Archive for the 'control' Category

What can look like magical thinking in science

March 8, 2015

I think the material, physical world is a consequence of other aspects of the universe — maybe of other dimensions, of an immaterial realm, of a material but less substantial realm, I’m not sure how I would characterize it but probably as layers which get less dense as one goes up, sort of analogous to layers of the physical atmosphere.  I don’t think the immaterial world is an artifact of our physical selves, of our biology or of our chemical processes or of our thought processes or of our “imaginations.”

So when I read yet another article approaching something like anxiety as having existence because it is reflected in brain chemistry, I think “Here we go again, around and around the same old mulberry bush.”

I think the idea that we can eliminate anxiety by eliminating its scaffolding is unrealistic.  I don’t think the processes are transitive — while I do think we play out in the physical world issues that exist in less tangible realms, I think we are like echos or reverberations.  So I don’t think trying to modify the echo or the reverberation is going to change the original tone.   “On earth as it is in heaven” may be true, but “in heaven as we try to make it on earth” I don’t think flies.  The idea that the process works in both directions — is transitive —  I think has some dynamics in common with superstitious beliefs and practices: that manipulation of one thing will lead to changes in another, and hence we can control the latter through our control of the former.

That’s not my understanding of how things fit together and interrelate, for what it’s worth.

What I think we end up doing by trying to change things like changing the physical scaffolding for anxiety is, instead of eliminating problems, changing how the issue becomes manifested in the physical world.  We may even eliminate a particular disease, a particular manifestation, but a different kind of problem I think is also born when we do so.  Maybe drug-resistant infections are a more obvious example, but I also wonder if autism, and its increased incidence, and dementia, and its increased incidence, can be helpfully thought about that way.


March 1, 2015

I was wondering the other day whether some atheism has roots in the person’s sensitivity to feeling controlled, that their concept of a divine force gets mixed up with a perception that greater power is (necessarily) about controlling others.

I can also imagine some people having a similar problem with what we call “surrender:”  it could get confused with something humiliating or unpleasant, since when humans do it with each other that seems to be a part of what’s involved.

My point is that talking about divinity or surrender won’t make any headway with someone who perceives those things in a negative way, even if that negativity is a product of their own outlook — the point at which the speaker and the audience diverge occurred at point much prior to the discussion of divinity or surrender.


April 24, 2014

I very much appreciated Richard Rohr’s reminder this morning that “Without all the inner voices of resistance and control, it is amazing how much you can get done and not get tired.”  That’s in today’s Daily Meditation.

Gita and I have talked about this, too — couldn’t do it without “letting go” and “turning it over.”

Now, I am perfectly prepared to believe that I could do this better.  I put up resistance (like a kid pushing the spinach to the side of their plate), I fret, I get ahead of myself, I try to get other people to act in a way to prevent a future problem (like trying to get them to correct, before it is filed, a tax return that has mistakes in it).

I think I see two additional issues, in addition to “letting go” and “turning it over,” but, as I said, I am prepared to discover the issue lies with me.

One is volume.

I just end up with too many things on my plate as a result of being open to and able to do caretaking.  The inflow can feel as if it exceeds my processor’s capacity.

The second is society’s (unreasonable) demands.

The two kind of intertwine.

I once heard someone say that she thought of the nursing home in which her mother lived as being like “one big alcoholic.”  She meant that the institution could be as difficult to deal with as a human alcoholic, and with similar patterns of behavior.  I’ve felt similarly about other institutions, including schools, hospitals, social services, the justice system.  Whether it’s damaging behavior by the institution to a loved one or demands from the institution on me (as a caretaker), it can feel as if what I am called upon to do exceeds the amount of energy I can give it without too much damage to myself.

It’s no secret that patients in hospitals and nursing homes who have caretakers of their own weighing in as case managers do better, get better care, etc.

So where to draw the line between detachment and involvement?

It’s not just the wisdom of knowing the difference between what we can change and what we can’t, it’s also putting a boundary on how much of ourselves we can deploy without too much depletion.  Inflow from prayer and meditation certainly helps, but I think outflow can exceed inflow if care is not taken.  On the other hand, there is an instinct or desire to try to prevent or ameliorate suffering of others.  Part of that is wrapped up in trying to avoid pain — something we are encouraged to do by our norms and our survival instinct.  I think there is also a part of helping others in some situations that is from pressure from social norms more directly, regardless of where we think we should be drawing lines and regardless of inner guidance about where to observe boundaries, of what’s ours to do and what’s not.

My sense is that we have with our current social organization shifted around responsibility like a hot potato or like a shell in a game in which something is being hidden beneath one of a number of inverted cups.  Some techniques we seem to me to use to do this include, for example, narrowly defining our piece of the project and expecting others to do more;  littering, on the justification that one little piece won’t hurt;  setting systems up in such a way that requires a person without authority or control to have responsibility.

I don’t know if human free will can “clog up the plumbing” of the system of human interaction and society, or whether it’s the case that any system we devise can work, so long as those who have to use it interface adequately with divine help.  But I admit that sometimes I think we have developed a system that doesn’t work, especially for the long run.

For me, the questions are relevant to the issue of how much better a situation can be expected to go — because I am often hearing from others that things could be better if I just _______.  I have run through a fair number of _______, and I am here to say they do not necessarily work as advertized.  Maybe this is why 12-step programs refrain from advice and why the most general helpful source I found after Willy died was actually Al-Anon, the program for family and friends of alcoholics, although Willy was not a qualifier of mine.

At any rate, I conclude for now that working on my part of the equation, so long as I do it gently, can’t hurt, but that I should also be wary of assuming that optimizing my own part will result in things going better in other ways.

Re-establishing the status quo

September 6, 2013

Nowadays we can get tracking information for our packages so we can monitor the progress of their transit.  At first this seemed to be a gain.

But now I feel that I’m back at square one.

Jordan ordered coursebooks from his campus bookstore.  He commutes and having them delivered here isn’t actually very expensive and in his case makes sense.

Some came.  Some didn’t.  But all were issued tracking labels.  Some never progressed in the system beyond that.  The bookstore says, “They must have fallen off the truck” (sic).  Jordan took an hour yesterday to get replacement copies from the store, in person.

This morning I was checking the status of a different package, and again, we’ve got a shipping label acknowledgement by the carrier.  I called the vendor, and they assured me this was normal, that the package was actually in transit with the carrier, and will indeed arrive next week.  I asked them how they could be sure, and cited by way of example the recent experience of Jordan’s books.  The customer service agent said that the lack of information that the package has made it into the carrier’s system is normal.

So tracking information has now become somewhat random.  Maybe it gives one real information, maybe it is misleading.  It is not dependable, does not give us a basis for a realistic expectation of whether the package will arrive.  It does not seem to me that it leaves us better off than we were before we had access to it, at least when the tracking information gets stuck at this stage of “label created, not yet with carrier.”

But there’s always, for me, the possibility of an analogy.  There’s always a lesson I can find in my circumstances.  The situation is not a useless exercise in frustration or in unmet expectations from what technology purports to do (and maybe even did for a time).

Here it could be how psychism interferes with faith.

For example, there’s a spiritual story about a person who “tracks” other people with some sort of supernatural powers we might call psychic.  They eavesdrop and insert messages on a frequency most people don’t notice because they don’t have enough awareness to pick out within their thoughts and emotions these intruded thoughts and emotions as not being their own.

During a subsequent incarnation, these psychic people have that same ability, but without the quality of discernment as to which individual they are communicating with.

They eventually figure this out and are quite indignant.  They think they’ve got defective machinery.

But they don’t.  They have machinery helpful for a different task and helpful for teaching them not to rely on psychism to navigate their lives.  The “different task” is empathic healing, in which it is quite helpful not to know the identity of the person being healed.  And not being able to triangulate and strategize about what move to make based on inside information forces the person back onto faith and reliance on internal guidance from their core.  They can’t track the package, or even know it will get there, they can only do their part and then wait and see, until they receive feedback actually addressed to them; and in the meantime, they can (only) do what their guidance suggests.

But they cry out and complain and sit down and refuse to participate.  Or they demand extra help to compensate for their inability to untangle the strands of what they hear and attribute them accurately to individuals.  Because in addition to being able to undertake empathetic healing, the person in the story is also capable of being one of those “mixing bowls” (like Plato mentions somewhere), and can mix various strands of energy or information in a way that forms a new whole, but they don’t realize that’s what that talent is for, either — they see it, again, as a defective device for manipulating people.  They don’t understand their function, probably because it isn’t part of the belief system of their culture.

Along comes the IT support, the spiritual geek squad, and they check out the equipment (by trying it out themselves).  And they report that it works just fine, it’s just not meant for tracking other people or manipulating them or building social relationships, it’s meant for healing shattered souls, including by creating pieces that may be missing and lost.

I have no idea whether I will receive my package.  I have no idea where it is.  I can only wait.  While I wait, I can stop scouring my external environment for clues and listen to what I hear within.

The package in question is a representation of Kwan Yin.  She would not be who she is through means of trying manipulate on the basis of pieces of external information or trying to manipulate other people.  She hears the cries of others as cries welling up within her, she navigates and heals by means of looking deep within herself and connecting with those forces.


February 28, 2013

This Amazon Cloud business is full of surprises for a dinosaur like me.  I’ll select a song and then go off to do something in another tab in my browser, and all of sudden some other song comes on that I haven’t selected and had no idea I ever acquired on a CD.

I could try to learn how the website works, but I kind of like the surprises.  As I was saying the other day, sometimes it’s quite nice to let somebody else, or something else, create the playlist.

“If, then” statements

December 4, 2012

I was thinking this morning about how empty promises are predicated on a structure that is similar to the more neutrally expressed “if, then” statement of computer programming.  It’s been a very long time since I did any computer programming, but I remember such statements as something like, “If X is an integer, then Y=2X.”

I think the underlying point in the outcry against marshmallow experiments in my previous posts is really that we should learn to live in the X part of the statement, period.  Living in the X part should not be predicated on Part Y ever occurring or even on a sense that it should occur.  In the context of a neutral statement, this does not seem particularly difficult:  the state of being an integer seems a fine one to live in, in and of itself.  Who needs 2x?  It’s when the if-part implies a difficult situation that we start looking forward to the then-part:  once I finish shoveling this snow, I will go inside and dry off and have a nice, hot cup of tea and a snack.”  Innocuous, but still, looking forward to Y.

Shoveling snow isn’t (usually) so bad, and we usually know whether we have the wherewithal to make a cup of tea and have some cookies in the pantry.  We know whether we can have that snack and we (usually) can control it.  We might get an emergency phone call as soon as we get inside, but that’s not usual.  We can control the factors well enough to gloss over any risk that the promise won’t be fulfilled.

But promises made by others to induce us to get through something very difficult can be dangerous, I think, especially when there is no supporting evidence that they are true and the person making them has a personal reason for wanting to believe them regardless of whether they really are.  I would much rather find a way to tolerate living in X, living in the if-part as the state of things for now and maybe forever.  I can still remain open to the possibility that Y will happen, but I am not depending on it.  Maybe I’m even ignoring the entire apodosis (main clause in a conditional statement; the if-clause is called the protasis).

One tool for (tolerating) living in X is detachment, which can start with distancing oneself from the difficulty by just naming it and recognizing one’s reaction to it.  It’s a trustworthy tool, it does not require one’s going out on an emotional limb that may not hold.

It’s interesting:  Moses knew he would never enter the promised land himself, that fulfillment of the promise was for his people.  (He would only see the promised land.)  And yet he found a way to tolerate the wanderings through the desert nonetheless.  It wasn’t through a hope that he would find personal physical pleasures, and the story doesn’t have “God” being that cruel as to promise him such and then not fulfill it.  The (future) welfare of his people might have been marshmallow enough for him, but that is an altruistic posture — it’s not, I don’t think, the same emotional posture as expecting personal physical gratification.

People who predicate their lives on a gratification model perfect a set of skills.  But it’s not the only set of skills in the world and it may not be apt for another person’s life.  For some people, learning to live in the difficult, X part without regard to any particular outcome, without regard for the Y part ever occurring for them, is the challenge.  And it’s part of the challenge for them not to be taken in by other people’s promises of Y.  Unfortunately, they don’t always have wax in their ears, like Odysseus’s sailors, and their being tied to the mast is only a metaphor for their own inner strength to remain willing to do what serves, come what may.

Illusion of control

October 21, 2012

Maybe people who want to feel in control of their lives ought to thank all the people who who behave in ways known to be deleterious to health.  Because now many people easily say, well, those people are likely to get sick, therefore if I’m not doing those things I am not likely to.  I agree they are less likely to, but I think all too often this blends into thinking that illness can be avoided, period.  That, in turn, gives rise to blaming people for their illnesses, for being surprised when they themselves develop one despite right living, etc.  But I’m wondering if in the meantime people feel more in control and that that feeds a desire.  If so, they should thank all the people overeating, overdrinking, smoking, etc. for letting them believe the absence of such behaviors ensures health.

Actually, I don’t really believe that at all, but I do think people ought to rethink their need to victimize people who are victimizing their own bodies, and not confuse that with general principles of how people become ill.

What attitude we take towards people whose behavior is conducive to the development of medical conditions I think is a hard question.  I guess I wouldn’t ignore the likelihood that the behavior is a maladaptive attempt at self-protection from something and try to ameliorate that and not just go after the behavior in a condemnatory way.  And I’d probably also want to go after behaviors in society that support the maladaptive behavior.  For example, we’ve changed the rhythms of our lives so much that many people rely on convenience and processed foods that appeal to appetite as much as they do to hunger.  I suspect such foods are more conducive to overeating.  While most people use them responsibly, I suppose we could say, maybe we should work on revising the rhythms of our lives into something that doesn’t require such short-cuts to food preparation.

I think we expect too much of human ability not to seek out pleasure.  There was an old experiment using pigeons, an experiment Larry Tribe talked about at the outset on his Constitutional Law class, as I recall it.  In the experiment, pigeons had an opportunity to do something that would prevent themselves in the future from doing something against their interests, and they learned to do that (the analogy was to our Constitution but I forget the details of the pigeon experiment).  I think with many of our innovations we give people the opportunity to do things against their interests and that the feedback in the system isn’t adequate to teach them not to do it before there’s great damage to themselves or to society.

Addressing fear

August 16, 2012

I made a comment to a comment, this morning, to a Gail Collins column about Paul Ryan’s plans for Medicare.  I talked about the fear I perceive lying behind Republican conservatism, and how instead of working on dismantling the fear itself people try to protect against the thing they fear.  I mentioned at the end of my reply how I think liberals don’t address or effectively address conservatives’ fear.

I thought I’d elaborate here on my thoughts about effectively addressing somebody else’s fear.

For example, telling someone to stop feeling fear isn’t particularly effective, I don’t think, and it usually comes across as pretty harsh and not very compassionate, which may exacerbate a fear reaction.  Sometimes helping someone shine a flashlight under the bed helps, or explaining how others have dealt with an analogous fear gives them a needed roadmap.  Sometimes it is merely a matter of exposing the person to the thing feared, of having them taste the green eggs and ham, in effect.  Sometimes it helps for the person to identify an event or image that seems to be at the root of their fear and to re-examine that situation in order to see it differently:  maybe not all large dogs are unfriendly, and maybe even the one who seemed so was just being territorial and reacting with his own anxiety to feeling challenged, while tied up in front of the house he was trying to protect, by someone who didn’t speak “dog.”

I guess, with regard to fear, conservatives, and liberals, I might start with an issue like guns or immigration and try to address people’s fears directly, respectfully, and compassionately without contributing to them or endorsing them.  I think fears can be dismantled or at least reduced, and from that would flow a change in attitude toward the need for such hypervigilant self-protection.  I think that might change the policy debates on these issues more substantially than other approaches.

Health control

June 25, 2012

I was reading yet another person’s comment on line that took the attitude that people have control over whether they are, and stay, healthy.  I think these people are conflating two separate issues:  whether we can worsen our health and whether we can ensure that we have good health.  We can worsen our health, but we can’t be assured of having continued good health, even if we do everything right.  I don’t think that’s a reason not to try to encourage good heath in ourselves, but we should have reasonable expectations of ourselves and others about maintaining good health.

Divine intervention

April 29, 2012

I read something the other day that gave me pause, in part over the substance and in part because it showed me how different my thinking seems to be from others’.

It had to do with Paul Krugman’s “Confidence Fairy,” and he said something to the effect that people who believe in her think she’ll come as a reward for “fiscal virtue.”

I had no idea that this was the dynamic people imagined.  I assumed that people thought eventually the Confidence Fairy would come when she felt things warranted her intervention and would instill confidence in business owners out of the kindness of her heart, perhaps by re-framing things as I think the Wizard of Oz did.   Because confidence I don’t think comes to us from a sense of having been good and deserving — plenty of such people don’t have it, while plenty of people who are pretty clear on their having behaved badly have plenty of confidence — I don’t think a sense of virtue produces confidence, I think it is a frame of mind we access or not depending on other factors.

This contrast between fairy intervention on the basis of earning it through behavior and receiving it for the fairy’s own reasons led me to think about different models for divine help or intervention.  I don’t think we receive it because we racked up enough points to compel it, or that if we don’t receive it we’re not virtuous, I think a big factor is whether the desired help serves our good and the greater good.

If we need help locating our confidence, I think we can get that, but I think it probably means facing our fears rather than demonstrating our virtue.