Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sympathy for the Overthinker

This is thought that has been swirling around in my head for a while and today it coalesced into relative certainty, so, as it is pertinent to a lot of things I actively do and even more I am passively involved in, here. It has to do with the concept of 'thinking too much' and some assorted accusations of pretension. The brave click onwards.

It's not a complicated argument but it seems it's one worth putting out there publicly once or twice: Don't disparage thinkers for thinking, don't mock wordy types for being wordy, don't disapprove of worriers for worrying.

There seems to be this idea going around (for as long as I have been paying attention at least) that it's some sort of choice to be engaged in intellectual pursuits. As if it's cut and separate from more visceral needs and desires for which, while there is no shortage of social critique, there seems more of an awareness of the critique's futility. Intellectualism is widely loathed as if it's a frivolous hobby, at odds with everything natural in life.

While I find the attempts at substantiating this strange thinking/feeling dualism to be fascinating sometimes, I grow tired of them when leveled against me as weapons. Please accept one empirical observation, that the tendency for intellectual examination and for assorted wordy exposition is not a voluntarily one. It is an emotional reflex and much like most reflexes it can be fought against only to an extent and even then the sufferer has to wonder why they're fighting against themselves to begin with.

If the reader has offered the advice to others that they should "think about things less", even if they meant it out of kindness for having spotted the Gordian knot the overthinker has entangled themselves into, they should be aware that what the overthinker is hearing is disapproving critique of foundations of their personality they have little free will to alter. What they're getting from it, basically is "I disapprove of you and I have the unrealistic expectation that you will change at my behest for having shaped my disapproval in socially unassailable passive-aggression". Yes yes, I know, that's unfair, but people don't really know what you meant because what you said was precisely antithetical to further examination. In silent victory, the words have ended.

Likewise, Overationalizators (I count myself included) are reflexive. The whys and hows of that behavior pattern can be deconstructed endlessly (and this is also a favorite pastime of navel gazers the world around) but rest assured they are not a stance, not an act, not a pretense. I see things happen around me and they, like lightning, touch on three-dimensional inner constructs of causality, they interface with presuppositions and inform my world-view subconsciously. This is instant. The quasi-rational deliberation afterwards is not instant but that doesn't mean it's much more controlled. Nor should you assume that the rationales spewed forth are considered truthful or accurate representations of world workings. They are a debugger buffer for the program of consciousness.

I have met people that, at the time, I was convinced they were pretending to be intellectuals and were trying too hard to impress me. Their most significant characteristic was not they they were thinking about things too hard but that they were implicitly asking me to acknowledge and agree with their line of thinking, nearly at the end of every value judgment. Some of them were also overthinkers, yes, but the two situations are not necessarily causally related. I have certainly also met blunt and base men who also pressured me for endorsement at every turn. The ones who value the conversation (and let's not kid ourselves, the exposition also) more than the agreement are mostly harmless.

And as a final note on wordiness. We cannot all be Nietzsche. It's a matter of mental acuity and talent. Some of us need to take the long way around an argument until we've circled it completely and on many planes and then only can start cutting towards the center. Bear with us for our philosophy is not meant as entertainment for you nor as a hobby for us, it is a practical necessity for our survival.

In an effort to accept others I'm slowly trying to treat a lot of their personality I find displeasing as prima facie instinctual behavior and not begrudge them for their nature, I'd be wonderful if they would do the same. That doesn't mean I have to hang out with all of them and neither should it mean you should read every word I have to say on whatever strikes me as significant every Monday, but please, easy on the judgments.


JesusGun said...

I've met a lot of people (clever or not) who dislike philosophical thinking, and mock attempts (mine, or in general) to this.

I think unjust judgments are ok.
Life is hostile sometimes.
If it was always hostile, you should love hostility.
If it was never hostile, you should hate hostility.
But it's "sometimes" which (in my opinion) means you should love it while you try to make it less hostile.
Or i just selected this point of view because it helps me surpass my problems.

Griffith said...

oh, i just had an idea on what you can draw! a woman aborting her own fetus with a chainsaw!

Helm said...

JesusGun, I don't think I know what life 'is' to the degree that I am prepared to accept its whims as fate. I don't think hostility is a 'fact of life', I think I'm obligated to make my own life be what it needs to be. Negotiating with other humans is part and parcel but accepting them wholesale is not.

Griffith said...

speaking of nietzche, though, remember that time he warned that science would become a sacred social authority to replace god?

me neither, so why not respond to this domineering jackass with a little neuroscience?

"[p]sychologists have found that many traits often go together and have grouped these traits into five overarching categories — extraversion, neuroticism, agreeableness, conscientiousness and openness/intellect." (it goes on to mention the role genes and environment play in shaping these traits--people choose neither their genes nor their environment.)

what's up now?

anyone with even a half-assed notion of human behavior will admit that actions are largely a function of temperament. in other words, we do what we are.

sure, there's a place reserved for externalities--things like coercing, canoodling, cajoling, persuading, and pleading--and, yeah, those things can alter and occasionally even play a causal role in certain behaviors.

but--throwing aside all the moral or ethical issues that attend exercising influence over another sentient being--for fuck's sake, have you ever actually tried to do it on the internet??? it's like 5000x times harder!

a person is who he is. most of that's out his control.

so, helm, if i might offer you some advice--on the internet--to change your behavior--next time this happens, just respond with the following message. (i carefully crafted it just for you.)

"sup fag.

you a queer? your lame you don't think enough. yeah you know your a bitch wanna fight? shut the fuck up. your gay if you don't read and think more faggot. read a book."

JesusGun said...

Now that i see again my previous post, i realize that all this "hostility" stuff i said was (at some degree) a try of mine to say something clever. (i'm just self-exposed but i don't care because i raise my self-honesty level. hehe :D )

I can't let misery hit me all the time until i learn what life is. I prefer to feel complete until then. If this means i have to accept some of the life's whims as fate, i will.
I don'k know if hostility is a fact of life, too, but at least it must be a simplification of one or more facts of life.

Anyway, i want not to be afraid to live in a hostile world. I want not to be afraid of the worst fate. While i want not to be afraid of afraidness. Let's not be pussies. I think this was the message of my previous post.

I want to analyse everyone's opinion/attitude. I'm trying to accept (as people and not always as thinkers) those who respect OR love me. Even if someone's beliefs/attitude makes me wanna hit him in the face. Maybe because i'm younger than you.

Matt Guy said...

Long-time lurker. This post struck me because I realized that I've been a victim and a culprit of this myself.

What would you folks say to a hypothetical Dostoevsky's Underground Man?

Is this a man who thinks too much?

Helm said...

Griffith, thank you for your comments but I will never say "sup fag" to anyone in my life, ever.

Jesusgun, I think a very real part of not being a pussy is openly accepting that one is a pussy under specific circumstances. I am afraid of no man's words but I am afraid of silence. Shit like 'you think too much' or 'you're pretending to be smart' breeds the context for nothing but silence.

Matt Guy, I am not aware of Dostoevsky's Underground Man. Might you illuminate us?

Griffith said...


"i am obligated both to greeks and non-greeks, both to the wise and the foolish."

romans 1:14

(sounds like we've got some differences in the size of our brain regions. oh well, live and let live.)

Helm said...

I do not understand you.

But yes, live and let live.

Griffith said...

i wasn't trying to offend. merely attempting (unsuccessfully) to inject some humor into the situation.

"sup fag" is about as serious as i take myself.

seems that you are a bit more... serious(?).

so, if personality proceeds from the brain and can be predicted from the relative size of different regions in it, your aversion and my agreeableness to the barbarian language of faggotry is mediated by differently sized chunks of cortical matter.

ergo, if a satanic crackhead were to hack open our skulls with a hatchet and eat our brains to gain the knowledge of the philosopher--i mean, after he picked out the little bits of bone and flesh--oh, and after he measured the mangled lumps with a caliper to gather empirical data--look, i guess what i'm getting at here is is it possible to make you laugh???

Conceit Arturo said...

I count myself as an overthinker too Helm, but I just dont think it needs to be as compulsory as you make it seem. I know there's some people that say this kind of thing just because they dread the idea of understanding themselves fully, so they're uncomfortable when you question everything, but at times overthinking does go together with procastination...specially when you're experiencing things that arent quite assimilated in your paradigm, and you simply do not have the correct mental model for analyzing a situation.

Helm said...

Griffith, it's almost impossible to not come off as condescending the way you've set yourself up here but re: "is it possible to make you laugh???", yes it is when I encounter humor.

Don't take this as an insult, 'sup fag' might be you not taking yourself seriously but for me it's just something the internet says that I don't find very humorous.

Different sized bits of brain is no more useful an abstracted simplification to me than any other for explaining different personalities. My interest is how to understand and live with people, not understand the physiological reasons they're not helm-clones. It could be biochemistry and it could be god, it makes no difference to me what makes us different, I'd just like to see more acceptance of that we don't generally have much of a say on how we are so we shouldn't judge each other as if we do.

Conceit: "specially when you're experiencing things that arent quite assimilated in your paradigm, and you simply do not have the correct mental model for analyzing a situation" such as?

Griffith said...

eh, just trying to be friendly.

if it's worth anything, i've had the easiest time getting others to understand--if not agree--with determinism by using neuroscience as a launch pad, mainly thanks to the empiricism. it's easier to get people to come to terms with differences when you're backed up by solid science.

it could be that the guy accusing you of overthought is just a general jerk, in which case it's pointless to try working things out with him. but, it could also be that his theory of human nature just isn't well conceived, in which case neuroscience might be a useful supplement to what you're already arguing. (of course, if his nature encourages him to underthink, then laying out a case with empirical data might be just as fruitless as dialogue.)

either way, i figured the brain science angle might be useful to you.

i'm sorry if it came off as condescending. i wasn't lecturing you. just throwing in something i thought might complement your post.

Helm said...

I get you. I tend to think those accusing others of overthought are very rarely jerks. There's some communication issue that's getting them at an impasse, that's what the original piece is trying to explore from the determinist angle i.e. 'we are what we are and we can't change it easily, so can we at least feel empathy for each other's position?'

Griffith said...

in your opinion--and just out of curiosity--why is empathy desirable?

as part of a more enlightened worldview?

to prevent conflict?

Griffith said...

actually, nevermind about the empathy-desirability question. overkill.

this might sound stupid, but have you ever heard of sergio toppi?

Helm said...

What's needed for me in this life is self-acceptance. To realize all that I was, am (and could be) and make peace with that.

I've found this path goes through accepting the other that we so often conveniently vilify to prop ourselves up. Taking the scary distant other and understanding what they are and how we are similar more than where we are different.

Empathy is a tool for self-reflection. By engaging in dialogue with others I am trying to make peace with them and through that to make peace with myself.

Sergio Toppi's an amazing artist.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe thinking too much is a problem. Saying too much seems to be.

Helm said...

UA, yes, the social faux pas seems to be over-sharing, but it's the same for my argumentation, those that do it don't do it for sport, they do it in need. The world generally seems to state "fuck your needs" whenever it suits it.

gnarf said...

I haven't read the other comments, but this is extremely refreshing Helm. Recently, I've been noticing I'm an overthinker, and it interferes with my social life so much. My mind just melts at the end of the day because I've been trying so hard not to overthink things because I'd love to just have a normal conversation with people. Small talk, or something. This has been troubling me so much, because as I began reading a lot of reference books, I began to overthink and thus I lost a lot of my conversation skills. It's driving me mad, and I almost wish I was as ignorant as I used to be. People found me more likeable. Anyway, without getting into my personal problems, I just wanted to say I loved reading this. It really helped.

Helm said...

I'm glad it helped, gnarf. Don't pressure yourself to dumb down. You'll eventually create a social space around you that is intellect-friendly through force, it's the only way to survive.

Anonymous said...

>"The world generally seems to state "fuck your needs" whenever it suits it."

No joke.