Sunday, August 23, 2009

I Fall in Love too Easily: That is, a Ratio of 1:50

I'm working out this idea. It started because two different friends had a very similar theory about their romantic experiences that could be summed up like this: They are attracted to people who aren't attracted to them, while they are never attracted to the people who fall for them. It's an interesting problem, it's so clean and horrible! I wanted to help them disprove it and what better way to be sure of something than mathematics? It turns out there's a simple formula to explain their theory, which should spare them any major self-incrimination. They're more or less accurate in their observation, but rather than some kind of psychological inability to experience love, in fact it's simple probability. To spare any of you who aren't that interested in mathematics the full explanation, I'll just skip ahead and give you the solution: Their chances of finding love are about 1 in 2500*... which isn't so bad, because that's about 3 times a year! (Plus or minus about 3 based on the population density of your community, which actually isn't so good for people in small towns. See the Full Solution below for the detailed explanation.)

The Full Solution:
First I started by looking at the mathematics of any two people meeting one another for the first time. Let's say that a first impression of a person you're crossing paths with for the first time can be either neutral or hot. Neutral is when the person evokes no strong response, and hot is when the desire button has been pressed. Then I asked myself how common these responses are for me. I would put a hot response at about 1 in 50. I live in a very small city, but a city none the less, and I would say that on an average day where I've walked around town a bit, stopped into some stores, maybe dropped into the cafe for a coffee, I cross paths with, and take some notice of, about 20 new faces. At that rate, the 1:50 ratio suggests that I would feel a strong attraction to one of those 20 people every 2.5 days. (Since it takes 2.5 days for me to see 50 new people.) Now let's assume any of the 20 new people I cross paths with in a day also have about a 1:50 ratio of hot to neutral, so a 1 in 50 chance they are hot for me. So let's do the math. There is a 1:50 chance I'm hot for someone and they in turn have a 1:50 chance of being hot for me, that means that there is a 1:2500 chance that we simultaneously are hot for each other! (Multiply 1/50 x 1/50.) Since it would take 125 days (for me) to see 2500 people (at 20 new people per day), that's about 3 people per year with whom there should be mutual chemistry. That doesn't seem too bad, really.

So here's the important thing, (going back to my friends' theory,) during that same year when I fell in love with 3 people who also fell simultaneously in love with me, there were 145 people who were hot for me without my feeling hot for them, and I will have been hot for 145 people without reciprocation! So indeed, you need to go through about 48 heart breaks and witnessed about 48 broken hearts for every single mutually felt explosion of desire. So it makes sense that my friends feel that they are always falling for people who don't want them and vice versa. At some point in the year, the sidewalk is so strewn with broken hearts, that they finally consider just staying inside. But without going out there and shaking hands with 20 new faces per day, they will never be privy to those those 3 instances of fireworks. So really, my friends don't have any deep psychological masochism that keeps them from loving. It's just that they see so much unrequited attraction that it seems like it's always that way.

*Alternate Variables:

There appears to be a few circumstances that could mush up the numbers a bit. Going back to the original assumption, (which for the sake of logical purity I ought not tamper with, but let's have a go anyway,) the 1:50, hot:neutral ratio suggests that people are not influenced by the other person's either interest, or lack of interest. It assumes that we are like participants in a hot or not game on the internet, looking at still photos and just voting yea or nae. On the other hand, if it is even remotely true that we are influenced by the way a person responds to us or any other mitigating circumstances, then it begins to change the numbers.

Consider a few scenarios:
a) You cross paths with a person in town now and then. Nothing really strikes you about him/her except a general plainness. He/she just blends in. You note a couple of things about his/her hair and clothes, but nothing striking. Then one day you are in the library, browsing the fiction section, and you notice through the stacks that the person is sitting at a table talking to a friend. You listen in a bit and catch a few words of the conversation and it's clear that they're close friends and they speak to each other with an obvious familiarity and trust. You can hear it in the way they talk. There's something about the tone of voice that shocks you, surprises you. You have a feeling of familiarity but there's also a strangeness that makes you want to hear more, and you are pierced with attraction to this person who had for months just been another face on the street. Was it possibly this particular context, the chance eavesdropping of this person at their most relaxed and open caused this sudden awakening? Was it the mood you were in, the particular conversation you over heard? Did you project yourself into the seat of the close friend and imagine a deep closeness to the person because you were witnessing them expressing closeness?

So what scenario a) shows is that a person who is initially one of the 49 neutral persons can slip into the 1 hot-slot if the setting is right. In this case, barriers of trust were be bridged vicariously, or through the eyes of someone else. This is not unlike being introduced to someone through a mutual friend. This sort of situation can change the numbers considerably.

b) You pop into a local bar with friends for a drink. The bartender is striking, like a film star, the current obsession of a hot shot Hollywood film maker. Too cute to believe. But it creates a distance for you because he/she looks as if he/she has no room for you in his/her sexy world. You order your drink and they seem professional and unobservant, almost on guard, being as he/she is, so appealing to so many people. You imagine his/her life as a long string of admirers peppered with the occasional tumult with a lead singer from a hot band from Brooklyn. One afternoon you pop into the bar to make change for the parking meter and the person is sitting at the bar, browsing the classifieds. He/she looks up at you and seems taken aback by you, at once involved in his/her own reading, now suddenly inviting you into it. You talk and they ask lots of questions. They project a strong interest in your point of view, asking you to elaborate and carefully considering what you've said. His/her sustained gaze and a couple of sideways smiles make it clear that you have made a strong impression. You talk for a few minutes more and leave, then spend the rest of the day contemplating your next move. The beginning of something?

What scenario b) shows is that if you discover that someone likes you, it could increase the likelihood that you will like them too, especially if they seem like they are hot to other people. This would dramatically alter the numbers.

c) You are appalled by the jibber-jabber coming out of the mouth of the person who just moved in next door. Last night he/she was on the porch, drinking beer and talking incessantly about his/her new favorite album, a ridiculous pop number from the 80's, then his/her step mother's hair do, then about a theory on what makes for the best ice cream flavors. The next morning, you're throwing some egg shells into the compost bin in the yard, when you notice he/she's in his/her yard. Introductions are forced on you, but you keep a cool distance, having already decided he/she is annoying. But he/she is intent on talking. At first you keep making a move to leave, but unfazed he/she keeps talking, telling a story about a ceramic pot in the shape of a puppy they dig up while tilling a garden. Eventually the punchline is reached, and unexpectedly you burst out laughing, and suddenly this person with whom you wanted nothing to do, seems the most appealing, lively, sensual person you can think of. You're hooked, kid!

So scenario c) shows that our first impression can be 100% bunk, and given a chance, any person could potentially win you over. This makes it essentially impossible to run the numbers.

Reconsidering this formula in lieu of the subsequent real-life-ish scenarios demonstrates that no one knows what the hell is going on. There is really no pattern, no order to anything at all. You will triumph, and you will fall, and you will never understand why. So best of luck to you!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Nutritional Levels in Organics

This is a good article on about this study recently released about the nutritional value of Organic foods. Here's the response I posted on

"No question, the issue of labeling products "Organic" has its flaws. The now ubiquitous label has the power to add value, and potentially profits, to anything it is attached to, and so it can be exploited. Many folks who buy organic products have forgotten, or never fully understood why they choose Organic. The problem with the study cited in this article, (which has received considerable press,) is that it seizes on the uncertainties surrounding the issue of Organics, and re-frames the issue around nutrition, which is not, nor ever was the point of "Organic." The notion of "Organic" is to promote food systems, and in general systems of production, that don't create harmful materials as a byproduct and put them out into the environment, and don't put harmful products out into the market and ultimately into humans- to create systems that are sustainable rather than detrimental. If it turned out that heirloom tomatoes grown in compost had slightly higher levels of Vitamin C, that would be nice, but this is not the goal. If the results of this study were authored in good faith, it would have presented the results as the interesting side note that they are. But instead, it implicitly (and perhaps explicitly) suggests that it is blowing the cover off Organics, when it isn't."