Posts Tagged ‘behavior’

On Marriage and Maintaining the Relationship

In Marriage on December 27, 2009 at 9:49 am

Love between two people does not usually last without the support of friends, relatives and other well-wishers who are willing to provide an atmosphere of growth, security and realistic expectations. While the bride and groom carry most of the responsibility for the success of their marriage, in a very real sense each actually marries the other’s entire family. If you can’t stand your in-laws then you should not be surprised to learn that your marriage is going to be difficult.

I don’t suggest that a couple planning marriage should be dominated by well-meaning others, or that Mom and Dad are the best judge of how to handle these matters. I do suggest getting input from as many people that you trust, as you can, while you can. And that the bride and groom, as a minimum, talk to each other, members of each other’s  families, and perhaps one or two long-time friends of the family. Find out up front what is important to each of them, and what is not—before making one of the biggest decisions you will ever make during your lifetime.

By understanding what is important, we understand the person for whom it is important. The question is: Can two separate views of the same issue coexist under the same roof without major adjustments? The older we get and the longer we let these issues fester, even a trivial difference of opinion can become an irritation that eventually becomes a hill to die on, from which there is no return. Divorce does not occur because two people stopped listening, but because they never started—at least, not the important stuff.

Most of us are just winging it, with only wishful thinking as our guide. Ideally, we would agree up front on major differences of opinion and on how we are going to handle fundamentally different views, held by the most important people in our lives. To do this well, the wedding couple needs to document, as a minimum, what is important and why it’s important.

For example, you might write:

  • Jane was raised in the Episcopal Church; John is currently an agnostic, but is thinking he might eventually choose atheism. We have decided that neither of us will proselytize the other, and that our children will be provided opportunities to understand their parents’ choices, without pressure to do likewise, beginning at age 13. Prior to age 13, on any given Sunday, the children are welcome to join their Mother at the church of her choice or stay home with their father. After age 13, we will encourage our children to learn more about the various world religions, without expressing a preference.
  • [ Views on Managing Money ]
  • [ Views on Parenting ]
  • [ Views on Abortion ]
  • [ Views on Politics ]
  • [ Etc ]

You might list some general behaviors, as well, such as:

  • We will never criticize each other in public, to friends and confidants, or in front of our children
  • We will do our best to resolve all differences equitably
  • We will strive to always show respect for each other
  • We will raise our children using only one, agreed upon, consistent approach, i.e., we will not undermine each other
  • [ Etc ]

No more than 1 or 2 pages, but short, succinct descriptions that both review and sign, on every anniversary, for mutually accepted changes.

It takes about a year to get to know someone, and the likelihood is that they are not going to change, even if confronted and a promise is extracted. Changing any behavior in a mature adult is quite difficult for reasons that are both physiological (physical brain mapping which organizes how the brain will deal with the outside world) and psychological (personality traits, or how I see myself).

One can be on their best behavior in short bursts, but the brain maps our habits and encourages us to follow these maps (unconsciously). We think of these behaviors as our personality, as defining who we are, and nobody is going to mess with who I am! But a minimum wait period of one year will almost always reveal true character.

Marriage is such an important decision that, like all of life’s important decisions, we do not know how to decide until we actually decide and observe the feedback. In the initial stages of developing (or discovering) our relationships, we often focus on only one or two attributes. Most of the time, the dominant attribute is physical attraction.

  • Too little of this attribute and there is no interest to spur us on to the next step in courtship
  • Too much of this attribute and we find ourselves in arrested development, and our lives thrown out of balance

However, we should not view ourselves as having arrested development solely on the basis of feeling an attraction to more than one person (regardless of marital status). The likelihood is that the new attraction is based on a similarity that does not have the same level of richness or intensity as the original. (If this is not the case, some reevaluation of the original relationship is in order.)

Often, exercising caution rather than acting on such feelings will remind us that what we do matters more than how we feel. It has more impact. Inaction provides time to evaluate how we really feel. For me, the test has always been to look into her (or his) eyes, below the surface, and if I still see the face of the woman I married 37 years ago, then I know I am in the right place.

Copyright © 2010 by Tad Laury Graham


012 The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales

In Meaning of Life on December 16, 2009 at 8:43 pm


The theory restated: your brain constructs a plausible representation of everyone you know, including you, from limited real world data. Particular care is given over to individualizing faces because faces are important for you to know with whom you are dealing. Beyond face recognition, approximations seem to be acceptable for navigating the world as we know it.

Some Examples from last time:

  • There is limited evidence that we appear differently to different people based on how each of us “feels” about that person. (If we like them, they are attractive; if we don’t, they are unattractive).
  • There is evidence that the brain constructs an interpretation of everything we see, hear, touch, smell or taste.
  • That the brain paves over the gaps in radio transmissions.
  • That the brain acts as though a missing limb isn’t missing.
  • That our  brain tells us how to feel.
  • That the brain fragments what we see, and stores the pieces separately.
  • That the brain controls which brain maps will be changed (body maps extend into our comfort zone and define our space to include this zone).
  • And that the 26 modules of the brain act independently of each other.

All of these examples tend to support the idea that what exists appears to be a very sophisticated biological robot platform, minimally, or a creation of god (the other end of the spectrum), using many of the techniques currently used by man to build metal cousins to our human species. Over the top? Yeah, probably, but I think there is something to it, and the field of robotics has at least a few crackpots who may show us something more, one day.

If none of this suggests the same to you, then ponder this: software is nothing more than instructions. Most of our nervous system works based on inferred sets of instructions. The fact that the brain isn’t binary, that the skin, bones and organs are alive, or that the model is more sophisticated than any robot on earth shouldn’t be cause for rejection before you take at least a critical, hard look.

It’s been fun, but I am taking some time off, starting tomorrow, ending on January 6th. Before I leave tonight, I will convert the evaluation system to “Nero” (thumbs up or thumbs down). If you want to hear some more of this silliness, then give me a thumbs up (before the 6th of January); otherwise, I have no way of knowing if anyone is actually interested in continuing. (Although we are getting a lot more hits than before we started down this path.)

Have a great Christmas, or whatever other holy day you may choose to observe.

And Happy New Year …
Copyright © 2009 by Tad Laury Graham

“The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales”

011 The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales

In Meaning of Life on December 12, 2009 at 5:08 pm


The right question isn’t, “Does god exist, but does god make a difference?” The first question is irrelevant, albeit this is where most of us get stuck, but the second question is important: whether or not god exists, the “idea of god” can influence events and change outcomes. If the perception makes a difference, it doesn’t really matter if he exists or not—what matters is that he makes a difference.

On the other hand, humans must exist to have an impact. If we are not present, we are ignored. Because we examined the case for including god vs the case for excluding god, and because the question of our existence is more problematic than the question of god’s existence, I began to take a look at deriving a comparison (a bit tongue-in-cheek, at first). The results follow.

Please keep in mind that this discussion is over simplified to improve the reader’s ability to understand the arguments presented without wading through a lot of technical jargon.

The “I” that I Call Myself is Actually a Construct that Does NOT Exist

A Construct is what you get by combining or arranging a number of existing parts or elements in a logical order to construe, interpret, or explain a theoretical concept. We might also refer to it as a real-world model. In our example, the parts used to build our construct are analogous to the parts used to build a computer. We use the computer because nothing else comes closer when trying to model the part of the human body that defines the “I” that we call ourselves.

I propose the theory that we can build a construct, using analogies between the human body and the computing machine that will cause us to question our reality, and our membership in it. At the highest level, the construct is made up of hardware, firmware and software (obviously analogies to computer parts on a functional level). What we are not saying is that a human is nothing more than a computer. What we are saying is that these computing parts are the functional equivalent of biological robotics.

  • The hardware is made up of a computer-like device (the Brain) and wires and cables (the Neurons).
  • The firmware (the genetic code) is read-write, though it is usually “read” when carrying out its instructions and “write” when a glitch occurs in the genetic encoding (or, a change is made to our brain maps, see below).
  • The software is the Electro-Chemical Messenger System that provides the mechanism for executing programs in the brain, in conjunction with various methods of input / output, storage and retrieval, and brain maps.

in this model, the hardware exists

Consider the human eye. We used to believe that we see everything as is, but now we have come to understand that all we actually “see” is created by our brain using limited data outside of ourselves, built primarily from variations in light intensities. These data are collected by the eyes and sent to the brain, where the data are deciphered, and the model for the real object is created. It is our brain that creates a representation of everything we see. We “see” with our brain, not with our eyes.

Lets extend this observation by talking about our hearing. When a radio station broadcasts a program, there are actually silent gaps throughout the transmission. There is enough delay between each transmitted pulse to be highly annoying, if we could actually hear the gaps. But our hearing is so slow that we cannot hear the gaps, because our brain covers them up, and we hear our favorite music, or stock reports, or perhaps a baseball game, courtesy of our inability to hear as well as other animals.

Our brains are physical realities in the real world. A single brain is actually a collection of no fewer than 26 modules, all of which have functions that must be performed, but none of which is in charge of ensuring overall success. It is remarkable how well they usually work together (in a healthy mind). However, when you are having that bad hair day, it could very well be because no module is boss, and all of them are vying for attention, leaving us little room to deal with the resulting emotional states.

More importantly, there are periods of time when these modules perform less than optimally, e.g., the prefrontal cortex (located in the forehead) does not fully develop until the body is fully developed, which occurs perhaps as late as our early-20’s. This causes problems for teenagers especially, who are already under the influence of hormones, and in combination causes inconsistent and sometimes uncivilized behaviors throughout our teen years.

Lets take a look at how those pesky modules we introduced might function in a way that supports my theory. Specialists in neurology have determined that we don’t control how we feel. That happens in a primitive area of the brain called the limbic system, and we are only along for the ride. The limbic system not only tells us how we feel, but it does it before we sense it ourselves. In fact, it tells us how we feel before we feel the emotion itself. The brain literally identifies our emotional state and pushes for a response from us in such a manner that we are certain that the “I” I call myself was ahead of the game.

Another quick example where the brain is messing with us in the background is the loss of a leg or an arm in an accident and the “I” that I call myself believes it is still attached (phantom limb syndrome). We would probably continue to experience the pain in the space where the missing limb used to be because the brain, independent of us, thinks the leg is still there. The reason? The brain map has not changed. The limb is severed,but the brain map doesn’t yet know it. (With some coaxing, we can influence the brain to fix this disconnect.)

the firmware exists

One of the most important discoveries of our time is that we operate in accordance with brain maps. And these brain maps can change their own structure, and even change their own function, well into advanced age. We say that the brain is plastic and self-directed because the brain can change, but all you or I can do is influence the brain to change in the direction we prefer. We don’t actually make the changes. Further, the brain is subject to many influences—the 26 modules, our own preferences, the group we hang around, or work with, or avoid, etc.

We can continue doing what we have always done, in which case the brain will execute in “autopilot” or we can choose to do something else, in which case the brain maps will alter them-selves to accommodate the new skill. It has been estimated that repeating a new fact for about fifteen minutes will change a brain map forever, assuming that periodic reinforcement of the change continues. The other side of that coin is if we don’t use what we know, the brain will stop maintaining the skill, gradually, until it disappears altogether after about ten years.

The brain literally seizes the space required for new thoughts and new ideas, and lets go of a part of our past that has fallen into disuse. This is why most immigrants after only one generation have lost prior language skills, and assimilated their new language. We no longer think that the brain retains every thought we ever had. We now know that the brain must overwrite old thoughts with new thoughts in order to accommodate what is important today.

Because our storage capacity is not infinite, the brain also uses what might be thought of as “data compression.” Most of what is stored in the brain is stored as an attribute. As a child, I might have a red fire truck, and my best friend might have a red bicycle. The brain takes the attribute of redness and stores that attribute in one place, linked to other attributes for the toy and for the bicycle. The greater the difference between the two, the less reinforcement occurs and vice versa. In other words, our firmest memories are in general polluted with a lot of variation, unrelated to the original item. (People make very poor witnesses.)

The foregoing is generally true for all but faces. We are excellent at face recognition (stored in one location), but often can’t get the name right (stored in another). A very large part of the brain is reserved for faces, probably because there is survival value in knowing who you are doing business with.

but the executing software DOES NOT EXIST

When computer software is still in its wrapper, sitting on a shelf somewhere, waiting to be installed so it can come alive and do its job, we think of it as something tangible with a physical presence in our universe that can be defined and understood in its proper context. We agree on what it looks like, what it is supposed to do, and whether or not it does it.

But take it out of the wrapper and install it, and if the development phase has achieved it’s goals, you move into the realm of self-contained decision making based on predefined criteria. In other words, the programmer, the end user, and the internal parts are all part of a system, in general, that operates independently of its creator.

Only the dead no longer execute the software in their brains. The living continue to run their programs around the clock. This very action suggests that we are programmed for something—perhaps that mythical quest we are all supposed to be on, and that we must complete before we die. And the “I” I call myself is actually a construction by the brain to represent all of the systems that define body conciousness that could not otherwise exist.

Put another way, biological software is the set of instructions that define the ego, which makes the transformations that define our lives. Software operates like a set of switches that must be thrown for each pathway chosen. This biological software does not have a human creator. It is generated by our bodies from experience, and from our genetic encoding. The new question is, “Do I really exist or am I just a construct of my brain?”

In school, we learn that behaviors are learned and unlearned, which suggests that we are always in charge. But “learned” is the wrong paradigm. Changes in humans are not learned, they are merged as physical changes to the brain, which is why it takes so long to “unlearn” negative behaviors.  The “me” that I am is wholly dependent on these physical representations and changes.

The “who am I?” in all of this is that I realize “I” am a construct:  the sum of all I do and all things done to me; embodied in flesh, brain cells and nervous system the “I” that is not much more than the sum of the influence of my parts. It is the “me” in motion, the executing program instructions formed by the wiring and chemistry of my computer-like brain. And nobody is in charge.

Copyright © 2009-2010 by Tad Laury Graham

“The Meaning of Life and Other Tall Tales”

Still Alive and Kicking—Update on the Author

In Meaning of Life on May 14, 2009 at 3:11 am

It’s been a while since my last blog, and in the world of blogging there probably is no excuse for not keeping in touch … after all, a blog can be as long or as short as we want to make it. It can be on any subject.  It can be informal as well as formal. It doesn’t even have to be well-structured, coherent, or in any way make sense. What could be easier?

Not that it’s an excuse, but I think a lot more and do a lot less these days. Partly a health issue; partly that it is easier than trying to have directed, logical thoughts. Sometimes you mine nuggets; sometimes you end up with trash. It’s just the way life is. But always you find ways to participate, to be part of life. It’s what we are.

Day dreaming passes for “thinking” for most of us. We call it “lost in thought,” but we usually mean that stream-of-conscious, disconnected quasi-logical thought pattern which is pure escapism. Probably best kept private because most of it is of a personal nature and would put the average voyeur to sleep. It’s more-or-less an unwritten agreement, perhaps even a law, not to confess.

Besides the lack of entertainment value, there is always the risk of becoming maudlin and dumping on friends, who by the way are having the same issues and problems in dealing with their own lives (which they don’t dump on me). Yes, better left unsaid, better to be alone in our thoughts so the next time we meet, we can both answer, “fine, everything is fine,” thereby maintaining some sense of not being the victim, but of having some control over random attempts of life to victimize it’s participants.

As is often said, “don’t take any of this too seriously because we will never get out of this alive.”  Know that no matter how it seems, you are not actually alone. There are billions of human lives all over the planet, and in some trivial way, our lives are connected.  Call it the “collective unconscious” (Carl Jung), or the “transcendental oversoul” (Ralph Waldo Emerson), or “the force” (Stephen Spielberg). It doesn’t much matter.

The only thing that matters is that being connected provides strength when needed to pursue the dreams we have—regardless of how we personally define those dreams, and of whether or not we ever fully attain them. I was here, I did what I could, and what I did was good enough.

Copyright © 2009 by Tad Laury Graham

Have You Ever Noticed?

In life on March 2, 2009 at 8:19 pm

… how two people can meet for the first time, disagree on almost everything, and go their separate ways, each inflexibly convinced that they are in possession of absolute and immutable truths, each thinking the other a bit stupid, and each believing that what they have disagreed about is among the most important issues of their lives.

Stranger still, if those same two people are thrown together again after the passage of time they often continue the argument, but now on opposite sides of the same issue, unaware of the influence each has had on the other. Usually, neither recognizes the fundamental issue; more likely, each immediately seeks out friends who re-enforce what each already believes (and is miserable if none are available).

This is as true of scholars, teachers and their students as it is of garbage collectors or children. One can be intellectual in private, but one has a vested interest in a world-view when in public. And if either is persuaded to the other point-of-view they honestly think it has been theirs all along.

A variation on this theme: sometimes an individual sees the argument of your enemies most clearly until he and that enemy have a falling out, at which time he begins to realize how cogent your argument was. Suddenly you were right all along, but “I just didn’t see what you were getting at.” He honestly believes you were both always in accord, but that you both were tripped up by that old nemesis, Mr. “Semantics.”

Still another variation: sometimes the individual is compelled to defend everything issued forth from his own lips simply because he said it (without waiting for further data, or in heated argument, or foolishly because he was tired, hungry, or perhaps not feeling so well), though a wiser man would chalk it up quickly to a temporary mental aberration, recognizing that given the right conditions, all men are fools.

One last variation: if the same two people are of different sexes, they very often see the other in the disagreement phase as somewhat unattractive, if not downright ugly. But as their positions merge and they discover that they “were in agreement all along,” each seems more attractive than the first time they met. Unchanging physical features suddenly change right before our eyes!

Copyright © 1971, 2009 by Tad Laury Graham

Life Is a Quarrel for Independence

In life on February 25, 2009 at 7:40 pm

Life is a quarrel for independence. It is an attempt to free oneself from the domination of our programming, which we never fully achieve. Programming is all around us: parents, teachers, friends, peers, clergy, and many others have this influence over us. Without it, we would never feel confident about a chosen course of action for the vast majority of issues, even though so many of these issues are essentially repetitive. To avoid endless debate, we simply play the program that seems most relevant.

The danger is not so much that we will play the wrong program, in the wrong context, or at the wrong time—yielding an unacceptable result. In most cases we can simply apologize and try again. The danger comes from the association of each member of our particular set of programs with evaluations or criticisms of how effective they are, or more likely how ineffective they are.

If a parent criticizes everything a child says or does, without offering a method for constructive change, the program continues to play each time the situation occurs, but the child has no confidence in the learned response. Hence the child is reticent to share an opinion, and remains flawed—usually reflected as the absence of the ability to engage in “small talk.”

Life is fatalistic without external influences. These influences are required to bring about changes in our programs; for example, the transition from a child’s view to an adult view. We all have motivational forces within: forces when discovered that free us to some degree from a basically reactionary level—even though we never become completely free from habitual reactions. Such is the snare of fatalism.

However, if we understand why we do things, even if we continue to do them, we gain another degree of freedom because awareness is the first step in reinventing ourselves, and because the doing part of this process is not nearly the problem that the critique is. What must be overcome is the judgement that you are inferior. Learn to apologize, to begin again, and to let go of the past.

False change generally backfires. We can do what we want to make it look like we’ve changed, externally, but whenever we do, we most likely find that we don’t like that person that we are becoming because it isn’t really us. When this happens, learn to apologize, to begin again, and to let go of the past.

Finally, fame makes awareness difficult because fame goes to the head—whether fame is already present or only sought after. Fame is generally associated with expectations for consistent behaviors, which serve to distract and derail. It requires considerable personal investment to change what is cast in stone. Fame exacts a high price. The more famous you become, the more change costs in personal sacrifice: apologize, begin again, let go. The more you do, the sooner you will become you.

Copyright © 2009 by Tad Laury Graham

Some Thoughts On Raising Children

In family on August 2, 2008 at 12:26 am

I find myself sitting here and thinking about my relationship to members of my family. In particular, I remember something of how love was expressed between parent and child, between child and parent, and between siblings.  I came to some conclusions that I think might be universal, and therefore might be worth sharing with prospective new parents.

In general, the positional nature of parents to children influences the nature of the love experienced between them. Parents (unless dysfunctional) probably feel unconditional love for their children, while children feel a mixed, dependent love for their parents. Parents are seen as the creator (perhaps somewhat god-like); children are the created (weak and dependent).

It is perhaps difficult to see ourselves as giants who can be threatening at times and playful at other times. There may be occasional resentments on the part of children, owing to the behavior of such powerful parents, which is aggravated by what may seem capricious and unjust treatment. Whereas, parents would feel some pride, reinforced by the knowledge that what they do for the child is actually rational and necessary.

It would be my guess that children, who are totally dependent, cannot love independently of this dependency. They most likely love for “things” and feel that parents love for “performance.” They see their parents as withholding love for unsatisfactory performance, rather than as administering punishment for guidance. And I think that when one loves through dependence, one cannot help but resent the dependency.

Lastly, I notice that siblings are often in competition with each other. If one of them feels he or she isn’t getting their share, mainly of attention, they can get pretty rough on a brother or sister when the parents are looking the other way. What amazes me is that when you question them, they give a pretty convincing argument that either it didn’t happen or someone else started it.

There must be a message somewhere in these observations. Let me suggest that this is at least a pretty powerful indicator that spanking children, especially the very young, is both a waste of time and perhaps a form of child abuse. I also suggest that maybe we shouldn’t push them too hard in the development of academic skills in the early years, but that we encourage participation in group behaviors and focus on developing social skills – not that we ignore the academic skills, but that they develop in a context of having fun. What’s your take?
2008-0802 Raising Children Copyright © 2008-2010 by Tad Laury Graham