Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Are they [/we] indignant self-dopes?

The estimable David Brin has a blog. And he belongs on my blogroll. But that's not what this post is about. This post is about a piece Dr B did not long ago. It nails some corners down on an idea others including myself have speculated idly about: emotional state-seeking as analogous to so-called "drug-seeking behavior" -- and perhaps more than merely analogous -- perhaps identical to.

David is speculating "ah, with vigah!" Viz:

An Open Letter to Researchers of Addiction, Brain Chemistry & Social Psychology

Though Dr B often delights in being provocative and contrarian, he usually does it with grace and style and substance, and I give him mad Roman Legionary props for that. He's more worthy than your run-of-the-mill gadfly, by far. More a worthy gadversary. When I disagree with him, I must think hard about why and how. And that makes him a gadsend!

Here's the money quote re self-righteousness as endogenous self-medication, near the end:
Why the Issue Has Grown Urgent

We have entered an era of rising ideological division and "culture war" that increasingly stymies our knack at problem-solving. Nowadays, few adversarial groups seem capable of negotiating peaceful consensus solutions to problems, especially with opponents that are perceived as even more unreasonably dogmatic than they are. This cycle is often driven by the irate stubbornness of a few vigorous leaders. After all, the indignant have both stamina and dedication, helping them take high positions in advocacy organizations, from Left to Right.

Might recent exaggerated levels of bilious social division be partly attributed to an all-too human tendency to fall into addictive patterns of self-doping, by wallowing in a pleasurable mental state? A state that undermines our ability to empathize with opponents, accept criticism, or negotiate practical solutions to problems?

May I boldly suggest that this insidious type of reinforcement may cause vastly more overall social harm than every illegal drug on the street?
We're probably a long way from proving anything about this stuff, and of course people will be indignant about the suggestions they see as implicit in all of that. What rich irony. Send in the clown car. Don't bother, it's here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Phrases: Pumpkin Eaters

I first heard this expression in a Jethro Tull song. I have come up with my own definition; perhaps I'll follow up with some actual research to see what (if any) provenance can be determined. The phrase is the title of a 1964 movie about a woman who stays pregnant as often as she can, but I think my definition has more utility.

By my lights, a "pumpkin eater" is a gullible person, one who (figuratively) can swallow most anything, and doesn't seem to be daunted by whatever the pain of doing so is.

It helps if it fits in with prior goals or worldview, and of course it helps to have a scattershot approach to reality. Some possible examples could include: people who think all of Michael Moore's work, all the X-Files, all the utterances of a given politician, or all the Late Night Coast to Coast radio shows are great and beyond criticism.

The much-bandied term "idiotarian" is a bit more pejorative, but I'm not sure it's stronger in meaning. I like "pumpkin eater" because it hasn't become fightin' words. Yet. I think.

Note that [as I want to use it] the term doesn't denote a country bumpkin [EDIT: or does it? Etymologically, it very well might. See comments], just someone who is, as Viv Stanshall said in the spoken-word piece "Big Shot", "credulous as hell."

Eric Drexler used to talk about something he called "bogophilia". On that, more RSN.

Monday, January 23, 2006

My Wimpy Pseudo Blogroll, II: Sleep Dirt

The connections between sleep and mood are well known, and curiously circuitous. I have been wondering how and whether to tackle this, since mood has a big impact on gumption. Enter Circadiana, which appears to be a most worthy blog, and not merely because it gets me off the hook. Its author Bora Zivkovik belongs on my blogroll, as soon as I get around to creating the real thing. A hat tip to MakeZine's issue # 03 for the pointer.
'I love Miss Frizzle from the cartoon "The Magic School Bus". She always says "Make connections, kids, make connections!"'
Amen to that. His top post today tries to connect some dots between sleep and mood in an interesting way. Extended sleep deprivation seems strongly correlated with reduced immune system function. This is more grist for that mill.

Joe-Nort says check it out.

Scrumptiousology and "flow"

You know, this really is one of those "blindingly obvious in retrospect" ideas.

If you can make a three-dee printer that uses hotmelt (or other thermoplastic), why not make one that uses chocolate?

Chocolate is good for my morale, if I don't eat so much I get a hangover the next day. I think I should write more about food. Especially strange crossovers like this idea. The phrase "a flow machine" popped into my mind, and slid laterally. I'd like to be a flow machine...

It's clear my hyperfocus practices usually lead to increased irritability. I figure that a big part of that is ignoring body signals: RSI precursors, bad posture, hunger. It's about attention. Lots of things turn out to be about attention.

In the last decade or two, lot has been written (and sung...) about being "in the zone", and Csikszentmihalyi, of course, put out Flow back in 1991. I haven't read any of his later works yet, in part because (for me) the book Flow... ...didn't. But that's not what I want to talk about. When I first encountered that book, I was struck by its subtitle, which refers to "the psychology of optimal experience". Hmm. Do I detect a classical monad that's subject to dissection?

Varieties of "optimality"

There are varieties of flow, I think. Here's my list:

Level-Zero Flow
Hyperfocused, usually single-tasking, easily thrown by interuptions or setbacks. Exemplified by the "Heraus! Can't you see I'm decomposing?!" joke. A face-to-face interruption can cost fifteen minutes to restore lost state and context; an interruption that results in crafting an email can cost more. This tends to be the kind of consciousness where any music must have no vocals (or for some people, no instruments that *sound* like vocals). For me, at least, subvocalization and verbal-"digital" formulation is frequent, and even dominates, as an idea is executed.

Key characteristics: Focus + fragility.

I call this state "fragile flow", aka "Artists Only" or "the Porlock propensity".

Level-One Flow
Able to treat interruptions as invitations or opportunities. The Oblique Strategy "Honor thy error as hidden intention" can come into play, as can humor, the inability to stay irritated by setbacks, flexibility in approach while being able to remind oneself of the goal, and the ability to engage in civil conversation. Still rather selfish, and can be hard to explain to others (especially people who ask what you're doing, since you might be multitasking with no spare "explain yourself" thread running). I tend to be less self-critical in this mode, and there's virtually no running internal dialogue -- what internal verbal representation occurs is more like the literary stream-of-consciousness in Joyce; hints, not sentences.

Key characteristics: Vigilance + resilience.

I call this state "grace".

Level-Two Flow:

Able to sway or persuade others in the moment, who might nonetheless experience a "WTF moment", or buyer remorse, after you pass out of their experience. Really good con men have this kind of flow down pat. Certain types of crazy people do, too. You're golden, you're sparking; you might also experience logorrhea ;).

Key characteristics: Charisma + persuasiveness.

I call this "R. P. McMurphy flow", after the character in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
. "McFlow", for short. Like McDonald's french fries, it's a perfect thing in its way, but at the same time bad for you. Plus, you can think you're there when all you are is manic. This requires calibration. Are they laughing with you or at you?

Level-Three Flow

Able to execute Levels One and Two flow while being ethical and respectful (don't scare the horses or parents); able to dip down into Level Zero and surface with the fish in one's mouth without biting others' heads off. Elegant, socio-ecologically-sound flow.

Key characteristic: getting things done while retaining supportive connection with others.

I call this "laminar flow", from the technical term for flow exhibiting no turbulence. It's still possible to be in Level Three and doing the wrong thing, of course. But at least you're not making waves. :) "Slick" people have it. So do wise people. The quality of the flow doesn't disambiguate the two.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

"You Can't Innovate Flawlessly"

One from Tom Evslin:

"Fear of mistakes makes people move too slowly. Fear of mistakes creates endless meetings where people seek a meaningless consensus in order to be able to share the blame if things go wrong. Most important, fear of being blamed for a mistake causes people to cover up – often even from themselves."

The whole article is worth a read.

Several perfectionists of my acquaintance have the problem that they're frequently disorganized and slovenly. I deduce that this is because the order that would satisfy them is virtually unattainable, so they simmer in drek. The meaningless consensus within an individual's society of mind is just as meaningless as anything ever seen in a corporate setting.

And yes, one of those perfectionists is me. More to follow. :) ;)

There's a Myers-Briggs -- Kiersey Temperament observation here: misapplication of "J" (the component of personality labeled "Judging") can really spike one's efforts to build new habits.