WHAT IS THIS?

Daily, snackable writings and podcasts to spur changes in thinking.

A blueprint for building a better brain by slow, consistent, daily drops of influence.

The way we think is both our greatest tool - indeed our only tool - and very often it is also our biggest leash. We are only who we think we are. Our opportunities are also limited by who other people think we are. It stands to reason that if we’d like to change who we are, we must start with an effort to change our thinking. Read more here

BIG QUESTION BAD QUESTION

May 23rd, 2019

 

Many of the biggest questions that we come across, that we tend to think are the most important, are in all truth, very poor questions.

 

What is the meaning of life?

 

That’s perhaps the biggest question we have, and yet, it’s a terrible question; first and foremost because it never leads a person to a definitively better place.  Attempting to answer this question is akin to a rut.  One can wonder and perseverate in circles forever without ever really gaining any ground.

 

What to do with life? is similarly a poor question because of how large and ungainly it is.

 

We can ask what a better question might be?

 

How can we zoom this question in and carve a more productive version out of it?

 

We can narrow the time scope for one and ask merely: what shall we do with today?

 

No matter what the answer ultimately turns out to be for our larger question about life, it is invariably tied to the actions we take now, how those actions are wrapped up in current obligations and how exactly we use our time outside of such obligations to steer in new directions.

 

Generally, the bigger the question, the more likely the question is a poor one.  There’s a simple reason for this:  we do best to ask questions that are in direct proportion to our own personal agency.  Asking questions about things that we cannot really do anything about is not only paralyzing, but the mismatch is more likely to cause stress that we cannot resolve than it is likely to produce any kind of meaningful result that we can work with.

 

Its for this relation to personal agency that we do best to refashion questions like whittling knives and trim the fat off questions that are not in accord with our current powers.

 

Such larger questions are not without their utility, but only if we can bridge a way for our current level of agency to one day increase to the point where such questions are not simply stressors.  Questions about time help illustrate this.  After answering what we will do with today, we can then ask about the week, and the succeeding weeks, then the month and future months, and slowly, if we are thorough and honest with our answers we begin to bridge the agency of a single life in a single day to much larger frames of time.  If our efforts in those succeeding scales of time are directed in ways that increase our personal agency, then the sorts of questions we can handle grow bigger in accordance to that personal agency.

 

Regardless, however, starting with an honest assessment of where we currently stand is the most important part of all of this.  Without working with the only power we have and leveraging it as well as possible, no larger aims are possible.

 

Such agency boils down to a much simpler question:

 

What can you do today with what you’ve got now?


Podcast Ep. 403: Big Question Bad Question

from
Tinkered Thinking







FIENDS FOR FEELING

May 22nd, 2019

Sometimes things are too tense, too dark, too dreary.

 

Often things are simply too something. Too, too.  As in quadruple O’s.

 

We’re fiends for feeling.  That’s the stuff of life, to feel it, to drink deep of what it’s got to give.   We can be pretty mindless about this greedy, scrooging when it comes to what we feel.  So mindless in fact that many of us accidentally tap a deep vein of some dark feeling and we are all too willing to stick an oil-company-sized straw down into that pit of despair and slurp that poison into our minds.

 

Yet it’s from our own minds we tap this infinite well of despair.  Our imagination, in this respect is thrown on the hamster-wheel, and put to work, to churn out more dreary landscapes of the mind for our fiendish hunger for feeling to frolic through.

 

Rarely are our circumstances actually so bad as to equal the magnitude of what we can imagine.  This is why scary movies hold back a full look at the monster for so long.   Those movies bank on the power of imagination which always comes up with something far more terrifying, and individually tailored for everyone in the audience.

 

All these feelings are a bit like colors of a painter’s pallet.  Mix them all together and you’re bound to get something rather muddy and undifferentiated.

The imagination is a kind of everything machine in the same way a disco ball is.  Toss it in any direction and it’ll print out something reminiscent of that direction.  Toss it down into a pit of despair and it’ll multiply, magnify and reflect back a million times that pit of despair.

 

On the other hand, that disco ball down there can be like a Ghostbuster trap.  Shine a light of humor down at that discoball and it’ll split a joke a million ways and light up a pit of despair.

 

Like sunshine on mold, if only we be so bold and disrespect some dark and brooding emotion with a joke, a smile, an incongruous laugh, that emotion can wither pathetic in light of the new situation.

 

Reach for anything, a fart joke, a penis joke.  Who cares when things are bad.

 

Think of a cancer patient.

 

Oh, did this just get dark?

 

Ok, think of a cancer patient who is constantly making fun of their own situation.

 

Family and friends walk into a hospital room, their eyes welling up with tears, flowers quivering in trembling hands, fears about saying the wrong thing clamping their tongues, and then they are greeted.

 

“Guys, check out this baller haircut they gave me!  I look like Donald Trump being hit with the full force of climate change!”

 

 

Let’s say no one laughs.

 

 

So cancer patient tries again.

 

“Aw geez, can’t I even get a pity laugh?  I mean I’m actually dying here.”

 

 

Funny how we say that when we laugh really hard.  “I’m dying!”

 

Actually that’s what the word ‘hilarious’ is supposed to mean.  It’s when something is so funny you die from it.

 

As long as we don’t actually know the person, of course.  Because that would be sad.

 

But hey, since we’re such fiends for feeling, let’s tack on anything that spikes an emotional response, right?

 

That’s what we’re all after anyways.

 

No need to pause and think calmly about things while practicing to maintain a sense of equanimity, right? 

 

That’s for Buddha’s and Jedi’s, and Robert Mueller. 

 

So let’s get back to our cancer patient for a second.  The commercial break ends and we see the family and friends leaving the room, smiles and tears being wiped away.

 

Surely we’re bound to hear something like “So sad, but at least they’re keeping up a good sense of humor about everything.”

 

Cancer patient will inevitably call out boisterously, realizing how much social freedom their new situation gives them.

 

“No crying you wimps!  And remember when I’m dead, I want to be propped up in the corner of a bar where you’ll all be getting hammered, and you have to do what I say cause I’m dying, like James Bond laughing at the end of Casino Royale while getting nailed in the balls by fate.” 

 

Cancer patient then starts to laugh at their own joke.

 

“Get it?  I’m dying?”

 


Podcast Ep. 402: Fiends for Feeling

from
Tinkered Thinking







TINKERED DRINKING

May 21st, 2019

 

Today on tinkered thinking, we have been drinking

 

and wandering on down with a mind that is shrinking.

 

As the cup fills,

 

we take more swills,

 

to ensure there is more room to pour.

 

But what for?

 

 

A full house has all it’s cards spoken for

 

so no one else need come through the door.

 

But what if we need space for just one more?

 

A story, an idea, advice filled with lore?

 

A crammed cranium, oozing at the ears

 

is bound to be riddled, clogged, and stuck up with fears.

 

 

Metaphors like draino, light poisons to shine our mental veneer,

 

to clear out the clogs and give our minds space to hear,

 

some new concept, a realization to ring true and clear.

 

 

Guzzle and swig in the name of the unknown,

 

to toast to old ashen ideas, now withered to bone.

 

 

Make way for the new

 

it comes in any hue. . .

 

 

Choose your trend,

 

to ride round the next bend,

 

 

Neverminding myopia,

 

our plans are bound for utopia!

 

 

And of all the blathering big babies you might turn an ear

 

Nevermind the babbling voice on the phone, in your pocket, so near.

 

 

There’s no telling what dear darlings in your mind such voice might flush clear,

 

So be a dear and steer clear, not a sheep, black, white, purple, but still loaded with fear.

 

 

 

For it’s me fair friend that preservers to dare,

 

with perfuse, diffuse, distributed feelings of care,

 

for you fellow stranger, traveler rough and rare.

 

 

 

I’ll sing till my tongue grows silver and sharp

 

waging war with a rhetorical harp,

 

so that when you dear friend

 

have a thirst to mend,

 

 

and again you wander on down to the watering hole

 

I’ll have waiting for you every day a full bowl

 

To drink with ears and eyes

 

from my web of words that tries

 

 

to teach you

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to tinker your drinking

 

so you’ll never drink without thinking

 

some kool-aide from a scheming spin-king.

 

 

So gather round thinkers and listen

 

Another episode has arisen.


Podcast Ep. 401: Tinkered Drinking

from
Tinkered Thinking







FEEDING HUNGER

May 20th, 2019

 

Hunger fades if you don’t feed it.

 

 

 

This simple statement underlines and undermines many of the tendencies, processes, habits, and concepts that are discussed on Tinkered Thinking.

 

 

Just for a moment, think about how many areas of life to which this simple statement applies:

 

 

Take the most literal area:

 

 

For those who have not experimented and experienced the act and practice of fasting, it may seem unbelievable and certainly counter-intuitive that literal hunger – that is, for food – lessens as time goes by without it.   As mentioned before on episode 216 of Tinkered Thinking, there was once a one Angus Barbieri, who in the mid 1960’s fasted for 382 days.  Remember that little fact the next time you hear yourself say “I’m starving!” and wonder if that hunger you feel is so strong simply because it is fed so much.  For those who do have experience with fasting, it becomes a relatively mundane experience to get over the initial hump of hunger into landscapes of being that are far less perturbed by agitations from the organ we fill with food.

 

We can look at the opposite of this subtopic: generally, those who feed their hunger obediently at every beck and call fall victim to the skewed balance of the hormones ghrelin and leptin that evolution has equipped us with in order to heavily influence our decision-making abilities to take in as many calories as possible.  The result in a modern society with an abundant availability of calories via all bready and sugar plumped products is, obesity. 

 

For a person with ample experience fasting it can seem sickly humorous to see an over-weight person near desperation with hunger, exclaiming that they are starving, but a more thoughtful understanding of such circumstances will ultimately reveal that such an overweight person actually is experiencing a disturbingly powerful hunger.  One far bigger and more powerful than anything the lean and fasting person feels.  The obese person must experience a hunger that must definitely be uncomfortable and intoxicating in the most debilitating way possible.  It speaks to the flip of the original statement.

 

Hunger grows the more it is fed.

 

 

But enough of the literal example.  The most interesting aspect of this realization comes from the question: does this statement and trend apply beyond the most literal example of hunger for food?

 

 

What about something like… curiosity, or learning?

 

The educational system, as a global endeavor seems to be in a perpetual state of crisis for killing the natural curiosity in children.  The kids we give birth to are almost always so enthusiastic, energetic and riled up with wonder, and yet we somehow manage to turn them into adults to our own great disappointment.

 

Might it be because our systems of “education” don’t really feed natural curiosity, and so when that hunger isn’t fed, it fades away?

 

The answer seems implicit when we look at the unique cases where an individual has made a living from an obsession with a given topic.  Sometimes this can exist within the confines of the educational system, as with some scientists, but it’s perhaps even more evocative when we examine entrepreneurs who decidedly abandon the traditional educational system in favor of a more efficient path of learning led by their obsessive curiosity.

 

What about other areas of life?

 

Motivation is another easy one to pin to this principle.  Zig Ziglar once remarked excellently, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last.  Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”

 

This quote speaks directly to the heart of this episode’s M.O.  Motivation, like hunger, fades if it is not rejuvenated in some way.

 

Just like curiosity, our motivation experiences small blips and jumps in accordance to the discoveries we make a la our current problem of investigation.  But granted, this problem has to be of sufficient difficulty that is likewise in accordance with the edge of our mental and cognitive powers. 

 

Few things do more to kill motivation than a boring problem.

 

 

What about other areas?  How might this Rivalnymic principle apply to a place in our lives like relationships, for example.

 

 

Relationships are a tricky subject, but even so it’s not hard to see how this simple principle applies. 

 

A relationship that is not fed in accordance to it’s particular needs is bound to whither as people begin to look for fulfillment of such needs in other places, and so the hunger of that particular relationship as defined as the space between some specific set of people…. fades.  As physical hunger does.  As curiosity will.  As motivation often does.

 

 

The examples hitherto presented might seem like a giant buzzkill, but the complement to each should be equally apparent.  The more we properly feed a relationship, the more likely it is to grow through time.  The more we feed curiosity, the more it expands into productive areas, as too with motivation.  But returning to physical hunger we reach an impasse where feeding reaches a negative outcome regarding the positive feedback loop we are outlining.  Feeding ourselves too much certainly increases our hunger but it seems clear that doing so is ultimately to our own detriment. 

 

What other area of life might be like this?

 

How about addiction?

 

 

Addictions of all types: the more you feed it, the more influence it gains over our behavior.  Likewise, the less we feed it with congruent behavior, the less influence it has over a long enough timeline. 

 

[as an aside, it seems that addiction pathways – to speak very generally about the neuroscience here – become ‘hyperdendritic’ when deprived of their primary source of stimulation.  To put this in layman’s terms we can think of suffocation.  A person can stay underwater calmly for a short amount of time but once fresh oxygen has been absent for a long enough interval, the need for oxygen becomes increasingly pressing, such a person will become very very active and desperate to get that needed air.  Neural pathways regarding addiction seem to do something very similar.  When deprived of the primary mode of stimulation, such pathways then reach out frantically for stimulation in the same way a drowning person does, but given enough time that pathway will die.]

 

Regardless, addicts can make full recoveries, but it’s obvious and necessary to note that it is never in the presence of the object of their addiction.

 

Considering this simple and rudimentary principle, we might apply it to something less obvious like depression.

 

Do people… feed their depression?

 

Is depression something we can starve?

 

Or is it possible that depression is the result of starving other things within ourselves that have faded to points of terrible consequence?

 

What if, for a moment, we take the answer as being both: depression can both be fed and is the result of not feeding other, more virtuous hungers within our own being.

 

We may now wonder appropriately: what in our behavior can we change in order to starve the bad things and feed the good things? 

 

This boils down nicely to the tale of two wolves, and the one you feed.  There’s the bad wolf that makes life worse and the good wolf that makes life better.  Which one you feed determines the quality of tomorrow.

 

The tale, while moving and relevant to our lives in a vague sort of way, fails to get into the nitty gritty of what it actually takes to make positive changes.  The verb feeding has such a positive and pleasurable connotation associated with it.  To eat is fun and easy and feels great while it lasts.  The flip of the tale, and where it fails is in the notion of fasting, or starving the bad parts of ourselves.

 

As with most things, we cannot only take into account one face of the coin.   The feeding, or eating part.  The other side is just as important in order to make productive moves forward.  Some things need to be forcefully and painfully starved back down to size, or even out of existence.

 

Memory is a notable problem here.  Many of us simply cannot recall the ecstatic and wide-ranging experience of attention we had as children.  That particular hunger has been so completely starved that it’s simply no longer on our radar as a viable mode of being.  But our interactions with each other can lead us to conclusions that crack open realizations and revive such modes of being. 

 

Merely coming across an example of an adult who adeptly and fully utilizes the curious attention of their childlike selves shows that it’s possible, and though such a mode might be totally starved within our own selves, we can dare to wonder what can happen if we feed it.

 

We must simultaneously wonder if there are any other forces in our lives that we are feeding, which keep such virtuous cycles from flourishing.  Forces that need to be starved.

 

 

This episode references Episode 293: Rivalnym and Episode 386: White Diamond


Podcast Ep. 400: Feeding Hunger

from
Tinkered Thinking







A LUCILIUS PARABLE: RECURSIVE FRIGHT

May 19th, 2019

Lucilius sat staring at an outline for a project he was planning to undertake.  He was watching his godson for the day but the young boy was fast asleep in a corner of the room among his toys.  Worried about all the details of the project, Lucilius had decided to sit down and organize his thoughts, but each time he wrote some pointers about some aspect of the project, it spawned a whole new species of details and his anxiety about the project blossomed further.  Within no time he had half a piece of paper filled with half-ideas growing and ballooning, cramping in smaller and smaller print against the edges and corners. 

 

In frustration, Lucilius crumpled the piece of paper and threw it into a waste basket.  He watched it sit there for a moment, regretting the action, thinking how he’d probably need everything he’d written, when he heard a sound.

 

Lucilius looked across the room to see his godson stirring from his sleep.  The boy had rolled against the wall and as he was waking, the young boy’s foot tangled with a chord plugged into a nearby electrical outlet.  Before Lucilius even realized, the boy yanked on the chord as he struggled to stand up, and a lamp on the other side of the room fell, turning it on, and instantly it cast light across the room towards the little boy and printed his small shadow on the wall near him.  The boy was still sleepily disentangling himself, and once free, he noticed the dark shadow near him on the wall.

 

The boy startled and shrieked.  He raised his hands in alarm and then grew even more frightened as the shadow followed suit, raising it’s shadowy limbs.  The young boy shrieked again, backing away from the shadow, towards the fallen light, making the shadow grow bigger and bigger against the wall.  The boy squealed in terror and fell backwards just in front of the lamp, making the shadow instantly double in size and changing into a strange mutated and monstrous shape.

 

The poor boy cowered at the shadow and gathered himself into a tight ball, crying.

 

Lucilius knelt by the boy and pulled him up into his arms, reassuring the boy, telling him that everything was alright.  The boy sobbed louder into his godfather’s arms.  Lucilius cradled the boy and after a few minutes, the exhausted boy settled, breathing heavily from the whole affair. 

 

Lucilius’ gaze wandered to their combined shadow that covered nearly the whole far wall.  He stood up with the boy still in his arms and slowly walked towards the wall.  The shadow tightened, growing darker and smaller, finer lines sucking in where the hazy darkness resolved.  Lucilius stood just before the wall, studying the clear line of his shadow’s edge, and then looked over at the waste basket where the crumpled sheet of brainstorming for his project lay discarded.


Podcast Ep. 399: A Lucilius Parable: Recursive Fright

from
Tinkered Thinking