Tags: brain stuff

cass, can you not

An obvious observation

It defeats most of the purpose of getting out of Facebook and using Twitter and LinkedIn in write-only mode if I'm still going to have long and pointless debates with various brands of assholes inside my head.
cass, can you not

Uncomfortably accurate

An interesting observation from Hamlet in Purgatory is how totalitarian power seems to have a knack of infiltrating and corrupting the dreams of its victims, while at the same time giving to real life something of the quality of nightmares — not just the awfulness, but the feeling of powerlessness, the sometimes literal and always emotional sensation of walking under water, of the very fabric and mechanism of things being against us.

The causality is plausible, and of course the examples aren't hard to find (the book mentions a couple of dreams from Nazi Germany), but I vaguely feel it extends beyond the traumatic nature of living in a society that's totalitarian or becoming so; not metaphor, but isomorphism.

(Ditto, and not unrelated, for the relationship between abusive familiar environments and totalitarian societies; I would be surprised if, say, brain scans didn't show similar (dis)functional patterns in people interacting with either.)

(Chronic cortisol levels and class structure. Surveillance and introjected abuse. It's easy to oversimplify, and I tend to see politics through the lens of non-cooperative game theory, but there's something to be said, if nothing else poetically, for the old school view of societies "going crazy" in an almost Freudian way. Political systems have to be stable strategic equilibria in order to exist, but perhaps there's also something of the oniric in them, for good but most often for ill.)
cass, can you not

I can relate

A very good turn of phrase from The Debt of Shame:

In any case, the combination of impotence and guilt leads to shame: the sense of being morally stained by something one cannot help.

The article — on the intersection and relationship between personal shame and structural social injustice — is interesting on its own, and not a little topical.
cass, can you not

An on/off switch for the limbic system would sell like pancakes

Suspecting you've screwed up something with a message and waiting to see if your next message unscrewed it would be much more bearable (i.e., would be bearable) with some way to unplug emotions in toto, or at least the social anxiety bit (not a lot of difference in my case).

Speaking of emotional control as a way of life and cosmic screwups, a few certainly unoriginal thoughts on Vulcans and nuTrek:

  • Vulcans being originally something of a stand-in for Jews (at least that's my impression), I wonder whether some sort of Diaspora would've been an opportunity to explore a planet-less society — something I think Star Trek rarely touches except with the Borg and a few assorted non-Federation oddities — as part of the Federation, and the social, legal, and even spiritual issues involved.

  • And of course, if you really want to tackle thorny real-world issues through thinly veiled metaphors (and you're doing Star Trek, so you should), what if the perfect New Vulcan turns out to be already inhabited by somebody who definitely doesn't want the Vulcans there?

  • (I suspect the Vulcans of being too Vulcan to deal with this like any pre-Federation human society would — no slight implied — so this might not go through recognizable paths. Although what if a subset of the Vulcans decides that this happened because they were too pacifist, and you have a second Vulcan schism?)

  • For that matter, what do contemporary Romulans think of what happened to Vulcan? About the fact that a Romulan did it? What's their attitude about the survivors?

  • Did Spock leave behind an interactive hologram version of himself like a point-eared Hari Seldon, most of his messages some form of JIM NO DON'T POKE AT THAT IT'S ILLOGICAL?

  • Why in hell does/did the Federation have a Temporal Investigations department but not one of Temporal Defense? Everybody and their Ferengi friend-of-a-friend can travel through time (I'm thinking of some sort of temporally shielded (I'm allowed to technobabble, this is Star Trek) facility with a small cloaked ship capable of time travel, all sorts of technology (including stuff from their future they've retrieved from people they stopped, or even donated by the Federation in their future... that might include personnel, which would be interesting (instead of the usual cross-species Federation team, a cross-eras one, with serious cultural mismatches)) and everything anybody in the Federation knows about history. Changes to the timeline are automatically detected, and they are sent to fix them. A la Rip Hunter, they should probably *not* be in any history file. As far as Federation databases and people knows, they are all already dead.

  • Stealing the spot-on idea from Midnighter, every damn single human with a time machine tries to kill and/or advise Hitler. Isaac Soong, resident android from the 26th century, always pretends to be offended by the fact that nobody tries to kill Noonian Soong and prevent the Federation from becoming the first society in the Quadrant where biologicals and androids cooperate as equals. Or is actually offended, who knows. Isaac has a tricky sense of humor (he also pretends to be bad at maths; everybody's almost entirely sure that's not true).

  • If there's a society that'd go along with arranged mating to preserve and enhance genetic diversity under those circumstances, that's the Vulcans. Lots of good/badfic can be derived from that. Also, I'm thinking about the Romulans as a source of genetic diversity (purely Vulcanoid, I mean; Spock proves you can get quite Vulcan people from a Vulcan-Human pair), and how convenient it'd be for weird plotting for Vulcans to have a cultural taboo about artificial insemination. Assuming the Romulans would even want to help.

Anyway. My gut feeling is that we're going to get a reclusive, conservative, hyper-managed, and endogamic Vulcan society wherever they settle down, with a small faction advocating for out-Romulianing the Romulans and taking over enough of the quadrant to be safe, killing all Romulans in the process just to be safe. You can make the logical argument.

That'd be an interesting movie. Although tbh I'm sick of all nuTrek movies being about dealing with things from the past or things they are the past of. Beyond was supposed to be about going back to exploration, and ended up being about a character so old he literally predated the Federation; heck, the theme ended up being about an argument they certainly had during those early days. He's a relic with implausibly convenient alien technology that was obviously more powerful than the McGuffin everybody was scared of, but that's another issue.

(Checks: still anxious, still no response. Dammit.)
cass, can you not

I suck at everything and this hat is full of rabbits

If stage magic can be described as the purposeful engineering of assumptions and attention patterns, we could describe certain forms of mental health issues (biological and biographical underpinnings, for the moment, aside) in similar terms.

When watching a card trick, the behavior of the magician and the entire environment, beginning with cultural expectations that sometimes predate both the magician and yourself, is designed to make you look at an specific sequence of points in time and space with certain engineered assumptions as to what's going on. Manage assumptions and perceptions well enough, and you can drive your audience's view of the world arbitrarily far away from reality; in the case of a magic show, to a hopefully more entertaining one.

From a cognitive point of view, self-esteem issues can work in a similar way. They shift what you pay attention to and what your prior assumptions are: you "know" you are inadequate in a certain way, just as you "know" that a certain box is empty, or that there's only one silver coin on the stage, so your failures in that area are as obvious and expected as if a spotlight shone of them. You can't convince yourself, and you can't be convinced by others, that it's not true, because you can see it. Indeed, you see something, and your assumptions make you translate it in that way, and the certainty of this automatic inference structures your perception of yourself and the world. You keep seeing rabbits come out of the hat, so it's obviously full of rabbits.

This is how magic tricks work. The difference is that when it comes to some sorts of mental health issues, you first saw the trick in a place and time, or performed by somebody, that made it impossible for you to believe it was anything true. Maybe it was accidental, maybe it was deliberate (maybe you pulled the trick on yourself; maybe it made sense at the time), but it became self-reinforcing: belief shapes attention, attention shapes perception, and perception shapes belief, and if this circle makes you feel pain and fear, this only sharpens your attention and gives urgency to your belief.

Las Vegas turns into Salem.

A pseudotechnical term for this could be malicious meme, but right now I'm partial to the image of an hex, in the sense of a magical trick that sticks to you and follows you everywhere, because you're constantly performing it without knowing you're doing it. All magical tricks work like that — you choose where to look, you choose what to think; the magician simply makes the "obvious" choices the wrong ones. The infinitely more damaging kind of perceptual and cognitive self-sustaining fuckery simply goes on for longer.

This is a metaphor, and as all metaphors it breaks down as soon as you poke at it too forcefully... but the same happens to magic tricks. So perhaps thinking of yourself as hexed, or as continuously performing a magic trick you don't know is a magic trick, can be a useful addition to the toolbox of things we all use to wrestle with our various brain weasels. There are technically better and more empirically motivated ways of understanding and thinking about these issues, but as an springboard, hexes have the advantage of being intuitively understandable at an emotional level. They are something like cultural archetypes. It can be hard to believe that what you see is not what's happening (or rather that what obviously seems to be going on is not what's going on) if you've spent all your life believing people can pull coins out of your ears, but we can also intuitively understand the idea of a magical illusion, specially an evil one, and that can help us when we question the obvious.