Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Q & A: Advice on Daughter and Dating

Dear Mr. Supposed Philosopher:

I have an adolescent daughter who is arriving at that time in her life where she is achieving those physical and emotional milestones that inevitably lead to, well, a hyper-pronounced interest in boys. Since the speculations of philosophers are always irrelevant to the REAL world and produce nothing but confusion to those who otherwise have common sense, I was hoping you could outline a few rules so that I might take exactly the OPPOSITE plan of action.
  • -- signed, Pragmatic Dad

Dear Daddy Realist --

The best collection of rules I've ever run across were given to me by one of the fine veterans of our county's long-past past conflicts. Let me just say that no evangelical Republican dad could ever order up a better set of Tea Party values dating commandments than these
  • -- B

* * *

Rules For Dating My Daughter[1]

Rule One:
If you pull into my driveway and honk you'd better be delivering a package, because you're sure not picking anything up.

Rule Two:
You do not touch my daughter in front of me. You may glance at her, so long as you do not peer at anything below her neck. If you cannot keep your eyes or hands off of my daughter's body, I will remove them.

Rule Three:
I am aware that it is considered fashionable for boys of your age to wear their trousers so loosely that they appear to be falling off their hips. Please don't take this as an insult, but you and all of your friends are complete idiots. Still, I want to be fair and open minded about this issue, so I propose this compromise: You may come to the door with your underwear showing and your pants ten sizes too big, and I will not object. However, in order to ensure that your clothes do not, in fact, come off during the course of your date with my daughter, I will take my electric nail gun and fasten your trousers securely in place to your waist.

Rule Four:
I'm sure you've been told that in today's world, sex without utilizing a "barrier method" of some kind can kill you. Let me elaborate, when it comes to sex, I am the barrier, and I will kill you.

Rule Five:
It is usually understood that in order for us to get to know each other, we should talk about sports, politics, and other issues of the day. Please do not do this. The only information I require from you is an indication of when you expect to have my daughter safely back at my house, and the only word I need from you on this subject is "early."

Rule Six:
I have no doubt you are a popular fellow, with many opportunities to date other girls. This is fine with me as long as it is okay with my daughter. Otherwise, once you have gone out with my little girl, you will continue to date no one but her until she is finished with you. If you make her cry, I will make you cry.

Rule Seven:
As you stand in my front hallway, waiting for my daughter to appear, and more than an hour goes by, do not sigh and fidget. If you want to be on time for the movie, you should not be dating. My daughter is putting on her makeup, a process that can take longer than painting the Golden Gate Bridge. Instead of just standingthere, why don't you do something useful, like changing the oil in my car?

Rule Eight:
The following places are not appropriate for a date with my daughter: Places where there are beds, sofas, or anything softer than a wooden stool. Places where there are no parents, policemen, or nuns within eyesight. Places where there is darkness. Places where there is dancing, holding hands, or happiness. Places where the ambient temperature is warm enough to induce my daughter to wear shorts, tank tops, midriff T-shirts, or anything other than overalls, a sweater, and a goose down parka - zipped up to her throat. Movies with a strong romantic or sexual theme are to be avoided; movies which features chain saws are okay. Hockey games are okay. Old folks homes are better.

Rule Nine:
Do not lie to me. I may appear to be a potbellied, balding, middle-aged, dimwitted has-been, sporting a dollar-sign, Jack Daniels souvenir hat; but, on issues relating to my daughter, I am the all-knowing, merciless god of your universe. If I ask you where you are going and with whom, you have one chance to tell me the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I have a shotgun, a shovel, and five acres behind the house. Do not trifle with me.

Rule Ten:
Be afraid. Be very afraid. It takes very little for me to mistake the sound of your car in the driveway for a chopper coming in over a rice paddy near Hanoi. When my Agent Orange starts acting up, the voices in my head frequently tell me to clean the guns as I wait for you to bring my daughter home. As soon as you pull into the driveway you should exit your car with both hands in plain sight. Speak the perimeter password, announce in a clear voice that you have brought my daughter home safely and early, then return to your car - there is no need for you to come inside. The camouflaged face at the window is mine.[2]


[image] The Chronicle (Oct 6, 2009)

[1] I have no idea where this came from, and the earliest link to it I could find (2007) also had no idea where it came from.

[2] An interesting research brief on teenagers views of romantic and marriage relationships can be found here: "Pathways to Adulthood and Marriage: Teenagers’ Attitudes, Expectations, and Relationship Patterns" U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services Oct. 2008 (Accessed March 20, 2010).

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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Mirror Neurons/Systems Present Method Problems for Science

Giving empirical explanations for what mirror neurons are supposed to be doing in the brain ain't as easy as one might wish.

Mirror neurons are "a particular class of neurons, originally discovered in the ventral premotor cortex, that code goal-related motor acts such as grasping. Specifically, mirror neurons require action observation for their activation; they become active both when the subject makes a particular action and when it observes another subject making a similar action."[1] For example, implant wires in the appropriate region of a monkey's brain, and you can detect when these kinds of neurons fire. So when a monkey watches a researcher bring an object to his mouth (e.g. an ice cream cone), the same neurons will fire as if the monkey were bringing food to its own mouth.

Mirror neurons fire both when an animal sees or hears an action and when the animal carries out the same action on its own. Follow up studies showed the same kind of results in humans, though humans have a far more subtle and flexible set of such neurons. Further studies would show that mirror neurons are found in several areas of the brain, such as the premotor cortex, the posterior parietal lobe, and the superior temporal sulcus [see map]. But that might be several areas too many, as Greg Hickok of Talking Brains blog points out.

Mirror neurons have been associated with all sorts of social behaviors, such as detecting other minds, learning in children, aesthetic responses to dance and music, and even to why males like pornography. [2] Yet Hickok objected "if the mirror neuron system is really important for action understanding, then damage to action execution should result in action understanding deficits. I have pointed out that this prediction doesn't hold, either in apraxia or with more force in aphasia. "[3] If you're just brushing up on your brain malfunction vocabulary, recall that apraxia is an inability to make purposeful movements, while aphasia is an inability to use or understand language, spoken or written, because of a brain lesion.

Hickok also points out the common reply--namely, that of lots of areas with their own mirror neurons are working together--is not a good answer the problem, since this makes an alleged mirror system too powerful of an explanation. The matter was noted by a well-known philosopher of mind during discussions of the issue:
"At this point in the talk, Pat Churchland, who was my host, jumped in and said (and I paraphrase here), 'Now wait a minute. If mirror neurons are all over the brain then don't they lose their explanatory power? Aren't we now just back to our old friend, the How Does the Brain Work Problem?' "[3]
Hickok found this charge convincing, and now worries if mirror neurons' function can be empirically outlined at all, at least as distinct from other subsystems in the brain. Hickok's blog entry[3] and some of the comments therein are definitely worth a read.



[image] "Auditory Mirror Neurons" Mixing Memory Blog Oct. 2, 2006 (Accessed March 20, 2010) -- This is also a good article in itself about pianists and nonmusicians responses to watching others press keys on a silenced piano.

[1] Glossary of Terms Nature Vol. 3, No. 6, June 2002 (Accessed March 20, 2010)

[2] As an aside, I don't know who has the weirder job in this experiment, the researchers or the participants: Alison Motluk "Mirror neurons control erection response to porn" NewScientist June 2008 (Accessed March 20, 2010)

[3] Greg Hickok "Mirror Neurons - The Unfalsifiable Theory" March 19, 2010

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