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Old 03-20-2013, 01:50 PM
hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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Default Formality

Originally Posted by hyperskeptic View Post
I think there's something to be said for a degree of formality in how people interact, though only up to a point. Early in a developing relationship - of any kind, from business relationships to possible romantic relationships - it can be a way of being mindful, of avoiding missteps and misunderstandings. The trick, I suppose, is to not let the forms take over and become mindless.
There's a beautiful story about the philosopher Immanuel Kant, who is even now often mocked for the formality of his ways and his principled insistence on duty above all.

Just days before his death, he was being attended by a friend when his doctor arrived for a visit. With great difficulty, Kant stood up from his chair when the doctor entered the room.

The doctor implored Kant to sit down, given how weak and how ill he was. Kant remained standing and muttered something about "posts" and "important posts."

Kant's friend explained to the doctor that Kant was thanking the doctor for taking the time to visit, given all of the important posts to which the doctor had to attend. He further explained that Kant would not sit down until his guest was seated as well.

The doctor didn't quite believe this, thinking his patient was merely suffering delirium.

Kant gathered what little strength he had to say a full coherent sentence, perhaps among the very last things he uttered.

He said - and I think I have this right - "The feeling for humanity has not altogether abandoned me."

What I take from this story, in this context, is a sense of how formality can keep from becoming just empty formalism: when it is backed by respect, care and attention, filled with a "feeling for humanity".

Note: The story about Kant's final days is included in Ernst Cassier, Kant's Life and Thought.

Last edited by hyperskeptic; 03-20-2013 at 02:37 PM.
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Old 03-20-2013, 02:32 PM
hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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Default What Scientific Skeptics Should Ask Themselves

Originally Posted by dingedheart View Post
What are questions they are unwilling to ask ? And did you raise those questions at the event?
I did try to raise some of my questions, though they seemed not to fit the mood and purpose of the session. It's only after the fact I realized my error: it was the equivalent of interrupting a revival meeting to question the validity of Scripture and say a word on behalf of humanism.

As far as I can tell, the purpose of the panel was for poly skeptics to congratulate themselves on being right and to deride others for being wrong.

Still, I almost couldn't help but get my Don Quixote on. I saw the windmill turning; I leveled my lance and charged . . . with predictable results.

Anyway, here are a few questions scientific so-called skeptics should be asking themselves:

Are we being consistent? Are we living up to our own standards?

An old saw of scientific skeptics is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. The poly skeptics in particular made a set of claims that, on their face, went well beyond extraordinary; they were outrageous: Scientific inquiry is the only court of appeal for determining what is true, and anyone who accepts the supremacy of scientific inquiry will necessarily become both atheist and polyamorous.

When challenged, though, they did not offer proof. Instead, they consistently shifted the burden of proof away from themselves and onto their critics: "What's your alternative?" and, "Why can't you understand us?"

Can we argue for our basic outlook or framework without resorting to circular reasoning?

Take the claim that all knowledge worthy of the name is derived from quantifiable evidence by the strict application of a logical method.

On what is that claim based? Is there quantifiable evidence that only quantifiable evidence is valid? Is there a logical argument for the primacy of logical argument?


When pressed on this point, the scientific skeptics pointed to the effectiveness of science in getting us what we want. There's no doubt that the natural sciences are effective. They deliver the goods, as e.e. cummings wrote.

But why is that the standard of proof?

The idea that our desires ("what we want") are the sole measure of value - and effectiveness in pursuing desire the sole concern of normative inquiry - is an implication of their framework. So, appealing to it to support the framework is just another kind of circularity.

Is our framework fully adequate for making coherent sense of human experience?

One would think that a conference about polyamory would focus a lot on what amor means, the full richness of intimate human relationships. I don't doubt that, if pressed, even the scientific skeptics could wax poetical about love and responsibility and connection with other people, just as they wax poetical - and rightly so! - about the wonders of the cosmos as revealed by the natural sciences.

The problem is that the reduction of all valid cognition to bits of knowledge derived by logic from quantifiable evidence makes it impossible to give connection and wonder their full due. All they can talk about is pleasure in some very thin sense of the term, ultimately reducible to neurochemistry.

It really does take the juxtaposition of some other framework, some other way of making sense of human experience, to give voice to those other parts of our experience. Kant - see the previous post - provides one such outlook.

By the doctrine of empiricism, pleasure is the only possible basis for value; it is something we experience directly, perhaps something we can measure. We judge things to be good or bad based on their tendency to produce pleasure. Practical ethics is simply a matter of calculating the most effective and efficient way of producing pleasure.

Is that a good basis for human relationships? Well, it may be a partial account of human relationships. I wouldn't deny that we are animals, that we respond to each other chemically.

But is that all we are? Is that the only way of making sense of our connection to one another? Kant, for one, would insist that it is not. We also relate to one another as subjects; we have the possibility of thinking of ourselves as if we were autonomous moral beings, and so we should respect ourselves and others as such.

(Kant would be the first to admit there is no empirical evidence for our autonomy. But then, Kant insisted that the natural sciences are limited in their scope and that dogmatic empiricism in particular is blind.)

Kant also wrote of our faculty of judgment, which interprets our experience in terms of purposes, which informs our experience of beauty, and also gives a sense of wonder and direction even to scientific inquiry. Without wonder, without judgment in terms of purposes that cannot be reduced to mere "facts", the sciences would never be anything but a catalog of observations.

Now, the skeptics would no doubt say that their worldview can encompass real love for other people, and wonderment at the cosmos, because they acknowledge that we have emotional responses to things.

But that's inadequate. It's not that I see another person and experience an immediate feeling of approval. Such a feeling has no depth, no cognitive content; it's just something I feel.

A dogmatic empiricist has no framework for making sense, say, of the following quotation from Rilke:
“Love consists in this, that two solitudes protect and touch and greet each other”
I find this quotation profoundly moving, not because those words produce in me a fuzzy feeling. I find it moving because I recognize something in it, it gets at a truth about relationships, and about love, that is rich in meaning that has real cognitive content. It would take a long digression through Kant and Hegel, and maybe on to Sartre, to get at and elucidate that meaning, but it is far more than just an immediate thrill of pleasure.

I would go so far as to say the truth in this quotation from Rilke is as real and as substantial, in it's own distinctive way, as the truth of Newton's laws of motion or Darwin's account of evolution by natural selection.

Can we live by this framework? Would such a life be worth living?

It seems to me impossible to live a full and decent human life in strict conformity to dogmatic empiricism. A life based on such an impoverished outlook on the world and on human relationships would not be worth living . . . at least not without smuggling in, without explanation or acknowledgment, elements from other frameworks (e.g., human dignity, wonder, purpose).

But then, I would hazard to say - and I did, in fact, say so in the session - that no one framework is adequate to making sense of our experience or providing meaning and guidance to our lives in the world.

Last edited by hyperskeptic; 03-20-2013 at 05:25 PM.
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Old 03-20-2013, 11:43 PM
hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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Default Fools Rush In

I wrote to she-on-whom-I-have-had-a-crush (etc.) a few hours ago. I should come up with a nickname for her, but I'm not sure I'll need one, now.

I had intended simply to ask a follow-up question to our conversation on Monday:
Going back to the conversation we had about exclusivity in relationships, nearly two years ago, what led you to ask me about it just then?
I was hoping to create a further opening for conversation, exploring the history of our relationship to one another, so far.

Having created that opening, I proceeded to charge into it.

I told her that, when she asked me, I nearly fell out of my chair. Not only had I only recently decided with Vix to open our marriage, but I had to try not to jump to conclusions about her reasons for asking. I thought she may have just been curious, or that she had discovered something about me. I tried very hard not to hope she was trying to find out if I might be available.

I told her all this, today, in my note. But that was just the beginning.

I decided to come right out and tell her that I have long had a crush on her.

Vix thought my way of putting it was too much, and I worry she may be right. I did go right on to temper it, though. Here's what I actually wrote:
This is the really hard thing to confess, the personal matter to which I alluded in my last note: I was then, and still am now, struggling with the fact that I have a singularly strong crush on you.

That's an inadequate word for it, crush, but it's at least in the ballpark. There's something about you that seems to have captured my imagination, and the strength of the connection has defied all my efforts to suppress it.

Really, I just like you a whole awful lot, and I'd like to be closer to you than I am.

I hope I've been doing at least an adequate job of concealing this from you, but I doubt I've been all that successful.

That I am very powerfully drawn to you is, really, my problem; I wanted very much not to make it your problem, especially when you were still a student. My sense of professional responsibility is strong enough to hold me back from acting or speaking inappropriately . . .

Even now, though, the main thing that has held me back from saying anything is that you were once my student. When I think about this from your point of view, I get creeped out on your behalf.

I mean: older, married professor! [Shudder!] That's almost a textbook case of creepiness.

I've long thought that if I were to confess any of this, you would either laugh or run away. That's why I've been so tentative about asking you about having lunch with me; I keep worrying my attention to you will earn your ridicule, creep you out or scare you off.

Perhaps because of our conversation Monday, I've come around to the notion that the best thing I can do is just to confess the fact of my feelings for you, if only so they become less important. I keep reminding myself what a crush is really worth: a crush and $2.50 will get me on the train.
For the record, $2.50 is the current, one-way fare for mass transit around here.

I went on to say that I was writing without any particular hopes or expectations . . . except the hope that my confession won't do more harm than good, driving her away from social contexts of which we are both part.

I wrote:
If you're just not that into me, that's okay. Just tell me so, and I'll finally be able to put this crush to rest, once and for all.

I just want you to know that I like you a lot, I respect you a great deal, and I am open to whatever kind of relationship you and I might develop together.
I left open the possibility of just having lunch once in a while, to talk about work and common interests . . . or of relationships even more minimal than that.

In whatever context, though, I told her I'd always be glad to see her.

So, there you have it: the full record of my folly.

I felt a rush of relief when I hit "send" . . . but my misgivings are catching up with me.

(And, yes, I can still hear some of you laughing about my skewed sense of risk.)

I really hope I haven't done unnecessary damage to my friendship with her by confessing so much. I only hope I framed it all in such a way that she will feel free to respond in kind, with honesty . . . whichever way that happens to go.

Last edited by hyperskeptic; 03-21-2013 at 12:03 AM.
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Old 03-21-2013, 03:33 AM
hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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Default Falling to Earth

Well, she wrote back.

She was very direct, and really not at all unkind about it: She does not share my feelings; she has only ever thought of me as a friend. She asked about exclusivity in relationships, two years ago, simply for some perspective on a struggle she was having in a relationship at the time.

That I had just gone through a struggle about polyamory in my relationship with Vix, and that I secretly harbored a crush on her, was really just a coincidence.

She seems genuinely interested in maintaining our friendship, though she does think things may be awkward, for a time, when we see each other in various shared social contexts.

In one discordant note, she expressed that she felt betrayed - not her word, though she wasn't sure what the right word would be - by the discovery of my hidden motives. That wasn't the main theme of her note, though, and she wrote that it felt odd to express it that way. It's how she felt about it, though, so she was just being honest.

In all, her note was not the answer I might have wished for, but the directness, the bluntness of it was just what I needed. Crushes, at least of the sort from which I suffered, thrive on ambiguity and the possibility of misunderstanding.

When the ambiguity vanishes, with it goes the crush.

I wrote back to her, thanking her for her directness, apologizing for violating her trust and, at last, explaining myself more clearly. Here is one excerpt:
It might help you to know at the core of my feelings for you have been that I like you and respect you a lot; if it makes sense to say it this way, my attraction to you has been personal rather than physical, a response to your way of being in the world.

I have honestly wanted and tried to be a friend to you, first and always, whatever other vague wishes and imaginings were wrapped up in that. Please understand that I did struggle against those wishes and imaginings whenever they were counter to friendship; I never let them draw me into thinking of you with disrespect. I've been trying very hard to stay out of your way, not to impose on you.

Now that I have your answer, those other promptings have evaporated
I expressed the hope that we could continue our urban picnics, with a clearer, mutual understanding of what they mean. I also wrote:
For my part, I hope my untimely confession doesn't really change much or take away our chance to be friends. I hope, in time, I may earn your trust.

For my part, I suspect that, if anything, I'll feel less awkward seeing you in [our shared social contexts], since I know the boundaries of our relationship, and I respect them.
I sent her a second note, as a postscript, because she'd said she was still uncertain about polyamory, though she's not all that set on monogamy; she was concerned in particular about jealously. I provided this link - http://www.xeromag.com/fvpoly.html - with the comment that it was among the first things I read after Vix raised the possibility of poly, two years ago.

My reaction to these developments is not at all what I was expecting. I feel dizzy with relief, almost a sense of elation.

Honesty is good. Boundaries are good.

Let that be a lesson to me.

Last edited by hyperskeptic; 03-21-2013 at 03:37 AM.
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Old 03-21-2013, 01:09 PM
hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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Default Further Adventures of a Damned Fool

I've been posting too much, these days. In my defense let me say that I've had a lot to process, as my mind seems to be in the process of rearranging itself, yet again.

At the moment, I'm thinking through the crush that came to such an abrupt end last night. I'm still mainly feeling relief and a sense of calm in the aftermath, though I feel a little abashed to have shown myself to be such a damned fool.

Really, I should have let go of this crush a long, long time ago.

As I conduct my post-mortem on the crush, I have made a couple of interesting observations.

First, my crush on her-for-whom-I-have-created-no-nickname began before Vix and I discussed polyamory. Really, the fact of my first stirrings of (professionally inappropriate) feelings for this particular individual informed those discussions.

Vix and I had each dealt with crushes over the preceding years, but we'd dealt with them alone, and mainly by smothering them.

This may have given the crush-just-ended a special significance in my mind: it was the first such crush on which I knew myself to have the possibility of doing anything without destroying my relationship with Vix.

At the same time, because it first arose before the conscious decision to be open, it was something of an old-style crush, a legacy crush, the crush a monogamous man might develop on an appealing single woman. It's the kind of crush that thrives on wishful - or, at least, wistful - thinking and on self-deception.

I note that I have not had a crush of that intensity since. When I am attracted to someone, I now find it much easier to confront that attraction squarely, to interrogate it for authenticity and for plausibility.

All the while I struggled with this particular crush, I suspected I was being a damned fool. My main motive for writing to her yesterday was to face up to that folly, even at the risk of being exposed as a fool. My hope was to bring an end to self-deception, one way or the other.

I hope I may be slightly less prone to such foolishness in the future, that I will be more aware of myself and more honest with others.

I hope.
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Old 03-21-2013, 01:48 PM
hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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Default It Isn't Romantic, Is It?

Continuing with my observations from the post-mortem:

Second, I think I have a very different understanding of relationships than most people, including she-for-whom-I-still-have-no-nickname.

The difference concerns the idea of romance.

I just don't get it.


It seems to me many people treat romance as though it is some separate species of relationship, quite distinct from friendship, one with its own rituals and standards of conduct.

From my point of view, it looks like some sort of relationship kabuki, a very contrived sort of play-acting.

I tend to think of relationships more on a continuum, or perhaps on a continuous, multi-dimensional field of possibilities. The core of it is always the mutual recognition of two people, the response of one to another.

The basic pattern is what Aristotle called philia, friendship or affection, wishing for the good of the other person for her or his own sake.

Everything else is just a matter of degree.

While I can see that sexual desire has its own dynamics, I tend to think of physical intimacy as part of the continuum, something to which two people may be drawn as a particular expression of their more basic response to one another.

What I realize now is that people have to negotiate their own boundaries in the wide field of possible relationships.

"Friendship" versus "romance" is one standardized way of drawing such boundaries, but one that doesn't make a lot of sense to me. It seems to shut out a whole range of other possibilities, and to artificialize personal intimacy.

I've never really been drawn to the chocolate-and-flowers, dressing-up-and-dining-out model of romance.

My crush was, really, a wistful longing to be closer to her as a person, to be on more intimate terms in our connection to one another; the physical intimacy was secondary to that, and a remote possibility, at that. Personal intimacy was the point, in this case.

That I don't get the idea of "romance" was driven home for me by reviewing a critical moment in the history of this particular crush.

In the summer after she was my student, I asked her if she'd like to have lunch with me. She said yes, and wondered if I had a restaurant in mind. I named a place I thought would be cool, a place I'd visited with my wife and some friends of ours, with our assorted children, a couple of years before. The view from the restaurant is impressive.

In her mind, though, it was someplace special, someplace to go on a date. Even though I was keenly interested in her, it simply had not occurred to me that suggesting that particular restaurant might be perceived as an opening gambit in the romance game.

She asked directly: was my interest in her romantic, or Platonic?

When she asked, I figured she was not then interested in anything other than friendship with me. I was genuinely interested in friendship with her, though, so I answered that my intentions were not "romantic".

In hindsight, this was a bit of dishonesty on my part, or at least a lack of clear thinking. I wanted to make it true; I resolved to make it true. But it drove my interest in her underground, made it harder for me to reveal any deeper interest in her, and easier to fall into self-deception in various directions, including the wistful hope that she might someday be willing to have a closer relationship with me, in one form or another.

I did pretty well with that resolve, for a long while, but the lack of communication about it, the lack of clear boundaries in the wide-open field of relationship (as I see it), made things very difficult for me.

Still, what I find interesting at the moment is how clear the friendship/romance boundary was for her, and how clear it is for most people. I'll need to be attentive to it, in the future, even if I don't see it - or see the point of it - myself.

As a side-note, I have a pet peeve about people's use of the adjective, "Platonic". Most people think a Platonic relationship is simply a close friendship without physical intimacy. What Plato meant by it, though, is something quite different.

Platonic love, as it is spelled out in the Symposium, and elsewhere, is not only non-sexual but actually non-personal. If I'm in a Platonic relationship, I do not love the other person at all, in all her particularity; instead, I love the pure and abstract Form of the Beautiful as it is exhibited - temporarily - in the other person.

By my lights, that isn't really love at all. In fact, it's offensive and degrading, almost the opposite of a real, human relationship.
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Old 03-21-2013, 02:57 PM
Octopus Octopus is offline
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I just wanted to chip in that I found your thoughts on relationships, especially friendship versus romance, very interesting.

I have found myself thinking on similar terms as you have - the boundaries between 'romantic' and 'inter-personal but non-sexual' friendship are often blurry for me. Wanting to get to know a person, spend more time with them, build a more intimate connection - may not be linked to physical desire but may, apart from that, resemble what society would classify as 'romantic' goals quite clearly. This is not always easy to understand for others and makes ''the talk'' of confessing feelings to others even more daunting and confusing in some ways. (So go you for getting it over with, even if it may have been somewhat late). For me, in practice, this often at least means that I try to show my closest friends how much they mean to me in all sorts of ways short of actually saying 'I love you'.

I mean, I chose my friends because they are awesome people, of course I would be attracted to them in some way or other too?
Being pansexual doesn't help limiting this in any way! (assuming that strightly hetero or homosexual persons could at least cancel out some of this love-romance-friendship confusion since presumably they wouldn't be attracted to their same-sex//different-sex friends), but luckily polyamory provides at least some sort of solution.
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Old 03-25-2013, 01:23 AM
hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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Default Meeting Doc

Vix and I went with the girls to an event in another state. Doc was back from Europe for a short time, for family reasons, and managed to come to that same event last night.

What strikes me most about it was how little about it was striking. In other words, it seemed like no big deal.

By the nature of the event, and the brevity of his visit to it, he and I didn't have much opportunity to interact directly. I did make a point to wave him over to where we were, at one point, and we did talk a little, though not about deep and private matters.

In fact, in honor of the event, I composed a joke . . . though it works better verbally than in print:

One introvert met another, and . . . .
. . . .

. . . .

Really, though, the brief meeting confirmed for me that Doc is basically a good guy, and that he and Vix each get a lot out of being together. Vix reports Doc also has a good impression of me, though I may find out more about that, by and by.

There were a two other odd things about the situation.

First, of the three of us - Doc, Vix, and I - Doc is by far the best known in that particular context. Most who know Vix know that she's married to me. Only a few who know Vix know that she also travels with Doc from time to time.

Only a small handful know the whole story, though I only learned of that when we were on our way home today.

I don't draw any conclusion from this. It was just something I found notable.

Second, Doc flew back to Europe today. Vix flies out tomorrow night to join him there. That's it - the timing is odd. It does reveal something of Doc's motivations, though, as Vix pointed out to me. Doc may have more of himself invested in his relationship with Vix than he generally lets on, even to Vix, as revealed by his willingness to go out of his way to see her when she'll be seeing him in Europe in a few days.

This will probably be the basis of further posts, as I observe and think upon my own reaction to things, but I'm dreading Vix's absence somewhat less this time around.

I'm going to miss her while she's gone, though.

Last edited by hyperskeptic; 03-25-2013 at 02:29 AM.
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Old 03-25-2013, 08:43 PM
hyperskeptic hyperskeptic is offline
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Default Derailed!

Okay, the title is too alarming.

It's just that Vix is packing for a two-week trip to visit and travel with Doc in Europe, and I had resolved to become a quiet and careful observer of my own reaction.

I've already noted the first stirrings of panic and disorientation, which turn out not to be as fearsome as I might have supposed. I think I know where they come from, mostly, and may have an idea how to at least manage them.

Unfortunately, even as I have been setting up my observation post, I've been taken down by some sort of intestine strife - no, wait, that's what they used to call a civil war.

I've been taken down by some sort of intestinal distress, accompanied by a weird sort of pseudo-fever - I'm experiencing a fever-chill cycle that doesn't seem to register on a thermometer! - so mostly I just want to be a quiet and careful observer of the insides of my own eyelids.

The most fearful question before me, now, is whether I should risk drinking a cup of tea.

Probably not.
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Old 03-25-2013, 08:45 PM
dingedheart dingedheart is offline
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What strikes me most about it was how little about it was striking. In other words, it seemed like no big deal.
Are you saying that mental switch that you flipped a while back seems to be working ? As gala says the "new normal " is taking place.

I thought you had said that because of your long standing professional affiliations with Doc you never stressed out with being at events with him and your wife.

When you say that only a few people know she travels with doc from time to time are you saying that in a code word way....travel companions wink wink ? as they have to know or do you like framing it that way as a coping strategy? Part of how things have gotten better for you.

How long is she gone for this time ?

Last edited by dingedheart; 03-25-2013 at 08:52 PM.
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