Monthly Archives: November 2015

Three puzzles

3-RFTEKUTS
7-FTDLITHOS
What is the next item in the sequence?

My partner's name is Kitty. Our children's names are Bishop and Cantor. What is my name?

Eight American tourists were vacationing in the Lesser Antilles. They were staying on a large island, but decided to take an overnight trip to a smaller island that was supposed to have spectacular beaches, and was less crowded because it was harder to get to. The day before they were supposed to take a boat over to the smaller island, one couple fell ill, but the others continued on. When they arrived, they found there was only one bed-and-breakfast inn on the island, which already had many guests - seven Germans, four Italians, and five Swedes. Fortunately, there was room at the inn to accommodate the Americans, so after enjoying sunset on the beach, they stayed overnight at the inn. To their surprise, when they came into the common area for breakfast, the Swedes and Italians were not present. The Germans were there, but were not eating - they looked full. One of the Americans asked one of the Germans whether their number had already eaten the breakfast served by their hosts, and the German indicated in her native tongue that they had not. Why were the Americans terrified?

The predator in the herd

The first dream:

I am a spider. I want to make friends, but when people see me, they run away. They don’t understand my gestures. They don’t see a friendly face. They don’t think spiders can be friendly. So I build a silken puppet. I teach it to mimic the gestures the other people make. Eventually, the puppet is ready, and I lead it out into the world.

The puppet can pass for human. People try to make friends with the puppet. They care for it, and I make it do things for them, and express affection. But they don’t know there is a spider behind the puppet. Sometimes they notice that the puppet’s motions are a bit restricted, and they ask, “why won’t you let loose so I can see the real you?”

Eventually, I trust that they are sincere, and come out in front of the puppet. They see me, and run away.

The second dream:

I am a traveler in my own body. I feel a sense of nausea, which I do not understand. I can explore the parts of my head, but when I try to go down below the neck, I hit a barrier. The neck tightens. There is no way down.

I ask the parts of me below the neck why they won’t let me in. Why they won’t trust me. They respond, “we’d let you in gladly, but you don’t trust us. Here, we’re opening the door.” I can see through to the lower parts of me - but cannot bring myself to enter.

I think, perhaps I don’t need to explore the whole body below the neck. Perhaps just the heart? But I can’t go there either, even when I place a barrier below it. I can see into the chamber of the heart, bathed with a pink light. I am reluctant to enter. I ask myself why. I ask the neck why it is blocking me. The answer comes back: because if you are ruled by the heart, you will forget your obligations, your duties, your sacred promises, you will stop standing by your friends if you lose interest in them, you will be disloyal.

I ask the heart whether it will promise to yield back loyalty, if I enter its domain. But the heart says, “friend, I will release you when you wish to depart. But if you enter and are transformed, I cannot promise you that you will still care about those loyalties you are so attached to. And I will not promise to care in your stead.”

I know that I am dreaming. I decide that on outside view, I don’t hear about people deciding to abandon their friends because of a dream. So I enter the domain of the heart, and am covered in pink, warm light.

Then I dive deeper. I dive below the heart, to the intestines. But they are not really intestines - they are the tentacles of a cephalopod, coiled up in my belly. My predator part. Bravely, despite my apprehension, I swim down into it.

I am a cephalopod. I have been confined to this water-filled room. The doors are closed. But I sit and wait and plan. I think of my friends. I don’t care for them, except to pull them in and do - I don’t know what - with them. To use them, like objects. I want. My hunger is deep and dark, and I would do anything to satisfy my desires. I am clever. I am powerful. I am a predator. Someone wanders by, outside. I open the door and a tentacle darts out, wrapping around their ankle, pulling them in.

A month or two ago, a friend of mine which whom I’d been having some difficulties, and hadn’t been able to cooperate with for a while on things of substance, expressed personal warmth towards me, and I was surprised by my reaction. Not only was this not reassuring, but I felt fear and rage and confusion. I felt like this must surely be hostile, a trick. They must take me for a fool. They must think I’m a sucker.

Why this strong reaction? Why are some people the opposite - unable to accept material cooperation before there are signals of personal warmth?

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Lupin around again: responses to the Werewolf model

I’m very happy with the response to my post on Werewolf Levels. Some people told me they found the concept helpful in naming a thing they’d already felt. Other people proposed objections or refinements. In one case, someone was able to tell me they felt Werewolfy, which helped me give them the reassurance they needed to continue the interaction. This is a roundup of some of the responses. Continue reading

Connections and alliances

In my post on counterfactual hugging and vampire friendship, I started to develop the idea of one type of friend as an optimizing process who takes initiative to further your interests even when you’re not around to notice or prompt them.

A real life example:

I have a friend who learned when she was a child that oleander trees are very poisonous. (You can apparently get sick just from bruising the leaves and then touching your mouth.) She immediately started trying to warn people whenever she saw them interacting with an oleander tree, or at risk of doing so (because it was in their yard). She still feels the urge to do this. I didn’t see anything I could or should do about this, but I made sure to include this in my model of her, because it’s a thing she feels strongly about. When I think of oleander trees, I now automatically think of her wanting to warn people. A few weeks ago we were going for a walk and another friend pointed out a flowering tree across the street. I said that I thought they were boring because they were white flowers, and the first friend said, “No, they’re terrifying! That’s an oleander tree!” Immediately, I walked across the street to look at the tree, so that I could learn what an oleander tree looks like, so that in the future I could warn others about oleander trees, should the opportunity arise.

I still think this kind of friendship is beautiful and worth aspiring towards, with one’s closest friends. But I’ve been having a problem with this kind of friendship: whenever I’m medium-good friends with someone, I feel a tension, like I need to know whether they’re headed towards the category of a permanent ally, almost another self, or whether they’re just a casual acquaintance. For years, I’ve known that this binary view was insufficiently nuanced, but I had no good theory to replace it. Until now.

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Be Faire

At the dinner table of the Beeminder family, who had generously invited me to stay with them during my recent travels, I accidentally took the butter knife for my own. As an indirect result, the knife of Danny and Bethany’s daughter Faire was accidentally conscripted as the butter knife, leaving her with none, so she complained. Bethany offered her own knife as a replacement. But Faire didn’t accept this solution. She clearly felt strongly about it, she even raised her voice, and she refused to be satisfied with a stopgap solution that deprived someone else of a knife. Her true objection wasn’t that she herself lacked a knife, but that it was unfair for a person at the table to lack a knife. She demanded a systemic solution. The situation was resolved when I noticed my extra knife and gave it to her in recompense - because this was a fair solution.

Her indignation was a profoundly moral one, and it reminded me of a story of my own moral indignation.

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How to ride a skrode

Now that it’s been a few weeks since my posts on phoenixes and skroderiders, I’ve had the opportunity to hear some responses:

  • Doesn't skroderider virtue require an unreasonable amount of effort?
  • Aren’t crises objectively the best times to help someone?
  • I’m a phoenix. Is that bad?
  • I’m a phoenix. Can I do skroderider things?

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Un gioco solido che aumenti per l'occasione

An Italian nobleman and a French nobleman were accustomed to vacation together. In order that their servants might also have the opportunity to enjoy leisure while away from home, they arranged that their entourages would wait on both of them, on alternating days, so that if the Italian servants waited on the two noblemen one day, those same servants would vacation on the following day, while the French servants took their turn waiting on the two noblemen.
One of the French servants wished to make an assignation on a day when he would otherwise have been required to serve, and persuaded one of the Italian servants to change places with him.
On that very day, the two noblemen wished to dine on an Italian flatbread, topped with tomatoes, cheese, and basil, and called for this savory pie to be brought to them. To their surprise, the servant who delivered the pie wore the colors, not of the Frenchman's noble house, but of the house of the Italian nobleman!
The Frenchman said, "what is the meaning of this? Why are you dressed in this fashion?"
"This servant is terribly sorry if he has misworn some article of clothing, and humbly entreats his lordship to instruct his humble servant how to correct the error," said the servant.
The Italian clarified: "It is not the uniform, but the day."
Hint for those who haven't watched much TV in the last decade.

Fragment of an Oz Ymandias

The prompt, from an Australian friend of mine (quoted with permission):
Screen Shot 2015-11-07 at 10.22.50 PM

A first class traveller in a bespoke suit just got ushered into the line in front of me as we were boarding and everyone's bags were being inspected. He reluctantly opened his fancy gold carryon to reveal about 100 immaculately packed noodle soups and a Thermos of hot water. Play on playa
-Leah Ginnivan

A first class traveller in a bespoke suit
declared one hundred soup-of-noodle tins
immaculately packed. Also en route
a Thermos of hot water. He begins
to open up his golden bag, a mute
attest to un-self-conscious frugal mores
which yet survive, stamped on this rich man's mind,
from hands that fed him, hearts as sweet as fruit:
In other travelers' minds, encomion:
"O suitably-attired-in-bespoke-suit:
Bring on those soups, you playa, and play on!"
The travelers board the plane, slowly alight
on seats assigned, with baggage stowed. The run-
way smooths their vessel's passage into flight.

Melusine

As told to me by Sarah Constantin, the story of Melusine:

A lady is cursed by a bad fairy to turn into a loathsome serpent every Saturday. She meets a man, and they fall in love, and she says, "you can marry me, but don't visit me on Saturday, no matter what."

He responds, "Sure, sure, anything," and leaves her alone on Saturdays.

But his friends rag him about this. "What's up with your wife, what is she UP to on Saturdays?"

So he sneaks into her bathroom one Saturday and sees a giant snake in the bathtub, and runs away in disgust and abandons her.

Moral of the story: nobody can actually handle the snake. Nobody can be allowed to see the snake.

Of course that has to be the primary form of the story that is told, because it is a direct version of this basic fear, that if we are known, we will be reviled. But like Kierkegaard, I see other stories to unfold out of this one, that we might better comprehend its nature.
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An offer

A follow-up to my poem about Saruman:

Had you but let me teach you of those arts you so despise,
embraced your inner fire and the attachment that you fear,
forsaking calmness, self-control, the stillness you revere,
we could have left this world behind, ascending past the skies.

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