Category Archives: psychology

exporting transcendence

In the film and TV series Limitless, a drug makes the protagonist temporarily super-intelligent.

In the episodes I’ve seen, it’s not established whether any skills learned with the drug remain when it wears off. I imagine that you’d want to try to develop ways to improve your unenhanced intelligence; in other words, to teach your alter-ego to learn better.

Later: In the third episode he behaves so stupidly that I lost interest.

uncanny tedium

A month or two ago, the load of junkmail intercepted for me by Pobox suddenly jumped from about one hundred pieces a day to well over two hundred. (The difference, to judge by titles, consists of repeated pleadings from alleged horny women.)

I have long been in the habit of carefully searching the spam reports for false positives, typically finding one every 3–4 days. (Each of these is a mass-mailing to which I subscribed; I don’t recall if Pobox has ever held up genuine personal mail, though Gmail did, back when that was my primary mailbox.) Now that the burden of this chore has suddenly doubled, I find myself wishing Pobox would make more errors, to reward me.

I see an analogy with the uncanny valley phenomenon, and wonder whether anyone has tried to find a psychological optimum in error rates for problems like this.

I once read somewhere that a “teaser” toy for cats should let the cat catch the “prey” one time in six.

dream geography

In a dream, while strolling among bookshops and the like, I chance to meet someone who hates me but is constrained to be polite. With a venomous smile that person asks, the better to avoid them, on what streets one is most likely to meet me. I name two streets in Oakland, one in Berkeley and one in San Francisco.

On waking, I remember that none of those streets exists.

what didn’t happen in Juneau didn’t stay in Juneau

In “It Happened in Juneau”, near the end of the third season of Northern Exposure (one of very few TV series of which I’ve seen every episode twice), Maggie flies Joel to Juneau for a conference; they both get lonely, and drunkenly seduce each other. But Maggie falls asleep and cannot be roused, so Joel puts her to bed alone.

In the morning they return to Cicely. Maggie believes that they did copulate, and partly regrets it. Some time goes by before Joel succeeds in telling Maggie what really happened. She is insulted: “Why didn’t you? I had consented!”

Maggie later invites Joel to her house to try again. She asks him to say his desire for her is so strong that he’ll let nothing get in its way. She then finds (or reveals) that that expression of desire, rather than the execution, was what she really wanted from Joel, and dismisses him.

This affair bugs me on two points. First: I can accept that Maggie is insulted by Joel’s inaction, but wouldn’t the insult be outweighed by relief? (Well, the people of Cicely are quirky, and Maggie more so than some.)

Second: what Maggie asks of Joel in the end, taken literally, includes a commitment to rape her. Am I sick for noticing that? On reflection, I guess it’s in character – and suitable for prime time – that Joel is too startled (and perhaps deflated!) by the dismissal to respond with more than a bewildered verbal protest; but I’m still disappointed that the script didn’t explore that point at all.

a guilt-trip down memory lane

When I lived in Oakland, I was twice approached after sunset by a panhandler who announced, “I’m black but I’m not a mugger!” Both times I flinched and, of course, felt guilty.

It now occurs to me belatedly that, if young adult males are the most violent subset of naked apes, it’s not irrational to be wary of a solitary nocturnal specimen, regardless of his albedo.

So he had a cute racket.