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A Carnot engine of self-loathing
09 December 2016 @ 08:42 pm
I want the wrong things.
What I most feel the lack of, what I really want right now, is someone to: get high, make art/out with, and go to raves with and dance ourselves silly. But I feel bad, I feel like this is the wrong thing to want. I want to want to spend my time doing things productive, worthwhile, admirable. Intellectual activities, research, engineering, problem-solving, building. Things that I will wish I had done when the doing is over.

If these are the things that make you want to dance like crazy:
Rubber Kangaroo (Original Mix) - Pyramyth
Glitch Mob
DJ Coone

and the things you find hilarious might include:
Bo Burnham
Maria Bamford
Mitchell & Webb
bad kids' jokes
sincere nerd jokes

If this is not you but you think you have a better idea, I'd like to hear it.
A Carnot engine of self-loathing
18 May 2016 @ 06:38 pm
In my brilliance and humility, I have started therapy once again. This time, I will get fixed.
Except, I am already fixed. Because I do not think of myself as broken, as needing to be fixed. This alone is enormous. Instead, I wish to be better, to be different. It may be a challenge; I, who am already a surly little snot, too proud to submit to therapy correctly, even when I am in desperate circumstances, am now in a weird place where I am not so dangerously prey to the traps I once was. But perhaps I am in fact the same: now, as ever, my problems seem to be merely the problems of being human.

In other words: I get to go through a little workbook and write down my honest reflections and run through exercises and so forth. And exercise number one is to narrow down my values to the three that I think are the very most important. Imagine, my therapist says, that you are at your 80th birthday (or funeral): what do you want people to say of you?

For starters, they give a list of common values. (Definitely not correct or exhaustive, just common, they assure you.) Things like:
fairness and justice
etc etc. There's 38 on the list. For most of them, yes I want to be that. For probably about half of them, it's very important to me to be that. I have to pick three; the reality is that values are sometimes in conflict.

Trying to take the exercise seriously, I falter. I have a distorted concept of time. What do I care what people in the future will think of me? Will have thought of me? I want people to think well of me now. If I'm going to live this fantasy of envisioning the future, then what I will care about is what I have actually done. What effect I have actually had.

But now I'm just getting tripped up on immaterial details. The framing story was just to help focus me on the purpose of the exercise: by what values do I want to guide my decisions and shape my life?

I think this is something I already know, once I start thinking about it. Something that has already been coalescing in my awareness and behavior, and which I want to hone down and continue to train, to further develop. Since I am forced to limit myself, I will say that there are two values.

The first is actually a cheat; it is all of the values rolled up in one. It is what I have formed over the past near-decade of processing the inspiration that began with the Twelve Virtues of Rationality. This isn't a perfect representation of where I now stand, but it is an eloquent summary, closer than perhaps anything else. My version of it is still strongest on curiosity and honesty; on knowing the truth, on being accurate, on being consistent. Being aware, of accepting truth without judgment, whether you like it or not, whether it serves you or not, of understanding the reality of your existence in the world and the limitation of your perception, that the sources of your desires and beliefs are idiosyncratic, accidental, and historical, and that this is the same for everyone. They all seem to fit together into one semi-coherent philosophy, so I will cheat and call it a single value.

The second value is perhaps more focused, easier to explain, but I feel it compliments the first well. So here we have, fairies and gentlewomen, my core value system:

1. Understand the world as it is.
2. When in doubt, don't be a dick.
A Carnot engine of self-loathing
20 March 2016 @ 09:32 am
Starting to read 'The Silent Language' by Edward T Hall. Early on, he talks about how people don't realize just how enmeshed in their culture they are, considering many things to be universal, or idiosyncratic. The study of culture is not something obscure having to do with just anthropologists and far away peoples. His main purpose in the book may be to bring to our attention what we communicate without realizing it. But it was this sentence that struck me: "The job of achieving understanding and insight into mental processes of others is much more difficult and the situation more serious than most of us care to admit."

It struck me because it is essentially exactly that which has been weighing on me frequently. But I focus on people within my own culture, barely able to face thinking about other cultures. I am painfully aware, quite often, of the differences in background, experience, assumptions, and culture - even if they be subcultures within a larger one that we share, or individual strayings from the shared culture. It strikes me again and again, just how much of a difference some basic assumptions make in your entire worldview, interpretation of events, experience, beliefs. Maybe I can notice this because I am so fickle, because I change. I particularly seem to be aware of the difference between something like depressed vs non-depressed worldviews. Since i have spent plenty of time on both sides, I can notice just how deeply whichever side one is on infiltrates absolutely every thought and action. I notice because I am almost shocked by how hard it is for me to imagine the other side - even though I have personally been there, often incredibly recently, as soon as I have shifted from one side to the other, the mode I am no longer in is very murky, difficult to recall. I feel almost frightened when I become aware of this in dealing with other people, in knowing that their understanding and interpretation of events and the world are so different from mine. And I am only aware of the types of things that changes within me - the bulk of my culture I don't even notice, because I have been steeped in these assumptions for my entire life. For someone who has been steeped in different assumptions, the gulf becomes enormous. The weight of this distance burdens me in almost all of my interactions with other people, and I have all but given up hoping to have a deep connection with anybody.
A Carnot engine of self-loathing
03 January 2016 @ 01:34 pm
As I've tried to explain a few times to a few people, I've lost my words. I used to write quite a bit, read quite a lot, be at least able to try to express myself. I've barely written over the past few years. My reading level has dropped (of sustained threads and complex concepts), and I cringe inwardly almost any time I open my mouth beyond a sentence or two. I just can't word.
This, it seems to me, is a pure matter of practice. I have focused more and more on drawing in the past two or three years. I've gone into computer science, and been spending much more of my time wrestling with programmatic syntax - where you can say almost anything, but there are severe restrictions on how you can say it. The vocabulary is relatively meager. The point where creativity comes in is on a different level than in spoken or written language. The structure and logic is more apparent - it's quite easy to babble on, sentences that don't connect to each other, unheard of ideas and visions, internally inconsistent and even approaching incoherence. We can do that, and it still brings pleasure - we still delve into the mess and pull out a kernel of meaning, whether it was put in there or not, and there's a beauty and rhythm in the errors.
There is much less of this in programming - at least, at the low-tech level that I do, can't say much about more sophisticated systems with more learning and intelligence. You don't get far unless your sentences make sense. The compilers and programs that read my code aren't so clever or insightful. (But, everything that you can and do say that they can understand, they understand perfectly. Almost too perfectly.) I only say certain things that address certain issues, using only certain words and sentences.
And so my verbosity has dwindled. I find it hard to put thoughts together in human words so that others may understand. This I want to fix. So, this year, I will try to write more again.
A Carnot engine of self-loathing
19 March 2015 @ 06:01 pm
Yes, I mega-failed on that blogging goal. Moving on.

For those of you into the deep symbolic meaning of dreams, I had another tooth dream the other night. These dudes have happened to me periodically my entire life, at times more frequently than others. Usually the focus is on how horrible it is to deal with my teeth falling out, but comes in many flavors. As a youth I mentioned it to my mom, and she said they're supposed to represent losing control over your life, or some such bullshit.
So, for your subconscious entertainment, this one was:
All my teeth were falling out, I was trying to make them stay in but eventually realized it was totally hopeless, all very horrifying, as per usual. Even the requisite "Oh shit, this time it's not a dream, it's actually happening, goddammit." Except this time I scheduled an appointment to get dental surgery to fix it, give me fake ones or something. In the meantime, I would open my mouth, revealing gums with a few jagged tooth nubs left, to show people, saying "Damn look at what's happening here, it's pretty gross huh, oh well I'm going to get fake ones tomorrow we'll see how that goes".
A Carnot engine of self-loathing
26 January 2015 @ 02:21 pm
I've definitely got a strong hipster streak. I've actually heard the term 'hipster' thrown around for ages before it started to sink in what most of its connotations were. I associated it mainly with a clothing style (which frankly, I find aesthetically appealing) and of course with a preference for non-mainstream music. Existing purely on their own, these seemed perfectly harmless of course, and I was never really impressed by the seething hatred of hipsters by practically everybody around. Gradually I caught on that although there are specific artists, fashions, and activities most often associated with 'hipsters', the main connotation is a fierce guarding of one's status as 'cool' and ahead of the curve, meaning you dislike mainstream music because you're too good for it, and you're so ahead of the curve you liked popular bands before anyone else, and you're definitely too cool to like anything with the slightest possibility of lameness to it so everything you do you do ironically, because it's cool to be ironic. So I guess the problem with hipsterism is being actively, aggressively insincere in order to portray oneself as a particular brand of genuine. The most common hipsterism tends to be associated with the nostalgia for mass media and pop culture either from the childhood of people roughly my age, or for things from before anyone was born.
But so before I figured this out, all I noticed was that it was cool to hate hipsters. If you displayed any hipster-like tendencies, or liked any hipsterish things, you were in trouble for maybe possibly being a hipster. Shame on you. You should be more careful about what you like, and why you like it, and how you talk about why you like it, you don't want to be a hipster do you?
So I recognize a lot of what I do is, of course, for status. I listened to Daft Punk's first couple albums in high school and college and then kind of lost touch for a while, and then last year (or the year before?) they had a mainstream popular hit. These are all facts, make of them what you will. Personally, I don't actually like their newer music, what I've heard of it, as much as their older stuff. Is it because you're more likely to like things more strongly when you're in high school? And/or that helped define my taste in music and their new stuff is different enough from their old stuff that it's not close enough to my taste anymore? Or maybe actually my taste has changed. If I convey this information in anything other than a completely neutral tone only when it is absolutely relevant to the topic at hand, it's hard to avoid it coming off as at least somewhat a hipster status grab. And generally when I would reveal something like this, it's going to be a little bit more value-laden, phrased and intoned in a non-neutral way. Because I *am* disappointed when there's a Daft Punk song but it turns out to be from post-Discovery. 'Aw damn,' I say, 'It's their new stuff. I liked their old stuff better. I listened to it all the time, but now people only know 'Get Lucky'.' This is unfortunate for me, because I got my hopes up to hear a song that I know every measure of and can't not dance to and have over a decade of fond feelings and memories and associations with. My experience of Daft Punk is, therefore, not the same as the experience of people who have not known them as long. I am not saying, 'You losers, I am cooler than you.' I am saying, 'Here is some information about myself that I feel explains a few things about this extremely narrow situation, but also most likely gives you some more hints as to my greater background and personality. I was a kid who was into techno as a teenager in the early 90s and 00s. This tells you something about me, both my age, what kind of music I was listening to since techno was different then, and my personality, since a person who listens to techno as a teenager is different from one who doesn't is different from one who listens to techno as a teenager now.' And frankly, I like that little persona. There's obviously much more to me, but the Daft Punk fan character is one aspect, and I find her endearing, and am hoping you will too.
And so there we go, I've gone from defending my statement as a bare innocent fact to admitting that I am preferentially revealing information about myself in the hopes of creating an image of myself in your mind, thinking it will make me more appealing to you. Probably maybe I would have phrased it differently, or not said anything at all, if I had a different prediction of what you would have thought of it. I do this all the time. It's most of what my brain is for, really. Assessing the incredibly intricate and subtle nuances of a complex situation and behaving in a way that will, by my calculations, with high probability produce a desirable goal, by sorting through my storehouse of knowledge, facts, and learned experiences. Because being culturally aware and having good taste are positive traits. Because if I like something, there may be a good reason for liking it, and maybe other people like it for the same reason and that means that we have something in common.

Well, I have several threads of thought that this can lead to. Originally I was thinking about status signaling and intelligence; but it also meshes with my recent worries over my activities and people's opinions of and feelings about me. I'll do a choose-your-own-adventure and each as a different post I suppose.
A Carnot engine of self-loathing
22 January 2015 @ 02:12 pm
As a preview of the stuff I've been thinking about and will probably write tons about (although really maybe it's all unnecessary, maybe there's nothing more for me to say),
is this paragraph from SlateStarCodex:

Interesting thing I came across in research for Untitled post but didn’t get a chance to explore: female journalist Norah Vincent decided to investigate sex roles by disguising herself as a man and then going undercover to extremely masculine things like bowling groups and strip clubs and Catholic monasteries and men-only therapy groups where they talk about their rage issues with women (well, that escalated quickly). She concluded that “Men are suffering. They have different problems than women have, but they don’t have it better…I really like being a woman…I like it more now because I think it’s more of a privilege.” Her book Self-Made Man (ha ha) is available on Amazon. Anyone know of any men who tried the reverse of this?

The main point there being "Men are suffering." That seems to sum up a lot of what I was going to say. Maybe I should rephrase it as, 'People are suffering.' or 'Human beings suffer.' I actually find this to a common theme where I differ from many collections of people or beliefs - I generally tend to believe almost everyone is suffering, and generally tend to believe that it is unfortunate for anyone to suffer. I have a hard time with villains. Sure there are probably some pathological cases, but I wouldn't really extend their popularity as an idea in stories into what actual people are like. Shit is complex, dude, and life is terrible if you're conscious. Why is this so hard to realize or understand?
A Carnot engine of self-loathing
I don't actually of course believe in a thing like constancy of arrival time, but I can jokingly apply it to my life.  Sometimes I think I have got some things figured out, and wonder what is up with everyone else and why are they all still children, and feel good and proud of my maturity or precocity.  But then to make up for it there are all those things that I am so late to the party on...

But so it's hard to talk about some of the things I've been thinking about lately, because I recognize how insanely boring and cliched they are.  Except that I had just sort of ignored them all this time until I accidentally came to some sort of realization.  Or, maybe I didn't ignore them, maybe I did think about them, but somehow it seems to be of more interest to me, or I am more truly feeling how relevant it is, or something.  So I've got a lot of old hat to mash over, and consider this your warning that I recognize that most people have trundled through these woods 100 years ago.  It's just that, as I woefully rediscover again and again, there is so so much more value and impact from figuring something out on your own than being told or taught it.  In all kinds of areas.

This philosophy can lead to a lot of blathering about education.  But I'll spare you that for now.  It seems like the sorts of things that have been arresting my attention are the same old boring things like the meaning of art, what is important to do with your life, and various dumb interpersonal romancy things.  So I guess I'll have to talk about those, if only to get them the hell out of my head so I can move on to other issues.

We'll start with art.  Yes, I know that's an incredibly broad and vague topic.  I mainly contrast it with things that are more objective, or goal-oriented, such as science and engineering. I've been getting rather disenchanted with art lately, even as it's become a higher priority in my life. I'm beginning to doubt its motives and its use, and have been unsatisfied with the answers and attitudes of the few people I've talked to who want to do art for their life.  I ask them how they decide that that's what they want, and generally get answers like, 'This is just what my passion is,' 'It's what I love to do,' or 'I'm just following my heart.'  Yes, great, but how does that translate into what you should do with your life?  I don't think there's really any *should* to it, so I don't particularly think, 'You are incorrect, that is not a legitimate life choice,' even though I am strongly prone to that type of thinking, at least about myself.  I just don't have that certainty that what makes you happy is the rubric by which one should decide what to do with their time.  No, I don't think everyone should sacrifice happiness for the greater good, or whatever.  But I also don't think that my personal fulfillment is the only requirement I should use for decision-making.  Factor it in, for sure.

So let's look at drawing, since I've been liking to do that lately.  Imagine that I genuinely enjoy it, and feel happiest when I'm doing it.  The prototypical American Dream response is to say, 'Well, then, find a way to make that your livelihood!'  And so it turns into this goal to monetize drawing.  And almost every aspect of that is completely unappealing to me.  If I wanted to, say, be a full-time webcomicker, I'd have to maybe get my own website, puts ads on it.  Maybe make merchandise.  Maybe sign up for patreon, or do special projects with a kickstarter.  Maybe go to conventions.  Advertise.  And above all, make sure I am making good shit that people want to pay for.  And although in the world of webcomics, you're not exactly in competition with all the hundreds of thousands of others, people certainly do have a limit of how much time and money they'd want to devote to webcomics overall, so I'd have to fight to make it into the top list.  And the truth is, I am just not that devoted to becoming SO GOOD compared to anyone.  I just like to make things that I enjoy.  I don't really like the merchandise aspect.  I hardly ever give money to other webcomickers since I can't really afford it, but as much as I would love to help other awesome people making stuff I love to make a living off of it, I don't particularly feel like I want to or can or should do the same for me.  I don't have that impulse that says, 'Since this is what I want to do with my time, therefore I should endeavor to get other people to pay me to do so.'  No.  I like webcomics, but I'm not really thrilled about t-shirts and books and stuff, and really, all of these things are luxuries.  Yes, they and other arts improve my quality of life in some immeasurable way, and I certainly want the world to be such that these things continue to be made and available, which does mean that at least some people need to be able to make a living off of it.  But I don't actually feel like I'm producing a significant contribution... not compared to say, anything in technology, engineering, medicine, something in research and development.  Something that improves the world in a more concrete way than just making me smile or have deep feels or whatever.  Maybe it's that I think, in theory, I may be capable of doing something other than art, so given the choice, I'd like to focus on that.  Or at least, that's what it seems fair to get money for doing.

I love 'art' and sure, it fills my life and guides my actions but I can't verify that this is actually the best thing.  When I watch my own drive to create things, I'm not sure exactly why I want it or why it's so important to do it - a lot of it seems to stem from wanting to create a thing I can proud of.  And certainly the more I've reflected on this, and observed the practice of other art-like people, I've noticed that honing a skill in something artistic - music, visual arts, dance, etc - is highly visible and recognizable.  Almost anyone can look at your drawing, or listen to you playing the guitar, and say, 'Oh hey, that's really cool, you're really good!'  It's easy to display in a wide variety of situations and easy for anyone without particular training in your field to see it as impressive.  True, there's still that aspect where less trained people overvalue the ability of less skilled people - I experience it all the time when people think my drawings are great and I wonder, 'Have you ever seen anybody draw before?' - but it's not nearly as pronounced as in other areas.  How easy is it to display in a variety of settings how brilliant of a programmer you are?  It's hard to just be obvious about it in any public setting, and anyone unfamiliar with programming will have little to no ability to recognize how good you are.  You would need another person in your field to recognize when you've done something actually well.  On the one hand, then, it might not take much to appear impressive - I experience this all the time, 'Look I wrote a program that prints out multiples of 2!' 'WOW You're so talented! I could never do that I'm so bad at math' - but on the other hand when you're actually clever others won't know.  I am on the other end of this all the time - some genius friend of mine will try to show me what amazing thing they did with their program and I just won't know enough to recognize just how clever they were.  So it flattens everything into 'Can program' and 'Cannot program' or 'Can math' and 'Cannot math', with no distinctions.  Thusly, almost everyone I know assumes that I can get a job and succeed and be awesome at math or programming, because they see that I can do anything AT ALL and from their point of view it looks the same as awesome.

And so I suspect that, in my case at least, a lot of the drive behind wanting to art is for recognition.  Which dismays me.  And it's not necessarily a straightforwardly ugly status-grabbing move.  For me at least, it's not explicitly wanting others to admire me, but wanting what I admire in others.  So it's the similar result, without me thinking things through well enough to realize that really I'm just trying to get admiration.  It's very easy for me to be impressed with pretty drawings or other highly visible arts and talents, and so from that impression I think, 'I want that, I want to be able to do that,' so that's what I turn my efforts to.  I'm still a little impressed by less obvious things, but it's harder for me to see just how impressive the little ins and outs of math knowledge is without more training, and it's less immediately rewarding if I start to try to work toward it.  But whenever I stop to think about it, I admit that what I sort of admire *more*, or at least desire *more* isn't recognition but some other sort of achievement that in my blurry definition skews toward more practical things.  All in all, I don't think drawing *produces* something in the same way that engineering does, and so although it's clearly a good thing to have in the world, I don't really think it makes the most sense for me to get *paid* to do it.  I always want to pay for art, but it has to be put on the back burner and wait until I've bought food, paid rent, covered transportation costs, electrical bills, and c and c.  Things that improve the world in such a way that these things are more effective, more affordable, more efficient, more available, or what have you, seem to rate higher in my mind as something that it makes sense to get *paid* for.  Trying to turn a hobby into a paying job feels, at least to me, like trying to coax money out of people.  Yes, most people have more disposable income than me and it's not that big a deal.  But certainly I'm not the only one who has this idea - it's sort of a heavily endorsed trope in this culture.  And it ups the ante and increases competition for everyone thinking, 'Oh wouldn't be cool if I could just draw for a living?'  And so people get better and better and better, throw money and time into art school and graphic design training and spend their whole life drawing so that they are amazing and totally deserve to get paid for their work but of course to get actually paid you have to produce something someone else with money wants, so you get these totally charming and well-made commercials, and exquisitely produced websites and posters and book covers, and it turns into that old blah about making what you want and what someone else wants.  And whether one or the other is preferable, you can only do the second one if you are a fuck-all businessman and self-promoter and the absolute best.  And I'm just not that devoted to making myself that good so that I can kill myself convincing other people to pay me to do what they want done.  I certainly like doing things for other people, but I also like doing any number of other things, and don't want to devote all my time and effort to honing this skill.

So I know this is just a disorganized mess of thoughts on the vague topic, but essentially I seem to be sort of uncomfortably in this position where I strongly desire many art-like activities and talents, and seem to be continually making choices to improve myself in that direction, but I don't, at bottom, endorse it fully as what I would really prefer to be doing.
A Carnot engine of self-loathing

I wasn't going to do a new year's resolution because I am way too cool to participate in lame conformist stuff like that, or I am always resolving to improve myself, or some such bullshit like that. But then I remembered that I had obsessively figured out which days of the year I have never posted a livejournal post in the shamefully long history of this blog, so I figured I would try to post on those days so I guess that will be my resolution this year. There are the 38 following dates:

jan 20 26 27 28
feb 4 7 18 21
mar 23
apr 5  12  22 28
jun 2 4
aug  7 18 29
sep 3 7 9 16 29 30
oct 3 14 16 18 26 30
nov 6 11 17 19 21 22 27
dec 1

You see today is not one of them and I don't even get any overtime for posting on other days so I'm pretty sure this demonstrates what a truly good person I am.  If I stick with this, this means at least 39 posts this year, which is more than four times what I did last year.  Oh and I should mention I am waaaaay good at following through with things.

But so remember that time in high school when I thought I wanted to draw a lot, until I got distracted by something else, but then I thought I'd like to try again, but I was too lazy, and then I thought I should get back into drawing, but also I've got some other things I'm working on but anyway this time I thought I'd give it a try and so after all these years it occurs to me that I DON'T REMEMBER HOW. I can get better by practice but I don't actually look at the world around me, I mostly navigate by a highly developed sense of anguish, so I guess I can't just sit down and depict what something looks like.

So I got shamed into trying some actual art lessons, where you train skill instead of just doodling whatever comes to your mind until it turns into a cartoony tentacle monster. The first assignment consists of drawing two pages of lines, two pages of circles, and four pages of boxes in varying perspectives. (A little less straightforward than that, but you get the idea.) Actually training. And even in the first hour or so of trying this, I've learned a lot about myself, both in how I draw and an extension of that to myself as a person.

Probably the biggest thing, that I already know about myself and is one of my very least favorite traits but is once again rearing its ugly head, is that I don't do things to do them. Or even to get the end result of what I'm doing. I do them to get them over with. This is probably just about the worst philosophy anyone can have about being alive in general, and pretty terrible in all kinds of specific cases. It's almost surely the hugest factor behind everything I consider to be my failures or lack of accomplishments, as well as probably having pretty negative effects when present in society at large. So this wasn't news to me, but I did get to focus on how it was interfering with my drawing skill. Once I think I have a thing I want to draw, I just want it to be drawn. This clearly isn't the case for a lot of the time when I'm doodling or painting or what have you, but whenever I'm working on a comic or otherwise trying to complete some task that I wanted to have done, all I want is for it to be done. To the exclusion of trying to actually do it correctly, or well. It's not even so much that I don't take the time to carefully execute the drawing, it's that I'm not even paying attention to what I'm doing, I'm trying to get it over with. Not always, there's plenty of drawing I enjoy, but it's the reason why the first panels of my comics are almost always much better and more carefully drawn than the last, and why the backgrounds are laughable if they exist at all. And the instructions for this drawing exercise explicitly state to take your time, try to do them well. And I kept catching myself trying to get them done.

More specifically to drawing, and maybe an offshoot of the above trait, is that apparently I don't look where I'm drawing. I'm not actually a terribly visual person. At least, my visual memory isn't actually very precise. And my visual imagination – I may think of an image in general, but I really can't conjure up a picture in my head in enough detail to be able to draw it. I don't know where body parts are actually located, where light comes from, where things are located in reference to each other in space. I react to this information in everyday life without needing to be aware of it, and I don't take the time to explicitly plan out what I'm doing to draw – not just failing to do a layout, but also I just don't always watch what I'm doing. I'll start drawing a circle for a head and just look at the point where I'm starting and not at the space where the head is supposed to be. So it's usually not placed correctly in relation to anything around it, or I run out of room, and usually I don't even end up with a circle because I don't pay attention to where my pen is going. I just think, 'circle!' or even worse, 'head!' and expect it to happen. This is what you do once you have gone through the training so that your body just knows how to do the things your head wants. It does not work when you still have to tell your body how to do the thing your head wants. So this is some combination of inattentiveness and impatience. I definitely see this impatience pop up in many places – rather than prepare thoroughly for something, I expect to just wing it. I don't even think I'm that particularly quick-witted, but I at least seem to have some ability to improvise and figure a few things out on the spot, which has saved me the trouble of ever studying for tests or preparing for presentations or interviews or anything like that. I just figure I'll figure it out at the time. And it's worked just well enough to keep me from being forced to change it, and no better.

Another aspect of this impatience that pops up in drawing might be described as 'easily bored' but I actually suspect that's not quite the case. I think I easily get sick of things, but it's a little bit different than being bored. Or maybe they are the same thing. But I start drawing 250 boxes, and once I've done 10 I think, I've already drawn boxes. I want to draw something else. I don't want to just do the same thing over and over again, even though I need to in order to learn how to do it correctly and well. But as soon as I start recognizing patterns, I start looking for ways to circumvent them or change them. I generally try to reserve this for trivial things like drawing boxes rather than for useful life circumstances where I am stuck in a rut or otherwise repeating the same pattern. Those I can do for the rest of my life, whether or not I notice it. It's just when repetition might be useful that I try to be too cool to be that boring.

And finally, I actually don't have very good fine motor control.

I'd actually gone through what I considered a very positive change of coming to focus on the process of drawing. This was largely to save myself from giving up from not being good enough, from jealousy and frustration and self-judgment. I mostly turned drawing and art in an activity that I like to do, apart from the particular results. And you'd think that would save me from the problem of just trying to get something done. But I guess I'm still working on implementing both subroutines at once: working towards a goal in an effective manner, while still exploring along the way. It doesn't seem to work quite the way I think it should, at least in this situation: you're supposed to do lots of exploration early on, when you don't yet know what works. Then explore less and exploit what you've learned more. Maybe it's just that in drawing, effective methods of exploring have been figured out already and those aren't what I'm doing. I don't seem to often learn from my drawing. Maybe I'm mistaken and I'm not actually exploring very much. I recognize mistakes and problems with what I draw, but I don't experiment sufficiently to find out why, what different effects trying different things has. So these lessons are certainly more exploration than exploitation – pages of boxes and lines are not really a finished product I desire – but they're actually exploration, instead of running around in the same little area. I'll definitely get better at drawing the more I do it, and I do the process of just sort of messing around. But if I'm just messing around drawing the same things the same way over and over again, I'm not really exploring or learning. And if I'm just trying a new thing every day just because it's different from what I did yesterday, I'm not really gaining anything out of this variety.

Now I need these lessons for absolutely everything else about my entire life.

A Carnot engine of self-loathing
28 August 2014 @ 01:25 pm
I had two conversations two days in a row that in some ways overlapped and in some ways were different but still felt the same, and now, coming here, I see that the main idea that I find tying the two together was almost the last thing I wrote about here.

The strains of the conversations mainly centered around my depression and included the following:
Whether or not I can/should describe myself as insane, and what I mean by that
The validity and desirability of labeling myself as 'having depression'
The ability of a human to make psychological choices and control their behavior internally rather than externally
The legitimacy and usefulness of pharmaceuticals, antidepressants in particular in one conversation, and more the idea behind altering your brain through whatever means, particularly chemical, in the other

And one last thing that drew my attention to the parallels between the two conversations was that in both cases, the other conversant had a strong, negative, personal experience related to the topic. I have a strong, personal, negative experience as well, that is, my entire life. So of course I thought that this background can't be disregarded as a reason why each person holds their opinion (see also this post).

So apparently in my last entry I already explained how I never originally thought of myself as depressed or having depression, nobody told me so, I just cried and hit myself in the face and thighs and spent far too long in the tub staring, frightened, at razors, and paced my room or the streets in the middle of the night barely holding any coherent thought beyond 'I don't want to live anymore', all through high school. I generally consider myself a relatively self-aware and introspective person, even then, but I don't think I really analyzed it; I didn't so much think there was something wrong with me or my brain in terms of me being unreasonably sad and frequently nonfunctional, I just thought there was something wrong with me in that I was inadequate to the task of living, that it was a personal or moral failing, or else I just thought about how I couldn't bear to face, well, anything, and didn't really suss out the causes beyond the undeniable fact that things are unbearable to face. At 18, near the end of my first year of college, a friend sort of brought me to the counselor to see if I couldn't get drugs or something. I took Zoloft for a week or two, and seemed sort of ok at first, then got even worse, then there was a slight hitch in insurance that I don't remember but the barest difficulty was enough to stop me getting them. Then that summer (after dropping out) another friend's mom got me to the free clinic to get me more drugs, I don't remember what kind, and I don't really recall how long or whether I took them or why I stopped (all I remember was the psychiatrist's name was Dr. Ahkter). I'm not sure what my conception of myself was at this point, I think I just felt desperate.

Sometime in the next year, when I was 19 or so, I went to a psychiatrist again, and started taking something more regularly. For the next 6 years I was on medication and/or in therapy pretty much nonstop. I tried most of the SSRIs, a number of supplements, a number of methods. I went back to school, I started doing well, I got worse, I got much worse, I dropped out again. Somewhere in there I'm sure I developed the identity as someone with depression. I resisted it the whole way, I think. I would always talk to other people, or read about depression, and it never seemed like me. People with real depression were usually less functional than me. They usually felt more apathetic and emotionless, whereas I more often felt sad and despairing and hysterical. They couldn't sleep or eat, whereas I did too much of both. Everything about me seemed easily explained by my just being too self-absorbed, lazy, never having learned self-discipline, buying too much into dumb dramatic narratives; in short, deep personal failings reinforced by years of conditioned behavior and bad habits. They describe it as a disease that's not the 'real' you; well, there's no such thing as a 'real' you, you're just the collection of your thoughts and actions, and, well, my thoughts and actions have been this way since puberty, so whether it was originally me or not, it's etched into my neural pathways inextricably by now. If I were to say, as was repeatedly suggested to me, 'Oh, I did alright, considering that I have this mental disorder' I was lowering my standards, allowing myself excuses to not improve or do better, which I'm clearly capable of doing if I could just get my goddamn SHIT together.

About 5 years ago I stopped taking medications and I stopped going to therapists. I concentrated on reformulating my beliefs and expectations about the world; how not to be attached to emotions, how not to desire after accomplishments, how not to judge myself or think my self really mattered that much at all. I paid attention to environmental and physiological factors that affected me, I reduced my indulgence in emotions overall really, and I seemed to be doing better. I went back to college and finally finished, did some other things, made ever so glacial improvement, still fell apart and wanted to die not infrequently, still was often incapable of performing simple everyday tasks, but maybe not as much as before? Maybe. I considered myself to be doing better than I ever was with professional treatment for depression, but maybe it was just age. But I guess this must have seemed to me like evidence for the view that I just, one way or the other, learned particularly bad habits and perspectives that led to these depressive feelings, thoughts and behavior, rather than having any sort of disorder or disease.

But the whole 'still fell apart and wanted to die not infrequently' thing? That's... that's not insignificant. That's not nothing. And I do have all these opinions about the whole mental health industry, where I'm uncomfortable with the way they are conceptualized and probably believe that if a person gets the idea in their head about something like 'depression' then that sort of gives them a blueprint to fill in about how to feel and think and behave that they wouldn't have done without the concept handed to them from outside. I have no idea how to substantiate this belief though; the only thing I know about is schizophrenia, which for sure occurs whether or not people know about it in all cultures, just the form it takes differs. But to make a distinction between a disorder that can be explained neurologically and something purely psychological I think exhibits a lack of understanding of the brain, remnants of dualist thinking that I don't ascribe to.

So did the idea of depression guide me into being more depressed? Probably. Would I have had similar problems without it? Steven Pinker had a good section in 'The Stuff of Thought' on causality and the closest possible world. We light a match: it wouldn't have caught fire if we hadn't struck it. So that act by us caused it to light. But it also wouldn't have caught fire if there hadn't been enough oxygen. Or it had been wet. Or too windy. We focus on agent-driven acts we can identify as the causes of events, and everything else as mere helpers. He says "we can say that striking the match caused it to burn because the match does not burn in the closest possible worlds to ours in which it was not struck." The idea of the closest possible world is that you can't hold everything else equal and change only one thing - everything's far too interrelated for that.  I don't know what the closest possible world is where I wouldn't have ended up with the idea that I had something that could be described as depression, and that it's not just a sensible and expected reaction to being alive (although I could argue on that one), and that maybe there's something else to it than just bad character.  It would require a different society or a different time, I would be in a different situation where I was aware of different things, and I would be a different person anyway.

And so that's also why I don't think it's actually helpful to classify it as a disease that 'isn't me', to distinguish between the 'true bria' and the 'depressed bria'.  I know they are very very different experientially, but it's not like there's two separate entities, just a variety of different modes of behavior that can be roughly categorized into two main camps, with really a lot more blending and mixing and in-between than the binary description would suggest.  And honestly I think the entire idea that there is a distinct self, separable from environment, chemistry, circumstances, history, &c &c, although potentially at times useful or comforting, is at its heart entirely inaccurate and more often unhelpful or at least misleading.  It might not be possible to avoid using a general heuristic or threshold to divide what counts as 'me' from what counts as 'me, altered', if only because the more realistic concept of a 'me' just isn't sustainable in the entire context of everything else we have learned to think and do.  But if you read or learn absolutely anything about neurology, the brain, neuropsychology, or give any measured thought whatsoever to a clear definition of a person's boundaries, you find that it's not just difficult to do so, it requires a concept of people as containing some sort of immaterial immutable essence that really doesn't hold up under a consistent understanding of how the universe actually is.  It's convenient and soothing to our psychology to hold a notion of this sort, given that we already have the notion.

Maybe I'm just particularly flawed and inconstant, but the general effect of having one's thoughts, opinions, feelings, and actions largely influenced by completely random environmental and other external factors is commonly demonstrated.  Maybe we can be cautious about what sort of conclusions to draw from studies that suggest just how malleable people's opinions are due to smells, temperature, comfort, hunger, appearance, etc etc, but it seems much more likely to me that the main reason to resist believing that these effects are real would be because we want to believe we are 'better' than that.  It doesn't have to mean we're completely incapable of awareness of these effects, or completely at the mercy of everything outside of us, but I think these are significant enough to require taking into consideration.  I have become increasingly aware over the years of just how much physiological and environmental circumstances influence things about myself that I would want to believe are more constant.  The stupidest things like making sure I have eaten enough and well, slept enough and well, and am generally physically fit and healthy are some of the largest factors in my basic mood, which in turn heavily influences every decision I make and thought I have.  I can't make the moral choices I would prefer if I'm tired or sad, I can't be kind and understanding to others if I feel hungry or despairing, I can't think clearly or rationally about almost anything if I'm sick or anxious.  Some people are more ethereal than I, I've noticed, but for most of us, I believe this generally holds to some extent.  And it's not easy to be aware of it: especially since what's often being affected is how I'm thinking about things, how important I think any particular event is, or what it means, or how I feel about it, or what I feel capable of or interested in doing; if what's being changed by circumstances is how I'm thinking then I won't necessarily notice how I'm thinking.

So of course this is all mediated by, or simply is, distribution of chemicals in the body and brain.  If we say that I have some sort of abnormal method of releasing or reuptaking serotonin, which effects my thoughts and feelings and behaviors, that's based on some model of what's normal.  And of course there's 'normal' as in, most common throughout the population, but inherent in this notion is that what neurotransmitters are doing what, when, in what circumstances, in what areas of the brain, are what decide how anyone thinks or feels about anything.  And whatever is 'normal' as in, 'most common' or 'was mostly useful when it evolved that way' doesn't by necessity hold up to an objective view of reality or what's most useful or reasonable according to actually consistent models of the world.  It might be common and 'normal' and evolutionarily useful to feel a rush of rage and inclination to violence when one feels threatened, physically or sexually, but that doesn't mean that, in whatever situation you're in, that both you can reliably expect that threat to be real and that rage and violence are actually a productive response.  I recognize that a lot of my emotional responses to things are extreme or irrational or otherwise what I consider to be 'insane'.  This is a little bit hard to explain or to come up with good examples, but I often find my emotional reactions to not be particularly reasonable or rational or constructive, which doesn't do much to stop me from feeling that way (sometimes maybe a little, but not enough), and the way I feel puts severe restrictions on what actions I feel capable of doing. (Of course feeling capable and being capable don't always or even often correlate, but the feeling part has a strong correlation with what actually ends up happening.)  There's no necessity for however we evolved and learned to be able to think and feel to have an exact correspondence with reality; only enough to keep up generally alive and reproducing.  So once things get outside that realm, the fact that we have consciousness is just sort of an accident, and the way that emotions are mediated and happen is sort of an accident as well, and just because it's normal doesn't mean it's an objectively optimal way of existing.  Maybe some sort of nash equilibrium where, once everyone feels and thinks that way, it's difficult for anyone to change.  So even if I think, as rationally as I can manage, that certain elements of my appearance can't possibly matter and aren't terribly reliable indicators of relevant facts about myself, since in general most people have the general emotional, subconscious response to judge others (more than they'd like or think they are, generally) based on how attractive they are or what they're wearing, it's hard for me to disregard that unless everybody does.  And it's just not a given that any way that I think about things, or am capable of thinking about things, is going to be accurate or optimal.  There's no reason why the way that I am, as is, is preferable to any other way; almost undoubtedly it isn't.  And it's not clear to me that there's any correct way of determining what 'counts' as 'legitimate' ways to improve or change myself, and what's cheating.  You can consider the extended mind theory to be a bit extreme, but somewhere in there are some strong arguments that almost any line we draw between our 'selves' and the 'rest of the world' is partly arbitrary and a matter of convenience.  'I Am a Strange Loop' by Douglas Hoftstadter is another work that I think makes some good points about how hard it is to distinguish the self from everyone and everything else.  If a different mix of chemicals in my brain makes me more 'normal' but my brain doesn't seem to manufacture or process those chemicals correctly without some intervention, then that intervention might seem acceptable or warranted.  But if 'normal' isn't really that great either, and if I had yet a third mix of chemicals that maybe kept me 'abnormal' but actually more functional, or smarter, or kinder, or calmer, or whatever kind of mental or emotional improvement I prefer, that doesn't seem fundamentally different to me.

So in the end I think trying to stick to some pure notion of self, independence from the rest of the world, relying on some sort of internal strength or character over and above whatever tools are handy, although incredibly appealing and really a general rule that I still try to follow when possible, overall isn't sustainable.  I'm not sure what principle I'm trying to uphold or why it would be important to uphold it over and above the consequential results of what happens.   Given that I've proven to be woefully inadequate in many ways, it seems unreasonable to expect me to not attempt to be different, mentally, emotionally. And given that what makes me think and feel and act the way I do is such a complex and intricate mix of physiological, environmental, historical, and whatever other factors, it's not obvious to me which methods are acceptable, or legitimate.  Many people have, and I mostly do too, negative opinions about antidepressants; like they deaden you or make you not 'you', or are crude attempts at minimizing the symptoms without addressing the causes.  I mostly agree.  And although it seems more noble or admirable to draw on my own inner strength and stay true to myself without using external means, if that's even consistent or possible, that has only got me so far.  And in the meantime I've suffered and brought my closest friends with me in my suffering.  It's not like the, suffering-makes-you-a-stronger-and-better-person type of suffering, but one that weakens and destroys and prevents me from acting in ways I would like that would have a more positive effect on the world.  Maybe I wouldn't have ended up doing any good for anybody, but surely anything I would do is more constructive and useful to humanity and the universe than crying on my floor 3 days a week.  I generally had a pretty negative opinion of antidepressants and therapy and psychology; I avoided them for years.  But the whole point is to make me not 'me'.  'Me' is not really that great a person.  Me is desperate and irrational, needy and inconsistent, greedy and self-centered and empty and unproductive and in terrible, unnecessary pain uncaused by really anything in the actual world, which I then spread to those around me.  Holding to some notion of how I 'am' or 'should' be, or how to and how not to maintain my 'self', seems to me to disregarding the facts of how the brain actually works, the world actually is, and the actual results of maintaining those beliefs.