Dufresne

Factors influencing happiness

58 posts in this topic

I am basically asking all these questions because I don't know what's wrong with me. In September 2007 I started work on an interesting, challenging and financially very rewarding project for a new customer. I remember the day when I got the contract. I remember leaving my customer's office filled with joy. I was excited but I was not happy that day. Happiness slowly built up during the weeks that followed. Work on the project was exhausting and I had to overcome a number of difficult challenges and was under constant pressure to get the project done on time. At the end of 2007 I completed the project successfully. But since then my happiness slowly vanished.

I think you are suffering from something akin to post partum depression. You were exhilarated by facing a challenge and achieving important values, but what have you done for yourself lately? You can only coast so far on past accomplishments and then you have to go out and find another challenge.

At least now you know what kind of a challenge really makes you happy.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I want to post here a post by Arnold from another thread which I liked and which is relevant:

Isn't happiness a feeling? You say one should live for fulfilment of his goals. Now why would one do that if there was no emotional reward in doing so?

I never suggested one could get emotional satisfaction without achieving goals. However, if motivation for goal achievement is not emotional, then only duty remains to urge one on. Achieving goals cannot become secondary, because there are no joys of success without them. If you think I am saying one can get an emotional reward without a rational cause, I hasten to correct you.

The fact remains that one lives because one feels like it. Those who don't feel like it, jump off bridges.

It is in our nature to get pleasurable feelings from success (hole in one - watch him jump for joy). I doubt if one could capture that emotion by cheating. The day that life offers no pleasure is the day you stop seeking goals.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Happiness slowly built up during the weeks that followed. Work on the project was exhausting and I had to overcome a number of difficult challenges and was under constant pressure to get the project done on time. At the end of 2007 I completed the project successfully. But since then my happiness slowly vanished. I'm not depressed but I'm not as happy as I was then. I want that happiness back but I don't know how I got it in the first place. Was it because I experienced an unusually high amount of joy during the work on the project?

Most probably.

That was my first thought. Therefore I started working harder on my other work after the project was done. But the happiness didn't come back. Why not? Did I not work hard enough?

I suspect it was because the kind of work you liked was very personally important to you in ways you have yet to discover and the the hard work you did afterward did not have the same personally satisfying characteristics.

Happiness comes from achieving values, but they really must be your very own important personal values. Since you enjoyed the challenging job so much, you can learn a lot about yourself by asking what about it was important to you. Once you understand that, you can go out looking for another job that is similar and will bring you the same personal enjoyment.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I regard happiness as an emotion, but as a metaphysical emotion. Like joy, it is a response to the achievement of a value, but the value involved is very basic and fundamental: the value of oneself.

It is the feeling in response to your awareness that you are able to live and worthy of living. Joy is "I achieved this" while happiness is "I'm the kind of person who can achieve things." Joy is "I did this well" and happiness is "I am a capable person." Joy is "I did the right thing" and happiness is "I am a good person."

Betsy, I love this. This is precisely the kind of distinction I was looking for. I had a glimpse of this, but not that connection. In the talk I gave at Founders on self-concepts (and posted in the essays section of THE FORUM), there is a section on self-evaluations related to the mind, body, and relationships in which I state fundamental questions related to each. You'll notice that I put the vast majority of those questions in the form of "Am I a person who..." The idea was that the self-evaluations that compose a self-concept are fundamental evaluations that deal with the essence of who a person thinks he is. What I had not identified more specifically is that these are, therefore, metaphysical judgments. Thank you for helping me see that!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Taking into account what I have learned about happiness thus far I have created a new theory about the psychological dynamics of happiness that explains all of my personal observations. Here it is:

The human mind can automatically integrate mental content. It automatically integrates sensations into perceptions. It can automatically integrate perceptions with existing concepts (i.e. recognizing instances of existing concepts). It can automatically integrate observations into generalizations (i.e. inductive reasoning). It can automatically integrate observations with existing generalizations (i.e. deductive reasoning).

A person with a paranoid personality, for example, has a concept “man”. In his childhood he has had countless experiences of human beings hurting him. His subconscious mind automatically integrates the concrete observations of individual human beings into the generalization “Mankind consists of people with bad intentions.” The paranoid person may not even be aware of this subconscious, automatic form of (erroneous) inductive reasoning. But he will become aware of it in the form of his emotional and behavioral responses to the people he encounters in his daily life. When he meets a new person, his mind automatically identifies the person as an instance of the concept “man”, and automatically integrates his paranoid generalization about man (i.e. the basic paranoid premise underlying his personality) with his concrete observation. The result is the subconscious thought: “This person has bad intentions.” He will respond to this automatic thought with fear (maybe even anger) and react to that person with caution, defensiveness, guarding his privacy, etc.

My theory is that the same fundamental mechanism of consciousness (i.e. the mind automatically integrating content) not only explains personalities like the paranoid personality but also what Betsy calls “metaphysical” and what Scott calls “fundamental” emotions such as happiness, depression and the shorter-term moods.

When a person, for example, starts playing a complex game he has never played before and has a small success during the game then he will recognize it as a small success (e.g. “I am good at aspect A of the game.”). The next time he has a small success (e.g. “I am good at aspect B of the game.”) he will also respond with joy but additionally, his subconscious mind will slowly start to form a new, in the beginning very weak, integration (e.g. “I am good at this game!”). Each additional success strengthens this integration. But I believe that in addition to this strengthening, a new success also activates – to some extent – the other mental content that is part of the integration, triggering the emotional responses to that mental content. So in effect when a person has a strong sense of “I am good at this game!” a new success will not only result in joy but also activate, to some extent, the individual components of the integration and he will respond with an additional, different form of joy (i.e. a fundamental, less intense but more broad, emotion).

Now what is possible in a game can also be possible in regard to one’s entire life. The “metaphysical” or “fundamental” value-judgments that Betsy wrote about (“I’m the kind of person who can achieve things.”, “I am a capable person.” and “I am a good person.”) are the results of strong integrations of countless experiences of success. Now each time a person with a strong sense of self-value experiences a success, his mind will automatically integrate his experience of the concrete success with his experiences of his past successes, activating – to some extent – the mental contents that gave rise to past joys and thus result in additional joy. And the person experiencing the small success will not only experience the joy in response to the new success but also a less intense but more broad form of joy. And that’s what we call “happiness”.

This theory of fundamental emotions (e.g. happiness, depression and moods) explains why happiness takes some time to develop and takes some time to disappear. It also explains why I entered my last happy period and why I left it. As Betsy wrote “You can only coast so far on past accomplishments […]”. If less new evidence of personal value is accumulated, the integration underlying the fundamental self-evaluation probably weakens like a muscle that atrophies by lack of use. And this will be experienced in the form of declining happiness.

Now please feel free to tear my theory (which is actually just a more verbatim version of what was already written) apart.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I regard happiness as an emotion, but as a metaphysical emotion. Like joy, it is a response to the achievement of a value, but the value involved is very basic and fundamental: the value of oneself.

It is the feeling in response to your awareness that you are able to live and worthy of living. Joy is "I achieved this" while happiness is "I'm the kind of person who can achieve things." Joy is "I did this well" and happiness is "I am a capable person." Joy is "I did the right thing" and happiness is "I am a good person."

(Bold in the last paragraph mine.) The three bold fundamental value-judgments that you mentioned sound a lot like self-esteem. Would you say that in your experience that happiness is the emotional form in which a person experiences high self-esteem (and depression analogously the emotional form in which a person experiences low self-esteem)? Or would you say that other evaluations are also relevant to happiness? I am asking because Scott mentioned (in another thread) a so-called "cognitive triad" consisting of views about oneself, the world and one's future. As I understood it, those views underly three fundamental value-judgments that determine whether or not a person will be depressed. Would you say that happiness is the fundamental emotion resulting from the opposite, positive conclusions in these three areas of value-judgment? So that a person will be most happy when he concludes: "I am good, the world is good and my future is bright!" And that he will be most depressed when he concludes: "I am bad, the world is bad and my future is hopeless!"

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Now please feel free to tear my theory (which is actually just a more verbatim version of what was already written) apart.

I won't tear your theory apart, Dufresne. I have to make sure I understand it, though. There is a lot to think through, so I would like to respond but will not be able to until much later, if not tomorrow.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I regard happiness as an emotion, but as a metaphysical emotion. Like joy, it is a response to the achievement of a value, but the value involved is very basic and fundamental: the value of oneself.

It is the feeling in response to your awareness that you are able to live and worthy of living. Joy is "I achieved this" while happiness is "I'm the kind of person who can achieve things." Joy is "I did this well" and happiness is "I am a capable person." Joy is "I did the right thing" and happiness is "I am a good person."

In the thread regarding the tv show House, Hema writes in response to Arnold:

I have watched a couple of episodes of House. I can agree with much of the positive commentary. However, am I the only one who wonders if there is some rule that prevents House from ever smiling when a crisis is over. His grubby appearance and constant bellicose attitude are annoying to me. You can be just as effective without this.

Arnold is (very unfortunately) not the only one to voice such thoughts. It's more likely that he is among the majority but I disagree.

In the present day and age if you show a smiling, laughing, polite doctor in America it would be grotesquely ridiculous if you show him to be brilliant at his job too.

A brilliant mind is no longer realistically compatible with a laughing and polite public countenance. Even in AR's novels, publicly, the heroes and the heroines had very little to smile about and to be sure they were only sometimes caustic with others and in a very subtle manner but often times they had to be abrupt with others as if they didn't exist and that was the 50s!!...

Here is a concrete exchange about the ways one *should* emote as a productive valuer. This exchange shows how Betsy's key and proper distinction between happiness and joy - the importance of recognizing what is the nature and identity of one's emotions - results in how one shapes one's experiences every day and over a lifetime.

Generally and impersonally speaking, what is there to be happy about in the world today? Well, the things one values are possible through one's rational achievement, and one knowledge of all that is possible to oneself as long as one is alive. The bromide of 'being happy to be alive' is an appropriate use of the word "happy". What is there to be joyful about in the world today? Your achievements are yours, your mind is yours, and to give over any additional time or energy or thought more than is necessary to a world that is not as you'd like it, is to deny that joy is one's reward. The ability to get through the numerous unsavoury details of one's day with masterful indifference rather than by cynicism, snarling and bruxism means you truly believe the good is good for you. To confer an importance to those unsavoury aspects of life is to rank the values of others above one's own values, which will turn a smile and a laugh into a guilty, vicious consolation rather than the product of a world that you have won. A smile and a laugh as guilt, do not reflect Ayn Rand's heroes and heroines when the public or their company consists of other heroes and heroines. My opinion is that even in an environment that is not as you wish it to be, one should still act in a manner that is worthy of the world and the company that is of value to you - in every way. To do otherwise would be to divorce and invalidate emotions (a real entity with breadth, depth and duration) from the real products of one's mind, and that's a downward spiral with a huge g-force.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I regard happiness as an emotion, but as a metaphysical emotion. Like joy, it is a response to the achievement of a value, but the value involved is very basic and fundamental: the value of oneself.

It is the feeling in response to your awareness that you are able to live and worthy of living. Joy is "I achieved this" while happiness is "I'm the kind of person who can achieve things." Joy is "I did this well" and happiness is "I am a capable person." Joy is "I did the right thing" and happiness is "I am a good person."

(Bold in the last paragraph mine.) The three bold fundamental value-judgments that you mentioned sound a lot like self-esteem. Would you say that in your experience that happiness is the emotional form in which a person experiences high self-esteem

High self-esteem is definitely one of the causes of happiness.

(and depression analogously the emotional form in which a person experiences low self-esteem)?

I wouldn't say that because there are other causes of depression including loss of a major value and biological conditions.

Or would you say that other evaluations are also relevant to happiness? I am asking because Scott mentioned (in another thread) a so-called "cognitive triad" consisting of views about oneself, the world and one's future. As I understood it, those views underly three fundamental value-judgments that determine whether or not a person will be depressed. Would you say that happiness is the fundamental emotion resulting from the opposite, positive conclusions in these three areas of value-judgment? So that a person will be most happy when he concludes: "I am good, the world is good and my future is bright!" And that he will be most depressed when he concludes: "I am bad, the world is bad and my future is hopeless!"

Yes, as well as various combinations of same. Observe that both Dominique and Wynand both had high self-esteem but not the same view of the world as Roark. The result was that neither of them was as happy as Roark.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Now a number of people in this thread suggested that happiness is in fact an emotional reaction to self-evaluation. But if that were the case then why did my happiness vanish? ... That's why I am skeptical about the claim that happiness is an emotion based on self-evaluation.
So that a person will be most happy when he concludes: "I am good, the world is good and my future is bright!" And that he will be most depressed when he concludes: "I am bad, the world is bad and my future is hopeless!"

Note that one's judgement of "the" world is still a reflection of one's judgement of one's place in it - so the best combination in the triad still ends up being based on reality-grounded self-evaluation.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
If less new evidence of personal value is accumulated, the integration underlying the fundamental self-evaluation probably weakens like a muscle that atrophies by lack of use. And this will be experienced in the form of declining happiness.
Although I still think that the integration would weaken over time, I now think this is a more long-term effect. The short-term effect of a lack of new achievements will simply be that the components of the integration (i.e. the mental contents) will be activated less frequently and therefore the joy previously experienced as a response to those activated components will be experienced less frequently. This alone would explain the experience of declining happiness.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I regard happiness as an emotion, but as a metaphysical emotion. Like joy, it is a response to the achievement of a value, but the value involved is very basic and fundamental: the value of oneself.

It is the feeling in response to your awareness that you are able to live and worthy of living. Joy is "I achieved this" while happiness is "I'm the kind of person who can achieve things." Joy is "I did this well" and happiness is "I am a capable person." Joy is "I did the right thing" and happiness is "I am a good person."

First of all, I think this post is brilliant.

Secondly, I have two questions:

  1. What is a "metaphysical emotion"? I do not understand the meaning.
  2. In the explanation of the meaning of the fundamental value that you gave, isn't there also an implied condition that the world is a place worthy of existence? That the world is such that it allows one to live well?

In continuation of the second question/comment: Just the achievement of virtues (being a good person) is not enough.

From introspection I find that both are necessary: My judgement of myself as good, and my judgement of the world as good. And actually, when I am aware of this emotion (of happiness), I think more of the world as being wonderful. Not of myself as being wonderful, though the second is a condition to feel happy.

I also noticed that when there is some injustice done toward me, it jeopardizes (on some level of awareness) my judgement that the world is a good place to live in, and therefore makes me less happy.

This is an important psychological understanding: that a man's happiness is determined by how well his grasp of himself and his grasp of the world allow him to achieve his values (including the value of being an ideal man and the value of the world as a place that allows one to achieve his external values).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
What is a "metaphysical emotion"? I do not understand the meaning.

In philosophy, metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that deals with the nature of existence and man's relation to it. A metaphysical emotion is an emotion in response to one's basic view of the world and one's place in it. An example of a metaphysical emotion would be a feeling of confidence in response to a benevolent universe premise.

In the explanation of the meaning of the fundamental value that you gave, isn't there also an implied condition that the world is a place worthy of existence? That the world is such that it allows one to live well?

Absolutely.

In continuation of the second question/comment: Just the achievement of virtues (being a good person) is not enough.

From introspection I find that both are necessary: My judgement of myself as good, and my judgement of the world as good. And actually, when I am aware of this emotion (of happiness), I think more of the world as being wonderful. Not of myself as being wonderful, though the second is a condition to feel happy.

Both are necessary. Observe that Dominique thought of herself as good but the world as a threat to her values and, therefore, was not happy.

I also noticed that when there is some injustice done toward me, it jeopardizes (on some level of awareness) my judgement that the world is a good place to live in, and therefore makes me less happy.

Perhaps it is because you are giving metaphysical significance to the injustice. I don't. I have been unjustly attacked many times, but my reaction is "Maybe he doesn't know the facts yet" or "He's a real schmuck!" but it doesn't affect my expectation that the world is a place where I will usually be treated justly.

This is an important psychological understanding: that a man's happiness is determined by how well his grasp of himself and his grasp of the world allow him to achieve his values (including the value of being an ideal man and the value of the world as a place that allows one to achieve his external values).

I agree.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
A person with a paranoid personality, for example, has a concept “man”. In his childhood he has had countless experiences of human beings hurting him. His subconscious mind automatically integrates the concrete observations of individual human beings into the generalization “Mankind consists of people with bad intentions.” The paranoid person may not even be aware of this subconscious, automatic form of (erroneous) inductive reasoning. But he will become aware of it in the form of his emotional and behavioral responses to the people he encounters in his daily life. When he meets a new person, his mind automatically identifies the person as an instance of the concept “man”, and automatically integrates his paranoid generalization about man (i.e. the basic paranoid premise underlying his personality) with his concrete observation. The result is the subconscious thought: “This person has bad intentions.” He will respond to this automatic thought with fear (maybe even anger) and react to that person with caution, defensiveness, guarding his privacy, etc.

Explaining a full personality type does require an examination of the core premises and evaluations a particular person holds. However, personality is much bigger and much deeper than cognition. It involves genetic components, environmental or contextual factors, and the extent to which a person uses his free will, especially related to value hierarchy, relationships with others, and associated emotions. Also, one must identify the person's self-concept, which is a summary evaluation of one's efficacy in all parts of life.

I think your description above does speak to a likely cognitive aspect. I think you would have to factor in and explain these other aspects, though, to be able to tie it to larger personality patterns and/or mental states (e.g., happiness).

This being said, I think you are right that a person with a paranoid personality very likely suffered severe trauma at the hands of others, formed the premise you identify, and acts in relation to others as you describe. However, consider that paranoia is actually a form of narcissism. If everyone is out to get you, then you must be pretty special.

Narcissism is a disorder of the self, particularly one's self-concept. It is a pathological form of self-love. However, there are various manifestations of it, with paranoia being one. A paranoid is a "special person" in a malevolent world. However, in reality, the world is pretty much indifferent to paranoids, other than to try and avoid them, which has the sad effect of validating the paranoid's "world" (by which I mean psychological world). Therefore, paranoid person attempts to assign significance to his existence through a fantasy or delusion of unjust persecution. He tells himself, or delusionally believes, that he is in someway more special or virtuous, and others are trying to undermine him because of it.

Tying this back to your idea, you are probably right that the paranoid person holds that core premise and reacts to others as he does because of it, but it is what else he does with that premise (and others) that creates the whole psychological world and related mental state that can be considered his personality.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The human mind can automatically integrate mental content. It automatically integrates sensations into perceptions. It can automatically integrate perceptions with existing concepts (i.e. recognizing instances of existing concepts). It can automatically integrate observations into generalizations (i.e. inductive reasoning). It can automatically integrate observations with existing generalizations (i.e. deductive reasoning).

The brain certainly integrates sensations into perceptions automatically, but does the mind actually do all the other kinds of integrations you list automatically? I don't mean to suggest that there isn't some type of processing, maybe even automatic processing, that occurs subconsciously. But I'm wondering how generalization and reasoning can happen automatically.

When a person, for example, starts playing a complex game he has never played before and has a small success during the game then he will recognize it as a small success (e.g. “I am good at aspect A of the game.”). The next time he has a small success (e.g. “I am good at aspect B of the game.”) he will also respond with joy but additionally, his subconscious mind will slowly start to form a new, in the beginning very weak, integration (e.g. “I am good at this game!”). Each additional success strengthens this integration. But I believe that in addition to this strengthening, a new success also activates – to some extent – the other mental content that is part of the integration, triggering the emotional responses to that mental content. So in effect when a person has a strong sense of “I am good at this game!” a new success will not only result in joy but also activate, to some extent, the individual components of the integration and he will respond with an additional, different form of joy (i.e. a fundamental, less intense but more broad, emotion).

Now what is possible in a game can also be possible in regard to one’s entire life. The “metaphysical” or “fundamental” value-judgments that Betsy wrote about (“I’m the kind of person who can achieve things.”, “I am a capable person.” and “I am a good person.”) are the results of strong integrations of countless experiences of success. Now each time a person with a strong sense of self-value experiences a success, his mind will automatically integrate his experience of the concrete success with his experiences of his past successes, activating – to some extent – the mental contents that gave rise to past joys and thus result in additional joy. And the person experiencing the small success will not only experience the joy in response to the new success but also a less intense but more broad form of joy. And that’s what we call “happiness”.

I think you are on to something here. However, I'm still not sure how or why one's mind would "automatically integrate his experience of the concrete success with his experiences of his past successes." Wouldn't that require some volitional, conscious thought? It might not even take a lot of such thought, but it may not take much to get the subconscious working to integrate it. So, my present hypothesis is that to the extent any such automatic processing does occur, it begins with a conscious thought, even a single thought that, in effect, tells the subconscious what to do with the new success (e.g., process and integrate it).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
The human mind can automatically integrate mental content. It automatically integrates sensations into perceptions. It can automatically integrate perceptions with existing concepts (i.e. recognizing instances of existing concepts). It can automatically integrate observations into generalizations (i.e. inductive reasoning). It can automatically integrate observations with existing generalizations (i.e. deductive reasoning).

The brain certainly integrates sensations into perceptions automatically, but does the mind actually do all the other kinds of integrations you list automatically? I don't mean to suggest that there isn't some type of processing, maybe even automatic processing, that occurs subconsciously. But I'm wondering how generalization and reasoning can happen automatically.

It does, but not infallibly, and it has to be learned first. And it still has to be validated on the conscious level, even if in simple cases that happens very rapidly. If you couldn't automatize elementary forms of reasoning you couldn't use language and could never progress to a more advanced level of work in any field.

A good related example is the creative process for problem solving, which works by automatic subconscious integrations, which also have to be subsequently validated. Ayn Rand discussed this in her lectures on writing, and with your background I'm sure you have encountered it elsewhere, such as in Arthur Koestler's The Act of Creation?. One that you may not be familiar with but which I think you would enjoy is Jacques Hadamard's The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field. I can remember in college waking up in the middle of the night with the solutions to mathematical problems I had been thinking about before going to bed. You have to feed your subconscious with enough base knowledge ingrained over time and then start the process by thinking about the problem on the conscious level and trying different approaches. That gets your subconscious working, with enough basic information to work with, so that creative ideas come to you later in totally unrelated contexts (like waking up in the middle of the night!).

But at a simpler level every time you speak or write something down you are using automatic integrations.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
A good related example is the creative process for problem solving, which works by automatic subconscious integrations, which also have to be subsequently validated. Ayn Rand discussed this in her lectures on writing, and with your background I'm sure you have encountered it elsewhere, such as in Arthur Koestler's The Act of Creation?. One that you may not be familiar with but which I think you would enjoy is Jacques Hadamard's The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field. I can remember in college waking up in the middle of the night with the solutions to mathematical problems I had been thinking about before going to bed. You have to feed your subconscious with enough base knowledge ingrained over time and then start the process by thinking about the problem on the conscious level and trying different approaches. That gets your subconscious working, with enough basic information to work with, so that creative ideas come to you later in totally unrelated contexts (like waking up in the middle of the night!).

Yes, your example of waking up in college having solutions to math problems is what I was trying to convey when I indicated that some type of processing can occur automatically and subconsciously, but also that it took you consciously thinking about those things before you went to bed. In other words, I tend to think that some conscious, active work, even an order to the subconscious, has to occur before those automatic, subconscious integrations will occur. It may not have to be a lot of conscious work, just enough to get the subconscious rolling.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
A good related example is the creative process for problem solving, which works by automatic subconscious integrations, which also have to be subsequently validated. Ayn Rand discussed this in her lectures on writing, and with your background I'm sure you have encountered it elsewhere, such as in Arthur Koestler's The Act of Creation?. One that you may not be familiar with but which I think you would enjoy is Jacques Hadamard's The Psychology of Invention in the Mathematical Field. I can remember in college waking up in the middle of the night with the solutions to mathematical problems I had been thinking about before going to bed. You have to feed your subconscious with enough base knowledge ingrained over time and then start the process by thinking about the problem on the conscious level and trying different approaches. That gets your subconscious working, with enough basic information to work with, so that creative ideas come to you later in totally unrelated contexts (like waking up in the middle of the night!).

Yes, your example of waking up in college having solutions to math problems is what I was trying to convey when I indicated that some type of processing can occur automatically and subconsciously, but also that it took you consciously thinking about those things before you went to bed. In other words, I tend to think that some conscious, active work, even an order to the subconscious, has to occur before those automatic, subconscious integrations will occur. It may not have to be a lot of conscious work, just enough to get the subconscious rolling.

Scott,

Does this mean that digesting too much information can be detrimental to ones mental health?

Can processing too much information, especially contradictory information (such as opposing viewpoints; in science, mathematics, politics, etc.), hurt the way your subconscious deals with this information; damaging your ability to integrate knowledge? Maybe our minds work like our stomachs, too little or too much food (information) is unhealthy.

I believe I once heard that minds that are constantly absorbing more information (i.e. learning) are healthier; but how does this happen? How does the subconscious ‘sort-out’ information? Is this a learned skill, or one that is automatic? Can a damaged or confused subconscious be repaired consciously?

But mostly I want to ask what I asked above: What is the relationship between knowledge absorption and the subconscious problem solving you mention?

Your expertise would be greatly appreciated.

- Ryan

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I can remember in college waking up in the middle of the night with the solutions to mathematical problems ....

This has happened to me as well. I have also noticed similar "overnight integration" in another area - mind-body- when it comes to learning a new complex physical movement (as in dance, for example) and I am pretty sure there was no "practicing" going on while sleeping :) Last night - was not doing it well - the next day "magically" got it on a first try - type of a thing.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I have also noticed similar "overnight integration" in another area - mind-body- [...]

Good sleep seems to be critical to processing short term experiences into longer term memory. Even some sleep (resulting potentially in having an insight in the middle of the night) is clearly doing some good.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Yes, your example of waking up in college having solutions to math problems is what I was trying to convey when I indicated that some type of processing can occur automatically and subconsciously, but also that it took you consciously thinking about those things before you went to bed. In other words, I tend to think that some conscious, active work, even an order to the subconscious, has to occur before those automatic, subconscious integrations will occur. It may not have to be a lot of conscious work, just enough to get the subconscious rolling.

I agree with this, but I think it's important to note that this is only true of processes that have been automatized. The subconscious doesn't just work out problems for you, but performs routines that you have committed to memory and spits back the answers.

A good, silly example occurred to me. I have been playing Sudoku lately. Basically solving the game requires a process of elimination. I've discovered the most efficient way to get better is to first work out different methods of identifying what numbers should be in what squares, and use those methods habitually until you perform them automatically. Minesweeper works the same way, you just learn to "see" the solutions without being aware of any effort. I remember playing Minesweeper on the computer once while my mom watched, and she was dumbfounded how I could so quickly know which squares did not contain mines. What happened was I began playing by working out the methods, and used them so much I didn't have to think them out anymore.

However, it doesn't work if you haven't automatized a process, because that means you haven't committed it to memory and so have to work it out consciously.

I also think it's possible, however, to block this process by not bringing into conscious focus the facts required for these automatized processes. My own theory is that when a solution to a complicated problem seems to "pop" into your mind, what's happened is you thought of some new piece of evidence, something that you hadn't thought about before, and it "clicked" by finally triggering that automatized pattern recognition or algorithm and out comes the solution.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
...I think it's important to note that this is only true of processes that have been automatized. The subconscious doesn't just work out problems for you, but performs routines that you have committed to memory and spits back the answers.

...

However, it doesn't work if you haven't automatized a process, because that means you haven't committed it to memory and so have to work it out consciously.

Note, though, there are correct, different ways to commit something to memory so that all essential aspects remain in your memory. I think distinctions should be made between different kinds of automatizations, all of which are "correct" but are used in different proportions and times by different individuals. There is the type of learning that results in something being easily and correctly accessible in working memory to create a solution or to be creative generally (this is not how long-term memory seems to work), something remembered and accessed only subconsciously, and something remember and accessed subconsciously or consciously. From experience and observations, I would say the first and last ways of remembering are the most productive and satisfying. After a full day, it is also the best way to gain from the time that you were awake if you consciously choose your commital routes throughout the day by maximizing the value of sleep, particularly if sleep is necessarily compressed in duration. But this veers way off-topic.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Does this mean that digesting too much information can be detrimental to ones mental health?

Can processing too much information, especially contradictory information (such as opposing viewpoints; in science, mathematics, politics, etc.), hurt the way your subconscious deals with this information; damaging your ability to integrate knowledge? Maybe our minds work like our stomachs, too little or too much food (information) is unhealthy.

I believe I once heard that minds that are constantly absorbing more information (i.e. learning) are healthier; but how does this happen? How does the subconscious ‘sort-out’ information? Is this a learned skill, or one that is automatic? Can a damaged or confused subconscious be repaired consciously?

But mostly I want to ask what I asked above: What is the relationship between knowledge absorption and the subconscious problem solving you mention?

Thank you very much, Ryan. I will have to answer in the next day or two, as it is fairly late and I don't have a lot of conscious energy left. :) But I wanted to let you know I have read your post and have been thinking about your questions. Thanks for asking them! This is a very interesting topic and fun to think about!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
This has happened to me as well. I have also noticed similar "overnight integration" in another area - mind-body- when it comes to learning a new complex physical movement (as in dance, for example) ...

You're dancing? :) What type of dance, if I may ask?

I remember playing Minesweeper on the computer once while my mom watched, and she was dumbfounded how I could so quickly know which squares did not contain mines. What happened was I began playing by working out the methods, and used them so much I didn't have to think them out anymore.

Haha! I was the same. I also had the same thing in Freecell. My brothers accused me of just clicking randomly or performing some trick. I am pretty proud of being fast at it, too :) (sshhh! Don't tell anyone I was playing those games as a habit, it's kinda embarrassing! haha :D )

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Does this mean that digesting too much information can be detrimental to ones mental health?

Can processing too much information, especially contradictory information (such as opposing viewpoints; in science, mathematics, politics, etc.), hurt the way your subconscious deals with this information; damaging your ability to integrate knowledge? Maybe our minds work like our stomachs, too little or too much food (information) is unhealthy.

It may be helpful to consider two different kinds of "information" here. First, there is the sensory data we take in that is automatically processed by the brain into percepts. Depending on where one is and what is happening, this type of material can be damaging. For instance, if one is a soldier fighting in a war and consistently sees destruction, death, poverty, and related horrors, that material can and likely will negatively impact one's mental health. Of course, it's not just that material, it is also one's conceptualizations and evaluations of that material. So, if several of one's best friends are killed, or children are victims of enemy attacks, then one will likely have some very difficult, traumatic experiences to deal with.

The second type of information is what you describe, such as concepts, premises, ideas, principles, and so forth. From my perspective, these kinds of things are destructive only to the extent that one accepts irrational premises or principles and/or tries to enact them. An irrational idea is inconsistent with reality, and trying to enact it will ultimately result in failure. (I say "ultimately" because there are certainly cases in which one is surrounded by people who encourage and reward this irrationality. This is very bad because it furthers the illusion in someone's mind that the irrational can work. However, even those rewards will be quite fleeting and become meaningless relatively quickly.)

People can innocently and subconsciously accept irrational ideas and act on them. By innocently I mean there was no malevolent intent behind the acceptance of the idea. By subconsciously I mean that even fairly young children will hold some form of philosophy in terms of core premises, but it probably isn't explicit to them, nor do they understand the full implications of such ideas. So, from a young age, people can implicitly and innocently accept and then act on irrational premises, which may make it easier for them to accept other irrational ideas later in life, especially those ideas most consistent with their fundamental, but irrational, premises.

So, to your original question of whether or not processing too much information itself can be detrimental to one's mental health, my answer is a qualified no. That is, merely processing a lot of (even contradictory) information may cause one to be frustrated, fatigued, or confused, but it needn't be a cause of mental health problems. The qualification to that is that if one brings a lot of irrational premises into it and/or comes to irrational conclusions on the basis of all the information, then that could be a contributor to a mental health problem.

I believe I once heard that minds that are constantly absorbing more information (i.e. learning) are healthier; but how does this happen? How does the subconscious ‘sort-out’ information? Is this a learned skill, or one that is automatic? Can a damaged or confused subconscious be repaired consciously?

The conscious mind "programs" the subconscious, although this can be done haphazzardly. To the extent one has rationally programmed one's subconscious to process information, dealing with contradictory ideas or large amounts of information will be made much easier. And, yes, a damaged or confused subconscious can be repaired consciously, although it will take more or less time depending on the extent of damage or confusion. This can be done through psychotherapy or through developing skills. I highly recommend Dr. Binswanger's lectures on psycho-epistemology, and Jean Moroney has an excellent workshop on thinking skills.

But mostly I want to ask what I asked above: What is the relationship between knowledge absorption and the subconscious problem solving you mention?

There is a lot that goes into it, but partly it is having a well-organized and healthy subconscious. One must also trust his subconscious, meaning that he knows his subconscious will help him if he uses it correctly and then gives it orders, tasks, etc. Dr. Binswanger's identification of "standing orders," which is basically giving one's subconscious an explicit order to be on alert for an instance of X or Y, is a very good example. I have also heard of people telling their subconscious to show them some issue in the form of a dream right before they go to sleep. I've only tried that a couple times, and it worked at least once. So, in brief, it is capitalizing on the fact that the subconscious can process a lot of information behind the scenes while one is focusing on other things or even asleep.

I hope all this is helpful.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites