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The natural tragedy – and how to deal with overwhelming stress

(Michael Hrenka) #1

Warning: The following is a sinister and potentially depressing rant. Consume with caution.

Abstract personal and philosophical rant

Knowledge erodes hope

It occurred to me that the more I learn, the more I understand the world, the more I know why people and things are as they are, I am getting increasingly pessimistic about my chance of contributing to any real progress. I feel that I have become quite cynical, not about everything, but about a lot of things. Progress seems to happen in some areas, but in too few and too slowly. The effect of my desperation through understanding currently seems to dominate my psychology. Even if progress happens, my cynicism increases faster.

Or this is just an effect of being depressed

This perspective might simply be grounded in my current depression. Perhaps it’s much better to be blissfully ignorant and view everything with rose coloured glasses. The passion and enthusiasm that is bred by ignorance is truly remarkable. Knowledge and understanding have too much of a moderating “down to Earth” effect.

Umm, what’s wrong?

My general conclusion is that it’s our biology that is to blame. We really need to fix or overcome that. Everyone suffers from the shortcomings of human biology. We could be much better persons if we weren’t these incredibly pathetic creatures called humans. Humans are inherently unable to be really good persons. I’m not saying that other animals were better per se. The real problem comes from natural evolution taking its course, which is basically systematic madness. At the deepest core we need to fix evolution. Get a grip on that. Control the process of adaptation and enhancement. Make it compassionate, efficient and give it a positive direction. And then apply that to everyone and everything.

The nasty natural tragedy

Until then we will have to suffer through the process I call “natural tragedy”. The way events proceed naturally is bound to create countless tragedies. Should we embrace them? I mean, what’s the alternative? A descent into all-embracing darkness and destruction? Well, the natural tragedy is a necessarily painful process. We need to bear the pain, even though it’s driving us mad. Retain the glimmer of hope for the future in the face of a seemingly endless onslaught of the forces of darkness.

But the feels, bro!

Unfortunately, this doesn’t change how I feel about this situation, and my personal situation. It’s a maddening mess for me. The complications I face have made my life generally unenjoyable. I feel like I’m disintegrating on a root level.

I recognize a pattern there

Yeah, I’ve solved similar depression crises earlier, so why should this one be different? Well, I have evaluated how I got out of previous crises. The key to getting out of this mess seems to lie in a kind of change of personality and thinking patterns. I have done parts of this transition in earlier times of recovery, but I’ve always reverted back to my “normal” self. Unfortunately the change that seems to be necessary to rid myself of depression and desperation feels like a threat to my identity, to my integrity, to my current values which I’ve worked so hard to establish. It feels like I need to cut out my heart and burn it to ashes. And what will I be then? A heartless vampire? A person who lost his mind? I already loathe the person I would need to become, so why should I go down that path? At the same time I am deeply ashamed that I haven’t evolved into that direction already.

No quick fixes

Yet, I see no other sustainable alternative. My efforts to fix my depression with more moderate means have failed so far. At my current level of functionality I am basically useless for this world, and even for myself. Positive feelings and motivation have become frustratingly rare and weak in me. Even when I experience them they seem to fade away quickly and I am left with almost nothing. Thrown back to a desolate existence surrounded by beauty which I am hardly able to enjoy.

The future to the rescue!

It’s pointless. I need to get over this. If I need to become evil to do some real good, then so be it. Currently I am broken. Perhaps in the meanwhile I will be able to become broken in a more constructive way. I will be pathetic anyway as long as I still remain a mere legacy human being. My hope is that I will be able to fix myself in the future through technology.

Sudden attack of alienation

I feel extremely misplaced in this insanely primitive and barbaric world. Even though it’s my world, which I am not going to desert so easily. And even though I appreciate that it could be much worse.

Broken hopes

Sadly, I cannot be a shining beacon of light in this world of darkness. My powers and strengths are far too limited for that. I am a madman among other madmen, hoping to be just a tiny bit less insane – or insane in a more constructive way. My existence so far has been an experience in humiliation. It deeply humbles me, and that just feels wrong for a transhumanist like me.

It’s nobody’s fault, really!

In some previous crises I used to be angry about others. Now that I understand more, that I understand that the others are suffering from the same tainted human existence, trying to cope with it with all their might and still only managing to get as far as they have come by now, I simply cannot reproach anyone. Could people have done something better? No, they have done the best that was in their capability. The problem is simply that their capabilities are so disappointingly small. Could they have created better systems? How, if those systems are rooted in human psychology and limited by human psychology? We simply live through the natural tragedy, because it’s the natural progression of evolution and history. There is no choice, it’s a merciless process that will continue to go on until we have become either dust or gods.

Perhaps needless morbid and weird spiritual tangent

Understanding all of this makes me want to perish and die. Yet, I cannot give in to this emotion. It’s irrational. As long as there is still at least potential for some hope, I need to drag my tormented mind forward. I feel like I booked a life in hell, but that it was my decision in the end, and I guess I should respect that instead of hoping that this game will be over soon. Even if that means that I have to live through countless horrors. Necessary horrors. I might just as well appreciate the process and experience. So, paradoxically, I feel immensely grateful for this existence even though it currently pushes me beyond the brink of insanity.

Trust in a higher purpose

If there are gods (simulators) who are responsible for this world, and all the messiness in it, not only have I already forgiven them, I am grateful to them. In their stead, I probably would have done the same. All of this may hopefully serve a higher purpose, even though we cannot know that for sure (even if we could know that this world is a simulation).

Devil’s advocate

Have I become the devil’s advocate? Perhaps. And if so, I guess this is a necessary role. I never preferred an outcome like this. If anything, it is the result of my dispositions and my search for truth and wisdom. It’s both my curse and my gift. It compels me to move forward, to adapt, to change myself.

Pessimistic prognosis

Knowing myself, I nevertheless predict that I will revert to my current depressed and dysfunctional self. That’s because I hope that it’s not necessary for the change to be permanent. That I will have made some kind of genuine progress. Even though I may expect that I am deluded about that, it is the hope for a better existence that will force me to regress to normality. Only a truly radical change could, no, must, force me to change my character and personality semi-permanently – that is until we can effectively upgrade our minds and bodies, at which point we might be able to overcome the pitfalls of human existence.

Free will is kaput?

I do not longer believe in the power of will (be it free or not). Reality and causality trump our feeble efforts at carving out our destiny for ourselves. Is that a psychologically dysfunctional belief? Maybe. In any case, reality is there and it is what it is. We can’t wish it away. We must deal with it. Adapt to it. Change our values. Change our goals. Change our strategies. Change our methods. Change our minds.

Repugnant change

Is this a repugnant conclusion, a repugnant process? Yes, sure. Facing reality can trigger some of the worst feelings. Feelings we need to get over with. Is this world disgusting? Perhaps it is, but then we need to swallow our wishes that it was not. Wishing for a better world does not create it. Adapting to it, becoming part of the dirt that it is comprised of, is the only chance for any change. The natural tragedy has to be actively suffered through. Even though we will take damage to our psyches during that process. We will deal with repairing the damage afterwards.

Eventual destruction of identity

What will remain of us in the end? Not us in many ontologies of identity. Something good, if we are successful. We need to accept the complete destruction of the present in favour of a better future. Nostalgia for the present will only hold us back and prolong the natural tragedy.

Inserting quasi-Nietzschean slogan

Live dangerously with curiosity, courage, and the will to creative destruction or be doomed to nothingness! :scream:

We are necessarily nasty

It is part of the natural tragedy that we are required to inflict pain and suffering on others, even those we love, in order to progress on that path upwards. The motives don’t matter much. Hate, contempt, anger, envy, greed, fear, desperation, aspiration, love, compassion, understanding, all of those are part of a deep natural process.

From here, all paths lead to destruction

We are on an inescapable set of paths towards destruction. The only question is whether the destruction will enable the growth of something good, or not.

Less abstract, more concrete

Now all of this is mightily abstract. What am I really saying here?

  1. Natural evolution is a part of the natural tragedy. It’s bloody, wasteful, and creates immense amounts of suffering. But it’s necessary to get culture started.
  2. Cultural progress, including the emergence and eventual culmination of capitalism, is a part of the natural tragedy. It’s necessary for reaching a higher culture.
  3. Personal human suffering, our weaknesses, all the hurtful actions we inflict on others (or even ourselves), are part of the natural tragedy. They are inescapable, because we are a nasty (intermediate) product of natural evolution.
  4. All the future “interesting times”, all the loss and destruction we will face until the end of the natural tragedy. They are necessary to manifest a better future. They are necessary until a better future will have been manifested.

What should humans strive to become?

  • Healthier
  • More resilient
  • Smarter
  • Wiser

We can move towards that direction, but we cannot expect any kind of perfection in the state we are currently in. Perfectionism is appropriate for gods, but not for humans. True perfection even surpasses the realm of the gods.

In the meantime we have to come to terms that we need to be

  • politely disrespectful
  • creatively destructive
  • compassionately hurtful
  • comfortingly hard
  • tentatively aggressive
  • generously greedy
  • proudly ashamed
  • curiously indifferent
  • rationally insane
  • intelligently silly
  • ethically immoral
  • wisely foolish
  • beautifully pathetic
  • inspiringly contemptible
  • fascinatingly boring
  • confused by clarity
  • strong by enduring weakness
  • ennobling through humiliation
  • knowledgeable, yet incompetent
  • enlightened by dark delusions
  • enjoying the torment
  • delighted by tragedies
  • wearing authentic masks
  • persistently adapting
  • straightforwardly paradoxical
  • loyal traitors
  • philosopher soldiers
  • angelic demons
  • inhuman humans
  • converging to our balanced golden middle by embracing extremes
  • embracing our humanity while striving to become gods

The sense all of this makes to you may be proportional to your progress. Or it’s really meaningless pseudo-zen. Whatever you choose to believe.

Personal conclusion

I still don’t know who I am and how I need to change exactly. I’m still in the process of figuring all of this out. It appears to me that I’m required to become more courageous, careless and communicative. Sadly, I am generally too anxious to pull that off sustainably. So, my plan will in all likelihood fail unless I find something that forces me to become less anxious. The path of strategic caution disguises itself as necessary rationality.

No, this rant is not enough

Needless self-disclosure is insufficient. I’ve been on this path for quite a while, and surprisingly I’m still alive and not everyone hates me yet. These outbursts are rather a result of desperation rather than true courage. Are they helpful, though? In the sense that writing and reflecting is helpful, writing in this style seems to have some slight benefits. And some people seem to think that I write interesting stuff, sometimes. I am not sure whether you find this interesting or not. Not that I really care a lot about that. My preference is writing helpful stuff. If it’s not, that’s also part of the natural tragedy.

So, what’s to be expected?

I will probably become less depressed over time, without arriving at a satisfying and sustainable resolution. An undercurrent of mostly silent desperation will accompany me. In other words: Situation normal, all fucked up! Or a miracle happens and I actually become a functional, stable, slightly happy and productive member of society. Currently I’m out of promising miracle generators, so that doesn’t appear to be very likely. Anyway, I should whine less and do more for the forum. :sweat_smile:


The kind of courage you need is to come face to face with the cause of your anxiousness, really look at it and realize that it doesn’t actually directly say anything about you, yourself. Have you found it yet?

Reading your writing, I have some guesses though. Perhaps they’ll serve as a starting point.

It sounds like you’ve decided that you yourself are not acceptable or worth anything unless you can contribute something real. Isn’t this a rather unreasonable demand to make of yourself? If you actually want to make a difference, this demand will sabotage your chances of achieving anything by pulling you towards depression whenever you are unable to predict something for yourself to do that seems to have a chance at making a difference.

Most crucially, it will torment you most when you’re trying to find out how to effect a change and thus discourage you from thinking about it. Every thing you think of that turns out to not be useful will strenghten the depression. The key is to accept this “yourself who can’t make a difference”. Only then you can fully focus on becoming a “yourself who can make a difference”.

It might also help to create a subconscious disbelief of the impossibility of anything that is strong enough to repel all attempt by other parts of the mind to believe something is not possible. That way you move from the question of “is it possible?” to “is it cost effective?”.

I disagree. It’s mostly our culture that is to blame. Our minds are malleable enough to learn other ways of life too.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to convince people to change, only that it’s theoretically possible. It’s our collective beliefs and values that shape our world. The only real way to effect change is to change those. Merely changing the platform our minds operate on is not sufficient and will most likely not do much.

So, how do you convince others to change themselves? Example works best. So, the first order of business is to understand yourself well enough so that you can make yourself the example. Unless you’re lucky enough to find someone who has already done that. Then it’s enough to concentrate on understanding and supporting that person. We’re much better at copying mental programming from someone else than we’re in creating the programming in the first place. (kind of like how it’s much easier to make copies of a computer program than it’s to create it in the first place)

It really sounds to me like you nevertheless are reproaching yourself.

You have a chance to grow as a person. Perhaps the best gift there is, even though it does tend to push the recipient to the brink of insanity.

While it’s true that reality has the upper hand, it’s not reality that’s the most difficult thing to cope with. The most difficult thing to cope with is images in your own mind that you mistake for reality. This is what you’re grappling with here.

Not everything can be helpful to everyone :slight_smile: However, I suspect writing this ended up being helpful for you and that’s pretty important too. Also, who knows, maybe there’s someone else grappling with similar problems who reads this and thus finds answers even though he/she was unable to ask.

(Michael Hrenka) #3

There seem to be different causes for my anxiousness:

  1. One cause may have something to do with a fear of getting punished, rejected, or ostracised for not satisfying certain standards or expectations. I assume that this is a relatively frequent form of social anxiety. In my case this anxiety might be stronger than usual, or rather, I succumb to this kind of anxiety too easily.
  • There also anxiety about disappointing, hurting or harming others unintentionally. I’m a kind of sensitive person when it comes to this.
  • My health is not very robust. I have concerns that overexerting myself will degrade my health further. This has happened many times. And it’s also the cause for my current crisis. This issue would be manageable, if I knew where my limits lay, but figuring that out is surprisingly difficult for me.
  • Sometimes I experience generalized anxiety without apparent reason or object to which that anxiety refers to. That seems to be triggered by bad dietary choices. The link might be gut microbes that somehow trigger a somatic anxiety response when you feed them a lot of the right (wrong) stuff.
  • Finally there’s some fear of heights, but only when I’m standing close to a cliff or something similar, so this doesn’t matter most of the time.

The points 1 and 3 are probably the factors that influence my behaviour the most. In some sense these anxieties also amplify each other. Dealing with social anxiety may cause emotional and nervous overexertion and anxiety about my health, or my health itself may be the reason for certain kinds of rejection. It’s hard to deal with that kind of vicious circle.

Let’s say that I have a strong preference for being able to contribute something real. Otherwise my existence would feel less meaningful. I guess the core issue is that I am immensely ambitious. Seemingly not being able to fulfil my highest ambitions feels subjectively unacceptable. As long as I see a plausible viable path towards my highest goals things are ok. As soon as I can’t see any such way I become really desperate and depressed, because I get really disoriented. The urgency this lack of perspective creates is extreme, and therefore I react in extreme ways by prioritizing the search for a plausible viable path absolutely above anything else.

Intuitively I would pride myself for being unreasonable in this regard. My hypothesis is that I would otherwise be less inclined to strive towards reaching my full potential. I never really questioned the truth of that hypothesis.

Yes, that is a good point. I may have pursued a dysfunctional strategy, but I not yet convinced that it’s my demands or ambitions by themselves that push me towards depression. It’s probably more an issue of how I deal with “subjectively unsatisfactory performance”. My usual reaction to that is often too panicky. The thinking that lies behind these reactions seems to be that I would otherwise be likely to get stuck and not even notice that. I push myself towards improvement relentlessly because of that. I don’t want to become too comfortable with a half-baked status quo.

What’s the deeper reasoning behind this? Why would your assertions make sense?

No, I’m a firm believer in the possibility of everything. Some things just seem to be so improbable that it would seem unreasonable to even think about them.

I believe that we currently have almost the best possible culture that is compatible to both human nature and our current level of technological and economic development. In other words I see culture as mostly a function of human nature and technological and economic progress. There are reasons why our cultures are what they are right now. And eventually it really gets down to the limitation that our evolutionary psychology imposes upon us. Granted, these limitations might be soft and fuzzy, and people can change their ways in some aspects.

However, these changes may be expensive to maintain. There is always a price to pay, even when we are not aware of that. We pile layers upon layers of culture, civilization, and regulation of human behaviour upon us, which present themselves as mostly internalized demands and restrictions. Our carrying capacity is unfortunately limited. We cannot be rational in every aspect of life. When you place too many demands on humans something has to break sooner or later. Even if every little demand and restriction is reasonable in some sense and has its own justification, everything adds up to a psychological burden that is virtually impossible to bear without running into failure modes. Therefore the natural tragedy cannot be fixed, until we fix the limitations of human capability.

In principle you are right. Where I object is that this doesn’t imply that massive cultural improvement is possible through that way alone. I mentioned before that any change has its costs. Once beliefs and values become sufficiently complex and demanding, human beings break down under their pressure.

I didn’t refer to a mere change of platform. Instead I am referring to the overall psychological capability of the human mind. Human minds are weak, unreliable, and fragile. The question is really: What kind of challenges can a mind master? The difficulty of some challenges surpasses our current level of psychological capability. Beings who master those challenges would rightfully be seen as inhuman / superhuman / posthuman. For example try convincing everyone to become atheist while still being nice. A superintelligence might pull that off, but human beings can’t.

Why do I suddenly get the impression that I need to learn much more about neuroscience for that purpose? :astonished:

Perhaps. Unless we achieve our results by trial and error without really understanding why it worked. :hushed:

I cannot definitely eliminate the possibility that I’m guilty of that. Do you have any evidence that this is the case?

How would you define growth?

Knowing what reality is and what it isn’t really represents one of the core issues. This is inevitably becoming philosophical. And we are here to discuss these issues. Perhaps we will be able to unveil some fraction of truth that we didn’t see before.


Sounds like you like you have a very strong subconscious belief about this. Perhaps even a group of beliefs that are all similar but related. Basically, when you hit one of the triggers, you subconsciously build a series of mental images where the last image in the series is something that truly terrifies you. There’s a reasonably simple mental trick you can use to dissolve that series of images though. The main challenge is actually keeping enough presence of mind to make use of it at the proper time.

Basically, to dissolve the images, the only things you need to do are 1) pay conscious attention to the images 2) Discern that those are images you created, are not a part of reality and therefore cannot harm you.

In case I explained it too briefly, these links will probably help. They describe the process with quite a bit of more detail. He uses the word “meaning” in the same sense that I used the word “image” above:

It seems likely to me that point 1 is the cause of point 3. At the very least it’s a major contributing factor.

I also have a strong preference for this as well. Including that my existence feels less meaningful without being able to do so.

So… when you don’t know how to achieve your highest ambitions, something in you takes that for proof that you can’t and torments you until you prove it wrong by finding a plausible enough answer? Sounds like this is something that’d seriously wreak havoc on your life (and health) whenever you start having doubts if your current answer is good enough.

When someone is pushed to this degree, the goalpost shifts from “what’s the best thing I could do?” to “Where can I find a good enough answer fast?”. You’ll be biased towards taking the first answer that sounds plausible and ending the search there because your subconscious recognizes that you’ll burn yourself up very fast otherwise. It might result in achieving something. But it most certainly won’t be the best thing you could’ve found if you’d allowed yourself to search without pressure to find the answer fast.

This bias will also make it more difficult to critically analyze your current good enough answer because you’ll instinctively try to avoid the panic that will result if you find a problem with it. You’ll be rather reluctant to see problems in the answer.

It’s not the ambition that’s the problem. The problem is that you panic if you don’t have a certain kind of image in your mind. In this case, the image would be a plan that sounds plausible to you on how to achieve something big.

It’s kind of ironic that it seems you’re stuck much worse due to pushing yourself than you’d ever be if you didn’t push. The very fact that you’re willing to push yourself this hard proves, in itself, that there’s no need to push. It proves that you really really want to achieve something big. That won’t vanish just because you stop pushing.

Quite the contrary. When you stop trying to push yourself by using panic as a tool, you’ll be able to think about things without the tunnel vision that comes with panic. You’re trying to do something that requires creativity. Panic is something that kills creativity.

It’s a question of focus. When you see yourself as a “yourself who can’t make a difference” and are trying to reject that, you’ll subconsciously avoid thinking deeply about the things that “indicate you can’t make a difference”. When you stop rejecting, you can focus on understanding the problem and will be able to start moving towards “yourself who can make a difference”.

When you’re both rejecting your current self and trying to change that self, you’re effectively wasting your energy by fighting yourself.

I’ve now answered the parts that I feel were high enough priority that I was willing to postpone sleep to answer. I’ll leave the more philosophical topic for later. I hope something I wrote here ends up helping you find a solution.


I agree with culture being a function of human nature and technological/economic progress. However, I get the feeling that you’ve falsely attributed certain parts of the culture as human nature. Needless to say, I disagree about your conclusion.

I’m pretty sure there are limitations. However, I’ve not seen convincing evidence to suggest that we’ve actually hit any of them yet.

Human beings only break down psychologically when the pressure takes the form of fear and dominates over everything else. Unfortunately, fear appears to be one of the cornerstones of our current culture. The culture is also in an accelerating sense of flux, so old rigid and fear based programming has more chance to go berserk than ever before. I’m guessing that is what you’re referring to.

I see, you’re dreaming of a platform that we could copy ourselves to that is somehow significantly superhuman at the same time. And not just because it’s more powerful in terms of raw processing power. You expect it to be somehow algorithmically superior too. Frankly, I’m not hopeful about seeing such a platform during my natural lifetime. We understand way too little about how our brains work to postulate that we can improve the architecture significantly.

As for convincing everyone to become atheist… When a theist becomes an atheist, it represents a fundamental paradigm shift in their understanding of the world as well as themselves. It’s far from a simple question of changing one belief based on evidence. The structure of the mind of a theist is basically coiled around that one belief. Letting go of that one thing would most likely drive them to the brink of madness… or most likely well over it. People will subconsciously see what would result from letting go of the belief and will, very rationally, reject that change.

It’s similar to changing a core structure in a complex computer program. You can’t just take the cornerstone of the whole thing, change it in a big way and expect it to still work. You also have to adapt everything that relied on that cornerstone to work without it. Similarly, if you want to convince a theist to become an atheist, it’s not enough to merely demonstrate that the belief is irrational. You also need to prepare them so they have a chance of keeping their sanity afterward.

While learning about neuroscience would most likely help, it’s not an absolute requirement. Why? Well, you’ve got a very intimate access to a real sample. There’s much to be learned just by observing that sample in operation. Basically, you don’t need an engineer’s understanding to do it, you merely need the user’s manual. That lowers the bar quite a bit lower.

For me, learning about the Lefkoe Method (and more importantly, actually using it successfully) was one such a manual. Another important one was the first book written by Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now. However, It took both of them. I doubt I’d have learned as well from Lefkoe’s Method if I hadn’t first read The Power of Now. Conversely, I probably would never have really understood Tolle’s writings properly if I hadn’t found the Lefkoe Method as well. When I was using Lefkoe’s Method, I started to see in practice, what it was that Tolle spoke of.

That’s a big part of the reason why our culture is such a mess currently. We haven’t yet, collectively, learned to appreciate the understanding based approach enough. You see this same problem in the programming discipline as well. Some programmers do way too much trial & error programming. It produces code that on the surface appears to work but often contains nasty surprises.

No clear evidence. Just an intuitive feeling that that might be the case. At the very least, it sounds like you’re very disappointed in yourself. Isn’t that pretty much the same thing?

As improving your understanding of the world and yourself.


One additional point that came to mind just now. You’re not really demanding yourself to achieve something great. You’re demanding yourself to create an image of a way to get there. Not quite the same thing. As I understand it, people who did great things in the past most often didn’t realize just how important the thing they created would become.

So, is it actually valuable to know how to do the great thing? Well, on the surface, it sure seems like it. However, the catch is that we’re usually not good at predicting how things will turn out. It’s rather likely that if you pursue this strategy, you’ll end up chasing mirages of your own creation.

So, is it hopeless then? I wouldn’t say so. Many of the people who achieved great things in the past were people who just did what they were passionate about. Why would that work? Well, our conscious mind is rather limited but the fuzzy logic our subconscious uses is actually much better at finding a way. So, if you give up on knowing how the great thing can be achieved and instead just let your intuition lead the way, you just might succeed.

The main question is, can you let go of knowing where to go and what to do and trust your inner wisdom to guide you to the right place? I think you’ll become more productive that way and will also increase the chances of actually achieving your ambitions.

Logic works better for some things, but the more complex the problem, the better our natural learning processes are in dealing with it when compared to artificial conscious logic.


I came across a TED talk I feel might be useful in this case.

(Michael Hrenka) #8

Wow, that is really a very fascinating and mind-blowing talk! I’ll probably need several weeks to digest the message that our beliefs about stress have a higher impact than the stress itself!

Let me complement this video with another very fascinating video I’ve found recently:

How to hack your biology and be in the zone every single day

If you combine both talks the message at the intersection seems to be that high heart rate can be a very good thing (not too surprising when you consider that exercise usually involved high heart rates and is seen as immensely healthy nevertheless – unless you don’t overdo it). What seems to count more, however is the calmness with which the body and mind face the (stressing) situation. When you believe that stress is a healthy response, you will probably feel calmer, more in control, and less impaired by the usual cognitive consequences of stress.

Anyway, before watching the TED talk I’ve come to an interesting realization about the commonalities of the phases in which I got out of depression. And that is that I have become more daring and less anxious, or simply overrode the anxiety response. There are several factors that can contribute to this reaction:

  1. Being encouraged by the interventions one does against depression to do the things one believes to be crucial for improving one’s life.
  2. Insights from cognitive behavioural therapy, which challenge one’s beliefs about possible problems, dangers, and lots of other things, and encourage you to adapt your behaviour to those new beliefs.
  3. Generally placing less value on your own life, because you are depressed. The less you value your survival, the more risks are you willing to take to improve your situation. This courage from relative indifference about one’s life can be a powerful force, but it’s usually limited to the extent of the depression. After depression is lifted, you usually become less indifferent about your own survival and are likely to revert to the less courageous behaviour patterns of the time before the depression.

One typical example of the latter point is that I’m much more inclined to do spontaneous climbing at mountains, without any climbing equipment (or much climbing experience for that matter) when seriously depressed. That’s not something that would seem to improve my life much, but it’s really fun, perhaps just because it’s not quite without risks. Luckily my body seems to have a sufficiently good intuitive ability to handle those climbing sessions, so I never actually hurt myself during those!

I’m also much more inclined to reach out for help when depressed. Unfortunately I actually rarely got much helpful support (and sometimes even discouraging responses of rejection), but at least I did something which I usually would not be comfortable doing at all. Not that reaching out became any less comfortable, but I was desperate enough to do it anyway. And the consequences of those outreach efforts were at least quite interesting (sometimes even surprising), even if they were relatively unpleasant.

In general, when I’m depressed I’m more likely to do relatively crazy things (at least according to my subjective standards) and don’t bother so much about their consequences. So far this hasn’t resulted in something apparently extremely bad happening to me (which is what I usually believed would be likely to happen). This might have been dumb luck, but the more likely reason is that I overestimated the risks involved.

My overall conclusion is that the key to getting depression under control is desensitizing oneself to negative stimuli and feelings by trying to remain calm at all times (that is, not anxious or reactive or panicky or inhibited). Feeling horrible inside? No problem, just stay calm and endure those feelings. Often this will make them pass. In the worst case they may become stronger, but that means you just need more training for dealing with them in a calm manner. The more likely consequence is that the negative feelings become weaker and may vanish eventually.

Also, I’ll try to be slightly more crazy. Life is more fun that way, and it makes me appear less boring.


The one thing that improved my mental state dramatically in just few months was when I started teaching myself to not regard the things I was feeling as dangerous but rather welcome them as signals to myself from myself meant to help me somehow (even if they were incorrect signals). I’d had learned the bad habit of considering them dangerous when I was a child because neither of my parents were comfortable with expressing emotions. Be they positive or negative.

When I watched the stress video, I was a bit perplexed at first because I’d already somehow redefined stress in my mind to mean only the negatively charged version of stress as expressed in either of these videos. Thankfully I’m sensitive to such subtle differences in meaning, so I didn’t prematurely reject the video as rubbish.

I would not even have thought to tell anyone that I’ve been stressed unless it meant the negatively charged type of stress. Mostly because I’d associated “stress” as something that saps, drains your energy and the positively charged version is quite the opposite, so it didn’t quite register at first what she was talking about.

(Michael Hrenka) #10

I’m trying to clarify my approach, because its correct implementation seems to be quite challenging. I call it tentatively extreme calmness therapy (ECT). It’s probably pretty compatible with regular cognitive behavioural therapy (and the Gupta Amygdala Retraining Programme, which has also been a great help and inspiration for me), but it may be a bit more extreme. My core problem may be my reaction to negative thoughts and feelings. I may be too prone to see them as dangerous warning signs which need to be heeded immediately and with subsequent analysis of what caused those feelings in the first place. That’s a too energy intensive approach. Spending so much energy on dealing with negative feelings depletes energy reserves, which creates more severe problems, which creates more severe negative feelings. It’s a vicious circle.

So, a more energy efficient approach is needed. The basic idea is to desensitize myself to negative thoughts and feelings by approaching them with extreme calmness. If there is an actual problem it is best solved from a position of calmness, because a lack of calmness impairs neurological functions. If there is no actual problem, the negative thoughts and feelings should gradually disappear, because their consequence is only calmness. Calmness should be a natural state for me to be in. Deviations from calmness need to be corrected consistently and in every situation.

It’s crucial for ECT to actively approach negative thoughts and feelings, so that they can be dismantled by calmness. Trying to stay calm all the time by avoiding situations that evoke negative thoughts and feelings doesn’t really help. On the other hand, it also doesn’t help to seek out such situations and just push through them, because that alone is a very risky way of trying to dismantle the associated negative thoughts and feelings. Calmness needs to be applied in each and every situation that involves negative thoughts and feelings, otherwise their disarmament is not really persistent, but a temporary measure that causes too much distress and depends on momentary energy levels, which may be too low in certain situations.

Basically ECT means conditioning yourself to experience calmness in each and every situation that evokes negative thoughts and feelings. As all conditioning strategies this takes time and deliberate practice. Also, it’s very hard to pull that off without being discouraged, so a progressive approach makes most sense. Gradual conditioning to increasingly difficult situations that involve increasingly negative thoughts and feelings is therefore a sensible strategy.

(TR Amat) #11

Warning: mostly Meta, and from a personal viewpoint.

I remember this tragic viewpoint, from a few decades ago.

I fumbled around, a lot, and sort of decided that figuring-out who I was might help me get out of the black hole, which seemed to have no exits. And, that might help me figure-out what I was about. Learning (several forms of) meditation was one thing that seemed to work, not all the time, but often enough to be useful. Also, music, in a wide number of varieties. And, reading, mostly science fiction. Then there was dancing, martial arts… The main thing seemed to be not taking myself too seriously, trying stuff, doing something. Even if I was far from sure I’d be any good at it.

After quite a long while I began to see some patterns in this, one of which was that I didn’t know how the world worked, even though I’d studied a lot of science, psychology, philosophy, and other stuff. What I’d got were things, mental tools, that seemed to quite often work. I was pretty sure there was better stuff possible, so I went on looking.

When I started on this search I was afraid of my future self. What I might want or need to do. These days, I am a ‘future self’, and I realise that younger me is still there, but a lot larger, now extending in all sorts of directions I never even believed existed, back then.

So, where in future? I think there will be bits of me, thinking parts, that do not live inside my living body. I’d hope that they’ll help me be a ‘good person’, as I help them to learn how to get on with humans, and other extended selves. Will the future be a ‘better place’? I don’t know, it’ll certainly be a different one, and will have concerns we haven’t even dreamed of, except maybe in our most extreme science fiction.

One thing about the future, I doubt that it’ll be boring. :slight_smile:

(Michael Hrenka) #12

Today I thought again how to deal with my lack of motivation. It’s a really old problem. Then I had a realization: Thinking about this problem hasn’t turned out to be an effective approach. So, perhaps not-thinking would be a better approach. Eliminating all unnecessary thoughts and feelings should leave only the important stuff. Unnecessary thoughts and feelings just create wasteful neural activity. And I think that kind of wasteful neural activity is the root of many problems.

(TR Amat) #13

Boredom isn’t something we should ignore. When you’re bored there’s a disconnect between your current state and your ability to plan what you could (should?) be doing. Boredom is different from day-dreaming, ‘quiet time’ - “wasting your time”, as some see it. Some would say they “don’t have time to be bored, any more”, and that could in some ways be dangerous…

Human brains don’t work as well, as they might, if they are constantly ‘doing’ something. Meditation, planned relaxation, is one way to ‘do’ not doing something. With practice you can learn how to have these ‘pauses’ even in the middle of a busy life. I like the quote, “If you want to get into it, you’ve got to get out of it” (Hawkwind), which ties-in to the martial arts idea of moving away before moving toward.

Or, you could think about ‘figure’ and (back)‘ground’ - you extract/perceive the figure, the thing you are interested in, as something separate from the background, by finding the borders. The more crowded the background, particularly with similar things to the figure, the more difficult it is to distinguish it. So, less ‘stuff’ may allow you to start perceiving things you would miss. And, something can’t be ‘important’ unless it is perceived.

As always, this is a balancing act. Trying to cram every moment of every day with ‘stuff’ (even if it’s ‘important’), so you don’t ‘miss’ anything, isn’t good. Also, not doing anything because you’re afraid of being over-whealmed, so you’ll miss the important stuff, is really bad. Some find cultivating a relaxed awareness works, others learn to spot when they need to switch over to doing something different.

It’s a different path for everyone, of course! :slight_smile:

(Michael Hrenka) #14

Something seems to be amiss. My psychological approaches should theoretically work, but it seems like almost no matter what I do, no matter what I think, no matter what I feel, doing something different seems to exhaust my capability to feel and be motivated. It almost seems like my reserves of neurotransmitters get depleted very easily by about almost anything. This depletion manifests itself as boredom and (motivational and consummatory) anhedonia. And it seems to happen in spite of taking antidepressant substances. There might be something really wrong with my neurochemistry.

And I already got an idea what that could be. This hypothesis ties in naturally with all the other things that go wrong with ME/CFS. My hypothesis is that my brain cells suffer from severe oxidative stress which diminishes mitochondrial function. The result would be decreased production of ATP and a decreased rate of synthesis and recycling of neurotransmitters in brain cells.

Severe oxidative stress is typical in ME/CFS, so it should be natural to assume that brain cells are affected by that, too. So far, my strategy of “antioxidant carpet bombing” seemed to be very effective at controlling certain symptoms of ME/CFS, but not all of them. The reason for that is probably the blood brain barrier (BBB). Most substances, including antioxidants have a really hard time passing through the BBB. I’m currently researching which antioxidants do pass the BBB, but good data about this does not seem to be readily available, since online resources provide conflicting information, some claiming that a substance doesn’t pass the BBB, while others claim that it does. This is very confusing. Is there a reasonably good source on how well different substances pass the BBB?

So far, I’m only relatively certain that two antioxidants pass the BBB reasonably well:

I’m already taking astaxanthin regularly, since it’s an extremely powerful antioxidant. Today I’ve increased my daily dosage from 12 mg to 24 mg. Perhaps that might be enough to make me feel “normal” again.

(Michael Hrenka) #15

Update on my antioxidant trial

Things have been notably different since I increased my daily astaxanthin dosage from 12 mg to 24 mg. I have been more energetic, less nervous, and less frustrated and unhappy as a result. Now I can start getting some things done, again. :slight_smile:

Soon, I will add a few gram of taurine to my daily supplement stack. Let’s see whether that will increase my energy levels further. :wondering:

Body and mind

But let’s get back to the original topic. Making big changes while being biochemically dysfunctional is hard, and probably not even sustainable. Growing spiritually and personally may improving one’s physical health first, or in tandem with the more psychological changes. Addressing both physical and psychological health (which of course influence each other) in parallel is a complete and effective approach. That probably won’t suffice for getting out of the natural tragedy, but it should at least ameliorate it to a small degree. Our eventual salvation lies in technology that will allow us to transcend our psychological limitations. But that doesn’t mean we can allow ourselves to neglect our personal and interpersonal development in the meantime.

Social interaction is essential

There is one area that I have rather neglected over the last years and that’s the social aspect of life. Humans are social animals, and it’s important to understand that this actually has far reaching consequences. As an independent thinker and transhumanist I didn’t want to depend on others. I strived for autonomy and personal strength, basically on my own. Unfortunately, that’s not how humans work. Humans don’t operate very well as closed systems. The health of those subjected to solitary confinement deteriorates quickly. Humans need social interactions for proper functioning.

Oxytocin is probably the missing link

Positive social interactions make me feel better, at least for a while (usually for a few hours). And I wondered why that should be the case. What is the neurobiological basis for that? I suspected dopamine or endorphin release as reasons, but in that case pleasant and interesting non-social activities should have a similar effect. Yet, this is not what I observed. Really positive social interactions seem to have a quality that goes beyond the usual “feel good” state. Then I remembered that there is a neurotransmitter / hormone that is quite specific to social interactions: Oxytocin. In general, oxytocin is released during positive social interactions, or more specifically, when someone is doing something nice for you (being nice to others doesn’t seem to do much on its own directly).

Possible effects of oxytocin deficiency

Now my hypothesis is that a lot of my health problems are rooted in an oxytocin deficiency. How would that manifest itself? Well, oxytocin inhibits the release of the stress hormone cortisol. Chronic cortisol activity tends to wreak havoc with the immune system (occasional cortisol boosts are fine, though). And a dysfunctional immune system can produce all kinds of nasty diseases and symptoms. Combine this with a genetic predisposition, and a triggering infection and you have got a decent explanation why I developed ME/CFS. Other people might develop different diseases as result of chronically high cortisol levels. Also, a lack of oxytocin would explain my recurrent periods of generalised (especially social) anxiety. From here, all kinds of vicious circles are likely to develop. Without addressing the root cause of low oxytocin, a complete recovery is unlikely.

Theoretically, this hypothesis could be tested by taking oxytocin directly. Unfortunately, it is very hard to get access to oxytocin here in Germany. So, I need to resort to classical positive social interactions. :smiley: Until now, I considered those as optional (if not a waste of time and energy), rather than as essential. That was stupid, but I didn’t know any better. I tried to find out whether I can function properly on my own, even as solitary individual. My concluding answer is: Only temporarily, not sustainably, and even then below my optimal energy and performance level. Have you ever wondered about the “thanks to” section of really good books. They are typically long. Writing a really good book is not something a person can realistically do on his own, without the support of others. And I’m beginning to understand why. Without continuous oxytocin boosts, finishing a very challenging project like writing a whole book is almost impossible for humans.

Social treatment is not so easily, unfortunately

There is a problem however with nerds, rationalists, transhumanists, and similar groups: They have high intellectual standards. It’s hard to satisfy them. This also raises the bar of what counts as “positive social interaction”. So, getting really positive social interactions is hard for them (or us, if we want to be honest). This can, at least theoretically, be fixed in a various number of ways:

  • Reduce standards deliberately. Alcohol might help. (The damage from low oxytocin might be worse than the damage from moderate regular alcohol consumption!)
  • Find and meet like-minded peers who satisfy or even surpass one’s high standards.
  • Seek positive social interactions with a pet. People typically don’t have high intellectual expectations about pets.
  • Develop multiple personality disorder and have positive social experiences with yourself. :smirk: Or dive into a fantasy world in your mind that simulates virtual positive social interactions. :grin: Or believe in a personal god who actively supports you. :innocent:

There might be more options. Be creative.

Oh, and oxytocin might be the missing factor that would explain the surprising positive effect that this forum had had on me. Apparently, forum posts can count as positive social interaction, too. :open_mouth:

Social fiction / vision / dream

A decent long term solution would be to get together with like minded people in one place. Ideally we would live and work together. That’s a very ambitious goal, but not a very exotic one. There are of course a huge number of potential problems with that approach, but if almost everything worked out right, it would be the best solution.


While I agree that the standards are linked to the problem, I don’t think they’re the direct cause. My personal experience has been that standards are only a problem when you react to the standards not being met with rejection. It prevents the feeling of connection that I believe is responsible for the oxytocin release.

I’ve been moving in this direction myself, lately. Once I was no longer rejecting people, I ended up becoming interested in gaining an intuitive understanding of how they think and why. I’ve ended up understanding both myself and others better as a result. Somehow this also seems to inspire personal growth in the people I interact with as well, although, I cannot be sure if that’s something I’m doing or if I’m just able to see it now that I’m seeking to understand instead of rejecting.

These people are rare, but worth looking for. There’s a certain kind of feeling of fulfillment in speaking with someone who doesn’t give up trying to understand after failing at it for a while.

Pets are quite effective at this. Especially those that you can physically interact with. At least for me that’s important. Pets can also make for a socially acceptable excuse to meet with other people.

I get a feeling you meant these as a joke :smiley: However, virtual social interactions actually work. Although, for whatever reason, I find myself unable to simulate that with just my imagination. That’s probably the reason for the popularity of love&romance themed literature.

They do, don’t they? Well, it makes sense. Afterall, it’s the feeling of connection with someone that triggers it.

(Michael Hrenka) #17

Uninspired unnecessary heading for introduction that sets the setting

I’m still struggling with all of this. All these thoughts and ideas and insights are nice and all, but in reality I need to make strategical and practical decisions. A long time ago I had the hope that philosophy would help me with that by finding out what the best thing to do is, what means to use, who I am, how to make decisions, and so on. In some sense, it has helped. The big picture seems to be slightly clearer to me now, but all the small stuff that really matters in the real world is not helped much by philosophizing endlessly about it.

Ok, I need to know who I am, but I don’t, and things are messier than expected anyway

When I don’t know what the perfect solution is – and I really don’t know that – then I have to make decisions based on who I am. But I don’t really know who I am, so what can I base my decisions on? I’m a horribly critical person who checks and double checks whether any suggestion makes sense, no matter whether it comes from others, from my rationality, from my heart, from my intuition, or from the funny voices in my head that I make up when I’m uncertain and don’t have any better idea. I sabotage myself by still being too perfectionist, being too ethically conscious, too nice, too undemanding, too tame, too constrained. In other words: It seems like I don’t want to cause trouble for others, because I think I know how it feels when trouble is caused by others, or me. My life might be significantly easier and more interesting if I was a sociopath, but I am not. I can empathize with everyone, and that makes things so terribly difficult for me. The only way I can become less restrained by accepting more hurt and harm that I cause to myself, or others, which for me is not much of a difference anyway. My hope was not to contribute to the natural tragedy, but I need to realize that there is no way around it, so it might be the best to embrace it anyway.

Dysfunctional strategies suggest applying reverse psychology, or just more craziness

And it’s kinda ironic that my efforts not to cause trouble have created a lot of trouble by making me less functional, especially when it would have been good to be functional. Perhaps I should try causing trouble instead. Either that will make me cause actually less trouble, or I will find out that I’m good (or kinda ok) at causing trouble (so that I can self-identify as troublemaker) and that I can survive that, or I die from too much trouble (improbable, yet possible), but that would solve my problems, too, so does this count as win-win-win? :wink:

Essence of curiosity scorching the boundaries of niceness

Yet, I do seem to have a decent understanding of what drives me, which is perhaps a good step to understand what and who I am. Curiosity seems to lie pretty close to the core to what can drive me the most. So, it would seem natural for me to do what I find most interesting. What keeps me from doing that is my critical and careful way of approaching things and my worries that I might cause inconveniences for others or myself in the cause of the actions I would take to satisfy my curiosity. And yet I guess that it would probably the best if I followed the voice of my curiosity (yes, it’s one of those voices) much more, with less regard for all the possible negative consequences, because doing this is the path that leads to data, information, knowledge, and wisdom. I cannot follow it completely every time, because I know that I am not that crazily courageous – or insane. However I realize that the balance is quite off in the direction of me being too careful, anxious, and constrained. Maybe I would be doing much better, if I was slightly drunk all the time (which wouldn’t be a very reasonable long term strategy). Yeah, that reminds me that I should probably take more psychoactive substances – they make life a bit more varied, interesting, and less boring. :grin:

Review of my “warrior of diversity” phase

I had phases in which I used to act upon my curiosity much more, which made me known as “that crazy guy”, so I kinda got a predictable amount of rejection, but I didn’t have less friends than I have now. In fact, my way of acting kinda crazy helped me find more interesting friends. It’s too bad that I never appreciated the value of those friendships appropriately. Which reminds me again that we regret those things we haven’t done much more often than those we have done. :cry:

Embracing the fucked-up-ness

Maybe I could proudly proclaim to try inconveniencing others by following the path of my interests recklessly. Of course that would be false, because it’s not my intention to inconvenience or even harm others, but that’s sure to happen sooner or later anyway, unless I decide to live under a rock (which wouldn’t be interesting for very long). It’s not my job to shield others from the complex problems of this world, so I might just as well confront them with those, even if that only seems to make things worse, without a plausible way to lead to an eventual resolution. Probably it will fuck up things even more, but on the other hand it might be more interesting if things are more fucked up. Yeah, who wants an easy life and a world without problems anyway? It should be plainly obvious that we are not in the right world for that – though apparently people prefer rejecting the obvious, if it makes them feel uncomfortable. People don’t really get the natural tragedy. The temptation to believe that this world could actually be harmonious, if just some things were slightly different (you know, like people being less stupid, greedy, lazy, selfish, aggressive, passive, impulsive, gullible, and so on), is hard to resist. It takes more oomph to accept that we live in a necessarily fucked up world and things won’t change so quickly, and that we necessarily contribute to the general fucked-up-ness no matter what we decide to do or not to do.


So, this is who I think I am: I am mostly curious. I’d like to make the world a better place, mostly because I am sensitive to what’s wrong with the world. But I also understand that those two interest stand in partial conflict with each other, and both stand in rather serious conflict with my desire to live a comfortable and nice life.

And I need to base my decisions on that. Not some fancy elaborate theory of values, ethics, and decision-making, because that’s not how humans are able to operate on the battlefield of actual life. :mountain::mountain::mountain::mountain::mountain:

Short reply section

I have a way of making “half jokes” that confuses most people. Sometimes I say or write stuff that I mean 10-100% jokingly, but have some serious core to them that might be worth exploring. Is there a word for this?

(TR Amat) #18

I’m going to assume that you’re interested in what works - utility. Thinking on this basis is one way of avoiding disappearing up your own psycho-philosophicals! :slight_smile:

All the research I’ve seen strongly suggests that a certain level of physical activity is required - no matter how you engineer that into your day. This seems to far out-weigh just about any other coping mechanism. If you can mix this in with (acceptable) social interaction, fine, but, it needs to be there. Past the age of 25 ignoring this tends to get really bad. And, yes, PVFS/ME/CFS makes this all more difficult. But, controlled exercise seems to help.

There are multiple forms of CFS - six have been identified, with different characteristic symptoms, last time I looked into the situation. It is likely that what will work well to manage one is unlikely to work as well for others. I know this isn’t a fun situation to have to think about, but ignoring any differences is unwise. Yes, I’ve relatives and friends with CFS.

Assuming that you’ve only one ‘good’ or ‘right’ way of interacting with others is probably an unwise self-limitation. You’ve likely got different ‘facets’, which show in different circumstances, and they’re all part of you. This is not hypocritical, this is social ‘reflexes’ creating a negotiated, shared, ‘social interaction space’. Becoming aware that this is going on, observing it, on some level, can be quite fun! :slight_smile:

So, utility. Making sure you maintain enough physical health to be able to go on doing stuff. Making sure you have enough ‘mental elbow room’ to be curious, and do the things you regard as important. Both with a bit of a safety margin, because, you’ll need that margin, on occasion.

And, then there’s all the ‘metas’.

And, try and have some fun, because it makes life in general a lot more liveable! :slight_smile:


It sounds to me like you really want, in your heart, to make the world a better place. However, at some point, you convinced yourself that you, yourself, are something that can make the world worse. Something that will make the world a worse place, unless properly chained so it doesn’t happen. So, you designed a complex set of chains with which you try to keep yourself from causing damage.

The primary factor keeping these chains “alive” is that you believe yourself to be, intrinsically, something that needs to be chained to prevent harm. I think this belief is at the core of your current problem. Currently, the chains are needed because of this belief. However, if you were to throw both of them out, the belief first, then the chains, I suspect you’d find that the chains aren’t actually needed. You might even find that the wish to make the world a better place would become your primary source of action.

When you see evidence that these chains aren’t actually enough to control the belief, you despair, becoming more and more convinced that it’s hopeless. The chains are limited to restricting that which you understand consciously, so your unconscious, which is partially guided by the belief of harmfulness, will always have a slight upper hand.

However, if you rid yourself of that belief, the chains designed to prevent it from wreaking havoc will lose their meaning. The end result will be that you’ll free up personal energy that was caught up in battling yourself and will be able to focus that on making the world a better place. I suspect the difference will be significant.

In short, I don’t think it’s possible to find the correct balance of control. It’s a battle against your own intelligence that you’re fighting. You’ll be much happier when you stop treating yourself as the enemy.

(Michael Hrenka) #20

I’m currently doing that, but it seems to have less of an effect than I had expected.

And with my luck I’ve got all of them :wink: Well, probably not, but where did you find the statement that six subforms of CFS have been identified? Most of the things said about CFS are probably wrong.

I tried coming up with a smart reply to that, but then decided that it’s not worth the time. :smiley: