Archive for October, 2009

Not Profound, But Pretty Good

All I’ll say is this: Tough test. Perfect score. I’m eating a (small) piece of chocolate cake to celebrate.

Insecurity is my ally. It makes me study harder. As long as I think that I might not be good enough and might not have done enough, then I’m motivated. And if I start to feel complacent, then I worry about losing my edge. That makes me feel insecure again. So it’s a virtuous circle.

MMmmmm … chocolate cake. If you were here, I’d offer you a bite. If you were Edward Cullen from “Twilight,” I might offer you two. 🙂

Copyright 2009 by Rinth de Shadley.


Five Things That I’ve Learned

I’d like to share a few things that I’ve learned. Some of the ideas are related to each other:

1. Life isn’t just about me.

Sometimes, I get to be the star and other people support me. Sometimes, other people get to be the star and my job is to support them. The same applies to all of us. Sometimes we’re the star, sometimes the supporting actor. We should play either role with grace and gratitude.

Sometimes, things go the way we want and other people are disappointed. Sometimes, things go the way other people want and we get disappointed. When the latter happens, share the happiness of the people who “won” this time, learn whatever you can from the situation, and then move on to the next goal without looking back.

2. If something isn’t in our control, don’t stress over it.

Sometimes, we and the people we love will get sick. Sometimes, we won’t get the jobs or the social situations we want. Sometimes, we will get dumped. By the time we’re 30, the Arctic ice pack will probably be history (not that we were ever going to go there, anyway). Someday, the sun will explode. Someday, each of us will almost certainly die.

We can’t do a thing about any of those events. Don’t worry about them. Try to invest emotional energy only in things we can control.

3. People do whatever they do. Get over it.

People always think they have good reasons for doing what they do. We usually don’t know what their reasons are. Even when someone makes a hurtful remark, she’s doing it for a reason. Maybe she misinterpreted something we said or did, and that hurt her. In her mind, we were the ones who started it. She might think that she’s just striking back.

People very rarely do mean things just from pure meanness. Instead, they have reasons that make sense to them. In addition, they often have subconscious motivations of which they aren’t even aware.

The best thing we can do is try to be as fair and as nice as we can to everyone. If they don’t act that way toward us, remember that we don’t know their reasons. They see the situation differently from the way we see it.

We are only in charge of our own behavior. We should only worry about making sure that our own actions are fair and loving. How other people act is their choice, between them and their conscience. We have no control over that, so we shouldn’t worry about it.

4. This, too, is for the good.

Our viewpoint is very limited. We don’t see the big picture and we are biased by our own desires. When something happens that frustrates us, we need to remember fact #1: “Life isn’t just about me.”

If we can improve a “bad” situation without hurting people, then we should do it. Otherwise, we should trust in the essential goodness of the universe and not worry about it. Things will work out for the best.

5. Happiness and fulfillment are the goals of life.

For you, for me, and for everyone. Things that help people achieve happiness and fulfillment are good. Things that frustrate the process are bad.

In our personal actions, we should seek happiness and fulfillment for ourselves in a way that supports other people’s pursuit of them. In our countries’ social policies, we should do the same. Policies that help the most people achieve the most happiness and fulfillment are good as long as they don’t violate people’s rights or cause excessive harm.

Copyright 2009 by Rinth de Shadley.


Nobel Laureate Barack Obama?

President Obama speaks about the award. Coverage by MSNBC.

President Obama speaks about the award. Coverage by MSNBC (link).

Nobel laureate Barack Obama?

I admire President Obama, but I was surprised when the Nobel Committee awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize this year.

According to the Nobel Committee, it chose him because of “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.” It also cited his efforts to reduce the number of nuclear weapons.

Those are both good things. But are they really why he got the award?

The first reason, “efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation,” seems like part of the unofficial job description of the U.S. president. President Obama is certainly making such efforts, but the most important thing he did was not to be George W. Bush or Dick Cheney. Everything else he’s done follows from that.

Both in America and other countries, we are so relieved to be rid of the previous administration  — with its paranoia, torture, aggression, and bigotry — that almost any sane president would seem like a hero.

As for the second reason, reducing nuclear weapons — well, I’m for it. But every president says he wants to reduce nuclear weapons, and almost all the other countries publicly agree. But then nothing changes, except that more countries get nuclear weapons. So I’m skeptical about that reason.

Unlike other Nobel prizes, which are awarded for great achievements in science or literature, the Peace Prize is kind of a feel-good prize. It’s also much more influenced by politics. Some previous winners have done great things to deserve it. Others, like President Obama, seem like good people doing a good job who just happened to be there at the right time. Previous winners have included:

  • Doctors Without Borders for its international humanitarian work
  • U.S. Vice President Al Gore for his work on global warming
  • U.S. President Jimmy Carter for promoting peace in the Middle East
  • Dr. Martin Luther King for promoting social justice and non-violence
  • Biochemist Linus Pauling for opposing nuclear-weapons testing
  • Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres, and Yitzhak Rabin for seeking peace between Israel and the Palestinians
  • A whole lot of people you’ve never heard of

What I really think is this:

The Nobel Committee honored Obama’s sincere efforts to do the right thing. At the same time, it gave a big raised middle finger to the previous administration.

What I really hope is this:

President Obama’s award will help him promote peaceful resolutions to international problems and sensible, humane resolutions to our problems at home in the United States.

Copyright 2009 by Rinth de Shadley.

The Neuroscience of Dating and Ice Cream

Yes, I did get some ice cream on Mountain Day. More than I should have eaten. But I had to eat it, you understand, because I didn’t want to flout our school’s sacred traditions. 🙂

On the other hand, I didn’t get much else done. And my classes have to come first, which is why I haven’t blogged for a few days.

I had a nice date last night, including a chance to put my neuroscience education to good use. After dinner and conversation, my date initiated  contact, so I stimulated his parasympathetic nervous system. That made him very agreeable and focused on the situation at hand.

Me on my date. It's not a good picture. I was having a bad hair day.

Me on my date. It’s not a good picture. I was having a bad hair day.

Then, I gradually activated his sympathetic nervous system until it finally overwhelmed his parasympathetic nervous system. That put a big smile on his face and he got kind of sleepy while I wiped off my hand with a tissue. It was sticky because I ate a piece of candy. Why? What did you think I meant?

As for me, my amygdala was nice and happy so everything was okay there, too. I don’t believe that my date knew any of the relevant neuroscience, but it all worked fine anyway.

And now, I  have another hour or two of studying before bed. Ttys!

Copyright 2009 by Rinth de Shadley.