Lesson #350: The Science of Introversion

I am an introvert. It’s something that I struggled with a lot in college; I spent four years pretending to be an extrovert with quite a lot of success. To this day, I’m not sure how I pulled off that long con without driving myself absolutely mental. And though I’d argue that I’m an extroverted introvert, in that I love meeting new people and will talk to anyone — something I inherited from my father and grandfather — I’m still an introvert. Which brings us to how we got here.

Yesterday, some friends and I went and watched our local MLS team. And it was brilliant! I had a great time and made friends with the ultras* and made even more friends at the bar afterwards. But it was all aboard the struggle bus this morning for the Spurs match. Two straight days of intense socialization without any time (I got in at 2 and was at the pub at 10:30) to decompress is bad news björnar. I know I’m in trouble when watching my football club with my friends is a struggle. And an offhand comment by one of my friends about thriving on all of that socialization made me wonder about the science of it. After all, there has to be a reason for why, having done exactly the same thing as I did from 2pm yesterday until 2pm today (assuming he slept and showered between the time I dropped him off last night and the time he got to the pub), he was reveling and I desperately wanted quiet.

The answer is actually pretty simple. The reason my friend was basking in the crush and noise and I just wanted to punch another member of the club who I normally like in the mouth so he’d stop cheering so loudly for our team comes down to the way our brains take in, filter, and process what’s going on around us. Science says that introverts’ brains process external stimuli more quickly than extroverts’, which leads us to become overwhelmed well before our extroverted friends.

io9 has a pretty good breakdown of other scientific studies that you can read here.

This is my favourite ever explanation of how to deal with my fellow introverts.

*who didn’t set anything on fire. I have absolutely no idea how to deal with ultras when they’re not setting things on fire.


My job is in its absolute crunch time right now. It’ll all be calm again in about a week, but right now, I’m working 10 hour days and want nothing more than to sleep when I get home. So until I’m not working 50-60 hours/week, there will be no new posts. Or, if there are posts, they’ll be short little bits of whatever random thing I happen to have picked up in the course of my day. That said, I’m off tomorrow (this is being written from the office!), and have no plans for after the match and a couple of ideas, so I may get something up tomorrow. But in case I don’t, bear with me just a bit longer, yeah?

As an aside, I’ve had a LOT of traffic in the last couple of months. Because apparently everyone is looking to verify whether or not dueling is actually legal in Paraguay.

Lesson #349: Wagnerian Singers

One of my friends brought his new girlfriend out to the pub for the match today. She’s freaking awesome! She admits to knowing nothing at all about football, but was game to come and socialize and meet his friends (and then game to come with us while we watched my team play his team in hockey). But what makes her awesome is that it turns out that she’s an opera singer, studying for her MFA. So we were talking about opera while my friend stood there and stared at me before asking “how are you so into football and also this into astrophysics* and opera? You shouldn’t exist!”

She and I quickly moved from opera itself to the music and theory of opera. When the discussion moved to Wagner (who, if you’ve been reading for a while, you know I love) and she told me that she can’t do Wagner, which sounded absurd to me until she said that in her class, there’s only one Wagnerian singer. It turns out, and this makes perfect sense, because Wagner vastly expanded the orchestra for his operas, singers have to be able to project over all those added instruments, and the percentage of people who have that ability is not very big, even in the opera community. So the complexity of his music, which is the thing I like most about Wagner, is also the thing that makes his music hardest to sing.

In other news, Englebert Humperdinck was an actual person (other than the pop singer whose name is not actually Englebert Humperdinck)…he composed Hansel and Gretel, which my friend’s girlfriend is performing in next month.

FYI: As a point of personal pride, because it was the derby, some friends and I took it upon ourselves to change the Arsenal supporters club’s (which is literally 25m from ours) sign to read “[Neighbourhood redacted] is Arsenal Red” to “[Neighbourhood redacted] is Lilywhite.” It was a vast improvement in our opinions, but the Gooners were nowhere near as amused with our changes as we were. Because Gooners take themselves way too seriously.

*The reason he and I have gotten to be such fast friends is our mutual love of space.

Lesson #348: Simon Magus and Goethe’s Faust

As you may have picked up at some point (possibly because I expressly said it), many of my problems with religion lie in the idea that you’re supposed to believe a whole slew of things for which there is absolutely no historical evidence. But sometimes, there is evidence, which is why, whatever trouble I may have with faith, I have never fully abandoned religion as a subject to learn.

I’m sure you’re all familiar with Goethe’s story Faust (and if you’re not, I’d ask what library-less island you’ve been living on your whole life) at least enough to understand that it’s a story of a man who sells his soul to the devil in exchange for worldly riches.*

Here’s an interesting note: the character of Faust is based on Simon Magus, who apparently referred to himself as Faustus (the favoured one). Here’s a more interesting note if you’ve been following this blog at all: Simon Magus is the man for whom simony is named.

Biblically, Simon shows up in the eighth chapter of Acts. He’s portrayed as a wizard (okay, a sorcerer, but that makes me think of Mickey Mouse and sentient brooms) who has fooled people into believing in his power. He follows Philip around for a bit before running into Peter and John in Samaria and attempting to buy aspostle-ship.** For their part, those two chastise Simon rather severely before heading back to Jerusalem.

Here’s the thing…Simon is not a one-off Biblical character who shows up in order to act out some sort of morality play. He’s kind of everywhere and kind of a big deal. Irenaeus (whom I know best from a grad school paper I wrote on the canonical portrayal of Judas Iscariot in the early Church), Hippolytus, and our friend Epiphanius (last seen discrediting the position of the desposyni), among others, all discuss Simon as a heretic. ***

In Against Heresies, Irenaeus suggests that after his failed purchase, Simon made a bit of a habit of presenting himself as God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in different places throughout the Near East and Rome (which I’m sure went over spectacularly). He notes, in Book I, Chapter 23, section 2, that Simon is the one “from whom all the heresies took their origin.” Simon hung out with a prostitute from Tyre called Helen, whom he claimed — as God, one expects — was the first creation of his mind and it was she who created the world.  In a fun twist I didn’t see coming, Irenaeus explicitly says of Helen that she transmigrated between bodies including occupying, for a time, “Helen, on whose account the Trojan War arose.”****

This is not the only reference to Simon’s Helen and Menelaeus/Paris’ Helen being one and the same. Tertullianus says in De Anima that, “she became also that Helen who proved so fatal to Priam.” (see Section II, point iv. of the G. R. S. Mead’s essay, “Simon Magus: An Essay on the Founder of Simonianism Based on the Ancient Sources”, below)

Fun fact while we’re on the subject, more or less, of Simon’s delusions of godliness, according to Justinus Martyr’s Apologia, he went to Rome in the time of Claudius (who was the fourth Emperor of the Roman Empire and ruled between 41 and 54 BCE and whose name I can never hear without thinking “Mom, tell me more about Livia.” “She killed everybody off so her son Tiberius could inherit the throne. Just like Nixon.”) and was so convincing at being a God, the nebulous “they” erected a statue to him.

Anyway, on to Hippolytus. Hippolytus presents something of a rant against Simon Magus in Refutatio Omnium Haeresium. It’s a very philosophical rant on why Simon isn’g God, but it’s very “modern academic” in its approach, which amuses me. It’s a very well-structured argument, but it reads like a graduate paper. Hippolytus goes on at length about the metaphysical error in Simon’s understanding of God (and to some degree the tautological errors inherent in the magic). (see section II, point v. of the essay)

Epiphanius’ Contra Hæreses identifies Simon’s birthplace for us, Gittha. I don’t, however, seem to be able to find any record for where that was on a map apart from Samaria, which is like saying that a town is in Alberta and leaving it to you to figure out where, exactly. It turns out, though, that with a bit of digging I was able to find out that Gittha (or Gitta) was not popular among the orthodox Jews because it was a hotbed for healers and magicians.***** Anyway, to Epiphanius’ credit he mentioned that Gittha was a city during Simon’s time, but says that it “still exists as a village today”, which would have been sometime in the early to mid 4th century. The problem, if you can call it that, with Epiphanius’ accounts of Simon is that by the time he was writing, a whole slew of scholars had gone before him and he was essentially retelling their work for a newer audience.

All of the passages I’ve noted can be read in this excellent essay. Also, see Klauck’s Magic and Paganism in Early Christianity: The World of the Acts of the Apostles. Read basic background on Simon here.

*I’d encourage you to read it.

**Or at the very least the “ability” to impart the Holy Spirit to converts. Although what kept him from doing it without sanction, I don’t know.

***Simon also appears in the Apocryphal texts Acts of Peter and Epistle of the Apostles, which portray him as a sorcerer with the ability to levitate and fly. That’s really more Harry Potter than historical source, so there will be no discussion here

****This is also in Book 1, Chapter 23, section 2. See Section II, point ii. of the essay.

*****That link  has an interesting take on the attitude of the early Christian writers towards our mischievous friend, Simon, including that while none of the writers denied that any of the miracles he was performing were things that happened, they were pretty adamant that because these things could only be done through Jesus Christ, Simon was clearly a heretic. Solid, if imperfect, logic.  This position, incidentally, is supported by Klauck’s work.

Lesson #347: The Morning Star

Sorry for the delay. I was back in my homeland for a bit to deal with some family stuff this past week. It took precedence over lessons, but I’ve got something good lined up if I can ever get to the research. I’m aiming to have it up Wednesday evening.

Moving on…

When I drive back from the major Canadian city where my family live to the city in the Midatlantic where I live, I leave early — like 4 or 5 — in the morning. I do this for a number of reasons: 1. the sooner I go, the sooner I get home, 2. to beat the morning rush through the city, 3. to avoid all rush hours across the drive, 4. I love night driving, and 5. I really like that early morning light right after the sun has risen where everything is sort of pale. I don’t see it often and usually when I do, I don’t appreciate it (usually because it means I’m out of bed far earlier than I’d like to be), but when I’m driving and I get to see it…it’s one of my favourite things.

Also on my list of favourite things? Space.*

Turns out that because Sunday was the start of Daylight Savings Time (hooray lighter evenings, boo dark mornings), Venus was visible in the sky later than usual, so I got a really good view of Venus as the morning star. It was pretty cool because I’m not normally so aware of cosmic events; I don’t often know what I should be looking for. I really only noticed because it was so obvious. Still, I think that’s pretty cool.

Really, today’s lesson is that the morning star isn’t a star at all, it’s Venus being totally unsubtle!

*Also, watch Cosmos with Neil deGrasse Tyson. He makes my brain tingle.