"Well, that's just, like, your opinion, man."

Cheese Danish: As I Was Saying...

7/22/16, 8:56 AM

Interesting Timing: So this poor guy, Charles Kinsey, is out in the street trying to help a distraught autistic person. The police arrive, responding to a report of an individual with a weapon. Mr. Kinsey lays down on the pavement, puts his hands in the air, and attempts to explain what is going on to the police, in order to prevent any use of force.

And a cop shoots him.

When Mr. Kinsey asks the officer why he shot him, his reply was reportedly, "I don't know."

Which is probably an accurate account.

Since then, NBC Nightly News tweeted that the police union in North Miami has announced that the officer thought Mr. Kinsey was in danger, and was trying to shoot the autistic man.

I'm not sure how credible that story is. But, in the absence of a genuine, deliberate cognitive decision to open fire, some kind of story has to be made up to "explain" what happened.

I believe the officer genuinely didn't know why he shot. By now, I'm sure he's convinced himself that he was trying to protect Mr. Kinsey and he's just a horrible shot.

It sounds, to me, exactly like the phenomenon described in the Why You Don't Know Your Own Mind piece I linked to yesterday. The officer's response was, I think, likely influenced by the recent shootings of police officers, the unconscious fear of black males, and the threat-oriented reactive state of mind engendered by reports of an armed man at the scene. It's a volatile mixture.

I don't attribute any malice to the officer, I just think he happened to bump up against the limits of volitional thinking and action in stressful situations with inadequate training.

I'm only glad that it didn't end up worse.

In other news: I've been trying to figure out why to get up in the morning. It's been kind of a remarkable, albeit sad, thing, this Bodhi-shaped hole in my life. I'm surprised to learn just how much of it was structured by my relationship with my dog.

I've been going over to MItzi's more often than I did when Bodhi was alive, because I was always reluctant to leave him alone for very long. I've been taking fewer pictures because I'm simply not outside as often. My afternoons are fairly unstructured now, because I don't have to think about taking Bodhi out for a walk and feeding him. And I'm certainly here at the keyboard more often.

But the biggest difference is figuring out how to start my day.

For ten years, the first thing I did every morning was get up, relieve myself, get dressed, leash Bodhi, grab a camera and take a walk around the property. Sometimes that was at oh-dark-thirty, when I was training for a race. Sometimes it was a little later in the morning if I'd had a couple too many beers the night before. But it was always the first thing I did, no matter how I felt.

And with him gone, it just hasn't seemed as if there was any real reason to get out of bed in the morning!

So, as with most problems, I still hear my therapist's voice in my head, "David, what's your plan?"

Gotta have a plan.

Well, I'm fat. So the plan is to fix that. I've been using the My Fitness Pal app to track my caloric intake consistently and that seems to be worthwhile.

And when my alarm goes off at 0500, I get up, I relieve myself, weigh myself, put on my workout clothes and head over to the fitness center. Right now I'm just hitting the elliptical for 30 minutes at a pretty good pace. It's too hot and muggy to run here these days, at least for me, and I'm happy to avoid the impact from running on the treadmill. I'm going to have to incorporate some strength training into this, but at least for now I have a reason to get out of bed in the morning!

On my way back Action Dave's Cool-Guy Bachelor Pad™, I check out the sky and assess the chances for a cool sunrise. If it's looking good, I grab a camera after I get back and head back out to see what develops.

Finally, As I Was Saying: At the end of June, I posted my lament that the internet has been a force for the promotion of ignorance, so I was somewhat pleased when Karl Martino posted a link to this Guardian piece in Facebook.

I'm like Panasonic, "just slightly ahead of my time."

Politics and Feelings

7/20/16, 6:47 AM

It's been an awful election year so far, and I wonder how much it reflects the inherent weakness in democracy.

We have two candidates that evoke strong feelings in significant portions of the electorate, I believe recent polls have both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump with more than fifty percent disapproval ratings.

On social media, chiefly Facebook and Twitter, partisans of the various factions taunt their opponents. Within the respective parties, individuals who don't support the nominee are mocked and ridiculed.

This is what passes for "debate" and "civil discourse."

There was an op-ed piece in the NY Times yesterday called, "Why You Don't Know Your Own Mind." It's an op-ed piece, so don't get too excited. But it does point out some things that have been pretty clear for some time, and one thing that I hadn't really heard about before, but seems to make sense.

What we've known for some time is that we can't always say "why" we've done something. There have been experiments with so-called "split-brain" subjects, where the communications between the left and the right hemispheres of the brain are severed, and the visual field is obscured such that the left hemisphere is unaware of what the right hemisphere is seeing, and the body takes some action based on the right hemisphere's perception, which is opaque to the left hemisphere. Yet, when asked to explain the action, the left hemisphere readily conjures up a reason, which usually has nothing whatsoever to do with the quite logical explanation of the right hemisphere's action.

What was new to me was the idea that the "mind-reading" portion of the brain, the part that allows us to understand others, is likely also the part of the brain, together with the speech center, that accounts for our own experience of the "stream of consciousness," the inner narrator. This makes perfect sense to me, and I think it's pretty wonderful.

I have some reservations about some other things in the piece, but it was an interesting read, and the comments are pretty good too, the promoted ones anyway.

Through therapy, and a lot of reading attendant to that practice, I came to believe that the inner narrator is an unreliable witness several years ago. Much of what it reports is merely habituated behavior, and it depends to a great degree on where the executive function chooses to place its attention.

Most of what likely really is "consciousness" occurs in the parts of the mind that are not directly observable by the inner narrator, which is why he or she is using the "mind reading" function to construct an inner narrative.

This, I think, points out the utility of meditation, which is intended to strengthen the faculty of attention, and to quiet the inner narrator, or as we seem to think now, to attenuate the inner "mind reader."

I've also believed for some time that our capacity for strictly rational behavior is vastly overstated. Rational, cognitive thought requires a great deal of energy and effort, and we're simply not equipped to function that way every waking moment of our lives. Instead, we rely on habits of behavior, encoded in our minds as the result of embodied experiences. Indeed, it seems clear that "rationality" is neither a prerequisite nor a consequence of consciousness. The capacity for abstraction and logical reasoning is another function of the mind that is resource intensive, and a very recent evolutionary addition to the brain, and not necessarily a feature of "consciousness."*

Much of our so-called "rational" behavior, is really just a suite of habituated responses to particular stimuli. A particular stimulus is first "processed" by the limbic system. Based on the "feeling" output, a habituated response is cued for use by other portions of the brain. This can be observed in the comments sections of most online local newspapers. For the most part, people reason backward from their feelings. This is most clearly observed in the act of justification, which is not an attempt at ethical reasoning, but an effort to feel good about a particular opinion or action.

The fact that we have two deeply flawed candidates for president is the result, not of some rational debate among millions of citizens, but the emotional responses of a mob. Mobs are irrational. There are no "smart mobs." There are greater and lesser participants, and certain nucleating themes, but they are mindless and irrational. There are real issues to be considered and debated, but mostly we're just watching people act out on their emotions. You can observe the same thing in the reaction to the Black Lives Matter movement; and killing cops isn't a rational response to excessive use of force by law enforcement.

This is, I think, the inherent weakness in democracy; or, at least, it points out a mismatch between our expectations of what democracy can deliver, and what it actually does deliver.

All of which is made worse by the internet and social media. They act as a accelerants, and there is no moderating factor to cause people to pause and reflect on their actions. Not that many people would, but some might. It's all mob behavior now.

Technology expands what we do in space and compresses it in time. Our mass psychoses can now propagate farther and faster than ever before. Insanity becomes the norm.

Welcome to the future.

*It also seems clear that these various late additions to the brain, the mind reader/narrator and rational thinking, can influence the portions of the brain, of "consciousness," that are largely inaccessible to directly observable "experience." In a piece in the Science section of the NY Times on 4 July 2016, part of the Raw Data series (Maybe that's a NY Time's blog? Not sure.), called "Consciousness: The Mind Messing With the Mind," George Johnson notes how cognitive behavior therapy has been demonstrated to be as effective as pharmaceuticals in treating major depression. It's an interesting piece to read for other reasons as well. It's a light read, but plenty to "think" about.