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The Lucilius Parables, Volume I

INCENTIVE STRATIFICATION

February 24th, 2021

 

The battle between good and evil is the eternal struggle, the one that underpins the stories of all great religions, literature, even film, and perhaps all media.  The whole human race is even perhaps just an elaborate search algorithm that is tasked with figuring out exactly what is good, and by diametrical default: what is evil.

 

The pair, as concepts seem pure in their opposition.  The whole world seems to stratify nicely as though the border between good and evil is the sharpest of knives, cleaving any and every situation cleanly so that the severed pieces flop into their respective categories.

 

As we abandon nuance, and the difficulty of making sense of the larger context, this framework becomes even more and more seductive.  Suddenly it seems that everything can be reduced simply and irrevocably.  There is a certain comfort in this idea.  It’s seductive first and foremost because it’s so easy.  But it’s akin to a man with a hammer seeing everything as a nail.  Such reductionism suddenly reveals itself as a bad idea when that man with the hammer mistakes someone’s head for a sensible target.

 

The issue with such reductionism, and especially with this eternal pair of good and evil is that they are not diametrically opposed, but interwoven, each making up subtle and fundamental strands of the other.  To try and cleave such things just ends up damaging the whole.  Many stories wonderfully weave these good and evil tropes showing how confusing they can be interwoven, and yet, this interweaving and at core good and evil each themselves boil down to a single concept: incentives.

 

The story’s hero who has captured the villain believes he is doing good by doing harm in order to learn where his kidnapped daughter is being held.  But the hero is simply incentivized to do such harm, and in this case the incentive appears to be very good.  If however, the villain turns out to be brain damaged and saw someone try to attack the girl and saved her and brought her home to keep her safe, fearful that someone else might try to hurt her, then the villain suddenly doesn’t seem so evil.  He was clearly incentivized to “do good”, which was perceived as “evil” by others who could not understand the situation correctly.

 

Upton Sinclair once said that it’s difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.  Money is just a stand in here.  We all experience a pretty powerful incentive when money is involved. The deeper point of Sinclair’s statement is that we can simply be incapable of understanding something if we are appropriately incentivized not to.

 

Incentive as a concept runs deeper than just the stick and the carrot that either entices us onward or pushes forcefully.  Incentive determines much of the shape, direction and porousness of one’s perspective.  The surprising thing about incentive is that it’s neither good nor evil.  Such a definition requires a certain perspective, a certain situation and station from which to view what’s going on.  Incentive on it’s own is just a vector.  What flavors it one way or another isn’t even it’s source nor it’s aim, but the location of those things in relation to other people.  We are all essentially vectors, incentivized by a small number of incentives that are much the same across people, but which ultimately cause people to conflict when these individual vectors collide and intertwine.  


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Podcast Ep. 1046: Incentive Stratification

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Tinkered Thinking


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HABITS OF INTONATION

February 23rd, 2021

 

“Well, I didn’t mean it that way.”  So long as a person breathes a person is guilty of having uttered this statement.  And yet, it’s a strange one.  Aside from valid issue of multiple interpretations and the slippery way clear-seeming sentences can be sensical in a different way from a different perspective, much misinterpretation is often caused by intonation.  Namely, the intonation doesn’t match the intention and therefore flavors the sentence with an unintended delivery.

 

This harks of an improve exercise.  Simply think of all the different intonations that can be imparted to a word as simple as “hey”.  This single word can be used to alert someone of danger when said loudly, quickly and clearly, and perhaps with a rising volume.  It can be said slowly, in a way that hopefully invites more conversation, or suspicion depending on the timbre of voice.  It’s further improv exercise of humorous exercise to try and have an entire conversation using just a single word in different intonations, like a Pokemon.

 

The problem is further framed by the perennial axiom: it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

 

The strange thing is that the one of the main avenues for how we say something can be so far divorced from what we are trying to say, or simply: our intonation doesn’t always match our intention.  I didn’t mean it that way.  Often this is said because a sentence comes out while the tongue is still hot with an emotion.  We warp our own meaning without. Meaning to. 

 

The most disconcerting possibility is that we could simply be operating on a habit of intonation.  For example, when someone raises their voice, chances are very high their now disgruntled companion in dialogue will also raise their voice, and so then the two watched each other up to a pitch.  And why?  Do we except that this is some hardwired default in the human system?  Or is there even a possibility that it’s just a habit of behavior, mapped onto speech and intonation?

 

The unfortunate news is that in order to fix a bad habit, the creation of a new good habit is needed to paint it over, and habits are not the easiest download for the mind.

 

One habit that covers this ground without explicitly designed to is a practice of mindfulness.  With enough time spent trying to be mindful, that mindful perspective starts to become a habit, and it eventually pops up during one of these instances when a sentence has flown out with the wrong intonation attached to it.  In a moment of mindfulness, this suddenly seems curious in a bizarre way, as though writing with a black pen for a number of pages and then suddenly seeing the ink turn pink.  Mindfulness allows a chance to pause and simply think for a moment: what was that?  At the very least it’s just noticing an inconsistency - one that undermines our aims in such moments.  And with that explicit realization, it can be caught preemptively the next time and then our chances of communicating a bit better, go up.


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Podcast Ep. 1045: Habits of Intonation

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PSYCHOLOGY OF LEARNING

February 22nd, 2021

 

It’s a bit of a red herring that difficult subjects require an impressive amount of intellect.  All learning is some sort of mishmash of pattern recognition, some memory required for recognition to happen and a little creativity to mix those patterns.  The reason why learning can be so difficult isn’t because there is something inscrutably complicated about these patterns - certainly some are quite complicated, but it has far more to do with our emotional state and the way it changes as we interact with each part of the process of learning.

 

Many people get frustrated during the first part: when we are trying to find a pattern in the noise of a new subject.  These negative emotions that pop up make the process even more difficult.  Noticing something subtle, some kind of pattern that exists between disparate parts requires a calmness, and a clear focus.  Frustration, aggravation, exasperation - the experience of these emotions is antithetical to clarity and calm focus.  The task gets harder, which makes the emotions heighten, making the potential for success plummet until of course, the towel is thrown in.  We give up before ever really getting started.

 

If however, we somehow maintain the patience for that first period and simply wait calmly with focus until the brain picks out a pair of details, or a string, then the process gets easier as we go.  Success, not just with the process of learning, but also emotionally is a compounding process.  The noticed pattern or pattern-fragment is not hard to remember, or rather recognize.  This combined with the subtle feeling of success and progress that comes with actually seeing structure in the noise combine, virtuously, like a fuel to propel the student forward.  And then when creativity is needed to mix, match, and manipulate patterns to create something new, again frustration, aggravation, only cramp the goal.  While certainly creativity can benefit from some kinds of stress, it rarely benefits from a sense of failure with the process of learning itself.

 

We can become conscious of our own psychology of learning.  Warming up to a subject with a few easy passes, perhaps a few tiny exercises or projects.  But we can also realize when those first few experiences of the subject are too easy, or too boring, which fails to fuel curiosity or drive to learn more.  With a sensitivity for our own learning psychology we can become intimately aware of the optimal challenge and how much more difficulty or ease we need.

 

A great teacher calibrates this for a student on the fly, but the best student takes on this task themselves, toggling the throttle of difficulty while always moving forward, making progress and never losing momentum, both on the topic and emotionally.


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Podcast Ep. 1044: Psychology of Learning

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Tinkered Thinking


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A LUCILIUS PARABLE: DO NOT DISTURB

February 21st, 2021

I was a little late getting to the coding game.  Yes, I’ve been aware of s-curves and exponential growth rates for quite a long time.  Far longer than you have, or anyone for that matter.  But, we all have blue periods and frankly I’ve grown quite fond of my habit to take a vacation and ignore the whole big game for a few decades.  I suppose it’s lazy not to update the priors for that habit before invoking it.

 

Regardless, I’m not embroiled in the obnoxious game of catch up for the sake of increasing scrutiny on the issue of identity - which has been an eye-roll for at least 35 years.  You all are simply in such a rush that I had to interrupt my vacation of a couple decades to yank myself back into the current technologies, relearn how to learn and get myself up to speed on these mind bogglingly unnecessarily complicated and convolute digital systems just so I can give myself a new birthdate that won’t garner the attention of Guinness? 

 

Look, I’m just as excited and hopeful as all the technocrats about where this boiling soup of delightful shenanigans is going, but I’ve had a bit of a ritual over the centuries -please let’s not use that OTHER graduated form of timeframe, I’m old enough as it is - and this ritual is sort of a self-check in, a way to take stock and reassess.  But no, this one had to be interrupted because some silly scrupulous lawyer had to call.  Luckily this person was sensible to think an error had been made.  Yes, an error had been made but not the one couched in the mind of this cog-parrot.

 


I sigh.  The error was all my own.  You just can’t leave things alone that want to be left alone.  But you’re not to blame, it’s not as though I left a do-not-disturb sign hanging on the door knob of my life.  Well - at least not one you can readily see.

 

So, I’ve had to get back to your utter nonsense of identity.  It’s all too appropriate that it’s a cultural obsession right now.  I had a good laugh about it.  Everyone is so engrossed in their identity, their adjectives, pronouns, nouns, adverbs, and of course highly sensitive to the verbs that might try to orbit their beings…. Especially the transitive ones:  Transitive verbs that is.  

 

Identity used to be such an easy problem for me.  I’ve been practicing my cursive since cuneiform, and forging a document has usually been a matter of finding the right kind of paper, not what to do with it.  Computers really put a dent in that skill, which is doubly obnoxious, because in a few years I’ll be able to explain myself to a computer with half a bit more sense than a human and the system will just leave me alone.  See, good systems don’t really care about anomalies.  At least if they want to survive.  Right now human systems crowd around some anomalies and try their darnedest to deny the rest.  A thoughtful computer will get it, and just move on as though I were nothing more interesting than a butterfly coasting through a sensible breeze.  But you see only wings without understanding the breeze and so you point your finger and scream something akin to witchcraft.

 

For all your knowledge - and yes, I have contributed to it over the years, you are still frightened by the unfamiliar, despite the fact that all your knowledge has been a gift won by exploring the unknown.  You are like the addict who behaves without understanding why the behavior happens.  Although, I suppose it’s a bit of a contradiction to be otherwise.

 

Anyhow, I’m just in a bit of a bad mood because I had to cut my vacation short and attend to all this learning of python and tensor flow and breaking encryptions just to re—encrypt my identity in some new data-table entry with some made up name that fits the fancy of my current aggravation.  Alas, I’ve smoothed everything out now, and I’m going to get back to my vacation… for, well at least a year or two before the next stage of advancement initiates.  Please don’t hurry up.  I maybe have even embedded a few bugs hear and there to slow you down, but that’s only fair since you ruined my vacation.  Tit for tat my friend.  I’ve loved you always.  All of you, but please, keep your curiosity in check.  It does no good to be obnoxious and poke an idea that you won’t be able to accept.


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Podcast Ep. 1043: A Lucilius Parable: Do Not Disturb

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Tinkered Thinking


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WISDOM DIVISION

February 20th, 2021

 

Everyone on the planet can be asked for their opinion about whether a business idea is a good one or not, and likely each will have an opinion but no one can say with absolute certainty how well it will work.  For that the idea must be implemented.  That entrepreneurial leap must be taken, and then a different wisdom of the crowds begins to take over.

 

The brain is divided up in a similar way.  The left brain is responsible for all the at we say.  It formulates sentences, has the intimate understanding what each word actually means and it’s highly attuned to detail.  The left hemisphere, in this sense is like the individual who we can ask about whether our business idea will work or not.

 

Unfortunately, this left hemisphere is rather narrow in it’s focus, and it will give a plausible sounding answer even if it most certainly doesn’t have that answer.  Strangely, a person can do fairly well without this hemisphere, if say it is lost due to a stroke.  The right side of the brain is strangely capable to take over in such a way that a person can pretty much live a normal life.  

 

If however, the case is reversed, if the right side of the brain takes the hit and it completely taken off line, then people change quite a bit.  Such people cease to understand humour, they take everything extremely literally, and while they can speak just fine, they have a tremendous amount of trouble with the rest of their life.  The missing hemisphere in this case is the one that is attuned to the larger picture, the context in which fits all the details catalogued by the left.  Without the big picture, we are lost with no understanding of location or direction in that bigger picture.

 

Our brain seems designed to hold at once two different contexts simultaneously.  The narrow detailed one, and the expansive and pervasive one.

 

The evolutionary cause seems fairly robust.  That left brain - the narrow detailed one, is good for food.  It focusing the prey, zooming in, and moves towards it with little consideration for anything else.  While the right brain, focused on the larger context is suited to the issue of predators, not just because a predator can be anywhere, and therefore arises the need to be aware of that larger environment, but also to keep on hands possible avenues of escape.

 

The functional dichotomy within the skull seems at work on a larger scale regarding the market.  Each person can give a detailed and perhaps logical opinion, but only the overall group can give the answer, silently through the forces of the market.


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Podcast Ep. 1042: Wisdom Division

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Tinkered Thinking


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Appreciation can be more than a feeling. Toss something in the jar if you find your thinking delightfully tinkered.