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Default Dragon Age Book Review - Off Topic Discussion

August 30th, 2009, 09:43
Originally Posted by Prime Junta View Post
It can be, I'm sure. But, I'm also pretty sure, it need not. People are different, in temperament, emotional color, and response to stimulus. We even know the genetic causes for some of those differences — for example, the genetic basis for how people react to bitter tastes. I do not believe that everyone is born equally talented; a tabula rasa that life writes on. We're born different. Rith's list of types of intelligence is one way of describing those differences.
To be honest, I don't know exactly what I believe in those terms.

But my perception is that genetic causes and genetic differences can be hard to set apart from the results of environmental conditions. It's my personal theory, at least, that many detectable differences may as well be there BECAUSE of environmental conditions - and that you can detect them doesn't necessarily mean that it's "hardcoded wiring" or "genetic disposition" - but it could just as easily be a development based on what you experience in your earliest years, and even what happens in the pre-birth stages. As such, your experiences from the first moment of consciousness (even before) can trigger the development of genetic and even physically detectable differences - and it doesn't have to be the other way around.

I just don't know, but I'm FAR from convinced that because someone has different tastes or a profound lack of appreciation for something, it's based on a hardwired genetically encoded difference.
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August 30th, 2009, 10:39
That's been researched a quite a bit, I understand. I'm not all that familiar with it, but I understand that they have been able to tease apart some of the biological and environmental factors. The former is called "temperament," and it can be assessed fairly well. Dog breeders do this routinely on dogs, btw, and we humans aren't all *that* different from dogs.

But yeah, environmental factors of all sorts certainly play a huge role. From where I'm at, though, it doesn't make much of a practical difference if something is determined by genes, by stuff going on during gestation, or early infancy — either way, it becomes structural, or "hard-wired" if you will. However, I do get the strong impression that the psychological model of the human mind as a blank slate that can be molded to be pretty much anything you want has been pretty much discredited. Evolutionary psychology and all that commotion.

Perhaps JemyM can weigh in on this; he's certainly read more about it than I have.
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August 30th, 2009, 11:02
Originally Posted by Prime Junta View Post
That's been researched a quite a bit, I understand. I'm not all that familiar with it, but I understand that they have been able to tease apart some of the biological and environmental factors. The former is called "temperament," and it can be assessed fairly well. Dog breeders do this routinely on dogs, btw, and we humans aren't all *that* different from dogs.

But yeah, environmental factors of all sorts certainly play a huge role. From where I'm at, though, it doesn't make much of a practical difference if something is determined by genes, by stuff going on during gestation, or early infancy — either way, it becomes structural, or "hard-wired" if you will. However, I do get the strong impression that the psychological model of the human mind as a blank slate that can be molded to be pretty much anything you want has been pretty much discredited. Evolutionary psychology and all that commotion.

Perhaps JemyM can weigh in on this; he's certainly read more about it than I have.
It makes a difference if during later stages of life, you can actually (partially) reverse the process or change your "genetic wiring" by changing focus or interests. That would make it less inhibiting to the person with the notion that he's "not smart enough" or that he's "not talented enough". The same goes for people suffering from psychological disorders - because often the diagnosis can be paralysing, and it's my belief that you can overcome and control your own mind in ways that would go against the idea of being "genetically wired" to be, say, bipolar, or suffer from anxiety based on a perceived genetic disposition. These disorders, or so I believe, have more to do with upbringing and experiences throughout life than simply genetic hardwiring.

Basically, I believe there are less things set in stone based on genetics, than what perhaps is the norm to believe.

But again, it's just based on my own perceptions and experiences. I generally don't read much of what's been researched, because not only do you get inconsistent answers based on the bias of the people involved, we're also talking about the area of psychology - in which there are no easy ways to prove or disprove your findings.

I'd rather just go with what I see and observe in my own life, and fortunately for others - I don't work professionally in these fields, so no one has to suffer based on my relatively unsubstantiated beliefs
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August 30th, 2009, 11:12
That's not far from (what I understand is) the scholarly consensus. The "hard-wiring" sort of sets somewhat stretchy limits to what you can do — some things are easier, others harder. The environment — including your own choices — push and pull the limits. That means that you can do a quite a lot to push your limits. However, while anyone with normal intelligence might be able to become a grand master at chess simply by training enough, to become a Kasparov or Bobby Fischer you need exceptional hard-wiring as well.

As to psychiatric disorders, I think it's pretty well established that, say, the propensity to bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety, or depression are based in temperament, but how they manifest, and whether they lead to psychotic conditions, is largely due to environmental factors.

The most debilitating thing about serious psychiatric disorders is that they tend to remove the tools you have to heal yourself — a bipolar in the manic phase will not WANT to change anything, because s/he thinks s/he's the master of the universe, and in the depressive phase, s/he's just so down that s/he can't be bothered. IOW, to someone with a serious psychiatric disorder, "just pick yourself up and dust yourself off" is about as good advice as "just go run the marathon" is to a paraplegic.

(OTOH, people disposed to psychiatric disorders can certainly do a lot to avoid having them get so bad they become debilitating — but someone with a bipolar personality will almost certainly have ups and downs, no matter what s/he does.)
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August 30th, 2009, 11:23
Originally Posted by Prime Junta View Post
That's not far from (what I understand is) the scholarly consensus. The "hard-wiring" sort of sets somewhat stretchy limits to what you can do — some things are easier, others harder. The environment — including your own choices — push and pull the limits. That means that you can do a quite a lot to push your limits. However, while anyone with normal intelligence might be able to become a grand master at chess simply by training enough, to become a Kasparov or Bobby Fischer you need exceptional hard-wiring as well.
It's always nice to know that the general consensus is not that far from my own

I'm not suggesting you can become a genius chess player by simply changing focus, but I'm actually not entirely convinced that such a thing is based on hard-wiring as much as is the general perception.

I think it has a lot to do with opportunity and how you focus your resources as a human being - both of which can be largely circumstancial or even random happenstances. People tend to be either focused or more generalised in their interests and areas of competence. I'm not sure why that is, but I'm inclined to believe that it's more to do with circumstance than set-in-stone wiring.
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August 30th, 2009, 11:37
I have to agree with PJ here, a lot of things are "hard-wired", and I don't see why certain intellectual areas would be any different from sexuality, etc.

You can focus on something all you want, but you'll never be as interested, good, etc, as someone who is more genetically predisposed to the subject in question.
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August 30th, 2009, 12:13
Good point there, JDR — interest quite often correlates with ability. If you discover that something comes to you easily, you're more likely to develop an interest for it than if you find that it takes a great deal of effort to learn. That would create positive feedback loops that would amplify your initial talents and dispositions.

Re the generalist-specialist thing: I tend to think that there is a significant "hard-wired" component there. One of things that has been proven to be tied to temperament is "sensation-seeking" — the character trait that makes people easily bored with routines and constantly looking for new experiences to experience. They've even tracked down which gene controls it. I would expect that people with higher levels of sensation-seeking are more likely to try out new things for a while, then drop them and try something else; i.e., they're more likely to become generalists than specialists. And vice versa.

Naturally, conditions and other personality traits dictate how, exactly, this happens. Nowadays, a person with this trait might become a host for a TV show that involves doing stupid things to yourself and others, a polymath Net personality, a recreational drug user, an adventure traveler, a habitual criminal, a mercenary, or a derivatives trader. In a traditional, agrarian society where people only had very few options open to them, their outlook was a lot grimmer.

Renaissance Italy would probably have been their dream mental environment, since the "Renaissance man" was made an ideal to strive for, and there was always another prince to turn to if you wore out your welcome in one place.
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August 31st, 2009, 13:02
I read something fairly recently alone these lines it doesn't agree with the 'hard-wired' theory of the brain. The whole thing is here.

But now researchers are beginning to unearth clues as to how savants' formidable brains work, and that in turn is changing our view of what it means to be a savant. In the past, savants were considered rare, solitary figures capable of mind-boggling skills that appeared as if by magic. "There have almost been suggestions that their skills appear like the birth of Venus in Botticelli - fully formed," says psychologist Richard Cowan, who studies savants at the Institute of Education, University of London.

A flurry of research published earlier this year in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B paints a very different picture. It turns out that these skills are far more common than previously thought. They may even arise from traits found in the general population, implying that savants are not fundamentally different from the rest of us. What's more, these skills may only blossom after years of obsessive practice, raising the question of whether many more people might cultivate similar skills, if only they had the motivation.
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August 31st, 2009, 13:12
That's basically my theory as well

I never liked the idea of calling someone a genius. Not because I can't afford him/her that status, but because it sets the person apart in ways that can be destructive to the perception of those who don't have faith in themselves. It gives them yet another reason for not believing in their own abilities, both current and potential. It's too easy to label someone a genius, rather than understanding what grants this person these talents.

Maybe these people are just in the right place at the right time, and due to circumstancial experiences they "stumble" upon things that "click" for them at a very early age.

I would never exclude genetics entirely, naturally, I just remain extremely sceptical when it comes to the idea that people are born THAT different and that it's all about hardwiring.
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August 31st, 2009, 13:23
I think the idea that it was ALL about hard-wiring went out of fashion somewhere around Hitler. However, the idea that it's ALL about environment and conditioning went out of fashion with the fall of the USSR and their Homo Sovieticus project. As far as we know, it's a complex interplay of both.

I think, though, that the consensus may be moving towards the idea of more plasticity.

I read about some studies that have been done on the effects of meditation, for example, and it turns out that people who have done it a lot (I mean, really a lot — say, 10,000 hours or more) have visible structural differences in their brains compared to people who haven't, as well as significantly different performance on various types of tests. For example, they're able to maintain concentration ten times longer than people who haven't been doing it, brain scans show stronger empathetic responses (as in, if shown a photo of a person or animal experiencing an emotion, their brains light up more strongly with the matching emotion), and so on.

Conversely, I read about a study that found that obese people show significant deterioration in their brains (their brains are "older" and smaller than controls with normal body weight), with corresponding cognitive deterioration.

IOW, we (and our environment) do affect our brains and minds very deeply indeed — but that still doesn't change the fact that we start out with different temperaments and capacities.
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August 31st, 2009, 13:31
I think the idea that it was ALL about hard-wiring went out of fashion somewhere around Hitler. However, the idea that it's ALL about environment and conditioning went out of fashion with the fall of the USSR and their Homo Sovieticus project. As far as we know, it's a complex interplay of both.
I don't think any of us here believes in one of those extremes, but I could be wrong of course.

IOW, we (and our environment) do affect our brains and minds very deeply indeed — but that still doesn't change the fact that we start out with different temperaments and capacities.
Again, I think we all agree that we're born differently.

The thing I put into question is just how much control we have over our own capacities and the development of our minds.

That's why I would be cautious labelling anyone as a "born genius", and I'd be inclined to study what enabled said person to perform so impressively in whatever field.

Often, I think you'd find some other "defect" in the brain, forcing or enabling enhanced focus in certain areas - or simply dedication to a craft based on the early discovery and fascination.
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August 31st, 2009, 13:36
Hmmm the 'fat' thing again I'm really tired of that kind of thinking as we can't seem to find anyone else to bully around these days. Of course thin alcoholics or malnutritioned are just fine but fat people are a walking disease a plague to mankind. I can't really remember ever finding a relation to weight and intelligence that's more likely to be a social link than a scientific one. Smells like propaganda to me - like black people having smaller brains around the time of colonisation.
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August 31st, 2009, 13:39
Not that I'd want to bully anyone, but the "fat" thing does seem to be an extremely serious issue in certain countries - especially in the US.

I definitely think it's an environmental/social issue in the VAST majority of cases, but that's no reason not to take an interest and do some research.

I have my own theory as to why the problem is so significant in some places, but it's so obvious I won't even bother going into it - and I'm sure there's been plenty of articles covering this idea already.
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August 31st, 2009, 13:46
My main problem is the fact that food that is easy and not time consuming to make is really horrible for you. I haven't been able to train myself to think "In an hour I will be hungry" and start making something better for me then.

Additionally, when I am working I find it a pain in the ass to really make anything time consuming, and for lunch it's impossible - and usually my options are some sort of really bad cafeteria food or really bad fast food.
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August 31st, 2009, 13:56
Originally Posted by woges View Post
Hmmm the 'fat' thing again I'm really tired of that kind of thinking as we can't seem to find anyone else to bully around these days. Of course thin alcoholics or malnutritioned are just fine but fat people are a walking disease a plague to mankind. I can't really remember ever finding a relation to weight and intelligence that's more likely to be a social link than a scientific one. Smells like propaganda to me - like black people having smaller brains around the time of colonisation.
I don't know about your country, but over here, alcohol abuse is *constantly* in the press — way more than obesity. Alcoholism is definitely more dangerous a problem than obesity, since obesity primarily only affects the obese individual, whereas alcoholism screws up entire families as well as innocent bystanders.

The difference is that in some countries, far more people are overweight or obese than abuse alcohol. That has major repercussions for society — and, naturally, even more so for the individuals affected.

Finally, obesity as a public health problem isn't some plague out of outer space. It's something that's created and maintained by the society it affects, and as such, it can (or could) be very effectively addressed, the same way that many countries have managed to bring down smoking levels, for example. It's very hard to bring your weight under control if you're already obese, but it's relatively easy to stop getting that way to start with.

I don't think bullying is the right way to go about it — we need to change things so that people naturally get more exercise and have opportunities to eat more healthily, *and* we need to maintain awareness of what this entails. Unfortunately, that does include awareness of the health effects of being too fat — just like awareness that smoking is likely to get you lung cancer is a big part of getting people not to smoke.

IOW, sticking your head in the sand about it is a pretty poor choice IMO. If being fat makes you sick and stupid, you won't be any healthier and smarter by not knowing about it.

Here's the article I mentioned, btw:

[ http://www.livescience.com/health/09…ese-brain.html ]
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August 31st, 2009, 14:02
I doubt a discussion can get more off topic than this one.
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August 31st, 2009, 14:08
Or you could just learn to let people get on with their own existence and not worry about it. You think that over-weight people don't have the intelligence to know about the implications of their 'condition'. It really sounds like it's a problem for you and that you're willing to believe any old shit that suits the mentality. There are plenty of problems in the world this just isn't one I tend to care as much about as you PJ. To me it's no different to bullying people because they are different or weaker.
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August 31st, 2009, 14:09
Originally Posted by Gorath View Post
I doubt a discussion can get more off topic than this one.
Yeah I know, I just butted in when the offensive junk started blabbing out of peoples keyboards.
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August 31st, 2009, 14:11
Originally Posted by Rithrandil View Post
My main problem is the fact that food that is easy and not time consuming to make is really horrible for you. I haven't been able to train myself to think "In an hour I will be hungry" and start making something better for me then.
Spaghetti crudaiolo (serves two)

* 250 grams whole-grain spaghetti
* 1 clove garlic
* a splash of olive oil
* a tomato
* a small zucchini
* some Parmesan or Grana Padano cheese
* wine vinegar
* rough salt and black pepper

Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Throw in some salt and a splash of vinegar. As it's heating, crush the clove of garlic with a few grains of rough salt, and add some olive oil to make a paste. Chop the tomatoes into small cubes and the zucchini into thin half-moons. When the water boils, throw in the spaghetti; stir in the beginning to stop it from sticking, and continue with your veggie processing activities. When the pasta is done, drain, return to the kettle, dump in the garlic and olive oil paste, zucchini, and tomato cubes, grind in some black pepper, stir, and serve immediately. Grate some parmesan on when it's on the plate.

You can add other stuff too, if you like — toasted walnuts, pecans, or pine nuts are really nice, for example.

Additionally, when I am working I find it a pain in the ass to really make anything time consuming, and for lunch it's impossible - and usually my options are some sort of really bad cafeteria food or really bad fast food.
That, I think, is the real problem. If the distance to a bag of potato chips is significantly shorter than the distance to a head of lettuce, it's very unlikely that you'll be able to eat well — unless you're exceptionally determined. What's more, eating crappy food daily will teach you to like crappy food, and you won't eat well even if you have the option.
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August 31st, 2009, 14:14
Oh and I forgot about condescending.
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