Afternoon Inquisition

AI: You can’t change the present

Amy is taking the day off today. Since she covered my AI on Saturday, she said I should cover hers today. I said I’d be happy to, no questions asked, then she said, “Don’t make me cut you, bitch.” I nodded and squeaked out, “okay.”

Later she apologized and said that she was just having a rough day and was exhausted after perfectly executing a ninja attack on a bunch of acupuncturist ghost hunters. Unfortunately, their electrogeigospectrometers confirmed that Amy was the ghost of Michael Jackson’s dad. So you can understand her frustration. If you’d like to help Amy, send cupcakes.

I’ve been complaining a lot lately. I’m grumpy, overworked, exhausted and I have someone clutching my liver with all her strength. But really, aside from the pregnancy discomfort stuff, I couldn’t be more pleased with my life right now. It’s amazing. I have really great things happening all around me, the least exciting of which is that my daughter will be born three weeks from tomorrow! Life is so much more than good.

I’m still here at Skepchick. I’m part of two new podcasts (Curiosity Aroused and Podcast Beyond Belief) that are both going great! I’ve got the Women Thinking Free Foundation (mostly) up and running, and it blows my mind that I accidentally formed a nonprofit! I’ve got some really great projects that I’m working on with the foundation, plus I’ve got some other projects in the works. Things are good. Really good.

I’ve been reflecting a lot on how I got to where I am today, and the choices I’ve made and the life changes I’ve gone through to lead me to right here and right now. The most influential event in getting me here was the death of my sister. That’s difficult. My life is great because my sister died. I don’t know where I’d be if she were around, but I know it wouldn’t be here. It’s hard not to ask myself if I would change it all if I could. I can’t answer, but my brain really wants me to.  But it involves choosing between my sister, whom I love and miss terribly, and my entire life now, including Moose and my pending daughter, Delaney. Plus I’m pretty sure there are about a million things logically wrong with even considering such an imaginary proposition, not the least of which is that it’s not even possible.

But as rational as I’d like to be, I’m still vulnerable to my emotions, and I can’t help but feel guilt over this completely fictional offer to go back and change it all. It’s been eating away at me the last few days.

How do you reconcile a clash of emotion vs reason? Do you ever play these unreasonable and illogical mind games with yourself?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays at 3pm ET.

Elyse

Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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29 Comments

  1. Wow did this question have perfect timing.
    My grandpa died on sunday.
    In recent months I’ve been really reading and thinking on the question of life after death and whether there is a heaven or an afterlife or anything of that sort.
    Rationally, no. I don’t think there is anything else that we have waiting for us. It makes me apreciate my family and my life so much more and i’m fairly happy with that decision.
    On the current emotional side? I love my grandpa and he will be missed. He has had to live 23 years as a widdower after my grandmother died. Idealy I would like there to be a heaven so they can be reunited.
    So when I am asked “Do you believe in Heaven?” I usually answer “no,” or “I don’t have all the evidence to answer that” but today and for a very long time I will instead answer “I don’t know, but I really hope so.”
    Emotions, they are a bitch.

  2. I tend to be vulnerable to them… and to guilt over stupidities past. I logic them away, though, so they only hurt me if I get to dwelling on them. Thus, streams of constant distractions when I get in a dwelling mood.

  3. It takes both sides. The emotional and the rational complement each other and form us into better people than we would be with only one of them.

    One thing I am certain of – our loved ones want us to be happy, often even to their own loss. My wife’s father would be proud of who she has become today – but she would have never become that person if he had not died when he did.

    So the answer, I guess, is to never second-guess your life. It’s not productive, and the one you lost would want you to be happy. Consider how you would feel if it were in reverse – if you were somehow looking down upon the life of your loved one who had lost you, and your loved one asked those questions… What would your answer be?

  4. I think my path to skepticism might have some parallels to Elyse’s. I was a Christian all my life, but I became even more devout after my wife died in 2003 when I was 36. After her death I had a lot of time to myself and I felt that I needed the support of my social network at my church. I got more involved in my church, volunteered for them and for a Christian homeless shelter, went to church study groups, took the Alpha course, and studied the Bible on my own.

    I started noticing more and more problems and inconsistencies in my religious beliefs, and I became curious about how to resolve my growing questions and doubts. My research online taught me that skeptics, scientists, and atheists had much better evidence and arguments for their positions than anything I could find from religious apologists to support my beliefs. Over the course of 2005 I gradually and reluctantly became an atheist, but I also started finding a new community through skeptical podcasts like SGU and began to identify as a skeptic myself.

    Now I organize a thriving Skeptics in the Pub group, I’m looking forward to my 4th TAM in July, and I consider my becoming a skeptic and an atheist to be one of the best things that ever happened to me.

    Sure, I wish I’d realized the value of the rational/skeptical approach decades ago, and I definitely wish I could have reached this point without experiencing the death of my wife. I sometimes imagine how my life could have worked out differently, but I can’t change the past and can only try to make the best of my present and the future. I’m very glad to have a new social network made up of like-minded skeptics who value reason, evidence, and critical thinking.

    I’m glad groups like Skepchick are here to provide a virtual community for people like me and to others who may be finding skepticism for the first time.

  5. That’s a hard question to answer. I used to be (or at least… think I was) a very rational person, but I find as I get older it’s harder and harder to keep my mouth shut even when I don’t have logical or rational support for my opinion. I clamp down a lot on the words “You are the stupidest person I’ve ever met!” or more commonly… “You’re a fucking idiot!” Counting to twenty and then looking up facts on the internet doesn’t work as well as it used to.

    On the other hand, in high-school, I was a very angry kid. I was voted “Most likely to flip out in a McDonalds with a machine gun someday and kill a lot of people.” I was able to grow out of that so I suppose it could have been much worse.

    As my mortality looms, I find I’m taking the “what-ifs” more seriously than I used to, though it’s not like I can change anything. I guess it’s sort of a “take stock of my life” sort of thing. I’m an Atheist and don’t believe in God, but every so often, I entertain the notion of what would happen if he did exist, and although I ask myself what I would do if I had my life to do over again, I usually come to the conclusion that I would do pretty much the same things, but I would punch more people. It’s not like I don’t have regrets. It’s just that everything I am is a result of everything that came before, and I like who I am, so I’d rather not change anything. I don’t know about a mid-life crisis. Either I haven’t hit it yet, or it wasn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

    (btw, in case any theists out there are wondering….I’m quite happy going to hell because an arrogant, spoiled child with more power than brains just can’t stand the thought of me thinking entirely on my own, but if I ever meet him, I hope he likes being yelled at because that’s the special hell I have in store for him)

    May the 4th be with you.

  6. When my father died recently, it did solve a number of problems that I had. The guilt over this has faded slightly over these months, but it’s still there. The only thing that keeps me from dwelling on this for long is keeping busy with tying up loose ends. Of course, losing my job over taking a leave of absence to put things in storage has left me with more time on my hands, so I’ve had to become creative in distracting myself. I don’t have a really good solution here.

    I’ve often wondered about the mythical offer to return to my previous problems in exchange for my father’s life. The fact that there are more pressing needs and people still here who need me to get things done keeps me from being frozen in self-pity. Besides, no one has made the offer.

  7. I really don’t think engaging in what if emotional stewing is very healthy. It seems to me that this type of thinking is what leads to holding grudges and feeling slights as infinitely more important than they ever were. Perseverating on emotional situations that are distant history or never even happened seems very similar to wallowing in unnecessary and irrational guilt. It can be debilitating for some people and it’s hard to imagine there is any upside for our current relationships and mental health.

  8. @swordsbane: I was thinking almost the same thoughts, except I wasn’t that type of angry young man (or woman) when I was younger. I was angry, yes, but I kept it all inside (passive-aggressive? a tad). I still want to punch people, tho, and scream, “You’re an idiot!” or something to that effect on a regular basis.

    COTW, for the following:

    “I’m an Atheist and don’t believe in God, but every so often, I entertain the notion of what would happen if he did exist, and although I ask myself what I would do if I had my life to do over again, I usually come to the conclusion that I would do pretty much the same things, but I would punch more people.”

    Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  9. I think being happy about the chain of events which followed your sister’s death is separate from how you feel about her death. Appreciating the chain of events in no way means you are glad she died. I’m sure if you were offered the option of the same happiness with her alive you’d take it in a moment.

    And who is to say you would have been unhappy if she lived – if her death led to your skepticism something else probably would have led you to that anyway. So I’m not sure it’s valid to ask “Would I trade my happiness for her being alive today” because who knows if her being alive would have ruled out the same or similar happy events to the ones you’ve actually experienced.

    I hope your discomfort in your final weeks of pregnancy is the least it can possibly be.

  10. @James Fox Iagree, but “what if?” questions do push their way into my thoughts. What if I had really gone for it in my profession? What if I had the hot shot career instead of my husband? I coulda been a contenda!!! What if I hadn’t had that scotch when I didn’t know I was pregnant? But it’s not a constant theme in my life, just a little nag now and then. Regrets? I have a few (thank you, Frank) But you respond to a situation, hopefully the best way you can, and then something happens that is out of your control and that that rules out a choice or opens a new door. But please don’t tell me it happens for a reason!!!!!

  11. I don’t believe reason and emotion clash. If emotions clash with anything, they clash with who we work to be. I have more than once destroyed many months work with a few minutes of emotion. It wasn’t unreasonable that I had those feelings. If anything, reason helped me understand those feelings better – basically that’s therapy, right?

    I think that reason is opposed to our social-self. The often asked question, “If all the other [group name] jumped off a bridge, would you?” is used to point just that out.

    @Gabrielbrawley: Be careful, I’ve heard some skeptics set booby traps so they can hear you coming.

  12. @Garrison22: COTW, for the following:

    “I’m an Atheist and don’t believe in God, but every so often, I entertain the notion of what would happen if he did exist, and although I ask myself what I would do if I had my life to do over again, I usually come to the conclusion that I would do pretty much the same things, but I would punch more people.”

    Couldn’t have said it better myself.
    —–
    As a cheap Japanese to English phrasebook would say: “I feel very large and happy right now.”

  13. @helenrizzo: I held religious views for thirty years I no longer hold. Because of these views I went to a specific college, met and married a specific person and have been happily married for twenty four years with two wonderful children. I don’t think any what-ifing about those circumstances would serve any purpose other than to foster unnecessary regrets, and who needs those. And sure, I’m not saying these thoughts don’t cross everyone’s mind at times, I just don’t think we should let them take up much time and effort.

  14. I’m so logical that when I’m being emotionally illogical, I can hear the part of my brain that’s logical telling me that it’s okay to feel this way so long as it doesn’t get out of control, I just clearly need to feel this particular feeling. It’s a little surreal, like one part of my brain is saying “there there” to the other.

    Case in point (and about to lose all street cred): A few days ago I was watching the final episode of Cosmos. When it got to the point where Carl Sagan was discussing the murder of Hypatia, I could feel myself misting up. I haven’t cried since I was 10. This is not a cool macho thing, this is a creepy thing. I didn’t cry when I got married and I didn’t cry when my best friend died and I didn’t cry when I got divorced. But re-watching Carl Sagan talk about a long-dead Alexandrean woman suddenly makes me all gooshy? WTF?

    But there was that part of my brain going, “It’s okay, man. Whatever this is (and you got me, I have NO idea) just roll with it and let yourself get it out. It passed quickly enough, and then all was fine again.

  15. I play those mindgames on myself all the time. What if this happened, what if I hadn’t said that, what if that particular prescription couldn’t have been filled that day, and onwards…
    And then I take a leaf from Terry Pratchett and figure while I’m on a whistlestop tour of the multiverses I’ll visit the ones with the fire, the kids, the millions of dollars, and the earthquake.

    As for the clash of emotion V reason. I find scheduling a time to focus on one, and then later the other, lets me work through what I need to. Also, a journal of flow charts let me see how circular my thinking can be.

  16. I have have played the same game as Elyse, only the dead person is my dad. He died when I was 13 and just about every day I have a fantasy about what my life would be like had he lived. And just like Elyse, I’m fairly certain it would not nearly resemble the life I have now. Ditto past relationships affecting current ones. I certainly would never had met my wife if I hadn’t had my heart broken previously and in just the right ways.
    Am I glad that my dad is dead? No. Am I glad that my life is the way it is? Most definately. Is my current life a result of everything that has happenned in my past? Yup.
    Shit, I could do this all day. *happy frownie face*

  17. A former president of the American Humanist Association once said that we should live grounded in reason, and guided by the heart. To me that means that we should try to live our lives balancing reason and emotion. I’ve certainly tried to be reasonable, and at the same time embrace my emotional side. I hope I’m doing well.

    For the other part, sometimes I catch myself trying to re-imagine the past, but I guess I need to subconsciously learn that the past is the past. I can only learn from it.

  18. Who knows elyse, if your sister hadn’t died, you might still have found your way to where you are now through some other means. If you are playing the “what if” game, you might as well rig the outcome.

  19. I loved the Butterfly effect.

    As for me, most of my what-ifs are about regrets. Things I didn’t do. Girls I liked but was afraid to approach. Invitations I declined because I was tired/busy/something else.

    I’m pretty sure every one of those what-ifs could have drastically altered my life, or not made hardly any difference at all.

    All this what-iffing has one advantage though. It’s made me realise that you regret the things you don’t do much more than the things you do do and fuck up.

  20. @exarch: It’s made me realise that you regret the things you don’t do much more than the things you do do and fuck up.

    Bingo… I’ve gotten pretty good at finding just one more way something doesn’t work, and those don’t bother me nearly as much as a passed up opportunity.

  21. I am in constant battle with my brain. I am very confident … for the most part. I am constantly fighting with my brain. “SHUT UP. You can do this. No, really, you can. Brain, shut up! Stop second-guessing yourself!”

  22. The worst event in my life was being life-threatening accident when I was ten years old. After several hospitalizatons including two major invasive surgeries and years of recovery I was “back to normal.” …except socially. Children can be extremely cruel to anyone who is different.

    So I sometimes wonder if I would change things if I could. If I could go back and prevent the accident I would be a very different person today. If I as I am today met the person I would most likely be if the accident didn’t happen, I think it highly likely that…

    I would not like him at all.

    He’d probably be a lot more like most other people. Trouble is, as I look around, the non-idiots seem to be a minority. It took a lot of pain to get where I am, and I think it’s a pretty good place. I wouldn’t wish my past on anyone, but it’s where I’m at now, so I’ll work with it.

    Wishful thinking can be a waste.

  23. @biguglyjim : I’m so logical, intellectual and introspective that I could easily be accused of being half Vulcan. ;-> So I go out of my way to experience emotion, even to the point of crying. We’re human. It’s healthy.

    (And yes, I still do always have the intellectual monitor going on in the background. And it may say, “That’s enough. Stop it now.” And I change my environment and thinking so that my emotions change.)

  24. I do the what if thing all the damn time.

    Mom blew her head off in the basement when I was 17. A couple weeks later dad said it was all my fault. You can imagine the emotional repercussions there. Whatever you’re imagining, you’re probably right.

    Decades older now and committed to sanity, when the what ifs start flying I have learned what I personally need to do is say out loud, “Stupid brain chemicals!” and then find something else to do. Design a purse, or concentrate on a particularly difficult puzzle, maybe just watch the Daily Show.

    Acknowledge it, and then do something else. Don’t know if it works for other people, but for me, that’s the key.

  25. “As for me, most of my what-ifs are about regrets. Things I didn’t do. Girls I liked but was afraid to approach. Invitations I declined because I was tired/busy/something else.”

    I’m pretty sure every one of those what-ifs” could have drastically altered my life, or not made hardly any difference at all.”

    “All this what-iffing has one advantage though. It’s made me realise that you regret the things you don’t do much more than the things you do do and fuck up.”

    So true, exarch. I feel that those that claim not to have any regrets about their lives have never examined their lives or are lying.

    Some of us have more/less regrets than others, some have larger/smaller regrets, whether we want to admit it or not. The ones that bother me the most are the ones involving ‘roads not taken’ because of how my past affected me.

    I also agree with James Fox that it’s not healthy to dwell on them too much or too often. It’s a habit I’d very badly like to break. I also agree when he wrote: “I don’t think any what-ifing about those circumstances would serve any purpose other than to foster unnecessary regrets, and who needs those?”

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