Posts tagged with feelings

Silicon Valley “maker” culture insists that if you don’t like something, it’s incumbent on you to do better. Bollocks. If we applied that logic to everything we’d say:

  • Marcovaldo’s paintings bore me. Maybe you should paint a better one!
  • The seats on this bus are uncomfortable. Maybe you should engineer some better bus seats!
  • I’m so frustrated that this plane won’t take off for another two hours. Maybe you should re-figure the logistics for the Civil Aviation Authority so planes can get off the ground faster!
  • Sylvia Plath is obnoxious. Maybe you should write some better poetry yourself. I don’t see you writing any poetry!
  • I hate Palazzo Pants. They’re coming back and I can’t stand it. So don’t buy any!
  • Economic theory is wrong. Maybe you should come up with a better theory!
  • Star Trek is racist and paternalistic. Well, I don’t see you writing a hit TV show that’s not racist!
  • I don’t like that restaurant. So don’t go there.

How could it seem reasonable to obligate someone to years of reparations for a one-minute whinge?


Kvetching may be a waste of time, but it’s also a natural part of life. We are a verbal species.
Just as innate as it is to

  • angrily debate politics or
  • to make an ugly face when you ask someone what they do and they say “Mathematics”,

it’s very simple and natural to express delight or disgust at good or bad design, craft, or taste—even outside one’s expertise. How is it incumbent on a whiner to spend ten years learning how to write software, because they said they disliked what you made?

If I say I didn’t like that restaurant and you say So don’t go there again, what just happened is that I expressed how something made me feel, and you instructed me. Maybe it is rational to not go there again … ok, fine … maybe it’s also rational to have feelings and to want to express them, even if I’m not going to take any further action beyond expressing myself.

It’s of course possible to override the natural instinct to complain. I could if I really wanted to. But Rails programmers in San Francisco already get enough remuneration. I’m not also going to grant them the power to dictate culture as well.

  • Linux is still hard for most people.
  • Mathematics is still boring for most people.
  • If someone complains to you, a totally fine response is: “I see”.

In The Geometry and Topology of 3-ManifoldsThurston speaks of the “extrinsic” vs “intrinsic” view of {the 3-sphere − a knot}.


I like learning words for something that’s been kicking the walls of my head trying to get out. Sometimes I can look at the world in an objective way, and sometimes everything centres on me.

  • Extrinsic I and you and they are cerebral plains-apes, doing all of the things one would expect such to do. Chasing after money, status, sex, it’s all pretty simple when you see things this way.
  • Extrinsic your exotic mind-expanding holiday is just a status signal.
  • Extrinsic the hobby or job you hang your identity on tells me that you’re bourgeois and therefore define yourself through your activities or achievements.
  • Intrinsic reinterprets monkeys’ “social grooming” as an activity that actually feels like something.
  • Intrinsic is being in love.
  • Extrinsic is love as a neurochemical sequence—dopamine, adrenaline, vasopressin, norepinephrine, oxytocin—generated by chance mutations and selective reproduction in response to an evolutionary problem.
  • Extrinsic is 5,000 applicants for 5 jobs = 1‰ chance of getting it.
  • Intrinsic my application was rejected so I’m a failure.
  • Extrinsic is the pale blue dot, spaceship Earth, a wet rock bearing eukaryotes.
  • Extrinsic I’m one of 10000 options s/he has on this dating site.
  • Intrinsic is me; my likes, my interests; the homunculus behind the camera, 我, my life. Extrinsic this display is again an outgrowth of my bourgeois background.
  • Intrinsic is exotic Peshawar, a world away and uncomfortably hot.
    • image
      File:Old Peshawar.jpg

    Extrinsic is more primates with a different culture-function applied to them. Going through the same life-stages, wearing different customs. Instead of going to a pub they do some sober, Pakistani alternative—but it’s all the same, all human stuff just expressed differently.
  • Extrinsic when Parisians kiss each other on the cheek it’s not romantic, it’s just like a handshake.
  • Intrinsic it’s gross that my parents have sex.
  • Intrinsic I hate this town I hate the football games I hate the fakeness I hate the parochial small-mindedness there’s something better in store for me I need to get out of here I will get out of here
  • Extrinsic is a visitor look how excited these people are about their quaint sports and amusements! That’s so nice.
  • Intrinsic is being engrossed in reading.
  • Extrinsic is seeing someone sitting still looking at paper with glyphs on it.
  • Intrinsic is noticing how Thomas Piketty’s lower teeth are not-at-all straight like George Clooney’s, and being taken back a bit. Extrinsic is knowing that Piketty earns his stature from books and papers (arrayed behind him) whereas Clooney earns based on his looks.
  • Intrinsic is waking up in the morning driven by the will to understand pseudo-Riemannian metrics and thereby, the Universe.
    Chanting “sheaf cohomology" like a shamanic totem, carving it into my forehead my topknot my yarmulke my niqab, showing the world what’s inside my head and wishing they love me for it.
    Math Geek Tattoo On Back Shoulder
  • Extrinsic I’m yet another plains-ape distracted by ego, status-signalling, and a scientific religion, cultured by stimuli that practically guaranteed I would behave this way.
  • Intrinsic my new friend is so cool! She is friends with someone famous!
  • Extrinsic of course she leads with her connection to the desirable; it’s all part of her personal branding scheme.
  • Intrinsic is the many self-serious songs about my chain, my ding-a-ling, whatever.
  • extrinsic is a boy in love with his homeostatic skin flap.
  • Intrinsic is watching an ad targeted at you, and just reacting.
  • Extrinsic is watching an ad that makes no sense to you, and thinking about the ad on a higher level.
  • Intrinsic is appetite; craving; addiction.
  • Extrinsic is flavourful sustenance.
  • Extrinsic is asthexia; cachenia; syncope; renal failure.
  • Intrinsic is the only death that matters (mine).
  • Intrinsic is write drunk.
  • Extrinsic is revise sober.

Beware of the pursuit of the Superhuman: it leads to an indiscriminate contempt for the Human. —George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman


[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.