Saturday, January 17, 2009

Relative maturity

It's well established that boys and girls emotionally/intellectually mature at different rates. Generally, it's said that girls mature more quickly. And I certainly always felt that way. Growing up, the girls my age always seemed more put together than the boys.

Warning: blatant sexism follows.

I wonder, though, about the cause.

Premise 1 -- There are two broad categories of motivations -- subjective and objective. Subjective motivations are those social norms and expectations we internalize from our environment. Objective motivations are things in the external world (aside from the expectations of other people) like rocks, motorcycles, and corporations.

Premise 2 -- Girls tend to be (but are not completely) more subjectively motivated than boys, and vice versa.

I think that subjectively motivated people tend to mature more quickly up front, because they attune to the expectations of their peers and parents, internalize them, and emulate them. However, I think they plateau at some point, because they do not challenge and question the objective nature of things and their own behavior -- they do what's expected, and fail to challenge it.

I think that objectively motivated people tend to mature more slowly up front, because they are not attuned to expectations. They don't particularly care what pleases others, because they are focused on things. However, I think that in the long run, these people tend to continue to mature long after the subjectivists plateau, because once they develop behaviors through trial and error, they grasp the essence of the reasoning behind those behaviors, and continue to develop.

For example:

A girl learns that people respond positively to you when you dress pretty, so she dresses pretty. However, she also judges people who don't dress pretty, because they aren't doing what's expected.

A boy doesn't notice or care how people expect him to dress, and so he dresses poorly. He also doesn't judge people that dress poorly, because he's attuned to the essential -- it's what's inside that counts. After a few years, however, he learns that if he wants to succeed in a career he likes and make money he wants, people will judge him if he does not look professional. As a result, he begins to dress better when necessary, but without being pretentious about it (recognizing that it is merely cultural), and without judging others. Thus, more slowly but ultimately in a superior way, he learns the essence of how and why to dress well.

Applying this model to a broad generalization, I'd say this might explain why girls (who tend to be more subjectively motivated) mature more quickly than boys up front, but in mid to late adulthood, men surpass women in maturity.

As always, this does not necessarily apply to individuals. I know girls who are objectively motivated and boys who are subjectively motivated, and I've seen boys plateau and girls surpass. Also, some boys are more objectively motivated than other boys, and the same with girls. Even so, the application of this causal mechanism to explain the general trends of maturity would still reflect itself in gender maturity rates, due to the general tendencies of the genders.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Religion, government, and libertarianism

Ayn Rand writes, regarding the reading of Genesis from the moon during Apollo 8:

"When, from the distance of the moon, from the height of the triump of science, we expected to hear the astronaut's message, and heard instead a voice reciting the mouldy nonsense which not even a slum corner evangelist would not have selected as a text, reciting the Bible's cosmology. I, for one, felt as though the capsule had disintegrated, and we were left in the primordial darkness of empty space."

I find this fascinating. Throughout her writing, Rand portrays Religion and Government as the foes of Reason and Science. Yet in Apollo 8 we have a government program operated (at least in significant part) by religiously motivated people. The perfect counterexample to her premise. But instead of grappling with the contradiction to her fundamental beliefs, she lashes out against religious symbolism in the context of scientific achievement.

Instead of asking herself, "How were religious government employees able to accomplish this feat!?" she is angered that the astronauts were religious when (we all know, I suppose) that the religion to which they ascribed was antithetical to the science they were performing.

Why? And why do so many see science and religion as fundamentally antithetical, despite all evidence to the contrary?

I wonder if it's a failure of religious creativity. That is to say, I wonder if all they know of religion is one particular dogma or set of rituals -- and they do not understand that religion is a fundamentally fluid, creative enterprise. To place "Religion" against "Science" is to implicitly assume that it is impossible to invent forms of religion consistent between the two? One reading of Genesis may be "anti-scientific." But why all readings? They don't seem to understand that there is no unchanging monolith known as "religion" -- but that religion is a fluid, abstract label we use to group an enormous diversity of fluid, creative means of understanding the world.

And they appear to be so stuck in that way of thinking that when they see government, religion, and unprecedented scientific achievement operating in perfect harmony, they feel only anger that the scientific achievement was somehow poisoned by a religious outlook which, ultimately, they do not understand.

Sunday, January 4, 2009


"Life's tough......It's even tougher if you're stupid." -John Wayne

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Dialectical thinking

I like to think dialectically. I define dialectical thinking as looking to opposing sides of an issue, and seeking to find an answer that integrates the truths in both sides, while freeing itself of the falsehoods of both sides.

Dialectical thinking is premised on two philosophical positions:
1) All people are at least partially rational -- that is to say, any honestly held belief ascribed to by any reasonable number of people must have, at its center, at least a kernal of Truth.
2) Reality is consistent -- that is to say, if two people disagree on an issue, then their disagreement is necessarily the result of error on the part of one or both of them.

Consequently, when I look at debates, I approach them with the premise that there is most likely truth and falsehood on both sides -- and I dive into the issues, to figure out what they are. I then synthesize a new, creative answer that (to the best of my ability anyway) distills the good from the bad.

For example: Creationism and evolutionism. The kernal of truth in creationism is that life, and the universe, show attributes that we commonly associate with design, and that design-free theories of origins are riddled with errors and outright lies. The kernal of truth in evolutionism is that supernaturalism is philosophically indefensible (as for anything to interact with the physical universe, it must do so through causal mechanisms, making "supernaturalism" fundamentally meaningless), and dogmatism of religious creationists is profoundly irrational -- that is to say, placing utter faith in the text of a book (without critically evaluating its credibility) pretty much embodies superstitious thinking.

So I take both of those truths, and I integrate them. Eliminate the supernaturalism from creationism, and you have the hypothesis that life was designed by natural agent(s), by natural means. Eliminate the dogmatism from creationism, and you have hypotheses of historical creation based on historical sources, which are tentatively accepted, just as any historical document might be, with a critical eye toward the possibility of their being some combination of history, fiction, and error.

On the evolutionist side. eliminate the a priori rejection of the above hypothesis, and intelligent design becomes a vastly more reasonable explanation for the origin of life than naturalistic abiogenesis -- as we have seen the mechanisms of genetic engineering, but have not seen how the ooze came alive.

Or take abortion. The kernal of truth in the pro-life side is that the organism in the womb is biologically distinct from its mother -- with separate DNA, separate sensations, and organs of its own. The kernal of truth in the pro-choice side is that the organism in the womb is not social -- and that in some cases, babies are conceived in circumstances which are very difficult for the mother (and baby) to thrive.

Put those together, and what do you get? In this case, not so much an answer as two fundamentally unanswered questions -- what makes us human, and when do humans have a right to life? Are we human based on our genetics, or on our independence? Do humans acquire a right to life when they interact with the world, or when they become human?

I don't think we have solid answers to these questions yet -- but dialectical thinking at least gets the questions asked. Only then can we try to develop the tools to find the answers.

The result of dialectical thinking, in my experience, is an almost extraordinary capacity to anger both sides of a debate. Yet I cannot help but do it, because it is a natural outgrowth of the two philosophical premises which started this article -- premises in which I am a passionate believer.