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Optimist's Wager - Ch 1

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This is a science book I've been working on since the latter part of 2006.

Click the "download" link on the right for the PDF.

I hope you enjoy it! :)

EDIT: Found this cool stamp.

For those interested, here are a few of the main science sources:

The Luck Factor [link] - Richard Wiseman Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology, University of Hertfordshire UK

Predictably Irrational [link] - Dan Ariely, MIT professor of behavioral economics

Learned Optimism [link] - Martin Seligman, Robert A. Fox Leadership Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania

Mindset [link] - Carol Dweck professor of Psychology at Stanford (and prior at Harvard among others)

Positivity [link] - Barbara Fredrickson UNC Chapel Hill

Lastly, here's the current draft of the back cover blurb:

The hubbub over humbug…
There’s been some quarrel recently about growing popularity of New Age beliefs, Synchronicity and just plain positive thinking. As with any case of competing beliefs many are firmly planted the realist camp of “we don’t buy that nonsense” or the spiritualist camp of “you’re just close-minded”. Perhaps the skeptic and the mystic can benefit from a combined viewpoint as an alternative to “us versus them” thinking. The goal of skeptics and mystics alike is happy, healthy living, which is achieved through good habits. Our beliefs influence our habits. Thus a belief that fire burns is more help than a belief that fire tastes good. On the other hand a belief that fire tastes bad also prevents people from burning their mouths. While it’s important that we acknowledge an inconvenient truth, perhaps there can also be a useful illusion.

Nice Guys Finish First
In 1981 Robert Axelrod shocked the scientific community by suggesting in his paper the Evolution of Cooperation that animals (including humans) might have evolved to be helpful and nice. This is shocking because it’s popular in recent decades to believe that people are basically selfish and that “nice guys finish last”; a good way to discourage cooperation. Reality is often not what we think, from the flat earth to quantum physics. How many of us are unaware that peace breaking out along the front posed a significant challenge for generals during the first two years of WWI? It seems by denying our helpful nature we may be shooting ourselves in the foot.

An Experimental Solution
The tension between skeptics and mystics can be summed up in the philosophies of consciousness and determinism. The philosophy of consciousness states that your will creates physical reality. The philosophy of determinism states that consciousness is an illusion created by the chemicals in your brain. These views can’t both be entirely accurate. While you’re likely to have a strong opinion, it may not be necessary for us to know which is true. There is an element of truth in every myth. With a focus on traditional non-quantum research in medicine, economics, evolution, behavior and psychology and a liberal dose of humor, the Optimist’s Wager makes a strong case in plain language that several non-determinist beliefs may be our best bet for health and prosperity even if determinism is true.
© 2008 - 2022 woohooligan
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LostKitten's avatar
:star::star::star::star::star-half: Overall
:star::star::star::star::star: Vision
:star::star::star::star::star-empty: Originality
:star::star::star::star::star: Technique
:star::star::star::star::star-half: Impact

Whew.. I made it to the third chapter and although I'd love to continue reading right now, I just don't have the time to. Here's my notes up to my stopping point, though:

[p. 10, last sentence, second paragraph]
(For the record I don't recommend you try it yourself.)

I don't think this is needed. It's an inspirational story and some people may benefit from trying it themselves. It demishes the quality of the message for me.

[p.13, first sentence, last paragraph]
"... the more we're blinded by anger or fear, the less effective pleas to reason become."
I love this quote, very true.

I also enjoyed your reference to American Beauty, a fantastic movie--now I want to see it again. As well as the plug for How to Win Friends and Influence People. I've yet to read it, but my husband has it and I have every intention of sitting down with it at some point. <img src="e.deviantart.net/emoticons/w/w…" width="15" height="15" alt=";p" title="Wink/Razz - ;p"/> I'm told it's a fantastic book, though. <img src="e.deviantart.net/emoticons/h/h…" width="15" height="13" alt=":heart:" title="Heart - :heart:"/>

It is similar to The Secret and WTBDWK, so it has sort of already been done, but you're not using any inflated vocabulary and I think that's fantastic. This is something that anyone could pick up, read, and understand.

I like that you acknowledged the fact that we can have both mindsets in different fields, too. I'm guilty of it myself; I'm convinced I'm incapable of drawing, but I love learning and seek means of expanding my knowledge-base all the time.

The cover art for this is fantastic too, I'd really like to see it on my book shelf.
woohooligan's avatar
Oh wow! Thanks Salley! :D

Rave reviews on the first official critique. :blush:

Couple of clarifications I'll make here:

What you read actually is all within the first chapter. I fret about this actually, but the first 70 pages of the book are all inside the first chapter. None of the other chapters are that long. D'oh! But the various chapters are broken up into smaller sections in an attempt to provide digestible nuggets with convenient "stopping points" where you can throw the bookmark in and come back to it.

P-10 - Boy is this really the only change you suggested? I guess so... anyway, since shortly before I started writing this book, comedy has become an increasingly important part of my life, and in a few spots like this I think I was trying to inject some humor although it might be a bit too dry. I also fret a bit about this book being too dry in general because of the abundance of science content and so I put a great deal of effort toward trying to get at least one or two jokes into every page or at least every pair of pages. Who knows, maybe in the long-run the real problem will be that I tried to hard to be funny. ;P

On vocabulary, thank you, that's a huge complement. :love: It's not mentioned until near the end of this preview chapter, but I also made a point of avoiding any of the commentary about quantum-mechanics that were found in the Secret and What the Bleep for very similar reasons. One because it's a confusing enough subject even for people who study it professionally and secondly because I've found plenty of more traditional research that supports cultivating a happy-go-lucky, optimistic outlook on life. And I felt this research (although often dry) should be accessible to everyone.

On mindsets for context and learning to draw - Dweck talks about that exact same issue in her book too. :D She was convinced she couldn't draw until she found a book titled Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Also recommended. ;)

Really glad you enjoy the cover art too. I may yet tweak it before it goes to press. ;P

And if you do finish the preview chapter, please do let me know if you have any other suggestions of areas where it's maybe confusing or dry, where I could make it easier to read. I love the rave reviews, and I'm also eager to hear about ways I can improve. :D
LostKitten's avatar
That one spot was the only one that didn't sit well with me, the rest of what I read was enjoyable and I think the inclusion of American Beauty quotes helped. It brought a smile to my face to read the line where the little blonde girl calls Jane a cunt. ;p I never thought about the movie in the perspective you explained though, so it was interesting for me. Helps the reader relate in a way, I think.

When I manage more time to sit down with it, I'll let you know. :hug:
woohooligan's avatar
Yeah, the American Beauty quotes were supposed to help the reader relate, so I'm really glad it had that effect. :D

Sorry it took me a while to reply, I've been pretty busy lately in and out of different things both here on DA and at home. :D
DarkCrypt's avatar
That was a very interesting read. Also, the most reading I've done in a few years... Which says good things about your presentation since it was able to captivate me with what could be considered quite 'dry' subject matter at times.

It was a good mixture of humor, pop culture, and science, which made it much more palatable for someone like me, who has only a very rudimentary understanding of the subject. Since that was your intent, I'd say mission accomplished!

I've always found psychology to be very interesting stuff, though my experience is limited to one very boring textbook and a tv show that I used to watch often ( Which consisted of a camera in a college classroom and different lectures each episode.)

Definitely a lot of thought provoking material in there.
Very well done. I would definitely read the entire book given the opportunity.

Also, I think you may be the smartest cartoonist in the history of time.
:lol:
woohooligan's avatar
Oh wow, thanks for the complement! :D

It's really nice to have folks reading the teaser chapter. And I must admit that I actually feel perpetually behind on this project. But then I'm also finding new material that "must go in the book" still pretty frequently after a couple of years of working on it. D'oh!

And I need to update the comic strips in there and so forth. Like I want to add a small comic strip visual for the drinking-age question as a comparison to the visual for the Wason selection task. Hopefully it will help. I also still feel like some of the descriptions are dry -- like I decided to go with a story to explain the polarization experiment, but it still feels too dry to me. Just not sure how to make that passage more interesting. I just revised the ending of the first chapter a week or so ago to make it sound less "hokey". ;P Hopefully I'll eventually get everything together enough to publish it in the next couple years.

And I certainly wouldn't go with "smartest" or "of all time"... I'll be happy if folks enjoy my writing and feel like it gets them thinking. So given this comment, I'd say mission accomplished. :D Thanks!

p.s. Yeah, the textbooks are a real chore to read. I have one on my nightstand, I'm about 1/3rd through. What was the name of the TV show?
DarkCrypt's avatar
I think it might be impossible to eliminate 100% of the dryness. You've already done a great job at decreasing it considerably though.

The tv show was part of a distance education course for Mount Saint Vincent University, mainly featuring Dr.Stephen Perrot and occasionally a few other, less interesting, people.

Unfortunately I don't think it's on tv anymore. I haven't seen it listed in the guide for probably 3 or 4 years now. Which sucks, because it was the only educational program I've ever had any interest in. I used to get up at 6 just to watch it.

I might even consider doing the course sometime in the future, presuming it's still offered. I did a quick search for the lectures online and couldn't find them.
Bah.
woohooligan's avatar
D'oh! Ah well, thanks for the info! I'll check out Perrot. :D
Sylverone's avatar
Here is a "New Age" concept that you might enjoy. Pardon the length, but I suppose you have given me an entire chapter to read, so it's not unfair (^_^ poke fun).
One idea that is present in both Spiritual and Scientific philosophies, although many of them disagree on other things, is that everything is connected. Both rely on this idea to allow the possibility of further growth and understanding. So we have Unity. From a certain perspective, since on some level the universe must be a whole containing all things, this level of Unity is God.

At the same time as there is unity, there is individuality, however. We do not see things as all one object right now. Not only that, but we tend to disagree on what is true and not. When there is such conflict and polarity, how can we unify the picture?

Perhaps one way to unify, is recognize that both sides are right, and both sides are wrong. The idea is that we each, on an individual level, create the universe. My universe is different from your universe, and indeed, within my universe you can only be who I say you are. In your universe, if you believe I am Buddha - or that I'm some idiot - I am, and you won't disagree, because it's obviously true. The same for my beliefs.

So, the question becomes; is my universe the only one, or are there infinitely many others, or is there only one, but its creator is someone higher than myself? Once again, since I believe in unity, all must be true and false, and that's okay (and not, of course).

So I create you,
whilst you create me,
whilst we both create
Eternity.

I like to call this Unity Theory. It's a fun ride.

So when we disagree, I'll try to remember that you are right, and "someday" once I have achieved Unity I will know that this is true.
woohooligan's avatar
Thanks Clifton, I appreciate the thoughtful commentary. ;)

This idea of oneness / interconnectedness is discussed a bit in one of the later chapters of the book, although it's not particularly mentioned in the first chapter. The chapter that does talk about it is titled Peace In Our Time: the Milgram Experiment, Public Policy and Passive Resistance. It does mention some spiritual descriptions, but focuses mostly on cognitive / behavioral / evolutionary unity. For example peace and cooperation was the biggest problem for the generals during the early part of WWI, because we naturally tend to reject violence. So the men at the front on both sides would create these truces (spoken or not, I'm not sure) in which they would merely pretend to fight, while each agreeing to fire their mortars and such far away from any troops so no one would be harmed.
razzigyrl's avatar
I adore the line, "Thus a belief that fire burns is more help than a belief that fire tastes good."

Truly beautiful.

!yoJ
woohooligan's avatar
Thanks Razzy. :) I'm still working on the content of the book and actually just posted a new version of the preview chapter... for that matter, my sources for the science are much more varied now than they were when I wrote the description of this deviation, although even then I'd referenced a number of papers that aren't in those books. My biggest struggle with the book right now is trying to make it seem "fair and ballanced" and not like I'm going way out on a limb. :)
razzigyrl's avatar
That can be difficult, but worthwhile, I think. I should probably look into a few of your sources, they sound interesting. It really makes me smile, philosophical arguments based in as much science as possible. :D

!yoJ
woohooligan's avatar
Thank you. :thanks: These folks that I reference have really done some amazing work, I have to say... and none of it overnight, I mean, these folks have built their whole careers studying human nature and I really have to tip my hat to them. :)
Sylverone's avatar
Personally, I don't believe in chance or fate, at least not in the traditional sense. I believe in choice. What is called "randomness" to me doesn't seem random. It appears to me that we just label it as so because the variables that cause its effects are too complex for us to follow. Every "random" system (for instance snow on a TV screen) actually operates within very certain and predictable bounds.

Choice is the most random, and yet the most predictable thing I know. Choice is what you get when fate and change merge into one concept and process. Then suddenly neither concept alone is completely accurate.

My thoughts.

BTW... Hi, I'm back! (unofficially, check my journal for info)
woohooligan's avatar
Hi Sylver, welcome back. :)

My boss at my new job made a similar sort of comment when I was up here for my job interview. He was talking about rolling a die and saying that it lands on a particular side as a result of gravity and other forces that affect it, so it's not really random, it just appears random to us as we're observing it...

I agree, however I also think when we talk about things being "random", it's the observation or perception of randomness that we're really after. The die for example may not ultimately be trully random, but it's "random enough" or at least "random in context" to the extent that when you're playing a board game, the dice will create the expected bell curves over time while also preventing any of the players from predicting the outcome of an individual toss. And actually that's much what the book is about -- making long-term choices in our lives on the basis of those statistical observations about how people behave and which beliefs or behaviors result in the most long-term success and happiness in life.
Sylverone's avatar
Well, I'll throw in a wager for the optimist. ;)

I should know. I'm an incurably optimistic person, and I consider my life in standard terms to be the biggest streak of good "luck" possible. Is my life really that great, or does it all just seem that way because of my outlook? The way I see it, both are true. There's not much of a difference. That concept is the sort of vibe I get from this book of yours, although admittedly I still have yet to crack the cover and read this first chapter you posted. Don't worry, I'll get around to it. ;)
woohooligan's avatar
Yeah, one of the many things mentioned in the book is that even if your life isn't as rosy as you make it out, you're still better off having the "rose colored glasses" anyway, if for no other reason than that you're happy. But beyond that there are several other bits of fairly rigorous scientific analysis that show that people who are happy are healthier and that people who have optimistic expectations about things are much more likely to succeed at achieving their goals. Meaning that it really isn't just that you think your life is better than it is -- your life actually is better for having that optimistic attitude. :) So I'm not worried. :P Thanks for the comment by the way. :thanks:
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