Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Facing expressions

Facial expressions are a universal part of being human. You are born with the ability and instinct to smile, frown, grimace, and scowl. Facial movements are intimately connected with emotions and thought processes, and act as a messaging system for social interactions. There was never a time when someone chose what happiness should look like, or how we should act when we are sad. We inherited these movements, and the use of them normally does not require conscious thought. They are also contagious in a crowd, and greatly influence the emotional states of other people who perceive them.

There are slight cultural differences in how expressions are formed and perceived, but overall, all human beings share this mutual "language". This is a useful language, because it means people don't have to think much about what is going on in the background with their expressions, and can use their "brain space" for other types of thinking. 

But humans are also born with the ability to deceive. People can monitor their facial expressions to suit their needs, and mask or manipulate them at will. That's how we are able to have actors, politicians, and successful criminals. However, apart from oscar winning actors, most people are not completely successful in hiding their true feelings.  Paul Ekman is the most well known psychologist on this subject. He uses subtle facial clues to detect what people are actually feeling. (The show Lie to Me is based on that guy.)

The expression and suppression of facial expressions are two different systems, as is the awareness itself of what your face is doing and what it means. Some muscles cannot be controlled voluntarily, and are only "activated" during a genuine expression of emotion.

Most people are able to integrate these actions into one flawless movement, most of which happens "unconsciously" and without direct attention. 

When someone runs into a coworker they don't like, they automatically play the "fake smile" while carrying on some small talk. When someone experiences some schadenfreude and doesn't want to seem like a nasty human being, they suppress the lurking joyful smirk from others. 

Normally, you just need the tiniest bit of inclination to perform these actions and they all come together for you instantly, while you are busy thinking about other things in your minds eye.

I do not have this experience. 

I am very oblivious to what is going on with my face. I can feel muscle movements, but it is difficult for me to translate those muscle movements into an understanding of what my face looks like to others. I feel upward motions, I feel downward motions. It is very difficult for me to manipulate the expressions I experience though. 

(It's sort of like trying to practice dance moves in complete darkness, and then choreographing a brand new dance in complete darkness.) 

I use the word experience, because these expressions do happen automatically when I am experiencing emotions, in pain, frustrated, confused, etc. It is more that I "allow" them to happen. Monitoring them, and transforming them, is another thing altogether.

If I am trying to remember something; if I am trying to observe another human beings; if I am "busy" doing other cognitive things- then I am often completely oblivious to what is going on with my face. If I suddenly want to, I can't just "pay attention" to my face. I have to wait and put everything else away and consciously try to focus on what the movements feel like, and then basically, guess. The only time I 'know" what my face looks like is when I am looking into a mirror.

There is one "wave" from below that rises in the movement of expressions. Another "wave" from above takes control and rides with the other wave to transform and twist the movements of my facial muscles. Most of the time, these do not operate well together. 

For example, if I happen to think something is hilarious but I am in a situation where that would be inappropriate, I struggle to suppress a smile and probably look quite goofy. The best I can do is remove an expression from my face, instead of "changing it" to an expression of my choice. 

Normally, emotions and expressions are tied together and revolve around each other. If you smile you will feel happy, or at least a slightly positive feeling. This is normally an automatic response. But if I smile, I feel nothing for a few seconds and then a wave of pleasant feeling interrupts my awareness. It is not simultaneous. My facial movements and emotions are often "out of sync". So sometimes emotions are delayed and happen out of context, or after the fact. That is why sometimes it is hard to figure out what emotions I am experiencing. Emotions are not always concrete and separate, they are flowing movements in their own "environment". And sometimes after an emotion has passed, my face will still be "stuck" in an expression after it is no longer relevant

When I smile, I can't make it a flirty smile, an amused smile, a smirking smile, or a pity smile. I can just "smile" and then TRY to control the movements a bit in what I think is the right direction. But, as I explained previously, I have very little awareness of whether or not I am "hitting the mark".

And in social situations where there is conversation, I'm too busy translating and framing my thoughts to concentrate on my facial movements. This may mean if I am frustrated about something (like not being able to properly convey my thoughts) I might have a frustrated look on my face and be completely oblivious about it. The other person may take this to mean that I am frustrated with THEM, or even that I am angry at them, because these expressions are similar. And then their face may show their dislike for my expression, but I might not notice that, or if I do, I won't know why they are feeling that way, because I'm thinking my face is "normal". 

It seems if I let my right brain handle things in my "receiving" non-verbal mode, then I can much more efficiently control the flowing of these emotional movements, and my emotions and expressions are much more "in sync" with each other. However, as I mentioned previously in another post, when I am in this state I don't have access to many words and I don't have access to my "library memory"- only the shifting associative right brain memory. This is okay for general going about in the world, but it is not good for socializing where you are expected to participate in conversations and interact with other human beings and timing counts. You can't really say "hang on for 10 seconds, I have something to say but I have to access my memory first". 

When people "connect" with each other, this is not a metaphor. They are literally, physiologically, connecting with their emotional organs. People who are "in sync" with each other will have perfectly matching facial expressions, and they will absorb and immediately respond to the expression of the other without having to think about it at all. They will take on the characteristics of the other person, unconsciously. This gives people the feeling of being "comfortable" with a person. Sales people know this, and are keen on matching peoples expressions and mannerisms in order to gain their trust and interest in a product. This is called mirroring.

Because I am not able to do this properly, people often feel "uncomfortable" around me, and think that I am "distant". 

When I am in left brain "transmitting mode", which is the majority of the time, since it takes less concentration to maintain, then I am "farther away" from my emotions, and it is like they are blocked off in another room. It is MUCH more difficult to spontaneously create expressions. This is where I go to immediately "turn off" an expression. When I am here, and have access to my library memory, music, and spatial skills, etc., its like half of me is missing. It is much more difficult to immediately respond. For example, if I am walking down the street and I see someone I know, I might have the desire to smile, but it will take 5 seconds to get "cognitively prepared" to be able to smile- even though I might be happy to see them and might be "smiling" inside. It just won't show. Or, I will try to smile and it will come out looking like a bad fake smile, and that person might think I'm faking it because I don't want to see them. 

OR, if I am in a meditative right brain state, I will be able to smile much more quickly, but I will only be able to say  a few short words. 

I am very aware that my two hemispheres are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT BRAINS with completely different abilities. I am never a "whole person" that has access to everything at once. Most of the time there are things I can do to compensate in different ways, but interacting with people and making facial expressions will always be quite a challenge for me. This is what bothers me the most. I am bothered that I am not able to communicate in the way I would like to, and be myself with others. I feel very trapped. 

I either have EXAGGERATED expressions, or NO EXPRESSIONS. 

It is quite true when people say over 90% of communication is nonverbal. If you don't have the right facial expressions, it doesn't matter what you are saying AT ALL in many cases. People will disregard what you are saying and make up their own opinions of you based on what they see from your face, and body posture (which I am also not good at). If you don't do things "right"- people might automatically dislike you, despite the fact that the conversation seems to be going well, and nothing you say will confirm what they have imagined about you (that you are in a bad mood, you are clumsy and unintelligent, passive, cold, unfriendly, etc.). 

I used to be bothered a lot by this, since I couldn't understand it, since I am always listening to what people say FIRST and considering everything else a distant second. But now I understand that people don't choose to feel that way, that my signals get sent to them and it makes them "feel" negative things about me, not "know" negative things about me. It's not something most people can consciously control. Most people tend to trust their "instincts", or "snap judgement" or "gut feeling" about a person. Now that I understand this, it is much easier to accept. I know people are not rejecting me as a person, or what they see as a person, but the illusory feelings they experience while attempting to communicate with me. They actually don't see me at all. 

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Smile, or Die

I absolutely loathe the "positive thinking" law of attraction new age movement, and the Oprah beast- for helping to brainwash millions of people into believing they live in their own solipsistic magical reality that they can control with happy thought vibrations. (How you can manipulate your mind into believing in both a Christian God and a personal universe that you control, using some vague understanding of quantum mechanics, is a mental feat beyond my imagination. In a way, I congratulate those who are able to function with that level of cognitive dissonance.)

I don't need to hear one more person tell me that the reason why my life went to hell, and the reason why I experienced abuse, is because I "was not sending out positive energy waves to the universe." And, as soon as I realize the error of my ways, and start blasting positive thought beams, my life will turn around into a fantastical orgy of good fortune. (Just shut the fuck up. That advice is completely not helpful. Please keep your imaginary mind beam leprechauns to yourself.)

If something bad happens to you, it's ALWAYS your fault. You must have been having some negative thoughts, and sending out negative magnetic vibrations so that the universe pummeled you with misfortune. I love the part in the video where the author of "The Secret" claims that the reason the '06 Tsunami happened was because the people must have done it to themselves by being too negative in their minds. I wonder if she said anything like that about 9/11? I doubt it.

Some old guy: "This Secret, gives you everything you want. Happiness, health, and wealth." 
That's right. They aren't claiming this method will slightly improve your life. They are claiming that you can literally get ANYTHING you want.
Check out the film version of this book. It's very entertaining for a laugh when you're drunk. The author claims she had a breakdown from an overachieving lifestyle, and then "discovered" The Secret- and just knew she had to share this vital information to the rest of mankind. She claims that pretty much every important person in history used The Secret, from Di Vinci to Einstein (Being intelligent and hardworking had nothing to do with it, they were just really good at magical wishes), and that bad people who like negativity "repressed" this information.

Old guy in a suit again: "Everything that is coming into your life, YOU are attracting into your life. And it's attracted to you by virtue of the images you are holding in your mind! Wise people have always known that."

Usually when people claim images in their mind influence galactic energies that bend the universe to their will they are called psychotic. But when a grandfatherly looking guy in a suit says it, it's wisdom.

It gets better.

Old guy in suit:"Why do you think that 1% of the population earns around 96% of the money being earned? Do you think that's an accident? It's no accident! It's designed that way! They understand The Secret! And YOU are being introduced to The Secret!" 

So now we can forget about world history, economics, and capitalism. The real reason why so many rich assholes are successful, is because they are wise and understand how to use their mind powers to make the universe grant their wishes. (Even if by granting those wishes, they create poverty and destruction.) The hungry people on the bottom, spend too much time moping around in their ignorance, so their wishes are never granted.

Did you get cancer?
Mugged and raped?
Your kid died in a car accident?
Oops! Should have thought more positively!

So basically their advice is to walk around in your own oblivious bliss bubble, and everything will work out just fine on its own. No need to prepare, work hard, or plan for accidents. The universe senses your powerful thought waves, and reorganizes the world to suit you. It doesn't matter if your wishes negatively impact other people- they must have deserved it, otherwise the universe wouldn't have done that to them.

Old guy:"Now if you don't understand it, it doesn't mean you should reject it! You don't understand electricity probably. First of all, we don't even understand what electricity is! And yet...you enjoy the benefits of it. Do you know how it works? I don't know how it works. But I do know this- You can cook a man's dinner with electricity. And you can also cook the man." (ummm...what? This guys thoughts sound a little creepy.)

Yes, that's it. Don't bother thinking about it. It's just too hard to understand , like that darned whimsical electricity, that we've been using for 200 years. But if all these confident successful looking people in the video says it's true, it must be! Plus they have a soundtrack with ethereal vocal music, and dramatic reenactments to prove they know how history really went down. People wouldn't go to the trouble to do historical reenactments for lies. (Or maybe....do you think they are confident and successful because they managed to trick millions of people into buying their books and courses?) Just give them money, and all will be well. Don't bother thinking about world issues, poverty, crime, global warming, or your responsibility as a citizen. Those thoughts will just make you feel bad, and then you will get robbed by a Somalian gang, you will lose your job in  the recession, and your house will flood because of global warming. All you have to do to avoid those things, is to be positive! And never give money to poor people, that just encourages their lazy negative thoughts.

Black dude with braids:"Because it has been proven scientifically, that an affirmative thought is hundreds of times more powerful, than a negative thought."

"You are the Michelangelo of your own life!"

This Bullshit with a capital B, is like a zillion times worse than Scientology. It completely enhances the narcissistic fantasy that the world revolves around you, to the point where THE WORLD ACTUALLY REVOLVES AROUND YOU. And yet it has the facade of being more benign than Scientology, or other evil insane cults, because unlike Scientology texts, you can find The Secret in every bookstand in the world.

Not only does it create sadly delusional people, but it creates callous judgmental people who care nothing for others in difficult situations because they believe those people did it to themselves with their weak negative thoughts.

What about the people that enjoy things like killing children, or keeping sex slaves? If they have positive thoughts about those things, does the magic universe genie grant their wishes too? Does it only punish bad children who weren't wise enough to have constant positive thoughts?

This mental virus needs to be banned. All the books need to be collected, and thrown into the Mariana Trench, and the people who still believe in this even though they still don't have 500 Million and a pony, need a firm slap in the face. Plus a trip to the Congo, so they can kindly spread the word that the reason why everyone is poor and hungry and enslaved is because they keep having negative thoughts.

Fucking magnets, how do they work?

Enhanced by Zemanta

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Clothing for words in the phonological store

There is another physical test being developed that helps professionals detect autism, this time by studying the voice. (I wrote earlier about a testing method that detects differences in global and local processing).

I don't have that much of an issue with my voice- it's better than some other people with Asperger's Syndrome- but it's still often flat, and I find I don't have a lot of control over the prosody sometimes. I still find this very frustrating. When you are female, people expect you to have a more melodious voice.

I also have some trouble understanding other peoples voices sometimes, but I have improved. I can understand other peoples tone but have a difficult time reproducing it willfully.

Speech for me is split into two distinct processes. I'm not able to just start talking and follow my train of thought easily while controlling my voice. There is a left spot for words, and a right spot for words.

The words themselves are coming at me from the left side. They are "naked" words. If I am trying to explain something, or recall something from memory, then I am usually running down a stream of consciousness that doesn't include a lot of room to manipulate those words. That's where the long streams of ranting are. I can go on for quite a while without pausing. I know that annoys people now though, and don't do that anymore if I can help it.

I have to focus on the involvement of my right side and combine the processes to be able to "clothe" the words in prosody, pitch, and volume. But when I do that, my cognition slows down considerably.

If I am staying on the right side, then I have much more control over my words, but my vocabulary is much lower and I have a lot more difficulty forming sentences. I can manipulate my voice if I am reading something that I already know.

Sometimes it is difficult to find my "inner voice" and I will accidentally copy the rhythm of other people in the room. It seems easier for my working memory if my brain does that, rather than having to concentrate on clothing my words "from scratch", I guess. For example, once I briefly talked to a Scottish person and they asked me what part of Scotland I'm from. Although I'm part Scottish, I haven't even been to Scotland and don't know any Scottish people. At the time I didn't realize I was speaking oddly because I think I was too preoccupied with what I was trying to say. But if  you randomly ask me to speak in an accent, I'm really bad at it! Sometimes other people with AS pick up odd accents, or have a "repertoire" of different distinct voices to choose from.

Mirror neurons have also been found to have some relationship with prosody. There seems to be some mirror neurons in Broca's area. That's probably why I temporarily copy other people's voices unintentionally.

I also annoy people by being too loud sometimes. But when I am concentrating on producing language, it's difficult to monitor my volume.

This paper came out last week in PLoS.

The Integration of Prosodic Speech in High Functioning Autism: A Preliminary fMRI Study

The left SMG is viewed as the starting point of the working memory loop for phonology which then projects frontally [60]. As such, the left SMG can be considered as the phonological store area and would then be a part of the phonological loop postulated by Baddeley [61]. It can thus be suggested that autistic subjects rely more on working memory processes and processes translating from auditory to articulatory representations than controls do in the natural condition.  It can thus be hypothesized that the HFA group recruit the left SMG as a compensatory phenomenon, which is supported by the idea that prosody could be so troublesome for them that they would be more concentrated on phoneme discrimination, which is part of the literal speech decoding, either to avoid paying attention to prosodic features or to be able to understand the story. A further explanation which may be raised for accounting for this left SMG activation could stem from a right hypoactivation in the HFA group, which is in light with previous cortical evoked potential studies reporting a right hypoactivation in autism  
 Hmm. It is true for me, that when I listen to another person talk it is much easier if I focus on encoding the words. Sometimes I have to tune out the persons tone, because it is too distracting and I can't follow what they are saying while trying to understand the words simultaneously.

I would like to be able to change my voice to appear more friendly, add different emotions, flirt, etc. In my imagination I can imagine myself doing that. But then when I try, getting the words out with these two different processes is another thing. My brain freezes up and won't let me.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

the things we know best

"The purpose of psychology is to give us a completely different idea of the things we know best." -Paul Valery

I don't know who that guy is, but I liked this quote.

Worldwide Empathy?

This is awesome.
I just came across this neat pictorial representation of Jeremy Rifkin presenting The Empathic Civilization. Since I'm a visual thinker, I really appreciated the animations. It's the perfect intro for understanding the mirror neuron process.

As I mentioned previously, Empathy is a neurological process. It is not an abstract, or "psychological imagination" based concept. We are hardwired to be group animals that communicate emotionally. We have the capacity to intimately communicate with each other, as well as other beings. 

If you don't have access to this stream of information, social interactions can be very cognitively demanding. 

Many people are unclear as to the difference in meaning between Empathy, Sympathy, and Compassion.

I'll start with Compassion. Compassion is more of an intellectual exercise, that leads to the path of understanding another's situation by realizing the steps that led to that situation. You can technically have compassion for anyone, or anything. It takes work. That's why there aren't a lot of compassionate people these days. Nobody believes they have the time to contemplate the life history of others.

I like this explanation from a psychologist that writes about "America's continuing Empathy Deficit disorder".
Empathy vs. Sympathy
To clarify, empathy is different from sympathy. Sympathy reflects understanding another person's situation - but viewed through your own lens. That is, it's based on your version of what the other person is dealing with. ("Yeah, I can sympathize with your problem with your elderly mother, because I have my own problems with mine ..."). A narcissist can be sympathetic in this way.
Such a self-centered focus is similar to what some people think love is when they're really enthralled with their own feeling of being "in love," rather than loving the reality of who their partner is, as I wrote about in a previous post.
In contrast, empathy is what you feel only when you can step outside of yourself and enter the internal world of the other person. There -- but without abandoning or losing your own perspective -- you can experience the other's emotions, conflicts, or aspirations from within the vantage point of that person's world. That's not telepathy. Research shows that it's a hard-wired capacity in all of us. And that kind of connection builds healthy, mutual relationships -- an essential part of mental health.
However, the mind cannot be of the kind that experiences empathy continuously and frequently. In order for the group to function as a whole and operate defensively, there needed to be a "shut-off" switch that turned the experience of empathy down, or removed the experience of empathy completely from consciousness. In order to kill, we needed to remove ourselves from the sensation of being killed. (Otherwise we would all be acting like Deanna Troi from Star Trek, and having dramatic freak outs.)

That "shut-off" switch, is Identification.

Human minds come pre-prepared to accept the differentiation between Self and Other. There are "cognitive containers" that grasp and hold onto what the Self is, and what is related to the self. You can find this in the self reference effect, and in many aspects of human behaviour, information related to the self is favoured in an irrational way. (For example, the digits of your SIN number can influence what you are willing to pay for things.)

Human brains are filled with information that "anchors" a sense of identity, even if we are unaware of it, because it is not something that is chosen with free will.

This is a very old system, since we have inherited the mental framework built ontop of eons of primate socialization. Chimpanzees also form strong concepts of identity. I once read that a larger group of Chimps split into two separate "tribes". After they had been separated for some time, they came into contact with each other again. Instead of greeting their old companions with friendly behaviour, they were very wary of each other. One chimpanzee however, wanted to socialize. The chimp reached out to an old friend, and touched their shoulder. The other chimp recoiled at the touched, appeared disgusted, and retreated. He then proceeded to take some leaves and vigorously scrub the area where the other chimpanzee had touched him, as if he was trying to "decontaminate" the cooties from the now estranged tribe. (But, they don't seem to be "racist" against this albino chimpanzee!)

The concept of Identity being such a strong force, seems nearly crazy, and unbelievable at first. One of the scientists who discovered mirror neurons in action even said: "It took us several years to believe what we were seeing."But with more and more research being done with mirror neurons, it seems Identity is actually a biological process, not an arbitrarily chosen personal philosophy. The mirror neurons "learn" from experience what we consider to be our Identity, and then they form a cognitive framework around that, determining when and with whom empathy can be experienced.

Mirror neurons not only influence our thoughts, they determine what thoughts we are able to have.

For example, there is a significant difference in mirror neuron activity when people view the motor actions of another race. 

This explains how Natzi's were able to have a normal and loving family life, and then go to work and sadistically murder small children. They had dehumanized Jewish people completely, to the state that they were not capable of having an emotional empathetic response during those callous and unbelievably demented acts. The "empathy switch" was working for their families, and children who they saw as German, but not for Jewish children. The murdering of children to them, would have felt as benign as dismantling a mannequin. Therefor, not many questioned these acts. They didn't "feel bad about it", so found these acts to be applicable to their moral framework. Hitler did not send out an "evil wave" and brainwash an entire country. What he did, through propaganda that influences the mind, was to systematically rewire the brains of the German people to feel nothing for Jewish people. Or, if anything, a searing hatred and disgust that justified their actions.

Genocide is the dark side of empathy. I am currently reading "The Lucifer Effect" by Philip Zimbardo, the guy who designed the Stanford Prison experiment, causing a bunch of college students to have mental breakdowns. I'll probably write more about the evil half of empathy later.

But what is the good news?

The Good news, is that Identity is very flexible, as the video explains. We can "trick" our minds into accepting the identity characteristics of citizen, family member, job position, music taste, into our Identity repertoire.

In theory then, it is possible that we can extend our concept of empathy to include the entire human race. But this must be done through culture, art, and experience. Simply saying "I am a citizen of the world, one of 6 billion other citizens of the world" does not create an identity framework for empathy. Humans are reactive, intuition and emotion based creatures. Words and facts, do not chance minds. Identity is centered in the landscape of the "right brain", a place where associations instead of logic, proliferate.

Narcissism, and being highly self absorbed, creates an Identity that is highly ego/self based. When one views the world as existing "around" and apart from the self (somewhat like how autistic people are forced to see the world), instead of having an identity that incorporates a surrounding community and network, the brain forms an Identity that is highly deficient in Empathy. Seeing as how our society is becoming ultra individualistic with the use of social networking websites, children being brought up today are being taught that they are a unique being and everything is being connected TO them, instead of WITH THEM. (The terrifying consequences of this could be an entire generation full of thoughtless narcissists.)

Personally, I was not sure if I experienced Empathy, or not. I am constantly glued into my own perspective- I can't even experience two emotions at once, let alone process the feelings of another person simultaneously. When I was about 12 and came across the concept of Empathy, I was confused, and scared because I didn't experience that. (Nobody had mentioned anything about mild autism at that point.) I was worried that other people would consider me a cold monster, even though in different ways I cared for other people and the rest of the world deeply.

Now I realize that I do in fact have Empathy, but it is locked away behind a door, and difficult to reach in the maze of my mind. I can find this in my consciousness while watching movies sometimes, but this process becomes extremely overwhelming and my own emotions "drown", because of my hyper-focused conscious experience. It's as if I start to disappear, and I am being "absorbed" by the experiences of the other person. If I am in this "room" it is not possible to speak, or interact properly with the other person, because I can not reach the place where language is. I get thrown into "The Pit"- the place where primitive emotions reside. In that place, I become disoriented and lose control of my consciousness. It doesn't matter what type of emotion it is, whether it is anxiety or sadness, or the intensity. When my consciousness is hyper-focused on The Pit, it is not a pleasant experience. So I imagine that I might have "blocked it off" behind a door, a long time ago, in order to have the ability to interact with the rest of the world properly. So for most of the time, I don't have this automatic social information that everyone takes for granted. I have to use a lot more of my cognitive energy to figure out what is going on.

For many autistic spectrum people, this is also their experience, going strongly against the ridiculous stereotype that "autistic people do not experience any emotions." The empathy is simply too overwhelming, and takes the center stage drowning out other multiple cognitive processes. So those processes are sectioned off, and blocked out. Here is an article that discusses that theory. Recent research suggests that there is a functioning mirror neuron system in Autistics, but the information is not being processed and handled by the brain properly. Other studies claim the mirror neurons are firing, but delayed, sending confusing information to the brain. One researcher describes it as: These children are really not unemotional, they do want to interact, it’s just difficult for them,” says Markram, “It’s quite sad because these are quite capable people but the world is just too intense, so they have to withdraw.”

Psychopaths/narcissists are the very opposite. Psychopaths can often be experts at figuring out the mental states of others, and have superior mimicking and social skills. Many are said to appear "charming". But this emotional information is not attached to their emotional experience. It is if they are watching other people behind a thick glass wall. They can understand very well the feelings of others, but they are never touched by them.

Psychopaths, science seems to be telling us, have unique brain abnormalities, and appear to be born rather than made. But most psychopaths do not become serial killers. (Many probably become lawyers, or politicians.) The psychopathic brain, PLUS childhood abuse, appears to be the recipe for serial-killing.

Narcissists however, are created. And consequently, they can in theory change and grow to experience Empathy, if they want to.

Autistic people on the other hand, are in a fog, struggling to see the people on the other side, off in the distance. Sometimes the fog breaks, and Empathy shines through. But most of the time it is obscured and distorted.

Besides the feeling of Empathy, mirror neurons have been implicated in many different cognitive processes, giving us a new picture of how the "scaffolding of the brain" is developed.

For more information on mirror neurons and Empathy, I suggest reading "Mirroring People: The New Science of How We Connect to Others" and "The Age of Empathy: Natures Lessons for a Kinder Society".

"Civilization, the Death of Art and Beauty"- a psychic prediction.

"But how is popularity to be acquired? Very easily indeed. Howl with the wolves. Pay homage to the favourite vices of the day, and reverence to mediocrities in public favour. Shut your eyes tight before any truth, if unpalatable to the chief leaders of the social herd, and sit with them upon the dissenting minority. Bow low before vulgarity in power; and bray loud applause to the rising donkey who kicks a dying lion, now a fallen idol. Respect public prejudice and pander to its cant and hobbies, and soon you will yourself become popular. Behold, now is your time." - Helen Blavatsky, 1889
Helen Blavatsky was a very interesting and forward thinking but also strangely delusional woman.. At the time it was kind of rare to have independent women travelling the world, and writing philosophy. She thought she had psychic powers, including the ability to levitate and construct "ectoplasm". A lot of her theories seem plain crazy, but I came across some of her misanthropic rantings and some of her predictions about globalization, unfortunately were realized.

 Truly and indeed it is high time that at last something should be done in this direction, and before the deceitful civilization of the conceited nations of but yesterday has irretrievably hypnotized the older races, and made them succumb to its upas-tree wiles and supposed superiority. Otherwise, old arts and artistic creations, everything original and unique will very soon disappear. Already national dresses and time-honoured customs, and everything beautiful, artistic, and worth preservation is fast disappearing from view. At no distant day, alas, the best relics of the past will perhaps be found only in museums in sorry, solitary, and be-ticketed samples preserved under glass!
Such is the work and the unavoidable result of our modern civilization. Skin-deep in reality in its visible effects, in the "blessings" it is alleged to have given to the world, its roots are rotten to the core. It is to its progress that selfishness and materialism, the greatest curses of the nations, are due; and the latter will most surely lead to the annihilation of art and of the appreciation of the truly harmonious and beautiful. Hitherto, materialism has only led to a universal tendency to unification on the material plane and a corresponding diversity on that of thought and spirit. It is this universal tendency, which by propelling humanity, through its ambition and selfish greed, to an incessant chase after wealth and the obtaining at any price of the supposed blessings of this life, causes it to aspire or rather gravitate to one level, the lowest of all--the plane of empty appearance. Materialism and indifference to all save the selfish realization of wealth and power, and the over-feeding of national and personal vanity, have gradually led nations and men to the almost entire oblivion of spiritual ideals, of the love of nature, to the correct appreciation of things. Like a hideous leprosy our Western civilization has eaten its way through all the quarters of the globe and hardened the human heart. "Soul-saving" is its deceitful, lying pretext; greed for additional revenue through opium, rum, and the inoculation of European vices--the real aim. 
For certainly Europe is all this. It is canting and deceitful from its diplomats down to its custodians of religion, from its political down to its social laws, selfish, greedy and brutal beyond expression in its grabbing characteristics. And yet there are those who wonder at the gradual decadence of true art, as if art could exist without imagination, fancy, and a just appreciation of the beautiful in Nature, or without poetry and high religious, hence, metaphysical aspirations! The galleries of paintings and sculpture, we hear, become every year poorer in quality, if richer in quantity. It is lamented that while there is a plethora of ordinary productions, the greatest scarcity of remarkable pictures and statuary prevails. Is this not most evidently due to the facts that (a) the artists will very soon remain with no better models than nature morte (or "still life") to inspire themselves with; and (b) that the chief concern is not the creation of artistic objects, but their speedy sale and profits? Under such conditions, the fall of true art is only a natural consequence.
Owing to the triumphant march and the invasion of civilization, Nature, as well as man and ethics, is sacrificed, and is fast becoming artificial. Climates are changing, and the face of the whole world will soon be altered. Under the murderous hand of the pioneers of civilization, the destruction of whole primeval forests is leading to the drying up of rivers, and the opening of the Canal of Suez has changed the climate of Egypt as that of Panama will divert the course of the Gulf Stream. Almost tropical countries are now becoming cold and rainy, and fertile lands threaten to be soon transformed into sandy deserts. A few years more and there will not remain within a radius of fifty miles around our large cities one single rural spot inviolate-from vulgar speculation. In scenery, the picturesque and the natural is daily replaced by the grotesque and the artificial. Scarce a landscape in England but the fair body of nature is desecrated by the advertisements of "Pears' Soap" and "Beecham's Pills." The pure air of the country is polluted with smoke, the smells of greasy railway-engines, and the sickening odours of gin, whiskey, and beer. And once that every natural spot in the surrounding scenery is gone, and the eye of the painter finds but the artificial and hideous products of modern speculation to rest upon, artistic taste will have to follow suit and disappear along with them.
"No man ever did or ever will work well, but either from actual sight or sight of faith," says Ruskin, speaking of art. Thus, the first quarter of the coming century may witness painters of landscapes, who have never seen an acre of land free from human improvement; and painters of figures whose ideas of female beauty of form will be based on the wasp-like pinched-in waists of corseted, hollow-chested and consumptive society belles.
H. P. Blavatsky, 1887

Friday, July 16, 2010

Why Twilight vampires suck, and True Blood is HOT

The new season of True Blood has started. Sunday is now the most exciting day of the week for me. I'm fairly addicted to this show, and the characters. (I went so far as to actually write some fanfiction, which I thought I would never ever do. Now I have "fans" begging me to update my epic story, so I feel kind of obligated to finish it...but I just can't get into the whole fanfiction universe thing.)

But I absolutely despise, the marketing madness that is Twilight.

I was an avid fan of Vampires when I was younger, and read every Vampires book that was in the library. That probably grew out of my obsession with mythical creatures and mysteries, as well as possibly identifying with the brooding outsider persona for a period. I dressed as a Vampire for Halloween, watched Vampire films, a Vampire themed TV show, and fantasized about meeting a Vampire in disguise. (My fantasies were probably about as Lame as the plot of Twilight.) If you had told me back then, that a future was coming in which Vampires had come out of the realm of being favored fixations of goths, horror buff nerds, and masochistic sexually repressed women, and into the mainstream pop culture, I would have thought that was just unbelievably awesome.

Fuck you, Twilight. You have turned that loner 14 year old girl fantasy into a nightmare. I can understand if you like this series if you ARE 14. But considering it the best book ever? Being 40 and considering it the best book ever? Then you must have only read Twilight, the TV guide, and what somebody else left in the bathroom.

Twilight removes many of the essential elements the Vampire genre established, the main female character is empty and weak (emotionally and physically), and the writing is...just plain bad, to be so many peoples "fave novel of all time!"

It's a good thing True Blood came along to even out the imbalance. (It is based on a book series called the Southern Vampire Mysteries. Which is, not meant to be a great work of literature, its meant to be fun.) Unlike Twilight, which is basically just an extended version of a lame 15 year olds romantic fantasy, True Blood is filled with smart social commentary, great writing and characterization, and a talented cast.

Any sane person, would have to agree that True Blood wins over Twilight.

Here are some reasons:

The main female characters:
  • Twilight- Bella is described as being plain, clumsy, with pretty much no personality. Her entire life revolves around her Vampire boyfriend, and she wants to kill herself when he dumps her. She desperately wants to become a Vampire, so they can be "together forever". Other than that, she has no interest in a career, hobbies, or any other aspect of identity or life. All she wants is to stare at her boyfriends "perfect face". She is often helpless, and needs to be rescued.
  • True Blood- Sookie is sassy, independent, daring but naive, and has a strong sense of her morality. She has no desire to become a Vampire. She isn't on "helpless victim" standby, she's the one that gets out there and does the rescuing. 

The Vampires:

  • Twilight- They are immortal, dead, creatures, yes. But they have no fangs, no allergies, and only sparkle in the sunlight instead of bursting into flames. For some reason even though they are a century old they enjoy going to high school, and hanging out with mindless teenagers. They don't drink blood from people. They drink from Grizzlies, and other endangered large wildlife instead. They don't sleep, so at night Edward creeps into Bella's room to stare at her, and she doesn't find this creepy at all. They make being a Vampire seem exciting, because they get to play high speed baseball, live in a mansion, and pretty much do whatever they want. And still... these centenarians prefer to hang out in a high school. Which would make you question their mental stability. 
  • True Blood- More of the traditional Vampire archetype. They have fangs, they need to feed on human blood to survive (or synthetic blood), die during the daytime, have allergies to silver, and get smoky and crispy if sunlight touches their skin. (That's part of the point! You have to balance the "powerful" parts with weaknesses).They are "out of the coffin" and try to fit in with normal society, but their blood has become an illegal drug because it gets people high. Sometimes they are kidnapped so humans can suck their blood.

Vampire Characters:
  • Edward Cullen is a weakling that was dying of the Spanish flu. He is polite, can read minds (but apparently that makes no difference, because he never really does anything with his power), plays the piano, and doesn't really seem to have much internal motivation except for brooding and gelling his hair, and finding his soulmate, with whom they can brood and do their hair together. He is an 108 year old virgin. 
  • Eric Northman is a 1,000 year old 6'5 freakin' Viking that can FLY and speaks in a sexy Swedish voice. He owns a bar called Fangtasia, and he's also a Vampire Sheriff. He is bold, cocky, mischievous, manipulative, and kills people- but he is also tactful, intelligent, playful and with a great sense of humour. He styles his hair, but also has better things to do, making the plot much more interesting. He doesn't brood. He actually enjoys being a Vampire. He has fangs and growls. He has had so much sex that he's a complete expert- for 6 hours straight. 

Eric Northman is my imaginary stalker

Also, Twilight pretty much ripped off the books True Blood are based on- which came out 4 years before Twilight. Oh, but apparently the plot of twilight "came to her in a dream".

Buffy killing Edward