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There Have Always Existed People Who’ve Simply Wanted to Be Alone (hazlitt.net)
429 points by fern12 on Aug 5, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 169 comments

Being alone and hiking and camping in the wilderness without human contact for longer period can be amazing experience. There can be initial anxiety and intense desire to go back after romance goes away and your internal shit comes to light. When there is constant need for do chores to survive but also free time and no human contact, no books, radio or music, mind gradually settles into itself.

It's like coming from bright light into a dark room. Gradually your eyes adjust and you start to see more. Coming back into the civilization is similar to someone pointing flashlight into your eyes. So much external triggers for behaviour. Realizing that I'm not actually me with other people and I'm disappearing into network of others. Me with others is mainly just bunch of triggers that fire based on conditioning.

If I can feel intense otherworldliness from just week or month alone, I imagine that if someone spends decades alone, civilization might seem like miserable alien ant colony. Everybody is responding to commands from others and carrying stuff they don't care about.

ps. It also can trigger psycosis, panic or some kind of madness (prairie fever, cabin fever) in some people. Romanticizing it as escape from all your problems might give people the wrong idea.

There's a TV series "Alone" where they drop people off in the remote woods (far from each other) and the person that can survive the longest by themselves wins $500k.

As the season goes on, you can see a clear decline in the mental health of many of the contestants. Many drop out just out of sheer boredom or loneliness, even though they have decent shelter and can find food. The winners usually last about 2-3 months alone.


Yes but people who go on reality shows are the type that really can't function alone and without constant attention from others.

Albeit I can't disagree with your point. There seems to be significant evidence to support the hypothesis that a minimal degree of socialising helps prevent mental decline.

For instance consider the different things you need to consider whilst holding a simple conversation. It's not the same as talking to a wall. It's a game with constraints and a game that our DNA would rather have us do in order to better our chances of survival through cooperation with other members.

Alone is a televised contest, not a "reality show" as we've come to know them, so your comment does not apply.

The contestants (especially those who make it to later stages) are highly-skilled survivalists.

still feel like a reality show to me.

and talking to a camera and pointing a camera to myself most of the day without even a mirror or comb nearby would make me double anxious.

I'm curious how different the results will be if you could bring your dog, or maybe Kindle , or music player or instrument , or you're a praying person ,etc - what are the minimal conditions where many could learn to live happily alone ?

I don't think it would be that bad. I spent weeks at a time alone on my desert parcel with my trailer. I had my computer and other comforts.

There was always a lot to do if I wanted to do it, and I could spend hours at a time doing stuff like making dirt-roads, practicing my dry-stone masonry, coding and whatnot on the computer.

I think if you're alone and have some purpose (i.e. building your ranch, spending time to study or learn new skills) you'd probably be fine.

Don't they have a camera crew around all the time?

Third sentence says "self-documented".

Still, the people who are willing to film themselves are more extroverted than necessary.

Is that so?

Your mention of going from bright light to a dark room is literally my current working life. I shoot cameras for image quality, which often necessitates a dark room. I've come to prefer the room dark even when I'm not shooting. The past few weeks of where I live, the outdoors has been rather bright... so leaving the lab room dark has become even more attractive.

About two months ago I went to the eye doctor with the last free spot on his schedule, the first one in the morning. I inquired to his booking. "Oh, I've had some people cancel because it's a nice summer day. They have better things to do than be in a dark room all day." I thought, 'Dude, you have no idea what I do for money right now." He's on wetware, I'm on hardware, we're both -- obviously through keeping the job out of our own volition -- enjoying doing the same job.

Very interesting story. Also it's mildly weird to see such a correct/appropriate use of the word 'literally'.

The OED has redefined it so you literally can't use it incorrectly anymore.

Of course because of that it literally has no meaning now.

It seems like it would be more correct to say that we (the English-speaking masses) redefined the word and the OED has simply done their job and documented common usage.

Well, yes. That's how words change. Phrases, too - I've given up the "begs the question" battle.

I know the feeling you are talking about but I don't think that you're any less you when you're around people and external stimuli, you're just the you that are when you are around people and external stimuli. No more or less you than the you that you are when you are alone, just different.

Yes, but I also think there's a kind of latent potential that is either explored or not. We would never learn that we have an innate potential for language if we do not grow up in a social setting. Likewise, we don't realize our innate potential for such a rich...interior life if we don't spend time in isolation.

Yes. I think this is exactly it.

If you have lived only in one mode, you have only one reference point to yourelf. "Mental exploring" outside the default comfort zone helps to explore and map the ways you can experience the world and use your mind.

"triggers that fire based on conditioning"

If one is living by reaction, or conditioning, it's as if one's behaviour is a series of reflex actions - the world tapping on your knee. Sure, it's "you" in a sense, this "you' is unique and has a "personality". But since it's only operating on the outer layer of your nervous system, is it really "you"? Different, and less.

I've noticed that it's not so much my choices that conform, but the way of thinking about them, the value system, the set of choices. My own thinking can evaporate, a dream on waking.

I stressed that "if". It's not necessary to live by reaction. There's a famous quote about this difficulty of keeping the independence of solitude while in the world... (Kipling?)

Group-think wouldn't be a thing if people didn't lose a large part of themselves in social environments, it isn't until after after you leave the environment that you will recognize that your thoughts were dictated by the group.

1) the contrast metaphor is apt 2) the social conditioning too

I am subject to the social conditioned trigger, that's why I avoid people, I feel like a liar, it's unbearable. In my previous job, I was shifted off 1 hour such that when people left at 6pm I had one hour of empty floor to work. The minute the last one leaves, my brain expands and I feel like a butterfly.

Also I can't stay with people because I suspect they also feel this but are still believing in society and thus try to play that absurd game even if they rot inside. Finding disguised ways to escape. I don't want to be there to ask them if they're sad, or worse if they try to lie. I don't have the energy to amort this kind of interaction right now.

I often wish leaving in a remote place with enough space to grow some fruit and veggies and then run and read. But ... I also remember that odd feeling when running cross country far from any familiar place. The woods got me hyper focused, borderline paranoid. I felt deep paranoia before (mugged 3x in a row) but this was different because it came rapidly but not violently. It felt like my reptilian brain was waking up. I didn't like that as much as a I did.. because the density of awareness was refreshing, every sensation became more focused. Sounds of the leaves, the movement of branches .. because I wanted to make sense of a foreign environment and it felt important for my safety, my mind started to tune up to everything without a feeling of drag. I also read people (reddit threads) living in the woods having frightening encounters so .. I'm not sure what I'll do.

ps: about 1), I feel that western modern society is all about raising the contrast on everything, but when everything is bright.. you actually lose something.

I think you're correct in that people do romanticize it a lot. Regardless of whether going outdoors is actually running away from your problems or not, it does provide a refreshing break from human society, as you so elegantly described it. Sometimes, shit happens and life feels rather worthless... but these experiences can act as anchors of sanity, a reminder of the amazing beauty of nature that will continue to be there regardless of what we do, what terrible circumstances we face etc.

I like very much how you describe this thing with words like "triggers" and "disappearing into network", that feels exactly this way for me too.

Where is this place, where you can hike for a week without seeing any other human?

In the US, most of the wilderness areas, national forests, or the vast Bureau of Land Management areas will work. Especially in the western US, you are rarely more than a few hours from wilderness areas where people seldom tread.

While you do see people on the old mining/forest trails occasionally even in the remote areas, that quickly drops to zero if you leave the trails. In many regions there are semi-drivable trails that will take you to within a mile or two of lakes/rivers/etc that are completely off grid and never visited by people. Topographic maps are a good resource for finding these areas.

Yes, I guess the US has a lot of uninhabited regions, while in western Europe I often have a feeling, there is not a single hectare of land without a village.

Nunavut, Patagonia, Lapland, Siberia, etc etc etc

Any serious mountain range (e.g. Alps or Pyrenees in Europe), if you are good enough in mountaineering (it looks on the surface like everything is inhabited, but there are huge patches of mostly untouched wilderness everywhere). However, you have to be in a pretty good physical condition and have some training to do that, which is probably not the case for most HN readers, including myself :)

I really like to hike in Alps, but I don't know how to find these uninhabited places. For sure there are things for more experienced mountaineers, but on these routes there are also people, just more experienced ones.. Besides, I don't want a technically difficult route, I want a route without people..

Which country are you hiking in mostly? In Switzerland and Italy, there are many uninhabited places.

Last summer I've been in Austria and Italy, was relatively full with people. Tell me where these secret uninhabited places are and I'll go there :)

You don't need to go to an exotic place, there are significant wilderness areas all over the US (eg. Boundary Waters in Minnesota). If you choose less traveled areas, there's a good chance you can go a week without seeing anyone.

For me, Lapland is significantly less exotic than Minnesota.

How much time before the eye adjusts?

I think it depends how you do it. I'm not an expert, I just talk about my own experience.

For me the 'fastest' way is to hike alone seven days in wilderness without meeting anyone and not staying still in one place. Having clear physical task helps to settle things.

First time I did it, I think the one of the biggest revelations came in the morning of the 5th day. I was really unhappy. Never been outdoors long time. I was tired and dirty first 4 days. Everything I did I hated. I hated walking. I hated putting up a tent etc. and did everything sloppily and as little effort as possible. Then just woke up at one morning and there was no internal bitching. I had to cross a tiny river, undress and go into cold water and carry things over. I just did it without thinking or aversion. I just took the shock of cold and horrible slimy feel in the mud without flinching. I was not assessing my performance or proud of my new stoic style of doing stuff. It was not fun but it was very peaceful and matter of fact.

I have lived in a hut for a few months in a summer in constant isolation with nothing to do and the idleness brings up weird mental states. Like several days of vivid fantasizes followed by sleeping a week 9-10 hours day with weird dreams and being little paranoid. Creativity bursts where you think you are very close to some breakthrough were the worst. The urge to do abstract carvings or build gadgets could get out of hand for me. Eventually things settle down at least for me.

+1 for this question. Is it a day, a week, a month... Or longer?

Eyes take 30 minutes to properly adjust to the dark.

That was quite beautifully explained. I think I feel all of that to a smaller extent if I just turn off all my devices and let myself be alone with my thoughts for a while.

Every year, I put my phone in airplane mode for the week of my birthday. Aside from checking email on my laptop, I find the phone and state of always being connected disappear from my concern within the first day.

I spend those weeks doing things I've put off, or normally feel there isn't time for.

By now, I look forward to it. Birthdays have become a time for reflection and forecasting. By the end of the week, my life has been quietly rearranged. I like to think there's a surreptitious improvement in my life due to this.

Where do you learn the outdoor and craftmanship skills you'd need to survive on your own in the woods? Lots of backpacking trips with more experienced people?

YouTube. There are a lot of survivalists channels with plethora of information about building shelters, starting fires, finding wild edibles, cooking and even trapping. I'm not a survivalist, but as someone who lives in Colorado and plays in the Rockies almost every week knowing how to survive becomes pretty essential. Watching videos and trying things out on my outings is how i got started. Another fun thing you can do while you're out alone is bring a wild edibles identification guide of some sort for your area. Keeps you occupied and informs you about some pretty neat stuff growing around your camp.

The kids and I binge-watched Primitive Technology [1][2], which is an Aussie guy who goes out to his land somewhere and does everything from scratch: building various shelters, fires, pottery, charcoal. It's brilliant. (And I wrote all this before noticing a sister comment mentioned it too.)

Man vs Wild with Bear Grylls is also a favourite of my kids, although it does get a bit repetitive after a few episodes. Good to have on in the background while you're doing something else, and you can just look up if something interesting happens.

For navigation skills, find your local orienteering or rogaining club and do some events.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAL3JXZSzSm8AlZyD3nQdBA Pro-tip: turn on captions to see explanations. [2] https://primitivetechnology.wordpress.com

That's probably the best way. It may be multimedia but YouTube is still pretty much book learning. That said, lack of people doesn't need to imply difficult circumstances. Camping out by yourself for a week doesn't need to imply living off the land, etc.

There are plenty of resources on youtube, i found Primitive Technology channel quite enjoyable to watch.

as others said, youtube is great.

but take a look at permies.com and if you're interested, you can get into the permaculture movement. you can take advantage of an immense collection of knowledge.

these are some of the most resourceful people I know.

It baffles me that people think it's so shockingly outlandish that there are people who don't reactionarily buy into the tribalistic pressures around us to simply act like everyone else. Humanity is not homogeneous, yet some notions like these are always projected out to be considered an immutable, inescapable constant. I can only guess that's that same fear of being different shining through.

I presume that on sites like this, there's a higher percentage of people who attempt to be more intentionally decisive about themselves and their lives. We don't necessarily have to toss out everything like Knight did, but looking at life and all the weird social rituals and expectations built up, the dichotomy between those and what seems actually beneficial becomes apparent. That conflict causes a choice, we would seek to do the "better" thing, and that draws many people outside the superficial social norms.

I especially bristle at this quote: "Why don’t we want to be alone? Because the stuff that’s down there is stuff you don’t want to see." Anybody who tries to intentionally better themselves knows what's down there. You have to assess what you are if you're going to change. Sure, you can deny and hide from all that and simply find comfort in floating along with everybody else in social inertia, but that seems to me to be a shameful waste of those conceptual abilities which (apparently) make us uniquely human.

> buy into the tribalistic pressures around us to simply act like everyone else

Does anyone else appreciate the delicious irony that parent is hitting all the right notes for an appeal to the tribe while at the same time criticizing tribalism?

1. Establish an 'us' vs. 'them' distinction ('I presume on sites like this') 2. Subtly denigrating outsiders ('draws many people outside the superficial social norms.') 3. Establishing higher common values ('That conflict causes a choice, we would seek to do the "better" thing')

Trying to be original, individualistic, and nonconformist what everyone is taught in the US from an early age.

Monty Python nailed this sort of thing perfectly in 'The Life of Brian' in the 'You are all individuals' scene near the end.

That's strawmanning my point pretty hard.

There is no "us" and "them" in what I'm saying. There's a bunch of varying individuals, and ad-hoc grouping whereever there's some perceived similarity.

The problem is that that grouping instinct goes overboard, and when nonsense or applicability of what emerges from the grouping pressure isn't questioned at all. This happens in small groups as well as large ones, so it's not even a majority vs minority issue. It's simply one of being swept up in our default reactionary ways, and when that is challenged, projecting an assumption that everybody is swept up in the same way as ourself (as the author does) because of that exact same instinct.

There are very real evolutionary pressure on humans to be social and pliant and buy into the notion that society is a net good, whether it be a tribal one or a more modern version. Just think about it: the outliers get ostracized and more often than not don't pass on their genes to the next generation. Until very recently, we had extremely tribal behavior among human societies as well. So it makes sense that most people still naturally think its kinda outlandish to not want to be a part of society or take part in its rituals.

I can't express how glad I feel though, that I am living in an age and country where not being socially pliant isn't something that would get me killed. Where I can continue to live my life the way that I want to, rather than buy into social norms and regulations, many of which seem rather anachronistic.

Being social and socially pliant are not the same thing. Speaking from personal experience.

I'm almost reflexively rebellious but also crave social interaction. It kind of sucks, actually.

> I am living in an age and country where not being socially pliant isn't something that would get me killed

Not killed, but certainly the victim of gossip, even smear campaigns and gang stalking. You're an ideal patsy to cover up some sociopath's schemes. "You may not be interested in war, but war is interestwd in you."

I mean, it's not exactly an easy life. You seem to give up a lot just to not see people sometimes.

I find that regulating when and how I see people helps.

I can be social, personable, agreeable, all that jazz. But like any given normal introvert, I need the recharge by myself and alone. For how long? Of course that depends. For me, I'll arrive to a party acceptably early [and gladly help out or whatever] or right on time as expected, and leave in classic Dr Who style when very few people notice; "happy to come, happy to go" and don't overstay my welcome.

I feel like I am aware of what I am "missing out on not to see people sometimes". Chitchat, small talk, how's it going, your troubles, my troubles. However, good fences do actually make good neighbors. I've gotten great help from my neighbors and such, with about as much effort put in by either of us as described by Robert Frost, and I couldn't be more grateful.

I have the impulse to become a hermit myself, fundamentally because I'm tired of living up to other people's ideologies: going through schools and finding a job in a cubical. getting married at the right age and then raising the right amount kids, saving for their college fund and then for retirement.

but why?

I can't help but compare with my surroundings, even I have quit Facebook for many years. I can't be myself when I'm around others, but become a money maker for things I don't need. I can't concentrate on what makes me happy.

I recall what made me happy. it was when I finally understood some papers, some equations, some code. I just want to find a quiet place to do these. I hope to become an awesome painter and a guitar player too.

I just want to have enough to survive and focus my energy on these things. I don't care if I have successful kids or fancy cars.

A cubicle? You'd be lucky. Today's Modern, Dynamic, Collaborative workplace has no room for outmoded concepts of "personal space". Welcome to your new workspace: a cubic meter on a cafeteria style table in a sea of cafeteria tables. Join the team of tomorrow -- always chattering, always discussing, always collaborating to build a better future!

Now you need to get these stories done by end of sprint. We have a release in six weeks, people, let's get moving!

Wasn't that one of Dante's levels? Seventh Circle (Agile)

This is not necessarily agile. I think this is cargo cult software engineering: "collaboration", "teamwork" and "agile".

Wasn't Agile about doing less work?

Less unrealistic plans.

Less meetings - including informal.

Shorter meetings - mostly just daily standup - what I did, what I'm doing, any blockers.

Agile is defined as http://agilemanifesto.org/

Scrum with its artifacts/ceremonies like standup is a specific interpretation.

That's true, but -- especially if you read the 12 principles as well -- it's very clear that the intention is team-based software development with a lot of fine grained interaction (and an explicit rejection of remote work). Stuff like daily stand ups definitely go with the grain.

It would be interested to see how a variant that truly focussed on individuals rather than interaction could work.

Scrum with its rigid artifacts/ceremonies is a complete negation of the basis of what's on the manifesto.

Sure maybe it's not for EVERYBODY, but it's not always that bad. In 6 years of work at 4 companies, I've never had real work pressure, and 15 min a day for standup is not a tall order...

Trouble is at the end of the day we need food and shelter. Reading some really fascinating papers or code is great, and so are painting and playing guitar. Do all those things. But most everyone will have to work to live, and working a good job is easier with schooling, and you might meet this girl...

It seems like an artificial treadmill from afar, but IMO the underpinnings are fairly sound. You just have to find the flavor that suits you. Buying farmland and working in your fields 12 hours a day, is still an option :)

Buying farmland and working in your fields 12 hours a day, is still an option :)

Yeap. Or get some sheep and go graze them in the mountains. There are still people doing that in my Western European country. Plenty of free time to think, if that's what you really want.

I once watched a shepherd put his hand up a sheep's vagina to help with a birth during lambing time.

If you think it's an easy or fun job, you might want to spend some time doing it before committing.

This isn't the difficult or unpleasant bit of sheep farming, delivering a good lamb is actually wonderful. Sheep in pain, dead lambs, malformed lambs, drowned lambs - these are harder. Carrying injured sheep soaked to the skin in a force 9, that's bloody horrible. Doing it once in a while is invigorating but the grind, year after year all through the winter.

Sheep farming looks like really hard work to me, raising animals on marginal land with tough weather thrown in is only for those who really want to do it.

Food and shelter can be had relatively cheaply in the Western world, sure you might not be able to live in the centre of London or some hip place in SV but people on low wages mostly find a home.

I sometimes wonder if it would have been better to just accept an undemanding career and spend my spare time reading interesting papers or writing code. However, I did meet this girl ...

Buying farmland and working in your fields 12 hours a day, is still an option :)

As someone who's looking in that kind of direction at least semi-seriously, don't underestimate the cost of farmland, especially if you're hoping for land that's reasonably flat and fertile. There probably are places in the world where it remains a cheap option -- but few that are an easy move from the UK. Also, however close to self-sufficiency you come in terms of food, fuel, potentially clothing, there remain expenses that need to be paid in cash.

I'm somewhat hoping that one day I might find a balance between some paid work and some time in my own fields -- but don't expect it to be easy. In the mean time, I get a certain amount from the garden.

Oh yes, farmland is not cheap in much of the world. Unfortunately living your dream frequently takes work to attain.

One of the goals of adult life is to be able to find the things that one likes to do and find creative ways to do them, when the most straightforward way does not seem possible. I don't mean to offer any solutions to your situation, but this is something that made me feel a lot more control of my own life :)

You and I should go bowling sometime.

You don't have to. I sometimes feel similarly to you. I dropped out of college and am so happy I did. In high school my parents pushed me so hard. In college I was doing honors going for a 4.0. But now I just do freelance coding and live on very little. Sometimes I do coding for other people, but I have a lot of free time to code my own projects. I keep it that way on purpose

If your gonna live in society, you are completely dependent on other people. Without them giving you food, a place to live you would die. So just do some freelancing to get some money and then you can do what you want in the rest of the time.

You probably don't hate interacting with people that much. It's probably just that your interactions are out of control and on overload in the office. You'd probably be happier freelancing so your interactions would be far fewer and more structured.

The idea of introverts and extraverts being distinct groups of people with completely different neurological responses to social situations is a largely false one, created by self-help woo merchants to unhelpfully pathologise the feeling that EVERYONE has from time to time that they want to be left the fuck alone.

You know what? It's a normal, neurotypical part of life as a homo sapiens to want to be by yourself sometimes. And equally, it's a normal, neurotypical part of life as a homo sapiens to want to socialise sometimes.

We're a weird species like that, the way sometimes we want something and other times we want the opposite.

Sure, but while I do agree that the neurological differences might be non-existent, I think that if you were to plot the amount of time people spend in social setting, you'd get something like a normal distribution. You could designate one end as introverts and one as extroverts.

Exactly this. And if I might nitpick a bit, I'd say "the amount of time people WANT to spend in social settings". Which would probably correlate well to the actual time spent in such settings, but to me the heart of the matter is that some people just aren't look for it, while others are.

That's important though. It's probably a normal distribution. Not some crazy bimodal or something.

> The idea of introverts and extraverts being distinct groups of people with completely different neurological responses to social situations is a largely false one

Why would you say that? Even perusing the wikipedia article shows that there is at least some evidence for a biological basis, and that it is being researched.

Maybe it's not up to your standards, but it's far from being settled as a bunch of 'woo'


Have you read the article? It defends the original position you quote, especially in the case of jungian psychology and myer-briggs model.

Everytime you hear someone saying you can divide the world in two separate categories, you can know that the vision it creates is blurry at best. Juste like saying pi = 2. It's technically not wrong, but a rather useless info.

>The idea of introverts and extraverts being distinct groups of people with completely different neurological responses to social situations is a largely false one

Are you saying it is possible there are neurological differences, but it hasn't been proven?

Or are you saying it has been proven that there are no neurological differences?

I could be wrong, but my best guess is that you are not familiar with this area of science, much less science in general, and made that claim for reasons having more to do with your personal philosophy. Am I right?

> "Or are you saying it has been proven that there are no neurological differences?"

Beware of confirmation bias. If you've convinced yourself something exists, and discover some patterns in data that line up with previous beliefs, that will be classed as evidence even without understanding what those patterns truly represent.

"unhelpfully pathologise the feeling that EVERYONE has"

You may just have stumbled upon a new definition of extrovert, i.e. a person who finds this distinction meaningless. I'm half joking, but most people I know have a pretty consistent level of extra-intraversion.

It's a bit of a cats and dogs problem - there's mutual incomprehension. An introvert's nightmare is when the dogs judge the cat show - e.g. modern justifications for open-plan working environments.

IMHO this is the most apt description in the thread :)

I agree with that based on my personal experience so far.Sometimes I want to be alone not being disturbed or interrupted by other people.But my friends will think that something happened to me, in reality I just want to be alone without any company.

In other time I talk to people, go out and enjoy with friends.

Again most of the time I like be alone doing what I like to do.

The title IMO is far more interesting and thought provoking than the actual story. So this guy lived in the woods somewhat near people, and stole to get by...

I've personally always been fascinated by the topic as I have met several hermit monks, have a friend who lived as one for half a year, and contemplated it for myself. The history of religious asceticism and hermits is quite interesting, and many of history's most famous philosophers/religious leaders/prophets were either hermits, or had periods of reclusion. And nearly every single religion has these hermit figures.

Anyhow, the downside is that being alone is tough. Physically and mentally. Humans are social creatures. However I have personally benefited from periods of isolation and reflection, even if I'd much rather be around others.

I think the idea that "Humans are social creatures" is spread by the part of humanity that are social creatures and us introverts are not normally around to challenge that assertion.

While undoubtedly there are many many humans that desire to socialize and be around other humans, there are many of us that find socialization less enjoyable.

So while I personally have benefited from periods of social interaction, I'd much rather be in isolation and self reflection.

Being social and being sociable often conflated.

Every time you buy something from Amazon, drink tap water, or live in a dwelling that you didn't build yourself, you are being a social creature. Few animals are capable of interacting in these highly complicated and choreographed ways.

> "Every time you buy something from Amazon, drink tap water, or live in a dwelling that you didn't build yourself, you are being a social creature."

I'd say that's stretching the definition of social beyond the breaking point. Technically those interactions involve other humans, but none that you engage with directly. It's direct human interaction that is the key to whether something is 'social' or not IMO.

Quite the opposite. Yuval Harari explains really well in Sapiens that one of the keys to human success has been the ability to "do things together" at larger scales than any other species. For example, maritime trade going back millenia. That is true social "trust" in each other. The whole concept of money being a social construct is a very interesting thing to consider.

> "Quite the opposite."

Consider the context. The subject under discussion is those who want to be alone. It's quite possible to be alone whilst still enjoying the fruits of human collaboration.

I believe that was the point that your parent was trying to make; clarify that "Humans are social creatures" doesn't mean that all of us love interacting with people, but that the quote implies that we can come together to do things in a way that others cannot.

What animals also do this ?

Bees, ants, and other social insects have complex societies with division of labor. One difference is that in insects, the roles are probably more hard-wired and instinctual while in humans these roles are more malleable and depend on culture.

As an introvert myself, I do lack the necessary skills to "handle" other people, although I've been slowly working on them. As time goes by, I find it easier to handle other people, although I still prefer to be by myself most of the time.

It just crossed my mind that, as an hypothesis, may it be that introverts prefer to be alone because socializing is hard since we lack the necessary skills?!

Well we ARE social creatures as a species since it's been the only reason we had been able to achieve what we did, be where we are and more simply survive. So even if some of us don't like the idea of being around others it's a fact that it served us well to be able to collaborate in such extensive ways.

That reminded something I said in another comment: Some people like parties, others like strange things, and we like to be alone.

I read an interesting book about this recently, I think it was called Quiet. It seems that a lot of successful introverts get by in an extrovert dominated world by learning to fake it. The book quotes a number of well-known people you wouldn't think are naturally introverted.

I've seen a similar usage of the expression "social creatures" ("social animals") before, and it bothers me. Firstly, because I've known several loners who would take issue with what's being suggested.

But secondly, because the expression originally implied nothing of the sort, and still doesn't in biological jargon (which I believe is where it is/was most commonly used).

It was Aristotle who first used the expression "ζῷον πολιτικόν", and he used it to mean that humans exist in large ordered agglomerations as a matter of fact [0]. He also included bees and ants among the "political animals", but I don't think he ever said anything about any of them wanting company for it's own sake. And, at least in the beginning of his Politics, neither does he suggest that humans want it for it's own sake, either. Biologists, on the other hand, still use that expression with a meaning similar to that of Aristotle (animals who happen to live together), while including other groups [1].

Now, this wouldn't be a problem if in common language these expressions merely meant something else than what they do in biology, or what they mean in Aristotelian exegesis. That would be fine. But instead it seems as if the usage in common language relies on the usage in learned contexts to do a little bit of semantic sleight-of-hand, and suggest something else than what was originally meant e.g. "Humans have an inherent need for company: Biologists say we're 'social animals'".

Otherwise, the statement would have no authority behind it in common language. Instead, it would be just an unfounded assertion. In fact, that there are people who disagree with it already suggests that it is, at least, ill-founded. These are the people saying "No, we don't". But instead, readers are nudged by the usage in learned contexts to take it for granted, without further justification.

Either way, it's a bit like when someone conflates term "observer", as it is used in physics, with the term as it is used in common language to suggest that people can walk through walls if they wish hard enough.

[0] http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%...

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_animal

Agreed. It seems really silly to sit around and talk about how awful civilization is while you leech from it to survive. If the guy made his own tools and found his own food without the use of everything our society gives him (save maybe knowledge), his words would carry much more weight.

I have a lot of negative to say about civilization, and my entire life over the last two years had been centered around undoing those things. I have to disagree with what you're saying.

If you try to change one aspect of your life, say being vegan, you find that the other aspects of your life conspire to pull you back. With valiant effort you can resist in some narrow sense... maybe not eating animal parts. But then you realize animal cruelty is inherent in almost all common forms of farming. And in order to participate in social activities you are expected to eat animal bits, and your doctor doesn't know how to support you.

And perhaps even more importantly, even if I succeed at meeting your requirement, say living in a separatist vegan commune, we will simply exist in a bubble until we burn up and disappear.

The way you have influence is not usually by taking an unflinching moralizing stance, but by pulling gently and incessantly on the rudder, steering your community almost imperceptibly towards a new place, making heart wrenching concessions, standing by as your values are desecrated in front of you, and getting up to do it again. To truly take a moral stance one must participate in the murky politics of the hive of human activity.

The absolutists just die. If not literally, then mythologically, because no one can understand their lives, and so no one learns from them... Except maybe a few accolytes who are trying to climb the same mountain of radicalism.

Insightful post

> Years ago, I went to India for a ten-day, silent retreat. I wanted to make myself go where I was afraid to go—deep down, inside my own head. I found it terrifying. Why don’t we want to be alone? Because the stuff that’s down there is stuff you don’t want to see.

We live in a world in which who we are is defined by what we do. We are a role - parent, engineer, carer. Strip that away and all that remains is a who. That's the reward of solitude: a situation wherein you have nobody to bounce your 'self' off, nobody to define yourself in relation to, allowing you to surface.

Turns out that who you are is simply a sequence of reactions to experience - the external kind as well as that which bubbles up internally. Rather than terrifying, this should be seen as profoundly liberating.

It is terrifying before but liberating after. So I was extremely afraid of sky diving but once I did it, that felt liberating.

Its easy to talk about re-framing our mindset, especially for things that frighten or embarrass us. Much harder to carry out. But I do agree its important to take action regardless... that seems to be the only thing that helps with it.

Simpler: in a retreat there are few distractions and you can see many of your behaviors which you wouldn't normally notice. The silence also takes away a big coping mechanism.

Ahhh....but now your sequence of reactions that you have includes a 10 day experience that will forever contribute to your future "who you are." Can you really say you are worse for it?

Excellent point. I often contrast myself against my brother. I'm in STEM, he's a creative. I love Snickers, he can't stand nuts in his chocolate. I don't use social media, he's a social butterfly. Both of us base our "personality" at least to a certain degree, by comparing against each other. I wonder if either of us was an only child, if we'd still be as divergent.

Are you inspired to take your own silent retreat, and if so, to what kind of place and for how many days or weeks?

My personal theory for explaining hermits throughout history is simple, these people had/have aspergers. I have aspergers myself, and I can very easily see someone who has aspergers who for whatever reason no longer wants to socialize anymore getting up and doing their own thing out in isolation. I don't truly believe that any neurotypical person, and for that matter many aspies could do it, but if you're brain is wired in a way that socialization doesn't provide that reward that it does for most other people, either because you don't understand social interaction and have no desire to learn the rules so you can play the game, or simply because you have discovered the rules and simply have no interest exhausting the effort, going out into isolation and spending the rest of your days pursuing other things that give you fulfillment.

>I have aspergers myself, and I can very easily see someone who has aspergers who for whatever reason no longer wants to socialize anymore getting up and doing their own thing out in isolation.

Did you get a diagnosis from a qualified professional, or is this self-diagnosis?

I used to wonder if I had it, but then I met someone who was diagnosed with it. Fairly significant difference.

>socialization doesn't provide that reward that it does for most other people

Exactly. If one doesn't get the reward then it's too easy to commit errors and not worth the effort to correct them.

However I do think 'spergs' have a better knowledge of the rules than normies. Just as a native speaker doesn't need to know grammar in order to speak correctly, so normies don't need to know the rules of social interaction.

>However I do think 'spergs' have a better knowledge of the rules than normies.

You're absolutely right. It's intuition for neurotypical people, it's just something they get. For aspies socialization is about learning all the hidden rules that come naturally to others. But I do admit that knowing the rules and applying them in real time is a very, very difficult thing to do. It gets exhausting quick, and if this was one of the reasons hermits decide to become hermits, I can empathise massively.

Thing about said rules are that they are not fixed, they are fluid based on the ongoing exchange within the peer group.

Thus all rules come with a ton of exceptions.

I think the nonsperg is connected to society and the sperg isn't. Like, deep down in their brain and guts. It's a big difference. Like a sperg is a single celled organism and a nonsperg is one cell in a multicell blob.

> these people had/have aspergers [...] and simply have no interest exhausting the effort

I don't think it _necessarily_ needs to be aspergers for that. I have OCD regarding, e.g., remembering exactly what people said, and it makes social situations exhausting.

Interestingly enough OCD and ADHD have a huge comorbidity rate with aspergers/autism. My personal belief is that OCD and ADHD are just different manifestations of autism. I.e. neurodiverse vs. neurotypical behaviours

Snap Judgement did a nice podcast version of this story. http://snapjudgment.org/north-pond-hermit

The letters Knight & Finkel exchanged add an interesting angle.

Can't say I'm a fan of the author's choice for title of this post. It's Chris Knight's story, and nothing in this post presents any evidence for anyone else at any other time, aside from this single sentence "Think of Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha: they all spent very long periods of time alone before introducing their religions." I totally believe there have always been people who want to be alone sometimes. Pretty much everyone wants to be alone sometimes. But ugh, this sentence & title seem to strain credulity and are so completely unnecessary and tangential to this story.

Fair enough. I felt a fleeting moment of self-vindication when I saw it pop up in my RSS feed - hence, the reason why I kept it.

Oh, to be clear, I'm talking about Coombe's title not yours. It's best if you keep the article's title in tact, and this is a really interesting story, you should feel good about it popping to the top.

Duly noted. Thank you for the feedback:)

He portrays a man who, without a shred of formal outdoor training, survived through ingenuity and remarkable self-discipline

The man burglarized people's houses for supplies.

Yes, it's easy to dismiss him for many reason, but more interesting to me is how he survived the brutal Maine winters: by getting up in the middle of the night and pacing back and forth to warm up. Every night. For 27 winters. I don't know how you measure willpower but that's gotta be one of the greats right there.

This sentiment is well covered in the article.

I thought that was the least interesting part, didn't some people start leaving stuff out for him so he didn't have to break in.

>The man burglarized people's houses for supplies.

If that was all it takes to survive in the woods for decades then that would be relevant.

I read about this man when the story first broke and found it extremely fascinating. I can relate to wanting to be alone and living an isolated existence. I love being in nature, away from the world and have often thought about pursuing such an existence permanently. But I just cannot comprehend his methods. Move to Alaska. Learn to hunt. Carve out a place for yourself somewhere. What he did tells me he was just insane - live near people and steal. To put it bluntly, this is fucking nuts.

His methods aren't insane. They're rational for survival in human society/civilization without participating in it.

Think of a rat or other mammal pest. They effectively survive off of civilization in the same way.

And since he got away with it for the entire time...successfully...it seemed effective, too.


Living fully alone isolated from civilization in terrain as hostile as wild alaska isn't realistic. See Christopher Mccandless. It's simpler to just scrounge off of civilization.

Your sample size is one. Let me double it for you, I highly recommend Dick Proenneke's story, Alone in the Wilderness.


Reading [0], Dick was significantly more prepared, and had a friend that regularly fly in supplies.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Proenneke#Site

Nod, I've been more prepared going car camping for a weekend in the summer in a campground within walking distance of a resort than Chris Mccandless was going into Alaska for the winter.

He should not be the benchmark for this thing.

He's the benchmark for undeclared suicides.

Moving to Alaska doesn't work either. See Chris McCandless. Of course, where he chose to live (and, eventually, die) didn't have nearby houses to steal from. He just thought he could live off the land. In Alaska. In winter. Without the necessary tools or skills. That, my friend, is truly nuts.

I think Richard Proenneke is a better example of someone who survived in the vastness of Alaskan wilderness for decades. His survival story is truly fascinating and level-headed compared to McCandless who was a hippie vagabond more than anything else.

I've seen those films of Proenneke. Unlike McCandless, he had mad skills in a seemingly infinite number of disciplines. He also planned things out but, and here's the kicker, he had friends on the outside who'd arrange to have supplies flown in to him so he was hardly living in isolation. Even so, he was a pretty amazing guy.

FWIW, hundreds of thousands of Christian and Buddhist monks alive today all over our world live near to one another in cells or caves. A farming monastery in Arizona started 20 years ago is just beautiful and thriving. WV now has a Buddhist monastery. Buddhist monks are considered "ordained" but not most Christian monks. Lives of quiet or social Renunciation are everywhere and growing in number. Some even have fast WiFi. Go look on YouTube. I have been considering and schematically budgeting an urban ecumenical working monastery in Washington DC that would support itself with OSS testing, documentation and language localization.


The Bhavana Society Theravadins (roughly "Tradition Of Elders") in High View, West Virginia take ordinations. Theravadins keep the earliest known Pali Sutta scriptures. It is its own idiom but surprisingly similar to Stoic philosophical traditions with a Orthodox Ladder of Divine Ascent group study and meditation regimen. Great life option for long lived calmer wiser folks who do not want to raise families and enjoy reading nonfiction.

> Years ago, I went to India for a ten-day, silent retreat. I wanted to make myself go where I was afraid to go—deep down, inside my own head. I found it terrifying. Why don’t we want to be alone? Because the stuff that’s down there is stuff you don’t want to see.

I find it interesting that silent retreats work for so many people. While I do get some benefits from meditation it doesn't really lead me to terrifying situations. From time to time it feels like I am having some epiphanies wrt to my shortcomings but meditation seems too gentle to call those moments a confrontation. There is always this nice, cool distance between me and my thoughts. Throwing me into an impro theater group might be more beneficial (and terrifying). The required spontaneity would force the "actual me" to live through uncomfortable situations and perhaps grow.

This looks like a good thread to recommend one of my favourite YouTube channels, "Primitive Technology", which features all manner of tools and dwellings built caveman-style.

It's creator is a hacker in the truest sense; his forge-blower contraption, for instance, is simply ingenious.

Don't forget to turn on captions, the subtitles describe what he's doing :)


it's actually the worst thread :)

The article is not about some outdoorsman that built furnaces and such. he didn't even lit a fire or dug a latrine!

this is the story of a man that just didn't want to be seen. he camped 3min walk from cabins, and stole books and food everywhere he could.

However tenuous the connection, my post is related to both tech and the OP.

However irrelevant it may be, somehow I'm certain it will not be the most nuisance caused in this thread today :)

I don't want to live in a wilderness, but i would want to greatly reduce mandatory social interactions i have to do daily. Its emotionally draining and stressful. Almost everything we do can be automated, but people still insist on face-to-face interaction(or at minimum voice/video chat) and there is this herding behavior that forces people to adjust their beliefs and thoughts to conform to current in-group paradigms(the comparison with ant colonies ITT is on point). All the 24/7 media exposure and rat race of consumerism eventually take their toll on mental health(the polar opposite of "hermit slowly losing their minds") with people becoming psychotic and dependent on pills to function.

It appears to me that, like many others, there is an issue with the quality of your interactions, and you are unable to control when/where/how they happen.

I sometimes hear the phrase "People are social animals" to express the sentiment that living in densely-populated environments has a good/neutral influence on the human psyche.

The disclaimer should be that socialising with people we know well and trust is what's "natural" and yields benefits; being constantly surrounded by strangers has to be stressful for us.

Wether consciously or intuitively (See the excellent book "The Gift of Fear" for more), we are constantly scanning our surroundings for potential threats.

That, and a lack of accountability for how one treats their "neighbours", presents problems that can place a tremendous load on your mental health.

There's an evolutionary advantage to having people who are isolated from the rest of the community. And not just in terms of sickness transmission. Things such as war, famine, and natural disasters can wipe out whole population groups.

I'm a little skeptical. Isolated individuals cannot successfully reproduce a population. Furthermore, those who intentionally isolate themselves seem less likely to achieve reproductive success in the event that, say, they stumbled across a suitable mate, or a post-disaster survivor encampment.

Perhaps I read the article wrong, but I was under the impression that he came back to society after 27 years. This would mean if there had been a disaster while he was gone, his genes would make up a much higher percentage of the population than if he had stayed.

He was still living near and reliant on other people for food and energy supplies. If shit really hit the fan and those disappeared, it's not clear he would survive either.

When I said isolated I meant it in exactly that fashion. Isolated and withdrawn, but close enough to still fall back into society if the need - due to internal or external reasons - arose. Someone removing themselves from even the remote chance of human interaction is unlikely to have any evolutionary advantage. And unless I'm reading the article wrong, he did eventually rejoin the masses after 27 years.

I guess was talking about people who feel the need to withdraw in general. I think we've all met a person or two like this, who prefered to be alone. Some just take it further than others.

"Man is by nature a social animal; an individual who is unsocial naturally and not accidentally is either beneath our notice or more than human. Society is something that precedes the individual. Anyone who either cannot lead the common life or is so self-sufficient as not to need to, and therefore does not partake of society, is either a beast or a god"

From Aristotle, The Politics.

Maybe "introvert" or "extrovert" depends largely on the potential company.

All people (and cultural groups for that matter) are not equally pleasant to be around.

But Knight was never really alone. Sure, he didn't live with or talk to people. But he couldn't survive without stealing from the people around him.

"Why don’t we want to be alone? Because the stuff that’s down there is stuff you don’t want to see."

This really resonates with me. The "Fear of missing out" is something I try to avoid like the plague, but sometimes I wonder why do I even care?

edit: replaced the acronym FOMA

> The "Fear of missing out" is something I try to avoid like the plague, but sometimes I wonder why do I even care?

Ok, then don't care. Maybe it's time to finally grow up. Or then again, maybe the desire for company is perfectly natural and instinctual.


Fear of Missing Out

"Bokononism is based on the concept of foma, which are defined as harmless untruths. A foundation of Bokononism is that the religion, including its texts, is formed entirely of lies; however, one who believes and adheres to these lies will have peace of mind, and perhaps live a good life. The primary tenet of Bokononism is to "Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy."


I think Vonnegut is parodying the fundamental tenet of most religion.

Great story. I wonder how spiritual/ religious Chris is. I understand being alone in nature and the desire for solitude but Chris's life style probably has a strong spiritual component. I am going to have to read the book.

Here is another, longer form article about Chris Knight by the same author.


Simply astounding read. Just added the book to my wishlist, but I wonder how much it'll do above and beyond.

There have always existed people who have suffered from severe depression. There have always existed people who are sucidial.

I find the title a bit dangerous, but an interesting topic.

Since the time Vedic seers, I suppose...

BTW, prolonged solitude has been considered by most major Eastern schools (both Hindu and Buddhist) as necessarily precursor for spiritual transformations.

“A man can be himself only so long as he is alone; and if he does not love solitude, he will not love freedom; for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.”

― Arthur Schopenhauer

Always bring a cat. Otherwise why not?

How does one find, or plan, such retreats?

And there is nothing wrong with it. Most people think being alone is equivalent to being antisocial. A common misconception that needs to be addressed. The person doesn't need therapy, they just want to be left alone.

True story: in the early 90's, I walked up to and witnessed this: There was a young woman running a "Museum of Elvis" in a storefront in Portland. She wasn't making it financially, so unable to pay off her student loans, she took to sitting in the storefront in a chair, with a sign and a donation box saying, "I just want to be left a loan."

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