Nominative Determinism

Originally the concept of nominative determinism arose as a humorous feedback thread in New Scientist Magazine as readers observed how authors names reflected their research topics.  Polar explorations by Daniel Snowman,  a urology article by Splatt and Weedon.

This was a build from joke books of my youth.  “The Tower of Pisa” by Eileen Over.  “Legal Jurisprudence” by Argue and Phibbs.  “Treating Tennis Injuries” by Savage, Racquet and Ball. There are lot of those:  Funny books and authors  

Erik the Red, who founded the Viking colony on Iceland wanted to keep the island for his own people.  To dissuade other Norsemen from following he gave his colony an unattractive name.  His son, Lief Eriksson, did the opposite in an attempt to encourage colonists to settle in his new discovery, Greenland.

Some people have begun to take nominative determinism more seriously.  Some pointed to the fact that many names originated in the middle ages when people were named for their trade, and families stayed within a trade.  Thatchers roofed houses.  Wrights made wheels.  Smiths beat metal.  Fletchers made arrows.  Is there a genetic disposition to excellence in a field of endeavour?

A family that has genetically poor eyesight will not survive long in the lacemaking trade.  Do genetic traits in agility, intelligence, strength etc contribute to our aptitude for certain careers?

Then there is the environment.  The child of a musician is raised in a world of music practice, has a learned knowledge of what harmonies work well, grows up playing with musical instruments.  Learning to read music comes easier than learning to read language.  Smiths know the techniques for tempering steel, learned over many generations and passed orally from Father to Son.  Fletchers know how to make good glue.  Dyers know the recipes for pigments that stain cloth but do not fade rapidly in sunlight.  Tanners are used to the smell of piss and shit.

So in the modern world, when we are socially mobile, does our heritage still carry cues to our abilities.  Is nominative determinism a real thing?

For me the funniest example of nominative determinism is given in Joseph Heller’s novel Catch 22.  With a surname of Major a vindictive father stepped in when his wife was comatose after childbirth and named his son Major Major Major.  The child is drafted into the US Air Force in WW2 as Private Major Major Major.  It is only the work of a short time and standard military bureaucracy before the Private is promoted, by clerical error, and assigned as Major Major Major Major.

Miniver Cheevy; by Edwin Arlington Robinson

Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn,
Grew lean while he assailed the seasons;
He wept that he was ever born,
And he had reasons.

Miniver loved the days of old
When swords were bright and steeds were prancing;
The vision of a warrior bold
Would set him dancing.

Miniver sighed for what was not,
And dreamed, and rested from his labors;
He dreamed of Thebes and Camelot,
And Priam’s neighbors.

Miniver mourned the ripe renown
That made so many a name so fragrant;
He mourned Romance, now on the town,
And Art, a vagrant.

Miniver loved the Medici,
Albeit he had never seen one;
He would have sinned incessantly
Could he have been one.

Miniver cursed the commonplace
And eyed a khaki suit with loathing;
He missed the medieval grace
Of iron clothing.

Miniver scorned the gold he sought,
But sore annoyed was he without it;
Miniver thought, and thought, and thought,
And thought about it.

Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
And kept on drinking.

 

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Chimurenga name.

Bp_ndebelewarrior_1896

Sketch of an Ndebele Warrior by Robert Baden Powell founder of the Scouting Movement.

Chimurenga is a Shona word which translates as “revolutionary struggle”.  The first Chimurenga was a revolt by the Ndebele (Matabele) and Shona peoples of Matabeleland (now Zimbabwe).  The revolt failed after initial successes, and Matabeleland became Rhodesia.

In the 1960’s and ’70’s the revolt of the Ndebele (PF) and Shona (Zanu) against white rule became the Second Chimurenga.  This one succeeded.  Robert Mugabe, leader of Zanu then united the Shona and Ndebele factions into the Zanu-PF party which has ruled independent Zimbabwe ever since.

Leaders in the brutal guerrilla bush war often adopted war names to enhance their ferocity.  Gentle intellectuals went through over a year of tough bush training at the hands of North Korean and Chinese instructors.  They hardened up and so did their names.  They took cues from movies such as James Bond, Cowboy films, from music icons like Bob Marley, from sportsmen like Muhammad Ali, political leaders like Hitler, Stalin and even Indira Gandhi.

“What’s in a name?” asks Juliette from the Shakespeare play.  “A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”

Bart Simpson suggests “Not if you call it a stink blossom or a crap weed”.

Nominative determinism, the theory that our actions or career tend to fit our names, will see a job as a mechanic go to John Wright instead of Fred Taylor.  Do Chimurenga names work?

Who would you fear more?  Someone called John Oboyo or the guy beside him called Commander Comrade Mao?  Would you prefer to be interrogated by Ariston Ford or by Machete Footchopper?

More to follow on this theme.

Can womens clothes drive men mad?

Short answer: Sexy outfits get men interested but there is never an excuse for assault.

Beautiful naked person standing before you in the supermarket, clutching a large knife?

“Sexy fun time” is the wrong response here.

Slut

Misguided outfit choice by Missguided

Extract from article in Guardian newspaper by Dean Burnett:

Original Article

EXTRACT:  So, is it biologically possible for a typical man to be sufficiently aroused by the sight of woman that it overwhelms his restraint? To answer this, you need to look at exactly what’s going on in the brain when we experience arousal.

We’re still far from a thorough understanding, but current evidence suggests that arousal, or perhaps more accurately “desire”, has many cognitive components, beyond the basic physical characteristics. We observe something, our prefrontal cortex – via links to the more fundamental emotional and reward systems – analyses it and determines if it’s sexual in nature, and if so, if it is “sufficiently” sexual (eg we find some people sexy, but not others). If it is, our attention is directed towards it, and emotional and motivation processes are activated via our amygdala and anterior cingulate cortex respectively. It’s incredibly complex in detail, but the neurological systems that regulate arousal and desire do indeed have many potent effects via important regions throughout our brains.

One thing that could be said to support the notion that men are vulnerable to being sexually aroused by appearance, is evidence that suggests male arousal is far more visual in nature than female arousal. It does seem that the old stereotypes about men having less sophisticated sexual desires than women (men like porn, women like erotica etc) has some basis in fact. Some might argue that this is because males have evolved to “spread their seed” with whoever is available and desirable, whereas females, who do all the childrearing, evolved to look for more complex, enduring qualities in a partner, beyond just visual characteristics. Of course, this explanation relies on only one half of our species evolving to be monogamous (pair bonding, in scientific parlance). That seems … unlikely. Maybe the whole notion is just reverse engineered from modern stereotypes? Who can say.

There are more plausible explanations for this gender-asymmetry. Perhaps it’s due to the different sex-hormone makeup? Or maybe it’s a result of the fact that our sexual desires and the systems that support them develop along with the rest of our brain, so are influenced by the world around us. And in the world around us, the sexualised female form features so often in almost every medium that it’s essentially a type of punctuation. You could argue that the reason men have a stronger visual element to their sexual arousal is because we live in a world where sexy images for men to see are everywhere, whereas women have tended to need to be more creative, and the brain develops accordingly. Perhaps this is changing too, what with women now being regularly presented with marvels of sexy buff Chris’s (Hemsworth) on a regular basis.

And yes, I’ve decided that the collective noun for sexy Chris’s is a “marvel”, for obvious reasons.

So yes, it’s arguably easier for men to be aroused by a sexy appearance. But does that mean they can be provoked beyond self-control?

Not exactly, no. Sexual arousal may be a powerful thing, but the brain also has many processes that counter it. The orbitofrontal cortex, for example, is implicated in regulating/suppressing sexual behaviour. One of the more sophisticated neurological regions, it’s the part that says “this isn’t a good idea, don’t do it” when you’re aroused or excited by an opportunity, particularly a sexual one, which won’t have great long-term consequences.

The amygdala, mentioned earlier, also seems to play a role in determining appropriateness of arousal in context. Beautiful naked person standing before you in your bedroom? Sure, be aroused. Beautiful naked person standing before you in the supermarket, clutching a large knife? “Sexy fun time” is the wrong response here. And it’s the amygdala that’s believed to work this out.

However, it’s possible for these restraining systems to be compromised. Alcohol can hinder the higher, complex areas like the orbitofrontal cortex while leaving the more primitive urges governing arousal intact. And the amygdala does what it can, but can only work with the information available. If the situation is ambiguous, or uncertain, it may make the wrong call.

Does this mean that men who sexually harass/assault women for what they’re wearing are innocent after all?

No, of course not. A woman may choose to wear an alluring outfit, but it’s still the man’s choice to grope her without permission or invitation. If he’s too drunk to hold back, it was his choice to get that drunk. “I couldn’t help myself” is never an acceptable excuse for things like drink driving, and the same is true here.

Crushed by pressure.

first-step

There are times in our lives when we are crushed into immobility by pressure.  It may be the pressure of too much stimulation, like a soldier caught in crossfire who freezes instead of leaping for cover.  It may be pressure of time and work, like the office worker who faces such a towering pile of work and impossible deadlines that they can’t focus on a single task.  It may be an artist or writer facing self doubt about their personal validity leading to a mental block.

Military special forces deal with situation number 1 by putting recruits through stress again and again until stress becomes their new norm.  Special forces are special because when everybody else is running blindly for cover, or freezing on the spot, they can make rational decisions.  They assess the situation, make a decision and act.

Experienced office employees know you can only focus on one task at one time.  Don’t believe people who say they can multi-task.  Focus on the here and now.  Pick the most important thing.  This may not be the most “urgent”.  Do one thing well.  Complete it.  Then do the next most important thing.

Many people become stressed by the things they cannot change.  It is like a person standing in a room with a burst pipe worrying about global climate change.  You can’t solve global climate change today.  But maybe you can fix a pipe or call a plumber.  Keep it small, keep it simple.

For the writer or artist with the mental block there are a million pieces of advice.  For me what works is the discipline of writing something.  Anything.  This blog.  Lay some words on a page.  They may be rubbish.  They may turn out to be good.  They may just clear your mind.  The simple action of placing words on a page or paint on a canvas, with no motive, can be enough to move you forward.

Robert M Pirsig in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance described an A student with a mental block.  She had to write an essay about her home town and got stuck.  So he told her to walk to the main street, stand outside the library, count bricks from the ground on the corner and stop at e.g brick number 20.  Then write about that brick.  Once she started to write about the brick she could not stop, and the story of the whole town unfolded.

In Time Management Training they describe their approach to daunting tasks as “Eating an Elephant”.  It’s hard to eat an elephant in one meal.  Much easier if you chop it up into lots and lots of meals.  Then just eat the elephant one meal at a time.  Before you know it you will run out of elephant.

A Grain of Sand:  by Robert William Service

If starry space no limit knows
And sun succeeds to sun,
There is no reason to suppose
Our earth the only one.
‘Mid countless constellations cast
A million worlds may be,
With each a God to bless or blast
And steer to destiny.

Just think! A million gods or so
To guide each vital stream,
With over all to boss the show
A Deity supreme.
Such magnitudes oppress my mind;
From cosmic space it swings;
So ultimately glad to find
Relief in little things.

For look! Within my hollow hand,
While round the earth careens,
I hold a single grain of sand
And wonder what it means.
Ah! If I had the eyes to see,
And brain to understand,
I think Life’s mystery might be
Solved in this grain of sand.

 

Feng Shui

Mess

There is a Chinese proverb that says “To advance your career clean out your attic”.  It is not meant to be metaphorical like when we say “sharpen the saw” and really mean take a new course to upskill.  The Chinese literally mean “climb up there and clean out your attic”.  It is a principle of feng shui, the Chinese philosophy that life energy is tied to design.  The weight of possessions in your attic is pinning you down.

In Western societies we have the concept of spring cleaning, a way of shaking off the confinement of winter and breaking out into the new year.  It is with this in mind that we had a combination  cleanout day today.  The Christmas lights and decorations were all taken down and stored away for another year.  Then we started into a major document cleanout.  We tore through all our stored paper and cleared out anything out of date.  Bank statements, bills, contracts, receipts, manuals, guarantees, notifications.  Drawers and drawers of the stuff is now in the recycling bin.

Then I moved my home office from the rather cold landing down into the den/music room/ games room.  Here I am in the warmth with a fully functioning office.  The old site on the landing is now a comfy seating area.

It all feels great.  Good things are ready to happen now.  Just you see!

 

 

Make your moments

Tube

Photo by Matt Crabtree (16th Century Tube Passengers)

I spent years commuting to the big city on the train.  It is a journey of 1 hour 20 mins on a good day, 1 hour 30 mins mostly.  So that’s 3 hours daily on a train.

Say that to many people and they think you are crazy.  They think this is 3 hours a day wasted.  How little they know.

Much of my time on the train was spent working.  In fact it was the time getting to and from the train that had the potential to be “wasted”.  But you only waste time if you choose to do nothing with it.

That’s why I connect so well with the image above.  This lady on the Tube is not wasting time, she is eating it up, stealing precious moments for herself.  On a commute I had time to hear the music I want to hear, read books, write poetry.  Downloading podcasts gives me access to lectures on Byzantine emperors, audio books of many of the classics, some of them made hilarious by dreadful pronunciations by the narrator.

This photograph was taken by Matt Crabtree who said

One morning in 2016, on a tube journey into central London, I looked up to see a lady dressed in a velvet hood, seated in a classical, timeless pose. Immediately, a 16th-century Flemish painting came to mind. I looked around and suddenly found I couldn’t see anything else but people held in their own Renaissance-like, personal moments’.

I get that too, how travelling on public transport is like starring in your own reality TV show.  A stream of people pass each day through your life.  You have the regular characters and some who only appear in a single episode.  Each has their own part in the story and it is a wonderful story.  The story of life.

 

This Sporting Life

Joe Dolan

Last Saturday was a night at the dog track in Mullingar with some college buddies and other middle aged guys for a Stag party to consign the last man standing to the wonderful institution of marriage.  In the course of the night I was recommending that a couple of the guys look up this poem.  Pertinent as it is also set in Mullingar.  It is both the saddest and the funniest poem I know about sport.

Sport; by Paul Durcan

There were not many fields
in which you had hopes for me
but sport was one of them.
On my twenty-first birthday
I was selected to play
for Grangegorman Mental Hospital
in an away game
against Mullingar Mental Hospital.
I was a patient
in B Wing.
You drove all the way down,
fifty miles,
to Mullingar to stand
on the sidelines and observe me.
I was fearful I would let down
not only my team but you.
It was Gaelic football.
I was selected as goalkeeper.
There were big country men
on the Mullingar Mental Hospital team,
men with gapped teeth, red faces,
oily, frizzy hair, bushy eyebrows.
Their full forward line
were over six foot tall
fifteen stone in weight.
All three of them, I was informed,
cases of schizophrenia.
There was a rumour
that their centre-half forward
was an alcoholic solicitor
who, in a lounge bar misunderstanding,
had castrated his best friend
but that he had no memory of it.
He had meant well – it was said.
His best friend had to emigrate
to Nigeria.
To my surprise,
I did not flinch in the goals.
I made three or four spectacular saves,
diving full stretch to turn
a certain goal around the corner,
leaping high to tip another certain goal
over the bar for a point.
It was my knowing
that you were standing on the sideline
that gave me the necessary motivation –
that will to die
that is as essential to sportsmen as to artists.
More than anybody it was you
I wanted to mesmerise, and after the game –
Grangegorman Mental Hospital
having defeated Mullingar Mental Hospital
by 14 Goals and 38 points to 3 goals and 10 points –
sniffing your approval, you shook hands with me.
‘Well played, son’.
I may not have been mesmeric
but I had not been mediocre.
In your eyes I had achieved something at last.
On my twenty-first birthday I had played on a winning team
the Grangegorman Mental Hospital team.
Seldom if ever again in your eyes
was I to rise to these heights.