Archives for category: altruism

Being alive means being able to interact with the environment.

In various manners.
From the prosaic – ingesting food and… you know what I mean, to the sublime – what ever that means for each of us.

Including the ‘prosaic’,  our reactions to whatever ‘inputs’ challenge us from our exterior, a.k.a. environment, are based on what we feel. And this is valid for all living things, no matter how simple or how complex. All of us have different manners in which we get information about what’s ‘outside’ and react to what we find out.

‘Not all reactions have been born equal’…
Plants react differently from animals, insects react differently from fish, reptiles from mammals, humans differently from all others, men differently from women…

Yet there is some order in all this complexity.
Reactions can be classified into three large categories. Mechanical, learned and intentional, a.k.a. ‘self supervised’.

All of us pull our hands when we touch a red hot iron. Or at least tend to…
All of us, grown-ups, have learned to swallow the sip of too hot coffee we have carelessly took. If in public, of course…
And, sometimes, the brave among us go, ‘barehandedly’, into a burning house in order to save those inside. Knowing that they might get hurt. Knowing that fame is short lived but a scar is forever. Knowing that any attempt to save someone’s children might end up leaving some other children without at least one of their parents.

You see, the mechanical reactions are the same all over the living world. They are inbred into our own nature/DNA and are meant to help each individual to survive and thus preserve the species to which it belongs. Furthermore, the mechanical reactions are based solely on sensations, hence their ‘mechanical’ nature. A certain input elicits one, and only one, response. A hot iron elicits a drawn hand… or, at least, a huge amount of attention.

For a reaction to become ‘learned’, ‘somebody’ has to transform a sensation into a perception. To remember a past experience, to compare it with the present and to react more or less in the same manner.
Without necessarily/actually ‘thinking’ about the matter.
In fact, no brain is even needed for this.

“It isn’t an animal, a plant, or a fungus. The slime mold (Physarum polycephalum) is a strange, creeping, bloblike organism made up of one giant cell. Though it has no brain, it can learn from experience, as biologists at the Research Centre on Animal Cognition (CNRS, Université Toulouse III — Paul Sabatier) previously demonstrated. Now the same team of scientists has gone a step further, proving that a slime mold can transmit what it has learned to a fellow slime mold when the two combine.”

Credit: Audrey Dussutour (CNRS)blob learning

But, now that we’ve discovered that even some of the most simple life forms can learn – and ‘teach’, can we pretend that any of them are driven by intentions?

Or these are reserved for us, the most ‘evolved’ of the animals? The only ones not only able to ‘observe ourselves in the act of observing‘ but also able to share the observations  with their peers.

The only ones able to devise both goals and ways to attain them. The only ones – or so we like to pretend, able to imagine and compare various scenarios about the future…

Then why are we still killing each-other? Hating each-other’s guts? Take advantage of our ‘peers’, whenever we see the opportunity?

What good does any of us see in this?
Don’t we ‘see’ the harm we cause in others?
Haven’t we ‘learned’ anything from our history?




OK, this guy’s stool has four legs… nobody’s perfect…

A few days ago, while talking with a good friend of mine – Lucian Stefanescu, we convened that God has a lot in common with a chair.
Three legged, four legged… take your pick.

Let’s imagine we are part of a thought experiment.
One which allows us to travel through time.

Some ten or twenty thousand years ago, neither ‘God’ nor ‘chair’ existed at all.
The concepts, I mean.

In those times, people were just as able to sit as we are now. And they probably did it. On rocks, on logs…. which ever happened to be around when they felt the need/had the time to rest their feet….
Until somebody had the bright idea of picking up a big enough boulder, carried it to the fire and sat on it. Effectively inventing the very concept of chair.

Same thing goes for God.
I have no way in which to ascertain whether God exists outside our minds or not. Or who of our ancestors had come up with this idea. Or when.
The point being that our faith in Him has been enough for God to produce so many consequences. For our version of God to become real. To shape the very world we’ve built for ourselves.

You see, ten thousand years ago, in pitch black darkness, no one could have stumbled upon a chair while walking through the cave they called home. They could have stumbled upon rocks which happened to exist over there… but not upon any chairs.
Until some of the rocks had been used as such!
Nowadays… it’s not so unusual to trip over a chair. Even in broad daylight. Simply because we’ve build so many of them.

Same thing goes for God.
Ten thousand years ago, we didn’t have the concept yet.
Now, we have to deal with the consequences of us having already ‘killed’ Him.



According to, language is “a system of conventional spoken, manual, or written symbols by means of which human beings, as members of a social group and participants in its culture, express themselves. The functions of language include communication, the expression of identity, play, imaginative expression, and emotional release.

Since we’re already dealing in conventions, I’m going to ask you to consider this:
How about we redefine language as ‘any manner in which information is transported across space and or time between two entities which have the possibility to interpret, act and or otherwise intervene on/influence the message, the situation described by the message or both at the same time’?

You’ll surely notice that the second definition is more inclusive that the first, of course. And you’ll also notice the differences. Which aren’t that dramatic, after-all…

– ‘Conventional’…
‘Classic’ languages – English, Chinese, French, Urdu, German,  etc., are more the result of ‘natural evolution’ than of any ‘straightforward’ convention… while Esperanto, the most conventional of the spoken languages, didn’t make it too far.
In this sense, the more natural languages which have evolved ‘on their own’ – without any intentional intervention from those who use it, are not that far away from the ‘classic’ languages. Birds have ‘vocal’ manners of sending distress and ‘sexual’ signals; monkeys and apes also; even social insects, ants and bees, dispose of an entire array of chemicals, sounds and gestures used to convey freshly gathered information from one individual to another.

– ‘by means of which human beings, as members of a social group and participants in its culture, express themselves’.
Really? What’s all this brouhaha about ‘expressing one’s self’? A call for help, ‘expressed’ in any way, shape or form, remains a call for help… regardless of the manner in which it has been expressed. Articulated language, Morse code, sign language or a simple sob. Same thing is valid for a warning call. Most of the times, the caller does it ‘instinctively’ and not to gain any ‘social points’ by ‘expressing’ their care for the rest of the ‘cultural community’ ‘conversant’ in the language used to make the call. The magpie in the video above is one of the exceptions, not the rule. Otherwise, the whole signaling ‘industry’ would have been abandoned long ago… due to the very evolutionary forces which have made language what it is today.

Don't cry wolf

– ‘The functions of language include…”
Isn’t this funny?!? ‘The functions of language include…’ How about ‘some of functions we, users of language, have been able to identify are… “.
Or even ‘some of the uses we’ve been able to put language to are …’?

Quite a lot of confusion… isn’t it?

But language was supposed to make things clearer, not muddier… right?

Tell that to those dogs… the ones sent chasing ghosts by the fake distress calls ‘jokingly’ (?!?) emitted by the magpie in the video at the top of my post…


– ‘Spoken’ language.
Or should I call it ‘extemporaneous’? The way I see it, most ‘spoken’ language is uttered on the spur of the moment… or used to be, anyway.
Nowadays, spoken words can be carefully prepared long time in advance… even made to ‘faithfully’ mimic an impromptu message…

– ‘Written’ language.
While ‘spoken’ messages’ have been used, extemporaneously, for a huge amount of time – and not only by humans, as I mentioned earlier, ‘writing’ has been a late invention. Ours.
Or, at least, this is how we like to believe…
The most important characteristic of ‘written’ – as opposed to ‘spoken’, being ‘verba volant, scripta manent’. ‘Spoken words fly away, written words remain’!
The earliest scripts, both cuneiform and hieroglyphic, were used to ‘transport’ information through time. At first, to conserve data rather than what we currently call ‘complex information’. Inventory and ‘identity’ rather than information which may – or even has to, be interpreted in order to make sense. The early cuneiform clay tablets contained ‘cargo manifests’ and only later some of them had been used to ‘conserve’ the Story of Gilgamesh.

– ‘Operational’ language.
Aren’t you tired of that magpie yet?
Have you even watched the video?
Did you notice how the dogs reacted to the fake distress calls? For the umpteenth time, probably…
For the purposes of the present post, it doesn’t matter whether the magpie actively/conscientiously makes fun of the dogs or just acts out of some sort of an instinctive boredom… something akin to the bright spots we sometimes see when ‘confronted’ by a pitch-black environment. It also doesn’t matter whether the dogs are actually fooled every-time they go out to chase the invented fox or they do it because they experience the same kind of boredom like the one which ‘fuels’ the magpie.
For me, all that counts is the consistent manner in which the target reacts to the message transported through the use of this particular kind of language. It is this kind of consistency which determines the ‘operational’ nature of certain languages.

And now, let’s get to the ‘fun’ part.

The calls emitted by the magpie can be construed as being ‘spoken’, right?
They are of a ‘vocal’ nature, are fleeing by definition – unless someone records them using some artificial devices… yet they are also ‘operational’… since the dogs faithfully execute what they are ‘told’ to do…
Now, if we think of it, most natural languages are ‘operational’ indeed.
Ants and bees use them to direct ‘practical’ action, not to ‘express themselves’…
Calls used by most animals relate to avoiding danger, signaling food or ‘expressing’ sexual ‘desire’… and have little or no connection with anything else.
In this respect, the magpie is an exception, not the rule. And even here, the message is ‘formulated’ ‘operationally’. Simply because magpies don’t ‘know’ any other kinds (uses) of language.

We, humans, have bucked the trend only in the sense that we’ve developed kinds of languages lax enough to allow ‘thinking’.

I’m sure that all of you have noticed that when considering the pros and the cons to something you think using a language, right?
A language ‘lax’ enough to accommodate ‘what if’!

Something which doesn’t ‘fit’ in the ‘language’ used by most nursing babies to ask for more milk…

Basically, ‘doing business’ means obtaining sustenance by being useful to other people.
As opposed to hunting/picking/growing your own food, building your own shelter and using pelts to cover your back.

‘Doing business’ obviously implies trading. Raw materials are being transformed to fit the needs of the intended customers, transported to where they are needed and offered to those who might buy them.

For this process to take place, ‘business’ needs far more than entrepreneurs, customers raw material and workforce.

It needs a suitable environment.

It needs roads, markets – not only ‘stable’ but also safe, and – maybe the most important thing, it needs the right kind of ‘popular sentiment’.
For business to work as intended, people need to have faith in each-other.

Yep, faith!

Who would eat in a restaurant without trusting that the cook hadn’t spit in the soup?
Who would buy a car to drive their children to school without actually believing that the car had been built as it should have been?
Who would even drive on a two way road without believing that the drivers going in the opposite direction will stay on their side of the road?

And do you really think that German farmers of yore – who had enjoyed a relative safety while working their own land, living at the bosom of an extended family and being personally acquainted with all the members of the community,  would have gladly come to the ‘unknown’ city to become industrial workers  during Bismark’s ‘reign’ without the ‘safety net’ extended by the Chancellor?

Taxes are the manner in which we pay for all these.
But they are much more than this.
The willingness of the people to pay taxes means that they have faith that the money will be well spent. That they have faith that those in charge will spend the money wisely and that, in the end, those in charge will be held accountable.

Whenever any of the parties involved in this deal – or both at the same time, no longer trusts the other to do its part of the deal – or tries to use their position to access undue benefits… things go south. Way south.

Just as it happens in any other deal.

Lucrurile tind sa aibe o cauză ‘de suprafață’ și o alta ‘de profunzime’.
De foarte multe ori, cauza ‘de profunzime’ este manipulată de unii și/sau de alții. În situația asta, manipularea devine cauză aparentă.
Indiferent de părerile fiecaruia dintre noi despre PSD, este prea multă sărăcie în România.
Sărăcie care are multe cauze și care poate fi folosită în multe feluri.
Problema este ce facem în continuare.
Dăm vina unii pe alții pentru existența ei?
Facem mișto de cei care se află în această situație?
Creem condiții reale pentru ca cine vrea să poată ieși din sărăcie?
Sau îi lasam pe ‘maeștri’ să-și construiască în continuare capital politic pe spatele săracilor de care facem noi mișto?
Eliminarea saraciei
„Stau într-un hotel din ăla aparent modernizat si renovat, dar în care poți să simți parfumul anilor de comunism ieșind de sub fiecare placă de gresie postdecembristă. Cobor la micul dejun. Nu mi-e foame, dar aș ucide pentru o cafea.
E frig. Azi s-a făcut răcoare. Pe terasă e un grup mare de copii veniți în tabără. Probabil sunt de pe undeva dintr-un orăsel mic de provincie, dar mai mult ca sigur sunt săraci. Mă uit la ei cum se bucură mâncând crenvuști din ăia trași în folie de plastic și cum chicotesc fericiți când își întind pe pâine un maglavais maro care seamănă a nutella. Doar seamănă. Nu le pasă, sunt fericiți.
Profesorii care au grijă de ei sunt la fel de săraci, dar asta nu mai e o noutate în România zilelor noastre. Nu-mi cereți să vă spun de unde știu că-s săraci, sărăcia se simte din cele mai mărunte gesturi, din șlapii de plastic ordinar, păstrați special pentru „la mare”, din bluzele de trening ponosite, din tot.
Din boxe se aude tare despacito. Îmi beau cafeaua și mă gândesc trist că asta-i România reală. Săracă și sărăcită, cu oameni care abia-și mai duc zilele și copii care se bucură la niște crenvurști de plastic.
Iar imbecilul ăla le-a cerut scuze pușcăriașilor.
Mihai Vasilescu
lucrul bine facut
Și pentru că domnul de la Transavia ne sugerează că dormim în cizme, să ne aducem aminte că ne-am mai trezit odată.
Doar pe jumătate… L-am lăsat să continue… De trei ori…. După ce o luase razna pe arătură….
romania trezestete

The state of being calm and not easily worried or excited.

Many human beings praise themselves for being able to ignore emotion when trying to make decisions. And the more important a decision is, the harder they try to ignore their own feelings about the matter.

People with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) can be witty, charming, and fun to be around — but they also lie and exploit others. ASPD makes people uncaring. Someone with the disorder may act rashly, destructively, and unsafely without feeling guilty when their actions hurt other people.

Modern diagnostic systems consider ASPD to include two related but not identical conditions: A “psychopath” is someone whose hurtful actions toward others tend to reflect calculation, manipulation and cunning; they also tend not to feel emotion and mimic (rather than experience) empathy for others. They can be deceptively charismatic and charming. By contrast, “sociopaths” are somewhat more able to form attachments to others but still disregard social rules; they tend to be more impulsive, haphazard, and easily agitated than people with psychopathy. ASPD is uncommon, affecting just 0.6% of the population.

Am I the only one here baffled by how little free space is left between these two definitions? By how little leeway we have between the constant pressure to ‘act rationally’ and becoming a ASPD patient?

On a more practical level – now that I’ve noticed this, I’m even more baffled by our duplicity. As a species, I mean.
‘Concerned Citizens’ insist that ‘conflict of interests’ should be avoided at ‘all costs’ – lest it generates even higher ones, while some ‘thinkers’ consider that it is possible for humans to actually put aside their personal feelings.

Daniel Kahneman, among others, has done a brilliant job in describing many of the intricate ways of our thinking processes. Which are nothing but continuous tugs of war between emotional pulsions more or less kept in check by rational processes.
Basically, most of those concerned with human decision making have reached the conclusion that we’re not rational thinkers but rationalizing agents.

Hence my ‘nagging question’:

What keeps a cool-headed rationalizing agent from becoming a ASPD patient?
Specially given the constant social pressure towards ‘coolheadedness’…

OK, some people are better at rationalizing than others… but that would tend to help them at remaining undetected rather than not becoming affected…
Frans de Waals – again, among others, posits that, ‘statistically’,  altruism/empathy is an inbred feature of many animals, all primates included. Given this concept, ASPD would be rather simply explained as an ‘organic’ deficiency. Due to a ‘wiring error’, those affected by ASPD display less ‘phenotypically’ expressed altruism/empathy than the ‘average’ members of the society.


phenotype. (fē′nə-tīp′) n. The observable physical or biochemical characteristics of an organism, as determined by both genetic makeup and environmental influences. The expression of a specific trait, such as stature or blood type, based on genetic and environmental influences.

It seems that ‘what you get’ is not solely determined by the genetic information inherited from the parents but also by the specific environment in which the given genetic information gets to express itself.

For the rest of the living realm, things are relatively simple. Lady Luck is the sole ‘director’ in these matters. A really lucky organism gets to spend its life in a more suited environment than a less lucky one.

For humans… things are a tad more complicated.
Besides the fact that each of us enjoys a relative autonomy – some call it freedom of will, we also contribute enormously to the environment in which we get to live. And no, I don’t want to talk about pollution or man-made global heating.

The thing I have in mind right now is usually called ‘culture’.

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow, 2013
Frans de Waal, The Bonobo and the Atheist, 2014


What do we want?


When do we want it?


How do we get it?

By being efficient.
‘Give as little as you possibly can while taking as much as you can possibly grab.’

And who’s going to get the job done?





We’re not the only ones able to use tools to solve problems.
We’re not the only ones capable of self-awareness. Otherwise said, to recognize ourselves in a mirror.
We’re not even the only ones able to use language to dampen our feelings for long enough so that the frontal cortex might take over from the amygdala.


But what does it mean to be human?

What if being human means being able to do all those three things, simultaneously?

Well, I’m not so sure I’d be comfortable with that…

‘Dampen our feelings for long enough so that the frontal cortex might take over from the amygdala’.

A key difference between a psychopath and a sociopath is whether he has a conscience, the little voice inside that lets us know when we’re doing something wrong, says L. Michael Tompkins, EdD. He’s a psychologist at the Sacramento County Mental Health Treatment Center.

A psychopath doesn’t have a conscience. If he lies to you so he can steal your money, he won’t feel any moral qualms, though he may pretend to. He may observe others and then act the way they do so he’s not “found out,” Tompkins says.

A sociopath typically has a conscience, but it’s weak. He may know that taking your money is wrong, and he might feel some guilt or remorse, but that won’t stop his behavior.

Both lack empathy, the ability to stand in someone else’s shoes and understand how they feel. But a psychopath has less regard for others, says Aaron Kipnis, PhD, author of The Midas Complex. Someone with this personality type sees others as objects he can use for his own benefit.


So one of the very things which make us human might also explain why some of us become psycho/sociopaths?

No, not only one. All three of them.

For a psycho/sociopath to become manifest, one has to behave like one. To act like one. To make the difference between their own persona and the rest – self-awareness, and then to use tools to defend/enhance what makes their own persona so special. Regardless of whatever consequences those actions might impose upon any second or third party.

Then how come we have survived for so long?
As a species?

According to Ernst Mayr – ‘evolution is not about ‘survival of the best’ but about the demise of the unfit’, whatever psycho/sociopathy has plagued us wasn’t enough to kill us.
What kept it in check?
We might have a natural propensity for doing the right thing but… bad things still happen… the mechanism which ‘tames’ us has to be a dynamic one… Does the job in an at least satisfactory manner – we’re still here, it has successfully adapted to whatever historical changes had fallen upon our head – again, we’re still here, but is not fail proof. From time to time, evil explodes into the world.

We’ve somehow coped with these ‘explosions’. For now, at least.

Basically, any future strategy for survival might imply one of the next two scenarios.

Put our faith in God. Who had created us. And who’ll lead us out of whatever predicament we might get in. Even if/when we do it to ourselves. Simply because he is our loving father.

Remember that when we had really pissed him off, he had preferred to cleanse the entire (known) world with water. And learn to reign in our own ability to do the wrong thing.

And, maybe, our distance nephews will consider that being human means being able to innovate AND to knowingly keep that ability in check.

As I promised you some time ago, let’s have a look at ‘property’.

As you recall, I was arguing that we, humans, are only ‘qualitatively’ different from the rest of the animals. In the sense that we do everything that they do – and nothing really new or different, only that we do it ‘better’. And more ‘evenly’.

In my previous post, I was dealing with ‘trade’. So I’ll use ‘trade’ to explain what I mean by ‘more evenly’.

All living things are made of three things.

An inside, a membrane and a set of instructions which deal with two things.
How the whole thing should be structured in order to able to live and how the inside should interact with the outside – through the membrane, in order for the organism to remain alive and replicate itself.

My previous post dealt with individual organism trading food (a.k.a. matter) and information with their outside. It also dealt with manners in which trade can be performed.
Directly – as in barter, or indirectly – using symbols.
The most simple barter is breathing. Exchanging gases with the environment. Or foraging – individual organisms ingest food and water and excrete poop and urine.
‘Trading’ information is a little more complicated. An individual organism can be endowed with genetic information by it’s parents, presented with information by some of its peers – bacteria or playmates, taught by its voluntary or involuntary teachers or it can glean information by itself through mindful observation. Also, trading information is more complicated than trading food because information can be either ‘hardware’ or ‘software’. DNA inherited from the parents (received from peers/’invaders’) being ‘hardware’ while information gleaned through observation or during training being ‘software’.

Everything described in the previous paragraph is common for all living organisms, including humans.

My point being that we’ve been trading, from the ‘beginning’, far more items than any of  the other living things – plants and/or animals.
OK, an individual whale will eat far more than an individual human being. But whales eat, basically, one or two things. While we, humans, will throw down our throats almost anything that we fancy. Including some stuff which will actually hurt us.

But the real interesting thing is the manner in which we ‘trade’ information. We not only observe keenly what happens outside our consciousness (not just outside our-bodies, simply outside the shell that harbors our ‘mind’) but also translate that information into symbols and then communicate that symbolic information with our fellow human beings.

And here’s the catch.

I mentioned earlier that every individual organism consists of an inside, a membrane which keeps it together and a package of information.
For survival purposes, each organism must consider all its three components as being its own and to defend them ‘to the bitter end’. Or else…
Which is congruent to what happens in the real world… Membranes are relatively hard to penetrate, there are some defense mechanisms which at least attempt to take of any intruders – the immune system, for example….
More over, the more ‘sophisticated’ organisms also defend ‘their’ territories and the local resources they have identified and claimed as being theirs. If you don’t believe me, just try to take a bone from any normal dog which isn’t yours.

You see, not even ‘property’ is exclusively  specific to humans…. We have created the concept, we actually define ourselves using our possessions… yet we share this trait with all other living organisms… even if they don’t know anything about it…

Remember what I just said about us being able to trade ‘symbolic’ information? To ‘formulate’ the information before trading/sharing it?
Same thing happens with ‘property’.

For a dog, a bone is its property as long as it happens to be in his snout. And most dogs have no problem in attempting to ‘steal’ a bone from another dog – as long as the other is not way bigger, a pup or some-other special cases.

Meanwhile, most humans would painstakingly respect other people’s property.
Simply because, for us, property has also meaning. Besides ‘survival value’

NB. In English, ‘property’ is not exclusively about possession. Its root, ‘proper’, means from ‘clean’ to ‘as it should be’.


“Before being rescued, Thor had dragged himself around the streets of Mexico for months. A young woman named Eva pulled over to the side of the road seeing that the dog was barley alive. She took a picture and sent out a desperate cry for help. The REAL Bark (located in Los Angeles) saw it posted and immediately committed to this handsome pitt-bulldog mix. He was broken, paralyzed, and wounded, and a lot of doctors advised the rescue to put him down. Even if he lived, which was unlikely, he would need to be in a special-needs chair for the rest of his life. Jf Pryor, the founder of The REAL Bark, claimed that Thor’s eyes begged, “Let me live. Let me show you”- so instead of ending his life, The REAL Bark team began it.

His therapy, or “thorapy” as The REAL Bark team calls it, consisted of acupuncture, hydrotherapy, laser therapy, muscle building, and stretching. The most difficult part of recovery was helping end the enduring pain Thor was experiencing. Thor’s main doctor and biggest advocate was Dr. Jessica Waldman, the owner of California Animal Rehabilitation (CARE). When Thor attended CARE, the rescue team knew he needed a new set of wheels, a cart for him to pull his lifeless body along. Dr. Jessica Waldman surprised the team however with her response, “You can borrow a cart, but there is no need to purchase.” Thor’s doctor continued, “We will get him walking,” she said. “He wants to walk”. This hope kept the team going.”

eaten alive by scabies

“The scabies that infected Zeni’s body had become so severe that bacteria seeped into her bloodstream. She died in 2015 at age 93.

Zeni’s death is now the subject of a lawsuit filed against PruittHealth, a for-profit company that owns dozens of nursing homes, including Shepherd Hills in LaFayette, Ga., where Zeni lived for five years until she died. Shepherd Hills, a nursing home that had multiple scabies outbreaks in recent years and a history of health violations, failed to follow policies and procedures to prevent the occurrence and spread of the highly contagious disease, documents say. Instead of providing the care that Zeni desperately needed, the lawsuit alleges that the nursing home allowed her to die an agonizing death.

“The last six months of her life, she was in constant pain,” Prieto said. “She was literally being eaten alive from inside out.””

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