I’m learning who I am

Genius, Self

No doubt that takes an entire lifetime.  But I can certainly see, at 32, that it can’t be shown to me by a single year, or a single test, or a single decade of my life.  It’s exactly like learning any other subject.  At first you know nothing about it, then you get these little peeks where everything you know is characterized by being just a little slice of the domain…but it’s still everything you know about it, so in your own mind that indicates a certain significance.  And I’m able to see now, from some real experience, how knowing something in your mind and knowing it in your bones are, even when they are knowing the same thing, profoundly different.  I might have known some aspect of me, empirically, when I was younger, but living with it and encountering it over a decade or more of life, is knowing it in a different way.  Plus, the more races you run in, the more accurate measurements you get about a runner.  If you and I run two races, and we each win one, then it seems we’re evenly matched.  But if 15 years pass, and now we’ve run 100 races, sometimes we see a difference.  We learn more about ourselves, because we’ve seen more of ourselves.  Solomon wished to be wise…what else would a wise person wish for?  But my wish is to live a long time, because the more time I have to do things, the more time I have to learn, the more time I have to grow and change, the more life I can give and receive…at least that’s how it seems to me, mostly, at 32.  I can imagine feeling differently about that in the future, and I suspect I will.

One time I was seeing a doctor and she suggested I take a certain medication, because she thought I was bipolar.  I didn’t take the medication, and whether or not I’m bipolar isn’t the point of this story.  The point of the story is this: I asked her, how I could possibly know if I was bipolar, since at that stage in time (and this is still true at the time of this writing), bipolar was somewhat like diabetes in that its diagnosis was not hardly empirical…the diagnosis for that condition was highly subjective.  She said—and this is brilliant—she said: why don’t you try taking the medicine, and if it helps you, then you’re bipolar.  If there is medicine designed to treat a condition, and you take the medicine and it helps you, then in a sense it doesn’t matter how well-defined or poorly-defined the condition is…if the cure for cancer cured you, then you had cancer.

I can doubt that I’m intelligent, I can have trouble accepting than I’m more intelligent than you, but if I employ a strategy that would be useful to employ for someone who was intelligent, and it helps me, then I am intelligent…whatever intelligent means.  If refusing to go along with the idea that I am someone’s intellectual equal, in a relationship, improves the situation, operationally, then I took some medicine that helped me, and that’s good, whatever the quality of the definition of the condition I’m addressing.

Is it too much to expect others to think logically?

Genius, Self

As logically as me?  Yes.  It is too much to expect.  I’ve been approaching the world as though I would be doing someone an injustice, a disservice, or that I would be insulting them by acknowledging the difference in logical capability between us.  I can still love you.  That doesn’t mean I have to talk to you.  And if I talk to you, that doesn’t mean I have to approach the conversation as through we were equals in terms of our ability to think logically.  I have never in my life met someone who could think as logically as me, and only 5 or so people have come close.  You can see how that could make a person feel angry, or lonely.  I don’t talk about this much, and after these few posts, I doubt I’m going to talk about it much more publicly.  When I say that it is vastly more likely that you will be struck by lighting than to meet, at random, someone who is smarter than me, I know some people will use that as evidence to conclude that I’m egotistical, narcissistic, or deluded in some way.  The irony of the situation is that there’s probably nothing that can be said to such people to convince them otherwise.  This is just statistics.  I’m smarter than everyone I’ve ever met, worked with (every coworker, every supervisor, every company owner), everyone in my family, everyone I’ve ever been to school with, every adult that served as a role model to me, and every teacher I’ve ever had.  And IQ is only one dimension of a person, and I have some serious critiques of what I understand IQ tests to do.  But I’ve been wearing myself out trying to have conversations with people about things about which they know nothing, in domains in which they are unable to function.  Partially it’s because I’ve feared that doing otherwise would be an insult or an injustice to the other person.  I’m trying to re-program myself to be more rational about this.  So I don’t frustrate myself.  I’m going to stay out of intellectual collaborations or debates with people who can’t play on my level.  And when people who aren’t on my level claim that they are, I’m sorry, I love you, but I’m just going to laugh and walk away.

So how do I do my life differently than I have been?

Genius, Self

Given this, how do I do my life differently than I have been?

  • Never worry about quality, because the quality will be there.  My goal in finishing my PSAT was to finish the test first, not to get the highest score.  I accomplished my goal: I finished first.  The quality was there anyway.  I think I can essentially do whatever I want without concern for quality, as I have a machine that is taking care of quality for me, without my thinking about it, without involving the part of me that is my consciousness.
  • Expect that I will learn specific pieces of knowledge from other people, but that I will be able to think about them more supply than the people I learn from.  In general, know that someone is going to tell me about their life, their problem, their situation, their area of discipline, and that they will know all sorts of facts and have all sorts of experiences that I will be able to learn from, but that when it comes to thinking about those facts and experiences, I will have more processing ability than the person who I’m learning from, and so, ultimately, I will be able to do more, in terms of thinking, with what I learn from them, than they can.
  • Work in copy-able, timeless, external mediums.  I already do this, but it’s essential that I continue to do so, because what I consume and what I produce will necessarily be in mediums that transcend the individual who created them in order for me to have the greatest chance of consuming material produced by people I will never meet but who I am most like, mentally, and producing material for the same.  Live in those mediums.  Expect more from them than I can expect to give to or receive from randomly-selected individuals that I meet in the flesh and blood.  Understand that the world isn’t fully connected.  That there’s a quite limited scale to the time that an individual lives and to the connections they make during that time.  News travels much farther than an individual.
  • Don’t expect intellectual company from people I meet, regardless of the context in which I meet them.  There is almost no context in which I can expect that the context will have any significant effect on my ability to find a collaborative match.  This includes work contexts that are widely considered to be challenging, it includes artistic contexts, it includes virtually every context.
  • Accept, profoundly, that IQ isn’t something people can control.  Not mine.  Not anyone’s.  Give everyone a break for being who they are.  Think of it as ok that I am who I am, mentally, and that people I meet, whether family, friends, or workmates, are who they are mentally.  None of us can change it.  It’s ok.  Treat people nicely: no one is trying to sleight me by being less intelligent than me, it’s not a personal affront, it’s a hard, unchangeable fact of life that neither I, nor the other party, can do a thing about, no matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, no matter how noble or horrible our intentions.  Think of it like blood type, maybe, or height for basketball players.  If you’re 8′ tall, you’re 8′ tall, so play basketball.  But don’t get mad at people of average height, and, also: don’t pretend to play serious games with them.
  • For family members, redefine love, in my own mind, to have nothing to do with authentic intellectual connection.  Don’t require one for the other.  Start using the word “love” in more the way other people use it.  It doesn’t mean equal footing, it might mean connection but it doesn’t mean symmetric mental connection.
  • Think of myself as a special-needs adult.  I am.  I am as profoundly brilliant as some are profoundly retarded.  I need to keep in mind, to understand, that in some ways I am as unable to participate in the normal mental world of people as someone who is profoundly mentally retarded.  I need to go easy on myself in those ways, to give myself a break, to not expect of myself that it will ever be easy or sensible of me to participate in average ways in things like work or school.  I’m about as likely to find intellectual equals at my job as someone with an IQ of 40.  It just isn’t going to happen.  So stop trying.

batting around a dead mouse, hoping that the mouse will play

Genius, Self

After much discussion, I’ve come to see that I’m in massive, massive denial about who I am in relation to most of the people I interact with, in terms of intelligence.  One of my wise teachers told me, today, that she sees in my behavior something like a cat batting around a dead mouse, hoping that the mouse will play.  Or a child talking to a stuffed animal, hoping that it will become real and talk back.  …Not understanding that my hopes and dreams for the mouse, or the stuffed animal, while noble, while wonderful, are going to have no effect on their target.  It’s very hard for me to accept that; I have vast denial and sharp stigmas that prevent me from seeing my folly there.  I’ve been in denial about it, not wanting to believe that there is a boundary that I cannot force the other party to cross.  And I have been trying to force the other party to cross it, and hurting us both in the process.  But I’ve been wrong.  As noble as it is to want the field to be even, it isn’t.  My wise teacher suggested that given the width and length and depth of this particular chasm, that taking a serious look at what it means for me to live in such a world would be something I would need to do to find peace in this life.  What are the implications, for me, that the mouse is never going to wake up, that the stuffed animal is never going to talk back?  I don’t know the answers to that, but I’m starting by admitting to myself that for the vast majority of my pairings, these metaphors fit.  Sometimes I confuse the issue by insulting the other party, or else I deny to myself the real nature of the situation (because it scares me…because I don’t want it to be true…I don’t want the world—my world—to be like that).  The truth is that I love these mice, these stuffed animals, and, as such, insulting them doesn’t make me happy.  I have to give that up.  And I am doing that.  But, equally, I have to give up my denial that, between me and 99.999% of people, the IQ field is slanted in my favor.  In some peace-loving, social-justice sense, I don’t want that to be the case, and I’ve become expert at denying that that is the case.  But I’m wrong.  And my denial is causing me problems.  And I want to leave it behind.  The conversation I want to have, the interaction I strive to create, the play I want to enjoy (if measured solely in terms of intelligence—which it isn’t) will only happen with about 1 in 100,000 people I meet.  Those are crazy odds.  That means that when I lived in Dayton, Ohio, there might have been one person smarter than me in Dayton, Ohio…seen in that light it is not that surprising that my PSAT score was the highest not only in my class but was the highest score of all the students who ever took the PSAT at my high school…in the history of the school.  You’re not supposed to talk about things like this, because it alienates other people.  And please understand I don’t want to alienate people—I want them to play with me!  But, on the whole, they don’t, they can’t, they won’t; what most people do with me is marginalize me because they feel threatened by me.  This is in no way my aim…this is in no way desirable to me…I want to play, and people who are scared can’t relax enough to play (this destroys work dynamics—when I do well, my coworkers don’t like it, because they think it makes them look bad—when I show up, the guy who was previously the smartest guy in the room, isn’t).  Fortunately, there are almost 70,000 people in the world who are smarter than me—unfortunately, if you know me (randomly), I’m almost certainly the smartest person you’ll ever meet (if you live in the United States for 80 years and meet 1,250 randomly-selected people each year, it’s 16 times more likely that you’ll be struck by lightning in your lifetime than that you’ll meet someone smarter than me in that same time).  DaVinci had it much worse, James Woods has it worse, but still, those are pretty rough odds.  I don’t want this to be a reality of my world, but it is.  Denying it is causing me trouble: in denying it, I continue to allow myself to expect that certain mice will play, that certain stuffed animals will talk back.  But they won’t, they won’t, they just won’t.  As a kid, some of the trouble I experienced was as a result of being smarter than the adults I knew.  As an adult, being smarter than every coworker and every classmate I’ve ever encountered, has been a problem (for me).  I’ve kept hoping that I would encounter a coworker that I could collaborate with.  I’ve been mad at them when they wouldn’t—but it isn’t wouldn’t…it’s couldn’t.  I want to get through my denial about this and look at it rationally, by the numbers.  It’s not going to happen, it’s never going to happen.  Miracles are possible, but I can’t make them happen.  I don’t worry about getting struck by lightning, and most of us would consider that rational…not to worry about that, because there’s about a 1/6000 chance that that will happen to me…which for most people means not only will they never get struck by lightning but that additionally they’ll never even know someone who gets struck by lightning.  By similar rationale (but with significantly more precipitous odds) I should not expect that I will ever encounter a coworker who is on my level intellectually, or that I will marry a woman who is smarter than me.  I have never thought I would need the latter to be happily married.  I have somehow expected that the former could happen.  Statistically, though, it’s so unlikely that it would make more sense for me to worry about being struck by lighting…much more sense.  So I need to forget about it.  And with those folks I know who I’ve been batting around like dead mice, hoping they’ll play…I need to give up on having the discussion I’d like to have.  I’ve been hopefully deluding myself.  It’s never going to happen.  Knowing that, thinking about it rationally, I hope I can stop talking to stuffed animals and do my life a little differently.  Otherwise, says my wise teacher, it’s like having an 800-pound gorilla in the room and simply pretending it’s not there.

“Bipolar Youths’ Misreading of Faces May be Risk Marker for Illness”

Philosophy, Psychology

nih: “Youngsters with pediatric bipolar disorder and healthy peers who have first-degree relatives with bipolar disorder share the same difficulty labeling facial emotions, NIMH researchers have discovered. Reporting in the February 2008 online edition of the American Journal of Psychiatry, the scientists suggest that the facial emotion recognition impairment might be part of an inherited predisposition to the illness.

Two related imaging studies traced face emotion labeling deficits in youngsters with pediatric bipolar disorder to weak connections and differences in activity of a brain circuit responsible for interpreting the meaning of social and emotional stimuli. Evidence suggested that the differences were stable traits, unrelated to effects of medications or mood states.

Since we know more about the circuitry of basic processes like facial emotion processing than we do about the circuitry of complex psychiatric symptoms like mania and depression, it serves as a kind of Rosetta Stone for unearthing new clues,” explained Ellen Leibenluft, M.D., chief of the intramural NIMH Section on Bipolar Spectrum Disorders, Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program, which is conducting the studies.

Understanding such specific vulnerabilities in emotional processing may someday lead to improved treatment, diagnosis, and ultimately prevention of bipolar disorder in children, say the researchers.”


I think this is a fascinating piece of research. I happened upon this while researching face-recognition from an artificial intelligence point of view, though I do happen to be particularly interested in discussion of bipolar disorder as well.

I predict that some of what we now think of as bipolar disorder will, after additional progression of history, be viewed not as an illness but as a step forward in human development.

Even if you don’t buy that prediction, however, I think that some of the conclusions made in the linked texts are not implied by the experiment data.

The emotional meaning of a face is deeply subjective. At the very least, the people making comments in the linked articles have made a questionable assumption: that the majority perspective on faces is correct with respect to the real content of the face-owner’s emotional internals. Robert Silvetz suggests that alongside perceived “perception disorders” there may be “projection disorders”: people who have trouble projecting an emotion via their face. That alone complicates the act of determining what is an accurate reading, and what is a misreading, of a face.

Additionally, though, what is a disorder here is defined by a majority/minority distinction. I’m not saying that “disorder”s should not be defined that way, but consider that we don’t always define disorder as the behavior demonstrated by the minority. A very small minority of the population has an IQ above 150, but I don’t consider people with an IQ over 150 to necessarily have any sort of disorder because of that. I mention IQ because its value is defined in part by what we consider successful pattern recognition. Here’s a typical IQ test question that involves (among other capabilities) pattern recognition:

I’m excited about the 2008 NIH research referenced above; it has given me new things to think about. But I would be hesitant to label either a specific type of increased brain function when considering emotional dimensions of faces, or minority perception when classifying data on an emotional dimension, a disorder. A tiny minority of humans respond with the same particular minority opinions (the correct answers) to IQ questions involving pattern recognition; but we don’t consider them to have pattern recognition disorders because of it.

The language of science can be misleading—especially when we are not rigorous in the way we state conclusions based on the experimental data.

When people find a positive correlation between eating a certain food and heart disease, we see a whole bunch of articles come out saying that that food causes heart disease—which is an absolutely astonishing conclusion based on the observation of such a correlation.  Yet this type of unfounded concluding statement appears everywhere—scientific publications, major news sources, everywhere.

In this face experiment we see another type of scientific mis-statement at play. The findings are some specifics about what is going on differently in the brain activity and face-reading behavior of “bipolar” versus “normal” people. That could be highly useful for diagnosis, is qualitatively very interesting, and I’m glad these people did this work. But this data does not show that “bipolar” people are mis-categorizing the emotion shown on faces. That may or may not be true, but this experiment is not sufficient cause to make that conclusion, even though that conclusion is inherent in statements made in all of the linked texts, and that unsubstantiated idea has been repeated in many, many citations of the NIH study.

In trying to put forth the idea of “here is a useful indicator of bipolar disorder”, what has additionally been done in this case is putting forth the idea that “bipolar people misread others’ emotion”. The NIH study, to my reading, supports the first idea. It does not support the second. Yet even the article’s title implies the second idea, and lazy readers of the many citations of this study are not likely to realize that the study doesn’t indicate that bipolar people misread others’ emotion. This statement is in another NIH study: “Such a face-processing deficit could help account for the poor social skills, aggression, and irritability that characterizes the disorder in children.” That seems like a reasonable supposition, but I wouldn’t build a treatment plan based on that supposition, given that one of its tenets is this same assumption that the minority opinion on facial expressions is misreading. It may be misreading, I’m certainly not saying it’s not (I happen to find that idea intriguing)—but the idea that this is misreading is not something either of these studies shows. Even if it turns out to be correct, it is, in these studies, an assumption (and a dangerous one, when one is making further conjectures based on it, about the possible effects of this [assumed] “face-processing deficit”). The language used in the NIH report puts forth this implicit conclusion which the study does not support or address, and which is reasonable to doubt.

The NIH data shows, as the title says, that “misreading” faces may be a marker for the illness. This suggests a powerful and useful possibility that we can use to help people. That a certain type of minority perspective on a face-reading is an indicator of a condition we want to identify, is a breakthrough. But nothing here indicates, or supports the conclusion, that the minority perspective is a “misread” of the faces. That’s a critical distinction that I respectfully encourage scientists to make in their further thinking on this subject.

(A pretty good counterargument to what I’ve said above is that if you ask Alice to make a happy face and Bob thinks it’s a happy face but Carol thinks it’s a sad face, that regardless of the specifics of Alice’s “real” emotional internals, and somewhat throwing out the concept of reading or misreading the meaning of the face, that Alice and Bob are communicating successfully, and Alice and Carol are not. However, even in this argument, I think the use of the word “misread” here is inappropriate. It is not necessary, for the useful conclusion of this study, for the minority opinion to be a misread. That a particular minority opinion indicates a bipolar diagnosis could be used to find bipolar individuals—hopefully for the purpose of helping them in some way. But even with the strong argument that Alice and Bob are communicating successfully and Alice and Carol are not, that doesn’t indicate that Carol is misreading Alice’s emotional internals. It might mean that Alice and Bob mean one thing when they say “happy” and that Carol means something else, but even that doesn’t mean that Carol’s minority opinion that Alice is really “sad”…is incorrect. I realize that, in being more rigorous with their terms, this study’s authors would have had to settle for a longer title for their report, but I think the rigor would be worth it, especially when making statements that appear with the scientific backing of the NIMH/NIH.)

(If I were to argue against the relevance of the IQ test question example, I would suggest that in the case of the face reading/misreading, that there is a distinct majority position and a distinct “majority minority” position, in which most people think the face is happy, and some minority group (perhaps the second-largest group) thinks the face is sad, and some other even less-significant minorities think the face is something other than happy or sad; whereas in the case of the IQ test question, the breakdown is different because most people don’t have any way to read the face at all, so the majority faction in this case tends to be equally spread across the possible answers, as they’re just guessing.  I think that would be a pretty good argument against the relevance of the IQ test question example, but it wouldn’t be water-tight, given that there are test questions even in well-designed tests where a secondary “wrong” answer attracts a clumping of adherents.  For test questions like that, the breakdown of adherents to various positions looks a lot more like the NIH face-reading example.)

(Another thing to think about, as easy-to-accept as the face-misreading assumption is, is that if a group of people are consistently misreading the same stimulus…if there is consistency among the group of perceivers when they read a particular face, as opposed to this brain-flare-up group inconsistently reading a particular face…that could be consistent with a valid face reading.  I’m not saying that consistency means that the face read is valid.  But a correlation between a firing or over-firing of a certain part of the brain, with a certain read of a face, does not indicate that the reading is incorrect, regardless of what part of the brain is [over-]firing. If the anger center is firing in a rare way, that doesn’t mean {this kid’s brain is misfiring in anger}. It just means {this kid’s brain is firing in anger}.  Just as reasonable a supposition, based on the data in these studies, as {these kids are over-fearful and their misreading is causing them social problems}…is {these kids are more accurately reading the emotion on their peers’ faces and the cultural rarity of their accurate perceptions is causing them social problems}.  I’m not suggesting either; I’m trying to show that they’re both suppositions, neither of which is indicated by a correlation of a particular minority face-reading opinion to bipolar disorder.)