THE JOYFUL REDUCTION OF UNCERTAINTY

The Chamber of Guf

[I briefly had a different piece up tonight discussing a conference, but the organizers asked me to hold off on writing about it until they’ve put up their own synopsis. It will be back up eventually; please accept this post instead for now.]

In Jewish legend, the Chamber of Guf is a pit where all the proto-souls hang out whispering and murmuring. Whenever a child is born, an angel reaches into the chamber, scoops up a soul, and brings it into the world.

In the syncretist mindset where every legend has to be a metaphor for the human mind, I map the Chamber of Guf to all the thoughts that exist below the level of consciousness, fighting for attention.

We already know something like this happens for behaviors. From Guyenet’s The Hungry Brain:

How does the lamprey decide what to do? Within the lamprey basal ganglia lies a key structure called the striatum, which is the portion of the basal ganglia that receives most of the incoming signals from other parts of the brain. The striatum receives “bids” from other brain regions, each of which represents a specific action. A little piece of the lamprey’s brain is whispering “mate” to the striatum, while another piece is shouting “flee the predator” and so on. It would be a very bad idea for these movements to occur simultaneously – because a lamprey can’t do all of them at the same time – so to prevent simultaneous activation of many different movements, all these regions are held in check by powerful inhibitory connections from the basal ganglia. This means that the basal ganglia keep all behaviors in “off” mode by default. Only once a specific action’s bid has been selected do the basal ganglia turn off this inhibitory control, allowing the behavior to occur. You can think of the basal ganglia as a bouncer that chooses which behavior gets access to the muscles and turns away the rest. This fulfills the first key property of a selector: it must be able to pick one option and allow it access to the muscles.

So in the process of deciding what behavior to do, the (lamprey) brain subconsciously considers many different plausible behaviors, all of which compete to be enacted. I don’t know how this extends to humans, but it would make sense that maybe only the top few candidate behaviors even make it to consciousness, with the rest getting rejected without conscious consideration.

The particular qualities of a behavior that help it reach consciousness and implementation vary depending on mental state. Guyenet goes on to talk about how in dopamine-depleted states, only the simplest and most boring behaviors make it out of the Guf; with enough dopamine blockade, a person will sit motionless in their room for lack of any better ideas. In high dopamine states like mania or methamphetamine use, it’s much easier for behaviors to make successful “bids”, and so you tend to do bizarre things that would never have seemed like good ideas otherwise.

This is how I experience thoughts too. When I’ve had a lot of coffee, I have more interesting thoughts than usual. New ideas and clever wordplay come easily to me. I don’t think it makes sense to say that coffee makes me smarter; that breaks Algernon’s Law. More likely I always have some of those thoughts in the Guf, but the relevant angel considers them too weird to be worth scooping out and bringing into the world. This is probably for the best; manic people report “racing thoughts”, a state where the angels build a giant conveyor belt from the Guf to consciousness and give you every single possible thought no matter how irrelevant. It doesn’t sound fun at all.

I find this metaphor especially useful when thinking about Gay OCD.

Gay OCD, and its close cousins Pedophilic OCD and Incest OCD, are varieties of obsessive-compulsive disorder where the patient can’t stop worrying that they’re gay (or a pedophile, or want to have sex with family members). In these more tolerant times, it’s tempting to say “whatever, you’re gay, that’s fine, get over it”. But a careful history will reveal that they aren’t; most Gay OCD patients do not experience same-sex attraction, and they’re often in fulfilling relationships with members of the opposite sex. They have no good reason to think they’re gay – they just constantly worry that they are.

I studied under a professor who was an expert in these conditions. Her theory centered around the question of why angels would select some thoughts from the Guf over others to lift into consciousness. Variables like truth-value, relevance, and interestingness play important roles. But the exact balance depends on our mood. Anxiety is a global prior in favor of extracting fear-related thoughts from the Guf. Presumably everybody’s brain dedicates a neuron or two to thoughts like “a robber could break into my house right now and shoot me”. But most people’s Selecting Angels don’t find them worth bringing into the light of consciousness. Anxiety changes the angel’s orders: have a bias towards selecting thoughts that involve fearful situations and how to prepare for them. A person with an anxiety disorder, or a recent adrenaline injection, or whatever, will absolutely start thinking about robbers, even if they consciously know it’s an irrelevant concern.

In a few unlucky people with a lot of anxiety, the angel decides that a thought provoking any strong emotion is sufficient reason to raise the thought to consciousness. Now the Gay OCD trap is sprung. One day the angel randomly scoops up the thought “I am gay” and hands it to the patient’s consciousness. The patient notices the thought “I am gay”, and falsely interprets it as evidence that they’re actually gay, causing fear and disgust and self-doubt. The angel notices this thought produced a lot of emotion and occupied consciousness for a long time – a success! That was such a good choice of thought! It must have been so relevant! It decides to stick with this strategy of using the “I am gay” thought from now on. If that ever fails to excite, it moves on to a whole host of similar thoughts that still have some punch, like “Was I just sexually attracted to that same-sex person over there?” and the like.

I practice in San Francisco, and I rarely see Gay OCD these days. Being gay just isn’t scary enough any more. I still see some Pedophilic OCD and Incest OCD, as well as less common but obviously similar syndromes like Murderer OCD and Infanticide OCD. I’ve also started noticing a spike in Racism OCD; the patient has a stray racist thought, they react with sudden terror and self-loathing, their angel gets all excited, and then they can’t stop thinking about whether they might be a racist. There’s a paper to be written here about OCD patients as social weathervanes.

All of these can be treated with the same medications that treat normal OCD. But there’s an additional important step of explaining exactly this theory to the patient, so that they know that not only are they not gay/a pedophile/racist, but it’s actually their strong commitment to being against homosexuality/pedophilia/racism which is making them have these thoughts. This makes the thoughts provoke less strong emotion and can itself help reduce the frequency of obsessions. Even if it doesn’t do that, it’s at least comforting for most people.

This is not an official theory by an official professor, but I wonder how much of a role this same process plays in normal self-defeating thoughts. The person who can’t stop thinking “I’m fat and ugly” or “I’m an imposter who’s terrible at my career” even in the face of contradictory evidence. These thoughts seem calculated to disturb the same way Gay OCD is. They’re not as dramatic, and they rarely reach quite the same level of obsession, but the underlying process seems the same.

If you want to see the Guf directly, advanced meditators seem to be able to do this. They often report that after successfully quieting their conscious thoughts, they become gradually aware of a swamp of unquiet proto-thoughts lurking underneath. They usually describe it as really weird, which is a remarkably good match to the theory’s predictions.

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124 Responses to The Chamber of Guf

  1. nestorr says:

    What a load of guf!

    Sorry.

    Definitely understanding intrusive thoughts is a big thing for removing guilt as a factor to your inner musings.

    I’ve done a fair bit of meditation, but I somehow manage to avoid all the interesting states and insights people keep falling into. Oh well.

  2. Bugmaster says:

    If you want to see the Guf directly, advanced meditators seem to be able to do this.

    Is that actually true, though ? How would we test this proposition ? Saying “they usually describe it as really weird, which is a remarkably good match to the theory’s predictions” is not good enough, because “weird” is kind of a broad descriptor.

    • Markus Ramikin says:

      > How would we test this proposition ?

      The hard way, I imagine. Start by finding a good sitting position with your spine erect, and counting your breath… see you in 10 years!

      • Bugmaster says:

        That experiment has N=1. It’s not a very large sample size. Nor does it in any way differentiate between “weird stuff” and “accurate representation of subconscious thoughts”.

        • Markus Ramikin says:

          Hm, come to think of it, how do we formally tell when we do and do not need a sample? If you wanted to see what color the socks you have on are, you’d just look, you wouldn’t need 100 other people to confirm.

          Reminds me of an old comedy series:

          Office worker: “Fire, fire!” *runs out*
          Boss running a brainstorming session he’d hate to interrupt: “One man’s opinion!”

          • eric23 says:

            A “sample” is a portion of the set which is supposed to represent the entire set.

            If you check both your feet, you’ve checked the entire set.

          • HeelBearCub says:

            @eric23:

            This is about whether we can trust self perception, not how many feet you have.

            @Markus Ramikin:
            The sample size on “do my perceptions of color match reality” is quite a bit bigger than one. We have spent almost our entire lives having conversations wherein we hear a color named by others and see the color, or we name a color and others see it (and do not object to our label of the color).

            We can see color names as a blanket going over a particular range of wavelengths, where the ends of the range are non-exact. Of course people with various different perceptions of color cannot actually share some of these same labels well. The specific ranges are mediated by particular biological functions.

            But the “experiment” you are running with your socks neither starts or ends with that single observation.

          • MarkRoulo says:

            Hm, come to think of it, how do we formally tell when we do and do not need a sample? If you wanted to see what color the socks you have on are, you’d just look, you wouldn’t need 100 other people to confirm.

            Reminds me of the paper “Parachute use to prevent death and major trauma related to gravitational challenge: systematic review of randomised controlled trials”. The abstract for the paper is:

            As with many interventions intended to prevent ill health, the effectiveness of parachutes has not been subjected to rigorous evaluation by using randomised controlled trials. Advocates of evidence based medicine have criticised the adoption of interventions evaluated by using only observational data. We think that everyone might benefit if the most radical protagonists of evidence based medicine organised and participated in a double blind, randomised, placebo controlled, crossover trial of the parachute.

        • Quixote says:

          Its not n=1 though. There have been tens of thousands of advanced mediators over the years. Ones who follow similar protocols basically report similar results and there has been a great deal of replication. If the experimenters were westerners in white lab coats instead of east Asians in orange robes you would likely accept this as settled knowledge.

          Now, that’s a bit of an overstatement and there are some good reasons to have a higher degree of trust in scientists, but the sample size isn’t 1. A lot of people have double checked this.

          If you wanted to double check it yourself (an isolated demand for rigor because you probably don’t double check most science results, though you problem are susceptible of scientific reporting) you could look t some lesser / easier to access results implied by the same meditative framework and test those.

          • Bugmaster says:

            I would grant you that “advanced meditators” have been reporting similar experiences. However, I want to test whether these experiences are actually telling us something useful about the low-level structure of the human mind/soul/whatever.

            By analogy, lots of people have near-death experiences; and they all report seeing roughly the same thing (tunnel of light, etc.); however, this tells us virtually nothing about whether the Other Side actually exists.

          • ordogaud says:

            @Bugmaster

            I think your analogy would be more fair if you asked the same question of each situation, i.e. if near-death experiences can tell us something useful about the low-level structure of the human mind/soul/whatever.

            I’m not qualified to answer that, but I think in general the answer to both would be ‘Yes, but not really in a way that could be constrained by the rigors of scientific inquiry’. We can draw some inferences from both situations, and the fact that the experiences are replicable and largely similar amongst large samples of people should tell us that the human mind does respond roughly the same to similar inputs. So it’s not all magic and rainbows, if we can figure out what these situations are causing to happen on a low-level inside the brain we should be able to infer how that contributes to the high-level experience.

            Unfortunately we don’t really have a way of monitoring low-level activity inside the brain with enough granularity to match it with these experiences.

          • Bugmaster says:

            @ordogaud:
            AFAIK, with regard to near-death experiences, the answer is roughly, “oxygen deprivation of the brain, as well as the eyes, causes visual artifacts due to the way our visual perception system functions”. This answer is still “constrained by the rigors of scientific inquiry”. The same experience can be induced by high g-forces (which is super convenient, compared to near-death); and there are testable, falsifiable mechanisms in play that predict what the experience should feel like. As it turns out, near-death experiences tell us a lot about the way eyes and nerves work, but not a lot about souls, spirits, or the deep mysteries of the human mind.

            I could be wrong, but I don’t think this is the case with meditation; no one has proposed an objectively falsifiable mechanism that explains what it does or how it works.

      • nameless1 says:

        I don’t know what an erect spine means. Are people supposed to know this? I was known to have an ugly hunched posture. But when I was told to stand up straight what I did was to pull my shoulders towards my ears. It took decades until I found a good hint how to make the upper back posture correct: pull the shoulder blades back and down, as if putting the right shoulder blade in the left back jeans pocket and vice versa. It is not standing UP straight, it is from the shoulders perspective standing DOWN straight. I also found hand rotation matters: my shoulders are in a more erect posture if I force my thumbs to point forward or outward instead of their usual pointing towards each other.

        It is a very interesting feeling. For example, in this posture the trapezius muscle is not hurting, not being stiff, because it does not have to carry the weight of the arms. But is it supposed to be natural?

        The lower back is even weirder. I never even realized you should be able to change the posture of that part of your body. Or even the existence of a lower spine really. I have a big lumbar curvature and it always felt like just one thing fused together. After this success with the upper back I started researching. Anterior pelvic tilt, lower crossed syndrom etc. it is still weird. Apparently, if I flex my stomach, abs muscles, I can change the alignment of my pelvis. Specifically, my penis is moving forward. This is indeed making my lower back more erect and it feels like more a spine there, not a jumble of knotted muscles. For a whole three seconds, then it snaps back. Apparently people could use their abs to move their genitals forward and backward, for having sex.

        But it does not make sense. Because everything I read about it, it says it is not about the abs primarily. It is all about the so called hip flexors, which are used to raise your leg. People who do leg raises in the gym, call it lower abs. No, they are really hip flexors, they move the legs up, abs are different. And the whole problem is they are too tight, not too weak. And their opposite muscle is the glutes, so the ass. So you should be rotating your pelvis with the ass, not the abs. Yet every time I try it I use 90% the abs. Both are weird. How could you walk with a fully flexed abs or fully flexed glutes? But when I relax them I snap back. I also tried stretching the hip flexors. Couch stretch, lunge stretch. Simply nothing happened. Like stretching a bone. Just nothing.

        Finally, it seems this is the few reallly really good meditation places won’t let you sit down on the middle of a generic pillow, but on the edge of a tall, tough pillow. Under your tailbone. It seems it does this pelvis rotation. I wonder if it counts as a hip flexor stretch.

        • A1987dM says:

          I take it to mean that my head should be as far away from my butt as possible.

        • MasteringTheClassics says:

          This kind of thing is addressed extensively in any detailed discussion of barbell weightlifting (mostly because if you try to squat or deadlift without getting this right you’ll hurt yourself). Starting Strength has a great YouTube channel – check out their discussion of how to squat for better detail on this.

          Technically what you’re going for is spinal extention, both in your lumbar and thoracic spine. One way to feel what’s going on is to lie down on your stomach with your arms extended over your head. If you lift your head/arms/upper chest off the ground, that’s thoracic extension; if you lift your legs off the ground, that’s lumbar extension.

          To translate this to standing, there are a variety of cues you could use, but if you’ll forgive some crudeness, try these: thoracic extension: thrust your chest out as if you’re displaying a nice new pair of breasts; lumbar extension: drop your dick down between your knees. Then stretch the top of your head (NOT your forehead, the very top of your head) to the ceiling, and you’re standing straight.

          For sitting up straight, the only thing that moves is your legs. Nothing else. Literally just your legs. One way I’ve heard it described is that your legs and lower back are in a war over who gets to control the pelvis, and your lower back has to win.

          • nameless1 says:

            Starting Strength convinced me to not lift weights, at least not that way, with this kind of lower back, pretty much because it prescribes lumbar extension, and I already have waaay too much lumbar extension, this is what too much lumbar curvature, hyperlordosis, lower crossed syndrome means, so it could only make it worse. Besides they made my lower back hurt like a mofo. Seriously it sounds like SS is for athletes who have a neutral lower back, not chair jockeys who always have this hyperlordosis.

            After some research I have found that front squats are good for me, for some weird reason they train the abs and reduce lumbar curvature. I also found sumo deadlifts with a belt do not hurt my lower back too much, but above 120kg I also felt a lower back stiffness suggesting it is not good for me.

            Ultimately I figured I am simply not healthy enough for this due to my hyperlordosis, and went back to machines because with this kind of spine all training counts as rehab. But I am not a consistent trainee, going for two weeks then for three months not, depending on my mental state and addiction state (I go in my less drunk periods) so don’t really have consistent results.

          • MasteringTheClassics says:

            Ohhhhhh, gotcha. Yeah, that would be the opposite of a fix in your case. That said, this clears up the question of why flexing your abs fixes your posture: fighting extension is pretty much all your abs do. In most people they’re winning the fight against the erectors/psoas/whatever (I literally can’t voluntarily put my lumbar spine into hyper-extention, and I’m far from alone in this).

            SS would probably still work if you had a good coach actively watching you; they’re really more about getting older, nonathletic people strong anymore. But your point is well taken: they spend almost all their time taking about how to correct lumbar flexion and almost none of it talking about how to correct hyper-lordosis. The only advice they seem to give is ‘wear a belt all the time and flex the heck out of your abs’, and in your position that probably wouldn’t be enough for me either. But at this point I’m rambling – keep flexing those abs, and try not to hurt yourself 🙂

        • JRG says:

          Mostly kidding, but seems relevant I. This context to mention that a recognized if unusual subtype of OCD involves obsessive thoughts about how bodies work. When it is very bad people who struggle with this can’t walk under their own power because they are too focused on exactly what movements have to made to do this successfully.

        • Berna says:

          Sounds like Alexander techniquemight be for you. An Alexander teacher can show you how to relax into a good posture. It helped me a lot!

    • eggsyntax says:

      This makes me wonder whether anyone’s put together a good database of what meditators report about their experience, ideally cross-referenced by tradition, years of experience, maybe meditator demographics and some other factors. My impression, without having put much focus on it before, is that meditators report a pretty wide range of experiences, and it’d be way too easy to cherry-pick, consciously or un-. I see claims pretty often that “meditators tell us X,” for a wide range of values for X. Given a decent database, you could make actual testable predictions about what they tend to report.

  3. amaranth says:

    email alice.s.monday@gmail.com for a copy of the forbidden document & commentary on how incredibly closed-minded it is

    at least he’s talking about these things. maybe he will seduce a friend into updating him into perceiving the harmony of the divergence. if we’re lucky.

    • Deiseach says:

      All the words in that are in English, yet I still don’t understand them.

      The forbidden what? Harmony of what divergence? Am I being incredibly dense in not realising what this is all about?

      • Matt M says:

        Abort. Mission compromised. The Micks know.

      • A1987dM says:

        For a moment I thought she was talking about the conference discussion that Scott unposted as mentioned in the note at the top of this post.

      • SamaelTheDelicateOne says:

        Advanced troll, or an agent of the demiurge? Hmmmm.

        • Bugmaster says:

          Why not both ?

          • SamaelTheDelicateOne says:

            An interesting possibility. It makes me wonder, then, how many layers there are, whether the “bottom” is troll, or agent and what the content of the Guf beneath it all implies about the entire stack.

            A spy who believes they’re merely a troll pretending to be a spy (who is also a troll) might have a knack for hiding in plain sight.

          • herculesorion says:

            “The troll that provokes only flames in response is not the true troll.” (from the Tao of Kibo)

        • ordogaud says:

          Has anyone sent an email yet to see what response they get?

          I was going to, but it occurred to me this might be the OPs way of getting a bunch of people to spam some innocent third party with weird requests for a forbidden document.

      • nameless1 says:

        My bet is automatically generated spam. This is the current state of natural language processing software, at least for spammers.

        • John Schilling says:

          Amaranth (same user name, same or very similar gravatar) has posted here before, and appears to pass the Turing Test with her previous posts.

          • Matt M says:

            Well any decent Superhuman AI would try to establish themselves as one of us first, before beginning to execute their plan for universal paperclip domination.

      • VivaLaPanda says:

        Reminds me of stuff I saw when I found the /r/alchemy subreddit

  4. James says:

    I recognize that feeling of interesting thoughts coming (or not) according to my mental state (and caffeine level). I tend to conceptualize it as mental ‘temperature’: how fast the molecules of thought are whizzing around and bouncing off one another. Too cold a temperature, and the molecules vibrate back and forth sluggishly, if at all, and certainly won’t hit each other with enough energy to react. Too hot, and they’ll whizz around with so much energy as to smash each other to bits. But just right, and the molecules will fizz around quickly enough to bump into each other and react in stimulating, constructive ways, but not so fast as to break themselves apart.

    If you want to see the Guf directly, advanced meditators seem to be able to do this. They often report that after successfully quieting their conscious thoughts, they become gradually aware of a swamp of unquiet proto-thoughts lurking underneath. They usually describe it as really weird, which is a remarkably good match to the theory’s predictions.

    Do we have more on this? I’m curious.

    • Tamaren says:

      I have an anecdote on this. I’m not an advanced meditator, but I have their superpowers. For example, see wikipedia’s article on Closed Eye Hallucinations, I get level 4 of this while awake. The more caffeine/anxiety I have, the more likely I am to see intricate swirling patterns of tiny blue antelopes on the ceiling, or hear lilting melodies that I can’t predict. Or if I’m having an awful day, every blank surface crawls and shudders, and angry voices rant at me. I know its illusory, its just entertaining / annoying.
      And when I’m over-caffeinated or anxious, I would say I relate well to the description of my thoughts as an unquiet swamp of really weird things. Sometimes my thoughts can’t keep on topic. While any group of 4 or 5 words I think is a grammatical phrase, the sentence never finishes and it doesn’t make sense. Kinda like letting your smartphone predictive txt guess the next word in your sentence over and over again. The snippets of meaning are hilarious or frightening or just nonsense. Once it gets to that point, I need an hour or so with a good book to ‘get out of my head’ and calm down a bit then I’m fine again.

      I recently had a problem with something remarkably similar to [terrifying outcome] OCD. I didn’t think [terrifying thing] was true, but the thought just kept popping up, and the subject matter showing up unpredictably in the hallucinations until I almost brought about [terrifying outcome] just by accidentally making it the focus of every waking moment, and it took a major wake-up call to shake me out of that loop.
      Apart from that one episode of [terrifying outcome] OCD, I live a happy, productive life in which a lot of my friends tell me “huh, you’re weird!”. I might start thinking of the weirdness as caused by a particularly lazy Selecting Angel.

  5. Szemeredi says:

    I had never heard of paedophilic ocd before, that’s very helpful to know about. I remember being 14 and coming to terms with the fact that I was gay, and then panicking that I was a paedophile because I was attracted to 14 year old boys (I guess I also didn’t really know paedophiles are attracted to children much younger than that). The following year I was worried because I was attracted to 15 year old boys, and so on.

  6. sty_silver says:

    Grammar Thread. This seems like there’s a mistake:

    In a few unlucky people with a lot of anxiety, the angel decides that a thought provoking any strong emotion is sufficient reason to raise the thought to consciousness

    • James says:

      Seems clunky but grammatical to me.

    • Machine Interface says:

      I don’t see any problem either.

    • drunkfish says:

      “provoking” is a verb in that sentence, not a part of the normal phrase “thought provoking”, if that was your issue.

      • sty_silver says:

        Oh. Weird, I read it half a dozen times and it just didn’t parse that way. Knowing it though, it sounds normal.

      • James says:

        Weirdly enough I couldn’t even see that interpretation until you pointed it out to me. I guess my angels were healthy suppressing whatever of my circuits were trying to interpret it that way.

    • kieuk says:

      This problem/phenomenon/game is called a Garden Path Sentence. For example: “The old man the boat.”

      • sty_silver says:

        Yeah, that’s exactly what it is. Thanks for that link. The other two examples listed there are ridiculously misleaeding to me. Particularly #3: “The complex houses married and single soldiers and their families.”

      • Gerry Quinn says:

        It astonishes me that “garden-path sentence” has not acquired some obscure and fanciful Greek / Latin moniker.

  7. sty_silver says:

    My feeling is that I have a mild version of this OCD stuff, where I tend to briefly — not even imagine, but think about — something super inappropriate and stupid. It pops up, I’m annoyed, and two seconds later I forgot about it. This might be qualitatively different and not fall under what’s described here, not sure. I also think it used to happen more frequently than it does nowadays, and that I used to be bothered by it more than I am now, when it does happen.

  8. nameless1 says:

    When I’ve had a lot of coffee, I have more interesting thoughts than usual, such as: wondering whether I will make it to the toilet or crap my pants? Beyond the laxative effect, and the difficulty to fall asleep, I feel perhaps a jittery adrenaline effect but nothing dopamine-like. Let’s face it, if caffeine was dope, it would be like cocaine. But I do get that dopamine effect from alcohol. Lots of interesting thoughts I totally want to publish on the internet, leave it for today, when I feel promptly stupid about them.

    • VivaLaPanda says:

      I totally get a dopamine-like high from coffee. However, it’s usually because I haven’t had any in awhile and I’m addicted, so drinking some makes me feel both alert *and* happy.

  9. P. George Stewart says:

    There seems to be something similar just with word salad in the liminal/hypnagogic state before going to sleep sometimes (is glossolalia a similar phenomenon, only in a more waking state, and vocalized?).

    It’s like strings and jumbles of nonsense syllables flashing by ever so quickly that one seems to be catching in the act, so to speak, of being in the process of forming into words and thoughts. I get similar hypnagogic hallucinations sometimes of faces, distorted in various ways, flashing by quickly. (One gets a sense of layering to it too, like a palimpsest.)

    Yes I have meditated and I did Western occult practices in my wayward youth, so this may be a hangover from those days.

    In such moments, one seems to have a bit of conscious access to the “rough working” of the brain. But of course that may just be an illusion. But it’s a very convincing one if so – that really strongly seems to be what one is doing.

    (This and the guf idea looks a bit like Dennett’s “fame in the brain,” btw. Also, re. hallucinations, it’s like there are two sides to the way cognition works, the generate side and the test side, and with LSD and things like that, as well as the hypnagogic phenomena I’ve mentioned, it’s like the test side of the brain goes on holiday, and you just have a flood of possible-things-this-in-front-of-me-could-be – and sometimes even impossible things, like in dreams.)

    • nameless1 says:

      The word salad before falling asleep was before I started on Venlafaxine. Now I have very vivid dreams that almost make sense. In the before falling asleep phase they are completely normal feelings of being somewhere else and doing something else, and there is one nonsensical alteration and either I wake up “wait, what?” or just nod and think “cool story” and go on sleeping. Usually they are pleasant enough and even when bad, I find them therapeutic, facing old childhood fears and suppressed memories, they suck and I wake up sweat but I have a feeling facing them will release the problem somehow.

      https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10982204 is wrong, saying Venlafaxine is not dopaminoergic. it is so, precisely in higher doses and it is the higher doses that have this effect: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2802382

      So it fits the pattern what the first article mentions that dopaminoergic drugs have such effects.

      It does nothing for my depression, just like citalopram did nothing, sometimes I wonder I don’t have depression, I just don’t like the normal state of mind as much as others do. But I find it worth taking just for this night show, my brain takes two movies, and episode from my life, mixes it together and gives me a very believable third movie in full 3D with all senses when I sleep. If it was a device, it would be the perfect entertainment device.

  10. onyomi says:

    I am both an OCD sufferer of this variety (not the “gay” fear in particular, but others; part of the problem is that the tendency to do this doesn’t go away when a specific fear proves unreasonable: the brain starts looking for another candidate) and a regular meditator and strongly endorse this post as tallying with my own experience.

    I also find that the best approach with intrusive thoughts is not to “favor” them: they are sort of like an itch that, the more you scratch it the more certain it is to begin itching sooner next time, but if you ignore it long enough goes away entirely, at least for a while.

    The experience of meditating does sometimes feel like becoming aware that one’s mind is much “noisier” than one usually thinks: that there are, indeed, all these inchoate proto-thoughts bouncing around waiting to be pulled out of a kind of hopper. Becoming more aware of them seems to make them settle down somewhat, which is a good feeling, though, yes, kind of weird.

  11. Jeffery Mewtamer says:

    Probably doesn’t help that laypeople tend to use pedophilia as a catch-all for attraction to underage individuals with the specific terms for attraction to pubescent, adolescent, and infantile individuals almost unheard of outside of psychology and more educated fetish circles. Also probably doesn’t help that so many laypeople can’t distinguish attraction from desire to rape/molest when acting on the attraction would be socially unacceptable or that pro-ignorance stances on sexual education are so common.

    First time I can recall hearing of someone feeling guilt over attraction to people of their own age, but now I can’t help wondering if such is more common than one might think, especially when there are angry mobs on the Internet ready to virtually tar, feather, and lynch people for looking at suggestive artwork of completely fictional characters that look young, never mind the typical kneejerk reactions to actual pedophiles even when they pose no risk of becoming child molestors.

    • Matt M says:

      I mean, I recall being a teenager during the early days of online message boards. There used to be this thing people would do where they would post suggestive photos of young women who were quite, uh, let’s say “developed” and then ask people to rate her attractiveness or whatever.

      They’d wait a little while, long enough for more than a few people to give 9s or 10s, then say “HAHA SHES ONLY 16 YOURE ALL A BUNCH OF FILTHY DISGUSTING PEDOS”

      And overall, the reaction seemed to mostly be “Eww, that’s gross, sorry, I didn’t know!” rather than “This is a pretty stupid trick that proves nothing.” Even though presumably a lot of the people involved (including myself at the time) were teenagers themselves. The notion that I should feel shame for being attracted to a girl my own age (who looks as if she is an adult female) was completely bizarre to me, but a whole lot of people seemed to be quite bothered by it and take it seriously.

      • nameless1 says:

        I take it you live in a 18 is age of consent area? I live in a 14 one, but it is pretty weird when people do not take the age of consent literally what it means, but rather take it as an age beyond which no one should be found sexy and should basically be seen as a child. Don’t you think all those people are caught in a purity spiral, either christian or feminist? Because a perfectly good answer would be “OK, so I find her attractive now but would wait two years before inviting her into my bed”. Age of consent was never meant to be a super highly moral thing, dividing the line between normal people and evil pedos, but simply a safety belt for teenagers who need a bit more brain developing to give meaningful consent. But sexual attractiveness in itself begins in puberty, of course. Obviously. It seems my corner of Europe takes it for granted and I don’t know now because we are already less christian or because we are not yet feminist enough. But I don’t understand why people put purity spirals on this.

        Of course, 18 as the age of consent is more likely to create such purity spirals as 14 here. Because at 13.5, half the class at school still looks like a child. But at 17.5 it, the girls are not girls anymore, they are young women both internally and externally. The boys, however, often stay boys until a few more years. That was my literal impression when I was 17.5 – that my female classmates seem so much adult, seem so much ready to take a job or marry or do all these adult stuff, while my mind is still full of videogames and sci-fi…

        • BBA says:

          Every so often someone brings up Jerry Seinfeld’s relationship with Shoshanna Lonstein and thinks Seinfeld was incredibly gross for being attracted to an underage girl. She was only a few months under 18 when they met (he was 38), and the implication is that if she’d been a few months older it’d totally be okay, whereas I think dating someone two decades your junior is exactly as sleazy regardless of which side of an arbitrary line the younger partner’s age is. And in this case it wasn’t even a legal issue – they met in New York, where the age of consent is 17.

    • Probably doesn’t help that laypeople tend to use pedophilia as a catch-all for attraction to underage individuals with the specific terms for attraction to pubescent, adolescent, and infantile individuals almost unheard of outside of psychology and more educated fetish circles.

      It also doesn’t help that this goes one more level up, so that pointing this out is itself a meme/copypasta.

      “Okay friend, let me explain something to you since you seem to be new here. Hebephilia is NOT the same thing as pedophilIa. I’m sick and tired of you trolls popping up everywhere and spreading BLATANT misinformation. In many countries hebephilia is considered normal and healthy . Human beings have a natural attraction to girls who are going through puberty. Being attracted to girls who are pre-pubescent is fucking sick and disgusting, but only in the US does there seem to be an unwarranted taboo around a healthy and normal condition. My head hurts. I’m just trying to get my real life back.”

      First time I can recall hearing of someone feeling guilt over attraction to people of their own age, but now I can’t help wondering if such is more common than one might think, especially when there are angry mobs on the Internet ready to virtually tar, feather, and lynch people for looking at suggestive artwork of completely fictional characters that look young, never mind the typical kneejerk reactions to actual pedophiles even when they pose no risk of becoming child molestors.

      I think pedophiles always pose some risk of becoming child molesters. Yes, the risk is very small, but when it comes to children being molested, the level of probability that can be tolerated isn’t much. It’s that and probably the gut level feeling of disgust you get when you think of someone actually being a pedophile, but that’s very probably socially mediated considering not all societies treat the issue in the same way.

      • Viliam says:

        Another reason for strong reactions is the whole “when you become the only place that tolerates witches, all the witches will come to your place”.

        Start tolerating pedophiles -> all local pedophiles come to your place -> some of them turn out to be child abusers -> congratulations, now you are associated with child abuse!

        Even hebephilia debates will start the slippery slope: If being attracted to 18 is healthy and legal, there is nothing unhealthy to be attracted to 17, right? And if being attracted to 17 is healthy, there is nothing unhealthy to be attracted to 16. And if being attracted to 16…

        Strong reactions happen when people realize that there is no exact point they want to defend (and therefore no point where the defense could be coordinated), but they definitely do not want to walk too far that way.

    • vV_Vv says:

      never mind the typical kneejerk reactions to actual pedophiles even when they pose no risk of becoming child molestors.

      This is probably an innate reaction, no point trying to make a large number of people change to accommodate a small minority. You’d be more lucky trying to make pedophiles stop being pedophiles.

  12. Ninety-Three says:

    I have a totally made-up theory that this phenomenon is also the cause of that little voice in your head that whispers really terrible ideas like “Jump off the bridge” and “Throw your phone out the window”. Instead of just getting pruned from the stew of random subconscious ideas, these ones are so obviously bad they they provoke a reaction strong enough to raise them up to consciousness.

  13. L. says:

    Presumably everybody’s brain dedicates a neuron or two to thoughts like “a robber could break into my house right now and shoot me”. But most people’s Selecting Angels don’t find them worth bringing into the light of consciousness. Anxiety changes the angel’s orders: have a bias towards selecting thoughts that involve fearful situations and how to prepare for them. A person with an anxiety disorder, or a recent adrenaline injection, or whatever, will absolutely start thinking about robbers, even if they consciously know it’s an irrelevant concern.

    In a few unlucky people with a lot of anxiety, the angel decides that a thought provoking any strong emotion is sufficient reason to raise the thought to consciousness. Now the Gay OCD trap is sprung. One day the angel randomly scoops up the thought “I am gay” and hands it to the patient’s consciousness. The patient notices the thought “I am gay”, and falsely interprets it as evidence that they’re actually gay, causing fear and disgust and self-doubt. The angel notices this thought produced a lot of emotion and occupied consciousness for a long time – a success! That was such a good choice of thought! It must have been so relevant! It decides to stick with this strategy of using the “I am gay” thought from now on.

    I mean no offense and could be wrong, but I think you may be somewhat overestimating the role Selecting Angels play in OCD and are little bit wrong regarding what Selecting Angels do in people without OCD, all of which is leading you to misinterpret why OCD does what is does.
    If you were to pay attention and record all of your thoughts for 24 hours, I think that upon reviewing your record you would find more than a few disturbing thoughts that range from mildly disturbing to absolutely horrifying by your own standards, which is to say that we dedicate more than a neuron or two to thoughts like “a robber could break into my house right now and shoot me” and that Selecting Angels even in people without OCD regularly find such thoughts worth bringing into the light of the consciousness.
    While the frequency of disturbing thoughts entering the consciousness of people with OCD is most certainly higher than the frequency at which they enter the consciousness of people without OCD, I think that is not the key difference between people with OCD and people without it; that honor in my option belong to the inability of people with OCD to let a disturbing thought go, to dismiss it.
    A straight man with HOCD and a straight man without HOCD will likely both at one point in their life have some variation of a thought “I am gay” pop-up in their mind, but while the man without HOCD will be able to dismiss the thought instantly before it even fully forms or be able to say to himself “No, I’m not.” or “No way, I have a wife and two kids.” and have that be enough to resolve the issue permanently, the man with HOCD will be able to do none of those things; he might try to dismiss the thought, but it won’t go away, he might tell to himself “No way, I have a wife and two kids.”, but the thought will not go away, he might even get serious and provide 10 quite good, solid reasons why he isn’t gay and have the thought listen to reason and consider itself solved enough to go away….for about 20 minutes. Every further recurrence of the thought will require greater and greater amount of proof that the man isn’t gay in order for the thought to go away, until it reaches such absurd levels that providing new evidence isn’t possible anymore and the man can only ritualistically repeat the old evidence again and again as a track saying he’s gay keeps playing in his mind.
    The point I’m clumsily trying to make is that while Selecting Angels do play a crucial part in that they are ones selecting the thought to be brought into the consciousness, they ultimately play a minor part because they aren’t the ones actually “doing” the OCD, they just give the proto-thought that is to become the OCD thought to whatever is actually doing the OCD; it is that other thing that is making it immune to all reason and argument, make it impossible to ignore or dismiss, make it loop endlessly, make it adapt, exploit every suspicion and create new ones, force steelmaning…etc. i.e. make it an OCD.

    • HeelBearCub says:

      Here is a related thought.

      I am continually, well surprised is not the right word any more, let’s say struck. I am continually struck by how thoroughly people manage to ignore things that don’t happen to them on a daily basis, but do happen regularly.

      “I never imagined my house could burn down. I never thought I might be in a flood. I can’t believe so many people died in that tsunami, earthquake, hurricane, etc. I can’t believe that guy shot all those people in Vegas. ”

      These things haven’t surprised me since I was very young. Well back into early grade school. I remember how shocked everyone was by the Challenger space shuttle disaster when I was in middle school and already not being surprised that the disaster could happen and that other people were surprised. “The problem of evil” (apologetics) was already readily apparent to me when I started into the confirmation process at church, and thus I did not go through with confirmation.

      As I said, this seems to me to be quite atypical. Thus I think it is a mistake to try and draw some very hard line between what people are conscious of and reject, vs. what they are essentially blind to on a conscious level. I think it likely varies from individual to individual, and situation to situation.

      • Baeraad says:

        I am the same way, though I’m actually sort of envious of the happy fools who genuinely feel like bad things can’t possibly happen to them. I am painfully aware of every bad thing that could happen to me, and about the fact that inevitably, at least a few of them are definitely going to happen to me. I suppose that that makes me more cautious, which is good, but a lot of the disasters I stress out about are ones I can’t reasonably protect myself from, so all I’m doing by worrying is ruining the times when nothing bad is actually happening. I’d be better off being oblivious.

        I am, however, perpetually annoyed at people who trumpet out how they are shocked, SHOCKED that one bad thing or another happened / is happening / could happen, and isn’t that horrible, I SAID, DON’T YOU THINK THAT’S HORRIBLE???!!!! I’m like, “look, some of us were never in denial about that, okay? Just because you’ve suddenly discovered the astonishing fact that life is terrible and filled with suffering it doesn’t make you some sort of inspired prophet!”

        • HeelBearCub says:

          I’d say you are making a similar, related mistake. Life is not fair, and awful things happen. However, the presence of these awful things does not make life awful. Choosing between being ignorant of awfulness or believing life is awful are two sides of the same wooden nickel.

          • Baeraad says:

            That natural state of life is a constant desperate scramble for survival that is filled with pain and humiliation and always ultimately fails. Those few of us who are fortunate enough to live in the safest and most sheltered parts of the world in the safest and most sheltered time in history can sometimes afford to live in denial about that – temporarily, until we get rudely reminded again.

            I stand by my estimation of life as “awful.”

  14. MartMart says:

    ” The angel notices this thought produced a lot of emotion and occupied consciousness for a long time – a success! That was such a good choice of thought! It must have been so relevant! It decides to stick with this strategy of using the “I am gay” thought from now on.”

    I feel like something is missing here. Is producing a lot of emotion and occupying consciousness for a long time really the criteria for success? If you start flinging random thoughts at everyone, and optimizing them on this, its a wonder there are any non insecure people left.

    On the other hand, suppose one gets annoyed at a fly and swats at it. The thought doesn’t fit the above criteria very well, yet it made it above the proto thought soup and turned into action.

  15. Garrett says:

    How does your description of the phenomenon of OCD here relate to the experience of ADHD? Given your description without the name of the condition being present, I’d have assumed that the post was substantially about ADHD and not OCD.

    • Hyperfocus says:

      It doesn’t really sound like my own experience with ADHD. I don’t think I have any more difficulty banishing intrusive thoughts than neurotypicals* do. I do have difficulty noticing that I’ve drifted off track in the first place, though. It’s like going on a wiki walk, starting at the page “what’s happening right now”. It’s not the intensity of emotional reaction (positive or negative) that promotes thoughts bubbling up, it’s 1) how interesting the thought is (which makes me click the link), and 2) (ironically) how related to whatever I’m currently thinking about it is (which puts the link on the page to begin with).

      And also, it’s not something I can consciously resist; it’s not like the thought is taking a battering ram to my front door, and I’m trying desperately to keep it closed so I can concentrate on something else**. It’s more like I’m reading a book for an assignment, and then somehow it magically gets replaced with a magazine about video games without me noticing. Eventually I will notice, and I’ll be like, “Wait…this isn’t what I’m supposed to be reading…” And then I can put myself back on track. There is even a mental exercise I do at that point (I don’t know if it has a name, or if anyone else even does it), but I essentially try to follow my train of thought backwards to see what steps led me from topic A to topic B.

      * I’m not autistic, but I think it’s dumb that neurotypical just means “not autistic” when it should obviously not include me. Describing someone with severe ADHD as neurotypical just sounds ridiculous to me.

      **Trying to focus on something else with a TV on in the same room does basically feel like that, though.

      • Gazeboist says:

        As though someone has placed a very similar looking book on a slightly different topic underneath the one you’re reading, such that you can turn the page or just keep going down…

      • ordogaud says:

        If you get a chance you should read the first several chapters of The Mind Illuminated.

        Even if you have no desire to meditate, I think the descriptions he gives of Attention and Peripheral Awareness will line up exactly with what you’re experiencing and give you a better understanding of how your mind is functioning.

        In fact the beginning instructions for meditation he outlines are basically to pay attention to the sensations of your breath and practice using your awareness to notice when you’ve stopped paying attention and started mind-wandering onto other things. With continued practice you can get to a point where your awareness never fully goes away, so even though your attention might wander you become much faster at gaining awareness of when it goes off track and redirecting your attention back to what you want.

        And I can’t really speak to the more advanced stuff since I haven’t gone full tilt into practicing, but I think eventually the goal is to have a state of mind that’s a sort of continuous balance between attention/awareness such that you don’t really mind-wander at all but can consistently keep your attention on what you choose for it to be on while allowing distractions to remain in the background of your awareness. Though it’s probably a lot more than that and I’m just not far enough along to fully understand the later stuff.

      • nameless1 says:

        It may be that ADHD is an umbrella term for different things that seem to respond well to the same medication. I have hyperactive racing thoughts but I was physically never hyperactive. I never had problem with studying (hence not diagnosed until way into adulthood) but I had problems with being impatient and finishing other people’s sentences. When people described ADHD as confusing urgency with importance, so all important things feel urgent right now and must focus on them right, sort of ran a bell with me but may not necessarily with you.

        When you say not even noticing drifting away, it rings a bell with me but not sure that way you mean it. I am just very bad about noticing anything about myself. At any training like school gymnastics or martial arts, I kept asking the teacher who showed me 10 times how to do it: I know how to do it, but I don’t know what I am doing, please show me what I am doing currently and wrongly. I have literally no idea if my body is doing what I intend to or not. Hence the long rant about not knowing my posture above, another commenter wrote it is mostly keeping head and ass as far from each other as possible, yes, but I don’t know if I am doing that, it is entirely possible that I am e.g. bending backward while I think I am erect. Does this ring a bell and is this common with ADHD?

        I would describe it as remote-controlling my body. Jittery, buglike movements, because my mind initiates the movement of catching a basketball or punching a heavy bag, but does not follow through, just throws the hand in the direction but does not follow it along, does not focus on it. Is this ADHD or something else?

        • Hyperfocus says:

          That’s definitely different from my experience, although I was predominantly hyperactive (physically and mentally) as a child, not predominantly inattentive, and maybe this meant that I learned my body better(?). But as far as not noticing things, a big YES. I am known in my circle of friends to be legendarily unobservant, which IMO is a bit unfair. I don’t tend to notice things because I’m off in my own little world. When I’m actually “in the room” with everyone else, I am generally the *most* perceptive person in the room. But people and rooms are generally so boring, and ideas so interesting, that I tend to spend my time in my own head unless I have something specific I’m trying to do.

          Oh, and I also never had problems studying, but that’s because I largely never studied. You know the archetypal bright high school student who never learned to study, and then got crushed when they went off to University? That wasn’t me; I graduated with a 4.0. Other than my final year (in which I only took one non-Computer Science class, so I could graduate in 3 years), I found college to be even easier than high school; the only difference is that I was working a full-time job at the same time, so I had almost no free time. I would complete my assignments, and then I was done. I would attend study groups sometimes, but I tended to spend my time in them teaching the other students in order to make friends for networking purposes rather than trying to learn. I suppose that might count as studying? I realize this paragraph comes off as a little snotty and self-indulgent, and I’ll blame that on the fact that I’ve been drinking. Please accept my apologies for that. Also I’ve had to deal with the incessant “ADHD people don’t have a disability, they’re just stupid/lazy” opinion for so long that I also feel like it’s important for people to know that, yes, there are probably ADHDers who are smarter and more successful than (the rhetorical) you.

          WRT martial arts, I actually just got my 1st-Dan on the 6th. I took to it quite naturally (once I was physically fit enough), but when learning new techniques I *did* often say to my instructors, “Yes, I know what I’m supposed to do. Please show me what I actually *did* last time I tried, so I can correct it.” I feel like an instant replay option would have made a huge difference.

    • JRG says:

      There is actually significant comorbidity between OCD and ADHD. This seems to be driven by an OCD phenotype mostly involving harm/aggression obsessions and often accompanied by tics. OCD is second only to psychosis in richness of phenomenology.

  16. TheApiary says:

    I wonder if this is a similar mechanism to the “intrusive thoughts” of suicide that people sometimes get during recovery from serious depression, a kind of Suicidal OCD. You’re on a roof, and think “What if I want to jump off? I’m 10 stories up, I’d definitely die,” but it feels scary and bad and you don’t actually want to jump off the roof. I’ve had them, and they are pretty disturbing. When I first started having them, I was totally terrified of them and avoided all kinds of things that I could use to kill myself in case I wanted to. I had previously actually been suicidal, but this was totally different.

    I didn’t really know what it was called at the time, but I eventually just decided that I had worn some kind of groove in my brain that meant that it was used to thinking “roof? I could jump and die” and part of recovering was that it was still in that groove and was trying to reassess what to do there. Eventually I stopped having them as much, and when I did they were less scary. Now, reading this, I’m wondering if the fact that they freaked me out so much is why they kept happening.

    • Zeno of Citium says:

      Considering jumping off of high things is an extremely common intrusive thought. I have heard – although I have no idea if this is true – that this is not suicidal ideation, but the vestiges of your monkey brain trying to figure out if it can make the jump. Basically, the high buildings or whatever are just a bunch of trees, and the bit of your brain that’s made for jumping between trees is trying to figure out if it can do it.
      YMMV, but learning this immediately made thoughts about jumping from high places less disturbing.

      • Matt M says:

        Odd, as I’ve never had the jumping off high things thought, but I have had the occasional “I could just veer into the opposing lane of traffic and die right now” thought while driving…

  17. alexkidd says:

    love when conferences are committed to spreading ideas

  18. honoredb says:

    If Imposter Syndrome can be explained this way, what exactly is the angel selecting for and why? I suppose the thought “I don’t know what I’m doing” started out very useful for me; it would break me out of a cranky funk where I’m trying to blunder my way through something that’s not conducive to trial and error, and lead me to Google something, often resulting in a quick euphoric eureka or at least relief. So my angel learns that “I don’t know what I’m doing” is an awesome thought, and starts promoting it whenever anything goes vaguely wrong. And then sometimes I’ll accidentally reward it by using it as an excuse to just stop doing whatever hard thing and procrastinating instead.

    So maybe some “normal self defeating thoughts” are being selected for not because they’re disturbing, but because they seem like they fit a useful pattern.

  19. vV_Vv says:

    In Jewish legend, the Chamber of Guf is a pit where all the proto-souls hang out whispering and murmuring.

    So this is where that thing from the terrible third Evangelion Rebuild film came from.

    Whenever a child is born, an angel reaches into the chamber, scoops up a soul, and brings it into the world.

    Wasn’t this from Plato?

    Anyway, enough with arcane metaphysics and back to cognitive science:

    This means that the basal ganglia keep all behaviors in “off” mode by default. Only once a specific action’s bid has been selected do the basal ganglia turn off this inhibitory control, allowing the behavior to occur.

    This is known in robotics as the Subsumption architecture. The problem is that it doesn’t scale. You can get simple, lamprey-level behaviors by combining primitive behaviors with some kind of priority system, but as soon as you try to do something more complicated it quickly degenerates into a mess of behaviors interrupting each other at the wrong times, resulting in unintended interactions. Maybe this architecture is a good model for how the lamprey brain works, but is overly simplistic as a model of the human brain.

    Gay OCD patients do not experience same-sex attraction, and they’re often in fulfilling relationships with members of the opposite sex.

    The person who can’t stop thinking “I’m fat and ugly” or “I’m an imposter who’s terrible at my career” even in the face of contradictory evidence.

    Then their problem is that they fail to update on evidence.

    • lvlln says:

      IIRC, the Chamber of Guf was referenced before the Rebuild films, in the End of Evangelion film.

      • TakatoGuil says:

        It was also referenced in the TV show, though only briefly and during an intense section towards the end of the show when most viewers would have been distracted by a menagerie of naked teenage girls.

  20. CarlosRamirez says:

    Zankoku na tenshi no youni
    Shounen yo shinwa ni nare

  21. ajakaja says:

    I am reminded of this post about ‘self-concept’ and how it can lead to years of anxiety: basically, the brain is neurotically convinced that it needs to prove or disprove some fundamental fact about itself, but is unable to process evidence that would suggest the fact is true or false.

    (I personally have experienced exactly this — being convinced for years that I needed to prove something about myself which was essentially unproveable — and the post linked above strongly resonated with how I overcame it: basically by confronting it directly and realizing that it didn’t make sense.)

    I suspect that, when a person is accused of (or just becomes aware of) something shameful (perhaps being called ‘gay’ as an insult on a playground in grade school, or something (I hope this is less common today)), there’s a spectrum of responses:

    * some people don’t care what anyone thinks so it doesn’t affect them,
    * some people mind the taunt, but easily brush it off,
    * some people get worried and think, “oh no was what I was doing socially wrong? now I feel bad about it and will try to change”,
    * …and some people internalize it for years and begin to define their behavior around Definitely Never Transgressing Again.

    I imagine that the response depends on, say, who delivered in the insult. If, according to playground social hierarchy, some other kid is much cooler than you and you should strive to be like them, then you might strongly react to an insult from them because it functions as an edict which declares how you should behave if you want them to accept you.

    Anyway, I think this is how a person who’s not gay might spend years being worried that they are: because, before they had built up the framework that being gay would be fine if it were true, and before they had built up the resilience to ignore people’s taunts, they were accused of something that they couldn’t brush off, and it became part of their identity to disprove it.

    Then adulthood comes around and they find themselves still with this internal model that they have to project not-gay-ness constantly, even though the reasons they wanted to do that have long faded. Hence the state of being stuck with a harmful self-concept that can’t be shaken but also doesn’t make much sense.

  22. Nornagest says:

    “Unquiet” is a fun word.

  23. MNadolsky says:

    I meditate in Sensory Deprivation chambers sometimes, and occasionally I can stop my thoughts. I do *not* describe what I find as “weird proto-thoughts,” I actually describe it as “thought white-noise” – as if I’m actually experiencing the electromagnetic noise in my brain.

    This experience does have a thought-like quality, but it’s random in ways that are impossible to explain (maybe if I were a poet). Like, they have some of the same qualities of thoughts in that they arise in my brain and I experience them internally in the same way as thoughts, but there is no discernible sensible informational or correlational content, or the informational/correlational content is so garbled and chaotic I can’t make sense of it.

    It’s like driving down the road not in a car, but in the color purple, but only having the vocabulary to describe the experience in the terms of cars rather than colors, and really not even knowing what purple is or if it makes sense.

    Anyway, if that’s the same thing they’re experiencing, it’s *nothing* like unconscious thoughts that haven’t yet risen to the level of consciousness.

  24. justinowings says:

    A few wonderings:

    • could this relate to how published news about suicides creates spikes in suicide rates (some kind of raised attention to suicide?)
    • same for divorce/narratives about incompatibility with your spouse

    A potential way to prevent angels pulling bad ideas from the Guf: stay busy, have a strong narrative about who you are and what you’re up to, don’t idle (idle hands are the devil’s workshop) for too long.

    I also wonder if there could be any connection in susceptibility to [Taboo narrative] OCD to COMT (Warrior vs Worrier).

  25. moridinamael says:

    It seems intuitively likely that trait Conscientiousness is somehow related to this business with the Guf and the lampreys and such. It seems like it’s got to be either the unconscious mechanism that selects bids from Guf, or the generative process of the Guf itself, or something to do with the way the conscious mind buffers impulses that have been promoted from Guf into awareness, when those impulses don’t have enough coherent intrinsic motivation behind them to win the bid outright and execute the motor program. Or some of all of the above.

    Sometimes it doesn’t occur to you that right now would be a good time to get a workout in; sometimes it occurs to you but you can’t make yourself do it; these are both in some sense “failures of willpower” but by very different mechanisms, and seem like they would have different remedies.

  26. romeostevens says:

    I’d like to note another useful thing I encountered meditating: noticing the triggers of intrusive thoughts. Which is to say increasing resolution until you can more clearly see the beginning, middle, and end of thoughts pass by. The good thing about explicitly noticing them is how banal they ultimately are which tends to dampen their affect which in turn dampens the whole cycle. Eg: gay OCD getting triggered when your pattern matchers cross reference sexually arousing patterns to a person of the wrong gender, racism (and sexism!) OCD when your pattern matchers go too general on a taboo feature to generalize over, pedophile and incest when the pattern matchers activate on the wrong target. I, personally, experienced ones about violence both on the giving and receiving end that were not helpful. I suspect installed from getting into ots of fights at school as a kid.

    When you stand back and watch the system trying to calibrate on data and create better systems to catch type 1 and 2 errors, you can see why a strong response gets kicked into consciousness: you are correctly modeling certain type 1 errors as being VERY costly relative to type 2 errors.

    I think equanimity is about learning the meta skill that allows your belief network to smoothly update based on incoming data without using affective loading as its prioritization mechanism.

    • andenyalaa says:

      I think equanimity is about learning the meta skill that allows your belief network to smoothly update based on incoming data without using affective loading as its prioritization mechanism.

      Well stated, thanks!

  27. Aapje says:

    So this conference has spend 6 months on a synopsis…

    How long do they get to stop people from discussing the conference? A year?

    Frankly, I think that after one month they gave up any right to stop others to not publish a synopsis before them.

  28. nameless1 says:

    >There’s a paper to be written here about OCD patients as social weather vanes.

    Absolutely! I am a product of a society of pretty much oldschool gender roles and I always worried a lot about if I am manly enough. Not sure it counts as OCD, because it is more in the hindbrain. If I get you right, it is OCD only when it is fully conscious all the time. But it could be. I remember once someone told me I walk like a girl, I obsessed about it and found out that when I step forward I also step a bit inwards, which indeed makes the hips sway. Changing it to stepping forward and a bit outwards, stopped the hip swaying and turned it into shoulder swaying, which was pretty much in line with the oldschool view on how men should walk but to me it felt overly challenging, as if looking for a fight.

  29. arlie says:

    This feels like a just-so story, unverifiable but possibly useful for conveying a concept. I suspect it may be clinically useful without any chance of being scientifically verifiable. But because of this I’d be very cautious about using it as a source of additional hypotheses.

    • Basil Elton says:

      Not that I’m an expert on neurobiology, but I’d say that pointing to the exact regions of the brain where this happens goes a little beyond the scope of “unverifiable just-so story”. By making it, well, quite verifiable.

      • arlie says:

        Scott seemed to me to be pointing only to brain regions involved in action taken by lampreys. Not thoughts. Not vertebrates. Certainly not primates, or even mammals.

        I don’t think that’s anywhere close to knowing enough about how this may work, to come up with additional predictions.

        Maybe we’ll be able to find and measure ‘thoughts’ and ‘potential thoughts’ as neuronal activity some day, and from that demonstrate/study the way one or another gets selected for consciousness at a given instant, and how/whether that feeds back into what will be more likely to get selected tomorrow.

        But we’re not there yet, and I suspect there may be mathematical complexity issues interfering, though I certainly can’t prove that.

  30. Enkidum says:

    This is what is (used to be?) called a Pandemonium architecture in AI. Demons scream, are strengthened and weakened by various factors, and the loudest screamer gets to determine the action/thought/whatever. Interesting Scott chose “angel” instead.

    Douglas Hofstadter had some interesting uses of it in his post-Gödel Escher Bach pre-millennium career.

  31. Jeffery Mewtamer says:

    I confess to being largely ignorant on the mainstream views of age and sexuality outside the US, and even then, having lived my whole life in a bible belt state, my impression of mainstream America’s attitudes towards attraction to minors might be skewed towards (you should rot in prison for even looking at that jailbait highschooler with lusty thoughts” and only getting worse as she gets younger/the one looking gets older.

    That said, I believe this is the first time I’ve ever heard someone defending hebephilia(and by implication, ephebophilia as well) as normal and healthy. In my experiences, even porn sites dedicated to depictions of fictional minors tend to acknowledge their niche as abnormal and tend to frown upon anyone expressing interest in real-life minors.

    Granted, I never grew out of any of the crushes on pubescent girls from anime and video games I developed when going through puberty myself and now find myself attracted to characters once old enough to be my classmate who are now young enough to be my daughter, so maybe there’s also a bias towards exaggerating the views of those who would condemn me, and the ratio of the silent masses who think “weird, but I’ve got no beef as long as you don’t rape anybody.” to those who think, “Go to hell, you damn pervert!” might be higher than I think. That said, while I’ve long since abandoned any guilt over being attracted to fictional minors and grown women who can pass for minors, I think it would’ve done my teenage self some good to hear someone saying its normal to find pubescents attractive even when you’re older.

    • b_jonas says:

      > In my experiences, even porn sites dedicated to depictions of fictional minors tend to acknowledge their niche as abnormal and tend to frown upon anyone expressing interest in real-life minors.

      Porn sites must give that impression regardless of their actual opinions, because the legal systems of most countries don’t allow distributing porn with real minors involved.

  32. N Zohar says:

    Commenting just to say I keep misreading this on the left-side navigation as “Chamfer of Guf”. Then of course I imagine the sort of woodworking that would be produced by a sassy person.

  33. xylix says:

    As an anecdote, I personally had a temporary period of OCDish thinking about psychosis, after having a bad trip on LSD. Cognitively this feels like a fitting description.

    Also I’ve personally found out that

    This is how I experience thoughts too. When I’ve had a lot of coffee, I have more interesting thoughts than usual. New ideas and clever wordplay come easily to me.

    the Guf sends more thoughts to my consciousness when I’m too caffeinated, moderately sleep-deprived or mildly hangover. But I’d consider many of these thoughts useless / harmful. This also happens during meditation practice, but as an after effect it seems to reduce the frequency of useless thoughts passing the Guf if I’m not specifically “asking for them”.

  34. Atown says:

    Any thoughts on Internal Family Systems Therapy in relation to the Chamber of Guf? IFS suggests a hive of souls struggling in the basement for the angel’s attention.

    “The IFS Model, which evolved as a result of this exploration, views a person as containing an ecology of relatively discrete minds, each of which has valuable qualities and each of which is designed to — and wants to — play a valuable role within. These parts are forced out of their valuable roles, however, by life experiences that can reorganize the system in unhealthy ways.”

    Peace.

  35. Ventrue Capital says:

    It is remarkable how much this corresponds to the model of the Self used in Voice Dialogue. The thoughts and urges — the proto-souls, to use your technical term — correspond to the “voices” and the striatum (or angel) corresponds to the Controller.

    I can’t praise Voice Dialogue highly enough. Here are a few more links:

    What is “Voice Dialogue”? – Voice Dialogue International

    https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/voice-dialogue

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/in-therapy/201001/cool-intervention-7-voice-dialogue

    https://www.voicedialogue.com/voice-dialogue/

  36. Fluffy Buffalo says:

    Does the principle “the thought that gets the most attention gets preferred treatment in the future” generalize to other unwanted sensations? For example, could you reduce tinnitus or even some kinds of chronic pain by dismissing them with a conscious effort not to worry about them?

    • Enkidum says:

      If the relevant sensations were being generated by this type of process, which seems unlikely for tinnitus and chronic pain, then it would still only work if the conscious effort was such that it actually targeted the relevant attentional networks. Which is very unlikely, because “attention” is not a unitary process that is always directly controllable by conscious states.

      That being said, problematic sensations that were generated by this kind of process might be targetable by some kind of indirect training – some treatments I’ve read about for phobias come to mind, which I think are likely essentially attentional in nature.

    • marshwiggle says:

      Yes, but you have to genuinely on multiple levels not worry about them. Just trying not to worry about them doesn’t cut it. But if you actually believe that it’s ok that you’re in pain, and this particular pain is something you already know roughly why it’s happening and that something isn’t anything to worry about, then it’s possible to get the pain or whatever to fade into the background where you don’t even notice it unless you call your attention to it.

  37. mtl1882 says:

    Somehow my angels got all out of whack the last few years. I believe it was a combination of stressors and changes, but I don’t know what happened. My life has never been the same since (I can’t pinpoint when it started), and I’ve gone years without having one good day. My brain is constantly grabbing up thoughts and telling me I have to be really alarmed, or I’m alarmed and it gathers up thoughts and I associate them with alarm. So I have all these negative/fear associations with certain things that are completely illogical. And I know they are, but they’re there. And I can work through them CBT style, but it has happened with so many things, that is an all day process, and then I have to explain my distress if it becomes noticeable.

    Few thoughts suggest themselves to me, and the ones that do are mostly useless or obsessive. It’s like my entire world has lost color. I cannot figure it out. It’s basically like I can’t focus and am just monitoring my environment, and so whatever thoughts are lurking just pop up and I’m at their mercy, never being able to anticipate my mood or motivation. I used to be even-keeled, though anxious. I’m just so … inefficient, I guess.

    I never was like this, and I’m not necessarily less successful, but my job fractures my consciousness more I think, as it demands lots of unrelated tasks. I’m in a place where I don’t see career advancement because I was just trying to stabilize, but I think that just makes it worse. I have something similar to ADD, but it served me well academically – I liked to hyperfocus. But now it seems like it has just gone wildly out of control to where I’m bombarded and depleted by countless streams of thought, but with none of the positive aspects of ADD. I take medication for it which for a while worked wonderfully, but has largely lost its effectiveness. It saves me for like an hour a day. Otherwise I feel weirdly detached and just not real. I guess I just lost a focus/sense of rhythm once I got out of school and most of my friends moved and some other things, and perhaps it is all psychological. I lost the narrative somehow, and I can’t piece it together.

    I got really into historical research because it fulfills that role, but it’s hard for me to pursue publication when I’m mystified by getting food and paying bills and when my job drains me completely. And my brain does select for the highest emotion thoughts – I swear I’ve catalogued every embarrassing thing I’ve ever done and at any possible reminder of it, it’s there. I have to construct a new rhythm so that the angels know which thoughts are proper to select.

    ETA: The reason getting food mystifies me is that I don’t seem to have a positive feedback loop for anything anymore; only negative ones. So instead of being able to picture getting a great dinner and being excited, I become overwhelmed by the thought of traffic and I wonder if Panera is a stupid and unhealthy choice etc. Nothing builds on itself or suggests a new possibility, so I have to reason through everything instead of just going through a routine.

  38. Jeffery Mewtamer says:

    I look at the example of a 20-year-old dating a 40-year-old similar to the way I look at a gay couple: If there’s mutual attraction, respect, and understanding, no hints of either party abusing or neglecting the other physically or mentally, and by all reasonable mesaures the couple are in a healthy relationship, I see no reason to condemn the relationship over something as insignificant as a large age gap, just I see no reason to condemn a healthy relationship just because both partners have the same equipment.

    Granted, I also have a pretty low opinion of the concept of statutory rape(I could be wrong, but it strikes me as the kind of thing overprotective parents would come up with because they don’t like the idea of their HS freshman daughter dating a senior and are in denial over the fact that for most of human history teenage parenthood was not only socially acceptable but the norm and that humans have evolved to begin their mating cycles by their midteens in the majority of cases). Yes, modern society has some pretty good reasons for delaying or outright abstaining from reproduction, but trying to deny human nature and demonizing the slightly older partner when teenagers do what comes naturally strikes me as counterproductive to instilling sexual responsibility, and I can’t help wondering how many youths develop the notion that sexual abuse is okay as long as the victim is sufficiently older. I’m also pretty hard line against age discrimination in general, though I’ll admit sex is one of the harder areas to replace arbitrary age lines with something more meritocratic.

  39. Worley says:

    I wonder the degree that disgust, specifically, is involved in these versions of OCD. I’ve read that around 10 percent of the population has a seemingly instinctive disgust regarding gay male sex, and it seems likely that the 90% of the people without that instinct would be much less vulnerable to OCD regarding the subject. (I’ve read that about 10% of the population has an intense fear of dogs, and similarly 10% has an intense fear of snakes.) I wonder if there is a similar pattern with other versions of this sort of OCD.