Thursday, December 6, 2018

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Book Review / Against Empathy: The Case For Rational Compassion by Paul Bloom

Mr. Bloom, a Yale Professor of Psychology, isn't exactly against empathy. He is against it being presented ad nauseam as a panacea for all human problems, and because of this myopic viewpoint, better solutions have been relegated to the background. His erudite wrangling with many a fervent opponentthe intellectual equivalent of Houdini wriggling out of chains while underwateris thorough, gracious, and derived from a well-honed perspective which has been worked on since September 11, 2001.

However, is it possible for the offered alternative trio of compassion, self-regulation, and reasoning to reach critical mass as to move humanity in a better direction? Just as empathy, selected by Mr. Bloom from available definitions to signify the ability to feel what others are feeling, can be set at different points on a spectrum because of the varying influence of genes and environment, so can be compassion, self-regulation, and reasoning. Additionally, can these cooler skills override the hyperarousal one of  empathy?

Reasoning is the cornerstone. With that, compassion and self-regulation will tag along. So is reasoning the real deal? While detractors insist on viewing it from a low level of functioning, that is, at the neuronal level and therefore rife with determinism and glitches, he counters with: It turns out that every demonstration of our irrationality is also a demonstration of how smart we are, because without our smarts we wouldn't be able to appreciate that it's a demonstration of irrationality.

Reasoning works to solve problems in your everyday life, not necessarily in a broader sense. For example, you can be irrational at a ballgame, screaming insults at the opposing team, but rational when cooperating with others via carpooling to get home. Also this approach will not result in an utopia where there is no violence, but rather where violence is used sparingly, as in self-defence. But it will give to moral decisions a more fair, just, numerate edge than empathy which is based often on bias.

But what to do with those who don't have much empathy or compassion or reasoning or self regulation? Excluding people who have organic diseases or incapacities, the problem with the rest of this group is that their high-conflict social interactions are egosyntonic, that is, their antagonistic style satisfies the drives of their ego. Compassion, for you and for them, that is, understanding that you must set boundaries on how you are treated and understanding that they are stuck in a non-reciprocal position may just be what the doctor ordered. Experiments showed that when the part of the brain correlated with compassion fires, there is a centred calmness that is present contrasted when the part of the brain correlated with empathy fires. It seems that having a cooler interaction will feel better, therefore setting in motion a climate of deceleration. Mr. Bloom said that one of the reasons why he prefers compassion over empathy is because it doesn't burn you out.

Though the alternatives to empathy are better for creating a more moral universe, we can not live on morality alone. A nice dose of empathy here and there is pretty wonderful.

À la prochaine!


Book Review / The Tulip by Anna Pavord

Book review / The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt by Robert I. Sutton

Book Review / Florike Egmond's An Eye For Detail: Images of Plants and Animals in Art and Science, 1500-1630

Book Review / Hot Bread Kitchen Cookbook: Artisanal

Baking From Around The World by Jessamyn Waldman

Rodriguez with Julia Turshen

Book Review/The Confidence Game: The Psychology Of The Con And Why We Fall For It Every Time By Maria Konnikova

Book Review / The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art by Joyce Carol Oates


Paul Bloom at Twitter

Against Empathy at Amazon

Paul Bloom's Introduction To Psychology at Coursera (Starts Nov. 29, 2018)

Paul Bloom's Moralities Of Everyday Life at Coursera (Starts Nov. 29, 2018)

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Southwest France Walks: Mouthiers Part 2

During a past walk done near Mouthiers, we noted a small cave in the forest flanking our trail. Time restraints prevented exploring it. We, with feet outfitted in new hiking shoes, returned to take on the muddy challenge as there had been several days of rain.

The Calm One's trusty, hand-whittled walking stick got us up the slippery incline.

The interior was the size of a cozy studio, a studio equipped with vaulted ceiling and view.

The stony shelter had tiny openings that let in shafts of light.

As this graffiti seem birdlike and contained colours similar to prehistoric cave paintings, I would like to think that the artist wanted to make a visual connection to what went before.

We scrambled back down onto the trail. The ambiance was somewhat gloomy as everything was muddied. A golden leaf appeared in front of my feet bringing a smile to my face. Then I noticed leaves fluttering down all over. A rustling sound became background music.

Here's the fabled walking stick, smooth and slick. Though this little, white-stemmed, brown-capped mushroom sprouted right on the path, it somehow managed to evade being stomped into oblivion.

I enjoy noting watering holes for wildlife. This choice one is a rotted tree trunk filled with rain water.

We took a wrong turn and wound up in less-trampled terrain. We got a bit scratched and whacked with low-lying branches. But we persisted and got back on the proper path. Before doing so, I was able to get this shot of two different berries, one black, the other red, because this entwined display smacked me in the face.

I find signs of decay in nature thrilling. This fallen tree's moss-covered bark is peeling off in great circular pieces. This cycle of death and renewal has been going on way before our species evolved.

À la prochaine!

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Mid-Autumn Garden 2018

November has its particular gardening tasks. I sat under the ivy-covered pergola thinking, oh my goodness, I haven't transplanted the recently arrived nursery shipment. Up I go.

Inspiring perspective offered by my humble lounge chair

Getting lots of small-sized shrubs sent allows a great choice and lower prices than can be found at neighbourhood gardening centres. Doing this in the autumn is my preference ever since a Yorkshire nurseryman informed me a few decades ago that the selection available is less pot-bound than what can be bought in the spring since whatever doesn't sell sits through winter until when purchasing pick up again as the weather becomes mild enough. Eight Japanese holly, six ball-shaped, two conical, got their own bed and were  mulched. The focus is to get transplants done several weeks before the first frost to encourage root development. Because box plants have become susceptible to disease, Japanese holly, with their small, dark-green and permanent foliage, have become one of the most favourite substitutes to create precisely clipped shapes and topiary.

Back under the pergola I go! Looking at the 'Sky Rocket' juniper which when transplanted from its nursery bed this past February at the tender height of 30 cm, I noted its height now is closer to 90 cm. Encouraged by the fruits of my past labour, I get up . . .

. . . to position 100 daffodil bulbs. This bounty came from just fifteen ones that were planted about eight years ago. That small patch stopped blooming last spring as is the way of overcrowded daffodils. So I dug them up and was delighted to see how much they propagated. Once they were placed on the prepared bed, the length of a hand trowel was driven into the soil, shifted to one side, and the bulb dropped down around 15 cm deep. After they all got done, the surface was patted down with the flat side of a spade. Around February, this centre bed will be aglow with golden blooms.

The leafy bed behind the daffodils is filled with tansy, a cover crop, that soon will be mowed down so as to mulch the soil through winter

One of the projects completed this summerone that I wanted to do years agowas putting plastic (a large potting mix bag cut open) over a dodgy former drain, circle it with roofing tiles, thickly layering wood chips (diligently chipped by The Calm One via our new chipping machine), and placing on top pots of shade-loving plants like heuchera and ferns as this area is situated under box elder and cherry plum trees.

After years, the ivy has taken hold and covers much of our east-facing property wall. It is a major beautifier. It need about 2-4 trims yearly so it will become a bush-like growth up to 180 cm beyond the top of the wall. When ivy runs out of vertical support, it becomes bushy and laden with berries which are wonderful winter bird food.

The narrow iris bed flanking the central path will be replaced with a selection of plants that will look good all year round and not just during May. Some of the candidates are Japanese holly, moss pink, heather, perennials like penstemon, and long-blooming annuals like asters and cosmos.

Mound of leaves covered with netting in the background will become mulch by spring

This critter with the delicately pink nose is Eli the Cat.  He found a bag full of leaves to be exceedingly comfy. . .

. . . while Dirac the Cat chose a sunny sous-sol window sill.

À la prochaine!

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Southwest France Walks: La Couronne Part 2

The Calm One and I returned to the area we visited in last week's post, but this time we hiked on the other side of the forest. A pair of trees with bowed multi-trunks captured my attention. A little research did not bring an identification, but I found out such trees are now in great demand in urban settings as they tend to bear much more leaves than a single-trunk tree does, therefore, increasing environmental benefits.  Also they provide an open view which aspect was what appealed with these two forest lovelies.

The second tree is right behind the first (one of its curved trunks can be seen in the middle right of the above photo)

As a child, though clouds and the sea fascinated me, it was the study of rocks that spellbound me because geology spells out deep time. I was gifted with a small collection which contained such beauties as pyrite and rose quartz. In my quest to add to it, I found out that if pouring 7 Up on a specimen resulted in a pronounced fizzy reaction then it was a positive identification for limestone.  However, all those stones I scrounged from city parks never got a chance to be tested, because I would drink the testing solution while wondering what could be revealed if only I didn't love lemon-flavoured pop so much.

After a brief stay in the forest, the path led us out in the open. The broad hillside gave us a panoramic view of the sky. First up was a flotilla of very determined puffs, perhaps set in motion by a pipe-smoking giant?

Two fluffy families, one nuclear, the other extended, sharing the blue.

Here's a great big powder puff beautifying a scraggly tree.

Fog-covered islands closely spaced in an ocean.

'Snowy mountains' positioned under a blue sky with a couple of wisps.

Red jelly bean tree?

Giant broccoli!

A nice note to end our hike is seeing that recent rain filled up a wide path's ruts and potholes. Thirsty wildlife say thank you, mother nature.

À la prochaine!

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Southwest France Walks: La Couronne Part 1

La Couronne, a town southwest of Angoulême, is just a five-minute drive away. It was a partly sunny, somewhat windy day, but glorious all the same. Soon after our starting out, The Calm One used his hand-whittled walking stick to coax this satiny, aubergine-coloured beauty out of the shady grass onto the sunlit stony path so I could get a better shot. But I had to be quicker than my skills allowed as it scuttled with rapidity and sagacity, right back into that protective grass so the clarity of the image was lessened. But still, what a looker!

The trail wound its way around hillsides, and we were spellbound within a blue, green, burgundy, and gold world.

As we meandered, I could see a golden-glazed-with-peach-tones patch down off in the near distance. It was a harvested field tucked cosily along a longitudinal stretch between our hilly walkway and the pastel palette of the forest.

As that field came closer, and while I was wondering what was harvested, I was able to get another shot of that lime-green, conical, deciduous tree which made an appearance in the second photo of this account. The sun was no longer directly behind me, but more at an oblique angle, so the light is diffused, reminiscent of an Impressionist painting.

It was a delight finally to be close to the mysteriously enticing field. The reddish stalks made me think of beets, chard, and rhubarb. The dried remnants of flowers looked like broccoli rabe. After ruling out all of those, I kept focused on the red. Then it hit me. Buckwheat is related to rhubarb. Later on, a Google image confirmed my hunch. It's used not only as a food crop, but also a cover one, to return fertility to the soil. In addition, it is a great weed suppressor and there were hardly any weeds between the rows.

I love narrow trails not just because they tame my impulsive streak, but mostly because the Garden of Eden is within touch and just at the right distance from my prime macro lens.

This is not a dusty miller plant, but a macrolichen of the fruticose genre. It is also an epiphyte meaning that it receives nourishment from the air, not the soil. Lichens are fascinating in their complexity, being a mutualistic union between fungus and algae/cyanobacteria. Not only is this specimen not harmful to the tree, it affords protection from wind damage and moisture loss. The colour belies a dry period: In the absence of special pigments, lichens are usually bright green to olive gray when wet, gray or greyish-green to brown when dry. This is because moisture causes the surface skin (cortex) to become more transparent, exposing the green photobiont layer. (Wikipedia)

I decided this was not a speck of glassy trash but instead one of the five-hundred emeralds belonging to the necklace of Girion. I left it there so it can be re-united with the other four-hundred and ninety-nine jewels.

Thoughts changed to a warm lunch and to Zoe the Electric Car which would bring us to that comforting repast as the path widened to a grassy plain topping a windswept hill. 

My camera was secured back into its carrying case, but The Calm One saw this giant, saffron feather duster getting quite a workout by a windy gust so out came the photo equipment.

À la prochaine!