Saturday, January 31, 2015

Beliefs vs. ideas

I thought this was interesting idea, from a recent comment on an old post:

And finally, as for your comment about thoughts vs beliefs, I would say I personally have found it better to have ideas about as many things as possible as opposed to beliefs since ideas are more easily changed if necessary whereas beliefs can limit you as a human being. I'm not saying it's wrong to have beliefs - it's healthy. Just that the more beliefs you have about people and the world, the more limited you are in the ways you can experience the world and I think that would be a good frame of reference for anyone who identifies as a sociopath as well. 

I do think this is how sociopaths probably generally see the world. It's fine for me to have in my mind a series of what I guesstimate are the probabilities that something is true -- e.g. whether or not the moon landing was real, whether or not I am real, whether or not the whole world is a simulation, whether I love my siblings, whether my religion is true. But I don't really have beliefs about most things. I know that some people are the opposite. I have a close family member who has beliefs about all sorts of things, like if you tell him a story about an issue with a co-worker he might have a belief about what really happened and why the person got upset. That belief will seem as true to him in the moment as whether or not he is was born on a particular date -- in fact maybe more so, because he doesn't remember specifically being born and so it doesn't feel as real to him as does his belief about your co-worker. And they are deeply held and he seems to identify with them at a profound level. And it does seem like it would limit you, especially if you were the type to have a strong sense of self. Because these beliefs are you, and if someone challenges your beliefs then they are challenging you and you will be defensive. Does that sound right?

It reminds me of this recent post.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


From a reader:

RAINE: You know, I mean at one level we can talk about treatment. We may come on to that a little bit later. But take that individual with all the boxes checked, all the risk factors, and their free will was constrained early in life, OK, and they commit a murder. Then let's take you, who I presume you don't have too many risk factors in your life, and then you go and kill me, you commit the same act.

You've got no excuses; the other person has. Don't we go easier on that other person and instead of either executing them or taking away their basic rights, we put them more in a safe, secure institution, which - where the regime is not as harsh, and their basic human rights are not lost?

So at one level, even before we get into treatment, I think people like this could be held in safer, more humane conditions because, you know, prisons are dangerous places to be. And, you know, we should cut them some slack. Protect society - I'm not saying let them back out on the street, because, as I say, they could be walking time bombs waiting to explode - but let's step back a bit and recognize that, you know, OK, maybe we do have free will, but some people have more free will than others.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Feeling and thinking

This was an interesting video (from a magician of all people) about the dangers of feeling something rather than thinking about something:

Pair with this interesting thought from Krista Tippett:

Our convincing feeling is that time is absolute. Our convincing feeling is that there should be no limit to how fast you can travel. Our convincing feelings are based on our experiences because of the size that we are, literally, the speed at which we move, the fact that we evolved on a planet under a particular star. So our eyes, for instance, are at peak in their perception of yellow, which is the wave band the sun peaks at. It’s not an accident that our perceptions and our physical environment are connected. We’re limited, also, by that. That makes our intuitions excellent for ordinary things, for ordinary life. That’s how our brains evolved and our perceptions evolved, to respond to things like the Sun and the Earth and these scales. And if we were quantum particles, we would think quantum mechanics were totally intuitive. Things fluctuating in and out of existence, or not being certain of whether they’re particles or waves — these kinds of strange things that come out of quantum theory — would seem absolutely natural…

Our intuitions are based on our minds, our minds are based on our neural structures, our neural structures evolved on a planet, under a sun, with very specific conditions. We reflect the physical world that we evolved from. It’s not a miracle.

Friday, January 23, 2015


There's been a ongoing debate on insight and sociopathy. I remember making a television appearance and being told recently that sociopaths lack insight, and so if a sociopath had insight he wouldn't actually be a sociopath. I've also heard that if sociopaths don't have empathy, they can't experience insight. And maybe it's true that sociopaths lack definition, particularly if we use Merriam Webster's first definition which is "understanding or awareness of one's mental or emotional condition; especially : recognition that one is mentally ill". Because many (most?) sociopaths are not self aware and few would classify themselves as mentally ill even though they may clinically qualify.

But if we think of insight as the ability to understand or at least predict particular traits of a person on a deep level, then sociopaths do it and approximately the same way as this data analytics tool presumes to do so. From an Engadget articles on how your Facebook likes can predict all sorts of other personal attributes:

[Researchers at Cambridge and Stanford] created a computer program that sifted through the Facebook likes of over 85,000 users to see if a person's preferences could rat out their true persona. The team used certain associations that seem fairly obvious; for instance, liking tattoos means you're more likely to drink alcohol. Others were more bizarre: apparently, people who like curly fries tend to be intelligent. Who knew?

The researchers made the subjects take a MyPersonality survey to create a baseline, then asked friends and relatives to judge them with a similar survey. The results were surprising -- the computer model could judge someone better than a friend or roommate by analyzing just 70 likes, and do better than a parent or sibling with 150 likes. The average number of likes per user in the study was 227, enough for the computer to evaluate someone better than almost anyone, with one exception: their spouses.

You can try the program here, but you need to be a very active Facebook user for it to have enough data to crunch. But you can imagine that if a computer is able to learn so much about you based on your Facebook likes, and if Sherlock Holmes is able to learn so much about you based on the mustard stains on your shirt, it should be very possible for a sociopath to have similar levels of insight about you and based on approximately the same techniques.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Tearing things apart

I got a question on Twitter about what might be so beautiful about seeing another person torn down. I thought this comment from a not so recent post explored that question in an interesting way.

As a comment on the idea of all being aspects of a whole:
This makes sense. The human brain has a distinct base form, but naturally it has evolved to produce all shades of expression- from the person who cares deeply and personally for another, to the person who is categorically non-empathetic- and each acts according to his nature, most of the time without conscious consideration of the essence of his activities.

As for tearing down vs. building up:
I think on a basic level the human species has a need to find patterns. It was advantageous to survival in primitive times, and continues to be so. Generally we don't think about it much, instead it is a natural, maybe even inescapable tendency. (When was the last time you looked at a cloud and didn't see some kind of shape?) We also have both a supportive and a destructive instinct; consider the predatory animal, which rips apart prey and then brings the best part to her cubs before cuddling with them and playing with them gently. These instincts enforce social bonds, or take down dangerous others. M.E.'s love of ruining others could come from destructive social energy- as a highly successful woman she has few real threats. Or it could come from destructive predatory energy- people nowadays have no need to take down animals with claw and tooth, and often this innate drive is redirected into more socially acceptable outlets, such as football, or law. There's an element of empowerment involved as well- again, the chosen pursuit of many a primitive human. It could be her logic- she's good at ferreting out inconsistencies, recognizing masks and lies for what they are. Perhaps it feels good to rip apart that holey pattern to reveal the form underneath. (Ever take apart a theory, remove the bits that don't make sense, and come through with something more elegant? Elegance of articulation is categorically rewarding, I find.) Or, it could refer back to that basic pattern-solving mind- what's more fun than figuring out how something works, taking it apart, and experimenting with what you can make it do?

I say not that M.E. is primitive or base, save in that sense we all are. We are all the animal, shoved through the sieve of the social model, and this must be taken into account when attempting to understand the human mind.


I wonder a little at people's expressed inability of seeing the beauty in seeing things torn down. I feel like 90% of popular film, literature, television, etc. are based on people's desire to be thrilled in this way, so it can't really be an unpopular phenomenon? You wonder what made a television show like Breaking Bad popular, one where arguably this is what was happening to every character almost at all times. Whether schadenfraude or an aesthetic and even intellectual appreciation for seeing these disassembled and deconstructed, the pleasure or satisfaction or excitement that people get in seeing things torn apart seems so common to me that I wonder why some people claim to not feel it at all and to not understand it. 
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