The agony of speaking

My SO and I are doing some painting. Mostly it’s fun, but as we discuss colors and color combinations, it has become glaringly obvious that it can be extremely difficult to talk about what we want but easy to convey our ideas by showing an example of what we want.

I wanted to do something in brown. Words flew all over the room but got us no closer to mutual understanding, let alone agreement. We looked at color charts on the computer but couldn’t agree on what we meant by saturation, muted, lighter, or darker.

My SO, who is much better with color than I am, thought the meanings of those terms were obvious. “You’re overthinking this! You must know what lighter and darker mean!”

“Not when I consider luminescence or saturation, I don’t. I really don’t.”

Is a red-brown lighter or darker than a blue-brown? More or less saturated? I honestly was lost in the terminology and was driving my poor SO crazy.

After several days of this, at some point I noticed my wallet lying on the table. “This is what I mean,” I said. “I want a color like this.” The wallet was a well-worn, dark, leathery brown.

She immediately knew what I was talking about now. “What you want is a really dark brown… that’s almost a black.”

Excited, we went back to the color chart (which has 3,500 color variations) and looked into a different classification of browns. Low and behold, the darkest one available—Tarpley Brown—is exactly what I wanted.

So,  I had something in my mind’s eye but failed repeatedly to convey it to my SO through the use of language. She tried to figure out what I meant but kept searching for a more woody sort of brown while becoming increasingly confused by my groping attempts at description.

From this, we can see how difficult it is to understand other people or even ourselves. Many important aspects of being human simply do not have clear examples in the world around us and are much more difficult to put into words than a color.

Empathy’s evil twin and our need to understand it

Empathy literally means the capacity to recognize the emotions being experienced by another sentient being.

It is almost always bound up with sympathy and compassion. Empathy as we normally think of it is a good thing, a liberal thing, a Buddhist thing, a kindly thing. But is that a good thing?

When I first read William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience in my late teens, I adored the poems and illustrations of the Songs of Innocence and largely disliked or ignored the Songs of Experience. I liked the joy, innocence, and passion of the Songs of Innocence but not the sober truths of the Songs of Experience.

Culturally, as far as I can tell, America is infatuated with the innocence of empathy, but not the sober truths that should go hand in hand with it.

If all people were nice and kind and never did bad things, it would be good to be innocent about empathy. But not all people are good. Indeed, most of us are only good sometimes and some of us are really bad a lot of the time.

Do you have the capacity to recognize the emotions being experienced by a person intent on doing harm? Doesn’t our current sense of what empathy entails leave out empathy’s evil twin, the bad emotions and intentions of other sentient beings?

I don’t know if it is still true today, but Japanese tourists visiting the USA used to get mugged and raped at levels well above their percentage of the population. The reason was, and maybe still is, they were too innocent and could not perceive the evil intent of their new “friend” or the cool dude asking them for the time.

This happened because Japan has less violent crime than the USA and because Japanese tourists were not able to imagine or read American situational exchanges. And this shows that empathy for evil is based both on expectation and culture, which are close in nature.

The Buddha said that we can only really know another human being after long association. Even he cautioned about being innocent and empathizing only with the good we see in others while failing to recognize the bad.

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first posted

Psychedelics and religious experience

It is well-known that psychedelic drugs can induce religious experiences, as well as cure depression and other psychological problems.

Many people today and in the past have had these experiences and praised them effusively. In recent decades, scientific studies have corroborated this side of the history of most of the world’s religions.

A new study published last month adds even more weight to the religious value of psychedelic drugs.

..Respondents reported the primary senses involved in the encounter were visual and extrasensory (e.g. telepathic). The most common descriptive labels for the entity were being, guide, spirit, alien, and helper. Although 41% of respondents reported fear during the encounter, the most prominent emotions both in the respondent and attributed to the entity were love, kindness, and joy. Most respondents endorsed that the entity had the attributes of being conscious, intelligent, and benevolent, existed in some real but different dimension of reality, and continued to exist after the encounter. Respondents endorsed receiving a message (69%) or a prediction about the future (19%) from the experience. More than half of those who identified as atheist before the experience no longer identified as atheist afterwards. The experiences were rated as among the most meaningful, spiritual, and psychologically insightful lifetime experiences, with persisting positive changes in life satisfaction, purpose, and meaning attributed to the experiences. (Survey of entity encounter experiences occasioned by inhaled N,N-dimethyltryptamine: Phenomenology, interpretation, and enduring effects)

Intrinsic motivation is important for sustained creative activity

A recent study shows that An insight-related neural reward signal exists and is more active in some people than in others.

This study also confirms the idea that “intrinsic motivation is important for sustained creative activity.”

Some other findings that may be of interest:

…our findings suggest that individuals who are high in reward sensitivity experience the sudden emergence of a solution into awareness as strongly rewarding whereas individuals who are low in reward sensitivity may still experience insight as sudden and attentionally salient but lacking in hedonic content.

As lifelong autodidact, I wonder if others with this marvelous “addiction” can relate to feeling almost not alive unless there is something to wonder about or figure out. I recently read a biography of Ludwig Wittgenstein. One standout was his strong tendency to seek out simple or humble environments that stimulated his mind.

…Individuals high in reward sensitivity are more likely to take drugs, develop substance-abuse disorders or eating disorders, and engage in risky behaviors such as gambling. The fact that some people find insight experiences to be highly pleasurable reinforces the notion that insight can be an intrinsic reward for problem solving and comprehension that makes use of the same reward circuitry in the brain that processes rewards from addictive drugs, sugary foods, or love.

Getting lost in the woods or on a motorcycle ride, for me, is a highly enjoyable feeling. There have to be slight tremors of fear and agitation followed by finding my way again. I suppose others may experience similar feelings in social settings or as live performers.

…These findings shed light on people’s motivations for engaging in challenging, often time-consuming, activities that potentially yield insights, such as solving puzzles or mysteries, creating inventions, or doing research. It also reinforces the notion that intrinsic motivation is important for sustained creative activity. The expectation of intrinsic rewards from comprehending and creating, rather than from an extrinsic source such as payment, is thought to be the most effective type of workplace motivation…

A society with universal basic income in which no one has to work unless they want to might bring about the greatest flourishing of human talent ever. Then again, maybe not. Inspiration does need a stick on the back sometimes and “joy has no children,” meaning happiness produces few inventions.

Here’s an article about the study: Aha! + Aaaah: Creative Insight Triggers a Neural Reward Signal.

A major unit of psycholinguistics that I have not seen described: convertations

When we consider psycholinguistics from the point of view of interpersonal communication (especially psychologically rich communication) we can identify a unit of communication that springs from the working memory as it indexes deeper and more extensive information stored elsewhere in the mind/brain.

This unit of communication is used to start a conversation and then maintain it.

For example, my partner recently had a performance review at her job. This morning I asked her about it. When I asked her, I intended to start a conversation. Along with my intention, I knew a few things:

  • that she would be interested in the topic
  • that she would have new information
  • that I knew a good deal about it but not as much as her
  • that we would almost certainly engage in a conversation that is of practical as well as psychological interest to both of us

In raising the subject, I held an amorphous notion in my working memory roughly described by the text just above. I embarked on the subject with a pointed yet open-ended question, “So how is the job review going…”

That question signaled in my mind, and it turns out in may partner’s as well, that I wanted to converse with her about her job review.

I want to call what I did there the initiation of a convertation,(which is the word conversation with a “t” in place of the “s”). I am using a special term because I want to isolate and describe it as a psycholinguistic unit of major importance to both speech and psychology.

I submit that a convertation, which the above is merely a single example of, is a major psycholinguistic unit; a major piece of psychology and language both together and separately.

A convertation springs from the working memory where it appears as an index of much more. Many convertations could be described as “gambits,” but gambits are only one type.

Loosely speaking, a convertation includes an intention, a purpose, somewhat defined content, and open-endedness. In the example above:

  • My intention was to converse with my partner, listen to her speak, enjoy the morning, have fun talking with her, and find out how her job review was going.
  • My purpose was to get new information and assess how the review was affecting her and if I had any role to play in it.
  • The content (once it began) of now our convertation was the job review and my partner’s psychological responses toward it. Less important but also significant were my psychological responses to hers.
  • The open-endedness could be anything sparked by the original premise of the convertation.

In the case above, everything went smoothly. My partner was not stressed by the review. It seemed to be going well. I felt some relief but was not surprised. At some point, we began a discussion of why her employer did the review the way they did. Lastly, I said our talking constituted a good example of what I mean by convertation.

Convertations can be fruitful and very pleasant as in the above example. Or they can be fraught with dangerous misunderstandings, misplaced emotions, psychological and linguistic harm.

Sometimes a convertation constitutes an entire conversation. Sometimes a convertation is a sub-unit of a larger conversation. If you isolate convertations and view them as units in themselves, sharper distinctions can be made about how and why people speak to each other.

The Secret Speech of General Chi Haotian

This speech should be read by everyone interested in China. Draw your own conclusions about how much it has to do with recent events. Chi Haotian was the defense minister of China from 1993-2003. An excerpt from his speech can be found just below. Be sure to read the whole speech. More information about it is provided at the link below.

…Conventional weapons such as fighters, canons, missiles and battleships won’t do; neither will highly destructive weapons such as nuclear weapons. We are not as foolish as to want to perish together with America by using nuclear weapons, despite the fact that we have been exclaiming that we will have the Taiwan issue resolved at whatever cost. Only by using non-destructive weapons that can kill many people will we be able to reserve America for ourselves. There has been rapid development of modern biological technology, and new bio-weapons have been invented one after another. Of course, we have not been idle, in the past years we have seized the opportunity to master weapons of this kind. We are capable of achieving our purpose of “cleaning up” America all of a sudden. When Comrade Xiaoping was still with us, the Party Central Committee had the perspicacity to make the right decision not to develop aircraft carrier groups and focus instead on developing lethal weapons that can eliminate mass populations of the enemy country.

From a humanitarian perspective, we should issue a warning to the American people and persuade them to leave America and leave the land they have lived in to the Chinese people. Or at least they should leave half of the United States to be China’s colony, because America was first discovered by the Chinese. But would this work? If this strategy does not work, then there is only one choice left to us. That is, use decisive means to “clean up” America and reserve America for our use in a moment. Our historical experience has proven that as long as we make it happen, nobody in the world can do anything about us. Furthermore, if the United States as the leader is gone, then other enemies have to surrender to us.

Biological weapons are unprecedented in their ruthlessness, but if the Americans do not die then the Chinese have to die. If the Chinese people are strapped to the present land, a total societal collapse is bound to take place. (The Secret Speech of General Chi Haotian)

I have posted the translation found on J.R. Nyquist’s blog because this version contains parts left out of other versions I have seen, particularly Chi’s introductory discussion of an online survey.

As far as I have been able to determine, this translation is an accurate rendition of a real speech given to high-level Communist Party leaders.

Below are some quotes from Sun Tzu:

“The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.”

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.”

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”

“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.”

“Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.”

Sun Tzu, The Art of War