Turning aversion into compassion

aka “Gayest Tech”

Featuring — Pains Are Helpful Elves Tech

I herewith present the gayest tech of all CSH Tech, which my friend and co-blogger Damien Karass has called the gayest tech ever, and which has therefore been named Gayest Tech.

It works because every metaphor inflects its referent through the parents of the metaphor. So calling an F a G lends it some quantum of G-ness, surely.

Here it is. When you face an unpleasant task that you could ignore without disastrous consequences, a rush of aversion-tingling will arise in your torso. This horrid sensation is a missive from your comfort loving subsystems. Thought it, they are saying: “If you go back to eating chips and watching Jacob Bronowski right now, you’ll feel really good.” Thought it, they are gearing the executive function (the self, The Voice) to expect that no-effort-time is coming! “No effort time is coming!” What a treat!

And with this brute tactic the equilibrium reward system begins to run the show. And so your robot disregards your best intentions and returns to default mode: eat, sleep, mate, defend (with emphasis on the first three).

Taken together, these first three drives constitute a guiding asymptote for whole-body behavior, which may call the comfort self. The comfort self has been our best friends for over 4 billion years. It tells paramecia and primates alike to creep forward to biological heaven.

Biological heaven is a place and an activity. The place is a place in physical space that produces lowest anxiety and highest reward. The activity is eating, sleeping, and mating.

The safety of a place in space is measured in units of time, specifically, the temporal distance between now and the arrival or a predator or starvation. The longer the time-to-death of a place, the higher its safety quotient. Part of you wants to live with a harem inside a survivalist bunker full of canned food and potable water.

The safety of an action is also measured temporally. Ants do not only gather externally-produced food, they cultivate aphid barns to have milk on-site. It is the ants’ doing that creates this valuable volume of space.

Well, comfort self should run the show—in a way. Ensuring bodily survival will motivate you to improve your state if, say, you are homeless. But what if your biological needs are cared for but you have a goal? Then comfort self becomes your greatest enemy.

The solution, which is quite gay, is this:

Pains Are Helpful Elves Tech

You are staring at your screen and dreading your present task. Look closely, stop speaking—be mute—and attend to the pains as physical feelings. Poor, poor kids. They want you to let comfort self plop you into a short-term pleasure cocoon. They’re little friends and they want you to stay home.

Well isn’t that nice. What does this little charade accomplish? Well, it undermines the cognitive basis for adding intentional aversion to your already-running autonomic aversion. You see,

Oh—heh heh. The elves. They want me to stay home with them and play.

Knowing that the pets want you back home actually makes going out more fun. You know they will miss you, and that the reunion will be full of jumps and licks.