mellowtigger: (crazy)
I've changed to a new job. Based on recommendations from 2 neurologists (at the same clinic), I'm still gluten-free and now I'm also taking a brain-affecting drug.

For years now, I've been complaining about my muscle twitches and low energy level. For months, I've noted that my blog has been rather light on substance compared to previous years, because my concentration and focus have been seriously lacking. I've mentioned that I feel better when I can get out bicycling, gardening, or drinking Wild Blue (blueberry lager). Not previously mentioned, I've also kept some dark chocolate chips in the kitchen (and by the sofa) to snack on. Also not previously mentioned, I've had zero enthusiasm, even failing for months on end to play any of my usually beloved computer games. I got my former database administrator hooked on Wizard 101, then I ditched her for half a year when I stopped playing all of my games. Turns out... all of these symptoms and behaviors may be related to a single underlying cause.

I left Dell, even though I was told I was doing a good job at software testing. I found a few really good software bugs while I was there, and I was proud of those discoveries. I'm sure the software is better now because of my efforts. After spending half a year testing a particular software release that finally went to customers, though... I couldn't muster any enthusiasm for that accomplishment at all. I knew that my poor concentration, memory, and motivation were going to lead to problems eventually, so I left while I still had a good legacy behind me. My bank account really liked my job at Dell, but I was constantly stressed there without really having a great explanation for why.

I decided to get back to technical support work, where I had not previously noticed any deficiency within myself. Tech support is a kind of work that focuses on short-term and immediate issues at hand, which is something that I need in my life these days. I now work at The Nature Conservancy. My new workplace includes many people who have spent a lot of years at the company, and it's reassuring to see that kind of longevity anyplace. Also, I like the purpose-driven environment much better than corporate culture. I think this job will be a good fit on several levels. I am once again back among the ranks of America's working poor, but I'll be making almost 25% more than I did at the Animal Humane Society. I think I can continue living at long-familiar subsistence levels without losing financial ground this time.

So, based entirely on my personal self-assessment, I have changed my life for this new reality that I find myself in. On my last week at Dell, however, the neurologists sent me for an all-day/all-night sleep study. I thought it was a bit frivolous, but I was glad that they were still taking me seriously after we finally ruled out multiple sclerosis as a potential diagnosis. Turns out... it may have been the most valuable test so far. Besides a snoring problem when I'm laying flat on my back (but not serious enough for the technician to put me on a CPAP that very night), they discovered that I have a serious problem with restless leg syndrome. That observation leads to a conclusion that could explain everything.

Restless leg syndrome tends to appear because of low dopamine levels in the brain. Low dopamine levels from various causes are associated with:
  • chronic fatigue
  • low motivation
  • poor concentration
  • anxiety, stress
  • fasciculations (muscle twitches), cramps, and neuropathy
The body improves its own dopamine function by:Do these points sound strangely familiar? I may finally have a sensible diagnosis! It'll be many weeks as we slowly increase dosage of ropinirole to see if it actually solves my constellation of symptoms/behaviors. Because this drug influences dopamine in the brain, which affects our seeking of rewards, it has the potential side-effect of triggering risk-taking behavior of all types (hypersexuality, gambling, anger/dominance displays, and other addictive/stimulating behaviors). In some people, it actually makes their restless leg syndrome worse. I'm hopeful, though, that I'll get to see some improvement in my life without any pesky down side. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, I'm starting this new job; I forced myself to start some gardening this weekend (with many frequent breaks and naps); and for the last week or so I've gone back to playing an online game called RIFT. (Join me at this link for a few refer-a-friend benefits, if you want.) We'll see if I can maintain my interest while using this new dopamine drug.

Hopefully the coming months will see my focus, motivation, and enthusiasm return to normal.  It still begs the question why my dopamine would be low, but I'll take a respite if I can get it.
mellowtigger: (flameproof)
I recommend against annoying people who are dangerous.  Escalation of tensions rarely results in any productive outcome.  If you find yourself in a hopeless situation with nothing left to lose, however, it is possible to take a psychological swipe at a certain kind of villain.

I learned this particular weakness of the Ku Klux Klan psychology some 20 years ago when I had my own personal homophobe threatening my life online.  Don't worry.  The police got involved, and apparently they convinced him that it would go badly for him if I suddenly wound up injured or dead.  At the time, I made a dismissive comment online about him just being another clueless skinhead.  His detailed reaction to my dismissal was very illuminating.

I called him a "skinhead" because their group was in the news back around 1990 as the latest version of witless intolerance to grace America's social landscape.  My dear homophobe responded with righteous indignation to my unintended insult.  It turns out that he valued the (supposed) long history of white supremacy and the ritual of brotherhood.  He repudiated skinheads for valuing nothing.  Hatred, it seems, has levels of cultural purity.  Cultured thugs who kill their supposed inferiors find it insulting when they are mistaken for common thugs who kill their supposed inferiors.

If you want to annoy a Klansman, simply dismiss the culture that he finds so deeply satisfying.

Even longtime readers at my blog would not have known the details of this encounter or similar ones in my life.  The worst of these experiences happened during a time before "the internet" was a phenomenon.  I don't like discussing them because doing so means reliving moments that I'm better off abandoning to forgetfulness.  I mention this incident now only because it can serve a useful purpose.  The Klan, you see, is openly advertising for a good, old fashioned cross burning.

Know your enemy.

I worry about the future for everyone, so I rarely write about the unpleasant episodes of my own past.  If I make the world better for everyone, then by extension the world is also a better place for me.
mellowtigger: (brain)
I've been talking for nearly a decade about how some autistics live with an older form of emotional brain that has been awakened from slumber for another "test drive" of suitability in this test lab that is our global industrial civilization.

I count some emotions as just another kind of sensory experience. Sensations require an effort to establish a link between the perception and the actual cause in the external world. It's not easy to establish these links. Cringing is useful because the action takes you away from the source of harm without any need to understand the source. Anger and fear, however, require understanding the source, otherwise actions are taken "wildly" that often fling harm in all directions equally. Connecting internal sensation with the external world is very important.

Today is the first day I've seen some rather specific evidence in favor of this subjective experience as a complicated process. Scientific American published "Decoding the Body Watcher", an article that explains a few key points that echo my own assertions:
  • "While the prefrontal cortex may indeed be specialized for attending to external information, older and more buried parts of the brain including the “insula” and “posterior cingulate cortex” appear to be specialized in observing our internal landscape."
  • "Contrary to the conventional assumption that all attention relies upon the frontal lobe of the brain, the researchers found that this was true of only exteroceptive attention; interoceptive attention used evolutionarily older parts of the brain more associated with sensation and integration of physical experience."
  • "By recruiting “limbic-bridge” areas like the insula and posterior cingulate, a person using interoceptive attention may bypass the pre-frontal neocortex, directly tapping into bodily awareness that is free from social judgment or conceptual self-evaluation."
So when autistics like me self-report that some physical (and some emotional) sensations overwhelm our sense of self with their intensity, now there may be a good and objective reason to accept our account.  There are a host of articles that link these same two brain regions with autistic minds.
mellowtigger: (brain)
I learned today that humans (perhaps all vertebrates) have a second brain in their body. It's diffuse, primitive, and limited to concerns of the gut, but it's definitely there. It's called the "enteric nervous system". It forms from the same early cells as the brain, it has more neurons than the spinal cord, and it can work independently.

"This is indeed the picture seen by developmental biologists. A clump of tissue called the neural crest forms early in embryogenesis, Dr. Gershon said. One section turns into the central nervous system. Another piece migrates to become the enteric nervous system. Only later are the two nervous systems connected via a cable called the vagus nerve."
- http://www.nytimes.com/1996/01/23/science/complex-and-hidden-brain-in-gut-makes-stomachaches-and-butterflies.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm

So it is literally a fragment of brain material that matures into a separate integration center, where it receiving incoming signals and reacts by directing appropriate responses. It's the area responsible for "stomach butterflies" during emotional stress. It is associated through neurotransmitters to our emotional state, and it may play a large part in emotional responses.

"The enteric nervous system uses more than 30 neurotransmitters, just like the brain, and in fact 95 percent of the body's serotonin is found in the bowels. Because antidepressant medications called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) increase serotonin levels, it's little wonder that meds meant to cause chemical changes in the mind often provoke GI issues as a side effect. Irritable bowel syndrome—which afflicts more than two million Americans—also arises in part from too much serotonin in our entrails, and could perhaps be regarded as a "mental illness" of the second brain."
- http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=gut-second-brain

I've been talking for years about emotion as a primary sensory issue for autistics (overwhelmed by bloodstream "emotional chemicals").

"I have argued previously that I think some emotions are actually sensations. I suspect that there are cells in the brain that "sense" chemicals in the blood and produce a perception of emotion the same way that we have cells that "sense" chemicals in the air we breathe and then produce a perception of odor."
- Terry Walker, 2005 February 06, ANI-L@LISTSERV.SYR.EDU, Autism Network International Listserv

This new information fits very well with my personal observations. It might eventually lead to hard evidence explaining why so many autistics use diet as a means of symptom and behavior control.
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
Video games affect the psychology of their players. I play a lot of computer games, so I like to remain aware of how my hobby might influence my thoughts. The images that we feed our brain can influence our attention bias.  The negative form of this effect means that violent video games can make children more aggressive.  The positive form, however, means that relaxing games can make people less aggressive, and casual games can even reduce depression.

Never before, however, have I seen evidence that violent games can provide the "teachable moment" needed to spark empathic understanding.  Watch this 3-year-old girl become aggressive while earning snickers of amusement from a parent, then see her spark of awareness as she witnesses the in-game consequences of her brash behavior.


"People don't want to be sword," as she declares at the end of the video. An article about the video allows her father to explain even more clearly how she learned from the experience.

But when the adorably traumatic realization set in that the guards were responding to her "swording" by giving her "boo boos," we did ask her what happened. She just sweetly responded "peoples don't like swords, and we don't want swords on the peoples" and she didn't want to play anymore.
- http://kotaku.com/5861090/skyrim-teaches-a-3+year+old-about-bullying

Maybe computer games really can help us to save the world.  :)

I've been enjoying my time in Skyrim this week, although I haven't been playing as much as I'd like because of work obligations.  (I've put in lots of hours beyond my usual work schedule this week.)  I dislike playing pc games that were designed for game consoles.  The interface is annoying because of that design flaw, but otherwise the game has been fun to play and explore.
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
Here's a curious question about (or for) omnivores: what won't they eat?

I have consumed meat from the usual variety of critters that Westerners eat (pig, cow, chicken, fish, shrimp) plus a few more (frog, rattlesnake, crawfish, and various bugs accidentally caught in my mouth while bicycling). I am planning to eventually convert to a primal diet that will require much more meat than my current diet. What creatures are not to be found on my menu?

There are some animals that I will not eat unless dire circumstance might present a reason, but why are they on my list at all? I've eaten rabbit before, so I'm not wired to avoid a kind of animal just because I've been emotionally attached to one of them before. I write my list with that trans-species bill of rights in mind, the one that doesn't exist but that I repeatedly reference anyway.

I avoid creatures that I consider sentient at some level. Sentience is a kind of meta-cognition, meaning that the creature can think about its own thinking.  I believe that some kinds of suffering require sentience to experience.  I think that all mature animals experience pain aversion.  More intelligent animals can experience dread of recurring pain.  A persistent history of dread may even offer a kind of despair. I think true despair, however, is limited to sentient creatures because it requires the ability to survey large landscapes of possibility and still find no course to alleviate suffering.  Despair requires mental exploration of options for relief, and the failure to locate any.

I will not eat creatures that might be capable of despairing that they will someday serve as my food.  I currently include these creatures in my prohibition:
  • coleoid cephalopods (cuttlefish, octopus, squid)
  • primates (human, ape, monkey)
  • cetaceans (dolphin, porpoise, whale)
  • various birds that don't seem easily grouped (european magpie, african grey parrot, crow, finch)
The only item from my do-not-eat list that appears in common restaurants is the squid. I've eaten calamari (squid) before, but I will not do so any longer.  I would be willing to eat even creatures on this list if they had already died of other causes (not intended as food), and I needed the nourishment.  I expect of myself that I would not kill them, however, if I needed nourishment and their living body was the only available source.

For the record, this list began with a single animal.  At Epcot Center in Disney World many years ago, I encountered a lone cuttlefish in a circular display aquarium.  It's bland coloration and catatonic body convinced me that it despaired of ever escaping its confinement.  I think it felt the despair of a pointless existence, or at least the alien equivalent of such emotion and realization. I have slowly added to my list as I learn of the advanced reasoning abilities of other animals.
mellowtigger: (sleepy)
It turns out that dream recall can be predicted, and it appears that autism does affect it.

A recent study found two different predictors of dream recall, depending on which stage of sleep you last experienced.

"In particular, after morning awakening from REM sleep, a higher frontal 5–7 Hz (theta) activity was associated with successful dream recall. ... a different predictive relationship was found after awakening from stage 2 NREM sleep. Specifically, a lower 8–12 Hz (alpha) oscillatory activity of the right temporal area was associated with a successful dream recall."
- http://www.jneurosci.org/content/31/18/6674

There are boatloads of articles about how autistics vary in the arrangement of their frontal and temporal lobes. During the last year, several papers have been written about how to use these variations that show up in brain scans as a way of objectively diagnosing autism even in very young children, down to 1 year of age.

I found only a single reference to dream analysis comparisons for autistic versus neurotypical subjects.

"Questionnaires revealed that participants with ASD, compared to controls, had fewer recollections of dreaming, fewer bad dreams and fewer emotions. In the sleep laboratory, dream content narratives following REM sleep awakenings were shorter in ASD participants than in controls. ASD participants also reported fewer settings, objects, characters, social interactions, activities, and emotions. It is concluded that these characteristics of dreaming in ASD may reflect neurocognitive dimensions specific to this condition."
- http://www.springerlink.com/content/th56g5u8w26528rt/

Ha! So I'm "typical" in this regard, at least when you compare me to the right group of people. :)
mellowtigger: (Terry 2010)
I've said before that I wished for a universal method for objectively measuring how to deal with any creature:

We should be prepared for that eventuality by creating a trans-species codification of legal "Rights", explaining how we should approach any kind of life that we meet, what is permitted and what is never to be tolerated. Rules that a "more advanced" species would still follow in dealing with us primitive humans as well.
- http://mellowtigger.livejournal.com/710.html
 
We may be one step closer to that goal. Somebody has proposed a universal intelligence test. I haven't paid the US$36 to read the article, so what I know about it comes only from other online summaries. Apparently they use something called Kolmogorov complexity to rate the difficulty of a particular problem. The test can be administered even for creatures with very short attention spans, allowing for testing in any environment. The test can score supra-human intelligence as well, allowing for testing of artificial intelligences or alien intelligences of unknown complexity.

I believe that intelligence grants foresight (ability to predict outcomes). I want people with foresight in political positions of responsibility and planning authority. Some people believe that different features (such as land ownership) qualify a person for political power. It will be interesting to see how these conflicting values play out.

I'm amused that news of this proposed test reached me on the same day as news that Americans are terrible at science.
 
One percent of fourth-graders, two percent of eighth-graders, and one percent of twelfth-graders performed at the advanced level. And many students fell short of even basic understanding of science concepts at their grade level: 72 percent of fourth graders performed at or above the basic level in 2009, while the same could be said for 63 percent of eighth graders and 60 percent of 12th graders.
- http://www.physorg.com/news/2011-01-kids-science-class.html

What would it mean politically in America if we came to the conclusion that "All men are created equal" is a false statement? I think a trans-species codification of rights is a necessary step to prevent the abuses that would come if we collectively decide that not every opinion has equal merit, therefore not every vote should have equal influence.
mellowtigger: (religious hypocrisy)
Whether the occasion of life is heaven or hell for you probably depends on which social strata you inhabit. Not to fret, though, because you always have God on your side to help you in your struggle (to climb up, or to keep others down).

As it turns out, God likes and dislikes the same people that you do. Interesting coincidence, eh? Researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging on the brains of test subjects to measure their neural activity as they reasoned about the beliefs of 1) themselves, 2) their deity, and 3) their neighbor. They found that reasoning about the beliefs of their deity activated the same brain pathways as reasoning about their own beliefs, not the beliefs of some third person.

"In particular, reasoning about God's beliefs activated areas associated with self-referential thinking more so than did reasoning about another person's beliefs. Believers commonly use inferences about God's beliefs as a moral compass, but that compass appears especially dependent on one's own existing beliefs."
- http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2009/12/01/0908374106.abstract

In other words, the religious moral compass (liberal or conservative) merely points us where we're already facing. Our deity tends to agree with us, whatever it is that we believe. Using a sports metaphor, our deity is more of a mascot than a coach.

A different sociological study claims to have isolated the prominent feature of religiosity that causes increased life satisfaction. It has nothing to do with which flavor of deity you worship and everything to do with your ties to the other worshipers.

"Our study offers compelling evidence that it is the social aspects of religion rather than theology or spirituality that leads to life satisfaction... In particular, we find that friendships built in religious congregations are the secret ingredient in religion that makes people happier."
- http://www.physorg.com/news/2010-12-reveals-secret-ingredient-religion-people.html

When human beings harness this herd instinct for wholesome purposes, it actually helps improve human lives. By encouraging healthy and compassionate activities, the presence of many worshiping congregations improves mortality rates in the region as a whole. Betty Bowers is always rightIncrease your social/support network to increase your life satisfaction, and support your religious institutions to improve your community. Apparently, humans should join a clique to make them feel better about themselves. One wonders if similar support of government social support institutions could accomplish the same results.

When human beings harness this same instinct for divisive purposes, however, we see ardent demonization of others (certainly not themselves) used in an effort to incite group fervor and cohesion. "We are different from Them." Irreconcilable differences of opinion on these trivialities led to the enormous array of One True Religions on the planet today. Each of them has the support of the Only-God, therefore their personal opinion is not only right but also righteous.

It's a disappointing reality, but really... did you have any reason to expect more enlightened behavior from humans? Some social apes lost their fur, and they've been desperately self-conscious about it ever since. The raucous throwing of poo at each other is all a huge distraction to keep us from thinking about our own personal insecurities. Or so a casual observer could easily believe.
mellowtigger: (economy)
Keeping Out The GiraffesTED is such a wonderful institution.  The presentations that they host and the videos that they publish are both great additions for teaching and conversation.

Today's video is by economist Tim Jackson.  He adds human psychology back into the economic equation.  The elimination of "rational agents" from economic theory is a cornerstone of the "post-autistic economics" movement.  It's good to see other economists joining the effort, although they probably wouldn't know it by that name.  Maybe eventually we'll stop worrying about those giraffes.

http://www.ted.com/talks/tim_jackson_s_economic_reality_check.html (direct link to this embedded video)


Now, excuse me while I shutdown my pc to remove my RAID 1 array.  I plan to eliminate the duplicate hard drive energy consumption and wear-and-tear.  I think perhaps I can learn to live without the convenience of Windows' restore from sleep mode.

Here in Minnesota, we have giraffes at the Minnesota Zoo only during the warm months.  During the winter, we haul them to warmer climates in special giraffe trucks.  We're safe from giraffes during the cold season.  I guess I can spend my time thinking about something else... like impossible hamsters.
mellowtigger: (T'Reese)
Some special kinds of stupidity deserve lots of attention as an example of how NOT to behave.

frightened donkey on parasailHoping to attract tourists to their private beach, some entrepreneurs in Russia tied a donkey to a parasail and launched it into the air above the Sea of Azov.  The screaming animal (nearly drowned upon landing in the water) did garner attention, but probably not the kind the owners were hoping to achieve.

"It was put up so high into the sky that the children on the beach cried and asked their parents: 'Why did they tie a doggy to a parachute?'" Taman newspaper reported last week.

"The donkey landed in an atrocious manner: it was dragged several metres along the water, after which the animal was pulled out half-alive onto the shore," the paper reported.
- http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-10695037

Studies continue to show that human-animal bonding is a fertile training ground to improve the human-human social experience.  Pets have become a legitimate part of our extended family.

Today, it is socially acceptable to grieve the loss of a pet, to carry pet pictures in your wallet or purse, to celebrate your pet's birthday with a party, to have pet medical insurance, and to buy special food. The newest trend is to buy special clothes for pets. Today in the US, we own over 120 million dogs and cats and a total of 1.2 billion animals of many species as pets.
- http://www.censhare.umn.edu/spotlight02.html

Human-animal bonding is also a stress-reducing experience that boosts human health.

Why is friendly dog presence stress-reducing?  One possibility is that such presence functions as an "attachment figure" to convey security and safety.  This suggests that attachment theory may be a broad enough "tent" to encompass animals as attachment figures for humans, and vice versa.  A second line of research provides evidence that animal presence (not only dogs but also rabbits and other small furry creatures) facilitates human social approach and interaction for children and adults, both with (Mader, Hart, & Bergin, 1989) and without disabilities (Hunt, Hunt, & Gomulkiewicz, 1992).  Together, these research directions suggest that human interactions with animals, particularly pets, affect human well being and functioning.
- http://www.animalsandsociety.org/assets/library/471_s1043.pdf

People who are aggressive to animals are also aggressive to humans.  In contrast, people who learn to love a less threatening animal are more likely to treat fellow humans with respect and care.  To state it bluntly, there is a direct correlation between those who abuse animals and those who abuse people.

Animal abuse and interpersonal violence toward humans share common characteristics: both types of victime are living creatures, have a capacity for experiencing pain and distress, can display physical signs of their pain and distress (with which humans could empathize), and may die as a result of inflicted injuries.  Given these commonalities, it is not surprising that early research in this area, much of it using retrospective assessment, examined the relation between childhood histories of animal abuse and later violent offending.
- http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/188677.pdf

Emotional bonding with animals should be encouraged.  It moulds humans into better creatures.
mellowtigger: (coprolite)
Some people trust either government or industry (but not the other) to manage tremendously complex situations.  I trust/distrust both in equal measure.  Progressive complexity, however, will still continue.

It's not like the U.S. government has the tools to fix the Deepwater Horizon problem.  Supposedly, even nuclear submarines can't go deep enough to visit that blown oil well.  BP still retains sole discretion on the cleanup effort in the Gulf.  *exasperated sigh*  They have decided NOT to use the volunteer-crafted booms made from donated natural fibers like hair, fur, and wool.  So the booms are now sitting unused in warehouses around the Gulf while oil continues to wash up on beaches.  I'm also told (by an oceanographer who will remain nameless because I expect that he likes his job) that a scientific research vessel approaching the area has been told by its government agency funder that its data might be "quarantined".  I expected a lot more transparency and engagement from the Obama presidency.  The problem, once again, seems to be that industrial organizations have legal rights that supercede citizen-taxpayer interests.  I'm more than ready to change that balance by adding an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to clarify this point.

Diatribe cut for brevity's sake... )

The anthropocene extinction event continues apace.
mellowtigger: (religion)
Hormonal compulsions drive much of our behavior, even those activities that we like to delude ourselves into believing is entirely rational.

In spite of the many obstacles that we face in life because of limited resources, we continue to compete as much against each other as we do against the harsh universe.  While competing against each other, we naturally try emphasize our unique personal strengths.  Athletic people compete to show off their physical agility, speed, and strength.  Intelligent people do the same, but they compete to display their mental agility, speed, and strength.  People of each group try to demonstrate their superiority, but the personal strength that they choose to emphasize will affect the nature of the demonstration.  So says a new theory by the scientific fundamentalist, anyway.

Intelligent people are more apt to display their superior intellect by exploring and adopting ideas that less nimble minds cannot grasp as easily.  Although the recent findings do not point to a huge IQ difference, merely 6-11 IQ points, they are intriguing results nevertheless.  For instance:
  • "This [association with higher IQ score] applied also to sexual exclusivity in men, but not in women."
  • "Participants who said they were atheists had an average IQ of 103 in adolescence, while adults who said they were religious averaged 97"
  • "The study found that young adults who said they were "very conservative" had an average adolescent IQ of 95, whereas those who said they were "very liberal" averaged 106."
  • "Vegetarianism, while not strongly associated with IQ in this study, has been shown to be related to intelligence in previous research, Kanazawa said"

So intelligent men are more likely to demonstrate their mental prowess by being monogamous, atheist, vegetarian liberals as part of their continuing effort to prove the dominance of their brains over their bodies.  The humor of this contradiction (hormonal compulsion to prove freedom over mindless hormonal instinct) amuses me greatly.

Nevertheless... throw in some long hair and fuzzy face, and I want a man like that too!
mellowtigger: (the more you know)
Evolutionary psychology is a fascinating branch of science. It strikes me as something akin to astrology. There is surely a real science hidden somewhere deep inside it (astronomy, to explain the metaphor), yet it seldom produces hard results fit for more than amusing discussions at coffee klatch.

Case in point:

Male and female shopping strategies show evolution at work in the mall

... "Anytime you come into a new area you want to scope out the landscape and find out where the food patches are." Kruger said that gathering edible plants and fungi is traditionally done by women. In modern terms, think of filling a basket by selecting one item at a time. Women in foraging societies return to the same patches that yield previous successful harvests, and usually stay close to home and use landmarks as guides, he said. Foraging is a daily activity, often social, and can include young children, if necessary. When gathering, women must be very adept at choosing just the right color, texture and smell to ensure food safety and quality. They also must time harvests and know when a certain depleted patch will regenerate and yield good harvest again. In modern terms, women are much more likely than men to know when a specific type of item will go on sale. Women also spend much more time choosing the perfect fabric, color and texture. Men, on the other hand, often have a specific item in mind and want to get in, get it and get out, Kruger said. It's critical to get meat home as quickly as possible. Taking young children isn't safe in a hunt and would likely hinder progress.

- http://www.ns.umich.edu/htdocs/releases/plainstory.php?id=7443

Fascinating topic for discussion over coffee, but I'm not sure how you test to see if there's an actual link there. What if, in fact, prehistoric women were not gatherers? I'm not aware that anyone's proven that women were specialized as gatherers. In early history they were, yes, but that's not the same as ancient prehistory. I'm willing to accept that men and women do differ in their psychology, even in some stereotypic ways. I'm just not sure that I'm willing to accept this way.

The traditional human farmer, after all, is male. How does that agricultural history fit in with this theory? What does this mean about modern life in the office cubicle farm? Why couldn't females just leave the children behind during the hunt, like other animals do? What about females (less muscular of the two genders) who do both the hunting and the child-rearing among lions? Aren't we just assuming that human females were gatherers previously?

I don't automatically accept the idea that our ancient ancestors divided up labor this way, even if it conveniently fits tired stereotypes. I want to see some evidence. If humans are as pliable as I think they are, then a century spent with women overlords and male underlings would see these roles reversed. Would we then claim prehistoric female hunters with male gatherers?

gummint

Nov. 25th, 2009 09:32 am
mellowtigger: (economy)
What if the human-created world has already changed? What if government can no longer exist as a force meant to spur efficient growth in the production of wealth? What if, from now on, the only reasonable government is one that is meant to inhibit growth at every level of human endeavor?

"The Problem of Denial" by sociologist William R. Catton, Jr. (born here in Minneapolis, by the way) is an interesting read. He seems to summarize the point that I have been trying to make (post-autistic economics, levels of reality for human perception of economics, etc.) about taking personal responsibility for the state of the whole system. Ecological carrying capacity is a reality, and yet human psychology resists acknowledging that truth. The abstract for his article states succinctly, "Denials of ecological limits resemble anosognosia (inability of stroke patients to recognize their paralysis)."

What is the consequence of this "blind spot"? Within the first few sentences of the article, he quotes Edmund Burke who wrote that humans "... are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites.... Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters."

I think perhaps that the failure of religion to curb human desires (for example, the failure of religious "abstinence-only education" to reduce HIV transmission rates) means that government must now step in to enforce changes of behavior that benefit the long-term success of the society (and therefore the species). Failure to do so means that we cede that task to Nature Herself, and She is a deadly harsh mistress.

This paper might serve as an underlying theory that supports the existence of such things as The Long Now foundation. Humans need help in thinking about timeframes beyond their immediate daily perception. Maybe that's what government has to do now. Like the Chinese one child policy. Government may have to force people to behave in ways counter to our evolutionary programming. This task, obviously, will not be easy.

Evolution likes exponential growth. Exponential growth, however, produces disasters because the upper ceiling permitted by natural resources will always cause the growth curve to crash into reality. Evolution wants exponential growth; humans, however, dislike disasters.

I impatiently wait to see which motivation wins.

In flights of fancy, I also easily wonder if other spacefaring civilizations wait to see the outcome of this very decision before they make contact. Species that opt for perpetual growth, after all, would need to use resources outside their native star system. Enforcing isolation seems a very efficient way to let unrestrained species burn themselves out (by destroying the ecosphere of their homeworld) without endangering the rest of the galactic neighborhood. Some people have already proposed use of the name Homo eusapiens as the name of the new creature that lives within this long timeframe, after Homo sapiens exhausts itself.

As I said before, suppose that you were limited to life in a 10-acre stretch of land. How would that change your decisions if you had that limitation kept continually in your perception? It's the same concept, writ large.

I need to do more reading about sapient governance to see if George Mobus addresses this issue too.
mellowtigger: (Default)
A Christian pastor says on a radio interview that gay people should be killed (because the Bible tells him so) and other things.  He's a professional pain in the ass, though, as he also spends his time giving grief to border patrol.  I want to try to understand the point that these scary people are making, but I try to listen and end up just confused instead.  I'm really not feeling very reassured about living in this country "of the free".  :(  I always thought that Europeans had it horribly wrong by making Holocaust denial a crime.  Now.... I'm just confused about what I believe on the issue of thought crime.

Several people (gay, straight, or whatever) on my reading list have posted in recent weeks about dealing with the depression in their lives.  I've nearly reached the point where I'm willing to delve into the unpleasantness of my own past to explain my own crisis.  I dislike that so many people are turning to chemicals to keep their lives whole.

I think that chemicals can be a good short-term solution.  There was a time when I should have been using them myself.  I'd be happy to hand someone a prescription bottle for whatever it is that will help them get by a little longer with their ailment, but only if I can simultaneously ask them, "If you could redesign yourself or society to make this chemical unnecessary for yourself, what would you change?"

It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
- Jiddu Krishnamurti

I still have stressors to deal with in my own life.  I shouldn't be allowing curiosity to take me into additional, unnecessary stress.  Me being incurious, though... wouldn't that be an awful state of living.  Ick.

Maybe I should swear off LiveJournal and Facebook and news sites until I make a constructive post about my own past, my own crisis and Remaking.  Remembering is unpleasant business.  It appears, though, that maybe the tipping point has arrived, where the potential benefit finally outweighs the cost.
mellowtigger: (Default)
It's not bigotry if it's true.

I learned Friday morning about a new term. It's a term that apparently has some autistic self-advocates in quite an impressive twist. Some are rather shrill in calling it a sham and a bogus disorder, while others are more cautious and simply call it counterproductive to call attention to this disorder because it further victimizes the autistic individual.

I strongly disagree on both counts.

I decided 12 years ago to stop dating. I made that decision for several reasons, certainly, but one of those reasons was because I knew that I was harming (unintentionally) the ones that I wanted to care about. I insisted to myself that the trend must stop. My last boyfriend was good enough at one point to write down the way he felt and why, then he disappeared for a week to visit his family in south Texas to escape his pain with me for a while. The list of things that I don't notice is long, and the pain it causes goes deep. It's not just my overactive imagination making that claim. I still have his letter that I use to remind myself when necessary. I decided to stop dating, and for 12 years I've kept this agreement with myself. I figure that the level of unhappiness in the world is reduced just a little bit because I've kept my promise.  I haven't inflicted myself upon another human being since then.

I decided 6 years ago to stop having sex altogether.
It wasn't until my diagnosis (in early 2003) with Asperger's Syndrome that I made that decision. Sex in a relationship ends up bad for the other person, but sex out of a relationship ends up bad for me. I put the kibosh on both options at that point.

I made huge changes to my life.  I underlined those two sentences to underscore that fact.  I made those changes, and I have stuck with them. I did it long before I knew anything about this "sham" and "bogus disorder" of Cassandra Affective Deprivation Disorder. I saw what was happening to those I dated and used the only method I could think of to limit my negative impact in the world. I have avoided coupledom, and I have avoided the obvious activity that would lead me to hope of spending my years with someone special.  It's really not just some overly pessimistic negativity of mine that is showing.
"For the first time, the forthcoming DSM-V may include a category of Relational Disorder. According to Michael First M.D. of the DSM-V research committee, the locus of a relational disorder, in contrast to individual disorders, is on the relationship "juncture" between two or more people rather than on any one individual in the relationship. ... Previous terms proposed for this dynamic were Cassandra Phenomenon (Rodman, 2003)... These terms have referred to the experience of non-Asperger's individuals in a relationship with someone with Asperger's Syndrome (AS), many of whom showed disturbing physical and psychological reactions to the lack of emotional reciprocity in their relationships..."
- http://www.maxineaston.co.uk/cassandra/Affective%20Deprivation.pdf
In other words, I'm not just imagining it.  It's real enough to maybe get its own name in a brand new category within the DSM.  It's not just a difference of male/female socialization either, since I am homosexual and have only dated men.  It really is an autistic/non-autistic phenomenon.  The authors go on to say that naming the condition will help draw attention to the awareness, training, and compromises that really can solve the problem.  They point out that while the autistic person may have trouble with all of their relationships, it's likely that the neurotypical (the dreaded "normal" word) has never experienced the same set of problems in their prior relationships until they finally met their autistic partner.

So I hope that people stop talking about charges of unprofessional or unethical conduct from psychologists who use this term as they try to treat people for these specific problems.  I deeply hope that they find a way to eliminate the harm of such "mixed relationships" without using the drastic measures that I relied upon to solve the issue in my life.

I feel better prepared now for a relationship than I ever did in the past.  Still, though, I am certain that I would never allow myself to start a new relationship until the other man (burden of proof upon him, unfair though it is) convinces me that he will come to no harm because of it.  That he knows we'll have to use other ways showing our appreciation, rely on different methods of communicating our needs, and abide by different rules for how we conduct our relationship.  I learned a few smart tricks on my own in my 20s while I tried to date.  (I'm a smart monkey on some days.)  I've learned more smart tricks since my diagnosis.

Still, though, my hippocratic oath applies:  Above all, do no harm.
mellowtigger: (Default)
Back in 2003, I created a presentation about autism in the workplace that I gave at a GLBT conference that wanted to hear about dual citizenship issues.  In my case, I spoke about being a citizen of both the gay and autistic worlds.  Within the presentation I tried to explain what autism is while using short examples that were still workplace relevant.  One of my terms explained the mental "explosion of alternative thoughts" that could be called more concisely just permutation exploration.  It's the examination of an idea and then the branches of alternatives that follow from that first idea.

When caught within a permutation explosion, it's hard to interact with others because the mind is frantically working at exploring options without coming to any conclusion.  Caught up in this mode, an autistic person might be unable to answer the simple question, "How are you?"  There are so many possibilities depending on how thoroughly the question should be answered, that the autistic just sort of stands there apparently dumbfounded and not knowing what to say.  Kids (and adults) are taught in classes to basically just lie.  It's not a legitimate question, you see.  Instead it's the utterance that begins a protocol in which the other party is supposed to state "Fine, thank you, and you?"  Neither statement is actually a question.  They are social ritual, not intellectual query.  There is no intellectual conclusion to reach, there is only protocol to follow.  Don't think about it, just follow the script.

My social avoidance is not a phobic reaction.  The closest I've come to that kind of response, though, was June 1997 (or 1996?) at a gay pride celebration in Austin, Texas, with my last boyfriend.  I made the mistake of thinking about our relationship and then the relationships of the other people around me.  Trying to map out that social network, I succumbed to permutation exploration (explosion).  I don't know if it looked like a phobic panic to him or the other couple that walked with us, but I know that it was sudden and insistent.  I demanded with no notice "I want the keys to the car so I can leave now.  I'm not coming back to pick you up.  Can they drive you home?"

I'm pretty sure it's the only time that I ever drove his car.  I just HAD to leave.  Immediately.  I didn't know why at the time.  I just knew that if I stayed in that situation then I could not guarantee my self-control.  I had to leave.  It's what the autistic literature calls "overstimulation leading to meltdown".  I dislike overstimulation; meltdown is not an option.  So I left.  Alone.  And I didn't drive back.  Anything that day after my getting into the car and putting the key into the ignition is completely forgotten.  At least I drove home safely.

problem solving testSo, permutation exploration can easily be debilitating if it cannot be interrupted to allow interaction.  On the other hand, however, it is also a very valuable intellectual tool.  It's how chess programs have been written in the past, actually.  The computer examines possible moves and counter-moves with as much time as it has available.  When time runs out for considering permutations, it makes the move with the highest likelihood of winning the game.

In a similar vein, a recent study finds that autistics are especially gifted in identifying patterns in data to solve problems.  In the sample image on the right, a person has to notice 3 different trends in the data before they can choose the correct answer for the final piece of the puzzle.  Lots of people can solve problems like these, of course, but they found that autistics were faster at it.   A lot faster.

"Autistics are up to 40 percent faster at problem-solving than non-autistics, according to a new Université de Montréal and Harvard University study published in the journal Human Brain Mapping."
- http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/06/090616121339.htm

One of the researchers also stated, "The limits of autistics should constantly be pushed and their educational materials should never be simplified."  I agree that it is unproductive to simply give up on the mute autistics, but I'm not certain that persistent stimulation is a solution.  If a mind were stuck observing all the sensory information available... maybe isolation would be more effective at breaking the cycle and allowing interaction?  I still think it would help to have communication without verbalization.  The less data that has to be simultaneously examined, the better the chance for self-expression.

Anyway, when asked recently if I would be attending the local gay pride celebration (3rd largest in the country, I've heard) this weekend, there's a lot more for me to consider than just the mechanics of getting my carcass there.  :)  I'm pretty sure that it's worse than "aloof" to be around people and avoid noticing them.  Avoiding social entanglement is a very useful survival tool, though.
mellowtigger: (Default)
I mentioned a while ago the concept of the monkeysphere, the number of people (limited by the hardwiring of our brains) that we can intensely care about.  In a related concept, researchers are finding that having friends improves your bank balance.  A Wisconsin Longitudinal Study looked at a 35-year history for about 1,100 males who had answered surveys about high school friendships.

"One additional friendship nomination in high school is associated with a 2 percent higher wage 35 years later.  This is roughly equivalent to almost half the gain from an extra year of education.  Shifting somebody from the bottom fifth to the top fifth of the school popularity distribution - in other words, turning a social reject into a star - would be predicted to yield him a 10 percent wage advantage.  This work emphasizes the critical importance of the early development of social skills alongside the cognitive and productive skills as a basis for economic success in adult life."
http://www.iser.essex.ac.uk/publications/working-papers/iser/2009-03.pdf

So... it's not what you can do, it's who you know.  This work confirms the suspicions declared more than once over the years in the adult asperger support group that I've attended.  So, what does this study's conclusion have to say about the fact that I earned $13,644 in 2008?  (Other than the fact that I'm sometimes good at estimating.)  *laugh*  It's a crazy mixed-up world, alright.

It's stuff like this, in my opinion, that contributes to the stupidity of our financial and political realities.  The monkeys just encourage each other about how correct they are.  As long as the plundered riches of the earth can support the lie, they'll keep treating money (and political views) like baseball trading cards.  They're valuable because we encourage each other to believe they're valuable.  The more hype we create amongst ourselves, the more valuable they become.

The crash of this unsustainable system can't come soon enough for my tastes.
mellowtigger: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] otterlover01 posted an interesting review of a lecture about the chemistry of love.  (Although paragraphs would help.  *wink*)

dopamine phase:
The pheromone chemistry phase is the one where people get all "bent out of shape".  The excitement can be addictive for some people.  On average, this phase lasts 14 months. 

endorphine phase:
After the energy-expensive dopamine phase of excitement ends, the more stable endorphine "pleasure" stage can begin.  It's possible for this phase to last a lifetime.

questions and answers:
Is there a pill or an injection of dopamines or endorphines to create these feelings?  No.
Can we live a higher-intensity loving experience even at an older age?  Maybe, but in general youthful brains will be more energetic.
Are females faithful and males unfaithful?  Hard to measure, since cultural norms differ so much.
Is homosexual love equal to heterosexual love?  They are exactly the same. They are indistinguishable.

I would argue that the dopamine phase is addictive for most people, and that's the main reason why open relationships seem so common these days, so people can continue to acquire this self-produced chemical high.

As for me, I've made only 3 attempts at actual move-in-together relationships.  All of those were long ago.  Each of them lasted only 6-18 months, so they could easily be classified in the dopamine category.

blown awayOnly 2 times, though, have I felt a powerful attraction strong enough to motivate me to do something far outside of my norm.  For one I came out as gay, for the other I made a special trip to visit him.  (An easy thing for other people, but quite difficult for me.  Probably an "autistic thing".)  Those sensations did not begin until I'd already known the person for more than a year (without the usual dopamine reaction).  Sort of like the endorphins have to build until a tipping point is reached and then the dopamine rush gets added on top of it.  Way out of hand, biochemically, but that seems to be what it takes to finally trip my switch.  It should come as no surprise that no actual relationship resulted from either case.  It isn't the way to win friends and influence people (positively).  *laugh*  No mere mortal could endure the onslaught of such an emotional tidal wave.

So I don't know where that puts me on the human chart o' love.  I haven't really tried in a very long time.  I came to the conclusion 11+ years ago that I was a bad match for anyone, so life (for both me and the other guy) would be easier if I just avoided the whole mess.

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