Posts Tagged ‘human nature


A Cynical View on Attraction

I remember a Darwinian article in Time (Asia) Magazine’s special issue, The New Age of Discovery (January, 1998) because it tried to answer questions like why do we find certain human body figures sexy. It said that most men find a specific waist-to-hip ratio (WHR) of women sexy (now I won’t tell the exact figure to avoid causing unnecessary insecurities) because that ratio signals fertility. Men don’t consciously know this, but evolution somehow programmed it in our instincts to ensure the perpetuation of our genes.

In another article, I read about an experiment on human scent. It involved a certain number of men and an equal number of women. The men were made to shower using only unscented soap (no cologne or deodorant either) and sleep with a white shirt on. They would shower again on the second night but would wear the same shirt to bed. Then the shirts would be sniffed by the women, who would each try to determine which shirt smells the “sexiest.” After their genes were tested, it was found out that the sexiest scents for most of the women belonged to the men whose genes were very much dissimilar from theirs. Parents with diverse genes often bear stronger offspring, and once again evolution has hardwired this into our physiology to help us find a suitable mate – and perpetuate our genes.

But in this overpopulated modern society of ours, procreation is no longer the primarily purpose of sex. In one of our joint articles, a fellow freethinker wrote:

Sex may lead to pro-creation but the two are still two totally distinct acts, no matter how much some belief systems may insist that they’re one and the same. When you start a fire, you aren’t obligated to go cook something. Sometimes, it’s enough just to enjoy the warmth of a blazing fire on a cold night. The same goes for sex. It’s a social activity and a recreational sport as well. From a liberal point of view, it’s not even that different from a couple going dancing (that’s why it’s also called the horizontal tango).

Still, our instincts kick in when a genetically suitable specimen from the opposite gender walks by even if having kids is the last thing on our minds. But as we get to know a person, after a while we get attracted to non-physical traits like kindness and a sense of humor. Perhaps we instinctively know that certain personal attributes are preferable for long-term companionship, especially when it comes to the point when procreation and even sex are no longer possible.

But the beauty of these personal qualities is that they can be enjoyed now as much as in the future. Being the most highly evolved among all creatures, humans interact in ways beyond touching and smelling. A nice conversation between humans connects them more profoundly than two chimps grooming each other. Although touching is nice, it is often meaningless unless coupled with an emotional bond. And so while evolution already dictated what we should find physically attractive, it is our longing for a deeper connection that needs to be satisfied if we are to truly enjoy being human.

inner minds


Of Grudges and Goals

Some people are forgiving while others are not. Some hold grudges, and a few carry their resentment long after the injury – real or imagined – had healed.

I believe all of us are emotionally motivated beings, and that includes those who consider themselves as rational and logical people, who place their heads well above their hearts, who make systematic and well-thought decisions, who think before they act.

The difference between ‘thinkers’ and ‘feelers’ is how they go about in trying to achieve their goals. But they are the same when it comes to the goal itself, because goals are ultimately dictated by the heart.

Take two guys, for example: one impulsive and spontaneous; the other cold and calculating. Both fall deeply in love with the same girl. The first guy freely expresses his feelings and the girl grows defensive and distant; the other works a subtle seduction and stirs interest, intrigue, and eventually desire. The probability is that the second guy will win.

Now some might argue that he is not deserving because his feelings are not strong enough considering he was still able to come up with a strategic plan, whereas his rival was overflowing with so much desire he could not contain it. And yet it is precisely the person’s control that proves one’s sincerity. Speaking out what one feels is easy and even quite relieving, but it takes a lot of work and self-denial to keep holding back until the right moment just to get the girl. And when one refuses to give in to his natural tendencies for the good of some future goal, it means the goal matters more than the immediate release. Just because the method of courtship is systematic and deliberate doesn’t mean the affection is planned as well.

Now as for grudges and vengeance, if we take these same two hypothetical guys, it would probably go like this: when offended or hurt, the emotional guy impetuously attempts immediate revenge – while the other waits for the perfect timing. The first guy’s reaction is often ineffective and could bring in more trouble, but the calculating guy would most likely be able to exact his cold sweet revenge with impunity.

We are all emotional beings. All of our goals are largely influenced by our hearts’ desires: love, happiness, vengeance. The only difference is that while some people turn the heart loose to go after the thing it wants, often with unsatisfactory or even disastrous results, others put the mind to work – literally as a slave doing the heart’s bidding – to effectively grant the wishes of its master. inner minds


Trust and Tolerance

Someone told me that she just realized that I really do not trust people – I merely tolerate them. Hmmm…I never thought of that. I mean, I do trust people albeit only up to a certain safe extent. Like in lending money, for instance. If someone close to me asks for a loan, I make sure that the amount I lend is not more than what I am prepared to cover in case payment is delayed or defaulted.

And for this I was accused of not trusting but merely tolerating the anticipated worst-case scenario.

I remember this risk management seminar I took more than a decade ago. It taught us that risk has two dimensions: probability and magnitude. So in a four-quadrant matrix, risks are roughly classified as low-probability/low-magnitude (there’s a 5% chance that you’ll lose P5,000), high-probability/low-magnitude (there’s a 95% chance that you’ll lose P5,000), low-probability/high-magnitude (there’s a 5% chance that you’ll lose P100,000), and high-probability/high magnitude (there’s a 95% chance that you’ll lose P100,000).

I’d say I’m a risk taker even if the probability of losing is high for as long as the magnitude is low. But once a lot is at stake, I tend to play it safe, no matter how ‘safe’ they say the odds are.

In a certain company, the president explained the importance of credit security. The example he gave was about one sales executive who authorized the sale of goods worth a substantial amount without credit security because of the mutual trust he enjoys with the customer. The president said, “Okay, this customer is very trustworthy in terms of his ability and willingness to pay, and I take that. But what if he suddenly dies of a stroke, and the one who takes over the business is not as reliable?”

I guess we can only trust another person’s intentions, because if we try to consider the possible circumstances beyond that person’s control, e.g., a sudden stroke, we realize that we will be taking risks. However, if the calculated risks are deemed manageable and not unnecessary, it is never unwise to take them.

Perhaps I have unconsciously applied this business principle to my personal life. I do trust people, but only up to their intentions. If I foresee certain significant risks that were not explicitly considered by the person to whom I would be giving my trust, I back out. Unfortunately, sometimes people take it personally.

But some people do have the right to take it personally, especially the one I consider as my life partner, my ‘soulmate’. To hesitate when I think there might be risks unforeseen by the person demanding my trust could mean I don’t trust her judgment. I do trust her intentions; maybe just not her judgment. And in a way, that could mean I don’t trust her at all.

This may be a hard reality for me. But if it’s any consolation, I never totally trust anyone’s judgment – not even my own. I just tolerate and try to manage the calculated risks.

And so to the person who said that I don’t really trust her but merely tolerate her, let me say it this way: I trust you to the point that I can sleep soundly with you by my side with a loaded gun in your hand. Now there’s a risk that you’d have a nightmare of being attacked and so you’d shoot the ‘attacker’ – me, or out of simple clumsiness you’d accidentally fire the gun pointed in my direction. But while the magnitude of the risk is too high, the probability is very much lower than you leaving because you think I don’t trust you. Besides, the magnitude of the risk of losing you isn’t too far from the magnitude of the other risk involving a loaded gun in your hand. inner minds


As The Mind Speaks

There are two ways to write (actually there could be more but I only know two): structured and streams of consciousness. Structured means the writer already has the key points – the plot – in his/her mind, and all he/she has to do is fill in the gaps and make the necessary connections. Streams of consciousness, on the other hand, means writing in real time along with the thought process, narrating the thought even as it is forming in the writer’s mind. And with this the writer doesn’t know how the story will develop and especially how it will end. It just goes.

Right now I’m going with streams of consciousness because I don’t have much points in my head. Well I guess the points will just flow as the fingers hit the keys one by one, somehow independent from the conscious mind. I guess here’s one point: a seemingly empty mind can still speak. Now the question is, will it make sense? I guess that depends on what it is empty of. If the mind is empty of everything, it will not make sense if it speaks at all. But with a mind merely clear of distractions and prominent thoughts, one can reach into its deepest recesses and uncover buried treasures. Now the trick is to make sure the treasures don’t fall off on the way to the surface, otherwise it will only be very old dirt coming out of the elevator shaft.

Now what buried treasure could there be left in a mind that has already spoken quite a few times? Let’s see. Ah! How about this: I think the buried-treasure analogy can be augmented with a seed-tree metaphor. Bits of information (seeds) are planted in the brain and they grow into trees of wisdom that often intertwine with one another. This way there will be a renewable source of ideas.

Ah, ideas. One cannot easily force them to take form. Sometimes they start off as small and very fragile sparks that hover just above the floor of unconsciousness. Somehow they need to stay low for a while as they try to grow into steady flames able to withstand the winds of criticism at higher altitudes. Every once in a while an idea gets so refined that it attains the status of an ember where criticism can no longer douse it but fans it into a fire instead.

On the other hand, there are many ideas that should have been quickly extinguished with a single blow of reason. Sometimes, however, the mind itself acts as a barrier to protect these faulty ideas, nurturing them into powerful zombie-like ideologies that just wouldn’t die. These zombies even succeed in biting living human minds and turning them into zombies. Then one day the zombies become the majority, and those individuals who attempt to rise above them are in for some trouble.

Gah! I really find it disturbing when I let my mind wander into streams of consciousness mode and it ends up in an allegory of some controversial topic. I guess I’ll shut up now and try to dig another treasure next time. inner minds



I am an only child. Now while the first word that would probably come into your mind is spoiled, I’d say this situation significantly shaped my boundaries. I’ve lived all my life in a three-house compound along with my cousins and later on with my nephews and nieces. When I got lonely or bored or simply missed my relatives (I deeply adore them), I’d go downstairs, walk a few meters and knock on their doors. But the good thing about growing up with no siblings is that when I wanted – needed – solitude, I could easily get it. And perhaps it was because of this very arrangement that I had the chance to reflect a lot.

Now this is supposed to be the part where I go from a personal introduction to a more general issue. That’s how my boundaries are supposed to be. Unfortunately, I’m having a little drink tonight to ease my aching legs from yesterday’s run, and so my boundaries are just a little bit soft…er. So here it goes.

One thing I love about our fellowship with my nephews (they’re my crowd now because my age gap with them is very much closer than with their dads) is that while we are definitely very close, we respect one another’s boundaries. Since we now have cellphones and the internet, we text or chat to plan a house visit. We seldom do the knocking on the door thing anymore.

Nowadays it just seems rude to drive to your friend’s house without calling first. What if your friend is sleeping, making love to his wife, or simply enjoying his solitude with a book or a movie? Even if you are best friends – or lovers – I believe a little boundary is still appropriate – even necessary.

Ah, my boundaries have just snapped shut. Earlier I was talking about my nephews and then I just shifted to a slightly different topic. But I wanna talk about my nephews some more. Wait, let me get another drink….

…Ah, my nephews. My very cool nephews. Their dads – my older cousins – were the ones who taught me how to drink. Now I’m just returning the favor. And I hope one day they too will return the favor. They’re now in their early twenties and frankly, I enjoy interacting with them more than with their dads. (See, I’m not even afraid to say this because their dads don’t read my blog like they do.) And while their dads talk mostly about politics, my nephews talk about philosophy.

Okay, I guess that’s about as far as my boundaries will allow, sober or not. That’s because no matter how important you, my readers, are to me (even those I do not know), I happen to be a very private person. And as much as I am expressive of my innermost thoughts, my personal life is another thing, and it is open only to those whom I know personally.

I’ve read somewhere that most relationships fail not because of too much separateness but because of too much togetherness. This is definitely true not only with couples but also with friends. Although our teenage years are often marked with sleepovers, as we grow older we tend to keep our friends at a comfortable distance. Our fondness for them did not deteriorate – on the contrary, it just got fonder – but somehow we tend to value our privacy more.

And though we don’t see them as much as we did, this only makes every reunion special. inner minds


What It Means To Be A Storyteller

Storytelling is one form of art that transcends medium. Whether in books, ballads, plays, or movies – even in sculptures, photographs or paintings – someone is telling a story. Someone is talking of life. Not Life on a grand scale but life in bits and pieces; seemingly mundane moments that give us glimpses of a bigger picture. Fleeting and ephemeral, once captured by an artist they are immortalized and frozen in time, lending themselves to be shared with other lives as well.

While different stories have vastly different scopes, the time it takes to tell a story somehow falls within a relatively narrow range. Most books have a few hundred pages and most movies last a few hours, but the stories they tell could either cover decades of world history – or a single eventful night in the lives of two people. And yet a beautifully told story is never a page too long, never a minute too short. It’s just as it should be.

Since storytelling time is limited, the story has to be compromised between breadth and depth. Naturally, epic tales cannot get too much into the individual lives of the characters, just as love stories seldom wander far beyond the interaction of a few people. But the storyteller somehow manages to piece the two together in perfect balance of breadth and depth, the former a background of the latter. And while not every second of the story can be told, the storyteller speeds up time and slows it down at just the right moments so that precious minutes are neither wasted nor skimped.

Imagine telling the story of a certain civilization and how it came about. If one were not to miss out a tiny detail, the story could not be finished within the listener’s lifetime, and so the trick is to secure only the salient points. On the other hand, a story that takes place within a shorter time than it takes to read it has to have something really interesting to sustain the reader’s attention. If every single moment, every spoken word is worthy of mention, telling the story will take just as long as the story itself. Now put every deep emotion, every unspoken thought, every subtle gesture, and there you have a story bigger than how it would have been in real life. inner minds


Life is a Journey, Character is a Destination

Former US president Bill Clinton was once quoted saying, “Character is a journey, not a destination”, to which Newsweek writer Joe Klein responded, “No, life is a journey; character is a destination reached by the actions of a life.”

Clinton was criticized that his word was no good. But let us forget about Clinton for a while and focus instead on the importance of a man’s word. Imagine a man whose word is always taken with a grain of salt, with whom people wouldn’t make a deal unless it is covered by legal documentation and financial security. It would be very difficult for that man to do business.

In my industry, trading activity amounting to millions takes place everyday, and oftentimes the only contract is the verbal agreement through phone and there isn’t even a text message for confirmation and record purposes. Since the market is eternally fluctuating, traders also lose millions in a single deal and it is often very tempting to default from a losing contract because the other party doesn’t have anything to legally enforce it. Fortunately, our industry is very tight, and once a player loses his reputation with another trader, he will really have a problem doing business with everyone else.

One of my closest friends remarked that this very nature of the industry in which I belong significantly shaped my attitude to the point that it trickled down to the way I handle my personal relationships and social dealings. I think she’s right, and while a lot of people might consider my businesslike attitude as a good thing, my friend told me that it takes out the  spontaneity, the humanity, the fun. She further said that a man should not treat a romantic relationship like a business contract, because for the woman there will always be that fine print at the bottom of the page that the man failed to read.

I think she has a point. But thankfully, not all women are like that. And I really believe that a woman of integrity, no matter how fickle minded she may be at times, will always show her true unchanging character.

Attempts at uncovering the underlying simplicity beneath apparently complex concepts as well as the core complexity within seemingly straightforward issues

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