Musings, news, and research about neurology, brain physiology, psychology, and behavior. Particular focus on Autism, ADHD, and depression.
Trees in a forest have a network of communications through their roots and a web of fungus. The trees share information and nutrients. They nurture young trees and even direct toxins at plants they “want” to suppress.
Years ago, when he was little, I was explaining the word sentient to my son as “being aware of being aware”. I asked him if dogs were sentient. “Yes,” he said. “Are rocks sentient?” I asked “No” he replied. “How about trees?” I said. He paused, then: “I’m not sure about that.”
Honestly, I’m not either.
Some trees exude that strange feeling of presence, but that’s a soulful, poetic way of thinking. There isn’t anywhere to go with that idea scientifically. The behaviors described above are so complex that to say that no mind is involved highlights a gap in our understanding of biology and evolution and minds. If not a gap, at least an area stretched to the breaking point. Evolutionary biology would say that the trees are mechanically behaving as their fit ancestors did, said ancestors being lucky recipients of random chance mutations. Yet the trees in the stories I put at the top are aware, somehow of each other, which implies also aware of themselves. They assist some, basically the young and the needy (charity or care or generosity?) and attack others meaning they have friends and enemies? Preferences at least? Even a sort of strategy. And the “Wood Wide Web” connecting them is obviously a complex symbiotic partnership.
You could take the reductionist point of view that the way I described this was too human-centric. They are helping those they share genes with and suppressing invaders. Perhaps they help “needy” trees because diseased trees represent a health threat to the whole forest. But as cold as we may say it, these trees are active participants and they are AWARE of those young relatives, sick neighbors, and enemies. There is a communicating, receiving, evaluating, and responding going on here and that if does not require a mind, it then requires some alternative to mind that we do not have a scientific model for.
Giant stands of Broccoli they are not. But the “mind” here is what exactly? Aware of conditions and correct responses but not aware of itself? Is it an individual, or a kind of community mind? A swarm entity?
Around us and in us are living systems by the millions handling virtually everything without the benefit of a conscious mind. In fact, a number of studies have shown that our conscious mind is given prompts about what to do, being informed milliseconds before becoming aware of the impulse or decision. Who is this shadowy internal decider, this Dick Cheney within? And how does it not make consciousness itself a subsystem of larger, unconscious system? Does it not force us to imagine how the hell an unconscious actor truly operates, prioritizes, and decides?
Consciousness itself, unwitting, and bordered by shadows need to be reimagined as well. Consciousness is like a balloon with a story in it. This fretful, monologuing self seems like it’s stuck with the job of rationalizing our actions and representing a human social unit to all the other human social units. It may be that consciousness, which we tend to think of as the highest evolution of nature is more like a jail cell where each of us keeps our separated, parceled out selves. It may be that something extraordinary is going on right outside but we can’t hear it, because we are sealed in.
It might be the voice of the forest.
…in comparison to the mental states and accomplishments that normal folks take for granted.
ADHD isn’t about children paying attention, it’s about problems straight out of “The Man Who Mistook his Wife for a Hat”.
ADHD is the Cerebral Palsy of executive function. Having ADHD is like living in a world where gravity increases and decreases randomly, but only for you. One day you are bouncing along with everyone else, carrying school books and groceries, and the next day your arms and legs are unresponsive. You stagger, you crawl, or even lie flat, unmoving. The next day in low gravity you struggle futilely to return to earth after a high bounce. If you don’t keep up, your grades will suffer, or you may not keep your job. Too bad. You look flakey, lazy, self-indulgent, or at best, pathetic.
Your story about gravity changes nothing, it means nothing to anyone. People tell you to shape up and try harder but you don’t know how, where do we keep the extra TRY? You can’t seem to establish any traction between you and the problem. You reassure them that you’ll buckle down and try harder. Then you walk away with no frigging idea of how you’ll accomplish that.
Remembering, initiating, and persevering
Remembering to act, beginning to act, and continuing to completion are three discrete neurological functions. They each require a chain of cellular events and nerve feedback just like most other biological processes. In healthy people, these steps are as natural and unconsidered as reaching out to pick something up. The beauty of a healthy system is its fluidity and transparency, the invisible, effortless, unconscious event. Naturally, if you aren’t having problems say, pooping, or sleeping or lifting your arm, these problems never cross your mind. Imagine if you had never had such trouble, or even heard of people having these problems: You’d find such complaints mystifying and trivial. Normal people don’t try to imagine ADHD because they feel confident about judging real vs fake complaints and what commonsense calls for. “It’s easy, just do it!”…”Stop slacking” “I know you can do it, I’ve seen you do it!”
While hoofbeats should suggest horses over zebras, this behavior is standing among zebras and insisting that only horses can make that sound.
When the ADHD person says “I don’t know why, but I can’t do this”… normal people are baffled because they don’t recognize mental functions as systems that can fail. NOT having a kink in your pipeline means there is no observable problem for you to troubleshoot. Making these systems “visible” through exercises that reveal the processes to caregivers, teachers, and therapists would be incredibly helpful in upgrading their understanding of ADHD. Inside the brain of an ADHD student, there are multiple systems that can go, as Doctors say, “Kablooey”. When this knowledge becomes commonplace and we can begin to target trouble in particular systems scientifically and creatively it will be a lovely moment for us all. For some reason, right now, clear common sense understanding of the mechanisms of ADHD is bizarrely rare. A very small group is well informed and the vast majority have little or no understanding. Beliefs discarded by science are more common on the frontlines of treatment than current models.
How do I fuck up? Let me count the ways
Without working memory, a task becomes impossible to recreate without crawling slowly through the steps constantly consulting the instructions. Maddeningly we probably know the steps but they refuse to cohere as a list of actions, they won’t “sit in the right chairs”.
Without healthy executive function, we lack an accelerator pedal or ignition switch to get started and we will sit there inert in the face of any amount of pressure to get us going. If we could escape that pressure and disappointment, often observed by the whole class, by doing what is needed, we fucking would. The teacher generally leans in and goes over the process again but the process isn’t the problem, right now the problem is no gas pedal. “How do I make myself start?” is the question pressing on the child’s heart as they strain to comply. Their mental car is stalled out and they are holding everyone up with their dumb broken car. Again and again, they try to start it up and escape this disaster with a little dignity.
Burdened by co-morbidities like depression, anxiety, and dysregulated emotions we are overwhelmed and collapse before (seemingly) small tasks like entitled little princes. Now we look weak, needy, and ridiculous, just like most other days.
Having ADHD is living in a world where time speeds up and slows down in crazy ways but only for you. Deadlines hover lazily in the distance and then slam forward in a disjointed way that doesn’t make sense and you scramble awkwardly to complete the work, buy the present, or pay the bill. Time is capricious and even though this has happened to you all of your life, you won’t anticipate the next deadline any better than the last one. That’s because this isn’t a failure to learn, it’s perceptual and neurological. We are time blind. We are driving through fog and can see about 20 feet in front of the car.
Every neurology has a sense of time. The common-sense feeling about the length of a month or an hour describes the standardized neurological norms for this function. ADHD people have an unpredictable malfunction in this area which is comparable to incorrectly gauging how near or far objects are and crashing into them over and over. Normal brains look at this behavior and understandably ask: “What is WRONG with you?” from where they are sitting, it looks like this damn kid needs to pay more attention and try harder.
And we totally get why you feel that way…but you think you’re feeling frustrated?
Desk is Lava
Boring and difficult tasks burn. You can’t hold them to completion them because there’s something very much like pain happening. It’s almost impossible to explain what this is like to people who haven’t felt it. Challenging tasks like doing your math homework or filling out work-related forms, become charged with a field like magnetic repulsion, pushing you away. When you try to push through the field you become angry and emotional and you feel that your understanding of how to even begin… has abandoned you, leaving a weird hole in your mind where the answer is supposed to be. A hole where maybe the answer even was, at one point, but now it’s gone. You are probably getting tears in your eyes and nobody else seems to be struggling.
You find yourself developing complicated strategies for beginning or avoiding things. If people observed your internal process they would be shocked at how complicated it may be for you to do something like make a phone call or get around to a chore. Remaining in boring places feels like sitting on a hot stove. When you FINISH with places you need to leave them. When you can’t leave, pressure builds inside you and all the air seems to leave the room. You may feel like you are on the edge of a panic attack. I once quit a well-paying job as a database manager for a large research hospital after 3 months because days lasted 100 hours and my office made me so claustrophobic that I was losing my mind.
Escaping the prison planet
Conversely, fun things and things you love to do are sacred islands of sanity and comfort. There’s a strong chance that you find it hard to stop, that you spend too much time there. Your fun activities may be the only time it doesn’t feel like you vs. the world. Your brain feels happy and relaxed here, the stress hormones ebb away. The thought of going back to the unbending, disappointed, angry, world feels like exile. When people interrupt you and tell you to stop doing the fun thing, you hate them. With ADHD you are out of sync in time with the life going on around you and probably can’t see it. For example, you might react WAY faster than anyone around you but because the data of our own senses always appears to be correct, other people seem to be the ones who are dawdling, taking absurd amounts of time to act or make a point. You are likely too abrupt and harsh with your people and you probably reject this claim when they tell you that: You’re the one who is treated unfairly. They are wrong, interrupting you, and being insensitive. You may be very observant and quick, but you are also probably not as good at reading people and situations as you think. As Elmore Leonard said “If you meet an asshole in the morning you met an asshole, if you meet assholes everywhere, you’re the asshole. You might be goofy and playful to a fault, jokey in a mechanical way that may seem thoughtless at times. There’s probably an overly enthusiastic shortcut in your mind to rapid decision making. It means that bad, impulsive, uninhibited choices are common, you probably burn a lot of bridges and alienate a lot of people. You are probably maddening to the people who love you. They worry about you, yet you may regularly hurt their feelings. You feel they don’t understand you (admittedly, they probably don’t) you probably think they are meaner and possessed of worse intentions than they are.
You spend a lot of energy trying to look like a normal person who does things as well as anyone else. This is called Passing for Normal and it’s a strange goal to carry with you everywhere, all your life. Non-ADHD people spend a lot of time trying to look competent and normal too, but without the 10,000 volts of existential dread, and sense of already having failed. There’s probably a big reservoir of shame and sadness inside you, stored up from endless hours of observing yourself not keeping up with the pack. Of all the people you drive to the point of despair, you are foremost. You talk to yourself with the same baffled disappointment as everyone else, except your inner voice, may rage viciously at the idiot who always lets you down when it matters. Self-hatred is common as dirt. It’s also likely you aren’t aware of how many negative thoughts commonly live inside you. These do the most damage before you become aware of them.
Whether it’s organic or as the result of these sorts of experiences, ADHD people are often painfully sensitive to criticism (or simply imagined criticism ) and are a hair-trigger away from an angry or miserable outburst. Watch out, there’s usually a heartbroken and furious rant, chambered and waiting only for a bad bump. As awful as it is to have one of these unloaded on you, imagine what it’s like to walk around with them inside you all the time.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) says that 5 percent of American children have ADHD. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts the number at more than double the APA‘s number. The CDC says that 11 percent of American children, ages 4 to 17, have this disorder. We are underachievers. We are often smart and funny and even talented, but we can’t properly plan, initiate, or persevere. We have tons of novel ideas that we write down in notebooks but we don’t complete them. Overall we achieve less educationally and we earn less money.
We have no disability concerning imagination, creativity, or original thinking but we lack long term planning, organization, and consistency. We cannot make coherent maps of our own futures so we are trapped in the short term, fending off dangers we can’t see until they are imminent. We have trouble planning long-term. Many of us are quirky and off-putting because our perceptions and resulting communications are skewed and out of sync with the world. Often, and often unconsciously, we develop eccentric (crazy) ways of coping because so many activities seem a maze filled with dead-ends and random inexplicable successes. Sometimes our anxiety creates mad circuitous pathways of avoidance as we try to reach a goal. These coping strategies look absurd from the outside, filled with unnecessary and irrelevant steps.
Many ADHD people end up hitching our wagon to a practical person who helps us remember to pay bills and buy dog food. Many people who LIKE being the savior are controlling and manipulative. Sometimes we are afraid to leave bad relationships because our daily life homeostasis will collapse. When most people leave a bad partner, they look for their lives to improve, not burn to the ground. This is a relationship as a crutch. Our side of this relationship dynamic is driven by weakness and fear, which is an awful reason to partner and a chilly motivation for wanting someone in your life. The relationship between crutch and cripple is not a great love story.
Not surprisingly, divorce levels are high.
Can’t face it
There’s a cringe-worthy ADHD subgroup who live in denial. Many of these deniers develop arrogant and “superior” personalities and communication styles. They spend a good bit of their lives doing the cognitive dissonance math needed to balance the accounts of their self-worth. This is a life spent whistling through the graveyard of hopes and dreams and rationalizing failures as clever success. My suspicion is it’s a kind of ego version of an emergency inflatable raft. They would be destroyed and sunk by facing their disability head-on, but inside, through the soundproof walls of denial…they still feel it, they still know it but they can’t say it, and neither can you. The resulting ego-as-spiky-puffer-fish is grating, self-involved, and poorly in touch with reality. They may prattle on about how amazing they are. This sort of behavior doesn’t often inspire compassion, remember though, that this annoying person with ADHD probably spent their entire childhood feeling like a failure, being one by objective standards, and being treated like one too. They had to learn to stay upright and keep moving SOMEHOW and denial was their way of avoiding despair and collapse. They inflated the emergency raft of denial and held on for dear life.
The alternative to denial is radical honesty leading to humbleness. It is both liberating and mortifying.
“Hi, my name is Hugh and I suck at so many things.”
It helps to learn the neurological roots of your disorder because you can somewhat forgive yourself for struggling and stumbling where others seem to glide. Most of our lives we think every one of our problems arises from character flaws and moral failings. It’s healing to know that there’s a biological cause that you had no power to correct. Owning your truth though, you take up a life in the open as someone with an unreliable brain and a record of goofing things up. These failings aren’t character flaws, but they are still failings. You aren’t any better at life or work just because you know what causes your problem.
If you face it, you can become a better person by holding yourself accountable for some bad things you now have the power to change. If your loved ones have been telling you that you bark at them with inappropriate anger, you can begin believing them, allowing for this, and consciously softening your answers. The reward is people you love feeling happier, which includes being happier to see you.
There are treatment plans and best practices, meds, etc. on the books but this doesn’t mean they are effective only that they are more effective than other stuff we’ve tried. Medical science is tasked with generating a treatment plan when presented with an ailment. Our assumption as medical consumers is “Ergo, that plan works” but when the ailment is poorly understood the treatment plan can just be a modesty screen covering our ignorance. Every ADHD person I know struggles day-to-day in a way that shows how we do not medically have a handle on this.
Treatments relative to the disability are little and half-assed. If you go on meds things may improve, or not. I don’t honestly know how effective my meds are, I have days where I am awesome and days where I am useless. The whole thing is so inconsistent and unpredictable. There aren’t many meds to choose from, they all have downsides, and none will FIX you. Generally, they help you be a bit more effective about ONE of your issues and most of us have several. If you need amphetamines you face constant suspicion and challenges from the medical community who must treat you like a dubious character just for what is written on your prescription. It’s not really their fault as they have to answer to those who govern controlled substances, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less humiliating…or tiresome. Diabetics don’t get a distrustful stare while picking up insulin.
Medical response CAN be toxic with a lack of insight into the disability. One doctor, covering my doc on vacation, refused to fill my prescription. His nurse stage whispered to me, pointing at her head “Because those drugs are for crazy people!” When my prescription needs renewing I may have to “plead my case ” all over again to someone new and possibly unsympathetic. Many people lose their meds short or long term when they change doctors.
Look at me, I’m tender and flaky
As far as why I am doing this, outing myself, consider that CDC estimate of 11 percent of Americans, 4 to 17, living the life I just told you about. They say adults can age out of the disorder, and while it’s possible, I think most ADHD adults simply age out of being counted and treated. This is medical science conveniently writing off a big group of annoying, hard to help patients by saying they moved to a big beautiful farm in the country where they can run around all day with the other weirdos. “Oh, them? um…they got better!”
Meanwhile, grownups with ADHD resign themselves to their quirky, lowered-expectations lives. They try to keep their weakness a secret so as not to risk any of the security and respect they’ve managed to acquire. So imagine the wasted potential, the ache of being a lifelong failure at things most people find fairly easy. Imagine 11 percent of the people you see daily having one tiny arm and one tiny leg and working desperately, in shameful secret, to move and work like everyone else.
Imagine what it feels like to work your hardest for a “Passing with a D minus ” grade. Then imagine everyone looking at you and feeling a range of emotion from indifference to disappointment, to scorn. Without wanting to encourage a victim mentality, many ADHD people have been punished again and again for a literal disability. They are wounded inside and out.
And that’s what it’s like having ADHD.
The other meaning of denial.
And finally, no matter how nakedly honest and articulate we are about what’s wrong with us, every other average asshole we meet on the street knows the REAL TRUTH about ADHD through the magic of lazy opinions and lectures us wherever we happen to be just then, on giving up our medication and trying harder.
The other common class of assholes happily tells us that they ADHDbased on small infrequent memory lapses or declares “Everybody is a little ADHD!” which translates into “I haven’t thought seriously about what you’ve told me even for a second, not even once!” and also means “Your problem isn’t real, it’s just normal brain function and you are exactly like everyone else”. Bitch, does it take you 3 months to open your mail?
Life with one foot stapled to the floor
Brothers and sisters of the hinky brain, please be brave and stand up, face it, and claim it. The time has come. Daylight yourselves, learn all you can, and educate everyone who’ll allow it. Demand better-informed teachers, psychologists, and medical personnel. Don’t settle for being the damaged and discarded 10%. Until we squawk loud enough to catch the attention of the world and tell our true story, new treatments will remain a low priority and the “experts ” our ADHD children interact with will often not understand them or treat them in accordance with real best practices.
Most people in the mental health “business” have no sense of urgency about the millions of ADHD children who wake up every day only to remember they are a failure alone in a crowd of people that don’t understand what the hell is wrong with them, or how to help.
I want to increase this sense of urgency.
Below is the amazing Dr. Russell Barkley, the best explainer/describer of ADHD. If you watch this 3-minute video you will be more knowledgeable about ADHD than any special Ed teacher or therapist I have ever spoken to. You will probably have a clear picture of it for the first time.
Social network moralizing is a Punch and Judy show.
Listen to us, every fucking thing we say about politics and philosophy is about who is good and who is bad.
You literally cannot ask or answer any question that isn’t shaped by your hardwired domesticated primate brain. You have free will, but only inside a box of rules.
It never includes a higher insight into why things like racism and war are clockwork for us. These are species quandaries, the well known and poorly understood “fine messes” we are perpetually getting ourselves into. Until we see how they really work and why they truly happen, nothing we say about them helps to change anything. The problem is that war and racism (for example) are aspects of our operating system, they are problems we are not supposed to answer. From inside the human operating system, they are features, not bugs.
Imagine if dogs had competing societies. They would totally relate to the idea”I’ll build a wall!”. Some would say “We need to do a lot more barking!” & some would say “We should all just roll in fish TOGETHER”. They would glamorize alphas and make fun of betas and deltas. They would make inappropriate “racist” statements about cats. And all of their damn Facebook comments would be about how “somedoggy” was or was not a good boy.
I believe many of the answers to the questions that torment and enslave us are available one or two floors above where we do our thinking. I don’t mean it in a strictly spiritual way, or in a strictly biological way. Whatever higher consciousness is and wherever it is found we must achieve it or never rise above this tiresome moralistic echo chamber.
Autistic characters in drama have become almost stereotypical stock roles.
Asperger’s was added to the character of Sherlock Holmes in the recent BBC version with Benedict Cumberbatch and in many ways it’s a good fit. We find a form of it in earlier shows like Star Trek with Spock and Commander Data. “Rain Man” has become a phrase that instantly summons up a farther range of the spectrum, even less socially competent, more obsessive and rigid. These characters are often given an awesome savant talent, further increasing pressure on autistic people to entertain us with magical-weirdo-brain-tricks like playing any song after hearing it once or lightning calculation. Further out still are the lost children (you almost never see an adult) spinning plates and squealing.
What people often fail to realize is that this spectrum has them on it too! We are all on this spectrum even if we are sitting in the comfortable normal box.
Consider the classic issues that come up for people on the right hand side of this image.
- Overwhelmed by social intensity. (attention, crowds, eye contact)
- Sensitive to noise
- Sensitive to little somatic distractions like a scratchy tag in their shirt.
The difference between you and some poor soul melting down from these isn’t one of kind but of degree. It’s just a question of the amplitude it requires to send your needle into the red. Have you ever heard of police trying to drive people out of a house by blasting music at it day after day? Or similar techniques focused on someone under interrogation? This is a conscious attempt to push people into the breakdown zone that ASD people reach with far less intensity.
We all have these same vulnerabilities but ASD people have less insulation on their wires.
Imagine yourself wearing a shirt of spun fiberglass. In a 12 hour death metal battle of the bands. Surrounded tightly by a crowd of strangers who keep staring at you and touching you.
Welcome, you have arrived at weekdays for autistic folks. Have a seat and pay attention. Don’t act up.
- go in the house
- hang up your coat
- sit down
- find key
- use key to open door
Continuing my theme of the hybrid SELF that forms when people interact: The third mind. I’m not trying to create the idea of some kind of mystical entity. The third mind is simply a lens or filter for understanding ourselves.
There is no real “You”.
“Um, I’m right here.”
“Which you are you?”
Every person you know and love has a bond with you like a chemical signature. You think you visit them but you don’t. You visit US. You are a different you with Tom and Petra and Janine. When you visit Janine you think you are seeing her, but you are seeing US.
You know that great way you have fun with her, cooking together and joking around? It isn’t exactly like that with anyone else. That isn’t you and it isn’t her. That’s the third mind. The US. The thing is, your friendship isn’t you and her. It’s what she brings out in you and what you bring out in her. Your friendship is the magic spot where those unique things overlap. This is really reminiscent of the Observer Effect in physics. You can’t study the thing without influencing and effecting it. There is no abstract, pure Janine. You can only know her the way she is when you are looking at her. She can only know you the way you are when she looks at you.
You get together with Janine and your mutual friend Petra. You don’t really know the way Janine is with Petra. You know how Janine is with YOU and Petra. You are standing there with Janine before Petra comes inside. You make a funny literary reference and she laughs and reminds you to keep thinking about that thing you talked about earlier. Why? Because when Petra is part of this molecule the sense of humor is different, maybe earthier, and you’d never really bring up that sort of serious thing for discussion because it would be the wrong kind of discussion. You guys LOVE Petra, you love being together. It’s wonderful, but it’s wonderful in a different way. So you tidied up business with the You and Janine molecule before the well understood transition into the 3 of you molecule.
The personality “You” was evoked in a unique way with one other person and then in another unique way only possible with that exact combination of the three of you. And if you leave, Petra and Janine have a different relationship. If you let yourself ride this idea it’s a hoot because there is no real you, there’s just what can be brought out of you by different people. And since the same is true for them there’s no real anybody anywhere. There are only the unique creations of relationships. In “The Four Loves” C.S. Lewis wrote a beautiful thought on our subject which I have to paraphrase here. Talking about the death of a friend: “If Jim dies I don’t just lose my unique friendship with Jim, I lose the way Jim used to laugh at Robert’s jokes.”
Friendship can be a lovely, lifetime thing in many cases because there is this enjoyable facet of you that you only get be in their company and they evidently have their own version of that joy. One note and another note being played at the same time are not those notes. They are a chord. And the easy, warm cruising of friendships across time is helped by its episodic nature, you don’t ALWAYS have to be that expression of yourself but you can return to it…like an old friend.
You might argue that the real you is who you are when you are alone but you are wrong, and stop being so argumentative!
Even all by yourself, the “You” experience is context-based and evoked by circumstances. It’s actually rather limited. You can’t be that warm, loving guy or the funny guy or the good listening guy. In some ways being alone is sitting with all the things you can’t be. Being in no external relationship reveals a kind of spartan, stripped-down you, but if you are alone for 10 days, I bet you spent time with 4 or 5 different versions of you.
For creative types (and introverts), there can be a special and productive relationship to being alone. A dedicated artist in any field isn’t usually alone because they have built a substantial relationship with the work. The discipline and focus centered on external results provokes, frustrates, and inspires in a way equal to any human company. But it’s still a selective filter that isn’t real in any other situation.
The principles of the third mind are laid out simply above and they don’t change with strangers or those closest to us. What changes is the impact or “side effects”.
Romantic love adds an element that only happens in its domain. Limerence. That dazzling infatuation which when reciprocated turns the third mind into a nearly visible glittering ball between the two people. This is where the third mind transforms into a different entity, almost literally an entity pulling intense emotions and hormones to the surface from the couple. It grows larger and practically seals the lovers inside. Of course, this is the human mating dance. This is the REAL honeymoon, a time of being swept up in something huge and electric and magical. When people look back on this phase, the third mind can seem like anything from a horrible deception to a lost golden age. If it does the job nature intends, a family follows.
With family relationships, we are playing with forces that help to define us. Mom and Dad are together in a tight pair bond, founded in romantic love. When baby makes three there’s a deep change in the orientation of the parents. Very much a team but a team that doesn’t have a lot of hot sex anymore and a team embarked on a shakedown cruise with a new person. Before the baby is old enough to a political player in the family there’s this period of adjustment to the altered definition of the pair bond. “We are now people who discuss what poop looked like.” This can also be a time where new facets of self come up in Mom and Dad because parenting builds a new floor onto the edifice of YOU. Your way of relating to the kid becomes a bit of new wild card. It’s natural and fine for Mom and Dad to be on somewhat different pages about parenting. But what it does here can be an alteration of the third mind in a way that adds stressors and subtly distances them. It only deepens when the child is a distinct personality, becoming triangulated and heating up any of those parenting issues. At times each feel parent will feel double teamed or manipulated and new kinks in the flow develop. Whatever the couple’s third mind started as it has morphed and tilted. Not necessarily in a terrible way, but forever. There is no going back. And something strange starts to happen here. It can feel like the power of this mind exerts such pressure that you begin to actually possess the characteristics projected onto you. As if the third begins to alter and edit you often in ways that are not pleasant. If people have a common complaint about family it’s probably this: The weird way you can’t help either becoming a certain person around them or putting all your energy into resisting it.
Children grow up with the family mind, a sort of interactive group sense of self: A growth medium made up of ourselves and a variety of subjective, overlapping reactions to us.
God knows there are lovely, happy, and vital marriages out there. And where they exist they probably have a rare relationship where the couple feels a great ongoing enjoyment with what gets brought out of them into the world by the other. This mutual bringing forth: “I love her and I love who I am when I’m with her.”
It’s easy to imagine the reasons things that can become stultifying and even miserable in some marriages. First, unlike friendship, this relationship has no easy come and go. It is your default and almost fulltime existence So it’s more serious from the start but also, people change. Especially as they grow up through their 20s and 30s and 40s. You could hardly help and nor should you, being different after all that. But that means that the unique signature of your personalities as they evoked each other when you married is gone. Perhaps not wholly but substantially. Even without inner change over time, the signature shifts as people reveal their more intransigent sides, as issues become wearisome and people become resigned.
But finally, there’s this: It becomes deadening when you only get to be one version of you year after year. Especially if that version of you is largely defined by a long history of ups and downs, tensions and compromises. Inside ourselves we know we are a 360-degree personality and this arrangement lets you express only a familiar, comforting, reliable constellation of all the possible YOUs for the sake of another person’s security and happiness.
It’s no wonder people struggle. There’s this tremendous investment in a situation that feels gradually less like home because you aren’t really getting to be yourself there or at least the version of you that you’d like to be. And fixing a marriage that feels very stuck is so challenging because even the medium for discussion can only be within the petrified and weary third mind.
There is no one real YOU, there are thousands.
“A colony of honeybees is, then, far more than an aggregation of individuals, it is a composite being that functions as an integrated whole. Indeed, one can accurately think of a honeybee colony as a single living entity, weighing as much as 5 kilograms (10 pounds) and performing all of the basic physiological processes that support life: ingesting and digesting food, maintaining nutritional balance, circulating resources, exchanging respiratory gases, regulating water content, controlling body temperature, sensing the environment, deciding how to behave, and achieving locomotion.”
There is an idea gaining credibility that just as hives behave as individuals made up of the independently moving “cells”, that primate brains are almost like hives unto themselves…vast collectives of caste system individuals handling tasks that cumulatively produce the neurological reality experienced by the individual. This can’t be described as a final proven fact, but the model holds up, right down to the notion of specific cells that are needed being produced. algorithmically to changing needs. This extends to decision-making, which is the main subject of Honeybee Democracy. The bees exercise a collective intelligence that mimics not just small-group decision-making but the cognitive deliberations of our own brains:
“We will see that the 1.5 kilograms (3 pounds) of bees in a honeybee swarm, just like the 1.5 kilograms (3 pounds) of neurons in a human brain, achieve their collective wisdom by organizing themselves in such a way that even though each individual has limited information and limited intelligence, the group as a whole makes first-rate collective.”
Like many biologists, Seeley sees a bee colony as not just a collection of individuals but as a sort of super-organism. He continues:
In this post I’m bringing together some diverse psychological research. The idea I want to support is that human beings have strong and predictable reactions to power and weakness. Each of these videos alone makes an interesting (and often disturbing) point but together they show what happens to people given “the upper hand” and some of what happens to the people they hold it over. It’s important to me as a foundation for some of the next ideas I’m going to be laying out. This is difficult collection. They are worse together than alone. It feels like a damning indictment of the human race but I’m not looking to scold so much as to understand . The important thing is establishing a clear picture of our native relationship to power and privilege. I think of this post a bit like evidence before the court. I’m going to cite this post in later articles.
There are fascinating and dark things here, but many of these videos are too long for casual viewing. The exception might be the last one, “Money on the mind” which is also very interesting and much cheerier than the rest.
Stanford prison experiment
Blue eyes brown eyes
Every human blends a wide range of psychological variables. Each variable in this list is a spectrum and everyone is somewhere on each spectrum in this list. I don’t think this is some complete list, just some that I was mulling over. And they don’t follow some meaningful rule concerning their position to the left or right. I mean for example that “daring” and “submissive” are not in any sense related because they both appear on the right. There may be some overlap between some of these characteristics that could justify a connection but it’s imperfect and I’m not intending that meaning. I also don’t think that good is on one side and bad on the other.
Every trait on this list is a spectrum.
It seems human groups naturally create a spread of these traits because I can’t think of any culture outside of science fiction where there is a real uniformity of these characteristics.
The old sci-fi tradition often portrayed a trait as a species. Remember Star Trek? Vulcans, Klingons and Romulans, Ferengi? Each of these takes all the variables for a self and mashes them through a single psychological template.
Imagine how profound (and awful) the effect would be on a culture if they exclusively doubled down on the most extreme range of the traits above. In theory, you could have an entire population very unbalanced in a certain direction. But it never seems to work out that way, does it? Perhaps the whole thing is absolutely random but there could be within us a sort of community algorithm to keep a healthy range of steady but flexible groups. Some flexibility in the system would allow different tribes to investigate the effects of leaning more this way or more that way as a group. I don’t mean the tribe would look at it that way, just that cultural differences would naturally emphasize different traits and there could be an impact on survival as a result.
There are also structural, age-based ranges for a number of important psychological factors concerning the community’s ability to preserve it’s form but also change if it needs to.
- The very young imprint the culture, taking it at face value.
- The young adult/teenager range is the most progressive, the most likely to question things being this way. It’s a cultural version of questioning your own parents.
- Families, mated and settled are the meat in the sandwich. They essentially express and live the culture in a moderate conservative way. Naturally, they tend to embrace it but the cracks and stressors show up here too. In worrying about their own children they worry about all children and what world they will live in. Again, this tends toward conservatism but enough worry can turn this.
- The old of course tend to be convinced that everything is going terribly wrong and we ought to back the hell up. They are the paragons of cultural retention.
These behaviors are emergent from the developmental moment of each but across a culture the impact is factorial.
I think this is rather like the age-based division of labor in insect hives. We have a non-random, predictable political range (“tension force” if you read my other stuff on conservative/progressive). I suspect evolution is a little bottom heavy with more people in the conservative mode but always with enough wild-ass adventurous and rebellious types to keep stirring the pot.
I have a half-assed thought that neuro-atypicals such as Autism spectrum and ADHD people may figure in population dynamics as a necessary element. Autistic people famously helping to advance technology with their obsessive interests and keen observations and ADHD people (I like to think) because their restless love of novelty may contribute in its own way.
I also believe that high functioning psychopaths and narcissists have a place. Their utter lack of concern with others and cold desire to get all the goodies CAN act as an organizing mechanism creating political or religious movements or starting big businesses, etc. Someone sufficiently convinced of their right to rule over others can collect followers like a magnet collects iron filings.
- If a doctor (say, on a desert island) had no real medicine left, just some sugar pills, wouldn’t it logically be ethical for him to hide this fact from his patients and even do his best to play up the theatrical side to deliver the strongest “dosage” possible?
- Doesn’t it mean that tribal style shamanic healers were actually doing what they could for their patients? And at least to a degree succeeding?
- When drug trials get to the human testing level, do the experimenters take the effect into account? When judging results do they allow a sort of fudge factor both for the control group and the test group? Because they would both be affected. How do they “zero out” the effect?
- How to understand the impact of things like size and shape and color (and communicated expectations) on the prescriptions we use daily?
- Would it ever be medically unethical to tell someone experiencing a benefit that it was only a placebo?
- If we know it helps the effect for the pill to have some “show biz” should real prescription pills be designed also to impress? Are they already?