Monday, October 27, 2014

Origin of Ethics?

Somedays you stumble upon a good starting point for a clutter of ideas in your head.

I'm thinking ethical behavior has to start by assuming there are no necessary evils.

I think the Buddha said something like this about suffering. I'm not a Buddhist and don't have the time to look up the 4 pillars.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Pennence.

I'm currently in the process of paying penance. A process that is harder than you think, harder than I think, ongoing and indefinite. There is some limitation to the emotional cost I can extract from myself, but in the dimension of time, the penance may be one I'm still paying off on my death bed.

What makes it hard, is my self-esteem. Part of my penance is to take as much responsibility as I can, as soon as I can to reduce the future costs to all parties. It's extremely hard in these cases to judge yourself on what you actually said, rather than what you think you said.

A self-serving bias kicks in, what I said I have in writing, documented as an objective fact. The behavior is preserved perfectly for autopsy. But I can't be reading it all the time, and even with my powers of recall, I could not recite the exchange verbatim.

When I go back and read through, the self-serving bias still kicks in. Thus it is harder than you think to even read or hear a transcript of what you said. I have read blood drains from the neo-cortex when we hear information that conflicts with our ideology, and reactivates when presented with information that supports it.

I can read my own words and feel my eyes skipping/rushing through, and my mind tuning out from the words I committed that were poorly done. I can read words sent to me, and in the space between a paragraph I catch my mind constructing a straw man opponent of implied arguments, rather than the actual ones.

I have to induce a remorseful state of self-doubt to actually properly conduct an autopsy. I have to undergo repetition to stop myself getting away with rationalization and misrepresentation.

I think its only possible to do this, because for all the flaws, what I wrote was sincere, making it easier to accept the result of the act. I can do the time because I knew I was committing the crime. Had I committed the act cynically or disingenuously, I'm sure the cynicism and dis-ingenuousness would have persisted in the aftermath. I would have been rejecting this penance.

It's not good. A price is definitely paid. I feel it more acutely now than what I anticipate the payoff long term will be for clearing this emotional debt to myself. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Qualification

People have at various stages in my life described me as intelligent. I must confess I think of myself as intelligent, and at least 'above average' intelligence.

This is despite not knowing what intelligence is, nor having ever bothered to find out what the average of it might be. I also embrace the theory of multiple intelligences. Furthermore, I am in a position to understand that whatever brand of 'intelligence' I possess is not of great consequence in my ability to obtain success and/or happiness and know the many ways it actually hinders this pursuit.

So if I give you the following numbers:

123

You probably possess the capacity to create the following:

123456789

From this:

112

You probably possess the capacity to create the following:

112358132134 etc.

But it probably was less likely given the partial information provided in the second example '112' that your imagination would run away with the Fibonnaci sequence as it was that you would just count through the integers when given '123'.

Whatever it is about me that I and others seem to recognise as intelligence, what I can only suspect other people are seeing is my ability to take a part of a concept and infer or extrapolate the rest and quickly.


If you will what my mind does reflexively and rapidly is upon being shown a foundation - it builds the whole room, roofs it, decorates and populates it with inhabitants - before the tour guide says anything or I read a plaque on the wall. 

Often when the tour guide says stuff, inaccuracies are revealed to me - the building would have been finished in stucco rather than stone for example. But there is a bunch of stuff I guessed correct - distinguishing the kitchen from the bedrooms, the toilet from the fire pit etc.

Thus to describe how I generally live my life, if I can tolerate the consequences of the inaccuracies my models produce then I am happy to enjoy the speed and efficiency with which my mind builds them.

The pitfall is of course hubris (and not the only pitfall) which is to say being overconfident in my models. Thus if I listen to a Gabor Mate video (or hours worth) since his central arguments make intuitive sense to me, I take a small piece of information from someone who has spent a lifetime accumulating expertise - rapidly construct the implied universe that small piece of information is the foundation of and regard myself as an expert in this case the bio-psycho-social model.

Here though, my inaccuracies might be slight, the scale over which this expertise is then applied by me, means the inaccuracies I generate are actually frequent and consequential.

My mind does this with everything, and builds models using other pre-existing models as a short cut. I describe myself as an analogous thinker. This is my attachment to Musashi Miyamoto as a thinker, and his own 'Way' or heiho - that by knowing one thing you know all things.

The trick though is restricted that 'one thing' down to as small a principle as you can possibly retain confidence in. I then have to ruthlessly second guess all excessive things I am inclined to believe I know.

Predicting sequences from initial information forms the basis of much IQ test questions. Ironically maths is one area or one of the multiple intelligences I actually would rate myself as below average in and at the very least clearly not brilliant, in that regard its a poor example. Constructing a house from foundation stones is much more my forte.

But even with this aptitude, it does not render me qualified to take on situations. It renders me more likely to take on scenarios I am not qualified to deal with. One of my common pitfalls is psychotherapy and interventions.

I can build a very good predictive model of how someone will behave, and subsequently how a social situation will pan out. I can back fit that model with an explanation of the drivers of the relevant behavior. But I often mistake explaining for 'knowing' and what follows is that I try to intervene.

The trouble is that while I might 'know' that somebodies addictive behavior is driven by say medicating symptoms of depression, chances are that somebody doesn't 'know' this, and possibly neither 'knows' they have depression or that they are addicted.

And here's the gap, I'm not qualified and am dealing with much uncertainty. My models can be quite accurate predictors of future behavior - (it's in fact quite easy, you just predict they will continue to behave as they always have). It makes me good at gambling. It makes me terrible at intervening.

Truth is, much of what drives all behavior, including mine is not conscious. I tell people that I quit sugar because I'm addicted. Almost all the people I tell this to are sugar addicts, in the grips of sugar addiction. You probably are addicted to sugar.

Do you think this? Probably not, you are likely to have never tried to quit, nor thought of sugar as an addictive substance, nor noticed your purchases of candy are compulsive and often not premeditated. Furthermore the consumption of sugar is normal. As is Caffeine, 80% of the worlds population ingest caffeine on a daily basis. Does anybody identify themselves as a caffeine addict? A bunch, but when Caffeine is recognised as the worlds most ingested drug, refined sugar doesn't seem to be factored into study.

My models lead me into the impression that I know why people act as they do - but if they don't know why they do what they do, I am just making a bet, often using language as a proxy for an emotional state.

I spent I would say 80-90% of my psychology sessions talking about 'my problems' as other peoples problems that I couldn't figure out. My psychologist patiently sat through session after session as we tried to figure out why people around me were causing me so much duress, until finally I actually realised that we weren't talking about other people's problems but my own.

I don't know what in my psychologists training told her to not to disillusion me that I was attending therapy to deal with other peoples problems, but this is a patience and discipline I don't have. I am not a psychologist, I am not qualified. I haven't actually built a reliable model of my self yet.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Robin Williams

suppose you have this theory:

If I am successful in my career, recognised critically, financially and socially for my achievements - then I will be happy and enjoy a good quality of life.

Then Robin Williams, who has all these things hangs himself and ends his life voluntarily. Invalidating the simplicity of the above life goals. 

You have to reject the hypothesis, you can now know that it doesn't work. In the example of Robin, while achieving fame, success and wealth he had early in his career an addiction to cocaine, 2 divorces and then in his late career an addiction to alcohol. 

To read his wikipedia page, alcoholism is not overtly described as a treatment for anything. And that may be the most common perception of addiction - it is a purely chemical relationship, a trap you can fall into because you like drinking too much. It's a gene, or disease. 

His 3rd wife revealed he'd been struggling with depression and also had early onset of parkinsons. 

So you can begin to make Robin Williams somehow 'other' and maintain your own life goal. Robin Williams was an exception, so while success, fame, wealth and popularity didn't work for him, they will still work for me.

Thing is, is that if you employ Robin Williams' problems, emotional and physical health to make an exception of him, wealth, fame, popularity are still doing nothing for anybody. 

If people who are emotionally healthy remain emotionally healthy upon winning Oscars, performing stand up and having a kajillion twitter followers, you can only conclude that these things don't harm somebody already healthy.

But people who are healthy don't spiral into despair due to a lack of fame, critical acclaim or wealth. 

This is not new, and while it will always hopefully remain shocking when a person decides to end their own life, it is perhaps healthy to rethink whether you are dealing with your own problems or hoping that something will make them go away.

Fact Is I've Lived

And I'll keep on living, but you know you need to turn around and take in that you've actually managed to do a bunch of stuff many people never get around to. I've done that, a bunch of stuff. I could not die and feel cheated by life.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

More means less

For a while now I've been undertaking the task of building my sense of self. Self-esteem, self-validating, self-agency. All of that.

I don't know if the correct way to describe it is 'as it builds' or 'how it builds' or 'because it builds'. Despite my efforts, the process itself is still elusive to me. 

So though I may be mistaken, please humor me - As it builds, I notice less and less inclination to defend myself. The territories of my identity are losing their hold on me, or I am loosening my grip on them. 

As I internalise my identity, those things I used to look to to communicate my identity to the outside world are diminishing in value. I know who I am, I don't require more evidence.

I am becoming more open minded.

So as a result of a few conversations, I've come to realise in the past couple of days, in a manner that for the first time doesn't seem like running away, but actually a move towards something, because I want it - that the time is now to move to Genoa, Italy. Not now, now. But I'm in a place where I can and should do it. I can afford it. I'm unattached and despite how much I love Melbourne, I can bear to part with it for a while. Which I really struggled to do two years ago.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Inescapable Truth

There is nothing I can figure out today, that will spare me from having to figure more shit out tomorrow.

I'll still be ooking for answers 30 years from now. Provided I retain my capacity to look.

Freud, approximately right

“Whoever loves becomes humble. Those who love have , so to speak , pawned a part of their narcissism.” 

I am a big fan of the casual observers, less so of their science. I think for example Keynes was right to never really build models of his theories. Because his theories were just observations. And the man himself said 'it is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong.' 

So I think Freud is worth celebrating wherever he kept it rough, and where he attempted to be more precise, worth forgetting about.

It could explain why one of the best fonts of wisdom for me, has been Jerry Seinfeld. The definitive observational comic. 

With curiosity you will simply notice what is. You don't really need to understand why something is, just that it is. I could not articulate better the gap between practitioners and academics.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

But I Don't Want To Go Among Mad People

“But I don’t want to go among mad people," Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can’t help that," said the Cat: "we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad."
"How do you know I’m mad?" said Alice.
"You must be," said the Cat, "or you wouldn’t have come here.”

- Lewis Carol, Alice In Wonderland.

There are times in my life where even I must be careful of what I say, lest I say something I don't wish to say instead of what I do mean to say.

So let me be clear, Mental Health Issues and psychotherapy (in all its forms) are severely burdened with stigma. There is much to be understood, much unknown and subsequently high chance that whatever opinion you hold about the mind and its various maladies and treatments are naive and possibly damaging. And here the general 1st principle of healing is probably as good a guideline as you can get - first do no harm. 

Perhaps the best way to deal with Mental Health Issues (MHI) are to find out as much as you can from reliable and noteworthy sources (wikipedia and higher) and then say as little as possible. Particularly voicing opinions of mere conjecture as though they are objective truths.

Now, what of Alice? I think the Cheshire Cat is guilty of affirming the consequent - (everyone here is mad, you are here, therefore you must be mad) a logical fallacy, but don't quote me on that. Alice's sanity though and her aversion to the company of mad people is kind of central. 

Consider a paraplegic. The question of somebodies paralysis below the waist is relatively easy for an outside observer to determine. While medical technology advances, at the time of writing, it is also easy to accurately estimate or account for the possibility of that person walking in the future.

Now consider the question of dating a paraplegic, the basis of attraction would be the whole of that persons identity (probably), and while you could allow for somebody pursuing a relationship with somebody who was paralysed to underestimate the impacts of that disability, I think it still reasonable that that person would realistically appraise and reevaluate the impacts as they arose.

Switch paraplegia to a MHI. It's not a smooth mapping exercise because we don't have a complete theory of mind. We do not know how the consciousness works, what it is really and how thoughts arise. But on your first date, suddenly we have gone from a visible debilitating condition to an invisible one. It is going to manifest in behavior. Furthermore it is hard to recognize if you do not share the MHI to some extent, owing largely to the aforementioned stigma.

With these differences, our assumptions in the first case have to be relaxed. Already it is hard for an outside observer to determine the MHI's presence in the first place. Getting slightly drunk can suppress all symptoms of anxiety, whereas getting drunk does not suppress any symptoms of paraplegia. Steven Fry claims that cocaine could actually calm him down during a mania. Whatever.

The next assumption is more crucial. When the person learns of their partners MHI, the chances of them realistically appraising and accounting for the possibility of that persons recovery from the MHI are not high. 

Following from this, given that they are more likely to underestimate the debilitating impact of MHIs not just on individuals but on a relationship, it does not follow necessarily that given these insults from reality that the partner will realistically appraise and reevaluate the impact as they arise.

Now the stark reality for people dealing with MHIs and living with personality disorders in their minor and major forms, is that the services provided by our health care system are probably going to be strained and inadequate. (50% of us have some kind of MHI) and in that absence, family, partners and friends can and have stepped in to provide lifesaving support for people in need and it is a beautiful thing.

With one possible exception, and even then I will not discount that in the short term it can provide real benefits. It's a cluster of adaptive behaviors that forms it's own pathology. 

If you go here, and read the first one star review, I think it highlights the dilemma of Alice in Wonderland (though 'mad' is a ambiguous and meaningless term, I'm not going to try and adapt Carol's work to modern vocabulary)

This is a book I read a number of times. If n equals the number of times I read it, then n-1 is how many times I read it and missed the point. Much of my psychotherapy I missed the point as well.

Consider our haplessly in love guy/girl who is dating the paraplegic. What if he wasn't attracted to the whole of her identity, but primarily the component of her identity that was her disability? And somehow he managed to muster up enough ignorance of medical history to have the notion, that if he just loved and understood his partner enough, that they would one day walk again? And on that day, he would be recognised as his partner's savior, a miracle worker, the greatest person they ever met.

I would hope you can see that the above person's motivation for entering the relationship are screwed up. You may also be able to imagine all the possible things that could go wrong in that relationship.

Substituting again for a MHI, it becomes less obvious. It's less obvious to any observer and the love struck partner themselves that they could be selecting for the MHI component of their partners identity. Thanks to stigma, MHIs can be kept a secret till post courtship. Thanks to how little we know about the mind, a partner adopting a belief that with enough love and understanding that persons MHI may be cured is more plausible. Some schizophrenics go into complete remission, others need medication for the rest of their lives that robs them of much of their ability to function.

Even with something like depression, you can get two people that meet the clinical definition of depression that have completely different experiences to each other and completely different reactions to the same treatment. The medical history of almost all MHIs and even personality disorders are very very recent histories, being constantly revised.

It is not in other words, the madness of the mad hatter, the march hair, the Cheshire Cat, the Duchess, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the Red Queen etc. that Alice need be concerned with. It is her own sanity. 

Here is the clear dividing line:

If you love and accept somebody for who they are, truly accept them and the realities of their condition. That's fine. That's beautiful.

If you love somebody for their potential to be somebody else, refuse to accept them as they are and the realities of their condition. Then it's now about you, and you should doubt yourself and proceed with caution.

I read an article that I can't unread, and could no longer find, but it had a simple rule, a heuristic and I love heuristics. It's if you ever use the term 'better' to describe your partner (not better than, but getting better, or they've changed, or they're making progress etc.) then you are waiting for somebody else to change for you and not accepting them for who they are. That's probably the best red flag I could offer somebody to catch themselves. 

Obviously, if somebody is recovering from the flu, then the context shifts.

But I read 'How To Love' a bunch of times thinking the 'who to avoid' chapters were bleak as they appear to many. The thing is that Depression might be the Mad Hatter, and substance abuse the March Hair, and sociopathy the Red Queen, Narcissism the Duchess. The key being that you shouldn't want to go among Mad People. It is as reasonable to a position to say a person shouldn't want their partner to be paraplegic as it is to say that you shouldn't want your partner to have Cancer or ALS. 

Same same with MHI. They are issues because they are debilitating. They take a toll on their hosts. You can share that burden, and it seems that some people overcome it. You can also increase that burden by not understanding it, making demands of it, and taking a failure to get better personally and resenting your partner for the choices you made.

It's not about them, it's about you. Have you accepted the reality of their condition? Most of these conditions are still mysterious and not understood by the experts. Too bad. You need to accept that reality as well and subsequently accept just how little of the reality you understand.

Failing that, try to do no harm.