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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
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.
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.
May 18th, 2019
The practice of mining, that old sort of mining, the one we imagine when we think of prospectors sifting for gold, is a ripe analogy for process in many of the endeavors we undertake.
Prospectors often sifted or dug through massive amounts of useless material before finding a profitable and shiny strain of gold.
But there was never any guarantee that any particular direction of digging would lead to fortune. And so too in many other parts of life. Sometimes, we are just digging holes.
Perhaps some lessons can be garnered from such seemingly useless endeavors, such as an exercise of sustained and focused effort, but perhaps the most useful lesson is knowing when to abandon the effort. This tendency to keep going even when it seems that giving up would be better is often referred to as the ‘sunk-cost’ fallacy.
‘Giving up’ is such a shamed and taboo concept, and perhaps for very good reason, but as with many concepts and beliefs, we import it into places where it does us a great disservice.
Giving up on all effort is a genuinely sad occurrence, and if shame and taboo can work effectively to keep a person from giving up all effort, then perhaps the price is worth it.
But giving up effort on a single endeavor often carries the same weight, shame, and forbiddance that is more appropriately attributed to giving up on everything.
Knowing when to abandon the mine and strike out in new directions is the art of the Pivot.
We often mistake a needed pivot for ‘giving up’, and pivoting is in a sense giving up. But it’s giving up on an unproductive direction in favor of a more productive direction.
Pivoting, or ‘giving up on a small and local level’ is how we simultaneously keep from giving up all effort and save ourselves from wasting time in poor directions.
The way to keep this compass needle healthy is to always assume that one’s direction is off by some margin and needs correcting.
May 17th, 2019
As public conversation trickles into new and strange spaces thanks to the proliferation of digital portals, questions pop up about how to keep our conversation healthy. Much discourse seems to lack generosity, thoughtfulness, empathy and ultimately: effective results.
In many cases conversation seems to function as an avenue for narcissism. We merely wait for our own turn to talk in order to hear our own voice, while only blithely addressing the topic addressed in the same manner by a companion in dialogue.
The word ‘converse’ might as well be ‘contra-verse’. Two verses or perspectives that lack any kind of fruitful synergy.
The word converse has etymological roots meaning ‘to turn around’.
The implication here seems to be persuasion. We converse in order to persuade another of our point. Considering how rare an effective instance of persuasion seems to be, the imaginary word contra-verse (meaning, roughly contrary verses) seems to be more appropriate.
There remains a useful juxtaposition to highlight the problems with modern conversation in a more intuitive way.
We need only ask what are the differences and similarities between:
The two concepts as practices surely inspire a totally different flavor in the mind.
The chief difference is easy to spot: in an interview the focus and concentration is one person thoughts, ideas and point of view. In a conversation the focus is more diffuse, or rather, it mostly flip-flops between one person’s point of view and the other person’s point of view. The definitions differentiated here contain an important point: rarely in conversation are both people focusing on the same point of view.
In an interview, however, the focus of both people is consistently unified on the topic of one person’s point of view. Certainly there are disingenuous interviewers who have an agenda and seek to create gotchya-interviews which intend to make a person look like a fool, but then this sort of aim betrays our working definition of an interview. In such a case the interviewer is focused on a secret point of view that is whipped out when the person being interviewed has created a linguistic space that can be flipped into their own undoing.
Without a secret agenda, an interview seeks to explore another person’s point of view in the most honest and generous way possible, generating questions that allow the person in focus to further extrapolate on points and perspectives raised.
Now realize how rarely this kind of focus exists in conversation. Usually, a conversation entails two people trying in vain to get the other person to generously explore the perspective they prattle on about.
For those who are thoroughly exhausted by the contentious and fruitless merry-go-round of ineffective conversation, it may be an interesting experiment and possibly an invaluable tool to make a practice of viewing conversations as an interviewer – to ask questions and explore another’s perspective, no matter how repulsive.
Not only does this give us a fuller picture of who we are dealing with, but it may even present the opportunity for our companion in dialogue to realize new truths about their own perspective, truths unavailable because they’d never been able to ask themselves a set of questions flavored by a wholly different perspective, namely: our own.
This episode references Episode 390: Question about the Question
May 16th, 2019
Is a signal a part of the sign? or is the sign the signal?
What exactly is the best way of thinking about these two similar words – so similar in fact that one contains the other with a simple addition of a couple letters.
Signs can be good or bad, in that each is a valid indication of whether or not we are going in the right direction. Both are equally valid and ideally – in a world where we don’t take things personally – equally informative with regards to what our next move should be.
A good and bad signal, on the other hand is a totally different issue. A good signal means that we are receiving information. This information can be good or bad, but it is information nonetheless, whereas a bad signal is not bad information, it’s simply the absence of a connection – an absence of our access to information altogether.
A bad sign is far better than a bad signal, because a bad signal means we are essentially flying blind, whereas a bad sign can be used to figure out where to go next.
A sign is an instance of the signal.
Good signs, bad signs, as long as we are actually getting signs, it means we still have a signal. Finding that signal in the first place is the often difficult part. Often we fly around blind for a while before we actually find a useful sign that indicates a signal has a possibility of being established.
And when that one sign comes along, it’s often akin to waving around the old school T.V. antennae and momentarily getting a flash of the show we seek to watch but then failing to replicate the exact positions of the antennae. But with one small sign, our determination often has much greater longevity because now we know something might actually be there to find. We need only continue our search and zero in when more signs start to pop up.
Often however, the efforts behind that first initial phase of flying blind in search of some signal go cold before we ever actually hit upon any one single meaningful sign.
One aspect of learning is to simply get some sort of meaningful feedback from reality. Nothing is more demoralizing to the spirit than to make an effort only to see nothing perceptible respond.
A person who understands how to maximize their efforts to learn looks for the quickest way to get any kind of result whatsoever. This result is a validation of personal agency, and beyond actually having a full command of the subject, the adept and conscious learner knows this perceptible result is mainly achieved in order to stoke the emotional fuel behind the efforts to learn something new. Remember, a bad sign is better than no signal at all. This is why an obsession with planning things and more particularly the notion that we can some how perfectly plan the future is such a mistake. When we finally do take action in line with such plans, it is almost never going to establish a connection to the signal we need in order to make progress.
In the beginning, the name of the game is simply to keep going and not quit. Once we get far enough along to actually have something to work with, or rather… once we get far enough along to actually have a signal established, than the name of the game changes to fine-tuning and further exploration.
But that first stage is all about establishing a signal - looking for meaningful signs and seeing if they correlate to the same useful signal that we can then use to evolve our strategy, iterate our plans and take quicker tighter actions in order to move faster towards a future we can sculpt with the design of our dreams.