Friday, March 03, 2006

Wow. I dropped the ball on writing my blog. I actually have been writing a lot, just either stuff for my book or working out such personal stuff that I could never print it. Oh this blog, off in in-between land between confessional and professional.

So, I went to the TED conference and I was just…blown away. There is no way to write about it without resorting to superlatives and clich├ęs. I got to hang with some of my heroes: Daniel Dennet (AGAIN!) and I was mostly touched, moved, excited, blown away by getting to hang out with Robert Wright – who wrote “The Moral Animal” among other important books – but “The Moral Animal” really, well, to be honest it fucked me up. And that’s what I told Wright. I don’t think I’ve actually fully recovered from reading “The Moral Animal.” It wasn’t just that I learned about evolutionary psychology especially in regards to women’s eggy-ness versus men’s spermy-ness. What really threw me for a loop in that book was learning, understanding, having to admit that my altruism, the do-gooder in me that I was trained so well by the nuns to incorporate into my soul, was really all just ultimately selfish behavior all along. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t read the book, but Wright is right. It is all for ourselves, even if some of us are lucky enough to think that ourselves means those we care about and those we care about means the human race and the planet. This is the part that I’ve never really recovered from. In any case, it was nice to find that Robert Wright is kind and bright and charming and I keep pinching myself that I got to spend the time with him that I did.

Tonight Mulan and I celebrated five years with Eddie. Eddie is the stuffed animal in the shape of an elephant that Mulan has gone to sleep clutching for five years. It was five years ago that Mulan and I stepped off that plane from China. My friend Teri Schwartz was at the airport and she handed this fluffy elephant to Mulan and it’s been her talisman ever since.

It’s hard to believe it’s been that long. So we made a little cake for Eddie and had a candle on it and sang to him. Five years of finding Eddie before she falls asleep. Five years of Eddie on planes here and there. I can’t believe that I’m all worked up over a stuffed animal, but I actually am!

Well, this is all I can post tonight. I am hoping I get back in the groove.


greenISgood said...

My daughter has an "Eddie" also, rather a teeny tiny towel from the China Hotel that is a pre-requisite before going to sleep on any night. I totally understand getting worked up, and it means so much to them...ok, I'm tearing up......Luv ya.

Anonymous said...

Thanks alot Julia. I'm already reading Daniel Dennett's "Breaking the Spell" and Ernest Becker's "Denial of Death" and now I have to add "Moral Animal". I hope it never stops, but I know it will.

Sheldon said...

Famed Social Psychologist, Robert Cialdini, says the same thing Wright seems to be saying: "There's no such thing as Altruism."

It's a hard pill to swallow, but they make a very good case, and it's not just philosophical. If you help someone else, you're really helping yourself.

Cialdini is the author of "Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion," another book that will "fuck you up" and make you realize how easy it is to manipulate people using some very basic principles of Psychology.

Anyway, here's to Eddie! The only truly giving soul among us! : )

wstachour said...

I have bought several copies over the years of "The Moral Animal" to give to friends, and it was a real eye-opener for me. A brilliant summary. I was a bit nonplussed at his next book, "Nonzero," and was (I hope I'm not being too catty) reminded that he is, after all, a journalist; the brilliant work comes from the scientists he summarizes.

At least one Christian friend to whom I gave the book stopped shortly into it, just being uneasy where it was headed. I'm not sure how to get his head back out of the sand.

Anonymous said...

Well, if there anything wrong with helping oneself?

Guess I'd better read the book, I'm very selfish.

Susan in Spokane

Siamang said...

I hate people who go to TED.

Everyone I've ever met who goes to TED does the same thing.

They come back and gush about all the amazing people they met at TED.

Well, fuck you, and fuck TED.

Nobody ever asked ME to TED. I'm amazing, too.

Fuckin TED.

It's not so bad on a blog. But MAN, in real life, it's just a reminder that you aren't shining anywhere near as brightly as those around you.

PS,if anyone who runs TED can get me in next year, I promise to gush about the amazing people I met at TED.

niecey said...

Altruism...deep inside you know helping others is for yourself. Because it usually feels good. And fortunately, this vice has wonderful side effects...helping folks, or being compationate, at least, is a huge releif to those you are helping.
I still think of those stories where people go back in time and tweek something...and it effects the future...or "it's a wonderful life" stuff.
Like every think else, selflessness definitely needs to be done in moderation...if you can manage it.

Baconeater said...

I wonder what these guy consider this from a current story on Yahoo:

'Felix Warneken was in a tough spot. While hanging laundry, he had "accidentally" dropped a clothespin out of reach. Stretch as he might, he couldn’t grab it.

He even cried out, "My pin!"

A young chimpanzee sitting nearby picked up on Warneken’s distress and retrieved the clothespin for him.

Since the chimp received no reward, or even a "thank you," this experiment indicates chimps can be altruistic, a quality many scientists thought only humans possessed.

Warneken, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute, performed the same experiment with human infants and found them equally helpful.'

I guess altruism by Wrights definition would be: doing something that has no emotional affect and no beneficial affect on either the person or animal doing the act, or the person or animal on the other end of the act.

Even in the above experiment, the person dropping the object is in a panic, so the baby or the monkey could be picking it up could be doing so because innately we don't want to see distress, because distress can lead to anarchy, which could mean death. So babies and monkeys are committing a selfish act for survival.

Sheldon said...

In response to the guy above who calls himself "bacon eating athiest jew"...

First of all CHIMPS ARE NOT MONKEYS!!!! I don't mean to take it out on you BEAJ, but when will people ever stop making that huge mistake? No wonder people still have problems with Evolution...they don't know the difference between a chimp and a monkey. I guess I can't blame them, though. Every time you see a chimpanzee on tv, you hear monkey jokes. They're not even close to being the same might as well say "poodle."

Second, it's not just Wright who defines Altruism the way you describe. That IS the definition of Altruism. In zoology, it's "instinctive cooperative behavior that is detrimental to the individual but contributes to the survival of the species." In the social sciences, it's "a type of Prosocial Behavior (behavior intended to help another) that intentionally benefits the other with no internal or external reward for the agent."

In other words, if you feel good about doing it (eg, anonymously giving to charity), then it's not Altruism. If you increase your own survival by helping another human in your neighborhood (because she may help you in the future), then it's not Altruism.

In the case of the CHIMP, it was acting on an instinctive drive to help another "of its species." Of course, we're not chimps, but we look similar enough that the instinct would be activated easily. In fact, the drive is so strong, that he likely would have helped any creature in the same predicament.

Baconeater said...

Thanks Sheldon for correcting my error. I admit I make the mistake but I do it because by dog loves Animal Planet and I don't differentiate between monkey and chimp with her when I say "Daisy, look at that monkey." I hate to be blamed for helping to keep the ignorant anti-evolutionists down.

If you check out altruism in Wikipedia for instance, it looks like the definition is more subjective than objective.

Anonymous said...

ok you guys break it up or I'll have to kick your monkey asses.

Justin Kreutzmann said...

it's all in the groove

Anonymous said...

This comment is a little late in posting. But as a recovering Catholic myself, I had to chuckle when I found a link to this article on another person's blog. The blogger wrote: "Even the Vatican thinks that intelligent design is crap." I can't believe that I'm in agreement with the vatican on an issue!!! Here's the link/web address:

Steven Strauss said...

Congratulations on the OpEd in today's LATimes. May your show run on and on - on Sundays!

Robert said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Robert said...

Julia, you wrote altruism, the do-gooder in me that I was trained so well by the nuns to incorporate into my soul, was really all just ultimately selfish behavior all along. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t read the book, but Wright is right. It is all for ourselves.

How would you prove something like that? To show that this was true, wouldn't we need some counterexample that never happened, some behavior that would truly be altruistic that no one has ever engaged in?

I don't know - the thesis sounds more like philosophy then science. How would you prove it?

Anonymous said...

Julia! I just found your site and have been reading away. Books, cooking, quilts, cancer - good heavens we may have been separated at birth. (I knew my parents lied to me, just not about siblings.) But before I go any further there is something desperately urgent that you need to know. Are you ready? Ok, here it is: Peel your pomegranates under water. That's right. Under. Water. Fill a dishpan or bowl and have at it. The seeds sink, the pulp floats, and you get no spots on your shirts. Try it, you'll like it.

Anonymous said...

Hello Julia, What is this giving up the faith thing? Get it back what ever it was. I listened to you on some radio show enroute (sounds wierd)on the way to my old beat up boat in Mantaloking NJ. You were just really bearing your soul I think. It was amazing really I am still speechless, really helpful to many people. While I have never been really ill yet ( thank God for that ) I don't think that I could listen to that for to long about sickness and such . But boy you just gave the whole damn thing a face that got me over the idea of it. Well any way you were saying about your Dad and the cat food and I was meeting my Dad yesterday afternoon. He refers me as the only child of three that can make him curse really bad. Now I am 38 and he is about 64. I could picture him doing exactly that about don't throw away the old cat food thing. Plus no one going to the store to begin with. Well I hope your well and have great life you already had one hell of a ride. If I think about comparing it to mine I'll get depressed.