The Whippet #63: The Cut Sublime


Hello!

I've been talking to people about whether they can visualise things. It's tricky because it turns out when a lot of people say they're visualising, say, a blue cube, they're actually just holding in their mind the general concepts of blue and cubishness, not making a picture.

My partner, who seems to be one of them, said "but if they're 'seeing' it, where are they seeing it?!" and was shocked when I answered, easily, "above and to the right". I do actually have a space where the pictures go. He apparently doesn't. Most of the friends I asked do, though the place varies (behind their eyes rather than projected forward was common). (Relevant: 'Blind in the mind': Why some people can't see pictures in their imagination).

Nevertheless, my 'image' is still vague, half-conceptual, and not exactly the same as real 'seeing'. I also usually only bring an image into my head if someone asks me to, otherwise I think in words and concepts, sort of whole-idea-at-once (hard to describe). Whereas for some people it's much more vivid and is their primary way of processing information, for example, in the link below:

How Temple Grandin (scientist and autism spokeswoman) thinks

My mind is similar to an Internet search engine that searches for photographs. I use language to narrate the photo-realistic pictures that pop up in my imagination. All my thinking is associative and not linear. To form concepts, I sort pictures into categories similar to computer files. To form the concept of orange, I see many different orange objects, such as oranges, pumpkins, orange juice and marmalade.

To have someone speak with so much clarity and self-awareness on their own thinking processes is a goddamned gift, there is nothing I want more than to have some even brief peek into what it's like to live in a different mind to mine, and this is the closest I'll get.

When I was a child, I categorized dogs from cats by sorting the animals by size. All the dogs in our neighbourhood were large until our neighbours got a Dachshund. I remember looking at the small dog and trying to figure out why she was not a cat. I had to find a visual feature that she shared with big dogs. I had to create a new category in my mind to differentiate.

....

In my case even abstract questions are answered by putting photo-realistic pictures into categories. One time I was asked ‘Is capitalism a good system?’ To answer this question, I put pictures from countries that had different types of governmental systems into the following categories: (i) capitalistic, (ii) capitalistic/socialistic, (iii) socialistic, (iv) benevolent dictatorship, (v) brutal dictatorship, and (vi) war and chaos. These pictures were taken from my memory and they are from experiences travelling or the news media. My answer was that I absolutely do not want to live in a brutal dictatorship, or war and chaos. Pictures helped me make a choice because in the last two choices I see news photos and TV images of killing and destruction. [If you're thinking "that doesn't really answer the question", that's sort of her point].

My ability to provide a well thought-out answer has greatly improved with age because I have travelled more, and have more pictures both from actual experiences and from reading.

Full article

Blanking someone in the Regency Era

Blanking someone means to pretend you don't see or recognise them when you definitely do; it is the highest form of insult in civil society.

In Regency Era England (aka Jane Austen times), this was called a cut. (As in, cutting ties with someone, cutting off an acquaintance.)

Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable gives four variations:

  1. The cut direct is to stare an acquaintance in the face and pretend not to know him.

  2. The cut indirect, to look another way, and pretend not to see him.

  3. The cut sublime, to admire the top of some tall edifice or the beauty of the clouds till the person cut has passed by.

  4. The cut infernal, to stoop and adjust your boots till the party has gone past.

I suppose in order from most to least insulting, based on how easily you can pretend it was an accident. More details and description of a famous snub here. (The snubber is more mean than clever, but if it makes you feel better, he later died of syphilis, which is surely more than enough cosmic payback for anyone.)

Artist: Mel Tillory (more gryphons here)

Found via @BinAnimals on twitter, a recommended follow for Bin Animal content. The very first issue of The Whippet had a link to an article I still love, "In Praise of Bin Animals":

"In the excitement of the raccoon at defeating a bin, in the wary consideration of a crow as to whether a piece of food is safe or a trap, in the unbridled joy of a bear who has just broken into a pie shop, I see our closest kin: not our immediate genetic cousins, but our cognitive ones. They are like us in the things which make us most human."

Bin Animals invariably have goblin energy.

Plant intelligence: researcher trains pea plants like Pavlov's dog

Pavlov rang a bell before feeding his dogs; eventually they started salivating as soon as they heard the bell.

"Instead of the bell, we used a little fan, which I knew plants didn't care about. And instead of dinner, I used a little blue light, which I know plants care about very much for growth."

"The researchers had the fan blow onto the pea plant from a certain direction before they replaced it with a blue light, repeating the fan-light combination from random angles over several days.

"Finally, the fan was blown onto the conditioned plant from a certain direction. When the researchers returned the next day to turn on the blue light, they found the plant had bent towards it in anticipation."

In separate studies, she found plant roots grow towards the sound of water, not just towards humidity, and that they may be able to tell what plants they are next to by the tiny clicking sounds of roots growing.

Here's a longer (print) interview with her if interested.

Don't fight a cat. Use your brain. Use drugs.

From a veterinary textbook. Via Andrew Gorcester on twitter.

Solicited Advice

"What the heck does the word 'should' mean? It's easily my least favourite word in the English language."


Ha, okay. This was surprisingly hard to answer without using the word 'should' (or the synonym 'ought') in the answer. So I've turned to the dictionary. The two main meanings it gives are:

  1. Used to indicate obligation, duty or correctness (such as when giving advice)

  2. Used to indicate something is likely (such as: "it should rain today" or, when tightening a loose bolt, "that oughtta do it")

1. seems harsh but the 'correctness' part is just about plain facts. "The widget should be fully screwed on before operating machine" is just telling you how the thing works.

I think these meanings are very blurry though. 2. is kind of the 'correctness' part of of 1. - based on current circumstances, the correct next step of the clouds is to rain. that And a duty is what you expect - predict? - someone will do.

And we use the word 'should' not just about people but about our expectations for the world. "It's been a week, I shouldn't still be sick." Does that mean we didn't predict we would still be sick? Or that the universe is obligated to treat you more fairly? I think we often kinda mean both, even for full-blood atheists.

So, yeah, it's no wonder you don't like it. First because most people don't like being reminded of obligations and duties, and especially don't like other people imposing new ones on them.

And secondly because of this blurring between the two uses. For example, people often give advice without saying what the advice is for.

"You should save 10% of your paycheck" implies a duty. In fact, there might be a silent 'if': "You should save 10% of your paycheck, [if you want to be able to handle a financial emergency when it comes up]". The second is more a prediction. This action should lead to that outcome (leaving it up to you if you want that outcome). It's way less judgey.

When a person doesn't spell out the silent 'if', the hearer might project all kinds of things onto it:
You should... [if you don't want to disappoint me] [if you want to be considered a worthwhile person] [if you want to remain a part of this family].

Sometimes you have a shady person saying "you should" and pretending their 'if' is something helpful and optional while secretly hoping you understand it is a judgement. The two meanings of 'should' give them plausible deniability (even to themselves - "all I said was...!)

And similarly the correctness vs. obligation. People use the blurriness of should to act like their "I believe you have an obligation to do x" is really a statement of neutral fact, just how things have to be. The widget has to be screwed on for the machine to operate. You need to dress more ladylike if you want to get anywhere in the world.

Or how the neutral tea-making instruction "you should put the milk in first/last" became for people a moral obligation and belief about correct behaviour? Or "you should/n't put a comma after the second-last item in a list". People build identities around value-neutral ways of doing things. I don't know what to say about that, it's super common and super weird.

Anyway, I think if people were only ever super clear and said, directly, "I think you have a duty to do x" you would object less to it, because you could just agree or be affronted at their presumptuousness. I think it's the blurriness and plausible deniability that infuriates you. (I say this because most people do believe they have duties and obligations to the people they care about, and are not upset about it - they value it.)

Note also that someone might be using "should" in a perfectly neutral way and you could be aggravated if you imagine a bunch of silent judgements that aren't there.

Side note: a piece of advice I've seen for people who respond with even the most benign shoulds with "don't tell me what to do, recipe!!" to reframe things to emphasise their agency. Like:

Instead of "I have to meet my friend" you say (to yourself) "I get to meet my friend".

Or for "I should do my taxes today", which is hard to frame as an opportunity without feeling like a weasel, try:

"I'm choosing to do my taxes today"

or

"I'll feel better if I do my taxes today".


If you want solicited advice, send questions to thewhippet@mckinleyvalentine.com or just reply to this email.

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