Jotting Down A Few Miscellaneous Proto-Posts

Lately, I’ve had several things I wanted to write about, but nothing I had the energy to write a complete post about. In lieu of writing full posts, I’ve decided I’m just going to empty the backlog with some short summaries of some of the things I’ve been thinking about lately.

I just had a conversation with a friend of mine about a partner of hers. A few weeks ago we had a lot of conversations about this partner, and she had expressed to me a few times that she was nervous about not being very attracted to this partner physically. I noted to her, today, that she hadn’t mentioned that issue in a while, and asked if that was because it had changed or not. She responded that, yes, it had changed, and that she was now finding this partner incredibly attractive all the time. It was really cool being witness to a change like this as it happened.

I’ve been wanting to write something just to remind myself that this happened: the woman I have most recently started dating gave me a very distinct first impression over about 30 seconds of conversation at the beginning of our date. Over the course of the rest of that date, I got a stronger and distinctly different impression — one that was much more compatible with me than the first impression had been. Then, over the course of the following date, my impression changed again (not to a negative impression, but to one that was markedly different from the second impression). It’s not a particularly interesting story except that I tend to have a very high opinion of my ability to develop highly accurate snap impressions of people I meet in person, and this particular dating experience has somewhat flown in the face of that. Data about my brain I wanted to write down so I remember it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about empathy recently. At some point, I want to write a full-length post about this, but for now just a short summary: I’ve been mulling over this idea that empathy is, like all those other things I wrote about in the brain skepticism post (pain, depression, etc.), a model. Roughly: that empathy is a mental model of the state of another person’s brain that can cause us to experience emotions. That is, when someone else is sad, and you recognize the visual cues that signify sadness, you form a mental model of them as a person experiencing sadness, and whatever process creates that mental model also produces a corresponding emotional experience in you.

I find this idea intriguing because it presents an interesting perspective on why certain groups of people have so much trouble empathizing with other certain groups. For example: why are so many religious people convinced that atheists are just angry at their god? I think this model for empathy implies a fascinating explanation: if someone lives in a world where, in all of their experience, the existence of a deity is self-evident, then maybe their system has no idea how to simulate the mind of an atheist. Maybe the best it can do is to posit things like “angry at God”, and, as a result, not only is that the explanation that seems plausible to them, they might even experience an emotional reinforcement in the form of an “empathetic” emotional experience of being angry at God produced by their inaccurate model.

In a nutshell, what I find interesting about this is that it reframes my concept of the idea of “failing at empathy”. When people assume completely inaccurate things about other people, by this model, it’s not that they aren’t experiencing empathy — the very same process is happening as when empathy works — it’s just that their empathy engine isn’t producing accurate results.

This is obviously a hypothesis formed out of purely anecdotal speculation. It’s the worst kind of just so story. I just think it’s fascinating as a hypothesis, and I would be curious to learn about reasons it might or might not hold any actual evidential water.

Spin the Bottle Party Recap

Last week I went to a party. It was a very good party, celebrating a major life accomplishment in the life of the party-thrower. I was honored to be invited to the celebration of a Big Life Event like that, and I had a tremendous amount of fun. I got to see people I hadn’t seen for a while, cuddle with people I hadn’t cuddled with before, and play Advanced Sexy Consensual Spin the Bottle. This will be a recap for basically no reason other than that I like remembering things that were fun.

When I got there, I said hi to friends and people I hadn’t seen for a while, and then mingled while we collectively waited to start the planned Movie And Cuddles Part until most of the attendees had arrived. I ended up in a conversation with a girl I had seen at a few other things but never really gotten the chance to talk to before. I barely remember anything about the conversation, now, except that at some point I did something that she said was really cute, but in that way where it actually means “and also you are cute”, which made me feel brave enough to ask her if she wanted to cuddle during the movie, which she did, and we did, and it was nice.

It’s always a bit of a challenge for me cuddling with new people in groups, because it’s scarier (at least for me) to have “Is this okay?” conversations within earshot of bunches of other people, but in this case I think it went pretty well, and mostly without an overabundance of nervousness. I enjoyed it, and she definitely seemed to enjoy it.

After the movie, spin the bottle began. The first highlight for me was getting to make out with the aforementioned cuddle partner. We made out enthusiastically, and one of the other people in the circle commented approvingly that “Adults are so much better at making out.” while we were doing it. I also got hit, bitten, and scratched over the course of the evening, but the spinner (frustratingly) didn’t actually start landing on me during other people’s turns until almost the very end of the game. Fortunately, it was a very good end of the game.

Toward the end, two friends of mine had turns where the spinner landed on me. A room had been set aside, this particular game, for the seven minutes in heaven option, and on both of those turns, I offered that option, and both friends enthusiastically selected it. I’m going to take this time to note that one of the many things that is better about this version of spin the bottle than the regular version is that you get to experience the awesomeness that is people enthusiastically selecting the option you were hoping to get to do with them.

The cumulative 14 minutes in heaven were fantastic. I hadn’t been really physically sexual with either of the friends in question before, and one of them even told me after we got to the seven minutes in heaven room that she had been hoping to get me at some point over the course of the night. Those 14 minutes also definitively got me to the point where my energy was winding down (and did some noticeable damage to my lower lip). The party, itself, wound down shortly thereafter, and I drove back home, but not before one of the other women at the party that I knew told me she really liked my energy, and I gave the party-thrower a small memento of the accomplishment the party was celebrating.

All in all, a very good night. There is nothing quite like several people enthusiastically volunteering to be sexual with you in a short span of time for boosting the ego.

On The Virtue of Doing My Best

I am an ethical perfectionist. I tend to look back on complicated things that happen with people and ask myself “Did I do everything right?”. Did I make the right decisions, should I have done this, or done that, or said this in a different way, or heard that in a different way?

Some situations you eventually get to ask. You get to look back and reflect on them with the people they happened with, and figure out what you might have understood or not understood at the time. Others you don’t.

“Real life is messy, inconsistent, and it’s seldom when anything ever really gets resolved. It’s taken me a long time to realize that.”

― Hollis Mason, Watchmen

Times when I wonder about things like this, it helps me to remember that I did my best. I pretty much always do my best when it comes to trying to do right by people, so it’s a helpful mantra. No one can expect me to do any better than the best I can do, and if the best I can do isn’t good enough to perfectly figure everything out about a given situation, then it isn’t good enough. It’s still my best, and it’s still something that no one, including myself, can or should expect me to do better than.

Sometimes my best means getting to a point where I decide, for my own well-being, that I need to stop trying. Sometimes doing my best means saying “The best decision for me is to stop putting my energy into this thing.”. Those times are the most difficult ones to come to peace with, because you can always ask yourself “What if I had just tried a little bit harder, stuck it out for a little bit longer, or understood a little bit better?”. At the end of the day, though, I look back at most of my decisions and think “Yeah, I made the best decision I could with the information that I had, even when that decision was to stop trying.”.

I may never do things perfectly, and sometimes there are things I may not even do particularly well, but I usually do my best. Sometimes that means things work out, and sometimes that means I get to a point where I haven’t figured things out, but I don’t think I should put any more energy into working things out. Sometimes that decision is my best.

That is enough. It is more than enough. It is the best thing I can or could be doing, even when part of me wishes it had been enough to resolve things and it wasn’t. Even then, it was the very best thing I could do, because self-preservation is something I do both for me and for the people around me, and it is a more important responsibility than working things out in any individual situation.

The times when doing my best means self-preservation are just as commendable as the times when it doesn’t. I did my best, and that is the very most anyone can ever expect. It is okay. It is more than okay; it is my best.

What is Propaganda? (part 1)

Really glad this guy is blogging again. Here is his most recent, and brilliant, peace on how we are all affected by US propaganda-induced bias with respect to our foreign policy.

By ResearchToBeDone Posted in other

Dear Self: You Are Seriously Not Always the Only One Who Wants to Fuck

There is this girl that I have been hanging out with. Very smart, and socially confident in just the way that I like.

The other day, we had a conversation about our second date. From my perspective, it went roughly like this: we went dancing, which went well. When our energy for dancing started to wind down, she asked what I wanted to do, and I said I’d love to hang out more if she was up for it, and she said that would be fine but she would probably have to crash at my place if we did. We went back to my place and were invited to hang out with housemates, which we did, and then she started saying she was probably going to want to crash soon, so we hung out a little bit longer and then I started running low on social energy, said I was probably about ready to crash soon, too, and we decided to turn in.

I have a futon in my room for guests to sleep on, so I set that up for her, and when that was all set up, I finally said something to the effect of, “So, if you want to go to sleep that’s totally fine, but if you wanted to, I would definitely be up for hooking up.”. She pulled me in to make out, and we had sex, and it was all-in-all a pretty good night.

Over the course of our more recent conversation about that date, we realized that we had both been interpreting the other as less interested in hooking up than they actually were. In my own combination of being a little oblivious and also not wanting to be presumptuous, I had read her saying she would need to crash with me, and talking about wanting to turn in completely at face value (which I now know was not an accurate reading), and for her part, she had read my setting up a separate bed as an indication that maybe I wasn’t interested, and we had each read the others’ enthusiasm for hanging out with the housemates as a possible sign that sex wasn’t necessarily what the other was wanting to do that night.

Fortunately for the both of us, those misreadings did not end up preventing the sex from happening, but the whole conversation has got me thinking. The reality that night was that both of us had been interested in hooking up from probably the very beginning. In spite of the fact that I have gotten progressively more comfortable being able to think of myself as an attractive person over the last few years, I still tend to assume that I am going to be more interested in sex than the people I am attracted to. Or more likely to be interested in sex; something like that.

In this particular circumstance, and probably in other past circumstances as well, that assumption steered me wrong. I have probably missed out on what could’ve been some pretty awesome sex with people, and I have probably left other people disappointed that they didn’t get to have the experience of some potentially pretty awesome sex with me.

I think part of the problem is just that my ability to assume that someone might really want to fuck me is still not strong enough to reliably detect when that is the case. Another part of it is that I instinctively err so far on the side of not pressuring people into doing things that I end up giving the impression that I, myself, am not interested in doing those things.

One of the things I like about this new partner is that she’s really good at being forward about the things that she likes and doesn’t like, so I worry less that I might be pressuring her into things than I might with other people. It makes it easier for me to express the things that I want, knowing that I can be pretty confident she’ll be able to say no if she doesn’t want to do them.

This is all just a post-length way of reminding myself that I need to get more comfortable assuming that other people might really want to fuck me, because it is true a lot more often than I tend to think that it is. Also, that I should be careful that I don’t accidentally convince people that I’m not interested in my efforts not to pressure them in the event that they are not interested.

On This Story About the Guy Who “Hacked” Online Dating

Just a quick comment on this story that has been going around about a guy who “optimized” or “hacked” online dating on OkCupid: this guy should not be a person to admire. This guy is a perfect example of why men tend to get so many fewer messages than women on dating websites: because he cares more about getting dates than about whether or not the women he gets those dates with are likely to think those dates are more than a waste of time.

In spite of the talk of “only answering questions honestly”, my read of the article is that, first, he doesn’t even pretend to have decided on the level of importance of the questions in an honest way, and, second, it sounds like he chose to only answer the questions that would give him a higher likelihood of high match percentages with people, and not the questions that might give him a lower one. In other words: he deliberately omitted any details that people might not like. Those other 87 women he went on dates with? At least a few of the things he omitted probably mattered to them, and the fact that he omitted them only enabled him to waste their time.

It doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to posit that the reason this guy only got four second dates and one third date out of his first 55 was because the things he omitted from his profiles actually, you know, mattered to people. Fortunately, I suppose, for Mr. McKinley, he didn’t apparently give a shit that they mattered to people as long as those people ended up going on dates with him. Which is why, to me, this looks like a story about a person who is Part Of The Problem.

By ResearchToBeDone Posted in other

“Truth, Dare, Kiss, or Bite”, aka How to Make Spin the Bottle Way More Interesting, Sexy, and Consensual and Have Fun Doing It

I don’t think I’ve ever actually played the version of spin the bottle that most people are familiar with. I don’t particularly feel like I’ve missed out. The version I am familiar with, however, has a pretty good track record of being incredibly fun, both in that much more interesting things can happen and in that it is designed in such a way that consent is pretty effectively built-in. I have had a lot of fun playing it. I realized recently that most people have no idea that this version exists. I don’t want you lovely online folks to miss out, so I’ve decided to put the basic rules on the Internet. It’s sort of a hybrid of spin the bottle and truth or dare, with some other mutations introduced. Here’s how it works:

What you need: a group of people, a bottle (or, better yet, a Twister-style spinner), and, optionally, a bunch of “truth” questions to be drawn at random from a hat.

How you play: as in normal spin the bottle, everyone gets in a circle, and you go around the circle, one by one, letting each person in turn spin the bottle. There are three possibilities for what happens when the bottle stops:

If the bottle stops on another person in the circle, then that person gives the spinner a menu of activities they are comfortable engaging in with that person. Some of the most common are: kissing, biting, scratching, spanking, a massage, a compliment, stripping off a piece of clothing, seven minutes in heaven (if you have a room set aside), truth, and dare. The spinner then chooses an option from the given menu to do with the menu-giver.

In the event of a choice that can be given or received, who gives and who receives is negotiated or part of the listed options. In the event that “truth” is the option chosen, the spinner can either come up with something they would like to ask or pick something out of a hat full of truths if one has been prepared in advance. A player may pick options from the hat until they come upon one that they want to ask – it does not have to be the first thing they draw. Likewise, the menu-giver may ask for a different truth if they are uncomfortable answering the one that the spinner chooses.

Truth is both a fun option and often a good way to keep the game flow going if the person the spinner lands on isn’t up for anything physical (ditto on things like “compliment”). That said, all players are allowed to pass completely, to sit out their own turns if they would like, etc.

If the bottle stops between two people, then either the spinner may spin again, or if they’re comfortable with it, those two people can come up with a list of things they are both comfortable offering (either simultaneously or one after the other as per their comfort levels).

If the bottle stops on the spinner, then the spinner may either choose someone in the circle to be the menu-giver, or spin again.

Depending on the people and the space the game is happening in, players may agree on particular types of activities that are or are not on the table to be menu items beforehand. Things to clarify beforehand: are BDSM-type options like flogging allowed? If so, are there any toys available for common use, or is each person using their own? Are things that involve mucous membrane contact other than kissing allowed? If so, are they allowed in the game space, or are there specific spaces set aside for them? Do you want noise to be kept below a certain level? Is there any particular type of activity that may be triggering for anyone to watch that should be kept off the table? Is there a time limit on how long something can go on (a common way to do this for things like massages that generally last longer is to specify that they continue until either the giver or receiver’s turn comes up, or one of them is a menu-giver on a subsequent spin).

On an individual turn, a player may want to clarify things like: if they want to give or receive a particular thing or things on their menu, where it is okay or not okay to leave marks in the event of activities like biting, impact play, scratching, etc., and how intense or not intense they want a particular menu item to be.

Also, a few pointers: first, try not to make your menu too short or too long — average is around about 3 to 5 items. Second, be creative — kissing and hair pulling are popular options, and there is no reason you can’t have both at the same time, or specify where or how you want to be kissed, etc. etc. Third, take some time to consider what you’re comfortable doing with people you’re not sexually interested in. For example, given that I am predominantly heterosexual, I’m usually not interested in making out with guys, but I am enthusiastically interested in being bitten by pretty much anyone and everyone, so biting is on my menu almost all the time.

I think that’s all the basics. Now, go forth, play, and have fun!

Having Dynamic Emotional States Feels Weird

I’ve been thinking a lot about this post lately.

I’ve been going through some depression. It’s a combination of circumstances that I don’t particularly feel like going into on the blog right now, but suffice to say I’ve had some pretty bad days. I’ve had some days of feeling intensely lonely, and some days of feeling just generalized awfulness with no apparent source.

Yesterday, I made myself go to a beginner waltz class.

I love dance. For me, dance is the ultimate social introvert activity. I don’t like groups, and dance is a perfect way to be social while operating entirely in serial with people. No group interaction, just a series of individual interactions that are too brief to get particularly awkward even if it turns out you don’t click very well. When I know what I’m doing, dance-wise, people enjoy dancing with me, and when I don’t, I find that dancing somehow supercharges my ability to be a charming conversationalist, and I can have a lot of fun with people just riding on that.

Dancing yesterday was incredibly fun, and I even found myself being really socially flirtatious with the woman I had the best chemistry with.

And then I came home, and I went to sleep, and I woke up, and the depressive exhaustion was back. I may go dancing again tonight, and it may be just as fun, and I may feel just as good, and then I may come home and feel the same swing back to the other end of the scale tomorrow morning.

It feels so strange to talk about how good going out dancing feels at the same time as I’m going through this depression stuff, because somehow I still haven’t intuitively grasped the idea that I can feel so good about things and so bad about things in the same span of time. I feel like I should just have some STATE that is relatively consistent, and not this ludicrously context-dependent existence.



I don’t know. I’m just saying it’s weird, is all.

Thoughts About My Weird Double Standards With Respect to Tough Conversations

Interesting fact about me: a lot of the time, I enjoy when people tell me “no”, or tell me that they’re frustrated with me in some way. It makes me feel more secure in my relationships with people when I know they’re able to tell me what they want and don’t want. It makes me feel like I’m more likely to know if I’m doing something they don’t like, and it makes me feel like they think their relationship with me is important enough that they’re willing to do the work to communicate with me about things.

I know this about myself, and yet in spite of it, I still find it difficult a lot of the time to tell people “no” about things or to tell them that I’m frustrated or angry with them about something. Recently, I had a long conversation with a friend about my preferences in terms of reliability and communication. It was a scary conversation to have, for me, but it went very well, and I was proud of myself at the end of it for having managed to get myself to communicate the things that were important to me.

About a week or two later, I ended up very frustrated with this friend, and realized I needed to have a conversation with them about it. As far as I could tell, that first conversation hadn’t been an annoying or in any way negative experience for this friend of mine — it had been a generally positive conversation, and she had thanked me for communicating about the things I talked about. Even so, my brain’s instinctive reaction to needing to have this second conversation with her was “Shit! I just had this one Serious Conversation, now if I have to have this other one so soon after it, she’s just going to feel like our friendship is too much work!”.

Much of the time when people have these conversations with me, I think it’s great, but when I have to initiate these conversations with other people, I assume it must just be annoying and exhausting for them. I’m not sure why this is. Maybe I just need to ask people the deliberate question more often and confirm that they find the initiation of such conversations as valuable and affirming as I often do. I don’t know. But it’s definitely a double standard I plan to do more thinking about.

After all, when I had the second conversation, it went fine.

The Value of Selectivity in Dating, Discussions, and Comment Moderation

Being a guy with a lot of female friends on dating websites, you hear a lot of stories. You hear about the guys who write first messages with just “Hey”, or “Hey, sexy!” (I’m being generous about their spelling and grammar), etc. You hear about the guys who write first messages suggesting that the recipient move across the country to live with them immediately. You hear about the guys who write creepy messages, and you hear about the guys who write creepy messages and then get incredibly angry when women write them back explaining that their message was creepy.

One of the strangest ones to hear about, for me, is the guys who respond to rejection with some variation on “Just give me a chance, you don’t want to miss out on a really good thing!”. On a very surface level, it makes sense. If only a small minority of people are going to be a good match, then giving more people chances means more chances to meet a person in that small minority of People Who Are Good Matches For You.

The problem with the “Just give me a chance, you might be missing out on a good thing!” logic (well, one of the problems) is that taking a chance on someone requires time and energy, and time and energy are finite resources. You can only go on so many dates over the course of your life, so it makes sense to be discriminating about who you go on them with. Taking a chance on someone who doesn’t seem like a good match means not taking a chance on someone else who might be more likely to be a good match.

It doesn’t make sense to go on a date with everyone who asks for the same reason it doesn’t make sense to buy lottery tickets – just because there’s a chance it might work out well for you doesn’t mean it’s remotely likely that it will work out well for you. It is, in point of fact, a much better idea to never buy lottery tickets, and to refuse to go on dates with people who seem like really bad matches. Not buying lottery tickets means you have more money to spend on good investments, and not going on dates with bad matches means you have more time to spend going on dates with potentially good matches.

This logic is pretty simple, and I think pretty intuitive for most people. Now let’s talk about a different, but similar type of thing: people who argue that moderating comments on the Internet means you’re a bad skeptic, because you’re missing out on exposing yourself to all of the available ideas about a topic.

These people are making exactly the same mistake.

I have developed a more and more heavy-handed policy on comment moderation over time, thanks almost entirely to my post about Schrödinger’s rapist. I’m pretty comfortable these days with blocking people at the first sign that they aren’t going to contribute any ideas of value to the discussion. Not only am I comfortable with it, I think it raises the likelihood that I will have opportunities to be exposed to new ideas. I think it makes me a better skeptic.

I have a finite amount of time and energy to spend reading about and engaging with people’s ideas. On account of that, in the same sense that it is in the best interest of people on dating websites to be selective about who they go on dates with, I believe that it is in my best interest to be selective about who I allow to contribute to discussions on my blog. I believe that being selective makes it more likely I will be exposed to interesting ideas that may change my opinion, not less.

Let’s say, as a hypothetical, that my blog was all about math. “I think 2+2 = 5” and “I think I have a solution to this millennium prize problem” are not equally valuable contributions to a discussion about math. They are both ideas, but they do not both contribute equally. If one commenter were to regularly assert that 2+2 was equal to five, I would ban them quickly, because they would be contributing nothing to the discussion. I would much prefer to have the discussion about solving millennium prize problems.

By the same token, if I had a blog that was all about studying climate change, I would probably block climate change deniers. Blocking a particular climate change denier does, obviously, prevent me from being exposed to their input. However, I wouldn’t consider this a loss for two reasons: first, because their input isn’t new or novel — it isn’t just wrong, it’s redundant — and second, because it is trivially easy to look up the arguments and opinions of client change deniers anyway. If they ever were to come up with a new, interesting idea, it wouldn’t be hard to find.

Blocking those people would mean I had more time and energy to engage with people who have thoughtful, nuanced opinions about the topics under discussion. It absolutely does deprive me of access to those people’s opinions in the same way that not going on a date with that person who pleads “Just give me a chance!” would deprive me of the miniscule chance that they would turn out to be a good match, but ultimately it leaves me with more time to engage with ideas of value.

That’s why I am 100% for comment moderation. Not all ideas are created equal, and valuing ideas that are interesting, nuanced, and not redundant means creating a space where more interesting and valuable ideas can be addressed. I contend that in the same way that going on dates with everyone who asked would lower the quality of your love life, listening to the ideas of everyone with an idea regardless of whether the ideas were interesting or valuable lowers the quality of your discourse — it means less time is spent on the valuable, nuanced ideas that are worth discussing, and more time is spent on the “2+2 = 5” ideas that contribute  nothing.

This is why I heavily moderate comments on my Schrödinger’s rapist post. This is why I really don’t care if I am repressing the kinds of ideas that are being satirized in this post – they are not new or interesting, they are so redundant that an entire post was written about them that felt so familiar to most feminists that it was, at times, rather depressingly hilarious.

I moderate comments because I want to be a better skeptic by exposing myself to ideas that are new, different, and nuanced instead of continuing to expose myself to the same litany of ideas that are old, the same, and born out of ignorance and a lack of nuance. My time and energy for addressing ideas is finite, so I judge it far better to spend that time and energy addressing ideas that constitute a valuable use of my time.