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This is a step in the right direction even if the wind is moving in the wrong direction.


 

Scientists discover a possible cause for the irrational belief in free will.

 


 

 
Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy for one sort of unpleasantness or another. It is not intended to change anyone's beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.


Reparative Therapy


In the future nation of Texas, Republicans have adopted a platform that includes support of "reparative therapy" for gays who voluntarily choose that path. Many Republicans in Texas believe gayness is a lifestyle choice that can be "fixed" with voluntary therapy.

CNN reports that the biggest scientific and professional organization in psychology says, "To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation ... is safe or effective."

This is a tough issue for science-loving libertarians. On one hand, science doesn't support the safety and effectiveness of so-called reparative therapy. And allowing it to exist sends a toxic message to society about what is "normal."

On the other hand, psychological therapy is ineffective for a variety of other topics and we don't ban people from trying those. So there's a freedom question.

My opinion on topics of this type is show me the data. If the data doesn't exist, I am biased toward individual freedom even if it carries some risk. So I favor banning therapists from claiming "cures" of gayness because there is no data to support such claims, but I wouldn't stop an informed adult from giving it a try.

This brings me to a more interesting question: Would therapy of this sort work?

As regular readers know, I'm a certified hypnotist and a student of the practice for decades. The topic of hypnosis isn't terribly deep, and mastering it isn't much harder than becoming a Starbucks barista. But if you haven't had the training it can all seem mysterious. So what follows is my self-assessed expert opinion (barista level) on the question of whether "therapy" can rewire an individual's sexual preferences.

Answer: yes

There are lots of qualifiers to that answer.

For starters, sexuality is not binary. Sure, some folks are probably born with deeply embedded gay or straight wiring and it will never change. But there's a big grey area in the middle where people are attracted to humans of either gender.

Human brains are born with tendencies and preferences but experience can rewire us. You might be born with a natural attraction to cute animals, but if a dog attacks you when you are a child, that preference gets rewired in a minute. And if you want a new favorite color, a hypnotist can probably make that happen for you too.

Sexual preferences are presumably among the deepest and hardest to change. But my semi-expert opinion is that perhaps 20% of the public could be trained to rewire their sexual preferences. And a 20% success rate would be competitive with psychological therapy for other topics.

And by the way, the effectiveness would work both ways. You can probably make 20% of straight people cheerily turn gay or bisexual if for some reason they were motivated to do so.

Would it be ethical to rewire someone who volunteers for it? I'd say yes, assuming we are talking about an informed adult and no one else is getting hurt. 

Would it be safe? That's probably a mixed bag. I can imagine some people being psychologically worsened by the process and others being glad they did it. But I think society would be worse off for allowing reparative therapy to exist because of the message it sends about what is "normal" for humans. Emotionally, the idea of changing someone's sexuality to conform to society's expectations seems evil to me, and it reminds me of the Nazis. But that's just a feeling. Should my feelings become your law?

My best guess is that reparative therapy would work for some people while damaging others. In other words, it would be similar to how psychological therapy in general works.

Should so-called reparative therapy be legal?

__________________________________________

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of this book

 



 
Lately my allergies have been so bad that they trigger asthma attacks. So I started taking some asthma meds and discovered an amazing phenomenon: It doubled my IQ. That's just an estimate, but it feels about right.

The increase doesn't happen right away, and it isn't a direct thing. One of the alleged side-effects of the medicine is that it kills libido in some people. That was my experience. The sex drive that had defined me for a lifetime just went away.

The first thing you need to understand is that when your sex drive disappears you don't miss it. You can't miss what you don't want. Rather than feeling irritable about losing the core organizing principle of my life, I felt relieved. It was like crossing off half of my to-do list with no effort whatsoever. My mind was clear. I was focused. I could go deep.

Losing my sex drive felt like a superpower. I had some of the best ideas of my life that week. (That is literally true.) Now I see why Captain Kirk sometimes moved power from life-support to weapons. When you have the option of putting all of your energy into one function - in my case my brain - it makes a huge difference.

My IQ as a eunuch was sizzling. In fact, if a eunuch applied for a job with me I wouldn't even ask any other questions. I would hire him on the spot. It would be like hiring Superman to move your furniture. I would know that guy was focused.

I should pause here to explain a few things to the women reading this blog. The typical male brain is a computer that has to reboot every 30 seconds. Men can think about non-sexual topics for half-a-minute, tops. But we know we'll die if we don't sometimes think about food and shelter and whatnot, so we're continuously bouncing between sex and non-sex thoughts. It never ends.

Sometimes we game the system by merging our sexual and non-sexual thoughts. During the workday it looks like this: If I get this new job, I'll make a lot of money, and that will increase my odds of sex. On our own time, it looks like this: If I exercise hard enough, my body will look attractive and that will increase my odds of sex.
 
And if you're married it looks like this: The news says there will be a meteor shower tonight. I hope my wife doesn't get hit by a meteor, but if she does it will increase my odds of sex.

Some days it's like a machine gun coming at you. You have to assemble packets as they cross your brain:....sex....boring stuff....sex...boring stuff....etc. You're multiplexing because you need to. You're wired that way. And it effectively lowers your IQ.

The founders of our country understood this problem. That's why a man can't be president until he reaches an age where the risk of civil war is more compelling than his next orgasm. Personally, I hadn't yet reached that point. But after a few hits of my asthma meds I was ready to negotiate some trade policy.

Unfortunately, this superpower doesn't last. Apparently my body is getting used to the meds. I'm feeling a return to normalcy and that means I'm having trouble focusing on finishing this . . . um. . . screw it. I'm going to the gym.

 _______________________________________
Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

A dozen ideas that could change your life

 



 
I've been spending a lot of time in Silicon Valley for my day job at CalendarTree.  I feel like an embedded journalist. You might be interested in some of the things I've discovered.

The most fascinating phenomenon in the start-up world is called the pivot. That word has been used in every meeting I've attended. There's more to it than you think.

A pivot is when a start-up quickly changes from one product to another or from one business model to another. The valley is full of stories about companies that started with a lame idea and hit it big after a pivot. Most start-ups in the valley are software-based, so pivots are both practical and economical.

The pivot used to be the exception. For example, a company starts out selling PEZ dispensers online and later pivots to become eBay. You didn't hear about all of the companies that failed so the pivot stories probably sounded more prevalent than they were. It's similar to how a story of one shark attack makes you think there's a Great White under every surfboard. The human brain assumes that whatever it hears most frequently must be the best reflection of reality.

The valley attracts some of the smartest humans on Earth, and each of those humans, being otherwise normal, probably assumed they could use their talent, brains, and hard work to achieve specific business goals, such as building product X and selling the company to Google for a billion dollars.

And then they find out that success in the start-up realm is mostly luck. They discover this by trying great ideas coupled with great execution and failing. And they further discover it by observing unexpected successes at other start-ups. Success simply can't be predicted to any level of statistical comfort.

Smart observers in the valley look for the "tell" that an early stage start-up will be a winner, but none can be found. Oh, sure, the team needs to be smart, talented, and willing to work long hours. But nearly every start-up has that going for it. Most have great ideas as well. None of it predicts success.

So imagine if you will, some of the smartest, most rational humans the world has ever created, wallowing around in the absurdity of Silicon Valley, where success is mostly based on luck. How does one feel good about that? And what is the solution?

Answer: You institutionalize the pivot.

In other words, you move from a goal-oriented approach to a systems-oriented approach. The system involves assembling a team around a starting idea and then pivoting until something lucky happens. No one pretends to know where it will all end up.

Here's the system:

1.      Form a team
2.      Slap together an idea and put it on the Internet.
3.      Collect data on user behavior.
4.      Adjust, pivot, and try again.

Thanks to Google Analytics, Optimizely, Bitly, and other tools for measuring customer behavior in real time, a smart team can try different approaches and different products until something works out. A start-up in 2014 is a guess- testing machine.

Meanwhile, technology is increasingly becoming a commodity. A smart start-up can build nearly anything. If they need extra talent, connections, or money, the valley has plenty to offer. There isn't much of a resource constraint among the talented. That's the positive side of the "boy's network" in the valley. Everyone knows everyone. (The downside is not enough women.)

Another fascinating phenomenon in the valley is that every entrepreneur and investor seems genuinely interested in helping strangers succeed. I would go so far as to call it the defining feature of the start-up culture. Some of it has to do with the nature of entrepreneurs as serial problem-solvers. If you tell me what problem your start-up is experiencing, my reflex is to offer a suggestion or to connect you to someone who can help. And creating social capital makes a lot of sense when teams are fluid and who-you-know always matters. But beyond the practical and selfish benefits of being helpful, the dominant worldview in Silicon Valley is that if you aren't trying to make the world better, you're in the wrong line of work. The net effect is that the start-up culture is shockingly generous. If you need something for your start-up, folks will happily help you find it. I would have predicted the opposite.

But here comes the interesting part.

In an environment in which start-up resources are not limited, and no one can predict the next winner, and it is easy to measure customer behavior in great detail, the Internet is no longer a technology.

The Internet is a psychology experiment.

Building a product for the Internet is now the easy part. Getting people to understand the product and use it is the hard part. And the only way to make the hard part work is by testing one psychological hypothesis after another.

Every entrepreneur is now a psychologist by trade. The ONLY thing that matters to success in our anything-is-buildable Internet world is psychology. How does the customer perceive this product? What causes someone to share? What makes virality happen? What makes something sticky?

Experience and history give start-ups their ideas on what to test first. But the thing that worked for the last business often doesn't work for the next because no two situations are identical. So psychology on the Internet is an endless series of educated guesses and quantitative testing. Every entrepreneur is a behavioral psychologist with the tools to pull it off.

In this environment, quality is less important than speed. So the most prized technical people are the ones who can work quickly and produce one buggy prototype after another. And that brings me to the next observation.

Psychology has evolved to be a function of speed plus measurement. We're nearing the point at which the best psychologist in the world is any computer with access to Big Data, and any start-up that is rapidly testing one idea after another.

That's a system that makes sense to me. In a complicated environment, systems work better than goals.

Please excuse me while I go pivot.

--------------------------------------------------

Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Read more about the advantage of systems over goals

 



 
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Warning: This blog is written for a rational audience that likes to have fun wrestling with unique or controversial points of view. It is written in a style that can easily be confused as advocacy for one sort of unpleasantness or another. It is not intended to change anyone's beliefs or actions. If you quote from this post or link to it, which you are welcome to do, please take responsibility for whatever happens if you mismatch the audience and the content.

----------------------------

School Shootings

Is the rise of school shootings in America a case of too many guns or a simple failure to keep guns away from kids? Gun locks and gun safes exist.

That's not a rhetorical question. I actually wonder about the answer.

I assume 90% of the kids who become school shooters get their weapons from adults who left them unguarded. Correct me in the comments if I'm wrong.

I know you're furiously trying to determine if I am pro-gun or anti-gun so you can decide how much extra to hate me. So let me state my position as clearly as possible:

I am pro-data.

And the data is incomplete.

Obviously there's a strong correlation between gun ownership and gun deaths. But how much of that is causation as opposed to correlation? One can never know if Americans own guns because we're violent people or we're violent because we own guns. Isn't it likely to be some of both?

Common sense says that having guns lying around the house makes gun violence more likely. But we don't know if the accessibility factor is 10% of the story or 90%. Maybe the rate of stabbings would skyrocket if guns disappeared and that would close some of the violence gap. My point is that it's hard to size the problem of gun risk, and that matters because the goal is low risk not zero risk. If we wanted zero risk in all things at the expense of personal freedom we would fill every swimming pool with bubble wrap.

We also can't know if gun ownership will ever protect future citizens from the tyranny of the government. One argument says that the army has the biggest guns and so citizens are effectively defenseless if the government becomes a dictatorship. Therefore, owning a gun doesn't protect you from the government.

The counterargument is that if an American becomes a dictator, every one of his friends and extended family members would be bullet-riddled by the end of the week courtesy of the gun owners. What would be the point of becoming a dictator in a country where you can't leave your enclave and you just killed most of the people you care about with your actions? I think gun ownership does add a thin layer of protection against a risk of a dictatorship by rational leaders, but that risk is of unknown size. How do you value the thing that might happen but doesn't?

We also don't know what would happen if we went hog-wild with gun control. Would we suddenly become Great Britain and prefer slapping each other with open palms instead of shooting? Or would it turn into another Prohibition fiasco? Nothing sells more guns than the threat of gun control in the future.

In the long run, all violent criminals will be caught every time. That's the payoff from our creeping lack of privacy. When that day comes, rational adults such as criminals will be doing less shooting because there is no hope of getting away with it. And if we keep guns away from kids, with mandatory gun locks for example, that helps with the school shooting problem.

Once the rational criminals and the kids are neutered, that leaves only the irrational adults with guns as our remaining problem. And probably the best defense against that bunch of nuts involves owning your own gun. But I can't back that assumption with data.

Anecdotally, I have one friend who gunned down a would-be rapist who broke into her house. And I have another friend who would have been raped by an intruder if her boyfriend hadn't coincidentally spent the night and taken out the intruder by hand. A gun would have worked if he hadn't been there. But those are anecdotes not data.

The only thing I know for sure is that the "It is in the constitution" argument is misplaced. No matter what the founders had in mind at the time, we have the option to change it. So the question is what makes sense today, not what a bunch of hemp-smoking slave-owners thought hundreds of years ago.

I'm curious if you think you have enough data to form an opinion on the topic of American gun control. Gun control qualifies as common sense, but in my experience common sense in the context of insufficient data is irrationality in disguise.

To be fair, both sides of the debate have insufficient data and so they must default to using what they feel is common sense but isn't. (If it were common, both sides would agree.). So I don't think irrationality is limited to one side of the debate.

Scott

 
You might have heard about this VW ad.

The funniest line in the linked article  is "It's unclear whether the whole thing was staged."

I don't think that will be unclear to any of you.

 
Buying gifts is a pain in the ass. The giver wastes time, money, and mental energy. And the unlucky recipient normally sees the gift as what I call pre-garbage. Your pre-garbage is the stuff you plan to discard for one reason or another, but until that happy day it will take up space in a junk drawer, closet, or garage. Gifts are the walking dead of possessions.

Kids and newlyweds are still fair game for gifts. They generally appreciate what they get. And graduates are usually happy with their cash, laptops, and new cars if they are lucky. But for the typical adult-to-adult gift, it's hard to see it as a good use of time.

We humans have evolved with a reciprocity impulse, and a sharing impulse. So we can't stop giving even though the giver is not advantaged by the gift. We need a new solution for gift-giving. I have just the idea.

I call my idea the Money Toilet-Shredder.

It looks like a toilet, but it has no plumbing. Instead it has a shredder in the bowl area. It also has Wi-Fi, a processor, and a web cam to record what happens around it.

Just pull the flush handle to activate gift mode.

The camera comes on. The shredder powers up.

Now smile into the camera, toss a handful of your hard-earned cash into the shredder and say some version of "Happy birthday, Timmy. I'm shredding fifty dollars for you." Then you send your video to the lucky recipient of your generosity.

The theory behind this invention is that happiness is based on a comparison of your situation to your peers. When someone shreds their own money for you, your happiness should increase because your net worth is instantly higher on a relative basis.

Shredding your own money is also a sacrifice. People see sacrifice as a sign of love, affection, and respect. So it works on that level too.

They say it's the thought that counts with gifts. You'd still have to do some serious thinking before using the Money Toilet-Shredder in order to arrive at a proper dollar amount. You can't be sure how much the people in your life are worth until you think long and hard about their contribution to society, their general level of personality dysfunction, their life expectancy, and that sort of thing. If someone in your circle pencils out to seven dollars in gift value, no one can say that's your fault. You put in the thought and that's where the numbers fell.

I will grant you that this idea is only second-best compared to pretending you gave a gift in someone's name to an environmental cause. That's still the gold standard in this genre. But if you're not comfortable with lying, the Money Toilet-Shredder might be the solution for you. It's honest and it conforms to science. The only downside is that it associates a person's special day with a toilet. But let's be realistic about the so-called special days.

Consider your birthday. That commemorates a day you hurt your mother and did absolutely nothing useful for society. Should you be rewarded for THAT???

Then there's Christmas. I'm no religious scholar, but I'm fairly certain you did nothing to help out with the birth of the savior. And there's a good chance you're a sinner. Why should we reward YOU???

Valentine's Day is more of a practical joke on men than a real occasion.

I could go on. But it's probably better if I don't.

-----------------

Scott Adams
Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of How to Fail...

 



 

Here's a little trick you can use to amaze your family and friends. Before we start, you need to know three things:

1. This is not a prank on you.
2. I don't know why it works.
3. It has worked every time I have tried.

The setup happens when someone in your life asks you to open a stubborn jar. Ideally, that person has already tried several furious approaches to the jar and failed. He or she tries to hand you the jar for assistance. Here's what you do.

Wave off the jar that has been offered and make sure you don't ever touch it.

Now say the following:

"You can open that jar easily with a trick I learned. Want to try?"

Most people will say yes.

"Okay, put your hands on the jar as if you are about to twist open the top and close your eyes. For ten seconds imagine all of the power and energy of your body flowing down to your hand that is about to open the jar. When you can imagine all of your strength and energy in your jar-opening hand, give the lid a sudden, confident twist and it will come off as if it had never been hard in the first place."

Wait for the subject to concentrate for 10 seconds, then say, "Now give it a quick twist and open it."

The lid will come off as if it had never been seriously stuck in the first place. Your subject's eyes will be like saucers. It's a fun moment because it will feel as if something magic just happened.

I've been doing this trick for years. As I mentioned, I have no idea why it works, unless one can actually move energy around to different body parts. But I have never seen any scientific support for that hypothesis.

You'll want to try this trick on your own jars a few times before you talk someone else into trying it. Let me know how this trick works for you.

You might wonder how I discovered this phenomenon.

Well, I have the optimist's curse. I have to confess that over the course of my entire life - or at least since reading my first Spiderman comic - I have periodically tested to see if I have an latent superpowers. For example, I like to see if I can levitate objects at a distance using nothing but my mind. That hasn't worked yet. And I have tried to predict or influence the next play in sporting events but that hasn't yielded any results. And I have tried to stand on a scale and will my weight to instantly decrease just to see if I have the start of flying powers. So far, no luck.

One day in my optimistic past I tried moving my entire body energy into my jar-opening hand to see if that was a thing. The jar lid popped off as if it had barely been attached. The first few times I tried this method on various jars it seemed as if perhaps the jar had not been so hard to open in the first place. But after I extended the trick to include other people who had already tried and failed to open stubborn jars, I started to wonder why it works.

I still have no idea. Do you?


-----------
Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of a book that is changing a lot of lives, or so I am told.

 

 


---------------

Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

 

People keep telling me this book changed their lives

 

 


 


 
 
 
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