eXTReMe Tracker WARNING: The opinions expressed and linked to in this blog are not necessarily mine (anymore).

My ideas are constantly changing as I learn. Sometimes they even change midway through writing a post.

Friday, July 29

A New Planet?

Wow! That's so cool! *cough*

I mean, there has been a fascinating new discovery.
Apparently, there's a newly discovered tenth planet although there is some debate about whether Pluto is actually a planet, so the new one may come to be considered the 9th planet. This is right there with the breaking news that the rings of Saturn actually consisted of multiple smaller rings. Except, I remember when I heard that news as a child, I was surprised that everyone didn't know it. I'd just always assumed that was the case. I don't know why. Probably there was no good reason. Anyway, it seems the planet is temporarily being called 'Xena' until it gets a proper name.

Thursday, July 28

Looking for a new name for my blog

I tried to do a search to see where I came up on Google. I couldn't fine me, but I found a lot of other sites by the same name. I added a few to my sidebar for fun, but I think I'd like a more unique name for my blog.

Tuesday, July 26

Comment - Mental Illness

Dear Kolya,

I really appreciate your comments although I think so far, I tentatively disagree with some of what you've said.

Debilitating behavioural syndromes such as schizophrenia, manic depression and eating disorders are real. But it's highly tendentious to call them illnesses, because the prevailing theories about their causes, their consequences and their remedies are all morally very controversial. By calling these syndromes "illnesses" we gloss over that controversy and hand over authority to adjudicate on these moral issues to a "priesthood" of psychiatrists who lack any special moral insights for dealing with them. While there exist some wise and humane psychiatrists and therapists, as an objective body of transmissible knowledge, psychiatry is, as Szasz rightly says, just like alchemy.

I think refusing to call mental problems(or controversies) "illness" has already led to a serious problem - moralists who heap blame, shame, and guilt on those who genuinely need medical or some type of help. At least when they're diagnosed with an illness, people with these difficulties can be treated as deserving of help and with some optimism about living better lives.

I'm not convinced that doctors and scientists aren't doing a better job than "moralists" have done so far. Sure they've made and will continue to make mistakes, but at least they're trying to find ways to test their theories and correct them.

Good moral knowledge could help with this, but I don't think it's enough. The record for helping such people outside of the medical community hasn't been very good.

I know people who seem to have been substantially helped by anti-depressants and therapy. I also know of people who actually seemed to be hurt by it. I think this could be a problem with fitting the best solution to the patient. In some cases, substantial life changes (moving, divorce, etc) seemed to bring about a lot of improvement.

It's hard to say whether it was the person who was particularly sensitive to the environment, the environment/interactions being particularly bad for him, or whether there was some brain difficulty. Sometimes change was suggested by a therapist and sometimes it wasn't. I wouldn't say this is a lack of good knowledge about it, just a particular difficulty or mistake with finding the best way to help the particular person. It could have been that for a person in a seemingly similar situation, drugs and therapy would have helped. I think knowledge about how to find the best way to help will improve.

However, it would be ridiculous to suggest that just because the prevailing psychiatric theories are wrong, serious mental disorders don't exist. They exist all right; it's just that they are not illnesses in any useful sense of the word. Having said that, we cannot entirely de-couple the management of these problems from the medical profession, because prescription-only medication has a legitimate role to play in the management of mental disorders. Moreover, as some behavioural disturbances are caused by genuine illnesses such as thyroid malfunction, brain tumours and Alzheimer's, it makes sense for doctors to be involved in the evaluation of certain kinds of mental/behavioural disorders.
Kolya | 07.17.05 - 8:28 am |

I think mental disorders do share some important characteristics with "medical illnesses" in that they're an "impairment to normal functioning". Personally, I think "healthy" would be a better term - as in "impairment to healthy functioning" (being different from "normal" might not actually be an impairment to health).

This doesn't mean a person can't manage to function well in spite of illness - physical or mental - at times. It doesn't mean there won't be mistakes made about what it means to actually be "impaired", what it means to be "normal" or "healthy" mentally, and whether a particular person is "healthy" and "normal".

If there are problems with the system for avoiding and correcting those mistakes, then those problems can and should be addressed and improved. I've been really impressed with the bits of medical history I've read so far. Yes, there have been plenty of big mistakes, but there have been some amazing improvements and breakthroughs.


Tuesday, July 19

Original OCD post

I thought I'd include the original for the OCD post I put on Setting the World to Rights Sunday (7/17/05):

I think a person having a particular habit or behavior that they want to stop but also can't seem to make themselves stop doesn't make it an "illness". It seems like it would be better to first approach it as a problem they want solved. It might be caused by a brain disease, it might be related to a particular set of ideas or experiences, or it could be contributed to by both. The solution to their problem could be medicines or ideas or both. While I don't think a medicine can change a person's ideas directly, I think it could change their emotional state.

At the least, I think it might be possible to make a person feel more or less "extreme". In the hand washing example, the person might have a fear of germs. The experience of the fear could be very mild or it could feel very important and urgent and some of that feeling could affected by other factors - lack of sleep, lack of food, other things going on in life. Suppose a medication made the person feel less anxious about things overall. The person is then able to focus more on his thoughts and better prioritize them, feel less anxious (and then feel less need to wash hands - something that might seem comforting in a way), break his hand washing pattern, and possibly even change his mental state overall to the point where he can drop the medication and have his problem solved. This could happen without his even understanding that's what's going on.

Becky Moon
by beckyam on Sun, 07/17/2005 - 10:59 | reply


Here's my response to a reply to another post of mine.

"Most types of anti-anxiety medicine do not work for them, but some do to some extent. Behavioral treatment works on a specific compulsion, but individuals often then move to another one. Few long term studies have been done documenting efficacy of any intervention, and unlike most psychiatric illnesses, serious OCD is remarkably refractory to all forms of treatment." -Michael Golding

I posted the comment as a suggestion to Elliot as to how medicine "might" work by helping thoughts to change indirectly. It seems OCD is a bad example.

I am familiar with people who have OCD-like symptoms (and at least one diagnosed), but not much with their treatment. At least some of them managed to quit things like hand-washing and not pick up any other habits that were a problem (at least they haven't been noticed by them or anyone else yet). By quit, I mean stop doing the action for a while and then eventually stop feeling obsessed about or thinking much about doing the action. It doesn't seem "easy" to do - just possible.

"They fully well know (once explained to them) that washing their hands so frequently actually makes it more likely for them to get an infection, but they still can't stop. So they understand the scientific arguments very well." -Michael Golding

In my experience, having a good understanding of why to stop doesn't always make a habit go away for people who don't seem to have OCD symptoms. It usually takes focusing on some new preferred habit, but I think knowing that the behavior isn't rational is probably a necessary prerequisite (then again, maybe not).

"Interestingly, the same medications which will cause someone to obsess less, will also cause him to think about sex less frequently." -Michael Golding

What sort of medications?

More on Mental Illness at Setting The World to Rights

I have replied to a post about Mental Illness.

"Or at any rate, let me try to convince you that serious mental illness implies underlying brain disease, involves peoples choices and is affected by cultural phenomenon in the same way that type 2 diabetes implies the existance of an underlying endocrine disease, but also involves peoples choices and and is affected by cultural involvement." -Michael Golding

That's quite a bold statement (not necessarily untrue, just that it implies that serious mental illness couldn't exist without brain disease). How do you know serious mental illness implies underlying brain disease? Have all know mental illnesses been linked conclusively to brain disease? How do you distinguish a disease from a healthy difference? How is "serious mental illness" defined? Is there some mechanism for differentiating it with "extreme differences from cultural norms"? What if it's the "norm" that is "wrong"? What is the mechanism for addressing this? I suppose as with homesexuality, the medical community can correct mistakes about specific differences that they later realize to be healthy/normal. What about the harm done to healthy people in the meantime? This could be less harm than is done to people who avoid treatment because of the stigma attached to "mental illness". It might be good to drop "mental illness" simply because "brain disease" doesn't have the negative social connotations that mental illness does. (I'm not expecting answers to all of this. I often ask more than anyone, including myself, has time or inclination to answer or think about).

"In my opinion, whether an illness is caused by an interaction with others or not, should not matter if the consequences to the person are a potentially permanent change in physiology which shortens his life and damages his organs.

For example, even if Fred deserves to be punched in the nose, he still may have a crushed maxillary sinus from the punch, and a crushed maxillary sinus is certainly an illness, which should be treated by doctors." -Michael Golding

I agree that medically treatable aspects of the problem should be treated, of course, but what about the matter of the person punching him in the nose? Do we just chalk it up to Fred's nose-punched tendency or try to do something about nose punchers?

"So whether certain types of mental illness are caused by an interaction with other people should not be relevant, if such interaction causes a substantially increased risk for development of an abnormal physiology and if this pathophysiology shortens peoples lives and damages their organs. If obese children now are developing type 2 diabetes which damages their kidneys, if someone is punched in the nose and the damaged maxillary sinus is now prone to infection, or if someone is cruel to someone else and the victim becomes depressed, and this damages their heart; and if all of these are caused by interactions with other people, why is the depression the only one that is not an illness?" -Michael Golding

I think I'd agree if there weren't the problem as I mentioned above where mental differences are diagnosed and treated without a lot of consideration about whether they really are disorders and whether the more important cause and solution might be external. Just because the conditions required to ... "trigger" bipolar disorder haven't been discovered, doesn't mean they don't exist. I would think it would very difficult to isolate or control for all social and ideologically oriented causes as it can be in medicine.

"In short, the software damages the hardware." -Michael Golding

Nice analogy.

"The work of Nemeroff (JAMA) and others, in primates (mildly) experimentally abused as infants, and women abused as children, provides ample scientific evidence of life-long damage to organ systems due to early childhood stress."-Michael Golding

That's very interesting and a bit discouraging.

"With physical symptoms, there's usually some idea of harm they are doing to the person's body." Becky Moon

"Ms. Moon, you may be confusing cause and effect, just a little, in this statement. Physical symptoms don’t (in general) cause harm in a person’s body, they are a consequence of harm." -Michael Golding

Oops, my bad.

" Why is the acute brain shrinkage from a stroke the consequence of a “real” phenomenon, but the acute brain shrinkage from schizophrenia a consequence of a “Superstition”, according to Mr. Alan Forrester. How can a “superstition” shrink a brain?" -Michael Golding

I can't site a study or article for you. I've just assumed from the time it first occurred to me to think about the subject at all that thought affects the chemistry of the brain. I've seen articles that seem to support this. If this is so, then couldn't certain types of thought that contributes to brain shrinking? Is my assumption erroneous? I'm not claiming any knowledge about how brain chemistry is particularly affected. It could be that size isn't much related. I had thought I read something, though, that children (and animals) who were exposed to lots of stimulation had more of some type of brain matter (neurons? or links between neurons?) I don't see how this could be related to brain shrinkage though. A person who was very actively stimulated .. it would seem their brain would increase in size or connections.

Forgive if my lack of brain chemistry knowledge is getting me really far off track here, but I want to go off on a bit of some imagining about how thought could affect the brain: Could some bit of knowledge be so upsetting as to make a person "forget" large bits of knowledge as a sort of "self-defense"? It might only "work" for people with a particular genetic flaw or difference, or it could be that most people don't experience anything so upsetting or don't tend to try (or even be able to) forget things they find upsetting or overwhelming. If thoughts can change the brain, then it would be case for some thoughts even possibly harming the brain or causing disease.

"Very perceptive comment, in my view. I agree with you 100%. Homosexuality is not consdered an illness or a disability, nor should it be. -Michael Golding"

Homesexuality was once thought of as a mental illness, though, wasn't it? (Or was that just something lay people thought?) Is this just a mistake that was unavoidable or could changing the way people approach mental issues have avoided this?


Monday, July 18

Wrong ideas and mental illness/problems

What's the difference? How does one distinguish between the two?

Friday, July 15

Mental llness

Below are my comments in reply to an article about Creationism Setting the World to Rights .

At first, I couldn't see much point in saying mental illness doesn't exist and that it was something that could be used interchangeably with brain disease. It finally occurred to me to look at it another way:

With physical symptoms, there's usually some idea of harm they are doing to the person's body. With "mental illness", a set of "symptoms" based on behavior is likely to be very biased by what people think of as "normal" and people might be very wrong about what should be normal.

With behavior/mental "symptoms", sometimes what is harming the patient are other people's reactions to it. For example, some people might consider being homosexual "abnormal" and think of it as something that should be "treated" to prevent the tendeny to behave in "self-harming" ways. In reality, I think such a person is likely healthy and trying to treat him or make him behave "normally" is likely harmful to him.

I can't be sure of this, but I think David's aversion toward using the term "mental illness" could actually be partly out of respect for individuals who are different but possibly not "diseased". Then again, once it is understood that a "mental illness" is actually normal, people could always recategorize it that way. This can be difficult for such people because the stigma of it being a mental illness can take a long time to go away within a culture. It still seems like there ought to be a term for labeling a set of behaviors/symptoms that we think are unhealthy/bad for the patient or could cause them to have bad interactions with people. I think illness offers the benefit of seeing it as something the person is working to have treated or overcome. I'm not sure what other term would be appropriate. I don't think being "mentally ill" would mean that a person has no responsibility or culpability. As David suggests, the person could be held responsible for harm he causes as a result of his failure to obtain and adhere to treatments.

As for deciding about culpability and responsibility, I think it's trickier than David has suggested, so it would be great if he'd expand on it a bit.

What if a person is unaware of the effects of a brain disease/difference when he does something harmful to someone else? David suggests such a person wouldn't be culpable but he should seek to get help.

What if getting help is also risky? A person admitting to a mental difficulty could be barred from employment and find themselves rejected socially.

How much risk is the individual's responsibility to take on? Doesn't society have some responsibility for creating an environment where admitting to and receiving treatment is so risky?

Suppose a person is aware of his condition and takes what he thinks are reasonable measures which turn out to be insufficient. For example, he only has noticeable altered state type symptoms when he eats a particular food. He doesn't take medication but is careful to read labels and ask about ingredients in dishes in order to avoid the food. Despite his care, he unknowingly ingests some one day and as a result is in a bad mental state and harms someone. What then? Is the person "culpable" or "responsible"? Should people err on the side of taking whatever drugs or therapies offered to avoid harm even if the treatments are risky? (some anti-depressants have been linked with higher rates of suicide and aggressiveness, from what I understand) Would such a person then be responsible for being even more selective about his food choices (say only eating specific things that he's tested on himself with someone to supervise him) or would it be sufficient to tell everyone he knows about this risk and help him keep a look out for symptoms? Is he cupluble for mistakes in treating his condition? Are treatment decisions something that should be assigned to another party?

What if part of a person's condition prevents him from being able to accurately assess the need for treatment? A person who is "manic" might feel "great" and not see any need to be treated and yet the person's behavior could become very harmful to himself and others. The same person might, in a different state, might be quite calm and non-violent and shocked by his own behavior in the past and not be able to understand how he could have done such things. How would one tell the difference between a "manic" person and a normal person who is simply making some bad choices because .. well why?

Becky Moon

Thursday, July 14

Fear and other reactions to bombings

I'm not particularly brave, as far as I can tell, but I can't seem to feel particularly afraid about the bombings. It's not just because it's 5000 miles away. It doesn't feel so far away when I have friends who live reasonably close. I think part of it is feeling like there's nothing in particular I know to do to prevent it happening to me except perhaps move as far away from other people as possible. Quality of life means more to me - I don't want to be isolated from all the cool people I could be meeting. I think the other part of my feeling comes from think about it somewhat statistically.

Suppose it had happened in my city - Austin. Austin is much smaller than London, but if 40 people were killed and 700 injured, that would mean my chances of death are something like 1 in 12,500 and chances of injury are 1 in 700 (going by a rough estimate of 500,000 people here - there's really likely more). That does seem higher than my normal risk on a particular day, but it's just hard for me to actually feel endangered personally much.

I was much more scared of driving my ex's old '58 Beetle with no seat belts. True, my fear of the car could be a bit excessive, but I don't think it's entirely out of line.

I was slightly concerned about people I know who live in London, but I didn't really 'expect' that they were likely to have been among the ones hurt or injured. It feels upsetting still to think about people being killed, and I think that's related to knowing people in the area. Statistics aren't everything they just help keep things in perspective a bit.

Monday, July 11

Well Asked Questions

This, from a biography of Richard Feynman (one of my favorite Physicists).

"He never taught facts so much as questions. He encouraged young Richard to identify not what he knew, but rather what he did not know. This is the essence of Richard Feynman's style of understanding. By absolutely asking what his ignorance consisted of, he freed himself from the tyranny of conventional wisdom. He learned that it's entirely possible, and even likely, for a person to live not knowing the answers to important questions. What's most important for knowledge is the well asked question. The answers will wait patiently for their discovery."

I was browsing around about Feynman because someone listed the Lectures on Physics course for a decent price, and I'm very tempted to buy it. I don't have a particular interest in the subject itself right now. I used to want to be a nuclear physicist, but that's another story... I very much enjoyed his autobiographies, so now I'm wondering if his Physics course is as enjoyable to read.

I'm OK, You're a Brat!

I found this book title pretty offensive. I've often learned interesting things from trying to understand how a person could come to have a view that seems so totally wrong, so I picked it up anyway.

I'm aware that some children have undesireable qualities, but I believe that to be the responsibility of their parents. Children aren't born knowing what it means to be a good person, they have to learn it and they need lots of help doing so. That mostly falls on the parents, so if someone's going to get called names for a child's behavior, it ought to be the parent.

I don't think people ought to generally be in the habit of labeling each other in this way, but that's beside the point here.

I was surprised a little by the contents - enough to actually pay the $2.48 at Half Price for it. It's been a while since I bought a book totally spontaneously. It was fun. Back to the point again, it started off talking about how incredibly hard parenting is. How no one really tells potential parents what to really expect.

I had been thinking that I would like to write such a book. I wanted to encourage people to think of parenting as a very very difficult job to do truly well and that there are a lot of other ways to be fulfilled. Having children shouldn't be necessary for having a complete and fulfilling life. It takes a lot of help and resources that parents don't always have. Of course, one could do the usual and make the best of it, but is that really best for making a better world? And isn't that what each of us wants? (Maybe that's a naive question).

I hadn't thought about whether anyone had warned me before I became a parent. My parents did a little. They suggested putting off parenting. But they also said how "it's all worth it". There are some great comments about this in the book.

I think you have to manage yourself very well, start off with especially good ideas and a good personality to come out honestly thinking that way. I think this could be learned too. I know a parent who is particularly enthusiastic and happy about being with his children and doesn't seem concerned about things he's given up to do this.

Anyway, I am curious to see the rest of the book. There seem to be sections on what parents who really do find it worthwhile do differently. I'm a firm believer that people can find joy in all sorts of situations. It's a bit difficult to see sometimes when one hasn't slept all night in a year or one is feeling more like a maid than a parent.

I'm almost reluctant to even write this much about it because to admit one probably should have made a choice other than to have children can be labeled "selfish" or as if it meant that one didn't love one's children.

It's not something personal about my children. I think they're really cool and interesting people and I love them. It's just sometimes I used to get stuck thinking about all the other cool and interesting people and ideas and contributions I could have made without setting myself up for a lifetime commitment. I don't think it's healthy to dwell on that lots, but I think it's good to be honest with oneself and others. I think, in fact, it's especially important for them to be aware, so they can make more informed choices about their lives than I did. If they have children, I hope they'll be much better prepared for it than I was.

I'll try to write more about the book after I've read it.

Saturday, July 9

Militant Muslims and Evasion

Alice proposed a few ideas about the goals of Islam. This reminded me of my experience several years ago with arguing with a militant Muslim.

The discussion took place in an atheist chat room. This guy came in and started trying to persuade us about his religion. Sometimes this gets a bit tiresome and I tend to just ignore such people, but I haven't argued with many non-Christians, so I was curious. He was sure he could demonstrate his religion to be logical and rational - the most reasonable choice.

It's been too long to remember the particular arguments he used, but I do remember that it didn't take long to get through his arguments and bring up problems with them. He couldn't support anything and couldn't explain why a person should believe his doctrine over anything else. I remember thinking that I'd had much more difficult-to-counter arguments from Christians. There were several arguments he didn't even attempt which would have been a bit harder to criticize well (but still entirely possible).

Finally, he got frustrated and just started spewing about how Americans would all die . I said something to the effect of, "Oh, I see, so you can't win with reason, but you'd be happy to see innocent people killed off for these unfounded beliefs of yours?" [definitely paraphrased, it's been way too long to remember exact words). He replied along the lines of, "Americans will be given an opportunity to accept Allah, those who refuse will die." He never acknowledged that he'd actually made no case for his beliefs - that they were groundless. My guess is that it was frightening, and he avoided thinking about it as much as possible. It's not easy to give up a lifetime of beliefs - especially if new beliefs result in one realizing one has done or supported some very bad things.

Ugh. I hoped he was just a weird fringe lunatic. I think now I should have taken him more seriously. (At the time, I didn't think he'd be traceable and even if he were found that anything could be done because he didn't directly make a threat).

I have thought that Muslim leaders would have more developed ideas about their religion. I'm starting to think, now, though that militant believers are particularly self-deluded.

Ayn Rand had a term for that. She called it evasion.

Evasion can have serious consequences. A person may start out avoiding thinking about a particular thing in a limited sense, but this can spill over into other areas. Some things may "remind" the person of the thoughts to be avoided and so those thoughts get avoided too. Other, wrong thoughts are developed to work around this avoidance. It can seriously lead one away from an understanding of reality.

I suspect that's the case for the militants. Some of the comments on Alice's post suggest similar ideas. I think the focus on their own religion and war has possibly kept them underestimating the power of freedom - the incredible ability to grow knowledge.

I'm almost afraid to believe such a thing. I'm afraid this explanation could be convenient and encouraging to believe and keep me from seeing some other more accurate explanation. It would mean that such people (militant) are at a serious disadvantage when it comes to dealing with reality.

Thursday, July 7

London Explosions

It's horrible, upsetting, sickening, tragic. I don't always react emotionally about news, but I have very fond memories of a wonderful friend taking me through the subways and my first ride on a double decker bus in London. I remember being very charmed at being called "my love" by a bus driver (and a few other friendly folks in England). I don't know what else to say.


I've started posting a bit to my LiveJournal. I wanted to have a journal more about my daily life, but I didn't want it to clutter up the blog. A nice person also made a syndication account for the blog, so it can be read on LiveJournal too. I put links to both on my sidebar.

Wednesday, July 6

Autonomy - What does it mean?

I think it's related to Independence and Freedom.

What does it mean to be Independent?
What does it mean to be free?
Is it something that must be respected to exist or is it something that exists apart from other people recognizing it?
Is it an aspect of a person? A quality of a relationship?

Is it good?

Tuesday, July 5


This awesome quoteby a friend got me thinking about what "technology" was really first. I'm not sure when the wheel was invented, but my personal favorite first is the invention of writing. I don't know if it counts as technology. I think it might since, in a sense, it's putting things together in a new and useful way. I like trying to imagine what life must have been like before and immediately after.

Sunday, July 3

More on being Self-conscious

It seems, in a way, that self-consciousness is misnamed. It's really about being concerned about others. I think it's "excessive" concern about how others might perceive one. I guess in that case, it would be something different than what I was thinking about in my previous post. I was thinking of it as concern about how others might perceive one. This is leaving it open as to whether the concern is "excessive" or is actually a valid level of concern to have. I think it would be hard to tell whether a particular person is excessively concerned without knowing them and their environment very well. I think even in such a case, the person could be aware of this problem and still feel/act excessively concerned due to a lack of knowledge about how to change his behavior. A person could get in the habit of being other-concerned when it might be appropriate to be so and continue acting so even when it's no longer appropriate. If this is confusing to you, don't worry, I'm having trouble keeping track of my train of thought here too.

Friday, July 1

Self-Awareness and Self-Consciousness

Since I've been thinking about the subject of self-awareness lately, the post by Alice in Texas mentioning self-awareness and self-consciousness caught my eye. (Although I frequently disagree with her analysis, I sometimes find her topic choices interesting.)

At first glance, it seemed "obvious" that self-awareness and self-consciousness are not on "pole opposites" as she suggests. In fact, I'd think they would be complementary although I wouldn't assume that a person who seems to have one also has the other. I want to think about that a bit more.

Self-conscious means "to be aware of oneself as an individual... ". It can also mean "excessively conscious of one's appearance or manner" or "socially ill at ease". ( Definitions all from Dictionary.com ). I'm assuming the first meaning wasn't what she had in mind because it seems nearly identical to the definition of self-awareness. Then again, it could mean something simpler like "awareness of oneself as a being separate from other people" vs. self-knowledge.

I'm guessing though that what is meant is something like "excessively conscious of one's appearance or manner". I don't see why a person who understands himself pretty well couldn't also have the idea that it's important to present oneself in a way that people can relate to. It certainly doesn't seem impossible to have both.

Thinking about the example of Hitler... It's hard to know without being inside the mind of a person and without having much background on his life, but on the surface it seems that he was aware of having particular tendencies and also aware that they wouldn't be very accepted in a public forum. I would guess that he didn't "accept" these traits within himself (which is different, I think, from being unaware of them). It could be that he was actually unaware of why he had his particular mannerisms or aversion to particular traits of his (like seeming emotional and "weak"). In that sense, he might have been lacking in a deeper self-awareness that some people have. It would fit the idea of being "self-conscious but not self-aware". Then again, having that knowledge might have had little impact on his self-consciousness if he found that the traits were unacceptable regardless of the reasons for having them.

This bit of exploring has brought another idea to my attention. It seems that deeper self-awareness would require deeper knowledge in general. It also requires self-honesty. It doesn't require that one share that knowledge with anyone and I'm not certain that another person could necessarily tell how self aware someone else is. It could be guessed, but the accuracy of the guess would depend on how much self-honesty and knowledge a person reveals.

Oh! That brings me to another element of self-awareness. I think beyond self-honesty and general knowledge, other requirements would be motivation (that one thinks self-awareness is important) and ... I'm not sure what word to use or how to describe it exactly, so I'll tentatively say drive and/or curiosity. Curiosity seems more in the realm of motivation. One could be motivated by thinking it is "right" to be self-aware, but one could also just be curious (or both) (Note to myself to talk about curiosity and what it means in another post). Drive would be how much effort... how much one is willing to do to get something... to get self-awareness.

It seems another factor to keep in mind is fear. It can be a bit scary to uncover truths about oneself or morality especially. A difficulty can arise even for a person of integrity (meaning they do what they think is good). If they learn that perhaps something they've previously thought of as good is actually not good, it can feel yucky or like self-sacrifice to do the new good thing. A person can be tempted unconsciously (or consciously) to avoid growing or finding knowledge in that area.

I think this could be a good thing to do temporarily. Another strategy would be to proceed gently with thinking about it with the understanding that one doesn't have to act on or feel obligated to act on the new knowledge unless one is ready. Although it might be "ideal" to immediately act on new moral knowledge regardless of one's feelings about it, I think, usually, it's more important to develop a good attitude toward knowledge growth than to fix a particular mistake immediately. Of course, if it's a very important bit of knowledge, one might need to act on it before one feels completely comfortable, but then the importance itself will hopefully help with the motivation to act.

More on this later.

Brainstorming about Morality, Economics, and Politics

I have been avoiding discussions of economics and politics for the last few years since coming to think that Objectivism has it wrong. Actually, I think the metaphysics and parts of the epistemology are wrong, but it could be that I'll come to think of some of the other theories as right. (Note to myself to expand more on this in another post).

I had this idea that I'd think here about how to evaluate economic and political theories and go through a few that came to mind. I'm thinking now that I'd like to be a bit more systematic than that in the long run and really investigate the theories and realities out there and have some sort of opinion. In the past, I didn't really evaluate economic and political theories in any sort of organized way. I think this might be why I've felt stuck.

First, some thoughts on how to evaluate theories. I think I'd have to start with figuring out what problems there are to address.

What should the goals of a society be?
A society is made up of individuals. Maybe it would be better for individuals to have goals and to not really focus on a society.

Should their be a society at all?
It does seem like people are able to accomplish things together that they couldn't alone and that there are probably better and worse things to do and ways to accomplish things. I would say that their probably should be some sort of organized groupings of people.

Should a society have goals?
I think a society should probably aim for the financial and intellectual improvement of its members. I don't know if that should be a fundamental goal, but it might be part of a broader goal. I wanted to say something like a society should promote the "happiness" of its members.

What makes a person happy?
Some people can be happy about the pain of others. Some might be made temporarily happy by a candy bar. Some people, who have things and people in their life that others would find happy-making aren't happy.

What ought to make a person happy?

What is happiness?
It's feeling good. I think there might be two kinds of happiness. One is a shorter term, in the moment, evaluation that things are good. The other might be a feeling that things are generally good. Maybe there are multiple aspects to happiness - how one feels about oneself, how good others are around one, how good one's environment generally is. I suppose how good others are is really a subset of how good one's environment is. Then there's just luck. One could be in a generally nice environment and feel good about oneself and get hit by a car. I don't know if I'd blame that on one's environment or if it should be another category - luck. I suppose it could be a potential negative of one's environment.

Back to the previous question:
What ought to make a person happy?
Generally, I think a person should be happy about being good and about their environment improving and perhaps even having a minimal standard of goodness. Villagers in very poor places still might manage to be happy. Their environment might be enriched with good friends and the potential of a better life doesn't seem real/possible enough to them to be unhappy with their current situation. Maybe it's better to be ignorant of better environments unless one has some way of obtaining it for oneself.

What does it mean to be good?
That's part of what I'm trying to figure out. If people are generally happier by helping themselves and not expecting help or giving help much, then maybe that's what they should be doing. Then again, if people are happier when they're helping others and can expect to receive help when they want it, then that's what they should be doing. I'm not sure which way people "ought" to be. Maybe there's room for both or maybe there's yet some other way to think about it. I think a possible good way for an individual to be is to be willing to give help in ways they enjoy but to not expect help, to not be disappointed or upset if it's not available, but to be pleasantly surprised and appreciative when it is.

What about unwanted help?
I thought of this because sometimes I've not been very appreciative of help I've received. I think this happens when I didn't ask for help, but the person giving it expects appreciation. Actually, I think the idea of expecting appreciation might be wrong. It might be a good thing to give, but it isn't a good thing to expect. It might be valid that one prefers to give to those who are appreciative, but I suspect an attitude of generosity draws more appreciation and can be inspiring to others to be good in that way.

Should people really focus on being good specifically?
I have always thought so. Recently, I've come to realize that some people who don't seem to think about it much might be very good. I'm not sure how they came to be that way. Maybe they were exposed to good ideas early on and didn't see much reason to change them. It's hard for me to accept the idea, though, that they couldn't be even better. Maybe if all those naturally good people put some thought into it, they'd figure out how to help the rest of us. *smile*

I'm not sure all this brainstorming has really helped me figure out what I should think about politics or economics, but it does seem like something along the right direction.