Sugar, self-control, and free-will

I have recently decided to reduce my sugar intake. I would tell you why, but insurance companies might use it against me in the future. And I don’t think it matters: I am trying to reduce my refined sugar intake.

Just now, I was talking to my lovely wife on the mobile phone (cellphone) while sitting on the sofa (couch). Suddenly I realized I was standing up, and was about to go and get some chocolate from the kitchen.

At no point did I consciously think “I would like some chocolate” or even “I am going to have chocolate”. Before I had had a conscious thought, I found myself standing up and ready to walk.

If I didn’t decide to stand up, who did? Even if we suggest that there is a subconscious me who could tell me what I want, or what I need – the same one that breathes in and out without interrupting the other task I am doing – can it make me stand up?

If it can make me stand up, what else can it make me do? Is there a proportion of people in prisons who genuinely did not do the thing that their body did?

And even if it doesn’t go that far, are there choices that we make that we don’t really make?

Before we look at that, there’s another important question: Who is making me do things I consciously don’t want to do? Is there some part of me that makes these other decisions – my subconscious – or is there a pre-ordained path for my life? If the latter, presumably my choices are illusions created by other.

CGP Grey has a great video on this: You Are Two

The notion of free-will is more important than a “that’s interesting” or a hypothesis. If we are not free, the notion of punishment, of fairness, and of a whole lot more changes… fundamentally.

But, of course, if we don’t have free will, none of us can do anything to change the status quo and get people to realize that prison is inhumane. Or perhaps there is a greyer version of free-will, where we (where we is humanity) can make a difference in the trajectory of humanity, but only on a large scale. At the small scale, we do not get to make many of the choices we make on our own…

The following is said casually, so don’t be mad at me. I don’t want people to think that quantum physics and quasi-spiritual considerations can or should be intermingled. But…

I am no physicist, but I would also be interested on what free-will, or the absence of it, means for the collapse of probability curves in quantum physics. Probably, I suspect, nothing – there is another universe perhaps, where the ‘decision’ went the other way, even if we didn’t have any say over it in the universe we find ourselves in. But the observation of a system causing the collapse has always interested me…

If you haven’t tried the new caramel M&Ms, go and buy a packet. They’re as tasty as Rolos, but with a tastier crunchy, chocolate shell.

Car recalls

I don’t have a lot of experience of car ownership. In fact, in sixteen years I have owned four cars, including the one my wife and I bought in January here in the USA.

So I know my experience of car recalls is going to be limited: None of the three cars I owned in the UK experienced a recall.

But we have owned a car in the USA for under four months, and have experienced a recall. The car in question is five years old, and it’s its first recall, so there’s an element of luck here, but I wonder whether car recalls are more common in the US? And if they are, is it because of better safety requirements or because of poorer quality checking at construction, or some combination of the two?

Part of the explanation is this, from the Boston Globe:

Safety runs the gamut. In Europe and Japan, cars are rigorously tested before they go on sale. In the U.S., automakers self-certify and cars are tested only after they go on sale. (Source)

This makes sense, but it also disappoints. That same article talks about the relative safety of the same car in different countries. The bare statistics aren’t the full story, because regulations differ by nation (e.g. the US requirement instructions to be in English, which would only result in a recall in the US and, perhaps, the UK).

I’ll leave the stats as the final thought:

In 2013, there were 714 vehicle recalls issued in the US, where 28 million cars, trucks and motorcycles were called back due to safety issues. That outpaced the rest of the world. In Europe, which has around the same number of cars on the road as the US, there were 110 recalls. In Japan there were 303. China had 130, Brazil had 74. India had no numbers available.

In America

I am writing this in America. In New Hampshire to be precise. And being more precise than America is very important – this country is huge.

Last month my wife and I drove for what felt like an age, driving on reasonably good roads westwards towards and into Vermont. And despite driving for ages, Google Maps only welcomed us to one new State. And the state we went into, and the state we left, are both among the tiniest.

Two years ago, we drove a similar route all the way to western New York state, and to Niagara Falls (on a separate day) and again, we drove past hill, after hill of tree-covered hills. I have never seen so many trees at once.

Different

America is also very different to Thailand and England. In England, the weather moves between -5 degrees centigrade (at the extreme) and about 28 (at the other) but hovers mostly around 10-15 degrees.

Thailand’s heat is more consistent: About 50 weeks of temperatures around 29C, one week at around 40C and one week around 18C.

In New Hampshire, as I write, it is 13, but most of the time I have been here, since just before Christmas, it has been below 0.

But weather is not everything. I read the NH state laws on jaywalking and driving the other day, because they are so different to England (where pedestrians are not breaking the law if they cross where they like). In Thailand, the law is moot, unless it’s one the government has recently decided needs enforcing.

I don’t really have anything to share, but felt like sharing anyway. I hope you can forgive me!

Quick update

Neither of us have written here in a while, so I thought it was important to pen a quick update so that you know we’re still here. We’ve left Thailand, but I still have thoughts about our time there that I want to share.

In the meantime, we have been enjoying some family time in the USA and been enjoying some cold weather for a change!

Living in a world without ‘do unto others’

I think it’s important that I preface this post with a note: I have made some observations while living abroad and they have highlighted some interesting cultural differences to me. I wanted to share this but want to clarify that it is about learning and some sadness but no bitterness.

 

One year of living in a foreign country does not make me expert, nor does it ensure that I can understand the full culture or build a profile of what a person of this country should or would be like. However after many interactions with people in a focused city area (Bangkok) I experienced a particular anomaly, previously unknown to me . I have watched and experienced a style of interaction that is “foreign” to me. And I would sum it up by saying, that “do unto others, as you would have them do to you” is not a familiar concept in Bangkok. Of course people will comment on the high level of expats living here and how that changes things, or how it’s a city and cities are not always a true representation of the general population. This may be true. I can only speak from my experiences and observations, which to make this point have been exclusively taken from interacting with locals in the city where I live.

As many people I know from home, I was raised to follow the simple rule “do unto others…” and in my travels to different parts of the world I have seen the same philosophy practiced. It is certainly not exclusively American or Christian.

Here, however, I have found the exception and I have battled through this experience trying to come to grips with what this means. What does this say about me, my culture, my experiences, my perceptions of the world, Bangkok, Thai people, right and wrong…etc??

I have concluded this: having considered the alternative, I think that living according to “do until others…” is right and in some ways is above and separate from cultural rules and norms. We, humans, have made it part of who we are and who we expect other people to be. It has become an almost unspoken international code of behaviour. When “bad” behaviour is challenged often people (even in Bangkok) will apologize, identifying to me that there is an underlying awareness of expected social behaviour and interactions. The difference here is that there is no forethought, no effort to avoid harm to others and little to no effort to understand another’s experience. This has been an incredible mental exercise for me –  to learn love someone (many someones) who may not consider me, may not treat me the way I want to be treated and thus how I will treat them.

Living in a place that does not openly abide by this rule has challenged my humanity and my belief that I deeply love humans, experience true empathy for others and have an internal drive to do good. However now coming out of the other side of this experience, I believe that I am still this person but now with a better understanding of what it means to care, empathize, love and serve without expectations and possibly without reciprocation.

Last day…

Much to the annoyance of all around me, I have been making mental (and verbal) lists of all the things that we’re doing for the last time. For example on Sunday we made our last trip on Thai public transport, last night was our last night spent in this apartment and this blog post is likely to be the last one written in Thailand.

As I am writing this, I am looking around our bare apartment which we have cleaned from bottom to top. I can even hear a slight echo from my key presses in this room with next-to-no decor. I can hear the buzz of an air conditioning unit and it sounds so normal (in late November).

I don’t feel sad. We’ve had more than a year of adventure here in Thailand (a year to the day since we came to Bangkok) and we’ve seen and experienced things I would never have otherwise experienced. Another reason not to be sad, though, is that we are going on to new adventures. This evening we stay in a hotel near the airport, from there we fly to visit family and friends and then, when that’s all over, we work out what’s next. That’s a freeing thing to be able to do, and we’re very excited about it.

What follows is a very select few pictures from our last year:

 

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