Posted in Philosophy

The Art Of Persuasion

Sophists were ancient Greek teachers who taught the art of persuading people. This could be for personal use, such as convincing someone to help you with something, or to influence a large group of people, such as in politics. The art of finding the best way to persuade someone is known as rhetoric.

It is interesting to see that the art of persuasion has always been an important skill for human beings since ancient times. We are social creatures with psychological biases, so knowing how to influence other people to help push your agenda forward can be critical in putting yourself one step ahead.

The famous Greek philosopher, Aristotle, wrote a clear, defining treatise of rhetoric in his book, simply titled Rhetoric, or Ars Rhetorica in Latin. In this book, he summarised the core of rhetoric as three principles: logos, pathos and ethos. Any good orator should be able to rely on all three of these to persuade their audience.

Logos is the appeal to logical reasoning. It is the rational, factual facet of your argument.
Pathos is the appeal to your audience’s emotion. It is the passionate, heartfelt way you present your argument.
Ethos is the appeal to your character. It is an establishment of why people should believe what you have to say, based on your moral character and history.

Out of all of these, which is most important? Some say logos is most important, because cold, hard facts should be used to determine the resolution of a debate. Some feel pathos is most important, because people are more likely to be swayed by emotion and passion as we have a tendency to be influenced too much by our monkey brain.

However, Aristotle claimed that the most important principle is ethos. You can make up facts and you can put on a performance to abuse the power of emotions. But ethos is hard to obtain: you have to live life nobly and honourably, guided by a moral compass. People have a tendency to trust the words of a virtuous person much more than someone who has a history of lying, cheating and in general, morally bankrupt.

Simply put, the secret to being persuasive is not the words you speak or the impassioned way that you deliver them, but your credibility.

Posted in History & Literature


Factoids are commonly known as trivial tidbits of knowledge and fact. This is actually incorrect. Factoids actually mean pieces of false information that have circulated and become popular to the point that they are accepted as facts. This makes factoids ironic in the sense that the definition of a factoid itself, is a factoid.

Here are several examples of common factoids.

Vikings wore horns on their helmets”. 

There is no evidence of this ever happening and all Viking helmets found in archaeology are hornless. It is likely a myth originating from dramatisation of the Vikings in opera.

“Medieval people thought the Earth was flat”.

It has been common knowledge that the Earth is spherical even since ancient Greek times. Greek astronomer Eratosthenes even calculated the Earth’s circumference to within 5-15% error margin of the actual circumference in 240BC.

“Napoleon Bonaparte was short”.

Napoleon’s height was recorded as 5 feet 2 inches, but this is in fact French feet. This converts to 5 feet 7 inches, which is taller than the average height for French males at the time.

“The low life expectancy in the Middle Ages meant people usually died around their 30’s”. 

The low life expectancy of the past was mostly due to the high infant mortality, meaning people who survived into adulthood lived much longer, fuller lives.

“You need to drink eight glasses of water to stay healthy”. 

There is no agreed upon amount of water a person should drink in medical literature. The current consensus is that drinking water when you feel thirsty is fully sufficient to avoid dehydration.

“Carrots help you see in the dark”.

Vitamin A is indeed used by the body to synthesise chemicals used in vision, but having more does not improve your vision. This was a myth propagated by Great Britain during World War 2 to mask the fact that they were using radar for accurate nighttime bombings.

“Evolution is a theory, meaning there is insufficient evidence to confirm it”. 

This is a complete misunderstanding shared by many people against evolution. The word “theory” in science means a concept or set of principles that best explains an observed phenomena, not a hunch as it is often used in common English. For example, gravity is a theory, as well as germ theory (that microorganisms cause infectious diseases).

“Chameleons can change the colour of their skin to match their surroundings”.

Chameleon’s skin colours change based on their mood, not the colour of their surroundings. Cuttlefish, on the other hand, can perfectly mimic and blend in to their surrounding environment.

“Adding oil when boiling pasta stops sticking”.

The oil floats to the top and does nothing to prevent sticking. Adding oil after draining the water will help.

“Searing meat seals in the juices”.

Searing can actually make meat drier on average. It does, however, add more flavour by adding a brown crust due to the Maillard reaction.

Posted in Psychology & Medicine

Mind Reading

Here are ten facts about you:

       1. You are reading this right now.
       2. You are thinking that is a stupid fact.
       4. You did not notice I skipped 3.
       5. You are checking now.
       6. You are smiling.
       7. You are still reading this even though it is stupid.
       9. You did not realise I skipped 8.
       10. You are checking again and smiling about how you fell for it again.
       11. You are enjoying this.
       12. You did not realise we have passed number 10.

    Posted in History & Literature


    Dokdo is a small island in the East Sea off the coast of Korea, lying at 131°52´East longitude and about 37°14´North latitude. It literally means “solitary island” in Korean due to its rocky, isolated nature. The island is actually in two parts: West Island and East Island, which are connected by an underground rock formation. 
    The island has been Korean territory for two millennia, with records going back as far as the 4th century showing that fishers from Ulleungdo (a much larger island also in the East Sea) documented the existence of the island and fished around the area. The island is also visible from Ulleungdo on a clear day so it would have been easily spotted and recorded.

    Despite the incontestable evidence, in the last few decades Japan has been arguing that Dokdo is Japanese territory. The Japanese government denies the current evidence and claims that all evidence is faked. However, the claims made by Japan are extremely obtuse and bearing on childish. There are many reasons they seek control over Dokdo, such as the rich fishing area around it, the abundant hydrocarbon reserve underneath it and also rearing the ugly head of colonialism.

    Almost all historical records and maps up to the 19th century clearly indicate the island as “Korean territory”. For example, in Map of Three Adjoining countries by Hayashi Shihei, a Japanese scholar and cartographer, shows the land in the Far east divided in to colours: yellow for Joseon (Korea) and green for Japan. It is one of the earliest complete maps of Japan. Here, the islands east of Korea, including a large island clearly marked “Ulleungdo” and many surrounding small islands, are all marked yellow and labelled “Korean territories”. There are also records of the Shogunate querying the Tottori clan (who controlled the Shimane prefecture at the time) whether Dokdo and Ulleungdo were Japanese islands, to which the Tottori reply “No, those islands have never been under Japanese rule”. Finally, legal documents by the Japanese National Land Registry in 1877 state that Ulleungdo and Dokdo are not under Japanese rule.

    Things became complicated in the early 20th century with the Japanese invasion of Korea. Starting from this period, Japanese maps began marking Dokdo (and Korea and Taiwan and all other colonies) as “Japanese territory” after invading each land. But after their defeat in World War II, Japan was forced to return all land that they stole in the war as ordered by the Treaty of San Francisco. This treaty outlined what the new definition for “Japan” would be by drawing their border again. This treaty states that “Japan is defined to include the four main islands of Japan and the approximately 1,000 smaller adjacent islands, including the Tsushima Islands and the Ryukyu (Nansei) Islands north of 30° North Latitude (excluding Kuchinoshima Island); and excluding (a) Utsuryo (Ulleung) Island, Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo) and Kuelpart (Jeju) Island…”.
    After the Korean War, the UN set a zone called the Korean Air Defence Identification Zone (KADIZ) to mark the areas to be protected by the air force. The KADIZ also includes Dokdo in its boundaries.

    There are hundreds of pieces of evidence that support the rightful ownership of Dokdo as Korean land, yet Japan continues to argue in an attempt to bring back its old habits of colonialism. It is sad to think that after the Colonialism times and the Pacific War, where so many innocent people were sacrificed to fill the greed of a corrupt country, Japan has not learnt a single lesson.

    In short, the controversy around Dokdo is essentially the same as someone claiming that your finger belongs to them and arguing that you should go to court to prove that you own it. 

    Posted in Science & Nature


    Why are manholes round?

    The reason is that a square or rectangle has a diagonal greater in length than a side, so it can fall through if misplaced. A circle has equal lengths at any angle and is perfectly symmetrical, thus will never fall through.