“Positive Intelligence” (Review)

Last summer, I listened to “Positive Intelligence” (2012), an audiobook by Shirzad Chamine that my father introduced me to. You can also find a paper version of the text available for purchase at PositiveIntelligence.com. In it, Chamine explains how our minds are controlled by 10 entities, or “Saboteurs,” each with their own intents and motivations.

The 10 rather arbitrary Saboteurs, as their name suggests, sabotage our emotional health by corrupting our thinking, and thus account for much of the pain and anguish we feel in life. For example, the Judge is the primary Saboteur which all other Saboteurs stand in service to. Its job is to relentlessly heckle and scrutinize you for your every little mistake as a way of pushing you toward some much needed improvement. Sound familiar?

Chamine tells you to give your Judge a name as a way of identifying it so that when it appears to hijack and “sabotage” your thought process, you can strip it of its credibility. He talked about the creative names people gave their Judges; the Destroyer and the Executioner are two examples. I call my Judge the Chief Executive Cognitive Mediator, or CECM for short, because it mediates many of the higher-level cognitive processes that constitute rational decision making and emotional regulation. I also call it the Chief Executive Cerebral Mediator.

Other Saboteurs include the Avoider, the Controller, the Pleaser, and the Hyper-Achiever. They are malicious by their nature, but they served an important survival function in early childhood by steering us away from particularly dangerous threats, such as a hot stove, busy traffic, or a tiger. The main premise of Chamine’s book is that while the Saboteurs continue to remain useful, they are not needed as much in adulthood, mainly due to how our brains have developed enough for us to flee danger through the use of basic intuition and common sense.

Chamine believes that the greatest enemy we face in life is not the government, our parents, spouse, coworkers, or managers, but rather our very own internal mental conflicts—our Judge. And to a certain extent, he’s right. There were moments where an annoying customer would make me feel terrible at work only to find myself feeling even worse upon ruminating on it at home. It’s always been my reaction to the event and not the event itself that’s caused the majority of my depression. Unfortunately, Shirzad Chamine’s “Positive Intelligence” lacks in soundness for the simple fact that many if not all of his techniques for conquering the Saboteurs are just plain impractical, and also that his definitions of what Saboteurs even are prove to be very nebulous.

Regarding the impracticality of his techniques for conquering what he calls Saboteurs, Chamine has made me question his credentials on one too many occasions. He explains that the Sage is what’s used to overpower the Saboteurs, and that at a biological level, the Saboteurs dwell in the limbic system while the Sage dwells in the prefrontal cortex. If you activate your Sage, you can tone down your Saboteurs, and in order for your Sage to gain greater control over your Saboteurs, you have to “build up your PQ brain muscles.” This can be accomplished by fully immersing yourself in any activity that stimulates the senses, such as going to the bathroom, driving to work, and eating lunch. While I do agree with Chamine that distracting yourself from distressful feelings is a good way to work through them, it is not as simple as just doing a few “PQ reps” every day. Rubbing your fingers together (yes, that is a technique he proposes) is not going to allow you to recover from the deficits in your mental health.

The other issue I had with “Positive Intelligence” is Chamine’s ineffective attempts at precisely defining the Saboteurs. It was a relief to attach some words to the negative thoughts that constantly plague my mind, but I also found myself struggling to identify the Saboteurs based on the terminology that Chamine used. Extending from this issue is how he never quite specified where the Saboteurs activate in the brain, apart from the Saboteur-rich limbic system and the Sage-rich prefrontal cortex. Emotions are much more complex than Chamine leads his audience to believe. It would have been nice if he were to at the very least show brain scans of patients in “Sage mode” and “Saboteur mode,” differentiating between the emotional signals that fire in response to a problem and the rational thought that is required to solve the problem.

For the reasons discussed above, I cannot recommend Shirzad Chamine’s “Positive Intelligence” for readers who are oriented toward more scientific literature. His evidence for the Saboteurs is barebones and simply insufficient. It’s nonetheless a great self-help read.

The Secret to a Happy Life

In case you don’t already know, I am a strong advocate of the biology of human behavior. I believe that every psychological experience can be understood in physiological terms. Unfortunately, technology has restricted us in our capacity to identify where complex emotions such as anger, surprise, or joy occur in the brain. What’s even more restrictive is that it’s made it difficult for us to define this thing we call “happiness” in terms of something that we can readily feel, posing the question, is happiness also a complex emotion? In other words, does happiness come and go, or does it stay with us?

How you answer this question depends on a number of factors, including your past experiences, religious beliefs, values, and how you derive meaning from your existence. Personally, I define happiness as the sum of subjectively pleasurable experiences that a person accumulates in his or her lifetime, but even this definition isn’t enough to do the word sufficient justice because to many, happiness means so much more than that. Without happiness, what’s the point of even living? For reasons that I will discuss, I’m quick to treat happiness as more of a state-of-mind and less of a fleeting emotion.

You’ve probably been taught that happiness is meant to be pursued, and that it could later be obtained if you make all the right decisions. According to this logic, after you attend school, work for an X amount of years, get married, have children, make millions of dollars, then and only then will you be textbook happy. The problem is that it places too much of an emphasis on waiting for happiness and hardly any emphasis on choosing to be happy right now.

I can tell you with confidence that, by virtue that I have clothes on my back and air in my lungs, I am happy. But alas, I don’t have a million dollars in the bank, so I’m not as happy as I could be. Have you noticed a contradiction yet? I complained about how I haven’t made enough money, yet at the same time negated the things that enabled me to make the money in the first place.

Such contradictory logic could be the result of erroneously mixing happiness with hedonism, which are not the same thing. They don’t even fall under the same category. Happiness has to do with the state or quality of being subjectively contented over an extended period of time. Alternatively, hedonism has to do with superficially indulging one’s self in pleasurable activities in a fixed period of time, like getting wasted at the bar, eating large quantities of Taco Bell, or playing a match of Call of Duty. These activities are indeed fun, but they are too short-lived to foster a conventionally happy life.

The question remains as to how happiness can be reconciled with hedonism. How do you will your mind into being happy when pleasure is so finite and intermittent? It’s simple: enjoy the high points in life as much as you can, but don’t be so discouraged by the low points. Because they, too, can be pretty special.

6 Tips for Writing Good

Don’t worry fellow reader, the title is mistaken on purpose. Instead, it should be, “6 Tips for Good Writing,” because the adjective “good” cannot be preceded by a progressive action. Congratulations, you’re already on the fast track toward becoming a more effective writer.

Oftentimes I cannot fathom why people experience so much trouble with producing a paper. Then I remember that, unlike mathematics and the sciences, writing comes more naturally to me than it does to others. Therefore, I have devised 6 tips that I believe, when applied to your writing, can increase its quality as well as its overall favorability. So let’s begin!

Tip 1: Always speak TO your audience, and never AT your audience.

I was unfriended by a lot of people on Facebook in response to the constant rants I posted. I attempted to justify these unfriendings by (quite euphemistically) pointing out that my rants weren’t even rants, they were discussions. This opened my mind up to the hard truth that people will never listen to you if they feel like they’re being “talked at,” so to speak. Rather, they would prefer to have a larger role in the conversation. For this reason, you should always adjust your tone in such a way that it doesn’t sound arrogant or worse, abrasive. State facts and arguments as is without attaching your opinions to them, discounting any preconceived biases that might distort your tone-of-voice.

Tip 2: Install transition words and phrases.

Transitional words and phrases are incredibly useful because they connect disparate ideas to each other and generally link up paragraphs, creating a special sense of cohesiveness. They can be used to convey similarity, contrast, agreement, and my personal favorite, emphasis. SmartWords.org provides up to 200 acceptable transitions that are commonly employed in many articles and essays.  But also don’t overuse them! It’s annoying when every other sentence begins with a “For example,” or a “For instance,” so use them in moderation.

Tip 3: Write until the point is made.

Have I ever told you that I hate word counts? They’re de-motivational and restrict creativity. If a professor or teacher ever tells you that your paper “must” be an X amount of words, don’t listen to them. Whether or not your paper is 100, 250, or 1,000 words in length, the prescribed word count shouldn’t matter so long as you proved your argument soundly and effectively. Therefore, write every word you need to until the point gets struck. Anything more will leave your readers feeling like you’re just biding time for the sake of it, and anything less will leave them feeling like your work is underprepared.

 Tip 4: Utilize a thesaurus.

At the end of the day, the heart of good writing is the vocabulary you choose. I recommend utilizing a thesaurus for two reasons. One reason is that if you switch out words with more sophisticated variants of themselves, your teachers and professors will grade your papers less harshly. I’m not joking—an advanced vocabulary literally creates the impression of an intelligent and hardworking student, and as such teachers will be more apt to grade your work with a little mercy.

The second reason is that frequent usage of a thesaurus strengthens your vocabulary overall. You begin to speak to your friends, family members, and coworkers with greater eloquence, while your writing takes on profound depth and substance. And plus, who doesn’t like using a few big words here and there to sound smart?

However, be very careful not to overdo this one. You might use so many “big” words that people no longer know what you’re talking about. In addition, you run the risk of using certain words awkwardly or out of context, so always check the dictionary beforehand.

Tip 5: Throw in some adverbs.

Adverbs are wonderful not only because they modify the meanings of adjectives and verbs, but because they help “buff up” your sentences, helping to express thoughts that would otherwise be near impossible to put into words. Take the adverbial version of, let’s say “extraordinary,” and you can pair it up with just about every adjective in the English dictionary and still make a great deal of sense (e.g., extraordinarily smart, extraordinarily stupid, etc.). In this manner, adverbs don’t just modify meaning, they supercharge meaning!

Tip 6: “Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong.”

This was a tip my statistics professor shared with my class last summer, and it holds true across all skills you aim to perfect. Don’t practice until you stop making mistakes, but rather practice until the very prospect of making mistakes is incogitable. Master the mechanics of effective writing in the same way that a pilot masters the mechanics of flying a plane, and you don’t even need to worry about screwing up anymore. It all just comes naturally to you, whether you want it to or not.

And that’s it. 6 tips for more effective writing. Do you think there’s some room for improvement, or are you a modern day Shakespeare?

The Origins of Meme Culture

“Oh God… eleven articles in and he’s writing about memes? He must be REALLY out of ideas.”

Actually, memes fascinate me. I’ve always wondered how something as innocent as Rick Astley’s 1987 hit “Never Gonna Give You Up” could be turned into an Internet sensation. And ‘Rick Rolling’ isn’t your average meme, too. You might discover that a movie trailer you’ve looked everywhere for has been cruelly switched out with this 1980s dance-pop song, at which point the disappointment and frustration you feel are overwhelming. You also can’t help but feel slightly outsmarted.

Another meme that I’ve taken a guilty pleasure in was “Darude – Sandstorm.” For those of you who are unfamiliar with the background of this particular meme, the comedic appeal was that any question asking for the name of a song or movie was answered with “Darude – Sandstorm,” and that was it. That was your answer. That one film from 1997 with Harrison Ford about the terrorists and the plane? Darude – Sandstorm. That one catchy song you heard on the radio the other day, but couldn’t remember the name of? Darude – Sandstorm. For me, the crux of the “joke,” if that’s what you want to call it, was the unapologetically apathetic nature of responding to legitimate inquiries with “Darude – Sandstorm.”

What, like other viral phenomena, made the song special enough for cyber stardom? The website KnowYourMeme.com was founded to answer these types of questions. Special Internet analysts known as “Meme Scientists” are tasked with not only tracking down the origins of memes, but their popularity and interest over time. A common trend they’ve noticed across memes of all varieties is that they are many times short-lived and readily transmittable, spreading through social media like a flu virus.

The way I see it, memes are the fast food of the Internet in that they’re cheap, quick to prepare, and accessible to everyone. They’re just on the cusp of meeting the criteria for trueborn jokes, yet routinely fail in their mission to deliver any remote substance. They might as well be caught in an identity crisis, because if they cannot be classified as jokes, what are they?

To answer this question, we need to turn back the clocks a little bit. In the 1960s, the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, or ARPANET, was conceived by the U.S. Department of Defense to establish a single communication network between multiple computers and thereby exchange vital information (Andrews, 2013). This technology then snowballed in the next three decades, first beginning in the 1970s with the groundbreaking work of Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf, who both developed the first protocols for exchanging data across a wide array of networks. On January 1st, 1983, ARPANET incorporated ICP and IP into its connectivity parameters, becoming the pioneer of the modern day Internet. In 1990, computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, and helped to finally bring the first iteration of the Internet into the public eye.

With all of the technological advances made by such innovators as Robert Kahn, Vinton Cerf, and Tim Berners-Lee, and the amazing distance the Internet has traveled since then, nobody could have possibly predicted something as anomalous as meme culture to arise. Perhaps, then, our taste in memes lies not in the roots of the Internet itself, but in our own genetic makeup.

There are many characteristics differentiating human beings from animals. Politics, language, religion, law, and art are several, and all tie into a fundamental need for expression, or the need to feel like we’re being listened to.

In the early days of civilization, people devised unique methods of communicating their thoughts about the world, like the creation of cave paintings where they would draw on the walls of dank caves to tell stories. Thousands of years later, they assimilated such things as writing, music, and fashion into their lifestyles, effectively becoming the only species on the planet to express itself at such a sophisticated level. But what about the Internet?

The Internet has provided us with a remarkable capacity to both connect with people and exchange information across major geographical distances. As I’ve discussed, it started off as a military communications network but progressed into an entity of its own. With it came a slew of perks that would make our lives better, easier, and more enriched every day (video pornography comes to mind right now). So what role do memes play in all of this beautiful, and sexy, chaos?

In short, memes are another, more modernized way of expressing ourselves. They extend from the rise of major social media venues such as YouTube, Facebook, Reddit, and Vine, which have all contributed to the popularization of meme culture. More importantly, people enjoy memes so much because they see a part of themselves in the posts they share. Personality theorists all agree that the best way to measure individuality is by taking a look at the clothes people wear, the music they listen to, the food they eat, the movies they watch, and in this case, the memes they share on Twitter. All of those things? They’re not aspects of personality, but rather projections of personality.

When you like, share, or comment on a post, you do so because it resonates with you in a significant way, or because it speaks to you. I wouldn’t be writing this article right now if I didn’t believe memes were worth talking about. Therefore, I use language to project my personality onto the world, whereas others might use more subtle methods of accomplishing this task.

Memes are great expressive tools because they take on such an exaggeratory and emphatic quality. The informal phrases, “when you,” “be like,” and “all like” are often used to help convey universal truths about the human condition, such as waking up early for school, running into your ex-girlfriend at the mall, or going on a new diet. For example, a person wishing to make a commentary on college lectures might make a video of their dog sitting in a classroom to create the impression of cluelessness and confusion, two feelings that all college-level students are familiar with.

Another example would be minion memes. In the films Despicable Me (2010) and Minions (2015), these little yellow beans do not speak a single word of coherent English. However, people have created memes in which sassy and audacious statements like “I was born to be awesome, not perfect” are paired alongside a minion, thereby taking a seemingly neutral image and imbuing it with meaning and personality.

Furthermore, memes have gained popularity because they facilitate short attention spans. The traditional picture meme can only contain two lines of text: one on the top and one on the bottom. Snapchat only allows several lines of text, with videos and pictures lasting up to 10 seconds before they are no longer viewable. Additionally, 60 characters of text is the soft cap on Twitter posts, while the video-sharing service Vine only permitted its users to submit videos that were a few seconds in length.

Whatever the case may be, memes are symbols as much as they are communications of identity. Love them or hate them, they won’t disappear anytime soon.

 

Reference

Andrews, E. (2013, December 18). Who invented the internet? Retrieved September 27, 2016,   from http://www.history.com/news/ask-history/who-invented-the-internet