Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for November 22nd, 2011

The unconscious speaks

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I’ve been purging my ancient stocks of grain and the like— is a godsend—and when I encountered the two (!) 5-lb (!) bags of chana dal, which only a day or two before I had carefully resettled in a new location, I contemplated them with some focus: these were getting on in years; though it is highly nutritious, and high in protein, and with the lowest glycemic index on my list, I sort of wasn’t that interested in soaking and cooking it. (It is split dried baby chickpeas.) And yet I had sought it out especially for its nutritional value and glycemic index.

I identified an odd feeling that contemplating the bags aroused. It had a definite emotional component but is hard to describe: a hint of smug ownership, fascination with the—what? “goodness density” of the food, and a desire to keep it rather than eat it.

This time I had an out: I was not going to dump the food in the trash (as I did with the rancid whole grains), but put it in the Food Bank. I put it in the bag I was filling, and moved on to find other foods suitable to donate: a jar of cooking sauce, another jar, and then I saw a recent and unopened jar of peanut butter. Unopened, because I really never eat peanut butter. I was thinking about giving it away to the food bank, and lo! I felt that same little feeling I had with the chana dal. I knew I wasn’t interested in eating that, but the feeling was that this was good to have on hand. The same desire to keep rather than eat.

Now that I thought was interesting: an identifiable (to me: i would recognize this feeling) emotional signature associated with two different foods, similar in that they seemed to be good to own and to have. I started looking around, and I spotted several things that brought forth the same emotional signature: some sea vegetables, a jar of agave syrup, and a jar of nopalitos.

I noticed that all of these are foods to which my attention was first directed at a time when I was reading Elizabeth Hiser’s The Other Diabetes. I had only recently been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, and it was a blow. I was determined to somehow get control of this, so I was hoovering up information like nobody’s business. So I had focused on these foods (and other foods of the type: nutrient-dense, low-glycemic) and somehow learned them with this little emotional tag—a tag that not only identified the “category” of the food but also acted to restrict my behavior with respect to the food: I could move it around, but I couldn’t throw it away.

As it turns out, that particular emotional signature (ES) is pretty easy for me to recognize, so I can “listen” or “watch” or—more neutrally—wait for it as I scan the foods I have. If I spot an old food that triggers this response, I know what to do: get rid of it. And I think the real value will be if I can use this response at the supermarket before I buy the food.

So I got to thinking about this and about how the emotions (anger, fear, disgust, and the more complex combinations, like my “permanent storage” tag on certain types of foods) seem less a reaction to what happens to us and more a way of directing our behavior. Anger triggers certain kinds of behavior, as does fear. Even my little ad hoc combination of emotions for the food-shaped items drove my behavior—and the complex of emotions that constituted the ES is like a “word” or a “sentence” in a language of emotion—that is, in which the “thoughts” are expressed in emotions rather than words..

So in this view, one’s emotions and feelings are simply the unconscious communicating to the conscious—and communicating directions and commands, controlling our behavior. And in fact we recognize it: “I thought about doing that, but it didn’t feel right.” or “This answer feels right. Let’s go with that.” and so on. Once you start to notice, you’ll find that our decision-oriented language is littered with emotion-related words. Why? Because emotions are how decisions are communicated from the unconscious to the conscious.

You expected maybe words? No, the unconscious had to work out its command-and-control mechanisms long before language came on the scene. This is a primitive arrangement, but it works quite well—otherwise we would not be here.

The way I visualize it: The unconscious evaluates the situation and comes to a decision. The decision is communicated directly to the conscious through the language of emotions, and the conscious self, knowing the goal, has a free rein on figuring out the best way to get there. What it lacks is freedom to choose the goal. Our choices are made by our unconscious.

You may protest that you made this or that major choice on strict criteria. Well, perhaps. But how did you decide which criteria were important to you? Didn’t you look at each potential criterion and see how you felt about it? Hmmm?

I think this holds together pretty well. And I’m looking for other emtoional signatures—odd little knots or clusters of emotion that seem to have a particular feeling when I consider some particular item or situation—and I’m finding a few. For example, I have a definite feeling when I think of attractive but unwise (for me) foods: ice cream, say, or some cake-and-whipped-cream confection.

Once you begin to be aware of the emotional direction you’re getting, it becomes easier to detect, and it turns out to be almost constant: we continually consult our feelings when thinking of what to do next: “What do I feel like doing? This….? No, that feels boring. That…? Yesh, I’m attracted to doing that.” It’s all feelings and emotions that steer the person like the driver of the car. Our conscious self plays the role of the headlights, watching what’s coming and figuring out reasons for what we find ourselves doing. A less mechanical analogy: the consciousness is in the howdah on the back of the (unconscious) elephant, which is going about its business and might in some cases pay attention to direction from the top.

UPDATE: As to whether it’s possible really for the unconscious to be actually in control, given all the stuff we do: take a look at the elephant, or at your pet cat. No consciousness there at all: for them, the “unconscious” is all that’s there. They manage lives that seem to reflect doing things on purpose, but it’s all done by what in us would be the unconscious self.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2011 at 9:07 pm

Posted in Daily life

Lightest material known

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That’s a chunk of it, sitting atop the dandelion. More info here.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2011 at 4:58 pm

Posted in Technology

Two Views of Pepper-Spray, Abuse of Power, and the Militarization of the Police

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Very interesting post by James Fallows with contributions from two people, one of whom is a police officer.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2011 at 3:33 pm

Posted in Government, Law

“This guy robbed me” app: Quite useful

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Man, they have an app for everything now, including one for catching robbers.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2011 at 3:12 pm

Posted in Daily life, Technology

Sentences that often precede bad events

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The most famous, of course, is “What could go wrong?” (Hint: Don’t ask a question to which you do not want the answer.) I was driving today and watching some other cars and thought of another: “Two can play at that game.”

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2011 at 1:38 pm

Posted in Daily life

Interesting WSJ column by Sarah Palin, supporting OWS

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Very interesting column with some good points. Recommended. Ms. Palin writes:

Mark Twain famously wrote, “There is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress.” Peter Schweizer’s new book, “Throw Them All Out,” reveals this permanent political class in all its arrogant glory. (Full disclosure: Mr. Schweizer is employed by my political action committee as a foreign-policy adviser.)

Mr. Schweizer answers the questions so many of us have asked. I addressed this in a speech in Iowa last Labor Day weekend. How do politicians who arrive in Washington, D.C. as men and women of modest means leave as millionaires? How do they miraculously accumulate wealth at a rate faster than the rest of us? How do politicians’ stock portfolios outperform even the best hedge-fund managers’? I answered the question in that speech: Politicians derive power from the authority of their office and their access to our tax dollars, and they use that power to enrich and shield themselves.

The money-making opportunities for politicians are myriad, and Mr. Schweizer details the most lucrative methods: accepting sweetheart gifts of IPO stock from companies seeking to influence legislation, practicing insider trading with nonpublic government information, earmarking projects that benefit personal real estate holdings, and even subtly extorting campaign donations through the threat of legislation unfavorable to an industry. The list goes on and on, and it’s sickening.

Astonishingly, none of this is technically illegal, at least not for Congress. Members of Congress exempt themselves from the laws they apply to the rest of us. That includes laws that protect whistleblowers (nothing prevents members of Congress from retaliating against staffers who shine light on corruption) and Freedom of Information Act requests (it’s easier to get classified documents from the CIA than from a congressional office).

The corruption isn’t confined to one political party or just a few bad apples. It’s an endemic problem encompassing leadership on both sides of the aisle. It’s an entire system of public servants feathering their own nests. . .

Continue reading.

I should point out that Rep. Louise Slaughter has proposed legislation to stop the insider trading, but most Representatives in Congress lack a conscience and will undoubtedly kill it.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2011 at 1:17 pm

Memo reveals how seriously powerful interests take OWS

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Chris Hayes reports:

This morning, Up With Chris Hayes unveiled a major scoop: the show obtained a written pitch to the American Bankers Association from a prominent Washington lobbying firm, proposing a $850,000 smear campaign against Occupy Wall Street.

The memo, issued by Clark Lytle Geduldig & Cranford, described the danger presented by the burgeoning movement, saying that if Democrats embraced Occupy, “This would mean more than just short-term political discomfort for Wall Street.… It has the potential to have very long-lasting political, policy and financial impacts on the companies in the center of the bullseye.” Furthermore, it notes that “the bigger concern…should be that Republicans will no longer defend Wall Street companies.”

CLGC was pitching an $850,000 campaign of opposition research and targeted campaigns against politicians who supported the movement. It was written by two firm partners with close ties to House Speaker John Boehner: Sam Geduldig joined CLGC before Boehner became speaker, and Jay Cranford left Boehner’s office this year to join the firm. Another partner at CLGC is reportedly “tight” with the speaker.

The American Bankers’ Association acknowledged it received the memo, but that it decided not to act on it. Still, as Chris notes, it’s extremely unlikely this is the only time Wall Street and its allies in Washington considered serious and well-funded opposition to Occupy Wall Street; it’s just one memo that his show happened to obtain.

In fact, we’ve seen . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2011 at 12:56 pm

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