The All-around Brilliant

I would like to propose the idea that there is such a thing as a sort of people who are All-around Brilliant. Before elaborating, I would like to immediately make note that I grudgingly exclude myself from this variety; I simply do not fit. It’s also necessary to emphasize that these extraordinary people come from all sorts of backgrounds and personalities and are rarely found grouped together (in clubs, societies, interests, and the like). Arrogance and elitism ruled out, let us continue.

The first thing about The All-around Brilliant (TAB) is that they’re smart. That’s not to say the TAB get the highest SAT scores or rank “genius” in IQ; the amorphous word choice of “smart” is used for its very flexibility. The TAB are smart in many ways and to different degrees, depending on the person. They all have some degree of book-smarts, but they also tend to be thoughtful writers of poetry and prose. They have penetrating abilities in critical reading. They can problem-solve quickly and efficiently and have a plethora of knowledge in the arts and in literature.

When it comes to constructive conversations of depth and meaning, TAB’s smartness is pushed to the forefront. They have a refined rhetoric, with internal phrase banks developed and used at will as if to prove their own brilliance. They have a great factual understanding of the world around them, with statistics and studies on their side for the opinions they hold and the conversations they undertake. They have a balance between logic and emotional, reason and passion which they delicately use in tandem. But it’s not “smartness” that makes the TAB what they are. It doesn’t define them.

What make them brilliant are their skills with people. They can dance with any audience and play any group. They can work with diversity and collaborate in conflict like few can. Many can generate the most logical and ingenious ideas in the world, but they have that hint of brilliance to present ideas and sway others. It takes a TAB to carry and lead a group, instead of merely managing one. It takes a TAB to not just develop a vision but to see it actualize. They have senses like a hawk to watch other people, but also an intuition that perches right into people’s souls to understand them. It’s not a deliberate and conscious ability at interpersonal skills the TAB have, it’s something they do with paradoxically casual zeal.

It might require some shady activity to carry and lead a group: manipulation, seduction, and the like. But it doesn’t need to. A lot of it only requires simple human geniality. The rest require sensory awareness, a depth of past experience, and strong intuition, which TAB have no lack of. The All-around Brilliant are best noted for their ability with people, but they also have a brilliance with themselves.

One can’t be an individual without individuality. One can’t be oneself without self-preservation either. TAB often stand out of the crowd and are e pluribus unum. I do know a few that are exactly the opposite, who mesh into the crowd and seem like everyone else, but anyone who spends time with a TAB soon comes to realize that they stand out. They have resonance, radiance, exuberance, and vitality that glows among a sometimes dull set of peers. They get more attention. Whether it’s liked or not, made aware or not, TAB are noticed while others aren’t.

That excessive attention (or lack thereof if the attention isn’t apparent) can cause enormous pressure. For that reason and many others that all people deal with, The All-around Brilliant have the same emotional and mental troubles as everyone if not more. This is where self-preservation comes in. For them to succeed and maintain stability, TAB often pull away from others and retreat into their own minds (some, in fact, never leave it). They will do what it takes to keep their own acuteness – their own brilliance – by preserving themselves and their individuality.

So The All-around Brilliant are diverse. Some are introverts, some are extroverts. Some are logical purists, others are passionate radicals. Some are book-smart, others are creative. Some are structured, others are flexible. Some are quiet, others are loudmouths. Some are arrogant, others have low self-esteem. But all have a bit of both, and a lot of one or the other. All are smart, all can work with people, all can stand out, and all are brilliant.

Their capabilities are far and vast. In my experience, most have numerous talents, whether that’s singing, dancing, or writing. Many have vast friend networks and are popular. Most do some sort of community activism. All have a complex understanding of the world that is developing and ever changing. All are at some degrees polymath. Much of this depends on age and resources, of course.

They come from different backgrounds and histories, such that some TAB are wealthy while others are poor. There are advantages to both that TAB needn’t hesitate to use, whether that’s extensive resources or unsheltered experiences. Their potential however is vast, and it would be a shame for a TAB not to use them. The All-around Brilliant should find their calling and follow it, onward.

Before concluding, there’s one concern to address. Some readers may have trouble seeing what exactly is so remarkable about TAB, and how much of that is subjective. I suppose everyone would demarcate (and denote) the qualities I listed differently, so there is plenty up for debate. As a disclaimer, I have no authority of my own to say who is and isn’t a TAB, or if such a thing exists. I am simply writing what I think and thinking it is right. So it goes.

The All-around Brilliant are extremely few in numbers. For those I know, I can count them on the fingers. Most probably don’t even realize their own specialness and potential – assuming I even judged accurately. The qualities that make them different are not exceptional in themselves; it’s when one puts all of their qualities together that one gets something awesome. However, those qualities, those skills, and those abilities do have a flavor that is distinguishable.

It comes with a scent of exceptionality, vitality, remarkability, and brilliance. They have a duty to the world to make it a better place, to use that strange brilliance of theirs for the greater good. I would be a shame for TAB not to. The All-around Brilliant should find their calling and follow it, onward. The have a duty to the world, and the world needs them.

 

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Dividing lines

I would like to very obnoxiously propose that there is a dividing line between rationality and irrationality. The very idea is troubling and truly arrogant, but I think it is existent anyway. To get it out in the open right now, I would also like to say that what I propose is not grounded in scientific evidence. In fact, this psychology is based off of my pure speculation and if you are troubled by my mistrust of trained psychologists feel free to diagnose me.

The spectrum of rationality and irrationality proves quite useful in looking at the individual players of philosophical discourse, political commentary, and strategy. Note I am not talking about emotions or dealing with daily trivialities (that, in fact, are not so trivial at all – stress management, organizational skills, etc.). Those matters are a different topic altogether although still having to do with rationality and irrationality.

To satisfy the academic prose of confusing verbiage, I will use the word “logic” interchangeably with “rationality” and “feeling” interchangeably with “irrationality”. This is not to say that feeling is inferior – logic is often too impersonal– as irrational feelings have a very important role in every subject, rational ones included. If the pretentious literary critic (who for some strange reason tends to appreciate what rhetorical dogma criticizes) is not yet satisfied, the passive tense will be used as pleased.

Now that the necessary asides have been made (Attention Deficit Disorder, anyone?), onto the topic. Most people that deal with intelligentsia of any field are extremely prone to irrational bias and sporadic feeling-based opinions. In fact, it’s so serious for some that I can state an opinion only for the other to misconstrue my opinion to make it a straw man and assault it in irrational harangue without even realizing it.

For example, I once mischievously called out someone for stating that “There’s no proof 100% for or against the bible”. Being who I am, I inquired the confident know-it-all on her knowledge of Early Christian History. She admitted to know very little, and in a regrettably biting tone I said her assertion was far too daring. Her response, verbatim:

Really? So you’re saying that there’s some magical paper or study that proves every claim in the bible? That the catholic church didn’t change anything? That he walked no water? Did someone take sampler from the water and see jesus toast in it?

I had never said a thing of what she said I had said. I don’t know where she got it from and how she immediately became so accusative. She probably also forgot momentarily that I was not Christian and an avid promoter of Biblical criticism (the study of the evolution of Biblical manuscripts, not criticizing the Bible, mind you). Her rhetorical questions were passionate and illogical, focused entirely on feelings and not on rationality. Frankly, they made no sense. And yet, for the better part of the conversation, she saw nothing wrong with it.

Another friend of mine is as fickle as the autumn sky. It is at one point he is a Communist (what that means to him a whole other matter), and at another a die-hard American patriot. On the occasion, he parades himself as a champion of the social left, and on other occasions he is sharply critical of illegal immigration. No matter what his philosophy of the hour is, however, my admirably intelligent friend (truly, he is quite knowledgeable) is quick to temper and ill manner out of bursts of sudden passion.

These irrational tendencies are troublesome disturbances to good debate. While it is true that emotion is necessary in discourse and political involvement (after all, what would be the point otherwise?), having it threaten one’s rationality is worrying. Far too often we are so gripped on what we have to say that we are not listening to the other. We are so caught up in our own passions that we can’t listen to what the other is actually saying, not what we make it out to be. If we’re to be mature about things, we have to be rational: we have to hear the person for what they have to say and think about it using that darn old thing called logic. How’s that for egoism?

 

A Cold War Fought by Women

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/19/science/a-cold-war-fought-by-women.html?_r=1&Found this on 3 Quarks Daily

Altruism…is it real?

Concerning altruism, there are many perspectives on whether or not we can be purely altruistic. There are many stances we could take, and many lenses we could look through. Let’s see what they are, what they signify, and why they are misleading.

An evolutionary lens, for example, would suggest that our genes encourage altruism so that we get things in return, so that we reproduce. In other words, organisms can be, while the roots of it, in our genes, are selfish. That is the view of Dr. Richard Dawkins, hence the book title The Selfish Gene. Dawkin’s argument is fairly satisfying in the scientific community.

We could also take a more philosophical lens, in that to treat others selflessly we’d have to be happy doing it, right? Should someone want to save another person’s life, and attempts to do so, they satisfied their desire, thus being selfish in the end.  This at first may seem to be irrefutable, it did to me at least for a number of years. But there are counter arguments: someone may not think about the fact that they want to be altruistic. After all, impulsiveness is a given in the human condition. However, if we are altruistic impulsively, would that still be considered altruism? That is another question that is debated.

What we know from egoism is that we are only altruistic to get altruism back. This is similar to the evolutionary view, except on the scope of organisms along with individual genes. This, perhaps, is too pessimistic. Certainly, could holding the door open for a stranger be an act of kindness done solely in the hopes that one day the stranger will see you, and will open the door for you? It simply doesn’t make sense. Additionally, such a thinking process wouldn’t be all that logical, considering someone who thought this way would probably have to be. Statistically, not everyone could possibly have a net “gain” in altruism, there would always be winners and losers, if you will. And certainly, the nice people don’t always win.

Perhaps a more psychological approach, one less dealing with evolution. Studies, such as one I found in The Atlantic Monthly, show that newborns begin life with some sense of selflessness. It is interesting to support arguments like these with evidence from the psychology of newborns, I’ll write soon on the lack of self awareness in babies and it’s significance in the study of artificial intelligence. The fact that newborns are surprised by the lack of sharing in a movie, and that most do willingly share is astonishing, and it does support half of the evolutionary perspective.

I think that much of the debate comes from the lack of a proper definition of altruism. Philosophers, psychologists, and economists alike (yes, economists play a role) only spend time on studying how altruism works, without actually defining the word. Perhaps we can see it’s dictionary definition, and then dissect it:

Merriam Webster defines altruism as “unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others.”

Unselfish is defined as: “having or showing more concern for other people than for yourself.”

Concern, in the context, means: “a feeling of being interested in and caring about a person or thing.”

In other words, altruism is being more interested and devoted to the welfare of others than to yourself. But that still isn’t very clear, and that’s where philosophers, psychologists, and economists need to step up. Should we take the philosophical view that altruism is only impulsive, we must decide if it can still be altruistic. After all, “it’s possible that babies are more likely to be altruistic than older people, because they think less about it” (from The Atlantic Monthly article). However, this could be like saying I did a good deed even though I didn’t know it was a good deed.

Should we take the egoist perspective, as economists unfortunately do, we must assume that humans act “altruistically” out of self interest. Although the traditional arguments of egoism don’t stand, one might say that people act for the welfare of others solely to satisfy some sort of “sense duty” they have,  according to this literary magazine. Alternatively, one might also argue people act benevolently to satisfy some sort of deity or obey inherent natural laws (heaven or hell, karma, etc). That is another possibility. But once again, could one still be altruistic while maintaining a shed of selfishness, as long as that selfishness is the very thing leading to the altruism?  And if we all act out of this inherent self-interest, maybe there is no such thing as self-interest at all.

These are serious issues with debating altruism, and we can’t move forward in this debate until we agree on the questions I posed. Otherwise, we’re simply beating around the bush and arguing over different things without realizing it.

Romanticizing Suicide

“The most pleasant feeling I’ve ever had,” a suicide survivor calls what he thought would be the last few moments of his life. “There is a kind of form to it..a certain grace and beauty,” says another about jumping off of the Golden Gate Bridge. “Total relief,” says another – reffering to that moment before death when you thought there was no more worries to ever be. These were three responses Dr. David Rosen got after interviewing six suicide survivors that lived the 250 foot drop off of one of the world’s largest suspension bridges in the world.

The Golden Gate Bridge is one of the most well known symbols of the United States, after the White House, the Statue of Liberty, and arguably a few others.  When constructed in 1937, it was the largest suspension bridge in the world. It connected Marin County to San Francisco, the largest city in the United States that had no bridge to the mainland, through the turbulent tides and dense fog that made such a feat near impossible to build. Since then, the bridge has been the main tourist attraction of California, and one of the most popular in the country.

But it is also known for a darker, more sinister reason. The Golden Gate Bridge is infamous for being the second most common suicide site in the world, with an official count of over 1,200 since its creation seventy six years ago. Of course that number is widely inaccurate, many bodies wash into the Pacific and are never found, many jumps were never witnessed, and many jumps are faked (however that works!). IN recent years the City of San Francisco has placed cameras to number the suicides and help with prevention; it turns out that on average there is one death every two weeks. Of course this number has been contested, and an independent initiative decided to film suicides too, calculating 17 suicides every three months.

But the most curious thing is why people choose this particular bridge, and why people choose to walk right off of it. Dr. Rosen sets off to find answers by asking survivors, and their answers are extraordinary.

Suicide is a liberation, for some. In the three seconds between the bridge and the water, it is sheer ecstasy. “Like a bird flying,” one survivor recollects, as (s)he plummeted toward what she thought would be death. Could there be no greater joy than to have no worries, no regrets, no future aspirations? Could there be no greater happiness then to lose attachment to desire, even for just three seconds. Indeed, the Buddha would agree.

Suicide, perhaps, is a statement to the world. The Golden Gate Bridge, traversed by 110,000 a day, is the perfect act of publicity, a final, irreversible act that teases the human dare. Another survivor, a teenager, said he jumped for the “fun”. Conversely, in the dead of night, at a bridge whose waters are so violent, when no one is around, it can be a suicide no one may ever know. Many bodies are never recovered, especially in the time this bridge was created. It can be a silent statement to the world, or a bold one, depending upon the beholder.

But this is an idealized version of such an act. It is an act of spontaneous decision making, hardly pre meditated. 95% of thwarted suicides off the bridge (by people who convinced the suicidal to not jump) do not jump again, or not for a time (few still do so). Perhaps the elegance of the fall that is also all too practical (only 1% survive) is performed by the combination of a number of emotions: one being depression, another, perhaps, being spontaneous.

Had the majority of those who decided against dropping from this bridge last minute tried again, we could say there were serious concerns with the quality of their lives and mental health. This is not too say there are not serious problems with their stability since this is not the case, but that the argument that we should not stop suicidals falls to its feet. Suicide is a decision based off of rash decision making, almost always, off of the sheer dare of the risk involved in transgressing the bounds. The argument that many fall prey too, that suicide is a person’s right we should not attempt to reason against fails in that the reasoning of a suicidal is often all too irrational.

Whatever the case may be, the powerful relief one must feel a second before death must be incredible. Yet our glamorizing of it does no good. The romance relationship the media has with suicide, that suicidals have with suicide is worrying, and we must be cautious. Indeed the relief of death must be extraordinary, but it is coming for all of us anyway: there is no need to rush.

 

Special

Our human psyche is so difficult to understand and comprehend. This movie is about a particularly “special” human, who, after signing up for these trial drug tests for a headache problem goes crazy: he thinks he’s a superhero. To be frank, the protagonist is an absolute loner: two lame friends, no close family, no wealth, and hardly chance of progeny. He spends his time wishing he had a decent life and reading comics. Then he starts saving the world… or does he?

The protagonist, after taking these drugs, imagines himself having superpowers: he “discovers” that he can run through walls, levitate, use telekinesis, and go invisible. He then makes his own costume, gets a police radio, and goes out to save the world. He stops burglars, murderers, and muggers alike… or does he?

The beautiful thing about this movie is that you have no idea what’s real and what isn’t. The protagonist imagines he has superpowers, and sometimes we see him running through walls, while other times he’s running straight into them. Sometimes we see him tackling a person with a gun at a convenience store, and then find out there was no gun at all. Other times, we see him tackling a mugger, and he really did save a crime. Later he gets into some trouble, and ends up killing two people that tried to kill him… or does he?

The movie pretty much answers what actually happened and what didn’t by the end, although I wish it didn’t. Nevertheless, it causes us to question what we perceive versus what actually happens. After all, we can only prove our own self awareness. We also convince ourselves of things we know are untrue, or choose to forget them. Cognitive dissonance, willful blindness, self-deception, doublethink, the list goes on and on. Everyone thinks the protagonist is crazy, but he thinks everyone else is crazy. Sometimes I think that way, and everyone’s had the experience. Perhaps we aren’t the crazy ones…perhaps the protagonist had super powers all along and everyone, absolutely everyone, was being irrational instead. What’s an objective fact, anyway? They are all delivered by flawed humans with flawed eyes and ears. What we perceive and what others perceive can be so vastly different, and we need to be aware and cautious of that. Because we hardly ever do… or do we?

The Evolution of Knowledge

Today, the exploration of new places and new ideas seems self-evidently a good thing. For much of human history, though, priests, politicians, and philosophers cast a suspicious eye on curious folks. It wasn’t just that staring at rainbows all day or pulling apart insects’ wings seemed weird, even childish. It also represented a colossal waste of time, which could be better spent building the economy or reading the Bible. Philip Ball explains in his thought-provoking new book, Curiosity, that only in the 1600s did society start to sanction (or at least tolerate) the pursuit of idle interests. And as much as any other factor, Ball argues, that shift led to the rise of modern science.”

I’d like to read this book one day, and I recommend you all do so too. It sounds really interesting – the article is great. I will post expanding on this one day with a review of an essay called Doing Nothing is Something by Anna Quindlen. It’s about downtime, a bigger word for boredom. It is the inspiration of creativity, and day by day we are losing it once again. Curiosity and creativity go hand in hand, and perhaps the Enlightenment can be narrowed down to just that.

War is Peace! Freedom is slavery! Ignorance is strength!: Doublethink is Everywhere

The motto in the title is a quote from 1984, a book I wrote a review on, where people are brainwashed in a totalitarian state to believe contradictory ideals with no concept of logic. The absurd reasoning of people in the book is referred to as “doublethink.”

Doublethink is an interesting concept, where people contradict themselves without realizing it. We see this every day. For example, 90 percent of Americans think that nuclear war is unwinnable, and yet 70 percent of the same data pool believe America should build more nukes (see page 12 of the link). Such logic is incoherent, and I love the quote from the Hindu epic the Mahabharata where it explains how we literally never stop to think about the fact that we could die tomorrow while people die in front of us every day.

A more relevant example is how most religious people of America find religion to be good for people and support evangelical causes while simultaneously preaching secular governance. Similarly, many in Britain are against the Sharia law courts they’ve implemented (I am too) on the grounds of secularism, while their own beloved Head of State is the head of the English Church! Or how the American PATRIOT Act is called so as if to tell Americans they should be patriotic, whilst the act itself contradicts what the original patriots fought for!

You know what else is doublethink? CVS, a drug store chain, didn’t sell the latest Rolling Stones magazine since it had the Boston Bomber on the front page “out of respect for the victims of the attack and their loved ones,” while they didn’t hesitate to have Obama on the front page: someone who is technically a war criminal. That is doublethink, and I wish neither ever got a photo in a magazine.

Doublethink is a bit different from hypocrisy, because hypocrisy is when your actions and beliefs contradict, and you know it. Hypocrisy is probably the best adjective to describe any government or head of state. Take Prime Minister Francois Hollande, who criticized America for the NSA spying scandal despite that France (his nation) spys on its people themselves.

Religion is another place where you find a load of hypocrisy from some practitioners, if not most. On the far right, you have ultra-literalist Muslims that use scripture to defend something that the spirit of the scripture refutes. On the far left, you have people that believe in the whole nine yard of mainstream Christianity: Jesus is Jehovah in flesh and if you don’t listen to him you’ll be damned, while they themselves hardly practice! For the people that take religion “liberally”, I have a question: would Jesus act the way you do? If not, you have some serious work to do.

We live in a world of contradictions, hypocrisy, and doublethink, and we don’t even realize it sometimes. So let’s get past the incoherency. Let’s take a look at our values and beliefs and seriously consider what the hell we are doing with our lives. Let’s figure out why we contradict ourselves on a daily basis and solve that problem. Let’s fight the indoctrination and question why we spout secular dogma while being religiously conservative, or the other way around. Let’s talk to our politicians and government officials and try to figure out how to go about stopping the hypocrisy, if possible, and how to make the masses realize it. There are giant hypocrisies in our society, and I only named a few. Chances are, I’m a hypocrite myself and doublethink my thoughts without even realizing it, and I’ll be working on that like you should too.