Thursday, 30 June 2016

Go Towards

The other night, after she burst into a hard-to-explain screaming tantrum, I ended up sequestering my four-year-old in her room. For reasons I won't go into at great length, I don't leave her in there by herself but rather join her in her room on occasions like this and listen to her screaming and take the occasional punch or kick.

She wanted out of the room, she wanted to go see her other parent. That wasn't going to happen because the whole reason that I stepped in was that she her level of screaming had become temporarily intolerable to said parent. So I stood in front of the door, being pushed and kicked, thinking about whether there was anything I could do to deescalate this.

After things calmed down a bit and she was sitting on my lap talking to me about what happened, she still occasionally turned her body towards the door to her room in a half-hearted lunge. At this moment it occurred to me what she was doing. She wanted a thing, so she was moving her body in a straight line towards that thing.

To get out of the room she needed to do a few things. She needed to stop hitting and kicking. She needed to stop screaming. She needed to talk to me about what happened and how she ended up so upset. But she didn't want to do those things, she wanted to move physically closer to the thing she wanted until she was upon it. All that other thinking and planning stuff was running contrary to the most basic common sense: Go Towards.

There's a game that they played with monkeys where they show monkeys two numbers and have them pick one. They then got a number of candies equal to the other number. Monkeys are smart enough to figure this out. But when you present them with two plates of actual candy and the game works the same way, they just keep picking the bigger plate and getting the smaller one. With abstract thinking they can set aside their impulse for more, but when real candy is actually in front of them it's just too much to handle.

Something that often amazes me about people is that everyone has encountered numerous conflicts that were caused by misunderstandings, but when we get upset at someone, we don't immediately think "I should check if this is a misunderstanding." Shouldn't we have been conditioned to think that by our experiences by the time we are adults?

It takes effort to consider an alternative to the shortest distance between you and the thing your emotions are urging you towards. Emotions are decisions you have already made and require second guessing.

All of this came to mind while reading a couple of consecutive posts on Bright Cape about not overreacting to violent deaths: Everything is Fine, Precise Demands. In particular, the comment on the second one about how maybe that's a much harder thing to do than the posts imply.

In my multi-year quest to figure out what it is about me that makes me different from other people, Sky is a useful resource because whatever it is about me, it's probably about him too. That's not to say we're altogether similar, you'll notice a lot less posts on his blog about being depressed. But just like one person with autism might be depressed and another will not, having a similar neurological structure doesn't manages to say a lot about someone while leaving a whole bunch unsaid.

So when I describe "hearing voices" and Sky describes having two personalities, I see a big parallel there. Neither of us integrate emotions with rational thought. We are able to say, "Now now, emotions, you go over there and let us think." Well, we can do that at least as well as a person can tell a young child to leave them alone while they work. That is, it's not that it works every time, but it's that we having the emotions segregated form the rationality in the first place.

I'm not sure non-integrated emotions is an essential description of their difference, or if it is just a symptom that occurs from it. What I am fairly sure of is that the way my mind-architecture is set up makes it very easy for me to sideline the Going Towards impulses in favour of reasoned decisions. The big question for me is whether this is such an extreme difference that is constitutes a different kind of relationship with emotions rather than a different place on the spectrum, and whether I have any idea what it is like for a normie to try to behave based on conscious thought when they are experiencing powerful emotions.

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Emotional Narrative

Last Time on Humbabella's Gamery:
Sometimes that makes me feel angry or sad, and my emotional narrative is well summarized by this tweet...
When I google "emotional narrative" I get tips on writing emotionally charged scenes, one particular person's idea of "emotional narrative psychology" that doesn't seem to be backed up by other literature, and some stuff about the history of emotions. The term, as coined by me, means the narrative that your emotions have to justify themselves.

That's not the narrative that you have to justify your emotions, so if you are one of those people who identifies with your emotions or integrates your emotions as a part of your "self" then you simply don't have emotional narratives in the way I'm talking about.

This fits into my self-concept as a person who hears voices. I don't know if I've mentioned that before. First of all, I do literally sometimes hear voices in my head, though this often happens when I'm tired so they might be microdreams. But I don't restrict voices to actual voices anyway. Sometimes it's more like I am seeing movies in my head.

There's the voice who screams things like, "It's fucked!" There's the voice that plays me movies of my children dying. There's the voice that counts and starts sentences with, "Let's think about...". And there's the voice that rambles on about things that don't even concern me.

I recently applied for a job and had an interview. For days after the interview I was pretty stressed about it. In fact, when I think about things I said in the interview now it makes me feel a little nauseous. The person who is married to me could tell I wasn't feeling well and asked me if something was wrong. The words that were primed in my mind were, "I wish I hadn't applied for that job."

But was that true? I'm not exactly happy that I applied for the job, and having applied for it was definitely causing me distress, but would I actually prefer the world where I didn't apply? I'm not sure I would. I might even say I probably wouldn't.

So that's what I mean by an emotional narrative. I had an emotion that wished I hadn't applied for the job and it was ready to feed me lines, but I don't really think that emotion speaks for me. It's just like having an emotion that you want to do something violent but then restraining yourself because violence is bad. Except you regard that emotion as a sort of thing that you have to live next to rather than a part of yourself and it is telling you stories instead of impelling physical action.

I don't know how relatable this idea of emotional narratives is, whether it might be better to call them "the narratives my emotions provide me" for clarity, and how much it depends on my voice-hearer status. At least twice, though, it's been useful to me as a way to separate emotion-justifying nonsense from real thought about something.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Observing Tragedy

Warning: This post contains apparent grotesque callousness towards victims of violence

This morning, as the elevator doors were closing, someone hurried towards them. Someone close to the door saw them and put a hand in the way. Then, after the approaching person entered we heard that voice saying, "Please stand clear, doors are closing" and beeping as the doors slowly shut. That last person who got on the elevator said, "Sorry, that's my fault."

My gut reaction was to say, "No it's not, we're all equally to blame." In my building it seems normal that you try to make it through a closing elevator door. It's also normal that if someone is coming you hold the door for them. I have every reason to suspect that all of us would be a door rusher and a door holder in the same circumstances as the person who boarded last and the person who held the door. It's not our doing or within our control that we arrive as an elevator opens its doors or as the doors are starting to close, so any one of us could equally have been the person who held the doors open.

This assigning blame by examining possible universes thing isn't really something I thought other people would understand without explanation, and odds are slim anyone wants a lecture on ethics and blameworthiness in the elevator in the morning, so I didn't say anything. I'm sure the person didn't really feel that bad about holding up the elevator for us anyway.

But I don't need lengthy explanations to come to conclusions like our shared blame over holding up an elevator door. It's my instinct that we are all equally to blame, the thinking about why that is and justifying it comes after the fact.

Which is true: that I survived my trip to work today or that while I did survive I also died but with slim enough probability that it doesn't make much of a functional difference? Since the event has passed, I think the former is probably truer in an ordinary sense of the word "true" but I also think that the ordinary sense in which we use the word "true" leads to a lot of mistakes. My instinctual preference for the latter is validated, I think, by the fact that process and probability based thinking leads to better decisions than outcome based thinking.

When something like the Orlando shooting happens, I carry on with my day. But I carry on with my day somewhat distressed by the reactions of other people. Sometimes that makes me feel angry or sad, and my emotional narrative is well summarized by this tweet:
Other times, though, it just makes me feel alienated, like everyone else is part of some common delusion that I can see from the outside but I can't buy into. While the news and the politicians and the people at work get upset about the 49 people killed at Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 12, I just sit there wondering why they weren't equally upset about the 49 people killed at Pulse nightclub in Orlando on June 11.

Most likely, from the perspective of nearly everyone in the world, that question makes me seem as absurd as it makes you all seem to me. From your perspective it seems like I'm saying that you should be as upset about imaginary things as real things. From my perspective it seems like you are all upset about the date and time it happened rather than the actual event. Like June 22 you just wishes that the shooting could happen on June 23 instead of June 12 so you wouldn't have to worry about it.

Forty-nine people are dead because of an incident that occurred on June 12. Those people aren't around to talk to enjoy or to suffer through their lives, to interact with the people who loved them, or to pay public transit fare. And everything that is wrong with the world that makes this kind of thing happen is exactly as wrong today as it was on June 11.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Final Fantasy X

I think the question I get asked the most is, well I dunno know, it happens a lot, enough that I would remark on it - a lot of people come up to me and they say "What is the best Final Fantasy of all time?"

You know, I would have told you Final Fantasy VI, and I might have said Final Fantasy Tactics.

But let's take a trip back to early 2002. Final Fantasy X had come out for the Christmas season. Playing every Final Fantasy game was sort of a thing that I did back then. To be honest I didn't have all that much money and I'm not quite sure how I afforded that PlayStation 2, but I bought it just to play that game.

I was in my last term of university and I had three courses: a third year logic course, a fourth-year seminar course on ontology and a third year ethics course. Well, during reading week I had to go and talk to all of my professors to ask them whether I had missed any midterms since I hadn't yet gone to class. The seminar course only had six students in it, counting me. The professor had assumed I had dropped it.

I wasn't exactly in the mood for school back then, and there were plenty of reasons I might have skipped a month and a half of classes, but now that I'm playing Final Fantasy X Remastered - it having come out on Steam recently - I'm reevaluating how much of a factor the game was. I bought FFX last week and I've already called in sick once since. I feel like I need a few hundred hours to just sit down and be with the game. I don't want to work or spend time with anyone or do anything.

Maybe it's for the best that they never used this combat system again.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

An Unlikely Conversation

A: The idea of trans women using women's bathrooms makes me feel uncomfortable.

B: I'm sorry to hear you have feelings that are unpleasant for you.

A: I know that if we are objective there is no sense in putting my feelings ahead of someone else's, but I still don't like feeling that way.

B: Do you know why you feel badly about it? What comes to mind when you think about the idea.

A: I mean, I guess I imagine men lying to perv out on women.

B: Have you ever met any trans women? Perhaps if you knew some personally then instead of your brain conjuring imaginary creeps you'd think of actual people you knew and it would be obvious that the women's bathroom was the place for them.

A: That might work, but I don't know any trans women. Or at least if I do I don't know that they are trans.

B: I know a trans woman who might be willing to talk to you about her experiences, if you'd like that.

A: Really? It seems like a lot to ask someone - to out herself to a stranger just to try to make the stranger feel more comfortable.

B: Well, the woman I'm thinking of in particular is pretty open, and I think increasing understanding helps everyone.

A: That would be great. If I could get over these feelings I have about trans women then I would be better off.

B: And of course if you have feelings that are uncomfortable to you, you might want to try therapy. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has a proven track record of helping people get over emotions they don't want.

A: I have misgivings about going to therapy because it's not something that my friends and family really do. I feel like I would have to hide it or I'd end up being very vulnerable around them. Plus my understand is that it can be quite expensive.

B: Well, there are inexpensive and free options, though they aren't as easy to access. As for your feelings about the reaction of your friends and family, I guess ultimately you have to make that decision for yourself.

Feminists, trans-rights activists, anti-racism activists and lots of other "leftists" are sometimes painted as angry an unreasonable; part of an internet outrage machine ready to jump on anyone who won't kowtow to their ideas. People who say they support progress will say that if we want to convince anyone then we need to be kinder to people, not hate people for hating.

Which of my two characters is more absurd and unreal? A trans rights activist who is sympathetic towards the human emotions of another person? Or someone who is against trans rights who owns their own emotions and doesn't assume their emotions aren't a good basis for public policy? If there is anyone out there who feels bad about some rights issue and would genuinely like to seek help for dealing with those feelings without hurting anyone else, I think they have a small-to-medium shot of finding support rather than disdain from an activist. The odds that such a person exists, however, are slim-to-none.