Weird & Güd - Brain Management

Wherever your brain may be, call it home.

I enjoy research too much and I’m a shameless critic. Weird & Güd is the conjoining of those misanthropic qualities into something useful: recommendations and fascinations neatly packaged together for you every week, no hermeticism required.

The Weird

Brain in a Vat — Everything is normal. You run, you talk, you eat your favorite food, you worry about your future, something smells bad, something smells good — your brain works. Without your brain, there is nothing; our body can fail but so long as our brain remains unchanged, our core identities do too.

What if you were nothing but a brain? A brain in a vat, your senses replaced by the supercomputers of the future that can provide the same electrical impulses your brain needs do to its brain work. How would you know the world you perceive and the thoughts you think reflect your true surroundings and aren’t an I Can’t Believe It’s Not My Own Body’s Electrical Impulses low-fat substitution fed to your brain as it sits in its vat, sweet vat?

You’ve seen The Matrix, you’ve heard Descartes ubiquitous line, cogito ergo sum I think, therefore, I am — but what about the mother of all these do-I-know-what-know philosophies? That would be माया, maya, from the oldest scriptures in Hinduism, the Vedas:

पतंगमक्तमसुरस्य मायया हृदा पश्यन्ति मनसा विपश्चितः ।
समुद्रे अन्तः कवयो वि चक्षते मरीचीनां पदमिच्छन्ति वेधसः ॥१॥
पतंगो वाचं मनसा बिभर्ति तां गन्धर्वोऽवदद्गर्भे अन्तः ।
तां द्योतमानां स्वर्यं मनीषामृतस्य पदे कवयो नि पान्ति ॥२॥
अपश्यं गोपामनिपद्यमानमा च परा च पथिभिश्चरन्तम् ।
स सध्रीचीः स विषूचीर्वसान आ वरीवर्ति भुवनेष्वन्तः ॥३॥

The wise behold with their mind in their heart the Sun,
made manifest by the illusion of the Asura;
The sages look into the solar orb, the ordainers desire the region of his rays.[…]

— Rig veda X.177.1-3

The sun is a symbol of truth/light and Asura refers to demons that create illusions. Determining what’s really real is an ancient struggle. Vats and supercomputers are just a modern adaptation of an ancient question — how do we know reality is real?

The tyranny of self-created illusions can weigh upon us more heavily than any real boulder could.
Original art for Spiritual Soap By Luis Colina

Let’s get real (hope you appreciate that one): who actually worries whether we’re all just brains in jars on the shelf in Alcor’s warehouse? Your experience is real to you — you feel your suffering, your angst, your love, your joy — it’s all real enough, whether or not it’s a fabrication of your brain.

Philosophy is incomplete without grounding its arcane thought experiments into our real lives. Brain in a Vat matters because it reminds us that perception is not fact. We might agree it’s unlikely you and I are the imaginings of our vat-housed brains but it’s not so easily agreed that your perception of a situation as negative/positive is accurate.

Pause and question your judgment of the seemingly concrete reality around you; it’s not so much a singular experience as it is a collaboration between the world and your own unique understanding of it. Like the parable of the Chinese farmer teaches, good and bad are not as obvious as we believe, rather, we impose these values on our world, making us both the author and audience of our lives. Be slow to judge — you never know if you’re just a brain in a vat worrying over nothing more than a synthetic electrical impulse.

Perception is not always reality.
Antony Williams

The Güd

Problems & Values Worksheet — I love worksheets so much I’ve dedicated 2 editions of the newsletter to this single worksheet. If you didn’t catch the previous edition that explains how to use this worksheet, don’t spoil it for yourself — go here before reading this section.

If you did complete the worksheet as per last week’s instructions, now comes the important part. Compare your entries under Problematic Thoughts And Feelings to your entries under Values. You’ll likely find that your Values entries will be what is lacking in your Problematic Thoughts And Feelings entries. On my own worksheet, one of my problematic thoughts was “I am uniquely bad at this” and it perfectly corresponds with one of the values I listed, “confidence.” This trick occurs unconsciously but makes total sense — we crave those values whose lack we suffer over. I highly value honesty but later realized I didn’t list it in my values because I don’t struggle to strive for it. Similarly, your Problematic Actions column will reflect the absence of the entries in your Goals & Actions column.

So now that you know what the hell’s wrong with you, what do you do? This is where cognitive behavioral therapy beats a lot of the other psychological philosophies; CBT gives you strategies you can actively use. With this worksheet, you’ve outlined what you need to pursue to bring balance to your life. Refer to your Goals & Actions column to choose tangible changes. For example, in my Problematic Actions column I wrote, “not attempting projects I want to do” and in my Goals & Actions column I wrote, “challenge myself.” Question answered.

No, there’s no magical epiphany that will suddenly alleviate your obstacles, but you will have everything you need to overcome those obstacles when you know what they are and why you want to overcome them.

I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.

I sit alone at a desk biting my nails to bring you every edition of Spiritual Soap. Is it worth it? Don’t tell me, show me.

Weird & Güd - The Damage in Denial

Denial is a virus; it infects both the individual & population alike.

I enjoy research too much and I’m a shameless critic. Weird & Güd is the conjoining of those misanthropic qualities into something useful: recommendations and fascinations neatly packaged together for you every week, no hermeticism required.

By Nicole Rifkin

The Weird

The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker — In our work-and-consume cyclical society, we fantasize about the natural state of humans as one of lying in a flowered field, picking berries with our children, and counting the days by the moon and sun. One extreme begets another, however.

Ernest Becker has a theory for that flowered field we idealize as our freedom from society’s ceaselessness. The moment you lay back in that soft, spring grass, freed from work, from lust for possessions, from all the obligations of society, your heart will pound, your eyes will shift restlessly, and your thoughts will become demands, the anxious demands of an animal who has finally sat still long enough to feel the weight of his own mortality.

With a dash of Freud and a hint of Kierkegaard, Becker concocted his theory; we take on immortality projects like work and relationships in the ultimate goal of creating a society that serves as one big coping mechanism, giving meaning to our lives in the face of a towering monster that is our own death. War and racism are the outcomes of failing immortality projects, frenzied attempts to cover our eyes as the monster’s stench fills our nose.

Becker offers no answers, only a heaping serving of existential dread (existentialism: meaning sold separately). For our answers we turn to the essence of the immortality project — the choice to choose a thing among many, the choice to let that thing give us the hope for a life that will feel longer than the truth. There are no answers, but there are always choices. Choose well, but always, always choose.

The moral courage to confront the silence of the universe and the anxiety of meaninglessness is a real manifestation of cosmic heroism. — Ernest Becker
Original Art for Spiritual Soap by Luis Colina

If existential angst is your drug of choice, I’ve written an extended version of this short piece that digs deeper into Becker’s theory and its effects upon us and our world.

The Güd

Problems & Values Worksheet — I’m a freak for worksheets and orderly lists that I can plan every breath with. This is a special worksheet — it’s used in Acceptance Commitment Therapy, which is a mindfulness-based cognitive behavioral therapy. The premise behind this therapy is that we often avoid what brings us discomfort and it’s the avoidance, not the discomfort, that causes our suffering. By learning to withstand discomfort, we increase our tolerance for it and expand beyond our safe limits. Withstanding discomfort is more easily done when you have a clear understanding of what you do and don’t want in your life.

I’m giving out this CBT homework like a party-favor because it really is; what’s more fun than trolling through your murky thoughts for moments of illumination? At least, it’s a party compared to unconsciously manifesting the same patterns in your life and driving yourself in crazed circles with no understanding of why? (Always drink your coffee before reading Spiritual Soap).

The above list can help you write in values. These aren’t to be confused with goals, which are future-focused; values exist in the present and are priorities.

Do your homework.
Come back for the analysis in next week’s newsletter; I’ll explain what your entries mean and how to apply what’s learned. There’s a really fascinating trick that plays out after you complete the worksheet that clarifies where Nietzche’s why that will allow you to bear any how exists for you.

He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how. — Nietzsche

Firebird (Nietzschean Complex), 1959, Victor Brauner.

I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.

I sit alone at a desk biting my nails to bring you every edition of Spiritual Soap. Is it worth it? Don’t tell me, show me.

Views News

Your views are going to change (at least, visually).

Hey yall, I have an exciting announcement about some changes happening for Spiritual Soap.

Now making visual sense of the weird and the güd every week will be Luis Colina (Twitter, Instagram), who already provided the wonderfully orange and psyche-speaking works of original art in last week’s newsletter. He’s a good person and I’ve enjoyed his style of art for a very long time.

A Bit About All This

Allegory of Painting

I’m really thrilled that Spiritual Soap will now be giving you original writing and original art side-by-side. It’s an interesting project we’re undertaking to create an intersection between visual art and written concepts, particularly in psychology and philosophy, that can often seem grey and built of words alone.

I invite you to pause and really take in the art as you would in a museum. I find art seen online has less impact (and command of our attention spans) because of how much imagery we’re now foie gras-ed into consuming.

Try to fight back against that here. Consciously let the art impact you. The reason we go to museums is not for the buildings but to see art; it’s the conscious choice to see art as opposed to using it via social media to pass stagnant time in traffic or in a line that creates a difference (and deficit) in how it impacts us.

Slow down and see. Feel how the interplay between visuals and words affects your perception.

Portrait of a Friend (Vincent)

I think and hope you’ll find this to be an enjoyable experience.


Weird & Güd - Conspiracies & Contact

Close encounters not of the 4th kind.

I enjoy research too much and I’m a shameless critic. Weird & Güd is the conjoining of those misanthropic qualities into something useful: recommendations and fascinations neatly packaged together for you every week, no hermeticism required.

Spoiler: you can’t CMV. That’s “change my view,” noobs (I looked it up so you don’t have to).

The Weird

  • People who sneeze loudly — Maybe it’s my jealousy over talent for turning a mundane bodily function into a hostage stadium concert, but loud sneezing is weird. There are few other uncontrolled bodily sounds that we release with as much abandon as some people release their sneezes. Men sneeze more loudly than women; extremely important research has found 32% of women hold in their sneezes while 46% of men freely admit to loud sneezing. Are these masculine sneezes an affront to feminism? Possibly. Do I feel oppressed by these stadium sneezes? Absolutely.

    Leave it to Refinery 29 to lead the sneeze-positive movement.

    Who hasn’t been sitting peacefully in a seemingly secure location only to have your surroundings thrown into red-alert by a scream-sneeze? Jail. Jail is the only answer for these biological weapon-wielding offenders. Perhaps we can reach a compromise by which these sneeze-assailants follow their crimes with an equally loud Scarlet Letter-esque admission of fault. I would be satisfied if every scream-sneeze was followed by the statement “Admission of Loud Sound Transgression.” Judging by the passion this issue elicits, we won’t make progress on this social injustice anytime soon.

    Is this yet another instance requiring sympathy for our enemies?
    Or does our impassivity only breed the radicalization of scream-sneezers?
“Unhappy man! Who will rescue me from this body of death?" Herman Hugo, 1624.
Our bodies can seem to trap our true selves within them when we fall too far out of contact with the world.

The Güd

  • Contact in Gestalt therapy — Gestalt is the rebel child of therapeutic philosophies; its genius can’t be denied but contemporary therapy is uneasy with Gestalt’s rough past. That rough past includes Gestalt’s founder, Fritz Perls — a bearded, constantly smoking, Jewish German man with no reservations about challenging his clients with early 1900s call-outs like “phony.”

    I like Gestalt therapy. It’s full of strange techniques like conversing with empty chairs to shake us out of the past/future and into the now. To Gestalt, “the past is gone and the future has not yet arrived.” A mind stuck in the future or the past responds on autopilot, when we are absent from the now, the quality of our contact to the world suffers.

    Low-quality contact with our world begets that outsider-looking-in, detachedness that makes you feel like you might as well be wearing a spacesuit.
    Art by Scott Listfield
  • Contact is made through our senses — seeing the bright, red apple in our grocery basket, listening to each word as our partner retells a story we’ve already heard, the smell of sauteeing garlic for a recipe we’ve made 100 times before. Without presence, we miss these moments of contact. Yet contact is the center of our lives, a concept relationship therapist Esther Perel sums up her entire work philosophy with, “The quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives.” Gestalt includes contact with our environment and even to the parts of ourselves we’d rather not contact, like that tendency to eat another slice of pizza when we’re disgustingly full.

    So now that you know everybody except you has been theorizing about some abstract conception of contact for over a century — what does your contact look like?

    Staying open for true contact is what makes humans human.
    Original Art for Spiritual Soap by Luis Colina

    Good contact is a creative relationship with ourselves and our world. It’s the times we answer mechanical how-are-yous candidly and create honesty in place of monotony. Good contact requires the presence to reach for the world beyond us while having the courage to protect our individuality. It’s found between good friends at a dinner table after the second glass of wine. It’s found between partners who can see and hold each other’s vulnerability. It’s found sitting quietly with yourself, seeing all, not just past scars and future desires, but the body of flesh and awareness you are in that exact moment.

    Contact is the fertilizer for life — growth and change aren’t born from the security of cement. Much like our boy Martin Buber’s Ich und Du theory, there are levels to contact; the highest level of contact is white-hot and is followed by a time-out for reflecting. Yet, as with all things that require intensity and presence…we resist. Oh boy, do we resist, both in small ways like hiding behind emojis and in big ways like being safe instead of authentic in our words and actions.

    We all resist contact, though not always in the same forms; these contact resistances are formed as coping mechanisms that keep us safe in the way a child whose mother never lets him play outside is “safe.” Opening up to contact requires recognizing the coping mechanisms that once kept us safe as kids now keep us trapped as adults. You can have contact with the grass under your feet, with the cashier hurridly handing over a receipt, with the partner whose funny habits have become mundane, with your own anxiety over disappointing yourself that only disappoints you more for existing — we can choose to resist or connect.

    Put down the narrative of who you should be and what you should do, put down the regrets and fears of the past, and what is left? You are the most human you will be when you stop trying to be.

We shift between levels of contact among each other, yet life without deep contact remains peripheral.
Original Art for Spiritual Soap by Luis Colina

I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.

I sit alone at a desk biting my nails to bring you every edition of Spiritual Soap. Is it worth it? Don’t tell me, show me.

Weird & Güd - Hidden Mothers Unite

No one experiences the gamut of Weird & Güd like moms do

I enjoy research too much and I’m a shameless critic. Weird & Güd is the conjoining of those misanthropic qualities into something useful: recommendations and fascinations neatly packaged together for you every week, no hermeticism required.

Moms — doing the most ridiculous things to get a photo of their kids since photos have existed.

The Weird

  • Hidden Mother Photography — It’s not the name of some witch-house goth band, it’s a real period of photography in the mid to late 1800s. It’s hard being a mom. Not only are you a mom, which is hard, but sometimes you have to be a mom even when nobody wants to acknowledge that you’re a mom.

    Hidden mother photography was born of necessity during a time in photography’s history where taking one photo was not child-attention-span friendly. Really it was no-one-attention-span friendly, but kids really protested these things. Moms, babies, and photographers struck a deal where everyone wins and mom gets a blanket thrown over her head to hide her presence while she helps everyone else.

    Hidden mother photography had a surge of interest appear around 2010; exhibitions were hosted and photobooks were printed. What this new interest says about our relationship to family photos is up for interpretation. I like to think it’s a universally appreciated reminder of the unsung labor mothers have provided throughout history. It’s also possible that it’s just amusingly weird to see Victorian babies pacified by their poor, blanketed mothers.

    My mom would like more photos with me too but at least she’s never had to do this.

The Güd

Pounds and pounds of bodily autonomy. Somewhere Loretta Lynn, who once said “If I’d had the pill back when I was havin’ babies I’d have taken ’em like popcorn,” is smiling.
  • The Pill by Loretta LynnMost people don’t like music recommendations. Music is personal and that personal relationship renders a well-intentioned hope of sharing an experience into the ugly sweater grandma gives you for Christmas — a burden you have to wear upon receiving and feign enjoyment over. This is not a music recommendation; think of it as a feminist history lesson set to music.

    The Pill is a song written for those women tired of being nothing more than a hidden mother. Before Beyoncé reminded us that girls run the world, Loretta Lynn reminded us that contraception is one of the main reasons why. This song is exactly what you think it is — an anthem to birth control. Recorded in 1972, the pure excitement in the song’s lyrics reflect a time in reproductive rights history where, for the first time ever, women had a taste of full reproductive autonomy.

    Almost. Although the Supreme Court decided the government’s historical efforts to be our mom were weird and creepy (i.e. unconstitutional), it did still allow 26 states to remain mildly weird and creepy by banning birth control use for unmarried women. Weird and definitely not güd.

    It might not look like feminism, but sometimes the best activism is the kind you don’t recognize.
    Billboard ad, January 22, 1972.

    This song was banned by many radio stations which, naturally, only made it more popular. The Pill is a country song through and through, making it that much more controversial. It’s a throwback to that more genuine brand of country music that told us stories with real heart and hadn’t yet become a polarized propaganda machine for praising over-priced trucks and bad beer. The song became a PSA for the wonders of birth control. Loretta Lynn even recalls rural doctors thanking her for making birth control seem way cooler than a doctor’s office pamphlet ever could — because when has a pamphlet ever made anything more attractive?

This old maternity dress I've got
Is goin' in the garbage
The clothes I'm wearin' from now on
Won't take up so much yardage
Miniskirts, hot pants and a few little fancy frills
Yeah I'm makin' up for all those years
Since I've got the pill

I hope this makes your week a little weirder and a little güder. Now go forth, be weird, and above all, be güd.

I sit alone at a desk biting my nails to bring you every edition of Spiritual Soap. Is it worth it? Don’t tell me, show me.

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