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What Can We Learn About Human Psychology from Christian Apologetics?

I'm reminded of this piece. It's very long for an internet piece so I'm going to summarize. Some of this is my own words, some directly copied. It in general describes the different perspectives of the brain's hemispheres, based on The Master and His Emissary by Iain McGilchrist.

Left Hemisphere: Creates divisions for manipulation, but it doesn't care about accuracy. Its main focus is reinforcing the divisions it's already made. It is less logical than it is usually like a pathological liar. The left hemisphere isn't interested in reality so much as it wants to prop up its own image and stories. The left hemisphere hungers for certainty and as often as possible expresses itself in absolute and certain terms. The casualty here is obviously accuracy. And when certainties clash with what's actually going on, the left hemisphere sides with certainties. The fundamental character of the left hemisphere is to sacrifice the truth for defending its divisions, stories, and certainties.

Right Hemisphere: Generates attention in terms of the whole. It focuses on qualities rather than concepts. For example, the right hemisphere is responsible for recognizing or visualizing the color red. The right hemisphere perceives and imagines in pictures. It is nondual. It focuses on what it happening in full: the specific, particular, indescribable understanding of what is actually happening. It doesn't care about certainty. It's seeing the whole of things, and relating to them as accurately and honestly as possible.

Left-Right Relationship: In experiments with split-brain patients, the left hemisphere answers. The right hemisphere sees the snowy landscape and picks up the snow-shovel card. But the left hemisphere sees a chicken, and is asked to explain why they picked up the shovel card. In short, they make up an answer out of thin air. "Because you use a shovel to clean up after chickens." They chose the card because you use a snow shovel to shovel snow. But the patient tells a story of a rational connection that didn't occur. Why do these people make up a rational connection like this?

A Sharp Left Turn: Why fake a thought process? Why is the brain so fast at faking it that it gives rational-seeming answers on the fly? And if the split brain patients experience this, and are so good at it, doesn't it seem almost as if the left hemisphere might have done this before? It's important what kind of response this is. It's a rational seeming response. And that seems to imply an agenda: despite not having any good reason and fessing up to it, we instead get the rational seeming response which gives us the impression of a rational person. More specifically, that the person has a rational mind. In short, a mind that doesn't exist because no rational process took place. The left hemisphere is able and eager to create the illusion of a mind.

Peacock People: In brief, the mind is not as much a survival tool as a courtship tool. The mind is for building status through displays: poems, language, knowledge, buildings, drawings, carts, cars, phones -- instead of the peacock's tail, you have the products of human creativity, engineering. If this were true, we should expect the mind to be more concerned with making things than understanding the world rationally. In fact this is the case. In some sense, the rational mind is actually the manipulative mind. It's a mind that wants to alter things in the world for the display of status far more than it wants to understand the world.

The Illusion of Self: What draws people to other people is not usually their rational or logical thinking. That thinking might provide a framework and has to at least appear consistent. But the real draw is a person's character. The mind is there to project the image of a mind with vibrance and flavor. That is, a human self.

I haven't read the book he references so I can't say whether its supported well or not, but I think the one insight to take away is that the mind/brain has "make things up" wired into it.

Does Goal Setting Work?

How to set a goals in one step. Pick the biggest/grandest thing you can expect to actually accomplish. Don't try to engineer a reward dispenser, extrinsic or intrinsic. Don't get high on motivation and then come crashing down. Just pick what you already want and expect you can do, and do it. This applies to both daily, weekly, yearly, etc. timespans.

This is basically the next best alternative to BJ Fogg's Tiny Habits. Rather than setting the easiest possible goal "Plug in the treadmill after breakfast" you pick one you're sure you can do anyway "Run for five minutes in the morning". Whatever you think you can do. Then once you can do five minutes, you'll probably believe you can push farther.

(Disclaimer: I have recently started using this. It might not be the super be-all-end-all goal setting method.)

Hoping to start a discussion about overcoming insecurity

You have an interest in it and you stay with it. You are supposed to ask it ( I hate that anthropomorphizing of it but that's what they say) what it wants and stuff like that until you get a 'shift' where you have a sort of epiphany which is marked by an unmistakable release of tension.

I have to be missing the purpose of this. Wouldn't a feeling of insecurity have a simple response like: get away from the speech podium, etc? I did look at some "focusing" websites, but this point I can't figure out from the few bits and pieces around.

Pareto improvement in gym norms: Spread the word!

Is the point that being a "gentleman" and wiping your seat may have "efficiency" value but lack decency value?

Open thread, May 17-31 2013

Regarding: "rightism is what happens when you’re optimizing for surviving an unsafe environment, leftism is what happens when you’re optimized for thriving in a safe environment."

My suggestion would be that politcal beliefs in general are for optimizing survival and fairness. Both ends of the spectrum want the world to be safe. Both ends believe in fairness. But the threats are coming from different places.

Yvain makes a major assumption in his post that in apocalyptic scenarios people turn on each other. But this is something I would say we find more in films than in real life, except in cases of insider-outsider groups, like pogroms. At the same time, it is a defining factor in a person's political views. If we were to argue about this, we'd be arguing about politics, and I think we consider that off-limits here? Anyway, in the abstract:

It seems to me that the defining characteristic of left and right is how much authority, power, structure there needs to exist for there to also be order. "People don't rape, kill, and steal because the government/god/[structure] stops them." vs. "People don't rape, kill, and steal because they don't want to, for the most part." So the methods of optimizing for a safe environment with these opposing views point in opposite directions. Are the structures and hierarchies holding our society together, or are they its biggest threat? Build them up, or tear them down? Obviously, there are more moderate positions.

Basically, these are not safe vs. unsafe, but about the perception of where that source of danger will be found.

Regarding your last two points: "happiness is what happens when things are going well, depression is what happens when things aren't" and "the world is basically dangerous" etc.

Thinking makes it so. A person on the right perceives their enemies as far away, and weaker because their idea of an enemy is likely a foreigner in another country without a large military. They never have to personally interact with those they consider enemies (unless left leaning citizens qualify). A person on the left perceives their enemies as nearby, and stronger: the police, the courts, possibly many societal institutions and corporations, capitalism, sexism, their boss, etc. which are at least seen if not experienced in some aspect or another.

What I would suggest is, the closer and stronger your political opposition is perceived to be, the less likely you will be happy, and vice versa.

Open Thread, May 1-14, 2013

Does anyone know the terms for the positions for and against in the following scenario?:

Let's assume you have a one in a million chance of winning the lottery. Despite the poor chance, you pay five dollars to enter, and you win a large sum of money. Was playing the lottery the right choice?

Open thread, March 17-31, 2013

I don't know Thomas Sterner or have any business with the guy. Same thing for Fogg, and his online course is free since he's doing it to collect data. So it's not an advertisement in that sense.

Akrasia/procrastination is one of my main interests so I wanted to share some info that I hadn't seen on the site but helped me.

Open thread, March 17-31, 2013

Akrasia-related but not yet on lesswrong. Perhaps someone will incorporate these in the next akrasia round-up:

1) Fogg model of behavior. Fogg's methods beat akrasia because he avoids dealing with motivation. Like "execute by default", you simply make a habit by tacking some very easy to perform task onto something you already do. Here is a slideshare that explains his "tiny habits" and an online, guided walkthrough course. When I took the course, I did the actions each day, and usually more than those actions. (IE every time I sat down, I plugged in my drawing tablet, which got me doing digital art basically automatically unless I could think of something much more important to do). For those who don't want to click through, here are example "tiny habits" which over time can become larger habits: "After I brush, I will floss one tooth." "After I start the dishwasher, I will read one sentence from a book.” “After I walk in my door from work, I will get out my workout clothes.” “After I sit down on the train, I will open my sketch notebook.” “After I put my head on the pillow, I will think of one good thing from my day.” “After I arrive home, I will hang my keys up by the door.”

2) The Practicing Mind. The author confronts the relatively mundane nature of most productive human activity. He works on pianos for a living, doing some of the most repetitive work imaginable. As he says: "out of sheer survival, I began to develop an ability to get lost in the process of doing something." In general, I think the book details the way a person ought to approach work: being "present" with the work, focused on the process and not the product, being evaluative and not judgmental about work, to not try too hard but instead let yourself work.

I'll share one concrete suggestion. Work slowly. "[S]lowness... is a paradox. What I mean by slow is that you work at a pace that allows you to pay attention to what you are doing. This pace will differ according to your personality and the task.... If you are washing the car, you are moving the sponge in your hand at a slow enough pace that allows you to observe your actions in detail as you clean the side of your car. This will differ from, say, the slow pace at which you will learn a new computer program. If you are aware of what you are doing and you are paying attention to what you are doing, then you are probably working at the appropriate pace. The paradox of slowness is that you will find you accomplish the task more quickly with less effort because you are not wasting energy. Try it and you will see." He gives the example of working slowly during his work and paradoxically finishing sooner. I can't comment on the time aspect personally, but at least giving myself permission to work slowly increases the likelihood of paying deep attention to a project as well as not stressing.