Monthly Archives: April 2016

Authenticity and instant readouts

"You don't know who someone is until you see them under pressure."

Why do people say that?

There’s this idea of authenticity: you know who someone truly is by seeing them in their unguarded moments, seeing uncensored emotions, that’s when you can have a real interaction with them, that’s when you can see their true self.

This is counterintuitive to me. When I let down my guard and am my completely unfiltered self, people often find me incomprehensible. What’s more, they think I am being less authentic. When I let my social guard down and say things as soon as I think them, people say that they find it hard to relate to me and encourage me to just be myself. When I carefully filter and reframe things, and shape my behavior to get the interaction I want, I hear people say, “I can tell that you’re really being genuine with me.”

But more importantly, even when my immediate reaction to a thing does get read as authentic, it may not use all my knowledge, may not be my endorsed judgment, and may not be the most true thing I know how to say. If I think things through and filter them, I can be more truthful than if I just react without thinking about whether what I’m saying is true.

Interactions seem to be described as authentic when information transmitted has two qualities:

  1. The information is a direct measurement of the sender's internal state, and has not passed through deliberative social filters first.
  2. The information is of a kind that the receiver can automatically and unconsciously verify as meeting the first criterion.

Continue reading

Safety in numbers

Relaxation and waking up

Taking a bath taught me that I hate it when things relax me.

As part of my project to repair my relationship with desire, I’ve been working through the pleasure exercises in the book Pleasurable Weight Loss. These exercises frequently expose me to something that paradigmatically gives pleasure. The intended effect, I think, is to learn to embrace pleasure through habit-formation. The effect on me, however, has been to show me something surprising each time, often through my failure to be pleased by the activity, improving my self-model in a relevant way. I wrote about my experience with a nature walk. Another pleasure exercise was to take a luxurious bath.

When I finally emerged from a long, hot bath, I found my body unusually relaxed. I sat down on the couch and wanted to flop over. I didn’t feel like moving at all. And this was terrible. It felt as though a wizard had cast a spell on me to dullen my mind. I wasn’t thinking, I wasn’t moving, and I didn’t want to, and this was terrible. It was dangerous.

I went for a walk afterwards with a friend, and didn’t wear my jacket. The brisk winter Berkeley air cheered me up, since now I felt like moving, and thinking, and didn’t feel like I had to resist slipping into a restful oblivion.

I dislike warmth, and soft dim lighting, and deep soft couch cushions that threaten to envelop me, for much the same reason: it feels like a trap. It feels like something is trying to lull me into a false sense of security. It feels like one of those scenes in a fantasy story, where the hero’s exploring some underground catacombs, and enters a mysterious important-seeming room and all of a sudden is feeling nice and warm and sleepy, and wants to sit down for a bit, and meanwhile there are the skeletons of previous adventures littering the floor, and you want to shout, “wake up! Look around you! Get oriented or you die!”.  It feels like the warm, comforting, enveloping embrace of - death. Continue reading

My life so far: motives and morals

This is the story of my life, through the lens of motivations, of actions I took to steer myself towards long-term outcome, of the way the self that stretches out in causal links over long periods of time produced the self I have at this moment. This is only one of the many ways to tell the story of my life. Continue reading

Idolatry taboo as integrity constraint

I have a lot of reasons for doing things, but the iron law that governs all the others is integrity. Things that help my friends are good, things that promote human flourishing and alleviate suffering are good, but when there’s even a whiff of embracing falsehood or ignoring the facts in an action, the gates slam shut against it.

But that just describes - it doesn’t explain. Why am I this way. Was I born with a commitment to the truth above all else? Is it in my genes? Or was I taught it? My parents seem hold other values like tradition or caring about equally, not assigning such an unique place of honor to epistemic integrity, which is evidence against both heredity and direct acculturation as explanations.

My hypothesis is that I have a basic impulse to systematize my understanding of things, and that when I learned about Jewish idolatry taboos, I generalized this into an abhorrence of falsehood. Continue reading

Heterosociality hypotheses

Why are most of my close friends women? I’ve been thinking about how to cultivate close friendships, and this questions keeps coming up.

Most of the rest were born in female-typical estrogen-dominant bodies, assigned female at birth, and haven’t taken strong steps to present as masculine-typical in ways that would override my initial impression. My closest friend in the remainder of the remainder is an androgynous guy. And an interesting symmetry: several of my female friends note that they’re mostly friends with guys!

I don’t have a strong idea why this is so, but I’ve generated a few hypotheses. Continue reading


I didn’t really have good role models for boundaries, and didn’t hear them talked about much as a kid, so when I first heard people talking about them, I tried to fit them into my existing categories. But that didn’t work very well, so they felt like nonsense.

It looked like when people were expressing boundaries, they were drawing on nothing but their own preferences to determine them - so maybe boundaries were a kind of strong preference? But people seemed to use some sort of moralistic language around boundaries. People who “violated boundaries” weren’t just costly to interact with, but behaving wrongly, viewed as dangerous, to be excluded from one’s life. Then maybe boundaries were like absolute standards of right and wrong? But that didn’t work either, since they were determined so subjectively. Continue reading