Friday, September 04, 2009

Primary Sorting Algorithms

Everybody has a primary sorting algorithm.

Let me explain. The senses perceive something, and the brain then tries to recognize what it is. Then the emotions react positively or negatively.

Perception, recognition, reaction. Boom boom boom, it happens very fast. Then comes decision.

I was hiking with a friend once, and at the top of a hill, I looked down at my feet.

And at the coiled brown thing next to my right foot. (Perception)

Which looked very much like a rattlesnake I had seen in a Scout manual once. (Recognition)

Which meant I was in danger. (Reaction)

Which mean I needed to get down that hill as quickly as possible. (Decision)

My friend later told me that I had been yelling as I ran down the hill; I don't remember that part. Adrenaline does some funny things.

The primary sorting algorithm lives in the Recognition part of the decision cycle; it is based on everything you've ever taken as a fact.

When you see (perceive) a person, your brain immediately goes to work figuring out what type of person they are. For some people, the primary sort is, are they a man or a woman? For others, the sort is, are they my race, or another? For others, the sort is, are they a child or an adult? This DETERMINES how you react to them.

Some people have more esoteric primary sorts, such as, are they a cat person or a dog person? Are they a Star Trek fan or a Star Wars fan? Are they happy or negatively emoting?

Your primary sort is based on that one event in your past when you screwed up a primary identification, and something bad happened to you. In my case, I was de-pantsed by a cute girl, who had never shown any inkling of being mean to me before. (She solemnly apologized when she saw how embarassed and ashamed I was.) From then on, I primarily sorted people by whether they were going to hurt me or not. I determined this by their facial expressions, either of friendliness or of seeming guarded or mischievious. I haven't gotten over this.

Now things get tricky. There are people with screwed up genes, or screwed up hormones or glands or stuff, whose sexual characteristics are not fully male or fully female. These "intersex" individuals have a very hard time in a world that insists on a binary primary sort of male/female. (The same is true of dwarfs, little people, and short people, who are often treated like children despite being adults.)

People who are intersex inspire the same kind of "gender panic" in certain people that cross-dressers and transvestites do: "How DARE you be unrecognizable to my scheme of how the world works! How DARE you attempt to trick me into miscategorizing you!" In a civilized society, there is no reason for "gender panic" to turn into violence; however, it does too often, because not everybody who lives in civilization is civilized.