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2012/12/10 - Author: Marco Neves

We watch the world through our senses – mostly our eyes if we can see, but not exclusively – but it is our brain that see it, after filtering it to better fit in our image of reality.

We have bias – things we believe to be true, behaviors we think are universal, expectations people – specific or in general.

Our mind does the best it can to make the world around us fit with our view of the world, by applying what we believe over everything we see, ignoring as much as possible that contradicts that view and getting our attention to anything that enhances that view.

A lie repeated enough becames  true.” doesn’t mean that the true will change just because someone decides to repeat a lie as if it was a mantra. It means that if we hear the same “fact” from a few sources we start to believe it and after that it is a lot harder for us to see anything that says that we are wrong than anything proving us right.

And that is what bias are. Things we believe to be true, and that have an impact on our perception of the world.

Bias are not restricted to some subjects or types of information. Bias are not restricted to some groups of people and do go away with education. Even our behaviors and our interpretation of others behaviors are altered by bias.

Even our abilities are influenced by bias. If you believe that a subject is really hard to understand, you’ll not try as hard to understand it as if you thought it was really easy.

If you think a guy is a playboy you’ll see every time he talks with a girl as a flirt or a pickup attempt, but if you think that a guy is gay you would see the same conversations as normal.

If you think a brand is expensive, you’ll notice more the price differences if a product of that brand is more pricey that a concurrent product, but you’ll notice more the superior characteristics of the concurrent if it is cheaper.

Bias influence our decisions on a very large degree. We are more likely to buy a car from a more expensive brand if we believe that brand to be more reliable than the alternative brand (even if in the end both cars are made in the same factory using the same pieces).

Most of us today tend to believe in statistics and think they are serious, we were made believe that averages tell a story. However, more than 80% of all published statistics lays or misrepresentations of the facts (this was just made up – it’s a common joke in the internet, but not completely inaccurate). Most statistics published in the mainstream internet and in the traditional media are not really representative of the reality – averages (the common published metrics), median and modes often tell different stories, and often we see averages being used as if they were the modes, when they are two completely different things.

Often, and this is probably the most common problem with statistics, the sample used is too small to be really indicative of any true reality – statistics based in interviews of a hundred persons is only representative of a small universe – and sometimes it is even hard to understand which universe. One person goes to a shopping and asks people how much they usually drink – and found out that in average people drink 4 beers each day.  A second person tries to reproduce the study and ask the same question to the same amount of people – and finds out that in average each person drinks 1 glass of wine per day. What was never published is that on of them made the interviews before a game in the club in one of the sides of the shopping, while the other made the interviews after service in the church in the other side.

Even in small universes is easy to get biased statistics. Imagine that you are in college and want to make some statistics about the students of your college – let’s say you want to find out how much do your colleagues read. Most likely you’ll try to interview the people you know better, and if you spend a lot of time in the library you’ll try to interview people next to it, but if you go often to the bar next to the college, you’ll try to interview people there. Can you imagine how that will make a difference in the results?

But, more important, can you see what’s the most important part on the previous examples? More than anything else, they show my own bias – that people who go to bars read less and people who read more go less to bars – and that football fans drink more beer while religious people drink more wine. In the end, if you are aware of your own bias, if you manage to notice them, they tell a lot more about you than they say about anyone else.

But, the important thing about statistics is that we get them in a daily bases and those statistics create bias in our mind. And we even apply those bias to statistics we see. We end believing easily in statistics that confirm our bias than in statistics that contradict them.

And that’s why bias are most of the time self-reinforcing entities, entities that we are not fully aware of, and that make a huge difference in our lives.

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Your feelings

2012/12/03 - Author: Marco Neves

Did you ever felt like beating someone? Did you ever felt like crying because of something someone else did? Did you ever tough that someone else has the responsible for the way of was feeling? Did you ever felt like there was nothing you could do but feel sad? Did you ever… felt like your feeling were someone else’s to change?

Those around us can have a huge impact on our live. And the closer they are to us, emotionally, more power over our lives they have. But your feelings are your own, and nobody, but you, can change the way you feel. No person, no matter how important you may think (s)he is for you have any power over your feelings, unless you allow it.

No feeling is shared by two person. Even two lovers (as in two people deeply in love with each other) don’t share a feeling. They may be both in love with the other person, but the love the first feels for the second is not the same love the second feels for the first. They may have similar and symmetric feelings, but still different feelings.

Yes, even the positive feelings, like happiness, love or friendship are your own, even when you see them as part of a shared relationship, those feelings are yours. But is not with those feelings that it is most critical that we understand that my feelings are mine only, and that your feelings are only yours.

Love doesn’t imply love, friendship doesn’t imply friendship. Feelings are not symmetric, even when they are truly reciprocated.  But, most important, the way you feel in the sequence of someone else’ actions are not those actions, and are not a direct and unavoidable consequence of those actions.

Even if the actions in questions are a direct critic at your person, most likely those critics may say more about the other person that about you. But the way you feel about those critics will say more about you that about the other person.

You can’t avoid that someone who doesn’t like you skin color call you on it, but that doesn’t say anything about you. You know that you’re not your skin color, but you also got to know that the other person is just a racist you unworthy of your time and attention. But if you get enraged and start a fight, that speaks for you, that speaks about your ability to self control.

You may see your flirty boyfriend/girlfriend as the source of your jealousy, but the true source is your insecurity, your expectations  of being the only object of his/her attention. You may see him/her as untrustworthy, but you expecting him/her to be someone that (s)he is not doesn’t help.

Maybe you can’t change the way your boss treats you, maybe (s)he will keep calling you incompetent, instead of pointing you what are the errors in your work and helping you improve, but that’s her/his fault. But you can always do your best, you can always ask what you can do to improve it, you can always learn as much as you can. And not let the way (s)he treats you influence the way you feel.

But, the most important thing you can do about your feelings is start to look at them from a different perspective. Stop looking at your feelings as something that starts outside of you and think about them as something that starts and ends inside of you. And feelings, when unattended build up, grow inside of us and become harder and harder to ignore and understand. If we keep ignoring our feelings they will grow, they will get stronger and will keep asking for our attention.

Emotions, when they are small, when we feel them first, are most of the time easy to associate with their source. But as they get stronger, the only thing we can see are those feelings and the external causes for them, that we can’t change or control. The external sources for our feelings is a trick of your mind, of our ego, that don’t want to be blamed for anything. But even then, if you look deeply under your feelings you may still be able to see why you feel the way you do.

But when your emotions are born, it’s most of the time easy to remember what was in your mind when those emotions started to show. Stop it at that point and try to understand what you’re really thinking.

Most of the time emotions, negative emotions, like jealousy, sadness or anger usually start from expectations or fear.  Expectations, negotiated or, most of the time, assumed – just because something is seen as normal in the society doesn’t mean that it can be assumed and that is automatically applies to everyone. But, still, we assume them. But still, we expect everything to go according with our expectations, but still we get jealous, angry, sad if something we don’t want happens, if someone does something we expected would not happen.

And we project those feeling in that person, and expect that person to fix our feelings, and forget that those feelings are not their to fix. They are our. Our to fix, our to understand and, most of all, our to own.

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Stories and anedocts

2012/11/08 - Author: Marco Neves

Through our life we hear thousands of small stories and anecdotes. And somehow some of those resonate with us while others barely touch us.
We are, mostly, the result of those stories.
And the more we get exposed to different stories, the more stories we have to choose from, the more we can improve ourselves.

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2012/11/06 - Author: Marco Neves

The origin of our specie is entangled with the evolution of our planet for thousands of years and traditions are a basic part of our culture, most likely from the beginning of our existence – traditions are observable is most (all?) primate species.

But where do traditions come from? Well, before that I would like to tell you a story.

A group of three monkeys was kept in a cage and a branch of bananas was hang on the cage with the monkeys, but when any of the monkeys tried to get bananas from it all the monkeys in that cage would be fired upon with jets of water.

After repeating that procedure a few times, any time a monkey tried to get bananas from that branch the other monkeys would beat him. At some point the testers stopped using the jets of water, but the beatings remained. Anytime a monkey tried to get bananas the would would beat him, no matter that the jets of water were not being used anymore.

But, to make it more interesting, one of the monkeys was replaced with another monkey. A monkey that was never wet because other monkey tried to get to the bananas.

As soon as the new monkey tried to get some of the bananas, the other two monkeys started beating him, and after some of this spankings the new monkey starts to join in beating the other monkeys when trey try to get bananas.

At this point another of the original monkeys was replaced by a new one that was never attacked with water. When this new monkey tried to get to the bananas, he was beaten by the other two and soon after also this new monkey would start beating the other when they tried to get to the bananas.

At some point the last of the original monkeys was also replaced by a new one. Now, in this cage, there is not a single monkey that suffered the original punishment  for getting to the bananas and, still, when the new monkey tried to get to the bananas, he was punished by the other monkeys, and soon he also would join in as a punisher.

This illustrates how traditions are born.

At some point in time one individual does something that have an impact (real or perceived – most often than not just perceived) in the live of others or in the live of the community. And when that happens rules and/or rituals are created to prevent or repeat that event.

Where do we find traditions around us, in our lives? Everywhere, in almost everything.

From the way people say hello to each other – and other similar interactions – to how commerce works. From what you eat to how you eat it. From how you interact with friends to how you interact with people you cross with in the street and never met before.

Traditions are, in the end, habits that are common to the majority of a group and, most importantly, that are not renegotiated every time, just assumed and used.

At some point in the past, I used to be part of a group that would have dinner every Wednesday, and have some fun after that. That was a tradition, not everyone would join every week, but every week  there was a group that would go out for dinner – dinner out become our Wednesday tradition.

In some western cultures it’s also tradition that men will take the first step and approach women they are interest in.

Tradition defined a lot of our daily interactions and in some places tradition have value of law in the absence of other laws.

Tradition can take a lot of forms, and be transmitted in the more diverse ways. From the aggravated look your neighbor gives you whenever you cross him in the street because of your long hair – tradition says that men are use the hair short – to the yelling – and beating if you are one of the unlucky ones – your parents gave you whenever they felt you were disrespecting some rule, to the cookbooks you can find today in most bookstores, and an huge amount of other practices, all contribute to get you in alignment with tradition.

Tradition, like almost everything else, if you want to take it all, have good and bad things. But unlike a lot of other things, with tradition you can pick what works for you and what doesn’t, you can choose what you want to keep, what you want to practice, and what you want to skip.

Traditions were mostly created to make life in society better, to make it simpler. But times change, and so do practice, knowledge and ambitious. Traditions, however, don’t change themselves, it take the will of people to change them, it takes a few people to step forward and say – those are not my traditions – and a few more more to follow them.

It takes you to ask yourself “Is this behavior, that society thinks is important, working for me or am I working for it? Where did it  come from? Does it still make sense or is it an outdated concept?”

In the end, you can let society choose how you should behave, or you can choose for yourself which ways you follow inlive.

Which traditions you think are outdated and should be abandoned? Which would you rather keep above all?

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Agnostic Atheist

2012/11/04 - Author: Marco Neves

Agnostic Atheist? Aren’t those the same thing? – I was asked more than once, and even more I was looked with confusion when using the expression.

But no, Agnostic and Atheist are independent concepts and none of them imply the other.

Theist/Atheist are related with your believe in the existence of God(s). Gnostic/Agnostic are related with how sure you are of your believe.

One is theist if (s)he believes thar there is god(s) , and an atheist if (s)he believes no god exists. On the other hand gnostic is someone who knows that his believe is right and an agnostic is someone who really don’t know (s)he is right or wrong.

You can see this as a bi-dimensional plane, on which you can be anywhere. You can believe that there is god, and understand that this is just a ‘believe’, that you never had any acceptable evidence that god really exists – and that makes you and Agnostic Theist.

Or you can believe in God’s existence, pray for his help, see your problems fade and accept that as evidence that there is god – and that makes you a gnostic theist.

And all of that is ok, and all of that can help you have a better life and be a better person – by an average definition. Specially while you are in the middle of the plane – the pink circle in the middle of the diagram above.

The real trouble starts when you get closer to the extremes of the plane.

On one side, humans have a very difficult time telling strong believes and knowledge apart, and that makes most strong believers, both theists and atheists into gnostics – strong gnostics.

On the other axis, it is probably ok to be a strong agnostics – someone who really don’t know, and most likely don’t want to know. People usually don’t fight about what they know they don’t know. In the other extreme we have the gnostics, who, sometimes, are so sure that their version of the true is all that there is to know – and everyone who have a different opinion is wrong, and needs to be corrected.

And that is the begining of a lot of conflits.

But if theism and atheism are restricted to our believes related to the existence of god(s), Gnosticism can exist, and often do, outside of the religious context – and a lot more than theism/atheism, it is that certainty that our believes are the ultimate true that we must keep checking. It’s when we are really sure that we are right that we need to step back and verify that we are not mistaking believes for knowledge. Knowledge is something that everyone can verify independently and get the same results. But nor a lot of things in humanity culture are complete and untouchable trues. There are a lot of conventions – including language and mathematics, there are a lot of theories – functional theories that allow for a better understanding of the world, but still are theories.

Humans, however, need believes – faith is one of the most important psychologic tools we have at our disposal.

So… have faith, your own faith, whatever that faith is. Just let all others have their own.



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