January 15, 2019

Macabre Constant

This is an entry in Bernard Werber's awesome Encyclopédie du Savoir Relatif et Absolu, which groups all eleven of his books, like The Ants, We The Gods, and Third Humanity, as well as some additional material.

It is a compendium of a lot of interesting facts, theories, thoughts (and includes a couple recipes as well), and is simply a fascinating read!

Due to the fact that these bite-size entries in his encyclopedia discuss so many varied topics, I find it also is a great source of inspiration for future stories... That's right folks, if you guys can read French (for the encyclopedia is currently only available in the author's mother tongue, or in Russian, I just found out), you may be able to find out which items I may end up using in one of my next series ;)

Here's an entry I found interesting in terms of how our society tends to organize itself...which, imho should change, but the question is: How?

(translation by yours truly)

The Macabre Constant

The name "macabre constant" comes from the researcher André Antibi. This lab director for educational sciences at the university of Paul-Sabatier in Toulouse posits that, in a classroom, the teacher has to have the following distribution among its students: 1/3 good students, 1/3 average students, and 1/3 bad students.  (My note: This is similar to grading on a curve)

What would one say of a teacher who didn't attribute a grade below B?(1) That s/he's too indulgent. For a teacher to be credible, s/he has to have 1/3 of her/his class be considered "bad students." Under societal pressure, the teacher therefore becomes a selector despite her/himself.

In a 2000 survey done on teachers and professors, 95% admitted that they felt obliged to establish a certain percentage of bad grades. However, this "macabre constant" that creates a selection based on failure, ends up making its victims lose confidence in themselves, and even discourages these students entirely. (My note: Sometimes wrongfully so. Besides, shouldn't a teacher/professor be evaluated instead on how well s/he successfully imparts knowledge instead?)
Mandelbrot set detail

André Antibi proposed, to avoid it, another system, the EBCC, or the Evaluation By Contract of Confidence (2), which consists in verifying whether the student has acquired the requisite knowledge.

One can find this principle, that rules there should be 1/3 winners, 1/3 in the middle, and 1/3 losers, is also applied outside of the scholastic system, to all human groups, as if it were necessary to have a third world, emerging countries, and industrialized countries, to keep humanity balanced.

Likewise, inside each nation, we find again this division in thirds: the poor, the middle class, and the rich.

And just like with Mandelbrot's fractals, this three-tiered scheme is reproduced indefinitely. Even in slums (just like within the middle classes, or with those in power), this distribution can be found again.

Despite all Utopian equality that's been attempted (anarchists, communists, hippies, ...), this principle of the macabre constant keeps coming back, as if it were inexorably linked to our species. 
The measure of any victory can only be undertaken based on the defeat or failure of a group of individuals designated as "losers."

Income Inequality in the USA (March 24, 2014)
From demographicpartitions.org

(1) Note that this is technically France, where the grading is out of 20, with passing grades going from 10-12, depending on the school system, so the author, B. Werber, actually said "didn't grade below a 12."
(2) In French, it's EPCC, or Evaluation par contrat de confiance.

January 8, 2019

The Birth Of Writing

Ancient Egyptians believed that writing was a gift taught to them by the god Thoth, calling their script the "words of gods," composed of hieroglyphs, or "sacred inscriptions."

His gift was meant to share wisdom with the Egyptian people, and help preserve their memory. But when he announced his deed to the god Ra, the latter told him he feared writing would actually shorten people's memories, for they would rely too much on what was written instead.

I can see both points. For myself, I rely severely on my intense note-taking to "remember" important points. Yet should I lose those notes, all that knowledge would be irrevocably lost. People also state that it's better to rely on writings, for people will make up memories or change the story over time.

But the issue is also found in written historical accounts--for aren't these subjective retellings of events? If these people chose not to write about an event, then for all intents and purposes, it's the same as erasing a part of history, right?(1) Scientists/historians try to ascertain the truth by finding different sources describing the same event that would corroborate, but that's still far from foolproof. Makes it interesting to see how different history could have been vs. what textbooks tell us, huh?

Incidentally, people tend to trust the written word more than hearsay, even if the one who wrote the book/article/post doesn't know a thing about the topic, while the speaker might be an expert in said subject. I wonder if this has to do with the fact that humans (an estimated 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual (2) )...

In any case, I find this fascinating, and is possibly one of the reasons why I enjoy mixing facts and fiction in my stories, blending them in such ways that it's sometimes difficult to tell where one ends and the other starts.

If it were up to you, how would you like to alter history (could be in big or small ways), to make it more fun or interesting?

(1) For instance, in 1054, there was a supernova explosion that was witnessed on earth (its remains now form the Crab Nebula). It was so powerful it lit up the whole sky up, then remained visible for two years after. Europe, however, is the only (sub-)continent that doesn't mention it. Why? Because back then, European scientists believed that the world/universe was fixed, and therefore no new event could ever happen or be recorded. Since they couldn't explain this particular event, the European astronomers decided not to write it down. As if it never happened.
(2) Humans Process Visual Data Better

January 1, 2019

The Power Of Words - A New Year's Resolution Based On Transformational Vocabulary

Wonder Woman inspirational power
& strength through words
~ art print by Marvin Blaine
I've been reading Anthony Robbins's inspiring book Awaken the Giant Within: How to Take Immediate Control of Your Mental, Emotional, Physical, and Financial Destiny!  It's a great book, though some examples are dated, and the basics of the content is applicable no matter what century we happen to be living in. Unless we've all turned into robots, but that's another problem altogether.

In any case, there's a section in this book that discusses the power of the word on our lives, and our ability to be happy and fulfill our self-chosen destiny thanks to it. This is because "words absolutely do filter and transform experience." For you see, "since words are our primary tool for interpretation or translation, the way we label our experience immediately changes the sensations produced in our nervous systems. You and I must realize that words do indeed create a biochemical effect."

In fact, in Words Can Change Your Brain, Andrew Newberg, M.D. and Mark Robert Waldman state that "a single word has the power to influence the expression of genes that regulate physical and emotional stress." Negative words cause our brain to create fear-inducing, stress-related hormones, while positive words stimulate the frontal lobe of our brain, which is linked to logic and reason. The frontal lobe activation by the positive word(s) will, in turn, activate other parts of the brain, like the parietal lobe (responsible for how you view yourself), and the thalamus (responsible for how you view others and reality), so that we will start feeling better about ourselves, others around us, and basically our whole world.

Robbins used as an example how one of his friends inspired him to start using the word "peeved" whenever he started feeling angry about a situation. Just the use of that word (instead of potentially stronger words like "livid" or "enraged") automatically diffuses the situation emotionally-speaking, and therefore allows him to be open to more ways to solve the problem that's suddenly appeared because he's not flooding his brain and body with stress hormones.

But Robbins doesn't just stop there. Indeed, he posits that not only do the labels we apply to how we feel/what we think alter our emotions (with the goal being that we want to more relaxed and happier beings), but that the greater our vocabulary, the easier it is for us to do so.

To illustrate this point, Robbins mentions a study that had once been undertaken in a prison, where it was found that "when inmates experienced pain, one of the few ways they could communicate it was through physical action--their limited vocabulary limited their emotional range, channeling even the slightest feelings of discomfort into heightened levels of violent anger." So the better you are at labeling your emotions, the better you become at controlling your anger (and potentially your violence), and lessening the degree of the emotions while at the same time heightening the positive one.

In an online class I took (I'm all about self-empowerment these days), the teacher stressed the fact that you can choose to be happy, and the way to do that is to realize that your thoughts--shaped by your words--affect how you feel. So it's very important to use empowering words, ones that will make you feel good about yourself and your world, words of love, and encouragement, and inspiration.

And it works! It truly, really works! I'm not saying that it's always going to be easy, that we won't feel pain or sadness (like I said, we haven't yet "evolved" into machines), but it will certainly skew our life towards the more positive side of things. So my goal (or one of them anyways, but this one's at the top of my list) is to consistently choose to be happy, and build up my vocabulary so I can describe my emotions in more variegated ways.

I'm also hoping this will allow me to become a better writer over time.

So, what word(s) of power would you like to calibrate your life to in the coming weeks, months, or years?

If we want to change our lives and shape our destiny, we need to consciously select the words we're going to use, and we need to constantly strive to expand our level of choice.
~Anthony Robbins