranakan family that stayed next to him at the old private house in Everitt Road with the chiku tree when he was young, and he said no, they were from another neighbouring household, and were Hainanese.

Over an afternoon lull of coffee under the lazy breeze of an overhead fan, I pondered for a moment and asked him, "back then, did people see other people as Singaporeans or as people with differing origins?" In other words, I was asking him about a classic psychological concept, the self-construal, whereby people are defined by how they perceive themselves (often in relation to others). In this case, I wanted to know what comes to mind first when my dad or other Singaporeans back then thought of other people - as Singaporeans or as originating from elsewhere (e.g. Peranakan, Hainanese, etc). What was the automatically defining trait of Singaporeans?

My dad immediately said Singaporeans, definitely. Even though his father was technically an immigrant from Fuzhou, he said that the kind of sentiments today compared to back then are clearly different. Foreigners and immigrants who came in, like my grandfather did in the 1930s, never received incentives for coming to Singapore - they were escaping a hard life elsewhere and were seeking opportunity and had to work equally hard as compared to locals (although there probably wasn't such a clear idea of what a local Singaporean back then was). My dad feels that these days, foreigners are more than welcome to come in, and with such entitlements they will not feel such a strong need to learn local customs and integrate. My dad said that my grandfather had to rough it out really hard and therefore earned his right to be a Singaporean. And perhaps, because of the tumultuous political climate back then against neighbouring countries, there was a greater sense of unity among such differently originating people because they had to work together against external elements and build up the economy. Additionally, households were closer back then - neighbouring families would visit often, look out for each other and their children would play and grow up together. One often could leave the doors open without fear of burglary.

So, my dad thinks that policy-oriented efforts today by the incumbent government to foster integration is bollocks because he doesn't believe it would work. Further, my dad actually doesn't believe the government really cares about integration; foreigners will always be welcome for not-so rosy purposes.


To accompany my dad and share in his enthusiasm (I support the WP now but I'm not particularly hardcore - support, to me, isn't all about allegiance) I decided to join him at the third WP rally at the huge Hougang field. I did not regret sweating it out and braving the stuffiness along with thousands of other highly (and rightly) discontented Hougang residents. Throngs of people were gathered to support the party that has stood by them for two decades, and if it isn't so much a preference for the WP in the form of votes for Png Eng Huat, it was to show that there was no way they were going to accept PAP's Desmond Choo running the show in Hougang, especially since the PAP has been punishing Hougang residents by denying them all sorts of residential improvements for twenty years, simply for being a WP stronghold.

There are two sides to everything. One could say that this episode (preceded by the watershed General Elections last year) is divisive and destabilising, and feeds hate and disunity. On the other hand, it is important to acknowledge too that this means many Singaporeans (certainly not all) are shedding their apathy, standing up for something, and perhaps forging an identity that has been otherwise artificially decided for them by the government for over five decades. These are teething pains, but from the spirit I witnessed, I think it means we are growing as a nation just a little bit more.

Just a disclaimer though; I think unintelligible, irresponsible, anonymous, unconstructive online criticism is the most pathetic product I've seen coming out of this entire political saga. It is really disgusting to read comments consisting of nothing but cheapshots and mindless agreeing with many other people who just want something to hate. Maybe another post for another day.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

As if this couldn't be any more cute...

At Chinhong's suggestion,

Monday, 23 April 2012

Everybody's Favourite Little Team These Days

Is Newcastle United quite possibly, being the team that nobody seems to dislike, everybody's favourite side team now? That is, if you aren't already a Newcastle United fan, you'd find them irresistably hard not to admire?

Everywhere in football world where the BPL is concerned, Newcastle's praises are being sung far and wide, particularly after their smooth 3-0 victory over Stoke City. After that disastrous campaign where they got relegated, nobody expected them to bounce back so quickly, if they were ever expected to bounce back at all. And after a spate of what looked like very bad decisions (offloading Enrique, Carroll, Nolan and Barton), Pardew's shrewdness seriously turned the tide and Newcastle are on course for a top-4 finish and a chance at European championship next season.

Every other "top" team in the BPL now has its demons it is villified for. Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, Chelsea, to some extent Tottenham Hotspur, and certainly the much maligned Liverpool, all have their critics. Newcastle United, on the other hand, appear to be the team that the BPL is proud to have in the top-4. It's an amazing feeling, and possibly one that non-fans might never really know. But we really got stuck in and it's one heck of a fairy tale ride.

It's funny how the fortunes of one football club can emotionally affect thousands of people around the world.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Refuting the Atheist Professor vs the Christian Student

Written almost a year ago, I'm not sure why I hadn't come across this earlier, but I'm glad it's been written.

The story about the atheist professor getting pwned by the Christian student (and maybe that student is frickin' Einstein) has lived on way past its sell-by date, and I'm hoping this article should drive a decisive nail into its coffin.

I really like how the author ends off.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Quite possibly the only scenario where men are more capable than women at multi-tasking.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Doctorate Studies

Today marks a checkpoint in life where I've made a critical decision - to accept the SMU PhD offer.

This has come on the end of months of applications, letter writing, solicitations for referrals, correspondences, and anticipation and disappointment. In the end, quite disappointingly, I was down to two options out of a possible nine - SMU's financially supported PhD programme, or Oakland University's MS programme where funding is not guaranteed.

I must clarify that the disappointment is solely to do with the lack of acceptance letters from elsewhere; I think working with the particular professors I have in mind at SMU will make my doctoral studies at SMU very fruitful. But it will never take away the fact that I was hoping to at least be able to pick one from a few offers.

But anyway this is still a momentous time because I've finally come to a decision and I'll now be able to just look ahead and focus.

I had to regretfully decline the OU offer because my parents can't afford to pay to put me through another few years of incredibly expensive education, and I wouldn't want to burden them anymore anyway even if they were willing. The decision to reject is still regretful because through correspondences with my potential mentor (who is a stalwart in the EP field), it looks like OU will be up and coming; Steven Pinker and Richard Dawkins graced events that he organised. I will be missing out on working with them when even meeting them would be a divine honour at this point.

But that's that; it's never worth the time and emotions looking back and rueing missed chances. With a spot in SMU, I've got my ideas set and potential researchers I'd want to work with, and I'm going to publish my ass off.

Looks like I'll be around these parts for a little longer! Stay tuned for more papers.

Sunday, 15 April 2012


I think social sciences research is especially and uniquely interesting for being a lens that peers into the soul of the practitioner like no other type of research can. People who are passionate in researching topics in the social sciences - psychology, politics, sociology, etc - are often that passionate because their research is "me-search"; a substantial part of their work goes towards understanding something about themselves.

Consider the researcher who delves into the psychology of sadness - he has a longing to comprehend how such a profound emotion can have such a grip on his life. The feminist researcher writing sociological papers on female empowerment must somehow feel like her capabilities are undermined by how society regards her biological sex. Then there is the four-time divorced relationship expert, who is so knowledgeable of the dynamics of relationships simply because he is hungry for that ideal relationship he has never been able to attain and can't stop pondering deeply about it. And we may also turn to our friend, the mental health researcher, who is prompted to enter the field because a very close childhood friend of hers suffers from depression.

Many prominent, expert researchers in the social sciences are quite likely good at their specific research interest because within that research interest lies something that will puzzle them for life. That desire to overcome their very own life puzzle can provide the fuel for a life-long obsession with a particular topic or issue.

Essentially, all of such self-directed research, or me-search, stems from a deep-seated need to understand issues that plague the restless researcher so that, from understanding, he can control the problem and ultimately justify either his desires and actions, or his inability to overcome the forces that hold him back.

So, budding social scientists, what personal demon of yours is going to both torment and consume you, and at the same time make you produce great bodies of literature?

Friday, 13 April 2012

Psychology of Attraction Podcast

Dr. Rob Burriss, who runs OracleLab and the Psychology of Attractiveness Podcast (PAP), has featured my paper in the March 2012 PAP.

Taken from his website,

Apr 1, 2012

Why a gameshow host’s chiselled jawline can make his contestants smarter, the exact number of daily portions of fruit and veg that are required to boost beauty, and why counting money makes men choosier.

Download the MP3

New research shows that The Voice's format is right for the wrong reasons: by concealing the contestants from the judges, the judges aren't influenced by appearances, but also, by preventing the contestants from seeing the judges, performances aren't given an unfair boost.

The articles covered in the show:

Whitehead, R. D., Re, D., Xiao, D., Ozakinci, G., & Perrett, D. I. (2012). You are what you eat: within-subject increases in fruit and vegetable consumption confer beneficial skin-color changes. PLoS ONE, 7(3).
Read summary

Yong, J. C., & Li, N. P. (in press). Cash in hand, want better looking mate: Significant resource cues raise men’s mating standards. Personality and Individual Differences.
Read summary

Flowe, H. D., Swords, E., & Rockey, J. C. (in press). Women's behavioural engagement with a masculine male heightens during the fertile window: evidence for the cycle shift hypothesis. Evolution and Human Behavior.
Read summary

Academic Publishing Debut

My first published paper is finally available here:

Yong, J. C. & Li, N. P. (2012) Cash in hand, want better looking mate: Significant resource cues raise men’s mating standards. Personality and Individual Differences, 53, 55-58.

More to come for sure!

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Really funny how things transpire. Can't wrap my head around it.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Why We Cheat

This is a fascinating read, written by Lisa Taddeo for Esquire. More than the ideas themselves (she's bold for her claims), it's the inch-perfect use of sensual imagery:
More than I believe in the sanctity of union and promise, I believe that everybody cheats. If you have not cheated yet, it's because you are still too grateful to be secure, or you have not yet had the opportunity, or the right color of red hair has not come along and sat down at the bar on a Tuesday when the jukebox was playing Leonard Cohen and your manhattan tasted like the future.

Saturday, 17 March 2012

When I was younger, I harboured the idea of being an illustration artist. That materialised somewhat into a service I provided before I entered NS in 2005, where I'd draw caricatures for clients. The novelty was that I'd use MS Paint to a large degree to do these drawings, for a fee.

The idea proved to be far too impractical, because MS Paint is obviously one of the slowest design tools one can use (although I like it because it is one of the easiest and most powerful design programmes). I didn't want to continue doing it. But after a handful of completed assignments, word got around about my service and til this day I still have friends asking for a drawing, and I'm still complying and still churning out those pictures. It's hard to turn many of these requests down because there's always a heartfelt reason behind why they want it done - as an anniversary gift, to salvage a relationship, to bid their closest friends goodbye - I've often pulled through these time-consuming works because I somehow feel the anticipation they have for that moment they show it to whoever they've wanted to include in the picture. It's too much of a letdown to refuse that. And I don't think I've ever failed to meet a deadline.

So, on Monday, a friend of a friend asked for a drawing. She needed me to draw her and her 7 colleagues, which she will then give to them as a parting gift as she's leaving Singapore for Africa. It's the craziest deadline I've ever been presented with, but I took it up. After 3 insane days, I delivered the drawing to her 5 minutes before 6pm, which was the time she absolutely needed it by.

I usually do not mind taking my time to draw and design, even if it takes waaaay too long by most other peoples' standards, because I do enjoy drawing. After this episode though I will think harder about taking up such time-tight assignments.

I don't think I did a great job and in fact I couldn't include some of the effects that, I think, make my drawings unique. Those effects take very long to accomplish. While I'm not proud of this (most artists will know how knowingly delivering subpar work feels), I knew that having the drawing was more important than the quality itself to her.

Most of the people I draw now are people I do not know. The social distance between me and the client is often something like a friend of a friend of a friend. But drawing faces and caricaturing them makes me intimately familiar with each person's face. If I see them on the street, I will recognise them, and they have no idea what I know. It's a strange feeling.

Also, in the case of my work, my drawings are nicer when they do not reflect accuracy. In the end it comes down to imagining what each person is remembered for, and then emphasising that.

Now that this is done, I can finally take a break.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Egocentric Update

Since this is a personal blog afterall I will change tack from the usual abstraction of ideas to writing a toast to my own recent life.

One could measure his days by the books he reads. For my recent past, I have the following to offer:

Rob Kurzban's Why Everyone (Else) is a Hypocrite
Doug Kenrick's Sex, Murder and the Meaning of Life
Stephen MacKnik & Susana Martinez-Conde's Sleights of Mind
David Buss's The Murderer Next Door
Mark van Vugt's Naturally Selected
Tony Clink's The Plan
John Townsend's What Women Want - What Men Want
Kay Hymowitz's Manning Up
Paul Davies's About Time
Desmond Morris's The Naked Ape and The Naked Woman
Geoffrey Miller's Spent
George Orwell's 1984 (yes, very late, but better late than never)
Robert Ornstein's The Evolution of Consciousness
Richard Wrangham's Demonic Males
Richard Wiseman's Quirkology
Ernst Gombrich's A Brief History of The World

A more concrete narrative of my life would probably revolve around the time I graduated from SMU and the whirlwind period between then and now, marked by the heady days of cheerfully preparing my graduate school admissions applications, the trip to San Diego for the SPSP Conference, working at Behavioural Sciences Institute, all the interesting little politickings happening in the academic office, and the anxiousness of not getting the most ideal responses from those graduate programmes I wanted to go to.

I can't quite complain about the life I've had from August last year til now. I've got a job that pays me a decent monthly salary that allows me to, kind of, do whatever I want, whenever I want. I've got great colleagues - all budding academics with egos so huge they want nothing to do with you unless you've got something to offer, which is great. I've been encouraged so much, particularly at that now distant and somewhat faded period of time between November and December where recommendation letters from my professors poured in, and I'm grateful for them. I looked all set to go - I published a paper in Personality and Individual Differences (which is still in press now but forthcoming soon) which I adapted from my honours thesis. On top of the award I received for my thesis, I also clinched the Baylis & Smith Oxford University Press award for the best world politics essay. That was a surprise. I was also given an Oxford University Press book voucher, which I used to acquire John Lewis Gaddis's We Now Know - Rethinking Cold War History.

Then the rejections started coming in. Anxiety, to some extent, reared its small ugly head for the first time. I'm never one to be fazed by things, so I tided through that phase, hoping for the best. Nothing came along. From 8 schools, I was down to 2 last options. Then things got both buoyed and complicated by an acceptance letter from SMU (which is not included in those 8 ideal schools). I was back to having to make a decision. That period of time from February to March made me see some of the strangest behaviours in my professors. And then I learnt the reason why I kept getting rejected - one by one, all the prospective mentors I sought after and emailed vehemently started deciding they did not want to accept students. Almost all, except for UPenn. No surprise there with its ivy league status. Now, that was irritating. What do you do when you ask a prospective mentor if he's taking students and he says yes, and then after you've done up all the documents and paid the hefty registration fee s/he says that s/he's changed her mind?

So now it's down to 2 schools left, or SMU. SMU isn't all that bad, but it can never offer that experience of training and living abroad for at least 4 years.

My salary, although decent, can never be enough. I do so much stuff on the side, drawing, writing and editing.

I'm meeting people every other day, exchanging so many ideas and hearing so many perspectives, it's fuckin' good times. Some days I work up to 18 hours, but it doesn't feel like work at all. And then yet I still have the freedom to visit my old friend, Le Baroque, every now and then. These days, guestlists are a common fixture and unless I'm invited to VIP, I'm a spoilt slug.

While I'm on a high with my projects, publications, awards and social life, the one thing that will determine my future is caught in a jam right now. But I have a month left to decide. Let that slowly come, but when it does, I'll put my foot down on it. I believe that life is measured by one's regrets, so choose wisely, don't sweat the small stuff and regret nothing.

Friday, 9 March 2012


If that's all you will be,
you'll be a waste of time

And she said, "keep trying, don't give up."

The time is nigh to decide.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Can't keep this thought out of my head. Can't put it aside; just keeps creeping back. Stood in the way between consciousness and sleep so many times. A novel feeling, a new notion, but a dangerous one, this. Learning, realising. Becoming reminders.

Its importance. Entitlement. The meaning of staying, caring, and love. How the rest fare in the absence of it. What a union entails. Youth. Hanging on. The echo of desire. Aching.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Monday, 20 February 2012

So hey, you, could you give it a rest?
Just take me home and get me undressed,
Put on a fire and make it enough,
Oh, we're geeks, but we know this is love.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

How should we like it were stars to burn, With a passion for us we could not return? If equal affection cannot be, Let the more loving one be me.
- W. H. Auden

I can't imagine a love without an equal balance of power, or at least one that has equity in the long run. Anything else, whether I'm the one who loves more or the other way around, just sounds potentially too tragic, toxic, unstable and damaging.

Saturday, 4 February 2012


Watched these movies while flying between Singapore and San Diego. Not too bad a way to check off the passing hours!

Next up, I'm really looking forward to catching this one:

Thursday, 2 February 2012

San Diego Day 7 01/02/2012

One picture I forgot to upload last night - it's a "herbs" store. The small text promises herbs for happy, healthy, high and horny.

This trip originally looked like a 10-day stay in San Diego, but in reality when traveling time is taken into account, it's actually only a week. With my flight at 6.18am tomorrow, tonight's gonna be tricky!

Got a message from my dad asking me to get keychain souvenirs, so I paid a visit to the nearby random-stuff store to look around. I think this is the funniest thing in there to report! Anyway I went a little crazy on the keychain buying, spending US$35. Crap!

What ensues here is a bunch of photos I took after deciding to explore San Diego's expanse of beach.

Ocean Beach ends off at this point where the sea enters land and becomes a river.

I spot a bridge in the distance. It must've been over two kilometres away at that point. Me being me I decide to trek over.

The river starts off as a marsh - ducks make it home.

A skateboarding park. There were some very decent skateboarders in there.

<-- Mission Bay Park
<-- Mission Beach
Dog Beach -->

I didn't actually think Mission Beach, immediately above Ocean Beach (which is also known as Dog Beach because it's a popular spot with dog owners), was so accessible. Seeing this, I started to wonder if it was possible to go all the way up to La Jolla, the furthest north beach in San Diego.

Entering the bridge that passes over the San Diego river.

<-- Mission Bay Park
<-- Mission Beach
Ocean Beach -->
Downtown -->

I found myself in what I think is a very swanky and expensive chalet-like place with a pier. This was the start of my discovery of what an expensive American getaway can be like.

Was getting hungry from all the walking (probably covered three miles), so I settle into this cafe where I found the owner animatedly talking to one of the patrons, both in excited agreement that fast food is a travesty. Sounded promising that the food that comes will be of home-made goodness, and indeed it was. Ignoring the standard fries, this was a sumptuous classic Philly Cheesesteak.

Sensing that there was a lot more to be discovered and traversing the coast wouldn't be too difficult, I decided I needed a speed boost. Got a bicycle!

Anyway, some quirks about this bicycle: Those handles are really stupidly designed. They make me grip the handles in a weird way and my wrists eventually will ache, so I end up grasping the ends of the handle instead like they were joysticks. Another thing is that there are no brake grips at the handles. I later find out that to brake the bicycle, I had to cycle in reverse.

These are photos of Mission Bay, a man-made giant salt lake, and those are houses. What an lavish place to live!

Passed by a theme park on my way towards Mission Beach. None of the guide books said this was here!

Mission Beach is comparatively more bustling than Ocean Beach.

Soon, I was at Pacific Beach, the second furthest north beach in San Diego after La Jolla. Those houses alongside the beach are vacation homes for rent.

The waters pushing against the shore of Pacific Beach come directly from the Pacific Ocean.

7-10 Bar - the place with open mic on Wednesdays. Kris told me about it yesterday and said he'd be down to perform tonight. He actually told me to hit him up for drinks, but I couldn't get my phone to connect to the network and thus couldn't contact him. Too bad then!

I pitstop at this bench, and end up chatting with Claudia, a smiley elderly woman who has lived in San Diego since 1981.

La Jolla is up ahead! But alas, I had no idea how far away was La Jolla, plus it was already 3.30pm and I had to return the bicycle because the shop closes at 4.45pm.

I spent some time watching these ducks (yeah, those tiny dots were ducks). It was fascinating - they were socialising (well, I can't be sure, but it looked as if they were), and sometimes they caught fish by dunking their heads into the water with their feet in the air, or by flying and skimming the water surface and then stabbing at fish while gliding.

I'm not sure what birds these are (yes, those dots are birds) but I think they were socialising too mid-air. Stop asking me how I know.

Dogs coming out in full force as sunset approaches. But I guess I wouldn't have taken this shot if not for the cute blonde in shorts haha.

I rest out on the rocks, watching surfers conquer the waves. It's the first time I'm seeing such big surfable waves for real.

Quite a solid distance covered today, I think! Maybe 15 kilometres?

Anyway it could be that it's still, residually, winter in California right now (OBI Hostel classifies November to February as winter and charges lower rates during this period). But I think it's way too cold for me to appreciate the beaches here right now. Coming from hot and sunny Singapore, I have my notions of a good sweat at the beach before dipping into the cool (but somewhat warmed up) water for relief. Over here, it's actually very cold! I wouldn't want to walk along the shore, where the icy winds are blowing in like crazy, without at least wearing a cardigan over a t-shirt. I can't imagine what going into the water must feel like.

I return back to the hostel to find that a fair has sprung up! All sorts of edibles were being sold - from teas to honey to fruits - with the odd t-shirt shop here and there. Buskers were everywhere, as Jason Mraz songs filled the air.

WTF, 草泥马!?

And OMG this unsurprisingly smug guy has an iguana. I want one! I'll look this smug too if I had one, or a chameleon.

A last look at Newport Avenue, as my 923 bus taking me to the airport pulls up at the bus stop. I've decided that the plan is to head to the airport around night, and stay overnight at the airport til my 6.18am flight. This will save me a night's accommodation.

While at some bookshop at the airport... WTF more 草泥马?!

Another grueling set of flights await me; my next update when I'm back in Singapore!