Thursday, February 26, 2009

My doubts

Let's talk about emotions for a moment. My emotions. My doubts. Mostly, this is just an exercise in selfish self-expression, but I suppose I should also preface it with some sort of Point, just for all you readers.

Many religious people are rather quick to relate the fact that they've had "doubts" in the past. I believe there are basically two kinds of doubts which get seriously confused in the process. The first kind of doubt is simply the uncertainty in one's beliefs. The second kind of doubt is that emotional angst which seems to exist in all our lives. If religious people are using "doubt" to refer to the angst they've experienced, then I guess that's okay. But if religious people are using "doubt" to refer to their uncertainty in their beliefs, then there is something very wrong with their attitude towards doubt. They talk about doubt as if it were their shame, something which can only be considered good in the same sense that being "only human" is good. But what is so bad about uncertainty? Uncertainty drives free inquiry, which drives personal progress.

The thing is, I can sort of understand why these two types of doubt get so mixed up. Emotion leads to uncertainty. One kind of doubt leads to the other. However, it may be a useful exercise to separate out the two kinds of doubt. Perhaps we can pick out the good from the bad? We can improve ourselves through adversity? I don't know.

Anyways, onward with the selfish self-expression.

Sometimes, I just get that feeling of, "What am I doing in life?" Which is ridiculous, because I know exactly what I'm doing in life. I've gotten straight A's all through college, and I'll eventually go to grad school, perhaps become a professor. And I still have enough free time that I can maintain a blog. I guess I have it pretty good. So now I just feel bad about feeling bad.

I worry that one day someone will discover I'm a fraud. The Journal of Geophysical Research will discover that my research is all done wrong because it turns out I had no clue what I was doing. The band will discover that I'm actually the worst flautist in the group (and I believe that one too). Readers of my blog will discover that I'm actually just this college student who likes to write, and that my opinions are complete BS. Even when I write about physics, something I know, I worry that someone will discover that I was merely spreading misinformation.

I'm worried that people will find out that I'm a fraud as a humanitarian and an activist. I don't have the disposition for it. I cannot be "for" something without having serious doubts about it first. I won't commit. I have crippling buyer's regret. I will not spend my money on anything. Not for me, not for anyone else. And I won't donate blood either. I just--I just don't want to.

Sometimes, I feel like I just can't get enthusiastic about anything. This makes me feel like I'm letting people down. I can't root for the home team. I will never have any sort of school spirit. I will never feel proud as an American. I can't really get into the messages of "hope" and "change" in Obama's campaign, and not because I don't like him. I will never feel proud of my family heritage. Even when it comes to the subject matter of this blog, at some level, I don't think I will ever be excited about atheism, skepticism, or science. I could never inspire people about them, because I don't really feel inspired myself.

What's worse is I feel like I'm falling into some sort of stupid rationalist stereotype. Like we're all repressed emotionally, incapable of feeling. I hate that stereotype... but I fit it. And what am I supposed to do about that? Stop repressing my feelings? There are no feelings to be repressed--just the feeling that everyone else expects me to be excited when there is nothing worth being excited about. Every time I see a fictional story about how some character turns his life around by "opening up", I think I hate myself a little more for being who I am.

But I suppose I take comfort in the fact that none of the above paragraphs really make a whole lot of sense, that it's all just a bunch of rambling that I wrote in a cynical state of mind. I mean, what is this about feeling angst because I'm unable to feel? Ridiculous!

19 comments:

Linda said...

Hi Miller!

May I suggest that perhaps what you are describing is quite normal for someone who seems (to me) to be an Introverted-Thinking-Intuitive...? That's my MBTI talk, which I know you're not a fan of. ;-)

And the Impostor Syndrome is quite common among overachievers (I'm one).

Also, I noticed you used the word "never" at least three times in this post. I think scientists should not be allowed to say "never" ever. ;-)

Are you sure you won't reconsider the thing about your heritage? There has to be something, however small, to be proud of, no?

miller said...

Hey Linda,

Well, I certainly consider myself INT. And no, I don't mind you bringing up MBTI. In fact, I'd be interested to hear what aspects are particularly INT.

The Impostor Syndrome is very interesting! Of course, I don't really feel like an impostor, except on a bad day. Oh, except for the part about the band. I really do think all the other flautists are better, at least the ones that sit next to me.

I'm proud of many of my family members. My grandfather, for instance, worked as an anti-segregation activist, and became a highly successful chemist. What I can't care for is the whole cultural heritage thing. I don't believe in being proud of ethnicity or culture. Basically, I don't identify as a Hapa though I am one.

Jeffrey Ellis said...

Miller, sounds like you are suffering a bit from the "imposter syndrome". It's more common than you might think, don't sweat it.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Everyone feels the way you do, at least everyone capable of introspection. The feeling never really goes away; most of us just get used to it.

Maybe I myself am a "fraud". Well, what of it? So what? At a certain point, I just stopped caring whether or not I was hot shit on a silver platter. I am who I am; I have my allotted span on Earth; I'm going to do as I please and enjoy my life as much as possible. In a thousand years, what will it matter?

The atheist/skeptical community, communism (for me), the United States, Western Civilization, humanity and the universal community of sapient life can take care of themselves. I have no obligations to them; I have obligations only to myself.

The Barefoot Bum said...

Also, doubt, proper doubt, is a process of investigation, not an emotion or attitude.

Doubt, faith, certainty and conviction
The believer's doubt

miller said...

Barefoot Bum,
I like your explanation a lot. The most beneficial component of doubt is not so much the internal conflict, but the process to resolve such conflict.

I think that if you're completely ashamed of emotional doubt, or thinks of it exclusively as a mark of humility, then this may motivate you to skip the proper process of resolution. You might just think that it's all so confusing and you don't want to deal with it.

For example, I'd say that my own deconversion was greatly extended over time primarily because I was afraid to admit doubt. I spent long periods of time not even thinking about it, because I was afraid I was standing over some sort of cliff.

The Barefoot Bum said...

That's the key to religious indoctrination: they want to do whatever they can to prevent you from subjecting your ideas to a rigorous process of evaluation.

Anonymous said...

Can you be proud of your humanity? Or at least what humanity is working towards? My philosophy: I think we are at the beginning of long journey (many thousands of years, at least) of human improvement and accomplishment. If we don't destroy ourselves, I think it is inevitable. So the two most important goals in life are to add something (however small) to human accomplishment or to do a small part to prevent our destruction. Going through life with only the goal of enjoying oneself never seemed to me to be something to be proud of, even if you never hurt anyone else. Ethnic pride or national pride never made any sense to me unless you are proud of what your ethnicity or nationality has done for the broader humanity. I think this philosophy can be adopted by those who believe in God or not. Atheists can imagine some far distant future civilization, possibly from another star, discovering humanity (or our remains). Will you be proud?
OK, so you won't be there. But doesn't it still matter to you what happens to humanity after you die?
I can't imagine either a God or another civilization being impressed by one ethnicity or nationality of humanity and not others. There is too little difference between human groups! If we have a journey of thousands of years at least, then that sort of thing is only temporary anyway. But progress is possible because we have knowledge that keeps increasing and records between the generations.

miller said...

The fate of humanity matters greatly to me, but it doesn't move me emotionally, at least not on a consistent basis.

Linda said...

Hi Miller!

Sorry for the delay... I'm ecstatic that you are open to discussing the MBTI. I thought you may be interested in reading more about the two INT types: INTP and INTJ. Of course, none of the information is written in stone. All of the available information should only be used as a guide for further exploration rather than firm identification and/or labeling. That said, the following links seem to be the most thorough and comprehensive profiles that I've found thus far: (but that's just my opinion)

Profile of INTP

Profile of INTJ

Let me know which one better describes you, and I would love to share more information here or via email if you'd like. (lmckenna[at]mindblink[dot]org) :-)

miller said...

Linda,
I am INTJ--I knew that beforehand. But I'll be honest: those profiles read like horoscopes! I can't figure out anything from them. I found a lot of hits and misses in both profiles. I feel like they are simply trying to throw around a lot of attributes hoping that a few really "grab" me, leading me to forget about the misses. It does not seem very methodical to me.

Which is, of course, a very INTJ thing to say ;-)

Linda said...

Miller,

Haha. The profiles do not indicate anything in themselves. Like I said, a profile is just a guide to help us better decide which four-letter type we seem to lean toward.

Even when you have ten INTJs in the room, you will find many differences among them, obviously. The descriptions come from the traits of the majority and cannot be considered an exact science, as you know.

The ultimate purpose of even looking at our type is not to find a profile that best fits us. It's just a starting point. We want to then study the types further and understand how we communicate differently, the way we tend to deal with stress and conflict and what triggers them, how we seem to learn best, what keeps us motivated, and how we can best contribute to a team.

Number one thing for me was to accept that being different is not a bad thing. After that, it was to learn to accept others' points of view as being just as valid as mine.

It is a way to look at our non-preferred functions and perhaps develop them in order to help us communicate better with others.

Being able to interact well with others in various situations can make the difference between being Darwin or Alfred Russell Wallace. Many people would ask, "Who's that?" My point exactly...

That said, it sounds as though you know yourself pretty well and are fairly comfortable with who you are. That puts you way ahead of me! Fantastic! I'm still trying to figure out what/who I want to be when I grow up... :-)

miller said...

Linda,
Flattery won't get you very far with me. :)

Astrologists probably do not consider astrology to be an exact science either; this does not prevent them from being entirely wrong. And being entirely wrong does not prevent astrology from occasionally giving people insight into who they are and what to do in their daily lives.

Of course, I think MBTI is way better than astrology. But, as you knew, I'm still not entirely happy with it.

So with that out, I'm still curious what you thought was recognizably INT about my writing.

Linda said...

Miller, you sure are tough. :)

By the way, I don’t give out flattery for flattery’s sake. I honestly do envy your clarity in knowing your preferences. And I’m not trying to convince you of the validity of the instrument or insist that you should use it. However, there are some aspects of it that are very valuable that I try to share with whomever I can. MBTI is such a misunderstood and unfairly criticized assessment. A tool is not useful on its own. The value is in learning to use the tool to your advantage, to whatever extent that may be.

To answer your question, the E/I dichotomy was fairly easy. MBTI Step II breaks down the E/I preference pair into five facets:

Initiating/Receiving
Expressive/Contained
Gregarious/Intimate
Active/Reflective
Enthusiastic/Quiet

The S/N pair was not as clear to me, but I still felt pretty confident with my guess. The five facets in this pair are:

Concrete/Abstract
Realistic/Imaginative
Practical/Conceptual
Experiential/Theoretical
Traditional/Original

The T/F was almost a no-brainer. And your post pretty much confirmed it. The facets:

Logical/Empathetic
Reasonable/Compassionate
Questioning/Accommodating
Critical/Accepting
Tough/Tender

The only preference I wasn’t sure about was the J/P. Here are the facets:

Systematic/Casual
Planful/Open-ended
Early Starting/Pressure-prompted
Scheduled/Spontaneous
Methodical/Emergent

Let me know if you have any questions.

miller said...

Thanks Linda! No questions at this time.

Linda said...

I tried. :-)

Linda said...

Hey Miller,

One more comment... since I tend to get pretty obsessive when trying to communicate an idea... :-)

The two profiles read like horoscopes to you because the two types are very similar, with only the P/J preference being different. That changes the order of your cognitive process but not your preferences in your preferences in the perceiving and decision-making functions.

If you are INTJ, your dominant function is Introverted Thinking and your auxiliary function is Extraverted Intuition. If you were INTP, your dominant function would be Introverted Intuition and your auxiliary function would be Extraverted Thinking. In the same way, as an INTJ, your teriary function is Introverted Feeling and the inferior function is Extraverted Sensing. I don't go into the type dynamics usually, because most people are not at all interested in hearing that part.

It is a bit complicated to explain in a comment, but that's how the profiles are derived. I'm sure if you were to look at another profile with opposite preferences, you would clearly see the difference.

miller said...

Oh yeah, I'm sure I would. I don't mean to blast MBTI as completely baseless. I just wouldn't want it used by, say, employers who want to test potential employees (surely, you would not advocate this yourself).

Linda said...

You're right. That would be against the ethical guidelines. Okay... I'll leave you alone now. :)