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
April 24th, 2019
An infinite dead-end is a particularly insidious conceptual pothole that we often hit. Hours, if not days and years can be wasted trying to find something in an infinite dead-end. Perhaps the most ubiquitous example of this particular hazard is the question:
What is the meaning of life?
Possible answers to this question can ricochet in all sorts of directions and hugely elaborate frameworks have been constructed in an effort to gain some ground on this question, but to do so is somewhat like trying to stand on a black hole. Though a black hole is incredibly massive… in the same way a planet is massive, one cannot in essence stand on a black hole or build anything on it.
So to with the above question. There are infinite ways to answer this question, and yet none of these answers really make any concrete headway in the direction of solving this paradoxical question.
The best way to deal with such a question is to simply stop wasting time with such a question and concern one’s self with better questions.
Like chasing the horizon, such Infinite Dead-Ends seem to have some sort of endpoint, some sort of observable closure in the distance. As with the question: what is the meaning of life? The nefarious aspect of it’s nature is embedded in the assumption that questions have answers. However, some do not. And questions as a concept do not come complete with a good manual regarding their nature.
Infinite Dead-Ends exist in all sorts of forms. For example, we may be fiddling with some gadget that we are trying to use. Though it might appear to work for our purposes, at the end of the day it may simply just not work. We can think of a physical puzzle, like those that are fashioned from bent steel and links where the object is to separate parts - imagine for a moment a gag version of such a puzzle that intentionally has no solution, but the purpose is to prey on our desire to try and solve something.
Social Media feeds are a type of Infinite Dead-End, as are the toxic games that such inventions are based off of, namely,
These gambling games are tailored to play with human emotion in a way that keeps a person playing. The pattern of winning and losing is calibrated so that a person always feels as though they are on the verge of winning big, and this verge is pushed forward in time infinitely, all the while a person is steadily losing their money for the feeling of ‘almost’.
Curiosity by default points us down all sorts of paths without much of a clue about where such paths lead.
Sometimes, these paths are productive rabbit holes where a slight obsessiveness can be a good thing, allowing a mind to explore the ins and outs of a topic and gain a strong understanding.
Other times, what looks like an interesting rabbit hole is actually an Infinite Dead-End that will cost us precious time, along with any other resources we might be spending while chasing the next step in the experience, as is the case with the slot machine player who loses both time and money.
The best way to test whether or not a current object of concentration is a productive rabbit hole or if it’s an Infinite Dead-End is to pause and observe the size of progress that is being made. If the steps of progress are haphazardly sized… for example we have a breakthroughs that feels like big leaps forward along with small baby steps of progress and all manner of in between all mixed together, than this is a good thing.
If, however, the size of our steps in progress seem to be getting smaller and smaller, and the results of our effort seems to have diminishing returns, chances are good we are chasing an Infinite Dead-End.
April 23rd, 2019
Digging into a problem can often result in an endless rut of unproductive stabs. Hours are seemingly wasted banging a forehead against some issue that is unyielding. This is one of the ways that work expands in pernicious ways. Suddenly our time is up and we have to leave without a sense of accomplishment and productivity, attempting to comfort ourselves with the idea we’ll return with fresh eyes for the subject.
The next day we return and perhaps the answer is suddenly staring us in the face, or we have a mind to work on some other aspect of the project or problem.
How might we cultivate a perspective that is constantly trying to be on the lookout for such ruts and when identified, our perspective comes equipped with a mind to refresh itself.
This is a smaller example of an age old concern: should I pivot in some way, or should I persevere?
But to persevere is like climbing a mountain – it is not done in one epic step, but hundreds or thousands of smaller steps. Even if we are going in the wrong direction, the wrongness of the direction will not illuminate itself until we’ve gone far enough in that direction, which requires steps in that direction.
We must make a distinction between actual activity and mere staring at a problem or perseverating over a problem. A writer who stares at a screen for two hours is really no closer to putting a word on the page than during those first few seconds. This is quite unlike someone who has been hiking in the wrong direction, who eventually when their destination is proving to be less and less likely in such a direction will consider a new direction of action.
Having fresh eyes with regards to a problem is more about taking a new action, any action really, as opposed to wondering why past actions did not have the desired effect. Fresh eyes is not really about new insight, it’s about a relaxed willingness to poke at some other aspect of the issue.
It’s about exploration more than anything else.
We waste less time when we look out for times when we’ve been lulled into inaction, and find ourselves aimlessly pondering over some issue. Best to get out of one’s own head and take some new action that will give our eyes something fresh to see.
April 22nd, 2019
Few are unfamiliar with the inconvenient phenomenon that occurs when we have a large interval of time to get something done. Given just a few minutes, we may rush, and hurry, but ultimately we don’t feel too bad when we look at how little or how much we were able to accomplish.
“I only had a few minutes to do it, I don’t think it’s too bad considering.”
But give a few months for the project, or worse, a few years, and how much does our activity and thinking and attack of such a problem change? Not only do we feel that there’s plenty of time to get it done, but our abilities from moment to moment are of a far different tenor than when we feel the crunch of time during some unexpected last-minute deadline, or even an emergency.
Few are unfamiliar with pulling an all-nighter – compressing the work of an assignment that was allotted several weeks of work into several tired frenzied hours. What’s even more curious about the all-nighter is that we ultimately become far more productive with less energy, being increasingly sleep-deprived throughout the process.
We can even view the establishment of institutions as a way for certain work to expand. For example there are institutions dedicated to solutions for different diseases. We might wonder how such institutions would react if such bodies of investigation were given only a final year of action in order to accomplish the goal of eradicating such a disease? Would business continue as usual or would the final time compression change anything about how all the people associated and supported by such an institution go about their goals?
We need not wonder about such a hypothetical cage on such a large institution. We can play this game with ourselves.
For example, we can all think of instances when a few minutes dangle useless before something happens.
Oh I only have 10 minutes before work. That’s not enough time to start something new. As though the ‘starting’ of some new problem or goal requires a butter knife applied to a chunk of time, to spread out and settle into. We can perhaps wonder instead: how much can I get done in just ten minutes? What if I challenge myself?
It’s interesting to watch how one’s thinking changes when pushed into a sprint.
Just as this mind was,
having been given just 10 minutes to write this episode.
What might you accomplish if you sprint during those odd patches of time that pepper the day, the week and the year?
April 21st, 2019
After centuries of procrastination, Lucilius finally culled his circumstances and went out far into the northern wilderness to a small cabin that he’d fully stocked in preparation for a nine month period. This was the time he’d imagined and planned he would write a magnum opus of sorts. With all the trifles and paraphernalia of life out of the way, he could finally sit down and truly concentrate on the task that had been cooped up in his imagination for nearly eons.
To make the occasion even more momentous in his mind, he decided to trek the last 10 miles through rugged terrain, being dropped off by a Hoverjump™ at a clearing where began an endless stand of towering trees.
“Don’t get lost,” the car said as Lucilius took a long carbon-fiber spear from the cargo hold and gripped the door to swing it shut, forgetting from old habit, knowing the car was totally capable of managing it’s own doors.
Lucilius looked into the darkness between the thick trees.
“It’s been awhile,” he said turning back to address the car, “but I think I can still find my way.”
“Well,” the car said, “I’m still well within range of your ThoughtCode©, so I’m on standby if you ever need me.”
Lucilius winked at the skin of the car as he closed the door, knowing the car’s Visiskin® had the best vision rendering of all the car’s instruments.
“Mind working on that entropy problem for me while I’m gone?”
“Ha, very funny,” the car said.
The vehicle silently began to rise and called out to Lucilius, “Look forward to reading what you come up with – enjoy!” The vehicle ascended quicker into the morning sky, then, revving it’s quantum engines, it zipped through the high Cirrus clouds, splashing the thin whips in fantastic feathered directions.
Lucilius smiled after the trusty friend and turned to the woods and began to tramp into the darkness.
Before long the air of the forest infusing his lungs and the particular silences that greeted him between breathes and footfalls, and the light that filtered between canopy crowns began to awaken within Lucilius an older form of him. An atavistic system of thought flickered to life and spread throughout his brain, seeing not rocks and roots as rocks and roots but as a seamless fabric that even his counter-balancing hands, and spear, and feet were woven into. His internal voice slowly dimmed and then lost it’s language altogether until he was again only a piece of the forest moving through itself.
Each obstacle was not a hindrance, only a movement of hands and legs, climbing over gargantuan fallen trunks of trees, grasping roots latticed along the sides of enormous boulders. There was no need for safe consideration, of landing on a twisted ankle or grip grasped slipping. The staccato of thought, made even more rigid by the punctuation of language eroded away to a pure invitation from the moment.
He silently moved up a ridge, from rock to bare root and grew slower, sensing as the moment bloomed anew. Moving slower and slower as he approached the top of the ridge, he stopped before breaching the sight of what lay beyond and listened. His eyes closed and his head swiveled, his ears tilted, searching for soft ricochets of sound. He ceased to move, tasting the damp air, his attention leaving any mind he had and travelling through those subtle and tiny sounds over the ridge, becoming what he imagined, knowing all the while he was within distance of his destination, knowing he had time to field dress and quarter and pay tribute.
Lucilius stayed this way for minutes, totally relaxed and without moving, his skin having gone dry, his heartbeat slow and his breath a mere open door.
In a single unbroken moment, he lifted himself and launched the spear at the antlered deer grazing a patch of forest flowers.
April 20th, 2019
Earth is hypothesized to be in some kind of ‘Goldilocks Zone’. It’s not too hot as is the case with Venus which demonstrates a total runaway Greenhouse effect, and not too cold as with frozen Neptune. Although probably not necessary, it’s also fairly amazing that the size and distance of both the sun and the moon create objects of equal size in our skies, making lunar and solar eclipses possible.
The conditions described by the size and heat of the sun and our distance from that star that create the ‘Goldilocks Zone’.
We should keep in mind the sly double use of the word ‘condition’. For example, it’s the conditions in which we find ourselves that condition how we perform.
As with the sun and the Earth, we can also say that the Earth has been conditioned into its current form by it’s distance from the sun and the effect it has at that distance.
We can think of this even more literally. If we find ourselves on a beach surrounded by friends and family, with refreshments all around and just the perfect temperature and nothing in recent pressing memory to worry us, than chances are the conditions are ripe to relax. If however we find ourselves being chased down a dark alley, we might say that the conditions are not ripe for relaxation. On the contrary, the circumstance is conditioning us to be alert and very active.
But unlike the Earth or Venus or Neptune, none of which explicitly chose their spot in the solar system, we as people have a bidirectional relationship with our conditions. Not only do our circumstances condition us, but we can condition our circumstances to better suit our hypotheses about how to live a better life.
A trivial example is someone who’s current station in life requires them to sleep in late, as is the case with shift workers. And yet, the condition this creates, i.e. sleeping when the sun is up and our circumstance is flooded with light, has terrible effects on the quality of a person’s sleep. Such a person, however, can fashion or buy some black-out curtains, and like Hamlet, create an artificial night, which creates conditions that are more hospitable to the phenomenon of good sleep.
This is a clear-cut example where the conditions are in direct conflict with biology. But most circumstances are not so much in conflict with our biological systems as they are in conflict with our opinions and perspectives.
Orienting one’s physical circumstances to best optimize conditions for physical and biological health is not terribly difficult and there is endless advice about these realms in order to get ideas to experiment with new behaviors and conditions that will work best for a given individual.
However, outside of these straight-forward physical conditions, many face unwinnable battles due to constraints of opinion and mentality.
This arena is perhaps most ripe for reconditioning because so much more is possible within the realm of thought and imagination than in the physical world. This is perhaps a blessing and a curse, but to focus on the blessing is to nullify the ways in which it can be a curse.
We can, for example, imagine Goldilocks walking into that fateful cabin to find only one bowl of porridge that isn’t just right, but is perhaps too hot. How might Goldilocks react to this situation? Would she get bent out of shape and cry at her misfortune? Or would she still see the fortune in such a circumstance and simply patiently wait for the porridge to cool? Are we best to only hunt for the perfect circumstances? Or should we also hunt around in our minds for the ideal way to look at any circumstance?
We can likewise imagine if Goldilocks had found a bowl of porridge too cold, would she have cried about it? Or would she have wondered if it’s possible to enjoy cold porridge anyhow?
Indeed just about anything tastes good if you’re hungry enough,
is a different condition.