What is Empathy?

7 ufSomeone told me that the description of people with Asperger’s Syndrome as lacking empathy is a confusion between displays of empathy and feelings of empathy. That may be true, but that’s still not addressing the point I’m trying to figure out. What is it non-AS folks mean by “empathy.”

I can’t figure out if I have too much empathy or too little. For example, one day I was having a conversation. I was sitting down. The other woman was standing and holding a heavy object. I had to break off and ask her if she didn’t want to at least put the object down. Now, she was strong and healthy and didn’t have my back or fatigue problems. She was in no distress. But I don’t just try to put myself in other people’s shoes, I can’t keep myself from doing it even when I try. I couldn’t keep my mind on what she was trying to say to me because, the longer the conversation went on, the more I thought about how my back would be hurting if I were her.

I also recently interrupted a friend in the middle of an impassioned speech to ask “Can’t I get you a glass of water?” She looked at me like I was crazy. “Your throat is dry.” I explained. She drank half a glass of water in one gulp when she got it, so I’m sure I was right, but she obviously was so intense that she hadn’t felt any discomfort, even while I was so uncomfortable noticing her dry throat that I just couldn’t pay attention to what she was saying anymore and had to interrupt.

It used to drive me crazy one place I worked how I kept getting into conversations with coworkers as we were walking down the hall, and when we got to the intersection where I was going one way and they the other, we’d stand blocking the intersection. I’d keep trying to suggest we go somewhere else to talk, or talk later, or at least get out of the intersection, and they’d keep talking, oblivious to the other people squeezing their way to get past us. While I’d be in agony.

I listen to a lot of audiobooks and it really bothers me when the reader has a cold.  I want to tell them to go home and go to bed.  Of course, that’s silly.  Those recordings were made years ago, and they’re usually over their cold before they finish reading the book. It must not bother other people so much or they wouldn’t sell audiobooks with this flaw.

In each example, my interest was in relieving the discomfort I was feeling, not what the other person was actually feeling. So, that’s selfish, right? But I was, almost literally, putting myself in the other’s place, which is, I thought, the definition of empathy. Yet, that doesn’t really seem to be what people mean when they give concrete examples of empathy.

Or am I confusing empathy with sympathy? Sympathy, I think, is being able to say things like “I feel your pain” and “I feel so sorry for your loss” which, to someone too literal-minded like myself, are, well, lies, even though I know you’re supposed to say them. (I fear I surprised someone once when they said “Let me know if there’s anything I can do,” and took it literally and I asked a favor.)  And they just sound so cliche, I don’t think I could force them out of my mouth.  Maybe I should take a page from the Dexter books and practice saying “There, there.”  Great.  I’m making a serial killer my role model.

Does knowing I have Asperberger’s make a difference?

I may or may not write up a vent on my current problem.  I like to use this blog more for looking at the Big Picture.

The Big Picture is that in a situation like this, the worst part is usually that I’m so mad at myself.  I don’t think I’ve ever thought of it in words like this, but if I had it would go something like “If only I were better with people.  If only I weren’t such a wimp I would have asked the right questions, and nagged, and if people liked me, they would answer my questions and do what they say they’ll do and then this wouldn’t be happening.”

This time, I think I did everything I could reasonably do.  I tried to find out what needed to be done and who was doing it.  When the information I was getting wasn’t worth the effort it took to get, I tried to narrow my focus to just the essential questions.  Specifically, I tried “Is there anything else I need to do?”  I never got an answer to that one, either. I made a conscious decision then to avoid stress by giving up and hoping it would work out, figuring I’d find out eventually and odds were good that any problems would be minor and repairable.  I was able to do that because I’ve come to realize that this Social Stuff is more difficult for me than it is for most people, and that doesn’t necessarily mean I’m a coward.  I’ve got to play the cards I’m dealt as best I can.

Although things are messed up that wouldn’t have been if I could have gotten answers to my questions earlier, I don’t think I did anything wrong.  If I can’t make people like me, if I can’t figure out how to communicate with them, it’s not because I haven’t tried.  I’m not sure it’s because of AS, but that would explain it.  I am pretty sure it’s something different about the way my brain is wired.  And it’s not unreasonable to expect people to do what I pay them to do, even if they don’t like me.  Not even if they have really good reasons to not like me.  Although I don’t think they do.  Really, I’m much less annoying than Sheldon, even at my worst.  If anything, I’m being too polite to people I have good reason to be mad at.

I don’t think it’s going to cost any extra money to fix this, it’s just an expense I didn’t know about earlier.  It might not even be a delay, but if it is, it’s just one more, in a long series.  It actually would make it kind of neat, in a way, for it to be just about a year from when I started house hunting to when I get to move in.

Why am I surrounded by idiots?

24o61hhI know “Why am I surrounded by idiots?” is usually a line for tv villains http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SurroundedByIdiots and the answer is usually obvious: “Because you’re a villain.”  But I’m not a villain and I’m not on tv.  And just can’t believe so many people are so stupid.

There’s my credit card company.  I just spent 25 min on the phone with them.  Now they’re saying that the two or three new cards they sent to replace the one just expired have all been lost in the mail.  The person I talked to last week told me that the first two went to a PO Box in Richmond, VA.  But the person today tells me that’s where they were sent FROM.  It’s just a coincidence that two (or three) cards they sent to the correct address got lost in the mail.  But the next one will be sent FedEx, arriving tomorrow or Monday.  And because this has been such an inconvenience to me (I’ve had no working credit card for a month, just when I’m moving and trying to order stuff online), they’re not even going to charge me the $16 they usually do to send a card by FedEx. My that’s gracious, especially since I’ve never asked them to use FedEx.  I just ask them to send it to the right address.  And not expect me to believe it’s a coincidence that one after the other gets lost in the mail.

There’s the folks I’m buying a manufactured home from and all their subcontractors.  I still have no running water.  Last week one made me come out for a “walk-thru”.  He thought the water had been hooked up, but it hadn’t.  He made a phone call that I thought had addressed the problem.  He showed me where the hookup should be.  I wish I’d taken a pic.  As best I can remember there was a trench and I could see where it should be connected, but wasn’t.  Just a couple feet.  I went back this week and the trench was filled in.  I switched on the whole-house water switch, and still had no water.

I emailed them and they said they don’t do the water hook up.  Another contractor said it’s his understanding that the park does that.  I called the park and they said they do not.  They say it’s possible that it could be hooked up now, but not turned on at the meter.  They can’t do that, and should have been done by whoever hooked it up.  I have emails and phone calls in to other people who might know who’s suppose to hook up the water, and am waiting.

I have been trying to get an answer to one simple question: what are the dimensions of a Full-sized Prodigy adjustable bed.  I’ve gotten 4 different answers from 3 different sources.

The manufacturer says they make only one full-size Prodigy 54×80.  Other lengths are custom-made.  That seems very odd since my other sources say 54×75 is standard.  In an online chat with one retailer first said “Full is 54×80 full xl is 54×84” and a few lines later said “Length would be an 80 for an XL That would also take a custom mattress as it is not a normal size”  When I asked about the contradiction I got “I was thinking Californa king, is an 84”  So the second quote from them is 54×75 and 54×80.

My third source gives 3 different full sizes, and confirmed by email the same thing that’s on their website. http://www.sleep-comfort.com/adjustable-beds/size-chart.html — 53×74, 53×80 or 53×84 “Those are 3 different sizes we make. 1 inch off is nothing to worry about….some places say 74 or 75 but then when you measure it with a professional measure device its 1 inch off :)”

Uhm, why?  What is “a professional measure device”?  And does this device say it’s one inch smaller or larger?

It says right on the floorplan of my RV that my current bed is a Queen 58 x 74 1/2, so someone seems to think they can measure even to the half-inch.  (Standard Queen is 60×80)  I haven’t tried to measure it with a professional device.  I’m not sure if I have a professional device.  I have tape measures.

10/13/15 — updates: My new credit card arrived. My contractor for steps says he can connect water and sewer.

Reading list for book to TV adaptations

iu_011One of my “things” is translations from one media to another.  I suppose it started with the James Blish adaptations from the Star Trek tv series.  Not the typical direction.  Although the next case that got me was the more common book to movie adaptation of Gone With the Wind.  I’m also going to make note of the order I encountered them.  ST was tv first, of course.  GWtW was movie first.

Lately I keep diving into translations of books to tv series.  I’m not currently pursuing any of these, but I wanted to start this blog entry as an outline for future blogs.

Usually when I say “book” I mean “audio book” and when I say “read” I mean “listen.”  An audio book is adaptation, too, especially an abridged one.  In truth, for a lot of these I’ve never actually read the book, but I’m assuming I can judge the faithfulness of a media adaptation if I’ve listened to an unabridged audio version.

Nero Wolfe by Rex Stout.  Absolutely THE best book to tv series.  Excellent, faithful tv adaptation.  Loose radio adaptations.  Movies, too, but I only vaguely remember one that starred Dark Shadows’ Thayer David.  About half the series is iur_001available on excellent audio books read by Michael Prichard.  Movie, radio, audiobooks, tv.

(I just found this — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nero_Wolfe#Adaptations and am in shock.  William Shatner as Archie Goodwin.  That would have been 6 or 7 years before Star Trek.)

Brother Cadfael by Ellis Peters.  Faithful tv and radio.  Audiobooks available by a variety of readers, including some abridged versions read by Derek Jacobi who was in the tv version.  Audiobooks, tv, radio, and I still haven’t seen all the tv.

Dexter by Jeff Lindsay.  Even where the tv series uses plots and dialog from the books, it gives it a very different spin.  I love the first two books, don’t even count the 3rd as part of the series, and like the other books.  I don’t like the tv series.  However, I’m fascinated by trying to figure out why I judge them all so differently, so I keep re-listening and re-watched even the versions I don’t like.  Multiple audiobook versions for some, including read by the author. Audiobooks, tv.

Wooster and Jeeves by P.G. Woodhouse.  Multiple audiobook versions including same wonderful FREE versions from Librivox.  Multiple radio adaptations, most excellent and faithful and available online for FREE.  TV series is uneven in quality and faithfulness but visually gorgeous. Audiobooks, radio, tv.

The Dead Zone by Stephen King.  My favorite King book and not available as an audiobook.  All my previous examples were book series adapted to tv, and, of course, it’s much more difficult to stretch a single book into a series.  In this case, they did a terrible job of it.  I had mixed feelings about the movie.  Book, movie, tv.

The Dome by Stephen King.  As above on stretching a book to tv.  Awful book, awful tv.  Audiobook, tv.

Note: I was once a huge King fan, but he hasn’t written anything good in 20 years. He can still write “page-turners” though, but I’m usually so disappointed by the end.  I keep listening to the new audiobooks when they come out, since my library and/or Library2Go always gets them.  So far only one was so bad I didn’t finish it.  And only one was interesting enough for me to listen to a second time.  But when I get a chance to see a movie or tv adaptation, I watch it.  The only time I thought the movie was better than the book was when I saw the movie first.  But I’m not going to try to even remember all of them and if they were movies or mini-series.  They were mostly so forgettable that I forgot them soon after I read or watched them, so can’t do any comparisons.

The Cousin’s War by Phillipa Gregory.  TV version is The White Queen, which I love.  I’ve just started listening to the audiobook versions.  TV, audiobooks.

Flashforward by Robert J. Sawyer.  Very little similarity of book (okay) to tv (good).  TV, audiobook.

Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.  Very little similarity of books (variable from great to good) to tv (good).

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.  Not a tv series but I recently got engrossed in the adaptations and want to include it.  I had read the short story ages ago and thought it was a masterpiece.  When I saw my library had it as an audiobook, I took it out and was terribly disappointed.  When I tried to figure out why I discovered that it was a novelization made from the short story.  I also discovered there had been two movie adaptations, (when I watched the earliest one, I realized I had seen it before) stage plays, a musical, and an amazing number of versions on YouTube including one done with sock puppets.  I could write a book about similarities and differences of all these different versions.  I won’t.  But I will do a blog with some observations eventually.  Short story, first movie, audiobook of the novel, second movie, audiobook of the short story, YouTube versions.

Well, now that I’ve already departed from just tv adaptations, I’ll mention I recently got off on radio adaptations of short stories.  I have a massive Sheldonian spreadsheet to help me organize my collection.  But that’s for a future blog.

Coincidence, synchronicity or illusory correlation?

{6422393D-AA82-413F-895A-6F4416725399}Img400The Silent Wife by A. S. A. Harrison and The Red Queen by Philippa Gregory

Pure coincidence, synchronicity or illusory correlation? I read The Red Queen as part of my recent Wars of the Roses interest and The Silent Wife just happened to be available when I was looking for something on Library2Go. But the same oddity struck me in both books.

In the first half of both, I kept admiring the way the authors showed the hypocrisy of the main characters while the characters were oblivious. But by the second half, it was so extreme as to be ludicrous and the characters were saying things that, in real life, would have forced me to say “Did you just hear yourself?”  I got to wondering if the author was intentionally going for laughs.

In The Red Queen, it was stereotypical religious hypocrisy. On the one hand, that was ingrained in the culture of that period, Divine Right of Kings and all. On the other hand, it’s become a cliché in our culture to the point that even an atheist like me feels sorry for well-meaning church-goers when I see it trotted out again.

In The Silent Wife, it was the everyday hypocrisy that we all do to get through the day, of not noticing our own faults while seeing clearly those of others, only taken to an extreme, and with a background of Pop Psychology. This is one of those rare books that, as soon as I finish it, I have to reread. I haven’t decided yet if the author is extremely clever and I missed some subtle points or extremely sloppy and there were some things that had no point at all.

Reading List for What’s Wrong with the World?

Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman
The Hidden Brain : how our unconscious minds elect presidents, control markets, wage wars, and save our lives by Shankar Vedantam.
Brain Bugs: How the Brain’s Flaws Shape Our Lives by Dean Buonomano
The Psychopath Inside by James Fallon
The Murderer Next Door: Why the Mind Is Designed to Kill by David M. Buss
The World is Flat — A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century by Thomas L. Friedman.
Exposed: The Secret Life of Jodi Arias by Jane Velez-Mitchell


Video lecture series: Neuroscience of Everyday Life — Professor Sam Wang, Ph.D.  — http://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/neuroscience-of-everyday-life.html


Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork
Sirius (1944) by William Olaf Stapledon
Odd John (1936) by William Olaf Stapledon

What’s wrong with the world?

An old friend of mine posted a comment on FB about the recent school shooting, that got some interesting responses, including mine.  I thought this blog would be a better forum for my thoughts.

First, let’s try another little thought experiment. Write down all the famous murderers from the last 20 years that you can think of. Then do the same for scientists. How many of each did you come up with?


Anyone can get a gun and walk into a school and instantly achieve a level of fame normally achieved only by entertainers (I include sports figures and politicians in that category). What difference does it make if they die in the process? We’re all going to die.

But that’s just a piece of the puzzle.

Human brains evolved over millions of years to optimize survival in a non-technological world. Increasingly, we have to deal with aspects of technological development that our brains are just not made for and the rate of change keeps accelerating. Our brains are designed to cope with small communities of people we know where, when we get angry, we can’t do much more than punch somebody, and, whatever we do, only a score of people will ever know.

Lethal weapons, mass communication and transportation speed are just a few of the things our brains are not wired for. Mass shootings are just one of the most showy results.