Faux Friendships

Many articles have been written about friendships and Social Networks and the nature of our connections, real and virtual – but none I’ve read have had both such a wide historical view, and such minute contemporary observations.

This is a definitive article, even if its rom 2009. A long read but thoroughly engrossing. I cant recommend it enough.

Faux Freindships

Persistent Trauma Stress Disorder

When there is no P in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I’ve often thought that a large number of people in India – a vast percentage of the population – live in a state of persistent trauma, where the stresses of trying to survive are daily and relentless.

“In the developing world, it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish mental health problems from the stresses of poverty and conflict….

Does an Indian farmer commit suicide because of a mental illness, or because farming broke down and left him with no income?”

People like these farmers would not complain about the ‘inappropriateness’ of their mental state compared to others around them, because it is normal for everyone, it is ongoing, and they would rather focus more on their immediate physical needs, not their mental comfort, which is a luxury.

Understood like this, it also explains a lot about the apathy that Indians seem to have about their surroundings, communities, and their lack of interest in the future – something that is often and mistakenly discussed as a ‘spiritual’ aspect of their culture.

via: When PTSD Misses The P – | By Andrew Sullivan.

A rose by any other name. What is a colour?

Science blog ‘Empirical Zeal’ had a lovely two part blogpost on Colour, “How we gave colors names, and it messed with our brains“, brilliantly done here and here, which went on to win the top prize for best science blogpost 2012 at 3quarksdaily.

It included this video, of a Namibian tribe called the Himba,  and their unique take on colour. For example, to the Himba, the Sky is black, water is white, and milk is also white. The video is part of a BBC documentary on colour.  Be sure to watch the whole video.

A couple of things struck me watching this video…

  • What makes us think they’re describing colour according to our definition of colour?
  • We are surprised at their way of seeing colour. Thats only because we dont know their way of looking at colour. Any art academic will tell you those are two different things.
  • Maybe their culture and history doesn’t bring them to need to describe as many colours as we historically and slowly came to do?

This led to a chain of speculation on my part. What if they’re not using the words in their language to describe the spectral position of the colour – which is what we do when we teach our children the colours of the rainbow – but something else as well, that we see but English disregards as ‘not color’?

In the modern world, we have a comprehensive and exact definition of what constitutes a colour in our language, and how we describe the world with those and other words.

Now while we have 11 words for colours, the Himba have half that. What if they’re not describing just colour, but colour+X of any object?

How else to understand the Himba describing the Sky as black, and water as white, AND milk as white, while in English we call water AND sky blue, and milk white?

Assuming the Himba have the same eyes as every other human on the planet, we can see exactly what they can see.

In which case, perhaps while we took the direction of making our language describe spectrum position, to the Himba color is an overlap of spectrum position and another Category:

  • physical property? (liquids vs air – water is white, sky is black – what colour is the earth to the Himba?)
  • context and meaning of the object in their life?  (Water is white, milk is white – both are sustaining liquids?).
  • iridescence? saturation?
  • living quality  – living, biological product or source, non-living..
  • location – above/below the horizon?
  • a combination of things?

One important thing to remember – even these few *categories* are constructs of our language and culture, that may not be the same as theirs.

Water is white, milk is white, sky is black. Our mind hurts.

It is truly lost in translation. Their white is NOT our white, when we try to describe milk.

I’m sure poets would understand this language much better – not because its poetic, but because it probably mixes categories.

Think of Synesthesia.  We tend to see the sensory conflation of physical experience and visual stimulus as an ‘odd’ thing – a mutation, or defect. What if the Himba’s language integrates that as a natural way to see the world?

This could also explain why the processing of colour in the human brain jumps from the visual to language centers of the brain, from right to left hemisphere as we grow up. Words are fixed definitions of physical properties, contexts and interactions. Once defined, we offload processing to the ‘definition’ areas of our minds that tell us what we are seeing. Think of how a child or poet or illustrator can describe or draw a  ‘curly’ head of hair as ‘bubbly’. The child has not yet learnt the categories, and artists routinely mix categories

I’d write more, but i’m getting into armchair speculation, at best, and I don’t dare.

If I could I would question the Himba to discover categories they may describe, beyond our own definition of ‘colour’.

  • Do they call the sky black because they’re describing its natural colour at night, before the ‘white’ sun comes out? Maybe they see the day sky and night sky as two different things entirely, unlike us, and they see the sun as a white sheet/dome that covers the black sky?
  • How do they describe a shadow?
  • How do they describe a rainbow – how many colours do they see?
  • what colour is blood? As a life sustaining liquid, is it ‘white’, they word they use for water and milk?
  • what colour is the earth to the Himba? What colour is excrement? one is fertile, red in Africa, the other is waste.

I would love to know these things.

Where has all the money in the world gone?

With all the doom and gloom about the economy these past few years, someone on the forum Reddit.com asked a very valid question –

“Where has all the money in the world gone?

I hear nothing but bad news about financial crisis all over the world, and it seems that there is a shortage of cash – like it is some sort of natural resource.

People haven’t stopped buying stuff. They still need food, clothing, medicine, shelter. Taxes are still collected. Fines are still levied.

So where is all the money? I mean, labor has been produced to make things and wages paid to the laborers. The things are purchased by other laborers, who were paid for producing goods or services, etc. It’s a closed loop, right?

Can someone explain it like I’m five or something?”


Reddit user ‘otherwiseyep’ came to the rescue with a long but simple explanation. Short answer: money is a simple idea, but it gets complicated fast the more people use it in new and different ways.

More about Money at Spectrum IEEE : A Brief History of Money. Or, how we learned to stop worrying and embrace the abstraction

Why No Jobs Happen to Good Workers

A lot of companies are complaining that there is a skill gap, that good workers are hard to find, and that the education system is failing us and so on.

This guys take is that companies blame everything for the problem, except their possible role in it.

So If all companies are paying market rates, and still facing a skill gap, then clearly they’re not paying enough. Companies are being short sighted by wanting to pay less, and wanting more skills.

Thats not how the market economy works.

Why Bad Jobs-or No Jobs-Happen to Good Workers – IEEE Spectrum.

The True Miracle in The Andes.

37 years ago in 1972, a passenger plane crashed into the high Andes. Most died, and 15 people survived well over two months in subzero temperatures and no food until they were rescued.

Nando Parrado, a survivor, wrote a book about the ordeal – ‘Miracle in the Andes’, published 2006. Here is an excerpt from an article about the book and the author:

There is a quote from Nando’s book where, after being on the mountain for more than two months, enduring the deaths of 29 friends and family members (including his mother and sister), and upon reaching the summit of a 17,000 foot peak in -30 degree temperatures in jeans and sneakers, expecting to see green valleys below, he only sees more peaks and snow-filled valleys for as far as the eye can see. He writes:

I don’t know how long I stood there, staring. A minute. Maybe two. I stood motionless until I felt a burning pressure in my lungs, and realized I had forgotten to breathe. I cursed God and raged at the mountains. The truth was before me: for all my striving, all my hopes, all my whispered promises to myself and my father, it would end like this. We would all die in these mountains. We would sink beneath the snow, and ancient silence would fall over us, and our loved ones would never know how hard we had struggled to return to them. In that moment, all my dreams, assumptions, and expectations of life evaporated into the thin Andean air. My love for my father swelled in my heart, and I realized that, despite the hopelessness of my situation, the memory of him filled me with joy. It staggered me. The mountains, for all their power, were not stronger than my attachment to my father. They could not crush my ability to love.

I felt a moment of calmness and clarity, and that clarity of mind I discovered a simple, astounding secret: Death has an opposite, but the opposite is not mere living. It is not courage or faith or human will. The opposite of death is love. How had I missed that? How does anyone miss that? Only love can turn mere life into a miracle and draw precious meaning from suffering and fear. For a brief, magical moment, all my fears lifted, and I knew that I would not let death control me. I would walk through the godforsaken country that separated me from my home with love and hope in my heart. I would walk until I had walked all the life out of me, and when I fell, I would die that much closer to my father.

— Some Thoughts About The True Miracle in The Andes..