Book Notes: Understanding & Growth (Part 1)

This is the first half of the longest section of notes. What may happen with a quote or two is that they ended up in two sections. That is simply because it felt wrong to keep it restricted to only one category.

The Understanding & Growth category tries to collect information that helps to understand you, other people, culture/society, humans, etc. This search for understanding seems to be inspired by a desire to improve. Therefore, this section, that has notes on understanding the important agencies of our lives, is also related to growth.

The authors that are included in this section are (in order of appearance);

  • Sam Harris, Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion
  • Dr. Robert Cialdini, Influence
  • Josh Waitzkin, The Art of Learning
  • Dale Carnegie, How to Stop Worrying and Start Living
  • Carol Tavris & Elliot Aronson, Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)
  • David Reynolds, Constructive Living
  • Timothy Wilson, Strangers to Ourselves
  • Sebastian Junger, Tribe
  • Meg Jay,  The Defining Decade
  • Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis
  • Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha, Sex at Dawn
  • Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens
  • Atul Gawande, The Checkilst Manifesto
  • Jane McGonigal, Reality is Broken

Other posts in Book Notes Series


Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion

Sam Harris

The reality of your life is always now, and to realize this we will see a liberating fact. I think there’s nothing more important to understand if you want to be happy in this world.

I get inspired by ideas of this nature. It is a liberating thought to leave who you have been, while releasing the limiting thoughts of your future, This idea is paralleled in other readings, such as The War of Art and Constructive Living. This is also a key point in any awareness practice, and some types of meditation practices.

“Subjectively speaking the only thing that actually exists is consciousness and its contents. The only thing relevant to the question of personal identity is psychological continuity from one moment to the next.”

“[…] look closely for what you were calling “I” and the feeling of being a separate self will disappear; what remains, as a matter of experience, is a field of consciousness- free, undivided, and intrinsically uncontaminated by it’s ever-changing contents.”

Sam Harris has a Ph. D. in neuroscience. Scientists have tried to find what we call ‘I’ as a part of the brain. Or they have searched for the key ingredient in consciousness. Both have been incredibly elusive. Our lack of understanding about key elements of our own experience (consciousness), as well as our lack of understanding about key points in the cosmos (dark energy, dark matter) can be quite a thought trip.

“Thoughts of the past or future that are pleasant or unpleasant do not change the consciousness now. They reflect an image. Like a mirror. Putting pretty pictures in front of the mirror does not make the the mirror attractive.”

“We need not await any data from the lab to say that self transcendence is possible. And we need not become masters of meditation to realize it’s benefits. It is within our capacity to recognize the nature of thoughts, to awaken from the dream of being merely ourselves, and in this way to become better able to contribute to the well-being of others.”

“However numerous your faults, something in you at this moment is pristine-and only you can recognize it. Open your eyes and see.”

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

Dr. Robert Cialdini

 If you say yes to something small, you are more likely to say yes to something bigger. Or continue to say yes.

Reciprocity – when you do or give something to someone they feel the immediate need to repay the favor. Sometimes they even repay with more than what you initially gave.

Social Proof – seeing other people do something, or knowing other people do things give us a better reason to try something. People will automatically respond or do what others are doing in certain situations.

Commitment and Consistency – People want to remain consistent with things they say and do. This will be done automatically or try to be used against them. Like saying they care about speeding cars, and then being asked to put a sign up in their yard. Doing or saying these things publicly increase pressure too.

Liking – People respond more positively to attractive people. They also respond better to people that are similar to them, like name. And they like people that have given them compliments. Reference story of car salesmen writing, “I like you”.

Authority – People will respond and listen to people they perceive in an authority role. They tend to not question what they are told. Like the medical assistants that were about to administer the lethal dose of drugs just because they were told to.

Scarcity – Humans think that things are more valuable when they are scarce or are perceived as scarce. People will be sensitive to prospective losses than gains

The Art of Learning

Josh Waitzkin

Investing in loss – losing for improvement, a challenge, to know how to win.

Doing things slowly before doing them quickly. This will put them in your subconscious so your mind can focus on more important things instead of basic or many features of a situation.

Both of these are extremely important elements of any competitive movement practice. In the golf swing, a small thing will reveal issues in the full swing. In jiu jitsu, the movement sequence is always first practiced slowly many times.

Investing in loss is also an important aspect of any kind of learning. Especially in language learning, talking to girls,

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

Dale Carnegie

Think of the worse possible scenario.. build up from there and relieve the pressure off your shoulders.

This piggy-backs one of the exercises that was talked about in a previous post. If the frame is expanded, and a plan is set for what would happen if failure were to happen, then sometimes worry can be diminished.

Live in “day-tight” compartments

Mr. Carnegie is again talking about an important perspective switch that allows the thinker to only view today, not this week, or next year, but to simply focus on getting things done today. This usually couples well with a schedule.

“A man will find that as he alters his thoughts towards things and other people.. things and other people will alter towards him.”

Let a man radically alter his thoughts and he will be astonished of the rapid transformation it will affect in the material conditions of his life. Men do not attract that which they want. They attract what they are. The divinity that shapes our ends is in ourselves. All that a man achieves is the direct result of his thoughts

A man can only rise and conqueror and achieve by lifting up his thoughts. “

What can be felt, and seen in someones actions, is that they can crush all hope to change by believing their own negative thoughts. Positive thinking alone cannot solve your problems, but negative thoughts (and the belief in negative thoughts as real and rational) can kill any hope to change a situation.

Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)

Carol Tavris & Elliot Aronson

What they do mean is that if a person voluntarily goes through a difficult or painful experience in order to attain some goal or object, that goal or object becomes more attractive.

The more time or money that goes into a decision will give your brain more reason to amplify the positive aspects of it. Say, buying an expensive car and the telling your friends how amazing it is

This is an intro to defining ‘cognitive dissonance’. How the brain holds two contradictory thoughts/actions in it’s mind through rationalization.

How it works for low self esteem: “Indeed, several experiments find that most people who have low self-esteem or a low estimate of their abilities do feel uncomfortable with dissonant success and dismiss them as accidents or anomalies.”

Negatives are noticed more than positives. Even if there is a big success, a person will find ways to dismiss it as luck or unordinary and focus more on negative aspects of the achievement. Why?

108 forensic psychologists were looking at sex offenders to see if they would commit a crime again. Depending on who was funding the study they’re analysis’s changed

Carol Tavris & Elliot Aronson, Mistakes Were Made (But Not By Me)

We all have blind spots

The two studies above, plus the little thought, are there to show that people are affected by motives that they are unaware of. The participants, or seemingly unethical people in this study, do not has the plain intention of doing harm. They are affected by a force that they would not recognize.

‘These participants’ is also a phrase that is used to distance ourselves from the ordinary people that were used for this study. The brain will try to not notice the capability for IT to be someone who is susceptible to pressure that would be considered unethical.

“Prejudices emerge from the disposition of the human mind to receive and process information in categories. Categories is a nicer, more neutral word then stereotypes, but it is the same thing.”

“We wisely rely on stereotypes and the quick information they give us to avoid danger, approach possible new friends, choose one school or job or another, or decide that that person across this crowded room will be the love of our lives.”

Blind spots get activated when we are angry, anxious, or threatened

“In the same way if we have enslaved members of another group, deprive them of decent education or jobs, kept them from encroaching on our professional turfs, or denied them their human rights, then we invoke stereotypes about them to justify our actions. By persuading ourselves that they are unworthy, unteachable, incompetent, inherently math challenge, immoral, sinful, stupid or even sub human, we avoid feeling guilty or unethical about how we treat them.”

“Social psychologists Chris Crandall and Amy Eshelman, reviewing huge research literature, found that whenever people are emotionally depleted, when they are sleepy, frustrated, angry, anxious, drunk, or stressed they become more willing to express their real prejudices.

Nice try, but the evidence shows clearly that while inebriation makes it easier for people to reveal their prejudices, it doesn’t put those attitudes in their minds.”

This is a very interesting thought for anyone that has been the victim of weird or unexpected emotions in friends or family. It is also important to realize how negatively poor sleep, stress, or inebriation can affect someones life.

Conway and Ross referred to the self-serving memory distortion as “getting what you want by revising what you had.” On the larger stage of life, many of us do just that: We misremember our history as being worse than it was, thus distorting our perception of how much we have improved so that will feel better about ourselves now.”

The benevolent dolphin example

The benevolent dolphin story is a wonderful example of how our minds are good at noticing when something is present, but bad at noticing when something isn’t present.

There were stories of dolphins that swim up next to humans that are in distress and in water (drowning) that allow them to grab onto the dolphin and take them towards land. In this way, people think dolphins are benevolent and want to help humans. However, there are not stories of people who grabbed onto dolphins that started taking them the wrong way (further out to sea) because those people drowned. The mind works like this. People find good examples to support a claim.

“When we do something that hurts another, for example, we rarely say,” I behaved this way because I am a cruel and heartless human being.” We say, “I was provoked; anyone would do what I did” or “I had no choice” or “Yes, I said some awful things, but that wasn’t me-it’s because I was drunk.”

But when it’s a good thing we attribute that to a positive character attribute.

“I lied to him, but it was only to protect his feelings.”

“Yeah, I took that bracelet from my sister, but it was originally mine, anyway.”

“Couldn’t help it (myself)”

Normal people, do bad things

dehumanizing can be committed by ordinary individuals. Throughly documented findings in social psychology.

John Conroy found.. “ his investigation of documented cases of abuse of prisoners, Conroy found that almost every military or police official he interviewed, whether British, South African, Israeli, or American, justified their practices by saying , in effect, “Our torture is never as severe and deadly as their torture”: South Africa, Argentine vs. Uruguayan, Americans vs. Vietnam, Britain vs. IRA, Israeli’s vs. Arab states

In late 2014, a Senate Intelligence Committee report confirmed that the CIA’s use of torture was more widespread and brutal than Congress or the public had been led to believe.” […] “The first way is to say that if we do it,it isn’t torture. “we do not torture,” said George Bush in 2007, although he had ample evidence the previous year that we do.” […] “Not torture, said Cheney; those were approved techniques. (talking about confining prisons to small boxes, tying ones hand to ceiling while making them wear a diaper for 22 hours one day.)

“Centuries of experience show that people will tell their tormenters what they want to hear, whether it’s confessing to witchcraft in Salem, admitting to counter revolutionary tendencies in Soviet Russia or concocting stories about Iraq and Al Quaeda.”

“The debate about torture has properly focused on it’s legality, its morality, and its utility. As social psychologists, we want add one additional concern; what torture does to the individual perpetrator and the ordinary citizens who go along with it. Most people want to believe that their government is working on their behalf that it knows what it’s doing, and that it’s doing the right thing. Therefore, if the government decides that torture is necessary in the war against terrorism, most citizens, to avoid dissonance, will agree. Yet, over time, that is how the moral conscience of a nation deteriorates. Once people take that first step off the pyramid in the direction of justifying abuse and torture, they are on their way to hardening their hearts and minds in ways that might never be undone. Uncritical patriotism, the kind that reduces the dissonance caused by information that their government—and especially their political party—has done something immoral and illegal, greases the slide down the pyramid.”

“In December of 2014, after the Senate Intelligence Report appeared, a national Pew survey found that 51 percent of all Americans still agreed that the CIA’s use of torture was justified and more than half still mistakenly believed that the CIA’s interrogation methods helped prevent terrorist attacks.

“Without a mutual acknowledgment of mistakes made, and some form of accountability, another reversion to torture may be difficult to prevent,” says political scientist Darius Rejali. “Nothing predicts future behavior as much as past impunity.”

[Senator John McCain, the use of torture] “..was shameful and unnecessary . . . But in the end, torture’s failure to serve its intended purpose isn’t the main reason t oppose it’s use. I have often said, and will maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.”

This section on torture was one of the key points I got from this book. I was reading it at a time when Donald Trump was running for President, and his stance on torture was not one that I agreed with. I also got in a strange argument with my brother about torture, and it’s necessity, a little after I had read this. There don’t seem to be many absolutes in the world, so I’m sure that torture (or ‘roughing someone up’) has saved a life or two, but these studies combined with the ability that the mind has to misremember the past is sufficient for serious thought.

Two fundamental theories of dissonance theory

  1. the ability to reduce dissonance helps us in countless ways, preserving our beliefs, confidence, decisions, self-esteem, and well-being.

  2. this ability can get us into big trouble. People will pursue self-destructive courses of action to protect the wisdom of their initial decisions. They will treat those they have hurt even more harshly, because they convince themselves that their victims deserve it. They will cling to outdated and sometimes harmful procedures in their work. They will support torturers and tyrants who are on the right side—that is, theirs. People who are insecure in their religious beliefs may feel the impulse to silence and harass those who disagree with them, because the mere existence of those naysayers arouses the painful dissonance of doubt.

Psychologists Laura King and Joshua Hicks argue that maturity depends on the adults capacity to confront lost goals, or lost possible selves, and acknowledge regrets and sorrows over roads not taken or dreams unfulfilled. “Lost possible selves,” they write, “represent the person’s memory of a self they would have pursued ‘if only’—…Reflecting on these lost expectations poses costs to happiness—in our terms, it generates painful dissonance—but, King and Hicks add, “that work, the articulation of what might have been, may have benefits in terms of the complexity of a person’s sensibility and, perhaps, the very meaning of happiness itself. That there is value in loss is more than a platitude. Although it may be a peculiarly American instinct to search for the positive in any negative event, we argue that the active, self-reflective struggle to see the silver lining is a key ingredient of maturity.”

“Those with the highest well-being, however, had been able to take what the researchers describe as “an unusually brutal perspective on a former self”: “Should I say I was an idiot?” said one woman…Yet she can not look back on the lost self with compassion, a younger self who can be excused for her naïveté.”

I look back on my former self in anger sometimes. I feel disconnected from the person I was or things I used to do (because of dissonance actually, I choose to separate myself mentally from bad choices by saying ‘that wasn’t me’ or ‘I’m not sure who did that’). It has taken me a good deal of work to have a critical view of a past self, while still realizing that I need to love that person because it is who I am now.

The book Heart of the Revolution and The Ultimate Gift were good starting points for this kind of transformation.

Constructive Living

David Reynolds

  1. Feelings are uncontrollable directly by will

  2. Feelings must be recognized and accepted as they are

  3. Every feeling, however unpleasant, has it’s uses

  4. Feelings fade in time unless they are re-stimulated

  5. Feelings can be indirectly influenced by behavior

David Reynold’s five principles of emotions, laid out in Constructive Living, which is probably my favorite book.

All I have to ‘work on’ is right here, right now. “That’s all any of us has.”

“Whether success or failure there is always something to be done next.”

“We are all time travelers”

I loved the idea of time travelers. It’s an idea that can be related to the butterfly effect. Someone goes back in time, steps on a butterfly, and radically alters the future. Well, the idea here is that every moment has a butterfly. This butterfly is an object, action, non action, decision, etc. that can radically alter the rest of your life.

The chance to radically alter your future is always right now. Sometimes it’s the smallest decisions or weird coincidences that lead to another coincidence, or opportunity, that leads to something else, and then that something else explains who you are, where you live, what you do, who you marry, or why you exist.

I think it’s one of the most powerful thoughts out there.

The goal is not to ignore or suppress feelings, but to accept them as they happen to be at the moment. And then to get on to doing what is sensible and mature anyway.

That is the secret to overcoming shyness. It is really overcoming the interference of shyness in everyday life. That’s what maturity is all about. Not feeling confident all the time but doing what needs to be done anyway. Eventually the shy feelings will fade but you won’t have the ability to notice them because you will be too busy living.

If you get discouraged, remember discouragement is a feeling. Examine it, and see what can be done about it.

Fear is healthy. It’s caution. Fear, like pain, is unpleasant but the discomfort is an alarm that cals our attention to something needing our attention.

The emphasis in Constructive Living is on doing itself. Goals and purposes are directions for our actions. The real goal is in the achieving not the achievement itself. Success or failure, reality presents itself with something to do next.

Strangers to Ourselves

Timothy Wilson

People have two minds the conscious and the unconscious. Thoughts may arise in the subconscious and then be noticed by the conscious. Feelings may also tend to be derived in the unconscious and brought to the conscious, like pain in the knee before, during, and after talking on the phone.

Pain’s existence in our consciousness is so strange based on where a person’s attention is at that moment.

Opponent Process Theory: There are opponent processes that work against spikes in emotional swings (like from cocaine or burning your hand) that can grow in strength (I.e tolerance)Our conscious minds could find ways to reinforce theories of ourselves and forgot ways we did not act how we thoughtPeople can be unaware of the reasons for their feelings or actions

A personality test is ok at predicting how a person thinks about themselves but nonconscious motives depending on social factors to any given situation have a big impact. This is why conscious questionnaire trait theories can be misleading.

University students incorrectly correlated the impact sleep had on their mood while strangers were able to better predict that quality of relationships with friends was better predictor.

 How well are we able to look at our moods, thoughts, ailments, and correctly identify what has caused them? Do we understand what is affecting us?

A working model of attachment: infant classification based on study of parent leaving room and returning while infant is playing.

  • secure – distress when they leave but seek comfort when parent returns (parents who are sensitive to needs)
  • avoidant – (parents rebuffed attempts to be intimate) little distress when they leave and do not seek comfort when they return
  • anxious/ambivalent – (parents alternate between unresponsiveness and excessive response) preoccupied with parents availability
  • disorganized – contradictory actions, crying when separated but does not seek attention when they return.

Study was done on children (ages 10-11) at summer camp who were classified in these categories. Children who were ‘secure’ spent more time with peers, were more likely to develop friendships, and more likely to evaluate others in positive light.

It’s a strange feeling, an almost frightening one, to see the possible effect that can come from parenting. How much of who I am (the good and the not so good) could have been shaped from parenting style?

The split brain, people confabulate reasons for what they saw or did. The shovel, the snowman, the chicken. Left brain is used for language.

The split brain study has been the most common study to find in the books that I have read. This was a very brief note I made on it, but the jist is that the brain makes up reasons for actions, or explains perception, in ways that are frankly ‘confabulations’. This is idea was also put forth in Waking Up and will appear again in The Righteous Mind later.

Love on the bridge study: Study done at park in British Columbia where attractive females approached males on a bridge. The female asked them to fill out a questionnaire. After, she thanked them and offered to answer questions about questionnaire later. She tore off a piece of paper, gave them her number. To test how attracted the boys were to the girl, the researchers kept track of who phoned her later.

Half of them filled out the questionnaire on a flimsy, narrow, moving footbridge over a gorge. The other half were safely on the other side. On the bridge it was predicted that the boys would already have a physiological response to fear and misattribute this response to attraction for the girl. 65 percent of men who filled out the questionnaire on the bridge called the girl asking for a date, 30 percent of boys who were on the other side called and asked for a date.

I remember reading this book and how strange it was to feel like I was being shown a secret about humans that gave me no advantage. Many of these findings were incredibly interesting, but it was difficult to imagine a brain that could notice these misrepresentations in real-time. It seemed that they could only be observed by a different person.

The hindsight bias, seeing events as inevitable after they occur but being very unpredictable before (Clinton getting acquitted).

The hindsight bias can be a real cause of dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and regret. It can happen in someone’s love life, work place, or financial world. The best way to remedy this hindsight bias (as will be explained again when we come across Thinking, Fast and Slow) is to not judge decisions based on outcome, but to judge decisions based on the way those decisions were made.

Psychological immune system, neutralizes threats and negative responses from environment

People are incredible spin doctors and rationalizers and justifiers of threatening information. They go to great lengths to maintain a sense of well-being. the PIS operates mainly outside awareness.

durability bias, first they fail to realize how much external events will influence their feelings, they also fail to realize how quickly novel events will come to seem mundane. Lottery, death of family remember, new car

This has become another popular finding in psychology that has become common. Some call it the emotional treadmill. The first part of this note, “fail to recognize how much external events will influence their feelings” needs only a couple mistakes, followed by some self reflection, to allow a person to realize that taking time to think through how the ever day conditions of their life can be manufactured to best promote positivity.

Fundamental Attribution Error: Bill has always loved guitar, but now he has strong situational incentive to play (wedding or for money). You may think he now has two reasons to enjoy playing the guitar. Many studies show people over attribute behavior to situation, and underestimate intrinsic interest in activity. More Bill play pro, the less he will enjoy playing guitar because he feels he is doing it for the money. This is a form of self-fabrication because of a strong situational demand people underestimate their intrinsic interest in the activity.

As suggested by William James, more frequently people perform a behavior the more habitual and automatic it becomes, requiring little effort or attention. One of the most enduring lessons of social psychology is that behavior changes come before changes in attitude and feelings. Changing behavior to match conscious perception of self is a good way to change adaptive unconscious.

The psychologist Terrence Real notes that an important part of the therapeutic process is to “do the behavior first and let the feelings follow.”

The action precedes the change that is desired. This has to be one of the most important things that I have come across in many of the books I have read. I think it’s importance is only reinforced by how difficult a seemingly simple phrase can be to act out in real life.

“what matters is that people commit themselves to a coherent self narrative that corresponds reasonably well to their adaptive unconscious”

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging

Sebastian Junger

“Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.”

Happiness is notoriously difficult to measure. Cross-cultural studies have shown that despite the massive jumps in technology and apparent well being our society suffers from high rates of depression, schizophrenia, poor health, anxiety, and chronic loneliness in human history.

White middle aged men currently have highest rate at nearly 30 suicides per 100k

self determination theory, conventional success in profession showed zero level of correlation with happiness (George Washington Law Review surveyed 6,000 lawyers in 2015). Public defenders (compared to higher paid lawyers) self reported greater levels of happiness. Human beings need three basic things to be contempt.

  • competence in what they do
  • authentic in their lives
  • connected to others

Confidence comes from competence in what you do. Lack of authenticity is a feeling that can lead someones mind to existential thoughts. The relationships in a life seem to be pretty important to determine the quality of that life.

“ in the Journal of Affective Disorders concluded in 2012. “In effect, humans have dragged a body with a long hominid history into an overfed, malnourished, sedentary, sunlight-deficient, sleep-deprived, competitive, inequitable, and socially-isolating environment with dire consequences.”

(World War II) Belfast. American analysts based in England monitored the affects of bombings to see if cracks began to appear in the German resolve. To their surprise they found exactly the opposite. The more they bombed the more resilient the population became. The cities with the highest moral, like Dresden, were the ones that were bombed the hardest

If anything he found that social bonds were reinforced by disasters and the people overwhelmingly their energies toward the good of the community rather than themselves.

“Men perform the vast majority of bystander rescues, and children, the elderly, and women are the most common recipients of them. Children are helped regardless of gender, as are the elderly, but women of reproductive age are twice as likely to be helped by a stranger than men are. Men have to wait, on average, until age seventy-five before they can expect the same kind of assistance in a life-threatening situation that women get their whole lives. Given the disproportionately high value of female reproduction to any society, risking male lives to save female lives makes enormous evolutionary sense. According to a study based on a century of records at the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission, male bystanders performed more than 90 percent of spontaneous rescues of strangers, and around one in five were killed in the attempt. “Hero” is generally defined as risking your life to save non-kin from mortal danger. The resulting mortality rate is higher than for most US combat units.) Researchers theorize that greater upper-body strength and a predominately male personality trait know as “impulsive sensation seeking” lead men to overwhelmingly dominate this form of extreme caretaking.”

If women aren’t present to provide empathic leadership then certain men will do it

If men aren’t present to take action in an emergency situation, women will step in. Almost all of the women in the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission were in situations where now men we present

It is fascinating to see the relationship here between men and women. Their are roles in society, and certain situations, that call on necessary responses. Men and women seem more capable of performing certain functions better, but when the other is absent that role can still be filled. There really is an important relationship here that interacts with a large idea of society.

There was a different section in this book that I remember a Native American tribe that had men as war-time leaders, and woman as peace-time leaders. Very interesting set-up.

Ahmetasevic [name of person being interviewed] on how they lived during the war in Sarajevo

“The basement of one of the buildings was deep enough to serve as a bomb shelter, and teenagers from the neighborhood led a kind of communal life down there that was almost entirely separate from the adults above ground. The boys would go off to fight on the front line for ten days at a stretch and then return to join the girls, who lived down there full-time. Everyone slept on mattresses on the floor together and ate their meals together and fell in and out of love together and played music and talked about literature and joked about the war. “The boys were like our brothers,” Ahmetasevic said. “It’s not like we girls were waiting for them and crying…no, we had a party. To be honest, it was a kind of liberation. The love that we shared was enormous. They’d come from the front lines and most of them were musicians and they would have small concerts for us. We didn’t believe in heroes. We were punk rockers. Our biggest hero was David Bowie.’”

I asked Ahmetasevic if people had ultimately been happier during the war.

“We were the happiest,” Ahmetasevic said. Then she added: “And we laughed more.”

Unit Cohesion Theory: brought on by intensive training or danger creates strong bonds in company or platoon. Higher levels of cohesion is correlated with lower rates of psychiatric breakdown. In WWII, American airborne units had some of the lowest psychiatric casualty rates relative to numbers wounded.

The Defining Decade

Meg Jay

“An identity or a career cannot be built around what you don’t want.”

So millenial! This was one of the few notes I really connected with in this book, because I was a culprit in try to define my future in what I didn’t want. It is so common to hear friends or people my age discuss what they do not want to do, or do not want to become. This is a trap, and becomes a hole that you dig. The further you dig the closer you get to an anxious breakdown.

The Happiness Hypothesis

Jonathan Haidt

H = S + V + C

H, happiness

S, set point (genetic level of highs or lows)

V, voluntary activities (social groups)

C, conditions (noise, stress)

This is an equation that Haidt’s put forth to help guide the level  of happiness that someone can experience in their life. The set point, is a hy[pothesis that different people have different emotional highs and emotional lows that they can experience. They also has different levels of equilibrium (imagine a 10 point scale).

The voluntary activities is basically hobbies. More specifically, people with more social connections are happier, so if voluntary activities connect a person with other people their level of happiness can be increased. The conditions are the day to day eternal factors of your life. This is the noise, physical conditions, and I include dietary and work conditions in here as well. All these can be manipulated to increase or decrease a persons happiness.

Whether emotional feelings are high or low humans adapt to stimuli & come back to normal level

Align the goals of your life to fit personality.

Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means For Modern Relationships

Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha

“With the earliest evidence of agriculture dating to about 8000 BCE, the amount of time our species ha spent living in settled agricultural societies represents just 5 percent of our collective experience, at most. As recently as a few hundred years ago, most of the planet was still occupied by foragers…Several types of evidence suggest our pre-agricultural (prehistoric) ancestors lived in groups where most mature individuals would have had several ongoing sexual relationships at any given time. Though often casual, these relationships were not random or meaningless. Quite the opposite: they reinforced crucial social ties holding these highly interdependent communities together.”

This was one of the opening thoughts in Sex at Dawn. There was also a great story to help explain the premise for many of the hypotheses in this book.

The story was of two men that were in a fight. In the fight, one of the men had apparently bit off the others finger. In the trial, for whether the man had actually bit off the others finger, a witness was asked whether he saw one men bite off the other finger. This would be a sure way to determine if it had indeed happened.

The man said he didn’t see the finger get bitten off, but he saw the man spit it out. In this way, this book doesn’t claim to have a clear view of the how the human body ended up the way it did, but it tries to explain the oddities when compared to other primates.

“The human male has testicles far larger than any monogamous primate would ever need, hanging vulnerably outside the body where cooler temperatures help preserve standby sperm cells for multiple ejaculations. He also sports the longest thickest penis found on any primate on the planet, as well as an embarrassing tendency to orgasm too quickly. Women’s pendulous breasts (utterly unnecessary for breastfeeding children), impossible to ignore cries of delight (female copulatory vocalization), and capacity for orgasm after orgasm all support this vision of prehistoric promiscuity.”

Humans differ from chimps and bonobos by roughly 1.6% DNA

“The chimpanzee resolves sexual issues with power; the bonobo resolves power issues with sex.”

The shift from foraging to farming is hypothesized, based on skeletal remains, to show increases in famine, vitamin deficiency, violence, reduction in lifespan. Less of a radical leap forward and more of a fall from grace.

This concept is also described in Sapiens when Yuval Noah Harari talked about the agricultural revolution. It wasn’t that the shift to agricultural made people happier or healthier, it was that people would rather be less healthy and reproduce than be more healthy and have procreation be more difficult.

Franz de Waal could have been referring to any of the previous Amazonian tribes mentioned when he states that the male has no idea which copulations resulted in his child or not. However, he was writing of the bonobo.

Infidelity: “No creature needs to be threatened with death to act in accord with its own nature.”

After centuries of barbaric punishments for adultery persists and persists. No group living nonhuman primate is monogamous, adultery has been documented in every human culture studied. How does it come naturally? Why would we risk so much for something that runs against human nature. If monogamy was natural and standard these enforcements would be unnecessary..

Marriage, mating, or love are socially constructive phenomenon. Rampant ritualized group sex, mate swapping, unrestrained casual affairs, and socially sanctioned sequential sex all happened in cultures where anthropologists claimed marriage exists and are monogamous.

This is an interesting claim in this book. It feels like the authors are saying the other way (ritualized sex, mate swapping) is the way that we were meant to be. It is probably more useful to see this as a revealing observation on a skewed view of sex, love, and relationships.

Prehistoric humans could not store food, but that does not mean they lived in hunger. Harris lines in bones, and lines in teeth, marking nutrition and growth, see healthier lines in forager remains then cultures that relied on cultivation.

A foragers diet has a variety of nutrients. Crickets can be collected very efficiently in an hour. “Stone age populations lived healthier lives than did most of the people who came immediately after them.”

Many key studies are flawed by context. Goodall made food zero sum game with bananas.

Many diseases can be traced to domesticated animals or are reliant on high density populations.

With bonobos the competition takes place on the microscopic level with sperm. Everyone ‘gets some’ and the fight happens ‘inside’ instead of ‘outside’.

semen displacement: it is hypothesized that the penis is designed to displace semen left by other males from the vagina

Researchers and studies showing:

  • men who ejaculated more than 5 times per week between 20-50 were less likely to develop prostate cancer later in life.
  • Daily ejaculation dramatically reduced damage to DNA cells increasing fertility
  • Frequent orgasm is shown to correlate with reduction in heart disease chances

Women used to be treated for hysteria by having a physician get them off or nurse. Many of the symptoms matched sexual frustration today. 1600s-1920s

Regardless of sexual orientation women’s genitals reacted to any visual stimuli of sex although they reported only be aroused by heterosexual human sex.

Does the pill affect a woman’s hormone driver preferences for a male? “The Sweaty T-Shirt Experiment” study and smell attraction. MHC complex was different than their own, needing broader immune defense system. When on pill, they chose MHC similar to their own.

These are quick notes about a study that tested how women are attracted to guys based on the smell of the sweat that was left on their t-shirts. The pill affected who they chose and the choices they made were opposite the metric that would improve the predicted strength of offspring.

Suicide and Testosterone: Massive conflict to what society dictates and what our biology demands. When boys become of age their bodies are all about SEX NOW but it is encouraged that that energy is used for something else. Testosterone levels correlate to likelihood a young man/woman getting into trouble. In U.S, adolescent males are five times more likely to kill themselves than females. Among Americans between 15-35 suicide is the third leading cause of death. Teenage boys kills themselves at a rate of double than any other social group

Mens testosterone levels recede over time, monogamy drains testosterone. Novel sexual partner can increase testosterone but it can be viewed of by love from the males point of view.

A brief chat with an attractive women can raise testosterone levels by 14%, when these same men talked to other men there testosterone levels fell by 2%

Men with lower levels of testosterone are more than 4 times as likely to suffer from depression, heart attacks, and cancer when compared with other men their age with higher levels of testosterone. Also more likely to develop dementia and have a greater risk of dying from any cause.

Testosterone levels seems to play a major role, and are a metric that appear to play a more significant role in our lives than is typically thought.


Yuval Noah Harari

Humans advantage was language, the cognitive revolution appeared between 70k-30k years ago. Not only language but FICTION was the big part.

What was interesting in Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind, is how shared intentionality was truly the catalyst that allowed language to have a such an incredible impact. If it weren’t for our minds ability to imagine the same object when another person speaks about it, then the words or ideas that the other person would be speaking would have little to no understanding for you.

The idea of 150 individuals, how did we break through? FICTION. It allows us to imagine things collectively

“The heated debates about Homo Sapiens’ ‘natural way of life’ miss the main point. Ever since the Cognitive Revolution, there hasn’t been a single natural way of life for Sapiens. There are only cultural choices, from among a bewildering palette of possibilities.”

The move to Australia is a famous example of what happened, repeatedly throughout history when homo Sapiens traveled to new lands. The megafauna, died off very rapidly. Many other smaller species of plants followed. This is seen in Australia, th extinction of the mammoth, the extinction of other large mammals in North America and South America and on many islands that lost diverse ecosystems when humans arrived. Climate is not a justified excuse because the extinctions of these massive and smaller creatures follows the trend of homo salient arrivals. This is the myth of harmonious natural life that foragers would have lived

It might seem out of place to see these history notes in the Understanding & Growth category, but it’s hard to understand where you are now unless you know where you have been. Understanding humans journey through time can better help a person get an existential grip on their life now, and possibly, where they want their life to go.

(appox 12k years ago) The Agricultural Revolution is histories biggest fraud. It was a ‘luxury trap’ Why would we sacrifice so much health, diet, increase in violence, disease just for wheat. A not so awesome crop. THE ABILITY TO KEEP MORE PEOPLE ALIVE UNDER WORSE CONDITIONS. DNA wants more people, not happier people.

We live our lives through imagined orders and desires that get reflected as material things or actions in our normal lives. Depending on the imagined order (hierarchical, egalitarian, romanticism, capitalism) shapes our lives

The importance of imagined order is the cooperation, exploitation, or congregation of large groups of people.

Religions unite people. Bottom line. Most people believed in animism. Giving animals spirits. But even these spirits had a ruling power. This gave way to gods of things that couldn’t be represented in nature. Fertility, medicine, war. Animism put humans on a level playing field, polytheism upgraded their status with many gods but they all still have a higher power which was uninterested in humans (Moira). Things that followed were physical sacrifices to these gods.

Romans and other empires that were polytheistic didn’t destroy other societies gods they just made them recognize the emperors gods. The Aztecs allowed for worship of another people’s gods and romans adopted isis and Cybele (Asian and Egyptian gods) The Roman Empire didn’t make Christians not believe in their God. Christians believed in one God, and wouldn’t recognize Rome’s gods. Vehemently refusing. There was no compromise with the Christian’s which was seen as a political faction now. In the 300 year period following the crucifixion of Christ, and emperor Constantine converting, all the persecution of Christians killed no more than a few thousand Christians. Over the next 1500 years, Christians slaughtered Christians by the millions in differing interpretations in the religion of love and compassion. Religious wars in 16th and seventeenth centuries were bad. Like the St Bartholomews Day Massacre. 5k-10k French protestants were massacred by French Catholics. The pope had a room in the Vatican decorated to celebrate the event which is off limits to visitors.

This interpretation of the past of Christianity and the evolution of religious beliefs was one of the most noteworthy aspects of this book. It says so much about how Christianity became so dominant, and it speaks of our natural tribalism.

Like Christianity, Islam began as a small sect in a remote corner of the world. Christian from Judaism in Israel, Islam from Arabian peninsula. Islam 7th century

(can’t remember what I was referencing in the above note)

Jewish, Christian and Muslim monotheism absorbed numerous dualist beliefs and practices , and some of most basic ideas of what we call ‘monotheism’ are, in fact, dualist in origin and spirit. (i.e. The devil is not in the Old Testament)

“The average Christian believes in the monotheist God, but also in the dualist devil, in polytheist saints, and in animist ghosts.. It’s called syncretism.”

It is tough to explain the thoughts I have about religion, and how the world is, when I I read these notes about the manifestation of religions. To be perfectly clear, it is not a feeling of anger or resentment, but it is more of an existential “ohh…” This is then usually followed by me looking out the window and contemplating the strange path we [humans] are on.

Buddha encapsulates teaching in a single law. Suffering arises from craving; the only way to be fully liberated from suffering is to be fully liberated from craving ; and the only way to be liberated from craving is to train the mind to experience reality as it is. This law is seen as dharma the universal law. Buddhism doesn’t deny existence of gods but they play by similar rules. The universal law and effect of gods have no effect on each other.


European nations did not conqueror the world because they had superior technology. China Dynasty had massive armadas with huge ships but the desire was not there.

I think I remember reading that the Chinese, or Eastern philosophies had a lot of pacifism in them.

Economies of the past were based on tangibles. Wealth had to be converted into tangible things. What expanded economic in modern times was ‘credit’, the belief in an abundant future.

Manhattan used to be New Amsterdam, controlled by a Dutch company, but was lost to British in 1662

The Mississippi Bubble in the early 18th century, which collapsed frances financial system, was a major reason why Britain took control of America. France had terrible credit.

The Greek rebellion against the Ottoman Empire was traded as a bond on the London Stock Exchange. As the Turks gained an upper hand, Britains fleet mobilized and, in 1827, won the battle of narvarino, sinking the main ottoman flotilla. Then Greeks owed Britain a bunch of money for while.

The VOC and East India Trading company controlled lands and people but they were companies.

Sugar was up-and-coming 16th century Europe. But it was tough to produce large quantities because the work was tough so slaves were imported from Africa to tropical climates to work on the plantations. Europe needed sugar.

The slave trade was under a free capitalistic market. Shares were sold on the stock exchanges, people made money. Hatred killed millions with Christianity and Nazism. Capitalism has killed millions with greed.

The Great Begal famine, killing 10 million was due to poor economic policy perpetrated by EITC trying to increase profits.

VOCs military campaign in Donesia financed by regular, good people of the Dutch caused the suffering of many people. It was first commercial but then it was secured militarily due to tariffs and other disputes.

Industrial Revolution- enriching bankers, etc but meant poverty for millions.

Belgium financed a humanitarian effort to Central Africa, European powers gave the land to them, not asking the Africans and then it turned into a business enterprise.

Capitalism positives = life expectancy, child mortality, calorie intake.

This conglomerate of notes on economies and the rise of corporations or businesses in the global sphere is eye opening when read in the context of the book. The reader has been encountering many ancient ideas, civilizations, and prehistoric interpretations. Then the book enters a period of time that is easier to recall. A time period that has shaped the world today, and reading how these economies and financial prosperity, or lack there of, shaped the nation-states of our time is a trip and a half.

In 2002, after terror attacks 9/11, the avg person was more likely to kill themselves than be killed by another human. 741000 human violence to 873000 suicides

“With the individual wielding unprecedented power to decide her own path in life, we find it ever harder to make commitments. We thus live in an increasingly lonely world of unraveling communities and families.”

“Is there anything more dangerous than dissatisfied and irresponsible gods who don’t know what they want?”

The Checklist Manifesto

Atul Gawande

The brain just can’t handle the memory or process perfectly every single time.

“Man is fallible, but maybe men are less so.

. “…the real lesson is that under conditions of true complexity—where the knowledge required exceeds that of any individual and unpredictability reigns—efforts to dictate every step from the center will fail.”

This book was a fantastic read and has changed many of the ways I handle information in my life. It has affected my work life and personal life. Checklists became a fantastic tool for processes that I wanted to make sure were done every night.

Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change The World

Jane McGonigal

Instrinsic rewards (things that make us happy) fall into four major categories

– We crave satisfying work, immersion in clearly defined activities that allow us to see direct impact of efforts. Varies from person to person

– the experience, or at least the hope, of being successful. Want to feel like we’re getting better over time, working towards a goal, show others that we’re good at something

– social connection share experiences, build bonds, spend time with people you care about

– meaning chance to be part of something larger than ourselves

This is critical to a career. Dissatisfaction can normally be traced to a lack of one of these aspects.

Bestow on someone a specific goal, something to work towards and look forward to

“The design of the work flow is key here: the game constantly challenging you to try something just a little bit more difficult than you’ve just accomplished.”

It’s not if you can complete a task, it’s when.

If failure feels random or passive we lose our sense of agency

“Because being really good at something is less fun than being not quite good enough-yet.”

It’s to our evolutionary advantage not to waste time and energy on goals we can’t realistically achieve. And so when we have no clean way to make productive progress, our neurological systems default to a state of low energy and motivation.

During this period of mild depression, Nesse theorizes, we can conserve our resources and search for new, more realistic goals. But if we persist in pursuing unattainable goals? Then, Nesse proposes, the mechanism kicks into overdrive, triggering severe depression.

Much of what Jane McGonigal talks about in her book is why video games are so engaging. The structure, the intensity of difficulty, the way people can map their success can be much more satisfying then the randomness of real life.

Her claims are that if life can be structured more like video games, people would have an easier time with anxiety, depression, goal-attainment, and change.


to be continued…



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