Friday, February 28, 2014

Why I don't read Less Wrong

I've never been part of the "rationalist" community (that is, the one orbiting the website Less Wrong), but I have some pretty obvious rationalist leanings.  My primary and longest-lasting interest in modern skepticism has mainly to do with the general method of thinking about things.  Understanding fallacies and biases, emphasizing empirical knowledge, all that stuff.  As such, I appreciate Less Wrong, and enjoy the times where I occasionally come across one of their articles.

But whenever I look at their blogs all I can think is that that's way too much to read about things that are too far away from application.  I think this is a mark of true excess, because as a long-time reader of blogs, I'm already an outlier in how willing I am to read walls of text on the internet.  What makes Less Wrong especially inaccessible is that they have a dense slang language.  It's comparable to TVTropes in that they have a bunch of cute names and phrases for various patterns that were defined at one point in the community.  Slang is a cool thing to have but it does not enhance accessibility.

I liked Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, written by Eliezer Yudkowsky of Less Wrong.  That was entertaining, and therefore more readable.  Although it also suffered from sections that were way too long and overwrought--the wizarding battles in that fanfic are way worse than Quidditch ever was.

If you're asking "so what?" there is no "what".  There isn't any reason that people on Less Wrong should care.  I'm sure plenty of people think I'm too verbose or otherwise don't like my writing style, and I don't care about them.


Chris Hallquist recently covered some criticism of Less Wrong by Arthur Chu (who is a recent Jeopardy celebrity and also two degrees away from me on Facebook).  Scott Alexander responded to the same criticism, but with a completely different interpretation of what Arthur said.  I wouldn't know exactly what Arthur was trying to say, but some of that criticism resonated with me:
"I don’t want to win if I’m wrong.”

Well congratulations, you won’t ever have to worry about that, because endless self-criticism about whether your values are in fact right or wrong guarantees that you will lose and someone else’s values will win anyway. You’ll be spared the anguish of knowing whether you made the right decision because that power will be taken away from you.
Surely some time should be spent on self-criticism about whether our values are right or wrong.  But at some point it costs you more than it benefits you.  If there is any human community that goes beyond that point, it is the rationalist community, which invests more time in self-criticism than any other group.  Their over-investment in precision and accuracy makes them inaccessible to most people, and thus greatly reduces any social impact they have.

I run the risk of severe hypocrisy here because I have a marginal blog with too many words on it.  But the reason I blog is for myself.  If someone criticized me for not having any social impact and instead "pussyfooting around with debate-team nonsense" (Arthur's words), I would accept that as a valid complaint.  After all, this blog does not have much social impact and is mostly filled with nonsense.  I don't know if people on Less Wrong feel the same way.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Dear Allies

On this blog I write about queer stuff, as well as non-queer stuff.  So some of my readers are queer, and others are not.  But you might consider yourself an "ally" or supporter of some sort.  I have a question for you all, which you can answer in the comments.  How appreciated to you feel as an ally to LGBTQ people?

There's no wrong answer.  But I'll have you know that in the LGBT community, there is a lot of debate as to how much allies should be appreciated.

There's a comic that I've seen circulating around (origin unknown), which I like a lot because it expresses some of the problems people have with allies.

In short, allies are often overbearing, and not as helpful as they think they are.

You may think this is just a problem with people being "bad" allies, but that's not the entirety of it.  Last weekend I was at a conference, and we had an asexuality caucus.  One thing people complained about was the LGBTQIA acronym, because the conference materials said the A stood for Ally rather than Asexual.  More than annoyed that allies were taking precedence over us, people were annoyed that "ally" is ever part of the acronym.  Another example, sometimes people on Tumblr complain that the asexuality flag contains the color white to symbolize non-asexual people.  (And if you really want to piss people off, tell them that there is a flag for allies.)

Some people just don't like that allies are ever included symbolically.

I was thinking about this, because I recently read a (very long) essay by Julia Serano about the concept of appropriation.  Whenever allies enter queer spaces or imitate queer culture, they are seen as "appropriating" queer struggles for their personal gain.

Julia makes the apt observation that early in a minority social movement, allies are often welcomed, because the movement wants all the help it can get.  Later on in the movement, it becomes more socially acceptable to be an "ally", so allies are less valued.  Additionally, you can imagine that when it's socially preferable to be an ally, you get people who pose as allies but don't actually help much.

And it's not just a difference across time, it's a difference across space as well.  On the internet, allies are regarded with suspicion (supportive words are cheap), but of course allies are still valued by national LGBT organizations (allies are potential donors).  And I've never heard people complain about allies in high school queer straight alliance groups, because that's one place allies are needed.

So far I've taken a neutral stance on how much allies should be appreciated, and that's because I don't think there's any one-size-fits-all approach.  It makes sense to hold allies to a higher standard as time passes, as the social cost of being an ally decreases.  But if you insist that nobody ever give an inch to allies, then we cripple the most desperate groups, the ones who need allies.

Julia Serano points out that we don't just need allies for allies.  Some minimum level of acceptance of outsiders is also important for people who are queer.
The first time we enter a particular LGBTQIA+ space (whether it be a gay bar, a trans support group, or an asexual online discussion group) we often feel like outsiders, and we experience a steep learning curve in trying to understand the language and customs associated with the group.

In other words, we discover LGBTQIA+ identities and cultures. And one could say that all gender and sexual minorities are appropriators, as virtually all of us have adopted identities and participate in cultures that others created before us, and which we were not initially socialized into.
So to any allies out there, I hope this explains why queer people are so ambivalent towards you.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Fractal Maze 2: Sierpinski paths

Years ago I created a fractal maze, which was rediscovered by reader Nathaniel Arnest.  Nathaniel and I had a great e-mail discussion about fractal mazes.  Later I may post my thoughts on this subject, but for now I present a maze that we collaborated on.  Nathaniel designed the maze, and I chose the graphical design to be based on the Sierpinski Triangle.  This one is a bit easier than the other one (which is a good thing).

 Click to zoom in.

1. Follow the colored paths from the empty light green circle to the filled dark green circle.
2. You may not travel along the black lines.  The black lines simply outline an infinite number of squares.  All squares are copies of each other, even when the lines are too small to see in the picture (except for the start and finish, which only occur in the largest square).
3. You may not jump from one color to another, except when passing through the boundary between squares.
4. The path you follow cannot go infinitely deep.  Finite solutions only!

If you'd like to check solutions, please e-mail me at skepticsplay at gmail dot com.  Describe the solution in any way you wish, or attach an image.

If any readers are having difficulties due to colorblindness, please e-mail me to suggest better colors to accommodate you.

Thursday, February 20, 2014


Triforce, a model created using Bird Tetrahedrons, designed by Tomoko Fuse

In a previous entry in my origami series, I showed one way to chain together multiple shapes by using multi-purpose units.  Here I show another method, called "growing polyhedrons" in Tomoko Fuse's Unit Origami.  In this method, I make multiple of the same polyhedron.  Then I make connectors between the polyhedrons which fit in pockets in the surfaces of the polyhedrons.

The polyhedra used here are called "bird tetrahedrons", but it's an inaccurate name since they're not actually tetrahedrons!  They each have six faces, each being a 45-45-90 triangle.  I selected the colors to reference a certain video game.  I suppose the Triforce doesn't normally have a bunch of green triangles behind it, but those triangles need to be there to make it stand up right.  Green seemed like the right color for it.

Can you connect other polyhedrons using the same method?  I can and have!  I've found that even when the connector I want is not described by Tomoko Fuse, it is easy enough to design new connectors by myself.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Russian antisexual community

Several years ago, I wrote a vulgarization of history of the asexual community, focusing on internal battles with antisexual elements.  At the end of the history, I mentioned that there is a Russian antisexual community called the Antisexual Stronghold.  But since that community is primarily in Russian, little was known about it.

But now I've interviewed someone who participated in the Russian antisexual community.  It seems that they do not define "antisexual" in quite the way you think, nor has the definition even remained constant over time!

This is perhaps an arcane piece of history.  But I found it absolutely fascinating, both as an asexuality geek, and as someone who likes to think a lot about how communities develop over time, and why.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Cis people problems

Today Facebook started allowing "custom" gender options and also "they" pronouns.  For some reason they have only 58 options rather than a text field.  Several of those options are cis.

(For those who are unfamiliar with the term, "cis" or "cisgender" means that you are the gender that you were assigned at birth.  That is, you are not trans*, and do not have a trans-related identity.)

This presents a dilemma for cis people, who surely deserve a lament on the tiniest of violins.  Do I indicate that I am "male" or "cis male"?

I posed this question to my Facebook friends.  Some people preferred instead to not have a public gender at all.  There were also many genderfeels on the distinction between "male/female" and "man/woman" with respect to cis and trans identities.  But here I stick strictly to arguments about "male" vs "cis male".

(1) Argument: By identifying as "cis", you show that you know what it means, which tends to be a marker for being a trans* ally.  Some trans* people may be happy to see this.

Counter-argument: Indicating that you are cis is a purely symbolic action.  Some people may be happy to see it, but does it concretely improve their situation in any way?  Good feelings without substantive change could be seen as a bad thing.

(2) Argument: By identifying as "cis male", I reject the idea that "cis" is the default option.  Being cisgender is weird--you're randomly assigned a gender at birth, and you keep that particular gender for the rest of your life.  If mostly trans* people used the "custom" genders, this gives the mistaken idea that trans people are the only weird people.

(3) Argument: If cis people all specified that they were cis, then we might be able to tell that someone is trans when they identify simply as "male" or "female" without the cis qualifier.  This is a potentially dangerous loss of privacy.

Counter-argument: Realistically, most cis people will not specify that they are cis.  Most people identifying as "male" or "female" will be cis people, and thus it will not telegraph a trans person's gender history.

Complications: It may be true in general that most cis people will not identify as cis, but it may not be true of your particular social circles.  Also, since the counter-argument relies on the fact that most cis people are not going identify themselves, we should avoid any public campaigns to encourage them.

(4) Argument: If cis people indicate that they are cis, this reinforces the idea that gender history is public information.  If someone says he's a man, it's none of your business whether he is trans or cis.  But if cis men volunteer their cis status, this may make people feel entitled to that information, or it may make trans* people feel obligated to disclose.

Counter-argument: This may also require a critical mass of cis-identifying people in order to be a problem.  Up to a certain point, identifying wherther you are cis or trans simply normalizes the option to disclose, and beyond that point it suggests an obligation to disclose.

Counter-counter-argument: The critical mass for (4) to be an issue seems much lower than the critical mass for (3) to be an issue.

Have at it.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Quantum Mechanics for skeptics, redux

When I was an undergrad, I gave an informal talk on quantum mechanics for my friends in the skeptical student group.  Unfortunately, the website hosting the slides went defunct, so it's no longer available.  I offered to give a similar talk to the atheist student group at my current university.  So I'm redesigning it as a chalk talk.  It will probably be a bit more serious this time, since I'm not an undergrad, but it's still very informal.

To organize the talk, it helps me to write a blog post along the same lines.  So that's what you're getting.  Apologies if it's a bit rough.


Quantum Mechanics for Skeptics

I.  Introduction

(These quotes will be handed out on cards)
I think I can safely say that no one understands quantum mechanics.
-Richard Feynman

The physical world, including our bodies, is a response of the observer. We create our bodies as we create the experience of our world.
-Deepak Chopra

The physical process of making a measurement has a very profound effect. 
-David Albert

We're all connected by an energy field.  We swim in a sea of light, basically, which is the zero point field.
-Lynn Mc Taggart

Light and matter are both single entities, and the apparent duality arises in the limitations of our language.
-Werner Heisenberg

I wake up in the morning and I consciously create my day the way I want it to happen... and out of nowhere little things happen that are so unexplainable, I know that they are the process or the result of my creation.
-Joe Dispenza

There's all sorts of universes sitting on top of each other, and they're splitting apart and differentiating as time moves on.
-Sean Carroll

A shift in quantum state brings a parallel lifetime. The relationship to you and your environment is lifted... You are now in a parallel existence.
-Ramtha, channeled by J.Z. Knight
Some of these quotes are from physicists, and some are nonsense. I do not intend for them to be difficult to distinguish.  Most of the nonsense comes from people interviewed in the documentary What the Bleep Do We Know?

Richard Feynman of course was a famous physicist.  But despite what he said, it is clear that some people understand quantum mechanics better than others.  Now, most of you don't study physics (are there any physics majors in the audience?), so you probably don't understand quantum mechanics.  The question is, how can you tell the nonsense from the science?  Can you do it without deferring to an expert?


II. A quick overview of quantum mechanics

A. The context of quantum mechanics in physics

First I need to give some context.  I am not a quantum physicist.  The fact is that quantum physics is very well established, and isn't a topic of cutting edge research.  Almost every physicist uses quantum physics as the framework to study something else.  I'm a condensed matter physicist; I apply quantum theory to extremely large numbers of atoms.  The fundamental rules of the game are well understood, it's scaling it up that's hard.

But yes, there are some things about quantum theory that are not well understood.

But quantum gravity isn't really relevant to this talk.  Everything here is well understood.  In fact I'll stick mostly to quantum mechanics.

B. The wavefunction and measurement

Quantum mechanics describes matter as made of things that are like particles and also like waves.  Take for instance the electrons in atoms.  The electrons can be in many possible states which we describe with a "wavefunction".  This is usually represented with pictures of orbitals around the nucleus of the atom.  But it's actually just some mathematical function, which I'll plot as a function of position.

The first consequence is that the possible energies of an electron are discrete.  The energy of the electron is roughly related to the number of times this wave wiggles up and down.  It needs to wiggle up and down an integer number of times, so there are discrete energy levels.  In particular, there's a lowest energy level, which is a good thing.  Otherwise the electrons would collapse into lower and lower energies, causing all atoms to implode.

There's the question of what this wavefunction actually represents.  Well say that you had an ultra-precise way of measuring the position of the electron.  The probability of finding the electron in any position is equal to the square of the wavefunction.  So even if you prepare lots of electrons in the same way, you can never predict exactly where they are.

And here's where it gets weirder.  Say that you make two measurements, one right after the other.  The second measurement will agree with the first.  So even though the position was uncertain to begin with, by measuring it you make its position certain.  One way to describe this is by saying that the wavefunction has changed after measuring it.  This is referred to as wavefunction collapse.

C. Quantum uncertainty vs classical uncertainty

The picture I've just drawn sounds a little bit like we just don't know where the electron is.  After we measure it, and then we know where it is.  I call this "classical uncertainty".  But the uncertainty in quantum mechanics is different.

For instance, let's say that we don't know whether an electron is in a 1s state or a 2p state.  But it's not just that we don't know in the classical sense, let's say we don't know in the quantum sense.  In quantum mechanics, you represent this by adding the wavefunctions together.  Now we can take two kinds of measurements of this system.  If you try to measure the energy, sometimes you'll get the 1s energy and sometimes you'll get the 2p energy.  Then the electron will collapse into the 1s or 2p state according to what you measured.

But suppose that we instead measure the position of the electron.  We would mostly see the electron on the left side here and not on the right side.  Now if the electron were really in the 1s state, we'd see it on the right and left sides equally.  And if it were in the 2p state, we'd see it in the right and left sides equally.  But it's not merely that we don't know whether it's in 1s or 2p, it's that in some sense it's in both states.

This, by the way, is entirely a thought experiment.  Practically speaking, we wouldn't be able to control whether the electron was in a 1s + 2p state or a 1s - 2p state.  If it's 1s + 2p, the electron would appear on the left, and if it's 1s - 2p, it would appear on the right.  Since we don't know which one it is, we're back to the situation of classical uncertainty rather than quantum uncertainty.  But there are other experiments that really do demonstrate that quantum uncertainty is special.

D. Entanglement

One of the strange consequences of quantum mechanics is that you can have correlations between particles, even if those particles are far away from each other.  For instance, there's a way to prepare two photons such that they have the same polarization, even though we don't know the polarization of either individual photon.  Again, it's not that we are ignorant of the polarization, it's that it's actually in a superposition of vertical/vertical and horizontal/horizontal

Sometimes people use entanglement to argue that if we think positive, positive things will come to us by the law of entanglement.   But generally, if far-apart particles are correlated at all, there's no particular reason they would be correlated vs anticorrelated.  If the particles are interacting with a random environment, they would switch between correlation and anticorrelation such that, effectively, there's no correlation at all.


III. How to recognize quantum nonsense

A. Vocabulary

Quantum nonsense uses lots of complicated terminology in order to confuse people.  People also feel afraid to challenge it because maybe they just don't understand.  The problem is that real science also uses lots of terminology, and if you're not an expert in the field, you may not be able to tell the difference.

It's difficult to make a rule of thumb to tell the difference, but here's what I propose:  Look at who the intended audience is.  If scientists are talking to other scientists, they need terminology in order to communicate precisely.  If a scientist is speaking to the public, they may use terminology because they're not really sure how to say it in plain language.  But plain language would be ideal.

In contrast, pseudoscientists are almost always talking to the public, and use scientific terminology intentionally.  It's not that they don't know clearer ways of speaking, they actually want you not to understand.

B. Ignoring scale

In What the Bleep do We Know? there's a clip where they show a basketball bouncing in many places on a court.  Then the basketball player looks at it, and it's only in one place.  This is an okay illustration of quantum mechanics, but they neglected to explain how this only occurs on very small scales.

The appropriate scale is the atomic scale.  When you have electrons in an atom, you don't know where the electron is, but there's an extremely high probability that it's not very far from the nucleus.  The uncertainty of the basketball is on the same scale (smaller, really, since it's a heavier object).

In fact the picture is very much complicated by a system which is made by more than a few particles. As I said earlier, in my research I apply quantum physics to very large numbers of particles, such as what you would find in a grain of dust.  Quantum physics has a big impact (for one thing, the atoms aren't imploding), but large objects do not behave like small ones.  Unless the system is really cold (ie at the very limits of our cooling technology), there's too much randomness.  This randomness turns quantum uncertainty into classical uncertainty.

C. Observers

My favorite part of What the Bleep was the following argument.  In order to cause wavefunction collapse we need conscious observers.  Human cells can cause wavefunction.  Therefore, human cells are conscious beings.  What follows is a computer-animated segment with anthropomorphic human cells.  And when you think negative thoughts, the human cells have decadent parties and destroy your health.  Long story short, you should throw out your medication and just think positive.

But seriously, there's nothing in quantum mechanics that requires conscious observers.  Really what you need is some large complicated system, such as a grain of dust which introduces randomness.  This makes a quantum system behave classically, and that's what wavefunction collapse is, more or less.  Quantum mechanics doesn't say you're special (although you're free to think you're special anyway).

D. Quantum Interpretations

Now there are a few different interpretations of quantum mechanics, as to what it really all means, on the bottom of it.  The most popular interpretations are the Many Worlds Interpretation and the Copenhagen interpretation.

The Copenhagen interpretation is more or less what I've already described.  There's a quantum system which follows certain rules.  And you can measure or observe the system, which causes the system to change.  In the Many Worlds interpretation, there's nothing fundamentally different about the observation process.  The system just interacts with a measurement device, and becomes a superposition of two states.  These two states don't really interact and for all intents and purposes are independently evolving worlds.

These two interpretations are equivalent to each other, at least experimentally.  There is no experiment that can be performed to distinguish between these two.  So if someone says something that makes sense in one interpretation, but totally contradicts the experimental predictions of the other interpretation, then it's probably nonsense.

For example, when someone says that quantum mechanics requires conscious observers, you know that's wrong because there are no observers whatsoever in the Many Worlds Interpretation.  When someone says that you interact with the parallel worlds, you know that's nonsense because in the Copenhagen interpretation there are no parallel worlds to interact with.


IV. Conclusion

Quantum Mechanics is a little strange.  Quantum uncertainty is fundamentally different from what we usually think of as uncertainty.  We can have correlations between far away particles.  But it does not make conscious observers special, and nobody "chooses" reality.  I hope this helps you to distinguish quantum science and quantum nonsense.  But if not, you can ask an expert.  I can take questions now.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Debates are okay, not great

I don't watch debates.  Mainly it's an accessibility issue--spoken word doesn't really work for me, and I'll skip it unless I have a good reason not to.

So of course I also did not watch the Ken Ham/Bill Nye debate over creationism.  In fact, why am I even trying to write an opinion about it?  I would instead defer to Jason Rosenhouse, who is an expert on this issue.

A lot of people have questioned whether the debate is a good thing.  It was a fundraiser for the Creation Museum, so there's that.  It also appears to be lending legitimacy to creationism.  By pitting a creationist against a scientist we appear to be putting them on the same level.

Jason Rosenhouse rejects this particular view:
That is not the case with creationism. It is already such a socially acceptable view, even socially dominant in some areas, that I’m not so worried about making it seem more legitimate. It is evolution, and science generally, that needs to get the word out. Creationists have no trouble injecting their poison into the public discourse, and they have a lot of superficially plausible arguments to make. Scientists willing to take on the grim task of offering folks an alternative view should not automatically be excoriated for doing so.
 And I agree.  Anti-evolution, in the US, is really one of the most popular forms of anti-science around.  Rosenhouse puts anti-evolutionism around 50% of the population and young-earth creationists at 10-20%.  While some forms of antiscience are such small fries that they are best ignored, creationism is the very last thing I would call a "small fry".

Furthermore, Ken Ham is a young-earth creationist, and that particular group doesn't really feel the need for scientific legitimacy.  They believe in the Bible as a higher authority than science.  Now if Nye were debating an Intelligent Design supporter, that might have been more of an issue, since Intelligent Design tries much harder to pretend to be scientifically legitimate.

My major complaint about debates is that there's hardly any correspondence to who "wins" a debate, and who in the debate is correct.  Debates instead favor whoever is a more skilled debater.  Historically, this has often favored creationists because scientists usually have better things to do than hone their debate skills.

Debates are bad, but are other formats for arguments any better?  I think written format is far better, although it has less popular appeal.  In written format, it is much easier to provide citations, which are an indispensable part of truth-finding.  Even arguments in a court of law are better than the debate format.  US courts have mostly consistently ruled against the various forms of creationism.  I know many people have a very dim view of the court system, so here I suggest that you should have an even dimmer view of debates.

While the usual case against debating creationists is that we shouldn't give creationists attention, I see this as its main advantage.  Debates are an awful format, but many people pay attention to them.  I said at the beginning that I can't watch debates, but many people have the opposite problem--videos are fine, but they don't have the attention span to read about it.  A little extra attention to creationism can be a good thing.  Though anti-evolution is so common, it's easy for many people to ignore it.  I live in a major urban area and work at a university, so I never meet creationists.  People like me should nonetheless be aware that anti-evolution is a major issue in the US.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Masculinity as an invisible wall

This was cross-posted on The Asexual Agenda.

For some time I've wanted to write a post about what it's like to be ace and cis male.  But I find it difficult to talk about, because the "male experience" is so difficult to pin down for me.

There are some fairly obvious things to say about how overt, aggressive sexuality is associated with masculinity, and how asexuality is thus seen as emasculating.  The Thinking Asexual makes this point at length.  However, I think there is more to say, because the experience is not uniform.

My personal impression is that the the masculine stereotype is increasingly recognized for what it is: a ridiculous cartoon that is just so far away from our experience.  David Jay echoed this impression in an interview:
I think there’s this sense that masculinity, as it’s traditionally articulated, is really problematic, so masculinity isn’t something that we seriously address. Also, it’s not something that’s presented to us in a serious way. In [current] culture, it’s presented to us almost comically.
Certainly there are places where macho masculinity is taken seriously and sincerely.  I have basically intentionally avoided these places all my life--and what is left?

I think it's quite clear, based on the groups I'm in, that I have not escaped masculinity, not at all.  My profession is physics, a notoriously male-dominated field.  I like board games and video games--also male-dominated.  I make friends among atheist groups--also male-dominated.  And the rest of my friends are gay/bi men who, contrary to stereotypes about "fag hags", don't seem to have any female friends at all.  These days it seems most women I interact with are from the ace community.

There isn't anything obviously masculine about these various groups, certainly not the macho kind of masculine.  You might hypothesize that there is no pattern to it, that it is historical accident which groups are male-dominated.  Video games and board games, for instance, were marketed towards boys for a long time.  But I think I can identify a few patterns:

Men are competitive, so they like games.  They are rational, and not emotional (except for anger, which doesn't count for some reason), so they accumulate in rationalist groups.  They love to explain how things work--a scientific value.  They also take initiative.  They take leadership.  They are the agents of change.

Some of these "male" characteristics have some loose correspondence in the hyper-masculine stereotype.  But unlike the stereotype, these subtler aspects of male socialization are hidden.  Physicists don't think of themselves as particularly masculine, and yet here we all are, influenced by our male socialization.

I think I only realized this after I started identifying as queer--as gay in particular.  Slowly I realized that I had been navigating invisible walls all along.  I hated wearing flashy things because it was against my male sensibility (I still hate flashy things).  As a man, I loved to discover truth and explain it (which I still think is a positive value).  I was socialized to be assertive and take initiative (also still a positive value).  I was pro-LGBT, but I didn't think about it excessively because that's not what straight men do.  I wanted a girlfriend because that's what (male) success was.  And it was my personal responsibility to find a girlfriend.

In the ace community, one of the big mysteries is, where are all the cis men?  Are cis men just less likely to be asexual, or does their socialization act as a barrier to identity?  Many explanations are offered.  One particular suggestion is that masculinity is so at odds with asexuality that it is difficult to identify as an asexual man.  But we could use this same fact to argue that men should be more likely to realize that they are different, and thus more likely to identify as asexual.

This is just wild speculation, but I suspect many cis men don't see male-ness as limiting.  Hypermasculine stereotypes create some visible barriers, but we just leap over them because we don't take them seriously.  Yeah, sure, there's some masculine stereotype out there, but let's leave that one for the jocks.  In the mean time, more subtle aspects of male socialization create invisible barriers.  If asexual men could see these invisible walls, they would realize the need for an asexual identity.  But since the walls are unrecognized, they are an effective obstacle.

The fact that I wasn't particularly into sex, that didn't bother me.  Male hypersexuality is just a stereotype, right?  Anyways, I didn't have a problem with sex.  Sex never prompted me to think I was different.  I realize now, what ultimately prompted me to think I was different was not a mismatch with the male stereotype, but a mismatch with an unspoken male role.  That is, I never felt the motivation to initiate relationships, even though as a man I knew I was supposed to.