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A Carnot engine of self-loathing
24 November 2017 @ 12:39 pm

People like me (the ones that do that is) because I am afraid. Afraid and incompetent. I'm not so skilled at social interaction that it doesn't take effort. Adhering to social niceties, attending as assiduously to the fact of others' selfhood as I do to my own, is effortful and difficult. I often don't know how, or simply don't enjoy it because it's not as immediately rewarding as more selfish things. And so I, essentially, choose not to put in the effort. I don't want to have to keep up my side of the conversation, or whatever it is. And so I just don't. I don't want to sit still at this party and talk to other people politely. I want to learn about birds or get work done for my comic or see if I can't get some exercise done. I want to dance and draw and do the things that *I* think are fun. Even if that's not common. And the thing is that as far as I'm a bit socially unskilled, I am often very socially aware. Maybe some people might act as I do out of a more genuine interest in acting that way, or rather, the interest is as genuine, but maybe others have a genuine ignorance of what behaviors are expected or acceptable, or are not aware of where their own behavior deviates. I generally do know and am aware, I just don't want to do it. I am afraid of being unable to do it. I think I probably could, but it is hard, and if I try to abide by the rules then I can fail.  So it is always with a mild sense of unease, just a pinch of self-deprecation that I act the way I do in social situations. I opt out. I say, I don't think I can win at this game. So I will play a different one. One that I have control over and therefore can make fun. One that doesn't rely on others to go well for me. 

And then people like me. They think I'm charming. Eccentric maybe, but cute. Who knows what other positive traits they attribute to me. Because I am incompetent, and because I am afraid.

 
 
A Carnot engine of self-loathing
19 November 2017 @ 03:07 am
 
I have a brain that is always on. Its focus, however, is rarely useful. It is hungry for analysis but poorly trained, and will greedily assess the first thing it comes across, indiscriminately, often itself.

I would not say that I experience anxiety or even much unpleasantness because of this. To some extent, I greatly enjoy the machinations of my brain; something about the very grinding of the gears is satisfying, the sound and the feel and the movement of it. But it does appear to make my experiences different than those around me. This difference itself then becomes a thing to analyze. Every layer of reflection is another step removed from the shared reality of interaction.

It is only in recent times that I have even thought to ask myself the questions, 'What, exactly is it that I seek out of human interaction, and why?' There is an elusive notion of connection, of understanding, of shared experience or agreement or sympathy, that I seem to desperately crave although I cannot define its criteria. And I cannot defend the extent of my disappointment, how much I sink at those moments of failure. I do not always know which missed connections will matter; it is some unknown combination of how important the particular thing is to me with my expectations from the particular person and my current emotional state, among other things.

It is important, and good, to have differences with other people, and to be able to be enriched from them, have different perspectives and ideas, different methods and skills. Homogeneity is boring, and not only that, it is insufficient for problem solving and vulnerable to change or attack. But I still crave some certain amount of sameness, some vague notion of 'being understood'.

But this desire thwarts itself, as every interaction I have with someone consists of me building a model of the other person's mentality, of the social situation currently in play, trying to generate a coherent explanation of every action and subsequently updating my model. This may have begun innocently enough, merely by being somewhat curious about social dynamics and trying to pay attention and understand more explicitly than the unconscious models we usually work from. But over time I have become less and less able to keep the models unconscious; more and more I am consciously aware, removing my ability to respond automatically. More and more I have to perform explicit calculations about how to act in a situation; I have to name my goal ('This person seems sad, what will make them feel better?', 'This person would like some reassurance right now, is it appropriate for me to comply and if so, how best to do so?', etc) and then manually generate and evaluate possible responses. Little comes naturally. And to the extent that anything does, I am observing myself as well. Why am I exhibiting this body language? I've changed my tone of voice - what does this convey. It becomes ethology on myself.

Other people do not do this. When I am with someone, we are not having the same experience. Everything has to come through my filters. Every experience is processed and re-processed and overprocessed as it happens, categorized and linked to other experiences, connected to models and overarching theories, given a place in the overgrown complex of my conscious experience and understanding of the world. Perhaps they have their own filters, or are lost in unrelated thoughts, are focused on difference aspects of the situation. Only so very little of our experiences can be communicated, even when that is an explicit goal; usually it is not. Being in the same place, doing the same thing, talking or moving together, and it is still not the same experience between us.

I can't explain why this fact is distressing to me; it's a natural outcome of the existence of internal experience and consciousness and does not need to have any particular value, positive or negative, attached to it. And yet for some reason it absorbs me, drives me to distraction, pushes me to grasp for similarity and agreement, dashing me when it falls short. And continually my conscious effort is focused on this, unable to stop processing, analyzing, assessing; always I am evaluating, never being, always alone.
 
 
A Carnot engine of self-loathing
I've always considered myself a weird mix when it comes to insecurities. There are a great many traits and habits frequent among people with pathologically low self-esteem or insecurity that I do not seem to exhibit in the least. Whatever it is that convinces people to allow others to treat them like dirt doesn't exist in me. Much behavior in this vein is very baffling to me; it would never occur to me to have these types of insecurities.

And yet I am not a self-confident person. I have severe doubts about myself, even beyond what might be considered a realistic assessment of myself, I often have very low expectations. This of course evolves over time, and although I can't remember my inner life over time with much clarity*, I think most likely I've become overall more confident and less insecure.

The trajectory is difficult to trace though, as I had some very disruptive periods in recent years that changed it dramatically and also obscure my perception of myself from before these periods.

I became temporarily invincible for about a year starting about three years ago. I was suffering through the worst case of heartbreak I've ever experienced, and, trying to act against my immediate desires and make the decisions that might end up helping me, I became very socially active. I was withdrawing from the group of friends I shared with my ex, as they became too painful to be around, so I went out and joined multiple other groups. I went to events, I met friends of friends, I followed up with people, I dragged myself through interaction after interaction, put myself in situation after situation. And I didn't care about the outcome of any of it. I didn't care if the new people I met liked me, I didn't care what they thought of me or how things went. I wasn't worried about anything, and I didn't *want* anything out of anyone. I would talk to people, and would learn what they are like and find it interesting, and appreciate and like them but in a detached way. Everything was other people and their interests and desires and emotions, and I was not a part of that. I could go up to people, talk to them, compliment them, accept compliments back. I expected people to like me, and they often did, but I didn't care either way. Nothing could hurt me. I had nothing to fear. I could make friends, they could reject me, I could act in any way and if people thought I was stupid or lame or unattractive or worthless, it would make no difference for me. What's the worst that could happen? Someone would wait until I had revealed my deepest self, was at the peak of thinking I had connected with someone, that I had really found something special, and then say, 'Eh, never mind, I guess I don't like you *that* much. And you're not that cute.'? Nothing else could even matter, all other pain would be nothing. I was invincible.

But I suppose it's a part of the healing process that you lose that invincibility, that you slowly become weak, grow your vulnerabilities back, your defensive structures dissolve, until at the moment you are at your softest - and the last phase of complete vulnerability before regrowing the armor begins.

And so, although I'm primarily back to something like a bria-normal, I have new cavities, soft spots throughout my person where none of the self-awareness and confidence I do yet have are present. Where I can be quite suddenly submerged in the kind of social and personal fears and anxieties I had forgotten existed these past three years. Where for a moment, no matter what I may in my mind think I actually want, my body panics at the prospect of whatever phantom has grasped me this time.

And yet, I've only just realized, that what happens when I am struck with these terrors, when I slam into a fear full force, is actually quite... good. It is a psychological behavior in myself that I think is the way I would *want* it to be, which is quite rare. And it is something that I think possibly is not common in others, and that certainly was not present in me most of my life.

When I recognize a worry, feel my heart clench and guts drop out at some potential future event or unrealized truth about a situation, I don't grab it and hold it close to me. But I do grab it, just for one minute. I grab it and I hold it in front of me. I let the idea of the world in which that thing happens, in which that thing is actually the case, float in my mind, and look at what it would be like to live in that world. I acknowledge the unpleasantness of it. I know that due to the nature of the thing, my ability to evaluate how likely it is to happen is faulty, but I recognize both that it is possible, and that it is not certain.

And I accept it.
I do not want things to go this way: it is good to be aware of your fears.
I cannot predict with accuracy whether it will happen or not: To say that there is nothing to fear, to dismiss the fear, is not a viable strategy. There is no law that says that things will always go well for me, go the way that I want. Very few fears are entirely unfounded; things like this have happened and do happened, and I am not immune. This is the strategy that many people trying to combat things like low self-esteem seem to promote or engage in, and it concerns me, seeming very dangerous and unwise.
But, it is, still, a worry, and for most of the ones that occur, I can recognize the evidence that a friend might point out to me in an attempt to reassure me, and from a perspective undistorted by anxiety. It is at least unlikely enough that I can behave as though things will continue as they are, and that they are as they appear to be, until more information is gathered. I can stop worrying and just live.
And I accept the possibility that it will happen: I would not like it, but I would deal with it. This is life. There will be pain, but pain is not all there is.





*A problem inherent in the storage system and not peculiar to me, as the nature of inner life is that it accords with the current psychological and cognitive state of your brain, and as such is distorted when remembered from the framework of a different state
 
 
A Carnot engine of self-loathing
17 June 2017 @ 02:53 pm
 
ah so this is my art philosophy:
it is how i relate to people and the world and it is a fun game
art is something with me and other people, so i like to make drawings as gifts for people
that is why it doesn't make sense to pay me for it
they are all gifts
so i like to have people tell me what to make
because they are validating my activity
and i get to spend my time and effort focusing on them and what they want
it is an exchange
and i want other people to do that to me
i want them to tell me what to make
and i want to have them make things for me
it is a way of encouraging each other
yes you can make a thing, it is fun, here, do this
and then they can make the thing and be happy with it
and i am also happy with it
it's like a happiness generator
why don't more people do this
why won't they play with me
 
 
A Carnot engine of self-loathing
23 March 2017 @ 08:23 pm
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b085wj18

Contrast this to the TED talk I posted in 2014. The TED talk, in prime TED talk manner, was hysterical and emotional and screaming for action. This, in prime BBC manner, is much calmer, actually taking a step toward considering how to deal with the issues presented, instead of just screaming about it.

So, what are the issues with having algorithms* make decisions? From the program,

"In short, we are using machine learning software in a wide range of applications that have real effects on important aspects of our lives - essentially what decisions we make, sometimes through way of choosing what options we're given, or in other ways that are typically invisible to us."

The unease around this idea is understandable, but part of me revolts at it because it's not wholly different from much of the rest of the universe. We don't always really understand how decisions are made. Compare to bureaucracy - no one person understands how it works, but there are many subroutines that sort of work together to in the end mostly get the thing done. It's a process that combines tools with human decision makers.

The questions around how disturbing it might be to have a pseudo-infallible source of decisions whom we generally trust but can't understand reminds me of this old post actually. It is kind of unnerving to just have to trust something you don't understand, except we do it all the time. It's just that this is MACHINES and it's SCARY.

What I like about this program, though, is it illustrates through example how, you know, people are actually pretty shitty at making decisions. They're stupid and ignorant and biased and prone to sleepiness and crabbiness and who knows what else. From this program, you can see the use of algorithmic decision-making tools - they can identify patterns that we might otherwise miss.

Reminds me actually of a story from 'The Silent Language' by Edward T. Hall, an old book talking about the information that culture provides that isn't directly encoded in language. The example is about the difference in enforcement of law, in particular the speed limit. In American culture, the speed limit is fuzzy. Sure, the sign *says* 50 mph, but you're not really going to fine or arrest me for going 51, are you? That would be ridiculous, not to mention unjust. In Spanish culture, the law is written down and we can't leave it up to unreliable interpretation, that would be unjust. Instead, they rely on the likelihood of having some uncle or cousin or such involved in the court, who would pull strings and get the speeder out of any punishment for such a tiny infarction. Both cultures prefer non-draconian laws that allow reasonable leeway; they simply implement the informality at a different point in the process.

And it's that flexibility that seems like it could be lost when turning decisions over to algorithms. The example of parole prediction given in the program illustrates this well: these are the exact same heuristics we were *already* using. It's just that now they're being codified, and that seems like it leaves out any room in the process for informal leeway or exceptions. I'm not necessarily sold on the thought that the likelihood that you're arrested or released on parole or whatever needs to be heavily influenced by a human who's just anxious to get out of there and get to lunch, or is going through a tough time at home, or didn't get enough sleep, or whatever other random factors it is that inform a human's decisions.

*Side note for people who care: Am I the only one mildly irked at the polysemous meaning the word 'algorithm' has taken on for laymen? Only very mildly because that's just language for you, but having taken computer science classes and read books and whatnot I've been repeatedly taught a very narrow definition for 'algorithm', whereas in wider use it is similar but can encompass a much more general idea of 'computers and software'. Ok, I'm over it, but I had to take a minute to announce how learned I am for preferring the narrow terminology.
 
 
 
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
Ansome
DJ Coone


and the things you find hilarious might include:
Bo Burnham
Maria Bamford
ERB
5SF
Catch-22
Mitchell & Webb
Oglaf
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:
acceptance
authenticity
cooperation
fairness and justice
friendliness
industry
kindness
order
skillfulness
supportiveness
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".