Tuesdays With Abhorrent Fiends vol 43.

I highly recommend the following story:

The Things That Make Me Weak And Strange Get Engineered Away by Cory Doctorow.

It's scifi. It's set in a classic "totalitarian dystopia" future. But! It's also a lighthearted romp with an endearingly bumbling main character who actually manages to use his enormous brain properly from time to time. He is a monk in something called the Order of Reflective Analytics.

Which Order, were it not fictional, and all other things being equal, I would have been standing in line to join since a week before the doors opened. In fact, I would willingly be a participant in three consecutive episodes of Fear Factor if such was necessary to be allowed to join.* They spend all their time analyzing things and making sure they maintain good mental and physical health, plus a set percentage of time they spend noodling around with whatever hobby strikes their fancy.

I really, really like analysis. Especially self-analysis. The continued existence of this blog is more proof of that than anyone deserves to have inflicted upon them. My brain, she is like one of those scammer aliens from Bender's Big Score. The ones who have a sprunger in their neck which becomes engorged in the presence of (mmmm) information.


(The scammer aliens, for those who haven't seen the movie, are the ones on the right. The not even vaguely hot ones. The at least vaguely hot ones are Amy and Leela.)

Self-analysis, simply put, is a convenient dump for all that attention and mental energy I have to be paying to something. Me is always where I can get at me to think about me, so whenever I get bored, I end up self-analyzing more than usual. Which from time to time has led to some really bad feedback loops between boredom and sadness. But not today! So we'll not discuss that further just now.

Today, something highly reflective occurred to me. Lo, in the midst of my light clerical labors, whose chiefest occupational hazards are papercuts about the fingers and knuckles, soreness of the neck, back and shoulders, and extreme boredom of the kind which does not preclude rational thought if one is moved to engage in it.

Consider all those superstitions I listed in Tuesday 42. Consider that I hold each and every one of them in my brain at any appropriate time, and use them as an analytical sounding board off which to bounce my initial and subsequent observations of the events I experience. In the case of "ironic commentary" superstitions, any appropriate time is all the dogmanned time. Because irony, as we know, never goes out of style.

Now, why, on the face of it--why on Earth would I do such a thing?

The practical reason (in Aristotelian, the efficient cause) is that this system of superstitions replaced something else which was worse for my mental well-being. Namely, a system of similar but more negative superstitions I'd picked up haphazardly from my years in Christianity. All of which had to do with the relative morality or immorality of every little event I happened to notice, and the varying degrees of unsufferable disgustitude with which I was meant to react to a truly astounding number of things. Now, I know that no single human being, or even a group of separated individuals, would ever have wanted or consciously intended to put such a thing into my brain. However, it was my misfortune and lack of wisdom to absorb and mimic various structures of value judgments as I perceived others to apply them. So me becoming superstitious, in the sense of my previous post, was actually an improvement in terms of my mental health. This is because I was replacing something built blindly, by instinct and reaction, with something built fumblingly, through half-understood methods for reasons which were still nebulous.

However, the structural reason (aka: formal cause) why I must have something which serves that purpose in my brain is because I crave information. Sure, we all do! A constant stream of information about what things mean and what they all have to do with one another is essential to our survival. Furthermore, without that information, consciousness has nothing to work on, and eventually goes all wacky and shuts itself down.

And what occurred to me today is that without a structure of value judgments to put things in context, all the random little minutia of my day are just data. Not information. Like if the wind blew the letters on a sign off into the street. Your conscious mind can't do anything with data unless you have a context in which to process it. Value judgments and the beliefs which give them an overall shape and structure provide that context. And I want to process lots and lots of it all the time, certain types of it especially. If I can't get information of the kinds I want in the amounts I crave, I will eventually get edgy and twitchy and eventually freak out in the exact same way that I freak out under sensory deprivation. It is like depriving a non-vampire bat of both the smell and sound of tasty fruit nectars, or a bear-shark of its inalienable right to eat fish. Making stuff up to think about is way preferable to suffering the effects of boredom.

Point is this. Self-analysis, superstition, whatever direction you know how to point it in, every personality has a certain amount of attention which must be spent on something. And in order to do that, the person whom the personality expresses must believe in a set of value judgments. Because the essence of a value judgment is that it determines which things are most (and least) worth paying attention to!

Therefore. The value judgments in which you choose to believe determine (final cause!) which aspects of reality will provide you with the most data. Belief shapes the avenues of perception; perception provides data which can be turned into information once filtered through the lens of belief. I ended up with a cobbled-together group of wacky, vaguely new-agey superstitions for value judgments because they happen to be a decent fit, symbolically speaking, for the types of events I enjoy noticing.

This seems to confront me with a conundrum of fictionally difficult proportions. How am I to determine which value judgments are best for me, when the value judgments one possesses and the aspects of reality one notices exist in a causally dependent relationship to one another?

Or maybe it's more like Dave was telling me last night, while we were both getting drunk. If you are worried about many things, pick something you feel good enough about to make a decision about, and decide. Then all the other things will seem easier.

*By the fourth, I would start rationalizing myself out of it. Deep inside my brain I would weigh all the shiny biofeedback charts and times of quiet reflection against the necessity of having to eat another bug, and the bug would probably win. In terms of me wanting to not eat it, I mean.