To Blog or Not to Blog

I have this thing that happens with blogging. I don’t for a while, and then I feel like I should, and then because I feel like I should, I don’t want to, and either I eventually write something and then a bunch more things all at once because I feel writerly again as soon as the pressure is off, or I think about stopping blogging.

The thing is, even when I decide to take breaks, sometimes that takes the pressure off and it turns out the pressure was the only thing keeping me from wanting to write, so as soon as I get to, “Hey, I’m going to take a break for a while”, I suddenly don’t want to anymore because as soon as the writing doesn’t feel like homework anymore I want to do it again. It makes me feel incredibly silly.

So…I’m in one of those.

I don’t think it’s just the pressure-depressure cycle. I think it’s also the way blogging works for me in general. I was never able to consistently blog until I did it in a way that meant I needed it. I started this blog to keep myself accountable in trying to make progress with my chronic pain. Having a place to go with that was helpful. It meant that it didn’t matter if I didn’t feel like writing, because eventually, I would need to vent about pain stuff and this was the easiest, best way to do that.

The stuff I end up feeling like venting about these days is a lot scarier to put on the internet. Because it’s mostly me trying to sort out my gender. Putting that on the internet these days can be life-changingly dangerous. I find that generally, the more vulnerable I’m able to be, the more cathartic my writing is, but being vulnerable feels a lot different now than before my gender changed. “Vulnerable with feelings” leans a lot more toward “vulnerable to attack” than it used to.

There was a certain fearlessness with sharing vulnerable things on the internet that I used to have that I was proud of, and I wasn’t conscious of how much of that was because the internet isn’t a particularly scary place for someone in the circumstances I was in then.

I have other things I’ve been wanting to talk about. Post ideas are always flitting in and out of my brain. But without being able to blog for catharsis in addition to talking about things that interest me in general…I don’t know if it’ll work.

Or maybe this will end up just being another of those times talking about hanging up the keyboard made me feel ready to start using it again, and I’ll start using it again, feeling abashed about the silliness and predictability of the cycle.

Or maybe the internet is just too scary a place for someone with my particular circumstances (and anxiety issues that have enough to feed them without the new not-cis-male-on-the-internet-anymore circumstances).

Anyway, that’s what’s on my mind today.

Also, I have very good friends.

Help Fund the Secular Women Work Conference

Women in Secularism is not happening in 2015, but a bunch of the most awesome event organizers in skepticism (including those behind Skep-Tech, possibly my personal favorite event) are trying to put together the Secular Women Work Conference this year, and it should be awesome, but of course only if it gets funded. There’s a day to go and it’s at about 3/4 of the $13,000 needed to put it on, so it’s still got a good shot at getting funded, but it’s not there yet. GO THERE AND GIVE THEM YOUR MONEY **.

I mean, you know, if you have some to spare and/or would like to attend it, contribute to awesome people doing awesome things, etc, etc.

** I’m not really sure if my blog has enough readers that this is actually a thing that will help, but better to try when it won’t help than not try when it will, so: if you contribute something (any amount) to the Kickstarter, show me and you can ask me to write a post about a thing, and I will write such a post about such a thing (within reason).

By ResearchToBeDone Posted in other

I Have a Question

This is going to be short, because I’m just asking a question I’ve had in my brain for a while, and I’d be curious to have others’ opinions on it.

If you had to pick one barometer for whether a relationship, either yours or someone else’s, was healthy or not, what would it be?

I’ve had the same answer to this question in my head for quite some time, and I think it’s a decent one to take a step back and ask sometimes. If I had to pick just one, it would be this: how much more or less do you connect with the people other than the one the relationship is with?

I think good relationships help people connect *in general*, not just with the people they’re with, and that bad ones tend to, to a greater or lesser degree, not do that. What do you guys think?

The Inestimable (and Also Really Cool and Interesting) Power of Concepts

“People seem to think that a unit of some entity (with certain constraints) is the appropriate and optimal amount. We refer to this heuristic as unit bias. We illustrate unit bias by demonstrating large effects of unit segmentation, a form of portion control, on food intake. Thus, people choose, and presumably eat, much greater weights of Tootsie Rolls and pretzels when offered a large as opposed to a small unit size (and given the option of taking as many units as they choose at no monetary cost). Additionally, they consume substantially more M&M’s when the candies are offered with a large as opposed to a small spoon (again with no limits as to the number of spoonfuls to be taken). We propose that unit bias explains why small portion sizes are effective in controlling consumption; in some cases, people served small portions would simply eat additional portions if it were not for unit bias. We argue that unit bias is a general feature in human choice and discuss possible origins of this bias, including consumption norms.”

Unit bias. A new heuristic that helps explain the effect of portion size on food intake.

I came across the fact unit bias is a thing that has a name and at least one paper written about it just recently. In addition to being generally interesting, I think there’s a really cool analogy between unit bias and the power of concepts.

I think concepts are a lot like units. In the same way that it seems to be true that our conceptions of quantity tend to snap toward units we are familiar with or presented with, I think our brains tend to snap toward the concepts that are the most powerful and established in them.

Explaining non-binary gender is an easy example of this.

“But what are you, really?”

“Okay, but are you AMAB or AFAB?”

This can be immensely powerful. Man and woman are the established concepts, and peoples’ brains snap to them reflexively and powerfully. Even once people start stepping outside of these concept-units, it tends to be much easier and much more reflexive to think of new concepts of gender as solely composed of parts of the more familiar concepts.

“So, you’re like part boy and part girl?”

I have written before about how developing new concepts feels a lot like digging to me—like inside my brain there is an ant hill of interconnected concepts, and I’m a worker burrowing out a new room in it. It’s hard, but it’s also incredibly powerful.

It’s not always about forming new concepts, either. Sometimes it’s about making adjustments to the ones we already have.

“So you’re cheating?”

“No, everyone knows about it and is okay with it.”

“They’re OKAY with you cheating?!”

“It’s not…that’s not…how that word works…”

A lot of people’s concept of cheating in relationships include that it is necessarily defined by sexual and romantic exclusivity. It takes some digging to realign the concept of cheating to “Breaking the agreed-upon rules of the relationship, whether they involve exclusivity or not.”.

“What do you mean, you don’t like soccer? What other sport is there?”

“Well, I like basketball. I play on a local team.”

“Basket ball? What’s that?”

“Well, players try to get a ball into the other team’s basket.”

“Ok, I follow. Like soccer.”

“Yeah, except you bounce the ball with your hands instead of using your feet.”

“Wait, what? You mean you can CHEAT?”

“No, it just has different rules.”

“What do the other players think about that?”

“Well, they all play by the same rules.”

Read the rest of this piece at: Polyamory and a Sports Metaphor

Sometimes concepts can be powerfully positive and others they can be powerfully negative. It all depends on what ideas your ecosystem of concepts pulls you toward. The invention of terms like cisgender, rape culture, and unit bias for those ideas helps solidify them in our brains. Having those concepts defined helps us understand them, and helps us move forward. At the same time, having a well-established cultural concept of virginity does perhaps fewer good things and more very bad things.

Rape culture is not only easier to talk about today than it was a few years ago—it it is easier to believe. I don’t think it’s just because there are more arguments and evidence readily available now than ever, though that certainly helps. I think it also helps having a solid, established concept in the first place. I would be willing to bet that it is, quite simply, more difficult to believe something that you don’t have a coherent, solid concept for, regardless of what the evidence is.

Unit bias is a useful concept to have because it makes it easier to talk about and be aware of as an established concept. Additionally, it provides a stepping stone to conceptualizing other things, like some of my thoughts on concepts.

In the hypothetical anthill ecosystem of concepts, when you have to dig a new tunnel, it helps if you can find another that’s nearby. Not as far to dig, you see. That’s what I see analogies as. They’re these incredible shortcuts to new concepts. One of the best ways to learn new things is to find nearby concepts that you already have and leap off of them toward the new ones. The brain is like a computer. Rutherford’s model of the atom is like a solar system (or plum pudding, says Google autocomplete). Electricity moving through wires is like fluid moving through tubes. Depression is like having dead fish.

“Saying “Serotonin treats depression, therefore depression is, at root, a serotonin deficiency” is about as scientifically grounded as saying “Playing with puppies makes depressed people feel better, therefore depression is, at root, a puppy deficiency”.”

SSRIS: Much More Than You Wanted to Know

I wonder if learning new concepts rewards exponentially. The more concepts you have, the more points there are to jump off of to new ones.

They operate on a cultural level as well, and to some degree it’s sheer chaotic chance that, as a culture, we have the set we do. We do have them though, and every day our brains are snapping in different directions on account of them. Every day our brains are jumping to new concepts by spring boarding off of them.

How different would we each be with a different set of them? How different would the world be with a different set? How different can we make it by building new ones?

Very, I think.

Dealing With Sensitive Spots

“No.  It’s not difficult between two sane, consenting adults.  It rarely is.

Unfortunately, we’re also rarely entirely sane.

Thing is, sanity is a percentage.  We all have weak spots where if you poke us, we melt down.  We all have embarrassing hotspots that we reflexively conceal, whether we should or not.  You can be perfectly sane about 99% of things, but everyone has some crazy spot that triggers them into overreacting.  And everyone has some emotional issue that, when raised, makes them word not so good that communicates are mall workingfail.

And when someone skips across your insane zones – you have them – then you react in bizarre ways, and God forbid your bizarre reactions trample on your partner’s insane zone.  If you’re lucky, eventually you deal with it.  But that doesn’t make it magically “not hard” to do, especially when your monkey-brain wants to bite their face off for leaving toothpaste on the sink again.”

This Should Not Be Hard Between Two Sane, Consenting Adults

I have been thinking about this kind of thing a lot lately. Historically, the “zone” of mine that has perhaps the most history and at times absurd intensity is my sensitivity to flakiness and imbalance in relationships with people (I have written some about this before).

A lot of this sensitivity is on account of a couple of relationships early in my life where flakiness was an issue. More generally, I think the way that my life looks right now is unfortunately conducive to poking at this sensitive spot on a regular basis for reasons that are nobody’s fault. I still can’t physically work a full work week without aggravating repetitive stress symptoms. I am accordingly almost always a lot less busy than most people are. This means I have a lot more time to fill than most people do, which makes me generally more likely to be looking to interact with people more frequently than most.

Essentially, if I and another person are about equally enjoying hanging out with each other, let’s say that means that we each feel like spending time together about once per every 40 hours of free time. Because I have more free time, I will hit that 40 hour threshold faster even given a similar level of interest. Additionally, my having more time means I am also less likely to have uncontrollable schedule things come up that might necessitate my flaking out. This means I am often more likely to feel like initiating more interaction and less likely to flake versus other people without being an inherently more interested or less flaky person.

The sense of imbalance that creates is the Boss Battle Weak Spot of my ability to be levelheaded and rational about things. When it gets hit there are YEARS of frustration and anger behind it the origin stories of which would make this post several times longer. All that accumulated angst gets piled up and directed at completely different people and situations. Knowing about it and navigating around it is a determining factor in a LOT of my social decision-making. Even with all that management, though, there is no way to avoid triggering it entirely.

When that happens, I do my best to communicate about it. While that communication certainly helps and is certainly better than not communicating, it isn’t a cure for the feelings that happen. I am still in the pretty early stages of figuring out how to deal with and process those in a way that makes me feel better. I am also still figuring out how to deal with and process them in ways that do not cause undue distress or hurt to those in the Feelings Splash Zone.

I’m curious if any readers might have experience dealing with the feelings that result from having sensitive spots like this in a way that accomplishes those things? It’s one thing to generally have a sense of a reaction being out of proportion and a wholly different thing to apply that sense and whatever tools are available in a way that actually successfully ameliorates the feeling. Doing scary, haphazard Feelings Science to this is exhausting and, well, scary, and I would much rather just cheat off someone else’s homework.

Willpower is Overrated

Willpower is a finite resource. I may have different amounts on different days and I may need different amounts on different days. One of the things that has become a philosophy of mine in interacting with the world is “Never accomplish by willpower something you can accomplish by making it easier.”

I am shit at getting myself to the gym. I could try to muster up the determination to go every week or some such, but that tends to not work. What does work is getting myself some cheap weights I can keep in my room.

It’s a lot easier to “get to the gym” when “get to the gym” means “walk five feet to where I put down the weights last time”.

I do this kind of thing as often as possible. I am a messy person, but I come across less messy than I used to, because instead of trying to get myself to be not messy by willpower, I analyzed how my messiness worked and figured out ways to make my messy habits just so happen to be less messy. The main trick was: always have somewhere to toss something that incidentally happens to be where it goes.

I put things down, and I give very little thought to where I put them down and when I’m done working I have no interest in doing any more thinking than absolutely necessary. I have drawers within arm’s reach of my chair for most of the things I might be carrying with me in a given day, because that means I actually put things in them instead of piles.

The last place I lived I noticed I tended to put the containers for the Omega-3 and vitamin D pills I take on the floor next to my chair without thinking about it. Instead of trying to stop myself from doing that, I bought a little container and put it right where I’d been putting them anyway. Suddenly my uncleanly habit was magically, effortlessly cleanly.

I think our culture idolizes the idea of accomplishing things by force of will, often at the expense of accomplishing things by doing what works. Getting things done by force of will is a very romantic idea and all, but it doesn’t work as well as making things easier. At least it never has for me.

Can’t get myself to practice an instrument? I decided to try the harmonica, an instrument I can literally have on my person 24/7, instead of having to find or get to a practice space. Random paper piling up? Now, there’s a tiny scanner that’s on top of my desk that I can scan things into and throw them out. Can’t get myself to go out and buy new food supplies when I run out in time to stave off the inevitable stopgap fast food run? Switch to using mostly supplies I can freeze or that otherwise aren’t very perishable, and buy them in advance of needing them.

For me, willpower is great for getting myself to make that phone call I’ve been dreading, because for that I only need it once. Right then. For ongoing stuff, though, force of will is a shit strategy compared with making the things I want myself to do easy and the things I don’t want myself to do hard.

That’s the one that works. Willpower looks good on paper, but I think there’s a reason people are legendarily bad at New Year’s Resolutions, and I think maybe if we spent less time on “I should really get myself to the gym more often” and more time on things like “Getting Wii Fit instead”, the success rate might be a bit a lot better.

Also, as a person with a lot of physical and pain issues, I think if physical therapists spent less time saying “You really need to be doing these more!” and more time on “How can we make this easier for you to do more?” or “What can you do that is easier to get yourself to do, but accomplishes roughly the same thing?”, their success rate would go up immensely.

written 1/16/2014, posted 1/20/2014

By ResearchToBeDone Posted in other

Gosh, Why is Everyone So Easily Offended These Days?

“Everyone is offended by everything these days!”

“This generation is so thin-skinned; people didn’t used to get so angry over nothing.”

“Why is everyone so oversensitive about everything now?”

I keep hearing variations on this over and over and over and over and over again, and there is a lot of thoughtful, complex, intelligent stuff that can be said about it, but for now I’m going to keep it simple.

It isn’t that people today are more sensitive. It isn’t that this generation is thinner-skinned than the last generation. It’s that now, the people you hurt by your words and actions have more spaces and louder megaphones with which to tell you what the effects of your actions are. People haven’t suddenly become more sensitive, they have suddenly become able to let you know what has always been true. It isn’t that these issues weren’t issues before, it’s that until recently, you could remain unaware of these issues by the simple expediency of not deliberately seeking out the thoughts and words of the people who experience them.

That is why when you hear people call out comedians contributing to rape culture or biologists being incredibly racist or video games being incredibly misogynistic or people in general not respecting trans identities or pronouns, just to name a few, it isn’t the world that has changed, it is the amount of knowledge you have about it that has changed. If you think it’s the world that has changed, then you are a first-class example of how easy it used to be to remain completely ignorant about these issues.

Regardless of what your opinion is on whether or not people are “too easily offended” or somesuch, it isn’t different now than before. You didn’t know people had issues with these things before, and now, because so many of them have voices and platforms to talk about them that they didn’t used to, maintaining that ignorance isn’t as easy as it used to be.

It’s not them that are different, it’s you. These issues have always existed, and the only thing that’s different now is that you know about them.

Click for further reading.

By ResearchToBeDone Posted in other

“The Friend Zone”, and Other Superstitious Beliefs

I remember reading a long time ago that superstitious beliefs are most prone to develop in situations, cultures, professions, etc., where there is a lot of dangerous and unpredictable risk. A high incidence of superstitious rituals and beliefs among sailors, for example, was attributed to this phenomenon because of the high level of unpredictability and risk associated with their jobs.

It struck me yesterday that this serves as a pretty decent model for why people hold so many different absurd beliefs about dating. Concepts like the friend zone or the three day rule are good examples of this. The friend zone is essentially a superstitious belief, and the three day rule is essentially a superstitious ritual–it is a prescribed type of action believed to bring about a particular result without evidence outside the anecdotal.

Dating is, let’s face it, pretty unpredictable, And is an activity that for most people is high-risk emotionally in that peoples’ dating lives can have a pretty significant impact on their emotional state and self-esteem. One might posit, therefore, that it is one of those situations of high risk and low predictability that are particularly conducive to superstition. Maybe that is the reason why whole books have been written to debunk the ever-growing list of superstitious beliefs that have popped up around them. One circumstance’s 13th floor is another’s collar-touching is another’s three day rule.

Food for thought.

Feels Good

Moving into a new place is always more work than I expect it to be. This move has taken me a couple of weeks to get even close to finishing setting up my new room. I have made enough progress, though, that I have started to arrange the room in roughly the way I think it will be configured when I’m done.

I haven’t been getting a lot of exercise these past two weeks, with the exception of occasionally moving things around. Today I decided to try to get my Wii set up so that I can use Wii Fit. I have generally found that getting myself to do the things I want to be doing regularly is less a matter of willpower and more a matter of arranging my life and surroundings in such a way is that it requires the least amount of work and willpower possible. With Wii Fit, I can get exercise without even leaving my room, which makes it a lot more likely I will do it regularly.

I have mostly finished setting up the system now, and something just struck me: this is the first time in a really, really long time that I have set up something just for the purpose of exercising. That is, over the last decade or so, every time I started using something like a stationary bike or some weights or Wii Fit or a mini trampoline or DDR or a reflex bag or rollerblades, or started doing something like going to a gym or taking yoga classes or taking tai chi classes or swimming or juggling or practicing poi–every time I did one of those things was an attempt to find something, anything, that would either help or at the very least not further aggravate something that was going wrong with me physically.

This is the first time I can remember doing something like this without that being the driving force behind it. In about a decade.

written 1/4/2015, posted 1/7/2015

By ResearchToBeDone Posted in other

Decision-Paralysis-Motivated Withdrawal from Social Media

I have started thinking about withdrawing somewhat from social media for a bit. Not from blogging, necessarily, but from Facebook and Twitter, at least. I have been in the process of moving into my new place, recently, and there have been a lot of decisions to make about arranging things and buying things I need and selling things so that I have money to buy those things.

I’ve been dealing with a lot of stress and decision fatigue, and I have realized recently that social media seems to exacerbate the problem. Reading through Facebook and Twitter is a many-decisions-per-minute operation. Liking things, not liking things, sharing things, not sharing things, commenting on things, not commenting on things.

These types of decisions can, at times, be particularly taxing for me because of their arbitrariness. I am not at all good at making arbitrary decisions. In some ways I’m a lot better at making big life decisions for which the reasons are equally big than small, meaningless decisions for which there are no particular reasons to choose one thing over another. Arbitrariness paralyzes me. I may have another post coming about the idea that this may be a big part of the reason why I get social anxiety–the arbitrariness of the decision-making that being social requires.

Social media decisions are, in a way, the worst of all possible worlds, because not only are they essentially arbitrary decisions–a lot of them are decisions about sharing or not sharing things that are going on in the world that I think are really important. Not only do I have no hard and fast means by which to make the decisions, but I feel morally compelled to make absolutely sure that some of the decisions that I make are the right ones.

Long story short, I think it’s important for me, right now, to try to do some minimizing of the number of decisions I need to make any given day, and I think social media may be the source of the vast, overwhelming majority of those decisions.

By ResearchToBeDone Posted in other