Wednesday, January 3, 2007

The holidays, and other unrelated thoughts.

I haven’t had time to write - it’s been a strange, and frantic time. Had a mini Christmas gift-exchange with my kids, and a departing houseguest, on the 23rd. Spent Christmas alone with my son – my daughter was with her mom. Christmas Eve, I let him open two presents early: first, a DVD – Southpark’s “Passion of the Jew” and two others (alas, they didn’t include the Mormon episode in this religious-themed selection), then, the fourth season of Family Guy. Twice during the latter he and I couldn’t stop laughing. First time, “I say, are those two pigs vomiting up there?” Second, an elaborate, pantomimed workup by Quagmire, ending in the spoken punch line; “…and that’s the hand that started all the trouble. Got your nose!” [the last to Stewie].

Christmas day, I watched him play with his new videogame system (a wii – he’s going to have to wait a little while for the PS-3), wearing my new sheepskin slippers (oh, you should be so lucky…) and robe. Southpark, Family Guy, Zelda, and new slippers – the stuff of Christmas. Someday I’ll buy an ebelskiver pan and complete the scene. Two days later, I was off (again) to New York for a few frantic workdays.

I was alone for New Year’s. It’s going to be a big year.

Mitt’s going to announce today formation of a “study group” examining a potential run on the presidency. I’m still saying a little agnostic prayer for a strong Democrat to emerge from the wings. The beauty of being agnostic is that you can still pray, to whomever or whatever strikes your fancy, if it suits you at that moment.

Congratulations to Boise State – the “U” is no longer the only mid-major to crack the BCS. These guys get to finish the season undefeated. Wouldn’t it be fun to watch them take on Florida? Or even Ohio State?

I still peruse the Fray occasionally – sometimes from my PDA, if I’m out and about. Ghost asked a seemingly superficial question that sparked a good discussion – about why the quest for immortality is portrayed as a villainous goal. My take (from deep within the bowels of the theoretical framework in which I’m trapped. Trapped, I say!): from the moment of birth, we are at our peak of adaptive potential. We spend the rest of our lives sacrificing adaptive potential for economical adaptation. In order to achieve immortality, we would have to artificially (perpetually) increase our cognitive potential, or become cognitively static – incapable of further adaptation (including memory formation).

This is a psychologically repugnant scenario – attempts to maintain an unnatural stasis are one way of defining or describing psychopathology. One component of characterological disorders is incorporation of other people into one’s psychological economy in the service of circumventing adaptive ego change (portrayed in metaphorical form by the various human-morphed monsters from literature and increasingly popular movies). Delusional thinking reflects cognitive stasis. Dementia reflects mnemonic stasis. Once a psychological or neurological mechanism becomes immune to external influence, the resulting molar behavior is pathological. Or, evil. So, the quest for immortality being invariably associated with villains reflects the pathology associated with psychological stasis. The other explanations offered involving resources etc. are all metaphors for the above (the manner in which stasis is perpetuated at the expense of others).

Oh, and I see the term “sociopath” is being misused (again). Diagnostic criteria (which completely suck anyway) aside, there is only one character I’m aware of that one could convincingly argue is sociopathic, and he hasn’t been actively contributing since before I came onto BOTF (though I was accused of being him, more than once). The looniest of the rest are variously narcissists or histrionic* (the latter indiscriminately attention-seeking, usually in an irritatingly dramatic way). Frankly, nobody should object to narcissists anyway – one of the paths to narcissism involves, in part, realization that you really do know more than the people around you. Narcissists are fun to debate with, and usually have interesting things to say. They’re nearly impossible to persuade, however, independent of the strength of your argument - which can be vexing. But what fun the Fray without curmudgeonly characters barking on in their superior tone about the various topics posed by articles (hah!) or presented on one of the “non-topical” boards?

On the other hand, on a board full of narcissists, people with more pedestrian neuroses feel like a breath of fresh air…

There are ways, some quite dramatic, one can effectively challenge a narcissist. Seems there are a couple players here and there who’ve got it down. They will never be forgiven for it.

Maybe I’ll write something some time about the difference between primary and secondary (compensatory) narcissism, or “hard” and “soft” narcissists.

Last thought (speaking of narcissists…): Christopher Hitchens was dead-on in his article against Saddam’s execution (potentially questionable motives aside). The death penalty dehumanizes all who participate, even passively. Besides, if one removes all of the colorful attributions and looks purely at behavior, intent and outcome, the man bears a distressing resemblance to some of our own, lauded leaders – something we should all be alarmed by, were we not so busily trying not to notice.

*Note - Fray personnae only. Not intended to reflect on the person behind the personnae. Usually.


Anonymous said...

but i really DO know more than the people around me. and god is in psychological stasis? i love you.

ok, maybe living FOREVER would eventually explode your brain, but for as long as the earth exists, going through [among other changes] global warming and cooling cycles, and as long as the universe exists, continuing to expand [or expand and contract], there's new stuff to feed into one's head, even if it means dropping great chunks of old knowledge and memory to make room for new.

i've forgotten what much of my beloved texas looks and sounds like. and when i went back to visit that part of florida i lived in a decade or so ago, i didn't recognize ANYTHING, mostly because so many people were filling up a once-empty landscape [really, it looked like a moonscape not all that long ago; no more].

and memories of the philly phray hugphest have already begun to push out memories of the nyc fray gathering the year before.

here's hoping you have a good 2007, even if the beginning was on the lonely side.


ps. who's the sociopath?

pps. saddam hussein was quite handsome.

TenaciousK said...

Hmmm. Douglas Adams has a lovely little story about a puddle that he uses to illustrate a point about creationism and the manner in which we fit into our environment. Do you know it? Here it is:

. . . imagine a puddle waking up one morning and thinking, 'This is an interesting world I find myself in, an interesting hole I find myself in, fits me rather neatly, doesn't it? In fact it fits me staggeringly well, must have been made to have me in it!' This is such a powerful idea that as the sun rises in the sky and the air heats up and as, gradually, the puddle gets smaller and smaller, it's still frantically hanging on to the notion that everything's going to be alright, because this world was meant to have him in it, was built to have him in it; so the moment he disappears catches him rather by surprise. I think this may be something we need to be on the watch out for.

We are the puddle, and we spend our entire lives becoming more specialized – fitting better and better into whatever little niche we end up in. You know this is evident on a neurological basis, as neurons function on the “use it or lose it” principle. We’re born with far more than we really need, and they die off over time as the one’s we’re utilizing prove adequate for the jobs presented them. Over time, adaptive potential is sacrificed for economy of function. This is a process far more complex than could be redressed by dropping chunks of memory.

But that process must be finite – to extend it infinitely would require which would fundamentally alter our nature. Once we’ve done that, who exactly has achieved immortality?

Of course God is in psychological stasis. I love you too.

Every recollection is a new construction, varying in the degree to which is matches the scene of objects being recalled. You haven’t really forgotten Texas and Florida, though. In order to bring them back, you have to ensure they’re sufficiently primed. That might take a little effort, but it’s very doable. The same issue involved in differentiating the Fraymeets – the same stimuli that prime one prime the other. If you want to differentiate them, you have to focus most on the aspects of each that are unique. Even then, individual events are bound to get muddled. This is not the same as forgetting.

Proceduralization is another way of describing this phenomenon, at a level up. Any time you try to learn a new, complex activity (say, learning a piano piece), there are a multitude of decision points that require your attention. Over time, many of these become automatic, take place outside the bounds of your attention, and you are able to selectively focus on only the aspects of the task that are dynamic. I can still play the pieces I learned in junior high school, despite having dropped piano lessons then. If I’ve forgotten one, all I need to do is sit down at a piano and try to play what I can remember as quickly as I can – so my attention doesn’t get in the way of the memory of my fingers. This is also why people at an intermediate level often make better tutors than experts – for experts, many of the individual steps have been lost.

The nature of identity development over the lifetime involves a vast number of these proceduralizations, many of which are purely cognitive, but the end result, again, is we become increasingly suited to whatever niche we’ve found for ourselves. I suppose one outcome of a dramatically increased lifespan is that we’d eventually become very, very bored.

Ps. I don’t know who is a sociopath. There was at least one character who, from what I understand, acted like a sociopath. Sociopaths are in a constant state of terror, from which they’re dissociated (unable to have the subjective experience). Powerful emotions are typically experienced/recoded as anger. They continue to assess all interactions on the dimension of threat, though perhaps muddled somewhat with their various desires (esoteric argument here, which probably doesn’t matter a whit). Exploitive behavior is undertaken as a pre-emptive means of avoiding or minimizing threats – whether threats to personal safety, biological concern, or interpersonal stance (for sociopathic men, which is most of them [sociopaths, that is], women are inherently threatening). Not to be confused with Narcissism, though they share some features.

On the fray, I sociopathy might manifest over time in the form of increasingly shocking personal disclosures, the content of which is carefully woven from issues the sociopath has observed engender the most intense responses in community members. For a very intelligent sociopath, I imagine an environment like BOTF would be very appealing – the ability to assume a false identity and then practice manipulating figures perceived as intellectually threatening. Rocking people like Ghost, Gregor, Fritz, ZB, Schad, Ender, and Ciinc (lotsa others, these just spring to mind) back on their heels and then keeping them off balance would be a heady experience. Again, though – I can imagine other people pulling such a series of stunts for other reasons. What I’m describing is a character, not a person. Probably.

Pps. He’s not really my type – too hairy. It struck me the other day that Saddam would still be our best friend in the region had he not invaded Kuwait – Kurds, etc. be damned. The hypocrisy is stunning.

twiffer said...

the hypocrisy isn't stunning. it's common.

that, more than hypocrisy, is the problem.

twiffer said...

oh, and on the topic of immortality...didn't read any of the ghost's post and subsequent thread. have to say though, i completely disagree with you. you're overthinking it.

firstly such a perception applies only the physical immortality. this is the key to why seeking it would be percieved as "evil". simply put, in order for you to live, something else must die. plant, animal, bacterium, etc.. as life requires death to sustain it, unnatural life requires unnatural death to sustain it. it is a theft of time and life; we know it in our blood and bone.

we could get into the ideas regarding phyical/spiritual identities. but i think that stems from this knowledge that living creates death.

bite said...

I'm so narcissistic, I think this post is about me.

(of course it is)

TenaciousK said...

Oh, I think from a psychobabblish perspective we experience fusion, and then smothering engulfment before we understand anything about life, death, or the metaphysics of self-perpetuation; the second requires object-permanence, at the very least. What I’m talking about precedes understanding of “other”. I suppose it could be a potaytoe/potahtoe thing, depending on how you look at it, though I’d argue the experience of being “eaten” comes before any concrete understanding of what it means.

PS: Bite - shades of Carly Simon.
You're so vain, you probly think this song is about you...

Anonymous said...

pps. saddam did look a lot better with his clothes on. many a man does.

isp problems? blogger problems? back later.

TenaciousK said...

The only people who don't look better clothed are the people I'm in love with.

Well, and a select percentage who feed my inner ravenous, narcissistic beast. For them, though, I suspect much of their desirability rests on my inability to look past the package to the contents therein.

It would suck to be in a relationship where I had to do that all of the time.

I wonder if there is anyone in the world who thought Saddam looked delicious when naked. If so, I wonder why?

Me - I don't think I could get past the hair. And the sadistic rage, and disdain, and disregard for the suffering of others. Well, and the penis, probably - I'd sure have to be madly, madly in love to get past the penis. [Hey, it works for Satan, right?]

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Anonymous said...

[sigh] did i say i found him sexually appealing? no, i did not.

1, 2.

psa: if i meet you [you generic] in person, or see your picture, i'm going to be evaluating your outer packaging almost entirely on whether i want to draw your portrait or not. occupational hazard, i suppose.

i had several google and yahoo searches going on yesterday when my computer locked up, and not knowing which was/were the culprit/s, i won't try looking for them again; i'll just toss some stuff out into the ether here ...

hasn't there been some recent re-examination of the idea that we're born with scads more neurons than we'll ever be able to use, the unused ones die off [pining away from sheer loneliness], and we can never make new ones ever again?

granted, the size of the space inside an unyielding bony skull [that also houses some other useful structures besides the brain] would limit the number of neurons you could add on. then again, if you lived forever, there should eventually be technological advances that would overcome the space limitation. skull expansion surgery, or little bundles of neurons that could be implanted under the skin, or maybe our extra thoughts could just follow us around as photon clouds, in which case everybody could see what you were thinking, thus rendering conversation obsolete.

ok, maybe i don't want to live forever: swollen head, lumpy body, and unable to hide. ack.

it's easy to think that given enough time, we'd eventually become bored, feel like we'd seen it all, said it all, done it all, and i know quite a few people in their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s who already feel this way. and we've all been bored at one time or another during our lives, however long they've been up to now.

the 100+ year olds that you see interviewed on tv or in the papers, however, the ones who still have good physical health and most if not all of their mental faculties never seem to be bored, suggesting that boredom isn't necessarily a function of time. of course, it also suggests that interviewers deliberately choose only interesting people to interview.

nice weasel on naming the sociopathic character, but get the picture, and i enjoyed the disquisition.

Keifus said...

Re immortality:

I've been meaning for some time to write a (no doubt crappy been-there variety of science fiction) story about longevity treatments, focusing on the character requirements for long life.

It's true that far too many are cut off before we're ready, but on the other hand, I think it's an unrecognized fact that many (and possibly most) of us are only mentally prepared to go so long.

And on the OTHER hand, how much depression and malaise is due to having Damocles sword dangling overhead. You're physically limited from just starting anything over, or taking too long to learn. I mean, I'm not old, but I've already squandered any chances of being a virtusoso athlete, musician, whatever...

Anyway, gotta be a story in there somewhere.

Interesting thread.


TenaciousK said...


[sigh] everything is about sex
(kidding, kidding…)

Speaking of which, I take back what I said about naked people. Human nakedness can be very esthetically pleasing. I just happen to prefer female nakedness. On the other hand, we see so much of it, so carefully packaged, that it seems to have lost some of it’s luster. Reminds me of that recent post by Lentenstuffe/ZB, on Patrick Kavanaugh as a film critic: something about Hollywood teaching us that the only human being of value was the flesh that grows on 18-30 year olds. But the Greeks, now – they understood the appeal, as do some of the more recent artists.

Actually, I did remember hearing something about new brain cells in adults, so I went looking. [As. an aside, I remember being in school and thinking that the findings of 20 years before seemed so dated. Uhm, much of what I remember is from about 15 years ago. Man, am I getting old.]

Anyhow, I’m more familiar with talking about neural adaptation over the post-utero lifespan in terms of neural plasticity, a term that itself appears to have become dated, and given away to the more general term of neuroplasticity. Even before discovering new cell growth, the sometimes incredible adaptability of our brains had become evident. The discovery of new cell production , even if limited , is pretty big news. It makes sense that it’d be localized. Still, even if it were limited only to the Dentate Gyrus, it’s a big deal – we should all be very grateful for our functional hippocampus (or would it be hippocampi?).

In the context of our other ongoing discussions, I thought you might get a kick out of this one. I should probably mention, however, that willy-nilly creation of cells anywhere in our body is a bad idea: it’s called cancer. It’s the organization that really matters; new cells prone to neurofibrillary tangles , for instance, wouldn’t be such a blessing. There are some really tantalizing findings though, that to me suggest that new cell development is taking place along organized lines that can be influenced by external stimulus.

However, all that aside – what this seems to amount to is patching of a process that’s in essence as I described. We are still in the process of increasing adaptation over the lifespan. I’m quite familiar with the research on active minds in the elderly years, and though there’s somewhat of a chicken-and-egg phenomenon at work, it also seems reasonable to assume a lively mind has significant advantages, compared to a torpid one (I wonder if a late-life payoff for those who’ve successfully adapted to what amounts to ADHD turns out to be protection from senility). It still strikes me that we are designed to adapt to a finite problem space, and that modification to greatly (infinitely?) enhance our adaptive capacity would alter us in a more fundamental manner than you might anticipate. Even if one were able to, say, “erase memory” and reuse capacity, I think that brings up questions about the physical substrate associated with cumulative identity development. Over time, I think the issue would be less who you become, and more increasing difficulty staving off psychosis.

PS. I’ve never had my portrait drawn.

PPS. Keifus – I recently re-read Zelazny’s Lord of Light, which won him his first Hugo, I think, and is one of my favorites in the genre. Near-mortality is an issue in the book (albeit not a core one). Seems like others have dealt with it too, at least in passing (Asimov’s R. Daneel Olivaw, for instance) though I haven’t been reading a lot for the past while. Much of our defining experiences are transformative in nature, however, and I can’t really comprehend how one could infinitely extend the capacity for such experiences while still retaining a requisite degree of core organization to maintain a cohesive identity. What I imagine you’d see is increasing narcissism, but then a progression of the kind of ego-instability Kohut describes accompanies primary narcissism (regressions characterized by increasing bipolar-type instability, and eventual psychosis). Another way of looking at it is an attempt to cling to whatever organizing principles are left, which are increasingly lacking context: to maintain them, a person would (I think) be forced to use increasingly less relevant feedback support – which sort of fits the definition of a delusion. Either that, or choose the path of becoming progressively less transformable (eventual anterograde amnesia, for example). Identity accretes – getting around that changes one of the most fundamental aspects of who we are (and as I was trying to get at before, circumventing it requires incorporation of external props in a manner that’s, at best, impolite). But, that’s just my thought.

Anonymous said...


my hero
my heroine

um...yeah...external props...impolite...i'm tapped out today. may i come back later?

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