Three Body Problem

This is in large part an extension of my last piece, An Argument For Monogamy. I kinda failed to argue in favor of monogamy, it was more about Pairing which you can do with more than one partner (so not monogamy). Assumptions can creep into our thought patterns; one of them got into my brain, and I skipped an important step in my logic. I hope this rectifies it. 

The Three Body Problem is a difficulty in classical physics where the paths of celestial bodies can be accurately predicted when you have 1 or 2 bodies, but 3 or more and we have trouble. The differences in the variables compound over time and we are unable to pinpoint locations. We can make some predictions, but it’s through chaos theory and it only give us estimations. As done before, I’d like to draw a comparison between chaotic physics and human psychology.

We need to be able to predict the people around us. It’s not that we should know exactly what people will do, that would be incredibly boring, but complete randomness isn’t good either. When we want to bond with someone closely, we need the greatest degree of predictability. This is the person we’ll rely on to get us out of our worst states. You need to be able to depend on them. Conversely, you need to be able to predict why they act and feel the way they do. If you don’t, you’ll never be able to help them through their problems. Understanding someone goes hand in hand with being able to predict them. Again of course, the extreme of this would be bad. It’s actually a really common problem to feel your partner has become ‘boring’. But I digress.

Understanding requires predictability. In the long term, you will change and your partner will change; you need to be able to continue to predict them. This is where the three body problem comes in. Human psychology is exceedingly complicated and additional humans increase said complexity exponentially. An unadmitted fact of our society is that many of us aren’t capable of comprehending this when it’s just two people. We can’t cope with more than our own ego, will, subconsciousness, etc. So trying to handle more than two… It’s exceptionally challenging, more so than most can handle.

Am I saying you can’t have an intimate pairing with 3+ people? Absolutely not, it’s definitely possible and it has definitely happened many times. It’s harder though and time will be a greater burden. It’s exponentially more difficult to predict the behaviour of more than one other person and this compounds over time. As all involved change, the likelihood of the relationship dynamics remaining stable decreases. That sweet spot of intimate pairing is narrower and more likely to break. If you’ve experienced the exception to this then I applaud you; you’ve done far better than the rest of us.

Like celestial bodies we can meet across the vast reaches of space.
But also like celestial bodies, we will eventually drift apart.
The more bodies, the more chaotic, the faster the system is flung apart.
But no matter the numbers, that tangled dance is wonderful
Each and every time.

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An argument for Monogamy

 

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I’ve talked about polyamory and monogamy before. It’s love and love is important. Usually though I’m arguing on the side of polyamory. It can sound like I’m giving monogamy a bad name. It’s not because I think it’s worse but because I feel the need to defend polyamory; monogamy is considered normal so it doesn’t need support. That’s not good enough. I’d be doing a disservice to my philosophy if I were to neglect a topic due to it’s common nature. So here’s my argument in favor of monogamy (which I’ll refer to as pairing now).

Consciousness is that Strange Loop of self reflection. One of my earliest posts, “Love is the answer to consciousness”, explained how love can help with the loneliness inherent in being self aware. This was about love in all its multifaceted nature, but now I want to narrow our focus to a simple paired bond. But first we must step back to see the flaws in being unpaired.

Take the Strange Loop metaphor in a literal visual sense, as in a point orbiting around an object: it can spiral inwards, outwards or remain in a steady loop. Clearly there’s far more opportunities for it to do anything but remain stable; inwards and outwards are the probable outcome. That inwards spiral is depression, the outwards is mania. To be clear, I’m not using these terms medically I’m doing it socially. Clinical depression and clinical mania are not things I am qualified to speak on. These are lesser but descriptively similar states arising from your own consciousness, things which you can literally think your way out of. 

The inward loop of depression is the self loathing feeling you wallow in when you feel isolated. As you descend further inwards it saps your will to escape.

The outward loop of mania is when you lose your grounding. This can be from physical isolation, but it’s more commonly from emotional isolation. When your ideas are no longer challenged they lose touch with reality. The extreme example is the artist who recently became famous and is fueled by sycophants who don’t question them. Their art loses meaning and is simply self aggrandizement. This is the most obvious example but by no means do you need to be famous to do this. Many people reach this emotional isolation because they have trouble with their ego and with empathy. They push people away that challenge them because it makes them uncomfortable. And so they lose their grounding.

Pairing is a way to fix these problems because a partner is perfectly suited to intervene. They’re close enough to jog you out of either state. They’re not stuck in your strange loop so they don’t necessarily get sucked in and blinded. When someone is close enough to you to break through any barriers we may put up, they can tear us out of that depression or send our manic spiral back to reality.

There’s another perfect visualization for this. It comes from a similar area as the Strange Loop (it’s also chaotic mathematics), called the Strange Attractor. It’s a visual metaphor though, not a “real” connection but I find imagery helpful. The top of this article has an example. The two ‘attractors’ are the different selves, the relationship is the path traced by the point. It never repeats an identical path and it never spirals towards one solitary point or away from them.

Conversely this is also an argument for remaining an individual in a pairing, of not merging into one entity. It can be tempting when madly in love to spend all one’s time with the object of your affection, of taking on their traits as your own (and hopefully these feelings are reciprocated). This is a mistake. When you’re too close to your lover, you lose the ability to ground their spiraling self. You get sucked into the depressive state or you fly away on the mania. Individuality is necessary for being a supportive partner.

On Jealousy

Jealousy is a strange emotion. I can’t say I’ve ever felt it in a significant sense. It made me worry that maybe I was missing out on something important. After thinking on it and talking to people about why they think it’s good, I don’t think I’m missing anything.

This may come off as preachy or overly critical; if so, it’s not intended. To be clear, I’m not criticizing anyone or telling them what they should feel. You do you, you’re the best at. Struggling with your feelings is normal. I want to have a frank discussion about what jealousy actually does for anyone.

Jealousy is, by and large, a negative emotion. By that I mean it’s something that would be described as unpleasant when you feel it, like anger or sadness. It’s when one person in a relationship is feeling slighted by the other. They feel their partner is putting someone else above them in an area reserved for the participants of the relationships. Sometimes it’s accurate; people cheat alarmingly often in monogamy. Often it’s not; it’s one person’s wayward imagination and insecurities being projected onto their partner. This is a really bad aspect of it because it’s a powerful feeling, yet also typically inaccurate. It’s consuming, wrapping your head in these terrible cycles of thought. No amount of logic or reason can contend with it, not until the feeling itself subsides (and often it sits on the back burner of the mind, waiting for an opportunity to re-emerge).

I’ve had people explain the positive side of jealous to me and frankly, it’s not something I would describe as positive. Some people feel that if their partner isn’t jealous of them, then they don’t actually care about the relationship. The thinking is that if someone values something, they will get hurt/angry when it may be taken away. This isn’t a healthy foundation of value. If you trust your partner then you trust them to not cheat on you. If they want to be with someone else more, why is it good to stop them? I don’t mean total sexual freedom here, being monogamous without being very jealous is totally reasonable. You just might have to let things end if they don’t want to remain committed. When you love someone you have to love them entirely, not just what you’ve cherry picked as the good stuff. They should want to be with you and trust that you also want to be with them.

This isn’t something I can see as positive.

Reiterating here that I’m not judging you if you’re a jealous person. I’m just saying *I* don’t see it as a good thing. We all have bad parts of ourselves that we cope with. No one controls how they grow up and it’s effects on their psyche. It’s insanely difficult to take full control of your mental state.

Well then even if it is a negative thing itself, maybe it has positive results? Maybe the “Why” is the important question

It’s pretty obvious that it’s an evolutionary trait, it has a clear evolutionary advantage; a way to keep your mate invested in only your children and no others. I’m sure you’ve heard/read the basic argument for monogamy and how an evolved emotional trait fosters it. Evolutionary psychology isn’t as simple as that though. Our social behaviors are very complex. It’s less like the drive to eat and more like the drive to eat certain foods. There’s reasons that are local or temporary to eat certain things; eg, bitter foods near X tend to be poisonous so people near them don’t like that flavour. With our modern world, those locally restricted (and often temporally restricted) behaviours are vestigial. They no longer serve the practical purpose they once did. The Nuclear family as a model for ‘proper’ human rearing is absolutely a modern invention. We’ve been communal animals as long as we’ve been humans. Clan parenting is a part of our prehistory, and this form of parenting doesn’t necessarily require monogamy. There’s many ways not restricting your mates can be beneficial to you (if you are also able to). Having the clan raise all kids together would increase the chances of some of your genes being passed down. Also memetic evolution may have trumped genetic behaviour, but that’s a topic for another time.

One last point about the evolutionary basis is something I’d say I’m only partially convinced of because it may be projected too much culture backwards. Looking at modern human sexuality we can attempt to ascertain culturally suppressed traits. Cheating is common among both men and women. There are several aspects of male physiology that are designed to increase the chance of impregnation when another man has slept with the woman recently (eg. penis shape and sperm behavior). Men have singular orgasms whereas women can have multiple, often with an increase in the euphoric feelings. All this together could make a good case for early humans engaging in multi-person sex acts, orgies basically. The genetics of the members would be mixed up, the men wouldn’t be able to identify which child was theirs. This could have been a very major development in clan cohesion. Really though, this whole paragraph is very speculative. I’d like to see a real scientist, with funding, research it.

But none of that matters. We don’t date to have kids! Well some of us do, it’s just not a given. It’s not our sole reason for being anymore. So what’s the point of jealousy? To prevent your partner from finding someone better? To project your insecurities onto someone else?

Why?