Musings on Mormonism


Easily the most fascintaing and illuminating comparison of introversion and extroversion I’ve ever seen

The entirety of what follows is taken from the book The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney:

On dopamine:

Whereas extroverts are linked with the dopamine/adrenaline, energy-spending, sympathetic nervous system, introverts are connected with the acetylcholine, energy-conserving, parasympathetic nervous system.

“High and low novelty seekers don’t differ in their desire to feel good—everyone likes to feel good—but they differ in what makes them feel good. High scorers need excitement for the brain to feel good. The same level of arousal makes a low scorer feel anxious. A steady predictable situation would bore a high scorer but comfort a low scorer.” Dopamine appears to play an important part in what brain pathways introverts and extroverts use and how those circuits affect their temperament and behaviour.

Novelty seekers were found to have a long D4DR gene are were less sensitive to the neurotransmitter dopamine. Therefore, they need to experience life’s thrills and chills in order to produce higher levels of dopamine. … [Low novelty seekers have short D4DR genes and are] highly sensitive to dopamine. Because they receive enough dopamine in quiet activities, they don’t needs as much “buzz” in their lives. Low-novelty-seekers tend to be reflective individuals who are perfectly content to live at a slower pace. They feel more discomfort than enjoyment from thrill seeking or risk taking. Orderly and cautious, they enjoy the comfort of routine and the familiar; thus, they don’t incur much risk. Low-novelty seekers like to see the big picture before plunging ahead, and they focus well on long-term projects. They are even-tempered, good listeners, and loyal.

The researcher discovered … introverts had more blood flow to their brains than extroverts. More blood flow indicates more internal stimulation. …the introverts’ and extroverts’ blood traveled along different pathways. …the introverts’ pathway is more complicated and focused internally. The introverts’ blood flowed to the parts of the brain involved with internal experiences like remembering, solving problems, and planning. This pathway is long and complex. The introverts were attending to their internal thoughts and feelings.

Dr Johnson tracked the fast-acting brain pathway of extroverts, showing how they process input that influences their activity and motivation. The extroverts’ blood flowed to the areas of the brain where visual, auditory, touch, and taste (excluding smell) sensory processing occurs. Their main pathway is short and less complicated. …the behaviourial differences between introverts and extroverts result from using different brain pathways that influence where we direct our focus—internally or externally.

Not only does introvert’s and extroverts’ blood travel on separate pathways, each pathway requires a different neurotransmitter. …the pathway extroverts use is activated by dopamine. Dopamine is a powerful neurotransmitter most closely identified with movement, attention, alert states, and learning. “Low dopamine also results in lack of attention and concentration, cravings and withdrawal.” Having the right amount of dopamine for your body is critical. “One way of characterizing the job of dopamine circuit is that it’s a reward system. It says, in effect, ‘that was good, let’s do it again, and let’s remember exactly how we did it.’” That is why cocaine and amphetamines are so addictive—they increase dopamine. Since extroverts have a low sensitivity to dopamine and yet require large amounts of it, how do they get enough? Parts of the brain release some dopamine. But extroverts need its sidekick, adrenaline, which is released from the action of the sympathetic nervous system, to make more dopamine in the brain. So the more active the extrovert is, the more … dopamine is increased. Extroverts feel good when they have places to go and people to see.

Introverts, on the other hand, are highly sensitive to dopamine. Too much dopamine and they feel overstimulated. Introverts use an entirely different neurotransmitter, acetylcholine, on their more dominant pathway. Acetylcholine is another important neurotransmitter connected to many vital functions in the brain body. It affects attention and learning (especially perceptual learning), influences the ability to sustain a calm, alert feeling and to utilize long-term memory, and activates voluntary movement. It stimulates a good feeling when thinking and feeling. Introverts require a limited range of not too much or too little dopamine, and a good level of acetylcholine, to leave them feeling calm and without depression or anxiety.

Introverts who [use the energy-conserving, parasympathetic nervous system] too much can become depressed, unmotivated, or frustrated about not reaching goals… They need to engage the [the energy-spending, sympathetic nervous system] to get up and out. This requires learning to regulate anxiety and over-stimulation…

Longer Introvert Acetylcholine Pathway

  1. Reticular Activating System: Stimuli enter her where alertness is regulated. Decreased in introverts.
  2. Hypothalamus: Regulates thirst, temperature, and appetite. Turns on the Parasympathetic (Throttle-Down System: Conserve Energy) in introverts
  3. Anterior Thalamus: Relay station – sends stimuli to frontal lobe and turns stimuli down in introverts
  4. Broca’s Area: Speech area where inner monologue is activated
  5. Frontal Lobe: Where thinking, planning, learning, and reasoning are engaged
  6. Hippocampus: Attuned to the environment and relays to long-term memory
  7. Amygdala: Emotional center, where emotions are attached to thoughts in introverts

Shorter Extrovert Dopamine Pathway

  1. Reticular Activating System: Stimuli enter here where alertness is regulated. Increased in introverts.
  2. Hypothalamus: Regulates thirst, temperature, and appetite. Turns on the Sympathetic (Full-Throttle System: Expend Energy) in extroverts
  3. Posterior Thalamus: Relay station – sends increased stimuli to amygdala
  4. Amygdala: Emotional center, where emotions are attached to actions in the motor area in extroverts
  5. Temporal and Motor Area: Movement connects to working memory (short-term). Also the center for learning and processing sensory and emotional stimuli

Introversion

Introverts walk around with lots of thoughts and feelings in their heads. They are mulling—comparing old and new experiences. They often have an ongoing dialogue with themselves. Since this is such a familiar experience, they may not realize that other minds work in different ways. Some introverts aren’t even aware that they think so much, or that they need time for ideas or solutions to “pop” into their heads. They need to reach back into long-term memory to locate information. This requires physical space to let their feelings and impressions bubble up. During REM sleep or while dreaming, this pathway integrates daily experiences and stores them in long-term memory, where they are filed in may areas of the brain. Introverts are in a constant distilling process that requires lots of “innergy”.

Acetylcholine also triggers the hypothalamus to send messages to the parasympathetic nervous system to conserve energy. This system slows the body down, allowing introverts to contemplate and examine the situation. If a decision is made to take action, it will require conscious thought and energy to get the body moving. This explains why many introverts can sit for long periods while they are concentrating. Acetylcholine also rewards concentration by giving [hits of happiness] but doesn’t give the charge of glucose and oxygen (energy) to the body. The introverted process results in behaviour affecting all areas of the introvert’s life.

The introvert brain has a higher level of internal activity and thinking than the extroverted brain. It is dominated by the long, slow acetylcholine pathway. Acetylcholine also triggers the parasympathetic nervous system that controls certain body functions and influences how introverts behave.

The fact that introverts’ brains are buzzing means that introverts are likely to:

  • Be absorbed in thought
  • Avoid crowds and seek quiet
  • Reflect and act in a careful way
  • Lose sight of what others are doing
  • Not show much facial expression or reaction
  • Get agitated without enough time alone or undisturbed
  • Proceed cautiously in meeting people and participate only in selected activities
  • Reduce eye contact when speaking to focus on collecting words and thoughts; increase eye contact when listening to take in information
  • Surprise others with their wealth of information
  • Shy away from too much attention or focus on themselves
  • Keep energy inside, making it difficult for others to know them
  • Appear glazed, dazed, or zoned out when stressed, tired, or in groups

The dominance of the long acetylcholine pathway means introverts:

  • Hesitate before speaking
  • May start talking in the middle of a thought, which can confuse others
  • Have a good memory but take a long time to retrieve memories
  • Can forget things they know very well—might stumble around when explaining their job or temporarily forget a word they want to use
  • May think they told you something when they just have thought about it
  • Not offer ideas freely; may need to be asked their opinion
  • Are clearer about ideas, thoughts, and feelings after sleeping on them
  • May not be aware of their thoughts unless they write or talk about them

The activation of the parasympathetic nervous system means that introverts:

  • May have trouble getting motivated or moving; might appear lazy
  • May be slow to react under stress
  • May have a calm or reserved manner; may walk, talk, or eat slowly
  • May need to regulate protein intake and body temperature
  • Must have breaks to restore energy

Traits of introverted children:

  • Watch and listen before joining an activity
  • Concentrate deeply on subjects of interest
  • Enjoy time alone in their room, energized by introspection
  • Speak after thinking things through
  • Have a strong sense of personal space and dislike people sitting too close or coming into their room without knocking
  • Be private and may need to be asked what they are thinking and feeling
  • Need validation; may have irrational self-doubts
  • Talk a lot if the topic is interesting, or if they are comfortable with the people

Extroversion

Extroverts are alert for sensory and emotional input. When they get stimuli, they can answer quickly because the pathway is rapid and responsive. Their short-term memory is on the tip of their tongue, so while the introvert is still waiting for a word, the extrovert has spit out several. Extroverts need more input to keep their feedback loop working. Their system alerts the sympathetic nervous system, which is designed to take action without too much thinking. It releases adrenaline, blood (oxygen) to muscles and glucose, thus flooding the body with energy. The release of neurotransmitters from various organs enters the feedback loop, sending components back to the brain to make more dopamine. Dopamine and adrenaline release [hits of happiness] from the “feel good” center. No wonder extroverts don’t want to slow down.

For introverts, all that adrenaline and glucose soon leaves them feeling wiped out. It is too stimulating, consumes too much fuel, and leaves them with their fuel tank empty. Since they don’t get as many [hits of happiness] from dopamine and adrenaline, and acetylcholine isn’t increased in this feedback loop, they don’t receive the same good feelings extroverts do from this side of the system.

The extroverted brain has less internal activity than the introverted brain. It scans the external world to gather stimulation to fuel the shorter, quicker dopamine pathway; the signals from the brain travel to the sympathetic nervous system that controls certain body functions and influences how extroverts behave.

The fact that extroverts’ brains are constantly seeking new input means that extroverts are likely to:

  • Crave outside stimulation; dislike being alone too long
  • Increase eye contact when speaking to take in others’ reactions, decrease eye contact when listening to notice what’s happening in the environment
  • Enjoy talking—and be skilled at it; feel energized by attention or the limelight

The dominance of the short dopamine pathway means that extroverts:

  • Shoot from the hip, and talk more than they listen
  • Have a good short-term memory that allows quick thinking
  • Do well on timed tests or under pressure
  • Feel invigorated by discussion, novelty, experiences
  • Make social chitchat easily and fluidly

The activation of the sympathetic nervous system means that extroverts:

  • Act quickly under stress
  • Enjoy moving their bodies and exercising
  • Have high energy levels, not need to eat as often
  • Be uncomfortable if they have nothing to do
  • Slow down and burn out in mid life

Traits of extroverted children:

  • Be gregarious and outgoing, except during normal developmental stages
  • Be energized by interactions and activities
  • Want to tell you all about their experiences and ideas immediately, covering lots of topics
  • Think out loud. They’ll walk around the house saying, “Where’s my ball?” or “I’m looking for my walkie-talkie” as they hunt for these items. They need to talk in order to make decisions.
  • Prefer time with others than time alone
  • Need lots of approval. For example, they need to hear what a good job they are doing or how much you like their gift.
  • Like variety and are easily distracted
  • Often volunteering what they are thinking and feeling

On social anxiety:

Rather than being self-centered, introverts are often really the opposite. Our ability to focus on our internal world and reflect on what we are feeling and experiencing allows us to understand the external world and other human beings better. What appears to be self-centeredness is actually the very talent that provides the capacity to understand what it’s like to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes. Extroverts are also focused on the self, but in a different way. Extroverts like socializing and require the company of other people, but it’s as much about the need to be stimulated – engage me, challenge me, give me something to react to – as it is to feel related. Since extroverts don’t generate as much internal stimulation as introverts do, they need to get it from outside.Maybe this is why extroverts put introverts down – we annoy them because they feel we are withholding, and we threaten them because we don’t shoot the breeze or socialize in the way they need.

Introverts aren’t unsocial – they are just social in a different way. Introverts need fewer relationships, but they like more connection and intimacy. Since it takes a great deal of our energy to engage with other people, we are reluctant to need to spend too much energy on socializing. That’s why we don’t enjoy idle chitchat. We prefer meaty conversations, which nourish us and energize us. Energy conservation is also why we are very interested in other people but sometimes prefer to observe others rather than join them.

Extroverts, being the majority, influence the entire cultural view of introversion. Extroverts’ verbal ease intimidates introverts, making it even easier for them to conclude that they shouldn’t speak. Introverts can appear cautious or passive to extroverts. Extroverts are so used to speaking off the top of their heads that they may be distrustful of more reticent introverts. When introverts speak with hesitation, extroverts may feel impatient: Just spit it out, they think. Why don’t you have more confidence in your own opinion? What are they trying to hide? Extroverts may experience an introvert as withholding information or ideas.

When introverts appear reluctant to speak or speak slowly, they often don’t engage extroverts. Extroverts may think (and introverts can think this, too) that introverts don’t have anything to contribute. Introverts dislike interrupting, so they might say something softly or without emphasis. Other times comments made by introverts have more depth than the general level of the conversation; because this may make people feel uncomfortable, they ignore the comment. Later another person may say the same thing and receive a great response. The introverted person feels unseen. It’s frustrating and confusing for them.

From the outside, many introverts give no hint about the mental gears grinding and meshing inside. In social situations their faces may look impassive or uninterested. Unless they are overwhelmed or they are really disinterested (if the topic is too lightweight), they are usually just thinking about what people are saying. They will share their thoughts if asked. People in the group may start to exclude introverts if they don’t keep eye contact and don’t give clues that they are listening.


Thoughts on Prometheus and, surprisingly, faith

(Spoiler City ahead)

This…

In my life, I’ve only ever seen two R-rated films at the theater; ironically, one was Alien:Resurrection, while on a summer trip in Japan (a friend there treated me, and I didn’t have the heart or the language skills to say “no”…plus, it looked fairly cool), and the second was Prometheus, a prequel of sorts to the Alien films, last weekend. Because my parents sometimes read this blog, and because I don’t want readers to get the false impression that I’m anything but cautious about the content of the movies I watch, I’d like to note that I first scrutinized the reasons behind Prometheus’ rating (“sci-fi violence including some intense images, and brief language”) as well as peeked at the content advisory at imdb.com (which is a fantastic resource for all things movies, btw). Anyway, the R-ness was basically what I expected; if not for a certain particularly intense scene, it probably would have been a PG-13.

The movie itself was good. Sadly, it was not great, just good. Like a lot of people, I had some big expectations for Prometheus: Ridley Scott, Damon Lindelof, a decent franchise to build on, a big budget, and some big, intriguing ideas all seemed to suggest the possibility, perhaps even likelihood of movie-making greatness. However, I should point out that the visuals and sound were fantastic, with some great sets, impressive sights, an interesting, multi-faceted score, and unobtrusively good CGI (as in, you weren’t reminded that you were looking at CGI). In fact, I suspect that the emphasis on visuals, in concert with what was no doubt a deliberately light touch on exposition, contributed substantially to the lingering sense of, well, “Huh?” which I and my friend experienced as we left the theater and began reflecting on the movie’s numerous apparent plot holes/calculated, sequel-friendly mysteries (such as, what exactly was that smoke monster? No wait, I mean, what exactly was that black liquid?).

…not this

For those lacking context, the movie is about a team of scientists whose search for the origins of human life on Earth leads them to a distant planet. The protagonist, Elizabeth Shaw, well-played by Noomi Rapace, is one of two lead scientists, specifically recruited by their corporate sponsor, we find out later, for her particular religious devotion, in the simple sense of being “a believer”, and which is outwardly evidenced by the small cross necklace she wears. These scientists come to this planet with the bright-eyed notion of either discovering their noble beginnings, or else disproving the whole idea of life having come from extraterrestrial sources. What they find there, instead of a glorious civilization of benevolent progenitors, is a decrepit, corpse-ridden biological weapons installation. Also, there is still alien life there – possessing varying degrees of sentience, but uniformly hostile. Oh yeah, there’s also an android among the crew who seems to be carrying out a hidden and, frankly, largely incomprehensible agenda, which puts them all at risk.

She’s cute (when she’s not running and screaming for her life)

What I found particularly interesting about this movie is that it didn’t make a big spectacle of religious faith and big scientific questions clashing. It so easily could have, but it didn’t, which I appreciated. Although doing so would have even further muddled an already hard-to-follow sequence of events, I like to think that the writers also recognized that this kind of conflict has been done before, and done well (such as in Contact or Signs, the latter of which I liked a great deal even though the rest of my siblings thought it was ridiculous). But perhaps more importantly, I imagine the writers felt that only a light touch on the subject was warranted for the purpose of telling Shaw’s and the film’s story. This is not to say that the inevitable contradiction of religious belief and worldview-altering discoveries was ignored completely; at one point in the film, one of the characters essentially poses to Shaw the question of how she can still believe in religious things (provided that late-21st-century Christianity has not become radically altered, this would include things like the creation of Earth and its inhabitants by a divine being for wise and benevolent purposes) even while their scientific paradigms are rapidly being dismantled. Taking a cue from her own father’s answer during her childhood, she responds that she simply chooses to believe.

I found this to be subtly profound. I have come to view faith, at its fundamental level of belief in something initially unverifiable, as analogous to a person’s experience of a film. Filmmakers try to tell a story, and they do so with techniques which are meant to make their story more believable and meaningful to their audiences; they may succeed or fail at this to varying extents (or, in religious terms, they may inadvertently introduce stumbling blocks which lead people away towards sin, or which make efforts at righteousness unnecessarily difficult). However, the individual audience members have the final say on how they personally receive a film, whatever its flaws or merits. This is why we use the phrase “suspension of disbelief” when talking about films; while we may find disbelief more natural or just more preferable when approaching films (certainly, such a tendency has value for differentiating quality), we can be persuaded by the virtues of a film to let go of these doubts and embrace it. If this is true for films made by fallible humans who scarcely know or care about us on any deep, meaningful level, then it is extra true for doctrines, principles, and guidance originating from a God who knows and loves us completely. When these things are presented to us in completeness and purity (a most significant premise!), it is us up to us to choose to believe these things or not. In fact, in LDS scripture, we are taught that even “a particle of faith” and a “desire to believe” are enough to get the ball of faith rolling, if they are all we can muster; in contrast, I have seen some movies whose barriers to appreciability were so great that perhaps no amount of film-faith could have allowed me to move past whatever doubts and uncertainties I had to fully embrace them in a gesture of complete acceptance and trust (recognition of this limitation is the main reason I no longer watch Michael Bay films, after the pain and angst of Transformers).

Anyway, Prometheus was good, but it got me thinking about faith, which is even better!

P.S. This is probably the most inaccurate movie summary ever written – although whatever film it is actually describing sounds pretty cool!


US Healthcare is going crazy

So, I’ve already posted one interesting article after another on Facebook today (well, they’re interesting to me, and I think they are pertinent to pretty much everyone). I thought I’d actually take some time to share one of these articles here, taking into account my dad’s complaint that Facebook is stealing potentially good blog content.

Healthcare. It’s not going anywhere. Or rather, whether or not the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) sticks around long enough for each of its measures to go into effect, the problematic-ness of health care in the US is not going anywhere. Check out this nice collection of graphs for a good overview.

Summary: Americans spend a lot more than other developed nations, but aren’t as healthy. The wealthy and old, not surprisingly, spend the most on healthcare. And, if you care about what’s going on with the federal budget (again, it’s pertinent to you if you are an American), you should care about Medicare and Medicaid because they are expected to explode over the next several decades (not unlike how I once heard in a Stake Priesthood meeting at BYU that the Church is literally exploding in South America! Ok ok, unlike that)


Boys apparently aren’t doing well

…I have encountered this idea before, but have not as of yet devoted a lot of time to processing the various sources relating to it. According to this and this article in the Deseret News, boys and young men are falling behind girls and young women in a variety of ways, so much so that a “multi-partisan Commission of thirty-four prominent authors, educators, researchers and practitioners” was convened in 2010 “to accomplish three goals: investigate the status of boys and their journey into manhood; identify both surface and underlying problems confronting boys and men; create a blueprint toward solutions” (source here). At some point (I can’t figure out when, exactly, but at least 11 months ago), the commission submitted a proposal to the Obama Administration requesting the creation of a White House Council on Boys and Men, much the like the White House Council on Women and Girls which exists; to date, there appears to be no movement by the White House on this (I will not offer speculation as to why).

Anyway, to summarize, boys aren’t doing well in our society, and it appears to be a problem with both short-term and long-term implications. This is not about championing one gender over the other, but because the well-being of both is crucial.


Science readings on same-sex attraction lately

I don’t like to be a rabble-rouser about issues that many find sensitive, controversial, or otherwise uncomfortable, but I also have a sometimes voracious appetite for the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Once I am able to satisfy that appetite regarding some matter, I experience some inclination to share my findings, especially when they can help dispel misinformation and misunderstandings observed among others.

Obviously, same-sex attraction (SSA) is a big issue these days, which is to say, many in the public sphere, and to a somewhat lesser extent in the private sphere, talk about it with some frequency. Probably the vast majority of these people do so as part of an earnest attempt to promote good, as they see it. For instance, one of my sisters recently pointed me to this blog post, a sincere and heartfelt attempt to think through a challenging issue (you can even see my comment, most of the way down the page).

Now, as one who considers himself a man of science, I have spent a lot of time digging into the scientific literature on matters surrounding SSA, and such efforts have been very fruitful. This may not come as a humongous surprise to you, but it has really revealed how fragmentary, and in some cases even deliberate, the transmission of scientific information on SSA has been; most people, including both producers and consumers of “the media”, have little interest, understanding, or training in getting all the gory details (or is it boring details?) of what the seemingly constant flow of scientific knowledge says about this and that. At most, people typically are willing to discuss just bite-sized versions of a few select studies here and there every now and then. This is very understandable, and yet, I have happily found that you can learn an awful lot by reading what systematic, rational investigation has uncovered on even complex, confusing issues like SSA.

That said, I’ve been going through this article for the past few hours, and it has been very interesting, albeit pretty technical. There’s a lot I could say about it, which most people would find really boring and/or confusing (and of course, for anyone unprepared for sterile, detached scientific analysis, it would not be very meaningful). I’ve included the text’s conclusion section below, but mostly it boils down to this:

  • people for whom SSA is an issue generally experience a higher prevalence of mental health conditions, around 3x more, compared to those who are other-sex attracted (OSA).
  • negative societal influences probably do not play as much of a role in these hardships as many commonly believe. Even for the very serious problem of suicide, “perceived discrimination involving oversensitivity rather than actual discrimination”, relational breakups, and substance abuse-related depression appear to be significantly more important factors than societal pressures.
  • given the apparently internal nature of these co-morbidities, there appears to be a very important role for therapy to play for those clients with unwanted SSA (Note: although the article didn’t get into it, the idea that SSA is all biological and immutable, end of story, isn’t backed by as much scientific evidence as you might think, whereas evidence for the pre-eminence of psychosocial factors in SSA is stronger than you might think. I’ll have to get into that more another time).

On a final note, it should go without saying that none of these findings should ever justify any sort of cruelty or unkindness shown to those affected by same-sex attraction. Although it may be practically impossible to eliminate all behaviors which could be potentially construed as hurtful, nevertheless kindness and understanding should always be fundamental goals of human interaction in all cases.

From the article:

SSA people have a lamentably high variety and intensity of mental health conditions, and there is evidence that this is much less due to societal pressure and attitudes than commonly supposed. Conversely, disorders are much more due to particular psychological coping mechanisms than usually supposed. The gender-reversed nature of these conditions argues a link to the SSA itself. Causes of suicide among SSA people are probably a result of perceived discrimination involving oversensitivity rather than actual discrimination, but are also due to relationship breakup and depression linked to substance abuse. They are unlikely to be much improved by societal change—the origins are within the SSA person and can probably be investigated within the therapeutic process.

Gay, lesbian, and bisexual populations are demanding the right to be free from all events that trigger their unusual sensitivity. However, that demand threatens to swallow the entire legal system, educational system, religious denominations, and professional bodies in many countries, and there is very little evidence it will make a significant difference to the mental health or suicidality of homosexuals. Therapy is more likely to have a positive impact and should be provided with attention to meeting the goals of the client and not taking lightly the varying needs and issues that may need to be addressed.

The body of literature on co-morbidities may also demonstrate a possible reason that some people are dissatisfied with their orientation and/or lifestyle and may seek change. Therapists should be sensitive to such requests—not simply dismissing them, but providing therapeutic assistance to help dissatisfied clients pursue their desired goals.


Projects on the horizon

Hello all,

After a long hiatus, I am on the verge of beginning to write again. Naturally, a lot has happened in my life since I stopped blogging, most of it revolving around school, learning new things, and thinking critically about phenomena in our lives and society. Currently, I’m looking for work, which of course makes me wary of committing myself to yet another potential distraction from what is often an unfulfilling, demoralizing pursuit. On the other hand, meh, I’ve got time (at least right now this very moment).

I’ve thought about spinning off from this blog to start a new, more focused, and, I hope, more respectable-looking website. Perhaps I will do this at some point. In the mean time, below are some things I have thought a lot about discussing, and which I might actually discuss here or at another place. Timing is, of course, TBD.

  • policy things, mostly revolving around economics and the federal budget. My graduate studies’ emphasis dealt with these matters, and I think they are fairly interesting and quite pertinent for everyone in the labor force and/or receiving any benefits from government spending (this should cover just about everyone, even isolated survivalists who breathe air affected by government policy or occasionally travel by road).
  • social things, mostly dealing with things like this, which is to say, critical thinking on the health and sustainability of our society and its current trajectory. As far as my overall argument, I’ll give you a preview: it’s not looking great, and like so many of our problems, it is primarily caused by “we the people”; the corollary is, of course, that it can be turned around by people thinking and behaving differently individually and in the aggregate.
  • science stuff, mostly dealing with epistemology and the methods and logic behind big, sometimes controversial findings and interpretations. I have observed that most people who aren’t actual scientific practitioners don’t understand science very well. For many, probably the vast majority, of the products of the application of the scientific method, the disconnect between user understanding and methods is inconsequential – for instance, the fact that I barely understand anything about computers does not meaningfully diminish my utility derived from using them. For other products of science, I would argue, the underlying methods and what we understand about them affects, respectively, their likely veracity and how productively they can be employed by us. Whatever writing I do on this will mostly favor thought experiment over prescription, with perhaps some important exceptions.
  • things religious and spiritual. I probably will not go too deeply into these, ironically because they are so personal and important to me. Nevertheless, they are fundamental to a theme I will be returning to again and again, namely that our internal matters are closely related to our external matters.
  • I have actually thought a great deal about writing a book which somehow synthesizes the separate strands above into one great whole, which communicates the responsibility for and, if you follow the causal chain far enough ahead, the great practical significance of the things we think and consequently do. This is to say that the things we think have real, and in some cases potentially destructive (0r, happily, constructive) consequences in the long term. Just writing that makes me realize what a tall order this book idea is. Maybe I will end up doing it, and maybe I will not. At any rate, I think it will be worthwhile to discuss the above portions at some length in electronic form.

On conquering depression, or any other flaw which troubles the soul

My sister at Mishtown has been expanding into my philosophical turf for some time now, and with this quote by Andrew Solomon (whoever that is) has truly upstaged me:

“People around depressives expect them to get themselves together: our society has little room in it for moping. Spouses, parents, children, and friends are all subject to being brought down themselves, and they do not want to be close to measureless pain. No one can do anything but beg for help (if he can do even that) at the lowest depths of a major depression, but once the help is provided, it must also be accepted. We would all like Prozac to do it for us, but in my experience, Prozac doesn’t do it unless we help it along. Listen to the people who love you. Believe that they are worth living for even when you don’t believe it. Seek out the memories depression takes away and project them into the future. Be brave; be strong; take your pills. Exercise because it’s good for you even if every step weighs a thousand pounds. Eat when food itself disgusts you. Reason with yourself when you have lost your reason. These fortune-cookie admonitions sound pat, but the surest way out of depression is to dislike it and not to let yourself grow accustomed to it. Block out the terrible thoughts that invade your mind.”

As one who has trodden through the bleak, black wasteland of depression, so much of this quote rings true for me! Conquering depression is an act of faith like no other. It requires one to assess their current state and ability to feel and think, which are most likely horrifically impaired, and then, in courageous defiance to say “I don’t care. I am going to choose to believe otherwise, and I am going to move forward, and in the end, I am going to win.” Is such courage easy or inexpensive? No, it requires one to step into the dark of uncertainty and away from what is already known and which may even be comfortable, in spite of the unhappiness it brings. Yes, I am suggesting that things which make us unhappy may, paradoxically, also be or become more familiar and comfortable to us than the prospect of fighting against them. Solomon seems to imply this when he says “the surest way out of depression is to dislike it and not let yourself grow accustomed to it.” Although mental illness is just one of a host of conditions which may ail the human soul, I do not think it is too much of a stretch to say that this principle can be applied to most if not all other things about our characters or circumstances about which we feel inadequacy, dissatisfaction, or unhappiness.

Life is about faith, and faith, I think, is about having the courage to believe on the words of others who have gone before and had authentic experiences with the divine or the formerly unknown, and then individually having the courage and resolve to do likewise, even when a thousand voices cry out that doubt is so much more reliable and safe. In time, we will find that the effort, quite possibly even herculean, to believe, to do, and to persevere pays off in ways which previously were unimaginable.

Mercifully, there is never a point at which it is too late to choose this path!


Deep Beauty

In church today, we had a lesson on the divinity of women, and it was fantastic! We had a great discussion about a recent talk given by Elaine S. Dalton, in which she defines “deep beauty” as a

“kind of beauty that shines from the inside out. It is the kind of beauty that cannot be painted on, surgically created, or purchased. It is the kind of beauty that doesn’t wash off. It is spiritual attractiveness. Deep beauty springs from virtue. It is the beauty of being chaste and morally clean. It is the kind of beauty that you see in the eyes of virtuous women like your mother and grandmother. It is a beauty that is earned through faith, repentance, and honoring covenants.”

How very true! Thank you to all you wonderful women in my life who have and are developing this remarkable trait! You know who you are – and if you don’t know who you are, well, stop being so hard on yourself and recognize how good you are :-)


If Jack Handey WERE dead, this is how he would want to be remembered

Discovering these articles by Jack Handey in The New Yorker may just have been my most important discovery of this decade so far. Check this one out here.


Spring – a time for rebirth and renewed ambition

Well, spring time is finally upon us. And by us, I mean people who don’t live in Utah, because I understand things have been quite un-springlike there lately.

Over here in the East, however, we have finally left winter behind; Snowpocalypse 2010 is just a vague, strange memory. Now, the sun is shining. Plants are growing and sprouting new colors. Girls are looking mighty fine again. I find myself in a good mood when I go outside, and things no longer seem as dreary and crowded. Would I appreciate spring as much without winter and fall? Perhaps not. That said, I sure am grateful for spring!

I find my ambitions returning as well. This cannot be completely explained by the change of seasons – it also has to do with my own painstaking, gradual figuring-out of things. Gone are any serious plans of a nonprofit career (part of the problem was that I could not envision any “serious”, practical way of marketing my ideas. And that may be for the best) – at least in the forseeable future. Plans to scope out North Carolina are on hiatus for the time being, as I presently find myself more content with DC. I have finally decided to make my program concentration budget and public finance, and am looking forward to my first associated course, Governmental Budgeting, over the summer. I call this nerd-citement!

Now, I am looking for jobs, including government jobs, which I used to deliberately overlook as a matter of libertarian-ish pride; that’s a big step for me, especially since it will greatly increase my long-term chances for employment! I really, really look forward to being employed in some capacity which is a good fit for me. I recently hypothesized that my ability to move forward with dating and relationships will be greatly improved by a stable income and a more structured lifestyle to keep my curiosity, creativity, and aspirations more in check. As much as I love, and I mean love freedom, I also recognize that freedom without structure, commitment, and discipline is kind of a sham. If we willingly refuse our assent to all norms, standards, and expectations, we will inevitably find that we have in fact become enslaved by our appetites and passions instead.

Although more structure and more time spent in gainful employment is preferrable over all, I also look forward to being done with job searching so I can spend more time on more interesting things: learning to play drums and bass, getting people together to jam, playing Starcraft with buddies (oh wait, I do that already), playing with friends in general, starting a new blog (and making this one more private), updating my threads (income is essential for that!), putting together a discussion series on interesting topics, getting more exercise to shed some winter pounds – those are my big ones right now. Even without the job search weighing on me, I acknowledge that I probably won’t get around to all of these, which is probably just as well. I’m just happy to have renewed aspirations :-)


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.