Strange attractors and lagging feedback

It is not uncommon to notice that one’s physical state of being impacts ones mental and/or emotional state of being – and visa-versa. One gets tired and feels depressed, which often leads to a cycle of negative thoughts, decreased energy, and more negative thoughts….

July 25, 2009 – just a couple of thoughts on basins of attraction, and how they might help us deal with life.

First – I had been thinking of drinking or drug abuse as one phase and sobriety as another, but does it make sense to include 1) sobriety, 2) social drinking, 3) serious drinking, 4) abusing alcohol, 5) moving towards recovery, 6) in recovery, 7) a split here of 7.1) relapse or 7.2) total recovery. What I’m getting at is that maybe there are more phases than we think, or than I had thought of. One might also look at “functional alcoholics” and see where they fall into things.

Second – rather than only thinking of “attractors” as magnets, might there also be repulsors – things that drive a system away from a state. So it is not just that the system is being drawn towards something, it might also be being pushed away from something. This might fit in with the Buddhist ideas of passion (attractor), aggression (repulsor) and ignorance (hidder).

In Buddhist thought these are called the three poisons, which are called poisons because they keep us from seeing and dealing with things as they really are. These are passion, aggression, and ignorance.

Also – does it help to think of this as similar to the immune system, we become sensitized to the allergen, so the next time it comes around, we react more quickly. Of course, the allergen is not an allergen to begin with – it is just a thing that happens to set of an immune response (which might be any of the three poisons, any of the three types of “attractors”) in a given situation (locality of effect is important here – not in all people and not in all conditions.) And perhaps there are auto-immune diseases of the mind and soul.

This feedback loop can be devastating, and it is not easy to break out of it. Even if you notice you are in the midst of one of these poisons, it is hard to escape. In part this may be due to the time lag between thinking “I’m not in such bad shape” and our bodies reacting. So we introduce a shift in the system, but the time lag of the response (feedback) to that shift is slow, so we don’t get the feedback and the initial negative sub-system maintains its foothold. This happens with couples (at least so I have heard) where there is a fight, one person sees a way out and offers it, but in the time it takes for the second person to understand the escape and take it, the first person gets sucked back into the fight. So the second person is starting to climb out using the ladder the first person suggested, but then the first person is angry again and knocks down the ladder – which really fucks things up for next time.

Another part of it is that you recognize you are back in the old pattern and that can be frustrating or debilitating. Maybe that recognition actually increases the potential for activating the immune response.

Enter strange attractors


Remembering that we are self-modifying systems, and that there may be meta-functions, or perhaps just subroutines, that impact how we modify what, it makes sense that we might have a couple or three schema we use to classify “fights.” These might be 1) this is a one time flare up, or 2) this is the same fight we have all the time and our pattern is so ingrained there is really no way out. Now, take the second one – it sounds like a two stage oscillating non-strange attractor system. And remember that how we think about or define something influences that something. So if we think we are one of these endlessly repeating fights that only end after somebody gets drunk or sleeps on the couch, then it tends to become that fight. And part of the number 2 version is that this pattern is ingrained and can’t change.

But what if you thought of this as a strange-attractor situation. You have a pattern that repeats itself, or something close to itself. It is never really always exactly the same. There is always some variation in the course of the fight. So it could be that this is a type 1 strange attractor – where you are always caught in the gravitational field of the attractor and there is just variation in your flight pattern. Or it could be a type 2 strange attractor – where after a certain amount of time you can escape the attractor all together. Or a type 3 strange attractor, where you might shift into cycling between a few attractors in a pattern that is hard to predict. If you assume either type two or type three, then you are defining a situation where there is hope – where you are not actually stuck in the same cycle, doomed to repeat the same thing over and over again.

What is weird about this is that if you take this view you are making it more likely (I would assume) that you might actually slip out of this pattern. And it might make it more bearable while you are in it – since you realize you are not stuck there for-ever.