01-15-10 - Relationships

One of the cognitive mistakes I make in relationships is thinking that deeds are additive to state.

I and people like me often think of the work we put in on a relationship as accumulating, building up a bank of good will that we can then draw from when we make mistakes. We imagine :

State += (deeds).

In reality, it's more like

State = (deeds)


State -= time decay
State :-> (deeds)

Where I just made up the :-> which means "drive to" in the sense of my cubic controller ; a variable is "driven" towards a target, via lerp or PD controller or cubic or whatever.

That is, doing good deeds (buying flowers, giving massages, being patient, going to the ballet) doesn't build anything. It just sets the current level, and you have to keep doing it all the time.

When I'm a fucker, I often think "I've done all these good deeds, I've proved that I love you and will stay with you, you should cut me some slack" ; I imagine that the bad deed is just like "State --" , it just takes off some of the credit that I've accumulated. In reality that's not true, again it's just more like an assignment

State = (fucker)

or really

State :-> (fucker)

In a game theory sense, we can think about how to use this. If you only have limitted budget of good deeds, when should you do them? The most important time to do them is right after you're a fucker. You certainly shouldn't do a bunch of them all at once, because they don't add up credits that you get to keep. If you've done really good, you should just coast on that for a while as the state bleeds down before you do something to replenish it. (actually it's even more extreme than that, because of relativism and baseline recalibration, doing lots of good deeds in a row can doom you, because anything you do after that will seem worse than "the good time").

One thing I struggle with is the sort of Buddhist idea of detachment. The Buddhist idea is that you shouldn't be affected by your environment; that is, your happiness should be inside your own head; you should observe and be involved in your environment, but it shouldn't pierce your inner bubble of self. This has always not made sense to me. If I'm supposed to be unaffected by the negative things people say to me or what I see, then I should also be unaffected by the positive things, right? So I should take no happiness when someone says they love me or when Richard Feynman tells me I'm the best physicist he ever met? That doesn't make any sense to me, what happiness am I supposed to take? And if I take happiness from those things, then logically I must also take sadness from the opposite.

Anyway, you do need this detachment to some extent in relationships. Your lover will inevitably have moments of bad mood or anger at you or insecurity or whatever, and they will act like a real motherfucker to you and say horrible things. You can't be too affected by it when they do that, you have to know they don't really mean it. The problem is when they do that, you don't yet know it's just a mood. The way you find out they're in a state is because they said X to you, so at the time when you first hear X, you don't yet know they're in a state. That means you need to be able to hear them say X and not react too much. You need a detachment that lets you sort of ignore them when they say something bad or weird.

This is a weird thing I haven't quite figured out, but I think I'm getting better.


Tim said...

Regarding the Buddhist idea of detachment, I think you're close in some ways. Yes, detachment is a method to become perpetually clear-headed and calm, perhaps this is what you mean by "unaffected?" Your misstep comes at thinking this means one should be always unemotional, slogging through life like a robot. Another fallacy you seem to have: never being truly sad comes with the price of never being truly happy.

The universe in Buddhism is fully dynamic; there are really only processes. (On the highest level, there's really only one process, but that's not relevant here.) Detachment means feel however you want, but don't attempt to carry it into the next moment. If you're happy be happy. Maybe you'll be sad next, but you don't really know that. We often make ourselves sad simply by making a comment. "Boy, I was really happy just a second ago. What happened?" Live in the flow of life, without commentary, because all things shall pass, etc. In fact, you've probably missed something nice just by trying to think about a past moment!

Let's think about some things you said: "... it shouldn't pierce your inner bubble or self." You've probably heard that Buddhist say that there's "no self." This is what they mean. Get rid of your idea of an "inner self" that stands apart or against the environment or world. In fact, people who have experienced "enlightenment" often report a feeling of their true self being no longer in their heads but "out in the world." Sadly, people often think "no self" is equivalent to "no soul" (it isn't) which is a horrible thought in the Western world!

So... "Your happiness should be inside your head." Is there happiness outside of your head? What lies outside your head? Where is the boundary between your head and the world? Do you stop at your skin? These things are a bit hokey-sounding these days, but if you entertain these ideas you can change your own thinking to the positive.

Buddhist concepts aren't truth statements about the nature of the universe. They're really, like I said, methods. (By the way, the two major schools of Buddhism, Mahayana and Hinayana mean "big vehicle", or "big method", and "little vehicle" respectively.) If you come across a strange Buddhist statement, you should play with the idea. Don't try to apply mechanical logic and make truth statements about the universe or humanity as a whole, etc. Just play with it. It's better to think of these things as ways of transforming your everyday thoughts. The methods of Buddhism "turn your mind into an ally."

Gilles said...

I love that you and i suffer from exactly the same problems and thoughts. Fuck :(

old rants