Hyper-Vigilance and Feedback

14 November 2017

Psychologists vary in precisely what they mean when using the term vigilant or hyper[-]vigilant to describe a personality type. What is common across notions and here relevant is an acute concern about — and sensitivity to — behavior by others that may carry information about intention, about propensity, or about capacity. Hyper-vigilance typically arises as an attempted adaptation in response to seriously hurtful experience; it is in any case a self-defense behavior more focussed on identifying hostile or otherwise threatening intentions, propensities, or capacities, and should be expected to be associated with other defensive behaviors and more generally with personality attributes that arise from injury.

Hyper-vigilance itself is not the same thing as paranoia. When there is an element of irrationality to hyper-vigilance as such, it is in an over-commitment of resources to the tasks of awareness or of interpretation. The hyper-vigilant may otherwise be for the most part rational in their interpretations of behavior. (And one cannot reasonably infer that there is an over-commitment of resources simply from the fact that a hyper-vigilant person is seeking greater awareness.) A paranoid systematically makes important inferences that are themselves unreasonable.

The skills of the hyper-vigilant (and, for that matter, the unreasonable inferential practices of the paranoid) aren't always employed for purposes of self-defense. People may be identified as well-intentioned or peculiarly talented, and cultivated as friends; people may be perceived as having concealed vulnerabilities, and quietly given protection.

When two people interact — whether either is hyper-vigilant or not and so long as they are at all social — they consciously or unconsciously each size-up the other. The behavior of each usually adjusts to anything learned in the present encounter, and that adjustment of behavior may then communicate something new to the other, causing a counter-adjustment on his or her part. When two people have complementary emotional responses each to the other, a feedback loop is creäted, and the responses amplify to some extent. These feedback loops can cause people to take relatively quick and markèd likings or dislikings each to the other.

When hyper-vigilant people interact, complementarity has a still more pronounced effect. They can move to attack or become friends or come to love or indeed fall in love with a speed that startles everyone — including the two people in the feedback loop if they've never considered the dynamic or if they haven't each discerned that the other is not merely ill- or good-willed but also hyper-vigilant. Because hyper-vigilance is a behavior of self-defense, it is likely to be accompanied by a suppression or masking of behaviors that would otherwise expose emotions or reveal defensive abilities or propensities, and hyper-vigilance itself would be one of those behaviors; additionally, a hyper-vigilant person may conceal vigilance to avoid censure (especially as hyper-vigilance is widely equated with paranoia). Thus one or both of two hyper-vigilant people may miss this important insight in the implicit challenge of reading the other, especially when vigilance is operating largely at an unconscious level.

'Blog Presentation Tweaks

5 November 2017

I've made some changes to the code that determines the presentation of this 'blog, in order to make it more useable with devices such as cellular phone sets and tablets. Some visitors will observe substantial improvement.

There will probably be more changes to come, and during my attempts to effect such changes, the 'blog may occasionally behave dysfunctionally. If you observe a persistent problem in presentation, even if one long-standing, then please contact me, being as precise as you can about which device, operating system. and browser you use.

Responsible Voting

18 October 2017

It was once socially accepted that people were not responsible for acts of a wide variety if the persons engaged in them while intoxicated, even if the intoxication were quite voluntary and the engagement active. Over time that attitude has eroded. After all, a person who chooses to be intoxicated chooses to engage in increased probability that he or she will effect those acts. If a person who chose to drink passes-out on the front lawn, drives his vehicle into a pedestrian, or beats his domestic partner, few people would insist that he didn't choose to do such a thing. And, should we meet one of those few people, we rightly suspect that they cannot be trusted to use intoxicants responsibly.

In response to the campaign of Bernard (Bernie) Sanders, a great many people embraced things that they called democratic socialism. They didn't actually agree amongst themselves as to what this term meant. Many of them insisted that democratic socialism weren't socialism, which insistence did not provoke as often as it should a question as to why then its name should contain socialism. The answer simply was that Sanders had long referred to what he advocated with this term; they were stuck with socialism if they held onto Sanders. Whether they admitted that democratic socialism referred to socialism or not, all of the folk calling for something by that name sought to neutralize the dire associations of socialism with various outcomes that had been observed when regimes had been identified by that label. And all of these folk, whether or not they acknowledged that they were referring to socialism, agreed that what they called democratic socialism would indeed be democratic.

That insistence has afforded them a rhetorical ploy for dealing not only with socialistic regimes that were never democratic, but with socialistic regimes that have lost popular support, such as that in Venezuela. Absenting that support, these regimes are said not to be democratic, and hence plainly not to represent whatever might properly be called democratic socialism. But when a socialistic regime is brought to power by democratic means, in a framework of law that was effected by democratic means, and then uses that law to take unpopular actions, to insist that the regime is undemocratic begins to resemble claiming that the neighbors passed-out on the lawn, driving their cars into pedestrians, or beating their domestic partners did not choose to do such things. Oh yes they did. And anyone who insists otherwise is to be regarded as dangerous with the relevant intoxicants, including ballots.

Indeed, for most of recent history, popular opinion was not treated as particularly important in application to America by most Americans who came to call for democratic socialism. They had earlier thought it perfectly democratic when the Democratic Party, democratically elected to majority control of both Chambers of Congress and to the Presidency, effected various measures that were in fact widely unpopular with the more general population. President Obama advised the Republicans to win some elections. When they did, so that the Democrats lost first the House of Representatives and then the Senate, he and most of these folk for democratic socialism held to the idea that his democratic election to the Presidency legitimized his actions in defiance both of the votes of the Congress and of popular opinion amongst the wider population. Popular opinion in Venezuela and elsewhere has emerged as ostensibly relevant to democratic socialism exactly and only because, once again, socialism — even socialism within a framework democratically effected — has devolved as it always will if allowed to persist. There is no magic in democracy.

The state is a terrible institution, to be checked by an institutional framework that resists its growth, instead of enabled to grow by fantasies that amateurs or experts can use it expansively to bring about a more humane world.

Helmholtz's Zählen und Messen

16 October 2017

When I first encountered mention of Zählen und Messen, erkenntnisstheoretisch betrachtet [Numbering and Measuring, Epistemologically Considered] by Hermann [Ludwig Ferdinand] von Helmholtz, which sought to construct arithmetic on an empiricist foundation, I was interested. But for a very long while I did not act on that interest.

A few years ago, I learned of Zahl und Mass in der Ökonomik: Eine kritische Untersuchung der mathematischen Methode und der mathematischen Preistheorie (1893), by Andreas Heinrich Voigt, a early work on the mathematics of utility, and that it drew upon Helmholtz's Zählen und Messen, which impelled me to seek a copy of the latter to read. To my annoyance, I found that there was no English-language version of it freely available on-line. I decided to create one, but was distracted from the project by other matters. A few days ago, I recognized that my immediate circumstances were such that it might be a good time to return to the task.

I have produced a translation, Numbering and Measuring, Epistemologically Considered by Hermann von Helmholtz It is not much better than serviceable. I don't plan to return to the work, to refine the translation, except perhaps where some reader has suggested a clear improvement and I effect a transcription.

I have not inserted what criticisms I might make of this work into the document. Nor have I presented my thoughts on how Helmholtz's ostensible empiricism and Frege's logicism are not as far apart as might be thought.

A Passing Anniversary

30 August 2017

I used occasionally to mention a girl-friend in unfiltered entries to this 'blog, but stopped doing so in 2013. The relationship had problems that I didn't and don't care to discuss here publicly — for her sake.

On 30 August 2013, without warning, she hanged our relationship, strangling, at the end of a rope. I don't know exactly when the relationship should be deemed to have died. I can say, to the day, when I reached acceptance of its death, but I don't imagine that, on the previous day, it might actually have been saved.

Vocal Cues

26 June 2017

Many animals, across different classes, have two distinct sounds that may be classified as growls or as whines, respectively. The growls signal threat; the whines signal friendship or appeasement.

The bark of a dog is actually a combination of a growl with a whine; it is thus not a pure signal of aggression, as many take it to be; it is literally a mixed signal, perhaps indicating confusion on the part of the dog, perhaps signalling both that the dog is prepared to fight and that the dog would consider a peaceful interaction.

When women talk with men whom they find attractive, women tend to raise the pitches of their voices. Men tend to do something different when talking with women whom they find attractive; they mix deeper tones than they would normally use with higher tones than they would normally use. The deep tones are signals of masculinity, of being able to do what men are expected to do. The higher tones of men carry much the same significance as do the higher tones of women — with the additional point in contrast to the deep tones that the man does not mean to threaten the woman.

It amused me to reälize consciously that this behavior by men is at least something like barking. Then I grimly considered that some men are actually barking, telling the woman that he can be nice to her if she is nice to him, but will actively make things unpleasant if she is not. But at least it should typically be possible to disambiguate the threatening behavior, based upon where the low notes are used, and of course the choice of words.

HTTPS

2 June 2017

This site now supports HTTPS connections. For most visitors, an HTTPS connection will mean no more than that they won't receive a spurious warning from their browsers about the site being insecure. For friends with accounts giving them access to restricted entries, HTTPS will allow them to be less concerned about whence they log into the site.

de transitv Veneris res

31 May 2017
002 yr

Failing to Recognize an Inner Life

23 May 2017

In its issue of 19 January 1924, Collier's published The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Edward Connell jr. This now quite famous story — repeatedly anthologized and adapted for film,[1] for radio, and for television — is of Sanger Rainsford, a big-game hunter.

At the start of the story, Rainsford and company are on a yacht, moving through foggy darkness in the Caribbean. In reference to their planned destination, a companion asserts Great sport, hunting.

The best sport in the world, agreed Rainsford.

For the hunter, amended Whitney. Not for the jaguar.

Don't talk rot, Whitney, said Rainsford. You're a big-game hunter, not a philosopher. Who cares how a jaguar feels?

Perhaps the jaguar does, observed Whitney.

Bah! They've no understanding.

Even so, I rather think they understand one thing — fear. The fear of pain and the fear of death.

Rainsford dismisses this. The world is made up of two classes — the hunters and the huntees. Luckily, you and I are hunters. On this score, his luck does not hold.

Shortly after this conversation, he falls from the yacht as he goes to the railing to listen, having heard shots in the distance. He decides that his best chances for survival are in swimming in the direction of those shots. As he does so, he hears a cry from an animal that he does not recognize, except in-so-far as it is at the extremes of anguish and of terror. Then he hears yet another shot. Continuing to swim in that direction, he finds his way to an island. Thence, he makes his way to the hunter, General Zaroff.

Zaroff recognizes Rainsford by name, and expresses himself as pleased to think that he might now have a hunting companion. But Zaroff hunts men; as game; as the most dangerous game. The resulting argument between Rainsford and Zaroff is rather like the earlier argument between Whitney and Rainsford, with a terrible amplification. And, because Rainsford refuses to become a hunter of men, he is made the game. He is forced into a life-or-death contest that he never sought, against someone whose skills as a hunter are greater, and who additionally has assistance and weapons that Rainsford does not.

Hearing a sound that he has known — the howls and barks of a dog pack when on the hunt — Rainsford learns the fear of which Whitney had spoken; Rainsford comes to know how an animal at bay feels, because he is now an animal at bay.

I don't imagine any of you learning anything from this story about the perspective of the hunted. But there are as well the perspectives of hunters — the perspective of Zaroff, of course; but also the earlier perspective of Rainsford. Those of us who recoil at killing for sport find it easy to imagine Rainsford as a changed man, who has learned an important lesson, in a terrifying way. But Rainsford was capable of such change, because he is not a psychopath, not a sadist, nor too great a fool to learn. He was simply a man who was very mistaken. Perhaps better men would be better creatures of the same time and of the same place, but he was not truly a bad man.


Theunis Botha was guiding hunters who stumbled into a group of elephants. A female grabbed and lifted him by her trunk; she was shot, and fell, crushing him. My reäction to the story wasn't one of regret. But someone about whom I care (rather a lot) has written

I hope he suffered. I hope he felt every crush and the same sense of helpless panic animals feel when being chased, trapped and shot to death by well-armed hunters.

And I think — my God! — why? What good would such suffering do? It is unlikely that Mr Botha rejoiced in the fear and in the pain that he caused; rather, it is far more likely that, as with Rainsford before he met Zaroff, the fear and pain of the hunted did not register with him. If Botha were a man rather like Rainsford, here he had no time to learn from suffering. Can we recognize the inner life of Theunis Botha and still wish terrible punishment upon him for failing to recognize the inner lives of beasts?


[1] See especially the classic movie version of 1932.

The Shape of Things

19 May 2017

There is a stock formula for political action that says that If the state may X for Y, then the state may X for Z! Usually, the state is euphemistically called we; sometimes the person using the formula is instead honest enough instead to say the government.

Often, the X refers to spending. (Taxation is then only mentioned when the spending immediately involves continuation of a tax that was supposed to be temporary.) For example, after the defeat of Japan in the Second World War, after the Paris Peace Treaty of the Viet-Nam War, and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the claims were that, since the United States could previously afford to spend as much money as it had on the military, now it could afford to spend that much money on expansion or introduction of welfare programmes of various sorts. However, sometimes there has been a different X. For example, within the movie Scarface (1932), it is declared that if the Governor of Oklahoma could declare military law to cartelize the petroleum industry forcibly, then military law could be used to effect extensive gun control through-out the nation.

There has been rather a lot of talk, since even before he took office, to the effect that Donald Joseph Trump were a dictator. I don't think that it's necessarily unreasonable to assert that he were just that, though he took office with exactly the powers that he'd inheritted from his immediate predecessor, which is to say that if President Trump were a dictator then so were President Obama. The Office of the President has become increasingly powerful over time, with each strong President picking-up where the last one left-off, and adding to the power of the Office, establishing precedents which the other branches have seldom effectively undone. But, whether the refrain is technically correct or not, it is that President Trump be a dictator. If Trump should leave office before the end of his term, then the refrain will become that President Michael Richard Pence were a dictator, as quite possibly he might be.

And if-and-when the Democrats retake the White House, the formula that I noted above will be used. It will more specifically be of the form If we could have a dictator who did Y, then we can have a dictator who does Z! where Y will correspond to the policies and programmes of the Trump or Pence Administration as refracted through the progressive lens, and Z will correspond to progressive policies and programmes, described in terms of their presumed outcomes. This formula will not be used much if at all before the General Election, but it will be used gleefully and self-righteously beginning on the very next day.

(I think it grossly implausible that the Republicans should hold the White House indefinitely; but the public is ever more disgusted with the results of a two-party system, so a Republican loss is not inevitably a Democratic victory.)