Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Defining conscience

I've been thinking recently about the definition and imagery behind the concept "conscience." Martha Stout in The Sociopath Next Door defines conscience as necessarily having an emotional component:
Psychologically speaking, conscience is a sense of obligation ultimately based in an emotional attachment to another living creature (often but not always a human being), or to a group of human beings, or even in some cases to humanity as a whole. Conscience does not exist without an emotional bond to someone or something, and in this way conscience is closely allied with the spectrum of emotions we call "love." This alliance is what gives true conscience its resilience and its astonishing authority over those who have it, and probably also its confusing and frustrating quality.
I don't know if I agree with that definition, but maybe my opinion doesn't count for much. I do find it interesting that there are basically two types of imagery used to portray conscience: (1) the devil and the angel on the shoulder and (2) a separate entity telling you to do the right thing, e.g. Jiminy Cricket. The origin of the devil and angel is obvious -- Judeo Christian beliefs include the concept of the "holy spirit" and guardian angels, and even God telling you what to do, and there is also a fallen angel, the devil, tempting you to do wrong things. The origin of Jiminy is less clear, but I would imagine that most non religious people would associate their conscience with this type instead of the angel/devil. When I asked my friend which he thought was most accurate, he said:
Friend: Jiminy Cricket

M.E.: Yeah, interesting. So it is a separate person? eparate little part of you?

Friend: I don't know, you can "tap into" your conscience, or suspend it, push it aside...

M.E.: So sort of separate, right?

Friend: I guess so, right?

M.E.: Hard to know. I guess it has to feel separate from us, otherwise we wouldn't come up with a separate name for him.

Friend: I feel like it doesn't feel separate most of the time until you feel fractured about it, when something disturbs it.

M.E.: Like a bone or your kidney?

Friend: Yeah, exactly.
Is a conscience like other organs in our body? We never notice it until we hurt it? And if so, is it more like the heart? The lungs? Or the appendix? The gall bladder? Is it something else? If we're defining sociopaths based partially on a lack of conscience (e.g. Robert Hare's book, Without Conscience), what is it that other people have that sociopaths lack?

77 comments:

  1. a smaller amygdala..

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  2. I think it's mostly seen as a separate entity by people who haven't got one. Thus, it's explained that way to children, because when they're young they haven't yet internalized the ideas of "right" and "wrong". But then, I think all children begin as moral sociopaths, simply because they lack the understanding to make moral decisions.

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  3. i think that is true
    described as an organ or something that tells you something

    it is more like gravity.. it is thoroughly integrated and is there like the force that brings a lifted object released back down

    i think many children do have a basic if undeveloped C and capacity for love

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  4. It never feels separate to me, though I could see how some people might see it that way, especially if they're trying hard to rationalize something. There's only a conflict when I really want to do something that I know is wrong. I believe artists choose to represent it as a separate entity because there's no other "cute" way to visualize such conflicting urges. Remember that you're talking about cartoons here. A moral conundrum is just a special case of wanting two conflicting things for different reasons. Being conflicted doesn't mean you have a little separate person inside of you. If you've ever been conflicted about a situation--like choosing between the two most delicious meals in the universe when you can only have one in your lifetime--you know what it feels like.

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  5. I agree with aspie a conscience is in place guiding decisions without even considering it. If one does do something outside of their moral code then the conscience kicks in causing one to feel guilt and that will plague the person till it is rectified or the guilt is ignored then causing the person stress. One can 'kill' their conscience. Of course it is more complex than this.

    What I find interesting is that some admire what has been described as a "Pollyanna" attitude by the sociopath I know, she is unfazed by failure or by the things she has done to cause her legal and monetary problems. What it shows me is that she has zero conscience and has a consistent disregard for responsibility towards others. She knows she can manipulate and exploit her way out of her situation over and over again no matter who she has hurt along the way. She just doesn't care.

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  6. And yeah, you can override it / push it aside because they're your own thoughts and feelings. It's like deciding that nothing will stop you from doing , resolving yourself and putting your doubts aside. That doesn't make it separate. It's just making a decision.

    What other people have that you lack is the desire to make others happy. Whether they ultimately act selfishly or not, empaths want other people to be happy as much as they want other people to think that they're good people. When they screw people over, they're sacrificing their own wants and needs, which makes them less likely to do it and easier to empathize with them when they express remorse. Sociopaths don't have that need, and when they screw someone over, they haven't sacrificed anything. Their remorse is completely hollow because they haven't hurt themselves by hurting you. They've just hurt you and got what they wanted, plain and simple.

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  7. So then…having a conscience is giving a fuck about other people and not having one is not giving a fuck? If that's true then a conscience isn't something sociopaths and sociopaths alone lack. Many people who otherwise express a wide range of empathic emotions and traits simply don't give a shit about other people while some sociopaths who do not exhibit any clear connections with the typical empathic people's traits express a loyalty to certain people that causes the morals of average people to struggle to understand this kind of loyalty because conscience would prevent them to a certain extent. Maybe that's love, maybe not. But I find the concept of conscience to be an oxymoron, sociopath or otherwise.

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  8. Anonymous:

    "express a loyalty to certain people that causes the morals of average people to struggle to understand this kind of loyalty because conscience would prevent them to a certain extent. "

    Okay then what is the impetus of the loyalty you describe from sociopaths? Who benefits?

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  9. Anon 8:45:
    1) You don't know what an oxymoron is.
    2) You don't know what empathy is.
    3) You're a moron.

    Conflicting desires != Oxymoron.
    Empathy != logical understanding of pain.
    You != Intelligent.

    Conflicting Desires = Conflicting Desires
    Empathy = Caring enough about others to feel their emotions as if they were your own.
    You = Dumbass who thinks too hard trying to turn simple ideas into overcomplicated jumbles of philosophical nonsense.

    Me = Genius.

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  10. What does benifit have to do with loyalty?

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  11. wow! that guy just got owned by peter pan. lmao

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  12. Speaking of Jiminy Cricket...

    http://www.ipt.avemaria.edu/news/A%20Jiminy%20Cricket%20Conscience.pdf

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  13. Anonymous:

    "What does benifit have to do with loyalty?"

    If the sociopath doesn't benefit in some way then what is the impetus?

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  14. loyalty isn't always used as a way to achieve an ulterior motive. sometimes it’s less sinister and not all godfathery. people do things for no logical reason and with no real desire for it to make things better for them. have you ever given change to the salvation army, if so, what's the impetus in that gesture?

    there isn't always an angle...even for a sociopath.

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  15. I have a question Id like to throw out there on conscience. I think I may be a sociopath or Antisocial personality as my shrink called it. But I can empathize, more so when someone is physically harmed or teased I become very angry & upset at the cause of their distress. However, I have urges to steal things and when I do, I act on it. Ive cheated on partners, had children with people who now I wish they didnt exist and have NO idea what I ever had use for them for. I dont lie, but I do exagerate at times. And I tend to feel either terribly isolated & alone, like something is emotionally "missing" within to connect to someone in a normal way so I dont try. But theres sometimes I just think "hey its better this way cuz no one could keep up". Im impulsive, reckless and love a fight. Ive been called brutual. Lol. So I guess, the basis of my question is, what am I...I have everything a sociopath has, except i DO believe i have a conscience.

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  16. conscience is nothing more than the feeling that someone else might be watching you...

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  17. The basis of your question?
    What the fuck are you talking about? That IS your question. Why are you throwing in random useless fucking verbage? This isn't an essay. You don't need 300 words, and you don't get extra points for using words like "basis."

    What you are is a god damn self-obsessed, damaged idiot. Stop obsessing over how you think and what you do, and start thinking of ways to get what you want. If you want to be more thoughtful, be more thoughtful. Come up with plans to do so. If you want to be more rotten, be more rotten. Come up with a plan. Live your life, because let me tell you, you're not that interesting. It would be a huge waste of your life to sit around thinking about yourself all the time.

    Fuck you.

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  18. peter is on a roll today!

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  19. "there isn't always an angle...even for a sociopath."

    Count me skeptical.

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  20. er it's either constipation or somebody said 'no' this a.m. :P

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  21. I got both of my hands caught in a blender. You try typing with your penis while the bloody masses that used to be your favorite appendages drip all over the new carpet. I have to insult people repeatedly just so I can stay hard enough to keep typing. FUCK!

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  22. To Peter Pan...Im not offended by your opinion. You're a loser. And not that interesting, you know me..How? From some short little blog post I threw out there because I was interested to see the responses. No, someone who is NOT interesting is someone who rants on abusively and says "Fuck you." to people on blogs because they have no power in the real world. Now I know why you go by "Peter Pan" should be Peter Pansyass lol!

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  23. Peter Pan:

    ROFL! Good recovery, hell no one wants to admit they got turned down :P

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  24. Because nobody is that interesting, you dumbass. You're treating yourself like the ultimate puzzle, and you even named yourself after the ultimate mystery. You know what's interesting? Things that have an impact on the world and life in general, like science, medicine, and technology, not some dumbshit who focuses half his energy on trying to figure out why he wipes his ass with 2 sheets of toilet paper instead of one.

    DOES. NOT. MATTER.
    LIVE. YOUR. LIFE.

    FUCK YOU!

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  25. You are a moron! The name i chose is after my dog u dumb f*ck! Your d*ck belongs in that blender because surely no one else would have a use for it. You are a know it all narcisisst who seems to think everyone else is a "dumbfuck" while you have it all figured out? Wake up and smell the roses, Pansy ass.

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  26. Peterpan:

    "..you even named yourself after the ultimate mystery."

    Just damn, here I thought it was a sexual reference.

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  27. And I can safely bet if I took the time to read through the comments on these posts you've likely commented on most, because being as self important as you seem, Im certain you think you have something useful to say to the masses. Lmao

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  28. For your information my dick has been in plenty of blenders, and it broke every single one of them. I've got balls of molten lava fueling a titanium pleasure rod that makes women cry out in a mix of horror and pure ecstasy, AND IT CAN TYPE! What do you have? A dumbfuck dog named "Pandora's Box" owned by a dumbfuck who sniffs his own shit because he thinks it's interesting?

    If you're named after your dog, I'm just going to start calling you dog, because that's what you are. FETCH, FUCKER!

    FUCK YOU!

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  29. Lmao. Your ego is MILDLY entertaining, but not so much as my shit :) And my dogs name is Pandora, not Pandora's Box. Get your facts straight.
    FUCK YOU!
    Right back at ya! :P

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  30. You're no fun, asshole.

    Fuck you guys.
    I'm going home.

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  31. Aww dont go...I will miss you. Im not a guy...im a girl...arent you going to show us that titanium pleasure rod ?

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  32. thats ok. those are fun too :)

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  33. Ask a stupid question, get several uninspired answers + 1 troll and an enabler.

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  34. well....

    Because Birdick and thunderballs arent around anymore Peter feels as if he must take on their role..

    The problem is that he doesnt do as good of a job...

    As for the post...

    My conscience makes me feel really bad/guilty when I do something I know I shouldnt.......It wants me to right the wrong somehow...and doesnt allow me to feel better until its fixed to my satisfaction...

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  35. A conscience is thinking in terms of right and wrong rather than positive and negative. It goes about unnoticed until your intentions conflict with your moral code. It doesn't feel any different from any other form of thought, but can be quite a bit more distracting. It's really not all that mysterious.

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  36. Don't compare me to those losers. I'm way less defensive than Daniel, and I'm nowhere near as pathetic as Thunderball. If there were anyone on this board I could be compared to, it would probably be the Daft Cap Wearer. That's not something I'm proud to admit.

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  37. Isn't a conscience supposed to be just an internal moral code? It's usually integrated at a young age into a person's identity by religion or other cultural forces...but sometimes it can be constructed independently, or largely so, as in many sociopath's case.

    And besides, who says a conscience can't be flexible? We already allow changes for different contexts/circumstances.

    The semantics have gotten too confusing on it, anyway. It's supposed to symbolize a part of human existence, but when no one can agree on a definition, the word and it's uses become nonsense.

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  38. ThevoicesarecallingApril 8, 2010 at 12:57 AM

    Pandora: I am going to take the Jaws of Life and stick it in your cunt. You're lower half of your body will literally be ripped in two.

    Peter: I am goin to slowy cut an incision in your lower abdomen, stich my dick in there, and fuck you untill all of your organs have been obliterated.

    Both: Shut the fuck up.

    Your friendly neighborhood psychopath

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  39. Thevoicesarecalling:
    Me & Peter left it alone several posts back so shut the fuck up.Cant wait till you come around with your Jaws of Life but you may find the tables turned on you....maybe Ill shove it up your little ass & rip you anus apart.
    Your NOT SO FUCKING FRIENDLY NEIGHBOURHOOD PSYCHOPATH!!

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  40. i wonder if one can be born with it already constructed... so that when you are introduced to ideas of right and wrong, the way you should think and feel, and their ways of introduction, you already have of sense of whether something is "right", "wrong" and can feel confused or get a sense of anxiety or unease when something feels off instinctually when these ideas and their presentation are encountered

    if that makes any sense

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  41. aspie:
    Do you mean kind of like a "collective unconscious" type of thing?

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  42. that sounds good but I don't mean that, because i don't know what anyone else thinks or believes really consciously or otherwise... certainly some people appear to have different ideas/unstructs/constructs so it's not collective, or at least with the way i am understanding it, only the moment is i suppose

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  43. aspie

    People are born with a conscience but not developed totally. Consider young children who have been molested know instinctively it is wrong, even very young children. Even though they've not been talked to by their parents about these things.

    A friend, a psychologist who worked with Abraham Maslow in his early days in California told me that what worked for them in the midwest (telling patients to look inside themselves for answers) didn't work the same in California because they had a totally different set of values. So values are varied according to culture etc. He told me that is one problem with drug education programs for young children, they're told to look inside themselves for answers but their character is not yet developed so they look to others for the answers, the ones that are playing the role of adults. Other kids who are doing adult behaviors so they can be led. So children are born with a sense of right and wrong to a point but experience and parents teaching their children their values take many years to develop, it's a process.

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  44. peter said:

    "If there were anyone on this board I could be compared to, it would probably be the Daft Cap Wearer. That's not something I'm proud to admit."

    so is that why you ran him/her off? was he/she just bringing in too much of the same moronic mentality into the same place and since you were here first, so you toyed with him/her until he/she left?

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  45. DCW left! So why do people keep bringing him up? And just to be clear: Daft was a dude.

    What happened was he fucked up staying anonymous and Peter murdered him via revealing comments so he packed up his balls and went west! Jesus! I come here like once a week and each time is seems like someone is always mentioning his fucking name! So what if Daft is gone, boo fucking hoo people, move on!

    -- Daft Hater!

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  46. anonymous at Apr 8, 8:08am said...

    People are born with a conscience but not developed totally. Consider young children who have been molested know instinctively it is wrong, even very young children.


    anonymous, i'm not sure that being aware that you're forced to do something against your will requires possessing a conscience. i would think we are born with the potential to develop a conscience in the same way we are born with the potential to develop language. if conscience is the set of standards we live by, created from values of the society we live in (and only seems to have a life of its own when we're conflicted, as i think Peter or someone else already pointed out), how can we be born with even the most rudimentary conscience?

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  47. Depends on your world view. Some believe we are born with a rudimentary conscience (although as we know some are not) and it is up to parents to develop ones moral values. Others believe it doesn't begin till a person is about 4 years old. If in fact sociopaths have no conscience would it not be a chemical or brain issue as it doesn't seem to matter what background they are raised in. Sociopaths are born into 'good' families and 'bad' families. Seems it's a nature not a nurture thing.

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  48. has anyone ejaculated yet from all this masturbation?

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  49. I don't know, you tell us since its on YOUR mind...

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  50. not me. :)

    i believe conscience is a matter of perception and doesn’t really exist. if you're someone who’s not self-aware, feelings will seem like these mystical forces that must be followed, but all feelings have an origin. when i experience a twinge of conscience, the feeling is like a short cut or warning signal. it signals that something might be wrong and i may have taken a wrong turn, and that some logical review is in order and amends may need to be made. the feeling doesn’t mean anything on its own.

    we all have to live by some code, but to follow it unquestioningly without ever reviewing its underlying values and premises means a sheep-like and deluded existence.

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  51. but perception exists
    if one sees a red truck it is really there

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  52. i can relate to that zoe
    logical review is often the echo of my present

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  53. yes me too. i think people deify emotions so they don't have to take responsibility for their actions.

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  54. but perception exists
    if one sees a red truck it is really there


    for sure, something is there. but isn't the truckness only in our minds? when all the people are gone, is it still a truck?

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  55. it's a collection of atoms, called a truck or similar by a human entity, when both are around

    the "truck" exists only because we exist and in the case of the truck, it is doubly true

    then again even in the case of mountains or things not created through our hand, i think it may be, labels aside, likely some of their actual existence may be owed to our own or vice versa, as aren't we always affected and affecting just by being, let alone everything that went into to it prior

    if that makes any sense

    i would answer, yes, it is still a truck

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  56. or perhaps an unperceived truck

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  57. i think it may be, labels aside, likely some of their actual existence may be owed to our own or vice versa, as aren't we always affected and affecting just by being

    beautifully put, aspie. but doesn't this argue against the existence of an unperceived truck? truck is how i relate to the object, but maybe there is more to the object than its "truckness"? flowers may be something i put in a vase but to a plant it's a sex organ.

    isn't perception just a map made from pure experience that's shaped by our expectations and prejudices?

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  58. thanks zoe, i didn't like that paragraph after i wrote/posted it/felt unconnected

    a flower may be many things, infinite things even, and there it is

    if there is a flower in a pot in a room and people are in the room experiencing them and then no one is around one minute later as they have left the room, they are then having new experiences .... but there also is an unperceived flower in a unperceived pot in an unperceived room isn't there...

    it one were to argue there isn't, couldn't another one make money betting this person was wrong by proving to them there is an unperceived flower/room by reintroducing the unperceived to that persons senses with confidence. maybe you could argue that is just a memory of some variation of perception

    practically speaking, imo, it's a flower, a thing if one wished to celebrate with as little preconceived notion of flowerness in their experience maybe one could, to see it with new eyes, though always eyes, but as far as practical communication goes, it's a flower imo

    is a map one way of looking at it? i wonder what influences/drives make up our expectations

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  59. I would say your conscience is a mixture of unconcious and immediate responses to stimulas and learned experience from the outcome of acting a certain way.

    When I think about/commit an act that hurts another person or would hurt a person if they knew about it. Then I get an instant shot of emotional distress/pain that guides me that I shouldn't make that decision.

    Sometimes I'm disociated with the outcome from an action, or I'm just not really with it. Then I don't get the pang. But if I think about what I would feel in that situations, then I consider... actually I wouldn't like that happening to me and it would cause me pain. Therefore I shouldn't do it. Of course that's much harder to do, sometimes you don't consider it thoroughly enough and you can end up hurting people.

    I also found that if I took the decision for acting/saying a certain away from myself I was less likely to feel the pang or emotional pain the other person would feel.

    At a leap i'd say this is something along the lines of soldiers commiting atrocities under direct orders. If takes away the responsibility of their actions, therefore they don't need to feel guilty.

    Normal people can rationalise terrible behaviour, as can sociopaths.

    You might want to read this article about how a part of the brain affects moral reasoning. It's quite interesting.

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8593748.stm

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  60. when a normal person rationalizes their "terrible" behavior, aren't they really suppressing their guilt reflex and not considering the situation and act in a fair and just manner .... they are numbing and bs'ing themselves .... and perhaps this expresses itself later as trapped undealt-with guilt yielding ... neuroses, drug abuse, stress, disease etc

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  61. yes aspie, cuz when you shoot a man, you get the aids from feeling stress and guilt.

    (holy shit and what the fuck: my word verification for this is molest!)

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  62. aids is gotten mainly through transfer of blood, so if you shot him in messy fashion, and there was significant splash back, had you an area accepting, you might feel guilty and also develop that disease

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  63. Well you’re just oblivious to sarcasm, aren’t you Aspie?

    Good comeback though, since I imagine those are the facts Jack, so all those thinking of killing a person: beware of the splashback.

    Oh, and don't leave write letters to the cops...its dumb.

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  64. were you being sarcastic

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  65. aspie said...
    thanks zoe, i didn't like that paragraph after i wrote/posted it/felt unconnected


    i really liked this part "as aren't we always affected and affecting just by being". and as far as owing existence goes, then you are saying the observed needs an observer. sure the observed exists apart from the observer, but in this case it is not "the observed" and from the observer's perspective doesn't exist other than as a memory or idea. or possibility.

    and also, the observer needs the observed to exist, to see himself or herself.

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  66. but there also is an unperceived flower in a unperceived pot in an unperceived room isn't there...

    only as an idea or expectation. just because the flower is there when you go in the room doesn't mean it always will be. i mean there is only the expectation based on previous experience that flowers did not vanish on their own from rooms. but until you perceive it only actually exists in your mind along with a set of expectation. but i would bet on my expectations in this case as the odds seem to be in their favour. :)

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  67. Anonymous said...
    (holy shit and what the fuck: my word verification for this is molest!)


    well you were being a dick. :)

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  68. but then how does this tie into conscience? doesn't it exist for the person if it does exist for them? perhaps it doesn't exist for another, and that is their truth, but for a different one, "conscience" is quite real and perhaps not a delusion

    imo, having self awareness/awareness does not equate with not having a conscience however of course one could be self aware and lack a conscience/empathy/the ability to see colors or whatever etc

    maybe the problem is just definitions or direction

    i see conscience as something upfront... something mostly lived but also sometimes reflected upon

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  69. I don't understand why anybody would want a conscience. Life is so much easier without one. Not that I really understand what one is. I do what ever is necessary in life to get what I want, If other people get hurt so what, that's their problem. I don't ever think about them and mostly don't remember them, they are insignificant. People with this so called conscience are weak, that is their downfall.

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  70. I like to do the right thing. Mostly it's because of my children I think. They deserve decent role modeling so I tend to use the ethical model of approach when i navigate them through the normals world. Values such as helping people and showing kindness arent hard to do. I worry a little though because my children are getting older, I wonder whats going to happen when I dont have them as my ethical compass as much as they are now. They ground me. I have a Psychopathic Personality Disorder and i like it but it alway needs to be kept in chack and I have to watch my behaviour. I enjoy my apparent lack of empathy and compassion. It allows me to go deeper into situations without being filled with anxiety. I like my psychopathy and I know that I can be a good person with it. Being good isnt the same as being nice and i despise compulsive niceness in people. i.e. the religious. Anyway, I'm a psychopath and I want to use my evilness for good instead of .... (what was it that Maxwell Smart used to say about Kaos?)

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  71. I outright don't understand the concept of a moral compass that justifies any satisfaction in conforming to society. If there was a time when it made more sense to me, I can't pin it down. For me, "good" and "evil" have always been subjective, I can't bring myself to see it any other way. I'm capable of reasoning serial killers up to a level of heroism and bring down the intentions of my own family members to that of... well, psychopaths, and I've never seen a problem with that. In fact, I would argue that it makes me more able to look at situations objectively, as I simple adjust my morality to account for any situation.

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