Thursday, 1 January 2015


"Polyommatus bellargus male, Aveyron, France - Diliff" by Diliff - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -,_Aveyron,_France_-_Diliff.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Polyommatus_bellargus_male,_Aveyron,_France_-_Diliff.jpg

The butterfly catastrophe is not to be confused with the butterfly effect, which is a good film although I can't bear to watch the sequels, and also the idea that a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon can cause a hurricane on the other side of the planet.  However, it is in the same general subject area.  However, I want to wind back a bit.

There's a psychological phenomenon known as "splitting", or black and white thinking.  I've habitually done it a lot.  When I look back on it, I feel like I've behaved in a very computery manner, dealing with ones and zeroes in a very clunky way which isn't really human.  When I do it, though, it seems quite sensible and feels like a simple way of coping with the world.  In fact it isn't that at all and it also makes life more complicated for other people because they then have to deal either with me directly or the consequences of this all or nothing thinking.  Human beings really are not computers, and neither is the human mind a computer.  It just looks a bit like one sometimes.

So there's this thing out there called catastrophe theory, as you probably know because I keep going on about it, or you might know already.  It includes all sorts of fun graphs like this one, called the "cusp catastrophe":

As you can see from my diagram, there is a smooth transition on the top left hand side in the form of a slope.  This is the opposite of splitting.  The other two arrows represent a fork in the road, as it were - you end up doing the "all or nothing" thing, and the overhang, which is kind of symmetrical if you think of the graph the other way up, means that once you're in that position, you can't easily jump to the other one until the variable in question is lower than it would be to get you into that position.  In other words, the system in question, in this case the human mind, has a memory for what it's been through and finds it difficult to let go.

The bit at the bottom is known as the "bifurcation set".  It's a projection of the fork in the road you take when you start to split.  Remember that word "bifurcation".

I'm now going to go off on an apparent tangent about eating disorders.  Now I have never suffered from an eating disorder and only have a limited degree of empathy with them although my eating has occasionally very mildly disordered like many other people's, for instance in the form of comfort eating or not wanting certain bits of me to get any bigger so that their size doesn't distress a certain person, so I apologise for this possibly dodgy view, but it has seemed to some people that some other people with eating disorders generally had "split" behaviour in that some of them either fasted or binged and purged in a cycle, and couldn't enter the easier cycle some other people did where they simply ate when they were hungry until they were full, then stopped, and therefore food was not a big issue for them in this way.  Such people, and I'm basically one of them, without disordered eating right now, are on the "slope" side of the graph.  Others, such as people with bulimia, are on the "cusp" side:  they can't get into an intermediate state.

This is going to sound a bit vague because I can't remember the details, but there is another catastrophe graph, in fact there are a lot of them, but one of them is called the "butterfly catastrophe" and it looks like this (sorry about the cruddy sketch):

This graph has more variables and is therefore more than three dimensional, which makes it hard to draw.  However, the crucial thing about it from the point of view of what I'm trying to say is the bit at the bottom, which is the bifurcation set, and in this case there are three possibilities rather than two, so in a sense this is a three-storey graph rather than the previous two-storey cusp catastrophe graph, with an intermediate stable state.  For someone with an eating disorder of the kind described above, there are three choices provided there are extra variables, and those extra variables can apparently be introduced by therapy of some kind, creating this third state which involves neither fasting nor the binge-purge cycle but the kind of behaviour on the same level as the middle of the smooth transition on the other side of the graph.

Another thing about eating disorders is that I can imagine that your subconscious would move the goal posts.  You lose a bit of weight, but it's not enough and you end up looking unsatisfactory to yourself, so you lose more, then you see it again as not enough and so on, taking you ever further away from the original state, so it's an unstable unhealthy state like so many others.

I think that what's happening in my brain, and those of other people, when I do "all-or-nothing" thinking, can be remedied by introducing an extra variable, which depending on the problem could be all sorts of things.

I think the variable in my case is some kind of stress.  I think stress, possibly anxiety, pushes me into that bifurcated way of thinking.  It's like that "umpf" causes my mind to behave like a computer and start going into black and white like an old television set with poor reception.  If I want to behave like a human being instead, I need to avoid that "umpf" and go and live on the smooth side of the graph.  Alternatively, I could be all poetic and turn the catastrophe into a butterfly.

For me living on that black and white bifurcated side of the graph also involves being forced to wear only bifurcated lower garments.  To live on the smooth side, well away from that fork, I am able to wear lower garments which are not bifurcated.

There is also a moving of the goalposts.  At first, doing one or two things to relieve my self-disgust is enough.  I should rephrase that actually.  When you're depressed, and I've done this in the past, you quite often end up smelly, dirty and dishevelled, because you couldn't care less, you stop washing, you can't be bothered to seek out clean clothes or do your washing, and for people with male bodies, you might not shave.  We do need to be detached from our appearance, but it's hard to escape that and even no image is an image anyway, so perhaps it's impossible.  Being smelly, dirty and unshaven may well make you feel worse anyway, and other people's reaction to it might make you feel even worse.  Been there, done that, naturally.  Therefore, back in the day, stubble implied depression for me.  If I had a beard, and it horrifies me to think I did at some points but I did, it generally meant I was even further down, clawing ineffectively at the bottom of some well of despair on the lower side of that cusp catastrophe graph, unable to escape.  If I shaved, I felt a bit better.  If I also shaved my wrists and ankles, I felt even better.  Hiding all the hairy bits of me other than my head was also an improvement.  Removing almost all of my body hair was still better.  As time goes by, more and more changes make me feel better and better, and I realise that there's a direct connection between being able to perceive myself as female and my self-esteem, so that's what I do.

But here's the rub.  My subconscious is moving the goalposts.  I need to do more and more to be satisfied with myself.  I hope I reach a point of equilibrium, or rather of self-acceptance when I can say "this is enough".  I will of course never bear children, and that's something I found very hard to deal with for a long time, but although I still feel that yearning I can at least satisfy myself with the fact that I have two children, even though - well, I don't have to go there.

I didn't want to make this about me, so in the same way that I don't have to go there, I don't have to go there either.  However, I think there's a process in my mind at least which makes me more like a computer, but in the other direction I can be human, and to me of course human means female, the unpoisoned mind.  Which is not to say that maleness is toxic to other people, but it is to me.  All sorts of other things are going on in people's minds which do similar things to them, but they don't share my mind and I don't share theirs, but I'd be prepared to bet that there is a similar variable in other people's minds which pushes them into all sorts of black and white extremisms, and they can find a key to that to become happier and more able to grow.