April Pieces Of My Mind #1

Baptismal font, c. AD 1200, Näs church, Jämtland.
Baptismal font, c. AD 1200, Näs church, Jämtland.
  • Been wondering about psychopaths. Having empathy of course de-motivates healthy folks from murderous cruelty. But why would absence of empathy motivate murderous cruelty? Are most psychopaths in fact not interested in such acts?
  • This is pretty neat: I bought a hat in London and wore it for a few days, and now that I’m back in Stockholm, I still have the hat!
  • Last Monday was the 8th anniversary of me switching from Windows to Linux because of Microsoft’s “Genuine Advantage” scam.
  • Heh. This hatter’s web site has “quaffed” for “coiffed” when talking about a man’s hairdo.
  • 12/13th hunting manuals describe elaborate elite rituals around deer hunting, including rules for who gets the front/rear and left/right parts of the carcass. Cool Medieval osteology: this tallies well with the bones found in different kinds of settlement milieu. The only places where you find all the bones of a deer’s body in natural proportion are in non-elite parts of towns, where poachers are known to have been based.
  • Science fiction fans seem to be particularly hostile to scientology. I guess people who know what goes into the sausage don’t eat sausage.
  • Rönö church was built in 1642 near Rönö Castle, probably on the site of a Medieval chapel. I just found out that Rönö churchyard has eaten part of a pagan cemetery, the rest of which survives on the hillside above the churchyard. I wonder if this is a rare case of unbroken burial continuity across Christianisation c. AD 1000 and up to today.
  • Me and my new book are both currently flagged as being in the top one per cent for views on Academia.edu. This must mean that the site has an enormous number of accounts for people who never develop their presence there at all. And an enormous number of texts that are even more obscure than Bronze Age Sweden.
  • One of the few jobs I’d be interested in would be as Finds Liaison Officer for some part of southern Sweden. But we don’t have those.
  • 40 years of freely available abortion in Sweden.
  • Hear ye! Hear ye! The Swedish word for car bumper means “cow catcher”.
  • [SPOILER ALERT] Last night I finished reading the action sequence in REAMDE’s second fifth, where the Russian gangster sends mercenaries to murder a Chinese hacker but they instead stumble into a Muslim terrorist hideout. Incredibly long and slow description from several POVs of something that takes ten minutes of real time. Almost farcical in how people keep running to and fro, popping in and out of buildings. Reminded me of those stage plays where the actors exit through one door and immediately reappear through another one, wearing funny hats.
  • Jrette mixed milk and gelatin powder. Now we have applied the mix to our noses in order to remove blackheads. I expect to lose about three pounds.
  • Terrorist bombings are amazingly cowardly. Blowing up unarmed unprepared random civilians? You need a pretty exotic code of honour to call that brave.
  • I find the US term “graduate student” really confusing. In Scandy humanities we have no need for a word that encompasses both those working towards an MA and those working towards a PhD. They are seen as completely different. One is learning a subject. The other is being trained to add to the subject’s knowledge base through research.
  • The waitress at this curry place is doing a double major in political science and international relations at 200% of full time. And waiting tables. Lazy bloody foreigners.
  • Fucking LibreOffice Impress. I’ve lost sooo much time to its buggy file import/export routines this week.

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

46 thoughts on “April Pieces Of My Mind #1”

  1. “But why would absence of empathy motivate murderous cruelty? Are most psychopaths in fact not interested in such acts?”

    That is pretty much exactly it. Their inhibitions to violence are lower – in part due to lacking empathy towards others, in part due to lacking understanding of future consequences on their part. Those two effects are likely fundamentally one and the same. But that doesn’t mean psychopaths like violence or are drawn to violence in any way. If anything, they’re known to get their way by manipulating people rather than getting it by force.


  2. I find the US term “graduate student” really confusing.

    I can’t speak for humanities departments, but in the sciences, it’s not so unusual for people to start a Ph.D. program and decide that it’s not for them. It’s also common in some (but not all) departments for students to earn a masters degree en route to a Ph.D. (Cue astrophysics joke about a “three degree background”.) So in the departments I am familiar with, there is little or no separation between the two during the coursework phase of the degree. Since the M.A./M.S. students have more in common with the Ph.D. students than the B.A./B.S. students, it makes sense to lump them that way. It’s also more convenient from an administrative standpoint. I am aware that in the oldest European universities the M.A. (or equivalent) was formerly the standard degree, and the B.A. (or equivalent) came later.


  3. My paternal grandfather was the general manager of a smallgoods factory. (I needed Wikipedia to tell me that ‘smallgoods’ seems to be a term used only in Australia – it refers to bacon, ham, sausages, etc – manufactured meat products.)

    Two things my grandfather would never eat were meat pies and sausages, including the pies and sausages made by the company that he managed.


  4. The British/Australian system of degrees is different again, but I can’t stand to put everyone including myself through the tedium of describing it.

    But it is now morphing more towards the American model, at least in Medicine. In Engineering, not so much – they are opting to beef up the first degree (BSc) and also require an MSc to qualify academically for professional status. But I can’t help feeling that has been necessitated by the degradation of bachelors’ degrees with time, which happens because the standards of the student intake are allowed to drop because the universities need the money. And also because the humanities loonies have insisted that first engineering degrees be crammed with irrelevant humanities subjects to “make engineers more human”. We don’t need to be more human, we need to be the best engineers we can be – it wouldn’t matter if we were robots.

    A disproportionately high proportion of psychopaths are in prison due to their inability to foresee the consequences of their actions, but it’s mostly for fraud and various other forms of stealing.


  5. Janne,
    I am also told that psychopaths tend to not learn from punishments -which makes prison very ineffective.
    Hypothetical treatment with positive reinforcement: “Good, you have not tried to stab any other inmate this month. You now get an extra cup of coffe every day.”
    “Science fiction fans seem to be particularly hostile to scientology”
    Hubbard started as a mediocre SF author. Later he started the Dianetics scam, and even recruited A.E: van Vogt, who eventually left, disillusioned. The story is well known in SF circles.


  6. The MA (formerly mag.phil.) is the vanilla university degree in Sweden. There’s no such thing as college.

    That is a significant difference from the US system, where the BA or BS is the standard undergraduate degree.

    The definition of “college” is not consistent in the English-speaking world. In Oxbridge (and other English universities modeled thereon), it refers to a residential unit within the university. At some US universities the word is used to describe a group of departments within the university, e.g., the College of Engineering and Physical Science or the College of Life Sciences and Agriculture (each comprised of the departments advertised on the tin) at my local university; other universities call these departmental groupings “schools”. But the word “college” is also generically used to refer to any post-secondary educational institution, some of which are universities (which in the US means an institution granting post-bachelor degrees), and some of which call themselves universities–these groups are not identical (e.g., Boston College is a university; it insists on the label to distinguish itself from Boston University, an unrelated university which is also in Boston; meanwhile, there are several self-described universities that do not grant post-bachelor degrees). Interestingly, the Spanish word cognate to “college” means “private high school”–draw your own conclusions.

    A disproportionately high proportion of psychopaths are in prison due to their inability to foresee the consequences of their actions, but it’s mostly for fraud and various other forms of stealing.

    And many of the ones who avoid this fate become CEOs of large corporations. It’s a question of whether you use a gun or a fountain pen to steal–many variants of the latter are actually legal (as long as the forms are obeyed).


  7. There has been serious recent discussion among people who discuss these things, that you need to be a psychopath to be a successful politician.

    I’m willing to believe that.


  8. I had a friend who was a psychopath when I was a kid. At primary school he was just a normal kid, although a very gentle, charming one. By secondary school his psychopathy began to be expressed – I began to realise something was wrong when he started to repeatedly steal my pencils, despite the fact that we had been firm friends all the way through primary school. He was ultimately expelled from that school for stealing money from other students, but he led them a merry dance for a long time before they caught him in the act.

    On expulsion, he gave up on school and became a full-time thief, a very cunning but stupidly daring one. He has ended up spending most of his adult life in prison, for attempted armed bank robberies. As soon as he had completed a sentence for one bank job and had been released, he would go straight out and try another one. The use of arms was incidental, they were just to persuade people to hand over the money – all his life he eschewed violence, and never shot anybody. But as noted by Birger, punishment by being put in prison had no deterrent effect on him whatever.

    While in prison he has gained a law degree, in order to better represent himself against ‘the establishment’. Last I heard, he is still in prison, and is likely to be there until he is well into old age, as a result of being a multiple repeat offender in a crime category that is regarded as particularly serious – robbery with the use of firearms.

    A charming, intelligent, handsome man and, as a small boy, a good friend. A totally wasted life. And he still says it was not his fault, it was ‘the establishment’ that was always unfairly against him.


  9. This is hysterical – I just joined Academia.edu to try to get a look at Martin’s completed book, and this is what they have down as my research interests:
    Civil and Water Resource Engineering, Civil Engineering, Earthquake Engineering, Unsaturated soil, Rock Mechanics, Geotechnical Engineering, Large Eddy Simulation, Offshore Structures, Nonlinear Analysis, Coastal and Estuarine Sediment Transport, Sediment transport, Augustus Caesar, Numerical Models, Water Purification Using Natural Filtering Media, and Higher Education Feminist Studies of Science and Technology.

    They came up with that, not me. It is true that I have been very active in supporting and enabling female participation in civil engineering, at times by threatening male engineers with unwanted outcomes unless they stop harrassing female engineers and discriminating against them, but I have never done any higher education feminist studies. I don’t see a point in endless studies, they demonstrably achieve nothing, it’s on the construction sites where you see it and have to stop it, physically if necessary. And Augustus Caesar – no, I never met him. I might behave like him occasionally, but that’s pure coincidence.


  10. John, I do not know anything about how engineers are trained in Australia, but I am not sure that studying =anything= is irrelevant to making better engineers. Canadian curriculums and professional organizations place some emphasis on engineers’ social responsibility, and its hard to be socially responsible without studying the messy human world around you. And remember that IEEE Spectrum a few years back with evidence that engineers and national scientists seem to be over-represented in right-wing extremist groups? I think that we all know cranks with a BSc or BEng who would have benefited from studying something where learning rules did not get them very far.


  11. In my spare time, I am involved in accreditation of engineering degrees to the standards of the Washington Accord, and have been now for a total of 8 years. In that time, I have assessed a lot of engineering first degrees, in association with other colleagues, including invigilators from the UK and USA whose job it is to ensure that the Washington Accord standards are maintained in all first engineering degrees accredited in countries who are signatories to the Washington Accord.

    The teaching of social responsibility and engineering ethics is regarded universally as a fundamental core element of any engineering education, and is one of the primary things we check on when we assess engineering degrees.

    I have been through this argument before, and also the one about how terrorist organisations target their recruiting on the engineering schools in universities.

    So let me repeat what I have said before. There is nothing in an engineering education that will turn someone into a right-wing extremist or a terrorist. They have to be that way inclined to begin with, and it seems likely that such people are attracted to engineering because it is so rule-driven and has to be – we must have standards and codes of practice. There are technical reasons why extremist groups should seek to recruit people with particular technical knowledge and skills. Someone who has majored in drama or English literature is unlikely to be of particular practical use to them, whereas someone who can hack a computer system or knows how to wire up a bomb is a more attractive prospect.

    Taking a unit of drama as part of a first engineering degree is not going to do anything useful to someone who is already a committed right-wing extremist, or any kind of extremist.

    In my own experience of going through a very demanding engineering education, the extremists were weeded out by the difficulty of the process, and failed to graduate. They should have been weeded out by the admissions process, but I guess there are always going to be some who slip through the net.

    Through my involvement in degree accreditation, and in my own professional work, I come into contact with a lot of recent graduates and young engineering professionals. Literally thousands. And the large majority of young people I have been seeing and talking to are anything but extremists – either that or they are very good actors.


  12. I don’t know what you mean by ‘national scientists’, I presume that’s a typo, so can’t address that.

    I think it is pretty well known that surveys in America have revealed that scientists are more likely to be liberal atheists, while engineers are more likely to be religious conservatives. These are trends, obviously, not hard and fast rules. I don’t know if this holds for countries other than America. I don’t understand it, but if asked to explain it, I might guess that engineers might be more attracted to orderliness and the idea of ‘intelligent design’, whereas scientists might be more comfortable with chaos and randomness. Scientists need to understand things, engineers have to find practical solutions to problems. Those are not the same thing.

    None of that says anything about extremism.


  13. Scientists need to understand things, engineers have to find practical solutions to problems.

    This pattern frequently manifests itself as engineers asking, “Does this work?” while scientists ask, “Why does this work?” As for religious beliefs, I suspect that engineers are more willing than scientists to believe what somebody tells them the Bible says, as opposed to reading the Bible directly to see what it says. There is an important difference: many religious types, at least in the US (and I suspect this is also true of Muslim, Jewish, or Hindu religious extremists), engage in selective reading of the Bible or other religious texts. In my experience, when you are dealing with people who are loud and proud about their Christian beliefs, you can expect any overlap between their beliefs and those of Yeshua ben Yosef to be purely coincidental, and the louder the alleged believer’s claims, the smaller the likely degree of overlap.


  14. I know of someone around home who is a psychopath. It is as though he has an “auto tune in ” button which converts him into this aggressive monster. Everyone is scared of him in that stage. he is very abusive and hits his own family, even his mother. Once he switches off to his normal self, he acts rationally and even apologizes. He is a very nice guy but you never know when he’ll loose his empathy on you, so you better safe away from him.


  15. John: Yes, s/national/natural/. I certainly do not think that anything about engineering training makes someone more likely to be socially irresponsible either … but professional associations seem to think that its worthwhile to include things in the curriculum which encourage engineers to be responsible.

    I think that the original paper was by Gambetta and Hertog.


  16. Sean, I understand the intent. But the Washington Accord is silent on the inclusion of humanities electives as essential elements of a first engineering degree, whereas it is very specific on other elements, including the professional code of conduct.

    Consequently I infer that the professional qualifying bodies who are the signatories to the Accord (including Canada) do not see some minimum % of course content spent on humanities electives to be necessary.

    All of the engineering academics I have spoken to about it tend to roll their eyes and say what a waste of time it is, and how it makes an already packed curriculum too burdensome for the students unless they sacrifice some technical content that they would much prefer not to sacrifice. They all understand the original intent, but all clearly think that in practice it is unnecessary, and just something foisted on the profession by clamouring humanities people.

    The outcome where I practise is clear – the universities are making first engineering degrees one year longer, because in an increasingly complex profession they are no longer willing to make sacrifices on important technical knowledge. That was a decision which was very difficult, both for them and for future cohorts of students.

    Eric – yes, spot on as usual. My daughter had read the Bible (OT+NT) twice cover to cover by the time she was 11, and subsequently got herself into some real trouble in religious instruction classes at school by correcting the teacher. After a couple of episodes of that, she got the message that the prudent tactic was to act dumb and play along, in order to prevent the religious types from harassing her, until she was done with that (otherwise very good) school and well clear of it.


  17. Sean, you see, all good intentions aside, in real practical terms, to gain admission to a first engineering degree course you need to be pretty intelligent, much more intelligent that you need to be to get into humanities. Razib Khan, who is very good with data, produced some numbers for America that said to become a Civil Engineer you need a minimum IQ of 118 (in practice, people graduating in Civil have a mean IQ higher than that due to competition and limits on available places), whereas the mean IQ of students admitted to Psychology courses is 98.

    That accords pretty well with my own subjective observations when I attended university and what the student councillors were telling me – to get into Engineering you needed a minimum IQ of 125, whereas people getting into Psychology only needed to be able to write their own names correctly. I don’t know if it was just a quirk of my university or a more general trend, but the only course that admitted dumber students than Psychology was Anthropology. I rather suspect that was a result of the disastrous schism between Scientific Anthropology and Cultural Anthropology, and I think it helps to explain why so little good scientific anthropological work is done on Australian Aboriginal people, shamefully little, and why the good very early Anthropological work done on some of them is now locked up behind closed doors, in order not to offend the sensibilities of those who can’t handle some of the grittier, guttier aspects of traditional Aboriginal life.

    I’m not claiming in the generality that engineers are the smartest people around. That is clearly not true – you need to be more intelligent to take Mathematics and most intelligent to take Physics. But you do need to be pretty smart to get through Engineering.

    But we live in the age of the Internet, and intelligent young people with enquiring minds can find any amount of stuff to digest in order to arrive at what they consider to be the conduct of a responsible young person, and in the intelligence group 125 to 135 IQ, they are already well into that by the time they hit secondary school. Getting some less intelligent old geezer to give them some politically correct classes in something is just going to waste their time. They do it because they have to, but the current students and recent graduates that I talk to all admit that they go for the frothiest, most lightweight humanities electives they can get away with, just so they will add the least additional burden to their already very heavy workload – they sometimes get a laugh out of it, but it doesn’t teach them anything useful,


  18. the current students and recent graduates that I talk to all admit that they go for the frothiest, most lightweight humanities electives they can get away with

    That works both ways: non-STEM majors will often try to take the easiest science distribution courses they can find. Thus geology often has a reputation as Rocks for Jocks, and astronomy one of Stars for the Less-than-Stellar Student. And I don’t see how you avoid this. Any system that can be gamed, will be gamed.

    It’s true that engineers (and science majors) tend to better in humanities classes than humanities majors fare in science classes. That’s because science and engineering curricula are cumulative in a way that most humanities subjects (foreign languages are an obvious exception) are not. As long as you are fluent in English, you can take a Shakespeare course aimed at third-year English majors without any prior course preparation, but a student who has not had calculus will be hopelessly lost in a thermodynamics course (in the US many students, even those planning to major in STEM subjects, do not take calculus until they are first-year university students, and many non-STEM majors never take calculus at all).

    In the US, anyone can start out as an engineering major (if offered at their university–many of our smaller universities do not offer such a major), but many wash out quickly. (Enrollment caps exist at some state universities, but are not limited to engineering.) Engineering requires a particular kind of smarts: you have to be able to handle and apply mathematics, including calculus, differential equations, and (for some majors) complex variables. Many would-be engineers learn the hard way that they don’t have that kind of smarts. There is a joke at Local U. to the effect that the limit as GPA approaches 0 of an engineering major is a business major. (Not that business majors don’t use math, but it tends to be more at the high school level.)


  19. (OT) When you were in London, did you identify tourists´ country of origin by their behaviour?
    “Know your tourists” http://satwcomic.com/postcard
    Sweden, Denmark and Norway are plastered after sampling the local beer, England and France are quarreling and Germany has stolen a traffic sign.


  20. The archaeology of ideas: The overlooked third man http://phys.org/news/2015-04-overlooked.html (Darwin + Wallace +Matthew)
    “There is a law universal in nature, tending to render every reproductive being the best possibly suited to its condition that its kind, or that organized matter, is susceptible of, which appears intended to model the physical and mental or instinctive powers, to their highest perfection, and to continue them so. This law sustains the lion in his strength, the hare in her swiftness, and the fox in his wiles.” (Matthew, 1831: 364)
    Darn, this is far more intriguing than his earlier gospel.


  21. In the US, a “cow catcher” is that pointy iron grate on the front of old steam trains that used to run through the West (open range land and cows not understanding right-of-way).

    I guess in Sweden you wouldn’t want a moose-catcher?


    1. Elks are nasty. Their centre of gravity is level with your nose when you’re driving a car. Quite a common cause of lethal car accidents in Sweden.


  22. Martin, there was an episode of the TV show Mythbusters where they were looking at the myth that if you are going to crash into a moose you should speed up to fling the moose over the top of the car.

    To test this they needed a crash moose, which they built from rubber using a technical paper from a Swedish car company. A correctly-weighted, free-standing moose is hard to build, as they are essentially a cow on toothpick stilts.

    (And no, speeding up just makes it worse, which is hard, because crashing into a moose is terrible anyway.)


  23. (OT) Names of the real Amazons.
    “Now we have some evidence of the names of the women warriors of the Scythians — Greek pottery illustrating Amazons seems to have had some phonetically translated Scythian words attached to the images.”
    “To do so, they translated the inscriptions into their phonetic sounds, and then submitted the phonetic transcriptions to linguist John Colarusso of Canada’s McMaster University in Hamilton, who is an expert on rare languages of the Caucasus. Colarusso, who was not provided with any information regarding the source of the transcriptions, matched the phonetics to Scythian words and names, which mean ‘Princess’, ‘Don’t Fail’, and ‘Hot Flanks’. There was also an archer named ‘Battle-Cry’ and a horsewoman named ‘Worthy of Armour’. On one vase, a scene of two Amazons hunting with a dog appears with a Greek transliteration for the Abkhazian word meaning “set the dog loose.”
    Here is a working draft of the article that is easier to download http://www.princeton.edu/~pswpc/pdfs/mayor/071202.pdf


  24. Elks are nasty. Their centre of gravity is level with your nose when you’re driving a car. Quite a common cause of lethal car accidents in Sweden.

    The same is true in those parts of North America where moose are common: northern New England, northeastern New York, northern Minnesota, Alaska, and most rural forested areas in Canada. Deer are also a big problem; they aren’t as big but they cover a wider and more heavily populated area.

    Of course, this did not stop state legislatures in Maine and New Hampshire from raising motorway speed limits in moose country. You can now legally drive 75 mph (120 km/h) on the motorway north of Bangor–only two US states (Texas and Utah) have higher posted speed limits, and all of the other states that allow speeds at least as high are sparsely populated states between the Mississippi River and the Sierra Nevada/Cascade Mountains (I am not aware of any higher speed limits in Canada). The stated reason in New Hampshire for raising the speed limit (which affects only about 130 km of motorway, so far) was to allow tourists to reach their destinations faster, but the total time you would save by driving at the higher speed limit over the entire stretch of road would be about eight minutes. At least Maine has long enough distances for the time savings to add up (it’s almost 700 km from Kittery in the extreme south to Madawaska in the extreme north; about 500 km of that is motorway).


  25. About the grad thing, I always thought BSc/A students were undergrads, MSc/A students were grads and PhD students were postgrads.

    Not sure why you are saying Sweden doesn’t have a college system. We have “högskola” who can hand out bachelor’s degrees and “universitet” who are allowed to hand out master’s degrees. Of course there are universities or faculties of universities who call themselves “högskola” for historical reasons and non-“universitet” who brand themselves “university” in English (but not Swedish!) text, for business reasons.

    On the “college” confusion, in Hong Kong there are several secondary schools who go by “college”.


  26. MR: “Heh. This hatter’s web site has “quaffed” for “coiffed” when talking about a man’s hairdo.”
    Looks pretty cool under a ten-gallon hat, mind.


  27. Sorry, to be clear, I am drawing attention to 2 points:

    1. Ref. what Birger posted at 23#, there is a case (not just ethical; it could pose real dangers) to be made against what the Chinese scientists have done. Well no, what they did could not pose a real danger, because the embryos they used could not develop, and there is no ethical dilemma because the embryos were to be discarded in any case, but the point is being made that if (at some future time) the germ line in a developing embryo is edited, it could pose unknown and unforeseeable consequences, which could be perpetuated through breeding.

    2. It was published in Nature well before the paper by the Chinese scientists was published – i.e. the case referred to as-yet unpublished work, using the device “there is reason to believe that this will soon be published” or “it is rumoured that…” I think this is not a proper way for scientists and publishers to behave.

    3. The Chinese scientists sought to publish their paper in Nature and were rejected. They also sought to publish in Science and were rejected. The case against germ line editing appeared in Nature some time later, but before the Chinese scientists’ paper had been published anywhere.

    I smell a rat.

    The Chinese scientists’ paper is open access, and they issue their own cautions about the dangers inherent in germ line editing. So they are not trying to hide anything.


  28. Sperm whales were always my favourite as a kid. I had a neighbour who was Swedish, and he worked on whaling boats in the Southern Ocean when Western Australia still had a whaling industry based in Albany, on the south coast. Although I was only a kid and he was a man, we were good pals – I used to baby-sit his kids when he was home from the sea and wanted to take his wife for a night out, help him with some of the heavier gardening chores that he had limited time to get done, etc., and he used to bring me sperm whale teeth to play with. Although he was engaged in something that people now find horrifying, he was good man. In those days, whaling was not regarded as something bad – that came later, when data on declining whale populations started coming out. Most of the guys working on the whaling boats then were Swedes or Norwegians. And they had no love for one another.


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