Friday, January 30, 2015

inferiority complex and the overview effect

I woke up this morning with a thought. A thought that I’d never had before; this is despite the fact that I’ve often read about, talked about and written about. The thought?

Well, the realization that the universe is as small in scale as it is large. That is, there are objects in the universe that are unimaginably small as there are objects that are unimaginably large.


Space programs since the 1960’s reaffirmed the reality of the Earth in space, which is immediately understood to be a tiny, fragile ball of life, "hanging in the void", shielded and nourished by a paper-thin atmosphere. And we’ve read about the overview effect, which is a cognitive shift in awareness reported by some astronauts and cosmonauts during spaceflight, often while viewing the Earth from orbit or from the lunar surface.

At the same time, some of us have an inferiority complex about being smaller than average. Most people don’t like being just average, but being less than average is even worse. Astronomers like to take advantage, by pointing out that the universe is really, really big — much bigger than these below-average-sized persons.

But we’re not so small if we compare ourselves to small things. For instance, we are much, much bigger than a bacterium, which is so small you need to look through a microscope to find it; and by the time you do find it, it has probably split in half and turned into two even smaller bacteria.

Now we often say the universe is a large, large place. But we don’t seem to ever say the universe is a really small place. If we take the height of an average person to be 1.7 x 100 meters, or roughly 1.7 meters, Gomez’s Hamburger is 1016 meters away; the Milky Way galaxy 1021 meters and the observable universe 1026 meters.

Equally, a white blood cell is 10-5 big (.0001) big, the Hepatitis B Virus is 10-8 meters and the smallest object we know of include the Neutrino at 10-24 meters and more esoteric objects such as strings, and the quantum foam coming in at 10-36 meters.



Tuesday, January 13, 2015

On my birthday

Birthdays – even better than Christmas when we’re young, wet behind the ears and knee high to creepy crawlers. We get to celebrate our existence, noting annually the exact day we were born into this world and the glorious journey called Life.
But birthdays mark the passage of time and as we grow older they seem to keep coming at an alarmingly rapid rate. Growing older certainly beats the alternative. I’m very happy that I’m alive when so many of my dear ones no longer are. None of us expected they would die so young and I never imagined being this old back in more na├»ve, crisp days of yesteryear. How can we possibly know? But I think each of us has an imagined age we would reach when we would be “old” and a vision of some time, many many years away, when we would die…if we can imagine such an event.
For years, a close friend insists that we don’t age. That is, our personality doesn’t age. I think I know what she is saying. She recalls traits and patterns of thought that have formed her very being.
Contemporary psychology argues that personality is defined as a set of traits that follow the individual throughout the life course. Personality is made of five traits that dispose an individual to particular thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. These traits are: (a) neuroticism, (b) extroversion, (c) openness to experience, (d) agreeableness, and (e) conscientiousness.
The Baltimore Longitudinal Study on Aging is regarded as the most definitive study of personality traits. Paul Costa and Robert McCrae tested the personalities of individuals between 19 to 80 years old for over twelve years and specifically measured their levels of neuroticism, extroversion, openness to experience, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Costa and McCrae concluded that these five personality traits remained relatively stable with age.  Furthermore, trait stability especially characterized individuals after the age of 30.

Given the general conclusion that personality traits remain stable after age 30, Costa and McCrae would argue that if a 30 year old woman worried excessively about whether or not her husband's salary was enough to make mortgage payments, then she also is likely to be worried about having saved enough for her children's college tuition when she is 45 and is likely to be worried about the adequacy of her husband's pension income at age 70. Since Costa and McCrae suggest that personality traits remain stable through adulthood a high degree of neuroticism, as reflected by a consistent and excessive level of anxiety and worry, is likely to persist and find new focal points over time.