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July 23, 2012

An Analogy About Aiming with Arrows

Filed under: Uncategorized — thirdxlucky @ 12:01 pm

MATTHEW: You okay? You seemed a little…not okay just then.

ME: Yeah, I’m just having an epistemological crisis.

MATTHEW: Say more about that?

ME: Okay. Um…What’s a thing where you could be trying to do something specific but you can’t because your equipment is flawed?

MATTHEW: A bow and arrow?

ME: Okay. Say you have this bow and arrow that you’re trying to shoot targets with. You really like shooting targets, so you do it a lot. But something about the way the bow is strung means it’s impossible to shoot straight using it. You can’t really re-string the bow because you don’t know how. And, in fact, nobody knows how. Some people have some techniques for re-stringing bows that seem to work better than others — but nobody’s really got it down. Sometimes, you try to adjust it the string a little bit — which sometimes makes it better, and sometimes makes it worse, and sometimes just sends the arrows off in a different wrong direction than they were going before — but you don’t really want to fuck with the string too much ’cause you might snap it. So, mostly, you spend a lot of time trying to get familiar with the wonky way your bow works and calibrating so that you can adjust your aim accordingly. See where I’m going with this?

MATTHEW: You’re talking to a psychonaut, bro. Yes.

ME: Right. So, obviously, the bow is my mind. The target is reality. The arrows are my perception. And the string is whatever cognitive distortions mediate between the two. It’s not like I can get RID of the cognitive distortions; they’re what facilitates as well as what fucks with my ability to perceive reality. If I unstrung the bow, it just wouldn’t work and I wouldn’t be able to shoot any arrows at all.

But here’s the thing: I get into this weird emotional cycle with my bow and arrows. Maybe it’s not a cycle. Maybe it’s more like a series of intermittent peaks and valleys. When I’m in the valley, I don’t give a shit that my bow can’t shoot straight. I’m sick of constantly futzing with it and I want to hit the goddamn target and I’m just going to fire as many arrows as I can as fast as I can until something goes *THUNK*. On the flipside, I get up to the peak and I start looking back and go, “Fuck. I shot the dog.” I didn’t mean to shoot the dog! I didn’t even know the dog was around! And now I feel so acutely conscious of my inability to control my aim, of the fact that I’m dealing with a ton of cognitive distortions that I understand very little about, that I get paralyzed and can’t loose any arrows at all.

Obviously, neither one of these is a functional strategy for interacting with reality. They both result in never hitting any targets. There’s a sort of middle way in which I know my cognition is distorted and I have some general sense of how and in what way, and that informs my decision-making but doesn’t prevent me from making decisions anyway.* But, when you found me earlier, I probably seemed not-okay because I was basically at the precipice of one of those peaks, looking down and being like, “Shit. I’m insane. And I think I just shot the dog.”

Incidentally, I happen to know that both these ineffective states of mind get exaggerated by being touch-starved. I’m really glad you came over right when you did.

MATTHEW: How come?

ME: Because, basically, I was just feeling crazy ‘cuz I needed a hug. Thanks.

MATTHEW: Oh. Yeah. Of course.

(*Incidentally, this makes me think of something Robyn told me the other day: Buddhist psychology is strange, because the goal of psychotherapy is supposed to be a healthy ego, but a “healthy ego” might be an oxymoron because ego is self-delusion. Perhaps the closest thing to a healthy ego is simply one in which we’re not in denial about deluding ourselves. SA: Bokononism)



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