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?
For me, it was religion.
I’ve always been a natural storyteller, and when I was little no rock nor stone in my neighborhood didn’t have a name and a personality. I also made up gods, and various colors of magic, one of which was ‘black.’ I didn’t really understand why people got upset when I talked about my fictional gods, or why my mom told me to stop talking about ‘black magic.’ They’re stories that teach you something, right? Just like the Greek and Roman and Egyptian gods.
When I finally figured out that people actually like… something else??? Religion??? People can feel a literal connection to religion stuff? I don’t think it’s even possible to explain what it is that’s different, but when I finally figured out that it wasn’t some kind of really complicated game I pretty much wet myself in terror. I still don’t really get it.
This probably has a genetic link, incidentally – my dad doesn’t have a lot of religiosity despite being raised in a religious environment and neither does my maternal grandmother, and my mother and maternal grandfather were both as atheist as you get. My mom, a girl from a Christian background who liked going to Synagogue with a friend better…for aesthetic reasons. Yeah. We don’t get it, whatever ‘it’ is; and it doesn’t have to do with exposure – I’ve been around pagans of various denominations since I was little, participated in various solemn rites, felt deep appreciation for them… and yet, nothing more. Whatever’s there for them isn’t there for me. So, yeah. Defective brain. What gives.
@ursulavernon’s talked about this, that she just doesn’t seem to be wired to click with religion the way some people do, despite being raised churchgoing.
My own relationship with religion in this context is weird enough that I’m gonna go on about it at some length, sorry. ;S Short version is that I both do and don’t “get” religion, in ways that are definitely confusing to me and possibly to everybody else.
I was raised super-conservative Roman Catholic, lots of rules and shit. I was extremely good at the rules. I didn’t at all feel a personal connection to god, but I kind of did to some of the saints, in a similar way to how I connect and interact with “my” particular focus characters from any fandom. (Saint Peter, man, he’s a doofus and he continually fucks up and he’s still good enough to be Jesus’s personal next-in-line. I found that really encouraging through all of my you’re-not-good-enough braintimes.)
And… huh, Brin mentioned not experiencing awe, I guess I do, because that’s about the only word for how I connected to certain parts of Catholic ritual. Easter always really got to me, I still kinda miss it, because – Catholic, right, sometimes-Latin-Mass Catholic, it’s this massive multi-day set of ceremonies, these special rituals that only happen once a year. You stop ringing the church bells on Thursday night, you sing the Pange Lingua, you start the Forty Hours’ Adoration. You fast on Friday, you go to service and kiss the cross instead of taking Communion, you have to remember not to genuflect to the altar that one day. And then Saturday night, and it cannot happen before the sun is down (at least by the strict rules, y’know, all about the rules my subsect), you light the new fire with flint and steel, you bless it, and you light everybody’s little handheld candles from it and carry the Easter candle into the church singing the Sequence. And that always gave me the chills, still does, because it’s this big ceremonial ritual thing, every movement and every word packed full of symbolism, and it’s sweeping around the world with the sunset. Twenty-four hours of fire and joy and new light.
So – yeah. Religion, don’t know that I really get the spiritual connection part of it. Certainly I don’t get it in the “right” way; people will try to explain to me how they trust God even when bad things happen, or whatever, and I’m just like “no. Anybody that’s got the power to stop some of these objectively awful things and doesn’t, I don’t care what their ineffable plan is, if they’re fucking all-powerful they can make it happen without X. They choose to let super-bad shit happen anyway, they’re a fuckwad.”
And yet. I’m comfortable with the idea of a spiritual world possibly existing. Fairies, angels, gods. I actually really like the idea of genii locorum, that hits the same button – awe, I guess? – that Easter Vigil night does, the idea that there’s this particular thing happening that isn’t physical but that’s tied to this place and/or time. (Yes, “Brigadoon” makes me cry. ;S) I’m chill with the, the fact that by definition you can’t prove a spiritual anything exists, because it’s by definition not-material not-physical and not gonna do things you can measure on the physical plane, and I’m aware that functionally it’s all inside my head…
…I don’t know how to analyze the difference here, because there’s a lot of religion stuff that I’m like “it is all inside their heads and that makes me kind of uncomfortable”. I used to pass a little corner church on the way to college that advertised “Find Relief From ANYTHING!!!”, and I really despised them just because I was in a bad enough place myself that I could see how that would be appealing but since all the relief-finding religion can do is gonna be inside your own head, that meant they were preying on vulnerable people who’d do a lot better to go see a therapist, or at least jigger their own brains without needing to pretend a God was doing it for them.
(I don’t know if my ability to more or less consciously rejigger my own brainspace is unusual. I guess it must be, because I don’t see other people talking about anything similar much. Huh. Does religion fulfill that same purpose for other people? I wonder.)
But, yeah, there’s also this stuff that I’m aware it’s all inside my head but I still like it, prefer to have it as part of my take on the world than not. – and, yeah, thinking about it, a lot of it is the stuff that gives me that awe feeling. Huh. Interesting.
(Brin suggested to me a while back, and I’m still noodling with this enough that I don’t have a real coherent answer, that part of my “I don’t actually want to fuck that but looking at it turns me on” response to things like the Grand Canyon may be crossed wires with how I experience awe. I’m noting that here because this is another datapoint in me trying to figure out that one – the Easter sunset firelight thing, for instance, doesn’t hit my “hot damn sexy” buttons at all, it’s a totally different physical feeling. *is just thinking out loud here*)
(There might wind up being a post with me trying to figure out the sexy thing at some point pretty soon, because the bit with the not-limerence in my other reblog of this post is also a datapoint on that, and it ties into some of the stuff I need to work out with how I’m writing Zaeed. That’s not this post, though.)
Yeah. No real conclusion here, but since I hadn’t though of religion as one of the things I experience atypically until I saw this reblog, I wanted to write about it.
One of the problems with Tumblr’s note system is that I can’t like this post without unliking your other post.
I don’t know if my ability to more or less consciously rejigger my own
brainspace is unusual. I guess it must be, because I don’t see other
people talking about anything similar much.
I think that’s what they call “self-modification”?
I don’t think I’ve done much in the way of re-jiggering, but then I haven’t really tried. Most of the things I do are attempts to better understand the way I currently am, which is also something I see a lot of in your posts.
I haven’t seen the Grand Canyon, but extrapolating from stuff I have seen, I expect my reaction would be “I am uncomfortable with how much emotion I am not feeling”. I once described the feeling as my soul bumping ineffectually against the barrier you transcend when you have a transcendent experience.
(Mind you, the alternative might be worse. I tend to dislike overwhelming emotion even when it’s a positive emotion. *gestures at perseveration*)
It’s worse when it’s an awe-inspiring thing that’s been specifically hyped. I grew up in the Northeastern Mega-City hearing about how wonderful the stars were, how it was so much better when you could see them filling the sky rather than a dozen scattered points, how the stars were our birthright and everyone I’d ever known, including myself, was incomplete as a person because of not having regular access to their full glory.
I still haven’t seen the Milky Way in person, but I’ve been far enough out in rural Ontario at night that the stars were into the triple-digits. It was…the absence of feeling was like a feeling in itself. I felt empty. I felt broken beyond repair, too damaged even to assess the extent of the damage. The stars were supposed to fix some flaw I’d been carrying for so long I couldn’t even perceive the lack, but whatever it was, I could not be fixed. I could not be saved.
(It was pretty, I could tell that much, but I have a very limited appreciation for beauty. It ties in so much with awe.)
#one of my tags is #things that make me uncomfortably aware of my apparent inability to feel awe #it’s mostly pictures of the stars #with a bit of ill-advised venting about religion #sounds about right #reply via reblog #is the blue I see the same as the blue you see