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Re: Confessions about love, relationships guilt and the world from a young sociopath.

Good doctor:

Various traditions have posited compassion as a basic human endowment. For example, the Buddhist teacher, Chogyam Trungpa maintained that the deepest ground of our being is characterized by what he called "fundamental sanity," by which he meant that beneath all the fantasy and the endless internal chatter lies a calm center which exists prior to and apart from the endless stream of thoughts, fears, desires, etc. In this view, through intentional effort one can shift attention away from the chatter and self-centered striving and so make contact with the "original mind"--an awareness free from seeking, free from self-aggrandizement--a mind which naturally, according to this view, feels kinship with all sentient beings.

Original mind… I know exactly what that is, and naturally, my interpretation of it is just bare awareness. Everything appears and disappears within it, as it. There’s no compassion that is fundamental to it and neither is hatred. All of it is that. In my experience anyway. Again, not being argumentative. I’m merely exchanging my own view with yours.

…probably the matter at hand will never be resolved.

Again, I can see what you’re saying and you’re probably right. Yet… a possible alternative theory is that the reason questions of ultimate concern remain unresolved is because they simply don’t exist outside of the human brain. The universe simply is. That’s it. Our science tells us the whats, but the meaning factory that sits atop our shoulders constantly beguiles and bedazzles us with imaginary whys. Those whys appear to have no correlates in the natural world. And I’ve seen no reason to suppose that compassion is any more fundamental to… anything. (But then again, how much “crazy wisdom” can we expect from a drunken master like Chogyam was? You’ll have to excuse me doctor, but I’ve got a major case of snark that I’ve never quite been able to get rid of. It runs in the family.) Like you, I lean towards a more naturalistic explanation of things as it makes the most sense out of what I’ve observed, both in my personal experience and in my perusal of history. Still, I admit I could be wrong and I have no problem acknowledging that.

Thank you for answering my questions, btw. So, did my previous sarcasm (admittedly so) about that picture annoy you at all? I ask because of your comments here about compassion. If you are moved to help a hungry person on the street the way you say you are (and I have no reason to doubt you at this point), then I can only imagine that you find people like me difficult to empathize with. After all, you looked at the picture and was moved by it. I looked at it and… well, you know how I saw it. Also, most of the time I’m annoyed when I see people out and about with their little cups up in the air, waiting for me to drop a little something into them.

I think it more reasonable to suppose that human evolution has provided for various kinds of minds—some compassionate and some not—all of which were necessary for survival of the species, which is why those same traits have perdured into the present. That is why I continue, unlike most of my colleagues, to try to understand psychopathy as a natural state of mind and not a "disease" or mental illness.

I can really appreciate the open mindedness doc. I for one don’t consider my own somewhat idiosyncratic world view pathological. I don’t see myself as having some kind of “disorder” just because I don’t have much of conscience. I imagine this expansive way of looking at the world makes it very easy for you to help those who come to you seeking guidance. It must also put you at odds with some of your fellow therapists.

And I’m glad I can contribute something to your forum. And I'm glad you to hear you say that remorse isn't necessary to introspection. I've never understood why people claimed otherwise though.

Re: Confessions about love, relationships guilt and the world from a young sociopath.

Hello again, Daniel--
Yes of course questions about ultimate matters don’t exist outside of the human brain, and, because questions of any stripe are a human experience, neither does any other category of question, nor does compassion, which also is a human experience. That seems clear enough, so we agree.
In my own life, compassion was not something learned—morality or ethics can be taught and learned, but not compassion--but arose when I felt the full implications of ones absolute aloneness as a ego. I am quite willing to admit that such an experience may not be universal. Evidently just from reading some of the posts on this forum it is clearly and emphatically not universal. But that does not make it imaginary unless you want to torture the world "imaginary" by using it to characterize any thought or emotion whatsoever.
In other words, to feel compassion, like feeling love, is a human possibility, but perhaps not one which is available to each and every human being.
My argument about so-called "psychopathy" is simply that those to whom such experiences are not available are not necessarily somehow deficient—at least not all of them--but perhaps just different, and that as long as a psychologist insists on defining such differences as pathological, he or she will never fully appreciate or comprehend the psychological details behind them.
Empathy is a strong suit of mine, but I do find people like yourself a bit difficult to understand empathically, so I am forced to use whatever intellect I can bring to bear instead. I leave it to you and others like you to judge how I am doing in that regard. However, your sarcastic comments about the picture did not annoy me at all. I took your experience of the picture at face value—as a true reflection of what you felt when you looked at it. Everyone is different, and I am rarely—almost never--annoyed when confronted by such differences. In fact, appreciating the differences between one person and another, and seeking to explore them as deeply as possible is the sine qua non of the work I do.
Yes, I have gotten some nasty feedback from fellow psychologists, but the worst abuse comes from people who imagine that anyone who lacks compassion is automatically a criminal, and that I, by refusing to condemn such people wholesale, am simply encouraging them.
Be well.


Re: Confessions about love, relationships guilt and the world from a young sociopath.

I think your open minded approach to colder fishes like me is refreshing. I imagine you get a lot of questions from so called socio/psychopaths for precisely this reason. Also your definition is simple and clear (if a person lacks what is thought of as a conscience, you consider them psychopaths) which is nice for those of us who can’t put an affirmative checkmark next to every item on Hare’s famous list. And you don’t consider people like me to be evil incarnate, which is always a plus. :-) I think you’re doing just fine in the psychopath empathy category.

Thank you for taking my response to that picture at face value. Again, really noticing my lack of instinctive empathy is new to me, so for a while after that initial interaction, I looked up a variety of pictures and videos online of human and animal violence just to see if I could generate feelings of disgust or righteous indignation or sadness or fear, etc. I did find some of it intriguing to watch, but no, even the infamous 3 Guys 1 Hammer video didn’t stir any great feelings of sympathy within me, although I didn’t like the gurgling sounds the victim made. The closest I could come to something resembling pity was wishing they’d go ahead and finish it already.

So for you, seeing absolute aloneness lead to a growth in compassion, while for me it did not. Fascinating. I don’t think compassion is imaginary per se. It’s no more imaginary than any other emotion. If you feel it, you feel it. And in modern society, compassionate action is made easier. Even so, I think compassion, like so many other emotions normals report feeling, especially love, can be a blinder if one isn’t careful. I imagine that outside of the safeguards of modernity, compassionate and love inspired action can be maladaptive in an environment composed of other selfish individuals.

Speaking of, you asked in one of your previous comments if I’d experienced love. I know I don’t I have to make any arguments with you about the subjective nature of love and how the definitions of said emotion differ among various groups and blah, blah, blah. You obviously get all of that already. I could say yes I have loved, but I gather that my experience of love would seem rather paltry comparatively speaking. I mean, I have what I think of as affection for a few people, especially my nieces and nephews when they were young. (Once they became teenagers they also became tedious in all of their never ending, hormonally driven drama.) But I can hear about folks dying or being gravely ill and not feel a thing for instance, family included. I of course change my facial expression and tone of voice to mimic concern since I understand this greases the wheels of social interaction. In fact, my family and friends consider me to be one of the kindest and most understanding people they know. Only my niece has seen a truer version of myself in recent years. She’s in her late teens and seems to fit the profile for what they call Oppositional Defiance Disorder to a tee. Unfortunately for her, she wears her aggressive feelings on her sleeves, which makes life difficult for her and almost all who have to deal with her. Except me. She never gives me the problems she gives others because I understand her and she knows that. I am relatively honest with her in a way that I’m not with most other people. Does that mean I love her? (That question is half rhetorical, half not.)

I’m also being uncharacteristically honest here on these forums because it’s anonymous and it costs me nothing. Everyone else in my life interacts with a series of masks I’ve honed since I was a teenager myself. And recently I’ve increased my deception quotient considerably as I considered implementing several ideas I’ve been mulling over. Don’t worry. I’m not suggesting here that I’m planning anything violent or even illegal. I just figured it was time for certain folks in my life to serve me, so I used the lies they live their lives by to my advantage. They’ll give me what I want without them ever knowing it. You might even say that they’re using my lies as an excuse to generate happy feelings within themselves. It was all too easy, absurdly so even. Some of these people are members of my family. Do I love them, these people I’ve lied to? I’d like to think I care for my mother, even though she’s one of the people I’ve deceived. I do care for her. I’d also like to think that I’d be upset if she died. But do I love her? I could say yes since there is no objective definition of the term. Maybe that means love is whatever we want it to be, like any other nonsense term. But like I said, when I compare my experience with what other people report when they talk about loving someone, perhaps I don’t. Perhaps I’ve never actually loved anyone else. I don’t really know. How would I know?

How do you know when you love someone? I don’t just mean romantically either of course.

Re: Confessions about love, relationships guilt and the world from a young sociopath.


For me, loving someone means that you wish the best for that person (or other species of animal, for that matter), and that you hope for him or her to find contentment and happiness even if that means that you end up losing out somehow. For example, a mother goes hungry so that her child can have something to eat.

The excellent British film, "Separate Lies" deals with just this theme, and I commend it to you if you can find it. If you do, let me know what you make of it.

However, as you rightly point out, love may mean something different to someone else--it is one of those words which defy exact definition. Much easier to say what it is not: not desire, not sexual heat, not need to possess, etc.

Be well.


Re: Confessions about love, relationships guilt and the world from a young sociopath.

Good doctor:

Much easier to say what it is not: not desire, not sexual heat, not need to possess, etc.

How can we say what it’s not if we can’t say what it is? Maybe love is so hard to define because we try using philosophical and pseudo-profound language to talk about it rather than using operational language. I’ve been reading a few articles online about evolutionary psychology’s and neuroscience’s take on love and I’ve found them interesting and informative. I love how reason and science sweeps away the cobwebs of mythology whenever they turn their piercing gaze on any subject, especially ones like religion, human origins, and love.

For me, loving someone means that you wish the best for that person (or other species of animal, for that matter), and that you hope for him or her to find contentment and happiness even if that means that you end up losing out somehow.

Is this wish merely cognitive in nature? If that’s the case, then I can say that I love and have loved since I’ve wished the best for people plenty of times. There weren’t any emotions attached to it, but I’ve been sincere too, meaning I wasn’t consciously lying. Of course, those instances weren’t attached to times where I “lose” while the other person “wins” either.

Which brings me to Separate Lies. I got a chance to watch it last night. I thought it was well done. I’m a big fan of movies so I have definite opinions about what does and does not make for a good movie. SL has great acting (and with Tom Wilkinson, Emily Watson and Rupert Everett that’s to be expected) and for the most part effective directing. I say for the most part because of the incongruity between what was essentially a character study and a suspense story. Fellowes seemed to be more interested in the character study part of the film rather than the suspense part I thought, but he did such a good job with the actors that this is a minor quibble. One of the major themes of this movie was the moral conundrum. I usually find movies that feature people struggling with moral issues boring or frustrating to watch. I especially hate those characters that stand in the way of the protagonist’s progress because of their ethical qualms. But in SL, all of the characters, even Wilkinson’s upstanding James, were conflicted and even hypocritical when it came to doing the “right thing”, and I found that refreshing because I think it’s realistic. I think most people who care about acting moral are often conflicted and fail to do what they think is “right” more often than not. Naturally, I identified with Everett’s character the most for all of the obvious reasons. I also thought it was nice that Watson’s Anne was able to feel so much for Everett’s Bill knowing full well he didn’t feel as deeply for her. Again, the honest portrayal here was refreshing. Not one of the 3 leads gets to be the morally superior person until the end, when James genuinely wishes Anne well, regardless of what’s transpired before, which brings me back to the point you were making. Again, I’d repeat my question. Was James's wish for Anne an emotional as well as cognitive thing? Is that love? It makes as much sense as any other definition I suppose. If it is, then no, I don’t think I’ve ever loved. Hypotheticals are sometimes difficult, especially for people like me since context determines which actions are and aren’t necessary, but if I were in James’s shoes, I know I couldn’t wish my ex-wife happiness under those particular circumstances. I’d be more tempted to kill her than anything else. But that’s just me.

Re: Confessions about love, relationships guilt and the world from a young sociopath.


Thanks for making the effort to see the
film. I am glad you enjoyed it. And, yes, the movie was a classic
character study which was why I recommended it to you as part of our
conversation about differences in human character.

You wrote, "I love how reason and
science sweeps away the cobwebs of mythology whenever they turn their
piercing gaze on any subject, especially ones like religion, human
origins, and love."

Yes, science has great explanatory
value, but also has its limitations. Reducing all human experience to
mechanics fails to explain many things, and the best scientific minds
avoid such reductionism. This is particularly true in areas such as
beauty, poetry, love, etc. Evolutionary psychology is an interesting
field, but, in my opinion, falls very far short of elucidating the
origins of love and compassion. Speculation--even very intelligent
speculation--is not evidence.

I understand that it might be
comforting to someone who does not feel love or compassion to reduce
such experiences to mere operations of the brain--and in a way they are,
as I said in my last post--but human experience comprises enigmas
which the best science understands are unfathomable. For example, Max
Planck. 1932: "Every advance in knowledge brings us face to face
with the mystery of our own being." Or Sir Arthur Eddington.
1929: "We have learned that the exploration of the external
world by the methods of the physical sciences leads not to a concrete
reality but to a shadow world of symbols, beneath which those methods
are unadapted for penetrating."

This is because the brief of science is
to understand things which are quantifiable, but love and
compassion, when truly experienced, are quite beyond measure. This is
why universities have faculties of science and faculties of
arts and letters. This, by the way, does not imply anything
"supernatural." It simply means that science has no way to
explain our internal experience of the world, which might be quite
natural but also inexplicable. For example, science can analyze the
chemistry of an apple, and can pinpoint the areas of the brain which
are activated when one bites into an apple, but science has no way to
explain the subjective taste of an apple. To put this in generalized
formal terms: qualia are beyond scientific interpretation.

Now this is the very point you miss
when you ask, "How can we say what it's not if we can't say
what it is?" Let me explain. Suppose you were blind to the color
red, as many people in fact are, but you could see other colors. If
you came to me, who can see red, and asked me what red is like, I
would have absolutely no way to explain that to you. Speaking of the
wavelength of red or the receptors in the retina or the brain
(science) would avail not at all. The best I could do would be to
say, "Well, Daniel, red is a color but it isn't blue, it isn't
green, and it isn't yellow." This is what happens when a
psychopath (sorry, I know you hate that term, and I don't like it
much either, but have no other) asks me to explain love or elucidate
compassion. In fact, this happens sometimes in my practice. I am
reduced to saying what those experiences are not, which is,
basically, that they are not about getting your way, or achieving
your goals, or being satisfied, or coming out ahead.

I stress this point because while it is
true that fallacious cobwebs need sweeping away, and that good
science often serves as the broom, that does not mean that
love, compassion, beauty, poetry, etc. are fallacies, or can be
explained away by science. That is why I emphasized in my last post
that such experiences are not imaginary. A self-described
"cold fish" such as yourself might want to reduce
everything to science and logic, but doing that is like wearing
blinders which will screen your view from much of human experience, even if it is not your experience.

No, love certainly is NOT simply
cognitive in nature. That is the entire point. Love is a mystery
which is quite beyond explaining. That mystery has a particular
flavor which, once tasted, can never be forgotten. It cannot be
taught. It cannot be learned. It can only be felt and experienced (or

In the film, Bill felt no love at all.
He cared only for himself. But James truly loved Anne, and his last
gesture in the story demonstrated that love. His concern was not that
he had somehow been cheated, but that she might feel guilty for
having abandoned him, and he wished, motivated by his love for her,
to assuage her guilt and leave her happy even if he was not. Clearly,
as you stated, you would not be capable of such a gesture since, like
Bill, you care only for yourself, and would be more attracted to
vengeance than tenderness. Please understand that in saying that I
mean no disrespect at all. Having taken my measure by reading my
website and my replies to you, I think you already know that. I just
like to see things as they are without judgment either pro or con.


Re: Confessions about love, relationships guilt and the world from a young sociopath.

Good doctor—

It seems to me that what you have said can be “reduced” (sorry, I couldn’t resist) to two appeals: one to ignorance and the other to mystery. You are basically suggesting that because we do not know everything there is to know about the content of subjective experience (ignorance), said content must forever be outside of the realm of scientific explanation (mystery). When stated this way, it should be clear that these two appeals are fallacious. Some parts of human experience do appear unfathomable. But appearances are often deceiving. Present ignorance does not equal ongoing mystery. You have presented no reason for me to believe that the former must inexorably lead to the latter.

Which leads to my first question: how do you know that “love is a mystery which is quite beyond explaining?” How can you be so certain? Why is this true? Your comments about the nature of subjectivity does not by itself prove that love is by definition a “profound unknown” that science can never adequately elucidate. Why should love, or any other aspect of our subjective experience, be an ontological mystery? It could be. But it could also be true that an emotion is just that and nothing more.

Appeals to ignorance and mystery are very often rhetorical tactics used by theists to disarm rational inquiry before it even begins. Fortunately, there are many scientists out there who refuse to let such devices stop them from doing that kind of research that will break through the false partition separating questions of human subjectivity and science. I know you’re all for that, although you couldn’t tell it by your previous comment.

Moving on, you either misunderstood or mischaracterized my comments. Nothing that I have said means that I think arts and humanities in colleges should be done away with and replaced by hard sciences. Those were your words, not mine. You conflated what I think of as two different types of reductionism, the silly kind and the sensible kind. Silly reductionism is the kind that tries to understand epiphenomenon at the basest of levels only, while sensible reductionism is hierarchical and holonic, where the most fundamental levels of knowledge compliment(not replace) the epiphenomenal levels. Or to say it another way, where our knowledge of the ingredients of chocolate cake and gustation harmonize with (again, not replace) our appreciation and experience of said cake. I love chocolate cake. I think it is scrumptious with vanilla ice cream. But that doesn’t necessarily make my enjoyment of the cake some ineluctable and intractable unknown. I can enjoy the experience of the cake while also knowing a bit about its ingredients and how the taste buds work. I don’t have to choose between knowledge and enjoyment. I certainly don’t have to turn that pleasure into some insoluble mystery that it isn’t.

Having said that, reason and science are mankind’s best tools for understanding the world. They have proven their worth, as the medium through which we are having this conversation aptly demonstrates. We can certainly talk about things that are supposed to be beyond science’s explanatory reach, but lots of things fall into that foggy nether world don’t they? And in those nebulous realms where feelings decide what is and is not accurate, why should one person’s feelings about, say love, be any more valid than anyone else’s?

I freely acknowledge that there is a world of emotional experience that I apparently do not and have never had access to. But so what? Emotion is no more a guarantor of fact than faith is. Love and compassion are real enough as emotions and as behavioral motivators… but again, so what? They tell us nothing objective about the world, as we both agree with. Also, I don’t think and have never said that emotions in and of themselves are fallacious. What I have implied is that emotions like love can muddy the waters of understanding (they don’t say love is blind for nothing), but they can’t by definition be fallacious, can they? And my emotional detachment does not stop me from knowing that there is a difference between explaining and explaining away.

Our reason and our science are both very good at combating our tendency toward self delusion. And we are a notoriously self deluded species, as you know judging by your thoughts on free will. Come to think of it, if you have no problem acknowledging free will as the cognitive illusion that it is, why should love, in the “great mystery” sense the way you’re using it, be any different?

Back to the movie, I am indeed like Bill. To my way of thinking, all three players in the triangle used each other in various ways and for various reasons. Bill was the least self deluded of the group. He knew who and what he was and he didn’t dress up his motivations with flowery language or elaborate justifications. He was even honest enough to communicate with Anne that he didn’t love her in the same way she loved him and she knew it. I respect that. Also, I chose not to be played for a fool the way James was. Sorry, but it’s just my preference not to be used and discarded the way James was by Anne.

Feel free to suggest any more movies you think I’d find enlightening and entertaining. Like I said, I “love” movies! And like you, I hope my comments are taken in the overbloated but still respectful way that they were meant. And by overbloated, I mean it was long winded. But what can I say doc? I'm the son of a preacherman. Talking lots and lots runs in the family.

Re: Confessions about love, relationships guilt and the world from a young sociopath.


Well yes, that was a barrage of words,
particularly of the high-flown variety, but I suppose I started it
with "qualia."

In any case, it does seem that we are
having trouble understanding one another at this juncture. Perhaps
that stems largely from the unworkability of words of any kind to
deal with certain ineffable realms of experience, or it could be that
the nature of what we have been calling psychopathy--("there is
a world of emotional experience that I apparently do not and have
never had access to")--includes a tendency, not just not to have
access, but to discount and deprecate the
feeling/emotional realms of experience, which is where I say the
mystery resides.

By the way, it is not just that I
say it, which is why I quoted two of the most preeminent scientists
of the twentieth century who were at pains to point out the
limitations of their life's work. In their view, and in mine, there
are realms of experience which are simply invisible to scientific
inquiry. This is not because the scientific method is faulty or not a
good tool. It is a wonderful tool--the best we have for
understanding the physical realities of our world, and, as you point
out, for debunking poppycock and some kinds of self--delusion. But the
scientific method, as Plank and Eddington both said quite explicitly,
does have its shortcomings. I think you know that logically,
but because you do not feel it, you struggle to accept it, and
then have become—in my opinion--embroiled in a classic logical
error in attempting to refute it.

When I say "logical error," I
mean what is usually called a "category mistake" in which
things which really belong on separate levels of being are treated as
if they belonged on the same level. To take your example: ones enjoyment of chocolate cake takes place on two
separate levels which cannot be compared in any meaningful way. The
first has to do with, for example, how chocolate stimulates certain
receptors in the brain. That is science. But enjoyment is an
emotional experience which cannot be elucidated by reference to brain
chemistry alone. You may argue that all of this takes place within
the brain, but, even if that is true, that does not explain
anything about what enjoyment feels like, or what it means
to the person who is doing the enjoying.

Science can say everything about the
ingredients and the taste buds (and can even create a faux-chocolate
cake which might fool the taste buds), and science can map the
parts of the brain which are stimulated when you eat cake, but the
taste of the cake is an internal experience which is both
indescribable and inexplicable.

Here is the crux, Daniel: You wrote,
"Why should love, or any other aspect of our subjective
experience, be an ontological mystery? It could be. But it could also
be true that an emotion is just that and nothing more." Yes,
logically quite right. However, when you say "nothing more,"
you are belittling just that category of experience that to many
people is what gives all the flavor to
. You said, "I can enjoy the experience of the cake
while also knowing a bit about its ingredients and how the taste buds
work." Yes, of course. But knowing about taste buds has nothing
to do with tasting a cake or comprehending what cake tastes
like. That is the category error. Knowing, logically or
intellectually, is one thing, and tasting is another entirely.
The two are not related on any logical level whatsoever.

I never tried to say that feeling an
emotion proves anything factual, except,
of course, that one has felt something
. What I am saying is
that for the majority of humans love and all of the pain and joy
involved in that realm of experience is real--real on the
level of felt awareness, just as eating a cake provides
a kind of pleasure and awareness that reading the menu or learning
about taste buds does not provide and never could.

I (along with Einstein, Eddington,
Plank, and millions of other intelligent people) say that love is
real and mysterious not because anyone can prove logically that love
exists prior to thought or outside the brain (although it might, and
might be, as some think, the entire energetic basis for everything
that we see as "the world"), but because the experience we
call "loving" exists and perdures throughout the
generations, even if some people--yourself, Rupert Everett in
Separate Lies," and Deigo, who started this thread, for example--cannot feel it, and might even, as Diego explicitly stated, imagine loving to be a kind of delusion or perhaps a
weakness born of guilt which can be used a a lever to get what one wants.

I do understand, Daniel, that you are self-admittedly
"colorblind" in the love department, and so perhaps I am asking too much when I suggest that you try to
see beyond the reductionistic logical approach. I call it "reductionistic", by the way, because via the category error you seem to have reduced the feeling/emotional levels of experience to a domain which you imagine can be accessed by means of logic, and so "understood" and known. In my view, experience on those levels must be felt to be known at all, and never will be, as Eddington said, fully "understood"). If you could see beyond pure logic, you might be able to see that love exists beyond a doubt on the feeling level (which makes
it important and real). If that won't work for you--and I suspect it won't--then remain open and defenseless on the logical level, and ask yourself this:

How is it that countless
bright and accomplished people are willing to act, like James in the
movie, in ways that seem clearly against self-interest?

Using Ockham's Razor: which is more likely:

1. All those countless individuals are simply deluded,
guilt-ridden, masochistic, or involved in some kind of mass

2. Daniel has a kind of color blindness and wishes to
compensate for it by arguing logically that seeing the full spectrum doesn't
mean anything much anyway?

I don't know if any of this matters very much to
you at all, or if it does matter, I don't know in what way this kind of discussion might be important or valuable to you. Perhaps you are one of those who suspect that they are missing something in life and hope that discussing that missing something with someone like me might open doors--at least ethical ones. For all I know, you may even see our conversation as a form of amusement, or a competition: let's see if I can outwit the doc. For my part, I appreciate the opportunity to interact with a different kind of mind, and perhaps to influence that mind in ethical directions based on our shared humanity regardless of our particular different strengths and limitations.

Be well.


Re: Confessions about love, relationships guilt and the world from a young sociopath.

What’s up doc?

My favorite romantic movie… It’s a tossup between Bridges of Madison County, Before Sunrise and its sequel, Before Sunset. The thing these three movies have in common is the conversational intimacy with which the love story between the two leads unfolds. Both couples spend a lot of time talking, getting to know each other on a deep level. Sex is not a major theme in these movies, even though they are all deeply sexual. It is self revelation, in a way that is honest and vulnerable, that makes these movies superb romantic ideals in my book. I “love” these movies!

The reason I started with that is to emphasize that I appreciate the artistic expression that love often inspires. Granted, I may not feel this kind of love to the degree or with the intensity that others do, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t get that it must be a wonderfully transformative and meaning-laden experience when it does happen. Experiencing love in its depths is apparently so profound that people everywhere, throughout history, have been moved to create stirring and stunning works of art. Indeed, I believe it when people say that this love is the very meaning of their lives. I get that and I accept that. I really do.

I just don’t need to turn love into something that it doesn’t appear to be, transcendental or otherwise. You may say that is not what you are doing, but isn’t it? Isn’t that exactly what you are doing when you insist that love is “mysterious?” And again, how can you know love is “mysterious” when you never actually got around to providing a clear and cogent definition of love? Are we talking about maternal, paternal or fraternal love? The love between friends? The love of country? Love of all humanity? Self love? All of the above? Or something “more?” Refusing to define love makes it easy to insist on its essential “mystery” I suppose. It’s a nice rhetorical trick that. Unfortunately it does not hold water rationally speaking.

Emotions like anger, fear, sadness and the like are easy to define and detect physiologically and have predictable triggers and accompanying reactions. Love, on the other hand, does not. Why is that? Maybe it is because love is not one singular emotion, but an amalgam of “lesser” emotions which can be defined separately and can be found in the larger animal world. The fact that we can see clear examples of lust, affection, care, bonding and even jealousy in other animal species indicates that “love” is not only entirely natural (which I know you agree with) but does not require anything special to explain it, talk about it or that makes it somehow off limits to scientific investigation. Yes, we can wax eloquently about love, but that does not mean that in reality, it is something other than what it is: a set of emotions generated by the brain and nothing more. I am not belittling the depth of the emotion when I say “nothing more” either. I’m just calling it like I see it.

I think you are the one who is not only guilty of making category errors, but of other blatant logical lapses as well. You miscategorize love by suggesting that it is something “ineffable”. You are placing an emotion that originates in the brain and turning into something “more” based solely on how it feels when you are experiencing it. A man high on LSD could make the same case, could he not? You also mentioned Occam’s Razor. You are the one forgetting that simple rule of them by elevating an emotion beyond its station. How is turning love into some grand something or the other parsimonious? Aren’t you needlessly complicating the issue, when a plain, straightforward and biologically grounded understanding of all emotions (love included) would be simpler and more in line with what we already know about the human animal?

And while I am on the subject of faulty reasoning, you commit four logical fallacies that I just can’t help but point out. The first is the appeal to authority. Referencing Planck, Eddington and Einstein no more makes your argument valid than referencing the bible validates Pat Robertson’s comments about Haiti. The second was the false dichotomy you posed in the paragraph where you ask me to choose between my “color blindness” and the “deluded, guilt-ridden, masochistic” masses of people who live and die by and for love as a means of explanation and understanding of this subject. There are more than the two options you listed, which leads directly to the third and fourth fallacies: the appeal to numbers, or “bandwagon argument” and the straw man argument. Pointing out that millions of people believe and guide their lives by an idea doesn’t make that idea factual. Just because there are upwards of two billion Christians in the world doesn’t mean that their god is real and their bible is the absolute truth, does it? It is possible for lots and lots and lots of people to be just plain wrong, as history repeatedly demonstrates. And you knocked down an argument I was not even making when you suggested that I believe that love is what deludes the masses. In other words, you knocked down a straw man. I will say this though. It was a little impressive that you managed to make three logical fallacies in the space of a few sentences. You also committed the “scientific gaps” (science does not know everything, ergo you are right) and the “argument by fiat” (you are right because you say you are) fallacies, terms which I made up just now for lack of better phrases, but I won’t say much more about them as I think I’ve made the point about your lack of a logical leg to stand on pretty clear.

To oversimplify things for the sake of brevity (since I have already gone on way too long! :)), it is my opinion that romantic love is a combination of emotions/drives like lust, affection and care. The emotions are triggered by a combination of stimuli, both inside and outside of the brain. The magic neurochemical soup, which includes oxytocin and dopamine, gets to churning and badda bing, badda bang, badda boom, you are in love, madly, deeply, passionately. This magic soup and its aftermath compels people to have sex, conceive babies and often even gets them take care of the chaps until they enter that really ridiculous period known as adolescence. And wouldn’t you know it, all of this just happens to coincide quite nicely with the propagation of the species! Evolution at its finest! See doc, no magic, mystery or meaningfulness is required to explain or talk about love. The glory and majesty of love is no more or less real than any other emotional experience the brain generates.

And all of that was just that reason/rational/logic stuff. Don’t even get me started on my personal observations and experiences of love, both romantic and familial. Needless to say, when I look around at the people I know and at the world at large, I am not as enamored with all this talk of love being everything. I certainly don’t feel like I am missing out on something. I see a mess wherever I look when I see humans relating. Yes, I see laughter, joy, and even beauty. But I also see ugliness, hypocrisy, self delusion and rampant stupidity as well. Parts of my comments here have nothing to do with psychopathy per se and everything to do with simple reasoning. This particular paragraph however probably is a reflection of my “cold fish” demeanor, which is indeed tied to a cynical view of human relationships. I don’t deny that. But then again, what reason do I have to even attempt to think otherwise, as if I could anyway?

None of my interminable spiel is meant to convince you of anything obviously. Like I have said before. We are exchanging views and nothing more, although I have indeed found this conversation amusing. By the way, if you are attempting outwit me, think again my friend. It won’t happen. :)

Re: Confessions about love, relationships guilt and the world from a young sociopath.

Hi, Daniel--

Your letter is a good one which goes a
long way towards delineating not just your thoughts, but your
feelings about things as well.

I liked Before Sunrise at lot,
but Bridges of Madison County did not ring true for me. It seemed schmaltzy. Nevertheless, I see your point in referring to
those films: one can appreciate the intimacy of romantic love and see
the beauty in that intimacy without necessarily wanting to participate in it,
or even being able to participate in it. I had not heard that
idea from you in any of your previous posts, and so had been engaged
in using words to call forth in you exactly that appreciation, even though
romantic love was not really the focus of my interest, but rather the
kind of agape love which causes humans to care about
others, and so to embrace their human
weaknesses, instead of capitalizing on them. Now I see that my
efforts in that direction were probably unnecessary. You do grok it,
so it seems, but for you it ain't magic, and you probably wouldn't want to go there even if you could. I get that.

You are largely correct, I think, in
your analysis of the logical errors in my last letter. And I guess I
asked for such an analysis when I raised the subject of logical
mistakes by pointing to a category error in your views on love, but
my intention was not to move our conversation into a debate about
logical consistency. I have never tried, in this series of posts, to
mount a strictly logical argument aimed at convincing, but rather I have meant to evoke a
certain appreciation in you which I now see you already seem to have, at least in part.

For example, my mentioning the great
scientists' embrace of the mysterious nature of life was not,
as I see it, an an illogical appeal to authority, but
an attempt to show that some of the very best workers in the field do
not share your conviction that everything can be explained logically
or scientifically. I am sure you do not actually think that referencing
Eddington or Plank on the limitations of science is the same as
claiming Pat Robertson as an expert on contracts with Satan.
Eddington and Plank really are authorities on scientific
epistemology, so their views demand, at the very least, respectful

Now your present post contains a
paragraph with which you, having familiarized yourself with the
writing on my website, already know I agree. It is this one:

"To oversimplify things for the
sake of brevity (since I have already gone on way too long! :)), it
is my opinion that romantic love is a combination of emotions/drives
like lust, affection and care. The emotions are triggered by a
combination of stimuli, both inside and outside of the brain. The
magic neurochemical soup, which includes oxytocin and dopamine, gets
to churning and badda bing, badda bang, badda boom, you are in love,
madly, deeply, passionately. This magic soup and its aftermath
compels people to have sex, conceive babies and often even gets them
take care of the chaps until they enter that really ridiculous period
known as adolescence. And wouldn't you know it, all of this just
happens to coincide quite nicely with the propagation of the species!
Evolution at its finest! See doc, no magic, mystery or meaningfulness
is required to explain or talk about love. The glory and majesty of
love is no more or less real than any other emotional experience the
brain generates."

Yes. No problem there, Daniel. I am with you until
possibly the final sentence. There certainly must be an evolutionary
explanation for any human tendency, and a brain-chemical scenario for
any feeling or emotion. But for me--and apparently not you--that
explanation is not the end of the matter, but simply the
physical basis for a great mystery. I understand that you believe
there is no mystery--that all can be reduced to the "magic
soup"--and I admit there is not a logical refutation for that.
So you and I see things differently in this regard. But again, it was never romantic love that was the focus of my interest anyway, but the agape kind which is different, I think.

I was pleased that you moved beyond
logic when you said, "I see a mess wherever I look when I see
humans relating. Yes, I see laughter, joy, and even beauty. But I
also see ugliness, hypocrisy, self delusion and rampant stupidity as
well." I too see the hypocrisy and stupidity of human beings--(now is the time to reference Pat Robertson!)--and it ain't pretty.
But aren't hypocrisy and stupidity rather shallow kinds of ugliness
compared to the deep ugliness of the human predator who required
love and care to survive as a child, but now will not return the
favor? I don't mean you, Daniel, who, I understand, brings an
essential honesty to the project of living with yourself in some
reasonable way, but the kind of criminal psychopath who often writes
to "Doctor Robert," why I don't know.

As for attempting to outwit you,
Daniel, I would never even try. For one thing, you seem too well
armed--and too well fortified--for me to want to engage in such a battle. But even if I
thought I could somehow "win" (whatever that would mean) such a contest (likely to be
a Pyrrhic victory at best), I have no interest in that kind of
affair--neither with you nor with anyone else. I have my own
awareness--for what it is worth--and you have yours. One doesn't
trump the other, and cannot. In fact, exploring one another's awareness in
this way barely scratches the surface of our respective humanity, so how could a "victor"
ever be declared? Besides, compared to the immensity of the universe, what I know or you know is so tiny, so
limited, so paltry really. How could having a slightly larger share of that tiny
portion, the little we can know, ever become a source of

This, by the way, is not to depreciate the importance of this conversation which to me seems worthwhile and meaningful. In fact, a good friend of mine, a psychiatrist, psychotherapist, and Buddhist teacher whose views I respect, wrote to me that he thought the Forum, and particularly this thread, "has tapped into 'inner worlds' in a way that . . . face to face conversations cannot achieve without long periods of contact." If one is interested in inner worlds--and I know you are--that seems like a win-win.

Be well.


Re: Confessions about love, relationships guilt and the world from a young sociopath.

Good doctor:

Dr. Robert
Your letter is a good one which goes a long way towards delineating not just your thoughts, but your feelings about things as well.

Thank you. I started thinking the logic thing had reached a natural end point anyway.

Just to reiterate, I do get that people do feel a great deal. As you implied, it would be absurd to suppose all of you are faking everything you say you feel and believe. History would stop making sense if all of these strong emotions, including and especially those associated with love, did not really exist.

Let me give you a personal anecdote. Once upon a time, I was in the military. During one afternoon lunch period in boot camp, I remember having a small epiphany as I was standing in line waiting to reach the counter. I looked around and saw groups of my fellow inmates… I mean, recruits… sitting at their tables, following the rules handed down to us by our “superiors”. No talking, no horse play, eat quickly. I saw the recruits sneakily having whispered conversations, quietly disobeying those rules. I saw the officers in charge sitting at their table, talking loudly and raucously, enjoying themselves and seeming to revel in their “elevated” position in the hierarchy. I saw the differences in uniform. One group’s uniforms signifying their roles are superiors, the other group’s signifying their roles as inferiors, people who could and would be yelled at, disrespected and ordered about by the superiors. I saw that we all, officer and recruit alike, volunteered to put on these costumes and play these roles. And it hit me that it was all a joke. We were all playing a very elaborate game of make believe for adults. What’s more, I saw that this is how it is everywhere. It wasn’t just boot camp. It was Congress. It was corporate America. It was church. It was family. We are all playing these roles, and what’s more, I saw that we did not have to. It is our fear, among other, less potent motivations, that keeps us locked into the mass absurdity. We believe in rules that have no basis in any other space outside of the human brain. It’s like the rules of Monopoly, the board game. We agree to play by them, but once the game is done, we fold up the board, put the pieces and the cash away, and forget all about the rules that make the game possible. (Obviously I’m not original. This was long before I’d even heard of game theory.) But human society is one game that never, EVER ends. How would you feel if one morning you awoke, walked out of your home to face the day only to discover that everyone appears to be living and dying and killing by the rules of what you were raised to believe was only a board game? For me, the rules, the roles and the beliefs are all part of a game, one that is not real and is not important. But it appears that for most other people, the game is real. It’s all real to them and it all matters, including and especially who they believe themselves to be. Everything appears to hinge of their sense of identity (their roles). It’s so important in fact that they are willing to kill in the name of their rules and roles and make believe society. None of it has to cohere. It does not have to make sense even. It just has to be what they believe is true and right. It is the function of beliefs, not their veracity, that matters most.

That is my subjective experience of society around me. Again, I believe that most people are not being consciously disingenuous. To reiterate, I understand all too well that many people mean it from the depths of their being when they think, feel and believe certain things. All of the above is the very meaning of most people’s lives. But for me, these people I am referring to are like straw dogs, empty suits who confuse emotional depth with reality. They believe that what they think and what they feel is the be all to end all. They do not see the blind biology that makes their beliefs about themselves and their society possible. They most certainly refrain from any kind of sustained introspection. So naturally, they mistake their beliefs and feelings with fact and they surround themselves with others who will agree with them as a means of shoring up those beliefs, their yay-sayers. Why else would the average human ego be so fragile and so in need of constant validation if it were not comprised of mostly opinion, wish fulfillment and patterns of behavior acquired in childhood and repeated in what passes for adulthood? (In other words, hot air.) The smarter ones may see some of this in others but they can never see it in themselves because they believe that they and theirs, among all other groups, have somehow won the belief lottery: their beliefs are of course right and true and honorable! Their families, their religion, their country is what’s right and true and honorable. Their version of love is the real version, the right and true and honorable version. And what threatens a belief, a feeling, a sense of self in constant need of propping up? Other people, with their conflicting beliefs and feelings and senses of self of course, which explains the ubiquitous conflict of all types, found at all levels of society, from the nuclear family all the way up to the captains of industry and heads of state. In the name of love (of “soul mate”, family, country, god, capitalism, communism, etc) they have waged all kinds of war and invented the means with which to destroy every human being on this lovely but insignificant little planet of ours.

Then they have the nerve, the gall to label people who, for one reason or the other find themselves emotionally disconnected from all the above, as pathological. They say they are “chilled” when someone can kill without remorse, even as they support killing in the name of ~fill in the blank with a preposterous reason~. It is truly laughable. Why should I play by their rules when those rules are so often mind numbingly stupid and pointless? Why should I beat myself up or lose sleep at night because I fail to take what I see as one great big walloping delusion seriously?

The above may sound as if I am angry with society. That would be misleading. Right now, at this moment, the most I feel is slightly annoyed at the ludicrousness of it all and at the fact that I am forced to navigate through this miasma of BS just to survive. Otherwise, it is what it is. There is nothing to do but accept it, deal with it, and even from time to time, take advantage of it for my own gain. I shared the above with you as means of getting “personal”, so to speak. All of what I have said before stems from these personal beliefs about humanity. You can now see why, aside from the more rational arguments I used, I am not impressed with grand declarations of love and tears and heartfelt displays of emotions and so on. I am sure it’s all quite lovely, but it in the end, it is just so much BS when compared to rest of the human story.

But aren't hypocrisy and stupidity rather shallow kinds of ugliness compared to the deep ugliness of the human predator who required love and care to survive as a child, but now will not return the favor?

What love? And yes, for every instance of beauty between humans, there are ten more instances of ugly. Deep, shallow, what difference does it make? Ugly is ugly. I am speaking in generalities, since you didn’t address the above quote to me personally.

I left many comments at as a means of exploration and understanding. The conversations I have had here have been useful for precisely the same reason, only from a different angle. Instead of comparing my thoughts with those who for one reason or the other would agree with me, I get to contrast them with those whose experience is vastly different from my own. It has been very instructive and even enlightening.

Re: Confessions about love, relationships guilt and the world from a young sociopath.

i have read all of your posts and i found them very, very, great. i have learned a lot, and i loved your writings. i will print them and will read them from now. i "love" the way you see life dan, and i "love" too how the doctor finds a justification for everything in life. i dont want to interrupt on your conversation, but i didnt want to create a new thread.

now i got to my 3 final hypothesis, conclusions, thoughts, i dont know what they are.

humanity is overrated. it sounds kind of dark/emo t-shirt slogan, but its the truth. what we do or don't, it really doesn't change anything on the universe. when we are gone, the plants are going to grow again, and the damages that we did to the world will be cured. the planet will take care of its own without us. so f*ck up do whatever makes you happy!

i find it great that there are laws and the bible, and that stuff. i dont want to live in a world where everyone takes what they want. if it was like that, we would never be organized, and the world would be a chaos. i like to be the only sociopath in my social circle, its easier.

God is just a metaphor of life. i find it great, interesting. if you learn how god works, then you learn how society works. god is everything, the heaven and hell are what you get here in the planet based on your actions. we dont have conscience (conscience=soul i read somewhere), so we dont go neither to heaven or to hell (we dont have peace and we dont get punished for our acts). some call it karma, well, karma isnt for us too.

i will be reading more of your writings, theres a lot to learn.


Re: Confessions about love, relationships guilt and the world from a young sociopath.

Good doctor -

Here’s a little anecdote that I just read which I think says what I wanted to say about why science and naturalism is the preeminent epistemological method in my worldview far better than I did:

“Imagine you have two friends, one named Theo who tends to tell you what you want to hear -- old and flattering stories that makes things simple and certain -- and one called Phil who tends to tell new stories without quite the same regard for what you want to hear. Now for the longest time, it seems to make no practical difference just who you listen to, so you tend to favour Theo, perhaps because your parents swear by him, or perhaps because you happen to like his wondrous worldview.

Then one day Phil introduces you to his younger and equally innovative sibling, Nat. Now at first, you find Nat rather irritating. Not only does he avoid answering the interesting questions, he seems to make things pointless and unnecessarily complicated. But to your astonishment, you discover that his explanations make a real practical difference. In one breath he says, 'humans are but one animal among many,' and in the next breath he tells you how to track and avoid cholera epidemics. And as time passes, he starts talking more and more, and the things he makes possible become more and more remarkable: supercomputers, MRI's, thermonuclear devices -- things that entirely transform your life.

As this happens, you can't help but look somewhat askance at Theo and Phil -- after all, Nat has inadvertently provided you with a pretty imposing yardstick. You still like what the duo have to say -- even more, you realize they're saying things you need to hear to make sense of your life, especially in the indifferent world of blind processes revealed by Nat (the 'disenchanted world'). And yet, they just don't seem to measure up. Their claims still don't make any practical difference, and they remain utterly incapable of resolving any of their debates -- certainly not the way Nat the wunderkind can.

Because of the extraordinary successes of scientific naturalism (Nat), both religion (Theo) and philosophy (Phil) have become fallen forms of cognition, or knowing, in contemporary society. Our culture is filled with curious phenomena that attest to this 'fall.' Religious belief, for instance, has become a matter of 'personal preference.' Traditional prohibitions, like working on the Sabbath or viewing pornography, and traditional biases, like those against women or homosexuality, have either fallen or are presently falling by the wayside…

Scientific method is a hodgepodge of techniques and procedures that enable (albeit in a messy and retail manner) the world rather than our fears and biases to determine our conclusions. It's a kind of discipline, a 'cognitive kung-fu,' and it's utterly transformed our lives as a result. Before science, however, we were able to interpret the world pretty much anyway we pleased. We had no procedural discipline, no way to avoid our hardwired tendency to anthropomorphize or to guard against our hardwired weakness for flattery, oversimplification, and blind certainty. So we tried to understand the world the way we understood each other, as a something possessing purpose and motive. We saw the world as something personal rather than an aggregate of blind and indifferent processes. Existence, we thought, was a kind of extended family, where pleas (prayers) or demands (incantations) were often heard and answered. Before science, in other words, we still saw ourselves as fundamental participants in the world -- as helpless as we were! We knew nothing, and yet things made sense…”

Naturally you can see why I am more inclined to look for understanding of experiences like love in the nautural sciences than am I in, say, philosophy.