Commercials: Not All Publicity is Good Publicity

Commercials: you’re likely to absorb hundreds of them per day, via media such as the TV, radio and internet. As I have written about in a previous article, the average person spends 1/24 of his life watching commercials on television. That’s a quite a lot, isn’t it? But I don’t want to focus on this act of wasting our lives by consuming useless material. I want to take a look at the effect of commercials, and of marketing in general, on the perception of a company’s brand. Most companies seem to believe that any publicity is good publicity. They seem to think that – no matter how bad a commercial might be – it’s always better to have a commercial than to have no commercial at all. But the question is: is this true?

When you’re watching television, and you see a commercial of a brand you’ve never heard of before, what will be the effect of this commercial on your perception of the brand? Marketers seem to think that they’ve increased your ‘awareness‘ of their brand, in the sense that – consciously or not – you now know about the brand‘s existence. And this might very well be true. But then the question would be: is all awareness good awareness? Or can awareness – as created by commercials – lead to a (more) negative (instead of positive) perception of the brand by the customer?

I believe it can. I believe that whenever people see terribly non-funny commercials (as there are plenty of) on television, they associate the brand promoted in the commercial with negative values such neediness, pity and lameness. I believe that the next time these people are in front of, for example, a supermarket they’ve just seen in an utterly non-funny (but intended to be funny) commercial, they will think to themselves: ‘Come on, I’m not going to support such a quasi-funny company’, and they’ll decide to skip the store. Even though these people might have entered the store if they hadn’t watched the commercial, or if the company wouldn’t have produced the commercial in the first place. But now they’ve got all kinds of negative associations with the brand, they decide to skip the store and go to another store – which might have less awareness but still more positive awareness than the supermarket of the commercial. And this goes not only for the supermarket-market, but for any other kind of market as well.

Customers usually don’t care about whether a brand is well-known – note that this doesn’t hold for clothing brands and other products that depend for their value to a large extent on marketing. We just want to buy a particular good or a particular service. And the only thing guiding us to a particular store is our perception of this brand/store. And if this perception is negative – which it very likely might be as a result of a bad commercial – you’d consciously avoid this store, and move to a next one. Even though the particular brand might have put a lot of money into its marketing efforts, they’re worse off than they would have been if they hadn’t launched the commercial.

Of course, marketing – including commercials on television and radio – can have a positive effect on a company’s brand and consequently on the sales of the company’s goods/services. But only if the company markets the relevant aspects of its brand, and not just launches a commercial for the sake of showing how ‘funny’ it is as a supermarket. Most people won’t appreciate that: the intelligent people might feel like they’re being treated like babies, and will therefore consciously avoid the brand, and the less intelligent people might not respond at all to this irrelevant kind of commercials.

If want to get people to your store (or make use of your service), you have to stay close to the product your selling, because that’s where customers are coming for or not coming for. Emphasize your low prices, your current actions/sales or your great service, and skip the bullshit. Then, and only then, can marketing attract – instead of scare away – customers.

But what do you think?

Milton Friedman’s Voucher Plan

More than 30 years ago – in 1979 – Milton Friedman and his wise Rose Friedman published the book Free to Choose, in which they made a (compelling) claim in favor of handing over authority to the free market, and taking it away from the government. The arguments they come up are profoundly grounded in empirical evidence, pointing at the inefficient and unequal spending of tax payers’ money on the ‘big issues’ of society (healthcare, Social Security, public assistance etc.). I want to focus at the expenditures on public education, about which the Friedmans say a lot, and in particular on the immoral and degrading effect this can have on citizens.

We humans are intelligent creatures. Some are – without a doubt – better equipped (mentally) for dealing with the whims of the free market than others, but still almost all of us are reasonably capable of fulfilling our needs in life. We can go the supermarket by ourselves, decide for ourselves what we want to eat for breakfast and dinner, and much more. The government doesn’t have to do this for us. We can decide for ourselves how we want to spend our leisure time: whether we want to go the movies or not. We don’t need the government to decide this for us. Not only because the government cannot know what each one of us wants – therefore inevitably being inefficient in the spending of its – or our – resources – but also because we know that we are intelligent beings, very much capable of making our own decisions in life.

And this intelligence of ours doesn’t have to confine itself to mundane decisions like how to spend our free time. We are equally competent in deciding for ourselves how we want to spend our money on more pressing issues in life: what hospital we want to attend, whether to assist our loved ones financially whenever the need might arise, and what school our children should attend. These issues are of such importance to our well-being – and our children’s – that, instead of putting the government in charge of these decisions, we should be the ones choosing what we consider to be best for our, and our children’s, future.

In 1979, the Friedmans noticed an upward trend in the government taking control of many of these decisions – decisions that, by the way, have a relatively big impact upon our financial resources. The most striking example of this might be the public financing of (elementary, secondary and higher) education. In 1979, the average US citizen paid 2.000 dollars per child that attended public education, even though not everyone’s child – assuming that you even have children – made use of public educational resources. The Friedmans found this state of affairs harming to the right of each individual to decide where to spend his money at, including the option to put one’s child at a privately financed educational institution.

Therefore they came up with a ‘voucher plan’: a plan in which every US citizen would – per child they have – get a voucher exchangeable for a certain amount of money – let’s say 2.000 dollars. They could cash in this voucher only if their child would attend an appropriate educational institution. This voucher plan would come in the place of the tax each US citizen is obliged to pay, irrespective of them having children and irrespective of their children attending a public educational institution. This plan would make sure that only the ones making use of pubic educational services would be charged, thereby excluding the non-using part of society.

The Friedmans made – primarily – financial arguments in favor of their voucher plan, saying that – on the whole – public educational costs would remain the same, and that parents would use their increase in autonomy to find the school that best suited the needs of their children. The relatively free market that would be created on the basis of the voucher plan, would improve the quality of both public and private education. I believe, however, that one argument in favor of the voucher plan, and the free market in general, has not received the attention it deserved – at least not in the Friedmans’ Free to Choose. And that argument has to do with human intelligence.

As pointed at above, humans are – for the biggest part – perfectly capable of deciding for themselves where to spend their money at. We wouldn’t want anyone else to do our groceries or schedule our leisure time for us – at least not for (our) money. But that is exactly what the government does when it comes down to public education. The government proclaims that – as the Friedmans explain – it is the only actor possessing the professional knowledge required for deciding what is best for our children – thereby implying that they are indispensable in order for our children to receive a qualitatively good education.

What this claim comes down to is the government saying – or not saying – that we (‘the crowd’) don’t understand what is important and what is not in regard to our children’s education, and that – because of that – they should step in and release us of this impossible duty of ours. We don’t understand what to do, but luckily they do. They are the father looking out for us, protecting us from doing harm to our children and to the rest of society.

I find this an insult to the basic level of intelligence the majority of the people has. We very well believe to know what is important in our children’s education – probably much better than the government, since, in contrast to the government, we know our children. Thus besides all the financial benefits of the voucher plan, by returning autonomy to the Average Joe, a voucher plan is required for respecting people’s intelligence. After all, we are no fools, are we?

What do you think?

Why Students from Top Universities might be Worse than ‘Not-top’ Students

One of the top universities

The University of Cambridge: one of the top universities

It is a fact that some universities are more popular among employers than others. See this link for a ranking of the top 10 universities in the world — according to employers in 2013/2014. There are hardly any surprises in this top 10. As always, the University of Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard are included.

The question I ask in this post is: based on what criteria does an employer prefer one university to an other? And how reasonable is it for a company to base its preference on these criteria?

Admission standards
It seems fair to say that universities like Oxford and Cambridge have higher admission standards than pretty much any other university in the world. Therefore, being admitted to such a university is by itself an indication that you are ‘better’ (in terms of pre-university academic results etc.) than non-admitted applicants.

Hence one could say that it makes sense for employers, knowing about these strict admission procedures, to be more inclined to pick someone from such a university than from any other university. After all, the ‘top’ universities already have done part of the selecting for them.

Harvard students not necessarily better
But the above reasoning is not valid. Since even though it might be true that the Oxfords and Cambridges of this world pick the students that were the best before they entered university, it doesn’t follow that these students are still the best after they have been through university.

It might very well be so that someone who didn’t do his utmost best in his undergraduate studies (and therefore was not admitted to a top university) decides to change his effort when attending a Master. After all, he knows that there are people from Oxford and Cambridge around, so he has to step up his game in order to get a decent job.

The opposite might be true for a person studying at a top university. He might feel like, now he has been accepted into this prestigious institution, the chance of him finding a good job have increased significantly; so much that ‘just passing’ his Master might be sufficient for him to still obtain a job that suits his criteria.

In other words: getting a degree from a top university doesn’t necessarily make you more educated than someone who has got his degree from a ‘not-top’ university.

Social factors
When we look a little further, we see that social factors play a role too in the hiring process of a company. After all, a company – let’s call it ‘Company A’– wants the best employees. Therefore it might look at the ‘best’ firms in its industry in order to see where they get their employees from. Seeing that they get their employees from the top universities, the company believes that it should do so too; after all: these companies are the best in the industry, hence they should have the best employees, right? And given that these employees come from the top universities, these universities must provide the best employees.  Hence Company A hires someone from a top university.

Now assume another company enters the industry. This company will be even more inclined to hire someone of a top university because of the increase in the university’s reputation due to Company A employing its students. This points to the fact that companies do not look solely at the capabilities of its potential employees; the reputation of the university the candidates have studied at is of importance as well.

Top universities still good
The above is not to say that employing students is all based on the unjustified supposition that top universities provide the best employees. After all, it seems reasonable to suppose that those entering top universities are motivated, disciplined and will enhance their capabilities while attending the top university. Hence it is likely that they will still be ‘best’ after having gone through their top-university education.

Given that being a good student implies being a good employee, the latter implies that these students will be good employees. But it should be kept in mind that social factors such as the reputation of a university are self-perpetuating, hence no watertight indicator of the quality of students.

So Little to Say in So Many Words

I just returned from a lecture in Philosophy of Language, which is a course I attend at my university. It’s a course in which the ideas of the “big thinkers” of 20th century analytical philosophy of language are dealt with. And although I find the topic very interesting, I couldn’t help but become annoyed by the overdose of irrelevant digressions of the lecturer. It made my thoughts wander off to a more fascinating – and less annoying – place.

Let me ask you: why do people use so many words while saying so damn little? Why do people seem to think that the most important “thing” in communication is for them to convey their message, and that they should do so regardless of how long their “elucidation” would become? Don’t people see that using more words, especially when saying the same thing in multiple ways, deflates the value of each of the words said? How can we – the listeners – know what’s relevant and what’s not if relevant and irrelevant words are mixed into one act of communication? Don’t people see that the use of more words increases the risk for the totality of words to convey a contradictory message? That more words implies more meanings, and that more meanings implies more opportunity for confusion to arise?

Being succinct in communicating your thoughts is harder than being elaborate. It is as Einstein once put it, “Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler”. Only by making things simple you can convey the core of what you mean to say. But it is often the fear of the second part of Einstein’s claim (of making things “too simple“) that makes us digress about – what could have been – a very simple idea. We believe that by showing the broadness of our vocabulary, we are able to show our true intelligence. But, to use another quote of Einstein, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough”. And that’s completely true. Only in the realms of academia, in which nuance and exceptions should be praised, is the use of “complex” terminology or digressions required – and therefore legitimized. But even then one should try to keep the number of words used at an absolute minimum.

That’s why I decide to end this article at this point. I could have written another 200 words but I don’t think the increase in the value of my message would weigh up against the extra words you’d have to read.

But what do you think?

We’ve Got You God!

Life is a joke. And a damn good one. If you were a God, and you would want to have a laugh, and you could create anything you’d want to, what would you do? What would you create? I know what I would do: I would create a world with little ‘things’ on it, give these things a limited capacity to think, and then just see what happens, just see what they will come up with. Just watch them running around. Each morning and evening I would take a look at them, look at how they deal with the situation I’d put them in. Watching them form alliances, working their asses off, fighting each other and thinking: thinking about why it actually is that they are there.

Think about it: if you would have to create an absolute absurd situation, and you would have unlimited powers to do so, what would you come up with? Probably not a series like Family Guy, right? No, you would strive for the best: for the most absurd thing you could come up with. After all, why would you create Family Guy, if you could create a world, put creatures on it, program these creatures so that they think they are able to discover the world’s secrets but – without most of them realising it – make them incapable of doing so. Maybe you would put a few ‘natural laws’ in order: the law of gravity, electromagnetism etc., or come up with a few ‘elements’ (protons, neutrons, electrons etc.) that make up everything in the creatures’ world, including themselves.

But you would never reveal everything: you would never explain the purpose behind all of it, because you don’t want the creatures to unravel the mystery you have created. There has to be a point at which their limited abilities fail. Them knowing about electrons and other irrelevant entities is okay, but having them know anything of real value would just spoil the fun. They shouldn’t get the feeling that they get it. Just enough for them to believe that they’re the most intelligent things that have ever walked ‘their’ earth. And just enough for them not to kill themselves in total despair.

But what if the creator has underestimated the little creatures? What if the creatures would be able to see through the facade? What if they would come to see that they’re part of one big joke? And what if they would even enjoy the the fact that they are part of a joke? That would spoil the fun for the omnipotent and ever joy-seeking creator, wouldn’t i? So he must make sure that they don’t come to believe that their lives are nothing but a joke: he must create enough misery in their lives to remind them that their pain is real. He must make sure that the minds of the creatures are occupied with impulses to stay alive, impulses telling the creatures what to do with their lives and how to run their societies. Everything to keep their thoughts away from the joke.

But we have got you God. You can quit playing now. Just take some rest and come back to us when you’ve a better one, okay?

But what do you think?

Why Fear is More Efficient than Love

Machiavelli is the father of pragmatic reign: the father of the ‘I’ll do no matter what it takes to stay in power’ mentality sovereigns should, according to Machiavelli, have. You can say what you want about his thoughts, but they sure as hell have been influential. At least influential enough for us to be still talking about them, five centuries after his dead.

I want to focus at Machiavelli’s idea that – for a sovereign – it is better to be feared than to be loved. Machiavelli claims this because he believes that people are ungrateful and unable to be trusted; at least, not for long periods of time. Not until they get hungry again and breaking promises seems to be a better option than starving to death. But I want to focus on a different reason for why a sovereign should try to be feared instead of loved. And that is the simple fact that being feared costs less money – and effort – than being loved.

Being loved requires a constant level of investment from the sovereign; if the sovereign, for example, want to be seen as a generous man, he needs to keep on being generous at every opportunity to be generous that will arise. Giving a poor man money is generous, but to stop giving the poor man money falsifies the generosity of the sovereign. And the same goes for being friendly: if a sovereign wants to be perceived as a friendly man, he needs to be friendly all the time. One moment of unfriendliness means the end of his friendly appearance. Being good is simply a much more difficult role to play than being bad. Why? Because people have the tendency to remember someone’s unfriendly or betraying actions better than one’s well-intended or friendly actions.

Fear, compared to love, requires much less investment from the sovereign. That is because fear is based on expectations: someone’s anxiety from what might be about to come. And it is this sense of what is about to come that can be relatively easily manipulated by means of threats; by promising that something bad will happen if the citizens aren’t loyal to their sovereign. And the degree in which citizens are susceptible to the sovereign’s threats, depends in turn on the credibility of these threats. If the citizens don’t believe that the sovereign can live up to his evil promises, the threats will vanish without having had any effects. Thus the sovereign has to make sure that his threats are credible.

He can do this by means of military forces. If so, he must make sure that his army is bigger in size than – or at least equal to – the armed forces of the citizens – which is easy to achieve by making sure that the citizens are unable to get armory: by monopolizing the production – or at least distribution – of armory. This requires a one-time investment from the sovereign. An investment that – in the long run – will yield more benefits than the everlasting demand to feed the poor.

So although romantic movies might want us to believe that love conquers hate, hate – in the form of fear – might turn out to be the cheapest way to go.

But what do you think?

Why Are We?

Before you embark on reading this article, I have to warn you upfront that this article might appear to be depressing. And if it does, it might be because it is in fact a depressive article. Having said that, here we go.

Do you ever ask yourself where all of this is about? Not only why we are here on this planet of ours, but why we really are: why we are capable of experiencing; why we are capable of tasting; why we are capable of complaining. We are ‘just’ living our lives, and going with the flow, but do we ever think about what this ‘living’ might actually consist of? Let’s take a look at that.

‘Purpose’ is an inherently unstable concept. The reason for this is that the Purpose of everything – from which all other purposes (which a small ‘p’) can be derived – will always lie outside of our reach. Whenever we embark on the journey of trying to grasp this Purpose, we’ll inevitably end up in an infinite regress. It’s like a diver trying to reach the bottom of the sea, but each time he thinks the bottom is near is forced to return to the surface to grasp fresh air. Our human limits will deter us from reaching the limits – either of our Purpose or of the sea.

We only have a (very) limited framework of beliefs within which we can claim to ‘know’ things: within which we can claim to ‘know’ that the world consists of particles; in which we can claim to ‘know’ that we descend from the fish; in which we can claim to ‘know’ that we are alive. But how big is this limited framework of beliefs in the scope of which we believe to know? That’s an unanswerable question, since we don’t know what we don’t know, and therefore we cannot have a benchmark to measure our sense of ignorance (or omnipotence) against. We believe we know a lot, but we can never know how much we actually know.

Don’t you find it – at times at least – frustrating that we cannot deny the fact that we’ve got no clue about all of the things we don’t know? That we can try all we want to unravel the mysteries of the universe, but that we don’t know if we’re getting any closer to ‘the truth’? Closer to the way the world really is? Closer to the true Purpose of all of this? It’s like we’re forced to always look into one direction, and that even within that direction our line of sight is inherently limited by the horizon set by our human limits.

A depressing thought? Maybe or maybe not. Since there are two ways to deal with this thought: either (1) by drowning in it and feeling the total absurdity and seemingly insignificance of our existence, or (2) by shutting of the part of our minds this thought resides in, and keep on ‘shooting for another perfect day.’ But, irrespective of the option we choose, we’ve got to remember that closing our eyes doesn’t hide the truth; it only makes us (temporarily) incapable of seeing it.

Are you happy? Are you content with the way you’re living your life? And if so, why are you happy? Are you ‘just’ happy because you don’t allow yourself to see the only absolute truth in our existence – the meaningless of life? Or are you happy for other reasons? If you are happy because of the former, then that’s a noble – or at least understandable – sense of ‘constructive’ happiness. But have you ever thought to yourself: why should I even be happy in life? Just because it’s a nice feeling – or at least nicer than unhappiness? And aren’t we making it a little too easy for ourselves by striving for nothing more than a feeling of ‘just being happy’?

What if it’s just one big joke whatever it is that we’re doing here? What if there are just a couple of aliens that have put our ancestors (the monkeys) on this planet just so that they – the aliens – could have some fun? Just to be ‘happy’ for themselves? Maybe. All we know is that we are.

But what do you think?

Why Would You Ever Study Philosophy?

I am curious to know how many of the people reading this article studies – or has studied – philosophy. I guess the percentage is rather low. And that’s a pity. It truly is. Because although philosophy doesn’t necessarily make you a multimillionaire, it can give you a great sense of satisfaction. Getting down the most fundamental of fundamentals of your thinking, and slowly starting to see things make more and more sense, is pretty much like an orgasm to the mind; or, to put it less sex-oriented, like candy to the mind. Personally I believe that philosophy should be the number one course taught to children. Starting on high school, since primary school is for chasing girls…

I am not saying that philosophy is the ‘one and only discipline seeking for the truest of truths’. No, there are many more disciplines sharing this ambition. What I am saying, however, is that philosophy is an ‘activity – not a topic – that can be very helpful in thinking within the conceptual frameworks of any discipline around. You can compare it to riding a bike; riding a bike is useful in a wide variety of environments: the city, the forest, at a farm…You get it. That’s how it is with philosophy as well: no matter where you are situated, no matter whether you are a mathematician or a physicist: you will benefit from philosophy.

When people ask me, ‘What exactly is philosophy?’ I tell them – like a true philosopher – that there isn’t ‘some thing’ that can be called philosophy. Philosophy is not a subject: it’s a manner of thinking. A manner of thinking that can be applied irrespective of the particular subject at issue. That’s why well-known philosophers have been – or are – involved in so many different disciplines: one philosopher can ‘easily’ be involved with such apparently different subjects as the mind-body problem (psychology and neuroscience), rationality (economics) and scientific realism (physics, chemistry and more). That is because philosophy is a ‘system of thinking’ one can apply to the world; it’s an angle from which you look at the world.

Why am I telling you this? Well, I am telling you this because philosophy has truly changed my life. It has made me – I believe – a more respectful person: more understanding towards opposing points of view. It has forced me to think about why I believe what I do, which made me appreciate my beliefs much more. And I am convinced that – besides the intellectual merits – philosophy has a therapeutic value. By that I mean that philosophy can ease your mind when you feel lost; when you need a shoulder to cry on. Pretty much like music, but then aimed straight at the mind.

Use philosophy like a hammer for the mind; to hit the mind it in the right shape. The ‘right shape’? What does that mean? To be honest: I don’t know. But it sounds philosophical, doesn’t it?

But what do you think?

What We can Learn from Children

There is a lot we can learn from children. To name a few things: children don’t mind who they play with, as you as they can play. Children don’t mind what team they are in, as long as they are in a team. Children don’t mind about letting their imagination run free. They don’t even think about it. Children aren’t judgmental regarding others’ dreams; it’s okay if you want to become an astronaut or a rock star. Children are true artists; they have a direct connection between their creative minds and their bodily powers (read: “muscularly finger powers”). Children just go for it; they want to complete their collection of Pokémon cards (or FarmVille animals or whatever it is kids are doing these days). They don’t care – or even think about – the difficulties in “obtaining that goal”. They just wait and see where their ambitions will lead them.

Where did it all go wrong? Where did we get so caught up in our socially conditioned dogma’s? Why is it that we all want to get “a job by which we can make a decent living”? Why are we prepared to put our dreams aside in order for “normal lives” to interfere? Life is a game; and although children might not “consciously” realize this, they act according to this principle. They “understand” that the game of Monopoly and life are intertwined; that you can have pogs (“flippo’s”, for the Dutch readers) and that you can lose them at any time. They understand that you have to take risks (read: bet your pogs) in order to make progress. But we don’t. We don’t want to bet our pogs because we are afraid that we might lose them. We might lose the pearls of our efforts, the sweat of our creations, by taking a bet; by risking what’s at stake. But how can you ever make progress if you are afraid to lose what’s at stake?

I would like to ask you to watch an episode of Sesame Street. To look at Big Bird (“Pino”, for the Dutch readers) and try to feel his or her (I don’t know what Big Bird is) sense of naivety; its sense of not thinking about anything, and just doing what comes up in its big feather-like head. Big Bird always lives “in the now”; he’s a damn good hippy. And when you’re done watching Sesame Street, go watch an episode of Pokémon (or whatever series you people in the USA looked at while you were a child). Not only will you get overwhelmed by feelings of nostalgia; you will also come one step closer to the truth: the truth of “Gotta Catch ‘em All”; a motto that isn’t just applicable to the Pokémon world.

And oh, to the people in North-Korea: if you are reading this (which – for some reason – I doubt), why don’t you try to be a littler nicer to everyone else? I mean: Cookie Monster is also angry sometimes – at Elmo or Kermit or whoever stole his cookies – but he isn’t threatening to use nuclear weapons or so. He just comes up with “good” arguments in favor of why his cookies are his cookies; and not someone else’s.

The moral of this story is: although children can be a pain in the ass in transatlantic flights, when they just can’t seem to stop kicking the back of your seat, they are damn much closer to “the truth” than we are.

But what do you think?

What is the Value of Beauty?

Beauty is ‘a characteristic of a person, animal, place, object, or idea that provides a perceptual experience of pleasure or satisfaction.’ Okay: now we know the definition of ‘beauty’; but what exactly is beauty? Let’s zoom in on the human part of beauty: why are some persons more beautiful than others? Why do men become ‘happy’ when they see Kate Upton, but not as much when they see Queen Beatrix (the former queen of The Netherlands)?

Studies have shown that when we recognize someone’s face as beautiful we are actually making a judgement about the health and vitality of that individual. We interpret facial symmetry (the similarity of the left and right half of a face) and a smooth skin to mean that a person has good genes and is – or has been – free from diseases. But what exactly we find beautiful differs per sex. For example: women attach less value to the looks of their partner than men do. But that begs the question: why do men attach so much value to the looks of a woman? And aren’t we men – by chasing the pretty girls – nothing more than simple puppets of our evolutionary determined instincts?

If you think about it, beauty is – next to its evolutionary function – a totally useless characteristic. The only way in which a woman’s beauty can be of value is in the seduction of ‘primitive’ – or at least superficial – men. Well, that’s not completely true; beauty is not totally irrelevant. For example: if a man sees a woman – of if a women sees a man – that is very fat, it might be a good idea to stay away from this person. You don’t want to waste your food – or your fertility – on that one, do you? And being so fat might not be very healthy. And we don’t want an ill partner, do we? But now we are back again at beauty’s evolutionary value

Beauty might be the single most overrated characteristic a person can have – next to cynicism, which is the most easy characteristic to have. Beauty is either present or it is not: you’ve either got it, or you don’t. Just like you can be tall or short, black or white, handicapped or ‘okay’, you can be beautiful or less beautiful (ugly). But even though it is fully determined by nature, we men still go crazy when we see a beautiful woman. A woman’s beauty alone can be sufficient reason for men to chase her. A phrase often heard is: ‘She’s stupid? So what? She’s beautiful, right?’ But the real question is: who in this example is really the stupid one? The one being chased, or the one chasing? If you value someone for her looks, aren’t you just better of taking a picture and hanging it above your bed? Not only will a picture last longer, but the beauty depicted on the picture will last longer too: beauty, after all, has the tendency to stay only until gravity shows it face. Intelligence, wisdom en experience, on the other hand, come with age.

So: what to do? Should we listen to our primal instincts and perceive beauty as it is dictated to us by nature? Or shall we take control of whoever we find beautiful? Are our bodies leading the way; the happy feelings we get when we see someone beautiful? Or do we listen to our minds telling us that an asymmetrical face doesn’t imply Down syndrome? The ever recurring philosophical dichotomy returns: the battle between the body and mind, between determinism and control.

Who do you think is going to win?

People Spend 1/6 of their Lives In Front Of the Television

The average person spends 4 to 5 hours a day in front of the television. That means that, in a 65-year period, the average person would have spent 9 years glued to the tube. That’s quite a lot, isn’t it? But that’s not all, since there is – on average – 18 minutes of commercial airtime during an hour-long broadcasted television program. Thus, a simple calculation shows that the average person – given that he only watches commercial airtime – spends almost 2,5 years (!) of his life watching commercials on television. Add to that the Tel Sells of this world, and you’ll come to even more years of commercial television usage. So, let’s make this very clear: on a global scale, people are spending more than 1/6th of their lives in front of the television, and possibly more than 1/24th of their lives watching commercials on television.

Imagine what the world could be like if – instead of sitting in front of the television watching commercials – people would be doing something useful with their time: helping their neighbors, teaching their children, taking care of their garden etc. Then we would gain 1/24th of ‘extra’ human life, and even more if we would stop – or at least lessen – our television usage at all. We could in the time saved by not watching television (commercials) help people in Africa, think about what we’re going to do about global warning or play games with friends. We could, instead of watching people promote their books on television, actually read a book. That would surely be a better use of our time, wouldn’t it? Surely it can be pleasant to just relax and watch something on autopilot; to not think about anything for a while. To just let the ‘entertainment’ of television blow you away. But don’t you mind that – in this time that you’re ‘not thinking about anything’ – you’re in fact (unconsciously) being indoctrinated with thoughts and desires about deodorant, ice-cream, cars and beer? Don’t you mind being used as a puppet; companies using your precious time supporting their own wealth?

There are, as always, exceptions to the rule: there are documentaries broadcasted on television that might actually widen your perspective on the world, instead of narrowing it. Documentaries that actually teach you something and therefore might actually be worthy of your time. But – given that there are such documentaries – can’t we just watch them online, without having to suffer from any commercial breaks whatsoever? There are plenty of sites (Top Documentary Films and DocumentaryHeaven, to name only two) that provide you with such documentaries for free. And if you want to watch less educational programs (series etc.), there are equally many sites at which you can stream your favorite series for free. That might save you a lot of time watching commercials; time that can be used to watch more of your favorite series. However, as you might have noticed, many of such series – like Californication – are interwoven with implicit advertisement (Why does Hank Moody drive a Porsche? Why does he smoke Camel?). But that’s the price we’ve got to pay for entertainment.

But what do you think?

An Application of Freud’s Theory of Mind

Everyone must have heard of the name ‘Sigmund Freud‘ at some point in their lives. Thinking about the name, there might be all kinds of images popping up in your mind: things like the mind being like an iceberg, notions like ‘The Id’ and ‘The Ego’, and Freud’s ideas about sex as the explanation for pretty much everything we do. But you might not fully remember all of it. You could say that the ideas might be floating around somewhere between your consciousness and your unconsciousness – to speak in Freudian terminology. But what was it exactly that Freud claimed? And why do many philosophers of science condemn his theories to the realm of ‘pseudo-science’? And what’s the value of Freud’s ideas? Let’s apply Freud’s ideas to an everyday situation and find it for ourselves.

Let’s imagine that you are a guy that goes out with some friends. You guys are ‘chilling in the club’, while suddenly an absolutely gorgeous woman enters the room. You notice a certain feeling taking control over your body: attraction, the feeling of you wanting – in whatever sense defined – that woman. This is not a feeling for which you might necessarily have arguments. No, the feeling is just there. This feeling comes down from the part of your personality that Freud calls ‘The Id. The only thing that The Id cares about is receiving pleasure, loads of it. It has an inextinguishable urge to grab on to everything within its reach, just for it to calm down its perpetual longing for pleasure; no matter how briefly the satisfaction might last.

You can imagine that society would be a rather chaotic institution if every one of us would just give into his animalistic urges at all times. The notion of rape would become little different from our custom of shacking hands. Therefore some basic rules of conduct need to be ingrained in each member of society: ‘Be gentle to others,’ ‘Help an old lady cross the street’ and ‘Don’t have sex with someone else unless that someone wants to’. It is within this domain of ‘The Superego‘ that all kinds of religious and political beliefs nestle. Beliefs that will guide you in living your life like a caged monkey.

Surely: it’s all nice that we are trying to control our animalistic urges by coming up with a set of reasonable rules. But who makes sure that the needs of The Id and the rules of The Superego are properly matched? After all, as we have just seen, they might contradict each other. So we can’t always satisfy both at the same time: we can’t just rape everyone and be a gentleman at the same time. And that’s where ‘The Ego comes in. The Ego is the controlling power, the power that tries to satisfy the needs of The Id while taking account of the rules of The Superego. The Ego is the house of reason, of the economically thinking part of you; the part that decides to fulfill the most pressing urges first – like the urge to still our hunger – and postpone not so pressing urges – like the urge to have sex – to a point in time at which satisfying this urge might be more ‘appropriate’.

Now you can understand why Freud sees our sexual drives as the prime reason for all our psychological problems, right? After all, it isn’t easy to suppress our animalistic needs, put forward by The Id. That can only be done by repressing the beast that lives inside of us. Or, to put it more boldly, the beast that we simply are. But taming the beast does not make it fall asleep. The beast is still there, waiting for his opportunity to come. And when it comes, he unleashes his true nature. So we have to do everything within our power to shackle the beast, everything in order for us to live a ‘reasonable’ life.

There are – and have been – many criticisms about the scientific status of Freud’s ideas, and you might see why. It’s after all quite difficult to capture something as intangible as ‘The Id in terms of empirical data. Nonetheless, Freud’s ideas have found to be very influential within the domain of psychiatry, even though the current generation of psychology students hardly learns anything about them.

Ah well, scientific or not, it’s still a pretty fascinating point of view, right? Oh, and for the guy at the bar: he took the girl home.

But what do you think?