Life in tutorial mode

Screenshot The Sims 2

Happiness abounds when you are playing an easy game and have someone to help you who knows the game much better than you do.

Watching my own melodrama about a normal human jaw infection, I am reminded of a humorous essay I read in Reader’s Digest as a child, called “There is nothing as sick as a sick man”. (Or husband, the same word is used for both in the Norwegian translation.) The gist of it was that her husband would react to the slightest physical ailment by going into full patient mode, lying down and demanding attention, nursing and special treatment.

In real life, women are far more likely to see a doctor than men, and men are more likely to die than women until around the age of 90. But of course there are ways in which women are tougher than men. As I thought to myself as I clutched my hurting jaw: “At least I’m not bleeding from my genitals.” And childbirth not only feels like you’re going to die: It still happens, although the incidence is much reduced, especially in the developed world outside the USA.

Not without reason did left-wing writer John Scalzi write that straight white male is the lowest difficulty setting there is. He was wrong about that, but not by much. Of the reasonably large categories, it is surely true. (Unless you have very specific life priorities, like being approached romantically by members of the opposite sex with no initiative needed on your side.)

But below the easiest normal difficulty setting in some video games, like “Settler mode” in Civilization, there is sometimes also a tutorial mode, for the absolute newbie who not only needs the game to be easier than the easiest setting, but also needs to be explained in detail how to go about the basic tasks of the game. And this, dear reader, is how I’ve largely lived my life. Or so it seems to me.

***

Let us first look at the difficulty level. There is white privilege, and then there is the whitest of privilege: Being ethnic Norwegian in Norway, a country routinely declared the best to live in by the United Nations. Pretty much the richest country that is not a gentlemen’s club with a flag, it is also known for all kinds of equality and small differences in income. Actually I am not rich by Norwegian standards. In fact, my income is barely working class despite now working full time. I am not unionized, so I have basically only had cost-of-living-adjustment during the almost 40 years I have been employed. I’m still pretty well off by global standards, but more importantly, a lot of things don’t cost noticeable amounts of money. Education didn’t, on the contrary I was paid for it for a while. Health care? Just a symbolic sum to keep hypochondriacs like me from circling around the clinics like moths around a lamp. Pensions savings? The state does that.

But as I say elsewhere, socialism fails because it can only redistribute money, and money is not really that big a deal except when you don’t have it. The state cannot redistribute health, intelligence, beauty, strength, endurance, wisdom, charisma… OK, I think I veered a bit into roleplaying game territory there, but you know what I mean. Not all of us are born with the same stats, and then there is the whole thing about being raised by sane adults. No, I don’t have maxed stats all across the board (strength is pretty low, and I’m not exactly attractive) but I got a large helping of intelligence just at the start of the time when that has become useful. It must have happened during my childhood, I guess, because most of my classmates clearly hadn’t gotten the memo until middle school.

In addition to general intelligence, always a good thing to have, I was also born to be hyperlexic. Autism spectrum hyperlexia is listed as disability actually, and in its most extreme forms that can be true. I got away easy though: I am nearly faceblind so I don’t recognize my coworkers if I meet them outside of work for instance, and I have a hard time meeting people’s eyes without creeping them out. Evidently there is something alien about me. But on the plus side, I could read at near adult level when I started school, and I have kept reading until now (although lately it has been less books and more Internet). I can’t speed read, but reading at a decent clip I can absorb pretty much anything just by plowing through it once, if I have the basic background knowledge to understand most of it.

My health was pretty bad in my childhood due to exercise asthma. Not only was it scary, but it set my physical development back by a couple years. I actually reached puberty quite a bit after my classmates, and was slow and weak and clumsy compared to them all the way. But after puberty this problem disappeared, and my health has been tutorial mode too for the most part. The fact that a mild jaw infection makes me start mourning myself should be proof enough of that, I guess.

Finally… I hesitate to even bring up this, but evidently my sex drive is actually lower than usual, not higher as I thought when I was young. It was actually lower then too (perhaps especially then) but I did not know, because I was generally surrounded by extra pious Christians, to whom chastity was very important. It was not a matter of whether or not to have unmarried sex, but whether you could always avoid looking at the opposite sex with the intention of desire, as Jesus admonishes us. “Extra virgin”, as they say these days. So that is how I spent my best years. By the time I was in my 20es and realized that I was not going to marry (out of consideration for the poor wife if nothing else) I already knew that I could live without sexual intimacy. (Also, how to wash my own clothes.)

***

But apart from being ridiculously easy, tutorial mode also has the benefit that some person who is not actually there – presumably the maker of the game – is teaching you step by step how to do things, from the simple to the more advanced. And true to form, the helpful Presence from Heaven (I assume that’s where it is from at least, strange as that might seem given my level of virtue) has been watching over me for decades, commenting where needed and pointing me in the right direction. I don’t actually hear voices, which may be just as well, it is more a telepathic thing, like sharing of mindspace? I guess you’ve got to have been there.

Anyway, this is not really something that should be talked about in detail, it is too intimate for that. But the point is, I usually don’t need to be in doubt. Sometimes I am, but then I often realize later that I was in doubt only because I did not want to follow the tutorial. Generally though it is incredibly carefree to have an invisible, loving older brother watching over you like that. (I actually had a loving older brother when I was a kid, the second oldest one. He’s a living saint as far as I know and there are definitely some similarities there. Maybe psychologists will decide that I created my invisible friend in that image, but I doubt I am such an awesome person that I can create someone wiser and more conscious than myself!)

And that is why what I truly fear is not death itself, but being separated from the one who has loved me and guided me all this time. If the universe is a fair and just place, I have hell to pay after a life like that. For despite playing Real Life in tutorial mode for all these years, I have accomplished nothing of value. That said, I have enjoyed my life greatly. When I play The Sims, I guide them in such a way that they can accomplish their goals that give them lifelong happiness, while at the same time they have all their needs met and have a good time along the way. And I take a sincere joy in seeing the little imaginary people go cheerfully about their worthless lives in unshakable happiness thanks to my guidance. I can only desperately hope that my own higher-dimensional guide feels the same way about my own happy but ultimately insignificant life. And, of course, that I am saved in the Cloud when the hardware eventually breaks down.

A small, late repentance

Screenshot anime Kamisama Memo

The voice in my head sometimes just… slips out. And that is the best part of me, I think. People seem to find it valuable, which I can’t say about my life as a whole.

I was thinking of buying something non-food today, and noticed myself thinking: “Nah, let’s first wait and see if I survive this week.” And that’s when I realized I should probably write a bit again.

Actually it is not statistically likely that I’ll die soon, it is just a bit less unlikely than usual. It is not like I’m diagnosed with a terminal illness or have decided to row across the North Sea. It’s just an upper jaw infection that has shaken off one antibiotic and is now barely contained by two others, while I wait for a jaw surgery on Friday. Also, when I had the same surgery on the right side, I had an adverse heart rhythm reaction. I survived that, but that was five years or so ago. So yeah, it should be interesting. A reminder of the mortality of body and soul. Spirit not so much. And I should probably say what I think about that, just in case.

***

To be honest, I think there is a fairly large risk that my soul will perish in Hell, for certain values of “soul” and “hell”. Now, this may not sound like a glowing recommendation of my doctrine, but think about this: How much of a connection is there really between self-esteem and actual performance? If you have been in the workforce for almost 40 years, as I have, you should have learned that this is a pretty shaky link. In particular, we have what is called the Dunning-Kruger effect, namely that truly ignorant people don’t even know enough to know that they are ignorant, and truly unskilled people cannot estimate the skills of others, or how much skill they lack themselves. As the joke goes: “Do you play the piano?” “I don’t know, I have never tried.”

This seems to also be the default position of the religious person. I read in passing some years ago that the average American was far more certain of his own salvation than that of Mother Theresa. (And this was before the atheist campaign to portray Mother Theresa as a terrible person who misused large amounts of money and caused untold suffering to promote her own glory.)

And I started out no differently: As a child, I have no memory of my parents teaching me about religion, let alone hear them pray or see them read the Bible. I tried to read in my grandmother’s Bible, but she got very upset and made sure that never happened again. But at one point during my childhood, I found an old Bible on a dusty shelf in a room we mostly used for storage. It was in archaic language and even the typesetting was unfamiliar, and some pages were missing. But I devoured it. I read about the prophets of God and decided to become one. (A prophet, not a God. That came later.) The appeal, in my vague memory, seems to have been the work benefits more than the final reward: Being able to call down fire from Heaven or summon bears to tear apart those who insulted me. (Elijah and Elisha respectively. I loved that part of the book.)

When I met the Christian Church of Brunstad and their message of becoming perfect according to the conscience, it seemed a great match for me. I wasn’t perfect yet, but it wasn’t that far off, I thought. I certainly had a solid lead on most other humans, surely?

And so I studied the Bible again. This time, after drinking of the spirit that was in the Church, I was able to also understand the New Testament, finally. Well, with the exception of the Apocalypse. I am really not sure why that one was included and the apocryphal Book of Wisdom was not, I would have swapped those. I was quite enamored of the Book of Wisdom and of wisdom as a whole. And so I prayed sincerely to God, as Solomon is said to have done, that God might give me the Spirit of Wisdom from Heaven. This also came to pass, or so it seems to me. In the decades since, when someone asked me or talked with me with sincerity – whether it was about the Bible, or some deep matter that is not directly covered by the Bible, or about their personal life, or even about work – the benevolent Divine Presence would reveal to me what was needed, then and there. I would be amazed at the depth of wisdom and insight, because it would often be new to me as well, or at least clearer than I had seen it before. There seemed to be no end to this, like a well that refills itself no matter how much you draw from it.

But the truth is that this was not my personal, acquired wisdom. I now believe that what I had received, and what I had truly desired, was what the Norwegian Bible calls “visdoms tale” (wisdom’s speech), as in 1. Corinthians 12: “For to one is given through the Spirit the word of wisdom; and to another the word of knowledge, according to the same Spirit.” And if you turn over to the next chapter, there is a harsh lesson on these things:
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” That doesn’t mean it didn’t work or wasn’t true, but it was a gift of grace that just passed through without any merit to me, because it was not my love, only God’s.

That is how I see it now. And Christ himself is quoted as saying: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” That doesn’t mean the prophecies were false or the demons were not driven out, necessarily. But it did no good for those who did it, evidently.

So yeah. My optimism is somewhat muted. That does not mean that I don’t believe in what I said. I just don’t believe in myself. I really ended up doing very little for others, despite playing Real Life in tutorial mode. In the end, I do not know whether I did more harm or more good. I suppose if there is a reckoning for me in the hereafter, I will know for sure. I am honestly not sure what way those scales would tip. But the real problem is my sins of omission, the endless list of good things I could have done but didn’t.

***

This isn’t depression. I have no desire to kill or harm myself. I don’t want to curl up in bed all day. I don’t suddenly start crying. I don’t lack energy. (I mean, sure I am lazy, but I usually walk for half an hour or two on a nice day, and am usually busy reading, writing or playing rather than staring at moving pictures for hours on end.) It is just that the snow has melted, the white fluffy cover that made everything look so clean and smooth. And beneath is the dead grass of last year, the rotting leaves, the sticks and stones and the trash that was left by the wayside and covered by the concealing snow of grace.

And in this lies my hope, in the warm sun that melts away the fluffy illusions I love. If I were to choose to believe what is comfortable, if I were to continue thinking that I’m at least better than the publican and the sinner and the pagans and the gays and the sluts – as if I had walked even around the block in their shoes – then I believe I would be truly lost. But there is still the tiny voice inside that cries: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” and “Remember me when you come in your kingdom!”

But my soul in the sense of my personality, my habits, my accumulated choices, all those things that were called by my name, all I cherished and took pride in… I think that will all shrivel and be undone. You may call that Hell, I guess. It is not a Biblical word after all, just a loose translation of many things: Sheol and Hades, the grave and the fading memories of life. Gehenna, the continual dumpster fire where corpses of criminals and unclean things are burned. Like the pages of a worthless book that shrivel and burn, one after another, until there is only ashes left. Looking back on my life, this seems to have already begun. Page after page shriveling and turning to ashes. And that may be a good thing. Whether this week or in the middle of the century, my body shall return to the dust; but I believe that my spirit shall return to God, who gave it.

And even though it all went wrong,
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
with nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah.
-Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah.

Slice of life and death

Seishuu (Handa) from anime Barakamon

I am a person who would die alone.

It seems that in Japan, dying alone is considered a terrible fate. Perhaps it is so here too. I certainly don’t want to die alone, but this is because I don’t want to die at all. Unfortunately avoiding bodily death seems not to be an option. I would certainly like to know that people at least try to keep me alive. But once that is no longer an option, there are actually very few people whose presence I would find better than nothing at my deathbed. By then, there is only one person I desperately want to be with me, and that is the Invisible Friend who has watched over me for all these years, living with me in my heart, or perhaps I live in His.

Even if You take it all away
I’ll wait for You
Even when the light begins to fade
I’ll wait for You…

I heard this song (Ashes Remain: Without You) on YouTube the other day, and wondered if that is how I will feel if my passing is slow and gradual. Also, at the same time, I wondered if this was how my earthly father felt before he passed away Wednesday morning. He had indeed lost many things: Most lately his leg, and before that gradually many of his memories, though not all. Already back in 2001 he lost his wife of many years. From my childhood I remember them as two sides of the same coin, different yet inseparable. And yet they were separated: Death did them part.

As I was about to leave after my mother’s burial, he said that he hoped it would not be until the next burial that I would visit. I did not think so, but that was exactly what happened. Or will happen if all goes according to plan, for tomorrow I have the tickets that should take me there. I really, really hate to impose on people, and I really really hate to travel, so it turned out it takes something of this magnitude to shake me out of my den.

***

Speaking of shaking and den … no, not an earthquake, they are rare and barely noticeable here. Rather, my landlord texted me on Tuesday and told me that there would be an inspection of the apartment on Thursday, and asked if it was tidy and clean? Well, there is a reason my website is called the Chaos Node … I imagined that the house was about to be sold suddenly (I got 3 weeks notice last time) and he was going to take pictures for the prospect, or even show it off to interested buyers. Probably the first, I doubt he has pictures from before I moved in. Now, the apartment does not look like a garbage heap, but there is a huge gap to the stylish, sparse pictures you see in prospects. Frantic tidying began forthwith. Then in the morning my oldest brother called telling me that dad had passed away. So yeah, Wednesday was pretty stressful, by my standards.

The landlord, being helpful, drove off nine big (but not overly heavy) sacks of stuff I had quickly reclassified as garbage, mostly paper and cardboard but ranging all the way to clothes that were too damaged to give away. It turned out that he was just getting a professional value assessment, so it was alright if the place looked lived in, as long as it did not look like a garbage heap. (The kitchen actually was a garbage heap last time he visited: The asylum-seekers living in the other half of the house had filled all the garbage bins, including compostable, for some time. So I had to store the garbage in the kitchen until the bin got emptied. We have gotten new asylum seekers since then, though.)

On the bright side, going through my belongings showed not only that I had things I could throw away (story of my life, literally and metaphorically) but there were also things I found that I did not know I had, mainly clothes. I may as well use them – last time I moved, I also went through my belongings and then the moth had eaten pieces of some of my best clothes. This is indeed a world where moth and rust are active, but then again last time I moved was from a place called Møll (the Norwegian word for Moth), so there is that.

Perhaps I should try to make a habit of going through my stuff and throwing away unnecessary clutter even if I am not about to move. It is not like I can bring any of it with me into eternity, anyway.

***

The plan is for me to travel tomorrow afternoon and the night by train, then in the morning take the boat from Bergen to Askvoll. The alternative is bus, but in my experience trains are better for sleeping. The doctor who had the same heart arrhythmia as I told me that I should avoid staying up all night, but it is kind of hard to get to the place I grew up without sacrificing some sleep. Still, given all the sleep my parents sacrificed for me when I was small and sickly, I really want to try this. And as it is written in the Christian Bible: “Honor your father and your mother, that it may go well with you and you may live long in the land.” As my parents carried me when I was new in this world, so at least I should carry them when they leave it. On Tuesday, that will be the last of them.

And if I have not honored them enough to live as long as they did, then at least I am grateful that I survived them. There was much doubt about that when I grew up (and they were honest about it, too – I grew up knowing that I had only 50% change to make it to adulthood) but in the end, here I am, writing this. And it makes me happy not only for my own sake. I seem to have a surprising number of friends who have survived one or more of their children, even though we live in a time when we act like that does not happen anymore. That, at least, my parents were spared. I hope my brothers also can look forward to many good years. They are all better people than me, I believe, because they manage to bring happiness to people even outside their job. And so did my parents. To me, their lives were windows into a realm of light, to which I believe they return. After all, even if we live well into our 80es (as my earthly father did), in the end, it is nothing more than a thin slice of life.

Limits of book-happiness

Screenshot anime Hackadolls

We came here to advance you… with books!

Looking back on my entries from around 2010-2012, I can’t help but notice how upbeat and optimistic and confident they (and I) seem to be. A number of things came together to cause that emotional boom. And those things were not of a very personal nature, either.

For some years earlier, I had felt very unique. I was sensing in a shadowy way a great outline of a spiritual reality, or at least a reality of the soul, a pattern beyond the static of everyday flailing and busy-ness. It baffled me that nobody else was seeing this. I felt like when I am passing through town and suddenly see a bright rainbow in the sky. I stop and look at its beauty but at the same time I am aware of the hundreds of people around me who just hurry to their next destination or watch their smartphone or for any other reason never lift their eyes. I guess when they come home, if they were asked about their day, they will say: “I made progress on the contract”, “I had a difficult customer”, “I missed you”; while I would say: “I saw a beautiful rainbow”. So it is not either of us is lying, but we are looking at different things.

But then I found some people who were looking in the same general direction. First only New Age people, and … well, they did not strike me as the brightest candles on the menorah. Kind of positive in a Golden Retriever way, so not bad company but not like me. But then I found One Cosmos, the blog (and the book, which is pretty good actually) and this psychiatrist trying to look at spiritual experiences with fresh eyes, taking them as a primary experience of reality rather than trying to explain them away as being some kind of side effect of something else. But most interesting to me, he was a voracious reader and recommended a number of books on the topic. The books were kind of hard to read, although the more I read his blog, the easier it became to read the books he read. But something else happened at the same time.

I discovered the Japanese new religion Happy Science, founded by the remarkable genius Ryuho Okawa. At the time he had already read thousands of books and also experimented with various forms of contact with the spirit world, and synthesized this into a new religion. Eventually he kind of came the conclusion that he was God, something I found deeply disappointing. (I’ve seen people come to the same conclusion over in the New Age society, and it generally doesn’t end well. As I have said before: I have seen a number of guys say “I am God”, but I have never seen a woman say “My husband is God”. Sure enough, Okawa divorced a while later.) But before then he had written a number of very interesting books, and I was rather shocked to see that he described very clearly many of the things I had seen as if through frosted glass.  There were so many things I recognized when reading about them.

After having read the luminous prose of Mr Okawa, it became easier to read the heavier books by various saints and sages and the people who love them, and I was building myself a “Bookshelf of Happiness”. I had this grand dream that simply by reading enough books, I would become transformed to a higher being. Well, it felt like this process had begun at the time. Nor was it my first experience of that sort. When I met the Christian Church of Brunstad, popularly known as “Smith’s Friends”, I had my first and most important influx of spiritual understanding, in which the Bible came alive to me. (This kind of faded once my income grew, as the Bible had foretold.)

There were a lot of good books, some of which are referenced in my writing during those years, but eventually this phase of my life began to fade. Gradually I started to suspect that reading Books of Timeless Truth and doing Brainwave Entrainment was not enough to transform me into a weakly godlike superintelligence, as I had hoped. There is still this small, dark, noisy, seething little ball of selfishness, the ego or small self, which self-identifies as me and does not want to give me up.

It could certainly be worse. I live a decent life by human standards, but that is not what I was hoping to live and die as. As long as I remain at this stage, I am at great risk of disruption and unraveling, like any mortal. I am protected day to day from great calamity by the undeserved kindness of the Light, like a village idiot being gently but sometimes firmly turned away from danger. Well, that is pretty much the best possible human condition, but I had not expected to end my days as a human.

“I said: You are gods, all of you are children of the Most High. Nevertheless you will die like men, and fall like one of the princes.” -Psalm 82, verse 6-7.

More MOOCs

Screenshot anime

Let us build ourselves a place of learning! On the Internet! Actually, some people already did that, so I’m just mooching on their MOOC. ^_^

Last year I started taking a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course – a course of study made available over the Internet without charge to a very large number of people.) It was about information technology in the society, the impact the technology had, and I was quite active at first. But then I found a part that was actively misleading (the “search bubble” was presented as a fact, whereas it has been disproved shortly after it made headlines). When I found that neither students nor professor did basic fact checking or reacted to being directed to correct information, my interest in the course quickly faded to zero.

At the time, the MOOC concept was still fairly new in Norway. Besides NTNU, I think only the college in Molde had started, and it was mainly a work by pioneers with little formal support from faculty staff, much less inter-college organization. In America, MOOCs had already been around a year or two (possibly more, but not in the public eye). So that was where I cast my gaze next.

This summer I took a MOOC from University of California San Diego, “Climate Change in Four Dimensions”. This is not something I need for my job, it was just interesting (it is a big topic and gets a lot of interest these days, often from people who have opinions but little knowledge.) To no small degree it was also a test of Coursera, the platform delivering the course. Each of the major MOOC platforms has courses from a number of universities, but they vary in which universities and how they present the courses, probably also in what type of courses, although there is clearly some overlap there at least. If I could complete a fairly long single course (10 weeks) that interested me, I knew that the MOOC model was not broken despite my failure to complete the one last year.

I completed the course, had fun and got a good grade, although I did not purchase the official certificate track to get the faux sheepskin certificate or whatever you use these days. As I say, it is not a thing I need for my work, and it is not like it gives me any authority elsewhere either. If people don’t listen to actual scientists, they sure won’t listen to me. But the course was a success as far as I was concerned. (Not that I was overly concerned.) (English is a funny language.)

I followed up the success with a course this fall from the main competing platform, edX. This was the “Science of Happiness” course I mentioned. edX seems to have a clearer line between us freeloaders and the serious students, although you can still take part in pretty much all activities even if you are not on the paid track. But it seems a little easier to slink away. I have not quite done that yet, but I am slipping behind.

Then started the course “Learning how to Learn” on Coursera, which I had signed up for before I started the edX course. You’d think I would be able to handle two fairly small courses like this – they require only a few hours a week each – but I am finding it harder than I expected. Admittedly, this is in part because I have started this huge Sims 2 project, which runs on my second computer during much of my free time. Well, when I am not outdoors playing Ingress, which I am 2-3 hours a day typically, if you include the ingressing on my way to and from work. I am trying to keep it under 10% of my time, but it is rarely much below at least. Anyway, the Sims 2 thing should theoretically take very little time, as it runs mostly on its own on the upgraded Vista computer. But somehow I keep getting sucked in and end up guiding my sims to maximize their life satisfaction rather than my own. That’s just the kind of wannabe guiding spirit I am. ^_^

Of the two courses, I give priority to Learning how to Learn. Both because I find it more agreeable (the incessant invocation of Darwin in a study of happiness really starts grating on me, BerkeleyX) and because the learning course is a tool for all my future courses. If I can optimize my learning even a little bit, this will pay off in all future courses. Of course we don’t know how much future I have, but I haven’t found an expiration date yet, so for the time being I intend to keep learning and stick to my plan of working till I am 75 or until I can’t work any longer. The “can’t work” part tends to depend a lot on your education level here in Norway, with intellectuals often working well past 70 and laborers typically quitting at 62. So, if I can upgrade my intellectual status for free, I improve my chances to keep contributing to civilization, which it could certainly need!

The world also needs my novel (or at least NaNoWriMo says so), but that is a story for some future day, if at all. At least I am having vacation all November, so perhaps the chaos will settle down enough that I actually can think of something to write. The Learning How to Learn course should be finished around then, and the other one by the middle of the month.

 

No visible friends

Screenshot anime Baby Steps

“It’s like they’re not even in the same dimension…” That’s why my friends are invisible friends, even when they are not imaginary friends.

The “Science of Happiness” MOOC (online course) from Berkeley continues to presuppose that its students are humans. This is by and large a reasonable assumption. But I just finished the second week on Tuesday and it still does not apply to me.

The new “happiness exercise” this week was Active Listening. In this, you sit down with a friend or loved one and “invite him or her to share what’s on his or her mind. As he or she does so, try to follow the steps below. You don’t need to cover every step, but the more you do cover, the more effective this practice is likely to be.”
1. Paraphrase.
2. Ask questions.
3. Express empathy.
4. Use engaged body language.
5. Avoid judgment.
6. Avoid giving advice.

Somehow I think my coworkers would freak out if I tried any of that. While one of them occasionally rants about colleagues, our relationship is not quite such that we sit down and go through his problems. More’s the pity, since I am a great listener, except for the body language which is more detached than you might want.

Coworkers is as close as I come these days. I only know a few who I work with regularly over a long time. I don’t have any other visible friends. I do have relatives, but we don’t see each other every year. All the rest of my friends are invisible friends, even those who happen to have a body at this time. In most cases, those bodies are in foreign countries and I have never seen them except in photos, sometimes not in photos either. I have had comrades of whom I did not know their fleshworld gender, age, skin color or citizenship. Some presented themselves as characters in an online roleplaying game. Some took on the features of vaguely humanoid animals (anthropomorphs). I haven’t really seen this as a problem.

I guess it makes sense for materialists to focus on the body, which is after all made of matter. But as for me, I cannot clearly remember a time when I mistook my body for my true self. I probably did when I was a toddler, but we are not supposed to remain toddlers. By the same tokens, it does not make sense for me to mistake my friends for bodies, which is one reason why I felt at home on the Internet pretty much from the start.

Between this and my Invisible Friend and family from Heaven, there hasn’t really been much motivation for me to seek out and try to befriend neighbors and random townies. But my sims do this. They also have a lot of options for conversation, although not quite the same list as above. Too bad, or I could have tested it on them. It would certainly be easier than testing them on myself. But you are probably a more normal human, perhaps you want to give it a try, if you don’t do this already?

Things don’t just happen

Screenshot Sims 4. Romance and family aspirations collide.

Babies don’t just happen. Well, for Don they do, but for Carola they are a life aspiration. Sometimes life happens to us, other times we happen to it. (Don’t worry, no babies happened at the Chaos Node! The picture is from Sims 4, where the imaginary people are more normal than me.)

The “Science of Happiness” course from Berkeley is not all theory: Each week they introduce an exercise that is known to increase happiness in most people. The first week we were told to write down, each day, three good things that happened to us, or that went well for us, that day.

I managed to get three such things the first day, with a little imagination, and for the next two days I was on the lookout for them through the day. But my conclusion was that this was counterproductive and meaningless to me. (It is probably a great idea for most people, and I don’t see any reason not to recommend it for my readers.)

In my case, however, I don’t often see the world as happening to me. Rather, I see myself as happening to the world. This is certainly not without exception, but it is usually what I focus on. There are of course a great many things that I have no influence on, but which have some degree of influence on me, such as weather or traffic. But they usually don’t influence my happiness. They don’t register as “good” or “bad”. If it rains, it is probably not direct sunshine at the same time, and I can read on my way to and from work. On the other hand, it means I get wet to some degree – my walk to get to work and back is half an hour each way, not counting the bus ride where I read (or not). Conversely if the sun shines, I am unlikely to get soaking wet, but also unlikely to get any reading done. So I do something else instead.

In other words: I simply alter my micro-behavior according to the circumstance. This is not really something that registers as “good” or “bad”, but as “action” on my part. It is part of my self-view that I am the subject rather than the object, I am the one that acts. I don’t usually assign responsibility to the world. I am responsible, where possible (although I may not always act like a responsible adult). The world is the canvas on which I paint my life.

It is only when the canvas is badly frayed that I assign it some part in the outcome. When something happens that threatens my ability to maneuver around it, like a potentially life-threatening or disabling illness, or if I ever experience serious crime or accident. These have not happened so far, by the unusual and extraordinary grace of the Light, despite my 55 years on this planet, which certainly is a good thing, but not usually something you write down every day. I mean, “Did not die today either, was not shot or stabbed today either, house did not burn down today either” are certainly a list of good things; but it does not really have the flavor that the exercise was aiming at.

When the road gets so bumpy that I can’t hold on, such as being rushed to hospital, I am unlikely to write it down the same day as a good thing. Years later, perhaps. But it takes about as much as that for me to notice the world happening to me, rather than I to it.

I explain this in the uncouth but memorable term that “shitting is part of eating”. When I choose to do something that has a range of likely outcomes, then any of those outcomes is a part of the original choice, even if their exact time and form is not known in advance. So you can’t eat and not expect a toilet visit at some future point. You can’t borrow and not expect to pay back with interest. You can’t go to bed late and not expect to be tired the next day. You can’t eat whatever you want and just sit still and expect to be in great shape for the foreseeable future.

Life has some randomness but it also has a lot of causality. There is little I can do about the randomness, so I leave that in the hands of Heaven for the most part (with the occasional request) and concentrate on the causal part, especially the part where I am the cause. When other people cause things, I tend to lump it with the “random” part, since everything I have learned implies that most humans have even less control of what they do than I have. And I certainly have my limitations, not just of the body but also of the mind. Make no mistake, the mind or personality (the psyche in psychology) is limited much as the body is. You can train them both and force them to some degree, but often you have to plan around their limitations or else accept them. Such is the life I live, it is focused on myself — yet not quite in the same way that most self-centered people are.

So how about you?

Not your kind of people

Screenshot Sims 4 - happy young sim using computer

Introverts won’t be cast as demons, creatures you despise. Except when trolling forums.

Today’s title is of course from the awesome song by Garbage. (Here on YouTube, although I have bought it on Google Music.) I have sometimes wondered if this would not be a good “national anthem” for Aspies (people with Aspergers syndrome, or more generally on the high-functioning part of autism spectrum). It certainly sound like it, although it is probably unintentional – it is hard to imagine Aspies going into the popular music career willingly. Anyway, I am only half Aspie. There is also religion, which I also clearly experience differently from most humans.

As I promised in my previous entry, I am going to say something about the MOOC (online university course) “The Science of Happiness” from Berkeley and the Greater Good Science Center. Ironically the title is the same as a book by Ryuho Okawa, the Japanese author who gradually has begun to think of himself as “God or Buddha”. I guess that is an occupational risk. Anyway, the book was better, at least in the regard that it did not bombastically declare that people need a lot of friends to be happy. Rather the record-breaking author and would-be god from Venus holds the same view that me, that happiness comes from within, or from Heaven, which isn’t really two different things in this regard.

In contrast, let us look at this semi-mandatory quiz that appears in week 2 of the university course. It starts with this “what the hell” inducing question:

When I feel lonely, there are several people offline that I can talk to.
I clicked “Strongly disagree”, but it is more than that. The whole question is off. When I feel lonely? Uhm, yeah, that’s been about 5 minutes, perhaps 10, over the years since I left my birth home at the age of 15, a bit over 40 years ago now. I won’t say categorically that I can’t be lonely if I am without human company (online of offline or simulated). Just that it is not a “when” in my life. To me the question reads approximately like “When I miss having a raccoon in my living room, there are several raccoons outside that I can let in.” Not that there is anything wrong with raccoons, some of my best friends (online) self-identify as raccoons. And there is Rocket Raccoon … but back to our narrative.

The rest of the quiz is not quite as bad, but it certainly seems to presuppose that much of your “self” does not reside in your own head but is distributed across a wide range of other humans, who help you make decisions, solve your problems and influence what you are interested in. Unfortunately this seems to be an apt description of humans. Obviously when you are small, this must necessarily and literally be true. As a toddler you cannot understand yourself. But we aren’t supposed to remain toddlers.

The course goes into the idea that our evolutionary history explains the “hypersocial” nature of humans. The helpless infants and long childhood made it necessary to have strong family ties, close friendships and many connections to the rest of the tribe in order to successfully bring children up to become adults in their own right. We are not like sheep, who only need to eat and hide in the pack in order to grow up and make more sheep who grow up and make more sheep. Making a human is a whole adventure and it takes a village, as socialists like to say. (Conservatives think that it takes a family, which in my experience certainly doesn’t hurt. Well, I suppose if is a really evil family, the village is preferable.)

It is weird how people say the appendix is a relic of our evolutionary past and want to remove it, but when hypersociality (hypersocialism?) is a relic of our evolutionary past, they want to make it mandatory. At least the appendix doesn’t hurt unless it is inflamed. Loneliness hurts day and night, from what I heard. Shouldn’t they funnel research into how to make people more autistic? For now, the only known method is to make the next generation more autistic by having kids with an autist. Not that I am volunteering or anything, I am only half Aspie after all.

But as I said, this is not simply a matter of genes. It would be cool if Aspies are the new breed of man, Homo Superior, which is set to replace the primitive Homo Sapiens the way these replaced their grunting ancestors. A beautiful narrative. But it seems far-fetched that the Buddha, Lao-Tzu, and the innumerable saints and sages of the great world religions were all Aspies. They were filled with happiness even during prolonged solitude, and even in adversity where those around them resisted their message and responded with anger, threats and outright violence. Clearly it was not their friendships and social network that carried them through these times, unless you count their Invisible Friends.

It takes a lot of friends on Earth to substitute for one Friend in Heaven.

So being surrounded by family and friends can make people happy, but being alone can also make people happy. I sometimes say that “Evolutionary Psychology is the science of explaining why whatever is popular in the USA this decade is the natural state of humans and the rest of the world has got it wrong”, or words to that effect. And Americans are extraordinarily extroverted by most measures. It is not a country known for its monasteries, exactly. And not really for its happiness either. I mean, sure, compared to the developing world. But on a “happiness per dollar” scale, they fare very poorly indeed. Perhaps a little more peace and quiet would do them good.

Sims 4: More human than me?

Screenshot sims 4, two sims playing chess and talking

I wouldn’t normally do this kind of thing.

Since the original “The Sims” game in 2000, the little computer people have become more and more like normal humans. With me, however, it seems to be the other way around. This fall it seems that they have become more human than I, in some ways.

Obviously I don’t mean the body. Mine is still flesh and blood, while theirs is pixels on the screen. What I talk about is how well they emulate human behavior, whereas I have my own style that is pretty unusual in some ways where the sims are not.

Specifically, this is about social interactions, social needs, even social wants. As mentioned before, the sims now have a lot of social interactions and they love to use them. Even a sim with the Loner trait rolls around a fourth of his wants about social interactions, like talk to someone, tell a joke, compliment someone, practice talking, use a pick-up line (!) and more. Strangely, these wants cannot be satisfied over the Internet, so the sims need to actually go out (or have others come over) to fulfill their wants.

The social need is borked, if I may say so. In The Sims 3, Loner sims would experience their social need meter go down fairly slowly. Eventually it would go in the red, but it would take its sweet time. This may be simply lazy coding, but in The Sims 4 the meter goes down seemingly as fast as for everyone else, it is just that they don’t suffer any negative effects of it, quite the opposite. But the meter still takes on the orange and eventually red color of impending desperation, and a quick look at the screen will make it seem like the Sim is in danger. Only when you look more closely you see that it is just the social need that is bottoming out.

Of course, I have had this problem with my journal too. When I innocently mention that I don’t have any friends except invisible friends, people get worried as if I was about to jump from the nearest bridge, while I feel quite happy this way. Even when I mention that my last kiss was some 30 years ago (and even that was rather a surprise) people worry about me. Now if they were just worrying about my genes, I would understand it, for they are overall pretty amazing genes. It would almost be too bad to dilute them. Someone should deep freeze some of my blood so I can be cloned when that becomes more trivial. Unfortunately, genes don’t guarantee the same personality, as you can see with identical twins:  Identical twins that grow up together are more different than identical twins that grow up apart. (In the real world, that is. I haven’t tried that in the game yet.)

There is another reason this is on my mind: A MOOC (massive open online course) from BerkeleyX, the electronic arm of Berkeley University, distributed through the EdX platform. Yes, I am MOOCing this year again, and more successfully. But anyway, The Science of Happiness spends an inordinate amount of time elaborating and belaboring how absolutely necessary a rich social life is for human happiness. And I am like WTH you people, but then I think to myself: At least this may be useful for playing The Sims 4, if nothing else.  Actually I guess both the course and The Sims 4 may be useful for understanding ordinary humans, of which I am clearly not one. More about that next time, probably.

Only of myself

 (Screenshot anime Chuu-Ren

The foe I face is inside of me…

I grew up in the age of the gramophone (also called phonograph, in America perhaps). Kids today may not know exactly what that was, but it was the thing before the audio CD, which I think most people in 2014 remember, even though music is now a download or streaming thing from the Internet. The music cassette also came (and went) during my lifetime, but this too was crushed by the Internet. Everything is crushed by the Internet, is it not? Even television now merges with the Internet the way the lamb merges with the wolf. In the case of television, good riddance. In the case of the gramophone…

There was a vinyl disc with literal physical grooves etched into it in a spiral pattern. A motor made the disc spin at a constant speed. A tiny needle, called a pickup needle, picked up the vibrations from the bottom of the groove which varied marginally in height. These vibrations were basically sound, it only needed to be amplified. (The grooves were made in the reverse process, etching the pattern into a soft master disk with a needle that vibrated with sound.) It was a fairly robust technology, in that it did not really need electronics at all to work, although the sound would be rather weak without an amplifier.

The gramophone was almost exclusively used for music, but only almost. We also had one or two disks with fairy tales for children. (I was not a fan of fairy tales, generally. My mother told me that when I was little, she tried to tell me fairy tales and I looked at her and asked: Is this true? And when she admitted it was not literally true, I asked her to tell me something from her childhood instead. Evidently I was a lot more mature as a toddler than I am now! ^_^) I liked technology, though, so I would listen to the fairy tales on the gramophone. And one in particular, about Snow White.

We kids replayed the Snow White story so often that eventually the cheap plastic disk got a scratch in it. This scratch, as sometimes happened with gramophones, made the needle jump back. Remember that the sound groove followed a spiral pattern inwards, so a strategically placed scratch could let the needle slip back out one or two rounds. As it happened, this took place at the exact spot where the narrator intoned:
The evil queen thought only of herself
and the needle then jumped back:
only of herself
only of herself
only of herself
infinitely until we gave the pickup a push to get it past the damaged part.

My earthly father – a much better man than I – had the insight to point out to us kids that this was exactly how it worked in real life as well. Evil people are stuck in the same groove of thinking only of themselves, only of themselves, only of themselves, only of themselves, without limit. That is what makes them evil in the first place.

I still found it hilarious though, and would put on the record just to sit and listen to the evil queen thinking only of herself, only of herself while I laughed my little ass off. Little did I know that I was the same type of person myself.

Decades have passed. I am 55 years now, and looking back on a life where I have, for the most part, been thinking only of myself, only of myself, only of myself, except for the few times when someone or something briefly pushed me through. But I would soon return to concentrating on the one person in my life that I have truly loved: Myself! I love me so much, I cannot imagine a life without me. ^_^

Some day however, that’s what’s going to happen – life will go on without me. The record of my life will grind to a halt, having never been able to tell the story it could have told, because of the scratch that made me stuck in this groove – thinking only of myself
only of myself
only of myself

But I hope there’s someone out there who has been entertained, at least!