Sunday, January 29, 2012

Rational or Rationalizing?

If you have been reading my posts for any length of time, you’ll remember that I really enjoy podcasts. Mostly, they are interviews that you can download to an IPod or other MP3 playing device, and they come out as regular episodes. Mostly, I listen to writing podcasts, but one exception is Philosophy Bites. Most episodes are less than twenty minutes, but they really pack a punch, if you have the patience for academic discussion. It can certainly lack pizazz.

The September 25th 2011 episode featured Dan Sperber, and really hit me between the eyes. Beginning with Aristotle, it was believed that it was ability to reason that set us apart from other animals, and since then, philosophy students have celebrated the primacy of reason. However, studies have shown that we make most of our decisions intuitively and/or emotionally, then we use our reasoning faculties to justify our initial responses.

There are cases where this works. For example, if I said that my child was born in September ’11, you intuitively know that she is two years old. You didn’t consciously do the math, but your prior education and practice made it happen below the surface of your awareness, so it saves a lot of time and mental energy. Same with the weather; a quick look at the sky and the temperature of the air will give you a pretty good idea of what kind of day you’re in for.

An instance of this came up for me a few years ago. I had read a Confucian proverb; “The ideal person is not a tool.” Since the word ‘tool’ is used so differently today, I had to share this simply for the amusement factor of it. It did spark discussion though, and someone argued that someone can use themselves as a tool. No, I think that’s a skill. A tool, by definition, is something outside of the self. They were adamant, however, that they had it right. Well, I suppose that if you re-define what words mean, then they could be right, but I wanted to stick with the classical use of the language.

My first response to the rational/emotional argument was “Oh yeah, I see lots of people doing that.” The I turned my gaze inward, and said “Ow.” I have been pretty guilty of this on many occasions. A rather innocent one is Star Wars. I overlook a lot of silliness and bad dialogue because so much of it is great on its own merit, but more relevantly, it’s really sentimental to my childhood.

I have at times dismissed a favored opinion because the evidence was contrary, or just lacking, but on many occasions, I have been swept away. Does this ring true for you? Can you think of instances where rationality turned into rationalization? 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Where's the back go?

Do any of you get books about writing fiction? I got some great ones from my wife, including Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maass, The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, and Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell. Several of them recommended that an aspiring author read a favorite book while taking copious notes.

I am currently doing this with Flight of the Nighthawks by Raymond  Feist. I haven’t read it before, so I can’t call it a ‘favorite,’ but with so many books on my to-be-read pile (can I get an ‘Amen’?), re-reading something wasn’t the right plan for me. As it happens, I’m really enjoying the book, so I’m glad I chose it. It’s a high-fantasy that’s told from the point of view of a magical not-so-secret society, but focusses more on the political intrigues.

Reading while taking notes has proven to be pretty tedious, but well worth it. I’m jotting notes on setting, character, plot, and back-story. What I’m learning the most, though, is how to seed the back-story throughout the story so that the world is expanded and enriched without the dreaded Info Dump. There was one instance of explaining-to-the-ignorant-character in an extended conversation, but most of the history is doled out one or two paragraphs at a time as it relates to the characters or setting of the scene. This seems to be a great way to put in the back-story and world-building; it certainly works for Feist.

What are your tricks for back-story? Do you have any favorite books on writing?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Yeah, I can be as opiniated as anyone else.

Yesterday, my wife and I were talking about what we thought of people judging the parenting skills of others. Her position was that with two years’ experience, with one child, no less, who are we to judge.

There are few areas where people will get more defensive than with their parenting skills. If I was to challenge someone’s religion, four out of five people would tolerate it patiently and reasonably, whether they engaged in an argument/discussion or not. But if I challenged their parenting, most people would dig in their heels pretty firmly. It could even come to blows, though I haven’t tested this theory. If anyone wants to try it and get back to me, I’d be glad to hear about your results. (I feel like I should put in a legal disclaimer here, like “The writer and affiliates of Somewhat Epic to not endorse the provocation of violence over parenting opinions.” If you get your ass handed to you over such an argument, it’s your own damn fault).

Look at it this way; have you ever been critical of something your parents did? Do you wish that there was a friend or relative close by to ask if an action or technique was in the child’s best interests? I wouldn’t endorse some kind of Parenting Police, but if we raised our kids with a sense of accountability to our community, would it change some of our practices? More importantly, would we re-think our reactions?

Of course, this could easily go too far the other way, such as hitting or indulging a crying child because a parent feels embarrassed at the supermarket. I’m glad that the public-hitting has decreased, but like every revolution, it may have swung too far the other way.

It reminds me of a conversation that I had with a friend, where his sociology teacher was speaking of being judgmental of other cultures. I truly enjoy the differences of other cultures, but the example he used was female circumcision. Really? With everything that we may find questionable, he chose the mutilation of young girls in a patriarchal society? Couldn’t he have picked something dietary, like dog-eating? Or how about how Asian cuisine lacks cheese? Ludicrous! Sure to be a lively discussion, but with valid points on both sides. 

Do you think that we have an obligation to address parenting faults? How about putting our own techniques and styles under scrutiny? I’m pretty confident in my parenting, but I bet that I’d be pretty uncomfortable with a critique. I hope that I’d handle it reasonably and maturely, though. At this time, I am unwilling to offer criticisms to other parents, mostly because of my limited experience.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Look up; Look Wa-a-ay Up.

It could be considered ironic that I’m using a Blog to write about the dangers of relying on technology, but it’s all about reaching people, eh?

A couple of weeks ago, my wife was picking up Chickerdoodles from daycare, when another mother nearly backed into the both of them in her SUV. I’m not sure what the visibility issues would be with a vehicle that size, but being December, there was the added problem of slick surfaces, and I can bloody-well guess how that would affect SUV.

Would you like to know what her excuse for not stopping until she heard my wife yelling at her? “…it usually beeps at me if there’s someone there.” So, it has some sort of object detector? And it’s reliable enough that you don’t bother to LOOK? In a bloody Daycare parking lot, no less?

There are obviously many aspects of technology that I enjoy, the obvious one being Blogging and other internet contacts like Facebook. I also love Podcasts, and music downloading availability. There is literally something for everyone in the Tech shops. But really, let’s not lose our contact with the real world, shall we? When I start having difficulty speaking with people face-to-face, the warning bells go off, and I make an extra effort. As a natural introvert, this happens often, and usually after my conversations get painfully awkward.Likewise, when some danger gets too close for comfort, the warning bells go off, and I take the time to pay more attention to me surroundings.

Granted, this incident  hits pretty close to home, but let this be a warning to everyone; Don’t let technology detract from your perception of the word around you, especially when safety is at stake! Does anyone want to guess how often I see people walking through the parking lot while looking at their phones? At least daily.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Oh crap, I forgot what day it was!

I rarely check logs in the evening, and I just popped on to feed my new Majong addiction, and noticed the it's the first Wednesday of the month!

As far as Resolutions go, I'm a little ahead of the game on quitting smoking. The patch has helped a lot, and again, it was time to piss or get off the pot. The patch has really helped with the cravings, but the habit still tries to assert itself now and then. But the way I figure, the more people I tell, the more embarrising it would be to fail.

I quit once before, but then gave myself permission to occasionally cheat. That led to cheating on vacation, then I was hooked again. This time, I'm giving myself permission to cheat on my 70th birthday. By then, all I have to lose is the diaper years.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Welcome to my New Home.

As I mentioned in my old space, I am starting anew. The main reason is that my Blog name was so long! Whenever I had to write, the pen would run out of ink. Really, it was kinda silly, even though I loved the abbreviation of FAOCT. Completely by accident, I assure you. As for the name, I heard a Podcaster use the term “…somewhat epic…” when discussing a book, and it stuck with me. I mean, ‘Epic’ is a style of fantasy literature, but the word has a grand implication, that the referred-to thing has, or doesn’t have. I thought that the term “Somewhat Epic” had a really cool cognitive dissonance, and that it would make a great Blog name.

But there is also something to be said for re-birth. It’s what the New Year is all about. That, and getting thoroughly wasted. So, with the New Year, I’m starting a new Blog; one with an easier title. Looking to the future, I hope to promote this in interviews, and I need a title that’s easy to remember.

New Years brings me to goals. It doesn’t need to be said that that most New Years Resolutions are good ideas until about January 10th. I’ve been guilty of this as well, but it’s time to piss, or get off the pot. I choose piss! Over the next week, I will take the time to decide what my priorities are, and act accordingly.

The immediately topic is Blogging and writing. As far as Blogging goes, a regular schedule is a good idea. Many Bloggers pick specific days of the week to post, and that seems like a good idea. As for writing, I’m not sure what’s better; weekly word counts, or so-many days a week to sit and go until you can’t go anymore.  It’s said that there is no substitute for putting in the time, and no magic formula. I’m not sure that that’s true; my favorite Podcast (I Should Be Writing) quoted someone as saying that “you don’t schedule time to masturbate.” What I got out of that was, if you’re a writer, it’s a compulsion. If I don’t get this out of my system, I’m going to be cranky, and un-focussed on my daily activities, so I’d better get this out of the way so I can function normally with my normal obligations. Pretty crude, but it speaks to the base impulses, and if it doesn’t ring true, then writing isn’t my calling.