Apples, oranges and human brains


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Pattern recognition

If you want a computer to be able and recognize a photo of an apple or an orange you need to feed it with tons of pictures that it will analyze. After this training process, the computer will be able to tell you if a photo contains an orange or an apple. But if you give it a photo of a mellon it will either mistake it for an orange or not recognize it at all.

On the other hand, it takes humans just one image or even a drawing of a typical apple and orange in order to be able to identify apples and oranges. The training required for a human brain to recognize the pattern of an orange, apple, or any other object for that matter is really minimal. Sometimes you don’t even need the visual stimuli but only a verbal description of the object can be enough to train your brain to identify those objects.

Our minds need to perform a ton of processes each day and therefore this ability to recognize patterns so easily with minimal training is really useful. Imagine having to see all those photos fed to the computer in order to identify objects! We would be dead by the time we finished training! We use this pattern recognition every day, every minute of our lives. But it’s not always producing the best results.

The labels

A few weeks ago I posted a text about newcomers and low-level dancers and how the behavior of advanced dancers towards them can affect their development. In that post, I received a very interesting and honest comment from a friend (a young female dancer) describing how she has the impression that a young female beginner will have many more chances to get danced than an older one and she also pointed out that there were quite a few old male dancers who offered to play the role of the “Tango daddy” who would educate and help her in her first tango steps. The term was obviously used with a negative connotation.

In my recent post about men, sex, and Tango a friend commented that I am a dreamer and that “You cannot change pigs”. She was obviously referring to the men who see tango as a place for getting sex and behave inappropriately in milongas. The term pigs however is very often used to refer to men as being animals of a lesser value. You probably have heard the expression “All men are pigs”.

In that same post, people commented that I did not mention that there are women who are also sexual predators and use tango to find sex as well. Some people also mentioned personal examples of women falsely accusing men of harassment. You probably have heard again the “lying bitch” stereotype or the “cougar” one.

The danger of false positives

So let’s say that all these labels are fruits like the orange, the apple, etc. How much training does your brain need in order to recognize them? Minimal. Even a verbal description can be enough. But how would this pattern recognition work in your brain? Is it enough for someone to tell you that oranges are orange and apples are red? What if you come across a green apple? Probably not… At least not with certainty!

This is what happens with stereotypes. Our brains have either a description or even an experience of a specific person. This person has a number of obvious characteristics. Their nationality, job, sex, age, etc., and their character which is far more complex and also can be different depending on the environment. The pattern recognition engine in our head tries to find matches between those obvious characteristics that you can easily see and match them with behaviors so that we can understand the character of a person. So as soon as we see an old man dancing with young ladies we can infer the Tango daddy stereotype and put the label on him. As soon as we see a woman dancing in a more sensual way we will put the sex predator label on her. It is so natural that our brains do this without even thinking.

Challenging stereotypes

In my post about men, sex, and Tango, some people commented that I was perpetuating the stereotype of sexual predator men who use tango to get sex and that I should also have mentioned the women who exhibit similar behavior. I was really surprised by this counterargument. So…. it wasn’t fair to write only about the men’s stereotype because there are also women who are exhibiting the same behavior. Really? So the answer to a stereotype is another stereotype? For what reason? Does the stereotype of sexual predator women justify in any way the one of men? What if I mentioned it in the post? Would that make the stereotype of men less harmful, lighter, or not so important? I totally fail to follow this logic. I mean, I agree that both stereotypes exist even in minorities. Their behaviors can also be equally harmful to others. But just the mention of another stereotype is a classic case of whataboutism where someone tries to find an excuse by pointing to a different issue. The existence of sexual predator women does not justify at all the existence of sexual predator men and vice versa. They are both problems and need to be addressed.

Being in my mid-40s with a fair amount of gray hair I often realize that young women might see me in the stereotype of Tango-daddy. Of course, nobody would tell me in my face but I can sense it somehow in their behavior towards me. It is natural. In the past, I was also judged as an arrogant dancer and I was told in my face only after realizing this was false. I actually make fun of myself with friends and laugh a lot when I think how others might see me in milongas… but you know what? I don’t give a shit! I only know that my behavior is not perpetuating the stereotype and I also know very well how awkward, painful, and unfair it can be to be judged based on a stereotype you don’t belong to. The ones who perpetuate the stereotype are the ones who actually place me under it and the ones who actually embody this behavior even if they are a small minority.

One of my all-time favorite stand-up comedy performances is this of Katerina Vrana where she aspires to be the ruler of the world and imagines that it would be more or less like a kindergarten teacher. She shows what that would be like if the different countries were children in a kindergarten. Stereotypes are often wrong and unfair by definition and speaking about them, debunking them, and making fun of them are just some of the many ways we can challenge them. But the most difficult way is to avoid judgment based on them. I mean when you see a person that falls into a stereotype try avoiding the judgment. Don’t judge a book by its cover. Challenge your mind and you will see that in many cases you might be surprised. Dancing with them is a beautiful way to do this.

Tonight’s Goodnight Tango

It wasn’t easy to find a song related somehow to stereotypes but I found one whose title is actually a name that sounds like a stereotype. “Los Mareados” as far as I see in translations means “the dizzy ones” obviously referring to alcoholic or addicted people. Although the song’s hero might seem like one of them, as the lyrics explain, nobody knows why he is drinking and why is he in this state tonight. What could be the reason? What else?… A lost love!

How about you? Have you fallen victim to stereotypes? How do you react to it? Do you often judge people with stereotypes? Are you aware of it? Are you helping to perpetuate or challenge stereotypes? How do you do that? Let me know with a comment below, an email, or a PM on Facebook… oh… and if you liked it… don’t forget to share it with your friends.


7 responses to “Apples, oranges and human brains”

  1. Niki Avatar

    First of all, bravo for this big and important statement! Both they are problems and need to be adressed.
    The sins of one person (or group) do not relativize those of the other. I also know examples in which women tried to abuse Tango and men in order to have more sex in their lives.

    Tango Daddy – what a funny term! I would have guessed you were a few years younger, but I pay more attention to faces than hair colors. But there is a simple solution: Wella Koleston 4.0, for example. 😀
    But seriously, I know what you are talking about. There were dancers who wanted to put themselves in the role of my Tango Daddy without first asking me whether I agreed to the unwritten „terms of the contract“.
    I prefer to choose my teachers, mentors and inspiration myself and don’t need anyone to stand in between. In general I’m not interested in submission or dependence, especially not in a relatively unimportant area of life like Tango. Dance partners can inspire each other and give feedback, but in my case only at eye level and reciprocally. In my experience, this is the best andy quickest way to learn and develop. But unfortunately many people dream of power. And not only men, but also some women like to pretend to be „Tango Mamas“.

    Yes, I fall sometimes victim of stereotypes. For a long time I was labeled as a beginner as unfortunately happens to most beginners. In addition, I am wrongly perceived as a foreigner because of my southern appearance. Some men met me differently than ethnic German beginners. With less respect. Unfortunately, there is still racism in Germany, which can also be seen in the results of the last elections in Bayern and Hessen: the AFD is on the rise. But back to Tango. The unspoken creed of such dancers is: “Be happy that I invest my time in you and be grateful.” Of course, this is not expressed in such words, but rather communicated through behavior. Abusive community members are not of lesser value. I wouldn’t even say that animals are less valuable than humans. But they behave(!) as if Tango was their personal buffet, a kind of feeding trough for sex and power. It doesn’t happen that often, fortunately they are exceptions in the community.
    I didn’t only fall victim because of my “dance level”, my origins or appearance. Also because I behave and talk respectfully, politely and sometimes move a little insecurely in the Tango world, some people misinterpret these characteristics and behavior with weakness or defenselessness. My reaction? If someone violates my boundaries or integrity – no matter how – I send a clear signal and boycott such people completely and consistently. This is the first step and mostly the last.
    Everybody judges with stereotypes from time to time. Social psychologists can confirm this. But it’s a difference between judging people inside your mind and treating them badly. I just can say, that I have zero tolerance for intolerance or any kind of abuse. So I don’t play theatre or “perfect world” with perpetrators-types to conform to the local community for example. Keeping such individuals at a distance is in my opinion the gentlest way to deal with them. A personal decision. All other options feel unhealthy and unnatural.
    What you told me about Jordan Peterson and authenticity is right. If I do or say something what is not me, I feel something strange inside. Recently a friend of mine posted a poem by Charlie Chaplin on Facebook that fits the topic. I find it very inspiring:

    1. Christos Kouroupetroglou Avatar

      Hi Niki,
      I cant’t tell you how much I loved your comment and espcially the poem by Charlie Chaplin in the end!
      I totally agree on all of them but I think that the way you think about someone influences your attitude towards them.. how you treat them. As much as you might try to hide it, it will come out. Because in the back of your head you have the person lebeled. Sometimes it is more evident but sometimes there are signs which are more subtle and maybe we don’t get at firt glance (eg. body language).
      The problem starts with putting the label… if you do it… it is hard to change your mind afterwards. Some people do… but most… keep always this label on their mind.

  2. davidtangotribe Avatar

    Thank you, Niki, for the reference to the beautiful Charlie Chaplin poem.

    Thank you, Christos, for the useful observations.

  3. Andreas Maier Avatar
    Andreas Maier

    So bravo for this post. But let’s set one thing clear. The process for AI to understand what an object is is called pattern recognition. It doesn’t need a million images as claimed but only 1 3d image. The process we humans use is called immersive learning. We see 3d images and color plus a olé to tide of other factors that play a role. It’s simply not as simple as 1-2-3 🙂
    As to Tango Mamas and Dadies 🙂 you’ll find them in all types of dances … they are called differently. You can’t avoid sexuality in vertical that is implied in horizontality. Or even the desires for those. And yes, some male o females do not know how to go about it. This is part of all dance communities… like it or not.
    Now. You can condemn me on this… dance is a part of our genes since ancient times… there is nothing wrong about emotions and sexuality in dances. 🙂 keep smiling – and dancing!

    1. Christos Kouroupetroglou Avatar

      I totally agree that there is nothing wrong with expressing sensuality or sexuality on the dance floor. It’s part of the game and sometimes it is even desirable. What I don’t like is to take this off the dance floor. Some people might like or want a bit of flirting but some others will have limits that we need to respect. We need to know when and where to stop and we shouldn’t jugde based on what happens on the dancefloor.
      What happens on the dance floor stays on the dance floor. Right?
      As for the pattern recognition and how it works on machines and humans was obviously oversimplified but the point is that our pattern recognition often fails (for many reasons) when it comes to identifying characters in people.

  4. Niki Avatar

    Sorry for my late response. I thought, I would get updates to this post, but I forgot to activate this option.

    @Christo Hi and thank you for your interesting feedback. Well, which came first, the chicken or the egg? Nobody knows. But I’m convinced that my attitude is not an action out of nowhere, it’s a reaction. I’m thinking about your hint. But as long as I observe and think carefully before I evaluate (situations or people), my conscience is clear. And even my assessment would not be correct in every single case. So what? There are almost 8 billion other potential friends in the world and my time is limited. If someone attacks my interests, one time…two times or – if I am stupid enough to allow him – even three times, I lose my interest to connect with him closer or to wait until his „better“ side rises. Why should I invest my time or energy or even risk my well-being? I’m not harming or excluding anyone neither in Tango nor out there. Nevertheless I just want to survive like everybody does and I’m more successful in this discipline in accompany with people which I evaluate as „nice“ or „reliable“. Apropos surving, I suppose that thinking in stereotypes is not a decision but just a necessary instrument to survive. Like an instinct. In nature it’s important to identify and devide enemies from friends quickly. Maybe this is the reason why people sometimes think in these simplified categories, despite their ability to think complexly and abstractly. Just as an idea.

    @David My pleasure!

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