Sunday, March 25, 2018

How Psychopaths See the World

One thing that's been really interesting about meeting other sociopaths is seeing different iterations of essentially myself. I see people who have very different lives from me, very different professions, but their choices also make a lot of sense to me. I can't help thinking that I would have made those same choices they had made perhaps in a parallel universe, or if I had their early life experiences. I can also see much better that the traits represent themselves in spectrums. For instance, I think all sociopaths are impulsive, but some are more conscientious in general than others. I'm about middle of the road in terms of conscientiousness. Some sociopaths I have met have a much longer future outlook than I do, like up to 7 years. Mine of course is still around 3 years. Then there are also people who have a much shorter outlook, more like 6 months to 1 year. Not many sociopaths I have met (just one!) are as into seduction as I am as a form of power game. I was also a little surprised to hear that at least among the successful sociopaths I have met, my fearlessness levels are among the highest. This is not to say that the other sociopaths are fearful, just that they experience a small degree of fear in their lives more than I do (which I experience as almost nothing).

It's super fascinating to talk to these people. It's one of my favorite things in the world to do now, there's such a unique pleasure to it. The way we talk and skip from subject to subject, so fast and so nonstop with interesting things to say, has been common to all of the sociopaths I've met, although of course everyone's conversational content has varied. One new friend I met in Europe actually commented on this -- "You know that no one else talks like this, right?" She described it as having a "chaotic brain". She said that she is careful not to talk like this particularly in the professional realm in which establishing trust is very important for her. Because, as she explains, you have to be likeable and you can't be likeable if you sound like you're on a separate planet. I likewise assume that our unique conversational style reflects the non-linear way that appears to characterize our thinking, as well as the unusual way that our attention works. The imagery I've used to describe it to other people is that it's like in a Loony Toons cartoon where the characters are sneaking around at dark but when a spotlight falls on them they freeze, as if doing so would allow them to escape detection. Our attention is like that spotlight. Whatever it falls upon, we are super focused. Everything else is in a murky haze.

My friend sent me this Atlantic Article about a study done on male prison psychopathic prisoners and their theory of mind, or ability to place themselves in another's shoes. What they found is that sociopaths can do that sort of perspective taking, and can do it very well, they just don't appear to do it automatically. They only engage in that mental exercise if something draws their attention to doing so:

They saw a picture of a human avatar in prison khakis, standing in a room, and facing either right or left. There were either two red dots on the wall in front of the avatar, or one dot in front of them and one dot behind them. Their job was to verify how many dots either they or the avatar could see.

Normally, people can accurately say how many dots the avatar sees, but they’re slower if there are dots behind the avatar. That’s because what they see (two dots) interferes with their ability to see through the avatar’s eyes (one dot). This is called egocentric interference. But they’re also slower to say how many dots they can see if that number differs from the avatar’s count. This shows how readily humans take other perspectives: Volunteers are automatically affected by the avatar’s perspective, even when it hurts their own performance. This is called altercentric interference.

Baskin-Sommers found that the psychopathic inmates showed the usual level of egocentric interference—that is, their own perspective was muscling in on the avatar’s. But they showed much less altercentric interference than the other inmates—the avatar’s perspective wasn’t messing with their own, as it would for most other people.

Of course, not all psychopaths are the same, and they vary considerably in their behavior. But Baskin-Sommers also found that the higher their score on the psychopathy assessment test, the less they were affected by what the avatar saw. And the less affected they were, the more assault charges they had on their record.
To her, the results show that psychopaths (or male ones, at least) do not automatically take the perspective of other people. What is involuntary to most people is a deliberate choice to them, something they can actively switch on if it helps them to achieve their goals, and ignore in other situations. That helps to explain why they behave so callously, cruelly, and even violently.

But Uta Frith, a psychologist at University College London, notes that there’s some controversy about the avatar task, which has been used in other studies. “What does it actually measure?” she says. It’s possible that the avatar is acting less as a person and more as an arrow—a visual cue that directs attention. Perhaps instead of perspective-taking, the task simply measures how spontaneously people shift their attention.

Baskin-Sommers argues that the task is about both attention and perspective-taking, and “for research on psychopathy, that is a good thing.” That’s because, as she and others have shown, psychopaths pay unusually close attention to things that are relevant to their goal, but largely ignore peripheral information. “It’s like they’re the worst multitaskers,” Baskin-Sommers says. “Everyone’s bad at multitasking but they’re really bad.” So, it’s possible that their lack of automatic perspective-taking is just another manifestation of this attentional difference. The two things are related.

When I think back on some of the sketch that I've gotten up to or some of the sociopaths I've met have gotten into, there's a similar thing going on. It's almost like I'm in a trance, so focused on accomplishing the one thing dominating my attention, like tracking that DC Metro worker to choke the life out of him or kicking my best friend out of my car in the middle of a strange city during an argument. It's only when she yelled at me "what is wrong with you?!" that I snapped out of it and started taking a broader, different perspective on the situation. Several of the sociopaths I have met have either been diagnosed with ADD or ADHD or have used the meds on the sly to improve their linear thought or better control their focus. To help mediate this unusual focus, I sleep inordinate amounts and when I need to concentrate on one thing for long periods and do not find myself naturally doing so, I force my brain to think linearly with baroque, minimalistic music, or impressionistic music, which share a common feature of constantly moving forward musically at whatever pace without much focus on cadence or structure.

So I find this study and its results to have a great deal of explanatory power and I would love to see this connection explored more.

Hilariously, the study was criticized by an autism researcher, not because the science behind it is poor, but because it seems to suggest a closer link to autism than the autism researcher was comfortable with:

“It is a bit worrying if [Baskin-Sommers and her colleagues] are proposing the very same underlying mechanism to explain callousness in psychopathy that we used previously to explain communication problems in autism, albeit based on a different test,” Frith says. “These are very different conditions, after all.”

But the distinction here, as pointed out by the researcher and as is apparent probably to all sociopaths who have had extensive interactions with people on the autism spectrum, is that autistic people are really bad at perspective taking, even with their attention directed at it full force. And with the sociopath... it's not as if he can't be bothered to do so, it's just that he doesn't always think to do so.

But what do sociopaths or those acquainted with think about the linear thought (chaos brain) or the multitasking? By the way, I can't have a television on in the background and still be able to focus on a conversation. I think I may have mentioned this before, but I also feel like I understand movies and television better with the subtitles on. I used to think it was bad hearing from years of drumming, but I've had my ears tested many times and they're always fine. There's more something about the ability to understand speech in the context of seeing it spoken on a screen that leaves my brain scrambling.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Russians, etc. please email me

If you're trying to contact me, best to email me at:


Thursday, March 8, 2018

Russia or Eastern Europe?

Last call for people wanting to meet up in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Lake Baikal area, Perm, Estonia, Poland, or other locations in Eastern Europe. I'll be there from March 17th until the first week of April.


Thursday, March 1, 2018

Melbourne in two efficient days

Sorry for the delay, just got back from England/France/Belgium, which I will get to shortly. But first we finish up Australia.

I arrived in Melbourne in the afternoon, took a nap, and showed up intolerably late for a dinner appointment with my new friend P because I got the times wrong in my head. We had dinner at a local eatery and then drinks at Naked for Satan, hip, a lot of nudity in the decor, and a great rooftop view of the city.

The next morning I woke up and did a tour of the Old Melbourne Gaol. Again, I was struck by how my brothers sociopath were treated and based on such a paucity of evidence. There were exhibits on Phrenology and other attempts to explain criminology through physical or inherited traits. In fact, by the 19th century, Melbournians were calling for greater law and order, particularly in the slums. The rally cry was that criminality (among almost all other traits, apparently) was inherited. Where do the criminals live? The slums. Where were the criminals having children, the slums. So it stands to reason that the slums were just a genetic cesspool of criminality. And thus under this reasoning, one's class was essentially one's mortal and moral destiny on this earth.

The thing that struck me about this part of the jail was how common this belief is again -- that people
are sort of naturally bad or all bad in this black and white thinking and the main solution is to "lock them up." In fact, I was just looking at some random twitter account whose name included those words. I Googled them today and saw black and white thinking from both liberal and conservatives on American political issues. The idea is that either Obama/Clintons or Trump/Kushner/Etc. or essentially just criminals trying to ruin the lives of ordinary good people and that the solution is to lock them up. When large percentages of the populace are seeing their brother man this way and thinking the solution is to imprison them, kill them (as some of the more extreme believe or wish) or to wish them into nonexistence somewhere far away to never be engaged with again, I see parallels to the inhumane ways we have historically treated prisoners and alleged criminals.

An interesting exhibit on the death penalty discussed how much the general populace loved to see public hangings and how there were many who felt deprived of a natural right when hangings became private. When the number of people executed sharply rose in the 1890s as a result of an economic depression, many understood the connection between people living in desperate situations and engaging in crime and started wondering about the morality of hanging. Frances Knorr was a particularly polarizing hanging. She had been convicted of the murder of one baby, although she later confessed to killing at least two during these tough economic times. According to Wikipedia:

Australia was in severe depression from 1873 to 1896; with no state welfare, women in particular faced a hard life. The diaries of John Castieau, governor of Old Melbourne Gaol from 1869 to 1884 indicate that as children were permitted to stay with their mothers, it was a common practice for a pregnant woman to commit a crime so that she could have her delivery in the gaol and be cared for.

During the 1893 Commission, Melbourne's public health officer testified that the post-mortems he had performed on over 500 children showed that more than half had been murdered.

Frances's husband had been imprisoned for fraud and her lover had abandoned her. She had taken to baby farming," the practice of caring for illegitimate or other unwanted children in exchange for money, and decided like many did, including this couple, to kill the babies she was being paid for rather than care for them. Her death sentence so divided the populace that the hangman committed suicide just days before her execution date, partly in response to his wife telling him that she would leave him if he executed Frances.

This quote from Chaplain Keith Forbes from around this time: “It would be impossible for those who have witnessed, like myself, the 'brutal exhibition' of a human being launched into eternity to refrain from asking, 'Can this thing be justifiable in the sight of God?'”

The Gaol also had various portraits of prisoners, the charming Frederick Bailey Deeming, a possible candidate for Jack the Ripper, who was finally caught "masquerading as the dashing Baron Swanston," about to be engaged to a third woman after he had killed two other wives (and four children!) in the space of a year. Wikipedia describes him as a "difficult child" whose teen years were marked by fraud, deceit, and theft with "behaviour variously described as aggressive, ostentatious, ingratiating and overly attentive to women" but was also known by his employers as being an excellent worker, whose employers gladly loaned him 200 pounds to start his own business and who, although he eventually murdered her, was known for treating his wife with the utmost civility. Hello, brother sociopath.

After that I went on The Little Penguin Bus tour to see the parade of penguins, featuring the very cute Little Penguin. The tour was awesome, the guide was awesome. It was such a change from the bad experience I had in Cairns. I definitely recommend seeing the penguins, they are hilarious. They eat fish out in sea and come back to shore every couple days or so to feed their new chicks. But teh chicks don't recognize the parents, only the parents recognize the chicks. So every baby chick is out there squawking and harassing every single adult they see begging for food. Like some seriously aggressive badgering, and the adult is just trying to like slide by without getting harassed. The baby chicks are also like 80% as tall as their parents. So they look like these big furry baby bullies harassing the sleek looking parents. I added the Guided Ranger Tour, which had pretty good seats for seeing them come up from the beach (you can see a million forums about this), but honestly the closest I got to penguins was after everyone got up from their seats and started going through the walkways, when the penguins were just inches away. So don't stress about getting better seats or tour options, I don't think, but the guided ranger tour was still pretty interesting and worthwhile to do if it's available to you.

A quick funny story, while I was out on the penguin tour there was an incident on the same block as my hotel where a man drove into a crowd of pedestrians. My very friendly and very conscientious guide was trying to break the news to me gently, perhaps because I would be upset by it? But she needed to tell me because the roads were closed off and they would likely need to drop me off a bit down the street. I had no clue how to respond to her, though, and I was tired and could not summon up a proper response so I just stayed quiet, but then left to use the toilet. I wonder if she noticed anything unusual.

My last day of Australia I went with new friend N on quick road trip of the Great Ocean Road. If you're used to driving on the left side of the road, you could totally rent a car and do this yourself in a somewhat long day, or they have tours! In fact, the Little Penguin Bus also does Great Ocean Road tours.

I shook down my Little Penguin Bus guide for an itinerary, and this is what she suggested:

  • Head straight to Loch Ard Gorge via the city Colac (not along the Great Ocean Road, cut across on the faster straighter freeway). Check out the Gorge look out and the Razorback lookout
  • London bridge maybe if you have time.
  • Gibson steps is just a lookout. 
  • 12 Apostles
  • Maits rest rainforest walk is just about an hour from 12 Apostles and a quick 20-30 minutes walk
  • Apollo bay has some famous ice cream, Dooleys.
  • Kennett river about 30 minutes from Apollo bay has wild koalas.
  • Anglesy golf course has wild kangaroos 

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