Electronic Bias

How people perceive things, leads to bias in perception. The majority of the time i spend listening to music nowadays is in compressed formats: I use streaming services, such as Spotify, Soundcloud and LastFM. I listen to compressed music on an MP3 device, because I like a range of music to listen to an the go.

I am wondering how much this is actually leading to bias in what music i listen to. Recently I have found myself listening to a lot of electronic music, music generated on computers. Electronic music, with it’s simpler waveforms, suffers less from compression than music from analogue sources, it loses less of it’s power and nuance after compression. So, digital music is of higher quality after compression than analogue music. I do generally prefer richer higher quality music, so it makes sense that my preferences are bias by this mode of listening. It is not just me, as increasingly people listen to music in this way.  HQ (high quality) is becoming the preserve of dedicated listening, rather than the norm.

This also applies to vocals. The nuances of timbre and character of voices is lost in compression. So, people learn to listen to new music without as much focus on these qualities, other facets of the music become more important. It can be postulated that really good singers will suffer relative to good producers. Indeed production is becoming bias in favour of sounds that suffer less from compression. It means that musicianship becomes less important as artists are dismissed before listeners have the oppurtunity to listen to there skills and talents.

An increasing reliance on portable devices is a retrograde step, for the trade of of access to a wide range of music instantly via the internet.

As humans, we all suffer from bias, it takes time and energy to keep our minds open, in a world that offers us less time and energy to do it in. People are prejudiced in so many ways:

People get ideas stuck in our own heads, subjecting them to all the bias of our mental experience of life, not allowing us to objectively view ideas outside of our heads. Being able to express ourselves, to put thoughts to paper/ screens, enables us to view ideas outside of the bias of how we a re feeling at a particular moment. However, if we do this online, increasingly those thoughts come back through internet algorithms to affect us.

We are prejudiced by our families, the communities we grew up in and live in, the communities we become members of, our choices of media sources. It is so important to get away from these sources of bias and see things in a more open objective way.

We are prejudiced by the internet, of receiving more of our data about the world via a screen and headphones. Indeed this bias is getting worse as the internet and indeed society is increasingly monetarised and thus more biased. In the U.S. there is currently a debate about allowing internet providers to charge for bandwidth, slowing down access to smaller websites, decreasing choice and increasing bias . As the internet takes over more of our lives, alternative sources of data are disappearing, which decreases choice.

It seems that there are reduced opportunities to learn how to keep out minds open and be objective about our data sources.

Maturity Lies

What is maturity? is it simply time or something that happens. Is it a consequence of acquiring responsibilities, such as looking after children? It is about living with decisions or transcending the necessity for such decisions?

I drifted into the ‘teen’ section at a local bookshop recently and picked up ‘We are Liars‘ by e. lockhart. It is a cracking read (slight spoilers to follow). In this short novel there is an argument between two characters about mottos to live by.

On one ‘side’ is the idea of striving to achieve peace with the world, the other ‘side’ is the idea of striving to achieve peace in the world.

The world is an unjust place, being fully aware of this is depressing and there is little you can do about it, kind of like going insane in the total perspective vortex. So, finding a way to cut this out of your life, to be more comfortable and happy, seems a good strategy and an achievable one.

On the other hand, fighting against the evils of the world seems a better strategy morally.  an involvement in a campaign, provides energy, rewards of feelings of solidarity and seems to separate the self from the problem. It should be noted that purely adopting this behaviour has a tendency to lead to extremism, for example by adopting a ‘moral code’ to justify immoral acts.

These two positions grind against each other in the novel. Being a ‘teen’ book, it suggests that a choice between these competing ways of being is to be made. The implication being that making the choice and committing to it is maturity.

There is also the issue of tradition, particularly family tradition. Instead of making choices for oneself, one can adopt the family position. The benefits are made clear within the family group, but it takes an outsider to reveal the costs.

It appears a scary choice, especially to the young. There is a fear that going down one path or the other will change you as a person, or affect some key cherished principle. This fear actually prevents such a choice being made. I used to be very fearful of making decisions, of making a mark on a piece of paper, kind of ‘uh oh, here we go, where is this going to lead!?’.

The novel and my personal view is that such a choice is not a mark of maturity, but rather an escape from the dynamism of life. Maturity, to me is not making the choice, but finding a way of being both, which is not in itself easy or necessarily simple. To an adolescent seeking concrete truths, this may seem a smeary and inconsistent answer. With age, comes a greater appreciation of time, the temporal nature of existence. It is possible to be happy, and unconcerned with the nastiness in the world, whilst in other parts of life, or at other times, to be fervently fighting injustice and striving the make the world a better place.It is possible to not linger but learn to rapidly switch between the two

Maturity is perhaps being free of the burden of choice, of allowing oneself to go on a journey, not being afraid and aware that steps can be retraced if it becomes apparent that a different course would be better. Not to eradicate a possibility, but realise that things can be left to one side and returned to. To keep options open and to realise there is no end point to decision making, it is simply a journey. Maintaining this balance, prevents the pitfalls of extreme choice  leading to  tragic ends.

‘We met on the train’

I attended an event in Ebbw Vale, some years ago, when the late politician, Tony Benn was touring the UK. At this event Mr Benn, described entering into a conversation with two people whilst stuck on a delayed train. During the conversation Mr Benn asked the two people how they had met, they answered ‘We met on the train’. Perhaps the romance, or at least the social leveling of sharing a train journey encourages socialising. In a sense on the train, life stops, givign people space to think and talk with people they wouldn’t otherwise speak to. However these days, people cocoon themselves with their mobile devices, carry on their lives and don’t allow the world to force them to stop.

This the principle behind the film ‘Jab We Met‘ which I enjoyed watching at the weekend. In the film two young people meet on a train and begin a journey together.  It’s a variant of the usual boys meets girl, boy loses girl, boy and girl get back together, get married and live happily ever after. I don’t watch enough Bollywood films, though people say i don’t watch enough films generally. When I do watch a Bollywood film I usually really enjoy them.

I am a bit of a sucker for trashy romantic comedies anyway. However generally I find the Bollywood ones are better than the U.S. ones. Better because partly I love the fact that they are usually musicals and that the cast may burst into a massive song and dance number at any moment, which is great. The films can make very serious social points and still provide an exhilarating happy ending. Also, the films are long enough for viewers to fall in love with the characters of the protagonists (whatever your sexuality), the audience can get to know the character and see their development through the film. The films are clearly fantasies, there is a sense of knowing that this is a fantasy story, with elements of reality, sometimes with U.S. films i feel a sense of trying too hard to be real, to make the world real and not leave room for the imagination of the viewer.

With any piece of art, the viewer fills in the gaps in there head, makes it real to themselves by adding pieces of themselves to the experience. I despair a little of much of modern culture that tries to be too real. This applies in films, computer games and indeed music, where video is provided to accompany the music. Traditional forms of theatre,  stop motion animation and old low budget episodes of Doctor Who, I love, because they are clearly leave space for the audience to say yes and make it real for themselves. This fantasy of making things real is perhaps lost in modern media, indeed works are often criticised for not seeming real enough. What I do wonder though, is where the younger generation gets to practice and develop the ability to fill the gaps and use their imagination.

Online Sexism?

Recently, I have set my foot into the world of online dating. It is an interesting and bizarre world. I may post more about this in future. The issue for today is how perhaps, online social activities influence real world interactions.

Anyone who has ever dabbled in internet forums, message boards, chat rooms or comments sections of articles, has probably gathered that there are many idiots out there, these people are referred to as trolls. Trolls, rather than engaging in a discussion, seem to delight in taking an extreme view and abusing anyone who responds to them. In the real world this wouldn’t happen in the same way. I grew up to respect others positions, in a pub discussion if you behaved disrespectfully, you would general getting punched for it. This really is the problem of trolling, is that it is relatively anonymous and there is no social consequence for behaving like an idiot.

In the arena of online dating, there should perhaps be less trolling as people are there to meet new people and form relationships rather than seek getting a rise out of people. Though it is online, so some trolling will occur.

Having set up a profile and sent messages to ladies who seemed interesting to me, I have yet to have any response at all. This seems odd, I have written to about 40 ladies, it seems rude to have no response to having taken the time to write something.  I thought that this was how it worked, the rules of the forum, that instead of communicating a lack of interest, no response was the accepted unspoken rule that such communities had developed.

Last night, having a look through some ladies profiles I discovered explanations of why some ladies don’t respond. Basically, it seems that when ladies have responded an stated a lack if interest, that there are men who don’t take no for an answer and persist in contacting these ladies. This makes sense if this is as prevalent as it seems, however isn’t there something sexist about treating everyone as if they were a harasser. This is creating an assumption or a prejudice that all men are going to act a certain way. As a bloke, I have developed behaviours to identify and reduce and prejudice I may have, for example I don’t judge a lady by what she is wearing. In the real world it is much easier to detect whether someone is interested in talking to you or not.

Having said that I also discovered that there are men who are very sexually provocative, sending pictures of their genitalia and suchlike, this is appalling behaviour. There also appear to be instances of people lying about who they are. What is the point of lying, as if a relationship forms, such things will be exposed. Then again , it’s like CVs, you write them to present yourself in a good light, this gets you a better job and once in it’s often easier keep someone in. However, i would argue relationships are different to job applications.

As it is acceptable behaviour in online forums to not respond to messages, this leaks into the real world. It becomes more acceptable to be rude and ignore people in real life. With a generation of people who spend more and more time in online activities, such leaking of social etiquette in to the real world, has consequences. Being of a generation that generally, worked to remove prejudice of all kinds, it seems that the generation behind is introducing prejudice back into society.

I wrote in an earlier post about how I have struggled with people, most often women, who assume that i am seeking a closer relationship with them, when this is something I only do in an explicit way. So, i have entered a forum ,where I am only seeking a relationship, so simply saying no should be really simple, but it seems for many people this is not the case? I am baffled!

Pop Politics

sometimes people are cynical about things. Sometimes, people feel less cynical and at ease and tolerant of the world.

Madonna has always been an interesting artist. She isn’t the greatest musician or vocalist. She is an interesting artist because she is very clever at producing music that is popular, whilst retaining an edginess, thus providing a social commentary on the times and popular music industry at the time. Madonna has retained her longevity but being able to continually re-invent herself as popular music changes.

I have never been a fan of Madonna. Indeed often I have felt cynical towards her music, because there has always been better, more interesting music available. I felt a sadness, that she has been popular whilst other artists, perhaps were more deserving of the limelight. Popular music is however is a reflection of what the ‘masses’ want, so listening to her output from this standpoint, one can find it interesting as social commentary and enjoy it for what it is. for there is always other music available for a deeper involvement with. This applies to other figures, such as Britney Spears or Katy Perry.

Politics, in terms of the machinations of party politics and media coverage of political events, is also interesting. This politics reflects popular concerns and serves as social commentary. It is also easy to be cynical about it as politicians don’t make the best decisions. Unlike pop music, it is harder not to get depressed about the situation, as these poor decisions affect the world and often are the causes of death of people around the world.

Like pop music, politics is a reflection of what the ‘masses’ want, or rather are told what they want by popular media. For example, a recent issues if that with high national debts, a focus has been on how rich people avoid paying there taxes. Yet the politicians spin this and instead blame obese people for costing money. In a democracy, the masses vote and keep voting in politicians that reflect popular views, which are always at a superficial level, never getting to the root of any problem and sorting it out.

Politics makes me fell depressed. Really, though I can’t do anything about it. Just as i can’t influence what music is popular. with any popularity contest, those who understand the issues deeply are always a minority. The ‘masses’ keep electing the same bunch of idiots to run the country and don’t listen to the best music. Whilst I find it harder not to feel depressed about politics, really treating it in the same way as popular music, enables me to not let it bring me down too much.

As someone who likes music and am concerned about the world, I should still keep listening and support efforts to make things better. However I should not feel overly burdened by it.

Inside Out

Writing about personality types recently, the implication is that personality is fixed and doesn’t change. Personalities do change, some aspects of of personality are amplified and others reduced. Some of these changes may be short term or long term. Whilst personalities change, the person doesn’t. It isn’t the fundamental person that changes, just positions on various personality spectra may be shifted

A core of personality is probably genetic. The rest is formed through  experience. I identified myself as an intuitive thinker, one whose focus is internal, thought is dominantly channeled through the self, rather than externally. It is perhaps ironic that those who live internally are viewed as the outsiders.

Having identified a internal – external thought pattern spectrum, why do minds tend to select a dominant way of thinking? People choose what works empirically, a mode of thinking is preferred if it provides a more reliable way of solving problems. It is not efficient to spend all ones time on metacognition, so people accept general rules to govern their thinking, come to accept positions, because they work reasonably well.

In a sense a speciality is developed. Ecologically, in dense communities (such as humans) having a speciality is often useful and a part of sustaining communities. Nonetheless, having general skills to use when the speciality is unhelpful is always useful, it is important not to exclusively rely on one mode of operation.

Balance is important, sometimes these systems each mind works out for itself, break down, they fail to solve problems we encounter. Sometimes a radical shift in focus solves a problem. Personally, using more external thinking helped solve some major problems I was having, by looking at patterns in wider society. This is not to suggest that external thinking is superior as it works in  both directions.

Last night, I re-watched one of my favourite films, ‘Heathers‘. In this film the protagonist, Veronica Sawyer, is popular in high school, yet she is unhappy with adoption of the rules of this lifestyle as she has an internal mental life as well. She acquires a boyfriend who recruits her into killing the problematic popular people in her life. By presenting the murders as suicides the vapid popular people are presented as only acting out popular roles to hide their own inner turmoil. Underneath this are the rest of the school, those not at the top of the popularity ladder, with there own insecurities, who are faced with knowing that the ‘popularity’ they have aspired for is not the life of carefree happiness they were dreaming of, which would solve the problems produced by their insecurities.

Generally, the film presents the problem of overly internal thinking. When faced with a problem, the internal thinker, looks within themselves for the source of the problem, to fix it. So, when no problem is detected, the idea generated is that they are wrong in some fundamental way, but don’t know why. Creating a desire to escape from this internal fear to an external world that promises to be problem free (which of course it isn’t).

I was like this, once I realised that the problem was an external one and not an internal one, I felt fixed! Being able to turn off the internal monologue and connect more intensely with external data is liberating. Essentially this seems like an argument for never fixing ideas, ensuring space for other ways of thinking to be allowed to work on problems. Balance is really important.

Another spectra is the sexuality one. Technically, everyone is on a spectrum between heterosexuality and homosexuality, so we should all be pansexuals. The majority of people identify as either heterosexual or homosexual. Looking to my history, there was a period as a young teenager where there was some sexual attraction to boys in addition to a dominant preference for girls. however after a year or so this bisexuality seemed to disappear. I seemed to have decided on heterosexuality as this made things simpler for me, I had adopted it as a rule. This isn’t a case of denying my own sexuality, rather adopting a rule that works well.

Visual Personalities

I am not a very visual person. Sometimes I am struck with how much peoples different personality types influence individual understanding of the world and how others perceive other individuals. A discussion about music videos revealed how much people both create their own visuals to accompany music and associate produced visuals (music videos) with the music. This is something that I don’t do, I do not associate visuals with music. If I make a concious effort to I can, but it is unnatural for me to do this. People live in different worlds as everyone’s world view is coloured by sets of preferences determined by their personality.

I love opera and theatre, but don’t enjoy ballet/ dance as artistic expression. Why? because I comprehend how in opera/ theatre the actions of the players represent emotional states conceptually. Whereas in ballet/ dance emotional states are represented physically and visually, this I am poor at comprehending.

What was interesting about this discussion I was having was that someone asked: ‘What is your Myers-Briggs personality type?’ It so happened that questioner has a very similar Myers-Briggs type to me, yet they were a very visual person. So we created the suggestion that Myers-Briggs personality type is not associated with whether someone is a visual person.

The Myers-Briggs personality types are interesting. They offer a way of helping people understand how they are different and lead to explanations of conflicts with other personality types. for the record, I am INFJ. I strongly connect with the Introverted intuition type (IN) very weakly feeling (F) over thinking (T) and fairly weakly for Judging (J) over perceiving (P). I used to be overly concerned with people reacting negatively to me. So, being able to be free of knowing that it isn’t usually my behaviour that is the problem, but other peoples failure to understand it.

I love music, I connect with music quite deeply. When I was younger I didn’t fully appreciate, that the majority of people don’t do this. The majority of people like music, these people may need assistance of visual imagery to fully understand the music. Then there are people who don’t really get music, who probably are irritated by how ubiquitous music is in modern society. All aspects of personality exist on various spectra. I just happen to be nearer the extreme ends of the music and visual ones. The right music can help me understand a visual piece of art better.

When I was younger and more angry and cynical, I would become upset with how music is presented, particularly how popular music was a bizarre mixture of great and poor music. It angered me that music that I considered good was treated in the same way as bad music, why were music mediums such as TV/radio being poor at quality assessments, the forces deciding what music was commercially successful were themselves not musical. Of course I now appreciate that associations of music with particular visuals or social phenomena (i.e not the music itself) were what was driving this, The majority of people whose personalities were not music specialists. I have become tolerant of such workings of the mainstream world.

There is such diversity in personalities in the world and so many spectra that make each individual, a genuine individual. This diversity leads to perceivable preferences. for example, fashion is important for some people, a visual presentation of the self. These preferences will influence how individuals behave and what ideas and concepts they more strongly associate with. It takes a long time to get to know another person fully (and it’s never 100%), which is why learning to know people better is fascinating.

Yet in the world there are so many value judgements made about particular groups of people. There is much conflict based on superficial understanding of peoples motives. I appreciate that my personality type, predisposes me to tolerance and avoiding conflict. However in a more integrated world, where people are decreasing left alone to do their own thing, tolerance is becoming more important than ever.

Interpreting Science & Religion

I am a Scientist. I do sometimes feel sad about how often these things are misinterpreted, especially when such statements as ‘Scientists say…’ and the perception is created that it is that all scientists agree or that science itself has concluded something. I feel sad because this simply isn’t true. It’s an interpretation, conclusion forming and communication problem.

For example: ‘Scientists say “GMOs [Genetically Modified Organisms] are a good thing and implementation of GM technology must be supported”‘:

Science has an understanding of and discovered ways to manipulate the DNA of organisms. Scientists have used techniques developed in various applications, This is value free fact.

It is possible to interpret some individual applications of GM technology as beneficial. Scientists may interpret this potential of GM to do net good. Part of the role of the scientist is to discover things about how the world works and communicate these findings and potential uses. At this point science ends.

GM as being universally good? We are now entering into value judgements and forming conclusions. Really it is up to individuals and society in general whether something is potentially good. The conclusion that ‘all GM is good’ is absurd, each application has to be judged on it’s merits and some applications will be bad too. However it is difficult for policy makers and legislative bodies to create rules for. So, hopefully this makes clear the problem of lumping the process of truth, interpretation and rule making conclusion, into one misleading ‘Scientists say…’ statement.

I am a Christian and the exact same problem occurs in faith. For example “Christians say that justice is a good thing and must always be supported”:

Christianity is a religion, that assists people in connection with their spirituality/  the divine. This  enables people to enter a state of understanding and connection with the idea of universal love ,truth and goodness. That is what Christianity is, it’s not unique to Christianity, or even unique to religion. This connection with God through the Holy Ghost enables individuals to understand and connect with the concept of justice and know that it is good.

The secular person can equally understand the concept of justice. Perhaps rather than through spirituality, it is achieved by considering examples of justice and injustice until the concept is understood in the mind.

Any individual issue of justice has to be assessed on it’s merits as to whether it is a case of justice. Considering whether an act is a just act is an interpretation. Furthermore attempts may be made, that come to be understood empirically, to reach conclusions and create rules. Rules are not Christianity, they are an individuals interpretation, for example: ‘Christianity must be defended when attacked’ is an interpretation, subject to the frailties of human reason. So, it is equally wrong to make statements such as ‘Christians say justice should be defended’, isn’t a part of Christianity, it is an interpretation by some people who are identify as Christians.

Spirituality isn’t an easy concept to understand, even those of faith sometimes lose their ability to connect with their spirituality. I used to be Agnostic myself, so found it easy to criticise Christianity, because I didn’t understand what it was. It is the interpretation of Christianity, indeed conclusions by Christians that can cause problems.

Really because the brain state of spirituality is something discovered, rather than reached through logic, it is an emotional state, it is not easy to achieve. Much of Christianity, as a religion,  concerns biblical stories and rituals that assist adherents achieve spirituality. This is all symbolic and not literally true:

As a Christian, I believe in God, the father almighty. What is God? God is the brain state of achieving spirituality. God only exists in human minds, there is no corporeal existence in this universe. I believe God is eternal, because spirituality exists in the universe, any being with human-like mind can access this concept and the concept is eternal. Becoming a Christian is simply gaining access to God.

I believe in immortality. I have connected with my spirituality, which I call God, my physical body will perish, but I have connected with an eternal concept, that other humans will achieve after me, that is my immortality. I do not believe that my soul will endure in some spiritual realm, fraternising with angels and other souls, although this is a wonderful concept, it is not true, but does contain a sense of being on a path to achieving spirituality.

I believe that God created the universe, not as some supernatural creative force of matter and energy, but as the possibility that in an otherwise dead neutral universe of matter and energy, human beings are capable of love, of experiencing decision making with an awareness that there are good positive ways of acting and otherwise (the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge in the Genesis creation story) and giving value to life and the universe. I don’t think humans will ever know how God was involved with the creation of this universe, to me this is not an important part of the faith, simply the belief is.

The words Christians use are more symbolic than literal. When I take communion, I do not believe that the bread and wine are the body and blood of Christ. I do believe that I have symbolically connected with Christ and that helps me achieve the state of spirituality and connection with the Holy Trinity.

What makes Christianity special, is it’s clothes. The stories that surround the faith itself and the tradition it is a part of. All religions are about achieving spirituality, it’s just that the clothes, the stories and rituals are different. The ‘rules’ are interpretations by specific sects of any religion, it is a shame that they are not always recognised as such. Everyone makes rules and creates fictions, to get through life more efficiently and keep ourselves happy, to achieve spirituality quicker, it is important to remember that they are all fictions and not absolute truths. I create and subscribe to fictions as a Scientist and as a Christian to achieve happiness, whilst retaining an understanding of what are universal truths and what are fictions/interpretations.

In Science as well, we make rules and form theories. These help Scientists make efficient progress. Good scientists are always aware that the general conceptualisation of a theory may not be quite right. Good scientists are always keen to consider that they have discovered something that reveals the bigger picture more clearly. Equally adherents of faith should always question teachings and interpretations of their faith,

It baffles me that people wish to ever lump Science and Religion together, to me this is absurd. Science is a way of gathering information about how the universe of matter and energy works. Religion is about fragility of the human mind and the force of seeking an ease with itself and the universe. They are almost entirely separate. I don’t believe you can have the universe with human like minds in it without God.

All too often, we go from simple concepts, along paths of reasoning, making a generalisation here, strongly identify with a particular case and reach interpretations and conclusions that have little to do with the initial concept.