Combinotions: More Limerical Glimmers

Combinotions: More Limerical Glimmers

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My editor has been out this week so I’ll take a break here with some more of my old limericks excerpted from my Insightlopedia of Human Nature. These are for the letters C and D. They cover an array of topics from the evolutionary to the everyday.



Calibrating your standard of effort to that of your peers. If they say “I can’t” more readily than you do, you might adjust down to their standard.

She says, “I just can’t” and you think
Well maybe we’re just out of sync
With how we define
The word “can’t,” and that’s fine,
I’ll recalibrate mine in a wink.

A casualty to our theories about what causes what. Theories of causality die from overload: when anything can cause anything, you never know what causes what. There are usually too many possible causes for any given effect—too many possible explanations for what caused what. Sometimes people argue for additional kinds of causality, such as supernatural forces—for example, the ability to heal people on the other side of the earth through the power of meditative thought. If we can change things with our thoughts alone, then our theories of causality become so complex and intractable that there’s no telling what causes what. When people arguing for supernatural forces then argue confidently that a particular supernatural act caused a particular effect, you know they’re oblivious to the damage they’ve done to the concept of cause itself. One can’t add vast new causal categories and then speak with increased confidence about what causes what.

Those who think we create our reality
Point to magical kinds of causality.
But with their causal glut,
Who can guess what caused what?
Yet they guess, which defies rationality.

We evolve to fit our environment. Since we’re social animals, our environment is largely made up of one another, which means we’re adapting to each other, or co-evolving. In co-evolution we are one another’s sources of selective pressure. The people in your life are to a large extent your equivalent of natural selection.

We must fit our environment’s features
Which is largely, for us, other creatures.
We creatures prevail
Chasing each other’s tails
And you can’t tell the students from teachers.

Cogito Ergo Summarize
We think, therefore we summarize. Our minds have limited capacity, so we tend to economize. All else being equal, we choose the simpler explanations for things. We remember the past based on a few spot-memories and let our imaginations fill in the rest. Our imaginations tend to be biased, preferring the vivid to the dull, the self-affirming to the self-challenging.

I think, therefore I must shrink
Every thought or it goes down the sink.
I need short, sweet, and sassy
Affirming and classy
Synced with thoughts that I already think.

The often overlooked additive effect of notions combined. We tend to credit an idea to the person who brought it to consciousness, but in a way this is like blaming the last straw for breaking the camel’s back. If you have a suppressible doubt, a doubt that you can keep from surfacing, but then someone brings up the doubt and it becomes conscious, it’s easy to blame that other person as though they single-handedly brought the doubt to mind.

Though I’ve doubts of my own, I don’t mind;
I don’t hear them, unless they’re combined
With doubts that you share
Which I don’t want to hear
‘Cause they’d take me right over the line.

Conviction Impairment
These days, with ever more options for what to believe, it’s harder to stick to any one particular belief. We are conviction impaired, or, to look on the bright side, flexibility endowed.

When rules came from one sole authority
We deferred to the massive majority
Now there’s more to confuse us
More options to choose, plus
It’s hard to know what’s a priority.

The campaigns that counter trends. With limited campaigning resources we should perform triage, ignoring lost causes and sure winners and concentrating our efforts on those campaigns where our energies are most likely to make a difference.

Campaigns keep us busy as elves
Since we’re small, causes end up on shelves.
Expend on the trends
That don’t have many friends
Not on those that take care of themselves

Coup Dependency
Self-definition by insurrection. Only feeling alive and real when you’re on a mission to overthrow something.

Some people can’t tell who they are
Unless they shine out like a star
They find revolution
The only solution
Without it, they can’t be the Czar.

Debate and Switch
Turning internal doubt into external conflict. A friend says, “I really can’t decide between plan A and B” but then makes plan A look like the obvious choice. To show support you say, “You’re right, plan A seems like the right choice,” and the friend instantly attacks plan A as if it were your idea.

“Can you help me decide on the way?”
He said as he sold you plan A
But once you’re persuaded
His fondness has faded:
“No, my B plan should carry the day.”

Defaulty Logic
Making one option look best by making the other option look worst. Arguing that option B must be right because option A is so wrong. Rather than defending and promoting one’s preferred option one merely attacks the competition. Mud-slinging and “exempt by contempt” (showing contempt for a trait in others as a way of convincing yourself that you couldn’t have that trait) are examples of defaulty logic.

You’ve narrowed your choice to a pair;
Now watch what you’re doing from there.
Eliminate one,
And you’ll think that you’re done,
But a truth by default is quite rare.

Delayed Uncertain Gratification
Delayed gratification is less gratifying than immediate gratification for many reasons. One is that delayed gratification is uncertain. You don’t know if you’ll get it or if it will be gratifying by the time you do. The two birds in the bush might fly away and never become birds in the hand.

Delaying the treat can be tough
And if it that weren’t problem enough
Quite often what’s quested
Is not even tested
It turns out to be fluff or a bluff.

Dialectical Relationships
Two-way causality in which A shapes B and B shapes A. Chickens make eggs and eggs make chickens. Far more causality is dialectical than we tend to notice. With dialectical relationships first causes matter less and are harder to identify.

Cause and effect: Which is which?
Dogs scratch their bellies, but switch
The effect for the cause:
If you scratch with your claws
On their bellies their legs start to twitch.

Doctrine of Foregone Inconclusion
Dogmatic skepticism. Arguing for a favored belief by casting doubt on discernment itself, as if to say, “Look, one can’t be sure of anything, so I can believe what I want to believe.”

“You never can tell,” he’ll tell you.
And it’s true, we can’t know what is true.
Still, his postmodern notion
Is mostly a motion
To press for his strong point of view.

A dilution of accountability when you have two or more jobs. If asked how you’re doing on one you can say you’re busy with the other.

A claim that my interests are many
Is a hedge on investing in any
When asked of Job A
I have simply to say
That Job B is consuming me plenty.

Dumb-ographic Transition
The modern elevation of the public’s expectations, demands, and power. No longer dumb and mute, modern people have come to assume that they deserve and can have what they want, which makes it harder for dictators to lull them into complaisance. not that they can’t; just that they have to use subtler techniques.

In times past, the populous nation
Was better at taking dictation.
With the brainchild explosion
Voice and choice are unfrozen
Which causes dictators frustration.