Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Lies I Wish Were True

I think of myself as a rather creative person.  Which could mean that you shouldn't trust me at all.  
I was listening to an episode of Scientific American's Science Talk podcast this week.  It was a recording of a phone interview with Dan Ariely, a professor of Behavioral Economics at Duke University.  The podcast was entitled "Creativity's Dark Side" and was about Professor Ariely's studies which demonstrated that the more creative a person was, in certain circumstances, the more likely they were to lie and cheat.  
Previously, the model used by behaviorists to explain why people lie and cheat was a risk/benefit model.  When faced with a situation where something was desired and could be obtained through dishonest means, the situation would be evaluated based on the assumption of how likely one would get caught weighed against the perceived gain for making the illicit attempt.  
Profession Ariely's study, though, pointed out a different model of thought at work.  In a situation where the individual thought they were free from being caught at lying about the number of questions they had solved for a monetary reward (they put their answer sheet through a shredder before giving their results, unaware that the "shredder" actually preserved their actual answers), the degree to which people cheated by inflating their score was more closely related to how well they scored on a creative index.  
The model that the professor came up with after his study to replace the risk/benefit model was one of conflicting desires going on inside each of us.  These are 1) To be able to think of ourselves as Good and Honest people.  And, 2) To gain the benefits of cheating.  The key, according to Profession Ariely, was the ability to rationalize.  In essence our ability to tell ourselves a story that would justify our desire to cheat and gain the perceived benefit while still allowing ourselves to think, "I am a good and honest fellow, I am."  
Creative people, it turns out, are better at telling themselves such stories.  At least according to the results the professor is gleaning from his work.  
Which puts me in a bit of a quandary.  As I mentioned above, I think of myself as being a creative individual.  More creative than the average person at least, let's say.  I also think of myself, to a similar degree, of being an honest person.  I would have difficulty counting the number of times I have gotten myself in trouble by giving an honest answer to a question put to me when a simply dissembling falsehood would have gotten me off the hook. 
Which leaves me to wonder...  Stipulating the good professor's results as accurate, I am either 1) Lying to myself as to how honest I really am; 2) A striking exception to his results or 3) Not as creative as I think I am.  
Before I take a stab at resolving this question, I did want to relay another thought that sprang tangentially from line of contemplation.  I remember, years ago, learning a phrase that has stuck with me for years.  It might have come from a panel on writing at some convention.  Or maybe a book on writing.  One about how to come up with story ideas.  Time has divorced the phrase from its original concept, but it has lived on in my brain, like a fragment of DNA from some infection, to be incorporated into the genome of my thoughts.  The phrase is this: 
The lies we wish were true.  
It is a way to turn real life experiences into stories, for one thing.  What better way to write a romance than to think about a time you were jilted by someone you were desperately in love with, and rewrite the story so this time the protagonist, who is really you in disguise, wins the object of their desire?  How many writers out there have taken someone that has pissed them off and made them the villain of a story where they are utterly destroyed for the evil that they are?   
Ok, Ok...  All you writers can put your hands down now.  
And not just writers.  We all day dream.  I certainly do.  We day dream what it would be like to have that special person in our lives.  Or what it would be like if we were young again and had a chance to do something over again.  Or, what we would do if we were infected by alien nanobots that would replicate and spread over the world to form an immense information network, allowing you to know what is going on anywhere and everywhere in the world, making you a truly Omniscient and Powerful beyond Imagination!!!
We all day dream about that, right...?  I mean...  I'm not the only...?
Ahem.  Anyway.  Lies we wish were true...  Yeah.  
There are a lot of them.  And most of them are probably out of reach or our control.  The "Think Peace" bumper stickers I see every now and then.  Why would we need to think it if it wasn't true? 
There was one part of Professor Ariely's results I haven't mentioned yet, but which I'll do now.  One factor impacting the degree to which creative people cheated has to do with the specificity of the rules governing the situation.  If a rule was clear and unequivocal, "you must do A after B," then the likelihood of lying or cheating was not as great as when it was open to interpretation.  "A is to be done when something approximating B to a certain degree is obtained in the previous result."  It is within this interpretation that our ability to rationalize, tell ourselves a pleasing little lie we very much want to be true, finds the opening that it needs to let us get what we want and still tell ourselves we didn't cheat to get it.  
A sudden thought occurs to me.  It could very well be that, at least for some of them at least, the lies we wish could be true are only out of reach because of some perceived rule we THINK cannot be broken.  If we could perceive the wiggle-room in the interpretation, just enough for a pleasing little rationalization to squeeze in and push open enough space for our preconception of ourselves and our desires to live in peace might be all we need to make them true. 
So maybe, I am the honest, upstanding person I want to believe myself to be.  And maybe I am just as creative as I think I am.  I am able to maintain this balance due to the fact that I am holding myself strictly in line, by being clear and unequivocal in what I will allow myself to do in any given circumstance.  It is this high degree of ethical thinking that allows me to be both.  
And if you believe that, let me tell you about this deal I know about for some terrific beachfront property in Arizona.  

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Is There a Doctor in that App?

I'm afraid I might be dying.  Or, I might be a hypochondriac.  One of the two.  Or both.
Here's what is going on.  This week, I experienced what I will term for now a raging anxiety attack.  Hmm...  That's a charged way of putting it, that might unduly influence the diagnosis from whatever armchair doctor might comment on this blog.  Instead, let's call it an episode of accelerated anxiousness.  That's good.  
It happened while I was driving around Pasadena, going to the store, stopping at the Post Office, normal stuff.  While driving, I suddenly had this fluttering feeling in my chest.  Not a pain, though it wasn't a comfortable feeling.  Persistent.  It sort of felt as if someone had taken their thumb and pushed it (not poked it) just to the left of my sternum, and I was feeling the impression their thumb had made after they took it away.  
Right after noticing this sensation, I felt the desire to breathe.  Not like I was choking or short of breath.  Not that.  It was a confirmation thing.  "Can I take a deep breath?" I wondered to myself.  If I tried, would I start choking.  I took that breath, really deep then let it out, to prove I could do it.  Then another, to prove I could do it again.  Then a third, to prove I could still do it.  
I started getting lightheaded.  I stopped proving to myself I could take deep breathes, thinking that was causing it.  The lightheadedness remained, though.  The sensation grew until I started feeling...  Light-bodied?  
I got home.  I felt worried.  Restless.  I drank a glass of wine, then a second.  The buzz from the drinks fell into the lightheaded feeling like a tired office working throwing themselves on the couch.  When I went to bed, the thought came to me that I might not wake up.  That I would die in myself.  I lay there, tired from the day, wondering what was happening to me, thinking I ought to say a prayer or something in case I never woke up again.  
Eventually I did go to sleep and I did wake up the next day.  I went online and did a google search of my symptoms.  I got the same combination of useless information mixed in with truly terrifying data that most of get when we go to those web-doctor sites.  
I then decided to check the side-effects of the medication I had been taking for my stomach acid.  It's called Lansoprazole DR.  For years I've had a persistent cough.  No matter how many times I brought it up to whichever doctor I was seeing at the time, they could not figure out a reason for it.  I tried holistic medicines suggested to me by friends.  I tried using willpower to simply not cough.  Nothing worked.  Then, I noticed that I was getting a burpy, acidy feeling after my coughs.  My current doctor prescribed the Lansoprazole and my cough stopped. 
I don't like taking medicine, especially when it seems to me there should be something I could do to correct the situation.  I remember a cardiologist I saw once, he weighed over 300 pounds if he weighed an ounce.  He told me about the medications he took which kept his cholesterol under 175.  I remember thinking that a few hours in the gym each week might do the same thing.  But I don't like coughing all the time, either, so I started taking the Lansoprazole regularly, a pill before breakfast each morning.  I figured I'd do that until I got a chance to see my doctor again and find out if there was some other, more permanent way of addressing the problem without drugs.  
So on this morning I thought I might never see, I looked up Lansoprazole's side effects.  This is what I found: 
  • dizziness, confusion;
  • fast or uneven heart rate;
  • jerky muscle movements;
  • feeling jittery;
  • diarrhea that is watery or bloody;
  • muscle cramps, muscle weakness or limp feeling; 
  • cough or choking feeling; or
  • seizure.
Well, no cramps or seizures, but the "dizziness, confusion" and "feeling jittery," parts stood out.  And the fluttery feeling I was having in my chest might have been caused by a "fast or uneven heart rate," right?  

Based on what I read, I decided to stop taking the Lansoprazole.  The next two days, I felt fine, but then on Friday the light-headed, nervous feeling returned.  Driving home from work, I found myself wondering if I should drive straight to the emergency room instead.  I wondered if I would make it in time.  

As you may already be thinking to yourself, I worry about my health a lot.  I had an incident about ten years ago or so where I was at the gym and it felt like my heart wouldn't slow down.  I got off the cross-trainer and walked home.  Even after the fifteen minute walk, my heart was still racing away.  I called my doctor and got someone on call.  I described what I was going through.  He told me that the symptoms didn't match a heart attack, but said if I was worried I should go to the emergency room.  I did.  They kept me there over the weekend.  Ran stress tests.  Put me in a big old MRI or CT scanner.  Took all sorts of blood.  At the end of all that, they told me what they found.

Nothing.  None of the tests they took showed any signs of any heart problem.  I had elevated levels of cholesterol, which I knew before, but nothing else they thought was a problem.  

I was thinking about this, too, while driving home last night.  I think it was this recollection that kept me heading for my apartment instead of the hospital.  

I was also thinking of the old adage that says, "just because you're paranoid, doesn't mean they aren't out to get you."  You could adapt that to something like, "just because you're a hypochondriac doesn't mean you aren't about to die."  

I'm a person who likes certainty.  I've been told what my symptoms aren't.  I want to know what they are.  I know part of my problem is my mental make-up.  My mother, with the cheery outlook of someone born in a third-world country, told me when I was a little kid, "From the very moment you are born, you begin to die."  

You hear something like that when you're six years old, it sticks with you.  When you get to my age, you start to remember it more and more.  

This week I heard a story on the radio about "DIY Health Monitoring."  There is a collection of people who download a variety of apps for their smart phones and use them to check on their health.  There are apps that tell you how far you've walked.  How many calories you've burned.  That can run an EKG on you and monitor your sleep cycles.  During the story, one of these DIY'ers (DIY stands for Do It Yourself, by the way) talked about someone he knew that monitored his bowel movements, and through the data he collected determined he was contracting Crone's Disease.  His doctor confirmed his diagnosis and started early treatment.  

I saw something like this coming years ago.  More and more, automated programs and expert systems are taking over jobs reserved for professionals in the past.  We used to think only manual laborers would be impacted by technology, as robots took over the assembly lines.  Today they have programs that can write basic news articles, and review evidence files to develop legal cases.  Medical conditions lend themselves much better to hard data and the interpretation thereof, it seems only a matter of time before our cell phone will tell us what was wrong before we think about seeing the doctor.  

I tried writing a story about how this would impact our healthcare system.  I envisioned it as being a sort of people's revolution, where we take our healthcare back into our own hands and away from the greedy insurance companies telling what is and is not good for us.  I imagined co-ops of people, centered around one or two healthcare professionals that had opted out of the current system we have in the U.S., sharing data and expert systems to get on the spot results to their questions, most of which could be boiled down to "What's wrong with me?"  

I never finished that story.  It just didn't ring true for me.  I such a system, while valuable, would not be the panacea my story was trying to claim it would be.  It would be too subject to overuse from people that worry for the sake of worrying, like me.  France and Japan, for example, both have the same exact healthcare system.  Japan's is rated the 10th best in the world compared to France's #1, with the difference stemming from the fact the Japanese overuse their system more than the French.  A Japanese person sneezes and they slap on a mask and run to the doctor, where a French person sneezes and they wipe their nose.  "Byouin ni itta hou ga ii," "You should go to the hospital," is one of the first Japanese phrases I was taught.  

So...  Where does all this consideration leave me?  Should I go to the free clinic?  Should I put it down to increased levels of stress from a job that gets increasingly more difficult with each passing day?  Or maybe I should finally get a smart phone and see what my EKG is telling me if, or when, that feeling comes back.  

If I can figure out how to read an EKG.  They probably have an app for that, too.  

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Time to Psychopath Up

I visited Kevin Dutton's website this week.  He's the English researcher that has written a book I mentioned in previous posting: The Wisdom of the Psychopaths - What Saints, Spies and Serial Killers can teach us about success.  He has a short quiz on his site to get a measure of your level of psychopathy.  I took the quiz.  The results indicated my psychopathy level was quite low.  
I have friends that are probably surprised at that result.  After listening to a series of podcasts interviewing Mr. Dutton available through Scientific American, and learning the nature of psychopathy, I wasn't so surprised.  I was a bit disappointed.  
I want to be more psychopathic.  
That's not the same as psychotic.  I want to make that point clear.  In common usage, people use "psychopathic" and "psychotic" interchangeably.  They are synonyms for "CRAZY."  
From listening to Mr. Dutton speak, I've learned that the difference between the two.  Psychotic refers to someone who, in a general sense, has lost their grip on what is real and what isn't.  Psychotics hear voices that no one else can hear.  They hallucinate.  They have an experience of what is happening in the world that the rest of us don't share.  
Psychopaths are as grounded in reality as we are.  The difference is that their relationship to it is different.  They are more ruthless in attaining what they want.  They are more focused on getting it.  And they have less empathy for what may happen to other people as a result of their efforts.  It's not just an all or nothing thing, either.   Each aspect has its own volume knob, so to speak, with some higher than others.  Nor are psychopaths necessarily violent.  The ones we hear about in the news most often, where the term psychopath is applied to them, usually are.  But there are other psychopaths, famous and successful, that are never referred to by that term.  We call them "Masters of Industry" or "Geniuses" or "Artists."  
The most quintessential way Mr. Dutton put it was when, during a two part podcast interview between him and Michael C. Hall, the actor that plays Dexter of the eponymously named TV show about a serial killer that kills other serial killers, he asked the audience to imagine what it would be like if they were not afraid.  If, when they wanted a raise in pay at work, for example, they just went into the boss's office and asked for it.  Without thinking about the negative possibilities, not thinking about what the boss might think of them, or what their colleagues might think about them.  Focused only on the benefit they might gain if successful.  Without that fear, they would probably "Just Do It," using the very psychopathic slogan of Nike shoes as their motto.  
This, Mr. Dutton explained, is the essence of psychopathic thinking.  It is mode of thought of living in the very moment, being extremely confidant, thinking only of achieving the goal and the benefits associated with it.  
Take away the desire to kill people and put their chopped up parts in a stew for dinner, and it doesn't sound too bad, does it?  
In the last few blog entries I've written about change.  Change happens, even if we think we'll be the same as we are now as in the future.  
Since it is happening anyway, might as well do one's best to direct that change.  That was a decision I made last week in regards to some things going on in my life.  If the negative result is what seems likely, whether I do something about it or not, then the best course of action is to do whatever I think is right.  At least that way, I can say that I went out the way I wanted to instead of letting things catch  up and happen to me.  
I'm going to modify that a bit more now, change it if you will...  Instead of looking at the negative result, I am going to find the dials in my head that will turn up my psychopathy.  I'll focus on the benefits.  The success in once more having my unit at work make the daily and monthly goals as we did when I first took over.  How I will feel if...  When the acceptance letter or email comes from a story I've submitted.  I will pursue those gains without regard to what may happen or how I may look.  
I will psychopath up.  
Of course, I don't have a switch in my head that just needs flipping.  If only I did.  As I wrote the paragraph above, I could feel a sort of tremor go through me.  I was setting myself up for failure.  I was making myself accountable.  What if I say something like that and don't do anything, or fail, or fail repeatedly?  
I still imagine some sort of mesh implanted inside my skull that would use magnetic fields to suppress or enhance the activity of various regions in my brain to achieve the same effect.  Just as Steve Jobs called the computer a tool for the brain, my imagined "personality assistant" would, as the name implies, be a tool for my personality.  I could create pre-sets for various times of the day.  "BetterThanHeinlein" would be for the morning, when I'm working on my novel.  "TheKnute" would be the setting at work, when I'm coaching my people to get the job done.  "Neo-Valentino" would be for when I meet someone really attractive that I want to talk to.  
I don't have a PA.  Not yet.  All I have is my desire to make things better for myself.  And my will power, such as it is.  And an understanding of what it takes to put a good habit into place.  I have to do these things manually.  Make myself focus.  Don't back down from a challenge.  See the results I want and nothing else.  Ignore the pain of failure, pretending it didn't happen, and have at it again.  
And if that doesn't work, THEN I'll chop some people up and put their body parts in a stew to see if it makes a difference.  

Sunday, March 10, 2013

In the Midst of Phase Transition

It's been hard coming up with a blog entry this week.
The week has been kinda themeless.  I usually noticed a theme running through my life when I'm writing in my journals.  Recently, the concept of change has been coming up a lot.  Getting that fortune cookie last week, the one that talked about change blowing through my life like a wind this month, was an obvious trigger.  Other things I spotted reinforced that theme.  
This week, though, there hasn't been one thing I can point to as the "This is What my Life is ABOUT this Week," thing.  
Change is still there.  I had another fortune cookie sort of moment.  A Japanese "life stylist," let's say an Asian Martha Stewart, whose blog I follow posted a series of tweets about how we're in the season of change.  It made me think that maybe Change, what to change, how to change, when to change, etc., was going to dominate my thoughts this week.  
It didn't happen though.  It's there in the background, but other things were coming up.
Trust was one of them.  I took my car into the shop yesterday.  The engine light kept coming on.  They replaced the two sensors the code the computer was giving them indicated were the problem.  The light kept coming on though.  Yesterday they found cracks in the connection between the exhaust manifold to the exhaust pipes.  The cracks were allowing air to leak into the exhaust stream.  The manifold needed to be replaced and new seals installed.  
Could it be, I wondered, that this was the problem all along and they only now found it?  I posed that question to the mechanic over the phone.  No, no...  Each time they checked the computer gave them a different code.  This is a new problem.  It had nothing to do with the sensors.  
Do I trust them on this?  I've taken my car to this shop a lot over the years.  I've trusted them in the past.  But did I trust them on this?  And what could I do if I didn't?  
Trust came up in other areas of my life as well, some of which I will keep to myself due to the privacy of the other people involved.  The point is, I was faced with the question a number of times this week of whether I trusted the person I was dealing with, or who I ought to trust in a situation.  
I remember something that happened to me last year.  I caught one of my employees cheating on their time card.  Our timecards are handled through a website, employees login to check in and out.  I wanted to assign work to someone but was told they'd just left for lunch.  When I checked the website, it told me they had checked out a half hour ago and had checked back in five minutes ago.  
What the person had actually done was checked out, worked for a half hour, then checked back in before leaving to take as long a lunch as they wanted. I wanted for nearly an hour for the person to return, after printing out copies of the time sheet to speak to them about.  
Of course, I didn't trust that person after that.  With one act, they had gone from someone I thought of as one of the leading members of the team that I didn't have to worry about to someone I had to watch to make sure they weren't screwing around.  
When someone likes this tells you other people are "getting away" with stuff and I just don't see it, do you believe them?  This person has proven themselves, in my mind, of being untrustworthy.  But does that mean what they are telling you isn't true, a lie to throw suspicion on someone else.  It could very well be a bone of truth thrown to keep me from chewing them out and gnaw on someone else instead.  
And there was this other thing.  It was tied into the trust stuff I can't write about, but it was a feeling I was getting that, no matter what I did, it was going to go wrong.  The analogy I used was that of being a person on the top of a burning building, a high rise, 10 or 15 stories high.  The flames cut off your escape down.  They are burning the floors beneath you.  The smoke is already burning your through and watering your eyes.  You think you can feel the heat through the soles of your shoes.  Are they melting and sticking to the roof of the building?  
You seem to be forgotten.  The fire is on its way to consume you.  Do you stand there until the fire reaches you?  Or, do you leap into the empty air off the building in the slender, lottery ticket thin chance that somehow you'll survive the fall?  
There's a lot left out of the situation.  Whenever you pose a question like this, there is some "situation lawyer," looking for another option.  Are the firemen there?  Why wouldn't they be called?  Maybe they have one of those big air-bag things to set up for you.  Or a helicopter!  Yeah, or one of those cranes, with the hoses on the end?  They don't reach 10 stories?  Are you sure?  
Yeah, I'm sure.  And let's say the fire department isn't there.  I don't know why they weren't called, OK?  They haven't arrived yet.  Take the situation at face value.  What do you do?  
I'll give you the answer I came up with in a moment.  First, there was another item that came to my attention this week that feels like that fortune cookie from last week.  Something with a lesson for me.  
It came from one of my science podcasts that I listen to.  Researchers off the Azores Islands in the eastern Atlantic spotted a deformed dolphin traveling with a pod of pygmy sperm whales.  
In the article, the researchers had no problems wondering why the dolphin would want to join the sperm whales' pod.  With its deformity, the creature's spine is twisted in to an "S" shape, it can't swim as fast as the other dolphins in the pod it came from.  The creature probably couldn't keep up, or the other dolphins may have driven it off due to its low social status and inability to assist in hunting for food.  Being a social creature, it would want to swim with a group.  The pygmy sperm whales swim slow enough for it to keep up.  And being with them would provide protection against predators.  
What the researchers interviewed for the article had trouble coming up with was a reason why the whales were reciprocating the dolphin's social engagement.  They kept using terms like "for now," when describing the relationship.  The whales were letting the dolphin swim with them, "for the time being."  The implication was that eventually, they too would dive deep and swim away, leaving the dolphin to fend for itself again. 
I don't know how this applies to me.  I keep thinking about it.  I keep wondering, hoping maybe, that the dolphin does something for the whales that will bond them together in a weird, inter-species family.  Maybe when the whales dive deep to hunt for squid, the dolphin helps the adult left to baby-sit the calfs that remain near the surface?  I don't know.  I want this twisted, lonely dolphin to succeed.  I applaud its efforts to find someone it can swim with, even if its a group that look nothing like it, instead of giving up and dying alone.  
I remember a decision I made, back when I was a teenager in High School.  It came to me that I needed to make a choice: To keep doing the things I wanted to do, all those things that were branding me as a nerd, and be outside the normal social clicks, or to put those things aside and do what I needed to do to join the cooler kids, in order to be with a large group of friends.  
I decided to be the nerd that I am.  If that meant fewer friends or less opportunities, then that's what it meant.  Better to be me as I was than pretend to be something I wasn't.  
My decision about the burning building?  If the end result is the same, better to take a leap that has a razor thin chance of success, than wait for the fire to take you.  Sure, I know, if ever faced with the same situation in real life, it could very well be different.  But it feels better to be damned for doing than for not doing.  
I think this week might have been a phase transition.  Like ice turning to water on its way to becoming steam.  Dealing with change is melting into my facing issues of trust, on its way to finding the place where I belong.  
At least, that's what I'm going to say for now.  

Sunday, March 03, 2013

A Kite on the Winds of Change

Think of this blog as a brief little three act play, with an epilogue that's actually an opening.  Hopefully that will make sense by the time you reach the end.  
Act 1 - "The winds of change will sweep through your life next month."  
This was from a fortune cookie I got.  It was someone's last day at work before going on post-baby leave (I don't know what the exact name of this paid time off is.  It's to give the new mom time to bond with her baby).  
They bought chinese food for lunch as her "see you after you've bonded with your baby," gift.  The fortune cookie I got with my beef & broccoli had that written on it.  I kept it.  It was different from the usual drivel one gets on fortune cookies these days.  Stuff like, "Friendship is the gift that gives to you!"  This was an actual fortune.  I stuck it in my shirt pocket to keep from losing it.  
After some reflection, I thought the fortune cookie had been a bit late.  I'd been dealing with change almost constantly for the past year, and more so on what felt like an accelerating basis.  Most recently, the changes I've been dealing with haven't been positive.  Certainly not in the short term.  I had come to the conclusion that I would need to get used to the feeling that the ground was rocking back and forth under my feet.  If another gust of change were to bring me to someplace more stable, then I would ride that wind like a kite whose string had been broken, fluttering down to wherever the winds took me.  I want things to be different than they are now.  
Act 2 - Science Blogs are my Burning bushes.  
I listen to science podcasts as part of my daily drive to work.  Two articles in those podcasts caught my attention this week.  
One was about the positive side of psychopaths.  The subject alone was enough to catch my attention.  It was a series of interviews with Kevin Dutton, who has written a book entitled: The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success.  The author talked about how there is actually a scale of "psychopathy" that we all lie on.  The qualities of psychopathy, fearlessness, persuasiveness, confidence, charm, focus and ruthlessness, are, in the right combinations, the keys to success in a number of fields.  
The two things that Mr. Dutton said that really caught my attention were these: First, he talked about the nature of psychopathy itself, how it can run "hot" or "cold," is not necessarily violent, and how the various elements are like the knobs on a graphic equalizer inside our brains.  Mr. Dutton admitted that he tested very high on the psychopathy scale, with the one "knob" turned low being empathy.  This reminded me of a fictional device I've included in some of my science fiction stories that I call a "Personality Assistant," or PA.  The PA is an implant that one can control to set your personality for certain tasks.  If a person is afraid of heights, for instance, and wants a job in a high rise building, he can set his PA to reduce or block that fear during working hours.  He can link his PA to his lifelog, a camera and recording device that saves his experiences, both internal and external, to see how his/her daily experiences stimulate the emotions that he or she feels.  Imagine knowing that you "should" exercise everyday, but are unable to find the will to do so, or wanting to quit smoking, but finding yourself unable to gather the will to overcome your cravings.  Your PA can be tuned to increase your focus or decrease your sense of need to overcome these impediments.  
The other thing I remember from the interview was something Mr. Dutton said while speaking about the positive side of psychopathy.  Psychopaths are very focused.  When it is time to do something they want to do, they do it, focusing on the task until its completion.  We should learn to have such focus.  When faced with a problem we know we need to deal with we should, in his words, "psychopath up" and get it done.  
"Psychopath up."  I like that phrase.  "Just Do It," the slogan of the Nike shoe company, is very psychopathic, according to Mr. Dutton.  I think I need to psychopath up more in my life.  Hearing this phrase made me wonder where that knob inside my head might be.  
The other article was an interview with a science that had conducted a study about the "End of History Illusion."  This is the sensation we all carry that the way we are "right now," is the way we will be from now on.  It's the reason why people will emblazon their bodies with tattoos of their current girlfriend or their favorite rock band, because they can't imagine not loving them in the future.  The survey discovered that since we find it hard to envision the specifics of how things will change in the future, we end up believing that there will be no change, or that change will be minor.  The truth is that things will change as dramatically in the next time frame, five, ten, or twenty years, as they did in the previous time frame of the same length.  That is true for all of us at any age.  
I think this is one of the things that motivates people to kill themselves.  When we're in the midst of hardship and don't see a way out of it, it feels like it will go on forever.  I know for myself, while I've never thought of ending my own life, I have reached points where I've resolved myself to thinking that I need to just bear whatever is going on.  The study was a good thing for me.  A secular version of, "This, too, will pass."  
It was about this time during the week that I noticed that I was thinking a lot about the concept of change.  
Act 3 - Words of Wisdom from an American Psychologist via Japanese.
There is a Japanese Facebook page I follow.  It's name in Japanese is 名言 or meigen, which means "Wise Saying."  I discovered the site this week and started checking it every day to practice translating what they've posted there.  The other day, I spotted this posting: 
This is the translation I came up with: 
If the heart changes, one's behavior will change.
If behavior changes, one's customs/habits will change.
If customs/habits change, one's character will change.
If character changes, one's fate will change.
If one's fate changes, one's life will change.
The American psychologist, William James.  
I had never heard of William James.  I looked him up online.  He was the brother of the novelist Henry James.  He was also the first educator in the United States to offer courses in Psychology.  And if your thing is posting uplifting and/or inspirational comments via social media, then you've got to get to know this guy.  Just google "William James quotes" and you'll see what I mean.  You'll have enough material for a lifetime of such postings.  
I found it ironic that I was discovering this icon of American studies through a Japanese webpage.  But it was also clear to me that there was a theme to what I was spotting all around me this week.  Change.  Was someone trying to tell me something?  
Of course.  And that someone was me.  I had somehow programmed my reticular activating system, the part of the brain that turns on and off alertness, to look for "change" in the input it was receiving from the outside world.
Change is easy.  It happens whether we want it to or not.  Every moment, we change who we are as people.  Cells die and are replaced by other cells.  We learn things.  We experience traumas.  We change.  
Change, though, is very hard.  Directed change.  Change to make us into something we want to be.  And our innate belief that history has ended for us, that we are the way we will be, makes it even harder.  
Earlier this week, I posted in my Twitter feed that I was like a kite upon the wind of change, waiting for it to take me wherever it will.  I am seeing now that this is the wrong metaphor.  I'm on the ground, holding the kite, feeling it tug and pull as the breeze stiffens, becoming ever stronger.  What I want to is to direct that kite.  Turn it into a sail.  Let the winds of change provide the motive force to pull me in the direction I want to go.  
Like Mr. James suggested, it starts with a change inside of me.  A decision to do things differently that I've done before and to let that decision cascade through my life.  
Epilogue - A seed of something, I don't know what.
Darren Occet's life changed the day he discovered he could reprogram his personality.  
They had fitted him with a new one via the Personality Assistant they had implanted in  his brain.  To keep him from harming others, they told him.  To allow him to have a normal, fulfilling life.  Though he had been able to keep from snorting in derision, they had seen the spikes on the scanners they had him hooked up to.  He'd noticed the little glance toward the screen.  The warm and friend smiles had stayed on their faces, but the eyes had curdled, soured and hardened into stinky gunk you get at the bottom of milk containers that have been left in the fridge for too long.  They didn't have to ask him to know that he thought "normal" and "fulfilling" were two adjectives that could never be used to describe the same life.  Darren looked back into their eyes, easily picking out the ones that were the most fearful, that would make the easiest targets, up until the time the blackness of the anesthesia took over and he, in more than a figurative way, died.  
And now he was reborn.  He could see the PA's interface in the smart-shades they given him.  The real time personality profile the PA generated.  In his "normal" state, he could react to any spike in certain neurological reactions by reporting it to the physicians and researchers that monitored his case.  He had a whole team of consultants.  He was the first person released back into the wilds of society with a PA implant.  
What he was supposed to do now, after the spike in aggression when that asshole had sneered at him in the café's line, was to used the meditative techniques to calm himself, to allow the PA to do its job in moderating his response.  Darren used the meditative exercises given to him.  But used them instead to do what he'd been trying to do for weeks.  Like person in a wheelchair trying to use a mechanical arm with his thoughts, Darren had been trying to use the feedback mechanism of the PA to reach into the device itself.  To turn the knob, so to speak, in the direction he wanted it to go.  
A flicker.  A hint.  Then slowly, the magnetic field stimulating the empathic centers of his brain eased back.  He felt a flood, a rush of strength, a focus of purpose that was more powerful than any caffeinated drink he could buy.  He could hear his breath hissing in and out through his nostrils as he stood there, relishing the moment.  
Darren opened his eyes.  The girl behind the counter, young though not pretty, with eyes too big and too much acne, was looking at him.  Head lowered, looking up at him.  Trying to see his eyes through the shades.   A cautious one, she was.  Like a deer that knows wolves were about.  Too much hopefulness, but more than enough caution.  
"Can I take your order?"  There was twist to the words, like aluminum foil that someone tried to  to smooth flat after crumpling up.  Her desire was that he would change his mind and walk out so she wouldn't have to serve him.  
"Yes.  I was just thinking about what I wanted."  He looked up at the board.  "A green-tea latte, hot.  No sweetener.  Make it large.  And..."  He looked over the top of her register, forcing her to take a half step back.  "Could you add a slice of that traditional coffee cake, too?"  
She nodded.  "Of course.  Anything else?"  
Darren smiled.  He had to take a quick breath and send a calming thought to the PA to allow him to tweak its corners to get the right, predatory gleam to it.  "No, but thank you for checking."  
Darren got his drink and snack.  He paid for his order.  All in a very normal and fulfilling way.  He turned around from the counter.  
Asshole was sitting in one of the booths, along the row heading toward the restroom.  Lounging in the corner of the seat, cell phone to his ear.  Probably got his ass fired for doing something stupid and was pretending to be going to the office while keeping his significant other in the dark.  Definitely someone hiding something and using his well trained arrogance as a guard dog to keep people at bay.  
Darren closed his eyes.  He watched as the resonances of the fields changed.  He felt his former self, buried deep inside, take full control of his body and actions once more.  
Eyes still closed, he nodded to himself.  "Time to psychopath up," he told himself.  He opened his eyes and made his way to the booth next to Asshole's.