What Universal Human Experiences Are You Missing Without Realizing It?

Remember Galton’s experiments on visual imagination? Some people just don’t have it. And they never figured it out. They assumed no one had it, and when people talked about being able to picture objects in their minds, they were speaking metaphorically.

And the people who did have good visual imaginations didn’t catch them. The people without imaginations mastered this “metaphorical way of talking” so well that they passed for normal. No one figured it out until Galton sat everyone down together and said “Hey, can we be really really clear about exactly how literal we’re being here?” and everyone realized they were describing different experiences.

I thought about this recently during a conversation with Ozy:

Ozy: I am currently eating chickpeas and rice and I am _delighted_ by the fact that I can eat this _whenever I want_ The nice thing about DISCOVERING YOUR FOOD PREFERENCES is that suddenly all the food in my cupboards is food I like and am looking forward to eating. and usually I get food I like by, like, luck? So this is excitement.

Scott: I don’t understand, why didn’t you buy things like that before?

Ozy: It took me a while to have enough of a sense of the food I like for “make a list of the food I like” to be a viable grocery-list-making strategy.

Scott: I’ve got to admit I’m confused and intrigued by your “don’t know my own preferences” thing.

Ozy: Hrm. Well, it’s sort of like… you know how sometimes you pretend to like something because it’s high-status, and if you do it well enough you _actually believe_ you like the thing? Unless I pay a lot of attention _all_ my preferences end up being not “what I actually enjoy” but like “what is high status” or “what will keep people from getting angry at me”

Scott: How does that apply to food?

Ozy: Well, sometimes people will tell you a certain food is high-status or healthy or a thing that everyone enjoys, and then I would like it. And a lot of times I just ate whatever was in front of me or ordered whatever the cheapest vegetarian thing on the menu was. And I… sort of vaguely had a sense that some things were more pleasurable to eat than other things but I didn’t like _keep track_ of what they were or anything. Because if I knew I might like the _wrong things_. And also because I didn’t intuitively grasp that the “liking” thing everyone was talking about was related to pleasure and not to like popularity/status.

So the fact that people talk about what foods they like about a zillion times a day isn’t enough to make everyone realize liking foods is a thing.

But it gets worse. A high school friend posted on Facebook a link to a really interesting answer on Quora. It makes you log on, so I’ll copy the relevant part below:

I have anosmia, which means I lack smell the way a blind person lacks sight. What’s surprising about this is that I didn’t even know it for the first half of my life.

Each night I would tell my mom, “Dinner smells great!” I teased my sister about her stinky feet. I held my nose when I ate Brussels sprouts. In gardens, I bent down and took a whiff of the roses. I yelled “gross” when someone farted. I never thought twice about any of it for fourteen years.

Then, in freshman English class, I had an assignment to write about the Garden of Eden using details from all five senses. Working on this one night, I sat in my room imagining a peach. I watched the juice ooze out as I squeezed at the soft fuzz. I felt the wet, sappy liquid drip from my fingers down onto my palm. As the mushy heart of the fruit compressed, I could hear it squishing, and when I took that first bite I could taste the little bit of tartness that followed the incredible sweet sensation flooding my mouth.

But I had to write about smell, too, and I was stopped dead by the question of what a peach smelled like. Good. That was all I could come up with. I tried to think of other things. Garbage smelled bad. Perfume smelled good. Popcorn good. Poop bad. But how so? What was the difference? What were the nuances? In just a few minutes’ reflection I realized that, despite years of believing the contrary, I never had and never would smell a peach.

All my behavior to that point indicated that I had smell. No one suspected I didn’t. For years I simply hadn’t known what it was that was supposed to be there. I just thought the way it was for me was how it was for everyone. It took the right stimulus before I finally discovered the gap.

So I guess you can just not be able to smell and not know it.

This makes me wonder what universal human experiences I and my friends are missing out on without realizing it.

I know one friend’s answer. He discovered he was color-blind sometime in his teens. This still surprises me. People are always taking Ishihara tests (those colorful dotted circles with numbers inside of them) and discovering they’re color blind. Going through life with everyone else saying “The light was red, but now it’s green” and thinking it was weird that they were making such a big deal about subtle variations in shades of brownish-gray, but it was probably one of those metaphors.

As for me? I took a surprisingly long time to realize I was asexual. When I was a virgin, I figured sex was one of those things that seemed gross before you did it, and then you realized how great it was. Afterwards, I figured it was something that didn’t get good until you were skilled at it and had been in a relationship long enough to truly appreciate the other person. In retrospect, pretty much every aspect of male sexual culture is a counterargument to that theory, but I guess it’s just really hard for my brain to generate “you are a mental mutant” as a hypothesis.

But even bigger than that, I think I might not have had emotions, at least not fully, for about five years as a teenager when I was on SSRIs. I even sort of noticed myself not having emotions, but dismissed that as an odd thing to happen and probably other people were just being really overexuberant about things. Later I learned emotional blunting is a commonly reported side effect of SSRIs and I was probably just really not experiencing emotions. When I came off them it took me several years to get used to having normal-intensity feelings again, but it wasn’t a sudden revelation, like “Wow, I was missing a fundamental human experience for the past several years!” Just a sense of things being different which was hard to cash out.

As always, I wonder if a lot of what other people interpret through vague social things might be biological, or at least more complicatedly social. I can’t enjoy jazz music even a little – the best I can do is pick up something sort of like a beat and half-heartedly feel like maybe I could snap my fingers to it if I could build up the energy. My brother fell in love with jazz as soon as he heard it and is now a professional jazz musician who has dedicated his life to it. Are we listening to the same thing when we hear a jazz tune? Or am I like a guy who can’t smell trying to appreciate perfume?

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913 Responses to What Universal Human Experiences Are You Missing Without Realizing It?

  1. blacktrance says:

    For a long time I vaguely believed that concern about caffeine (e.g. not drinking normal tea before bed) was mostly food purity similar to organic/non-GMO/fat-free/etc, because I’ve consumed large amounts of caffeine both regularly and irregularly and have never felt neither any effect nor any withdrawals. This was dispelled when in college I saw people have so much caffeine their hands started shaking, but to this day it’s never worked for me.

  2. henning says:

    isn’t loss of sexual appetite another side-effect of ssri?

  3. Mike S. says:

    I know it’s a long shot, but I’d be extremely interested in what you mean by “a sense of things being different which was hard to cash out.” I suspect this experience may have been of qualia closer to what we might call the origin of qualia. Though “origin” is not the right word…it’s more like how in order to understand how chemistry works, it’s useful to study hydrogen. I hope your reminiscences don’t disrupt your memory of the experience too much.

  4. Pku says:

    That some guys actually care about penis size. It took me a really long time to accept that it’s not all an elaborate joke and some people actually do think of penis size as a measure of status… somehow. I still completely don’t understand it. (And yeah, I am a guy with a penis. No idea how its size compares to the average).

  5. Kevin Graham says:

    I have something I’ve missed out on for almost all my life: sexual objectification.

    I’m 23 years old and I literally didn’t even know what it was until three quarters of a year ago. I figured it out like this:

    I was talking to my girlfriend and said, “I don’t understand why somebody would want to pay someone or pressure someone into having sex with them. Why would you want to share a sexual experience with someone who didn’t really want to be there?”

    “Kevin, the people who do that aren’t looking to ‘share a sexual experience with someone,’ they’re just looking to fuck.”

    “What does that mean?”

    “They don’t see it as a shared experience.”

    “You mean they don’t think of sex as a SOCIAL activity?”


    “So they don’t want to have sex WITH somebody, they just want to have sex, and the other person just happens to be in the room?”


    “So it’s kind of like masturbating with someone else’s body as a toy?”


    “Huh. Wow. That’s weird.”

    That being said, sex to me doesn’t need to be ROMANTIC necessarily, but it does need to be social.

  6. Schwanz blasen, Muschi lecken, Bilder

  7. nydwracu says:

    Here’s one I’m not sure about.

    My ecig has five lights on it to indicate charge, and when it charges, the lights turn on in a certain pattern: if it’s at no charge, the first one lights up, then the second, and so on until they’re all lit up, and then they clear and that repeats; if it’s at two lights of charge, the bottom two lights are always on, but the third one lights up, then the third and fourth, then the third, fourth, and fifth, then they all clear and it repeats; and so on.

    I just plugged it in to charge, looked at it until it completed a cycle, then looked away and replayed the sounds in my head to figure out what level of charge it was at. Beep beep beep beep, two lights of charge.

    It doesn’t actually make any sound.

    I don’t think it’s synesthesia — I ‘hear’ it the same way I can replay music in my head, or imagine people speaking; it doesn’t register as an actual sound coming from the outside world. But the recall was entirely auditory: I didn’t visualize anything.

    Does anyone else do that?

    (Incidentally, there was a discussion on this a while back on #lesswrong and apparently some people replay music in their head, or at least not at good quality. I can even write music in real-time in my head at fairly good quality, but I can never get it down on paper.)

    • Tab Atkins says:

      Yeah, I do that too. Agree that it’s not synesthesia, or at least doesn’t sound like it based on what other people describe their synesthesia as being like. But I definitely often get an internal sound when imagining things going through state changes like that. Mine’s more of a “boop” or “doop” usually, but same thing.

  8. ADifferentAnonymous says:

    Here’s one I realized recently: I don’t desire sympathy in itself. That is, I appreciate it if someone recognizes that I’m in a tough situation and materially helps me, but if they can’t materially help there’s no emotional offering I particularly desire.

    Granted, I don’t have many bad things happen to me, and I haven’t had any really terrible things, but after the hardest emotional shock in my memory I wanted to be alone; I encountered lots of genuinely supportive and sympathetic people, and I wanted them to stop bothering me.

    This puts me in a tough spot when others want my sympathy. I don’t have the hardware to model their emotional needs, so all I can do is hollowly recite what I’ve learned are words of sympathy while my intuition tells me they’re utterly worthless.

  9. CAE_Jones says:

    Something I found that seems to fit here:

    Here is something I believe is unique to the blind:
    So we always have one hand occupied to the cane or the dog, so we have to manage how we carry things.
    Even though I grew up with sighted people, and for natural population density reasons, most people I am around are sighted, I always find myself assuming they are also restricted. If they have what seems more bags than we could carry with one hand occupied, I offer to carry one without thinking, and so on. The elderly have asked if I thought they were too old to manage or something. The feminists have thought me to be a paternalastic pig or something. And others give odd responses. I finally realized this for what it was yesterday when helping my wife at the store.
    In summary, we can only carry so many bags (unless it’s a backpack) or boxes, because of using a cane or dog. We always have a hand occupied. And without thinking about this, I always just assume sighted people are more or less similarly restricted and offer to carry some of their load which for them comes off as weird or something of the aforementioned. I’m not talking carrying your guest’s bags for them or something. If you’re blind you know what I mean, no doubt.

  10. Anon says:

    Content warning: rape

    I am a female who has a hard time believing that people are upset by rape. I just assumed that they had to keep up appearances, because women aren’t supposed to enjoy casual sexual encounters. But I can’t wrap my head around the idea that women would dislike being raped, beyond any physical pain or fear of being murdered, etc. To me, sexual experiences are just physical acts. I simply can’t imagine emotional significance to sex, anymore than I can imagine finding meaning in eating or showering. I imagine forcible sex like being held down and forced to eat a hamburger, which would possibly not be pleasurable depending on whether or not I was hungry, but it wouldn’t be traumatizing.

    These feelings have lasted a long time: I remember being intensely intrigued by sexual violence at the age of 11. There’s still a part of me that believes that other people must be lying in attributing emotional meaning to sex acts, but there’s another part of me that’s becoming increasingly troubled by the fact that I may be the only one who feels this way.

    • Sage says:

      Your experiences, while unusual, are not unique. (They’re more common in kink communities, of course).

      • Matthew says:

        I’m pretty sure kink community members who had their safeword ignored would find the experience traumatizing.

    • blacktrance says:

      I can imagine being held down and forced to eat a hamburger to be traumatizing.

      • Tab Atkins says:

        I’m also rather surprised by the cheeseburger comment (the rest too – as far as I know, the OP *is* unusual in that regard and is just now really realizing it, but that seems par for the course in this thread).

        I mean, it’s kinda pedestrian, but we’re not talking about being sat at a table and told you have to eat it or no dessert. I’m loathe to take the physical analogies too far, but it’s more akin to being held down and having a cheeseburger shoved down your throat, without regard for your need to chew or your gag reflex. That would be extremely traumatic to me, and it’s just a cheeseburger.

        • Anon says:

          Well I would be upset by the physical pain of rape. Similarly I would be upset by any pain from being held down and forced to eat something, but I wouldn’t be psychologically traumatized. I wouldn’t suffer any lasting effects from it, like being triggered by the word “cheeseburger”.

          But I guess I’m just very unfazed by bad things that have happened in my past. I had a roommate who was a bit crazy and would often threaten me and talk about wanting to kill people, etc. One night she dragged me out of bed and attacked me and choked me. I finally managed to escape and run away, so I didn’t suffer any lasting injuries. It never became a traumatic memory for me though, just an interesting anecdote.

          So my issue is more general: I can’t relate to being traumatized by something that happened in the past and didn’t cause permanent physical harm. Everything that hurt in the past I laugh at now. I now understand that most people aren’t like this.

          • I’ve heard that the number of traumatic events is a predictor for getting PTSD– the fact that you’ve been resilient so far is not a guarantee of permanent immunity.

            From what I’ve read, PTSD is a result of effects on the brain– it may make sense that people who haven’t had it can’t imagine what it’s like because they don’t have the physical basis for it.

        • Nornagest says:

          A while back I was reading Dave Grossman’s On Killing, which has some annoyingly polemical elements to it but references some of the more detailed studies of combat trauma I’m aware of. He cites studies saying that PTSD is significantly more likely in military personnel in relatively safe but nonetheless combative roles (artillery, for example) than among civilians exposed to bombing or other serious dangers, even once you correct for time-in-theater and other confounders. Potential responsibility for others’ deaths, it seems, is a much more serious stressor than the potential for your own.

          I don’t know how this would relate to non-combat trauma in general, let alone cheeseburgers in particular, but it’s enough to convince me that being exposed to bad things isn’t the whole story.

    • G-Max says:

      Men can be raped too, usually by other men in prison.

      I’m pretty sure that if my cornhole was forcibly violated in prison, it wouldn’t be the sort of thing that I could just brush off.

  11. I don’t think I feel gratitude. When someone does something nice for me, I say thanks, but only because I’ve been trained to do so—I don’t feel any distinct feeling toward that action.

  12. DanielLC says:

    I have hyponosmia (bad sense of smell) and I’ve known it for pretty much my whole life. Then again, I couldn’t inhale through my nose until I was around five, so anosmia was kind of expected during that time. Once I could, I could hardly ignore sometimes being able to tell what’s cooking just from being near the kitchen, and it was also clear that people talk about smelling things that I to this day have never smelt.

    I still don’t know if it’s a generally reduced sense of smell or if I’m missing certain receptors and I can only smell certain things.

    I had been hard of hearing for a period I’m not sure about. I assume it started after my last hearing test. I didn’t find out until my hearing suddenly improved in one ear, and I spent the next two days getting used to it, scared of the sound of a toilet flushing. I was getting suspicious by then though.

  13. Jack says:

    I think I may be unable to enjoy any activity while I am actually pursuing it. The strongest emotions I perceive occur when I am looking forward to something, or looking back at something I did in the past.
    I can be looking forward to something as much as possible, but during that, it will just feel like a bland, gray thing to do. Even though I “know” I love doing it, I just don’t feel any happiness while it happens. Usually I am looking forward to doing the next thing afterwards, even if I had been looking forward to my current activity all day.

    This could be anything. During work, I would be looking forward to playing video games in the evening. When I finally get to do that, it doesn’t feel that special, and I’m already looking forward to seeing my girlfriend the next day. Then when I spend time with her, I could be looking back at how awesome it was to play games yesterday, or look forward to doing it again.

    I used to think I was depressed for some time. Only I don’t feel sad or unhappy. I may actually giggle in anticipation at being about to do something cool, or look back longingly at something I did. It’s just whatever I’m doing right now doesn’t evoke any great emotions at that time.

    This really weighs me down, but it’s not something I can turn off, or make myself look at from another angle.

  14. Graham says:

    For as long as I’ve thought about it, I’ve always known I didn’t really have any emotional response to art. I could objectively recognize characteristics of a beautiful painting or something, and I could appreciate the talent it takes to make them, but they never made me feel anything.

    More recently, I realized that for all aesthetic things in general I have either a non-existent or extremely subdued emotional response, including faces. I can objectively tell if someone is attractive, but faces for the most part feel the same to me, and I never really feel interested in someone based on their face (although I do have preferences for body types). In retrospect, this should have been kind of obvious. From middle school on up, the girls that everyone I knew thought were really hot never interested me at all, and celebrities and models never attracted me much either.

  15. Eric Hamell says:

    I felt euphoric for a while after going off Paxil, which I retrospectively interpreted as a rebound effect heightening my happiness that the benefits were persisting and not the side effects. But this only lasted a few weeks, and I wasn’t without emotion while on the drug.

  16. T Keller says:

    I’ve got a novel one (though it falls in the “I think this only happens to me” category). I’m a bit late to the party but I thought this was worth sharing:

    Sometimes when I’m reading a book, part of my mind sort of wanders off to a seemingly random location. I’m fully paying attention to what I’m reading, but some part of me is also visualizing very clearly a place that I know well… for instance, about halfway through a Vonnegut book I began visualizing a certain corner of the appliances department of the Home Depot where I worked in college.

    There is no conscious shifting of attention as I do this, and sometimes I don’t even realize it’s happening until after I take a break and resume reading again, at which point I’m struck by the visualization before I get reabsorbed in the book.

    I’ve re-read books after months or years and had the same visualization again, though I had totally forgotten until it reappeared.

    I haven’t been able to determine any connection between the place visualized and the reading material itself. Nor does the phenomenon seem to depend on how absorbed I am by the book. The only constant is that the place is always somewhere I know very well, somewhere I’ve spent a lot of time.

    I also have grapheme—color synesthesia and this phenomenon “feels” a bit like that… like part of my subconscious is associating two otherwise unrelated things and there’s not much I can consciously do about it, and the whole thing gets a bit “slippery” if I try to concentrate on it.

    • Anon says:

      This happens to me too. Recurring thoughts, particularly erotic fantasies seem to get “stuck” in certain locations that have no connection to the thought. This can be frustrating. For example, I have some fantasies that have gotten stuck in my grandparents’ bathroom, which is an unpleasant juxtaposition.

    • G-Max says:

      “It’s like the feeling at the end of a page,
      and you don’t know what you just read”

      – Missing Persons, “Words”, 1982

    • Jeremy says:

      I have this exact phenomenon. I think I first experienced it when I would visualize the setting of fiction I was reading as some sort of version of a place I was familiar with, “adapted” to the description in the book. I wouldn’t realize this until later reflection.

      But I have realized over the past several years that when I think intensely about /anything/ even if it is just purely conceptual, I will visualize some place just as you describe. The thing is that it is not at all distracting or noticeable when it happens, it’s not till i pull out of it that I realize I was vividly imagining some completely unrelated location. It honestly seems helpful, as I associate the memory with the location, and it helps me “get into” the thought. I have noticed that when my brain uses a location this way, it will often use it several times successively. But I haven’t ever noticed a particular concept changing the location it is associated with. Because it’s all subconscious, it’s hard to keep track of.

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  18. G-Max says:

    I realized something crazy a few weeks ago.

    I have all five senses. I know that I love the taste of peanut butter and hate the smell of bananas, and could recognize either in about a fifth of a second.

    I can also imagine sights, sounds, and physical sensations pretty well. I can remember, for example, what Ronald Reagan looks like without having to see a picture and go “oh yeah, that’s him”.

    But I can’t imagine tastes and smells. I have to actually taste or smell them again in order to remember them. I can only imagine the physical sensations in my mouth. Like, when I try to imagine drinking Coke, it’s the exact same thing as trying to imagine drinking Sprite or Dr. Pepper; all I can conjure is “cold carbonated liquid in my mouth”. But if I’m actually drinking them, I can tell the difference. Similarly, if I imagine myself consuming something minty, I can imagine the cooling sensation but not the mint flavor.

    Actually, I can imagine “sour” pretty well. Or am I just imagining the physical sensation of my cheeks puckering and my salivary glands going berserk? Damn, this is confusing.

    The irony, of course, is that smell is the sense most closely associated with memory!

    • That’s interesting– I can imagine taste/smell well enough for improvised cooking, but the imagined sensation isn’t very strong.

    • St. Rev says:

      I think this is the norm for the sense of smell, and taste is mostly smell!

    • On a related note, I can replay some songs in full detail in my head, but for other songs I can only hear the vocals. This doesn’t seem to be related to how well I know the song or how complex the song is.

    • Saro says:

      Just to confirm that this is, indeed, not universal: I can recall smells almost as well as I can recall images (i.e. with a little effort when I concentrate), though both of these are an order of magnitude worse than how well I can recall sound (easily, without effort).

      There is an interesting thing to note that “recalling a smell” is a lot more like actually smelling the scent in the present than “recalling an image” is like seeing it in the present. My “minds nose” seems hard to distinguish from my “real nose”.

  19. B R George says:

    Regarding your confusion about color-blindness. I think part of the issue may be that you have an oversimplified view of how color-blindness works and what most cases of color-blindness are like “from the inside”. Colloquially, “color-blind” is a term for any nonstandard perception of color. Wikipedia lists eight distinct categories of congenital color-blindness, some of which (e.g. cone monochromacy) apparently come in multiple sub-variations, and some of which can probably occur in combination with each other.

    Four of these conditions might be colloquially described as forms of “red-green” colorblindness. Of these four, two involve dichromacy (seeing a world generated by only two primary colors) and two (including the most common kind) involve anomalous trichromacy (seeing a world generated by three primaries, but not the same three primaries as normal people). People with anomalous trichromacy conditions see (in some sense, at least) as complex a range of colors as normals, but there are some cases of objects that appear to them like-colored or very-similarly-colored that have more different colors for normals (there are also, at least under lab conditions, color distinctions to which they are sensitive but which normals are incapable of perceiving).

    A lot of folks with anomalous trichromacy conditions test as color-blind on an Ishihara test, but they don’t see the red and green lights as just different shades of grayish-brown. They maybe see the red light as an orange-er red than other people, or the yellow light as a orange-er yellow, or something like that, but the three colors are still pretty distinct.

    There are probably also dichromats or even monochromats who don’t realize their experience is atypical, but most cases of color-blind people who don’t realize it until they take an Ishihara test aren’t like that. Rather, they’re people who associated all the different canonical named colors with different sensory impressions, but miss things in subtler ways.

    So, for example, I didn’t learn that I was “color-blind” until late childhood. Until I learned about anomalous trichromacy, I couldn’t make much sense of this. I could see all the sections of the color wheel in art class as distinct colors, and the color wheel intuition made sense. I couldn’t imagine two primaries generating the world I saw. When, later on, I started seeing crappy internet examples of “here’s how the world looks to a color-blind person” based on dichromacy, the “normal” picture looked normal to me and the “color-blind” picture looked like it was obviously missing a lot of color information. I don’t know how to explain this or represent it. I’ve toyed with the idea of trying to do something using a personal computer, some bandpass filters, and a series of exposures with a digital camera to try to simulate different kinds of color vision in a commensurable way, but I don’t really have the technical expertise to do it right, and even if I did it would be time-consuming and expensive.

    But there are some examples I can give. Like, for me, the paint on most “yellow pencils” (I live in the US, where the canonical color to paint the exterior of graphite pencils is yellow) looks a lot closer to the color of the exterior of an orange (a definitely orange thing) than to the color of the exterior of a lemon (a definitely yellow thing). And on some cheaper computer monitors and projectors I have a much harder time making out the outlines of a cyan image on a white background than normal folks do (they aren’t the same color for me, exactly, but they’re close enough that the edges are hard to find). Little things like that.

    Now, you might ask why it wasn’t a tipoff that “yellow pencils” looked orange to me, to which I must reply by asking you if it’s a warning sign for you that “white grapes” look green or that “black tea” looks reddish-brown. The way we use color language to talk about familiar objects is full of specialized uses and outright pretenses, so it’s easy to think any personal mismatches are of that kind.

    But, in any case, “Going through life with everyone else saying ‘The light was red, but now it’s green’ and thinking it was weird that they were making such a big deal about subtle variations in shades of brownish-gray, but it was probably one of those metaphors.” does not, as far as I know, accurately describe my experience as somebody who didn’t know they were color-blind until they encountered an Ishihara test, and I suspect it does not accurately describe the typical such experience.

    • Tab Atkins says:

      I’m also color-blind (deuteranopic, or green-deficient), and while your overall point is right, that most vision is basically “normal”, I do understand what Scott is saying.

      Specifically, my color vision shows up most obviously when I’m looking at “olive” colors – they mostly look brown to me, rather than green. (I’m sure I also see other colors slightly wrong, but that’s the most obvious “wrong base color” thing I’ve been able to discover.)

      This has resulted in the confusion that Scott talks about. Until I learned about my color-blindness (which didn’t happen until late high-school, and I didn’t learn the full extent of it until sometime in college), I didn’t understand several of the color choices that my wife made in interior decorating. She was trying to decorate the bedroom in greens, and I kept suggesting brown things to go with it, and not understanding why she kept dismissing them immediately. At some point it finally dawned on her, and she asked me what color some bedspread or curtain was – when I said “brown” (rather than the correct answer of “green”), a light turned on in her head, and we both realized why there was such a disconnect.

      So, yeah, while certainly more subtle than green/red traffic lights, my experience was basically the same as what Scott’s friend said. My experience of the world really was slightly different than other people’s, and I just didn’t realize that it was because of physical differences; I thought my idea of what colors went together was just bad, somehow.

      (I’ve also always been bad at dressing myself in greens. I choose shades that look fine together to me, but terrible to everyone else. I can choose clothing just fine in other hues, so this isn’t a general failing, but rather something caused by my condition, and it confused me a lot as a kid.)

      • B R George says:

        Oh, absolutely. I didn’t mean to imply otherwise. I was just saying this might help to explain why not noticing this is so very common.

        My experience was one of knowing that color-blindness was a thing from an early age, and still never having it occur to me that that had anything to do with me before discovering that I routinely test as non-normal on Ishihara tests.

        An idiosyncrasy of my case is that a member of my immediate family is a dichromat, and it was clear to me from a very early age that i wasn’t experiencing color the way he was, and that I could routinely make distinctions that he could not – so I thought I knew what “color-blind” was and that I was someplace else.

      • nydwracu says:

        I think it’s deeper than colorblindness — I’ve gotten into arguments like that with people before, who I knew well enough that, if they were colorblind, I would probably know.

        Also I vaguely recall hearing about some study that says that. Something about the color red and adjusting TVs.

  20. Richard Gadsden says:

    Sexual attraction can be driven by something other than physical appearance.

    I don’t just mean visual – I mean that I am attracted to bodies, not to the people “inside” them. It can be experienced through senses other than vision, particularly touch, but really unpleasant personalities don’t reduce my sexual attraction, people I really like don’t become more sexually attractive as a result.

    It took me a long time to realise what “objectification” was complaining about – sexual attraction is wholly and solely to the object, the physical embodiment of the human personality and psyche, so how could you be attracted to someone without objectifying them?

    Some bisexual people say they are attracted to the person, not the gender, and increasing my involvement in bi-activism has convinced me that this is a real phenomenon. I’m bi myself and just have two completely separate physical standards for sexual attractiveness, one for each sex/gender.

    Recognising that some people’s experience of sexual attraction is influenced by personality and behaviour makes a lot of things make more sense, like dating (other people have to find out whether I’m attractive by their metric). It just seemed like a torture process that people would put you through before telling you whether they fancied you or not. Yeah, typical mind fallacy.

    I’m wondering now if some complaints of objectification are people with the opposite view of sexual attraction succuming to the typical mind fallacy – that is being unable to separate sexual attraction from personal attraction / romance, where I can’t really connect the two.

    I’m not aromantic, BTW; I just don’t experience romance and sexual attraction as connected.

    • ozymandias says:

      “Sexual objectification” is generally used to mean seeing a person you’re sexually attracted to as not a person, not someone who has their own desires and agency, but as a sort of thing you can use to fulfill your sexual desires. Imagine thinking of people the same way you’d think of a RealDoll or a picture of an attractive naked stranger. Some people believe that only being attracted to beauty and not to someone’s insides inherently involves thinking of them as not-a-person.

    • von Kalifornen says:

      Also in objectification, there is the matter of people who see sexual attraction as eclipsing views of humanity and those who don’t.

      I remember a while ago (before Sexism In Nerd Culture had become a widely recognized Big Deal) assume people complaining about nerds treating romance as a puzzle that yeilded sex when solved, and then a nerd argued that while people like that exist (ie puas), for most nerds it is more like a puzzle that you solve and then you can engage in normal gallantry and flirtation.

    • blacktrance says:

      For me, it feels strange to notice that for many people (I’m not sure if this is actually common, or if it’s just a stereotype I see confirmed from time to time), males especially, there is little distinction between thinking “This person is attractive”, “This person is sexually interesting to me”, and “I’d have sex with this person given the opportunity”. For me, the three are worlds apart. The first is simple – if I see someone attractive, I’d vaguely note that they’re attractive without actually being attracted to them. For me, actual sexual attraction requires me to know them at least a little – I could never be sexually attracted to a stranger. But unless I knew someone well and was at least friends with them, I wouldn’t want to have sex with them even if they wanted to have sex with me. For a lot of people, it seems the three go together – “I notice that you’re attractive, therefore I’m sexually attracted to you, therefore I’d like to have sex with you (barring any mitigating circumstances).”

      • Tab Atkins says:

        Pretty sure that it (having all three of those roughly coincident) is indeed common, not just a stereotype. (It definitely describes me, and I’m pretty sure I’m neurotypical on this.)

        The Tumblr word for people like you is “demisexual”, meaning you don’t feel sexual attraction without an existing emotional connection.

  21. moridinamael says:

    Oh yeah, I’ve always suspected that a huge component of the confusion surrounding the whole qualia debate lies in the fact that different people experience their qualia in totally subjectively different ways, with different degrees of immediacy, and just differently period. We know from modern neurology that some people repurpose what is “supposed to be” auditory circuitry for vision and vice versa. I myself can’t find my way from my front door to my mailbox but I have mental skills in other areas, (waves hands) who knows what got cross-wired there, who knows how I experience the world differently from you? And then we try to talk about qualia and consciousness as if it’s this one thing that we’re just going to nail down with language?

  22. Geekethics says:

    When I was about 7 I complained to my mother thinking I was ill. I had a prickly/itchy sensation all over my torso and seeming to go inside it. She told me that what I was experiencing was being too hot. … A thing I would never have been able to tell you at the time.

    • G-Max says:

      Being hot is NOT experienced as “a prickly/itchy sensation”. You were suffering from something else.

      • Tab Atkins says:

        No, being hot *is* occasionally experienced (by me, at least) as prickly. It feels like I”m suddenly aware of all my sweat glands being forced open, as it’s always accompanied by a sudden flush of sweat.

        It doesn’t happen often, but it does happen.

  23. When I was a kid (probably about 13 or so), my piano teacher asked me whether I preferred music with sharps or flats, I was dumbstruck. Sharps and flats are logically equivalent, how is it possible to have a preference? He said that all his other students preferred one or the other.

    Is this something that most people who can read sheet music care about?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I realized upon reading this that, twenty years after my last music class, I still have a preference for sharps.

    • Jordan D. says:

      I wish to cast my vote for sharps being better than flats!

      There’s no real reason for it. It’s some sort of weird aesthetic preference which has lingered in my heart for as long as I can recall. Perhaps some sort of negative halo effect surrounding the term ‘flat’?

    • Watercressed says:

      They are logically equivalent, but it is rare that a piece written in a major key has five flats (or the reverse), so pieces with sharps and ones with flats sound and feel different.

    • Alicorn says:

      I prefer sharps for piano, but flats are easier for flute by more than sharps are on piano, so once I picked up the flute I developed an overall preference for flats. It has nothing to do with the properties of the music beyond ease of play as far as I can tell.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      Now I am intrigued. What are sharps and flats (in the sense you’re using the terms)? What does it mean to have music “with” one or the other?

      (Yes, I checked wikipedia before asking. It was singularly unenlightening.)

      • AJD says:

        Western music is based on a seven-note scale, but to a first approximation there are 12 different notes. So a given composition has to specify which subset of 7 of the 12 notes is being used as the scale for that piece. This is known as the “key”.

        Seven of the notes are identified by letters, CDEFGAB, played on the white keys of the piano. (These seven form the key of C Major.) The other five, played on the black keys of the piano, are “sharp” or “flat” versions of the white-key notes they are adjacent to, where “sharp” means ‘higher’ and “flat” means ‘lower’. So for instance the note between F and G may be referred to as F-sharp (F#) or as G-flat (G♭).

        There are twelve major keys other than C Major; each of these uses at least one of the sharped or flatted tones. Although, to a first approximation, “F-sharp” and “G-flat” (for example) refer to the same tone, any given key is stated using exclusively sharps or exclusively flats to refer to its black-key tones. So for instance, the key of D major consists of D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#—it would be incorrect to state it as “D, E, G♭, G, A, B, C#”. Thus D major is a key with sharps, whereas F major, for example, is a key with flats.

        The topic of discussion above is preferences between keys with sharps and keys with flats.

        • Would someone who has a strong preference for sharps or flats care to describe what how sharps and flats feel different from each other?

          On the piano, the more sharps or flats, the harder the music usually is to play. I believe all instruments have easier and harder keys, but the easiest key isn’t necessarily C major.

        • Said Achmiz says:

          This (AJD’s reply) was utterly incomprehensible to me, starting right from the first sentence.

          Could someone translate into not-music-person language, please? Or at least explain some of the concepts involved?

        • AJD says:

          Um. That is non–music-person language. Okay. I’ll try to start from more basic facts, using more math/physicsy reference points.

          Sounds are vibrations in air (or another substrate, I guess). The frequency of such a vibration is perceived as a quality called “pitch”. If one sound has a higher or lower fundamental frequency than another, it’s described as being higher or lower in pitch. An individual frequency, per se, can be referred to in music as a “tone” or sometimes as a “note”.

          A piano keyboard consists of white and black keys; any key, when struck, produces a distinctive tone.

          In the Western musical tradition, two tones whose frequencies differ by a factor of 2 are considered essentially equivalent, as if they were higher or lower versions of “the same note”. (This factor of 2 is known as an “octave” in music theory.) Modulo that equivalence relation, Western music uses (to a first approximation) 12 “different” tones.

          Individual tones (modulo the octave equivalence) have names. The names of the tones that are produced by striking the white keys of a piano have single-letter names; these are A, B, C, D, E, F, and G. The black-key tones are referred to as “sharps” or “flats” of the white keys they are adjacent to; a sharp is higher than the reference tone and a flat is lower. Thus the tone between F and G may be referred to as F-sharp (because it is the black key immediately higher than F), or G-flat (because it is the black key immediately lower than G).

          A “scale”, in Western music, can be thought of as a series of eight tones, ascending in pitch, ending on a tone exactly one octave higher than (i.e., with exactly double the frequency of) the starting tone. Since it starts and ends on functionally equivalent tones, a scale contains seven “different” tones. Any piece of traditional Western music is structurally organized around a particular scale—i.e., a particular subset of seven of the 12 distinct tones. This subset is known as the “key” of that composition. For the purposes of this discussion, there are 12 distinct such “keys”.

          When you identify the subset of seven tones that constitute an individual key, it is conventional to use only sharps or only flats to refer to them. Thus, although G-flat and F-sharp are the same tone, and D-flat and C-sharp are the same tone, it would not be considered correct to refer to a key as containing the tones “G-flat and C-sharp”. You’d say it contains G-flat and D-flat, or that it contains F-sharp and C-sharp. These conventions—whether the tones of a key are referred to as sharps or as flats—is fixed by convention for each key; there are some keys that contain sharps and some that contain flats.

          The discussion above is about preferences between those two types of keys.

        • Tab Atkins says:

          Let’s try.

          You know that sounds are just vibrations in the air of particular frequencies. For reasons that you might as well assume are magic, frequencies that differ by a factor of (approximately) a twelfth root of two sound good together. This is how we divide up the frequency range into “notes”.

          Go up twelve notes, and you’ve double the frequency; go down twelve and you’ve halved it. Notes this distance apart sound especially good together, *and* happen naturally in instruments. For this and probably other reasons, we group notes together in runs of twelve called “scales”.

          Now, for historical reasons, we only give names to seven of the notes in a given scale. They’re named after the letters A-G. The remaining five notes are instead named after the note before/after them (the names are spaced out so that the five unnamed notes always have named notes on either side). If you call them by the note under them, they’re a sharp; otherwise, they’re a flat. That is, the unnamed note between F and G on a given scale can be called either F sharp or G flat. (On a piano, the white keys produce the named notes by default, the black keys produce the sharps/flats.)

          Now, when you look at sheet music, the notes are either placed on the lines or between the lines. Each of these positions corresponds to a *named* note. If you want to indicate one of the unnamed notes (the sharps/flats), you indicate it by putting a sharp/flat marker next to the note.

          Alternately, you can declare that *all* notes on a given line/space are sharp or flat unless otherwise indicated, by placing the sharp/flat marker at the beginning of the row. Certain arrangements of these defaults are called “keys”. The key where nothing is sharp/flat by default is C Major. I don’t know what the naming scheme means, but every key is named after a note and is either Major or Minor.

          Although it’s theoretically possible to declare some notes to be sharp-by-default and others flat-by-default at the same time, for some reason all of the keys are defined with only sharps or only flats. (Maybe it’s simpler to read?) Also, even with this constraint, a given key *could* be written with either sharps *or* flats (you’d just put the markers on different note positions), but for some reason each key is traditionally written with one or the other.

          So, a key like D Major is written with sharps – any F and C notes are sharp by default. Other keys are written with flats by default, like F Major. Many people seem to have a preference for “sharp keys” over “flat keys”, or vice versa, for some reason.

          Did that help?

        • I’ll aim for a simpler explanation, or at least a different sort of complexity.

          Have a virtual keyboard. Unfortunately, it only marks one sharp or flat on each black note, but none of the other virtual keyboards I looked at marks sharps and flats at all.

          Play white notes from C to C1. This is the C major scale, and it’s a very normal thing in most western music.

          Now play white notes from F to F1. It sounds very weird. If you want it to be a handy major scale, play the black Bb note instead of the white B.

          Note that B flat is to the left of B, and it’s lower. The sharp of a note is to its right– a sharp is higher.

          Unfortunately, the key which has only one sharp needs a bigger keyboard, and I don’t have one with handy markings. Start with G (between the first and second of a group of three black notes). If you play that and keep going to your right until you get to the next G, you get a different sort of weird than you had when you started with F. Make it pleasant by playing F# instead of F. F sharp is the black note to the right of F– the note you play before you get to G.

          The thing is, you have 12 notes to work with, but most of the time, a piece of music is only using 7 of them.

          The sharp and flat system is a way of indicating which 7. I’m beginning to feel as though it’s a rational system, but not rationality as we know it.

          Anyway, there are two ways of using sharps and flats. One is at the beginning of a piece of music (which may be a section of a longer piece). In that case, you start by indicating which notes will be be sharped or flatted for the whole section. (Mercifully, key signatures only have sharps or flats.)

          If you just want one note sharped or flatted, there will be a sharp or flat next to it in the music. This is called an accidental.

          Anyway, people can have preferences for key signatures with flats or key signatures with sharps, even though it’s just a matter of indicating which notes have a higher or lower note substituted for them.

          This is an incomplete introduction to sharps and flats. I’m willing to explain more if you’re interested. I had no idea what a tangled mess of concepts sheet music is when you’re trying to explain it from scratch.

        • Said Achmiz says:

          Hmm. I appreciate the explanations, folks, but I’m afraid you all lose me, right about the place where you start talking about naming notes, and using 12 specific notes (which 12?? there is an uncountably infinite number of frequencies of sound!), and piano keyboards (why are we talking about pianos suddenly? music has all sorts of instruments…), and after that, I just can’t follow anything.

          Also, re: Nancy’s explanations, none of those first two sequences sound any more “weird” than the other, so I don’t know what is going on.

          Edit: And I am interested in learning more, but not in this forum; the commenting system here is exceedingly awkward to use for discussion.

        • Tab Atkins says:

          You can theoretically denote your first “note” at any frequency you want. There’s probably some reason we placed our notes where we did, but I don’t know what it is.

          However, once you’ve chosen your first note, as I said, it sounds good to combine it with notes that are double or half the frequency. The distance between those double/half notes is a scale.

          Then, within a scale, it also sounds good to combine your note with notes whose frequency is approximately a twelfth root of two from your original note. Obviously, then, if you make this kind of step-up twelve times, you’ve reached the double-frequency note that defines a higher scale.

          Beyond that, I dunno. The explanations given by me and others were about as basic as possible, I think. I suggest poking around on Wikipedia and the like to see if something there can restate this stuff in a way that catches you.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          sounds good to combine your note with notes whose frequency is approximately a twelfth root of two from your original note

          Not really. What sounds good are rational multiples, like 3/2 and 4/3. If you take many steps of those sizes, both up and down, you eventually get to a note which is almost but not exactly your original note. The 7 note scale is a way of preventing you from taking all those steps so that you can’t return to a slightly off note. There are lots of good combinations, but not all are available from all notes. The 12 note scale is a further compromise that has symmetry – all steps are available from every note. But the steps are no longer rational, but irrational, built from the basic step of 2^(1/12). There is no longer the perfect 3/2 step, but only the 2^(7/12)=1.498 step. A key is an embedding of an (approximate) 7 note scale into the 12 note scale.

    • DanielLC says:

      It’s the same key, but there’s theory behind it.

      If you’re playing in X-major, where X is some note, then starting from note X, the notes increase as whole, whole, half, whole, whole, whole, half. Each of those increases, the letter goes one further in the alphabet modulo eight. The sharps and flats are whatever is necessary to get the right key. There’s similar reasoning for chords.

      I’ve read a book on theory that at one point mentioned that it’s entirely possible to have, say, a C##, even though that’s the same note as a D. For that matter, you can also have a C flat, which is the same note as a B. If you wanted to have something in the key of C sharp or D flat, this would be unavoidable.

      The keys of C sharp and D flat are logically equivalent, though.

      I’ve always wondered why people write songs in particular keys. I know some subset of the population has perfect pitch, and can at least tell, but I’ve seen a song that was written a half step off of the key of C, with the result that it sounds almost exactly the same, but now uses all the black keys instead of none of them.

      • johnnycoconut says:

        Different keys are commonly perceived as having different moods or feels (very broadly speaking), even if both of those keys are major (for example, C major and C sharp major) or both of them are minor.

        Also, as a technical note (pardon the unintentional pun) (and I’m not sure how useful of an explanation different people will find this), C# (C sharp) is only the same as Db (D flat), and D# only the same as Eb etc., in 12-tone equal temperament, which most pianos are tuned to and which most Western-style music assumes (Western as in western civilization). 12-tone equal temperament is where each octave is split into 12 pitches separated by equal intervals (and “half-step” refers to such an interval, which can get confusing because e.g. F and G are separated by two half-steps (a whole step) but E and F are separated by a half-step).

        (Sidenote: also, most guitar fretboards have their frets positioned according to 12-tone equal temperament. You can buy special fretboards positioned to different temperaments, in which case the frets will be uneven.)

        The concepts of sharps and flats and note letters are typically based on the layout of a piano that’s typical in style and tuned (ideally well) to 12-tone equal temperament, where:

        – the very first key is an A and the very last key a C
        – there are seven white keys per octave
        – the pitch names of the white keys are just letters (from A to G, repeating every octave)
        – there are 5 black keys per octave (7 white + 5 black = 12)
        – the pitch names of the black keys have a sharp or a flat (depending on the convention you’re using) in the name of each

        The notes in each octave, roughly speaking, sound “the same” as the corresponding notes in higher or lower octaves, just “lower” or “higher” (ignoring differences in timbre (tonal characteristics)).

        As an example of how all this works out, the note between C and D in 12-tone equal temperament is conceptualized as being equivalent to the note sounded by the black key between a C and a D on a 12-tone-equal-temperament piano, and is called C# or Db, where “#” (“sharp”) stands for “plus a half step” and “b” (flat) stands for “minus a half step”*.

        *Note: technically the sharp-symbol is ♯ and the flat-symbol is ♭, but I’ve been too lazy to use those characters.

        • johnnycoconut says:

          The key of C major can have an air of neutrality or vague saccharinity, for example.

          It’s interesting that on a piano, C major is made of all the 7 white keys in each octave. (Note: therefore, its “relative minor”, A minor, is made of the same piano keys. (Note that relative minor keys are three half-steps lower than their relative major keys.))

          And yes, a “piano key” (which corresponds to a single note) is different from a musical key (which is usually made of a set of 7 pitches, the same set in each octave).
          The same word (“key”) is used for both, which can be confusing.

          If you’re playing in a certain key, that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re limited to the notes “in that key”–you might also use what’s called “accidental” notes, notes that are outside the key. For example, if you’re playing in C major you could throw in an Eb for a bit of a bluesier sound or whatever.

          Note: often, when you ask someone to list “the notes of an octave” (assuming 12-tone equal temperament, as I have been in this whole comment), they will start from C (rather than A as you might expect). This is probably because intro-level keyboard-instrument instruction tends to use the note “middle C” as an anchor.

  24. Saro says:

    1. I have very little limb awareness, and I frequently knock stuff off shelves, crash into people/things with my arms and stub my toes because I wasn’t paying enough attention to where my body parts are. I used to frequently miss my mouth when eating and drinking if I wasn’t looking at my fork/glass, but this has started happening less with better muscle memory. My muscle memory does work fine, so I can pick up sports-related skills with practise, but I was always terrible at throwing/catching/hitting things in new contexts on the first few attempts.

    I don’t know if this is related to having been short-sighted for most of my life, and needing glasses which distort the world.

    2. This isn’t a mental thing, but enough people are astonished/express doubt when I mention it that it’s worth bringing up: some people don’t float. I find swimming incredibly hard work because I naturally sink in fresh water, and it takes a lot of energy to counteract that. I swim fine in the sea.

    • G-Max says:

      The amount of air in your lungs will have more of an effect than the salinity of the water…

      • Ialdabaoth says:

        Speaking as someone else who sinks even with lungs full of air, that doesn’t always cut it.

        I can swim in the ocean *IF* my lungs are fully inflated. In fresh water, not even then.

    • peterdjones says:

      Floating ability is positively correlated with body fat.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      … some people don’t float.

      Whoa. So… wait… are you saying some people do float?? Like… just, float, without having to… do anything? I thought TV and movies were just making this up!!

  25. Kibber says:

    Not to undermine your asexuality in any way (and admittedly not knowing enough about asexuality in general); also, vaguely remembering yours being against using illegal substances – have you ever tried GHB?

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Gammahydroxybutyrate? No. What’s the relevance? All I know about it is that it’s used as a very strong sleeping medication / narcolepsy treatment and sometimes abused.

  26. Keith Berman says:

    It’s interesting to ponder whether an AI ought, from its perspective, to share its source code; predictability has advantages and disadvantages.

    The act of listing “likes” is a service to social science, for better or worse. However, as a self-identified utilitarian my generic likes and dislikes only explain the particular kind of efficient altruism to which I am suited; and I try to optimise them for this purpose.

    I detest being expected to internalise false (i.e. skew to reality) concepts and beliefs. I would recognise their social importance in many cases, but targeted attempts to patronise me with them would debase my respect for someone and whatever they represent. In general, I find it risible that some social scientist thinks he would ever have been responsible for my intellectual life.

    This makes the surrounding society, with its (however inevitable) saturation of nonsense and demeaning culture that is difficult to avoid when I prefer so, very unappealing.

    I also dislike, and am suspicious of this society’s paranoia about anyone taking “purely personal” decisions–in Max Stirner’s sense. This taboo doesn’t effectively prevent exercise of arbitrary power by small, organised groups–which would be the desirable outcome of such a taboo–as long as they undergo the necessary rituals, yet has given us all the gift of infantilisation. How dare you think about who is coercing you and on what basis! On the contrary, I regard this as a duty; although I have become sympathetic to the complexity of the situation.

    An unfortunate outcome of nonsense-saturation and the taboo on thinking without accreditation is a vicious circle, in which young people become increasingly incompetent to jettison nonsense and think for themselves. If people are rarely uplifted by edifying, sincere discourse, their initial attempts at these things will be highly problematic. Ergo, everyone without the requisite qualifications should swallow massive amounts of nonsense and stop trying to think; and so it’s difficult to find edifying discourse…

    I don’t particularly like this species in general; ever since I saw this video it has stayed with me. I suspect that cetaceans would be superior by a utilitarian standard, if some of them were to have developed into Earth’s dominant technological species. I regret that the future is not to be in their flippers.

  27. Apple says:

    Let’s see….

    Well, it’s late at night, so I’ll contribute three.

    1: I’m generally not a picky eater, but vinegar is easily the most unspeakably vile substance that is considered edible by more than a handful of people. It’s this awful horrible, chemical burning taste that makes me want to throw up. Other people say it tastes sour, or somewhat citrus-y, but it definitely doesn’t to me. The one thing I can stand it in is ketchup, nothing else.

    2: I have a feeling (which I’ll just call cuddle lust after the Tv Tropes article), which is like the “There is an adorable fluffy animal nearby and I really want to hug it” impulse, aimed at a person. Nobody else I know has this.

    3: Possibly TMI….
    I have the ability to regurgitate food that I have recently eaten so I can eat it again. It doesn’t taste bad, frequently produces interesting combinations of flavors, and allows me to eat more without putting additional food in my stomach. I’m not sure if this is unique to me, or if it is more common than I think, but nobody will admit to it.

    • Anonymous, Because Yeah says:

      >>> 3: Possibly TMI…

      I have this! “It’s not as bad as words make it sound!”

    • Doug S. says:

      2: I have a feeling (which I’ll just call cuddle lust after the Tv Tropes article), which is like the “There is an adorable fluffy animal nearby and I really want to hug it” impulse, aimed at a person. Nobody else I know has this.

      I get this!

    • Julia says:

      Number 3 sounds like it could cause problems similar to bulimia (damage to teeth and esophagus from exposure to stomach acid).

    • G-Max says:

      I have #2 and I suspect that it’s quite common.

      Vinegar should mostly just taste sour, but a sour taste, by itself, is pretty similar to “awful horrible, chemical burning taste”. Other sour foods and drinks are only palatable because of huge amounts of sugar.

  28. erratio says:

    I had no individual identity before the age of 15 or so, maybe later. I did the things I was told to do, didn’t do the things I was told not to do, and generally didn’t do things that I wasn’t explicitly told to do. It didn’t occur to me to question the way things were, unless I was told to. I was excellent at guessing the teacher’s password inside the classroom even when doing so required some level of creativity, but had no initiative or creativity in other contexts, eg. I made no effort to teach myself to read, but picked up the skill almost immediately as soon as someone tried to teach me. I didn’t experience a sensation of wanting things for myself, or missing people when they weren’t around, or really needing friends (except insofar as activities at school made it necessary to have people who wanted to be in the same group as you). I adopted the identities that were handed to me: smart kid, ballet dancer. I don’t think I felt the full range of human emotions. It’s hard to remember much outside of highly structured contexts from that period of my life, because I had almost no introspection and very few strong emotions to hang memories on.

    From stories of what my siblings were like when they were younger, and of other kids, I strongly suspect that my experience was somewhat unusual.

  29. johnwbh says:

    Possibly related to dyspraxia, a lot of my body language and facial expressions are ‘learned’ rather than ‘innate’. I deliberately make certain expressions to indicate the emotion to other people. (Though some of these have become ‘habits’ as well). I think the only things that are ‘automatic’ are the very basic disgust and pleasure responses. My default facial expression is pretty blank.

    On dyspraxia more generally, I have to put a lot of concentration into certain movements. E.g. I’m told that most people can ‘automatically’ catch things thrown at them and throw them at a particular target. I had to learn how to catch balls thrown at me,

    • edsorow says:

      I have most of the characterstics of a dyspraxic person. I took me 3 months to learn how to juggle 2 balls, about another 4 or 5 months to juggle 3 balls, and another 8 months after that to juggle 4 balls. I didn’t learn to tie my shoelace until I was 7.
      Also, people always told me that way I did things (brooming, vacuuming, all sports, running, basically anything requiring coordination) was awkward, and inefficient, but I couldn’t tell the difference.
      I also had the worst sense of direction you can imagine (thought it’s a lot better now). I would get lost in people’s houses looking for the bathroom, and doctor’s offices were the worst because I could never find my way back to the waiting room. It wasn’t just that I would forget which I came, instead directions would get twisted in my head until they no longer made sense logically. Things would also look unrecognizable to me if I looked at them from a different angle.
      The most interesting part is that I managed to hide this for the most part from everyone I know by pretending to be lazy, never takaing the initiative when going places, and pretending that I understood the movement they were trying to teach me (dancing).
      In case you’re wondering, this doesn’t seem to affect my ability to mentally rotate objects, or my mathematical reasoning skills.

      • Valhar2000 says:

        It sounds like you are a more or less normal person who happened to grow up around extra-ordinarily agile people.

        That, or me and a large number of people I know are dyspraxic as well.

    • moridinamael says:

      *Googles dyspraxia* Well, shit. This explains a lot.

  30. Izaak Weiss says:

    I have had a similar experience. I found out 6 months ago that I have Music->Color Synaethesia. I just figured that I was using the same sort of visual imagery that everyone had. I even knew about Synaethesia, but somehow I just had misunderstood how it exactly works. I don’t have incredibly strong Synaethesia, but it’s definitely there. I only realized after talking to someone else about it.

  31. Alexandra says:

    I didn’t realize I have prosopagnosia until recently. I never understood how people could tell the actors apart in the old movies (black & white, all dressed the same, same hairsyles). I didn’t see the point of putting up missing person signs because people can just change clothes/haircuts. I suspect the person who wrote Superman also has prosopagnosia… And I alienated a few friends in middle school by suddenly not greeting them in the halls anymore when they got haircuts. When guys stop me in the street to flirt using the ploy of pretending they’ve met me before, I always fall for it until it becomes clear they’re bluffing, because I’m trying to figure out who the person is just in case I knew them in school or from somewhere I can’t place right away.

    • G-Max says:

      Oh my God. I just realized something. Everyone in the DC Comics universe has prosopagnosia, and that’s how Superman is able to fool everyone with his glasses.

      It all makes sense now.

  32. Other people can breathe through their noses. I didn’t realize this until my mid twenties.

    To be clear, I can a little bit, if I try. But it’s uncomfortable (and kind of noisy). I just assumed that was normal, until I eventually noticed that other people seem to have their mouths closed a lot.

    In retrospect it makes me wonder if it has anything to do with my disliking for sport and PE when I was young.

    • St. Rev says:

      Have you ever been checked out for obstructions (polyps, deviated septum, etc.) in your nasal passages?

    • Qiaochu Yuan says:

      Agree with St. Rev that it seems worth getting your nose checked out. Mouth breathing can cause various negative health conditions.

    • Michael Wittig says:

      Does this not affect your ability to sleep? I generally can’t sleep well while breathing through my mouth. Plays merry hell with my sleep cycle when my allergies and (recently diagnosed) deviated septum interact.

  33. chairbender says:

    Whenever I feel an emotion, I feel it much more strongly and for a much longer time before returning to baseline than most people. Ever since I was a kid I always thought it was strange how people who got mad at somebody who was mean to them didn’t immediately become violent or collapse in a sobbing heap. I didn’t get how people were able to just shrug off unpleasant emotions like that. I only started realizing I was different as an adult (talking to other adults about dealing with people saying offensive things/being mean). I eventually found out I had Borderline Personality Disorder. I probably have an overactive amygdala or something like that.

    I also never really felt a strong sense of identity. A lot of people, when thinking about how they want to spend their time, seem to have an innate urge to pursue some long-term (but not immediately rewarding) goal because it’s just “who they are” or because it’s a lifelong dream. Like working really hard on a music album, developing some cool software, etc…Whenever I think about what I want to do, it’s almost always whatever is immediately rewarding or stimulating. The only way I ever manage to work on short-term unpleasant but long-term rewarding things is when I feel like I can impress people. When I started to become more socially isolated, I couldn’t stay motivated and ended up dropping some long-term pursuits. I just didn’t care about them because I knew nobody else would care. I also do really well at my work when I feel I need to impress my boss and co-workers. But I get the sense that other people do things not just to impress people and gain attention. They seem to feel intrinsically rewarded or driven to pursue those long-term dreams. Apparently this is another aspect of BPD.

    I also really hate perceiving a rough napkin rubbing against itself or another napkin. It make me physically convulse with discomfort.

    • Doug S. says:

      Whenever I think about what I want to do, it’s almost always whatever is immediately rewarding or stimulating. The only way I ever manage to work on short-term unpleasant but long-term rewarding things is when I feel like I can impress people.

      I get something like this, too…

  34. Pingback: Typical Mind and Disbelief In Straight People | Slate Star Codex

  35. G-Max says:

    This is not quite a cognitive thing, and this thread is supposed to be about cognitive things, but seeing as how some people are going on about silly things like musical preferences, I might as well jump in.

    How in the hell can people like spicy food? Seriously. Spiciness = physical pain on the tongue. As far as I’m concerned, saying “I like spicy food” is like saying “I like being sunburned” or “I like getting hit in the balls with a hammer” or “I like being electrocuted”. You do realize that pepper spray got its name from the fact that it’s made from actual peppers, right? Well, that crap isn’t any less painful for the tongue than it is for the eyes. What the hell is wrong with all you people who claim to like spicy food?

    • Benquo says:

      I sometimes like very warm food, but I wouldn’t eat hot coals. I like some things that are a little bitter, but don’t want extreme bitterness very often. Same deal with spiciness.

      Especially once I got used to it, a little spice is just another sensation to enjoy. It interacts with some flavors better than others.

      It was a little painful at first, it took some getting used to – but now I enjoy both spicy and non-spicy food.

    • ozymandias says:

      Actually there are people who like being electrocuted *and* being hit in the balls (although presumably not with a hammer– that causes long-term damage). Which is probably one hypothesis about why people like spicy things: it’s a form of masochism.

      • nydwracu says:

        That may be the case for certain types of spicy food — I can’t imagine why people would eat those horrendously spicy British burgers other than the peculiar male habit of signaling toughness through certain forms of masochism — but sometimes it’s not spicy enough to seem painful at all, and actually adds flavor.

        Like tabasco sauce. There were a few weeks in my life, back when I was a vegetarian, when I didn’t have the money / access to grocery stores to eat much of anything beyond cheese and canned beans, which, naturally, I covered in tabasco sauce to mask the taste of dirt. Tabasco sauce doesn’t taste hot to me — it’s essentially spiced vinegar — but it made the beans edible.

        And when I make stir-fry, I throw in some sriracha — not enough to make it hot, but enough to bring out the flavor of whatever else I put in it. (Sriracha doesn’t have any flavor to it beyond a hollow sense of spiciness, so I also add a bit of rice vinegar. I’ve never tried it with tabasco, but I should…)

        So that’s two uses: one is as just another form of flavor, without adding enough to make it painful, and the other is the same idea as salt and MSG.

    • anon1 says:

      I don’t find pain to be inherently unpleasant. I dislike it when I feel like I’m being physically harmed beyond moderate bruises, and I dislike it when it’s involuntary, and I dislike “dull” pain like a stubbed toe or a headache. But hot peppers, being bitten, walking barefoot on hot pavement, and being flogged are just plain pleasant for me even aside from the effect higher-intensity pain has of forcing me into a relaxed, “floating” meditative state.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I have this weird thing going on where I don’t actually enjoy spicy food or like the taste, but consistently order it anyway. The waiter will ask “Do you want that mild or spicy?” and I’ll say “spicy”, and then tell the people I’m eating with that I am going to hate it and be gulping down water cursing my past self. I’d say it’s signaling toughness except that I do it when I’m alone too.

      • Johannes D says:

        A few hypotheses – might be a combination of these:

        1) Signaling is habit-forming

        2) Self-signaling – signaling toughness makes your self-image change as well, not just your image in the eyes of others

        3) Internal consistency – most signaling is rationalized as something else, and it’s easier if your behavior doesn’t suddenly change when you’re out of sight of others

        4) There’s always the waiter to signal to. Unless you also do it when cooking food for yourself, of course.

      • erratio says:

        Does your behaviour differ depending on the type of spice? ie. does spiciness caused by pepper cause different behaviour in you than chilli-spiciness?

    • nydwracu says:

      When I make pizza from scratch, I cover it with sambal oelek.

      I’m not really sure why.

      I like knowing that I’m able to eat food that spicy, but sambal oelek tastes like fucking diesel if I don’t convince myself beforehand to like it — which is a thing I can do, even with hákarl.

      Though with hákarl, I decided before I’d ever had it that I’d like it when I had it, and it worked. If anyone wants to test this further, get me some surströmming or lutefisk. (It’s interesting that so many of the commonly-listed Most Disgusting Foods are forms of preserved seafood — hákarl, surströmming, lutefisk, hongeohoe, narezushi, kusaya, rakfisk, fish sauce (which is Correct even though it smells like socks) — and the rest are fermented, except durian, which I’ve heard doesn’t actually taste odd at all, and haggis, which is basically sausage. Probably this is because seafood itself is considered disgusting by people who don’t eat it regularly. My mother didn’t eat seafood growing up since 1) it was too expensive 2) her parents were Adventists, and I once opened a can of kipper — the most inoffensive seafood I can think of — when I was staying at her house. She walked into the kitchen half an hour later and asked me what that awful smell was. How in the hell can people not like seafood?)

      • suntzuanime says:

        I like seafood fine to eat, but it sure smells awful. It’s weird and I don’t know why that happens, but I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who feels that way.

        • St. Rev says:

          The smell of fish is party due to trimethylamine, which is also associated with rotting animal and vegetable matter and certain infections. If you didn’t grow up eating fish, you’re likely to find it disgusting.

          Personally I love shrimp and squid but can’t bear fish.

    • Doug S. says:

      A few things:

      1) Some hot peppers also have a lot of strong, pleasant flavors. Jalapenos are like that. Others are hot but flavorless, and I don’t care for those very much.

      2) Pain is a very intense signal, and adding some small amount of pain to the experience of eating food enhances the intensity of the non-painful parts of the experience. Additionally, there seem to be different parts of the brain involved in perceiving pain and interpreting it as unpleasant; the “this pain sucks, make it go away” reaction can be modulated independently of the raw perception of pain. In other words, eating spicy food doesn’t actually have to hurt, even though the pain nerves in the tongue are firing.

    • Rob says:

      I find it weird that nobody has mentioned this, but here’s what seems to me to be an extremely plausible evopsych explanation: Capsaicin, the active ingredient of hotness, is a pretty effective antibacterial agent.

      So a feeling of “When eating food, I just like the sensation of capsaicin in my mouth, for reasons that are opaque to me”, seems like exactly the kind of hack evolution would produce to encourage the adaptive behaviour of adding an antibacterial agent to food.

      Maybe people can explain it within some existing psychological framework, but it doesn’t feel necessary to me.

      Empirical test: I’d expect a good geographical correlation between local cuisine capsaicin content and environmental occurrence/growth rate of capsaicin-vulnerable illness-inducing food-borne bacteria.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        That correlation is widely claimed to be true, but is widely claimed to be an example of cultural evolution. Capsaicin is from the new world, so I really doubt that its popularity in India and China is the result of highly specific genetic evolution. But capsaicin is basically strong cinnamon, which is an old world plant, so it isn’t hard to imagine a less specific genetic change. Though I don’t think of cinnamon being particularly popular in the places that peppers are.

        A crude apparently genetic variation is the supertaster. Perhaps they are selected for in (cold) places where plant toxins are of more concern than bacterial toxins.

  36. EdSorow says:

    I don’t understand or don’t enjoy many group activities, including parties, group conversations, watching team sports (such as football), participating in team sports, political rallies, concerts.

    All my senses, save touch, seem to more sensitive than the average person as well. I can’t stand loud noises, bright lights, strong smells, and I’m a very picky eater.

    I’m even extrasensitive to drugs ( compared to people I know).

    I wonder which of these responses can be reprogrammed. For instance, I used to get angry relatively often. Getting angry only ever led to negative outcomes, and so I reprogrammed myself to stop feeling angry. Now it seems weird that other people get angry at all.

  37. Xycho says:

    Until I was twenty I didn’t like individual people. Not in the aversive or hostile sense, I wasn’t ‘antisocial’ – I just didn’t form specific attachments, even though I have a strong desire for physical contact and company in general. I had friends, but in roughly the same way as Ozy had food preferences; they were the people I talked to, and who there seemed to be some sort of general social agreement that I was part of the same group as. Basically, human beings were completely fungible as far as my emotional state was concerned, unless they were particularly unpleasant.

    The ‘cure’ for this came as a serious shock; an acquaintance gave me a dose of MDMA. The resultant sensation of actually being significantly-more-than-baseline-happy just because I was in the presence of someone I knew was (although pleasant) deeply unnerving. Even moreso was the twin discovery upon discussing the fact that A: this was actually the ‘normal’ way people felt about interacting with their friends, and B: telling people their presence or absence wasn’t emotionally significant leads to severe social repercussions. It turns out that the effect was also permanent, after a few repetitions.

    I still essentially only interact with people when they are physically present, lacking whatever sensation it is that people describe as ‘missing’. I imagine it as being something like the way I feel when I’ve lost something very useful, or possibly a targeted version of loneliness.

    • Adelene says:

      *raises hand* I mentioned this above, but yeah, same here – people were never actually fungible, but the difference always came down to their behavior and how much I’d already learned about them (since I have a hard time interacting with people when I don’t know much about their communication modes and such), not any sense of personal connection. I’ve never tried MDMA but did eventually happen across a particular cognitive action I can take to enable that sort of connection on a person-by-person basis, which is probably the best of all possible worlds given I don’t mind hiding from most people that I don’t actually care in the expected way. I also don’t experience ‘missing’.

    • Anonymous says:

      Seeing you mention ‘missing’ made me realize that the way people talk about it sounds suspiciously like it’s a sensation that’s qualitatively different from, say, being bored and wishing you had your computer.

    • nydwracu says:


      Oh shit.

      Everything makes so much more sense now and it figures that I’d only find that out after the death of Silk Road.

    • hamnox says:

      Hmm… I think I’d like to try having that sensation. I wonder what it would take to get a doctor to sign off on oxytocin…

      • Xycho says:

        Reading Eliezer’s April Fool ‘utopia’ reminded me of another part of this: ‘not missing’ includes people who die, which makes a fair chunk of the concerns of the SSC and LW community seem weird and comical. I see no difference from the inside between dying and being frozen; once you’re there you don’t give a toss whether you get brought out again, and from the outside people and pets just stop being around.

  38. Doug S. says:

    Does anyone else here enjoy trolling and taunting people? When I was little, I would deliberately annoy the larger children until they retaliated. I don’t do it any more, but I still get a thrill out of the idea of doing things like teamkilling in an online FPS, playing a Stasis lock deck in a large multiplayer Magic game, or this.

  39. Desertopa says:

    As another data point, I can also attest that jazz is, for me, fundamentally different. I do not experience physical pain listening to it, but to me, jazz feels like a frustrating mishmash of music and irritating, non-musical sounds. Imagine a “song” that consisted of a piano and violin arrangement combined with someone yelling and beating a trashcan with a baseball bat, and you might get the idea.

    I am not tone deaf, and am quite capable of enjoying music outside of the common Western canon, such as Indian or traditional far Eastern music. I have learned to enjoy many genres of music I once found unpleasant, once I gave them sufficient chance, but I still cannot imagine enjoying jazz, or understand what other people like about it.

    • Anonymous says:

      As a very rough approximation, it seems there are two things people call “jazz”–fairly conventional western music with a lot of brass instruments (e.g. most stuff by the Squirrel Nut Zippers, old Chips Ahoy commercials, ) and crazy, generally more recent stuff that likes to mess with musical conventions a lot. Are you just talking about the latter?

    • Martin says:

      I was wondering the same thing as Anonymous, although the Cowboy Bebop song they linked to still sounds pretty annoying to me — I would have picked something like Duke Ellington & John Coltrane’s “In A Sentimental Mood”:

      Does that also sound like beating a trashcan with a baseball bat to you?

      • Colin says:

        I’m afraid not. To my ears it sounds like two musicians ‘conversing’ through their instruments; the mood is very well communicated, though I find my attention drifting by the end.

      • Desertopa says:

        A late reply on this one; when I realized that I posted my comment outside the thread I intended to put it in, I didn’t really expect anyone to reply to it.

        It would definitely be an exaggeration to say that I find that song “beating a trashcan and yelling”-level annoying. But I also do not enjoy it at all. Under any ordinary circumstances, I would find silence preferable.

        While experimental jazz bothers me more, I have not found any old style period jazz that I find enjoyable. Generally, I find faster paced, more upbeat jazz more irritating than the song you linked to.

    • peterdjones says:

      Does that include jazz played on a single ininstrument, such as guitar or piano?

      • Desertopa says:

        Well, I generally don’t enjoy saxophone much, even outside the context of jazz (although there are some non-jazz exceptions.) I do not enjoy jazz piano. Aside from those two, I can’t really think of any single instrument jazz that I’ve heard before.

    • St. Rev says:

      Imagine a “song” that consisted of a piano and violin arrangement combined with someone yelling and beating a trashcan with a baseball bat

      Music like that exists. Einsturzende Neubauten, a lot of JG Thirlwell’s work. I love it.

  40. Laura says:

    This is a cool post. I remember when I was a child being called a ‘human tape-recorder,’ because I could (and would at the most inappropriate of times) recite verbatim entire conversations that had taken place. I would get very frustrated when people paraphrased what they had said, ‘NO YOU DIDNT,’ and quote them verbatim, even adding dramatic flourishes like, ‘and then you blew your nose and made a face.’ I was apparently accurate enough that my word was generally taken over the other parent’s as the correct account of what had happened. The order of events was also extremely important to me. If someone said we went to the store and then the movies and then ate lunch, I would be fast correct that we ate lunch before going to the movies. This was actually important in a causal sense as well, as my brother might say that I bit him and he hit me and took my toy, while I would correct that he stole my toy so I bit him, then he hit me. I always assumed people were just flat-out lying when they said they didn’t remember or misremebered conversations, because my saying, “I don’t remember,” was a flat-out lie (about events, not about abstract facts). When I got older, around middleschool, I remember feeling like I was losing my mind, because I recognized I could no longer remember everything that happened to me the way I used to, but it wasn’t until much later (around college) that my saying ‘I don’t remember,’ wasn’t basically a straight-up lie. It’s still weird to me when I talk to people I’ve had long relationships with that they don’t remember doing things together that are to me not only easy and fun to remember, but important parts of my identity. I wonder if they miss themselves, and I wonder if people with memories much better than mine feel the same way about me.

    • Ialdabaoth says:

      I had very similar experiences in childhood. I remember around age 14 starting to freak out that I was forgetting some of my earlier memories… by age 21 I had even begun to forget what I had forgotten.

      Now that I’m almost 40, I find I have to construct large swaths of my past – I’ve eventually come to peace with the idea that most of my past is now narrative, rather than episodic memory.

    • Adelene says:

      My episodic memory is on the far side of the scale from yours – it’s not especially unusual for me not to remember things that happened less than ten minutes ago. ‘Memory’ refers to several different things, though, and I’m fine or even unusually good with most of the others, so I can mostly compensate that way for practical purposes – I can easily remember facts I learned from events, including the fact of ‘X happened’, even when I can’t remember anything about the event itself. Anything that can’t be stored in semantic memory during the event in question is usually a lost cause, though, so I end up losing a lot of details even in the best case.

      I don’t end up missing myself, though – I don’t think of myself as a collection of having-had-this-experience at all, but as a collection of interlocking cognitive systems. Those systems have obviously been shaped by certain experiences, to the point where I have no idea who or what I’d be without some of them, but the experiences themselves aren’t part of me – only the results are, and I can observe those any time I feel like it.

      • wingedviper says:

        Even though it is not as extreme for me (my recollection of the current day is ok, I think) I really have trouble with episodic memory.
        I also have similar coping strategies such as not tending to define myself by my (episodic) memories, but by attitudes, beliefs, knowledge and the other building blocks.

    • erratio says:

      I had this! I later decided that the reason I had it was that I’m sufficiently introverted that I didn’t have all that much stuff to remember when I was younger, because my lackof memory was most noticeable to me when I’d been doing a lot of social things with multiple people at once. Although I also know that there has to be more to it than that – I still encode stuff faster and more accurately in the short term than most people I know, even if it doesn’t always stick as well as it used to.

    • Benquo says:

      I really, really, really wish I could do this.

  41. Kaj Sotala says:

    Oh, I just remembered – you know that thing when someone says “you’re now aware of your tongue” and then you’re suddenly aware of you’re tongue when you hadn’t been before? Or the way that people are cautioned not to think too closely about their leg movements if they’re running, lest they fall?

    I have a friend who never understood either of those. Turns out that she’s constantly aware of her whole body, all the time. Also, if there’s music playing in the background, it never fades out of her consciousness.

    I have difficulties imagining how that must feel like.

    • Colin says:

      Body awareness can be trained. In my case it was a side-effect – I was using mindfulness meditation to manage depression. One of the techniques was the “body scan”, where you directed your attention from the bottom of your feet to the top of your head, resting and feeling the physical sensations in each part but not exerting anything. I practised often enough that I could feel the muscles under the skin.

    • DanielLC says:

      I do get annoyed by awareness of my tongue and other things I’d prefer not to mention so that other people don’t start experiencing them, but I haven’t had the centipede’s dilemma (the one you mentioned about legs). I feel like I always do better if I focus on something.

      After I’ve sufficiently practiced a song on the piano, I can no longer tell you where my hands need to go until I’ve played the song until then, and reading music doesn’t make it much easier. However, trying to do that isn’t going to stop me from playing well.

  42. J. Quinton says:

    I have… something, I don’t know what to call it, but it’s associated with playing guitar; I associate certain chords/guitar tunings with colors. I didn’t start playing guitar until I was 19, so I never noticed this with music in general until I was playing guitar.

    So for instance, an E minor chord in standard tuning is like a greenish-blue-ish color, whereas a D minor chord in tuning 2 steps down is like dark red. So these are the same fingering, at the same parts of the guitar, but they’re two different chords due to the change in guitar tuning. However, a D minor chord in standard tuning (2nd inversion) has a more like red/orange-ish color.

    This only happens when playing guitar or imagining myself playing guitar. If I’m listening to a song I don’t know then I might get a color sensation… but I might try to learn the song and realize that it had the “wrong” color that I initially associated it with.

    • Adelene says:

      Synesthesia! Sounds like a conceptuo-synesthesia variant, which is less well known than the more purely sensory type, but definitely exists – they found a couple people who could pass the synesthesia tests when thinking about or seeing video of various swimming strokes.

  43. When I experience deja vu, it’s not a sense that this is really similar to something that happened before. It’s that I have already experienced this exact set of events, as if I experience something and then later go back in time and experience it again.

    Does anyone not experience deja vu, or experience it differently?

    EDIT: It looks like some people do not experience deja vu.

    • Matthew says:

      It it hasn’t happened to me in a long time, but I used to regularly have conversations occur where my brain would tell me that I dreamed the conversation fragment verbatim at some earlier point.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’ve had this happen. I think: dreams are not “actually experienced” so much as a series of sensations that you later interpret into what you dreamed. This is why some things suddenly cause me to “remember” dreams: it is not that I remember the dream, but that some input in real life caused me to ascribe enough meaning to the sensations in my dream that I now had a better “memory” of it.
        What I am trying to say is that I think dreams are constructed memories, and your experience is caused by this

    • lmm says:

      I tend to have conversations and then remember having had them before, just after I had them. Not “this exact set of events”, not necessarily even the exact same words, just the same “content” to the conversation.

    • Johannes D says:

      My deja vu are almost always recursive – not only do I feel that the set of events has happened before, but that I had a deja vu about it back then as well!

    • DanielLC says:

      I may have had deja vu in dreams, although being what they are, it might have actually been the same thing happening twice. I haven’t had it otherwise.

  44. XtinaS says:

    I can sing true to the key of the original song, even if it’s not playing, even if I haven’t heard it in a while. This is apparently Unique And Different; for the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why people would deliberately sing incorrectly.

    Then I dated someone who was tone deaf, and would sing about a key and a half higher than the song, even while it was playing. I tried training him to match the key, but he said that while he could hear it matching once he got there, he couldn’t reproduce it on his own.


    • Anonymous says:

      Okay, I’m gonna stop chiming in with “I have this too!” posts with this one, because apparently the things in this thread I *don’t* have are rarer. But yeah, I can do the key thing from a cold start, although it can be disrupted if I’ve just been listening to/improvising in another key.

      • XtinaS says:

        For fun, I’ll actually try to pluck out the quieter tone in the two-tone car horn sounds, when I hear them. I’m usually successful.

    • AJD says:

      Is this different from what’s commonly referred to as perfect pitch?

    • BenSix says:

      I think I can do this but listeners may have a very different opinion.

    • Saro says:

      I used to have perfect pitch, but then I started playing a transposition instrument (where the music for the instrument is written in a different key to how it would sound when played on the instrument), and the perfect pitch went away of its own accord, probably for my own good.

      • Alexander Stanislaw says:

        Are you sure? Were you previously able to:

        1) Sing specific notes at will?
        2) Recognize pitches as being not just different but vividly distinct like colors?
        3) Determine the key of a piece in a few seconds?

        I’m really surprise if so because perfect pitch isn’t just the ability to name notes – its an alternative way of perceiving pitch. A good pitch memory isn’t the same as perfect pitch.

        • Saro says:

          I’m not sure what you mean by 2), but I definitely had 1) and 3). I could sing a requested note, and also name any note that I heard.

          It was a kind of double-think, playing a transposition instrument, but after a few years of reading “C”, thinking “C” but hearing “Bb” come out of the instrument, consistently and every day, I forgot what it was that made “C” “C”, if you see what I mean.

          Edited to add: I could have just had good pitch memory which manifested in perfect pitch. This is a reasonable hypothesis given that I’m one of the “music in my head 95% of the time” people, so I would always have had something to compare to. I can’t think of any way of distinguishing between the hypotheses given that I don’t have it any more.

  45. Daragon says:

    I lack the ability to naturally pick social stuff up from my environment and I don’t seem to be able to naturally sync my mind with people the way other people can. Early on, all my knowledge of social norms came from rote memorization. Now, I can understand that there are certain patterns of what is socially offensive and extrapolate. I spent my childhood assuming everyone else just memorized all this stuff and that I simply had a poor memory. I also assumed conformity was always a completely conscious act, because for me it always was.

    I also don’t naturally read body language or facial expression. I remember as a small child asking how people could tell I was sad when I hadn’t told them. I was told that they “read my face.” I then spent a long time staring in the mirror, trying to see how they did it.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      These sounds like fairly typical ASD (autism spectrum disorder) symptoms.

      • Daragon says:

        Yeah, I have an official diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. On a more interesting note, something like the subject sort of happened to my entire family. My family is very spergy. My having significant sensory problems, impaired social skills, behavioral problems, learning some things very rapidly and others very slowly, preferring books to people, spending more time arranging my toys in neat rows than playing with them, and pretty much every other autistic trait, were seen as just taking after my family members.This was quite a benefit to me, because I didn’t get the same shame/dysfunction messages from my family that most ASD people get, and furthermore I got coping advice from my family. This also played into my assumption that everyone just memorized things, because whenever I was confused by social skills, my parents encouraged me to research the subject and gave me reading recommendations.

  46. Anonymous says:

    I used to think that everybody was able to create a map in their heads of where they drive / walk around, and navigate through this map to find out where to go, either from a first person perspective or by zooming out and seeing the big picture all at once. That and always knowing where north is. But apparently some of my friends are completely unable to do this.

    • peterdjones says:

      I’m like that, but think it’s unusual. A side affect is that I struggle to verbalise my ma well enough to give directions.

  47. Grognor says:

    I have never once, in my life, felt the desire to sleep. I’ve felt the need to sleep, and the instrumental desire to sleep through the remainder of a miserable headache, but I have never, ever wanted to sleep for its own sake. I suppose this is why I find it hard to believe other people when they say they want to sleep. Actually this may not be too uncommon, because people are always on about how they “should” sleep “soon”, rather than that they want to.

    I have never felt pleased at anyone else’s happiness or success, even that of close friends. This is an emotion that you are supposed to have, so I wouldn’t be surprised if many other people are just pretending to have it the way the example pretended to be able to smell. I’ve never pretended to have it, though, which is among the reasons no one likes talking to me

    • Darcey Riley says:

      When you’re reading a novel (assuming you ever do so), are you happy for/with the protagonist when he/she succeeds?

    • nydwracu says:

      For me, being very tired is unpleasant enough that it makes me want to stop being conscious until it goes away. I think that’s what ‘wanting to sleep’ means.

      This is also why I sleep so much when the depression is particularly bad.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Well, I can say that for me, anyway, there is an actual desire to sleep that occurs when tired, not just a wish not to be tired. (Depends on type of “tired” though. Seems like “tired” can refer to multiple related things.)

      • Kaj Sotala says:

        I at least experience a desire to sleep which is more akin to pleasant anticipation, rather than a wish to be rid of a negative sensation. The warmth and softness of a bed starts feeling pleasant and enticing, and the thought of putting my head down on a pillow and just being able to drift off to sleep feels wonderful.

      • Anonymous says:

        I can second experiencing an actual desire for sleep. I don’t generally get it when going to sleep (except when both physically and mentally exhausted and in a good mood), but if I wake up and realize I can go back to sleep, there is a bit of glee at the realization. Falling asleep when I desire to is blissful.

    • Thomas Eliot says:

      Why haven’t you pretended to be happy at others’ success? That seems like a clearly winning strategy for almost anyone to adopt.

  48. Ialdabaoth says:

    (deleted dupe)

  49. moridinamael says:

    I’ve always assumed that the way characters’ internal mental lives were depicted in books is just a convention we have all agreed to loosely hold to, rather than an attempt to try to map the subjective experience of being a person. I’ve never found any book whose characters came within a mile of describing how I experience the world. I assumed it would just be too hard to write something as complex as what’s happening in a person’s head at any given second.

    Now it’s occurred to me that maybe other people actually do experience things in this narrow, linear fashion, with overlaid internal monologues.

    • No, I think that you’re right about this one. The narrative convention of the inner monologue is a deliberate simplification of the actual inner human experience, and I suspect that it’s actually a fairly modern invention, arising more or less simultaneously with the invention of the novel.

      That said, you might have ADHD or some other sensory processing disorder which renders your sensory world more chaotic than the average. This would make it even more difficult for you to relate to the linear inner narrative of most novels. I know nothing about you and so have no idea whether or not this is true, but it is one possibility that occurred to me.

      • peterdjones says:

        The inner monologue may not be the whole deal, but it is very typically have a single, mostlyfirst person narrative that feels like it comes you. Meditators often try still it,which means they must have it.

        • Randy M says:

          I think my experiences become something like a monologue, once I focus on it, but otherwise is a mixture of emotion, impulses, and snatches of thought.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          Does anyone else have something like an inner chorus, made up of the voices of simulations of people whose opinions you care about?

        • Anonymous says:

          @Ialdabaoth the majority of my thoughts are simulated conversations with people I know. I’m pleasantly surprised to find I’m not unique in this.

        • Mantodea says:

          @Ialdabaoth I don’t actually have this, personally, but from HPMoR chapter 87:

          [Harry:] “My own approach is usually to identify the different desires, give them names, conceive of them as separate individuals, and let them argue it out inside my head. So far the main persistent ones are my Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, and Slytherin sides, my Inner Critic, and my simulated copies of you, Neville, Draco, Professor McGonagall, Professor Flitwick, Professor Quirrell, Dad, Mum, Richard Feynman, and Douglas Hofstadter.”

          Hermione considered trying this before her Common Sense warned that it might be a dangerous sort of thing to pretend. “There’s a copy of me inside your head?”

          “Of course there is!” Harry said. The boy suddenly looked a bit more vulnerable. “You mean there isn’t a copy of me living in your head?”

          There was, she realized; and not only that, it talked in Harry’s exact voice.

          “It’s rather unnerving now that I think about it,” said Hermione. “I do have a copy of you living in my head. It’s talking to me right now using your voice, arguing how this is perfectly normal.”

          “Good,” Harry said seriously. “I mean, I don’t see how people could be friends without that.”

    • Doug S. says:

      I get inner narrative monologues. This comes from having warped my thinking by reading too many books.

    • Geekethics says:

      So, there’s lots of stuff going on in my head, but my inner monologue is easily the most important thing. The loudest sound in my head in any reasonable situation is a voice that sounds like the one I hear when I talk. It talks at the same rate, and with the same kinds of idioms, it often backtracks and repeats itself to try and find a better phrasing, and will often repeat very nice paragraphs over and over.

      Normally if I’m going to say something important I repeat the words of this monologue. I can talk without this rehearsal, but when I do I literally do not know what I’m going to say until the words have left my mouth.

      As a background to the general soundscape in my head: On top of sounds cause by objects near me, and this monologue, I can hear lots of things like alarms and ringtones of devices that are not in fact going off. The only way I can tell sometimes that it is not my phone ringing is to look at the phone and see that it isn’t. But these are very quiet compared to the monolouge.

      • Error says:

        “Normally if I’m going to say something important I repeat the words of this monologue. I can talk without this rehearsal, but when I do I literally do not know what I’m going to say until the words have left my mouth.”

        I know this is weeks late, but I have this experience and it drives me absolutely batshit. If I speak without such a mental rehearsal, it comes out wrong, badly worded, or insane. If I wait, the opportunity to speak is lost before I can form the monologue.

        It makes verbal arguments of any kind a depressing exercise in failure.

        • CAE_Jones says:

          I’m similar, and I count this as one of the reasons I’ve become less and less talkative with time: more spur-of-the-moment screwups make me try to think things through more, then opportunities cruise by. It was bad enough that someone suggested I see a speech pathologist, who suggested I use more filler phrases and ask for time to think if a few “Umm…”s were insufficient. I’m not sure this has helped–I mostly still have to default to saying poorly thought-out, not infrequently disastrous things if I want to participate in a conversation at all.
          This works with the internet as well, but with the bonus that, if I catch myself in time, I can remember I don’t have a strict time limit and can try and edit. I’ve traditionalyl failed at said planning more often than not, but frequently embarrassing myself in the rationalsphere has me being more cautious lately.

        • Timothy says:

          I have the same problem. In any serious conversation, I’ll have long pauses as I gather my thoughts. I also frequently begin sentences with “So…”

          A couple of my friends tell me that they appreciate how I stop and think before I speak, and they seem to act similarly. Maybe you just need to find other people like that.

  50. Sarah says:

    Oh, one other thing: Platonic love.

    I’ve had that butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling about a person — obsessed with them, want to talk to them all the time, constantly wondering what they’d think about things, missing them when they’re gone, feeling jealous or hurt if they don’t pay attention to me — in the complete absence of sexual desire. To the point that rounding it down to “friendship” feels like a euphemism.

    I don’t know if this is rare or common. I hear some people claim it’s impossible, but I’m pretty damn sure it’s real.

  51. Pingback: Null Results | Benjamin Ross Hoffman's personal blog

  52. blacktrance says:

    I have never felt whatever people feel that makes them object to what they call “unrealistically perfect characters” or Mary Sues/Gary Stus, or when a show or book is derisively labeled as “wish fulfillment”. Rather, I feel the opposite – if depicted well, I feel that those perfect characters are an ideal to admire. A book or show can be poorly written and contain a Mary Sue, but perfect characters by themselves don’t feel like bad writing.

    • Randy M says:

      Mary Sues aren’t simply perfectly virtuous characters, they are also well-received and beloved by all the other characters out of proportion with the writers ability to depict their actual competance, are the recipients of only good luck, etc.
      (By my understanding of the term).

    • lmm says:

      I would’ve agreed with you up until about two years ago. So it may be something one grows into.

    • edsorow says:

      Mary Sue’s aren’t always bad. The problem are (a) when the story doesn’t have any conflict because the character is perfect and/or (b) the mary sue character is 1 dimensional and just magically gets everything done (i.e. Goku).

    • DanielLC says:

      I got the impression that Mary Sues are just a common sign of bad writing. Mainly because I’ve seen it pointed out that James Bond is a Mary Sue, and yet still a very popular character. I don’t know precisely what a Mary Sue is, but I think I know enough to be sure James Bond is one.

      It’s also possible that a lot of people just don’t like Mary Sues, and James Bond caters to other people, in which case a lot of complaining about Mary Sues is presumably from people who don’t realize not everyone doesn’t like them.

  53. Anonymous says:

    I have very slowly learned to feel hungry, but for the vast majority of my life I didn’t realize that hunger was a sensation, I assumed that it was shorthand for “it is time for me to eat”. It was drilled into me as a child that it is healthiest to eat when one is hungry, but I thought it would be abstract knowledge that you must eat, not an actual sensation. Because of this, I was never “hungry”, and every meal was a tedious, drawn out fight with my mother. Shortly before I went to college, I realized that I had more energy when I ate regularly, so I made myself an eating schedule and kept to it. After a few years of eating thrice a day with snacks in between despite eating being the most tedious, unappealing thing in the world, I occasionally will have a stomachache when it gets close to mealtimes. I think this is progress…

    I also don’t really understand identifying AS things. I do it in order to gain access to a set of descriptors for my situation, but for the most part I only identify WITH things. I don’t need to be perceived accurately as part of an identity group, and often the group I want to be perceived as is very different than the group I’m technically a part of. If I dislike something about myself or my behaviour I will change it, and I’m confused by the idea that one must be true to oneself, or that changing things is repression, unhealthy, or inauthentic (but only in some cases? this seems to apply to totally arbitrary things).

    • Anonymous says:

      I too have a problem with assertions of identity such as “I am …” unless it’s statement of my current status, like “I am hungry” or “I am angry.” I feel uncomfortable identifying with groups.

      • Anonymous says:

        Does this happen with groups that tend more towards narrowly descriptive (knitter, swimmer, traffic violator)? Those don’t give me trouble if I can ascertain whether I fit the definition, because if I were to stop being a traffic violator, there wouldn’t be any questions about whether I was still myself.

        I get really hung up on groups that are common identity building blocks, as well as groups that are divided in a way that ensures there’s no descriptor for me (especially when the other people involved are confident that there’s a label for EVERYBODY). I also strongly resent labels that seem like knitter/swimmer/traffic violator, but then have hidden fangs of requiring a particular aesthetic, mannerisms, ideology etc. (and that seems to be most identities, tbh…)

    • Kyle Blake says:

      The “true to yourself” thing isn’t really about not changing things you dislike, as far as I can tell. It’s more about not changing things about you that you like but your social group doesn’t. That’s not a very good description, but hopefully it makes a bit more sense.

  54. US says:

    I have never (since infancy) eaten a meal which did not involve either someone else making a medical decision on my behalf (early childhood) or me making the medical decision myself.

    I have had type 1 diabetes since the age of 2. Every time I have a meal, I need to estimate how the meal will impact my blood glucose and whether or not I have to take medicine in order to counteract the effects of the carbohydrates. ‘Taking a break’ from treatment is not an option.

    The original post had me thinking, but I actually only realized this one was a potential one to add to the comments here 24 hours after I’d read the post.

  55. MugaSofer says:

    Wait, you’re asexual? I thought you were poly. Stupid brain filing system …

    As my example, I’ll mention that I’ve caught myself assuming people who fail at something I find easy are “not really trying” – even when they self-report as finding it hard. I try not to, but I still end up modelling these things as “easy” instead of “easy for me” if I’m not paying attention.

    On the flipside, I’ve gotten into some truly blazing rows over people assuming I’m just being lazy when I actually find some task extremely unpleasant and/or difficult. Especially if they try to force me into it with threats or whatever. (Yes, I have explicitly pointed out what was happening.)

    I’ve had people act as if I were either crazy or intimidating based on, say, public speaking or teaching myself something. It’s surprising hard to explain that yes, I know you find this hard, but I’m actually pretty good at it by now, having done it a lot.

    • Adelene says:

      1) Someone can be asexual without being aromantic, in which case being mono or poly is still relevant.

      2) It’s possible to be asexual, aromantic or nearly so, and still poly-inclined rather than mono-inclined – that describes me, in fact. The first two things make the last one pretty irrelevant in practice, but it’s still there – I experience compersion rather than jealousy in nonromantic contexts where one or the other would come up and I find descriptions of monogamous-type reactions to relationship stuff much more confusing than descriptions of poly-type reactions to relationship stuff, for example.

  56. novalis says:

    [the following does not indicate that I disbelieve or discount your claims of asexuality; it is merely an interesting set of examples]

    I know someone who claimed to “not want too much closeness from his mate”; he described his ideal as a girlfriend located across the country. Then (at age ~30) he met his current girlfriend and they now spend every night together. He said that until he met this current girlfriend, he had not known what others meant when they talked about love.

    I knew someone else who believed he was asexual until he realized that in fact he was really attracted to bears (large, hairy gay men), and the reason that he hadn’t found anyone he was interested in is that bears are rare among college students. He is now married to a bear, and they have adopted a baby.

    When I was a kid, I assumed that when people said they were happy to be in synagogue, they must have been experiencing a different emotion than that which I knew as happiness. I decided to call it ḥappiness (that’s a dot underneath the h, pronounced like the Hebrew letter Het, or the ch in Bach). I still have very little idea what people are supposed to experience in synagogue.

  57. Ialdabaoth says:

    I think I have two rather universal experiences that I don’t actually “get”.

    The first is pleasure. It took until I was 36 or so for me to recognize that I don’t experience pleasure as a thing separate from “lessening of pain / anxiety / discomfort”. After being referred to psychologists for clinical depression, it occurred to me that if I mapped most people’s “how are you doing on a scale of 1 to 10” sense of well-being, my own sense of well-being would map from -1 (nothing particularly major to complain about) to -10 (please God let me die now I don’t want to exist for another millisecond). I can experience *other people’s* pleasure to some extent (see below), but I don’t seem to have any of my own.

    The second is self-consideration. I’m reasonably certain that my sense of “self” is considerably impaired, compared to other people’s. Whenever I’ve tried to emulate other peoples’ sense of self-defense and self-preservation, it’s come across as hideously narcissistic and self-absorbed; when I default to my natural behaviors, I come across as incredibly transgressive and clueless about boundaries. (Part of this is because most people broadcast their emotions through their body language and word choice in a way that, to me, is louder than screaming). Ultimately, it seems like I just don’t get where “I” end and “other people” begin, and I wind up faking it rather poorly.

    • Hainish says:

      Now you have me wondering if I don’t experience pleasure.

    • Adelene says:

      That first thing sounds like anhedonia.

      Also, I’m curious how common that thing of being able to experience something secondhand even though you never experience it otherwise is. Not that I doubt you – I do that too, in fact, but only for some things. Notably, I’ve experienced sexual interest as a secondhand thing via textual description of the experience (I can probably dig up a relevant article if anybody is interested), but on the other hand the same sort of description of jealousy or shame doesn’t usually even register as confusing – unless my attention is drawn to the fact that I’m supposed to be noticing something there, the description just registers as neutral filler. (Yup, I don’t experience shame or guilt – I’m not a sociopath, though; I care about other peoples’ wellbeing and preferences in ways that don’t rely on those emotions. Also I know of at least one sociopath who does experience shame.)

      • I was going to say the same thing about anhedonia. There are medications for it, and you should look into them, if you haven’t already. It turns out that pleasure is kind of nice, and you’d probably like it if you tried it.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          *nod*When I overcome my intense and irrational distrust of psychiatrists, I will definitely do so.

        • G-Max says:

          distrust of psychiatrists is never irrational…

        • Adelene says:

          Eh, sometimes it is.

          Generally actual contact with them quickly replaces that with the rational sort, though.

        • ozymandias says:

          I suspect distrust of *anyone* can be irrational. Psychiatrists do have a lot of power over people and psychiatric abuse is distressingly common, but they also help a lot of people, and if you predict you’d be helped by going to a psychiatrist and can’t because you’re afraid and distrustful, the distrust is irrational.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          In my case, the distrust comes from having been involuntarily committed for about a week (without medical insurance, to the tune of $15,000+ in medical bills) when I went in to talk to a psychiatrist about getting on anti-anxiety medication. I was supposed to stay longer, but after a week I was able to get ahold of someone and fill out the release-against-medical-advice forms (for some reason it took a week for them to even give me the forms).

          I missed finals, and wound up failing out of college. I was also unable to communicate with anyone on the ‘outside’, so many of my friends were VERY upset that I just disappeared for a week after talking about being really stressed-out and depressed.

        • peterdjones says:

          It’s not the shrinks fault that you got billed, ie don’t have public healthcare

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          Nor is it the shrink’s fault I failed all my finals, or that I spent several months afterwards alienating all my friends due to heightened emotional lability.

          You did see the word “irrational” right in my first post on the subject, right?

        • Adelene says:

          It may not be their fault in the ‘they set out to make it happen’ sense, but those things were still predictable results of institutionalizing you and they still chose to do that. And they could choose the same way again, so worrying about that isn’t exactly unfounded.

        • ozymandias says:

          Yes, I think fear of being institutionalized is *totally rational* fear of psychiatrists actually.

        • G-Max says:

          Fear of being imprisoned without due process of law? That’s extremely rational. California’s 5150 and 5250 laws should be repealed.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          Fear of being imprisoned without due process of law? That’s extremely rational. California’s 5150 and 5250 laws should be repealed.

          Only if we care about the autonomy and sovereignty of vulnerable people, but why should we?

      • Berna says:

        “I don’t experience shame or guilt”
        I’m very, very jealous of you.

      • Ialdabaoth says:

        I don’t experience shame or guilt

        Man, that would rock. I myself experience them as the same emotion – well, it’s more accurate to say that I experience shame, guilt, and powerlessness as all the same emotion.

  58. nydwracu says:

    I can’t recognize when I’m hungry without consciously thinking about it. I don’t eat when I feel hungry, but when I feel like eating, which is, as far as I can tell, unrelated to hunger — or when I consciously think about it, go “I feel vaguely uncomfortable for a reason I can’t explain, so I’m probably hungry”… and wait a few hours until it gets bad enough that I have to force myself to eat, since it’s usually the case that, when I’m actually hungry, the prospect of eating is enormously unappealing, especially since eating will usually make me more uncomfortable for at least half an hour.

    Even worse, the subjective experience of hunger changes over time — the signs I recognize as being hungry now are not the same as they were a few months ago, so every once in a while I have to relearn them pretty much from scratch.

    I don’t think this is an effect of appetite suppressants; it’s been that way since I was ten, and I didn’t drink anything caffeinated on any but the rarest of occasions until high school. I have no idea if it’s just me or not.

  59. Sniffnoy says:

    I’ve noticed some people have trouble understanding that other people can be neutral on things or not care about them. And I don’t mean, like, big things, but, rather small-scale things like where to go get food. They’ll insist I make a choice between between two things when I have little basis for doing so, refuse to make a choice themselves despite the fact that they clearly care more than me, and object if I suggest flipping a coin, when doing anything more would really not be worth the time.

    • CAE_Jones says:

      I’m pretty much the same, except people are fortunately just amused rather than argumentative when I pull out a coin.

    • Levi Aul says:

      Do you find it hard to just decide to want something? Whenever I’m neutral on a topic, I pick an option at random and start thinking of positive properties it might have, and the halo effect rubs off on it and I start genuinely craving that thing. It helps me get over a lot of choice-based akrasia.

    • Mantodea says:

      I’m not sure whether they have a mental difference, or whether they just want someone to make a decision for them…

      I’ve been on both sides of this: thinking “I have no preference” when someone asks me to choose, and also thinking “Argh, why won’t you pick something / make this decision so that I don’t have to” when someone else isn’t expressing preference.

      I guess “object if I suggest flipping a coin” is evidence against that, though.

  60. liza says:

    I have never really experienced communal grief. The idea that something like an attack or natural disaster that kills or injures strangers (even if they happen to share citizenship of a country, state, or city with you) or the death of a well-known public figure could elicit an emotion resembling what you feel when someone you know dies does not make intuitive sense to me. Falling prey to the typical mind fallacy, I believed for a while that people who showed this emotion were fabricating it (or at least exaggerating it) so as not to seem callous or uncaring. However, having met both people who admit to not feeling it and people who can clearly describe what it feels like, I’ve come to recognize it as a genuine emotion that I just haven’t had.

    • Levi Aul says:

      I can believe it’s a real thing that people aren’t fabricating, but I don’t believe that anyone ends up feeling this grief on their own. I would think it’s more like contagious yawning, mass hysteria, or a bank run: everyone feels down because the people around them feel down, and the few people who actually are grieving were just an initial trigger that no longer “matter” in terms of spreading the contagion, just in providing a convenient justification to those who catch it for why they feel the way they do.

    • Anat says:

      Growing up in Israel I had many opportunities to experience communal grief. Part of it certainly is communicated and enhanced by the media (as well as people knowing it is expected of them). The radio stations change their repertoire first to very sad songs, often songs expressing themes related to the event that triggered the grief (songs commemorating the fallen, songs about bereavement, about the futility of war etc). A few days later there is a gradual switch to songs that are quiet but not necessarily sad, and then songs about renewal of hope after war or disaster, and gradually over days returning to more typical programming.

      Additionally the news focuses on the grief-triggering event, and there is a lot of it (hourly news editions on the non-news channels and ongoing updates on the news channels).

      But there is also genuine participation. For me it was when Rabin was assassinated – the first two or three days felt horrible. Probably because of the political significance, fear (which turned out to have been justifiable) that the peace process was going to be severely impeded, maybe halted.

  61. Matthew says:

    I have rarely if ever encounter foods that I mildly dislike. This caused considerable grief between me and my parents in childhood. When I say, “I don’t like food X,” this is equivalent to “Food X will be an effective emetic for me.” As an adult, I’m not a picky eater in the sense that there is a wide variety of food I will enjoy. But it can be awkward trying to explain why I’m not going to eat a food I don’t like in a social situation where everyone else is eating it. I gather that other people’s food dislikes are usually something much less severe.

    • AJD says:

      Seems to me the best answer in that social situation is “I’m allergic”? It’s even close to true!

      • Julia says:

        Speaking as a cook, people claiming to have allergies they don’t really have is really annoying. It means if I accidentally touch your food with a spoon which stirred something containing something you said you’re allergic to, I will throw out the food and start over. It’s really irritating afterwards to find out that no such precaution was needed.

        I think “No thank you,” repeated as many times as needed, is better.

        • Tab Atkins says:

          You really need to be aware of the different levels of “allergic”. My wife is allergic to corn – eating popcorn, or even just drinking a full can of corn-syrup-sweetened soda – will trigger GI problems ranging between “tummy-ache” and “vomiting” depending on the severity, but incidental exposure is no trouble at all.

          And then on the other hand, I made sure to soap-clean all my cutting boards and knives when I last made a meal for a friend of mine who will go into anaphylactic shock from a milligram of tree nuts.

          It’s difficult sometimes to get people to quantify, I understand, but my wife *really is* allergic to corn, even if she’s okay with eating pizza when the dough was dusted with cornmeal.

        • Julia says:

          I am aware of different levels, but usually you just get told “corn allergy” without a level. When I don’t have the person there to confirm their level, I want to be conservative.

      • Anonymous says:

        That’s quite disrespectful of people with real allergies. Now they’ll have to say “I’m *actually* allergic” if they want to be taken seriously, and it’s a much more significant problem for them

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      I’m surprised that you are expected to explain yourself.

      • Anonymous says:

        “Not all children are prodigies.” -HPMOR’s Draco Malfoy

        Similarly, not all people are baseline decent human beings who think differing preferences should be respected. It sounds like I want to live where you live.

    • Alicorn says:

      I met a person once who claimed to like all food. Anything reasonably intended for human consumption, he would happily eat and enjoy with perfect reliability. He did have negative reactions to things not reasonably intended for human consumption, though.

      • Berna says:

        My brother is like that. Me, I’m more like Matthew. It’s usually not a problem for me anymore, because a) I’ve learned to eat more things, and b) adults can choose their own food. But as a child, it was horrible sometimes, because the main things I hate(d) were just the things a Dutch person is supposed to love: butter, milk, new cheese, etc. — all that fatty, slippery stuff. Blegh. Very common, you get it everywhere, and people just can’t understand it makes you want to vomit.

      • Levi Aul says:

        I wonder if there’s a particular gut-bacteria load you can get that gives you this magic power. They should seek these people out as donors for Chron’s sufferers.

    • Hainish says:

      Me too. There are things that I just *cannot* eat due to disgust bordering on phobia.

      OTOH, there are lots of weird flavors I enjoy that many people don’t (such as licorice and coconut and smoked herring).

      • Doug S. says:

        I don’t usually like black licorice. I like coconut flavor but not those thread-like flakes that are present in actual coconuts. And smoked herring, I have no idea what that tastes like.

        • nydwracu says:

          Smoked herring is good — look for ‘kipper snacks’. (The Trader Joe’s brand is noticeably better to me than the Crown Prince brand, which itself is noticeably better than whatever the other brand it is that they sell around here.)

          Licorice is just okay for me, but I very much like salty licorice.

          I don’t think there’s anything that I just can’t eat, but if such things existed, avoiding them would be second nature to me.

  62. Sarah says:

    It seems that there are people who don’t experience cultural appropriation as pain. Like, there were kids who could watch Pocahontas without stress. I would say that it hurts in the same way as “taking The Lord’s name in vain,” but some people don’t get that either…

    • St. Rev says:

      Could this be about personal sacredness intuitions? Different people sacralize wildly different things, but sacredness itself seems very common and fairly consistent. This seems relevant too.

      Sister Y has written extensively and well about this.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      It seems that there are people who don’t experience cultural appropriation as pain.

      To provide a demonstration of this: Presumably, if you experience cultural appropriation as pain, you will have a good idea as to what the phrase “cultural appropriation” is supposed to refer to (those painful things). So, those who don’t understand what it’s supposed to refer to (see e.g. discussion under links for March) presumably do not experience it as pain.

      I think this also illustrates the principle that if people don’t see something wrong with something, it’s quite possible they don’t even what distinction you’re making between it and the things you think are OK (see also, Scott’s Meditations…), and you are going to have to spend a while trying to pin down the concept (presumably iteratively, as you’re unlikely to articulate it correctly on the first try) if you want to actually get them to understand.

    • Thomas Eliot says:

      I… was not aware there were people who did experience cultural appropriation as pain. Could you expound on this, or link to somewhere I could read more on it?

      • MugaSofer says:

        I’ll second this, please. Valuable info!

      • Sarah says:

        So, this was a more severe reaction when I was a kid. Which is evidence that it was to some degree “spontaneous” — three-year-olds aren’t that pretentious.

        At five or so, we had to sing some fake-Native American song in school about “the Earth is our mother”, and it freaked me out. Fingernails on a chalkboard. Because we weren’t really Native Americans. I’d never met one. I guess the best approximation to the feeling is “painfully phony”.

        A lot of Disney movies were (and remain) similarly squicky for me. Or belly-dancing white girls. It’s vicariously embarrassing.

        I also have a fair amount of angst over whether I’m allowed to like “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and so on, given that they’re not really “mine.” It’s a purity intuition. Purity/contamination guilt loops suck.

        • Anonymous says:

          I thought you were describing something I *didn’t* experience until this post. I’ve definitely experienced these.

          So good job, Sniffnoy!

        • Scott Alexander says:

          Huh, interesting! I violently object to the idea of “cultural appropriation” as typically presented on Tumblr, but I would also feel awkward being made to sing a hokey supposedly-Indian song about how the Earth is our mother. I’m not sure if that draws more into my contamination-response about being forced to sing hokey songs or about Indian appropriation.

          On the other hand, Disney-Pocahontas doesn’t bother me, and I dearly dearly love Song of Hiawatha and will fight anyone who says a single word against it.

          I’m not sure if the dichotomy is terrible-art-appropriation vs. actually-pretty-good-art-appropriation, or whether Disney and Song present themselves as so obviously a modern Western interpretation drawing very loosely on an original Indian tradition for inspiration that it doesn’t even register.

          I also very much object to talking God’s name in vain and am not even comfortable writing or referencing the Tetragrammaton. I’m not sure if this is my upbringing or if I would have similarly strong objections to some supposedly unspeakable name of a foreign god.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Huh, interesting! I violently object to the idea of “cultural appropriation” as typically presented on Tumblr, but I would also feel awkward being made to sing a hokey supposedly-Indian song about how the Earth is our mother.

          Well, I’ll certainly second that!

        • Sarah says:

          re: the Tetragrammaton thing.

          Of course it is your upbringing. Though empathy matters too: I remember being annoyed that the playlist in yoga class included what I’m pretty sure was recitation from the Vedas. I bet that would be cringe-inducing for a Hindu.

          But yeah. I may be an atheist, but old habits die hard, and I hate when people say the thing. I *especially* hate it when people say the thing expressly to manipulate me.

        • Sarah says:

          Also. When I was growing up, a lot of girls did Bharata Natyam (classical Indian dance.) The classes were about half white, half Indian, with a smattering of other backgrounds.

          It was a *little* awkward. There’s something mildly squicky about white girls dressing up like glittery Indian dancers. But obviously you can’t segregate a dance class by race. And Bharata Natyam isn’t an “ancient tradition” anyway — it’s a 20th century reconstruction, like Modern Hebrew.

          And it was “real” in some sense. Like, *everybody* in my hometown was friends with three Priyankas and knew a few words of Tamil, and the dance teacher was very old-school. White girls doing Indian dance was more like Chinese people playing Western classical music — *participating* in an art form not from your country of origin, rather than making a phony imitation of that art.

          Or think of Don Byron, a black jazz clarinetist who also plays klezmer. That doesn’t squick me. Klezmer isn’t “authentic” anyway (it’s not folk music, it’s *pop* music, mostly written in the 1920’s). And Byron did a really good job at *participating* in that musical form. [For that matter, are white jazz musicians appropriative? Sometimes they’ve been tacky about it, and historically a lot of bands were segregated, but , like, Bill Evans? was just a *musician.* Stick a toothpick in it, comes out clean.]

          I guess it’s subjective. But the line seems to be, “are you participating in an art form, or are you making a phony version of it?” The negative reaction to cultural appropriation is akin to the way I feel about phoniness or pretentiousness.

        • ADifferentAnonymous says:

          Scott: The Muslim prohibition on images of the prophet seems like a decent proxy for the unspeakable name of god. Would sketching such an image trigger a similar aversion?

          Sarah: Is there an acceptable category of incorporating elements of another tradition into your own? You aren’t really participating in the art you borrow from, but I don’t think ‘making a phony version of it’ is a good description either.

        • Levi Aul says:

          I wonder if, rather than “terrible-art-appropriation”, it’s more like “presenting a terrible piece of kitsch from another culture as if it was a uniquely-representative masterpiece worthy of cross-cultural consumption.” Cultural strawmanning, sort of.

          Actually, I think it’s a very similar pain to the pain I get when a parent shows me things their young children have created and tries to convince me there is objective, non-sentimental value in them. It’s like I want to say “No! The child will grow up to wish you hadn’t shown me that! They won’t be proud of it; they’ll be ashamed! I’m ignoring it for their sake!”

          It’s that, but with a culture as the child.

        • Kibber says:

          Chinese people playing Western classical music

          If you don’t mind me asking – does that feel painful too? Is there any difference for you between a member of an arguably oppressive culture appropriating something from an oppressed culture vs the other way around? Two equally oppressive cultures? Two oppressed cultures?

    • von Kalifornen says:

      I think that white , Western , (ex?)Christian people have a hard time understanding because this culture tends to invite people to share (or force things on others). Also general un-rootednesd.

    • G-Max says:

      What in the nine circles of Hell is “cultural appropriation”?

  63. Jai says:

    I do not understand what it must be like to want to say something and then those words just come out of your mouth without any particular effort at all. Having a stutter makes talking a nerve-wracking, strategic experience, wherein I’m constantly

    – thinking of concepts I want to communicate

    – generating multiple possible ways to express that concept in words

    – judging those formulations for (1) likelihood of generating a prolonged stutter and (2) accuracy in conveying the concept I wish to express (along with all the other considerations that go into all conversation, like connotations, humor, perceptions, etc)

    – timing the current speaker or pause to determine if I’ll be able to speak without interrupting the flow of conversation

    – estimating other people’s current levels of patience/frustration with my stutter and adjusting my dispensation to speak accordingly

    – physically preparing my mouth an tongue to say whatever I come up with that best fits the criteria

    – When encountering a stutter, calculating the probabalistic costs of working through the stutter, starting over, or switching to a fallback formulation

    • Cyan says:

      You may already — probably already — know this, but stutterers don’t stutter when they sing. My cursory googling suggests that this is related to the different systems that control (a) spontaneously generated vocalizations vs (b) vocalizations in response to sensory input.

      What I read on that page suggests to me that might be possible to decrease stuttering by paying attention to the prosody of the words you want to say. Maybe try “reciting” words to the beat of a song instead of saying them?

  64. Qiaochu Yuan says:

    Here’s one that’s not me, but: I have a friend who, as far as I can tell, cannot empathize with animated characters and so derives no pleasure from watching animation.

    • Kaminiwa says:

      I find it equally weird that they’d need to empathize with the characters to enjoy watching something. If I was like that, I’d probably give up on TV and movies entirely – it’s rare I can empathize with even one character.

      • Qiaochu Yuan says:

        Maybe “empathize” was too strong a word. Whatever the difference is for you between watching a movie of human characters doing something and watching a movie of a rock, that’s the difference for my friend between watching live action and watching animation.

        • Anonymous says:

          Could you elaborate a bit more one this? I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m making fun of this but I really don’t know what the difference between a rock and a human would be, aside from the human being capable of much more interesting interactions. If I could somehow watch a rock doing everything a human could, I presumably would enjoy it as much.

          However, I tend to view characters in film as abstractions rather than people. This is more true for animation because it’s less “real” so maybe that is what your friend is referring to.

        • Levi Aul says:

          Presumably, the human, along with being a more interesting rock, has internal cognitive and emotional-regulation actions.

          This is a story: “A feels guilt for not untying B from the train-tracks; A ponders their decision; A experiences visceral pain while imagining B getting smushed by a train; A decides to help after all, to reduce said pain.”

          This story could be depicted solely using a close-up of A’s face, with the audience expected to infer what they’re thinking from the visible emotional transitions.

          Presumably, Qiaochu’s friend can infer such internal monologues given actor!A, but not cartoon!A.

  65. jooyous says:

    I mentioned this elsewhere, but it took me forever to realize that some people say stuff they don’t mean when they’re angry. Someone would get mad at me and yell a bunch of mean things, and later they’d apologize and I’d be like “Great, let’s address the issue of why you consider me to be whiny and entitled.” And they’d be like “Haha! I didn’t mean that! I was just mad,” or maybe even sometimes, “I don’t remember saying that.”

  66. Nornagest says:

    Garbage smelled bad. Perfume smelled good. Popcorn good. Poop bad. But how so? What was the difference? What were the nuances? In just a few minutes’ reflection I realized that, despite years of believing the contrary, I never had and never would smell a peach.

    I don’t have anosmia (at least, I’m pretty sure I don’t), but I’d have trouble responding to that assignment. I’m not sure whether to blame the language or fundamental neurology, but English’s vocabulary for describing smells is really bad; you can say that something smells like, say, cedar shavings or wet seaweed, but good luck coming up with any nuance. Words like “flowery” and “pungent” are about as specific as it gets, and I’m not even sure those describe natural categories in odor-space.

    • Adelene says:

      I probably could. I don’t like peaches and therefore avoid them, so I’d have to get ahold of one and remind myself of what they smell like, but I can generate a reasonable amount of words about other fruits’ smells – apples and pears smell crisp and watery, with pears smelling a bit denser/heavier than apples; bananas smell creamy and smooth with a sort of woody overtone (and artificial banana flavoring doesn’t have the woody overtone, because it’s based on Gros Michel rather than Cavendish bananas); citrus smells piercing, with oranges smelling juicy/wet in addition to that, lemons being fairly neutral along that axis, and limes smelling dry and also smoky-sweet.

      • Anonymous says:

        Isn’t this just you associating the language you use for your other senses with smell? A pear and apple ARE crisp and watery, but the only reason they would SMELL that way is that you associate the smell with the tactile feel of them in your mouth.

        • Adelene says:

          Some of that might be but some of it definitely isn’t – bananas don’t feel creamy or smooth to me (I may be unusually sensitive to texture but I can always feel some degree of grain/fiber with them) and there’s nothing about limes other than their smell that seems like it could be described as ‘smoky’, for example. Also, the bit where oranges smell juicy but lemons and limes don’t suggests that I’m not just getting sensory modalities confused there. (Also I did make a point of summoning up memories of all of those smells, sorting through them for distinct characteristics, and then translating, so while the words aren’t all smell-specific I was explicitly using them to refer to smell qualia rather than anything else, but of course this isn’t provable at all.)

  67. Kevin says:

    I have a very limited aesthetic experience of clothing compared to most people. When I say that some outfit or piece of clothing looks “good” or “bad”, it’s almost entirely a socially learned reaction with no feeling behind it. I will notice naturally if someone is wearing clothing far outside the norm, but that’s about it. I have no idea why I would “look better” in a button-down shirt than in a t-shirt, but from talking to my friends and roommates, this is apparently an actual aesthetic preference that some people have, not just a response instilled by socialization.

    Relatedly, when it comes to clothing and sexual attraction, less clothing is strictly better. Tighter/more revealing clothing is preferable to looser/more covering, if some must be worn. I get nothing out of lingerie or any similar products. Internally, I think of people who do like these things as having a clothing fetish. I also get nothing out of tattoos or piercings, but I think that is more common.

    I also don’t have any negative experience when clothing colors “clash”, though I kind of understand the idea intellectually. However, I am very sensitive to a person’s actual pigmentation, e.g. a brunet(te) dying eir hair blond(e) usually looks awful to me.

    • MugaSofer says:

      “I get nothing out of lingerie or any similar products. Internally, I think of people who do like these things as having a clothing fetish.”

      Well … yeah. Wait, is it usual to assume the opposite?

      • Said Achmiz says:

        Your comment confuses me. What would the “opposite” assumption be?

      • lmm says:

        I think it’s normal to find someone in sexy underwear more attractive than the same person entirely naked, and this preference is common enough that people don’t usually classify it as a fetish.

      • Tab Atkins says:

        “Tantalizingly clothed” can often be sexier than “naked” (though the latter certainly has its merits). It’s definitely not about a clothing fetish, just the fact that *almost* revealing something but not quite is a very tantalizing and sexy form of teasing. It applies equally to underclothes, lingerie, bedsheets, and some kinds of “informal” clothing like a loose top (particularly ones with v-necks and/or large armholes, which reveal more non-erogenous skin).

    • Doug S. says:

      Well, clothing can enhance or exaggerate secondary sexual characteristics by doing things like propping up sagging breasts, making shoulders look broader, etc.

    • G-Max says:

      I never got the clothing thing either. Nobody can ever give me any kind of meaningful answer when I ask why I can’t go to a job interview in sweatpants.

      • ozymandias says:

        Clothing is used for signalling and symbolic communication. This is true across cultures and may be a human universal. If you wear sweatpants to a job interview, in most cases, you are communicating “I do not care about this job,” which is not generally a thing you want to communicate.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          If G-Max considers this a satisfactory explanation, I will be very surprised.

          Edit: I should probably clarify — what I mean is, I suspect you and G-Max are taking pretty different points of view fundamentally, and trying to explain one to the other is going to take a lot more work than that.

        • Levi Aul says:

          How about this: suit-pants are for interviews in the same way that salad forks are for salad. They are both etiquette, which is a name for when people arbitrarily pick a secret handshake in order to brush off anyone who wasn’t raised in a setting similar-enough to their own that they would pick it up naturally.

        • This reminds me of a status thing I don’t get. There are people who are offended at bad spelling/grammar because they take it as a signal that the person who posted it didn’t respect them.

          I can get annoyed at the inconvenience of reading bad spelling/grammar, but I don’t assume there was a lack of respect.

          I proofread what I post, but it’s because I care about getting my ideas across and I have a conventional idea of how my writing ought to look, but neither of these feel exactly like expressing respect.

        • G-Max says:

          If I wear a T-shirt that states, in English, “I do not care about this job”, then THAT counts as communicating that I don’t care about a job. When I wear sweat pants, it communicates “I felt like wearing clothes today”.

          I also refuse to recognize the existence of salad forks.

        • Tab Atkins says:

          G-Max: No, that’s what *you’re* communicating when you wear sweat-pants. That’s very distinct from what other people perceive you as communicating.

          You don’t speak the language of clothing, other people do. It’s like any other form of signalling, whether it’s body language, hygiene, home decoration, etc.

        • AJD says:

          Nancy, would “didn’t respect them” be clearer if it were paraphrased more specifically as “didn’t think communicating with them was important enough to be worth the effort of taking care to do it in a standard-conforming manner”?

  68. Thomas Eliot says:

    I have never been able to take any ritual seriously. As a kid in Church I always thought everyone was just playing along, that nobody actually believed the stuff we were talking about, the same way nobody actually believes in Superman. I always expected someone to break character and then everybody to start laughing. Same with the rituals in my fraternity – it really surprised me that people actually took them seriously. I still am not sure what it would feel like to really get a ritual. The closest I’ve come is the rationalist Solstice, but I don’t think that took me all the way.

    • Eliezer Yudkowsky says:

      …huh. I also don’t think I’ve ever really gotten a ritual, and the Solstice also gave me that feeling of “not all the way”. I’d always assumed it was just because I’d never seen any ritual built around something I could endorse. It hadn’t occurred to me that I might be ritual-blind, or for that matter, that my childhood might have left me permanently ritual-blind. But I’ve yet to test what it would mean to be part of a ritual that I took seriously, among other people who had the ritual emotions.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        There was a discussion on Less Wrong a while ago about whether everyone the “need” for ritual is universal, which started with some people talking as if it was, and I (and others) objecting that no, we feel no need for rituals (and in fact find them somewhat creepy).

        Since that discussion, I have attended a rationalist Solstice, and it, too, failed to take me “all the way” (although admittedly I don’t really know what “all the way” is like for other people).

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Rationalist solstice wasn’t perfect for me either. I think the best ritual I’ve seen were various Olympic ceremonies. I can get behind “let’s have all the nations of the world come together in peace” and they’re usually very well done.

        Certain rituals in movies get me a lot more, though.

        • Matthew says:

          I think I definitely have an appreciation for ritual in-and-of-itself that some of you lack. For context, I was raised Conservative Jewish, which, for those who are unaware, means a congregation of people, 90% of whom are conducting religious liturgy 90% of which is in a language they understand poorly, if at all. (By contrast, the Orthodox both pray in and understand Hebrew, and the Reform pray mostly in English.)

          I’m very fond of Ashkenazi prayer, despite the fact that my Hebrew is poor and I don’t understand most of it. On the other hand, I expect I’d hate a Sephardi Jewish service (never mind an evangelical Christian one) — prayer is supposed to be solemn, not joyous, darnit!

          I appreciate the ritual because a) like music, it creates a particular emotional state and b) there is a sense of both intertemporal connection and connection to the other people in the room. Notably for me, though, this is mostly divorced from the supposed actual content of the ritual (the people around me are probably experiencing something totally different).

          Despite my lack of theism, the rationalist rituals would almost certainly do nothing for me; even if I think more highly of the content, the form is “wrong,” where my baseline is Ashkenazi solemnity.

        • anon1 says:

          I was moved by a farewell ritual for someone in my dorm who had flamed (failed enough classes that he had to take time off). It involved setting an acetone fire and watching it burn out, and it was solemn and somehow beautiful, and I suspect the physical nervousness I felt as a freshman not yet used to this sort of thing translated into a different emotion. I cannot recall being moved to the same extent by any other ritual. Conclusion: an element of risk adds a lot.

      • von Kalifornen says:

        Some kinds of rituals in performances do it for me. I think taking things seriously is hard in these fading days And the failure is contagious.

      • Doug S. says:

        Graduation ceremonies are a ritual…

  69. blacktrance says:

    I have an unusually weak feeling of benevolence towards faceless (and sometimes even non-faceless) strangers. I think this is partially because of what my social situation at school was like, and also an effect of the culture of the town where I grew up. I sometimes vaguely get a feeling of “What if you help the wrong people? If they’re strangers, you know basically nothing about them, so how do you know that they’re the kinds of people who should be helped?” This is why for the longest time I believed that guilt or social signaling were the only reasons why someone would donate to charity. When I was younger, I may have caused some mutual confusion by telling benevolent people that they don’t owe anything to anybody else, and that they don’t have to feel guilty and shouldn’t care so much about what other people think of them. I gradually learned that other people generally have a stronger sense of empathy than I do, so the threshold at which they’d help others is lower than mine.

    More generally, I thought that guilt and signaling motivated people to do things they don’t like more often than they really do. I have an unusually narrow range of interests, but I assumed that other people have similarly narrow ranges of interests, and they were doing what they liked either when they were hanging out with me (and looked like they enjoyed doing it) or if it was something they explicitly told me they liked and it wasn’t something I could construe as them wanting to do out of guilt/signaling. For example, in college I had a friend who liked computer games, anime, chess, and other stereotypical nerdy interests which he shared with me, and he also liked watching basketball – but he watched it alone, so I couldn’t assign guilt or signaling as a motivation. But when he spent time with people who weren’t like me, I assumed that he was doing it out of a desire to improve his social status, rather than because he genuinely enjoyed spending time with them.

    • zymish says:

      That social obligation people describe is also a foreign concept to me. The idea that anyone is owed anything by default, without having done something to earn whatever it is they expect, is just not something I understand. If I give a homeless man my change, it’s because I’m feeling generous; not because I feel I owe it to him simply because I have it and he doesn’t. It’s my change, not his. When I was homeless, I never begged for change, because why would I ask for something I hadn’t earned?

      The same goes for charities. I would love to be able to donate a large amount of money to sick children or what have you, but not because I feel like I’m obligated to do it, or because I feel like the children are owed something just for being sick. It would just be a kind thing to do, and would increase collective happiness (in theory), which is generally in my best interest.

      So, I guess I have empathy problems too. I also believe in natural selection and keeping significant defects and weaknesses out of the gene pool, but I don’t usually talk about it because that sort of thing generates a lot of backlash; people overlook the practicality and the long-term benefits and just see “This person wants sick people to die and wants to punish the weak by denying them children.” (But selective breeding in domestic animals is A-OK, it seems.)

      • ozymandias says:

        The stakes for selective breeding of animals are lower. We care less about the health problems of pedigree dogs and whether dairy cows are often in constant pain because optimizing milk production led to an increased rate of mastitis. Seriously, selective breeding of animals is one of the best arguments AGAINST selective breeding of humans.

        • Anonymous says:

          I would hope we optimize humans for different goals.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          I would hope we optimize humans for different goals.

          Why would we? Why wouldn’t we breed one entire subset of humanity to be docile, complacent, and obedient to another – and then not care whether that subset also happened to have a much higher incidence of depression, anxiety disorders, and so on as long as they didn’t interfere with work productivity? Why wouldn’t we breed a subset of humanity to be extremely regimented, hierarchy-driven, violent, and obedient to authority – and then not care whether that subset also happened to have a much higher incidence of PTSD and heart disease?

        • Multiheaded says:

          Actually I’ve heard a theory… okay, a just-so-story that it’s the other way around, that depression might have evolved as a precommitment against exploitation by decreasing productivity in oppressive conditions. Sort of like Native Americans just laying down and dying when white people tried to enslave or “domesticate” them.

          Agree with the rest, though. Optimizing humans for productivity and social stability generally seems terrifying and infernal in direct implications, no sarcasm.

        • G-Max says:

          “I would hope we optimize humans for different goals.”


          “Why wouldn’t we breed one entire subset of humanity to be docile, complacent, and obedient to another – and then not care whether that subset also happened to have a much higher incidence of depression, anxiety disorders, and so on as long as they didn’t interfere with work productivity?”

          The better question is “why would we?”. Nobody who puts resources into such a program would reap any direct benefit from it unless parents were specifically engineering their kids to be pseudoslaves.

        • Nita says:

          “Nobody who puts resources into such a program would reap any direct benefit from it unless parents were specifically engineering their kids to be pseudoslaves.”

          Imagine the program being implemented exclusively by families (e.g., in a society with strong clans and weak central governance). You can raise a lot more kids if you use your older kids efficiently.

        • I have absolutely no doubt that people would be bred and/or genetically engineered for appearance with little regard for health.

        • G-Max says:

          “Imagine the program being implemented exclusively by families (e.g., in a society with strong clans and weak central governance). You can raise a lot more kids if you use your older kids efficiently.”

          You’re still talking about people engineering their own kids to be inferior. How many people would do that, seriously?

          “I have absolutely no doubt that people would be bred and/or genetically engineered for appearance with little regard for health.”

          You say that like they’re mutually exclusive. Here’s a hint: they’re not.

        • You’ve conflated a comment from Nita and a comment from me.

          As for raising kids to be inferior, I gather it’s not uncommon for families to designate a child (usually a youngest daughter) to be a helper for aging parents rather than to start a family.

      • Multiheaded says:

        Think of it that way: empathy and associated feelings are just advanced decision theory that heavily privileges the meta level in lieu of the object level. People like me call people like you “evil” for your endorsement of a certain kind of object-level thinking, but actually we just subconsciously feel the need to disincentivize certain strategies and promote our own. And that, in my view, is how you get to emergent moral realism.

        I.e. you shoot people who fail the Voigt-Kampf test not because the test is magic, but merely because it is good at finding replicants and you think that a replicant-free society is better for humans. Bang.

        • Xycho says:

          Wait, calling people like who “evil”? Everyone seems pretty reasonable so far.
          (This question happens to me a lot. Maybe I’m also missing an Evilometer or equivalent.)

  70. I did not associate food with lessening hunger until I was 29. Until I was diagnosed with hypchorhydria at 28 I basically couldn’t digest food. I could get enough that food was a treatment for low blood sugar, but if I ate some and still felt hungry, I figured that was just how I was going to feel for a while. Eating more would just leave me feeling hungry and grossly bloated.

    • DanielLC says:

      I have felt hungry and stuffed at the same time. It only seems to happen if I eat a whole lot all at once. I get the impression that feeling stuffed is instant, but hunger going away takes time.

  71. I remember hearing once on Dan Savage’s podcast that he gets letters from gay men who grew up in very conservative parts of the country, who didn’t know that being straight was a thing. They assumed all men were attracted to men, but just hid it.

    • Martin says:

      Dr. Paul Cameron, founder of the anti-gay Family Research Institute, is quoted as saying:

      “If all you want is the most satisfying orgasm you can get – and that is what homosexuality seems to be – then homosexuality seems too powerful to resist… It’s pure sexuality. It’s almost like pure heroin. It’s such a rush. They are committed in almost a religious way. And they’ll take enormous risks, do anything.” He says that for married men and women, gay sex would be irresistible. “Martial sex tends toward the boring end,” he points out. “Generally, it doesn’t deliver the kind of sheer sexual pleasure that homosexual sex does” So, Cameron believes, within a few generations homosexuality would be come the dominant form of sexual behavior.

      Apparently, some people build their entire lives around not knowing that being straight is a thing.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        Oh God, this puts all of those “if homosexuality becomes acceptable, all our kids will become gay” arguments in a totally different light.

      • Cyan says:


        (That is all.)

      • Alexander Stanislaw says:

        Retracted seems legit.

        • Randy M says:

          Maybe that’s why he only wrote that he “is quoted as saying” rather than the simpler “said”.

        • Martin says:

          I abbreviated the first sentence, which reduces the Google hits somewhat.

          The quote seems to come from a Rolling Stone interview that’s reproduced in its entirety here:

          (This email from 1999 seems to confirm that it’s accurately quoted from the magazine: )

          I wasn’t there when the interview took place, but to me the article looks legit and with no obvious signs of being a spoof except for the out-there-ness of the quote itself.

      • Kaj Sotala says:


        Wow. So people might really believe that if we did relax social pressure against homosexuality, then everyone really could go gay and everyone really could stop having any children because of that… because that’s what the people believing in that would do? Whoa.

        • Kaj Sotala says:

          If you’re living in a culture where gayness is intrinsically a bad thing and you have gay impulses, then you don’t want to admit that you’re different from others in having more intrinsically bad impulses than anyone else. You avoid that by assuming that everyone else has the same amount of these impulses, and that sexuality really genuinely is a question of pure choice. And I guess that if you think that “everyone’s really repressing their homosexuality”, then it’s also logical to think that any claims of some people really being inherently gay are just rationalization intended to excuse hedonism.

          Whoa. Whoa. Whoa. Suddenly a whole set of anti-gay ideas and memes just rearranged themselves so that they fit together in my head, and something that previously felt like just complete irrationality and incoherence makes just perfect sense – if you assume that everyone is just repressing their gayness, that is.

      • von Kalifornen says:

        This may be confounded by the ‘lesbian sex with straight men’ thing, where homosexuals have to find their own way and then are superio in both gay and Straight sex. (Rationalists likely rival this).

      • Richard Gadsden says:

        This also explains the phenomenon of the homosexual homophobe.

  72. Daniel Speyer says:

    I’ve always been sceptical of jealousy. Not sexual jealousy, which is a completely different thing (which I’ve also never experienced, but it seems well-documented). Normal jealousy, as I understand it, is disliking someone for having something you don’t even though you acknowledge they got it legitimately.

    I’ve been sceptical because it seems like such a good excuse for bullies. “He’s not angry that I robbed him; he’s just jealous that I have his money and he doesn’t.”

    I realize there are cases in which legitimacy of acquisition is debatable, but are there people who experience jealousy while they themselves acknowledge the legitimacy of the acquisition?

    • Alicorn says:

      I have jealousy of licitly gotten goods occasionally, especially if the licit-getting-mechanism could have favored me instead (randomly allocated prizes, interpersonal gifts where I have learned displeasing facts about someone’s affection for which the gift is a signal). Though not as strongly as fictional examples lead me to believe may be possible.

    • zymish says:

      I try to keep a handle on it, but yes, this is a real thing. Person A has a thing that Person B wants, and therefore Person B resents Person A. I imagine part of it has to do with Person B being reminded of their own lack of the thing. I find the emotion unpleasant, so I try to avoid it rather than analyzing it. Thinking too much about it usually just reinforces the problem for me, because it’s a whole lot of time spent thinking about how Person A has that thing I want, which is what inspires the unpleasant feeling in the first place.

      Sexual jealousy only makes sense to me from a monogamous point of view; the implication being that there is no possibility of sharing, making the desired partner a limited resource and by definition excluding someone. I can conceptualize this, but I’m not monogamous myself, so it’s difficult to relate to the feeling.

      • falenas108 says:

        I disagree with your comment about sexual jealousy being a monogamous thing. As a poly person, there are times where for whatever reason (they’re monogamous, they’re not interested in me, ect) a person doesn’t want to be with me, but does with somebody else. I will sometimes get jealous then.

    • liza says:

      I don’t really experience jealousy of material things in the way you define it. I don’t resent people for having possessions or opportunities I don’t, although I may desire what they have. I do, however, experience this with abilities and skills. I can get very resentful when I see someone being better than me (without any clear cause – I don’t get jealous of people who have been training much longer than I have, but I do get jealous of people who seem to have a natural knack for something) at something I care about, and I can imagine how this emotion could apply to possessions as well.

  73. Qiaochu Yuan says:

    Blue balls. For the longest time I thought this was just some weird metaphor for not getting to have sex with someone you want to have sex with, but it looks like many men actually experience physical pain if they’re sexually aroused for too long without having sex (and if so, wow, that really sucks, holy crap). That’s never happened to me, as far as I can tell, with maybe one exception.

    • Benquo says:

      Wow. I assumed that was just a metaphor too.

      • Andrew Rettek says:

        I thought it was a metaphor until I experienced it for the first time after a date which did not lead to sex.

      • Richard Gadsden says:

        I had also thought it was a metaphor for a long time, and still tend to forget that it isn’t.

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      Ohhh. I’ve never had that either, and thought of it as some weird metaphor too.

    • von Kalifornen says:

      Women can also experience it.

    • Doug S. says:

      Huh. I read that it was a muscle pain caused by maintaining an erection in the upright position for a long time… guess that’s wrong.

    • Anonymous says:

      I can confirm that blue balls is a real thing and is not at all comfortable. Having an orgasm is the recommended fix, but once it gets bad enough, that itself will be uncomfortable-to-painful. It doesn’t resolve the pain, either, it’ll just start getting better after that as normal bloodflow resumes.

      I usually only get it at the start of relationships when I’m at the height of a crush and there’s extended cuddling sessions. Or if I spend a weekend where I’m around a girlfriend constantly but we can’t have sex (like going to anime conventions and crashing on a friend’s couch for the weekend). If I’m getting regular sex it isn’t a problem.

    • Marc Forrester says:

      Aroused for too long without physical release, anyway. An actual partner is not required, unless the sufferer has a whole mess of religious prescriptions jamming up their headspace.

  74. Eliezer Yudkowsky says:

    It was the gelling of the HPMOR hatedom which caused me to finally realize that I was blind, possibly I-don’t-have-that-sense blind, to the ordinary status-regulation emotions that, yes, in retrospect, many other people have, and that evolutionary psychology would logically lead us to expect exists.

    Status is a tremendously valuable and scarce ancestral resource, and one which exists in the mind and in behavior patterns. We would expect people to have emotions where, if X assigns status S to Y, and X thinks that Y is trying for status S+2 or that Y wants S+2 or worst of all Y is behaving as if S+2, X tries to slap Y down for it. S+2 doesn’t have to be higher than X’s own status, it just has to be higher than the S that X has already mentally assigned to Y as deserved or held.

    People who have this emotion leave angry reviews on Chapter 6 of HPMOR where they complain about how much Harry is disrespecting Professor McGonagall and they can’t read this story. Or they post to Twitter about how they can’t stand HPMOR because the author clearly wrote it to show off how smart he was. (Historical note: P. 3 of this is an example of what I sound like when I’m actually showing off. If I wanted to impress snobs with my intelligence, I wouldn’t have chosen to write my great work as a Harry Potter fanfiction.)

    I now understand, in this deliberate and abstract way, something which puzzled me greatly when I heard it a long time ago, which is that some black students will ostracize other black students who they think are “acting white” by doing their homework. It makes sense when I think about in terms of the status-regulation emotion that should logically exist, and which I can see all the time in the HPMOR hatedom, but which I apparently don’t possess.

    The characters in HPMOR love, cry, resent, fear, protect, hate, and generally experience the full range of human emotions that I knew about at the time. It was only afterward that I looked back and realized that nobody ever hates Hermione, or Harry, on account of acting like they have more status than someone else has already mentally assigned them. Characters in HPMOR may dislike people who are ahead of them, or envy people who have things they want, but “you don’t have a license to be important” is not a thing that anyone in HPMOR, hero or villain or NPC, ever feels.

    For though I have known many a negative emotion in my life, yea I have known bitterness, frustration, despair, resentment, and a few times even envy and a sense that someone else has something that I deserve more, I have never known the status-regulation-slapdown emotion.

    I explain this at length, because I expect that a selection-filter phenomenon, of people who do feel this emotion often being revulsed by my writing, has selected many of you to also not feel this emotion, or feel it very weakly. Like I bet some of you are reading this and going “Ohhhhhhh…”

    • zymish says:

      I had never even heard of this status regulation reaction until you described it here. I’d also never considered that there might be anything even approaching a hatedom for HPMOR. Some of the concepts presented there were entirely new to me, and I can say without irony that reading it has in fact changed my life for the better. It was my first introduction to rationality as more than just something people suggested when they felt I was overreacting to an emotional state.

      But I don’t think it would be appropriate to derail your point with gushing fan praise. I can confirm that I did in fact go “Ohhhhh…” once you explained the concept using variables. I can see how someone who experiences this feeling might have a negative reaction to rationalist!Harry’s behavior, seeing him as impertinent when I admired his practicality (most of the time, anyway).

      I don’t quite understand the bit about showing off, though. Maybe they don’t expect to see such complex concepts as you present in Harry Potter fanfiction, and that’s where the dissonance comes from. They’re drawing the expected status from “writer of fanfiction”, I guess.

      • Eliezer Yudkowsky says:

        Note: When I posted this to FB, a *lot* of people said “Ohhhhhhh”

        • Sniffnoy says:

          While probably unhelpful, here’s another example of the sort of thing that would tend to induce this: Imagine you’re playing a game with several people, and the person who’s been in last the whole time keeps trash-talking everyone.

        • anon says:

          You posed a novel and strongly worded hypothesis to your fan group that lets them justify their social errors and they reacted by confirming it? Amazing! Clear evidence of the idea’s validity.

        • Marc Forrester says:

          It’s no surprise to Eliezer’s readers that they fall somewhere on the Autism spectrum, I think. We’re interested in *understanding* our social errors, which you sneeringly refer to as ‘justifying’. Are you perhaps attempting to slap down a status-inappropriate conversation?

    • Nornagest says:

      I don’t think status regulation is its own emotion. I think some people are more sensitive than others to status considerations, but it doesn’t mean they have an emotion that you lack; it means they’re more prone to feeling shame or embarrassment if they feel they’ve transgressed, or contempt or disgust or personal dislike when they see another person transgressing, or contentment at matching their social self-image.

      I suppose it’s possible that I’m just status-blind in the same way you are, but I don’t think I am; I’ve got a pretty reliable (overactive, if anything) sense of social expectations.

    • anon says:

      HPMOR generally comes across as showing-off when you use Harry as an author avatar to introduce concepts to other people. A lot of the time the interactions between Harry and others are practically lectures. Harry acts as the teacher and others act as students. While others voice opinions or questions, those are used as set-ups for Harry’s rebuttal rather than as respectable positions in their own right. As a 11 year old, even a genius 11 year old, Harry should be proven wrong by others much much much more often than he is. He certainly shouldn’t be revolutionizing magic as often as he is.

      Some of the problem is perceptual, and readers are seeing Harry as an author avatar in situations where they shouldn’t be because you’re trying to criticize Harry’s overconfidence. But more often Harry gets away from these discussions without encountering any sort of criticism or consequences at all, and the perception is justified.

      In addition, you tend to use highly definitive language when making arguments. That implies overconfidence, which when coupled with a broad and technical vocabulary implies arrogance. Good writers strive for simplicity, but a lot of the time you almost seem to do the opposite, using words like “yea” where others would work just as easily.

      You might argue that the people with a preference for simplicity are dumb because other sorts of words have heightened clarity or sound better. But if you’re disregarding the opinions of your audience, that’s arrogance too.

      I’m a bit concerned that your best explanation for criticism of your work was to invent an entirely new emotion. It seems far more likely that your writing skills need further development or that your critics are correct or even just trolls than that you’re a unique status mutant. And I’m concerned that the reason you jumped to this idea before the others is because you’ve got strong biases related to arrogance. A more humble author would probably have acknowledged their mistakes instead of creating complex explanations for them. I think your cleverness is hurting you.

      • Levi Aul says:

        It’s not an entirely-new emotion, though; it’s a trigger for offense (the emotion that has a nearly-unlimited number of triggers, to the point that the phrase “trigger warning” exists) that EY wasn’t aware was a most-people thing, rather than a specific-people thing like most triggers are.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I’m confused by this, so let me try to challenge your status-reaction sense and see if it throws anything up.

      1. Suppose you’re on the SL4 mailing list taking to Wei Dai and Robin Hanson about AI, and some new person comes in and interjects “Wow, you are really are on the wrong track, if an entity is sufficiently intelligent it will come up with the correct moral system all on its own. Here’s what the correct moral system is. Anyway, now that I’ve explained that, we should start a research program to come up with an AI like this. I think we should start with…”

      There’s a sense in which you can cash out your likely frustration as “this person is dumb”, but people can’t be blamed for not knowing they’re dumb. There’s a stronger sense in which you can cash it out as “Although this person can’t directly be blamed for not knowing he’s dumb, he should have noticed that he was new here, this list is full of very smart people who have been discussing these things for a long time, and by the Outside View he should have expected not to be able to waltz in, solve everything, and then take command.”

      …but before your brain generates that entire explanation, does it think something like “gtfo noob”? If so, would you interpret that as like the status reaction you’re talking about?

      2. An old Jewish joke goes like so:

      A great rabbi, suddenly overcome by the glory of God, falls to his knees and prays “O Lord, I am as nothing compared to you!” Another great rabbi, who happens to be visiting the first rabbi’s synagogue at the time, is moved by this display and also falls to his knees, praying “O Lord, I am as nothing compared to you!”. The janitor, who is in the synagogue cleaning at the time, is also moved, and he too falls to his knees, praying “O Lord, I am as nothing compared to you!”. The first rabbi nudges the second rabbi, points at the janitor, and says “Look who thinks HE’S nothing.”

      Have you heard that joke before? Did it make sense to you? Did you find it funny?

      • Said Achmiz says:

        Re: the Jewish joke: Tsuyoku Naritai!.

        (Or was that the meta-joke? If so, sorry!)

      • Eliezer Yudkowsky says:

        I don’t think “gtfo noob”, especially from the person who’s actually being inconvenienced thereby, is the same reaction as the status-regulatory emotion. I found that joke amusing because it reveals the falseness of humility.

        I would be surprised if you experienced much of this emotion yourself… though maybe not, since I think people with things akin to social anxiety might be more likely to be status-sensitive, albeit in a self-directed way.

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      Oh, now I understand why some people have such strong negative reactions to people who are vegetarians/vegans on moral grounds: the “suppress unwarranted status moves” reaction is triggering so quickly in the said people that they never get an opportunity to calmly consider whether vegetarian/vegan claims might *actually* have a moral merit. It’s just seen as a pure “I’m more moral than you” status grab.

      I think the explanation is a bit more complicated than Eliezer has put it, though. It’s not just that Y is striving for a higher status than X has assigned them: it’s also that Y is striving for a higher status in a way that X perceives society’s normal rules for status-achievement to disallow. Y is trying to “cheat” by making a claim for status without actually having the usual achievements needed for obtaining that status, or by going for achievements that aren’t allowed for their social role.

      For example, many people (both men and women) often react negatively to women who are strongly assertive or argumentative in a way that’s perceived to be characteristically male behavior. Society’s normal gender roles assign women a specific set of behaviors which they are allowed to use for obtaining status, and stepping outside those limits and adopting moves from the set of behaviors that’s reserved for men is seen as cheating. (Men adopting womanly behaviors are also looked down upon, but in a different way, since womanly behaviors are seen as lower-status; possibly it’s seen as a sign of the man thinking that he isn’t good enough to play the normal male game and obtain status that way.)

      I do have this emotion, but I hadn’t clearly consciously realized its existence. What I do notice much more often than the emotion itself are the various instincts that I have for trying to avoid being seen as making such unwarranted status grabs. E.g. sometimes I might get really excited about a project, but then when the first setback shows up or I mention my idea to someone else and they’re the slightest bit critical, it’s like there’s a part of my brain that quickly moves to suppress the enthusiasm and shouts “NO, YOU’RE NOT CAPABLE OF DOING THIS TASK, DON’T TRY TO ACT LIKE YOU WERE AND BE ASHAMED OF EVER THINKING ANYTHING DIFFERENT EVEN FOR A SECOND” really really loudly and then I feel like just crawling into a corner and hiding from everyone.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        Re: vegetarianism/veganism: uh, there’s an alternative explanation: that people have examined the moral claims, found them to be unconvincing at best and obviously ludicrous at worst, and look down on the vegetarians/vegans for acting like they have the moral high ground on the basis of such a bad, and wrong, moral position.

        That seems like it might be the case at least sometimes, no?

        • Kaj Sotala says:

          Possibly sometimes, but this does seem to be a part of the explanation as well. (Sorry for being intentionally vague, but don’t feel like starting another vegetarian debate here.)

        • MugaSofer says:

          I think it’s worth distinguishing between *looking down* on vegetarians – disparaging references to “rabbit food”, imaging them as some sort of stereotypical treehugger in a tie-dyed t-shirt, concluding they have lower rationality – from genuinely angry attacks.

          Seriously – and, appropriately, I know this can seem strange if you would never do this – but many people, on hearing you’re a vegetarian, will launch into quite angry speeches-slash-arguments.

          (Usually based on quite easily-refuted claims, for the record – I don’t know if it’s just harder to think of good points when you’re angry or it’s caused by some sort of insecurity in their position.‎ perhaps?)

        • Said Achmiz says:

          Might one neither view vegetarians are stereotypical tree huggers nor launch into angry attacks, while still looking down on them?

          In any case, if the “spontaneously launching into angry speeches” sort of thing is what Kaj Sotala was referring to, then: understood, thank you, and I withdraw my objection.

        • MugaSofer says:

          Oh, I was only using “tree-huggers” as an example, you’re right. There are plenty of other possibilities.

          I honestly have no idea if angry attacks even involve “looking down” on vegetarians. But they do seem to be a phenomenon in their own right.

        • Marc Forrester says:

          … Is it acceptable to just not eat meat because it’s kinda gross?

      • G-Max says:

        “many people (both men and women) often react negatively to women who are strongly assertive or argumentative in a way that’s perceived to be characteristically male behavior. Society’s normal gender roles assign women a specific set of behaviors”

        Dude, the sixties were a long time ago. The feminists won. This isn’t a Thing anymore except in places like Saudi Arabia.

        • ozymandias says:

          I give a 98% chance you are male.

        • Kaj Sotala says:

          > This isn’t a Thing anymore except in places like Saudi Arabia.

          Even *I* sometimes get the “feeling annoyed towards women whose assertiveness is within the male norm” thing at times, and have to make a conscious effort in order to squish it. And lest you think this is just me overgeneralizing from my own experience, at least one female friend of mine has been the victim of other people’s negative reactions because of this, and we’ve discussed the topic several times.

          We’re Finnish, so hardly Saudi Arabia; here’s a blog post by an American discussing the same thing, making the interesting argument that the reaction is more about whether you present as butch or femme than it is about your actual sex (which undermines my explanation somewhat, I’d forgotten about his post until now).

        • Tab Atkins says:

          On the subject of this post, I’m genuinely puzzled by people like G-Max who can’t plainly see that it’s still very true that women are punished for being the same kind of assertive that men are.

          Though I can’t stand to even read actual MRA stuff, soaking up enough stuff tangentially related to it leads me to the conclusion that a lot of anti-feminists (or even just people who think feminism is “over”) genuinely can’t perceive more subtle injustices and punishments. I don’t think it extends to level of “can’t read social cues” like autism-spectrum, but something needs to explain the blindness, and I don’t feel that motivated cognition is enough to do so.

          (There are many other reasons, too, which all contribute, like the fact that our intuition is bad at realizing that connections scale with the square of nodes in a network, and so even if two genders are equally aggressive to each other, an imbalance in numbers turns into a *squared* imbalance in perceived aggression. But I feel like there has to be something wrong in perception, too.)

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Really? Here’s a simple possible explanation: People are bad at noticing problems they don’t have. (Isn’t this a large part of what the SJers call “privelege”?) Also combine this with typical mind / typical social group fallacy and general belief in the goodness of people, or at least of yourself and your social group — “I don’t act that way, nobody I knows acts that way, I can’t imagine anyone else would”. (Which doesn’t mean they actually don’t, just that you haven’t noticed it.)

          To counter this, the SJers have developed the principle of “other people’s experiences may differ from yours, so when someone tells you about their experiences, you should listen, not contradict them on the basis of ‘nobody would act like that!’ or something similar.” A good principle! Too bad so few of them accept the idea that it might apply evenly.

          Now, this explanation probably doesn’t account for all of it, it’s probably more complicated than that, but it seems like the sort of thing that could account for a lot of it.

          I have another such simple explanation up my sleeve, if you don’t mind: The levels of the problems vary in different contexts and the people complaining the most are those to whom they apply the most. In this case, other people’s complaints fail to make sense to you not because you haven’t had that same problem, but because it really isn’t a problem where you’re from. But I’d expect this to be lesser. Naively, I’d expect that this is less of a factor for women’s problems (more universal, less context-sensitive) and more of a factor for men’s problems (less universal, more context-sensitive).

        • Tab Atkins says:

          I think it goes beyond “bad at noticing problems you don’t have”. Everyone does that, it’s not anything surprising, and if nobody really talked about feminism, that would be enough for me to explain why so many people exist that deny there’s any problem.

          What confused me is that feminism *is* talked about, a lot, and yet so many people still completely deny that anything said about injustice involving women is true.

          On the other hand, many of the same people are the ones that *are* hyper-aware of the legitimate male-oriented injustices, so it may very well be nothing more than an inability to see problems that don’t apply to you. It would disappoint me if that was the final culprit, though.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          I think it goes beyond “bad at noticing problems you don’t have”. Everyone does that, it’s not anything surprising, and if nobody really talked about feminism, that would be enough for me to explain why so many people exist that deny there’s any problem.

          This is a good point. But this is where the whole “typical social group” part comes into play. If you know that you’re a good person, and your friends are good people, then, well, nobody around here acts like that, right? It must be those other backwards places that are the problem.

          In addition, it can be the result of implicitly applying the walled-garden attitude to everything. You see, (so the thinking goes) only bad misogynist people cause these sorts of problems, and misogynists are outside the garden, and things that happen outside the garden are of no concern; people outside the garden have no legitimacy inside the garden and everyone inside knows to ignore them. Hence, they can’t cause actual problems for those of us inside, and the problems they may cause for others outside are, well, outside, and hence not worth talking about. Inside the garden, where we’re all good feminists, well, clearly these problems must not exist; after all, I don’t see them!

          So, yes, I suppose summarizing it as just “You don’t notice problems you don’t have” may have been a bit careless.

        • Tab Atkins says:

          Yeah, that’s probably an accurate restatement of what I’m trying to say. Some people seem to have a stronger sense of their “garden”, and care less about people outside, so they find it harder to realize that they, or people around them, can also be causing the problem.

          This shades into a number of other differences. If you don’t empathize as strongly, you may find it harder to see “microaggressions” as ever mattering (because it’s harder for you to understand the pain of those things stacking up constantly). If you naturally see things more in black/white, then you’d find it harder to understand how “good” people can still contribute to a bad problem, even in unintentional ways – it’s easier to imagine that problems are caused by unreservedly bad people, and you don’t perceive yourself or your peer group as being that.

    • Darcey Riley says:

      Hmm, so I am one of the people who feels things like “how dare Harry talk to Professor McGonagall that way!”, but for me, I don’t think it’s a matter of status so much as official authority. At least, the word “status” fails to distinguish between formal and informal social status. It’s not that Professor McGonagall is rich or smart or pretty (all of which would probably confer social status); it’s that she’s a professor, an official authority figure. The respect (and indignation at disrespect) is not just for her as a person, but for the role that she fills, and for the entire social structure that that role is a part of.

      An example from my own life: when I was in 2nd grade, I absolutely despised my teacher. But one day at recess, I was talking to a boy in my class, and he pronounced her name wrong. I corrected him; he said “whatever”, and I was horrified. How could he not care that he was pronouncing her name wrong? She was the teacher!

      For what it’s worth, Haidt identifies “authority/subversion” as one of the moral foundations.

      • Daragon says:

        Interesting. I personally suspect I completely lack the ability to respect authority. I strongly respect and admire ability, but the concept of authority completely flies over my head. A police officer ordering me to do something basically causes the same reaction as a crazy person pointing a gun at me. I’ll listen, but not out of respect. I was in constant conflict with teachers during my school years. Before you ask, I’m definitely not a sociopath. I’m so empathetic that I struggle to say no to panhandlers. I just don’t understand the concept of authority.

        • G-Max says:

          Well, there’s legitimate authority and bullshit authority. If I’m trying to solve a particular problem with a Windows computer, and Bill Gates is standing next to me and says “I think the problem is X, try doing Z”, I’m going to listen to him because he’s Bill motherfucking Gates and he knows a thing or two about windows. When the same Bill Gates gives a TED talk about the dangers of climate change, my reaction is “Oh, so Bill Gates is a climatologist now? STFU and GTFO”.

          Police officers have mostly been examples of the latter, in my personal experience.

        • Adelene says:

          Authority is a different thing than that, actually – it’s not about having knowledge or skill, it’s more about being the person who has the final say in decisions, even – perhaps especially – subjective ones or matters of opinion. You’d take Gates’ suggestion about a Windows problem because you’d expect that to have a better chance of working than anything similarly convenient, but I expect you’d be much more inclined to question him on the topic of which OS is best to use in the first place, and that you’d outright ignore his advice about what desktop wallpaper to use, whereas someone who had a strong sense of him as a computer-related authority figure would probably take his advice about both of those.

        • G-Max says:

          LOL @ the idea of someone consulting Bill Gates about what kind of wallpaper to use just because he’s Bill Gates

    • Nell Winsome says:

      So, Eliezer, what was your reaction to Richard Kenneway?

    • G-Max says:

      What in the nine circles of Hell are “HPMOR” and “status-regulation emotions?”

      • ozymandias says:

        HPMOR is Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. It is Eliezer’s Harry Potter fanfic, which is one of the most popular fanfics of all time. The premise is that instead of being raised by the Dursleys Harry was raised by a scientist and decides to apply rationality to the Wizarding World. People around here talk about it a lot.

        • G-Max says:

          Couldn’t you just keep the timeline exactly the same, and have Hermione fill that role instead of Harry?

          Sorry, we engineers always try to find the simplest solution 🙂

    • Daniel Speyer says:

      I have this emotion. I poked it a bit and it felt distinctively learned. I generated a hypothetical and felt confident that this status-bluffer would soon either try to give me orders backed by his new status or to shove me down to acquire yet more status. It doesn’t feel at all like a primary emotion, but like a form of fear: if I don’t stop him now he’s going to hurt me.

      In which case, your not having it might mean you’ve never gotten burned by this.

    • AG says:

      Interesting. What annoys me about HJPEV isn’t that he’s “acting above his station” but that he shows little consideration to the emotional consequences of putting other people below their stations. Having your status challenged hurts. HJPEV is like someone without pain receptors running around and poking people with a sharp stick because that’s a great way to get their attention.

      • Ialdabaoth says:

        he shows little consideration to the emotional consequences of putting other people below their stations.

        I’d say it’s a combination of constantly challenging the status of superiors, and utterly ignoring low-status people who are of no use to him (Ron) unless they are sufficiently obsequious in acknowledging *his* status (Neville) – which is another good indicator that he’s going to push people down on his way up.

    • Cadmium says:

      Have you ever thought to yourself “man, that guy is a douchebag”? If so, chances are you’ve felt it.

  75. Anon says:

    I have a particular kink that I didn’t realize was one until about 4 years after becoming sexually active. I thought it was something everyone experienced but didn’t talk about.

  76. AlexP says:

    I know that when I took various hallucinogenic drugs, I always saw more vivid and elaborate visuals than other people on a similar dose of the same drug at the same point in the experience. that might have something to do with the visualization thing

    • Anonymous says:

      Alternatively, when I use hallucinogenic drugs, I often feel as though I’m not tripping as hard as other people say.

  77. Mantodea says:

    I have synesthesia. I didn’t learn it was a thing until I was 18 or so. The weirdest part about discovering it was not noticing something new about myself — letters and music have always had colors — but discovering that other people don’t do the same thing. Very much the same sort of feeling you’re describing here.

    • zymish says:

      I know exactly what you mean. Letters and numbers don’t have colors in my perception, but they do have distinct and, to me, obvious personalities. There’s also a bit of overlap between my tactile, auditory, and visual senses, but it’s not debilitating. It still baffles me that most people can’t see sounds. Music would feel so flat and dull to me if I couldn’t see it.

      • matejcik says:

        “Music would feel so flat and dull to me if I couldn’t see it.”

        I don’t see music and yet it’s nowhere near “flat and dull”. This makes me think that our experience of music is in fact qualitatively similar, except that I don’t interpret it in terms of vision.

  78. Shmi Nux says:

    I know a person who say that they can feel blood being sucked out of them during a blood test, even when it’s completely painless. The feeling is apparently quite disconcerting.

    • Adelene says:

      This reminds me of one: If I pay even a little bit of attention to it, I can feel most of my GI system, especially when there’s food moving through it, plus various other internal organs. I’m not sure if this is actually unusual, but a friend of mine swears it is, so one or the other of us obviously has this sort of thing going on.

      I can also feel my heart beat without any special effort besides paying attention to it, and when I have even a little bit of sensory overload I can also feel a separate vibration-ey thing that would be easy to mistake for a racing heartbeat if it weren’t for the fact that I can also feel my heart going at the same time. No clue what that is – it’s less localized (generally upper-torso-ish but not stronger in any particular part of that region) but otherwise practically identical to that, so my best guess is that it’s some other sort of automatic muscle contraction, perhaps related to thermoregulation. (This might be the origin of the phrase ‘I feel like I’m going to vibrate out of my skin’ – it’s not exactly pleasant and does feel like I’m literally vibrating.)

      • Anonymous says:

        I always can feel my heart beat. It was unfortunate because I would often notice it felt “stronger” sometimes and this caused me a deal of anxiety regarding my cardiovascular system. Eventually I saw a cardiologist and he told me everything was fine.

        I also feel a sort of vibration/tingle, but isolated to my left hand. I think it’s from an impinged nerve in my elbow.

      • G-Max says:

        Feeling your own heartbeat is probably something that most people can do. It certainly shows up in books a lot.

        • Adelene says:

          I’m pretty sure I’ve only seen it come up there in the context of things that raise heart rate – being afraid or doing physical activity, mostly, and it’s generally used as a sign of an extreme version of those, to boot. I’m talking about being able to feel it when I’m just sitting around doing nothing in particular.

          Also, if being able to feel your heartbeat in general is normal, why does this exist?

        • Levi Aul says:

          Right now, laying in bed, I can feel my own heartbeat in a very soft manner, in roughly the same way I can hear the ticking of the clock in the next room. If I stop paying attention to either, they “go away”, although they’re still there. They don’t demand attention.

          Unlike the clock, though, the heartbeat is a continuous sinusoid that’s kind of hard to discretize into a number-of-beats-per-minute. If I put my hand directly on my heart, or on my neck, it becomes easier to pay attention to, because I’m not just feeling it *in* me, but also feeling it with my hand, which I’m used to feeling things with.

        • I think a lot of people have to put in some work to be able to feel their heartbeat under ordinary circumstances.

    • Matthew says:

      I feel this, and assumed that everyone did until reading your comment.

  79. Hainish says:

    Artistic self-expression.

    Not sure if any other commenter has said the same thing, but I don’t do artistic self-expression. It was maybe ten years ago when realized explicitly that other people *did* do artistic self-expression. Before then, I would just sense it as something odd, different, or a bit off, that I didn’t quite see the point of.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      I’m still not very clear on what “self-expression” is supposed to mean, aside from the plain meaning of “saying things”.

      • Hainish says:

        Well, self-expression does mean that. I’m talking about self-expression through art, specifically. If I were to create art, I wouldn’t be doing it to say anything about myself, and I find the notion of others doing so bizarre.

        Here’s an example that discusses the two as distinct:

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Yeah, I guess I just don’t understand in what way this sort of thing is supposed to express anything about oneself.

      • I don’t know how strong your preferences are about shapes, colors, sounds etc. are, but artistic self-expression (at least as I understand it) is producing new combinations in a way which is distinctively personally satisfying.

        This is not the same thing as perfectly satisfying– artists tend to say that what they’ve produced only approximates what they want.

    • Levi Aul says:

      Do you understand the concept of “attaining genetic immortality” by having children? Artistic “self-expression” is a way to live on after death through your memes.

      Unlike thematic expression–where you decide a message is important, so you encode it symbolically in a work so that people will digest it and then think they came to the thematic conclusion on their own–self-expression is about encoding yourself symbolically in a work, so that people will digest it and become more like you.

      Though, really, most of the time a piece of self-expressive art is less active; it functions more like a key used to filter for those people who are already similar-enough to you to “get” the work without having to digest anything. In effect, it’s shouting a word into the void to see if someone replies, where that word is a compressed representation of yourself.

  80. kappa says:

    My mind was completely blown when I learned that not everyone experiences visual snow.

    I’ve just googled it to refresh my memory, and what I found doesn’t describe my experience as well as I remember from when I first heard the term, so I’ll clarify: Over any uniform part of my visual field, like a blank wall or page, I see very faint patterns of varying light vs dark and pink vs green. The patterns seem to swim/move/flicker very subtly. Looking at an object with a lot of details/variance, I barely see them at all, particularly if I move my eyes a lot. In the dark or with my eyes closed, they’re super obvious, and often move around more vigorously or with more coordination. The closest comparison I can come up with for what they look like is… maybe I can photoshop something up.

    This, but with all the blobs shifting from side to side/up and down/general random short-distance jitter and fading in and out, and the light/dark patterns more random, is about what I get when I look at a blank white wall. (I googled a stucco texture and applied vigorous Photoshop. My visual snow looks a lot like faded, blurry stucco that is possessed by demons, but unlike most images of stucco it doesn’t have uniform ‘lighting’.)

    My visual snow is never present in memory or mental images, unless I am specifically trying to remember/imagine what visual snow looks like – or, apparently, unless I have just spent half an hour focusing on it and now can’t remember what my visual memories and mental images usually look like because everything is covered with possessed stucco – and as far as I can remember has never appeared in dreams. I might wait a while for the effects of this unusual focus to wear off and then see if my visual memories and mental images are back to being as snow-free as I expect them to be.

    I also get really strong afterimages – somebody else in the comments to this entry posted a colour-distinguishing test that I’ve taken before, and I consider my results uninformative because thanks to the high contrast between the bars of colour and the background, the differences between adjacent colour squares were pretty quickly washed out by the afterimage of the whole stripe. I can only assume that was not meant to be part of the challenge.

    • Bates vision improvement included learning to relax enough to that you get a completely black visual field when your eyes are closed– I’ve at least managed a better black than usual occasionally.

      It occurs to me that the moving blobs dots that (I think) most people see when they close their eyes might well be present all the time, but you’re one of the few who notices it when their eyes are open.

    • zymish says:

      I had no idea there were people who don’t experience this. I’m terribly envious; I’ve always wished for the ability to see a pure color.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Huh. I knew about floaters and phosphenes, but I’d never heard of visual snow before. Interesting.

      Tangentially, this seems like a good time to point out that some people can see the polarization of light. (Not me.)

    • Kaminiwa says:

      Serious question: Is that GIF animated? It registers out as completely stationary to me, because I’m so used to visual snow myself.

      Also, eeee, someone else who has this experience! I always thought it was a side effect of staring at the sun when I was a kid >.>;

    • Douglas Knight says:

      This sounds like the common effect of hallucinogens. This is probably a universal feature of low-level sight, but most people have a module that smooths it over. The drug suppresses the module or allows access to the lower-level data.

    • CAE_Jones says:

      I had this when my vision was halfway functional. It was strongest from ages 3-6 (I had vision problems before and after, but I had issues with scar tissue then, and they were dealt with surgically), but it did not go away entirely (it more or less faded with my usable vision; it still shows up sometimes if my eye is having a particularly good day, but I mostly just get what I call “adjustment blurs”; I have no idea if my qualia matches anyone’s on this, but basically, how vision gets blurry for the second or few that eyes adjust to different lighting or some other dramatic change).

      Your description sounds *exactly* like what I experienced. When it was strongest, I noticed it reacted curiously to mental imagery (for example, the term “scar tissue” in a vague enough environment would cause a lot of the “snow” to come together into the shape of a Christmas Tree). My ability to experience visual sensation through imagination was definitely strongest when the “snow” was strongest; I’m pretty sure this wasn’t a general early childhood thing, since it was different enough that I tried to describe it to my father at one point.
      I eventually wound up concluding (it took a while, because the descriptions seemed so far off from how I described it), that when people talk about “seeing stars” or “seeing fireworks” from a rush or an impact, they’re probably describing something similar.

      I also got “floaters”, which I sorta assumed were an offshoot of the same phenomenon, even though they looked and behaved rather differently.

    • anon1 says:

      I was also shocked when I found that visual snow was not universal, by reading comment threads by people who had started seeing it and were worried that they had permanently fried their brains with too many drugs (which, at the time, I had never even tried).

      Apparently most people also, when staring at a wall or floor with sufficient concentration, still don’t see it change color rhythmically from purple to green or blue to yellow. (I find the color changes somewhat controllable but not completely. I can’t do much about the frequency of oscillation but I can control which areas of vision will change color first. I can turn the whole thing off (though not the snow) by ceasing to concentrate on it.) And they don’t even see lovely shifting rainbows when looking at those ceiling tiles with the regularly spaced little holes! Going to the bathroom must be very boring for these people.

      My father reports the same sort of visual effects as I do, so I suspect either it’s genetic or we both have some personality trait that leads us to pay extra attention to this sort of thing.

      • I expect that people have different amounts of visual snow, but I think most people have a neurological filter that lets little or no visual snow register to the conscious mind.

    • chauvinistic celestial-undefined hetero-elitist bigot says:

      I also have visual snow, but it was bad enough early on that I didn’t need to ask anyone if they experienced the same. I just researched it, found that it’s a poorly-understood neuronal activity disorder with even less research progress than tinnitus (which is already abismal and which I also have to an annoying degree), so I essentially gave up and never mentioned it to anyone aside from the family who went with me to the opthamologist where I found I have 20/20 vision.

      The heavy, sometimes swirling visual snow plus tinnitus combo actually makes it difficult to sleep sometimes.

      I’ve also never had a dream past the age of about 14 where visual snow was not also there. I’ve practiced lucid dreaming and commanded “Clarity!” to the dreamscape whenever I could remember to, but it never helped. That’s the thing that solidified the deep, neuronal nature of the disorder to me.

      One of the shitty side effects of visual snow is the most profound possible disorder: derealization. It’s as if I’m wearing a shitty Oculus Rift and real life is the metaverse. It’s as if every waking moment is part of an inconsequential dream. I *know* and *think* that things are “real”, but I haven’t *felt* that way since I was in grammar school, and even before then the feeling came and went. The feeling often gets worse in wide open spaces; I don’t know why.

      Derealization is also something that you know is unusual when you feel it and is easy the describe to someone, but which it is impossible to have a normal person empathize with you about it because it is just so foreign, and it is impossible (barring brain scan correlations) to know if I’m just making it all up. There’s no empirical change in my perception; things just don’t *feel* “real”.

      • Anonymous says:

        I’ve noticed I feel more focused and aware of my surrounding when I have less visual snow (whether it is through not noticing it at the time or an actual decrease is unknown).

      • Adam Strandberg says:

        It’s interesting in relation to previous comments that “derealization” is also a commonly reported experience on hallucinogenic drugs. It makes me wonder to what degree the disorienting effects may be caused simply by changes to visual processing (as opposed to something more fundamental about “consciousness”.)

        • chauvinistic celestial-undefined hetero-elitist bigot says:

          I sure hope so. But, my derealization started before the visual snow, and my vs isn’t part of HPPD so I might not be that lucky.

    • Doug S. says:

      I get something like this too. Oddly enough, when I play tile-based video games for a long time, I see tiles when I close my eyes…

    • Levi Aul says:

      I see shifting color whorls like what you’re describing, but large ones, only when I close my eyes at night, and only on some nights. It has a lot of overlap with the feeling of seeing “monitor flicker” when I’ve been staring at a screen too long, but it doesn’t match up to any light-stimulus pattern I can discern.

      Because of this, I always interpreted it as having something to do with bloodflow near my optic nerve. It seems to be increase or lessen over random clusters of nights in pretty much the way I’d expect if it was correlated to changed in blood pressure. It also shares the “geometric primitives” used with the visual effect of pressing on my eyes through my closed eyelids (another optic-nerve-pressure effect), though that’s more of a flash from a kaleidoscope of bright yellow-white-green colors than a polar-coordinate-projected seashore seen through green night-vision goggles.

      Oh, and it goes away when I’m consistently consuming caffeine (which constricts blood vessels), and comes back when I’m not.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        This sounds kind of like phosphenes, but I could be completely wrong about that. There’s a number of weird phenomena in the visual system you can look up, though.

    • Saro says:

      Heh, cool. Nice to see what other people’s visual snow looks like.

      Mine is a lot more multicoloured and fine-grained than that image. It’s sort of what it would look like if someone got a black screen and scattered pixels of every colour over it at random.

  81. anon says:

    Apparently, many facets of my personality that I thought were unique are actually just symptoms of my ADHD, and my medicine has never worked properly. Also, I always assumed I was uniquely lazy or incapable, without recognizing the connection between those qualities and ADHD.

    Kind of shocking when I first visited /r/adhd.

  82. JTHM says:

    After reading some of the comments, I think I may have just realized a way in which I am different from (some) other people: when I’m in a relationship, I have a natural aversion to any physical contact more intimate than a hug with women who aren’t whoever my current girlfriend is (I’m a straight male, FYI). I also have a weaker–but still strong–aversion to physical contact to women with whom I am not in a monogamous relationship even when I am unattached. I also perceive whomever I am in love with as more attractive than anyone else, no matter her actual level of attractiveness, and do not feel I am losing anything by not chasing other women. Mind you, I do retain the propensity to be attracted to other women, I just feel a simultaneous, opposite urge not to act on that attraction. I also have found talk of “love isn’t real” or “love is a Western social construct” as quite baffling, and in the past, I just assumed that the people saying those things were just horrible boyfriends/girlfriends who hooked up with other horrible boyfriends/girlfriends and never fell in love. Now, I’m starting to think that a large segment of the population really doesn’t experience an emotion which I experience as being entirely distinct from all others. To me, the question, “How do you know if you’re in love?” is like asking, “How do you know if you’re looking at the color red?” It’s something immediately experienced, obvious, and distinct, and impossible not to notice. I can distinctly recall the very second I felt it for the first time, and the shock at experiencing a completely unfamiliar qualia. It was like seeing a new primary color or something.

    • Amanda L. says:

      Could you describe what love feels like to you? I’m one of those people who doesn’t know what love is and if I’ve ever felt it, and I’ve always wondered if people who claimed “if you’re in love, you’ll KNOW” are just exaggerating or confusing it with lust.

      • G-Max says:

        To describe what love feels like is impossible. It would be like trying to describe the color blue. You can make a list of things that are blue (the sky, my house, etc.), or you can say “it’s the color between purple and green”, or whatever, but none of that would really give anyone any idea of what blue actually looks like. Or how about flavor? Could you imagine describing “bubble gum flavor” or “mint flavor”? Of course not. Emotions are the same way. Anger feels like anger. Pride feels like pride. Love feels like love. There’s no way to describe it.

        • Amanda L. says:

          Well… damn.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          I wouldn’t necessarily put too much stock in this, for several reasons.

          In some sense, what G-Max says about emotions is true: How on earth do you describe what something “feels like”? (This, btw, is why I’ve never understood our cultural obsession with asking what things “felt like”.) But feeling isn’t necessarily the important part. Emotions lead to particular intentions and bodily states — e.g., if you’re excited your heart rate will increase, and if you’re angry you may want to hit someone. And we’ve seen from this thread that there are people who can basically only identify their emotions in these terms! So I wouldn’t really worry too much about what things feel like in some sort of qualia sense; you can talk about what you notice is actually different about your mental or bodily state.

          That said, all this assumes that there is such a distinct emotion as “love” in the first place, something I’m dubious of. See this Overcoming Bias post for why. There are a lot of real, concrete things that go under the label “love”, but sometimes this label gets applied, and sometimes other labels get applied, often with the implication that this is something disjoint from love. (And anyone can tell you that the various things going under the name “love” are not unified.) E.g., say a person has a crush on someone; if it works out, they might say after the fact that they were in love with them, if it doesn’t, they might say they were infatuated with them. Or to quote Robin Hanson in the comments:

          Humans have many emotions associated with mating, and some of them promote long term bonds. But we don’t use the word “love” to reliably refer to any of those specific emotions. We instead reserve the use of the word “love” for a relation that well enough fits our complex ideal of a relation.

          Not saying this is universal (this thread is a pretty good demonstration of why one should be wary of making universal claims!), but it’s consistent with my experience.

      • ozymandias says:

        I described romantic love to an aromantic friend as “like the feeling you have when you’re in a fandom, except directed at a person.” However, I expect that this will not be very clear to non-fans.

        • AlexanderRM says:

          Interesting experience: This doesn’t really help for me because I’ve never experienced something that resembles a crush, but I have gotten experiences where I got somewhat fixated on one specific person… and I can identify a precise fandom-feeling which is precisely analogous to that. They’re both feelings of “I’m really into this [person/show], she/it has a lot of positive traits but I’m somewhat disproportionately obsessed”.
          This might however be me deliberately quashing such feelings. Do people who get crushes have them sort of gradually build up from “this person is attractive and also has a nice personality” (which is the furthest my… “squishes” get), or does it come on pretty suddenly as a full romantic feeling?

          (also I have in fact experienced strong emotions about fandom in the past a couple years ago; main example is after I first discovered My Little Pony, which was the first time since elementary school I’d watched a cartoon and discovered it was good. I’d estimate that was somewhat analogous to fandom, although it was mainly focused on the show and not the community.)

    • Levi Aul says:

      Oh! That one unlocked something for me. I find people who are attracted to other people instantly unattractive. I cannot manage to be fantasize about a girl unless I know she’s available. This extends to friends, strangers, celebrities, and fictional characters. It’s not a feeling of immorality or guilt or impropriety, either; it’s just a sort of very mild disgust, somewhat akin to how it feels to be propositioned by someone sexually when you aren’t attracted to people of their gender.

  83. I feel auras, and occasionally see them. I’ve gotten and transmitted information that way. I got information by identifying where someone had a medical problem, even though I got the organ wrong. Transmitted information when a friend and were playing with the standard one person has their hands facing each other a foot or so apart and the other puts one hand between them to feel the energy. Just for the fun of it, I imagined hot energy coming from one hand and cold energy coming from the other. I didn’t say anything about this, but my friend giggled and said she felt red and blue at the same time.

    A while ago, I came up with an analogy for why some people believe in auras and other people don’t. What if the sense of smell was relatively rare? In that case, people with a sense of smell would probably be considered to be making things up. Sometimes that “sense of smell” wouldn’t work– the person has a cold, or the food which has gone bad doesn’t smell bad. People eat it and get sick, and the claimed ability to tell when food has gone bad is obviously nonsense.

    I am forced to accept on faith that many other people like the taste of alcohol and the feeling of getting mildly and/or very drunk. Many other people enjoy loud background noise, too.

    People’s sensitivity to accurate use of language varies wildly.

    As for jazz, I wonder whether you’d enjoy the older stuff. In the US during WW2, there was a special tax on dance halls, and as a result, jazz switched from dance music to sit and listen music. The older jazz has a stronger beat.

    I’m going to ask for recommendations for the best jazz dance music,though, because I like music but I don’t love it and keep track of it nearly as much as most people do. I’ve taken an internet hearing test, and my ability to hear low sounds is way sub-average, which may explain my relatively low interest.

    I’m fairly capable of feeling I’ve eaten enough and stopping (never take it past the point of mild distress and rarely go that far), but my state using to be stably “food is always interesting. I’ll at least try some if it might taste good”. After I lowered my anxiety, I found that I would sometimes be in a state of “I’m comfortably fed, I don’t want to eat now.”

    After a lot of body work (mostly Rubenfeld Synergy and Alexander Technique), I found that I could feel musical rhythm (when playing) as a pleasure rather than an alien force trying to take me over. I also acquired an ability to enjoy walking rather than ignoring it.

    Discussion of body sensations associated with good and bad logic.

    • Martin says:

      No, that is not why I don’t believe in auras. If the sense of smell was relatively rare, and subject to variations, then people could still demonstrate their sense of smell in controlled tests. People who claim to be able to sense auras, or transmit “energy”, have consistently failed to pass similar tests, after decades of attempts. (And your examples do not qualify as controlled tests; none of the examples would be remarkable as pure coincidence, not to mention that they weren’t double-blind tests, and there’s no way to control for “publication bias”).

      To me, it’s puzzling that so many people believe they have supernatural abilities that imply the existence of forces that would revolutionize physics and medicine, and yet don’t seem the least interested in furthering humanity’s knowledge about the universe, or helping the sick, by providing evidence for the existence of those abilities and forces to scientists and other authorities.

      • Adelene says:

        I read something a while ago that suggested that seeing auras is probably a form of synesthesia, with the stimulus being something that isn’t usually consciously noticed – possibly subtle shifts in body language or pheromones, which would both be blocked by most testing setups. As a datapoint in favor of that theory, I have a similar experience of tone of voice – I don’t experience tone of voice as an auditory phenomenon, but I get synesthetic colors from it anyway that are accurate when translated.

    • Alicorn says:

      Re: taste of alcohol: I’m so used to being unusual in my intense aversion to the smell (I’ve never gotten as far as putting it in my mouth except by disastrously unpleasant accident) that I didn’t even think of it. I can cook with wine and have no problem with vanilla extract, but don’t like liqueurs in desserts and have never been able to even try sipping wine or a margarita or anything.

      Also in this family of experiences, I am sensitive and averse to the smell and taste of mint (I have been known to accuse my fiancé of eating mint when the last time he did so was hours previously with a steak dinner between then and the accusation; I don’t produce significant false positives) and I can’t drink carbonated beverages, which must be causing something other than intense pain to people who like them but I can’t imagine what.

      • Randy M says:

        My wife shares your aversion to carbonation, be it in soda, cider, or alcohol. Seems like our eldest daughter agrees, or at least reacted strongly the first time she tried it.

        • Alicorn says:

          My sister has my carbonation thing too. Our mom has a weaker form of it compared to us – she will drink, say, root beer, but she stirs it till it’s relatively flat first. (My sister and I won’t touch it even after it has undergone this treatment.)

          My sister shares the mint thing and the alcohol thing but our parents don’t (well, I suppose I wouldn’t necessarily notice if Mom had the alcohol one and was just quiet about it but I’m pretty sure she doesn’t have the mint one and I’m positive Dad doesn’t.)

          (It seems interesting that everyone in this small sample is female, come to think of it.)

        • nydwracu says:

          Our mom has a weaker form of it compared to us – she will drink, say, root beer, but she stirs it till it’s relatively flat first. (My sister and I won’t touch it even after it has undergone this treatment.)

          Going back to the earlier theme of lifehacks that don’t reach fixation: bottled/canned carbonated beverages are always too carbonated for me, but it wasn’t until I saw my uncle open a bottle of soda and shake it flat that I realized it was possible to do something about the overcarbonation.

        • Alejandro says:

          >(It seems interesting that everyone in this small sample is female, come to think of it.)

          Here is a male one! I strongly dislike sodas, beer, champagne, and all other carbonated drinks. I also dislike wine and most other alcoholic drinks, but can take and even enjoy in moderate quantities those that hide the alcohol under a stronger sweet taste, like some fruit cocktails or chocolate liqueur.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          I have a male friend who won’t drink carbonated things, but obviously I have no way of knowing if his aversion to it is to the same extent as described above.

      • Stephen says:

        I have the same reaction to carbonation as well. For what it’s worth, it sounds like you might have some of the characteristics of being a supertaster (apparently the technical term, see

        • Alicorn says:

          I’ve suspected I’m a supertaster too. I do like soy and brassica oleracea cultivars but not the other things on the list.

      • Douglas Knight says:

        What do you think about szechuan pepper?

        • Alicorn says:

          Not sure I’ve ever tried it. I like some peppers (jalapenos, poblanos, all the kinds that come in spice jars instead of as vegetables) and dislike others (bell peppers, banana peppers).

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Szechuan pepper is a spice, not eaten alone. It is from the old world, unrelated to capsicum. It tastes like lemon plus black pepper. I mention it because it has another effect, perhaps not a taste, that some describe as like carbonation and others as numbing. I’m not sure I notice it.

        • anon1 says:

          Sichuan pepper is not a pepper at all, but the seedpod of a plant from the genus Zanthoxylum. It is a strange, tingly electric-tasting spice available at some Asian groceries, sometimes labeled as prickly ash. After chewing on one, I find that when I drink water it tastes like lemonade for a few minutes.

        • Anonymous says:

          I’ll just note here that if you have only had Szechuan pepper in the US, you may not experience it’s famous numbing effect. There are import controls on Szechuan pepper that require it to be roasted to kill potential citrus canker bacteria that could hurt US crops. This has the added effect of taking away the numbing effect, which I found to be very distinctive when the pepper is fresh.

        • Douglas Knight says:

          Thanks, Anonymous. Do you know how to obtain fresh peppers in America?

        • Anonymous says:

          I’ve looked online briefly and in local Asian markets, but haven’t found a source. If you want to do a search, some keywords that might help are ‘Hua jiao’ or 花椒, which is the Chinese name for Szechuan pepper.

        • anon1 says:

          Anonymous: I have only eaten Sichuan pepper in the US and the numbing effect was always distinct. Furthermore when I had a Sichuanese roommate he never mentioned such a thing, though he did warn me against buying certain brands because they let the peppercorns get old and weak. I think low or inconsistent quality standards are to blame for your experience, not the heat treatment.

        • Anonymous says:

          Could be, though I’ve bought it several times to cook with and it seems consistent. There’s definitely a numbing effect in the US peppers, but is peg it at an order of magnitude less than fresh ones. Of course, this is a discussion on qualia so ymmv. 🙂

      • Erratio says:

        Hey, I resemble that comment! For the alcohol/carbonation thing, I’ve often wondered whether it’s a general aversion to bitterness.

      • Doug S. says:

        Apparently carbonation in beverages takes getting used to – both me and my brother didn’t like soda as children. I avoid carbonated beverages now, though, because they give me heartburn.

    • Sarah says:

      There is a thing I get from some people that I think of as “magic.” It’s probably some social/nonverbal communication thing, but it feels like an aura, a thickness of light in the room, something that penetrates my personal space. I’m sort of allergic to it; I’ve been super stressed out and crying for no reason around people who put out a lot of “magic.” Some other people seem to actively like it.

      • Levi Aul says:

        Does everyone else who “tends to react to people who put out magic” in a predictable fashion, do so positively? If so, maybe it’s something to do with status-dominance.

    • G-Max says:

      “I am forced to accept on faith that many other people like the taste of alcohol and the feeling of getting mildly and/or very drunk.”

      The two are very very different things. Of course people like getting drunk. People like getting high on all sorts of stuff. The TASTE of alcohol is something else entirely. Alcohol tastes like paint thinner, or nail polish remover, or lighter fluid, or something equally vile.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        And yet, some people seem to honestly like the taste, going by people I’ve spoken to. Or, at least, of specific alcoholic drinks; maybe not of alcohol per se.

        • Benquo says:

          I like the taste of some alcoholic drinks. I’ve become desensitized to the taste of alcohol. (Usually unless it’s straight hard liquor I can’t taste the alcohol at all.)

          Back when I could taste it (or really, smell it) I hated the smell, except when I had a sore throat.

        • G-Max says:

          There’s a HUGE difference between “alcohol” and “specific alcoholic drinks”. It’s like the difference between “pure carbon” and “carbon-based life forms”.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Yes, it could make quite a difference. FWIW, some of these are quite high in alcohol content, but that may not mean very much.

      • anon1 says:

        I agree that there’s a sort of general organic solvent smell that a lot of these things have in common, but I find it pleasant as long as it’s not highly concentrated.

        As for taste, the non-smell taste component of alcohol is a sort of burning sensation, and given that I actively enjoy the burning sensations of eating hot peppers or raw garlic I am not surprised that some people enjoy the burning sensation of drinking ethanol, which I mind only slightly.

      • “Of course people like getting drunk. People like getting high on all sorts of stuff.”

        A lot of people do, and so do a lot of animals.

        However, I’ve tried a moderate number of different sorts of psychoactives, and I generally *don’t* like it, and a damned good thing, too, considering how I react to some video games.

    • Doug S. says:

      Regarding the taste of alcohol, my impression seems to be that many taste preferences seem to be learned over time through a process similar to Pavlovian conditioning; I imagine that people learn to like the taste of alcohol if it becomes associated with various rewards: calorie intake, positive feedback from chemical effects on the brain, etc.

      • Tab Atkins says:

        I can say definitely that this is untrue for me – I genuinely enjoy the taste of alcohol in nearly all of its varied forms.

        I didn’t start out this way. I know I disliked all alcohol as a teenager, and started drinking sweet white wine with my fiance’s parents at 18. It wasn’t too bad then, but it also wasn’t good. It was very mildly unpleasant, but also interesting, so I was okay with drinking it.

        As I got older, and my wife learned to drink more wine, my taste gradually expanded as well so that I actually enjoyed the flavor, but it was still limited just to sweet whites. It was finally during a stay at a B&B at a winery that I developed a general enjoyment of all wines – I just had to try enough things, and to do more than just sip a little bit, until I realized what all the fuss was about. For a long time after I still disliked the first taste of wine in my mouth, and only enjoyed the rest of the drink. Now I like it immediately.

        Similar thing happened with beer – even after liking wine, I still abhorred the taste of beer. It was bitter and disgusting. But all my friends drank it, and didn’t drink wine, so it was just *inconvenient* at social gatherings to not drink beer. So I tried a few until I found one that I didn’t dislike *too* much (Shiner Bock, still a great simple beer), and drank it until I’d fought my way past the distaste, and realized there was actually *flavor* there, good flavor, and that even the bitterness was an interesting and pleasant component of the experience. Plus there are so many kinds of beer. Discovering Trappist ales was a religious experience for me – the fruit, caramel, and yeasty notes blend in a way that is more pleasurable than almost anything I can think of drinking.

        Same story yet again for liquor – didn’t like it, started liking it a little bit, now I like it a lot. My favorite drinks are straight liquor; I prefer it far more than mixed drinks. Sipping a snifter of añejo tequila or a sweet Tennessee bourbon is heaven for all of my senses.

        The flavors of alcohols are very different from the flavors of any other type of food or drink you’ve grown acquainted with, and like any “acquired taste”, you actually have to expend some effort to acquire the taste. Once you fight your way through the initial disgust/distaste, the worst aspects of the flavor fade into the background, and you realize how much else is there that was previously hidden by the overpowering bad part of the taste. Then you come full circle, and the precise qualities that were initially terrible (bitter beer, tannic wine, burning liquor) actually become good in their own right as well, contributing as much to the enjoyment of the drink as any of the other flavors.

        Some people might never be able to enjoy this, because they actually have taste aversions, or supertaste something unpleasant in it. But I suspect that many people who dislike alcohol have just never broken through the initial disgust barrier (or maybe just only have experience with shitty stuff – Budweiser, cheap tequila, and $2 wine). It’s no different from learning to like olives, or blue cheese, or sushi, or lots of other foods that many people initially dislike but then learn to love.

        Regardless, I can assure you that people enjoying alcohol is *not* just them status-signaling, or enjoying the drunkenness despite the taste. Or at least, it’s definitely not *always* the case.

  84. Valhar2000 says:

    I make up music in my head. I do this routinely, not just remember music I’ve heard , but actually make it up, to the point where I’ll even start bobbing my head and tapping my foot whenever I get a good song going. It surprised to find that there are people who don’t do this, and who don’t understand how or why I do it.

    I also insert myself into the scene very often when I’m watching a movie or a TV show, even as I’m watching it. It’s not really “me” that I insert, but rather a character based on me. What puzzles me about this is why I do it with some shows and movies, but not with others.

    • nydwracu says:

      Same, and it is perpetually irritating to me that I can’t find anything that sounds anything like it, and that it would probably take years for me to develop enough of a sense of pitch to get it onto paper, and that the one time I managed to guess my way through well enough, it still sounded hopelessly wrong even though I knew it wasn’t, because it wasn’t supposed to be equal temperament, so I wouldn’t even be able to use it to actually write music without learning to play the violin or something.

  85. Cyan says:

    In Oliver Sacks’s book Musicophilia, he discusses the case of a woman with amusia (which is not, alas, a land of wondrous entertainment but rather a defect in processing pitch) who never experienced music as anything but a boring cacophony. Although she knew she was different from those who expressed enjoyment of music, she was relieved to learn that it wasn’t the case that she just wasn’t trying hard enough or had some defect of character — since her amusia was caused by a structural difference in her brain, enjoying, or even learning to enjoy, music was literally impossible for her.

    • Multiheaded says:

      My aunt has this.

    • hibiscus says:

      I’ve got one of those Sacks’s Musicophilia things, too. Probably as a side effect of having OCD, I’ve got a song of some variety or another stuck in my head for about 95-98% of waking life (currently a Sheryl Crow song that I don’t even like, if you’re interested). I’d always hear people talking about getting songs stuck in their heads, so I assumed everyone else had the same thing for years and years. It was only when I read that book that I started asking people, “how often, percentagewise, would you say you’ve got a song stuck in your head?” and discovered that this apparently isn’t even close to universal.

      Doesn’t bug me much except when it gets really “loud” (which, for a song that isn’t actually playing, translates to just very hard to ignore or think of much else) or when it’s just a couple words rather than full musical phrases.

      • Oscar_Cunningham says:

        I feel like I have this too, but on the other hand it could be a “light in the fridge is always on” effect. The music only “comes on” sometimes, but it’s always on when I think about it, and so it seems like it’s always on.

        • Saro says:

          I remember having this thought a while back, and now have enough additional data to say that usually, when my internal monologue is on (as in reading, or thinking aloud inside my head), my internal jukebox is off, and when I stop reading things it comes back on again. I can keep it on when reading, but with effort.

      • Mantodea says:

        I have this too! Exactly like you describe!

        I polled a couple of my friends about it the other day, having just read this article and realized that maybe not everyone has this. In my sample size of 3, one friend had it to around the same extent as I did (95%-98%), and the other friend doesn’t experience it at all.

  86. Randy M says:

    This reminded me of a recent article that suggested that in ancient times peoples brains were subjectively different, such that hearing voices was a normal part of life. Very interesting, no idea if true, but I thought Scott and SSC regulars would find it interesting:

    For myself, I can almost–but not–clap on rythm if I am not watching other people do so. But I can whistle very well and have a pretty good memory for tunes (I can whistle most of the themes from FF6, for example).

    When I was in high school I found out that I have terrible vision–can’t read a sign 20 feet away bad. Either it happened suddenly without any injury or illness, or I had been living like that without noticing.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      Re: ancient people hearing voices: Jaynes’ book, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, is really interesting, although the claims therein are far from established.

      The article you linked, though, misconstrues the bicameral mind theory, most egregiously in the diagrams, so caveat emptor. I suggest reading about bicamerality elsewhere.

      • Randy M says:

        Good to know. Some time I’ll get around to reading that book, it did sound fascinating.

      • St. Rev says:

        The giant smoking crater in the middle of Jaynes’ book is that there appear to be no cultures anywhere which it actually describes. Barring some kind of hundredth-monkey woo, one would expect anthropologists to have found isolated neolithic cultures in New Guinea or somewhere to which it still applied. Shamanism is common, and indeed even still exists in Western culture, but the ability to hear voices is a difficult and carefully cultivated skill.

        Jaynes, like Freud, wrote a theory exquisitely tailored to the sensibilities and narratives of Western literary culture.

  87. This is probably an unpopular venue to reveal this, but “akrasia”? Specifically time-wasting procrastination. The way other people describe their experiences, it’s like they’re utterly powerless to stop themselves sitting on Reddit and throwing away hours of their life. I can sit on Reddit and throw away hours of my life, but I can also…choose not to?

    I do indulge in this sort of behaviour, but my experience is like a nuisance insect I need to swat away. For other people, it seems like they’re trying to swat away an airborne mako shark with a rolled-up newspaper.

    • Anonymous says:

      I can go either way on this depending on my level of energy. My problem is that college, and in general being forced to do anything I don’t actually want to do in the short term, sucks my energy away so badly (even though I get straight As without much effort) that I haven’t been very productive since high school (at which time I was homeschooled). It’s terrifying–if other people work similarly to me here, now I know why most people accomplish so pathetically little compared to what I was doing easily in high school. And I don’t see a way out!

      • CAE_Jones says:

        I’m pretty much with Anonymous. I considered talking about Akrasia earlier, but didn’t feel like it fit the idea so much; I know what it feels like to just be able to make choices and decide to do things and just do them, and I know that said power is a luxury that was slowly and painfully lost.

        Most people, though, seem completely incapable of comprehending the problem. THis is particularly bothersome when these are people in authority or advocating for me who react with lectures that are useless at best (depressing to the point of worsening the problem at worst). I cannot talk across inferential gaps to save my life.

    • Troy says:

      Have you ever had any bad habits, like biting your nails, that you wanted to stop but compulsively engaged in anyway?

      • I understand the broader experience category. The claim isn’t that I never find myself doing things I wish I wasn’t doing. It’s that other people report a level of powerlessness in dealing with akrasiatic procrastination that I don’t seem to share.

      • G-Max says:

        I don’t like biting my nails, but I also don’t like them being there. I basically wish I didn’t have nails.

    • Doug S. says:

      For me, it’s not so much that I get stuck doing specific pointless things as it is there are things I can’t seem to make myself do. I have a large number of interchangeable diversions that I can switch between, but if I don’t feel like doing my homework right now, it is impossible for me to choose to begin to do it. (I am very glad that I no longer attend school and therefore no longer have to do homework.)

      An interesting quirk of my psychology is that mediocre video games somehow become much more engaging when I have some work to avoid doing. For some reason, I find the state of not doing important work exciting – I think it’s because I feel like I’m doing something dangerous?

  88. Alexander Stanislaw says:

    The story about smell was particularly shocking to me.

    I think that I lack the emotion of excitement. When I hear great news I feel relief rather than happiness or excitement, yet other people seem to feel a genuine rush. For example people who start screaming and jumping up and down after they get accepted into professional school; or friends who scream and hug if they haven’t seen each other in some time. I can’t imagine they are faking it, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt excited. I do feel negative emotions though.

    • Matthew says:

      Interesting. I can feel both excitement and exhiliration. But I don’t think I can feel enthusiasm. I’m not sure if this was always the case or a synapse that burnt out because of emotional abuse, though.

  89. zslastman says:

    This is a really, really interesting post. Particularly the part about anosmia.

    Incidentally – almost everyone I know who likes Jazz is a musician, and the degree to which I like jazz has been directly proportional to how much I’m practicing music.

  90. mareofnight says:

    I think liking food is sort-of one of these for me, but in a different way than for Ozy.

    There are preferences about food that seem to be common, that I can’t really relate to. People say they don’t like to eat the same meal two days in a row. They say they look forward to meals – not special occasion meals or something they were craving, just routine going out to lunch. I don’t really get that.

    I’m also a picky eater (probably a mental thing – I know someone who has almost all the same aversions, for the same reasons), and as a very young child, I didn’t understand that not everyone shared my preferences. I remember making snacks for a buffet event at preschool once (so 5 years old or younger probably?), and spreading the cream cheese on the crackers as thinly as I could. I’d been assigned to put cream cheese on crackers, and I wanted to ruin the crackers as little as possible while still doing what the teacher had told me to.

    I think having friends is an experience that came a bit late for me (though I’ve talked to other people who said they had a similar experience to mine). I think I didn’t feel a close connection with a friend until high school. That was also the first time I felt pretty sure I’d found a friend who actually wanted to be around me specifically, who I also wanted to spend time with. I remember having thought it was incredibly silly when people would choose activities and classes based on what their friends were doing when I was younger, but that behavior made a lot more sense once I’d experienced having friends.

    I’m also demiromantic, which isn’t too different from aromantic if you don’t have any friends yet. I did start to notice that other girls were feeling things that I wasn’t, but didn’t know what to make of it. The people who I tried to ask about it didn’t understand what I was asking, and it didn’t seem that important (I thought love stories were boring anyway), so I pretty quickly stopped trying. In general, figuring out my romantic, sexual, etc. orientation was a big pile of confusion and misunderstandings (of myself, not others misunderstanding me) that I shouldn’t go into here.

    • CAE_Jones says:

      I really didn’t understand romance or friendship all that well before college, and basically built up an identity around being non-romantic.

      Then I started reading fanfiction that managed to put characters I could actually connect to into intensely emotional interpersonal situations, enough so that it was finally apparent to me what I’d been missing out on. This unfortunately leaves 20 years of asocial-ness to overcome, which I could not accomplish to anything resembling a healthy extent before leaving college (I eventually got to where people would flag me down in the cafeteria to eat with them, at least). I’m actually having to force myself not to ramble on in such a way that would require explaining about a dozen other tangential things (but going back to college seems like a really attractive idea right about now, if it wasn’t so bloody expensive).

  91. Kaj Sotala says:

    I’ve wondered – sometimes people say that especially bad jokes (like bad puns) are *physically painful*. I’ve always assumed that to be an analogy, or comic exaggeration, but I’m guessing that someone might actually experience them as physical pain?

    • Benquo says:

      Oh, gosh. I never thought of this, and if that’s true, I have caused people terrible pain, and dismissed their complaints as exaggerations.


    • Eneasz says:

      >I’m guessing that someone might actually experience them as physical pain?

      Yes. Almost exclusively with bad puns. Not strongly painful. Certainly not as bad as a stubbed toe. But like someone coming up and poking you in the ribs with a finger.

      • Alicorn says:

        I was skeptical when I read the comment suggesting this because to me pain has to have a location, and I don’t know where pun-pain would go. Where does it go?

        • Adelene says:

          I’ve experienced pain without it seeming to be attached to any particular location, but pun-type pain actually tends to show up in the general area of my stomach or diaphragm.

        • Kaminiwa says:

          If I wince at a pun, my eyes and shoulders both tense in a somewhat uncomfortable way.

          For me, personally, it seems to be that the pun evokes an emotional reaction, the emotional reaction evokes a physical reaction, and both the emotional and physical reaction are mildly unpleasant.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          For me, generally right between and behind the eyes.

        • Matt S Trout says:

          I feel that for me it’s more like a sort of electric shock in my brain feeling, which then causes me to wince/recoil in the same way as I would from e.g. a static electric shock.

    • Nornagest says:

      It’s not painful like getting poked in the eye is painful, but bad puns are distinctly uncomfortable to me. The sensation’s close to jumping into cold water, or sudden embarrassment without the flush reaction, but doesn’t last as long.

      (Bad jokes which are not puns are generally just unfunny, but shaggy-dog stories sometimes evoke the same response.)

    • Leo says:

      There’s a physical sensation, and it’s pleasant. I’d never noticed that!

  92. This makes me wonder what universal human experiences I and my friends are missing out on without realizing it.

    A sense of the divine.

    Some people seem to have it, and some people don’t. And I’m not referring to the “divine” in the trivial sense of holding a religious belief or attributing agency to rocks and clouds, but a deeper, less articulable sense of divinity and numinosity, often suffused through very ordinary circumstances. This sense doesn’t have any necessary relation to religious belief, as I’ve come to realize that a great many of my co-religionists actually lack any real experience of divine presence, even while I’ve met atheists and agnostics who do. Carl Sagan comes to mind as someone who was completely secular but nonetheless had a numinous appreciation of the natural world (or so it appears in his writings). Mathematicians often talk in similar ways, and I don’t think that it’s an accident that math and mysticism go together.

    (Just to avoid getting onto a tangent, I’m not making any strong empirical claim here about the validity or reality of such experiences, just pointing out that a lot of people do have this subjective experience, while just as many don’t, and the ones who don’t sometimes thing that the ones who do are making it up.)

    Afterwards, I figured it was something that didn’t get good until you were skilled at it and had been in a relationship long enough to truly appreciate the other person.

    I’m definitely not asexual, but this was exactly my experience. I don’t think that I really enjoyed sex until I’d been married for a few months.

    • Rachael says:

      I was also going to comment about the sense of the divine.

      It’s interesting that the variation in human experience here is consistent with God’s existence or nonexistence. Scott Adams (who is an atheist) blogged about how if there’s a God, the lack of this sense is a handicap, whereas if there isn’t, then having the sense is a perceptual delusion.

      Atheists without this sense who overgeneralise from their own experience think theists are guilty of wishful thinking, and theists with it who overgeneralise think atheists are wilfully blind to the truth.

      • Kaj Sotala says:

        Also, a lot of atheists who lack that experience seem to assume that religion is all based on… something like a logical argument, one which might be supported by lots of biases and fallacies, but still fundamentally an empirical or epistemic question. Whereas for many religious people, religion is actually something that’s fueled by a feeling of the divine, and the beliefs are something closer to a tool used for achieving that experience more easily. (E.g. as ways of tapping into thought-patterns that force the mind to experience vastness and a sense of accommodation, the ingredients of awe.)

      • Kaminiwa says:

        “the sense is a perceptual delusion”

        I think Mai’s atheist examples do a pretty good job of illustrating how an atheist can hold this sense of the divine in a non-delusional, non-contradictory way.

        I’m really genuinely confused and curious whether you are asserting that Carl Sagan was “blinded to the truth” or in some way delusional. It feels like you are talking about something completely different than Mai.

    • Levi Aul says:

      A recent segment on Radiolab documented the fact that, in an (sadly not even single-blind) ‘experiment’ where a subset of theology students were given psilocybin mushrooms, far more of them went on to become preachers than the control group.

      This hints that things might change greatly if we could get society to stop being afraid to open up and apply reductionism to this “feeling of the divine” box, such that it was no longer inherently associated with spirituality.

  93. falenas108 says:

    For what it’s worth, for me (PIV) sex was a thing I needed to be in a committed relationship and skilled at for me to enjoy. There was a period of about 4 months where I wondered if I was ace, which if people who know me now realized they would laugh.

    (This is absolutely not doubting that you’re ace though.)

  94. Doug S. says:

    Ozy: I am currently eating chickpeas and rice and I am _delighted_ by the fact that I can eat this _whenever I want_ The nice thing about DISCOVERING YOUR FOOD PREFERENCES is that suddenly all the food in my cupboards is food I like and am looking forward to eating. and usually I get food I like by, like, luck? So this is excitement.

    The main character in the film “Runaway Bride” (starring Julia Roberts) thought that her favorite way to have her eggs cooked was the same as her boyfriend’s favorite. At one point, it’s pointed out to her that, when she had had different boyfriends in the past, she also preferred eggs cooked the same way that her boyfriend at the time did, but each boyfriend preferred a different style than the others! In a moment of character growth, she eventually sits down by herself and eats eggs cooked all different ways, one after the other, so she can find out what kind of eggs she actually does like best.

    Incidentally, I’ve heard that people’s food preferences do tend to change somewhat between childhood and adulthood, and this is at least in part because of physiological changes in people’s sensitivity to different flavors. I personally hated the taste of sweet potatoes until a few years ago. I’m still not fond of most chocolate, though.

    • Randy M says:

      At some point in the last decade I went from barely tolerating onions to really appreciating them on lots of different foods, cooked or raw. (Just like my dad always said I would…)
      Still don’t drink coffee though.

  95. Rachael says:

    This stuff fascinates me. I sometimes wish we had the technology to plug into someone else’s brain and perceive the world exactly as they do. It might be so different we couldn’t even process it, like being a newborn baby again. But if it worked (and assuming it was consensual on both sides) it would increase empathy and solve a lot of conflict.

    On mental imagery:
    I think I don’t really have it. Do you have a link for the Galton test(s)? I Googled a bit but only found articles talking about them, not the tests themselves.
    I’ve observed people laugh or express disgust at mental images, but I can’t be amused or disgusted by a mental image any more than I already am by a verbal description of it. I also don’t have the “argh, can’t unsee!” problem people talk about: if I’ve seen something unpleasant I can remember vaguely what it looked like but not in detail, and it no longer disgusts me.
    I can’t use mental imagery to find out the answer to something I didn’t instantly know, but I can do the equivalent with mental sound “imagery”. For example, if I can’t remember whether X says “ee-ther” or “eye-ther”, I can aurally “picture” them saying it (funny how there doesn’t seem to be a verb for that) and get an answer I’m faurly confident of; but if I can’t remember whether X has a mole on their left or right cheek, I can’t answer that by picturing what they look like.
    I also have a poor sense of direction, which I think it related to this: I can’t picture the city or country around me and observe what direction places are in.
    But my memory isn’t completely non-visual: if I’m trying to re-find something in a book, I can remember that it was on the bottom left of a page (even if I didn’t consciously note this at the time) and thus find it more quickly.

    On noise:
    I also find noise problematic, and more so if it’s verbal. I hate people arguing, not primarily because of the negative emotions (although that’s unpleasant) but because they tend to talk over each other and that fries my brain. If anyone interrupts or talks over me I just stop talking, because I cannot form words while I’m hearing words. I think people who don’t know me think I’m being excessively polite and deferent, or maybe passively-aggressively criticising the interruption; but it’s actually an involuntary reaction, and I do it even when something non-human like a sat-nav starts talking. If it’s really important that I talk over someone (e.g. communicating with another adult about how to console the child who otherwise won’t stop whining) I can do it by putting my hands over my ears and closing my eyes.

    Also, extroversion:
    I find it difficult to believe in the existence of extroverts – the idea that some people find interaction energising rather than draining seems an unintuitive as some people finding eating makes them hungrier – but I take their word for it.

    • Rachael says:

      Since making this comment I’ve found Galton’s paper. I’m definitely near the bottom of the range of his subjects in my mental imagery.

    • Alicorn says:

      I’m an extrovert! This surprised me to learn (in my early twenties!) because it’s basically the disability version of extroversion as opposed to the superpower version, and, contra most extroverts as far as I know, online interaction counts as long as it’s synchronous. So I went from living with my parents and my little sister who rarely left me alone for long contiguous blocks of time, to college where I promptly discovered AIM and had it even when I didn’t have a roommate –

      And then in grad school my roommate went out and the internet went out and five hours passed and I felt like I had been hit by a brick wall.

    • Elissa says:

      Talking to people (especially multiple people, but not people I’m extremely close with eg my husband) feels good to me the way sleep or exercise feel good, like I’m doing something my body needs and expects me to do regularly.

  96. Doug S. says:

    One thing I don’t have: I find it hard to tell if a man is good-looking or not. I can easily tell whether or not a woman is beautiful (to me, at least), but I have very little sense of masculine beauty. I can attribute at least part of this lack to being a heterosexual male, but I don’t know if it explains all of it.

    • Valhar2000 says:

      I do have a sense of what a “beautiful man” looks like, although it does not very often coincide what heterosexual women think. It doesn’t seem to coincide very much with what gay men think, either.

      • Alsadius says:

        The way I’ve described it in past is that female attractiveness is based on lust, while male attractiveness is based on envy. All else being equal, I want to have sex with a beautiful woman and look like a beautiful man. And like you, the standard I have of male beauty doesn’t seem to line up very well with the standards of male beauty among any group that actually wants to have sex with men.

    • No one special says:

      I have this as well. Based on people’s reaction when discussing it, it is rare to be unable to see if a man is good looking or not, even for people who are straight.

      For a while I thought to blame this on media not featuring men as beautiful. I wonder, however, if I have trouble seeing beauty in general, but have learned what’s “supposed” to be beautiful in women because of the media obsession with how women look, and have failed to learn it for men because of the lack of obsession. That is, I have a hole, but it’s been covered by a large volume of “instruction”, but only for one sex.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        I have this as well. Based on people’s reaction when discussing it, it is rare to be unable to see if a man is good looking or not, even for people who are straight.

        Huh; that doesn’t agree with my experience at all. My experience is that (on the occasions the topic comes up, which is not that often) straight men frequently say they can’t discern male attractiveness, which I gather is partly because it’s at least partly true, and partly because they don’t want to be perceived as gay (though it may be only the latter in some cases). The fact that straight women have no trouble discerning female attractiveness is treated as something of a mystery.

        I’ll go ahead and say I have some ability to tell, but it’s pretty crude.

        Related: There seems to be a split between people for whom goodness/badness of appearance is fundamentally about mating, and people for whom it isn’t — like, who want to look good for reasons other than finding a mate, or for whom complimenting someone else’s appearance is not equivalent to stating that you’re attracted to them, etc. I have some trouble wrapping my head around the latter point of view.

        • peterdjones says:

          Most straight men invest resources in improving their appearance, so they must have some 7idea of what looks good. Most straight men are capable of being envious of better looking men, and a common way of restoring status is to accuse better looking men of being gay. The optimum strategy is to improve appearance to attract women, whilst signalling unconcern about appearance to signal heterosexuality. So: denial

        • Sniffnoy says:

          This is a good point. I do have to wonder why the pattern hasn’t caught on with women, then, though; preexisting culture rules it out, I guess? I also still do have to wonder about relative coarseness of such judgments.

          Edit: There is the problem though that I have no idea how you’d measure that.

        • Doug S. says:

          My ability to tell isn’t completely zero; when I first saw this magazine cover my reaction was “He’s sexier than she is.

        • G-Max says:

          I’m sorry but straight women have a LOT of trouble discerning female attractiveness. That’s the only explanation that I can think of for the godawful amounts of makeup that some of them wear, and for the fact that so many of them think that media notions of “beauty” or “attractiveness” are representative of anyone’s real opinions.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          This is also a good point! Claiming you can tell doesn’t necessarily mean you actually can, any more than claiming you can’t means you actually can’t.


          OTOH, it seems odd to me that media notions of beauty wouldn’t be based in some reality. Sure, it’s not what I’d prefer, but if it came to a “who is more likely to get laid” test, it seems a safe choice. It’s possible that this “consensus” doesn’t represent anything real, and everyone is mispredicting everyone else — certainly such things happen (pluralistic ignorance) — but it’s not what I’d expect; it’s the sort of thing I’d want to see some evidence for.

          This is also running into the “what you prefer vs. what you predict other people would prefer” problem. Unless you’re claiming that their basic sense of “Who would you prefer to have in your field of vision”[0] is itself corrupted by such things, or that they ignore it and report what they think other people would think. The latter’s pretty believable though — that’s what’s going to be more relevant to them! (Which makes me realize, what peterdjones was saying above is also about “ability to predict what other people will think”, not “having fine-grained opinions”. This could be quite symmetrical in everything except the claims.)

          [0]Hm, why didn’t I think to phrase it that way before? Put that way, maybe I don’t have such a hard time discerning male attractiveness after all. I’d still bet on it being cruder but not to the same extent I was thinking before.

        • Levi Aul says:

          I’m pretty sure there’s a study where male chimpanzees were willing to ‘pay’ in bananas for photographs of higher-status male chimpanzees. Not stereotypical high-status-because-of-good-genes chimpanzees, mind you, but just chimpanzees they personally knew to be high-status.

          So I would indeed guess that the question “who would you prefer to be in your field of vision” has a lot more to do with societal perceptions of attractiveness (and thus status) than your own body’s desires.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          I’d be skeptical of such an interpretation. It seems to me the simpler explanation (assuming the result transfers) is that our knowledge of a person’s status influences how good-looking we consider that person to be (halo effect), rather than that it redefines our aesthetic standards more generally, or that it allows those with status to redefine aesthetic standards more generally (that doesn’t seem to really have a chimpanzee analogue). OK, rereading, I guess your hypothesis wasn’t really either of those, but it still seems more complex.

          And I’m not sure it really makes sense to me in the first place, actually; what’s the chimpanzee analogue of “societal perceptions of attractiveness”? I could go on, but really, I’m just not seeing what exactly is a coherent model behind it. Your interpretation feels really fishy to me.

          Also I’m just not sure what point you’re trying to make here? This seems to have gotten so far away from the original argument that I’m no longer certain what “big picture” (if any) you’re arguing for.

      • G-Max says:

        The media have a terrible, terrible idea of what straight men actually find attractive in women. Don’t use the media as a reference.

    • Multiheaded says:

      I can attribute at least part of this lack to being a heterosexual male, but I don’t know if it explains all of it.

      I sort of had this when I thought I was straight, but looking back I strongly suspect that it was just denial. I don’t know how you could test it, though.

      • Kaminiwa says:

        The simple test that occurs to me is to ask guys to rate how successful they feel other guys will be with women, just based on a photo.

        I’d be very surprised if most guys lack even a basic sense of “this guy is attractive and will be getting laid tonight” vs “this person has not showered in two weeks and is most certainly not getting laid.”

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Strictly speaking, that’s asking them to determine other people’s opinion of the person’s appearance. Which should correlate with theirs unless they have just really perverse opinions about such things, but I think the distinction is worth pointing out. (I mean, I would expect offhand that being asked to predict other people’s opinions is going to be more difficult and yield more coarse-grained responses than just being asked your own.)

        • ozymandias says:

          IDK I am bisexual and deeply confused by monosexuality but the kind of people I find most attractive (chubby nerds) and the kind of people I predict would be most likely to get laid (physically fit people) are almost entirely nonoverlapping groups. I assume a similar thing is true of non-sexual aesthetic appreciation of others’ appearances.

    • G-Max says:

      That’s definitely a straight male and lesbian thing. Except Michael Weatherly. I would totally make hot, sweaty man-love with him if given the chance. But otherwise, a straight male should not have a sense of which guys are hot or not any more than a colorblind person could tell the flags of Europe apart.

    • edsorow says:

      What about feminine men? I don’t know if its from watching too much anime, but in my mind men are often rated on the same scale as women in terms of attractiveness (i can also judge masculine attractiveness pretty well).

    • DanielLC says:

      I’m like that too. I thought that was normal, until I’ve noticed things like straight women talking about if a woman is attractive.

      I actually have been attracted to a few men, but barring that, I don’t know what constitutes an attractive man.

  97. (Content warning: discussions of binge eating and bulimia)
    I’m not sure if this is an experience I’m missing out on so much as one I experience that others don’t, but I don’t understand how people WANT TO stop eating. I can eat past the point of nausea and past the point of pain and if the food is in front of me I still want to eat it. I stop using willpower, not because I WANT to. Admittedly I do want to stop eating when it gets to the point that it’s impairing my ability to breathe, but even then it’s not that I don’t want the food, it’s that I want to breathe properly more than I want the food. I always assumed that anyone being offered food and not eating it, or stopping because they were full as exercising willpower, and that my main problem was a lack of willpower (I accept that lack of willpower is a problem I have but I now see it’s not the main thing.) It didn’t occur to me that people could “not feel like eating” food that was in front of them, I thought that was just signalling. I also find food shopping really hard – how do you not just by everything in he shop?

    I didn’t realise I was weird until I became bulimic at university and started attending a suport group, where people described the same experience I have of always wanting to eat food that is in front of me, except that they knew it was unusual (and most of them had not always been this way.)

    I can exercise willpower over food sometimes. I did try veganism but gave up because of my living situation (I live in a boarding house with 80 other people; we have two kitchens between us, cookiing every day is really hard, plus executive function issues. Plus the boarding house has a canteen that has free meals for residents and it actually seemed more ethcial to eat the canteen’s non-vegan vegetarian meals than make my own stuff because there is a lot of food in the canteen that just gets thrown away anyway, so by not getting my meals there I am wasting both food and money) but I was (mostly) able to say no to non-vegan food for a while. But the idea of NOT WANTING TO EAT FOOD THAT IS IN FRONT OF YOU, unless you dislike the taste of specific that food, just seems weird to me. (Although I can totally understand not eating because cooking is too aversive. But once the food is already in front of your face, how do you not want it? I see random people eating sandwitches in public and want to punch them and steal their sandwitches. I have never ever acted on this, but how do people see food and not want to eat it?

    • Doug S. says:

      It seems like your satiety mechanism must be broken. This is a physiological problem of some kind. I’d get yourself checked by an endocrinologist – you may have a problem with levels of appetite-regulating hormones.

      Incidentally, your description reminds me of Stephen King’s description, in On Writing of what it was like to be an alcoholic. To paraphrase: “When asked how much I drink, I’d answer `All of it.`I’d see people with half-finished glasses of wine and want to urge them to finishing it. You have alcohol, you drink it!”

    • Anonymous says:

      I developed this problem a few months ago. It has progressed to the point where I have purged a handful of times afterward. Before I eat anything I need to put myself in to a situation where I won’t be able to keep eating (e.g., go to a restaurant that’s not a buffet, put away any food I don’t plan on eating, designate a time of day where I stop eating for the day).
      It’s unfortunate and has a significant effect on my quality of life. I would love to live without being hungry all the time.

    • Elizabeth says:

      I’m pretty sure I’m the exact opposite. I experience physical discomfort, emotional disturbance etc. from hunger, and occasionally get cravings for specific flavors, but don’t generally want to eat: I start eating using willpower.

      • Anonymous says:

        Oh, maybe I misinterpreted you. I felt like I had the same experience of always wanting to eat food and never stopping except through willpower rather than a feeling a lack of “wanting to eat”. I especially sympathized with ” I see random people eating sandwitches in public and want to punch them and steal their sandwitches” since I have never met someone else who has expressed this. I’ve seriously considered taking unattended food or offering to buy food people are eating. I saw a whole and clean-looking cookie on the ground today and considered eating it.
        I don’t know why I have this sensation, and I have sufficient control to keep my calories at maintenance, but it’s bothersome.
        An aside: this has turned me into quite a buffet sensation.

        • Anonymous says:

          Disregard the above comment. I thought Elizabeth was wackyshenanigans. That will teach me to read names before I post.

    • Benquo says:

      That looks like pretty much a description of my own feelings about food, except that my desire is probably weaker so that a combination of implicit social pressure, aversion to excessive fullness, and a desire not to get fat make me stop – but the desire to eat more never really goes away.

      • Saro says:

        Edit: This was intended as a reply to St. Rev below.

        Another data point: I used to want to eat until I was well past full and my indicator for stopping was physically being unable to fit any more food in my stomach without throwing up (fortunately nausea did stop me from continuing).

        I went on a low-calorie diet for a couple of months, where I counted calories and made myself stop when I reached the right number, and now know what satiety feels like.

    • St. Rev says:

      For most of my life I tended to eat until I was physically uncomfortable, and still wanted to eat.

      Then I started a low-carb diet, and suddenly discovered what satiety felt like. It was pretty dramatic.

      Not presenting this as a suggestion, just personal experience.

    • James Babcock says:

      This is not a personality quirk, it is a symptom. If gorging does not make you full, then either your appetite regulation mechanism is broken or, more likely, your appetite regulation is not broken and is truthfully telling you that there’s something important you’re supposed to be getting from food that you aren’t.

  98. Martin says:

    I love music, but I’m practically always bored by live music, even if it’s my favorite artists. I like being able to do something else while listening, the sound is generally worse than the same song on a mastered cd, I don’t like standing in a crowd for an hour or two, and mostly, I seem to lack whatever thing people get out of communal experiences like concerts, watching sports, or religious ceremonies. But going to concerts seems to be the main thing my friends do for fun, so I gave it over a hundred tries before concluding that it wasn’t for me. One friend wrote on Facebook that a concert had been “better than sex”, and all I could think was that the best concert I had been to hadn’t been anywhere near as good as the worst sex I’d had.

    On the other hand, I LOVE technically well-made illustrations. Seeing a drawing that does enough things right — maybe a drawing with good anatomy, a nice sense of three-dimensionality, with a good balance between detail and white space, interesting shapes, well-used colors and patterns, and a nice design in general — can make me literally jump up and down and squeal with joy. I don’t see that much in other people.

    • Doug S. says:

      I think part of the appeal of live music is visual. You get to see the performers, in person, as they perform. Often there are costumes and dancing; some productions are very elaborate. Sometimes there’s audience participation in which the audience is encouraged to sing along. It’s also more of a social activity than listening to a CD through a good sound system.

      I wouldn’t recommend concerts where there aren’t any seats, though, unless you plan on dancing or something.

      On the other hand, I LOVE technically well-made illustrations. Seeing a drawing that does enough things right — maybe a drawing with good anatomy, a nice sense of three-dimensionality, with a good balance between detail and white space, interesting shapes, well-used colors and patterns, and a nice design in general — can make me literally jump up and down and squeal with joy. I don’t see that much in other people.

      You sound like someone who knows a lot about visual arts. Are you an artist, or some other kind of student of illustrations? I don’t think most people have nearly the same level of expertise that you do. Having a lot of experience and knowledge of something makes it easier to appreciate – just ask any wine connoisseur (which I am not).

      (Then again…)

    • von Kalifornen says:

      I too Have been somewhat underwhelmed by live music ( here thinking of classical music with no non-music imagery and no cult of personalities around performers) unless it is Wagner-level gripping, but have found myself greatly enjoying opera. Have noticed that the former is considered very statusful in these fading days of Anno Domini while the latter tends to be associated with the glories themselves (more likely to have beautiful performance hall, etc.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      I agree entirely with your view of live music. Pretty much everything you said about it: also true for me. Interesting!

  99. Anonymous says:

    Here’s an interesting one: I’ve never ‘had a crush’ on someone. The concept is quite hard for me to get. To be clear, I can fully understand raw sexual attraction, and I can also understand what you may dub ‘intellectual attraction’, i.e. appreciation of someone’s character. But that doesn’t translate into an overwhelming feeling with the need to act on for me, which is actually quite frustrating as it takes one of the major reward systems out of making meaningful relationships (which is a goal-state for me).

    Maybe this is a good chance to clear this up: people do really have crushes on other people, right? This is not just a feeling that happens after you’ve had intimate physical contact with them? This is not just a rationalisation for going after people by sheer sexual attraction mediated by a conscious decision about their character?

    • Yes, people do have crushes. “Aromantic” is a word of relatively recent coinage which might apply to you.

      • edsorow says:

        I’m not sure if aromantic is a good word. I do have crushes but I hate romance.

        • Anonymous says:

          Hm, whether or not it immediately brings the right idea to mind, its use is fairly widespread in certain circles.

      • Ialdabaoth says:

        …There’s actually a word for how I get obsessive about certain people, and it’s an actual thing and not just “yet another way that Ialdabaoth is creepy”?


        • Levi Aul says:

          The more important part of discovering that limerence is A Thing is, I think, that by defining this word you can conceptualize of romantic attraction without limerence; and that, since limerence is based on novelty, that romantic-attraction-without-limerence is the inevitable state of all relationships (even the best relationship you’ll ever have), rather than a cause to seek out a new relationship.

    • peterdjones says:

      Yep, people definitely have crushes. When it happens, it’s unmistakeable. However, it may be some time before you have one.

    • Eli says:

      Dear God, yes! Real people have crushes on other people! In fact, I always find it much harder to imagine physical contact without emotional attachment than with it. Which I can generalize, even: I don’t understand how other people go through the world not feeling the sizzles, pops, and steady burning flame of emotion that pushes me through life.

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      I didn’t have one till I was 21, but yes you don’t control it and its not just based on physical attraction.

      • Kaminiwa says:

        “you don’t control it”

        This bugged me, so I learned how to create and banish crushes at some point in high school. I find it weird and confusing when people say they can’t control theirs – I just figured people who say that have just never spent the time to learn how, or just didn’t care enough to put in the work.

        Until this thread, it never really occurred to me that I’m a mutant and other people really CAN’T do this. I still suspect that a lot of people actually could learn this skill, if it occurred to them to try, though.

        • Adelene says:

          Yeah, most people don’t have anything like that sort of direct control over any part of their mental state, is my understanding – iirc you’re the only other person I know who has the required sort of internal awareness, much less the ability to modify what they’re seeing.

          (I also don’t know that particular trick – allowing emotional attachment to happen is strictly voluntary (and I didn’t figure out how to take that particular action until my mid-20s, which definitely had an effect on my childhood), but all the other relevant bits seem automatic to the point where it’s not obvious how I could even start to adjust them. I’m not particularly interested in trying, either; they work fine in their current setup and it’s possible to break things when trying non-obvious adjustments.)

        • Tab Atkins says:

          I’m with you on being able to control my crushes, and other mental states. It took me quite a bit of confusing discussion with my wife before she realized that I *did* have emotions, I was just good at banishing bad ones when I didn’t want to feel them, and *I* realized that she wasn’t staying in a bad mood on purpose, she just isn’t actually capable of banishing it by choice.

          I attribute this to self-directed meditation I did as a teenager, but I don’t really know whether it’s something I always kinda had and just became aware of at that point, or if it was caused by unrelated things and I’ve just latched onto the meditation as a reasonable-sounding explanation, or what.

    • a person says:

      I used to get crushes in early adolescence but I can’t even imagine getting one now (as a college student).

      • Michael Wittig says:

        29 here. Still getting occasional ridiculous crushes (though bipolar runs in my family, which might be a factor).

  100. It’s a minor thing, but I don’t really understand how people control their voice by putting on accents, etc. I can hear my own voice, and I can sortof change it (e.g. by adjusting pitch), but I can no more figure out how to put on a specific accent (other than ludicrous over-exaggerated forms which don’t fool anyone like pronounzing zings like zis) than I can figure out how to wiggle my ears.

    (This is an especially troubling lack for me right now because I’m expecting to need to learn a foreign language soon, which is a thing I haven’t tried to do in about 14 years)

    • Slow Learner says:

      I’m the opposite – I can “put on” an accent with facility, but don’t really understand what it means to HAVE an accent.

      People are stuck with a voice sounding a particular way, and they can’t change it? Why?

      I have tried to explain changing accents to people in the past, and my main comments are that the differences are almost all within vowels, and that to actively change an accent rather than just absorb the way people around me are talking it helps me to have a touchstone, some specific phrase that is very clear and distinct. I can do London, Bristol, Birmingham, Scotland, and a few other UK accents, along with Australian and American that are convincing to non-natives.

      • AJD says:

        “I can ‘put on’ an accent with facility, but don’t really understand what it means to HAVE an accent”—this sounds to me more or less equivalent to “I can speak foreign languages fluently, but don’t really understand what it means to have a NATIVE language.”

        In other words, the accent you “HAVE” is the one you use when you’re not “putting one on”.

        • Slow Learner says:

          The accent I have when not putting one on is a hybrid of that used of the aggregate accent of the group I’m currently in, and that of the group I was last in. As I have lived all my life in the UK it tends to be “British”, though when I had a USian girlfriend it migrated West a bit.

    • On the other side of this, I don’t understand it when people say they “can’t do accents”. I can understand people being bad at accents, but the idea of someone’s voice having all these scrutable parameters that are completely out of their control is a pretty alien one.

      • I think a lot of it is my not having the right feedback mechanisms / not being very aware of them. It’s like trying to coordinate different coloured clothing for someone who is colour blind – you could probably figure out how to do it if someone attached colour labels to things and told you a bunch of rules of thumb about how colours coordinate together, but you couldn’t really figure out how to do it on your own and you’d need that external labelling provided for you to achieve it.

        • Alsadius says:

          I can see colour perfectly, and I do not understand the concept of colours “going with” or “coordinating”. Other than identical colours, I see no particular difference in how well any imaginable colour goes with any other.

          • T Keller says:

            As an artist & designer, my perspective is colors don’t “go with” or “coordinate with” other colors per se. But color pairings do evoke varying responses, so if you’re dressing yourself and want to project “cool competence”, pairing bright green pants with an orange shirt probably won’t work well.

            Likewise in painting: colors belong together if the pairing furthers what you’re trying to evoke. Van Gogh used lurid shades of red and green side by side to try to induce feelings of terrible passion. The abstract expressionists and color field painters pushed the boundaries of what color and form can mean in the absence of traditional “content” and figuration.


            Argues that van Gogh may have been slightly color blind. I admit I like the paintings better with some of the red and green filtered out.

    • Julia says:

      I’m good at foreign languages and good at speaking them with the appropriate accent, but I can’t imitate accents while speaking English. E.g. after years of living in Boston I can’t do a Boston accent, and I can speak Spanish with a good accent but can’t speak English with a Spanish accent. So you may be fine at doing actual foreign languages.

    • Tab Atkins says:

      I’m kinda like this, but have learned to work around it. It turns out that the most recognizable part of an accent appears to be how you treat certain vowels, and r sounds, at least for romance languages.

      Languages outside of the romantic/germanic tradition are harder, because they use *consonants* that a native English speaker isn’t familiar with. I find Japanese/Korean not too hard to deal with – there’s the l/r sound that they treat differently than we do, and they blend some consonants, like ky, into a single sound in a way that I have to be intentional about. (“Tokyo” is not pronounced “toh-kee-yoh” like I and everyone around me has always done, but is rather “toh-kyoh”, with the “ky” being an individual consonant sound that’s more than just the “k” sound followed by the “y” sound.) On the other hand, I can’t pronounce Urdu or Hindi worth a crap, to the point that even with coaching it’s hard for native speakers to understand what word I’m trying to say. Their consonants and vowels are just too foreign for me to grasp.

      So, pay special attention to how accents treat vowels. Also pay attention to the mouth shape of native speakers – this helps you with the vowel thing, as mouth shape influences vowel sounds strongly, but also helps correct a bunch of other minor aspects of how various letters and syllables sound. For example, Korean is usually spoken with the lips in a small round position.

  101. Craig Gidney says:

    I don’t recall experiencing “liking things because they are high status” Ozy is describing.

    For example, in high school I remember being made fun of for what I wore now and then. But I never associated that with liking those things or not.

    Another case that may or may not be an example is about socks and sandals. One time I was about to do that, and my ex-girlfriend put her foot down about *not ever wearing socks and sandals*. This was a strange experience not only because the rule feels arbitrary to me, but because she seemed to very viscerally feel that it was *not* arbitrary.

  102. St. Rev says:

    I commented about this before and deleted it, but it seems to be in keeping with the general theme of the thread, so:

    I can’t smell jasmine. I didn’t discover this until I was in my thirties and someone handed me a twig of jasmine flowers. My sense of smell is otherwise better than normal.

  103. Joe from London says:

    About a month ago I realised that I could eat ice cream for breakfast, because I am legally an adult and I therefore make my own decisions in life. It was delicious.

    I knew all along that I liked ice cream, but I never realised that I had attained the autonomy over my own life to consume non-standard breakfast foods at breakfast time.

  104. lmm says:

    This makes me wonder whether there are people who actually get emotionally affected by art, in the same way as I do with music. I enjoy art on an intellectual level, but I’ve never looked at a painting and had it make me feel sad or transcendent or any of the reactions people tend to talk about.

    • I do get emotionally affected by some art, but it’s not as strong as with music.

    • Adelene says:

      Yep, for some art at least. Music is a whole other thing and not really comparable in any meaningful sense, since I’m synesthetic with it, but I do occasionally come across a piece of visual art that just sort of grabs me by the emotions in whatever way.

    • nydwracu says:

      I didn’t get art in any sense beyond “here is a thing that demonstrates technical ability and that I am supposed to appreciate” until Boccioni, or maybe Rothko once he was explained to me.

      I also didn’t get poetry until Marinetti, so there’s probably just something up with my brain and Futurism.

    • hamnox says:

      I don’t really get up in arms about most art, but I get absurdly happy playing with sparkly and rainbowy things. It’s more about sensory stimulation than emotion though.

    • Tab Atkins says:

      I’m finding it more and more amusing as I read through these threads, that the answer to every question of “do people really feel X?” is “yes”. (And often “yes, most people do – you’re atypical for the general population.”)

      Yes, there are people emotionally affected by art. I enjoy art museums for that reason – depending on what I’m looking at, I can feel joy, excitedness, sadness, that feeling in your breast when you discover you have a crush on someone, “divine presence”, a feeling of isolation like everyone has left you and it’s your fault, and many others. These aren’t as strong as the strongest I can feel in real-life circumstances that provoke those emotions, but they’re definitely real and strong.

      I can get triggered by all kinds of art, too – Romantic and Abstract can equally affect me.

      There are recorded cases of beauty actually causing medical conditions (like heart palpitations), and a few historical deaths that are believed to be caused by people literally being overwhelmed by beautiful art.

  105. Ornithopter says:

    Asexual: Hmm. Are most people asexual before puberty? ‘Cause I wasn’t. Even as a boy of five I liked girls, was interested in them and wanted to have one as a girlfriend. I still remember the first girls I had crushes on. Other boys claimed no interest in girls, or even to dislike them. I figured that was just some weird posturing.

    • lmm says:

      That was my experience too. But I was really clumsy about it. My default interpretation is not so much posturing as that most people simply don’t understand what they’re feeling at that age.

      • falenas108 says:

        I mostly was. I didn’t experience attraction to people until I was about 14.

        • Timothy says:

          I think I experienced romantic attraction for the first time I was 18. But at the time, I didn’t quite understand what it was. It took me another year and a half to figure that out.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          Interestingly, I’ve been experiencing *romantic* attraction since I was six, but I never experienced *sexual* attraction until I was about 18.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Be careful; I sense an oncoming terminological hazard here. The word “sexual” in English can either refer specifically to the sex act and things immediately bordering on it, or to mating in general. Scott seems to be using “asexual” in th former way, you seem to be using it the latter way.

      • Kaj Sotala says:

        Yeah, Ornithopter’s description sounds like it’s more about romance/emotion than sex. I had a strong crush on a girl in elementary school too, but I distinctly remember that I only started to notice girls as targets of sexual interest in teenagehood.

        • Ornithopter says:

          [Trigger warning: More explicit discussion of childhood sexuality.]

          I don’t remember any change in the way I was interested in girls happening at puberty. When my teenage classmates claimed to be interested in secondary sexual characteristics I figured that was just more weird posturing. Surely, a pretty face is always the primary issue?

          As for the sexual act, I certainly did not experience that with another person until after puberty but I masturbated regularly from the age of 5 or so. Usually I was fantasizing about girls while doing so – but not about coitus as such, which I didn’t know much about.

          Puberty annoyed me in that masturbation started to be accompanied by fluid discharge, which made the whole thing messier.

          Anyway, the meta-point is that it took me a long while to fully realize that my development was unusual. Like a bunch of other people on this thread, I assumed that other people were obscuring the truth rather than that their experiences were so different to mine.

          Coda: My sexuality is still somewhat childish and fetishistic, as it was when I was six. I remain more interested in faces and clothing than in naked breasts and buttocks. But I’m happily married and things seem to have worked out pretty well.

      • von Kalifornen says:

        From what I heard, Scott is fairly romantic, and likes concupiscent relationships.

    • ozymandias says:

      I started being sexually interested in boys as soon as I learned what sex was. It totally freaked me out at the time. So I think *some* children can be sexually attracted to people but certainly asexual children seem more common than sexual.

    • rehana says:

      I hated the idea of romance. And I especially hated how, since I was a girl with mostly-male friends, people would say “He’s a boy, and he’s your friend, so he’s your boyfriend.”

      (Not asexual now, to be clear.)

    • Dues says:

      I was definitely asexual before puberty. I didn’t hit puberty until way after my peers did (age 13) and I remember having a lot of anxiety over what my future preferences would be, or if I would even ever get them.

  106. Anonymous says:

    For a long time, I always thought I would never enjoy music the way other people seemed to do. For years I tried very hard to enjoy music. I listened to a lot of music and tried to pick out the details and the different instruments and the rhythms and so on. But I never seemed to be able to emotionally experience it. Whenever a song which my dad liked came on the radio, his eyes would just light up and he would snap his fingers and make dancing movements and have a silly grin and just enjoy the hell out of it. I always felt left out.

    But then I tried cannabis in college. Music just came alive with that experience. To be sure, my earlier sustained efforts of decoding the patterns of music definitely helped the transition. But it seemed that the cannabis unlocked an emotional/kinesthetic dimension. That changed my experience of music forever. Now I know what it’s like to really get possessed by the music. Indeed, now I can thoroughly enjoy music without the cannabis.

    • danilm says:

      I haven’t had the same difficulty connecting with music sober as you, but I recognize the enhancement of musical experience through cannabis very strongly. I also find that music takes on a spatial or kinesthetic dimension when I’m under the influence, to the point where I’ve felt myself climbing around in between the lines of Handel’s counterpoint. It’s wondrous.

  107. primality says:

    I had this experience when I read your article about being cis by default – I imagine wanting to transition back ASAP if I woke up tomorrow in a male body, and I was very surprised that not everybody felt that way.

    I tried for about two minutes to think of an analogy but failed. Being female is definitely less important to me than being high-IQ, because losing that means losing my way of thinking means losing me. But it’s more important to me than e.g. the country I grew up in, the clothes I wear, and the music I listen to, all of which seem to be very important to some people.

    • I have the opposite end of this experience. It took me a long time before I really understood that body image was a thing people have.

      I understand at a purely intellectual level that cartesian dualism is bogus, and I also understand that a large part of why I’m feel this way is because there’s no strong societal pressure obsessing with my body (which isn’t to say that body image arises this way for most people, only that it’s much harder to think that your body is an irrelevance in the presence of this), but that doesn’t make it any easier for me to “get it” as a concept. I’d be perfectly happy to replace my body with an essentially arbitrary one as long as it was broadly equivalent in functionality (ability to see, move, etc quite important. Hair, general shape, genitals, not really). I can’t rule out that I’m wrong about predicting how I’d react to this, but it just doesn’t seem like I’d find it as much of a big deal beyond having to replace my wardrobe and explain to people that now I looked like this.

      • Kaminiwa says:

        Oddly, I seem to have largely transitioned for social reasons – it really, really bugs me when people assume I am male, because that is the wrong box, and they will react to me wrong.

        It’s sort of like how people react to me differently based on my clothing. Sometimes I want to throw on a hoodie and headphones and have the world leave me alone. Sometimes I want to march around in a bright dress and have people compliment me. It’s really unpleasant to be in one mood but a conflicting set of clothes.

        At this point I identify as genderqueer. If someone is treating me the way I want to be treated, I don’t care whether I’m wearing a hoodie or a dress, or whether I’m presenting as male or female. (I do also play around with presenting male when I am in the mood to get those reactions. It is a fun set of “clothes”)

    • von Kalifornen says:

      It occurs to me that some people may experience gender body image more for deviations than for overall sex. My closest approaches to dysphoria have been “manly man but not quite” and “bishonen but not quite” and I can sort of imagine having my brain remap femaleness correctly but get tripped up on đeviations.

      • zymish says:

        My own experience with this is a little strange. My physical sex isn’t really an issue – I would be happy with either male or female genitals, or both, provided they function reliably for the purposes of sexual stimulation and waste elimination.

        But I do have a lot of body image issues related to gender; I grew up female and always felt that something was not right somehow, that there was some kind of misalignment. Hormone therapy has given me a much more masculine appearance, but unfortunately tipped the scales in the other direction, and now I feel that my form is too masculine. I wish I knew of some method for making my body perfectly androgynous, because I think that would be the only way I could be completely content with it. As far as social interaction, I don’t seem to care very much whether I’m perceived as male or female; neither set of pronouns bothers me, though I’m more used to male pronouns because that’s what people default to. I have a lot of interests and hobbies that are considered feminine, and a lot that are considered masculine (I’ve not yet tried to figure out what the ratio is, though that could be a fun exercise).

        Only slightly relevant, I think, is that I’m also bothered by my weight (I’m about forty pounds heavier than what would constitute health for my height, which is actually slimmer than I was a few years ago – an excruciatingly slow process), but not just because I find my shape unappealing or because it’s unhealthy. Those are factors, but it’s more that when I see my reflection, it just seems wrong, like I’m wearing someone else’s body. I have the same reaction to my facial structure; the only thing that really looks right to me are my eyes. All of these issues together are a great source of stress for me. I have a bad habit of torturing myself with imagined scenarios wherein I’m given a brand new body, and of course escaping into these little fantasies makes it that much harder to actually do anything about it, because I get that little bit of reward feedback from the scene I’ve played in my head.

        • anon says:

          This makes me curious if perhaps the SJW’s did too good a job of winning their conceptions of transsexualism.

          I can accept that it’s not normally a mental problem, but I can also imagine that there are people for whom the grass is always greener on the other side, or who always feel uncomfortable about their body no matter what it looks like.

          In those people, their specific attitudes of transsexuality probably *are* a mental disorder. And I’m wondering how many such people are out there, and whether or not they’ll ever get help.

        • Randy M says:

          I’m not really sure what’s being suggested. Taboo “mental disorder” perhaps?

    • Fnord says:

      I had difficulty understanding the feeling of dysphoria based on the “imagine you wake up in a male/female (whichever you’re not right now) body”. But when I imagine other changes to my body, some of them seem to hit me in the same way. In particular, it feels like a significant change in height would be very uncomfortable.

  108. CAE_Jones says:

    I don’t know how my visual impairment plays into experiences I’ve missed out on. For about 14 years, I could see well enough to play Super Mario Bros., but not well enough that I could get through school without braille (now it’s worse). So it was rare that I could get an emotional reaction from seeing another person without it being a close-up, perfect-lighting scenario (pretty much limiting it to video). I had people ask me why my eyes were closed all throughout kindergarten; I simply responded that they weren’t (it turns out my eyelids have been kinda droopy the whole time). I simply do not comprehend the male sexual culture obsession with breasts, and it’s the exception if I ever visualize a female and she has noticeable clevage.

    On the other hand, I’m kinda frustrated by the English Language’s insufficiency when it comes to describing the ability to sense large solid objects and space. I was confused enough by this that, when I was 10 and my parents owned a store, I went into the back room, turned off the lights, and wandered around as long as I could in the pitch-black, near-silent storage area to see what I could sense. (I’ve since tried doing more experiments to determine how much of this is sound and how much of it is subtle tactile stuff, and come up short. I need some good earplugs. Thick, noise-blocking headphones weaken this sense, so I guess that at least points toward it being concentrated in or around my ears. But I also have trouble with face-masks.)

    I used to pick arbitrary favorites from among categories; favorite color=red, for example. But having given it more thought, I find myself really baffled by the concept of favorites (provided a reasonably diverse group; I can do “favorite place to live from among Antarctica, Death Valley, and suburban America”, but not “favorite music” / “favorite meal” / “favorite book” / etc). That everyone constantly expects me to have a favorite arbitrary category member makes for some frustrating conversations. (I can sort things based on perceived quality, I guess, but probably not to enough precision to identify a favorite so much as identify a large class of “stuff I like” and “stuff I’m ok with” and “stuff I don’t like”.)

    I suspect there’s a lot I’m missing out on that I still haven’t noticed. I’m actually kinda surprised I don’t have more to say, here.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      It’s probably echolocation. I don’t have a reference on hand, but this is a pretty well-established thing, that blind people will echolocate and not realize they’re doing so until it’s pointed out to them (or convinced by placing them in an echo-less room). Apparently many blind people perceive it as a sort of pressure on their face, so it was referred to as “facial vision” before it was understood to be echolocation.

      • Adelene says:

        Not just blind people – my vision was excellent until a few years ago (and good enough to mostly get by without glasses now, though that’s changing annoyingly quickly) and I still have enough echolocation to help me navigate and leave me disconcerted when the acoustics of a place I’m familiar with change.

        In the same vein, though: lipreading. I didn’t realize until I was in my late 20s that I have significant trouble with auditory processing; shortly after I noticed that, I realized that I was using lipreading to fill in the gaps. I’ve tested myself on moving gifs and such, and I’m not quite good enough at it to rely on it completely (not surprising: every time I’ve seen deaf people talk about lipreading they’ve indicated that it’s not really good enough for regular conversation on its own, even with explicit training and lots of practice) but definitely better than the friends I compared notes with.

    • Doug S. says:

      I simply do not comprehend the male sexual culture obsession with breasts, and it’s the exception if I ever visualize a female and she has noticeable clevage.

      I feel the same way about butts…

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      I don’t really get the “favorite” thing either. If I get so obsessed with something that it consumes a noticeable fraction of my time, then I might call it a favorite on the simple grounds that few other things take up that much of my time, like back as a kid when I used to spend a lot of time and money on Star Wars stuff… but if that isn’t the case, then the category of e.g. books that I’ve read is so broad and contains so many so different books, that I can’t conceive of how to combine all of them on a single axis with sufficient precision to single out just one top favorite.

      Something like “your top ten favorite books” is more doable, assuming that I don’t have to provide an internal ordering for them.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        The whole “favorites” thing is one where I get the impression people largely do just do it because they feel it’s expected of them.

        • liza says:

          I think that’s true for some people, but I also know some people who seem to have completely genuine favorites in categories where I could never choose one. I don’t understand favorites except, oddly enough, for the most completely arbitrary things; I have no problem having a favorite number (16), but don’t ask me to pick a favorite book.

        • Kaminiwa says:

          I have a favorite book, and a second favorite book.

          I would vastly prefer to read my second favorite book. I do not like the author of my favorite book. I feel that the book itself is dated and largely relevant to a much younger and less refined version of myself.

          It is still my favorite book. This is a very distinct mental category, and has been since I read that book.

          I am pretty sure that until I read this book, I didn’t really grasp the idea of “favorites” – I was a picky eater and a voracious music listener, so favorite food/song didn’t make any sense.

          Since then I’ve acquired a favorite video game as well, but I don’t think I have anything else that’s really genuinely a favorite.

          At the time I took it as just being “this is the book I like most”, having finally found one that stood out. But the fact that this is lingered even after reading books I liked more makes me think my brain has an actual concept of “favorite” that simply ties in to emotional memories of reading it before.

        • AndekN says:

          > I have a favorite book, and a second favorite book.

          I’m going to perform a bit of very non-astonishing mentalism here and predict that your favorite book is Ender’s Game.

        • Levi Aul says:

          @Kaminiwa Is your favorite book the book you happen to most want to advocate or otherwise “serve as patron for” to others in need of it, even if you don’t have any particular urge to read it again yourself?

          I think this is, in people, somewhat close to the definition of romantic/familial love: if you love X, then you want X to succeed and spread, even if you don’t like X enough to tolerate hanging around it for more than a few hours at a time.

      • Vertebrat says:

        Preference is a partial order, so it may or may not have a top element. People who identify a favorite may just be honestly reporting that their ordering does have one.

    • pozorvlak says:

      “favorite place to live from among Antarctica, Death Valley, and suburban America”

      Antarctica. Clearly.

  109. suntzuanime says:

    … if it’s been possible to like things in a way other than pretending to because they are high status or it will keep people from being angry at you all this time, I will feel so foolish.

    • Doug S. says:

      What do you do when you’re alone?

    • primality says:

      By “I like X”, I mean “X makes me happy”.
      Example: I really like this specific flavour of tea. When I drink this tea, I have a pleasant sensory experience which makes me happy.
      How is your experience when you do/eat/whatever something you like?

    • ozymandias says:

      It totally is!

      …Or, like, I guess you could say that my affinity for pop tarts is some kind of complex subconscious status-signalling thing, but there definitely seems to be a thing where I liked green beans because my parents wanted me to eat them, and a thing where I like pop tarts because I feel really happy when I get to eat the sugary bit off the top, and the latter causes me a lot more physical pleasure than the former.

    • Anonymous says:

      To convince yourself that it’s possible, reflect on the size of the online porn industry, combined with the fact that consuming porn is decidedly not high status.

      • Creutzer says:

        I don’t know, porn may be a case of wanting as opposed to liking…

        That said, I’m very sure that it’s possible to have enjoyable aesthetic experiences that are unconnected with the status dimension.

    • Vertebrat says:

      Don’t you like anime for non-social reasons?

  110. Neel says:

    I find it really hard to empathise with people who say “I just don’t get maths” or “I’m just bad at maths”

    • Gwen says:

      On the opposite end, I find it really difficult to empathise with people who have trouble reading, aren’t good at reading books out loud (halting, pronouncing words incorrectly, giving completely the wrong emphasis), or say they don’t enjoy reading. I just don’t get it, because all of those things came naturally to me.

      I passed my math classes with some effort, but I have great envy for people who experience math the same way I experience words.

      • William Newman says:

        I’m pretty good at both reading and math, and I know a lot of people who are good at one or the other or both. It seems to me the experience is pretty different. Some part of getting good at math is just as introspectively easy, as, e.g. picking up new vocabulary from context or noting ambiguities in written material. Even some new math concepts can be that easy: I remember telling a very bright math-oriented kid how to measure angles in radians, and he seemed to immediately get some of the implications about how in a sense its one true way to measure angles, with no arbitrary scaling factor of 360 thrown in. (Unfortunately most of the practical applications are in things like trig and calculus and beyond, which he doesn’t know, so I couldn’t say “yes, so for example in these units the sine and cosine have mathematically very elegant Taylor series”.) Some historically key concepts might be that easy, conveyed or inferred in a single similar easy aha: e.g. zero, and Cartesian coordinates. But getting a good understanding of many other key mathematical concepts — elementary things like ratios and fractions, and more advanced things like proof, limit, and various aspects of what it means to do algebra right — tends to take more than a day of studying and pondering and puzzling over exercises and drill. Maybe they’re no harder than, e.g., understanding metaphor. But unlike such literary concepts, even for extremely good math students, learning math concepts like (the 19th century rigorous understanding of) limit tends to feel like effort — maybe an interesting puzzle rather than unpleasant work, but concentrated work like being entertained by a crossword puzzle, not the effortless sensation of being entertained by a clever comedy.

        • Gwen says:

          Apologies, my phrasing was bad – I didn’t really mean to suggest that the experience of being naturally skilled at math is the same as the experience of being naturally skilled at reading/language. Of course they are different experiences.

          That said, you seem to be implying that advanced literary skill is generally less effort than advanced mathematical skill, by comparing elements of the fields which I don’t think are actually comparable. Are “learning math concepts like (the 19th century rigorous understanding of) limit” and “being entertained by a clever comedy” really the same level of advanced specialization? Somehow I don’t think so, although I don’t know enough about limit to be sure!

          If you want to get in to that level of comparison, then even if a person (like myself) DOES have that innate ability to pick up new vocabulary from context etc., yes, it’s still going to take serious effort to learn how to piece together a poem that doesn’t make them want to claw their ears off, or to sit down and read through dense classic literature with archaic idioms to pull out historical themes, or put together a plot outline that will be interesting and not too derivative or full of holes, or…

          At that kind of level, I’d be better equipped than people who can’t just show up and a part in reading one of Shakespeare’s plays with perfect confidence, but I’d still need to work at it. I muddled through Algebra and actually love logic puzzles (and am a trainee accountant), but I envy people who are “bright” students in math in the same way I was a “bright” student of literature.

  111. seez says:

    Some people can differentiate between orders of magnitude more colors than other people. You can test yourself here:

    I once had a long argument with a group of friends about why vision was more interesting than sound. Turns out all the ones who sided with vision could differentiate between far more colors.

    You can also test if you’re tonedeaf:

    • St. Rev says:

      Cool hearing test!

    • Said Achmiz says:

      I endorse this tone-deafness test; it’s one of the ones that confirmed that my own tone-deafness, and was easy to take and interesting.

    • Those are very interesting tests, and I’ve confirmed that I have excellent tone discrimination but merely average color discrimination.

    • Alexander Stanislaw says:

      I’m disappointed with my 72% score on tone deafness, given that I’m an amateur composer and improviser. Perfect on the color vision test though.

    • Valhar2000 says:

      Apparently, with no musical training whatsoever (other than a few weeks with a piano instructor who, while perhaps a good musician, was an abysmally awful pedagogue), my score on that test is on par with that of most trained musicians.


    • komponisto says:

      Jake Mandell’s tests are interesting and recommended, but the one he calls the “tone-deafness” test is misnamed. The actual tone-deafness test is labeled “adaptive pitch”, whereas what he calls the “tonedeaf test” is instead a sort of test of general musicality that includes much more than pitch discrimination. (I find this sort of mislabeling very irritating, by the way.)

      The most interesting of his tests is the “AMVI”.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        Huh, I didn’t notice the other tests. The AMVI one is interesting, but I wonder how much it actually fits with the others. I got low-normal or so on the other 3, but 90% on AMVI. It seemed more like one of those IQ tests than anything else?

        • komponisto says:

          I would characterize it as a test for a kind of synesthestic ability that is extremely relevant to musical creativity and music appreciation.

          Having less-than-excellent pitch discrimination won’t really cause you to miss a whole lot of what’s going on in most music; and if your memory is poor, you can listen to things over and over again until you remember them. The AMVI-type ability seems a lot more fundamental and indispensable to me.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          But it doesn’t seem to me it’s so much “syneshetic” as just a test of analogy/abstraction.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        Ooh, I scored 75% on the AMVI test, with 88% on “Contour discrimination”! What does this mean?!

        Edit: By the way, I found almost all the clips on the AMVI test to be very pleasing to listen to, and would totally love any music made entirely of sounds like that.

    • anon says:

      This seems much more like a test in patience than anything else. I can distinguish between individual tiles, but it takes me about half a second for each comparison on the more similarly colored ones. I could probably get a very high score on the test if I invested a half hour or so into it, but why would I want to?

    • Doug S. says:

      I wonder if one’s computer monitor affects one’s score on this kind of test. Not all televisions are capable of displaying the same color gradients…

    • G-Max says:

      I’m going to come out and say that anyone who gets a perfect score on the color test does so by blind luck. In that top row, one color patch has values of red=167, green=113, blue=97, and another has values of red=165, green=114, blue=96. They are pushing the limits of 24-bit RGB colorspace.

      No human on earth can tell those colors apart.

      • Alexander Stanislaw says:

        I used this website to compare those two colors (by opening two tabs one with each color and switching between them). They definitely don’t look the same to me, and in the color test switching any two adjacent squares creates a very noticeable break in the pattern.

      • Sniffnoy says:

        It can still be a useful test, even if that’s so. But I’m not sure that it is. Perhaps you could get people to take it multiple times and report their score each time, and see how consistent it is? (Unfortunately I don’t have my score recorded from the first time I took it, some years ago…)

      • St. Rev says:

        The quality/performance of one’s video hardware and monitor may make a big difference; one setup may distinguish colors much better than another.

      • Anonymous says:

        After completing the test, there’s a color gradient shown, in my case it had noticeable banding and even some seemingly out-of-order bands on the gradient (got a score of 7). Macbooks (like the one I’m using) tend to have fairly accurate color reproduction, I can imagine my results could be far worse on a regular laptop display.

      • Tab Atkins says:

        A difference of 1 in a single dimension is still nearly half a percent difference in the channel, which seems plausibly distinguishable. The two color patches you mention differ by 1 or 2 in each channel, which seems reasonable.

        I know for a fact that can at least some people can reliably distinguish shades of gray that differ by only a single unit in each channel. I can’t do it myself when the colors are just side-by-side, but I *can* see banding in gray gradients, so I’m close.

      • Timothy says:

        I just got a perfect score on the color test, and it only took me 10 minutes.

        I did notice that once I got close to finishing, sometimes I could tell a sequence was wrong, but I wasn’t sure what change to make. I think my brain was determining whether a color was right by averaging the two adjacent colors.

        But once I had the right sequence, I tried flipping random pairs, and I could tell which way was correct.

    • Saro says:

      Thanks for the tests!

      For reference, I got a perfect score on the colour test, and my monitor has the visible banding in the finish “gradient” picture. It was also a fair bit of mental effort for me, and not dissimilar to the zone I get into to tune string instruments (where I need to distinguish which of two very similar pitches is higher or lower): it often takes me several comparisons, and seeing the tiles both ways round, before I can be sure (when they’re the right way round I’m not sure they’re right, but when they’re the wrong way round I am sure that it’s wrong). I also have colour synaesthesia, usually on numbers, but I can get them on pitches if I tried hard enough.

      On the music test I got 92%, but it felt more like a musical memory test than an pitch differentiation test to me. The ones I failed were ones where the clip felt too long to hold the entire thing in my head!

  112. Peter Scott says:

    – People’s reaction to watching some ASMR videos seems to range from “This is the best thing ever!” to “What the hell did I just watch?”

    – Apparently some people never notice when they’re dreaming, and are surprised to hear that this is a real thing. For others, it’s nothing out of the ordinary.

    • Sniffnoy says:

      On that note — I often notice when I’m dreaming, but I don’t think I’ve ever had what’s generally referred to as a “lucid dream”. Where this gets confusing is that I’ve seen people define “lucid dream” to mean “a dream where you are aware that you are dreaming”, but I’m pretty sure this is not the most important feature of them and not a good definition; as I said, I often have the awareness of dreaming without any of the other characteristic features.

      • MugaSofer says:

        Wait, what ARE the other characteristic features? Seizing control of the dream?

        I’ve definitely had dreams where I was aware it was a dream but I was too sleepy to realize the implications of that … so I suppose I may not have been fully “lucid”?

        • ete says:

          For almost about as long as I can remember, I’ve been at least partially aware I’m dreaming virtually every dream, and often intentionally dome things in dreams due to knowing it’s a dream (e.g. thinking “it’s okay that the car is crashing because this is just a dream so I won’t actually get hurt”).

          These are not like my fully lucid dreams. When I was in my early teens I stumbled across some instructions for how to get lucid dreams, the main one being to repeatedly and seriously ask yourself “am I awake”, and answer it based on your memories of what’s happened for the last few minutes while you are awake until the habit passes over to dreams.

          I did this for a few days and had my first real lucid dream. My conscious mind woke with a start within the dream with near full analytical/memory/etc running apparently as normal, and entirely aware of how the world around me was formed by pure imagination-stuff. I had a few more and learned to play around (discovered that my dreams contain taste, that I absolutely can’t die in dreams, etc), but ended up getting out of the habit of checking whether I was asleep and stopped having them.

        • Grognor says:

          classically, the four characteristics of a lucid dream are:

          1) the dreamer is aware that it is a dream
          2) the dreamer can control events in the dream
          3) the dreamer can remember things from real life
          4) the dreamer is aware that the dream will end

    • I was going to say “ASMR”, too. It’s one of those things where those who have it either assume that everyone has it (but doesn’t talk about it), or nobody has it and they’re a weird mutant. I was in the first camp, and was rather startled when I realized that it was a thing which not everybody experienced, and that it was something you could induce on purpose.

      • Levi Aul says:

        I’ve never experienced the “ASMR sensation”, but a lot of them do feel intensely calming to me. I’m not sure if it’s for the same reasons as would normally trigger an ASMR response, though: to me, they’re just textural input that usually doesn’t involve any people (faces or narration), and doesn’t require any emotional processing, meaning I will never get distracted by them while trying to be productive.

    • Kaminiwa says:

      Thank you for introducing me to ASMR. This is a … really weird and unexpected new pleasant thing I can do, and finally nails down a weird itch I’ve been trying to scratch for weeks now o.o

    • Sam Rosen says:

      When I was a child I tried to ask several people about ASMR. I tried to describe it and the people I talked to thought I was weird or confused. A few years ago, when I found the ASMR community online, it was an incredible breath of fresh air. FINALLY OTHER PEOPLE WHO UNDERSTAND.

    • XtinaS says:

      YES ASMR

      They are so intensely relaxing, I cannot even describe. For a specific example:

      • Vilhelm S says:

        Wow, that’s really interesting—for me the sound of a blackboard eraser is the most _unpleasant_ sound I know! It gives me a really strong shivering/hair-on-ends sensation.

        I was thinking about posting a comment mentioning that to this post, since it seems like a very non-universal thing, but I would never have guessed that’s it’s related to ASMR (since ASMR is always described as pleasant).

    • G-Max says:

      It’s extremely rare for me to realize that I’m dreaming, but when it happens, I immediately wake up.

  113. Said Achmiz says:

    For me, it’s perception of nonverbal social cues (which is to say, I’m on the autism spectrum). I’m given to understand that most people can just somehow mysteriously know various things about what’s going on in a social situation, or what other humans are feeling, or such-like things, without having to consciously and meticulously pay attention to tone and body language, or having to explicitly reason about psychological tendencies, etc. I confess I have a hard time imagining what that must be like.

    I’m rather skeptical about the smell example Scott quotes, though. I’m not convinced the author of that anecdote really lacked a sense of smell. Certainly we can’t conclude it from the anecdote, which is equally consistent with the hypothesis that he or she was merely unable to come up with words to describe smells (and indeed may have some disorder in that vein; compare alexithymia).

    • Meredith L. Patterson says:

      I’m also on the spectrum, and have similar problems with nonverbal social cues. I used to occasionally ask neurotypical people I trust to explain to me how they knew what was going on in a social situation, but I stopped a while back because apart from piecemeal explanations of body language, I never got much in the way of actionable information. I still have to parse body language deliberately.

      Re: your tone-deafness comment above: I can sing reasonably well but can’t reproduce the tones of tonal languages such as Cantonese. I’ve never been able to figure that one out.

      • AJD says:

        It’s pretty well established that language and music are handled by different cognitive mechanisms. Being able to match pitch accurately in singing, but not produce proper pitch contours of tonal languages, is because the music part of your brain being good at something doesn’t necessarily make the language part of your brain good at the same thing.

        • James James says:

          Interesting, because it is speculated (e.g. in McGilchrist: “The Master and his Emissary”) that language evolved from music (see “musilanguage”). The nerve required for humans to make complex sounds, evolved before language did.

        • James James says:

          But yes, I’ve heard of cases where stroke patients could sing words but not speak them.

    • Anonymous says:

      Thanks for pointing this out. I’m coming to realize that there are people who do not easily get what is going on in a social setting. For example, someone might completely hijack a conversation and hold forth on a topic for a long time even though everyone else has obviously lost interest in that topic. Or keep commenting while watching a movie even though people clearly seem to be preferring silence. Or keep using certain kinds of humor even though clearly someone is uncomfortable with it. And I used to get quite frustrated at them thinking, “Are you not seeing all the non-verbal clues?!” And recently I’m realizing that in fact, it is much harder for some people to catch on; it’s not that they are being deliberately difficult.

      • Said Achmiz says:

        Yep, that all sounds like fairly typical behavior for people on the autism spectrum. The answer to “Are you not seeing all the non-verbal clues?!” is “No. No, I am not.”

        (With usually an addendum of “I don’t know what these so-called ‘non-verbal clues’ of yours even look like, or what it would even be like to ‘see’ them, so really, your question just perplexes me.”)

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          With usually an addendum of “I don’t know what these so-called ‘non-verbal clues’ of yours even look like, or what it would even be like to ‘see’ them, so really, your question just perplexes me.”

          Heh. Going one level meta, here’s a nearly-universal Autistic experience that I’m missing without realizing it.

          After decades of practice, I’m absolutely capable of picking up people’s non-verbal cues, but *only if I stop emitting them*. I effectively have a certain amount of effort / attention that I can devote to emitting and interpreting non-verbal cues; I can tune that dial all the way to “receive”, all the way to “transmit”, or somewhere in between, but the halfway point basically translates to “be terrible at noticing cues, but not terrible enough to be obviously autistic, and be terrible at transmitting cues, but not terrible enough to be obviously not sending them.”

          So while I’m clearly SOMEWHERE on the autistic spectrum, I don’t have the typical autistic experience of “I had no idea they were even uncomfortable!” – instead, it’s always “yeah, I absolutely knew something was ‘off’, but I had no idea WHAT was off, and anything I could do to act on that feeling was far more likely to make it worse than better.”

    • Rachael says:

      I’m also sceptical about that anosmia example. I defintely have a sense of smell and I’d struggle to describe the smell of a peach. It’s difficult to put into words; presumably that’s why it was set as a writing exercise.

      The relevant distinguishing factor is presumably whether the person could identify things by smell without visual or other clues.

    • Neurotypical people have some skills at identifying social/emotional cues, but they’re only fairly good at it and/or there’s a narrow range of specific cues they’re sensitive to.

      I first got interested in this when I realized that Temple Grandin’s mother couldn’t read Temple’s emotional state. (Temple is autistic– she’s famous for being able to write well about herself and for designing low-stress cattle-handling systems, including for slaughter. Her mother is presumably neurotypical.)

      Consider that there are sociopaths who find it very easy to fool neurotypicals.

      I assume that if people on the autistic spectrum were in the majority, they’d have patterns of social signaling which would be opaque to neurotypicals.

      • Nestor says:

        “I assume that if people on the autistic spectrum were in the majority, they’d have patterns of social signaling which would be opaque to neurotypicals.”

        It’s more like they’re signalling without being aware of it. I once gave an aspergers kid who was being bullied a quick 5 minute pep talk on body language that reportedly was very successful in helping him out, stuff like posture, body language, specifically eye contact – those bullies at school are being practically encouraged to mess with you if you avoid eye contact, don’t stare at them but give them a quick visual eye contact “I see you”. That sort of thing, if you’re sending out the wrong signals without being aware of it you can get into trouble.

        Incidentally, that Less Wrong thread has someone pretty much outing himself as a p-zombie, I thought they were supposed to keep it on the downlow:

        “Some of us are devoid of all mental imagery, not just visual, but in all sensory modes. It’s awfully quiet in my mind! I’ve never heard a peep, not the sound of a voice –my own or anyone else’s –, no music, nada. No ear-worms possible. I can’t imagine Boris Karloff doing anything, because I can’t imagine Boris Karloff! I can’t hear what Ronald Reagan, or anyone else, sounds like. Auditory imagery sounds like a mighty fine superpower that I would like to have!”

        • Adelene says: