Thursday, 2 September 2010


I've never been as busy and stressed out as I have for quite a while now, thus the lack of updates, but this doesn't mean my mind hasn't been hard at work! Because of an intrinsic need to take down my thoughts, here they are, taken completely out of context so they might not make sense.

1a) Meditation

I don't usually let stress get to me, but for once the heavy workload and the crazy number of deadlines I put on myself got the better of my rational faculties. I think losing my wallet was the final straw because I don't usually lose my stuff and thus I don't set aside adequate mental resources to deal with these sideline things. So when I found out that my wallet was missing after a game of soccer at Kallang Cage last weekend, I think that pretty much did me in and the past few days have been some sort of neurotic hell for my mind.

Thus, I turned to meditation, for a variety of reasons. One, I'd always wanted to give it a try. Ever since I figured that it is possible to actually zone out and shut out all thoughts, I had the personal insight that controlled zoning out could be an element of meditation. Secondly, I've always been quite intrigued with the enlightenments that many zen practices, such as Buddhism and yoga, claim to achieve. Lastly, if there was ever a time to reorganize my head and calm the chatter of my mind, this seemed like a good time.

So two nights ago I gave it a try. For ten minutes, I sat cross-legged with my spine erect, and put into disciplined practice what I'd already been able to do - zone out and think of nothing (this is a paradox in itself but only those who get it will get it). For those who can't not think of anything, a suggestion is to think of something extremely neutral, like a square, and just focus on it for at least ten minutes.

To say that the process was transformative might be a bit too epic for something that involved doing nothing for ten minutes, but it had something to that effect. I slept early and well that night, and have been doing so since then.

Which brings me to my next point...

1b) Circadian Sleep Cycles

Honestly, no other sleep pattern beats sleeping within the circadian sleep cycle. The circadian rhythm regulates our lives according to patterns of day and night, and there are reasons why we are designed to fit into that pattern, such as how our skin reacts to daylight, which in turns affects our homeostatic body states and other important biological and mental patterns. This is most optimal; we were evolutionarily designed to fit in well with the patterns of day and night, so we might as well try not to fight it.

Within two days, meditation and reverting back to my natural circadian cycle has enabled me to overcome pretty much all that stressful buzz in my head and I can't say I've felt better than this in awhile.

2) Evolutionary Adaptations

Ever since I began teaching assistantship for my evolutionary psychology professor, I've noticed during class that there are quite a number of concepts that the layman might find difficult to wrap his or her head around.

For instance, there are two main kinds of adaptations. I don't know if there are technical terms for this, but for now I shall call them fixed adaptations and fluid adaptations.

Fixed adaptations are things like our eyes and legs. We are born with only two eyes, or two legs. Those things don't change unless, because of random mutations, some aberrations might occur. But in general, such fixed adaptations are things we are bestowed with at birth that do not alter over the course of our lives.

Then there are fluid adaptations. Fluid adaptations include things like the ability to develop muscles, the ability to develop callouses on our hands and feet, psychological fears and other cognitive biases.

Fluid adaptations are fluid because they aren't fixed in the sense that they exist in one form and one form only. Fluid adaptations react to environmental stimuli to result in various states. For instance, the ability to develop callouses on our hands and feet is an important adaptive mechanism, because callouses occur only when our palms and soles are constantly subject to contact with rough surfaces. Callouses help us better deal with our environment, only if the environment calls for it; if the surfaces in our environment are quite frictionless, having callouses can be counterproductive. Thus, it is more effective to be born with such an adaptive mechanism that responds to the environment to best suit our needs. Given this train of logic, it can also be inferred how our psychological mechanisms are adaptive.

3) Of Divinity and Spirituality

It is honestly hard to say where all this work is headed. In other professions, such as finance or banking, it is far more clear cut that getting an accounting degree will be the means to such ends. But in the field of research and academia, these means and ends are not so connected. It is only a leap of faith that one can base all his/her hopes upon, that one day this will all pay off.

Sometimes, people justify going through trials and tribulations by saying that it is only by the grace of God that they are able to do so. God gives us strength in pulling us through the hard times. Sometimes that is what I feel, although I do not consciously or verbally attribute it to God the way that dogmatic Christians might.

But the way I reconcile it is that the motivation I get definitely doesn't come from something grounded, realistic or practical. It comes purely from the heart, where I desire to do it simply because I am passionate about it. And in a very profound way, this drive does feel spiritual. It might very well make sense to say that it is indeed by the grace of God that I'm pulling through.

Perhaps somewhere along the way, the connection between our desires, passions, spirituality, the divine and God got severed, as people increasingly wanted the rewards of the belief in God without actually actively participating in what it means to have such spiritual faith. Other political reasons come in too, when powerful people try and exploit such emotions for their own interests, commodifying the concept of God in the process.

Whenever we economize 'goods', we lose their inherent qualities by turning them into quantities.

Gosh, as I type, I can hear one of the economics PhD students somewhere at the opposite side of the office crying. Have faith, you'll make it through.

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