Posts tagged with feelings


[M]y only qualifications … are having read several books about marriage and experience from my own marriage, now in its 30th year…
  • “… a misconception: … to make a marriage work, you have to find the right person. The fact is, you have to be the right person,…
  • … students … interview friends about their … weaknesses, and discuss what triggers their … reactions … in order to understand their … hot buttons… “Being blind to these causes people to experience problems as due to someone else—not to themselves,” Solomon explains. “We all have triggers, blind spots, growing edges, vulnerabilities. The best thing we can do is be aware of them, take responsibility for them, and learn how to work with them effectively.”

  • … blaming, oversimplifying, and seeing themselves as victims are all common traits of unhappy couples and failed marriages. …
  • frame statements as “X, Y, Z” statements, rather than finger pointing: When you did X, in situation Y, I felt Z….

Here are a few of my own thoughts on marriage: 

  1. There are a huge number of dimensions on which one might wish to be well-matched with one’s spouse. There is no way you are going to be well-matched on all of those dimensions.
  2. The reputation you have built up with your partner for telling the truth about objective facts is a precious asset in any relationship. …[T]here is bound to be some way to tell the truth. (If you can’t think straight, say “I can’t talk about this right now,” rather than lying.) The more subjective realm of revealing what is in your heart is trickier; seize moments when you will be able to express yourself well and be well understood. It is worth working toward being known.
  3. In an argument, if each partner comes back with 101% of the irate heat the other just gave, things will explode. But if each partner ratchets down the intensity to 99% of the intensity of the last remark, things will eventually calm down.* So a small difference in reaction pattern can be the difference between an explosion and something that simmers down.


* Math note: To pursue the logic a bit more, if your partner is coming back with 125% intensity on each round, you are going to have to return less than 80% intensity on each round to avoid an explosive chain reaction….

A regular reader writes in:

I tried that for a long time. It was better than escalating in the short term. But I eventually realized that some people like explosions, and created them when they weren’t happening.

…having been married for a long time, I can guarantee you, that no one on the outside has any idea what goes on inside a marriage.

The parts of being married I enjoyed were great. I’ll never do it again.

[T]he impulse of the heart often coincided with other imperatives.

happy love, i.e., love which is socially approved and thus likely to succeed, is nothing but that kind of amor fati, … love of one’s own social destiny, which, by the apparently hazardous and arbitrary paths of free choice, unites partners already socially predestined for each other.

Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error by Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie — quoting Pierre Bourdieu

Birds appear to offer, in their behavior, neurophysiology, and neuroanatomy a striking case of parallel evolution of consciousness. Evidence of near human-like levels of consciousness has been most dramatically observed in African grey parrots. Mammalian and avian emotional networks and cognitive microcircuitries appear to be far more homologous than previously thought. Moreover, certain species of birds have been found to exhibit neural sleep patterns similar to those of mammals, including REM sleep and, as was demonstrated in zebra finches, neurophysiological patterns, previously thought to require a mammalian neocortex. Magpies in particular have been shown to exhibit striking similarities to humans, great apes, dolphins, and elephants in studies of mirror self-recognition.

Evidence that human and non-human animal emotional feelings arise from homologous subcortical brain networks provide compelling evidence for evolutionarily shared primal affective qualia.

“The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, 2012

hat tip to fibrations

(Source: fcmconference.org)

Warning: this story is not suitable for children.

Thinking about hate. I’ve felt hatred before. And I’ve been hated. There are people I still have it out for. And there may be people who still have it out for me. I’ve been on someone’s sh*t list. I’ve been happy when someone died. I’ve maybe even been someone’s worst enemy. I still hold certain grudges.

But sometimes if you hold a grudge for long enough, the person you hate has changed. They’ve moved on with their life, past the person they were when they screwed you. Like if you wait 20, 30, 40 years to really prove your parents wrong—I’ll show you! When you’re old and weak and I’m middle-aged and strong, then we’ll see who laughs last!—by the time they get there, they may be so feeble in body or in mind that the thing you’re still mad about, they’ve totally forgotten, or could no longer conceive of doing, or now it’s like you’re going to beat up on a little old man|woman. That victorious retribution you dreamt of…can it ever be found? Likewise with their dreams of a million-dollar adventurous retirement—with their sedentary habits formed, their medical bills rising, and their bodies too feeble to adventure so much anymore—where did that go, either? Something to think about.

(Source: thisamericanlife.org)

  • "I wanted to be pissed about my breast cancer"
  • "They wanted to be angry about being laid off"
  • "It’s untrue that a positive attitude boosting the immune system increases the odds of withstanding cancer" "I have a Ph.D in cellular immunology"
  • Quantum physics become an excuse to mock all of science
  • "I didn’t come out of cancer more spiritual or a better person. If anything I’m a little meaner and more cynical"
  • There is no “real world”, there’s the real world through my positive mood and the real world through my bad mood.

Smile or Die by Barbara Ehrenreich

A tiny portion of Doug Hofstadter’s “semantic network”.
via jewcrew728, structure of entropy


In 20th-century abstract mathematics, one builds up ideas and properties—not assuming anything except what one is told. You think 2+3=5? Well in my space that I just made up, e₂⊕e₃ = e₁, and 5 doesn’t even exist!

Concepts are added in incrementally, like

  • ‖A‖ means the “size” of A. size exists
  • ‖A − B‖ means the “distance” between A and B. plus exists & negative exists; or, comparison exists
  • (If zero exists, we could say the size of A = the distance between A and 0: ‖ A − 0 ‖ = ‖A‖.)
  • ⟨ A | B ⟩ means A “times” B. times exists
  • arccos ⟨A|B⟩ ‖A‖⁻¹ ‖B‖⁻¹ inverses exist. times exists. so angle exists
  • topology adds in neighbourhood relationships—not necessarily in a way that you can infer size or distance (∵¬□∃ metric), but so that you could talk about paths or connectedness
  • order or ranking — is it a total order? a transitive order? a partial order? a lattice? Order is subordinate to size, to distance, and to linearity.
  • dimensionality — a set containing { ‘a’, ‘b’, the moon, 12, the vector (0 1 1 0 1)∈ℝ⁵, my cat’s hairball } doesn’t inherently have dimensions to it — so structured sets like ℝ² are supposed to explain how their universe breaks down
  • linearitypossibly the scariest word in mathematics class? I’ve tried and will continue to try to explain it elsewhere, but “linear” is an extremely-restrictive-but-not-that-restrictive-because-so-many-things-are-linear-once-you-allow-calculus-and-maps-across-domains-for-example-fourier-transforms property. Linearity presumes monotonicity (order preservation), size, and a kind of “constancy” that tells you if 2 went to 4, then 13 is going to go to 26. Or “the 26 of the present land”.

Someone GPL’ed this nice (but not comprehensive) chart of two paths through the theory space—starting with a pair (thing, operation) [“magma”—sweet name, right?] and gradually adding more and more axioms until you get to a group.


Mathematical words obtain everyday meaning—sometimes unexpected meaning—in applications. For example

  • "angle" might mean "correlation" — the angle between two pulse-trains would be their correlation; and in recommendation engines the matrix “cosine distance” is a basic measure of similarity
  • "multiplication" — well what if you want to multiply two functions together? You could convolve them. Convolution doesn’t seem very much at all the same action as 3×8 = three groups of eight. Neither do Photoshop blends seem like multiplication, but some of them are.
  • "size" — well maybe I mean "how well the business did" on a slew of different metrics — in which case, are there 20 different conceptions of "size"? I guess so.

Could you multiply two trees together? Could you define the angle between two natural numbers? The angle between two business models? Sure. If you know what you’re doing and why, you might even come up with a conclusion that makes sense. It all depends on (a) your ingenuity, (b) domain knowledge of the real-life situation, and (c) mathematical vocabulary.

Sometimes there is more than one interpretation that works with a given set. For example, {0,1} × {0,1} → {0,1} might be joined to operations that define “logical AND" and "logical OR”, or it might be interpreted just as on/off. Or it might be interpreted as the story of unrequited love.


All of that preface is meant to dislodge any notions you might have that ℝ² is somehow a “default” or “standard” paradigm. Sometimes number×number is an appropriate metaphor and sometimes not.

For example in the movie Rogue Trader, Nick Leeson’s boss is portrayed talking about “synergy” and “the information curve”. “Nick has positioned himself right there on the information curve!” It’s a parody and nobody seems to know quite what “the information curve” is (what’s on the axes? why is it curved?) but because Nick appears to be earning 70% of Barings’ profits, nobody questions the information curve.

Your typical crappy airport “business advice” books—Thomas Friedman kind of crap—will throw around 2-D charts that make no sense as well. Please leave some pics in the comments if you know what I’m talking about and examples come to mind. Here are a few dubious 2-D metaphors:



The “political compass” labels reduce the complexity of the world in particular ways that suit the rhetorical aims of these libertarian authors. For example projecting totalitarianism and populism into the same neighbourhood when one could just as well project them onto opposite ends of some other spectrum.

Here are some dubious scales—where either order, linearity, or 1-dimensionality is suspect.

This chart additionally uses way too many significant figures. How is it you gauge "total novelty in the universe" again?


(Remember: {"heroic", ”pragmatic”, ”circumspect”, ”brazen”} also comprises or belongs to a scale—in the ggplot sense of the word as well as other senses.)


Wow! You mean that losses are bad and earnings are good? That is some insightful business insight.



Crappy reductions needn’t be 2-D. The MBTI is a crappy reduction of personality in 4-D. And here are some in 1-D and other-D:


I like how step 5 leads to step 2. This should be a list rather than a flow.

Bloom's taxonomy is unjustified, both the projections and the order

Order, 1-dimensionality questionable.

Again, a list. This one has a heading. Apparently headings deserve 4 connecting wires whereas list items only deserve 3?

This is just a list of things. There is no “center” or “flow” or “order” or “cycle” relationship. Maybe “give them” and “get them” could have used a two-way arrow between them.


8-D and I just do not understand what these axis labels mean.

I actually spent hours finding the worst graphics evar. Not gonna tell you my google keywords though.


And, not to be critical all the time, here’s a 2-D metaphor that does work:



Stagepiece one: undermine the conceit that ℝ² is a default. Stagepiece two: cruddy graphics from various domains that force a metaphor that doesn’t really work. And now, the main act.

Today, I want to take aim at a highly suspect 2-D chart from the world of psychology:  the affect × intensity description of feelings.




Right away when I look at this, it seems like an overly limiting and not internally valid picture of emotional range. Like so many taxonomies, it gets deeply under my skin in a way that I can’t explain, except to shout: Bad theory! Bad theory!  I mean — how does it make sense to say

  1. that each of these states is a point, as opposed to a spray or splotch or something else
  2. that this precise “point” is the same for all individuals
  3. "delighted" is slightly to the left of "happy" but happy is directly above "pleased"
  4. that “sleepy” is to the right of “tired” instead of the other way around
  5. that tired and sleepy are the same distance from each other as “pleased” and “glad”
  6. WTF is “droopy”? It sounds like a word to be applied to a plant, not a person. I also don’t think it qualifies as an emotion. "Droopy" sounds like a word Good Housekeeping would use to shame a 1950’s American married woman for not being perky! happy! sexy! listening! rubbing his feet! when her husband returns home from work.
  7. Are “sleepy” and “tense” actually moods or emotions? They sound like physical states.
  8. All of these emotions are near the perimeter, but some are closer to the origin than others
  9. sad minus gloomy = satisfied minus calm
??? because all of those are implicit in the drawings.

Remember what I was outlining at first. In abstract mathematics and in deciding the shape of a theory, we shouldn’t assume anything that doesn’t have to be assumed to explain the results.

I could attack the valence-intensity model in at least two ways.

  1. First would be to exclaim “But you didn’t justify any of that stuff! Linearity? Dimensionality? Order? You skipped it all! Where’s the justification?”
  2. Second, perhaps a little stronger than merely asking for backup, would be to point out flaws. For example if I could find a counterexample showing that emotional states don’t have magnitude, can’t be added, don’t break down on dimensions, or aren’t linear across dimensions.
The easiest critique of type [2] I could think of is to question the existence of a “zero-point” emotion. It might be possible to have low-or-zero activation of an emotion on the intensity axis, but on the valence axis? Could I have high intensity of zero valence? What about high intensity in the negative direction at zero valence? It doesn’t make sense.

I came up with a list—several years ago—of different feelings which all could contend for “emotional zero”.

  • neither happy nor sad
  • neutral
  • feel blank
  • both happy and sad (bittersweet)
  • not sure
  • ambivalent
  • "I feel nothing"
  • kinda sort
  • middling

That’s just feelings we have the words for. There are lots of nameless emotions (or emotional superpositions) that could contend for the neutral canvas — the origin from which all other emotions are measured.

The fact that so many clearly distinct feelings all contend for the “origin” made me think there is, in fact, no origin. But making the space affine (removing zero) doesn’t fix the problems I had begun to notice with the circumplex view of the emotional spectrum. I think we just have to think of the range of emotions as a totally different kind of space. I don’t know its topology; I do believe there should be some “activation level” (like a scalar) at least sometimes; I do believe that superpositions are possible.



The act of writing is like the collapse of a quantum waveform. So many things are in your mind, interacting with each other, unsaid. Many truths — some at odds with others — could be spun into a thread. But whatever you write crystallizes as the story. The other ephemera die.

Since speech is serial, it’s hard to portray the composite quality of real-time motivations, perceptions, emotions, impulses, sentiments, choices, …. I’ve heard that Chinese poetry can multi-track — and perhaps many great writers can — but not me. 

Quantum Quacks

Even Roger Penrose was roundly mocked for suggesting that quantum interactions in the brain relate to free will. Going the other direction, What the bleep do we know? draws several intellectually limp conclusions from quantum mechanics, e.g. that QM implies the possibility of telekinesis. (I would say that the authors must have leapt to conclusions from blurbs & pamphlets, except that Niels Bohr and Wolfgang Pauli also took spiritualistic and parapsychological views on QM.)

So it would seem that connections between QM and psychology are limited to quackery.



However, QM is just an abstract mathematical theory. You don’t have to plug physical parameters into the formalism. In that sense you can abscond the superposition-and-collapse metaphor out of the subatomic realm where it was invented and apply it to other things — like thought.

In other words, you don’t have to talk about quantum superposition. You can talk about emotional superposition, opinion superposition, mood superposition, colour superposition (like, are these images green? red? blue? 1 2 3 4 5), personality superposition, guilt superposition, … and more.

If I say: “I had a superposition of thoughts during the bear attack which collapsed into a 1-D sequence when I told the story,” that is valid.

It’s neither what-the-bleep nor relying on quantum effects on my brain. I just appropriated the mathematical metaphor of superposition and the mathematical metaphor of collapse, to express how I can’t really tell you the whole story of the bear attack, and how the telling perverts the story itself.

Despite what the MBTI claims, logical and emotional are not opposites. 

You mean to tell me that,

  • because I cried when I watched Brokeback Mountain and Never Let Me Go;
  • because I empathise with a character in a book;
  • because I’m moved by the majesty of nature;
  • because I relate to people, because I listen, because I think other perspectives are valid;
  • because I like art,

that I can’t follow a deductive argument? That I can’t understand modus ponens or learn to program a computer? Or conversely, that because a kid scored 100% on the math test, that s/he has no feelings?

That doesn’t make sense.

Just like the artist-versus-businessman-versus-engineer divide, logical-versus-emotional is an artificial, invalid, made-up limitation on people.

Not saying I agree with this classification … but consider it a more topologically complex alternative to the ≅ℝ² picture of {positive vs negative affect} ⨯ {high/low energy} used in the “Miller mood map”.
I’m not even sure if that’s the correct term for the ≅ℝ² story — but that story is wrong. Google “valence” and “affect” or “mood” to get the skinny on it.

Math questions:
where is 0?
Is there a 0?
How do you go from one state to another?
Which states are easiest to reach ("closest to") from which other states? 
Is distance non-commutative? Differing length to get from A→D→C versus A→E→C? And different in reverse C→E→A?

Not saying I agree with this classification … but consider it a more topologically complex alternative to the ≅ℝ² picture of {positive vs negative affect} ⨯ {high/low energy} used in the “Miller mood map”.

I’m not even sure if that’s the correct term for the ≅ℝ² story — but that story is wrong. Google “valence” and “affect” or “mood” to get the skinny on it.

Math questions:

  • where is 0?
  • Is there a 0?
  • How do you go from one state to another?
  • Which states are easiest to reach ("closest to") from which other states? 
  • Is distance non-commutative? Differing length to get from A→D→C versus A→E→C? And different in reverse C→E→A?