Currently biking around the world

Posts will happen significantly less often for a while as I am currently focused on biking around the world.

It could be a few months between posts or it could be a few years. I will almost certainly return to this blog one day. In the meantime, enjoy what's already been posted, or read about my travels here.

# My Mental Illness Feels Like

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

This is a guest post for musicpsychfan's project #mymentalillnessfeelslike. Enjoy! persistent and maybe they’ll give in.

In a creation of Orson Scott Card (whom you may know as the author of the popular book Ender's Game), there is an alien species that communicates with each other telepathically, instantaneously, and fluidly. As some of the human characters are ferried through the streets of this world by an alien driver, they are terrified by the style of driving. There are no rules to follow because every driver knows what the other will do just before they do it – yougoleft and I'llgoright. In a world where everyone understands each other, no rules are necessary.
A friend once described anxiety to me as the inability of an individual to process the inputs of the world. I think that's true. When I have anxiety attacks I feel as if – well, just that. As if I am being attacked. As if I'm a computer being overloaded with information. If you've ever woken up in the middle of a dream and lived the rest of the day half awake and half stuck in the dream, you know a bit of how I feel.
Sorry, I was busy, and then I forgot to reply.

My psychiatrist, along with many schools of thought, believe that mindfulness and meditation can make one happier, less irritated, less anxious, and less depressed. Science seems to agree 1. One method of meditation is to visualize the contents of your mind and to “clear them out.” For instance, you might visualize your mind as a field full of junk, and when you remove all the junk, what's left is a meadow with flowers and trees and such. It's all very fine and dandy.
No, I’m not sleeping with anyone else.

Extrapolating = interpreting = developing an opinion. The perception that people get from the type of comment you made is negative.

Except that I struggle to imagine my mind as anything but a corral. Outside the corral are thoughts. Sometimes they are people, sometimes they are animals or blobs or static, but outside the corral is everything that wants to come in. And most of the time when I visit this place, they are all knocking on the fence, waiting to be let in, to be thought about and processed. The problem is, there are so many of them. They will never go away.
Hey man, we need to talk. I consider you a friend.

I never really loved you. I lied about how I felt because I was afraid if I didn’t, I’d lose you as a friend.

Anxiety, for me, is fear that these creatures outside the fence will find their way in. Often they do, and as more and more come in, it becomes an attack – an anxiety attack – where I am stuck halfway between the world and my mind. Thoughts and images of my past, of potential futures, of have-beens and should-have-beens and fears and hatred rush through me. Soon I’m trying to stop the leak of things pouring through the fence, trying so hard I forget to breathe, and then I am washed away, drowning, and I literally cannot breathe, and I can't see because I’m drowning but I know the fence has broken. Then I'm on my knees, just trying to breathe, and...
I don’t know I consider you he and shoot me down but all she does what to say my sex life is are we out of a friend none of your business I can’t hear I do want toI are just trading sex for a ride the woods yet sorry I was a word busy and then is steal my to work? that’s to thatI won’t fall you say I forgot to reply spend time with you I’m friends, nothing happened internetare we out more true than you knowI am titanium just too busyof the woods

...then a friend is looking at me, worried, saying I look pale. I have a vague recollection of vomiting.
Yep. It definitely tastes like I vomited. I stare at a glass of water thinking, this can't make it all go away.
...even though it was an option I’d never make you go. You knew that, and you used it against me.

You get mad when I do nothing.

Days like this it hurts so much. Everyone deserves a second chance.

There is a Buddhist method of mindfulness that can be analogized as follows:
- Everyone has thoughts and feelings. These live, or are stored, in the “basement” of your mind, the subconscious and the memory.
- What you are thinking now is in the “upstairs” of your mind (if you've seen the movie Inside Out, it's on a projector screen for your personality to see and react to).
- You can't always control what is in the upstairs of your mind, but you can acknowledge it.
You were the one person I trusted to never treat me that way. Nothing is as heartbreaking as that. It has changed the way I let people into my life, how I love people, how I trust people.

Even if you don’t go, we will love you just for thinking about it.

I have no interest in you trying to defend yourself against what I have shared.

I used to try and push everything -- and everyone -- away. I would hold shut the door to the basement. Now I let them in – anger and uncertainty and anxiety. And I try to acknowledge them. I try and shake everyone’s hand as they walk in. Sometimes they come in and destroy the place.
Sometimes they come in and fly around and splatter paint on the walls. I just try and sit in the rocking chair and let them do their thing. I wait patiently for them to subside -- to join me and others by the fireplace, or to go back into the basement. Because I think when you hold emotions back, they find some way out. So I’m trying to let them come up when they want to. It’s hard. It makes me feel vulnerable and afraid. And sometimes crippled. I didn’t realize how helpless I would feel until I that first anxiety attack when I couldn’t breathe.
I’m going to make this simple.

I can’t tell you. Somebody might get hurt.

Sometimes, I imagine a world like that of the aliens I opened with. Where we are all connected. Where we all know everything about each other. And we can all help each other. And we can all support each other. Like a web. Where one part of the web starts to collapse and the rest of web goes towards it. I have this image in my mind. Of molecules attracting to the weaknesses. Supporting them.
But we’re all too afraid of being used. Of being hurt. Of being damaged. We spend our time connecting with our devices and our prejudices instead of with each other (more on this in a future post).
Remembering moments better as we wrote them than as we lived them. Writers live better as they suffer.

I think that’s what all religions are getting at. Oneness. A sort of eternal peace and a universal understanding. The vanishing point. The part where we become one not only with ourselves, but with other people, too. The part where we all understand all the love and hate and trying circumstances.
Call it heaven. Call it god, or eternity, or the cycle. Let’s all be happy. Let’s all just forgive each other and feel everything. We can stop believing in happily ever after and knights in shining armor and happy endings and superheros and just believe in the truth. In whatever we are.
Sometimes at night I feel a sort of listlessness. I want to go to bed but there's something holding me back. It seems to be the thought that my day isn't complete. That it's missing something. I look around my room, at all my stuff, and feel an emptiness. I lie awake and want to meet the world. I want to rise up and meet it and for it all to be okay. I just want everyone to love each other.
The world does not need more successful people…

I forgot to tell you. I was too busy. I’m sorry.

I do care about you. I’m just too busy.

If we all understood each other we could spend our time building and creating. And I don’t think we’d understand the people in the farthest reaches of the world… there would still be webs unknown to us. There would still be challenges and things to do.
When you experience some of the hatred, you experience some of the fear and the way that they almost want to make you out to be the wolf in sheep's clothing. They will try to villainize you and demonize you. That way you can't try to have an honest conversation about it. - Trey Peterson, Christian rock star, after coming out as gay
There are challenges aplenty without the challenge of being misunderstood, fearing for your life, for your job, for your safety and sanity. We have the challenge of saving the world from global warming, trying to feed 7 billion hungry mouths with so many are so far from reliable sources of food, trying to fight disease. And yet it seems we spend so much of our time judging and attacking and hiding and fighting each other instead of loving each other.
There seems so much pretense. So much “goodhihowareyou.” So much to move past.
I don’t want to be seen with you if you are dressed like yourself.

So many walls. So many people being “busy.” So much to work towards.
I don’t think it would mean less if we didn’t have to try. I don’t think it would mean less if we could move past it all.
I miss our friendship, I do. But the cost is too great.

In The Matrix, Morpheus explains to Neo that the everyday person is living in a simulation. And they are so hopelessly lost within it that they will fight to defend it. They will allow themselves to be possessed by agents who will violently secure it, sacrificing their lives and the lives of others for it to perseverance.
This is often how I feel when I talk to people about the idea of oneness, about the possibility of not working a 8-5, of not goingtocollege gettingmarried havingkids. Of not greeting every person the same (“How are you?” “Good, how are you?”) instead of actually connecting with them. Of being honest with, instead of ghosting the people we don't like. There seems to be an infinite resistance to it, a permeating mentality of this is the way the world works. A mentality that the ocean is too large to change. But it doesn't have to work that way. Even an ocean is just a collection of drops.
That argument is the reason people like you are so judged.
Why? Because you choose to judge me for it?

I am not Neo. I am Cypher. I want back in the Matrix. And I don't want to remember anything. I don't want to lie awake at night unsatisfied by my 8-5. I don't want to feel helpless to enact any change in the world. I don't want desperately to be a part of the simulation, to need to support everyone simply because they are human. Because that takes time and energy and sometimes it feels like I'm the only one.
In Plato's Allegory of the Cave, humanity is in a cave, chained to the wall, watching shadows in the back of the cave. That is their world. One day, however, someone realizes the chains are just expectations, and sheds them and exits the cave. At first they are blinded by reality – the sunlight, the colors, nature, the smells, the wind. And after exploring for some time, they re-enter the cave. When they try to explain to those chained to the wall that all they see are shadows, that there is so much more to life, they are pronounced insane and executed. can’t ask someone for the innermost parts of themselves and expect it to be completely acceptable and appropriate.

I sometimes feel like I am the person outside the cave. It's lonely out here, and I want back in. But I am terrified. I am terrified to express myself and share my ideas. I am terrified to go back to people and say, “there is so much more than this.” I am scared to death because some part of me really thinks I can be persecuted for thinking differently. I have been. I have been judged for the things I wear and want to do and want others to do and experience; while it is the right of others to judge me, it just feels unnecessary.
But you knew. I didn’t tell you because you knew.

There is nothing wrong with being in the cave, or the Matrix, or whatever you want to call it. I don't think of myself as a savior or a fighter or that I am somehow privileged or special. I think of myself as weak. A neanderthal who has just emerged from the cave and has to deal with the realities of the outside world, of bears and the search for food and the creation and control of fire. I can't go back, and I feel so alone.
How would I hit the ground? Feet first? I wish I have thought of that sooner, I would have dove.

I am lost in the complexity of words and feelings and prejudices that seem to rule my life. I am afraid of what others might think, how they might judge me for living differently, for wanting something I'm not “supposed” to want. For seeking my version of wholeness, outside of the 8-5, outside of being busy all the time, gettingmarriedhavingkids, hihowareyougoodhowareyou. I am torn between living life as who I am and who feel I am supposed to be, the person who loves his desk job and the person who gets fired from it because he has a mental illness, the person who is honest and down-to-earth and spontaneous and compassionate and the person who is cocky and self-confident and sex-driven.
And people say about mental illness,
Just ignore it.
You're just being dramatic.
You just want attention.

I can check my calendar if you want.

I was just wondering how you were doing. And what you were up to.

I guess there won’t be any need for a ratty old t-shirt tonight.

Please trust me when I say that if I could live without it, I would. If I could live without random bouts of breathlessness and feeling like my mind was a corral with a fence waiting to break and thoughts and expectations waiting outside to drown me, I would. But there is not simply an “off” switch, there is no Mr. Smith to negotiate a return to the Matrix with, there is no way to re-enter the cave and pretend again to be shackled.
I do care about you.

I’m just too busy to spend any time with you.

This is what overwhelms me. This is my fight. My anxiety. My depression. This is what my mental illness feels like.
I want something that says, “you’ve said something sweet and I don’t know how to reply.” Can it be the dragon?

1Brown, K and Ryan, R. “The benefits of being present: Mindfulness and its role in psychological well-being.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. April 2003. 84, 4. 822-48.

"Boys will be boys:" act on it, don't run from it

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

About a year ago I was telling my girlfriend at the time a story about my sister. In the story, my sister is in pre-school, and she’s fought over by two boys using “Power Rangers” rings from a cereal box.
”That is not okay,” my ex -- let’s call her Sarah -- said bluntly. “Women are not objects to be fought over.”
To which I replied, without so much as a second thought,
“Boys will be boys.”
Sarah stopped what she was doing and turned and looked me, rather appalled. “That is not an excuse!” To which I replied, a little confused, a little shaken,
“I didn’t mean it as an excuse.”
- - -
When most people use the phrase, “boys will be boys,” they mean it in a sort of recursive, self-evident sense, in the same way one might say “the sky is blue” or “cheese is good” (if you like cheese). This is somehow a defense, a way of saying the actions of male humans are immutable and uncontrollable, the same way you can’t change the color of the sky, the same way you can’t change the fact that cheese is freakin’ delicious. Because their behavior is immutable, we should just shrug it off: men treat women like property, but there’s nothing we can do, so that’s okay.
Used that way, the statement is bogus. The vast majority of humans have control over their actions, and those that don’t may very well belong in a psych ward. If “boys will be boys” means “the behavior of males in our society is immutable,” then those are the words of someone who can’t accept or doesn’t want to admit that society is really screwed up.
Yea, I think Brock Turner deserves a harder sentence. But when I say “boys will be boys” I don’t mean “It’s okay, he was just being Brock Turner.” What I mean is this: ”He was doing what society expected him to do.” It is self-evident to me that many rapists act as we expect them to. Boys will be boys -- just as the stock market is more likely to fall if a news article publishes that it is falling,1, 2 just as the prediction of a gasoline shortage can create a gasoline shortage,3 just as students’ grades respond to negative expectations4 and stigmatizing by their teachers.5 Boys will rape women as long as they think that’s what society expects of them and they will get away with insignificant sentences as long as misogyny is part of our culture.
I was raised on Disney movies like The Lion King and Snow White and stories like Robin Hood and Artemis Fowl. Like many others, my childish mind (no simile intended) absorbed them with awe, and I geared up for life with a handful of preconceptions at my back. I knew how the hero -- always a male -- got what he wanted. And I knew females played largely supportive roles.
Consider the following:
- Among the top 100 grossing films in the US in 2015, females spoke less than one-third of all dialogue6 (including in Disney’s Frozen, where the two main characters are female7).
- Among the same 100 films, only 22 featured female protagonists.6
Looking back now, I see how screwed up our childhood tales are. These are the themes I see:
- Women are objects to be won by men and fulfill their desires (Aladdin).
- A woman’s quest ends in being married to a man (Cinderella, The Little Mermaid).
- Women should stay in abusive relationships because what really matters is that they are in any relationship at all (Beauty and the Beast).
- If you kill the bad guy, the girl will go out with you; furthermore, the bad guy must be defeated by the male protagonist, never the female (Snow White, Lady and the Tramp).
- The whole point of the quest is to end up with the girl (Who Framed Roger Rabbit).
- Women play anecdotal roles in our lives, if any at all (Toy Story, The Lion King, Up, Monsters, Inc., Cars, A Bug’s Life).
Don’t believe my surface-level anecdotes? Okay: here,8 here,9 and here10 are some scholarly articles that go into more depth. It doesn’t stop with novels, TV, and film, either -- check out this great article about the objectification of women in graphic novels.
Even in movies today the men are distant and aloof, as if it’s “cool” to be apathetic and insensitive. They are impermeable, both in the sense that they are emotionless and in the sense that they are bulletproof. In which superhero movie recently has a super hero died? We’ve even started pitting them against each other and the result is simply agnostic over-the-top violence with no character growth. Our male heroes have no room to grow because they are invulnerable -- to bullets, yes, but also to emotions, sympathy, and lack of consent.
Cultures shape the people they house.11 Movies, in particular, can have a profound impact upon children.12, 13, 14 As those children grow into men, they self-reaffirm15 and co-reaffirm (men in fraternities are more likely to sexualize women and be accused of rape16, 17). Aside from movies, there is substantive evidence that men who play more violent sports are more likely to sexually coerce their partners and be more accepting of violence in relationships18 -- and yes, violent sports are part of the culture of the United States.19
I recently read a Huffington post article about why women put up with this treatment. The gist of it is that society expects women to de-escalate, so they deal with it as best they can. But the part it misses out on is why. And the answer to why is because society expects men to take what they want.
Examples of these expectations in practice abound:
- Women are more likely to take agenic (read: responsive as opposed to assertive) leaderships roles compared to men.21
- “Initiative” (or “assertiveness”) often tops the list of traits women look for in men (whether substantiated by evidence or presented simply as an accepted part of our culture).22
- The more sexist a woman is, the more she responds to male assertiveness.23
- At a young age, boys are found to use more assertive speech and girls more affiliative.24
- A man is more likely to get a woman’s number if he touches her on the arm, showing assertiveness.25
- - -
That same girlfriend and I had a conversation before the aforementioned story-telling about my sister, a conversation that went something like this:
Me: “It seems like women are more likely to give consent to men who are persistent. How should men know when to be persistent and when to back off?”
Her: “My mom told me this,” she replied: “boys will be trouble. But the trouble is less if you give them what they want.”
It was my turn to gawk.
She continued, shrugging: “So if you really want someone, be persistent and maybe they’ll give in.”
- - -
We single out crimes like the rape by Brock Turner and say, “This one incident is a problem.” “Male rapists deserve harder sentences.” Do they? Yea. But that’s the tail of the snake. You can pick and choose and rant about all the court cases and over privileged, under-punished white boys you want. They aren’t the problem. They are a symptom of the problem, and the problem is that we have created them.
We have created them by propagating the idea of “manliness” to mean taking control. We have created them by worshipping stories that put the man in charge, by creating a culture of male dominance and decision-making where the women are sidelined and won when the man completes the quest. We have created a society where the same women who chastises me for saying “boys will be boys” thinks if someone doesn’t give consent I should just be more persistent. “Boys will be trouble,” she said, as if it was immutable. “The trouble is less if you give them what they want.” Think about the message that sends to potential suitors.
We can say to each other, “Let’s get rid of the judge who gave Brock his sentence.” The judge is a grain of sand on the beach that is our screwed up society. Should he have given Brock a harder sentence? Absolutely. But what we really need to be saying to each other is, “This decision is evidence of a larger problem in our society. How are we going to change our society so we produce people with a better sense of gender equality?” Replacing a judge is a start, yes. Punishing a rapist, an obvious good step. But these are steps on a long, long journey of reformation that needs to happen in the deepest roots of our society.
Needless to say, this is a pain to explain this to everyone, so I don’t say it anymore. I just nod in agreement, because I do agree: rape is a crime always deserving of severe punishment, consent is necessary, the right to say “no” and have it respected is immutable. But this agreement has become rote and mindless for me, the same way I brake at stop signs and brush my teeth before bed. These statements are self-evident, and while my friends and colleagues may know they are true, what we need as a society is to act like they are true. We need to make movies where woman are not won. We need to tell stories where women are respected. We need to redefine what it means to be a man -- through changing our movies, our sports, our fraternities, and our parenting mentalities.
This I say to you: boys will be boys -- no matter how angry that makes you. You can be angry at Brock because you think that the behavior of men in our society, our low expectations towards them, and the rapes they perform and get away with are immutable. Or you can be angry at the movie-makers, the story-tellers, the fathers who raise them, the women who propagate those expectations in the first place, and the fraternities that reaffirm them. You can refuse to go to movies where women are sidelined, you can raise boys who treat women as equals, and you can stop telling men they should “be persistent” and “take what they want.”
Boys are boys and will always be boys. We can be angry about it. Or we can use that anger to fuel a redefinition of what it means to be a boy.

1Sant, R., and Zaman, M. “Market reaction to Business Week ‘Inside Wall Street’ column: A self-fulfilling prophecy.” Journal of Banking and Finance. 1996. 20, 4. 617-43.
2Bearman, P., and Hedstrom, P. The Oxford Handbook of Analytical Sociology. Oxford University Press. Oxford, New York. 2009. Ch 13.
3O’Brien, Jody. The Production of Reality. Pine Forge Press. Thousand Oaks, California. 2011. 392.
4McKown, C., and Weinstein, R. “Modeling the Role of Child Ethnicity and Gender in Children’s Differential Response to Teacher Expectations.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology. Jan 2002. 32, 1. 159-84.
5Rist, R. “Student Social Class and Teacher Expectations: The Self-fulfilling Prophecy in Ghetto Education.” Harvard Educational Review. Sep 1970. 40, 3. 411-51.
6Lauzen, M. It’s a Man’s (Celluloid) World: Portrayals of Female Characters in the Top 100 Films of 2015. Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film. San Diego, CA. 2016.
7"The Largest Analysis of Film Dialogue by Gender, Ever." Polygraph. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 June 2016.
8Towbin, M., et. al. “Images of Gender, Race, Age, and Sexual Orientation in Disney Feature-Length Animated Films.” Journal of Feminist Family Therapy. 2004. 15, 4.
9Thompson, T., and Zerbinos, E. “Gender roles in animated cartoons: Has the picture changed in 20 years?” Sex Roles: A Journal of Research. May 1995. 32, 9. 651-73.
10Greenblatt, M. “The Heteronormative Objectification of Women in the Disney Princess Films: A Study of Brand Advertising and Parents’ Perceptions.” Syracuse University Honors Program Capstone Projects. Paper 85.
11Harrison, L., and Huntington, P. Culture Matters: How Values Shape Human Progress. Basic Books. New York, NY. 2000.
12Forman, J. Our movie made children. MacMillan Co. New York, NY. 1933.
13Peterson, R., and Thurstone, L. Motion pictures and the social attitudes of children. MacMillan Co. New York, NY. 1933.
14Blumer, H., and Hauser, P. Movies, delinquency, and crime. MacMillan and Co. London, Great Britain. 1933.
15Burgess, G. “Assessment of Rape-Supportive Attitudes and Beliefs in College Men: Development, Reliability, and Validity of the Rape Attitudes and Beliefs Scale.” Interpersonal Violence. Aug 2007. 22, 8. 973-93.
16Frinter, M., and Rubinson, L. “Acquaintance Rape: The Influence of Alcohol, Fraternity Membership, and Sports Team Membership.” Journal of Sex Education and Therapy. 1993. 19, 4. 272-84.
17Bleecker, E., and Murnen, S. “Fraternity Membership, the Display of Degrading Sexual Images of Women, and Rape Myth Acceptance.” Sex Roles: A Journal of Research. Oct 2005. 53, 7. 487-93.
18Forbes, G., et. al. “Dating Aggression, Sexual Coercion, and Aggression-Supporting Attitudes Among College Men as a Function of Participation in Aggressive High School Sports.” Violence Against Women. May 2006. 12, 5. 441-55.
19Wenner, L. Media, Sports, and Society. Sage Publications, Inc. Newbury Park, CA. 1989.
20Koch, S. “Constructing Gender: A Lens-Model Inspired Gender Communication Approach.” Sex Roles: A Journal of Research. Aug 2004. 51, 3. 171-86.
21Meads, A. "10 Things Women Want From the Men They're Dating." The Huffington Post., 15 Oct. 2015. Web. 20 June 2016.
22Hall, J. “Sexism and Assertive Courtship Strategies.” Sex Roles: A Journal of Research. Dec 2011. 65, 11. 840-53.
23Campbell, L., and Smith, T. “A Meta-Analytic Review of Gender Variations in Children’s Language Use: Talkativeness, Affiliative Speech, and Assertive Speech.” Developmental Psychology. Nov 2004. 40, 6. 993-1027.
24Geuguen, N. “The effect of a man’s touch on woman’s compliance to a request in a courtship context.” Social Influence, 2. 2007. 81-97.

Five Lights

Monday, June 6, 2016

In an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, one of the main characters, Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation, is captured by a rival race, the Cardassians.1 His Cardassian interrogator, Gul Madred, uses a number of methods to try and elicit information from him. One of these methods involves four lights: Madred asks Picard how many lights there are; every time Picard answers “four,” he is tortured, and told there are five.
(spoilers next two paragraphs) Towards the end of the episode, Madred makes one final attempt to brainwash Picard. Madred tells Picard he has two choices: he can live in prison for the rest of his life and continue to be tortured, or he can live in comfort on the Cardassian planet with good food, water, women, and leisure, a life of “ease and reflection and intellectual challenge.” All he has to do is tell Madred how many lights he sees. Picard turns to go; but, in one last moment of defiance, he turns and screams to Madred, ”There! Are! FOUR! LIGHTS!!!”
(spoilers next one paragraph) Upon Picard’s return to his ship the Enterprise he recounts his adventure to the ship’s counselor, Diana Troi. The episode ends with a grave admission: “What I didn’t put in [my] report,” he tells Troi: “I believed that I could see five lights.”
(no more spoilers) While the idea that there is a link between depression and torture or brainwashing may be a bit extreme, I like this episode -- and especially Picard’s last words -- because it reminds me that almost everything in life is subjective. Even the most plain-seeming facts, like that there are four lights -- physical objects we can see and touch -- can be fallacies driven into us as a psychological response to external stimuli. These stimuli might not be as intense or acute as torture, but there are some very powerful influences in our everyday lives. Peer pressure, advertising and marketing, religion, and the demands of bosses or coworkers can all change our minds and perspectives, to name a few.
Think this sounds a little farfetched? Consider the following experiment: researchers placed participants on one side of a cubby unit containing various objects. Some of the cubbies had backs, and others did not. Among the objects were trucks of various sizes.2
Participants were then asked which truck someone on the other side of the cubby unit would move if they were asked to move “the smallest truck.” Of course, every participant picked the truck labeled above as “medium truck.” But the interesting thing is that, no matter how many times this study was performed, their eyes always flicked towards the “small truck” first. That is, we have a subjective and objective sense of things, and we are willing to sacrifice the objective observation for a subjective one. Even though participants saw a smaller truck, they were willing to sacrifice their objective observation for a subjective one. Even though Picard saw four lights, he was willing to sacrifice his objective observation for one that benefitted his subjective situation.
Consider also the Stanford Prison Experiment,3 where volunteers assigned to be “wardens” became more violent and authoritative and volunteers assigned to be “prisoners” became complacent and psychologically traumatized; or, Jane Elliot’s “Blue eyes-Brown eyes” eyes exercise,4 where third graders told they had a “superior” eye color teased and refused to play with those who had an “inferior” eye color.
But wait, there’s more! Not only are we capable of being tricked and/or tricking ourselves into believing things that aren’t true now, we are also terrible at remembering past truths and predicting future truths.
Volunteers in one study were shown a series of slides depicting a red car as it cruises towards a yield sign, turns right, and then knocks over a pedestrian. After seeing the slides, some of the volunteers (the “no question” group) were not asked any questions, and the remaining volunteers (the “question” group) were. The question these volunteers were asked was this: “Did another car pass the red car while it was stopped at the stop sign?”
Next, all volunteers were shown two slides -- one in which the red car was approaching a yield sign and one in which the red car was approaching a stop sign -- and were asked to point to the picture they had actually seen. [...] More than 90 percent of the volunteers in the no-question group pointed to the picture of the car approaching the yield sign [which is what actually happened]. But 80 percent of the volunteers in the question group pointed to the picture of the car approaching a stop sign [which was mistakenly identified in the first question they were asked].
Clearly, the question changed the volunteers’ memory of their earlier experience.5

If you think this is fascinating and don’t want to have to describe the whole story to get your point across, you can just cite any of the following instead:
- When asked to list missing words from a set, participants thought words related to those in the set were not missing.6 For instance, in a list of words related to sleeping but not containing “pillow,” participants might remember that the word “pillow” was present.
- When asked to identify the missing letter from a word pronounced with a cough instead of that letter, volunteers were unable to name the letter, even after hearing the recording thousands of times.7
- Volunteers listened to a recording of the word “eel,” but heard the word “peel” when in a sentence with an orange and the world “heel” when in a sentence with a shoe.8
- Witnesses in court cases identify cars as moving faster when asked at which speed they “smashed” than when asked at which speed they “collided.”9
Additionally, the impact of these false memories, known as the “misinformation effect,” increases if the volunteer is under stress.9
If you want to see this effect for yourself, you don’t even have to participate in a study. On any sunny day, go lay outside for 30 minutes. Then, go inside. The indoors will appear dark for some time. Or, the next time you’ll be outside for some time, wear sunglasses and set an alarm for 30 minutes. When the alarm goes off, remove them -- did you even remember you were wearing them? Probably not. Or, try standing in a doorframe with your arms pressing gently against either side for two minutes. Then, move out of the doorframe and relax your arms. If you’re like most people, your arms inadvertently raise themselves from your side.
If you still think these experiments are just circumstantial, consider that it takes only 10 days to see the world rightside-up again when wearing glasses that turn everything upside-down.10
The point I’m making here isn’t that we’re fallible, it’s that we’re malleable. Yes, this has allowed us to adapt to constantly changing environments -- imagine the benefits of night vision one million years ago, when our ancestors lived in caves without flashlights. But it also means we can believe things that aren’t true. We are readily influenced by our physical surroundings, the people we surround ourselves with, and the situations we are in. Indeed, “beliefs, whether good or bad, false or true, can be forcibly implanted in the human brain.” 11 These beliefs can make us sad, even depressed or anxious, but they can also make us happy. Whatever they make us, though, they are just beliefs.
For me, depression seems to be the force telling me there are four lights. I sometimes find myself bound by beliefs that make my mind seem imprisoning. Would there be too much consequence in believing that there are, in fact, five lights?
Our feelings and beliefs can be a product of our surroundings, not who we are. Every assertion, every piece of evidence deserves equal scrutiny. Can it be tiring? Yes! But if the end result is that we have less reason to be happy than we thought, we know what to change. And if the end result is conclusive proof that we are loved, that we have reason to be happy and celebrate and enjoy life, then that seems well worth it to me.

1”Chain of Command.” Star Trek: The Next Generation. Paramount Domestic Television. July 21st, 1992. Television.
2Keysar, B., et al. “Taking Perspective in Conversation: The Role of Mutual Knowledge in Comprehension.” Psychological Science, II. 2000. 32-38.
3Zimbardo, P., et. al. “The Stanford Prison Experiment: A Simulation Study of the Psychology of Imprisonment.” Stanford University, Aug 1971. 4
"Jane Elliott." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 3 June 2016. Web. 5Gilbert, D. Stumbling on Happiness. Random House, Inc. New York. 2005. 87-88.
6Deese, J. “On the Predicted Occurrence of Particular Verbal Intrusions in Immediate Recall.” Journal of Experimental Psychology. 1959. 58: 17-22.
7Samuel, A.G. “A Further Examination of Attentional Effects in the Phonemic Restoration Illusion.” Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. 1991. 43A: 679-99.
8Warren, R. “Perceptual Restoration of Obliterated Sounds.” Psychological Bulletin. 1984. 96: 371-83.
9Salkind, N., et. al. Encyclopedia of Human Development. Sage Publications, Inc. California. 2006. 502.
10Kohler, I. “Experiments with Goggles.” Scientific American. 1962. 206: 62-72.
11Sargant, W. Battle for the mind: A physiology of conversion and brainwashing. Doubleday & Co. Oxford, England. 1957. 263.