Archive for March 26th, 2007

In My Head

(Before I get started, just so no-one gets alarmed, I do not hear voices. And even if I did, I would probably only pay attention to the ones that told me to slack off – killing people is waaaay too much hassle, and I’d rather just sleep in.)

This week’s NYT Magazine has an intriguing article about people who hear voices in their heads, but who aren’t necessarily psychotic or schizophrenic, and the ways in which they try to cope with them. The nature of the voices seems to vary widely from person to person: Some are companionable, some are adversarial. Some people view them as having potential insight to be heeded, some view them solely as tormentors. No-one really seems to know where they come from, or what cerebral mechanism creates them. I found one theory particularly intriguing:

In his 2003 book, “Madness Explained,” [psychology professor Richard] Bentall draws on the theory that auditory hallucinations may have their roots in what psychologists call “inner speech.” All of us, every day, produce a steady stream of silent, inward-directed speech: plans, thoughts, quotations, memories. People hear voices, Bentall argues, when they make faulty judgments about whether this inner speech is the product of their own consciousness or of something alien to their consciousness. Lapses in what researchers call “source monitoring” may occur for a number of reasons – because an individual is primed to expect a perception to occur, because the level of background noise makes it difficult to separate what is internal from what is external, because he or she is in a state of emotional arousal. But whatever the cause, Bentall writes, there is evidence to suggest that hallucinating “can be explained in terms of the same kinds of mental processes that affect normal perceptual judgments.”

This actually sounds pretty plausible to me – I can imagine my own internal monologue being rather alarming if I thought it was coming from someone else. It also reminds me of a mental version of this phenomenon, where people can actually lose track of their own body’s location, and perceive themselves as a ghost. I’m really talking out of my ass now, but I also wonder if in some cases it might be a milder variant of multiple personality disorder, where the extra personalities don’t have the strength to assume control, and can only howl at the primary personality through the bars of their cages.

This in turn reminded me of a fascinating science-fiction book by Greg Bear, titled Queen Of Angels. It’s primarily about the attempt to find the reasons for a famous writer’s psychotic break, during which he invited all of his students to his apartment and slit their throats one by one as they entered. What made this book so intriguing to me was its depiction of the way the mind works. Instead of being a single consciousness in charge of everything, the mind is split up into a complex hierarchy of subpersonalities and utility modules.

This conception really resonated for me, as it explained some quirks of my own mental functioning, aside from the obvious compartmentalization of personality, where I act differently depending on who I’m interacting with and where. My confidence in my abilities has always been rather shaky – people seem to think I’m good at stuff, and sometimes I’ll look back on papers or posts I’ve written or photos I’ve taken and think, “Hey, that was actually pretty good,” but most of the time when I sit down at the keyboard or pick up the camera, I don’t have high hopes.

I think the theory of mind in Queen Of Angels may actually explain this phenomenon, and it matches my internal perceptions perfectly: I have a central consciousness through which I perceive and interact with the world and maintain my internal narrative, and which is essentially “me,” but it can’t really do anything – it has no skills whatsoever. All of my skills and abilities are locked away in black-box modules which are only active when my central consciousness invokes them to carry out the task that they were designed for. The rest of the time, they’re tucked away and dormant. And since I can’t perceive anything outside my central consciousness when these modules are not active, I have a hard time believing that these skills really exist, and that I didn’t just get lucky somehow, or that they’ll be there the next time I call upon them.

Over time, my confidence has improved, simply because I have enough of a body of work that I’ve grown to trust in my abilities, even if I still can’t feel their presence. I’ve described this to other people, and for the most part I think I may be something of an extreme case – most people are more integrated and confident than I am, and feel their abilities more acutely, even when they’re not active. This is probably a good topic for audience participation: How do you perceive your mental interiors? Are all your talents right there in plain sight all the time, or do they just switch on when you need them, and then switch right back off again? Do you feel you have more or less confidence in yourself as a result? Inquiring subpersonalities want to know.

UPDATE: I should add, in case I don’t sound desperate-for-therapy enough already, that even when one of my various submodules is active, I still tend to perceive it as external to my central consciousness. Still within myself, certainly, but it’s coming from… somewhere else, feeding data into my somewhat-surprised central consciousness. My central consciousness is basically mask, narrator, and traffic cop.

17 comments March 26th, 2007 at 05:51pm Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Favorites,Science,Weirdness

Don’t Ask, Don’t Wig

Oh. My. God.

“GO BACK TO AFRICA AND DO YOUR GAY VOODOO LIMBO TANGO AND WANGO DANCE AND JUMP AROUND AND PRANCE AND RUN ALL OVER THE PLACE HALF NAKED THERE.”
— U.S. Army recruiter Sgt. Marcia Ramode, using her military email address to respond to Jersey City resident Corey Andrew, after Ramode learned Andrew was gay.

Um. Bad enough that our tax dollars are paying this crazy to spew all-caps racism and homophobia, but apparently Ramode can’t even distinguish between black homosexuals and Ted Nugent.

Follow the link for more insanity – most of it is screen caps that I can’t reproduce here. It’s all quite spectacular, and would be kinda hilarious if it weren’t for the context.

(h/t Atrios)

March 26th, 2007 at 11:55am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Iraq,Racism,Teh Gay,Wankers,War,Weirdness

Umm… Question?

Today in TPM Muckraker:

The Washington Post‘s front page story today is about a meeting in January between the head of the General Services Administration, Lurita Doan, top agency officials, and Scott Jennings, Karl Rove’s deputy. The topic: how the agency could help “our candidates.”

The GSA is the government’s landlord and heads up nearly $60 billion per year in government contracts. The meeting was about how to turn that buying power to Republican advantage.

The angle of the Post‘s story is that Doan’s eagerness to join the scheme (get Republicans to take credit for the opening of federal facilities around the country, while preventing Democrats like Nancy Pelosi from doing so) seems a blatant violation of the Hatch Act, a law that prevents federal employees for using their positions for politics.

Has the Bush administration ever done anything that wasn’t a blatant violation of the Hatch Act? Hell, we almost certainly invaded Iraq just so Dubya could look like a tough guy in ’04.

March 26th, 2007 at 11:42am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Bush,Corruption/Cronyism,Politics,Republicans,Rove,Wankers

Krugmania

Sweet, sweet music:

[A]t this point 2004 looks like an aberration, an election won with fear-and-smear tactics that have passed their sell-by date. Republicans no longer have a perceived edge over Democrats on national security — and without that edge, they stand revealed as ideologues out of step with an increasingly liberal American public.

…In 2002 equal numbers of Americans identified themselves as Republicans and Democrats, but since then the Democrats have opened up a 15-point advantage.

Part of the Republican collapse surely reflects public disgust with the Bush administration. The gap between the parties will probably get even wider when — not if — more and worse tales of corruption and abuse of power emerge.

But polling data on the issues, from Pew and elsewhere, suggest that the G.O.P.’s problems lie as much with its ideology as with one man’s disastrous reign.

For the conservatives who run today’s Republican Party are devoted, above all, to the proposition that government is always the problem, never the solution. For a while the American people seemed to agree; but lately they’ve concluded that sometimes government is the solution, after all, and they’d like to see more of it.

Which is ironic indeed, considering that no administration has ever done such a convincing job of casting the government as the root of all evil. Perhaps it’s only Republican government that’s the problem…

Consider, for example, the question of whether the government should provide fewer services in order to cut spending, or provide more services even if this requires higher spending… [I]n 1994, the year the Republicans began their 12-year control of Congress, those who favored smaller government had the edge, by 36 to 27. By 2004, however, those in favor of bigger government had a 43-to-20 lead.

And public opinion seems to have taken a particularly strong turn in favor of universal health care. Gallup reports that 69 percent of the public believes that “it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure all Americans have health care coverage,” up from 59 percent in 2000.

(…)

So what does this say about the political outlook? It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future. But at this point it looks as if we’re seeing an emerging Republican minority.

After all, Democratic priorities — in particular, on health care, where John Edwards has set the standard for all the candidates with a specific proposal to finance universal coverage with higher taxes on the rich — seem to be more or less in line with what the public wants.

Republicans, on the other hand, are still wallowing in nostalgia — nostalgia for the days when people thought they were heroic terrorism-fighters, nostalgia for the days when lots of Americans hated Big Government.

Many Republicans still imagine that what their party needs is a return to the conservative legacy of Ronald Reagan. It will probably take quite a while in the political wilderness before they take on board the message of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s comeback in California — which is that what they really need is a return to the moderate legacy of Dwight Eisenhower.

Not sure I would ever have thought to Ike and Ah-nold in the same sentence, but I understand his meaning. Unfortunately for the Republicans (and everyone else, really), they’ve trapped themselves. They’ve built built a loud, powerful, and very hard-right media and megachurch apparatus to push an extremist right-wing agenda – so what happens if the GOP finally sees the writing on the wall and tries to tack left? Will they be Savaged by their own creations, or can they still exert enough control to get them to switch over to new talking points? Does anyone else have a hard time picturing Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter or James Dobson suddenly morphing into clones of Joe Klein or David Broder?

I think such a move would be terribly confusing and disruptive for Republican voters, and the party could well end up openly at war with itself. Or they could just stay where they are and continue alienating sane people until they become the right-wing version of the Green Party. I’m okay either way, really…

March 26th, 2007 at 11:15am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Democrats,Elections,Politics,Republicans

Ohhh My…

Please tell me I did not just read this…

Even Elvis didn’t try this in Vegas. Michael Jackson has been reviewing plans for a 50-foot robotic replica of himself should he launch a show there.

“It would be in the desert sands,” said Mike Luckman of Luckman Van Pier, consultants to large entertainment companies. “Laser beams would shoot out of it so it would be the first thing people flying would see. Neon is wonderful, but it’s old school.” Luckman’s partner, Andre Van Pier, who designed the futuristic spacesuits worn recently by Bono and U2 at a benefit concert in New Orleans, designed the robot. He has also sketched out a stage set of a giant audience-interactive video game with human cyborgs controlled by the audience. Said Luckman: “Michael’s looked at the sketches and likes them.”

I think the frickin’ lasers are what put it over the top from Vegas Show to Sci-Fi Saturday.

4 comments March 26th, 2007 at 07:29am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Weirdness

Monday Media Blogging – Random Weirdness

This is actually pretty damn cool:

Um, a beatboxing flute player:

I take absolutely no responsibility for this:

March 26th, 2007 at 06:40am Posted by Eli

Entry Filed under: Monday Media Blogging


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