27 August 2010


So currently I've been reading about the psychology and the development of pleasures, likes, and so on.

The best parts of the book so far
1) The story of the German man who responded to an ad to be killed and eaten by another man, which includes the charming and useless fact that a Star Trek book was read to him prior to his death.
2) The unfortunate story of Napoleon's penis, post death (removed by the priest who performed last rites, along with his entrails)
3) Keith Richards trying to snort his father's ashes (among other things, obviously)..
4) How an art forger got a fast one over on Hermann Goering...and the art critic world at the time.

But primarily what I find so interesting is that it looks like my brain really is pretty weird. There's a lot of stuff I've never quite understood, even if I know these things exist. Why advertisers use "famous" people to sell us stuff by associating them with their products, why people prefer material gifts to receiving money (even if they receive less monetary value), why people have so much trouble with math story problems, and why there is so much general outrage levied in support of various sin laws such as prohibitions on selling sex, kidneys, and various narcotics (and even, to a lesser extent, political influence through purchasing advertising), along with the flipside of the revulsion of putting a price on people's lives (recall the kerfuffle last year over "death panels", indeed the tainting of people who would even consider some of the hard ethical questions relating to life and death cost-benefit decisions that may have to sometimes go on in a hospital), no matter how steep that price may be (perhaps thousands or what of millions of dollars for weeks or months of additional life?).

I recall reading that part of why Adam Smith's insights about economics and moral philosophy are so powerful might be that he seemed to need to study them in order to understand them, in order to practice almost any of it himself he had to invent it from scratch in his mind. Most people don't have to do this. They simply have some innate powerful, often physical disgust and revolting reactions to a lot of behavior and that stays in their minds to the point of not even reflecting on the possibilities. I don't generally have this. Maybe with country music I have a powerful enough revulsion, but otherwise I can sit impassively and contemplate all sorts of revolting and terrible things. I don't do any of them (most of them at least). But I can imagine very easily why some people might consume cats or dogs or insects or even other people. Or why still other people might be disgusted at consuming pigs or cows (or fast food).

I suspect this sort of brain is deemed useful for studying economics and for studying ethics as it is primed for cutting through a lot of otherwise senseless bullshit. But it doesn't it make it very easy at understanding a lot of social customs (ie, the aforementioned senseless bullshit). Handshakes and ties and expensive engagement rings and high priced wines and bottled water instead of tap, pretty much anything relating to signaling effects rather than utility/practical effects, and failing that, expressed preferences for stuff over experiences tends to confuse me. These tended to be things that had to be studied very carefully and indeed practiced rather than intuitively obvious things like cultural ethical variations or market price functions which I might grasp a hold of the concepts much easier. That's not to say I don't understand why people shake hands or purchase diamonds or like drinking more expensive wines. It's just that it's a lot harder for me to find things that I myself do which I can immediately relate to why other people do those things, and it makes it a lot harder to get along with the random passerby as a result. I share no great affection for flashy cars or firm handshakes or signaling brand associations with my clothing, and so on. This apparently makes me very odd. Which is another thing I find I do not mind (non-conformity).

I do recognize one possible parallel, but even this is a weakened one, within music, I find a little improvement where two songs or musical pieces are similar but one is by someone more known to me. After a while, I can start to come up with reasons why the one piece is better. But it's probably familiarity that does it really.

It's basically a brain primed for utilitarian maximizing. Sometimes that means it doesn't care too much how or who gets pissed off at it. And sometimes it does care, but it doesn't seem to understand the whys. Lots of questions are framed in the form of words as a result.

I've noticed a few other random bits. For instance my appreciation of human romantic pair bonding is based on the idea that it is a rational act for two people to develop strong attachments to each other in that way toward another individual over others. But not so much so that it works like an equation, with various factors that must be balanced and sought after, to the extent that if some "better" person came along, we might deposit this unfortunate soul in favor of this upgraded position. Familiarity plays a powerful role, which is why I've never been deeply offended or troubled by the notion that when dating people might look at attractive non-partners, or might even feel compelled to flirt, befriend, fantasize about, or perhaps even engage physically and/or sexually with other people. These are things that take time to overpower the rationality of a long and deeper pair bonding through its familiarities and many facets of connections. For someone like me, who is generally unsocial and often somewhat unpracticed at the common types of social signaling, the likelihood of having developed a level of multiple connections and familiarities is rather much lower, and so the situation can very much resemble an equation, with minimal absolute values that are involved.

But it doesn't. For the most part, people like who they like, and they bond first based on that. They don't have to sit down and balance the equation or make a proof in order to know these things. The rationality enters through the idea that it becomes irrational not to do things which are beneficial for each other, which happens through bonds of friendship or sometimes kinship. I suppose the difference between someone like me and someone else might be that I recognize this as a more precious commodity than most or that most people seem, in my view and observation, to take for granted their friendships, indeed even to the point of making them into almost abusive situations where grievous harms can be inflicted.
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