Sunday, November 29, 2009

Dolphins =/= Romantic

I was at a friend's wedding dinner earlier this weekend when someone at the same table brought up the subject of the invitation cards for another wedding he'd been to earlier this year. Apparently it had a picture of a pair of bottle-nosed dolphins swimming side by side, and he thought it kinda sweet and romantic, up until I was obliged to point out that the dolphin idea of sexual relationships largely involves kidnapping and gang rape. Oh, yes, indeedy, have a look see.

Word to the wise: You want romantic animals? Stick with Mandarin ducks.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Hearts and minds revisited

Hokay, finally got round to listening to that lecture by Prof Damasio. Long story short, a dead end. It was a lecture delivered to an audience mostly comprising liberal arts students introducing his work in studying emotion, in a charming accent I can't quite identify which makes it sound as though he's meticulously putting every word in place with a pair of tweezers. So no answers for me just yet. Oh, well.

On a vaguely related note, I was listening to the radio the other day, and heard that David Guetta & Akon "song", Sexy Chick. And I facepalmed and despaired for the slow death of romance. I mean, really, have you heard the lyrics to that rubbish?

"I'm trying to find the words to describe this girl without being disrespectful..."

... and the best he could come up with is "sexy chick". "Sexy chick"?? Is this how far we have fallen? Is this how a man expresses his attraction for a woman in this day and age? Not 3 days ago I watched Gerard Depardieu playing Cyrano de Bergerac. Ah, that balcony scene... Now THAT's romance, not these crude grunts and babblings that pollute the airwaves*! Ah, the hell with it. No time to rant, there's books to omnomnomnomnom...

*For which many Malaysian DJs are also guilty...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hearts and minds

This is just a quick note to remind myself on an interesting thought I had today:

Why do so many cultures associate the heart with emotional and mental character?

It seems to be a fairly universal thing. Solzhenitsyn once said:

The line between good and evil lies at the centre of every human heart.

I personally have a very Zen-influenced interpretation of that (which I'll be detailing in my book). Pascal said:

The heart has its reasons that reason knows not.

And I know Japanese and Chinese cultures both take the same view of the heart being associated with mental functions in their word for psychology: 心理学 (literally, heart study*). The only exception I can think of is Malay culture, which uses hati (liver) in much the same context where we'd usually use heart. This is known to lead to some hilarity in A-level biology in Malaysia when students sent to the butcher for a cow's heart to dissect translate the term wrongly and end up lugging several kilograms of liver back to an exasperated bio teacher.

I suppose the experience of heartache might shed some light on why this link has been made, but now I have to wonder, why does it feel like it does? Why should getting your heart broken result in that horrible, crushing feeling in your chest? I'm quite curious about the neurobiological reasons for this and so have decided to grab this lecture by Prof Antonio R Damasio and have a listen. Will try to remember to post a summary and my thoughts on the matter later...

* That's just off the top of my head, so I'd be much obliged if someone could tell me if it's a bit off.

Monday, November 9, 2009


Sorry, I just found out how to type in Japanese with Vista and just can't resist tapping out bits and pieces every so often. Anyway, 繋がり (tsunagari) means 'connection(s)', which is the topic of this lovely video here:

I don't know what it does for you, but I haven't had such goosebumps since the first time I contemplated the big bang, deep star nucleosynthesis and evolution. I was sitting in the library of the Physics department at uni at the time, mind wandering while I studied for an exam. All around me were aspiring scientists and tomes and journals by the metric tonne, the distilled sweat, blood and tears of hundreds and thousands of scientists who had come before us. And in a file before me, in the frenzied scribbling of a student trying to keep up with the professor's OHP slides, sat my notes, a miniscule sliver of knowledge of the Universe.

A huge piece of the puzzle clicked into place for me back then, and I got that feeling one gets when you're, say, building a complex model and you put that piece in place which just puts you past the border between "chaotic mess" and "it's taking shape". I'm pleased to say I've had a lot of those moments since then, and such is the complexity of the Universe (and so much of it of our own making!) that I know I can look forward to many more.

The model-making analogy works the other way as well. Consider the acquisition of knowledge without the aegis of the scientific method, i.e. no formulation of hypothesis, no experimentation, no peer review, no constant testing against the realities of the universe... Is this not akin to grabbing a model off the shelf, dragging it out of the box, ignoring the instructions, casting aside files, knives and glue and slapping together whatever you like with duct tape? Well, I suppose this is but one possible scenario, exemplified in the real world by that special breed of person who is so open-minded his brain has dropped out.

The point is, there is a balance to be maintained. It's all well and good, perusing Wikipedia, National Geographic, Youtube and the popular science section of the local bookstore for these clips, articles and books exalting science and its bounty, but one would do well to remember the discipline and effort that went into them.

And right now, if I had a hat, I'd take mine off to the late Carl Sagan and all of those very rare scientists with the ability to communicate the beauty of science to the general public. Hum. It's been too long since I've watched a Royal Institution Christmas Lecture...

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

When life gives you lemons...

I remember once upon a time I'd post the odd question on Yahoo! Answers with the naive expectation that I might actually get a sensible response. You know, seeing as I did my level best to provide a decent reply and everything. Suffice it to say, I was disappointed many times, though never with such consistency as I had witnessed in the Malaysian section of Yahoo! Answers*. So sod it, when life gives you fail, the best thing to do is laugh at it. So, yah, I was well pleased to stumble across this:

The URL says it all. Seeing as I'm still on a high from the most ferocious scrap of my kendo career during the weekend, here's another site I found fairly uplifting:

Yes, laugh at their pain. And don't for a moment consider the possibility that, one day, you could be posting there, too...

* A special brand of fail indeed! It even fails to be the slightest bit funny...