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. Darcey Riley says:

    I have color-grapheme synaesthesia, but I didn’t realize this was unusual until I was 13 or so. I remember mentioning it a few times when I was little, and receiving blank stares. But instead of concluding that other people lacked the experience, I just figured it was a taboo topic that I wasn’t supposed to talk about in public.

    • Me too. For me, I assumed it was something that would happen to anyone who learned the alphabet with multicolored charts. I still kind of want to write down a list of my color-letter associations and see if I can find anything they match to (alphabet puzzle in my parents’ basement?)

    • Mary says:

      Blue Cats and Chartreuse Kittens may amuse you.

    • RCF says:

      I’m not quite clear on what “synaesthesia” refers to. Is this cartoon an exaggeration, or are there people who see the two large numbers? Does synaesthesia refer to *associating* colors with numbers, or *seeing* colors when looking at numbers? When I look at a black 5, I see a black 5, but when I think about the number 5, I associate it with the color yellow. Before I came across the term “synaesthesia”, it didn’t really occur to me to have a word for “associating numbers with other attributes such as color”, any more than it occurred to me to have a particular word for associating particular colors with sports teams.

      • It sounds like you have color-grapheme synesthesia. You don’t literally see 5 as yellow, but you associate 5 with the color yellow.

        • S B Arde says:

          I never knew that there was a name for this, or that anyone else experienced it. I think of numbers as having different colors, as well as letters of the alphabet and days of the week. Also, I see days of the week and months of the year arranged in patterns, the months of the year being arranged in sort of an oval pattern, with December at the top and August at the bottom and the other months making up the sides with the names of the months inside squares. The days of the week are arranged in a pattern with Monday at the top followed by the rest of the days down to Friday at the bottom, with Saturday and Sunday curving up to the top again, with Monday next to Sumday and resuming back downward and the names of the days are also inside squares. This is the first time in my 52 years that I have told anyone about any of this. It has been with me my whole life.

    • > I remember mentioning it a few times when I was little, and receiving blank stares.

      Really? I’ve brought it up a number of times and my impression (based on a very limited sample) is that most people have it.

      • Sean says:

        Yeah, the letter “S” is definitely inherently red for what it’s worth. 😉 I assume most people have something like this.

        • Svein says:

          Nope, definitely not. I honestly don’t know what an experience like that would be like.

          Similarly, possibly related: I’ve known, since I was young, that some colours are supposed to be “warm” or “cool”, but I always figured that was some kind of metaphor; colours are just colours, my senses are all entirely distinct from each other. It took me until reading this article to wonder if maybe certain colours actually do feel different from others for many people.

          • Els says:

            Yeah, warm colours give me the thought of warmth, when cool colours give me the thought of cool. I think that’s fairly normal.

            I don’t have synethesia with most anything else, though I do have memories as a kid of associating letters/numbers with colours fairly heavily. Now the only thing really like that is if I force myself to pick a colour for letters, a few of them will have associated colours. A-red B-light blue S-yellow T-forrest green. But I have to force myself to think about it in order to experience anything.

        • peterdjones says:

          Nonsense.. it contains lots of high frequency white noise, so obviously it’s whitish–blue , so obviously it’s cool:-)

        • DanielLC says:

          I don’t. I have no association between colors and symbols, except when it’s a series of symbols that spells out that color.

  2. Drew Hardies says:

    There seems to be a set of social-emotions that I don’t quite get. Like when people say they’re ‘offended’.

    The idea of getting fist-fightingly violent over mildish insults, or teary because some symbol has been disrespected is just confusing to me.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      I used to think I was like this before I found the things that offended me, which turn out to be pretty different from things that offend other people.

      I think you often need to have had traumatic or deeply significant experiences to be offended (because other people are trivializing or dredging up those experiences and you are afraid) or else strongly identify with a culture that might have had experiences like this. I also think that nerdy individualistic people have a really hard time absorbing traumatic experiences vicariously because they don’t identify with their culture.

      …until they find a culture they do identify with, in which case they become easier to offend. I bet there are people who say they “can’t get offended” because they don’t care about someone spitting on the American flag, but tell them Star Trek sucks and Star Trek fans are losers and they get enraged and tearful.

      • von Kalifornen says:

        The biggest one that I keep seeing everywhere is the whole “intimidated into silence and made to feel unsafe by people who are almost certainly nonviolent. It is an alien and unfelt experience to me, yet so many ate troubled by it.

        • Said Achmiz says:

          It’s my understanding that “people who say this are lying (or at least, practicing self-deception) in order to gain status” is a competing explanation to “people really do feel this way”. Have we ruled out the former?

        • Sniffnoy says:

          I’ll say that I’ve had that. Not made to feel physically unsafe, mind you, just made to feel socially unsafe (I have to agree or else I’ll be ostracized). Or, really more like, “Of course I agree, I couldn’t possibly disagree, if I disagreed I’d be a bad person and deservedly ostracized, and I’m not a bad person, right?” And I’m pretty sure this has happened when the other person was not intending to impress any such feeling upon me.

          If you meant feeling physically unsafe, then, yeah, I don’t get that either.

        • Steve says:

          I’m easily willing to believe that there are people who haven’t ever felt a connection between their social status and their physical security (however much they may intellectually understand that such a connection exists); and thus don’t feel physically threatened by anything less than a direct physical threat.

        • Darcey Riley says:

          I never had this until a few months ago. I kept reading it online and thinking “wow, feminism is brainwashing people to feel threatened by completely harmless people; I’m glad I don’t have that problem”. Then I kept reading feminist blogs, and I started having it too. I’m trying to make it go away now. >.<

        • Gwen says:

          It definitely can happen, and not just as a result of feminist blogs brainwashing people (as Darcey mentioned they had felt). The example that comes to mind immediately people calling me an “ugly dyke” in school – I knew for a fact they weren’t going to beat me up or anything, I wasn’t even a lesbian, but instead of being angry and yelling back at them I just felt that I couldn’t say much at all, just take it. Even if it wasn’t a physical thing, I was the one being called an ugly dyke, they had the power. I’m sure other people had similar experiences at school/uni?

        • Darcey Riley says:

          Oh wait, I think the rest of you are intepreting this more broadly than I am. I’ve been intimidated into silence plenty of times, for instance when interacting with conspicuously smart professors whom I want to impress. Feeling “unsafe” is what was alien to me until I started reading feminist blogs. “Unsafety” was always a purely physical thing until then. If someone was thinking sexual thoughts about me, or even making sexual comments about me, I thought “whatever, it’s not like they’re going to try anything”, and it just didn’t bother me. It bothers me that physical threats are being linked analogically with “creepy” behavior because we call both of them “unsafe”. I don’t want non-threatening “creepy” behavior to activate my fight-or-flight responses.

        • Said Achmiz says:

          Just to be clear, we are differentiating between “I feel unsafe” and “I think there actually is a nontrivial chance that this person or persons are going to do harm to me”, right? Those are definitely not the same thing.

          • A common explanation for why some people are much nastier on line than they are in person is that they’re afraid of being hit if they flamed people.

            Any opinions about how much it’s actual physical fear?

        • Gwen says:

          Hi Said – My interpretation of “intimidated into silence and made to feel unsafe by people who are almost certainly nonviolent” was that feeling where rationally, you know that a person is almost definitely not going to harm you, but you’re still scared that they’re going to. The kind of situation where I end up spending some time trying to get my lizard-brain to shut up. Does that make sense? It’s entirely possible I’m interpreting this oddly!

        • Said Achmiz says:

          That certainly does make sense, Gwen.

          The reason I point out the distinction is that there’s a tendency for people to observe that they (or other people) have this feeling of “unsafe”; conclude from this (or at least, claim that they conclude) that this in fact means the “threatening” person is, in fact, likely to harm them; and then advocate some policy, attitude, or behavior that is based on the premise that the threat is real.

          That is often a very damaging approach — damaging to the “threatening” person, to the people who “feel unsafe”, and to innocent bystanders besides.

          This doesn’t mean that your feeling of unsafety isn’t real, or that feeling unsafe is not a problem; feelings are real, feelings matter, and we definitely shouldn’t ignore them. We should, however, keep careful track of when those feelings are causally connected with reality in the way that they may seem to be, and when they are not.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Hold on, hold on; can we clarify what we’re talking about? Just to be certain I’m clear on this — you all are talking about feeling physically unsafe (i.e. afraid for your physical integrity), but prompted by social situations, such that the person making you feel unsafe is unlikely to physically harm you? As opposed to feeling socially unsafe, i.e., fearing that people will e.g. think you’re a bad person.

        • Doug S. says:

          The reason I point out the distinction is that there’s a tendency for people to observe that they (or other people) have this feeling of “unsafe”; conclude from this (or at least, claim that they conclude) that this in fact means the “threatening” person is, in fact, likely to harm them; and then advocate some policy, attitude, or behavior that is based on the premise that the threat is real.

          That is often a very damaging approach — damaging to the “threatening” person, to the people who “feel unsafe”, and to innocent bystanders besides.

          I’ve seen people claim that if you feel threatened by someone, it’s probably for a good reason.

        • naath says:

          For many people the threat of social exclusion is essentially a threat of physical violence (if social inclusion is the only way you can access food, shelter, etc then exclusion may lead to death); but even where it doesn’t lead to physical pain it often leads to mental pain (these are people who you thought were your friends! Being without friends or sympathetic family is unpleasant for most (not all) people! etc).

        • Julia says:

          A Jewish guy I know was recently describing feeling this way in a German restaurant in rural Tennessee. It wasn’t like they had swastikas up or anything, but just being in an intentionally German space, and being around elderly Germans who chose to be there, made him feel so physically uncomfortable he needed to leave.

        • Marc Forrester says:

          If you have experience of people snapping into horrifying violence from apparently insignificant triggers, then you cannot rely on any person to be ‘almost certainly nonviolent’. There is also the fact that for most of human history, social ostracism meant death from exposure, disease and starvation, I think most of our brain still works on this assumption.

          • I’m not convinced that full exclusion from the group was a common punishment in the early environment, though I’m willing to be convinced otherwise.

            My bet is that low status was actually a matter of frequent harassment and assault.

      • Richard says:

        Perhaps interestingly, I used to think I was genuinely impossible to offend.

        And recently I’ve found that’s not true. Something really, really *really* annoyed me so much that a friend stopped by my desk to say “I’ve never heard you swear!” and I realised I had to stop reading the document that very instant.

        I was reading one of the legal guidance notes published by the UK’s Health and Safety Executive, and they were giving out blatantly wrong advice. So wrong that I can even feel myself fuming now and wanting to quote bits and the relevant parts of BS7671 that… Must stop!

        So it seems that the thing that offends me is people and groups who I believe should know better being outright wrong.
        If they are generally respected, it’s even worse.
        If they have legal power, *head asplode*.

        • Levi Aul says:

          Are you sure this isn’t actually frustration that you don’t have enough status to correct them in a way they’ll be forced to listen to and consider seriously? I don’t get offended much, but I get that all the time.

        • thisguy says:

          That doesn’t really sound like being “offended”

    • Doug S. says:

      I think what people find offensive depends a lot on the context of their personal lives. Some people are indeed more easily offended than others. You might have some triggers you aren’t completely aware of, though.

      Are you in a romantic relationship? How would you feel if someone accused you of cheating on your partner?

      Ever played in a poker game in which money was at stake? How would you feel if someone accused you of cheating?

      Do you have any children? How would you feel if someone accused you of being an unfit parent?

      • anodognosic says:

        I am similarly hard to offend. For my part, if I were accused of any of those things, I would consider how the person might have come to the wrong conclusion about me. I might register surprise, and even consider whether I might have done something that might actually give the accusation some merit.

        This does create a problem, as people don’t often believe your innocence if you’re not outraged. It has occurred to me that things could go very badly for me if I were ever accused of a crime.

      • blacktrance says:

        If accused of something like that, I could feel annoyed, but it would be the same kind of annoyance that I would feel if someone said that creationism is true or that vaccines cause autism. It would be wrong and for that reason it would be irritating, but it wouldn’t be irritating in a way that would be different from if they had said something that was wrong but didn’t concern me personally.

      • Doug S. says:

        Addendum: The accusation is false, but made in a way that other people may take seriously.

        • blacktrance says:

          Then there would be a threat to my reputation, which could make me worry, but I don’t think I’d feel offended.

          • thisguy says:

            What are the real differences between “threats to reputation” and “being offended”? This is a serious question. In my experience, most things that offend people are things where that person has involved their ego in in it extensively and an outsider is appearing to assign it lower status than said person feels it deserves. This could be construed as a “threat to reputation”

      • thisguy says:

        Another important distinction (imo) is how people react to being offended may differ as well. Being accused of cheating is a direct blow to the ego, some may respond by becoming angry/offended/whatever, while others may be dismissive and lower their trust/mental status of the offender, which would not outwardly appear as “being offended”

  3. Anonymous says:

    I have recently come to the conclusion that some people actually like their jobs.

    For almost all of my adult life I assumed that anyone who acts as if they didn’t hate their job must be either in denial or lying. But it’s been occurring to me that some of those people were really good at keeping the pretense. I’ve known people who could have retired but happily kept plowing. So I think I’ve been the victim of the typical mind fallacy and that the simplest explanation is the correct one and a lot of people actually don’t hate working. (And I envy them with every cell of my body.)

    Not sure this is the kind of thing you’re asking about but it seemed relevant.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Oooh, I’m really on the border here.

      I think I could potentially enjoy working, but there would be certain things that would have to change big time – more comfortable clothes allowed, much less supervision (ie working alone or with a single patient but no one else), easier to attend to bodily functions like scratching itches/blowing nose, and most of all starting about three hours later so as to gel with my circadian rhythm.

      In other words, I think my barriers to liking work are all somatic rather than related to the work itself, but they seem pretty insurmountable short of self-employment.

      • Luke says:

        > insurmountable short of self-employment.

        Really? All four things you listed are true for MIRI employees.

      • Viliam Búr says:

        Maybe the whole society suffers from Hollywood rationality syndrome. We ignore the feelings and their impact on human life. No one cares about how to make a doctor’s work more pleasant. It doesn’t seem important; it feels silly to talk about it. The doctor is not a small child; they should be able to overcome a few inconveniences; that’s a part of what they are paid for, isn’t it?

        But the difference between a happy doctor and an endlessly frustrated doctor could mean the former will be more productive, more happy to learn new things, less likely to burn out, etc. Maybe trying to make doctors more happy could reflect on national health levels. Also, some inconveniences at work are necessary, but not all of them are… some of them are just opportunities for signalling “I am a strong person and I can overcome this inconvenience without even complaining”. But it’s an unnecessary tax. It doesn’t really optimize for better health service.

        And it’s not just about doctors, but probably about most professions. Asking to remove frustrations seems childish, but the trivial (and sometimes not even trivial) inconveniences have their costs. From a behaviorist point of view, adding unnecessary frustration to work means punishing people for working. It’s no surprise then that many people are not happy about their work. I wonder how much would improve, if people were allowed to do some small changes.

        Personal example: As a programmer, I hate open spaces with passion. I hate the noise which makes it difficult to focus. And I hate the feeling of someone looking at my back; it makes me tense. Now I am in a room with only two other people, with a wall behind my back, and it feels great. It makes a huge difference, emotionally. I suspect that putting “needs to sit with a wall behind back” in my CV or trying to negotiate that into job contract would be very bad signalling. But if it changes how I feel 8 hours every day, of course it has an impact on my work, even on my total life satisfaction. I’m not even sure how many people feel like this. It took me a while to notice this explicitly.

        • zslastman says:

          Your post has made me realize this is a major problem for me. Thank you.

        • I first noticed the possibility of preferring having a wall behind your back because it’s mentioned in Dune as a security measure.

          It seems to me that more men than women have a wall behind back preference.

          These days, I’ll sit with a wall behind my back if it’s convenient, just in case it might have a calming effect, but it isn’t a big deal for me.

          I agree with your general points about work and comfort.

        • Said Achmiz says:

          I agree with everything in this post, including your personal experience; I also hate not having my back to the wall when other people are around, and noise (oh god, even small amounts of noise drive me crazy).

          I think we often grossly underestimate how great an effect such “trivial” inconveniences have on people. I once had to quit a job after only four days because of this sort of thing.

        • Daniel Speyer says:

          I also really want a wall behind my back when programming. I’ve usually managed to achieve it in open space offices. There are enough walls, and the desks can be moved.

          It’s not just programming. When I feel uncomfortable in a crowded social situation, the first thing I look for is a wall. Even a pillar makes a big difference.

          Incidentally, I mentioned this to a friend once and she told me that she had the opposite response. A wall at her back made her more nervous. She felt safest in the middle of a room with many lines of potential retreat. I’ve read similar things in feminist blogs, suggesting a gender link, but that may be extrapolating from too little data.

        • I’m in the exact same boat- I’m a programmer and I’d accept a much lower salary for an office with a door, but there’s no one who will make that trade with me.

        • Amanda L. says:

          Another anecdotal data point, I’m a woman and I also strongly prefer having a wall to my back when working.

          Potential correlates: I have severe privacy issues, such as taking great pains to make sure no one in real life can track my online identity and not wanting intimate partners to read my texts/email. I am also a programmer.

          My intuition is that the wall-to-back vs. open space thing relates to tolerance for uncertainty / extroversion more than gender.

          Alternatively it’s just a programmer thing…

        • Flyreme says:

          I feel the same way about the wall behind my back, interesting

        • RCF says:

          Once you get a firm job offer, one option would be to assert that having a wall at your back falls under “reasonable accommodation” per ADA. But of course there are drawbacks to that strategy.

      • As for the circadian angle, I’ve wondered why there aren’t more personal service businesses– which would include medicine– that run late in the day. There are plenty of people doing the work who have circadian rhythms that run late, and plenty of customers who either are free later in the day themselves and/or have late circadian rhythms.

      • Michael Edward Vassar says:

        There are doctors in private practice with a casual style of dress. Next time you’re in SF, you should try to meet Aaron Blackledge. Also, of course, if MetaMed does well, we will employ full time doctors.

      • Anonymous says:

        My grandfather was a psychiatrist. He had his own practice just to solve issues like those you listed here.

      • DanielLC says:

        I’ve always thought the circadian rhythm thing was odd. I can get up as early as I want, provided I go to bed eight or nine hours earlier. If I need to be up by six, I have no problem as long as I’m in bed at nine. If I need to wake up at ten, then I’ll be up until one.

    • Kaj Sotala says:

      I’m confused as to how one might come to the conclusion that nobody likes their job. After all, a job just means that you get paid for doing something, and the “something” could be almost anything. So “nobody likes their job” would seem to mean “nothing that anyone enjoys doing could produce any value to anyone else”, and if that were true, nobody would interact with anyone else unless forced to.

      • Daniel Speyer says:

        A simple model would be that things that are pleasant to do have too many people doing them for fun, so there’s no need to pay anyone. For things which have lots of people doing them for fun, it is a lot harder to get paying jobs in the field for exactly this reason. In a more binary and homogenous world, it would be impossible.

        • Doug S. says:

          This is one reason why most actors and musicians don’t make very much money.

        • Anonymous says:

          Most actors and musicians don’t make much money. The famous ones are exceptions; we just remember them more.

      • I think it’s an easy conclusion to come to if you’ve grown up around people who don’t like their jobs.

    • Miranda says:

      I really do like my job (as a nurse in intensive care.) I’ve always liked working, even in relatively low-status student jobs like lifeguarding, but I was aware that other people didn’t like their jobs. I tried to explain it away by “office jobs suck, I’ll never do an office job”, but many of my coworkers at the pool hated their job…and many nurses I work with don’t like work either, although the rate is lower. I never really concluded that people who said they hated work were faking for signalling reasons, although I think some people do that for school. I guess my conclusion is that I’m just lucky to have a high happiness baseline and to be able to put up with the annoyances of a job that hits most of my happiness buttons.

      Also, the asexual thing. Very similar experience to Scott. People in books enjoyed it and it seemed wholly natural that eventually I would, too. Until I was sexually active…at which point I concluded that even after I got desensitized to it being physically and psychologically uncomfortable, it still felt pretty pointless.

      • Doug S. says:

        Also, the asexual thing. Very similar experience to Scott. People in books enjoyed it and it seemed wholly natural that eventually I would, too. Until I was sexually active…at which point I concluded that even after I got desensitized to it being physically and psychologically uncomfortable, it still felt pretty pointless.

        Masturbation doesn’t feel good to you either?

    • This is really interesting to me, because I’ve certainly hated jobs in the past (like being a sandwich-artist at Subway) but I genuinely LOVE all of my current gigs. I would do everything that I currently do for a living for absolutely free, assuming that I could still afford to eat.

      I might be an odd statistical outlier, of course; I’ve had customers who have literally stopped and asked “Wow. So you really love your job, huh?”

      The answer is “yes. I really DO love my job. I sometimes come in and work a shift on my day off, just for fun.”

      • Kaj Sotala says:

        What’s your current job?

        • I’m a bartender & freelance writer; it’s pretty low-status, I’ll admit … but I greatly enjoy it, and I make enough money to live comfortably.

          What’s fascinating to me is that some of my coworkers observably DON’T like the job. That doesn’t make much sense to me, since it seems like it would be better to be unhappy in a much higher-status/higher-paying job, if possible. But I certainly sympathize, and do my best to make the work environment more pleasant.

  4. Jordan D. says:

    I’m sorry to hear about your jazz disability- I’m given to understand that playing jazz on the sax is one of the ways in which you can acquire soul. It’s good to have that in your back pocket in case you’re somehow obligated to consign your current model to darkness.

    It took me a long time to realize that stress is a thing people actually feel. I thought for years that it was social signaling to indicate that you’re busy and want to be left alone. But no, it turns out that’s attendant on this whole psychic and physical thing. Even then, I figured it was something strictly short-term, like the feeling you get in the pit of your stomach before asking someone out.

    By the way, if anyone doesn’t feel that last thing, don’t tell me. It is better to think of it as a natural and universal weakness.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      What is “soul”, and what does it mean to acquire it? Or did you mean “a soul”? (That would still be a weird thing to say, though less inherently confusing.)

      For my part, I find jazz music to be painful to listen to. That’s not a metaphor; I mean I experience actual physical pain (like, ow, my head, ugh, ow, ugh, please make this stop) when listening to jazz.

    • St. Rev says:

      I find most jazz unpleasant because I find the sound of brass instruments unpleasant. I think that’s a basic sensory issue.

      On the other hand, it took me years of exposure to begin to appreciate rock and pop music. I think the ability to enjoy music is probably something that takes years of education and training, but most people in our culture pick it up around puberty via peer pressure. It’s plausible to me that there’s a period of maximum imprinting between puberty and early adulthood, which would explain why most people strongly prefer the music they heard during that period and older people tend to find current pop unlistenable.

      • Steve says:

        > I find the sound of brass instruments unpleasant.

        How do you feel about the Jurassic Park theme (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D8zlUUrFK-M)?

      • Valhar2000 says:

        I have always enjoyed music that was wildly unpopular within my circle, mostly varieties of Metal.

        As I have grown older, I’ve found that it seems to be becoming more popular, but I still enjoy almost exclusively by myself, to the point that the notion of enjoying music because your friends do is incomprehensible to me.

        I am not sure how this relates to my finding modern Pop unlistenable, since I have always felt that way about Pop. I may be experiencing some of that, though, in the sense that I tend to prefer modern metal bands that have a sort of old fashioned feel to their music (by old fashioned I mean late 80’s).

      • a person says:

        I began listening to rock music out of my own volition at nine or so. U2, Bruce Springsteen, Coldplay.

      • nydwracu says:

        I think the ability to enjoy music is probably something that takes years of education and training

        I wouldn’t go that far — it’s certainly a skill that has to be acquired, but my experience has been listening to something in an unfamiliar genre out of curiosity, not really paying attention, and realizing a few minutes later that suddenly it makes sense.

        I can still remember exactly what prompted that reaction for most genres, but I’m on a bus that apparently blocks Youtube so I won’t list them yet.

        • St. Rev says:

          My argument is that most of the foundation is acquired passively and takes place when we’re young. When you say unfamiliar, just how unfamiliar? Chromatic scale + 4/4 or 3/3 timing + percussion + stringed instruments + human voice covers a whole lot of ground.

        • nydwracu says:

          Unfamiliar in the sense of typical Western genres. I didn’t get metal until I listened to Wreck of the Hesperus — I’m not sure if the track that did it was Grave Signal or Electric Arrows (which isn’t on Youtube), but it was one of the two. (Then for jazz, that Rashanim track I linked upthread.)

          Though typical Western genres cover a lot more ground than you mention — there’s also Squarepusher and Venetian Snares.

          (I like gamelan music, but so does my mother, so I heard some of it growing up and probably passively acquired the foundation when I was young. I wish there were more microtonal composers who weren’t overly pretentious and didn’t suck. There’s a City of the Asleep album that uses only theoretically dissonant tunings, and then there’s Sevish, but no one else.)

        • St. Rev says:

          The Squarepusher track is mostly recognizable drum-machine percussion in 4/4 with some minor-scale (i.e. chromatic scale) keyboards and processed vocals; moreover it can be placed in a solid tradition going back from hard trance, through rave and industrial funk, back to disco and musique concrete.

        • nydwracu says:

          Sure. But there isn’t much music out there that doesn’t hit at least two of those points — taking something as alien to the Western ear as gamelan as an example, it doesn’t use the chromatic scale, but it’s in 4/4 and uses percussion and sometimes voice and strings. (There is music that doesn’t hit any, and I listened to a lot of that when I was 14. I don’t anymore, not when I’m sober anyway.)

          The differences in musical styles these days are more about timbre/instrumentation than things like scale, and that’s only been increasing with time — the genre of djent is defined almost entirely by the guitar tone it uses, and though dubstep has a few other general traits (140bpm, 4/4, chromatic, etc.), if someone made a track in a non-4/4 time signature, a different bpm value, and a scale outside 12-EDO that went intro -> buildup -> drop -> distorted riff with a shifting bandpass filter, it’d still be dubstep.

          So there’s probably more of a distance (at least to the current Western ear) between pop and metal than there is between Beethoven and Dvořák, or between Irish and Balkan folk, or between Spanish guitar music and Turkish baglama music. (Or Turkish microtonal-guitar music, though my ear isn’t good enough to tell whether that’s in a chromatic scale or not.)

        • St. Rev says:

          I confess that I’ve forgotten what the question here is.

      • Misha says:

        Funny; i feel the opposite. I love hearing all the instruments involved in jazz but jazz itself usually leaves me cold.

      • EdSorow says:

        Have you tried bridging gaps? I remember reading about (and have personal experience) that if you listen to music that is combination of a type music you like and a type you don’t care for, eventually you’ll begin to like both types.

        Metal and plain screaming used to sound the same to me, and then I listened to a song that was pop (sort of) and metal mixed, and suddenly metal became more enjoyable.

    • Doug S. says:

      Stress and excitement are, physiologically, pretty much the same thing. Your body gears itself up to handle a challenge by making itself more alert and ready for high-intensity physical activity. When it does this, sometimes it feels good, and sometimes it does feels bad. For example, I tend to experience “stage fright” as pleasant-feeling excitement. The human body isn’t designed to be operating at high levels of physiological arousal for long periods of time, though, and if it’s forced to, it makes you feel “stressed out”.

      • Benquo says:

        I guess this explains why advice for how to “overcome” stage fright never worked for my (very mild) pre-performance jitters, but the advice in my Toastmasters manual to just interpret this as potentially positive energy worked immediately.

      • Jordan D. says:

        Good point! I think I’m lacking in duration; I know that sensation of intense excitement, but I can’t seem to sustain it for more than a few minutes. All of my emotions rather rapidly deteriorate into a sort of interminable mellow feeling.

        Can’t speak to stage fright, though. I’ve always felt more at-ease addressing an audience than smaller groups of strangers.

        • Levi Aul says:

          This sounds like an actual medical Thing; something related to adrenaline reuptake, maybe. Have you ever crossed paths with an ARI or NRI-type drug?

          I’d be interested to hear the results; I can bet that you’d certainly learn what stress feels like, but also gain access to some set of more positive long-term-excitatory-response-based experiences (I have a strong feeling that limerence requires long-term adrenaline output, for example.)

    • Sniffnoy says:

      Jazz I just don’t feel like I can get a handle on. I’m not sure how to better express it than that. It’s too irregular, maybe?

  5. Meredith L. Patterson says:

    Due to a sensory processing dysfunction, my fiance will probably never experience the feeling of petting a cat (or other fuzzy animal) as anything other than discomfort. (Complicating this, our housemate has a Maine Coon who adores my fiance; it is hilarious and sad at the same time.) He’s never developed any sort of emotional attachment to an animal and doesn’t seem to have any interest in doing so, though he doesn’t dislike animals and at least intellectually appreciates that I love my cat.

    • Roxolan says:

      It took the internet (e.g. highly upvoted articles about some stranger relating the death of their dog) to make me realize that most people really love pets, and don’t just see them as cute toys and conversation-starters.

      • Valhar2000 says:

        Oh yes, that’s true. Some people (.e.g. me) consider their pets tantamount to children.

        I found it similarly strange to realize that there are people who truly do not understand this, as opposed to just being jerks.

        • Said Achmiz says:

          It actually goes beyond not understanding, per se; some people (e.g. me) find this sort of attitude toward pets very… offputting.

    • Error says:

      I lack the words to describe how sad that is. 🙁 Sorry.

      The difference in sensory-processing reminds me of something I’ve been meaning to sanity check. I get really bent out of shape by the sound of Styrofoam rubbing against anything, as for example when unpacking boxed products. The discomfort is not quite as bad as screeching chalk but pretty close. People around me tend to assume I’m being ridiculous about it. Does anyone else experience that?

      • Slow Learner says:

        No, I don’t; I am aware however of a fair amount of variation between what sounds/sensations cause people to feel physical discomfort.
        For instance, I find it physically painful when someone in the same room as me is using the rubber at the end of their pencil and it is sufficiently rubbed down that the metal rim contacts the paper. Nobody else I have encountered seems to have the same experience, but my wife has a very similar reaction when people tap their fingers on a hard surface.

        • The actual experience has never bothered me, but your description made my shoulders go straight up.

        • G-Max says:

          “I find it physically painful when someone in the same room as me is using the rubber at the end of their pencil and it is sufficiently rubbed down that the metal rim contacts the paper.”

          OMG, same here! The pain is centralized in my upper spine and inner ears, and it makes me shake. You know what else triggers it? Felt-tip pens. To hell with felt-tip pens, seriously.

        • anon says:

          Same with the pencil eraser thing.

      • Daniel Speyer says:

        Yes. Sometimes.

        I think there’s multiple different sounds styrofoam on cardboard can make. One of them is painful and the rest aren’t.

        My guess is that the difference between you and me is in our styrofoam experiences, not in our perception, but that’s only a guess.

      • zymish says:

        I cannot relax when someone chews with an open mouth in my hearing. That awful smacking sound makes me physically uncomfortable, and I can’t concentrate on anything until I can no longer hear it. It’s so bad that the sight of it, which doesn’t bother me on its own, is enough to make me uncomfortable simply because of the association with the sound.

        Unfortunately, people seem to think I’m exaggerating or being melodramatic, so I tend to have to avoid eating in public places or with certain friends who, bafflingly, are quite solicitous in other situations.

        • Matthew says:

          The phrase “like fingernails on a chalkboard” used to puzzle me, because while I didn’t like the sound, I didn’t (and don’t) experience it as viscerally painful, just a mild nuisance.

          Then I heard a rake scraping the sidewalk, and suddenly I understood perfectly. Because that sound IS physically painful to me.

      • ThrustVectoring says:

        I’ve had a similar issue with a different noise – the sound of teeth against a fork as someone removes a piece of food from it.

      • Darcey Riley says:

        I also can’t stand the sound of styrofoam rubbing against things, particularly cardboard. When I was a kid I remember friends doing it just because it bothered me so much; I guess it didn’t bother them.

      • Flyreme says:

        I don’t experience that particular sound-discomfort, but the sound of someone biting ice cream is enough to nearly make me get up and leave a room,

  6. Luke says:

    Nice, I wish I’d had these examples when I wrote Being Wrong about Your Own Subjective Experience.

  7. Peter Scott says:

    I don’t get political rallies. You know the ones, where some major politician goes in front of a big crowd and pours on the charisma, and everybody is cheering and shouting all at once? I used to live in Iowa, so I’ve had the opportunity to be in a bunch of those crowds, and the whole thing always seemed… just completely baffling. Like, I’m standing next to a bunch of people who are cheering, and it’s 2008 and I really like Barack Obama and he’s standing less than ten meters away, and everything about this experience is carefully calculated to get people super intensely excited — and for some reason I’m not feeling a thing. It’s kind of disappointing! I get this way at any sort of rally, actually, and the parts of concerts where they’re not playing music, and parades — any sort of event where you’re supposed to get caught up in the enthusiasm of a big crowd.

    Is this common? I mean, I see a lot of people go to big crowds to yell about stuff, and they seem to enjoy it, but that’s hardly an unbiased sample.

    • Sean Walker says:

      I also do not get large, enthusiasm based events, so we’re probably not that uncommon.

      I have assumed it is related to a general apathy / weak preference strength that I seem to have, which seems to be another example of a universal experience I’ve been missing. I’m not on any emotion suppressing drugs, and have had this for a long time. It’d be nice to see if there looks like a trend, assuming more crowd-enthusiasm lacking people are here.

      • jayshap says:

        At first I was agreeing with you completely, as political rallies do nothing for me even if they’re for politicians or positions I support. But I think that’s more a function of politics being (ideally) about ideas, and flag-waving groupthink jingoism being destructive to the exchange and evaluation of ideas. Once you take on that mindset, it seems hard to ever go in for political rallies.

        On the other hand, “large, enthusiasm based events” can be about anything. I’ve been to a couple concerts where we were all shout-singing along to the songs, and it was much more “group ecstasy and worship, led by a figurehead” than “absorbing a public music performance.”

        So I guess my question then: Is this perhaps similar to the “I don’t get offended” thing, where in fact you just haven’t come across your “thing” yet? I realize it’s tough to definitively say “no, I wouldn’t have a response to [a bunch of stuff I’ve never experienced].”

        • Levi Aul says:

          I find it interesting that “group ecstasy and worship, led by a figurehead” doesn’t really work to describe any of the types of music typically associated with the upper class, like orchestral performances or operas. Is shamanistic musical reverie low-status?

        • Julia says:

          The riot that broke out at the 1913 premier of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” is a counterexample, although this seems to have been largely due to a conflict between upper crust and bohemian types.
          “The journalist and photographer Carl Van Vechten recorded that the person behind him got carried away with excitement, and “began to beat rhythmically on top of my head”, though Van Vechten failed to notice this at first, his own emotion being so great.” – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rite_of_Spring#Premiere

        • thisguy says:

          > I think that’s more a function of politics being (ideally) about ideas, and flag-waving groupthink jingoism being destructive to the exchange and evaluation of ideas.

          Politics being ideally about ideas is somewhat of a semantics change. Politics are not ideal, they are political. Everything is ideally about ideas.

    • Said Achmiz says:

      I’ve never been to such an event, but I also don’t get them. In fact, I find myself actively creeped out by many forms of collective displays of emotion/enthusiasm.

      • von Kalifornen says:

        I Remember an odd conversation between a young lady who was quite self-aware in the LW sense, and a very nerdy gdntleman. The lady was talking about how she liked sports rallies because it was a chance for romantic group worship that would never betray her by going Fascist. The man was quite confused and a bit horrified.

      • Daniel Speyer says:

        I think creeped out is a very widespread response to this effect on people not willingly taking part. Ask some republicans about that Obama rally. It’s a hack of the peer pressure system to supercharge emotions above their normal limits. If all is well, supercharged emotions can be fun, but without consent, it’s an attack on your emotional core.

        • Ryan Reich says:

          You reminded me of an experience I had with my wife and her family recently: we spent a weekend in Las Vegas just before Christmas, and the hotel/casino had some elaborate celebrations going on. Really extravagant, with costumes and characters and loud Christmas-y music performances. I found the performance both strongly compelling and strangely repulsive: my family is Jewish, if non-observant, and I have no opinion of Christmas at all. The experience of being in a group of people clearly buying into the enthusiasm and in the middle of an event practically screaming “WORSHIP! BELIEVE!”, even if it was just in the secular sense, made me feel more than a little emotionally assaulted. Still, my wife loves Christmas so I put it down to pointless conservatism on my part. It was objectively an impressive occasion and otherwise fun to see.

    • peterdjones says:

      I suspect a lot of people are like that, but they’re not very visible.

    • moridinamael says:

      For me this has been a function of whether I was there by myself or with a handful of friends. If there with friends, the friends served as an anchor to the experience, allowing me to participate “normally.”

    • AJD says:

      I don’t think I have the “cheering” reflex that a lot of people seem to have. I can see an emotionally stirring play or concert or, like, oration, or whatever, and I’ll feel appreciative and deeply moved and I’ll smile and rise to my feet and applaud and everything, but I’ve never once felt the impulse to express my enthusiasm by shouting “woooo!” or “yaaaay!” or whistling or whatever it is people do, and I can’t really fathom it.

    • Kaminiwa says:

      I can’t speak to “common”, but if I’m part of a crowd or protest and I’m not actively opposed to what they’re on about, I’ll just naturally settle in to a sort of group-think where I … basically stop having my own emotions and motivations, and start being part of a larger “hive” organism, feeling the crowd’s emotions and motivations as my own.

      It doesn’t exactly stop me from thinking or reasoning, but it does mean I don’t really have a motivation to think “I should leave” in the first place unless there’s actually a fairly pressing reason to do so (hungry, tired, police are on their way, etc.)

      It’s a really, really pleasant sensation regardless of whether I actually support the cause – I’ve accidentally ended up in a few marches and protests that I was entirely neutral about the cause, and I still got that same sense of being a somewhat-literal PART of the crowd.

    • Michael Wittig says:

      I can’t imagine willingly going to such an event. My brain just files that under “Nope.” Same for anything with crowds and/or listening to people talk; my boss got the developer team tickets to the Interactive part of SXSW and I discovered I preferred to be on-call for that week than to go, and I hate being on call.

    • Anonymous says:

      I went to a Ron Paul rally that almost worked. Seemed to be built out of pure fake-it-till-you-make-it. Never had another celeb that I cared to fake it that hard about, so my other experiences are all, uh… strictly worse than yours. Being around people who are LOUDLY EXCITED tends to make me randomly cry with probability dependent on extremity of noise. People just being loud doesn’t do this, people just being excited doesn’t do this, but people being LOUDLY EXCITED is hell. I can watch a video of such an event with equanimity; I tune out the crowds. Actually being in such an event makes me feel like I’m packed in like a sardine in a barrel of monkeys. The uncanny valley of *nobody around me seems like an actual person anymore* is ridiculously aversive.

      I think it’s introvert-extrovert linked. My need to talk to people is negligible. My tendency to randomly adopt opinions from others, even temporarily, is supremely disturbing to me when it happens. I gather it occurs at a lower rate for me than it does for most people. Mobs can’t co-opt me unless I’m very well convinced that I already agree in every particular, and even then I tend to drift out of alignment with them at random. I’m almost never part of a crowd and I almost never want to be.

  8. Gattsuru says:

    Emotions as actual things of their own, rather than ways to describe complex biological states. I’m angry because my pulse is raised, my hackles are up, and I can’t think as completely as I’d like. I’m frustrated because I want to bite down on something. I’m sad because I’m crying, even if it is because of pain or even just having my head in the wrong position. I’m hungry because my stomach is empty, or my hands are shaking a little.

    It was really wierd at some point trying to get a group of people to decide where to eat, and half of them liking a place but not liking it that night.

    • Alicorn says:

      I barely experience emotions as physical at all. I’ve been paying attention recently since some of my friends have gotten rather evangelically into noticing the physical cues of their emotions and I met a person who is more like you, but I conceptualize all of mine as taking place solely in software, with some wetware side effects that aren’t part of the thing itself.

      • I’m mostly like that too, but some of my emotions manifest only as a physical sensation. i.e. when I experience a certain kind of sadness as a pain in my throat.

      • Benquo says:

        I finally figured out a few months ago that this was preventing me from using a whole bunch of CFAR techniques, so I am looking for cheap ways to learn this skill. I basically don’t store how I was feeling physically in my memory, even if I “remember” the emotion.

        I think what I am doing is using my understanding of which emotion-names go with which situations and behaviors, to figure out which emotion(s) I must have been experiencing at the time. Like, “I was yelling so I must have been angry” or “I kept doing more so it must have been fun” or “I was crying so I must have been sad.”

        I’ve been trying to log my moods at random intervals, but I mainly seem to be logging whether I endorse my behavior, plus whether I’m in outright intense pain. I don’t seem to have much qualitative access to my positve moods.

        Have you found anything that works particularly well for building an internal emotion-sensation lookup table?

        • Alicorn says:

          I’m don’t think we’re experiencing the same thing. I have very clear and direct experiences of my emotions, they’re just not physical experiences, so for me it was a matter of “I’m sad! Okay, are there any unusual physical things going on simultaneously? Itch on my leg? That’s probably not it. Feeling like the inside of my throat is swollen as though I have a disease? That sounds more plausible.”

        • Benquo says:

          Alicorn, thanks for elaborating.

          I don’t have much of a problem identifying the emotion in the moment, and your description sounds about right. There’s some one thing it’s essentially like for me to be sad, plus some things my body does that go along with it.

          The physical correlates pretty much never get stored in memory with an experience, and the essential experience is recognizable but is kind of hard to induce on demand with recollection, and *also* doesn’t seem to get stored as a separate part of my memory.

          Maybe these are two separate things that are missing, and you’re only missing one of them:
          We both experience emotions as simple sensations and not complex embodied sensations, and I additionally don’t have good access in memory to visual, tactile, or emotional qualia.

        • That sounds somewhat like Alexithymia, which is an obstacle to using some CFAR techniques. Keeping a log of emotions may help a little, but I haven’t found anything that makes much difference for it, even after discussing it with several CFAR instructors.

    • ozymandias says:

      Conversely, it is sometimes difficult for me to translate my emotions from physical sensation to actual words. I think of my emotions as, like, “grey needles poking in my skin” and it is an act of translation to call that “depression.”

      • St. Rev says:

        Bad depression for me is like wearing a lead overcoat.

        • Benquo says:

          That sounds very comforting and calming.

          Maybe it’s like being in a lead overcoat when you don’t want to?

        • St. Rev says:

          It’s the sense of weighing about 100 pounds more than usual and trying to walk around.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          Benquo: For me (and my experience may be different to St. Rev’s), it’s a sensation of increased inertia. “Lead overcoat” sort-of captures it; “driving on ice with no brakes or steering” sort-of captures it; “being marooned in deep space” sort-of captures it. It’s a sense that whatever I try will take a lot more effort than normal, and probably won’t work anyways.

        • One part of depression/akrasia for me is that taking action requires me to haul myself up over a threshold.

      • Doug S. says:

        I, too, tend to experience emotions as physical sensations. For example, I feel sadness in my eyes.

      • I don’t know whether this is nitpicking, but “grey needles poking in my skin” is actual words. It’s just that they’re overtly metaphorical. “Depression” is a metaphor about something being lower– we’re so used to the word that we ignore the metaphor.

        Asking people “What is your depression like?” would disambiguate a lot of depressions, but I’m sure we’d also find that a lot of people have trouble with metaphors.

        • ozymandias says:

          I mean, I literally do feel a sensation like grayness and like something pricking my skin, whereas I do not feel physically lower. So I feel like that’s a distinction apart from how explicitly it is a metaphor, which is what I was trying to get at.

        • Levi Aul says:

          @ozymandias I think the “depress” part of depression wasn’t, as it was coined, meant to refer to “lowness” in terms of position-in-space, but rather to a “depressive force”, like gravity, resisting you when you try to stand up, go places, lift your head, etc. The parts of Dragonball involving increased-gravity training seem like an apt visual.

          Really, though, the generally-heightened barrier to activity that depression puts up is less like the “down” force of gravity, and more like the “all-around” force of an increased-viscosity medium: imagine moving through a thick gel.

        • Julia says:

          In my work, when someone reports having depression and I ask what it’s like for them, I’m amazed at the variety of answers I get. Everything from specific behaviors (staying in bed for three days not eating) to complete inability to describe what it’s like.

        • not using my name says:

          My depression is like this at full volume. If it’s particularly bad, this. Or HJPEV stuck in the middle of Azkaban, wanting to destroy it and himself along with it, except without the power to do so, or the hope of ever getting the power to do so or of anyone else ever getting that power or even seeing the necessity of it. The world is insane, hopelessly broken, destroying everyone like me, mad vast monoliths generating pure broken evil and no one seems to notice and their hold will never be broken and everyone will be Vernon Dursley or Lockhart or Umbridge, last-men and shams, shadows of what they could be, and nothing will ever change this.

    • Anonymous says:

      In what sense do you care about what you are feeling, then? If the sadness is only tears, in what sense do you dislike sadness? (assuming you do)

      What about positive emotions? Do you “enjoy” a *feeling* of happy, or do you just have an urge to smile?

      • gattsuru says:

        I think so? There are a few emotions like elation that come with (or can be distinguished by) a ‘rush’ of their own, or like extreme anxiety are painful, or otherwise have immediate physical reactions in themselves. Sadness specifically seems more like something to be experienced than to like or dislike, but it’s something I avoid causing myself to experience, so I guess it’s something I don’t like. I don’t intentionally invite actions that cause negative responses, and often gravitate toward things that cause positive responses. Not sure if that’s what you mean, though.

        I’m pretty sure I’m experiencing the underlying sensations similarly* to everyone else (unlike Mr. Alexander’s emotional blunting under SSRIs, I don’t feel other people are over-exuberant in their expressions of emotions), just that I either lack the introspection to recognize the psychological state or don’t cluster more subtle sensations like most people. It was just very strange one day to discover that ‘hiding’ emotions wasn’t like on TV, where people would sob into their napkin or something similarly goofy.

        * although I think the way most people treat emotions both strengthens the emotion and various avoidance/fixation behaviors, at least from outside observation. I’m not very good at understanding these things, though.

    • Flyreme says:

      OH MY GOD this is very similar to my experiences and I would probably not have realized if I hadn’t read this. I sometimes will have to check if I’m angry by picking something up and sort of mock-throwing it (doing a throwing motion without letting go). If I’m angry, it’ll influence my decision making, and make things like those mock throws quicker and more intense, but I don’t actually feel some specific thing

    • Michael Wittig says:

      I tend to have poor insight into my happiness levels. One of the metrics I’ve developed is the level of dishes in my sink; there’s a certain level of satisfaction at which I’ll wash dishes as soon as I use them, so if its consistently empty I’m in pretty good shape.

  9. Anonymous says:

    -The little buzz of “reward” after accomplishing an extrinsically but not intrinsically rewarding task. After taking the stimulant “Vyvanse” for the first time, I saw what it was like to feel good after completing menial tasks like washing dishes. I thought people were just referring to the sense of relief from the stress of impending tasks.

    -The mate-guarding instinct. I feel sad if a monogamous I like finds someone else because that excludes me, but if a polyamorous person I like gets into a relationship with someone else, i feel no negative feelings whatsoever.

    -Unusual familiarity judgements. Sometimes I see faces and places, and they look the same yet somehow unfamiliar. It’s a very subtle feeling, not easy to notice. My childhood fears were shockingly similar to the Capgras delusion and Reduplicative paramnesia, both disorders of familiarity. I never noticed until after reading a psychology text. I know that I do experience “familiarity” sometimes because 1) I notice its unusual absence and 2) I experience Déjà vu …but I wonder if some people have no “familiarity” sense at all? I’m not even sure what the behavioral differences would look like there…I guess they’d do worse on recognition tasks involving large sets of stimuli.

    -On the topic of food, I think I have some sort of instinctive awareness of nutrient deficiencies and excesses. If I haven’t eaten green leafy veggies for several days, I’ll get a craving. If I haven’t eaten fruit for several days, I’ll get a craving. Foods can be intensely unpalatable or palatable depending on what I’ve been eating over the week. I’m not sure if this is an effect of taste-buds or something deeper.

    • Scott says:

      -The little buzz of “reward” after accomplishing an extrinsically but not intrinsically rewarding task. After taking the stimulant “Vyvanse” for the first time, I saw what it was like to feel good after completing menial tasks like washing dishes. I thought people were just referring to the sense of relief from the stress of impending tasks.

      There’s a reward other than the relief of “now there is one less thing on my list of things-that-have-to-be-done”? I… I now know exactly how those people with vivid mental imagery feel when they learn some people don’t have any.

      • Anonymous says:

        I know, right!? Immediately after, I thought to myself, “So that’s why some people are so productive all the time…”

        I sometimes see some people making checklists and then check off the little boxes as tasks are completed… i never used to understand the appeal of that before taking Vyvanse.

        It’s the same sort of satisfaction as regular satisfaction…but unlike regular satisfaction, it is released during the extrinsically rewarding processes of working towards the intrinsic reward, rather than the satisfaction felt during the actual acquisition of the intrinsic reward.

        • ozymandias says:

          That is not the only reason to have to-do lists! I have to-do lists because if I didn’t have them I would never remember what I am supposed to be doing. I suspect this sort of mild executive functioning issue is very common among to-do list aficionados. (And also various things about how if nobody tells me what I’m doing what if I am doing the Wrong Thing, but I suspect that is just an Ozy thing because most people seem to have far less paralyzing fear of being Bad because they listened to music instead of watching TV.)

        • Mercer says:

          I didn’t know if I really recognised this ‘reward’ sese. But i guess the fact that I sometimes add a task to a to-do list after I’ve actually done the task, just to tick it off, perhaps implies that I do.

      • St. Rev says:

        When I get something done, I don’t feel a sense of reward, I feel a sense of redoubled anxiety to the point of nausea. I’ve never heard of anyone else having that kind of reaction.

        • I get a milder version of that some of the time.

          I’ve gotten some help from remembering that I’ve done useful things and not been struck by lightning.

        • Levi Aul says:

          It sounds a bit like you have an underactive dopamine reuptake system. Your brain’s dopamine-to-adrenaline pathway can be tripped accidentally when you have too much dopamine just laying around. (This is why taking too much of an amphetamine-class compound like Adderall causes stressful feelings.)

          Oddly-enough, there are no known dopamine uptake activators. In fact, uptake activators in general are extremely rare. So far there’s just Tianeptine, and the darling of this website’s drug study, Coluracetam. Though apparently Valproic acid is a generalized uptake activator (it induces monoamine-oxidase A, roughly opposite to the effect of cigarettes), so if you want to experiment, that’s probably where I’d head.

        • St. Rev says:

          It’s pretty clear I have fucked up dopamine metabolism; I have the dopamine trifecta of ADHD, Tourette’s syndrome and severe RLS.

          When I was on amphetamines, I was much more functional, and my anxiety and blood pressure went way down. Nurse rechecked my BP three times in surprise at that last fact. The benefits only lasted a few years, though.

          I’ll look into the drugs you mention, thanks for the tip.

        • Anonymous says:

          Levi, you can block dopamine pathways with typical antipsychotics. There’s no reason to specifically go after re-uptake.

          St. Rev, I think Levi-Aul’s inferential leaps are going way too far, and there’s no need to check out any exotic medications.

          Anxiety is a common ADHD co-morbidity, and Anxiety associated with the idea of “getting things done” is not unusual for someone with a disorder which tends to create negative experiences around attempts to get things done.

      • Doug S. says:

        I don’t know exactly why I feel compelled to earn Achievements or Trophies when playing video games, or want to see my characters level up, or things like that, even if I don’t actually enjoy the process of doing it. Must be that “wanting” vs “liking” distinction.

        Sometimes I wonder why I should bother getting every little thing in a game. This frequently leads me to wondering why I’m playing the game at all, or playing any game, or choosing to do anything at all rather than nothing. Then I suffer from depression symptoms. Having come to the conclusion that questioning these impulses reliably leads to depression symptoms, I’ve stopped doing it.

        • Alicorn says:

          Sometimes I wonder why I should bother getting every little thing in a game. This frequently leads me to wondering why I’m playing the game at all, or playing any game, or choosing to do anything at all rather than nothing. Then I suffer from depression symptoms. Having come to the conclusion that questioning these impulses reliably leads to depression symptoms, I’ve stopped doing it.

          I have something like this. It doesn’t sound as bad as yours – I’m pretty good at anticipating it without experiencing it and avoid games or subgoals within games that seem likely to trigger it, and I can without much ill effect summarily quit any game that starts doing it unexpectedly.

        • Anonymous says:

          That’s interesting – I hadn’t made the connection to video games before.

          I love video games and can play for hours, but I HATE grind-ing video games and experience no joy at the prospect of leveling up…unless leveling up is paired with something enjoyable like making a game-play decision about where to spend skill points or something (since that involves strategy)

          Trophies and awards for me are like suggestions. “Hey, try playing this way!” If it sounds like a fun thing, then I’ll do it, but not otherwise.

          That’s not to say that I lack a “wanting” instinct altogether. I don’t really like using the internet, for example…but I really, really want to do it all the time. But I only want to do instant gratification things – it’s never something that involves working towards a goal (like leveling up, trophies, or grades).

        • Doug S. says:

          It’s kind of odd, but I’m motivated to grind for some rewards and not others. I don’t like grinding experience points in a game like Dragon Warrior, but I’ll grind for money to buy new equipment or for “skill points” that I can use to get new spells or whatever.

        • Randy M says:

          Getting new skills (ideally) opens up novel gameplay experiences. Grinding just ot get past a boss or such may be seen as a tax on playing the same game some more? Or it could be the types of games with skills are inherently more interesting in the grinding process.

        • Desertopa says:

          This is pretty similar to my own experience with achievements and trophies in video games, and I wrote a comment about them on RPGMaker Network a while back discussing this. The short of it is that while I have fairly strong completionist impulses, achievements and trophies reframe for me what qualifies as a reasonable level of game completion, and rob me of my ability to define for myself what constitute fun and interesting challenges in gameplay.

          If you think of the achievements and trophies as a standard that the game is setting for you, then you’re liable to feel either frustration and inadequacy for not meeting them, or irritation over the process of attempting to get them, because so many of them will be things you would never have wanted to do for fun of your own volition.

    • primality says:

      I don’t understand what you mean by familiarity. If I’m familiar with a place, that means I’ve been there before, maybe many times. This feeling is tied up with having memories of that place. I have never felt deja vu, so I see two hypotheses:
      1) Since I have never experienced a familiarity malfunction, I am not aware of it as a distinct feeling
      2) I do not have this feeling, or I have a very weak version of it.
      I don’t know how to distinguish between these. Maybe if you describe the feeling a bit more?

      • Anonymous says:

        Familiarity has been shown to be a neurologically distinct thing from other forms of recall. More info – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Recognition_memory

        Subjectively, something which is familiar evokes *instant* gut level recognition, even without conscious comparison of an objects features with your memory.

        If I showed you 1000 images, you likely could never reproduce them all from memory – that is, you cannot “memorize” all the pictures without extensive study and spaced repetition. But if I showed you one of those 1000 pictures several days later, you might feel it was “familiar” and you’d likely be able to distinguish familiar pictures from novel pictures.

        This is different from actually recalling the episodic memory of previously viewing the picture and comparing it with the current one. With familiarity, you don’t necessarily have to even be able to recall the moment when you saw the familiar object.

        I might not be the best person to ask since I have unusual familiarity judgement, but in general I think it should generally only take a single exposure become “familiar” to you. You would instantly recognize that it is a place you have been before, even without actually remembering when you last saw it.

        As a kid, I’d recognize my mother’s features anywhere because I’ve *memorized* them, but occasionally they weren’t *familiar* to me and as a child I find myself staring at her face, comparing it to previous memories of her, seeing if they matched. (Yes, this experience was exactly as scary to child-me as it sounds)

        • Alsadius says:

          Had an interesting example of this a while back. Ran across a list of top 90s rock songs, which is a genre I quite enjoy. Out of the 40, I knew and liked 38, and so decided to listen to the others. One didn’t do much, but the other was instantly familiar. I described it as “feeling like an old friend”, despite it being a piece of music I’d never heard before, from a band I’d never heard of.

    • Gwen says:

      -The mate-guarding instinct. I feel sad if a monogamous I like finds someone else because that excludes me, but if a polyamorous person I like gets into a relationship with someone else, i feel no negative feelings whatsoever.

      I have the same. I think a lot of people do and as a society we’re just now starting to have the realization that it’s a Thing, in the same way as an individual might eventually realize they don’t have smell. It’s just socially expected that you’ll get all protective and jealous, so a lot of people act it because they assume that’s how they’re supposed to feel, I think.

      But yeah, I never really got the “jealousy” thing. My husband started dating a really awesome lady recently. And I’m not worried – it actually makes me very happy. Yay them! Yay us! People are cool!

      But I can’t really understand how anyone could tie themselves to just one person, forever, and be happy, and confident that they would always be happy, and do the “forsake all others” bit. I have great admiration for people who pull it off and are genuinely content in monogamous relationships, but I just don’t get it. It’s like… but… what if you want to cuddle with someone who is cuddlier than your spouse? What if you’re in love with a person who just can’t satisfy a specific emotional need, but you love everything else about them and want to marry them and still stay with your boyfriend who does fulfill that need? What if your partner doesn’t share your kink? What if both of you fall in love with the same other person? What do you do?

      • ckp says:

        Do you have any children? If not, do you or your partner(s) want children? I think this could be the clincher.

        • Gwen says:

          The clincher in what way, exactly? I will magically become more jealous of my husband when I get pregnant?

          We don’t have children yet, but do want them, and will hopefully start having children in the next few years.

      • Leo says:

        I assumed I wouldn’t feel jealous because I don’t have this specific type of jealousy, but it turns out there are other kinds (besides “not getting a need met”) and I do get those. Grumble.

        The model where people fill different emotional needs is strange to me; are partners really that interchangeable?

        • Gwen says:

          “Are partners really that interchangeable?”

          No! The point is that they’re not interchangeable.

          I have a boyfriend who I’ve been dating for years. Longer than my husband. He is funny, and snarky, and takes no bullshit. He reminds me that I’m great and I shouldn’t take bullshit either. Being with him is so good for my mental health and I would never, ever want him to leave my life.

          But I definitely wouldn’t want to marry him, either. First off, he doesn’t want kids, and I do. Second, if I was with JUST HIM, all the time and forever, the snarky would get old. The attitude would get old. It would stop being good for me and I would start resenting him for being such a sonuvabitch.

          So married my husband. He is intelligent, caring, super cute. He loves debating politics with me and we disagree on just enough to really get into it, and it’s always fascinating. We do gaming together and crack stupid jokes. He is more mature and someday, he’s going to be an amazing dad. But even though I know he cares deeply and really hurts when I’m upset and wishes he could make it better, he is just not good at being comforting. He can’t express it well. But it’s okay, I can work around that like everyone has to work around some things with their partners, and I can go visit my boyfriend.

          They are separate, they are very different people, they fulfill very different needs because they are so different from each other. I love them both and plan to be with both of them for a very long time. They’re not interchangeable. But being with both of them makes each relationship work better.

          Yes, I do also have other relationships sometimes. And yeah, sometimes I just want to have a few dates with someone cuddly or it’s been WAY too long since I was with a girl. But usually, even if they’re flings, there’s something unique and wonderful about them that I wouldn’t get otherwise.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          I have a suspicion the two of you may be using the word “interchangeable” differently.

    • Doug S. says:

      -The mate-guarding instinct. I feel sad if a monogamous I like finds someone else because that excludes me, but if a polyamorous person I like gets into a relationship with someone else, i feel no negative feelings whatsoever.

      Not having ever had a mate to guard, I don’t know what the mate-guarding instinct feels like. I also never developed a disdain for promiscuous women; my instinctive reaction is something like “Hey, if she’s had sex with a lot of people, maybe I can be one of them too! That’s kinda sexy!”

      • G-Max says:

        “disdain for promiscuous women” is a 100% cultural thing, not some fundamental part of human psychology. This is why the “sluts in Las Vegas” joke works in Beavis and Butt-Head Do America.

        • Desertopa says:

          Even as someone who does not have any particular disdain for promiscuous women, I find this rather unlikely. Sexual jealousy appears to be a human cultural universal (it’s on Wikipedia’s list of known human cultural universals,) and there are plausible evolutionary reasons for both sexes to feel threatened by female promiscuity. For women, promiscuous women would be dangerous evolutionary competitors, who potentially threaten other women’s ability to be sexually selective while attracting committed partners. For men, promiscuous women would be riskier *as* committed partners, because of the increased risk that they might seek other sexual partners and cause the man to unknowingly raise another man’s child.

          This doesn’t reflect my own attitudes towards promiscuous women, but having come upon this model *before* I really entered the sexual or dating market, I’ve found that it predicted quite well in advance the attitudes that I found people commonly tend to display towards promiscuous women. Men are more likely to view promiscuous women as tempting or attractive, but less desirable to commit to for long term relationships, while women are more likely to view promiscuity in other women as a social transgression to be scorned.

          Perhaps these impulses might be culturally circumvented, but I doubt they’re purely cultural in origin.

        • G-Max says:

          Just because Wikipedia says it, doesn’t make it true. There are plenty of cultures around the world where this is NOT a thing.

        • Benquo says:


          There are plenty of cultures around the world where this is NOT a thing.

          What are three examples, and why do you think Brown missed them?

        • Julia says:

          Not that “polyandry” is the same as “promiscuity”, but: Wikipedia thinks there are about 80 cultures with polyandry. “Polyandry is believed to be more likely in societies with scarce environmental resources, as it is believed to limit human population growth and enhance child survival.” Many of these are in the Himalayas, and many involve a woman married to two brothers (so raising a niece or nephew is still kind of a genetic win for a man). The Mosuo are another, and also seem to be the only exception to Brown’s claim that marriage is universal.
          “Mosuo families tend to trace their lineage through the female side of the family. Occasionally, in fact, they may not know who the father of a child is, which does not carry stigma as in many other societies. “

      • ADifferentAnonymous says:

        Seconded about the disdain for promiscuity. In high school I always figured this was one of those things where it was low status because it was low status so everyone pretended to be averse to it, which is of course exactly what it feels like to be missing a universal experience.

        If this disdain isn’t a Universal Human Experience, it’s at the very least a Common Modern-American Experience that I am decidedly missing.

        (Sorry for necromancy, but I think this post’s comments should be open forever).

  10. Anonymous says:

    Do you like music in general? I can’t see why jazz would be fundamentally different…

    • Said Achmiz says:

      I don’t know anything about what the deal is with Scott’s reaction to jazz, but jazz definitely is fundamentally different. As I mentioned in another comment, I feel physical pain when listening to jazz. This happens with no other music except for some classical music, it’s not just a feeling of distaste, and it’s not at all the same as the pain of music that’s too loud or too bassy or any such thing.

      • Anonymous says:

        Weird. How you feel with other forms of music which do not conform completely to modern western musical tropes? (Indian classical, for example)

        Is it similar to the “pain” one might get from music which is off-key in general?

        • Said Achmiz says:

          I am tone-deaf (confirmed with actual tests; I can’t distinguish between tones of nearby frequencies with greater accuracy than chance), and I have never been able even remotely to comprehend what it even means for music to be “on key” or “off key”, despite many attempts of musically inclined friends to explain it to me. So I can’t answer your second question.

          I also don’t know what Western musical tropes are, what it means to conform to them, etc. But if you provide me some easily accessible examples of Indian classical music or what have you, I can listen to it and report my reaction.

      • Anonymous says:

        For some reason it won’t let me reply to your other comment.

        Tone deaf, huh? I wonder if rhythm makes a difference, then…(or does tone-deafness effect rhythmic sense too?)

        This is a playlist of indian classical music.


        As for what it means to be “off key”, the long version (warning, math) is http://courses.physics.illinois.edu/phys406/Lecture_Notes/P406POM_Lecture_Notes/P406POM_Lect8.pdf

        and the short version is that if you take the wavelengths of two sounds and make a fraction out of them, simple ratios such as 1, 1/3, 2/3 are pleasing while complex ratios like 3143214/4132423 are displeasing, because when notes that form simple ratios are added together the resulting wavefunction is simpler.

        So there is probably a relationship between the complexity of the wave function and the affective state it produces. Really simple ones are boring, but as you up the complexity the wave function can be pleasant, interesting, sad, spooky, and finally cringe inducing and annoying (in other words, off-key).

        Think of it like a painting – a simple ratio is boring, like a canvas of just one color. A complex ratio is like garish bright multicolored splashes everywhere. Somewhere in the middle between boring and overwhelming, there is art.

        “Tone deaf” most likely means you somehow aren’t calculating these ratios (which is why I wonder if it effects rhythm sense as well…that too is fundamentally about ratios)

        • FYI says:

          FYI, the reason you can’t reply to Said Achmiz’s other comment is that on this site there is a maximum nesting depth for comments. You won’t be able to reply to this comment either, for the same reason.

          From my observations of the social norms around here, it is perfectly acceptable to continue the conversation in a parallel thread, as you did.

        • Oscar_Cunningham says:

          complex ratios like 3143214/4132423 are displeasing, because when notes that form simple ratios are added together the resulting wavefunction is simpler.

          So there is probably a relationship between the complexity of the wave function and the affective state it produces.

          Turns out that this isn’t quite the answer.

          In particular if you play pure sine waves with non-integer frequency ratios like 1:1.618… then people don’t detect any dissonance (unless they are trained musicians who are merely recognising that they aren’t listening to one of the intervals that are usually consonant).

          So the “simple wave” theory is just wrong.

          The correct answer has to do with two factors: beats and overtones.

          Beats occur when two notes with very close frequencies are played at the same time. As the waves go in and out of phase you can hear the sound get quieter and louder with a period inversely proportional to the difference between the frequencies.

          If the frequencies are very close then the beats are very long and you won’t notice them. If the frequencies are far apart then the beats are too close together to hear. But there’s a point in between where the beats can be heard and sound annoying. This is dissonance.

          Overtones are what make a note played on an instrument sound different from a pure sine wave. When you play a note at say 1000Hz, the instrument also makes vibrations at other frequencies. Which other frequencies depends on the shape of the instrument. But usually they are at integer multiples of the original frequency, say 2000Hz, 3000Hz, etc.

          So now we can see why integer ratios sound nice. The first note has some overtones and the second note has some overtones and any of these overtones can interact to produce beats. The integer ratios are the only places where this doesn’t happen.

        • Daniel Speyer says:

          I would be very surprised if tone deafness effected rhythm perception. Pitch is measured in the ear itself with different nerves for different pitches. Rhythm is measured somewhere in the brain, many synapses downstream.

        • G-Max says:

          Oscar Cunningham writes:

          “Turns out that this isn’t quite the answer.

          In particular if you play pure sine waves with non-integer frequency ratios like 1:1.618… blah blah math blah blah beats and overtones…. The integer ratios are the only places where this doesn’t happen.”

          I have absolutely no idea what the hell any of that crap means. The word “key” wasn’t even in there, and the question was originally about what the phrase “off key” meant! I just know that Slayer is godawful noise and Iron Maiden is real music.

        • Jeff Kaufman says:

          In particular if you play pure sine waves with non-integer frequency ratios like 1:1.618… then people don’t detect any dissonance

          Interesting. When I test this myself I do hear dissonance, but I’m also a musician. I’ve made some samples, how do you hear them?


          (Here’s the key, but don’t look at it until you’ve made up your mind about each: http://jefftk.com/sine_test_key.txt)

        • Jeff Kaufman: Even if mp3 files are pure tones it’s possible a low-quality speaker is creating overtones to them (I haven’t tested it myself since sound on my computer isn’t working at all at the moment).

        • Vilhelm S says:

          Jeff Kaufman:
          As a non-musician, I can not tell any difference between the harmonic and nonharmonic samples. (Except there was one of them where I immediately thought “what a horrible screech, this one must be dissonant for sure”, and that one turned out to be… the octave. Doh.)

        • jemand says:

          Jeff Kaufman, I’m not a musician either and 3, and five sounded good to me, six also sounded good but not as much as the others. Four sounded utterly awful, and one and two, not good, but not as horrible as four.

  11. Alicorn says:

    An experiment performed by Anna Salamon and Michael “Valentine” Smith tentatively locates the hypothesis that I am a mutant who does not rationalize things, although this has not been confirmed (or particularly disconfirmed) since then and I’m not sure, if it’s true at all, that it has always been.

    I cannot begin to imagine what positive sensation people who like or even just don’t mind being tickled must experience.

    One time, while on some antibiotics, I discovered that hunger could be completely decoupled from the urge to eat (hunger accumulated as normal, but I felt no impulse to do anything about it – I used this to cook elaborate things when I noticed I was hungry, rather than desperately consuming cereal or candy, or having to guess in advance when I would be hungry and start cooking early). This makes me wonder a lot about what other things can come apart like that and whether they are always package deals to begin with without the intervention of pills.

    My experience with pica, described in support of another idea here, makes me very curious about how people in general experience want and the connection of want to getting.

    I have all the standard senses (plus bonus occasional olfactory hallucinations) – but tentative experiments suggest that I cannot read information about status signaling and hierarchy into body language. Valentine demonstrated assorted posture and I could tell that he was standing differently, and could make conscious-level guesses based on things like whether he was standing up straight, but it didn’t communicate with the part of my brain that does status. (I think I have that part, it just doesn’t interact with body language.)

    I’m a little bit faceblind (but not as bad as some people, like Leah).

    Some people claim to experience positive sensations of some kind when they exercise. Something that might have been this thing happened to me exactly once (I came home from a jujitsu lesson feeling sort of high). I’ve never been able to replicate the conditions. Otherwise it is negative sensory assault unless confined to exquisitely gentle activity within excruciatingly snug parameters.

    I have the possibly hallucinatory sensation of feeling my skin crisp up when I am under sunlight over unrealistically short timescales.

    • Anonymous says:

      >I cannot begin to imagine what positive sensation people who like or even just don’t mind being tickled must experience.

      In order of appeal

      1) It’s a play-behavior, which induces good social-bonding feelings similar to what I’d get if I spontaneously got into a water-splashing fight or a wrestling match with someone. If you don’t like those activities, the next best analogy is lighthearted teasing or banter.

      2) Almost all non-painful physical touch from other human beings feels good in the same way cuddling does.

      3) Laughing feels good

      Sometimes “tickling” just kind of hurts instead of tickles, but even in those scenarios there is still [1].

      • G-Max says:

        Sorry, but your explanation doesn’t fly with me. Tickling is just painful, it doesn’t make me laugh, and it tells me that the person who is doing it wants to annoy me and/or is looking for an ass-whooping. It’s not comparable to waterfights or banter because those things are actually fun.

      • Neon Fox says:

        It’s a bad idea to tickle me; I will reflexively and uncontrollably attempt to hurt anyone who does. Sometimes I can stop once I figure out what’s going on and if the tickler is someone I like, but I will always react first with violence. I have no idea why; it’s not like tickling is painful or anything.

    • Anonymous says:

      My friend’s skin feels weird in the sun too. He is dark-skinned and consequentially does not experience sun-burn, so he wouldn’t have been conditioned into it. I think it’s most likely not a hallucination.


      • Alicorn says:

        I don’t develop any visible rash from short periods of time in the sun; I just sunburn normally for a person of my level of paleness.

    • lmm says:

      I like being tickled and in retrospect interpret this as a reflection of my submissive tendencies. I wonder whether there’s a correlation there.

    • What was the experiment which demonstrated that you don’t rationalize?

      • Alicorn says:

        They were explaining some manner of CfAR exercise designed to reduce or detect rationalization to me, and I wasn’t getting the point of it. So they decided to take me out on a walk and have me do a Comfort Zone Expansion (CoZE) exercise that they thought would provoke rationalization – they had me ask strangers innocuous but bizarre questions (“will you stand on your head?” “will you sing me a song?” “can I have this soap for free?”) I asked people each of those things, and I experienced fear and declined to ask an elderly woman the “stand on your head” question, but my verbal loop didn’t generate explicit reasons why I didn’t want to do the exercise at all or keep rejecting lots of candidates.

        (I did not get anyone to stand on their head, sing me a song, or give me my drugstore purchase for free.)

    • Ghatanathoah says:

      Doesn’t your experience with pica provide pretty good evidence that you do rationalize sometimes? You came up with all those excellent reasons to eat ice, and none of them were the real reason why you wanted it.

      My experience with tickles is hard to describe. They certainly don’t hurt, but I have some sort of strong urge to stop being tickled at the moment I am being tickled. But I also find the idea of never being tickled again distasteful, it has certain social-bonding type aspects I approve of. I suppose using the “Wanting, Liking, Approving” framework I would say I strongly don’t want to be tickled, I kind of like being tickled, and I moderately approve of it.

    • Anonymous says:

      Tickling is spectacularly painful to me. I have been assaulted unduly many times in my life and tickled… I’m not sure of relative frequency rates. Too much, but I have a distinctive bias about what constitutes too much. Were I choosing on basis of pain levels, I would swap a very few of the most painful assaults into ticklings, but only a very few. The cases where I would rather be tickled are exceptions. I have a sincere general preference for being punched rather than tickled.

      When I’m tickled, I laugh uncontrollably, cannot breathe, and cannot express pain by any verbal or nonverbal means save crying, which is interpreted to be from laughter. When the tickling lets up, standard expressions kick back in, and I will wail and groan with it. If I did not start crying while being tickled, I will surely start crying then. If I am only “slightly” tickled, people notice that my laughter is accompanied by exaggerated pain responses in between every forced-laughter-tickle-response. They also notice that I beg them in horror to stop and never do it again. More sustained tickling is the torture that gives me no mouth with which to scream.

      When I was little, my family tickled me often, and responded to my post-tickling crying by tickling me more. This got seared into my memory from an age when memories do not usually form that permanently. Precisely no member of my family stopped when I developed the verbal skill to beg them to stop. Some of them did at least stop when I became articulate enough to specify that I wanted them to stop because it hurt a whole awful lot. The rest of them continued for several years in spite of my post-tickling protestations until I began punching, kicking, pulling hair, clawing skin, and generally doing whatever I could to break through the forced laughter and share the horrific pain I was in so that they would believe me when I asked them to stop because it hurt. To this day, my response to people who do not give time or attention to the “slight” cues and go straight for sustained tickling is a berserker fury that does not care who is on the other end of it or, sadly, whether or not I have warned them not to tickle me. I cannot leave that state until they stop tickling me, and I don’t know how much time after because berserking ruins memory, but generally enough to hit them several more times with everything I’ve got. It hurts so much.

  12. 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:

          Auties signal in neurotypical ways without being aware of it or doing it in functional ways, and there’s a whole other set of autistic social signals that we can use with each other that neurotypicals can’t read or emit in functional ways without the same sort of training that autistics need for NT body language. This is a pretty well known phenomenon in the autistic community – hand flapping in particular is communicative body language among autistics (along with the other things that it is and does for us) and NTs definitely find that baffling.

        • anon1 says:

          I disagree, at least on eye contact. It was never intuitively obvious to me that eye contact had significance of any kind. I looked at what was in front of me, or what was moving, or what seemed interesting. When I look into someone’s eyes, I feel no different than when I look away from them.

          While it’s true that there’s nowhere you can direct your gaze that doesn’t get read as a social signal of some kind, this does not mean a genuine signal is being emitted, as opposed to noise or non-social information. The fact that this kid could learn that pointing his eyes in certain directions in a certain sequence reduced harassment does not mean that before this he was emitting genuine neurotypical-style social signals without knowing.

        • ozymandias says:

          I’m nonautistic and I am slightly better at reading autistic body language than I am at reading nonautistic body language. So I suspect there’s an overlap here. (Possibly relevant: I have a fair number of autisticy traits.)

    • Alicorn says:

      I’m autistic too and I find that people vary in how legible they are to me. The first time I met a highly legible person I felt like I had been bitten by a radioactive neurotypical. It was astounding. Information was entering my head just from watching him move around and make faces and include subtle differences of timbre in his speech! It was bizarre and completely unaccountable!

      A combination of using training data from the highly legible people I know and other forms of practice has gotten me better at reading most people than I used to be, but it’s still intense to be around the legible ones. It is lovely and invigorating when they are happy and when they are sad this is draining and makes me anxious to fix it.

      • Said Achmiz says:


        You know, now that you mention this “legibility” thing, I think I’ve experienced (perhaps a milder version of) the same thing. I can’t quite be sure.

        Do you ever find people you see in e.g. videos to be similarly legible? And if so, I don’t suppose you might have a sample youtube link or something?

        • Alicorn says:

          I have seen variance in people in videos, but much lower than in person – whether this is a matter of sample size because I don’t watch all that many videos I don’t know. The only good example that’s coming clear in my memory that I’m sure I can find is The Fat Nutritionist eating a Cadbury creme egg and displaying legible-to-me happiness.

          I went to see The King’s Speech with my family when it came out, and there were long segments of movie that consisted of absolutely nothing but closeups on an actor’s face while music played, and I asked later what the heck they thought they were doing cutting in such boring parts, and my parents said they were “acting!”. So I guess those actors must not have been very legible to me. I can watch my (legible :D) fiancé make faces in response to things that he’s reading on the Internet or whatever and not need to be doing anything else for many consecutive seconds.

        • Adelene says:

          Datapoint from someone else who’s bad at reading body language: To my perception, there are several short sequences where she’s emitting obvious ‘I am happy’ signals, but they look to me like intentional behavior not necessarily correlated to her actual state – she looks like she’s acting, basically. Other than those specific parts (which make up maybe 15% of the video by time), I don’t get anything about her emotional state from her body language. (I can pick up where she’s focusing her attention, but that doesn’t seem to be a substantial part of what most people mean when they talk about reading body language – I assume most people can see that, it just seems not to be notable in most cases.)

        • Said Achmiz says:

          My experience of that video is pretty much identical with Adelene’s. Interesting.

        • G-Max says:

          I’m with Adelene. There are some really OBVIOUS things that she does, like laugh, which indicate that she’s either enjoying the experience or pretending to enjoy it, but it’s mostly just chewing while looking at her monitor. I don’t interpret “chewing while looking at her monitor” as “happy”.

        • Levi Aul says:

          Huh. I’m guessing (though it’s never occurred to me to ask) that I might be more “legible” to people on the autistic spectrum. I tend to “ham up” my own emotions: I take whatever emotion I’m experiencing already, and then intentionally reinforce it with my own conscious perceptions of what signalling that emotion “should” look like.

          For example, when I realize I feel like questioning a statement someone has made, my face is already probably pretty “challenging”-looking–but then I raise one eyebrow and purse my lips, just to make it more clearly challenging-looking.

          I think (though I’ve never before taken apart my urge to do this) that I want the one-two punch of my words and the body-language delivering them to be parsed as simultaneously as possible, for maximum impact, and that this requires making my body language as immediately-readable as possible.

          I could justify this urge by saying something about mental maps and affordances in user-interface design, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t know anything about those when I first started doing this. Actually, I may have started doing this roughly around the time I first made friends with someone who was on the autistic spectrum…

      • Leonhart says:

        I was recently reflecting on why I only watch animation, to the exclusion of all live action material. I came to a similar conclusion; that animation *shouts* loudly enough for me to hear it – faces, body language etc – so I’m able to respond emotionally.

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          I came to a similar conclusion; that animation *shouts* loudly enough for me to hear it – faces, body language etc – so I’m able to respond emotionally.

          I’m noticing this metaphor coming up several times in this thread – that for many people on the ‘autistic spectrum’, the problem is that the verbal cues don’t register.

          I experience something very different: the cues register very loudly, even when someone is trying to hide or mask them, but they very rarely register with enough fidelity that I can reliably act on the information.

          I.e., I often perceive “X is experiencing intense negative emotions and is attempting to hide them. If they notice that I notice this, they may direct hostility towards me. If they realize later that I noticed and didn’t do anything to help, they may direct hostility towards me. If I misjudge their anger as fear or their fear as anger, they may direct hostility towards me. If I attempt to pretend that I don’t notice but am imperfect in my pretense, they may direct hostility towards me. If I acknowledge their distress, they may direct hostility towards me. I will just attempt to disengage…. aaaand they’re trying to seek me out now. I have no idea if they’re looking for comfort or a fight, and I’m not even sure if THEY know if they’re looking for comfort or a fight. I don’t know how to proceed.”

          As a result, I spend a LOT of time playing ‘armchair psychologist’ with people, to make sure that nothing explodes in my face.

        • Adelene says:

          That’s still an autistic thing, Ialdabaoth, usually described as being able to detect a different type or channel of body language. (It’s also common to be able to pick things up that way that allistics can’t detect.) The thing you described elsewhere with being able to pick a balance between ‘detect body language’ and ’emit body language’ is, too, though I’ve more often heard of people having to make that sort of tradeoff between understanding and emitting words, either specifically spoken ones or in general, with balance adjustments taking long enough to cause problems in conversation. Those are autistic things not so much in the sense that most autistic people have those experiences, but in the sense that a notable minority do and allistics consistently don’t.

          If you want to read more about that, Amanda Baggs has talked about it, but unfortunately I don’t have links handy. I will suggest not trying to map your body language perceptions to existing words in a 1:1 sort of way, though – the thing that you’re perceiving as ‘intense negative, fear or anger but who knows which one’ is probably actually a precursor state to both of those emotions, for example, and you’ll do better to try to figure out how that works as its own thing rather than try to shoehorn it into either of those boxes. (Yes, I’m saying that people experience that precursor state but never talk about it; I’m pretty sure most people actually don’t remember feeling it, but fill in the blank with a memory that they were feeling fear or anger from the start.)

        • Ialdabaoth says:

          (Yes, I’m saying that people experience that precursor state but never talk about it; I’m pretty sure most people actually don’t remember feeling it, but fill in the blank with a memory that they were feeling fear or anger from the start.

          That makes a LOT of sense, and correlates with a few of my other theories. Specifically, I’ve noticed that what most people categorize as “emotion” is actually “emotion + rationalization”; the base range of actual “emotions” seems MUCH narrower than most people acknowledge.

        • Adelene says:

          Just for clarity, I do think that anger and fear and such are actual things – the precursor state is in addition to those, not instead of them, and not remembering or reporting the precursor state is a memory glitch or possibly a language fail, not a rationalization.

        • Sniffnoy says:

          Verbal overshadowing, perhaps?

        • Nestor says:

          Japanese animation or Disney? The latter tries to carefully reproduce realistic human body language (Pushed and stylized, certainly) while the former often uses artificial stylizations and formulaic poses as a kind of coded language (Oversized sweatdrops, literally falling down, eyes going literally blank, etc)

        • Levi Aul says:

          I would guess that what you’re seeing there is the physiological response of the body at the onset of adrenaline production. The body releases adrenaline to tell the brain to hurry up and deal with a negative stimulus.

          A neurotypical brain would then correlate the aggregate relative status of your available in-group to the available in-group of the negative stimulus, and from that “decide” (in a growing-sense-of-X way) what emotion the stimulus should be provoking.

        • jemand says:

          For the longest time I could not handle animation at all, and even now have trouble with it. It isn’t necessarily the emotional parts, just that the movement *looks wrong* to me. Looks very very very wrong to me, and it gums up my brain so that’s all I can see, the wrong motion, and the wrong textures, and the wrong colors, and…..

      • Ialdabaoth says:

        It is lovely and invigorating when they are happy and when they are sad this is draining and makes me anxious to fix it.

        … This is profoundly similar to my own experience. Do you mind if I ask you some deeper questions? This is something that has a lot of relevance to my own life.

    • Daniel Speyer says:

      I’ve always wanted some studies on how good normal people are at reading emotions and recognizing faces — two things autistics are supposed to be bad at. I want real studies, because it seems really easy to think you’re better than you actually are. I know that professional poker players don’t employ neurotypical mysticism to tell if their opponents drew an ace. Similarly facial recognition — some people claim to be able to recognize a face after seeing it briefly and waiting a long time, but no one uses this to secure important facilities.

  13. 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.

  14. seez says:

    Some people can differentiate between orders of magnitude more colors than other people. You can test yourself here: http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/how-well-do-you-see-color-173018

    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: http://jakemandell.com/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!

  15. 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.

  16. 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?

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

          • http://asada0.tumblr.com/post/11517603099/the-day-i-saw-van-goghs-genius-in-a-new-light

            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.

  26. 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).

  27. 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!

  28. (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.

  29. 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.

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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.)

  33. 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.

  34. 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!

  35. 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).

  36. 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.

  37. 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.

  38. 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?

  39. 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.

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

  42. 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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supertaster).

        • 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.

  43. 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.

  44. 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.

  45. 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.

  46. 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.

  47. 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.

  48. 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.

  49. 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.

  50. 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.

  51. 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. http://www.paulgraham.com/say.html‎ 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.

  52. 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.

  53. 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.

  54. 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: http://thc-foundation.com/restore/074.txt )

          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.

  55. 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.

  56. 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.)

  57. 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…

  58. 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”?

  59. 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.)

  60. 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.”

  61. 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.

  62. 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?

  63. 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”?

  64. 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: