First, here is where to find Part I of this post. In it, I explained the reasons for my view that my phobias are among the uncommon ones, while I actually like many things (such as mathematics, darkness, and spiders) which are feared by those with more common phobias. I find such self-analysis, and reflective writing, helpful. This is unusual, of course, but those with Asperger’s Syndrome tend to be unusual in many ways, and this includes being different from each other.
For Part II, I used Google, and searched for “100 most common phobias.” My goal was to determine the extent to which my current and past phobias are atypical, when compared to the incidence of various phobias within the general population. The top search result was http://www.fearof.net/, where 100 common phobias are listed, in descending order of world-wide incidence. These 100 phobias were then split into the seven categories, ranging from phobias about things I like a lot, to things about which I am phobic myself, as seen below.
Category 1: I have a strong affinity (a philia) for these things which people commonly fear, and I have never feared them myself. There are 17 phobias in this category, including four of the ten most common phobias.
Category 2: I like these things people commonly fear, but not with high enough intensity for the word “philia” to apply. There are 23 phobias in this category, including three more of the top ten.
Category 3: I used to fear these commonly-feared things, although not to the level of a phobia, but now I no longer fear them at all. This category has a mere six phobias.
Category 4: I am indifferent to these commonly-feared things, or have a like/dislike balance. In other words, for these things. . . meh. This is the largest category, which I view as healthy. It contains 25 phobias.
Category 5: I currently have an aversion to these commonly-feared things, but my aversion, in this category, does not reach the level of a phobia, and never has. This category contains only nine phobias, and none are in the top 32.
Category 6: I used to be phobic regarding these things, and still don’t like them. However, I can manage, now, to keep my aversion below the intensity of a phobia. This is also the category that has involved the most work, for it is difficult to shed a phobia. This category has three of the top ten, and 14 total — but these are former phobias, not current ones.
Category 7: I am phobic, now (or very recently), about these things, and still actively try to avoid them, when I can. There are only six left in this category, and, with professional help, I am working on eliminating them, as well. Nothing left in this category is ranked in the top 35, which is consistent with my idea that my remaining phobias are among the less common ones.
Further evidence that my phobias are rare was discussed in Part I. I may actually have some which are unique to me, such as my dread of the 16th of each month, which has plagued me since my mother’s death, last November 16th. Since fear of the number thirteen is called triskaidekaphobia, fear of the number sixteen is hexakaidekaphobia. This is what July looked like, to me, as I approached the 16th.
Yesterday was the 16th of July, and that is when I wrote Part I of this post, which is no coincidence. The 16th is now over. By focusing on improving my mental health, and using therapeutic writing (which I am also doing right now), I made it through yesterday without falling apart, although it was not easy. Sixteen is a rational number, and it is time for me to resume being rational about it.
This makes me hopeful that hexakaidekaphobia will now stay in the past, where it belongs. No one need suggest that I get medical help, including seeing a mental health professional, for the appointments to do exactly those things, before school resumes, are already scheduled.
The image above contains three colors: white, black, and red. The words appear in red because I see it as a color denoting positive or negative intensity, and phobias and philias are both certainly intense. To “see red,” I have learned, does not usually mean what it would mean if I said it myself. Consistent with Asperger’s Syndrome, which I have, I tend to be almost completely literal in the words I use, while the non-Aspie majority often uses words in confusing (to me) non-literal ways. Over the years, I have figured out that this phrase means, when non-Aspies say it, that they are extremely angry. (I, however, would only say “I see red” if I was actually seeing light with the wavelength-range, ~620 to ~740 nm, which our species has labeled, in English, as “red.”) On the other hand, red roses and Valentine’s Day hearts are popularly used to symbolize romantic love, which is an intensely positive emotion, while extreme anger is extremely negative. White and black, the other colors above, in much of the world, are commonly associated with, respectively, positive and negative things. I, on the other hand, view these colors the opposite way: I have avoided sunlight for much of my life, and continue to do so (to the point where I need to take supplements of vitamin D), while also reveling in darkness, in much the same way that I revel in my “Aspieness.” Right now, it is daytime here, and I am writing this inside, in a dark room, with the only artificial light reaching me coming from computer screens.
It is a common misconception that Aspies (an informal term many people with Asperger’s use for ourselves) are non-emotional. After all, two well-known fictional characters from different incarnations of Star Trek, Spock and Data, are based, in my opinion, on Aspie stereotypes. Stereotypes, I have observed, are usually based on some real phenomenon, and in this case, that phenomenon is that many Aspies experience emotions in radically different ways from the non-Aspie majority — so differently that we are sometimes perceived by non-Aspies to be emotionless, although that is not the case. This causes a considerable amount of tension, and no small amount of outright hostility, between the community of Aspies and the non-Aspie majority. When I write on the subject of Asperger’s Syndrome, I try to do so with the goal of explaining and understanding our differences, in order to reduce Aspie/non-Aspie misunderstanding, which is both common and unhelpful — in both directions. This is the reason I use the factual, non-hostile term “non-Aspie,” in place of the unhelpful and perjorative term “neurotypical” (a word in common use within the Aspie community), one of three unfortunate words discussed in this post.
Explaining my choices of colors in the image above was a prelude to a personal, mathematical analysis of the inverted popularity of my own phobias and philias. I have long observed that I have an intense, inexplicable affinity (in many cases, reaching the level of a “philia,” an often-misunderstood word and suffix, for reasons I will discuss below) for things which the majority, in my part of the world (the American South) hates and/or fears. Examples include spiders, cats, the number thirteen (and all other prime numbers), mathematics in general, geometry in particular (strangely, even many people who like mathematics still dislike the subfield of geometry), being different from those around me, darkness, the color black, night, the physical sciences, evolution (which happens, like it or not), enclosed spaces, heights, flying on airplanes, women, and Muslims. I have also struggled with phobias, working (with professional help) on eliminating them, one by one, but they tend to be less common. Examples of targets for my current and past phobias include light, especially sunlight, to the point where I actually have to take vitamin D supplements; as well as voice calls on cell phones (human voices coming out of small boxes freak me out); death; the life sciences; insurance; sports (and related events, such as pep rallies); loud noises; efforts to control me; and, since my mother died, last November 16, the 16th day of any month, especially at, and after, six months after her death.
I’m a teacher, and it’s the 16th of July, and I simply do not have the option of falling apart on the 16th of every month when school starts again next month, at a new school, with new students, for, as the saying goes, the students will arrive — whether I’m ready or not. That’s no way to start a school year.
I have much to be optimistic about, for I will be teaching in a different building, but on a much-improved schedule, with far fewer different subjects to prepare for each day than I had last year. When I fell asleep last night, after completing four full days of training to teach Pre-AP Physical Science for the first time, starting next month, some part of me knew that mental health improvement — before the 16th hit again, today — was essential. Was that something about which I was consciously thinking? No. I apparently rewrote my mental software (again) last night, an ability I have worked on developing for over thirty-five years. When this brain-software-debugging process first became evident, a few years back, it was happening in my sleep, just as happened again last night, and it took some time for me to figure out exactly what was going on, and how my ability to rapidly adapt to change had improved.
In Part II of this post, I will analyze, mathematically, the inverted popularity of my phobias, compared to the most common phobias, ranked by incidence among the population. First, however, it is necessary for me to explain what I mean — and do not mean — by the word “philia.” There is a serious problem with this word, in English, when it appears as a suffix, and that is due to an unfortunate linguistic error: the incorrect application of a Greek idea, and word, to the horrific, disgusting, and criminal behavior of child molesters, as well as those who have sex with corpses. The ancient Greeks, as is well-known, used four different words for different kinds of love, and “philia” (φιλία) referred specifically to fraternal, or “brotherly,” love. This was not a word the ancient Greeks used for any type of sexual act. The words “pedophilia” and “necrophilia” are, for this reason, historical anomalies. Both terms are misnomers, meaning, simply, that they are messed-up words, and their existence creates the potential for misunderstanding. A philia, properly understood, is simply the opposite of a phobia. Phobias are better-understood, of course, and require no detailed explanation.
One example of what I mean by my own philias should suffice. I have, for many years, had an abnormally strong fascination with spiders. I like them — a lot — so much so, in fact, that I actually have a tattoo of a spider, and often wear a spider necklace, to express how much I like this one biological order, the largest within the class of arachnids. Despite my strong affinity for spiders, however, I have zero sexual interest in them. It is accurate to call me an arachnophiliac, which is the opposite of an arachnophobe.
It is now near 9 pm on Saturday, November 16, and Friday night’s sleep therapy gave me the energy to work on the needed improvements to my mental health during the day today, by using reflective writing as a therapeutic technique. I also have a new appreciation for sleep, which will come soon. Part II will be posted soon, but it will not be written until after I have enjoyed a full night of sleep — starting, hopefully, in a few minutes. Goodnight, and thank you for reading Part I.
[Update, July 17: Part II is now posted here.]
Definition of catbouncemax (shortened form of “maximum catbounce”): for any particular cat, its catbouncemax is equal to the takeoff kinetic energy of that cat if it suddenly and unexpectedly finds itself face-to-face with an adult copperhead snake.
I’ve actually seen this happen. Really. The cat reached a height I estimate as 1.4 meters.
Measured in joules, a cat’s catbouncemax can most easily be approximated by observing and estimating the maximum height of the cat under these conditions. For ethical and safety reasons, of course, one must simply be observant, and wait for this to happen. Deliberately introducing cats and copperheads (or other dangerous animals) to each other is specifically NOT recommended. Staying away from copperheads, on the other hand, IS recommended. Good science requires patience!
After the waiting is over (be prepared to wait for years), and the cat’s maximum height h, in meters, has been estimated, the cat’s catbouncemax can then be determined by energy conservation, since its takeoff kinetic energy (formerly stored as feline potential energy, until the moment the cat spots the copperhead) is equal to the gravitational potential energy (PE = mgh) of the cat at the top of the parabolic arc. In the catbounce I witnessed, the cat who encountered a copperhead (while walking through tall grass, which is why the cat didn’t see the snake coming) was a big cat, at an estimated mass of 6.0 kg. His catbouncemax was therefore, by energy conservation, equal to mgh = (6.0 kg)(1.4 m)(9.81 m/s²) = ~82 joules, which means this particular cat had 82 J of ophidiofeline potential energy stored, specifically for use in the event of an encounter with a large, adult copperhead, or other animal (there aren’t many) with the ability to scare this cat equally as much as such a copperhead. (I’m using a copperhead in this account for one reason: that’s the type of animal which initiated the highest catbounce I have ever witnessed, and I seriously doubt that this particular cat could jump any higher than 1.4 m, under any circumstances.)
It should be noted that the horizontal distance covered by a catbounce is not needed to calculate a cat’s catbouncemax. However, this horizontal distance will not be zero, as is apparent in the diagram above. Why? Simple: cats don’t jump straight up in reaction to copperheads, for they are smart enough not to want to fall right back down on top of such a snake.
It is more common, of course, for cats to jump away from scary things which are less scary than adult copperheads. For example, there certainly exist centipedes which are large enough to scare a cat, causing it to catbounce, but with that centipede-induced catbounce being less than its catbouncemax. The following fictional dialogue demonstrates how such lesser catbounces can be most easily described. (Side note: this dialogue is set in Arkansas, where we have cats and copperheads, and where I witnessed the copperhead-induced maximum catbounce described above.)
She: Did you see that cat jump?!?
He: Yep! Must be something scary, over there in that there flowerpatch, for Cinnamon to jump that high. At least I know it’s not a copperhead, though.
She: A copperhead? How do you know that?
He: Oh, that was quite a jump, dear, but a real copperhead would give that cat of yours an even higher catbounce than that! The catbounce we just saw was no more than 75% of Cinnamon’s catbouncemax, and that’s being generous.
She: Well, what IS in the flowerpatch? Something sure scared poor Cinnamon! Go check, please, would you?
He: [Walks over from the front porch, where the couple has been standing this whole time, toward the flowerpatch. Once he gets half-way there, he stops abruptly, and shouts.] Holy %$#@! That’s the biggest centipede I’ve ever seen!
She: KILL IT! KILL IT NOW!
It just occurred to me that there are an absurd number of common phobias, such as claustrophobia or acrophobia, for which I have the polar opposite — an unusual attraction to the commonly-feared thing or situation. (Since I am no stranger to anxiety, so this is rather odd.) Claustrophobics fear enclosed spaces, while those with acrophobia fear heights. If someone told me that a sensory deprivation tank was available for my use, atop the nearest mountain, I’d drive straight there, climb the mountain, get in the tank, and seal myself in for hours, for two reasons: I love being in enclosed spaces, and also absolutely love heights. Combining the two would be awesome!
There is a proper word-ending for the opposite of a phobia, of course: “-philia.” Unfortunately, though, use of words which end with -philia is problematic, due to the fact that the most often-used words with this ending refer to criminal acts. There’s nothing wrong with the words “claustrophilia,” nor “acrophilia,” to a linguistic purist. To a pragmatist, though — which I am — the undesirable effect of reminding the reader of such horrors as pedophilia must be taken into account. For this reason, I find it preferable to state that I have the opposite of both claustrophobia, and acrophobia.
In alphabetical order, then, here are some common phobias for which I have the polar opposite:
The next time anxiety is a problem for me, I’ll try to remember to think about this list of anxiety-problems I don’t have, but which do affect many other people. I could certainly have it worse when it comes to anxiety, and it harms nothing to keep that in mind. In fact, it might even help.
The above hendecagonal prism shows what Jynx is like when he’s in “kyperkitten” mode. (If you have a kitten, you know what that means.) It’s also rotating rapidly in an effort to make those who fear black cats, and/or the number thirteen, feel even more jumpy, in the hope that Jynx and I can, by working together, startle them into rationality.
On the other hand, Jynx does sometimes like to just lounge around, and watch the world go by — so I’ll show him in “tiredcat” mode as well.
Software credit: I used Stella 4d: Polyhedron Navigator to make these images, a program which is available at this website.
When referring to the Holocaust, it never caused confusion to refer to Nazis as “antisemitic.” German is not a Semitic language, and the non-Semite Nazis were trying to exterminate an ethnoreligious group, the Jews, who are a Semitic people. In that context, the word “antisemitism,” in a European setting, is not difficult to understand. This is also true of antisemitism earlier in European history.
Decades later, and outside of Europe, however, the situation has changed, and the word “antisemitism” is now far less clear in its meaning. The one nation most closely identified with the Jewish people is Israel, and Israel is not in conflict with Germany. Israel is, of course, currently in an active conflict with an organization, Hamas, which has been firing rockets from nearby Gaza across the border, into Israel. In response, Israel has been retaliating, using even greater force than that wielded by Hamas. In this current conflict, there have been numerous deaths of noncombatants, including many children, in Gaza, but no deaths (so far) in Israel. For this reason, some people have raised their voices in criticism of the actions of the Israeli government in the current conflict. Predictably, but not logically, those who are criticizing Israel’s actions are now being accused of antisemitism.
When the word “antisemitic” gets thrown around, in the context of conflicts in the Middle East which involve Israel, it doesn’t help anyone understand anything. The word is actually an impediment to understanding. The reason for this is that “Semite” does not mean what many people think it means. For one thing, most Semites are not Jews.
“Semites” refers to a collection of ethnolinguistic groups — people who speak, or are descended from those who spoke, any of a large collection of languages known as the Semitic languages . . . and one of the Semitic languages is Arabic. Are Jews Semites? Yes, they are, but so are Arabs. The current conflict in the Middle East is a conflict between two different groups of people, both of whom are Semitic. To throw the emotionally-charged word “antisemitic” into the middle of the fray, therefore, makes no sense. It increases confusion, and clarifies nothing. The word also further enflames the emotions of those arguing and fighting, on both sides, in a situation where the exact opposite is needed.
It doesn’t help that many Westerners believe a fallacy related to Arabs, using “Arab” (which refers to an ethnic group) interchangeably with “Muslim,” which is not an ethnic term at all, but one that simply refers to anyone who practices the religion known as Islam. In reality, there are many Arabs who are not Muslims, and there are hundreds of millions of Muslims who are not Arabs. For example, consider the people who live in Iran. The governments of Israel and Iran are often hostile to each other, and Iran has very few Arabs, despite being a nation where an overwhelming majority practice Islam.
When Israel has conflicts with other nations (or organizations, for Hamas is not a nation) in the Middle East, those conflicts are political in nature, with religion playing a strong role as well. Israel is associated with the religion of Judaism (even though much of its Jewish population is only ethnically Jewish, not Jewish in the religious sense of the term), and is often in conflict with others in the Middle East who are associated with the religion called Islam. “Antisemitic,” used as a synonym for anti-Jewish bigotry, is an unfortunate misnomer, but there are alternatives which are better, in the sense that they are more specific, and therefore more clear. There is already a word in common use for fear and hatred of Islam and/or Muslims: “Islamophobia.” The corresponding term for fear and hatred of Judaism and/or Jews, including those who are Jewish only in the ethnic sense of the word, is “Judeophobia.” Most of the time, when people use the word “antisemitism,” they actually mean Judeophobia. Since Arabs are, themselves, a subset of the Semites, it would be illogical to refer to a specific person who is both an Arab, and a hater of Jews, as an “antisemitic Arab.” To describe that person as a “Judeophobic Arab,” on the other hand, makes perfect sense.
Finally, it must be recognized that there are numerous people, within both Judaism and Islam, who do not have within them the blind, furious hatred of the other group that has caused so much death and destruction in the Middle East since the founding of the modern nation of Israel, in the years following World War II. I am referring, of course, to non-Islamophobic Jews, and non-Judeophobic Muslims. One does not often see them featured in the news, especially when conflicts such as the current one are raging, but such people do exist, and their existence should give all people who prefer peace over war hope for the future. May their numbers increase.
Perhaps it had too much caffeine?
Software credit: see http://www.software3d.com/Stella.php.
Thanatophobia is an irrational, exaggerated fear of death, not to be confused with the healthy biological imperative that compels most people, most of the time, to avoid dying if they can. I had thanatophobia for as long as I can remember, up until two years ago, when it started to fade from existence.
Not coincidentally, this is also the period when I put aside those “What if I’m wrong about religion?” questions, stopped calling myself, primarily, an agnostic, and, as an atheist, just stopped worrying about post-death judgment.
We get judged by people enough while we’re alive. Adding eternity to that, on the basis on dubious or nonexistent evidence, is unhealthy.
I also must consider this: the inevitability of my own death means there is some point in the future beyond which I will never experience panic, rage, pain, or hatred. Beyond that point, there are no responsibilities.
I just blew off an entire weekend. I was exhausted, simply needed to do as little as possible (or I was going to end up in worse shape), and proceeded to sleep for 40 of the next 48 hours. I have a lot of things to do, but I did take the weekend off. I don’t remember much about it because I was sleeping most of that time, but it wasn’t unpleasant. The only unpleasant thing about it was having to re-activate myself for the workweek, and the resumption of responsibility that comes with it.
What happens after we die?
I don’t really know, but I have no evidence that it’s anything like Heaven and Hell as depicted in the Bible, Dante’s Inferno, Robert Heinlein’s Job, and numerous other works.
I once heard James Randi give an excellent answer, in the form of a question: “What happens to a computer when you turn off the power?”
I now have an answer of my own. The workweek ends. Troubles end. Everything that annoys me, won’t anymore. I’m certainly in no hurry to stop existing, but whether I see a triple-digit age, don’t make it to my next birthday, or somewhere in-between (the most likely of the three), death just isn’t terrifying any more. That should make the process of living the rest of my life more pleasant than if I resumed worrying about what happens to me after that life is over.