Afternoon InquisitionRandom Asides

AI: I Don’t Like You

As skeptics we often pride ourselves on our ability to be rational but you can not disregard the fact that we are emotional creatures.

Very emotional.

Advertisers are quite aware of this fact and so are alternative medicine practitioners. A majority of the alternative medicine market plays upon our emotions to coerce us into to purchasing products that often time have little or no effect. As consumers we often fall prey to emotional pleas and are willing to head down this fuzzy path instead of traversing the seemingly cold and clinical path of time-tested real medicine. Emotions are tricky and we all want to feel better about things. As skeptics we train ourselves to search out the logical and rational solutions. We learn how to weigh evidence and like good amateur scientists, we do our best to separate out the unnecessary emotions from our pseudo-clinical decision processes. We practice a method of skepticism in order to minimize our bad mistakes. We separate what we want to be true from what is and we therefor reap the benefit of fewer mistakes and less money wasted.

But what about emotional issues? What if you love something or what if you simply do not like someone or something?

Is it possible to apply skepticism to an emotional issue like friendship or love? Can we be skeptical about dislike and hate? How do you deal with someone you do not like? Can you ever approach an emotional issue from a truly neutral standpoint in order to objectively analyze the situation?

Amy Roth

Amy Davis Roth (aka Surly Amy) is a multimedia, science-loving artist who resides in Los Angeles, California. She makes Surly-Ramics and is currently in love with pottery. Daily maker of art and leader of Mad Art Lab. Support her on Patreon. Tip Jar is here.

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  1. Yes and no. I don’t think we can ever look at something 100% objectively. But we can ask ourselves why we feel a certain way. If you dislike someone, is there a reason behind it? What could it be? But, unfortunately, sometimes I really have a strong reaction and cannot pinpoint why.

    I think the more important thing is how you react to that feeling. If you feel hate for something or someone, but it does not seem to have a strong rational basis, how do you react? I would like to think a skeptic would be able to know when to act and when to just walk away. Since so many tv shows, advertisements, and pundits play with emotions, people who think critically may still feel what they want you to feel, but may not react in the way they want you to react.

  2. If there isn’t a testable claim leaving us only with an emotional response then there isn’t really a rational justification. The trick there is to recognize these situations and accept the “I don’t like you” factor. I don’t think it is either right or wrong it just is.

    1. I wonder if we could test on a scale how annoying someone is and then work out the best way to objectively deal with someone based on their rating. Of course the rating system would be subjective so perhaps it would be flawed from the get go.

      1. I don’t think the degree to which someone is annoying necessarily correlates in any way with the best way to deal with them. Some annoying people (any where on the spectrum from mildly to extremely annoying) are best dealt with by ignoring them completely (e.g. most trolls), whereas others should be mocked and derided (<Klink>Hoagland</Klink>), while still others should be calmly and rationally argued against (e.g. anti-vaxers).
        But first, you should rationally examine your own reasons for finding them annoying. Is it them or you? Are you projecting a bias, or are they forcing you to confront an uncomfortable truth, or are they just dicks? (Both could be true!) Maybe they mean well but are just socially inept. (BTDT.)
        The same goes for people you like or love. Discovering they are flawed human beings like all of us shouldn’t make you like or love them any less, unless what you found likable or lovable about them was pure projection. Accepting their minor foibles and major insanities with open eyes is I think a much better situation than being in denial and covering up.
        But what do I know? Maybe all of civilization would collapse if everyone wasn’t in denial about everything.

  3. I think people underestimate how powerful emotions in effecting our performance & actions. If you ask any serious poker player what the most important part of their strategy is to winning money. Their answer is usually something about not playing when on tilt (Tilt is when emotions are affecting your play) or trying to not let tilt effect my game.

    The interesting thing is that you can identify you are tilting and making bad decisions, but only with lots and lots of experience are you really able to do anything about it as your whole judgement perspective becomes cloudy.

    I imagine it is the same when dealing with people you dislike. However I find the easiest way to deal with someone you don’t like is to realise that they are human and most probably not pure evil & you even have some small things in common with them.

    The best way to not hate someone is to get to know them.

    Usually you hate an action they have taken or a view they hold not the person.

  4. Sometimes I think we’re subconsciously picking up on things we’ve been conditioned to ignore or blow off. Kind of like how women are conditioned, for the most part, to allow their boundaries to be violated.

    You may on some level realize that, “Hey, this jackhole is violating my boundaries!” while being consciously unable to articulate that THAT is what is pissing you off, and all you know is that this person irritates you, you mistrust them, whatever.

    So, not all unexamined immediate likes or dislikes are wrong.

    And needless to say, this goes both ways. You can instantly like someone outside of the bounds of the apparently rational, but on some level you’re sussing out that you’re compatible.

    I discovered long ago that if I take an instant dislike to someone, regardless of whether or not I can articulate it, there’s usually a reason, and it’s usually something small that is symptomatic of other, larger, issues: i.e. not taking me seriously when I tell them no about something trivial…

    One of my big ones was not returning my greeting when I was a bouncer at a club. If they can’t be bothered to be polite to “the help,” they are generally not a good person.

  5. I find that the older I get the more bothered I am by irrational friends and I appreciate my rational friends more. Of course the reason for this may be that I’m less tolerant of being irritated and accommodate that little development by calling it maturity when I avoid spending time with some people. On the other hand I work in a profession that requires me to be dispassionate in situations where I need to be professional, engaging and analytical with disagreeable and irritating people. We do what we need to do in general because of the situational requirements or the payoff later when the check arrives. The same can be said for many emotional situations involving all kinds of people, situations and topics where an investment of effort is required to be civilized when one might otherwise behave like an ass.

  6. When I have emotional responses, I try to intellectualize and rationalize them. This doesn’t mean I reject them, but I do try to figure why I’m feeling what I’m feeling, if it’s justified, and if it matters. Person A is pissing me off on the internet. Why? Is it reasonable to be pissed off, based on what Person A is saying and doing? Does what they are doing really matter? It lets me get a handle on what I’m feeling, and respond appropriately. Sometimes, that appropriate response involves getting really pissed at someone. But it’s nice to know that’s the reasonable response.

  7. Can you ever approach an emotional issue from a truly neutral standpoint in order to objectively analyze the situation?

    I’m not even sure how one would approach emotion objectively. It seems to me that emotion and reason are very different ting, and should be used for different questions. Reason is about working out what the state of the universe is – reason is for discovering what is true. Emotion is about what makes you feel good and bad – emotion is for discovering what you want.

    Troubles arise when we try to use emotion for reason-based questions (believing things because we want them to be true, not because we have evidence they are true) or reason for emotion-based questions (we assume that anyone who chooses differently to us must be irrational).

    1. I don’t think you can be completely neutral or objective when analyzing your own emotional response… but that doesn’t mean you can’t analyze it, anyway. You just accept that you’re not truly neutral, that there’s a wide margin of error, and see what results you come up with anyway. Even biased, those results can be useful in informing you about yourself, especially if you accept that they are biased. Being aware of your own biases, be they emotional or rational, helps you to account for them.

      For example, I am aware that I dislike certain people on a message board I moderate. Some of these are purely irrational, some are because they bug me (one guy reports *everyone* who disagrees with him as flaming), and some because I don’t like their opinions on things. To that end, when a problem comes up that concerns them, I am aware that I need to be extra careful to judge them on the rules, not on the strength of my dislike for them. If I’m unsure, I ask for help judging it. Because I am aware of my emotional response to them, I am able to make a fairer, more objective response.

  8. I’ve always disliked the idea that logic and emotion are two separate, non-overlaping domains. If someone goes out of their way to screw me over, it’s perfectly logical to dislike them. If someone is a really awesome person who I can connect with on lots of levels, love is a perfectly logical response. And besides, “I love you because…”, which implies knowledge of the other, as well as clear-headed, open-eyed good reasoning, is so much sexier than “I love you just because.”

    And yes, sometimes there are emotional responses that aren’t logical, but I’ve always found the best way to deal with those is by reasoning my way through them. Maybe I’ll find I’ve just got some misplaced anxiety, and can thus reassure myself (using my mad reasoning skillz) that the anxiety is incorrect- and that really does help. Maybe, upon deeper examination, I’ll find that I’m attaching other perfectly valid (and logical!) feelings to the wrong target, and then I can shift my attentions accordingly.

  9. Is it possible to apply skepticism to an emotional issue like friendship or love? Yes, but I wouldn’t, unless history showed my emotions get me into trouble. Then I might ask myself ‘Is it beneficial for me to love this person?’ and try to affect my actions and, over time, my emotions if the answer was ‘no’.

    Can we be skeptical about dislike and hate?
    Yes, and we should. Feelings change. Feelings we explore, examine and challenge change faster, or become more entrenched.

    How do you deal with someone you do not like?
    I try to avoid dealing with people I don’t like. Fortunately there are very few people I genuinely don’t like.

    Can you ever approach an emotional issue from a truly neutral standpoint in order to objectively analyze the situation?
    No, but I can identify the emotions and take into consideration that they’ll be affecting my judgement of both my own and anyone elses arguments. And I can walk away from discussions where other parties are too emotional to even consider there may be something to discuss since engaging in those discussions only lead to enforcing emotions.

  10. I think it is entirely possible to rationally analyze your emotions, even those as powerful as love and hate. I have managed to do both recently.

    For the emotion of hate, I have an ex-wife, mother of my children, who makes no effort to be with or help her teenage son who has been experiencing one life crisis after another. This makes me very angry and I certainly hate her for it. But, I have been able to rationally look at the situation and realize that she is what she is and that she isn’t going to change. I have accepted that I am a singe dad and that I am dealing with my son’s issues on my own (or at least without any help from his mother). This has allowed me to put aside my hate and reduce my stress so I can better deal with my son.

    As for love, I am in a new, wonderful relationship with what I can only term, the perfect woman. We have dedicated ourselves to working to spend the rest of our lives together. But, given that we have both had two bad marriages where we were emotionally abused, manipulated, and cheated on; as well as both having kids of our own living with us, we have both had to look at things rationally and realize that, as much as we desperately want to be able to live together and share our lives on a daily basis, we have to make compromises. We live separately, but in the same apartment complex. We budget meals, bills, two household expenses and two incomes as if we were living together. We all (us and our kids) eat dinner together every night at either her place or mine. We have had to look at the reality of our situation and agree that, until our kids are all ok with our living together under one roof, her and I will just have to wait, which could take years. So, despite the intense love and desire (greater than any we have both known), in spite of the sometimes desperation to be together as much as possible, we have had to rationally face, discuss, and make decisions that often fly in the face of our intense love for each other.

  11. I would say, especially when dealing with annoying people, the old advice of “count to 10” works well. In other words, time can dull your emotional “sez you” response. If you respond to the annoying with a snarky answer or a “wow this is so clever” response, you will incite anger. As a teacher I remember learning you will have some children you just don’t like. They will be annoying. There will also be some you just won’t ever warm up to. But, knowing this, and knowing as a professional it is my job to deal with this, made me a more successful teacher. Remembering the annoying person is indeed a fellow human being and making your response instead of a reflection of your emotions, a calm and reasoned reply, is good for you as a skeptic. Never sink to the level of the person annoying you. And remember, your reasoned response, or “we may just have to disagree on THIS issue”, is a way to help educate the other person in how a skeptic and reasonable person should respond. Don’t let the tone of the other person dictate your response. Plus, life will come back and bite you in the ass. Hatred is an indulgence that few of us can afford in our professional (and skeptic) lives. I know as a teacher, getting along with the students and parents, was part of my job. I work (and worked full time at one point) at a private school. If I wanted to keep my paycheck and pay the rent, I made sure I learned to like all my students. (Indeed, once I worked on remembering I was an example and remembering each child and parent was a fellow human being with problems and a life history I knew nothing about, I was darn successful). When I worked in NY at an art gallery and for a magazine, it was imperative that I, even in my private life, delt in a reasoned and considerate way with almost everyone I met. Did this mean faking being nice? Did this mean kissing up? No, but it was with the thought that this person probably knows lots of people that could have an impact on my job. One of my fellow employees lost her job after she “lost it” with the person that did deliveries to our office. She was “you know I just hate that bitch” around the office. I have to admit, the courier person was annoying. Truly annoying. I delt with her by sitting down and explaining, “wow, please don’t interrupt me when I’m on the phone as it really distracts me. I’m trying to do a good job here, and I know you are really busy. I promise when I see you I’ll get off the phone as quickly as I can.” I really wanted to smack her with a 2 by 4. My co worker did not handle it as well and was “you know I’m going to get you fired if you ever interrupt me again!” Courier was the young cousin of a HUGE buyer and supporter. I didn’t get fired. Co worker did get fired. Do not piss off the people with money that help you pay rent…and know that you never KNOW who that person may be. So, it pays to perhaps temper how we deal with people in more ways than one.

  12. I agree, that it is good to separate what we want to be true from what is, but do we always recognize when we simply want something to be true as that, or do we at times believe we have separated it when in fact we have only convinced ourselves that it is truth?

    I don’t think it is possible for finite human beings to ever view anything from a completely objective point of view. Our emotions and emotional responses are a part of us, and we cannot wholly separate ourselves from our perspectives. Yes there are people who are better at separating their point of view from their analysis of a situation or thing, but they are still viewing it from a (their) point of view, even when trying to see the situation from another persons point of view. We never fully step out of our point of view and into that of another, we are simply speculating about and relating to their point of view THROUGH our own. so I while I think it is possible to be skeptical when reviewing and analyzing our beliefs on a emotional topic, I don’t think it is possible to ever view something from a neutral standpoint.

    another issue I want to bring up: “New atheism, and their (often highly emotional) responses and attitude towards Christians.

    I have interacted with a few people who think Christians, or more broadly theists, have no ability to think rationally or critically, and who think that to be a theist is to be close-minded bigot. The irony being, they are being the very thing they claim theists to be, that is close-minded towards the theist point of view and bigoted against theists. How can a person claim to be open minded and objective about a topic they are not willing to discuss with those whose opinion differs or is opposed to their own?

    1. antihero it is not possible to have a rational discussion with someone who wants their own “facts” and then wants to use their own “logic” to reason with.

      It is possible to have a neutral viewpoint, and to argue using that neutral viewpoint. But then you limit yourself to only using facts about reality, and then only using valid logic to make inferences.

  13. Emotions, at their core, are not rational decisions based on facts and logic. They are a short-cut heuristic that is hard-wired to be fast and to have a compelling effect on actions.

    Logically manipulating facts is tedious and slow. You can’t use facts you don’t have to make decisions you don’t have time to make. The complexity of the decision increases exponentially with the number of facts to be considered. At some point in decision complexity space, you can’t use facts and logic, you need to use something faster, even if it is less precise.

    With logic, you understand how the facts are being used to generate the answer. With emotions, you don’t. With emotions, you are using the “non-algorithmic emotion computational system” that evolved, and which your neurodevelopment has generated. Knowing that the system evolved, and has been configured by your life experiences, lets you start to understand what it is reliable for and what it is not reliable for.

    Humans didn’t evolved emotions so that humans would be happy or make decisions that would make them happy, evolution configured human emotions so that humans would have descendants. That is what your emotions are trying to do, manipulate you so that you will have more descendants.

    However, those manipulative emotions evolved during prehistoric time going back tens of millions of years. An emotional response that may have been adaptive 10 million years ago, might not be adaptive today.

    How you feel may not reflect at all how you are actually doing, and what you should do may have nothing to do with what you feel you should do.

    A lot of my work is focused on stress responses. In the limit, when you are running from a bear and need every molecule of ATP that your body can generate to stay alive, your body will induce a state of euphoria, so that you feel like you can run forever. You can’t run forever, just until the bear catches you, or until you drop dead from exhaustion, which ever one comes first. In a very real sense, both of those are equivalent to “forever” in an evolutionary sense.

    Running when your muscles are dying is a good idea if you are running from a bear. It is a bad idea if you are running a race, or running to try and improve your health. Feeling fatigue, pain, and euphoria when you are running are signals that you are exceeding certain physiological limits. Making the right choices as to how to deal with those signals is important.

    People can become addicted to running and then injure themselves. That is a case where the euphoria signal has been triggered so much that the threshold for triggering has been modified by neurodevelopment to be too low. Euphoria is very dangerous feeling to have when it is brought on by being in an extreme metabolic state.

    Trauma of multiple types can modify the thresholds for what ever protective behaviors the trauma elicits; for example Stockholm Syndrome, anxiety, dissociation. People with a trauma history need to be a lot more careful with themselves because trauma can modify those extreme stress responses in ways that were adaptive 10 million years ago, but which are not adaptive now.

  14. I frequently apply skepticism to my emotions, and I highly recommend it. The most common problem is that we think we know why we are feeling the way we are even when we don’t.

    Did you really yell at your friend because “you can’t take anymore of his shit” or are you just tired and hungry? When you had a great time with a group of friends, do you really know which one was most directly responsible for your happiness. Was it really God that you found on top of that mountain?

    Realizing the difference between rationality and rationalizations is a critical one. If you have been in denial about something than it will most certainly come up with you are depressed and vulnerable. But if you have self-honesty when you are not depressed then there will be nothing to haunt you later.

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