why am I making sense today

I really like getting confused about myself. If I genuinely seem to be exhibiting behaviour that doesn’t make sense then it’s great trying to figure out why, especially if I have a good friend to bat some ideas off and offer different perspectives.

Was going to say hi to a neighbour but she didn’t answer so whatever. It’s Friday and I’m basically in the mood to relax, not going to stress myself out by trying to tackle the todos, not this time (but soon). Instead, I wanted to have a bit of a reflection and a think about myself, and started with the prompt: what is confusing or unusual about me right now?

I managed to fill the page with ideas but nothing really exciting came up.

So… I’ll probably get onto some more details later, but the main thing to notice here is that this doesn’t seem quite right. Usually I view myself as a pretty horrible or useless person, and a big part of that is about not acting in ways that I believe would lead towards my stated goals, particularly altruistic ones. And sometimes that assessment really does seem to be pretty obviously true, even if the way I present it to myself is overly harsh. So viewing myself as basically behaving normally, itself seems something of an anomaly.

Have I finally learned to accept myself or something? Er hell no.

The first (or I guess second, since I was so quick to reject that previous one already) idea to come to mind is that I have some model of how I would normally behave: like, that’s me. In some cases this deviates from reality: maybe as soon as it becomes apparent that a task needs to be done, this model of myself would happily start nibbling away at it whereas I know the real me will just let it sit on the pile until it becomes really embarrassingly critical. Basically this is a two-tiered model of me: an intuitive notion of how I “ought” to behave, with a few consciously-applied tweaks that allow me to anticipate aberrant or ditzy behaviour, so that I can at least plan around it somewhat and don’t end up constantly surprised by how useless I am.

OK that paragraph ended up more complicated than I was expecting, let me unpack some of those ideas.

My sense of the last few days is “they went basically the way I would have hoped them to go, minus various mistakes but it’s not like I was going drastically wrong the whole way”. No obvious sensible major available departures come to mind.

If I was to ask someone else though, they might say “I don’t understand why you can’t love the world” or “I don’t understand why you don’t learn martial arts or dress up like a girl”. And I can’t really explain the answers to those (entirely real) people either. It’s like their baseline model of how people are or should be is different from mine, and the various patches that we apply to explain our own or others’ peculiar behaviour aren’t enough to really go and understand the other person, because we’re always instinctively drawn back to that place of normality.

An orthogonal complication is that I will basically reject any major change to my own behaviour, even if it seems quite a sensible one, on the basis that that’s what happened during my psychosis and it ended up with demons and hospital. I can’t really think of a good counterargument to that, so while I really want to change my way of being, it seems I just have to accept it’s going to be a slow and gradual process.

By the way, it can be scary realizing that you’re a brain. Being a programmer it’s easy to get confused between brains and the software systems I work with every day and help develop: both are there to process information in complex ways. But software can be copied, backed up, debugged, and reverted if it starts going weird. Brains are entirely unlike that, and structurally resemble things that we chop up in our kitchens and serve for dinner more than they resemble computer circuits or software. Something goes wrong in there in your own brain you are not debugging it, instead you may find yourself unable to even hold a normal conversation. Maybe it will somehow fix itself? or it won’t, but in any case no-one will have any idea what ever happened except oh something which sounds entirely different but is superficially similar based on a couple of things you said, happened to some other person once.

Trust me it’s really annoying as a programmer when someone says something that an information system did is like some other thing when they sound completely different to you, and if that system happens to be yourself it doesn’t help. When I was depressed people always seemed irritating though, not because they were doing anything wrong but just because that was my general outlook, and I directed my attention, as much as I had such a thing, towards them when they were talking mostly because at least there was more going on than just looking at a wall. And I did what they told me because it’s not like I had any other ideas.

I digress.

There’s sort of two models of the human mind. (I mean, there’s plenty of different models but I’m drawing attention to one particular axis here).

The first is the Flawed Rational Mind. The basic premise here is that everything you do is in some sense reasonable, although maybe not perfectly so. Progress is driven by noticing things that seem strange, understanding why they are nevertheless reasonable on some level, and finding where the confusing came in, getting that part of your mind to laugh at itself and then basically you’re all solved.

It’s obviously very attractive.

Firstly, it means you’re complex. Unless everything you do really does seem reasonable to itself, it means you have hidden layers driving your behaviour, and there are whole levels of subconscious bizarro-logic down there to explore. I really want the fact that I have a hard time committing to donating money, or the fact I have a hard time staying in touch with friends, to be due to some hilarious sequence of misunderstandings going on in my own mind. Maybe the starting point would be something like “I am not sure whether I earn more than $100 per day. Even though being confused about this is pretty ridiculous, since nobody pointed out this specific thing is something that people would ever be confused about, I haven’t taken the few moments to resolve it”. Another one might be “Axiomatically, my crush would never like me”.

While I feel I know the answer to those with a high degree of confidence, something still feels wrong about them. I think what this means is that there are related beliefs that have still not updated and that I’m nervous about shining a light on. As such I’m not quite sure what they would be – the brain isn’t perfect at telling itself “don’t look over here”, but it sort of does an ok job at it if you let it get away with that.

Obviously not intending to let it get away with that. I’ll see if I can find anything stale in my belief cache related to those two things, but first want to mention the other view of minds.

It’s not a very interesting one. This view is the Big Pile Of Sludge. It says that the brain often causes vaguely sensible things to happen, because of evolution or whatever, but sometimes it just goes wrong and there’s not much we can do and we certainly can’t reason our way out of it. It contrasts with the Flawed Rational model, because in Flawed Rational information is almost always a good thing – it helps you spot problems and become more awesome and so on. In Big Pile Of Sludge information, or the very act of thinking itself, can be harmful. Sludge would more emphasize the behavioural side of things, like if we do lots of things that are generally shown to be healthy and wholesome we’ll sort of do a bit better in expectation or at least get worse more slowly. The actual content of what you’re worrying about today is likely to be less important in this view than the mere fact that you’re worrying about something. Things can be analyzed at two levels: statistics, which generally don’t allow much leverage for changing things, and individual neurons which there’s just too many and why did you even think you could make sense of your own mind by thinking of it as neurons.

It’s easy to get sad about this view of minds or brains, and I’m not presenting it particularly favourably on this occasion.

OK it’s already tomorrow and I’ve thought a little about one of the belief propagation problems I mentioned above (the one about the crush). Wanna give it some more thought before writing it up here though, and in the meantime there’s other stuff I want to cover so see ya next post.

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