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THE INEFFABLE PLAN

July 15th, 2019

For those monotheistic religions that foster a belief in some kind of divine plan, there exists an uncomfortable connection to the realm of physics and science.  For Christians, Jews, Muslims and other people of faith, the idea that some sort of ‘God’has a predetermined plan is exactly the same kind of notion as scientific determinism.

 

Scientific determinism, often referred to as just ‘determinism’ can be defined simply as the fact that everything has previous causes. Extrapolating upon this into the future, we can see that the present situation is the cause of future events. Chaining this concept together from past to present and into the future, it’s easy to see a kind of grand history of existential narrative.  Or as religious people might say,a grand plan.

 

Science and religion have historically been at odds with one another, but in this respect they seem completely in sync regarding the logic applied to the cascade of events we call life.

 

When the mystic definitions of ‘god’ are explored with regards to religion, the descriptions of the ‘almighty’ start to sound sufficiently hazy and vague as to approach the lack of definition that precedes all science, namely, what was going on before the ‘big bang’.

 

While the tribal circuits of human psychology are content to ignore these similarities in the name of having an obvious enemy to rub up against, like a bear scratching an itch against a tree, the reality of language, when stripped of big capital letter nouns like ‘God’ and ‘Science’ start to make it seem as though it could be a you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-your-back situation.

 

Whether we call it ‘blue’ or ‘ Синий ’, the subject is still the same.

 

If the god of the religious populations has some sort of divine and ineffable plan, than it is by definition deterministic with regards to some sort of logic. Whether that be uniquely divine or cause-and-effect, regardless of whether we humans have the ability to properly track and anticipate this plan. 

 

The reality is that we need not differentiate between a cause-and-effect plan and a plan with divine logic.  We actually can’t follow either given our cognitive limits, so the difference might as well be negligible, at least so much as it can bring people together over the great mystery of what the hell is going on regarding life and the universe.

 

If scientific determinism were truly accessible beyond a strictly abstract point-of-view, then people would actually be able to predict the future to a finely detailed degree.  But this is not the case, just as it’s not the case that religious people do not have access to the future even though they propose their god has a predetermined plan for it.

 

It would be a mistake to see this as a mere peace-bridge between disciplines of belief.  It is in fact an important area where they definitively converge.    The differences on either side of this bridge, however, should play a significant role in the eyes of those on either side. We must ask: which side is better at predicting the future.  Or rather, to put it in terms already outlined, which side of this bridge is better equipped to track the ineffable plan into the future?  While old religious books might vaguely hint at black swan events like floods and tornadoes, the field of science was able to predict the discovery of things like the Higgs-Bosun particle. 

 

We might consider the difference on another level and ask:  would you rather hire a carpenter who gives the estimated costs as a range between $2,000 and $7,000 or would you rather a carpenter tell you that the job will take exactly 63 hours and cost $3,743.67?

 

This is the difference between science and religion, a difference that becomes increasingly stark and apparent the more that science fine-tunes its methods and the interpretation of its results. Religion, which might even be seen as a philosophical proto-science, has no mechanism to update itself in this way. 

 

And we need not see these disciplines as odds with one another, though that seems to be the dominate narrative that people enjoy playing with.  We can see them as creative extensions of one another.  And if the religious are to believe in an ineffable plan as the scientists believe in determinism, then it must be conceded that the method of science would come about in the ineffable plan of the divine; and retroactively, through the lens of scientific determinism, we can admit that the birth and sweep of religion was necessary for the rise of science.


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Podcast Ep. 456: The Ineffable Plan

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Tinkered Thinking


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A LUCILIUS PARABLE: ROOM TO GROW

July 14th, 2019

Lucilius was tinkering with a project in his woodshop when the father of his godson came in.  The kind man smiled at the set up Lucilius had put together in their backyard garage.  He picked up a piece from a new chess set that Lucilius had finished making and studied the fine smooth surface carved from the lathe while Lucilius finished up his current efforts.  A long winding cut on a band saw clipped to conclusion and Lucilius flicked the power switch off, letting the metal band relax from its tinny screech, groaning a long smooth drag like the honing of a blade until it came to a stop.

 

“What are you working on now?”

 

“Oh, just some scrollwork that’ll go on the bookcase for the living room.”

 

The man smiled.  “Can’t thank you enough for all the beautiful work you’ve done for us.”

 

“Well hey, you’ve given me a beautiful home to be a part of.”

 

The man laughed.  “Pretty sure I’m getting the sweet end of the deal.”

 

“Nah,” Lucilius said, “there are no deals between family, least not in the way I see it.  Way I look at it, I get to spend time with my godson.”

 

The man’s smile was lifted high on a side. “Speaking of your godson, I wanted to ask.”

 

Lucilius looked up from the scrollwork to meet the man’s eyes.

 

“We were thinking of moving him up to the guest bedroom, and I wanted to see if you had any ideas about changing it for him? You have free reign of course, we love everything you’ve done.”

 

Lucilius paused, and thought for a few moments. 

 

“Yea,” he said.  “I think I’ve got a couple ideas.”

 

 

*           *           *

 

One of the earliest memories that Lucilius’ godson would come to remember for the rest of his life was that of a thick rope always hanging in the middle of his room.  The rope hung from a circular hole in the high ceiling. 

 

As a toddler, with the help of his mother and father, the boy used it to help take his first steps, and eventually it was used to swing from the bed across the room to the toy chest.  But eventually, the boy began to wonder what was up above his own room.  The perfectly circular hole in his ceiling gave glimpse to another room above where the thick rope was affixed to the second ceiling high above and there was no other staircase or way up to that high and secret room.  The boy grew frustratingly curious about the space up there, his parents sworn to secrecy, and his godfather gently laughing off every request to know what was up there.

 

“You’ll find out when you’re ready,” Lucilius would say during his visits.

 

The boy would lay in bed, puzzling over a way to get up there.  At night a dim light came on in the high room and lit the circular hole, creating a nightlight of sorts – something Lucilius had planned so that the space would not scare the boy in the dark, but also as a tempt to wonder.

 

Then one day, while Lucilius’ godson was building with Legos, he realized a new idea.  He’d pinched a small piece between two larger ones.  They did not technically fit but the boy did not have the right pieces and the improvisation worked.  Seeing what he’d done, he looked at the rope and wondered.

 

Then he got up and left his room, making his way out the back of the house to the garage where his godfather kept a woodshop. He entered and went over to a long rack of clamps that Lucilius had arranged on a wall.  The boy took a few of the heavy clamps, and lugged them back up to his room.  After puzzling over the mechanism for a moment, trying to remember how his godfather had used them, he managed to loosen one.  He opened the jaws, and then gently eased them onto the rope, and began tightening.  When he could squeeze the vice no further he let go.  The clap hung in midair, bending the rope at an angle with its own lopsided weight.  

 

The boy took hold of the rope high above the clamp and then hanging from his grip, he lifted his feet and placed them on the clamp and slowly pushed till his weight was fully supported by the clamp. The boy smiled and then got back down and took the second clamp and affixed it to the rope a little higher. He tried his idea again, and used the first clamp as a means to reach just a little higher on the rope, and then, hanging, he managed to lift his feet to the second clamp and push himself still, a little higher.

 

After a few more trips to the woodshop to collect clamps, Lucilius’ godson was ascending the infamous rope that had taunted him all during his short life.  That rope, now riddled with clamps, was turning into a staircase, the boy climbing up and down to bring clamps higher, until he was nearly flush with the hole in the ceiling.

 

From there the boy saw something he’d never noticed. What he’d always assumed was a dirty smudge was actually a little bit of writing, scrawled on the inside wall of the thick hole.

 

 

It read:

 

You must be strong enough or smart enough if you’ve made it this far. Each lends to the other.  Keep going, and enjoy the next challenge that awaits above.  Love, Lucilius.

 

The boy, sweating from the effort, and determined, reached down and took another clamp that he’d hung from a pocket.  With an arm looped around the rope he carefully placed the clamp and secured it, and then lifting his feet to it, he hoisted himself up into the secret room.

 


Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

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Podcast Ep. 455: A Lucilius Parable: Room To Grow

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Tinkered Thinking


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WHY APOLOGIES DO NOT WORK

July 13th, 2019

The current ‘cancel culture’ that rages through the avenues of social media is an intensely supercharged case study that highlights why apologies don’t work.

 

I’m sorry.

 

Everyone hears this, everyone says it.  And it doesn’t take much digging around to realize the subtle and inconvenient mechanism here that makes sorryvery problematic – especially in a culture geared towards instant satisfaction.

 

We can approach the problem more obviously by invoking a perennial example:

 

When someone apologies repeatedly for the same mistake, how meaningful is the apology?

 

Most everyone has had some exposure to this kind of behavior, whether in themselves or others.  If a mistake is continually made and apologized for, then the apology quickly loses any meaning.  It starts sounding like a lie because it is not indicating any change in behavior for the future.

 

The hazy ground here is intention, especially when we care deeply for the person apologizing.  In that case we truly want to believe the apology because we yearn for a better world where the mistake isn’t being made.  This lovable human foible is completely non-existent in cancel culture because the social platforms upon which cancel culture thrives is occurring just about exclusively between strangers.  These are not loved ones attacking loved ones as might happen over a turkey dinner during Thanksgiving.

 

It’s far easier to dismiss someone and their apology when people have no interest in believing the apology.

 

This is at the heart of why apologies don’t work, especially in the age of social media: an apology, as an indication of changed future behavior has a 50% chance of being a complete lie.  When faced with a mob there’s simply no other option than to try to apologized, but it’s obvious to everyone that such an apology is more about saving face in that moment than it is about behavioral change. Even if there is an honest and genuine intention behind the apology, the crucial ingredient to test for it does not fit into the framework of social media, that is: time.

 

The only way to find out if an apology truly is genuine is to stick around and see if the person apologizing makes the mistake again.

 

 

We must, for a moment take an aside to wonder about the individual’s sheer ability to change.  Behavioral change can be very difficult, even with a complete and genuine wish to change.  A single visit to an alcoholics anonymous meeting or any drug addiction support group meeting will demonstrate just how confused, conflicted and angry a single individual can be about the paradox of their own behavior when held up against their wishes to act otherwise.

 

Regardless of this core complicating fact of human behavior, the audience for most apologies just isn’t willing to stick around to see if a person will change.  The default assumption is that such a person won’t change, because they are either lying, or because behavior change is so difficult, that such a person simply can’t change, despite how genuine the apology might be.

 

In terms of probability, with the odds of behavior change stacked against the person making the apology, the receiver of such an apology makes a safer bet by assuming that the apology will not bear the fruit it promises… as pessimistic as that might sound.

 

The framework of social media as epitomized by the infinite scroll of the social feed that constantly gives us something new, has no time nor mechanism to wait around to verify the behavior change of a person apologizing.  Within this framework, the default assumption reigns supreme.  Social media makes no room for any other option.  Because there is a constant and never-ending line up of things we can experience on social media, we only ever have time for a first impression.

 

What percentage of tweets or posts do people go back to 3-4 times to reflect upon in order to fully unpack the context?  This kind of behavior is without a doubt extremely rare.  And given the way social media has been constructed, the likelihood that we will see a behavioral change on the part of the masses using such social media is extremely low, like an addict who is functionally blind to the chemical framework of addiction that lies active deep within their brain.

 

Given that we’ve placed ourselves between the rock and hard place of social media frameworks, we are left only with brute force strategies that are hard to swallow.

 

Considering that it’s impossible to apologize in a way that immediately wins over the masses, the only option left is to apologize only once and then endeavor to change behavior accordingly.

 

As part of the mass audience for apologies, the strategy is to delay reaction, to counter the intoxication of the tribe with the reflective pause of the individual mind and reserve judgment for the long-term.

 

Both of these require difficult long-term behaviors that are only possible with a calm mind.

 

As the old adage goes: actions speak louder than words,

 

but note:  actions take time, and words we can rattle off nearly instantly.  So what speaks loudest takes time to hear.

 


Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

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Podcast Ep. 454: Why Apologies Do Not Work

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Tinkered Thinking


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AFTER DOES NOT EXIST

July 12th, 2019

Particularly in the world of exercise and physique, the practice of comparing ‘before’ and ‘after’ is widespread.

 

Exactly what is the subject here when we refer to a situation before it and after it?

 

Some sort of change, naturally.  However, this is a cognitive misnomer.  The concept of ‘before’ whether it refer to physique or something else is representative of an old status quo.  The real problem is with the term ‘after’.  It telegraphs the sense of what movies do with montages. That there is some sort of concentrated event and voila, there’s a new easy status quo that is remarkably better.

 

What fails to come across with the use of ‘after’ is that a process of change is often still in motion.

 

It would be more appropriate to say ‘before’ and ‘during’, since the results that we are reporting are the result of a process in progress.

 

The real difference between before and during is not some isolated incident like popping a pill.

 

The difference is merely starting.


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Podcast Ep. 453: After Does Not Exist

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Tinkered Thinking


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DOORS

July 11th, 2019

In movies, doors seem frivolous, mere commas in the action of the story that characters pass through, unless of course a door has a particularly guarded significance, like the door to a bank vault. These special doors aside, characters in movies appear to have far more relaxed rules of personal space regarding doors.  Opening an unlocked door and casually venturing forth is far less common in real life than it is in movies.  It’s useful to ask, why?

 

The narratives that we create and tell each other are ultimately imbued with far more courage and risk taking than we ourselves are comfortable taking in real life.  With such stories, we are not just seeking to explain parts of our own existence, we are trying to influence the way we exist, and the way we behave.

 

Throwing out a counter-productive personal narrative that has had us spinning wheels for years is a fast way to touch ground with those tires and gain traction.  Often the story we tell ourselves has us distracted from other, better stories that are either available or waiting to be invented.

 

The story we tell ourselves is most likely filled with doors that we never dare to open, just like real life.  Everyday we walk past hundreds if not thousands of doors and we only ever try to open doors that we know we are meant to open. Granted, those of us who are not thieves respect what we imagine these doors to mean in real life.  Concepts of privacy and personal property dominate our milquetoast daring, and mostly for good reason.  The highlight here is how casually these concepts are violated in fiction, and often for a greater and justifiable purpose.

 

We might challenge ourselves with a thought experiment entailing all the doors in the real world: how many physical doors exist that we can walk through without any negative consequence.  We might think of the front doors of the headquarters for a company we admire and perhaps dream of working at.  This number alone can be in the hundreds if not thousands. Phone calls and emails and even tweeting at someone all constitute walking through a kind of doorway.  And all of these things are free, and yet, in spite of being free we often find them far more difficult than spending large amounts of money for some thing or endeavor or vacation, even though these free chances could lead to far better lives.

 

Unlike a wall, a door is fundamentally meant to be used to go through.  The catch is who is allowed to go through that door.  Often we have automatically decided against our own selves, when really the doors we seek might be unlocked.


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Podcast Ep. 452: Doors

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Tinkered Thinking


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