In May I read a fantastic book called Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales. It is about how and why some people survive extreme situations. The book describes a lot of the psychology of decision-making. It says that linear/logical thinking (associated with the neocortex of the brain) is terrible for making decisions. Instead, people rely on ‘emotional bookmarks’ to make decisions. ‘Emotional bookmarks’ are not just the brain, they involve much of the body. It turns out that ‘my gut tells me to do this’ and ‘my heart tells me to do this’ are not just figurative speech; the digestive organs and/or heart might be literally involved in the decision-making process. Animals with relatively few neurons in their brains can make decisions because it is not just the brain.
There are people with neurological damage who cannot use ‘emotional bookmarks’ or feel ‘gut feelings’ or their ‘heart’. They can still use logical/linear thought processes just fine, yet their ability to make decisions is severely impaired which means, for example, that they cannot schedule appointments.
I’ll give you an example of how I use emotional bookmarks vs. linear thinking. Right now, it is May 22 and I am aboard the M/V Kennicott (yeah, this post is going to be posted way after this is written). I told myself that I was going to start writing this post hours ago, but instead, I ended up working on a jigsaw puzzle. I did not think to myself ‘I am going to play with the jigsaw puzzle instead of turning on my computer and writing a blog post’. I just … played with the jigsaw puzzle. That is because I have an emotional bookmark which says ‘jigsaw puzzle are fun’ and so, when I pass by the area with the jigsaw puzzles, I end up playing with them instead of writing this blog post (though I eventually managed to pull myself away from the jigsaw puzzle and start writing this).
Another example would be listening to music. I rarely set aside time specifically for listening to music, but I have emotional bookmarks that say that listening to certain types of music lead to certain types of feelings. Thus, when I am around a device which can play music, I sometimes find myself playing some music without thinking about it. Emotional bookmarks are also how I decide which music I am going to play. Occasionally, I actually will think about which piece of music I will play, but usually, I don’t think about it, I just put on whatever music I ‘feel like’ hearing.
If I used linear thinking instead, I think I would almost never play music in the first place. And if I decided to play music, and then tried to use linear thinking to pick which music to play, I would consider many possible choices of music and evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of each piece. This would take forever, and really is not worth the effort if I just feel like listening to music.
The book specifically mentions that these feelings/emotional bookmarks are also how people decide to have sex, and if people did not have emotional bookmarks which said that sex feels good, nobody would ever choose to have sex. As an ace who has had contact with many other aces, including aces who have decided to have sex when they did not experience sexual attraction, desire, or a libido, I think the reality is more complicated that that. Yet I see the writer’s point.
I think I lack the feelings that I need to make firm decisions to have sex. I do not think this applies to ALL aces, but I think this applies to me, and to some other aces.
First of all, I lack the emotional bookmarks which say that sex feels good. I understand, logically, that many people think sex feels good, and that I might also think it feels good if I tried it, but that is logical thinking, not an emotional bookmark. Second all, since I do not experience sexual attraction, I would find it difficult to decide who to have sex with. Even if I decided to have sex, I would need linear thinking to decide who to have it with, and trying to choose a sexual partner without feeling sexual attraction is really hard. But I do not even get as far as choosing who to have sex with, because I don’t make decisions about whether or not to have sex in the first place.
I know some aces (as well as some people who are not ace) have made a conscious decision to never consent to sex. Many of these aces have an emotional bookmark which says ‘sex feels bad’ which helps them be so decisive. I have never made such a firm decision. I just don’t make any decision about whether or not to have sex, which means that I end up not consenting to have sex.
I knew this all to some extent before, but the framework offered by this book really clarified how being asexual leads to me not making decisions around sex the way most adults do. Unlike those people with neurological damage mentioned in the book, I do have ‘gut feelings’ and ‘emotional bookmarks’ and I mostly use them the way most people use them. But when it comes to sex, all of those ‘gut feelings’ and ‘emotional bookmarks’ are totally blank. Which leaves me with just linear/logical thinking when it comes to sex. Which is terrible for making decisions. So I don’t decide.