Brain on breakup; forgiveness, memories and betrayal


When we first decided to give it a go, there was one thing that I really wanted to make sure of, a promise I kept repeating in my head to myself that we have to keep: that no matter what happened, we would remain friends.

Our friendship was too important to me and the dynamics of our little clique too precious to me to risk. Besides, I really never understood how or why ex-partners could become enemies. It’s ridiculous and absurd! Surely if you’ve been that close, been that intimate and know each other that well… all that can’t just disappear! How can understanding and love flip 360 into irreconcilable differences and hate? So for whatever reasons you have to part, but surely you can stay friends. Chemistry between people (how well you click) doesn’t just vanish.

曾经心疼为何变成陌生?

Ha. ha. ha. This is irony laughing at my naive, foolish younger self.

For all of my previous convictions, all of my mental gymnastics trying to make sense of the chaos in my head, all of my musings and waxing lyrical about the nature of love, unconditional love and forgiveness… I realize that I’m hardly any closer at all to forgiving her, and I still have no idea how to be friends.

You think you’ve come so far, so far
But you’re not any closer, no you’re not any closer at all

I recently watched Tipping the Velvet, a 3-part BBC Tv series based on Sarah Water’s novel of the same name. When the main character found out that her first love was cheating on her, she literally ran down the streets shouting, “You said you loved me! You said we’d be together forever!” over and over and over. (Okay, on re-watching the scene, I see that I’m exaggerating a little, but that’s how I remembered it!) Even after so many month, I still find myself slipping back into that.

but you said…!
but you said…!
but you said…!
but you said…!

All those promises, both implicit and explicit.

Not just the promises, but words said during the break up. After the break up.

all the things she said, all the things she said, running through my head, running through my head, running through me head… 

And the memories. Memories that keep playing of their own accord, over and over.

I like how they did the constant flashbacks in Tipping the Velvet, with the most poignant memory replaying and persisting, a shorter and shorter snippet, while the rest fade. That’s exactly how it’s like. A few favourite memories play and replay, and soon those are all you can remember. You’d think that the more you recall something, the better you’d remember it, but each time you pull it from memory, it’s a brand new retelling. Little bits dropped, little bits added; it’s changed. It feels more vivid, yes. But at the price of accuracies in the details. It loses it’s nuances. It becomes exactly what you’re remembering it for. ‘Exaggerated’, more than ‘vivid’. If you remember it as Great, it slowly turns golden: the best example of great. Remembered for sorrow, it’ll take that shape.

I used to think that no matter what happens in the present or the future, at the very least the memories are yours to keep. No one can steal away the good times you’ve already had. You can cherish them always. I see I was wrong here too. Things that happen now, or in the future, can reach back into the past to colour and change the meanings of memories…

What am I supposed to make of them now? What am I supposed to do with them? How do I make sense of them? I really don’t know.

All those promises, implicit and explicit.

I guess you can’t trust words. You can’t trust people. If you can’t trust words from the one you trust the most… if you can’t trust words that are said with deepest sincerity and love… then what’s left that you can trust?

And I guess that’s why it’s so hard for ex-partners to remain friends, if the break up is not a mutual decision. That’s why it’s so difficult to forgive.

SHE BETRAYED ME.

the closest you can get
sticking the knife
the deepest it can get
and the most unexpected it can get.

It’s hard to get over betrayal.

Oranges are not the only fruit


Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is a novel by Jeanette Winterson published in 1985, which she subsequently adapted into a three-part BBC television drama. It is a bildungsroman about a lesbian girl who grows up in an English Pentecostal community.

I plan to read the book, but in the meantime, I found the TV series on youtube, so I watched that first. It’s a great show, give it a watch if you have the time. On youtube it’s uploaded as 6 parts of about 7 minutes for each of the 3 episode. There’s a part missing though, so if you can access the video via other means, maybe you could try that too. For example, I’ve just realized that the esplanade library carries the video cassettes! …not sure how I would watch video cassettes though haha, maybe the esplanade has a multimedia room you can use. Nonetheless, the missing part didn’t make the show any less enjoyable to watch.

Some thoughts:

It made me think, once again, about how flexible the human mind is.
I mean, how easily we can twist words to mean what we want them to mean. How words can mean anything.  How easily we can delude ourselves, how easily we can truly believe what is not true. How easily we can think, with all our heart, that we’re doing the right thing.

Can you blame the mother in the show, as unpleasant as she is? Can you fault her for treating the main character, Jess, in that way? It may not be your idea of love (it may be, in fact, your idea of hate) but I do think she does love Jess, and every horrible thing she did, she thought it was for the best. No, she knew it was for the best.

This is how humans are. We can operate separate from the ‘truth’. It doesn’t matter so much what is out there as what we think is out there, how we perceive what is out there.

And that’s the problem I have with ‘faith’. Knowing how susceptible we are to such thinking, to being able to have unwavering belief in your own thoughts, positions and actions, shouldn’t we be guarding against such thinking rather than encouraging it? Guarding against ‘having faith’?

Because isn’t such type of thinking the essence of faith?

To have complete trust in something. To believe in god without evidence. To… just believe. Just have faith. With all your heart.

People are capable of being blind enough as it is. Don’t tie blindfolds over your eyes and tell me that’s a GOOD thing. The more blindfolds you tie, the more you trust without EVIDENCE or PROOF, the better and more PREFERABLE that is? Seriously?
—-
The show had me crying. Because the worst thing was… knowing that this isn’t merely fiction. Knowing that this isn’t merely history. Knowing that this isn’t merely abstract ideas, or something happening far away.

This is real. This is now. This is here. This is me, and those are my friends.

Please don’t pretend that the church’s position has ‘progressed’, that your position has progressed and is better and more reasonable than historical positions. Does it really matter what words you use? Whether you call it a ‘demon in you’ or an ‘illness’ or a  ‘disorder’ or a ‘result of the fallen world’ or an ‘abomination’ or even just simply a ‘sin’?

You change the words, but the final meaning is the same. The church’s idea of ‘progress’ is ‘accepting’ new evidence but without letting it change the bottom line. So you have to change your interpretation a little. That’s not a problem. As long as you keep the bottom line the same.

I don’t remember if I’ve said it out loud on this blog yet, but… my girlfriend of three years broke up with me–yes, you guessed it– for religious reasons. You could say this blog is born from that incident.

During that break-up period, she showed me two different cases from two different Christian books she was reading– about homosexuals having had demons successfully cast out of them.

…how do you think that makes me feel? To know that the person you love thinks that the only reason why you love her and why she loves you is because of a demon?

…so when we enjoyed each others’ company, simply sitting on a bench enjoying the breeze and talking; a demon at work?
…so when we celebrated anniversaries or valentine’s days, exchanging heartfelt gifts; a demon pulling the strings?
…when we went out for dinner; a demon ordering dessert?
…when we said ‘I love you’ countless times, cheered each other on through tests, exams and school work, listened to each others’ problems and worries… all through a demon’s mouth and ears?

I understand a little more now why people can be so cruel, why the mother in the show can behave so hard-heartedly towards her daughter. That’s not her daughter, it’s a demon. The devil’s limb, as she says.

How people could have burnt women at the stake: they’re not women, they’re witches. The cries you hear aren’t the cries of a women in pain, they are the cries of evil knowing it has lost the battle. When someone cries and screams while having a demon cast out, that’s the sound of the demon, in pain.

What does ‘demon’ even mean, anyway? The idea of ‘ALL GOOD’ and ‘ALL BAD’ is really an incoherent one to me. It can’t exist in more than the abstract. If this thing you call a ‘demon’ can feel pain, shouldn’t we have compassion for it too?

I can’t wait to read the book.

The Righteous Mind; Overcoming blind intuition


Why Won’t The Listen? ‘The Righteous Mind’ by Johnathan Haidt

Great article and sounds like a great book!

Some quotes from the article, and some of my thoughts.

people are fundamentally intuitive, not rational.

Which is why it takes effort: we need to be constantly on our guard to make sure we’re not committing logical fallacies, because we are prone to doing so! But the first step is being self-aware, the first step is ACKNOWLEDGING that we’re prone to… all these things the article mentions. Only then you can start to evaluate yourself. Think about your own thinking, behaviours, beliefs.

“We were never designed to listen to reason. When you ask people moral questions, time their responses and scan their brains, their answers and brain activation patterns indicate that they reach conclusions quickly and produce reasons later only to justify what they’ve decided.”

Because in a historical context, if we were to always logically and painstakingly weigh all the pros and cons before acting, we’d be dead. We’ve evolved to make quick, snappy judgements. So again, once we’re aware of this we can guard against it, now that we have the luxury of time and knowledge to weigh the pros and cons properly.

Evolution pushes us to give us what works in a given environment. It doesn’t push to give us the truth or the most factually accurate answers. Just what works (at that time).

“The problem isn’t that people don’t reason. They do reason. But their arguments aim to support their conclusions, not yours. Reason doesn’t work like a judge or teacher, impartially weighing evidence or guiding us to wisdom. It works more like a lawyer or press secretary, justifying our acts and judgments to others. Haidt shows, for example, how subjects relentlessly marshal arguments for the incest taboo, no matter how thoroughly an interrogator demolishes these arguments.

To explain this persistence, Haidt invokes an evolutionary hypothesis: We compete for social status, and the key advantage in this struggle is the ability to influence others. Reason, in this view, evolved to help us spin, not to help us learn. So if you want to change people’s minds, Haidt concludes, don’t appeal to their reason. Appeal to reason’s boss: the underlying moral intuitions whose conclusions reason defends.”

Is your belief holding up your reasons? Or are your reasons holding up your belief?

Admittedly, because no one is a blank canvas, it’s pretty difficult to erase all beliefs and start with reasons (as decartes tried to do), from the ground up. No assumptions. Not very possible in the practical sense. So probably, a compromise: acknowledge that most of the time it’s your belief propping up your reasons. So be on the look out for beliefs that keep having the reason knocked out (and keep scrambling for new ones) yet continues to float in your psyche without reasons. Maybe for those you should make a closer inspection and knock away all assumptions and start from ground up. See what you get.

“Liberals don’t understand conservative values. And they can’t recognize this failing, because they’re so convinced of their rationality, open-mindedness and enlightenment.

This reminds me of the article about more education and intelligence making people, ironically, more set in their (wrong) views. Honestly? I’m in constant fear that I’m making this mistake. That I’m being as hypocritical and close-minded as the people I charge with being hypocritical and close minded.

“In his view, for instance, liberals can teach conservatives to recognize and constrain predation by entrenched interests. Haidt believes in the power of reason, but the reasoning has to be interactive. It has to be other people’s reason engaging yours. We’re lousy at challenging our own beliefs, but we’re good at challenging each other’s.

I totally agree with this. While I like to hope that I read all decent, well thought out articles indiscriminately, the truth is obvious that most of the time, I will gravitate towards articles that share my views. The chances of me getting to a well thought out article that challenges my view is slim– not because they don’t exist, but because my tolerance for not-well-thought-out articles that support my view is much higher than for articles that don’t support my view. Meaning I would wade through several mediocre or lousy articles if they share my view to get to that one good one, but I probably wouldn’t do the same for an opposing view.

If 90% of the view points I hear are similar to my own, that means my views are not only not being challenged, they’re being affirmed. And that produces a subconscious effect whether I like it or not. So to friends who don’t share my views… please help me by challenging my beliefs.

“First, we need to help citizens develop sympathetic relationships so that they seek to understand one another instead of using reason to parry opposing views. Second, we need to create time for contemplation. Research shows that two minutes of reflection on a good argument can change a person’s mind. “

To truly want to understand an opposing view point– that’s really difficult. You may say, “I want to understand why you think that.” but at the back of your mind, a voice adds, “so I can correct your mistake/so I can show you why I’m right.” Even if you’re not interested in correcting others… there’ll still be a small voice going, “… but I know I’m right.”

It’s not too difficult to admit that you can be wrong– after all, we know our limits; we’re only human. But to go from that abstraction to being able to admit that you may be wrong about a specific belief of yours– that’s harder. If you’re sure of that belief– you think it’s something you know— it’s pretty difficult to get rid of that voice at the back of your head reminding you that you ‘know’ it. And if you can’t let go of that, it would be pretty difficult to ever be able to see how someone ‘knows’ something that is the opposite of what you ‘know’. You can’t truly see through someone else’s eyes, can’t truly walk in their shoes, if you’re standing firmly in your own shoes, in your own skin. You’d still be postulating and projecting what you think they see from over there, while you’re over here.

I know I’ve moved away from truly wanting to understand and closer to just wanting to defend my own views. Mainly because i got too frustrated and impatient. Hopefully I can move myself back to that point.

Keep reminding myself of this lesson: You have nothing to lose.
If your view is right, you have nothing to lose by gaining a deeper understanding of why other people don’t think so.
If your view is wrong, you have everything to gain by being able to correct your view.
So don’t hold back.

If someone holds a different view from you, the best testimony to your view is if you can understand 100% why they think that, and be able to point out were they ‘went wrong’. Rather than dismissing it as ‘they’re just deluded/not being honest with themselves/ignorant.’ They certainly don’t think that. Which means you’re still not thinking what they’re thinking. And therefore not fully understanding why they think it.

” Evolution itself has evolved: as humans became increasingly social, the struggle for survival, mating and progeny depended less on physical abilities and more on social abilities. In this way, a faculty produced by evolution — sociality — became the new engine of evolution. Why can’t reason do the same thing? Why can’t it emerge from its evolutionary origins as a spin doctor to become the new medium in which humans compete, cooperate and advance the fitness of their communities? Isn’t that what we see all around us? Look at the global spread of media, debate and democracy.”

BBC Horizon: Out of control?


“Science series. People like to think they are in control of their lives – of what they feel and think. But scientists are now discovering this is often simply an illusion”

More about the subconscious than free will or being in control, but still an interesting watch.

For an awesome lesson on how much we don’t notice (ie out much is filtered out and summarized and simplified for us so we can function everyday), watch this awesome ad.

Double-Edged Sword of Intelligence and Knowledge


One thing that has always bugged me about religion is the fact that many of the religious people I know are highly intelligent (much smarter than me), well read and well educated (more well read than me), really nice and generally very awesome people who seem to have their lives completely figured out. In other words, many of them were people I really admired and looked up to. Why and how did they believe? They’re intelligent, logical people. Plain ignorance or misguided thinking can’t be the reason. It seems much more likely that I’m the one missing something rather than them. What is it that they can see, that they can understand, that I can’t?

For that same reasons, on the flip side it’s comforting to me to read or hear of people– scientist, pastors, friends-who-are-awesome — deconverting; It’s an even stronger ‘case’ this way round: The religious whom I admire have maybe only ever been on that side of the fence. But people who deconvert- especially pastors, for example- would know the religious side really well! It couldn’t be that they are ‘missing something’, because they obviously knew it before. They must know something that those still religious are don’t.

It’s really tempting and intuitive to do that, pointing to authority figures to support your point. But it’s also lazy, and isn’t really proof of anything. It’s basically saying something akin to, “Look, even Albert Einstein thought so; are you so arrogant as to think you’re smart and know better than Albert Einstein?” Er, no, definitely not. But are you suggesting that Albert Einstein is correct about everything just because he’s smarter than you or me?

Just because someone smarter than you thinks so, doesn’t mean you accept his opinion uncritically; Don’t piggy-back on other people’s conclusions, do your own thinking and make your own conclusions.

That’s not to say we discredit or ignore all other conclusions, though. Obviously, we still do have to take other people’s more authoritative, expert views into account, because it’s undeniable that they know more than us. Considering their deeper understanding will undoubtedly give us insight. But don’t equate knowledge or experience with infallibility; They may know more than you, but they are as human, and as fallible, as you and I are.

I keep learning that… being incredibly smart doesn’t really mean anything. Being incredibly smart doesn’t mean you’re always right or always come to the best conclusions. It doesn’t mean you never make logic leaps or fallacies, doesn’t mean you can see all sides of the issue. Being incredibly smart in one way doesn’t mean you’re incredibly smart in all ways.

Similarly, being an incredibly loving and caring person doesn’t really mean anything either; It doesn’t mean you’ll never hurt another person.

People, all people, are only human. They do what they can, they do what they think is right.  No matter how incredibly smart, well-educated, earnest and serious they are, they don’t have any magic answers.

This article, The Ugly Delusions of the Educated Conservative, builds on this idea that knowledge doesn’t always equate to credibility, and brings it a step further: contrary to what we might think, more eduction, more intelligence and more knowledge can actually make it more likely for you to hold inaccurate beliefs.

Why? because the smarter, more well educated and more knowledgable you are, the more confidence you tend to have in your own position. Confidence is fine, but it has a nasty habit of stepping over the line into arrogance, if you’re not careful. And arrogance loathes to admit that it’s wrong, which means, if you were wrong to begin with, you’ll probably stay that way.

Education systems all over the world tend to focus on intelligence of the students, and the knowledge they’re being fed. But intelligence and knowledge are a double-edged sword; They can bring you far, but they can bring you far in any direction.

Perhaps what the emphasis should be on instead is Open-mindedness and Critical Thinking; the ability to listen to consider other positions and to evaluate them. Only then can you be sure that knowledge and intelligence are constantly being checked and put back on track rather than veering off on one mistaken tangent, never to return.

While the article refers specifically to conservative republicans and climate change, I feel that it fits the religious as well, or maybe even more so. Wouldn’t the religious commit this crime more readily, for is that not the foundation of faith? You always operate within the faith, the possibility that your faith may be wrong is not an option. If belief in god is held as the foundation, the unquestionable, infallible truth, then all other knowledge that comes in will be twisted to fit that. As with the Republicans in the article, it’s not the supporting reasons that hold up the belief, it’s the belief that shapes the supporting reasons. And that’s the reverse of what it should be.

That said, the crime of being a ‘smart idiot’ (as the author terms it) is one ANYONE can easily make, once they forget to remember that their own opinions may just be incorrect, once they close their minds to all other positions but their own.

Here’s to helping each other make sure we don’t fall into the trap of being smart idiots.