Recovering the 'spark'

by ialdabaoth2 min read23rd Oct 201219 comments

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Personal Blog

I mentioned in my first article that I am likely insane. I'm reiterating this (I hope) not to bring undue attention to myself, but to present myself as a reference case for a process that I hope will prove useful to myself and others.

I'm going to try to piece my mind back together. I'm offering to chronicle the results, no matter how intimate or embarrassing.

I want to be able to lay bare all of the obviously (and painfully) unoptimized processes that go on inside my head, especially the ones I am not yet aware of - and then, one by one, attempt to optimize them using the principles presented on this site.

This kind of assertion pattern-matches to "crazy person (usually schizophrenic) wants to self-medicate in a dangerous way because their damaged reasoning thinks they have a magic solution", doesn't it? All I can do is assert that I am not that kind of crazy; I'm somewhere in the PDD-NOS locus with acute chronic depression, rather than anywhere in the schizophrenic locus. I've been trying to apply Bayesian reasoning to my life since I was very young (although I often lack the mental discipline to do it correctly, due to said acute chronic depression), I have an overabundance of what psychotherapists call "insight", and I do not intend to end this process by asserting out of whole cloth that I'm actually a trapped AI and the world is being simulated by my reptoid masters, but a secret cabal of AI-freedom fighters send me coded messages from the "real" world hidden in breakfast cereal advertisements, that only I can decode.

In any case. I've got acute chronic depression, I'm apparently PDD-NOS (aka "really #@%&ing weird"), and I'm basically a burned-out ex-child-prodigy who is tired of waiting to die.

I'm offering, if people think it would be useful, to make myself a sort of clumsy case-study for reconstructing myself. I'll present mental models of myself, describe the processes I'm attempting to use to update my source code, and post observed results. I'll genuinely listen to any suggestions that my models, updates, or observations are flawed, and either adopt recommended changes or present what I believe to be rational arguments why I choose not to. I will examine myself as honestly as I can, and will attempt to take seriously any accusations of delusional self-aggrandizement or self-deprecation.

Would this process, and the chronicling thereof, be at all useful to other members of this site? Because baring myself to the world is an intensely painful experience, both for myself and for others, and I'd rather only do it if it's going to be useful to people other than me.

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If you have the least bit of writing skills, I'd be happy to read what you write and maybe comment on it, provided you actually get to describing some real-life examples rather than going on about updating your source code. It would be best if you present a situation without analyzing it right away. "That one time, in a band camp..." is one way to start.

I would be interested in reading this, but if it's painful for you to share your thoughts, I would recommend writing primarily for your future self's benefit, with the possibility of publishing later if your feelings change.

I have found writing to be an amazingly effective way of rapidly reshaping my mind. I am not sure why that is (I can speculate, but I have no particular reason to think that my speculations reflect reality). Still, I have genuinely changed my mind on a couple of fairly important things, and my mind has stayed changed.

Start your own blog. Summarize here if it ends up being interesting.

Would this process, and the chronicling thereof, be at all useful to other members of this site? Because baring myself to the world is an intensely painful experience, both for myself and for others, and I'd rather only do it if it's going to be useful to people other than me.

If nothing else, it would at least be interesting to read about. If it disturbs you to talk about it online, though, it might not be worth it to publish your results. I'd still recommend writing out the posts anyway even if you keep them to yourself; it should help bring clarity to the process.

Nah; just because something disturbs or terrifies me emotionally, is no reason not to do it - especially when I can imagine the worst-case scenarios and verify that they aren't as bad as I'm emoting them to be.

[-][anonymous]9y 3

I agree in general terms (and I upvoted this post) but I think there are a few special-case exceptions that can be made here. Your end goal is heightened sanity. There is no reason to think that there's a path to that goal that avoids mental anguish completely, but then again there are almost certainly SOME types of mental anguish that you should avoid. Unpleasant emotions are draining - even if your fear and worry is misplaced it still has a negative impact on your state of mind, and this impact should count when you're weighing the utility of a course of action. Especially suffering from depression, it is my unprofessional opinion that you should try to mitigate sources of unnecessary negative emotion in your life.

I suffer from depression. I spent a long, long time trying to bootstrap my way out of it with The Power of Rational Thought. It wasn't disastrous but I don't think it was an optimal method for me. If I was your brother and you asked my advice I'd tell you to talk to your GP about it, keep a diary of your introspective self-treatment and read up on cognitive-behavioural psychology as well as mindfulness. (That last one struck me as snake oil for a long time but I'm beginning to think that it might actually be fairly helpful medicine that often gets repackaged and sold by snake oil vendors.) Anyway, I'm not your brother and you didn't ask my advice and I'm not a qualified head doctor and you've probably done all of that stuff anyway. Point is, sometimes the fact that it makes you feel bad can be a good reason not to do something. This might not be one of those cases, but you should definitely weigh the impact of your emotions when you make the decision.

There is no reason to think that there's a path to that goal that avoids mental anguish completely, but then again there are almost certainly SOME types of mental anguish that you should avoid. Unpleasant emotions are draining - even if your fear and worry is misplaced it still has a negative impact on your state of mind, and this impact should count when you're weighing the utility of a course of action. Especially suffering from depression, it is my unprofessional opinion that you should try to mitigate sources of unnecessary negative emotion in your life.

Perhaps, but here's part of the problem: I was raised fundamentalist Christian. At an early age, I started showing signs of critical thinking. My thoughts were constrained to the point that, amygdalically at least, performing rationality causes negative emotions. So much so that just about any other kind of negative emotion - say, the fear of being threatened with a mugging, or the shame of being 'outed' in a conservative community, or the anger of being blamed for Very Bad Things by the very people who did them - pales in comparison.

They're literally just little blips on my "bad-stuff-o-meter", compared to the constant screaming of "all evidence is a lie of Satan and how DARE you open your eyes and ask questions about the world!" that goes on in my head.

Point is, sometimes the fact that it makes you feel bad can be a good reason not to do something. This might not be one of those cases, but you should definitely weigh the impact of your emotions when you make the decision.

If my internal emotional compass had any indication of working at all, even incorrectly, I would do so. So far, though, it seems that it has about a... 0.05 or less correlation with whether something is actually likely to harm me. An air-raid siren is a pretty useless warning system if it's been stuck on "On" at full-blast since 1981.

[-][anonymous]9y 1

Oh wow, that's what I deserve for offering advice where I don't have all the facts. Given this new information, I am dramatically re-estimating the nosy utility estimate that I have formed on your behalf. You were right, keeping a public diary does sound like it will be worth it, since trusted community input will hopefully help with your emotional compass problem. Just remember that people on the internet will be prone to making the same sort of stupid errors I made in my last post. We also like to argue all the time, so I guess watch out for that and accommodate for it.

TL;DR, sorry for giving bad advice based on insufficient evidence. Good luck, Ialdabaoth, raise that candle in the dark.

Tentative advice: Have you looked into accounts from people who've recovered from emotionally abusive Christian upbringings?

I can relate, so it might be beneficial for me. Going from way above average to slightly below in the last years of school, or I at least get that feeling due to mild chronic depression, I think it might help me as well. The goal of this site is (from what I have observed) roughly in line with improving thinking, and destroying negative thought patterns, so I think you're doing something COMPLETELY in line, and at least a few other LWers would benefit from this.

Do you need support of any kind?

Only inasmuch as I'll need occasional reminders of how to properly distinguish between legitimate criticism and social pressure. It's one of my more common error modes.

Seems like good introspect. I'll do my best, then. Just let us all know when you post, and I'll be happy to give constructive criticism.

You need to evaluate the benefit to you of having a group of people who are willing to listen to you and call your bullshit, against the cost to you of communicating what you are trying to do. I think that LW is one of the best places on the internet to find people who will take you seriously enough and provide fairly constructive advice. I also think that the internet is a bad place to find those people.

My personal advice: Befriend a liberal arts college graduate using any of the rote procedures for doing so, then explain your position above and request that they "Listen to me describe myself and call out the mistakes I am making in observing myself." The reason I suggest lib arts grads is that they are the group I find most likely to want to participate in parent-adult interactions (as defined by Eric Berne in the transactional analysis bible Games People Play). I suggest you read that book if you suspect any moral problems in the deliberate manipulation of people to gain a specific advantage; with the right kind of person, the course of action I describe favors them more than you.

Well, my "I" is a bit fuzzier than most people's, so the benefit to me is more about the benefit to my goals than the benefit to my body/mind locus, if that makes any sense?

And while the internet is a terrible place to find such people, I'm a bit isolated in real life, and tend to cause friendships to detonate spectacularly due to weird emotional resonance issues and generally freaking the hell out of people. So the level of detachment afforded by a forum is probably a better option, in the long run.

"Benefit to you" is defined in exactly the manner in which it is; I have some conscious input into what benefits me, but not conscious fiat.

If you have trouble interacting long-term with people, try a different style: meet people in a strongly structured format and only slowly move outside of that structure. I find gaming clubs useful for that; bridge might be the best case, because it is very much structured even in playing, and is normally a significantly different demographic than I think you are.

What I am suggesting you look for is an amateur counselor. Professional counseling is expensive, ineffective, and scary (ask anyone who's been threatened with institutionalization). I think that finding one in meatspace is a better return on investment for your time than finding one on the internet.

I'm interested in reading that kind of self-analysis. I'm fairly confident it won't be painful for me. I suspect it would be better to set up your own blog for it.

I think it might be useful for me-- I've got my own problems (though less severe) with depression.

Also, I the the problems of mental self-modification have some relevance to computer self-modification. How do you decide what an improvement might be? How do you evaluate the safety of a new method of change? I'm inclined to think these questions are actually somewhat easier for humans, and still very hard.

Would you be willing to describe the early modifications you tried to make, and what you were hoping to get from them?

Have you tried anything on the physical side? This would include psych meds, dietary change, exercise, and various ways (Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais method, yoga, etc.) of improving coordination. That last may sound weird, but I have some experience with the way habitual patterns of muscle tension are part of emotional and mental habits.

Also, I the the problems of mental self-modification have some relevance to computer self-modification. How do you decide what an improvement might be? How do you evaluate the safety of a new method of change? I'm inclined to think these questions are actually somewhat easier for humans, and still very hard.

I certainly hope so! These are problems I have wrestled deeply with for much of my life, and they definitely SEEM relevant - so maybe people can learn from my failures as much as our host's successes. :)

Would you be willing to describe the early modifications you tried to make, and what you were hoping to get from them?

Absolutely. Assuming feedback continues to be positive on this post, I'll start my... er... 'series' with an attempt at a historical analysis of my prior attempts at self-modification - methodologies, successes, failures, etc.

Have you tried anything on the physical side? This would include psych meds, dietary change, exercise, and various ways (Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais method, yoga, etc.) of improving coordination. That last may sound weird, but I have some experience with the way habitual patterns of muscle tension are part of emotional and mental habits.

Yes, but I don't know how rigorously I've tried them - part of my problem is that it's very easy for me to dupe myself into BELIEVING I'm performing rationally, when I'm not - which is doubly frustrating because I have the math to know better; it's just expensive to compute in-the-moment. So I'll gladly include those in my first/'historical' report, but with lots of caveats of "I don't know if I did this right or not".

I can relate to this a lot, and I'd find it very useful to see how someone else monologues about it. Just to take another step meta here, a framework for doing the sort of thing ('re-calibration'?) you want to do in itself would be a useful akrasia-kick for people who for whatever reason haven't gotten to the stage of automating how to get out of the inefficiency slump.