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. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Mad bad or sad

This was an interesting video from Professor Glenn Wilson about the hazy boundaries of labeling someone with apparent mental problems are merely mad, bad, or sad.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Zen Buddism and Military

From a reader:

The military is making soldiers do zen meditation (mindfulness meditation). This is similar to what happened with the samurai - they did zen practice (sitting meditation).

They've already got data showing that this practice makes the soldiers stress resilient:

This is their website:

There's plenty of sociopaths in the military. I know one at West Point. For him, doing MMFT is going to help him to distinguish himself and get ahead, so you can bet that he'll do it.

Is anyone familiar with this? It's almost like they trying to train soldiers to have some of the more useful sociopathic traits?

And related comments from another, older, Buddhism post:

why is it that so many empaths expect the sociopath to unfailingly feel things the way they do, no matter how much effort is required, yet are unwilling to put the same amount of effort into managing their own emotions? 


how are buddhists wishy washy Carlos?

to me compassion feels expansive, like a feeling of connectedness where no one is better or worse than you, a feeling where we're all in it together... just like a drug high but without the drugs. compassion makes me want to paint or write, create art. or freely give you money as if i'm giving it to myself. and that's cool 'cause we're one. : )

empathy feels tight and urgent, like a toothache. it's personal, in its own tight little space, and more about filling my needs even though i'm actively filling yours. i may be feeling with you, but not WHAT you're feeling. and the whole point is to calm my own feelings. if i give you money, it's because things aren't okay and i'm hoping the money will change that. empathy that has no outlet just makes me want to get drunk. 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sherlock sociopaths INTJs

A reader writes on the relationship between sociopathy and the Myers-Briggs personality type, INTJ:

In short, I think a lot of people take MBTI too far. They base huge decisions about life direction on a general tendency to think in a specific way and use their psychological reserves in a particular direction. It isn't a horoscope, the MBTI is supposed to be used to branch out into other styles and become a well-rounded person. No one is a pure type, and INTJs can be arrogant about their perceived purity of rationality, which, ironically, isn't what a rational person would think. The website LessWrong is a pretty good breakdown of the kind of self-regulation a high-minded personality type requires. I type as INTJ myself and can't help but facepalm over the self-appointed geniuses who never created a damn thing in their entire lives. It's a potential, not a promise.

Personality typing is complicated when you bring in certain disorders. INTJs, being a hermitic type, are often judged for that literal and mental distance. The two common slurs are Aspie and Sociopath. What do these have in common? Blunted affect. Or so it seems.

There's very little written on the connection between certain personality values and mental abnormalities (I mean that in the mathematical sense of rarity). It's largely speculation and from what I studied at Uni, it's imprecise. Like throwing at a dartboard and hitting the same place twice it may happen, but it doesn't necessarily mean anything. 

The similarities I can see between sociopathy and INTJs are best described as coping mechanisms. Both types of person deal with copious amounts of information on a daily basis and some form of filtration is required to thrive. Both types tend to live in their heads and this can fairly freak normal people out. The pressure release valve of INTJs is easily upset by undue amounts of stress in a short period of time, causing them to lash out. On the surface, this might appear a sociopathic 0-60 in temper. 

Neither is automatically trusting and these belief systems about testing the world, changing things and treating the world like a gigantic experiment can appear manipulative in a damaging way, as many people are socially-oriented before ideas. The dark sense of humour in expression make it sound worse than it is. "I wanted to see what you'd do."

INTJs and sociopaths value truth above socially-proscribed norms and among the common herd this can make them enemies. I agree with those who type BBC's Sherlock as INTJ because his deep, alarmingly sharp processing of information screams INTJ to me. 
That isn't to say the guy is without faults. He's full of inconsistencies, being the product of many writers, and one outright declared he isn't a sociopath although "he wishes he was." With all due respect, that guy is full of shit. If we place the INTJ typing aside, the Sherlock they wrote behaves in a sociopathic way. Whether it's for dramatic effect and whether he intends to are irrelevant. SEASON 3 SPOILER ALERT: A person with no sociopathic bent could never shoot a guy in the head at point-blank range in cold blood. On a practical level, their fight/flight response would make it impossible. What annoys me about the character's recent outings are the typical attempt to make him cuddlier and in the process lose the veracity of the Sherlock Holmes brand. 

Those personality traits don't need to be fixed, they're valuable to society. However, sometimes the person who embodies them needs to branch out for personal reasons and that is to be encouraged. 
If a pure INTJ met a pure sociopath, the latter would be irritated because the former would see them as a big puzzle and the latter would see somebody with a good theoretical brain being wasted on impractical goals. They overlap where they think: yeah, I know the social rules, I just don't care.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Attitudes about lying

From a reader:

I've just recently found your blog, and I love it. I basically skimmed through your whole blog over the weekend, so maybe you did address this and I missed it, but just in case you haven't, I thought I'd ask:

Was there ever a particular moment/epiphany where you realized that people genuinely struggle to lie - either just as a skill set, or morally they can't abide by lying?

I was never able to take fictional characters who struggled to lie seriously, and merely assumed they were yet another dumbed-down archetype meant to instill a moral objective in children, one of many that society ultimately fails at. Why should I take the grown-ups seriously about not lying when they also, in the process of telling me to "be nice", encouraged me to lie (either outright or by omission)? I struggled to understand the subtle social cues, and took them as invisible nuances of walking and talking that I worked hard to understand - and I assumed lying was apart of these 'unspoken universal actions'.

When I responded to people's various dilemmas over the years with "why don't/didn't you just like?", I never understood them when they said, "I can't!" Didn't they see how pointless this moral attitude was? It wasn't until my early teens when someone explicitly said that they froze up in that situation, and that the lies I'd thought of on the spot they were only able to conceive after careful consideration, that I realized lying was less of a universal and more of a skill-set. After all, if I knew there were people out there who could, say, do a complex math problem easily in their heads that I struggled to do with pen and paper, then of course it made sense that lies I could easily think of would come harder to some people.

Even then, it didn't really occur to me that people could feel such moral aversion to lying. I could understand disliking lying, and I could understand not being good at it. But then a very recent incident sharply reminded me how easily other people become guilt-ridden over the most ridiculous things:

A female friend of mine comes from an extremely micromanaging and conservative family. She wanted to visit a sex shop with the rest of our social group, and we suggested she tell her family that she is seeing "The Hobbit" to justify being away from home and not answering her phone for several hours straight. Simple, right? Except a day later I got a text from her asking if we can see another movie instead. I was very confused and assumed she just wanted a different time frame (preferring a 2-hour block instead of the 3-hour block to be gained with The Hobbit), and after a couple of back-and-forths it turned out now she actually wanted to take us to see a movie "so the guilt and shame would not kill her".

Considering she upheld a very active social life that often has somewhat sexual components to it without her family's knowledge, I was genuinely shocked that she had this aversion to lying. Lying about whether someone is a friend or sexual acquaintance is okay, lying about which part of the city you are in is okay, and lying about what you are doing those long hours you are supposed to be studying in college is okay, but you draw the line at lying about a movie? I'm...actually still rather confused by it. Both by the fact she, specifically, has such an aversion - and that someone can feel guilt about lying when they are doing so as a measure of self-support in the face of unnecessary social suppression. I intellectually understand that some people feel guilt when lying. But I cannot understand why someone who was lying to an overtly-controlling family just to be able to go out with some friends would feel guilty about it. The only explanation that makes sense is that it's a domestic analogue to Stockholm Syndrome - except that she obviously isn't kidnapped nor abused by her family (there was an abusive father, but he has been gone for years, now).

I'm muddling through it on my own and after poking around some of her issues I started to understand it, but now that I've stumbled across your blog, I have to ask - when did you learn people struggled with lying, or did you always know without any particular epiphany? Did you never differentiate between people who struggled with lying purely as a skillset vs those who struggled with it "morally"/emotionally? Did you ever try to explain to yourself why they struggled? If so, what are some of the explanations you've come up with? And if not, how did you handle people's bizarre attitudes towards lying?

M.E.: I don’t think I ever wondered about people’s ability to lie, but I definitely remember trying to coach my long distance cousin about how to stand up to the bullies in his life and being shocked that he wasn’t able to naturally intuit ways of subtly undermining others while maintaining a veil of innocence to onlookers. 

I myself don’t think about or understand lying much. Should we publish what you wrote to see what others have to say?


Sometimes, I still have trouble grasping how difficult it is for other people to lie. It's like saying you don't know how to brush your teeth or something. Several years into college and I still have to remind myself that just because I can immediately figure out what someone else's insecurities and psychological weaknesses are, doesn't mean everyone else can. (And it really takes some reminding, sometimes, because it just seems so obvious to me.)

And definitely, go ahead and publish it (and hell, this e-mail, too). I'm curious to see what other people would say. I've had some...interesting reactions to explaining to people (every day people in real life) that I had to 'learn' in my tweens that lying didn't come easy to most people, because I'd been doing it so naturally and easily all my life.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sliding scale of emotions

From a reader:

I just heard your interview on CBC radio and was totally fascinated by you.

I could really identify with your perception of yourself as a child, and the knowingness of being different, your high intelligence and your ability to read people.  As  I listened, I was right there with you.  Funny enough, I am a highly empathetic person. I feel people and in the same way you enjoy "ruining people" I enjoy building them up.  I  hone in on an attribute and try to mirror it back to them to lift them up. It is a skill that I have and I derive much joy and satisfaction from expressing this aspect of myself.  Lucky for me, society looks upon this as an acceptable trait and therefore life is made easier for me.

I have come to believe that we all reside on a sliding scale when it comes to emotion.  If you are a sociopath, what would we call those who are so into their emotions that they are constantly surrounded by chaos, drama and never ending suffering. I love the way you see yourself, I love that you have rules you live by that allow you to exist in society and to find a solid balance between being o.k. with who you are and being o.k. with how the world sees you.  We should all be so lucky.

I just wanted to say thanks for sharing.  I wholeheartedly believe that we are all aspects of the whole and I was able to experience what you have to give today and for that I am grateful.  You are magnificent and I just wanted to express how much joy I felt listening to you.  I look forward to reading your book.

My response:

I actually also enjoy building people up. I enjoy seeing the effect that I can have on people, the power that I have over myself and my environment. I even have a preference for building people up, for whatever reason. But that doesn’t detract for me at all the pleasure in seeing something torn apart. Maybe being in law is a good career choice for me — tearing apart people’s stories, the lies that they’ve decided to live or at least try to pass off as truth.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Quote: Mobs

“No snowflake in an avalanche ever feels responsible.”

― StanisÅ‚aw Jerzy Lec

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Pros and cons of dating a sociopath

This was an interesting blog post about the pros and cons of maintaining a relationship with a sociopath. I believe that this definitely could be one person's experience of one particular sociopath. I wonder whether people think that it could be generalized. Some traits, sure -- exciting, charming, etc. Others, maybe not? For instance, is it true that sociopaths tend to push their partners to achieve their potential? I could see that happening perhaps with a high functioning sociopath that sort of takes the partner under his or her wing and teaches him or her to be more risk seeking, brave, confident, etc. 

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Curing Psychopathy

I got this press release and a copy of Willem Martens' new book on psychopaths who are no longer psychopaths:

[T]he new book of William Martens – MD, PhD. The Firebirds among the Psychopaths – Development and Remission in Psychopathy,” will be available from January 15 2015 on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, Kobo, Apple iBookstore etc; ISBN: 978-2-7659-0740-4

This book is an attempt to describe and make understandable this rare phenomenon of complete remission in psychopathy and the developmental embedding of it. In this book the history of the concept of psychopathy; the psychosocial, psychodynamic, genetic and neurobiological aspects, the diagnostic tools as well as the therapeutic determinants of the phenomenon will be discussed in this volume.

A complete remission of psychopathy is defined as complete disappearance of all such manifestations of disease.  The case reports of remitted criminal and noncriminal psychopaths which are presented in this book are the only examples of real remission in a sample 667 patients which were treated in a forensic psychiatric hospital between 1966 and 1995. This a percentage of just nearly 2% .They might become “weller than well” as Karl Menninger called this phenomenon in his study of remitted in schizophrenic patients. This means that these patients are not just cured, but their life as very much enriched by the experience of conquer the disorder and self-transformation. They will continue improve still further.

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