Coming soon

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

Building a blueprint for a better brain by tinkering with the code.

The first illustrated book from Tinkered Thinking is now available!

donating = loving

~ Book Launch ~

Visit the Bookstore to purchase a copy of

The Lucilius Parables, Volume I

AMALGUM OF AGENCY

August 10th, 2022

One of my favorite questions to ask someone I’ve recently met is this: Say I give you half a billion dollars. And we fast forward past the fun years of travel, and food, and general hedonism, until you’re bored of all that and say it cost a mere 50 million to exhaust that part of yourself. Now say with the remaining money, it can’t be given to charity, friends, family or given away. What would you build using that money? What project would you undertake?

 

The answers to this question often reveal a remarkable amount about a person, their perspective and their sense of agency. Many simply don’t have an answer because the prospect of that much agency has never even crossed their mind. And what’s interesting about these people is that they often still have strong opinions on big issues. The interesting detail to wrangle out of that combo is that it’s clear they’ve never thought constructively about how to put those strong opinions to good work.

 

This can easily lead to a digression about the relationship between a lack of agency and complaining in general. Complaining is at core perhaps just a cry and a whine about a lack of agency. Complaints are rarely constructive, and if they are, perhaps it tips into the world of constructive criticism. Those who offer constructive criticism recognize they command some agency, even if it doesn’t have direct power - they have the agency of language and persuasion. Such a tool doesn’t always work, but that’s fine: agency isn’t defined as always being able to succeed, it’s an ability to make a probable attempt.  For example, I’ve learned some code. Can I take on every project that involves code? Certainly not, but I can give quite a few a solid attempt, and given the time and drive, a good deal of them are realistically in reach.

 

But back to that question for new comers to my life.. When someone does have an answer, that often reflects a lot about what is fundamental to that person. The way we invoke our agency is a reflection of values, habits, behaviors, dreams, and when that agency is pumped up to the highest degree possible, it purifies a person’s idea of all those things into a kind of ideal of influence that can be leveraged upon the world.

 

Money is an agency multiplier because we can hire people who have skills we don’t to use those skills in a way that we’d like. This is the whole point of a company run by a single CEO. The person at the top has the vision and that vision is bigger than what one person can achieve, so the vision is extrapolated and ramified through a system of other people so that vision can become a practical reality.

 

But these are bloated and somewhat rare examples. Few people have half a billion dollars and CEO are not exactly a thick slice of the population. But these points about agency still hold though with different repulsions on smaller scales.

 

Every new skill and ability that we acquire extends our misshapen sphere of agency, and as that happens we become a different person. This is probably easier to spot for people who have gone through a big career change that required a lot of time devoted to the learning of a new skill. That new skill can unlock combinations of expression and forms of leverage that just didn’t exist previous to having proficiency in the new skill. 

 

An artist who learns to code, for example, can suddenly increase the distribution and reach of their artistic skills to an unfathomable degree. New agency also breeds a new perspective which provides new feedback: the world can literally look differently because of a new ability you have. Learning how to code, for example, sure puts everyone’s pitiful amount of patience with technology into a bit of a wider perspective: a lot of it is justifiable, but not all of it…

 

It might be tempting to think of skills as things that we can collect, like in a video game, but it’s more than that. It’s as though we collect parts of our future self. We become ourselves anew and expanded when the reach of our agency grows.


Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

or
Dive in to the Archives

Podcast Ep. 1239: Amalgum of Agency

from
Tinkered Thinking


donating = loving

If you appreciate the work of Tinkered Thinking, please consider lending support. This platform can only continue and flourish with the support of readers and listeners like you.

MONTHLY DONATION
TIP JAR

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




A LUCILIUS PARABLE: UNFAIR ADVANTAGE

August 7th, 2022

 

Lucilius was slumped over, tired, and scrolling through the same tired website that lately seemed to have crept into every blank space of his life. Sometimes he would snicker at some novel post, but for the most part he was avoiding the potential of having a better life. He was hypnotized by this endless activity when a post suddenly scrolled into view that seemed to break his flat reverie. It was a post for a writing contest.

 

Lucilius sat up. He didn’t exactly fancy himself a writer - he’d scratched a few words into the universe over his many years but it wasn’t a practice he thought he was particularly well versed. 

 

Regardless, something in him compelled him to try and give it a shot. He agonized for days over his idea, and tried his best to cobble together some semblance of character and plot. By the end of it he was happy enough. It was no masterpiece, but it was a worthy effort, and he was proud to enter the contest.

 

A week later, he eagerly checked to find that he had not won. He felt a bit let-down, to be sure, but he wasn’t particularly surprised. He stood up, not yet able to bring himself to read the winning story. And instead he took out the garbage while he nursed his own disappointment. He wheeled the trash can to the end of his driveway, and he was so engrossed in his own disappointment that he almost missed it when a cute girl jogged by, smiling at him. A neighbor down the street. Lucilius managed to lift half a smile but she’d already passed, and after a heavy sigh, Lucilius turned and walked back.

He sat down and clicked on the link to read the winning entry. 

 

Lucilius was appalled as he began reading. There seemed nothing particularly special about it. It was simply recording what had happened in recent decades: the human population was crashing due to low birthrates, and robots had been created to fill in gaps in the economy. It didn’t seem like a story at all to Lucilius and he grew angry as he read the introductory paragraphs. Lucilius was confused as much as he was angry: it didn’t seem like fiction at all.

 

The story’s character finally acquires a robot - which is nothing special. They deliver themselves by simply walking to the purchaser’s house. Lucilius himself had one on order and he was waiting for it to arrive. Then the story’s main character has a somewhat interesting conversation with the robot - discussing topics that Lucilius himself had often wondered about, and hoped to ask his robot when it finally arrived. But they weren’t unusual questions or concerns. They were obvious topics that had been the subject of debate regarding robots for many years. There seemed nothing special.

 

The story ended with an odd recommendation to main character: that he should ask out the cute girl who jogs by every time he takes out the garbage.

 

Lucilius was puzzled. Had he read that correctly? He read the ending again and again, and then sat back, feeling a bizarre and vulnerable sense of deja vu.

 

It was then that a robot rang his doorbell.


Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

or
Dive in to the Archives

Podcast Ep. 1238: A Lucilius Parable: Unfair Advantage

from
Tinkered Thinking


donating = loving

If you appreciate the work of Tinkered Thinking, please consider lending support. This platform can only continue and flourish with the support of readers and listeners like you.

MONTHLY DONATION
TIP JAR

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




A TOAST TO LUCILIUS

August 6th, 2022


Today Tinkered Thinking was kindly recognized for one of the Lucilius Parables which have been posted on this little website. It was the result of a contest organized by the Infinite Loops podcast and Jim O’Shaughnessy. The purpose of the contest was to inspire writers and thinkers to try and imagine a better future that might be possible due to technological innovation and progress.

 

As though the luddites live on, technology often gets a bad rap - we are quick to decry it’s ills and we are even quicker to imagine just how bad things might get if technological progress is allows to continue without pause or hesitation. The cultural crown of this sort of thinking is the TV series Black Mirror, which often borders on the horror genre considering how darkly some of the technological developments imagined in the show blossom.

 

The purpose of the contest was best encapsulated by friend Sam McRoberts who said:

I’m convinced that if we are going to change the direction of humanity for the good, we need new, uplifting stories that get people excited for the future, not dreading it.

 

Nothing could better describe the intent behind many of the Lucilius Parables. Despite some of them veering into Black Mirror territory, the overwhelming majority celebrate Sam’s idea and attempt to lend something to the internet that is in short supply: positive outlooks.

 

Now advertising long ago usurped joy and love and all the warm fuzzy feelings from much art, particularly poetry. (There simply aren’t any poets writing sonnets about how lovely the sunlight was this morning). Artist as a result were left with the sadder, depressing and more morose aspects of life to analyze and frame within the skill required to indicate something of beauty. Perhaps the culminating insight of the last century of art is that horrible and depressing things can be beautiful. But this doesn’t mean we should make that kind of perspective the only legitimate one. 

 

In fact it’s a trick of the economy to make things like advertising and esteemed art seem like radically different things. The fact that each has a monopoly (of course there’s overlap, duh, but we are talking about the larger picture here.) on a certain section of the human emotional experience should function like clear proof that they are not separate. 

 

The Infinite Loops contest and many of the Lucilius Parables are an attempt to reclaim some of that joyful territory from the crass (and brilliant) world of advertising. 

 

That Lucilius has speared an award is quite a bit of irony for me, on a personal level. A lifetime ago I was horribly, terribly dedicated to writing *serious* fiction, going through the rigamarole of submissions and rejections and all the loveliness that goes with an endeavor poked with so much unhappiness and pain. Just as the fruits of that prior life began to get published, I had a radical shift in perspective, particularly with regards to technology. I “gave up” my dream of writing fiction and began to teach myself how to code.

 

After a period of what I can only call “mourning” I began to simply miss the activity of writing. And by thoughtless accident, the content of Tinkered Thinking began to emerge rather spontaneously - as a kind of deal I made with myself: you can write for 20 minutes in the morning and that’s it! There were apparently better things I had to do with the rest of my time during the day. An innocent writing practice eventually collided with a blog I was building as a coding exercise and voila, Tinkered Thinking was nearly born, but there was one detail missing: 7 days of whimsical non-fiction was a bit… dry.

 

At the same time I wrote a short story to try and evoke a point I was trying to explain to a loved one. The story was far more effective than my feeble attempts to explain myself in the dry abstract. 

 

That story was the first Lucilius Parable. 

 

And so the challenge became: can I produce a new short story once a week? In a single day? My previous work with fiction was much different. Stories took many months. Single lines would be rewritten hundreds of times. Paragraphs took weeks to edit and grind into shape.

 

A complete short story in a single day? Once a week? This was a whole different universe of aim. But with over 170 Lucilius Parables on the site, the challenge seems doable. And now after such a long and unexpected twist of events in my life as a “writer”, Lucilius has gained more appreciation than any of the characters I so lovingly crafter in my previous life. That writer would be horrified and amazed at the success of the Lucilius Parables, both as a book that sells and now as an award catcher.

 

It’s particularly satisfying just how external this is to the traditional realms of publishing. The Lucilius Parables was a totally homegrown project, written and designed, and it’s “self-published”, and the award it’s now garnered isn’t one of the stuffy prestigious awards that fiction writers dream of winning, it’s something that was thought of rather whimsically in comparison to those stuffy official awards..

 

The old stuffy institutions that are a cause of so much stagnation and frustration are being subverted, and new opportunities - like this contest - are arising because of new innovations in technology. This contest and the fact that the book of Lucilius Parables is a totally automated business that required no traditional publishing house, nor micromanaging editor is itself a White Mirror episode. The technological development of Twitter and drop-ship publishers enabled all of these to happen, and this is likely just the start.

 

Because, for one, Volume II of the Lucilius Parables is about to launch, so stay tuned.


Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

or
Dive in to the Archives

Podcast Ep. 1237: A Toast to Lucilius

from
Tinkered Thinking


donating = loving

If you appreciate the work of Tinkered Thinking, please consider lending support. This platform can only continue and flourish with the support of readers and listeners like you.

MONTHLY DONATION
TIP JAR

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




SMALL NEXT STEP

August 3rd, 2022

This post is dedicated to Dr. Emily Balcetis, connect with her on Twitter: @EBalcetis

 

The process of writing and creating Tinkered Thinking has lead to a great number of things I never expected. Certainly the discovery that occurs with writing has yielded far more than I expected from my own feeble mind, but there are also things about the structure of Tinkered Thinking and the basic premise I outlined at the beginning that has generated things I never expected.

 

Before Tinkered Thinking it was a dream of mine to write a book of fiction. I was very much on that path and working quite diligently toward it (perhaps too diligently) when I experienced a debilitating intellectual shift. I gave up fiction writing and started teaching myself how to code. But after a number of months I simply missed writing as an activity. I’ve always loved playing with words, swapping them out, rearranging them and marveling at the lyrical magic that can be achieved. So many discoveries in writing are much like picking up a scrambled Rubik’s cube and turning it over and finding one side completely finished, and then turning it over again and finding that the whole thing is somehow solved. Substance seems to arise out of nowhere with words. And it’s been a perennial curiosity: where are all these words? They certainly aren’t on the page. That’s just text. And it doesn’t exist in the air, that’s just sound waves. I suppose they exist in the mind, but what a cop out that feels like: it’s not much different from the hard problem of consciousness; it’s a bit like asking: where is the person in someone’s brain? There isn’t a neuroscientist on the planet that can’t honestly do anything other than answer the question with a shrug. 

 

In a similar way, certain things emerged from the project of Tinkered Thinking that still have me scratching my head. The Lucilius Parables, Volume I, for example. There was never a plan to write a book. There was just a curious challenge to see if I could write a different short, impromptu essay every day. And when the official “launch” (it had no official launch, it was just me trying to meet a deadline with regards to coding the darn thing), it seemed that 7 days of whimsical non-fiction was perhaps… well I feared it would get a bit tedious. And so I came up with the idea of doing a short story once a week. Once a week? In my prior life as fiction writer, I would spend whole days on single sentences and paragraphs often took weeks. One short story a week was ambitious in a completely novel way that honestly gave me a bit of trepidation. But my debilitating intellectual shift had also equipped me with just the right flavor and quantity of nihilism to say hell with it, and just run with the idea.

 

It wasn’t until a year later I realized I had quite a pile of stories - and a surprising number of them weren’t half bad. It was only then that I dumped them all into a new word document to see what the word count was, and lo and behold, I realized only then that I had a book.

 

Who accidentally writes a book? 

 

The question sounds absurd, and the answer is mundane to an equally ridiculous degree: someone who is more focused on just writing everyday - that’s who.

 

Turns out there’s a nice bit of research around this phenomenon. Dr. Emily Balcetis has studied motivation, particularly with regards to visual perception, and she’s discovered that performance increases when a person’s focus is more narrow and specific. This occurs, for example, when a sprinter is focusing on a tiny patch of clothing on the runner in front of them. 

 

But it also happens in a less visual/physical sense. Focusing on writing everyday is far more narrow than trying to focus on writing a book. One is a massive, somewhat incomprehensible task. The other is very relatable, and therefore doable: sitting down for a few minutes to write TODAY, is not horribly difficult. And when this is repeated for enough days in a row, a book simply emerges at some point - by design or by accident.

 

 

The moral of the story is that giant projects only proceed by the small next step that we can feasibly concentrate on. In fact, it’s best to try and forget about the finished product as much as possible.

 

PS. For the record, there is a second volume of Lucilius Parables that will be released shortly, and a third volume is also already written...by accident, of course.


Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

or
Dive in to the Archives

Podcast Ep. 1236: Small Next Step

from
Tinkered Thinking


donating = loving

If you appreciate the work of Tinkered Thinking, please consider lending support. This platform can only continue and flourish with the support of readers and listeners like you.

MONTHLY DONATION
TIP JAR

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




KNOTS

August 2nd, 2022

 

Where and why does tension exist? In the body we think al tension is bad, likely because many just have too much of it. But no tension would likely be equally negative, just in different ways. In the complete absence of tension we would end up doing nothing. Without the tension of hunger, or the need to connect with another person, we’d all likely become so enlightened that civilization would come to a halt. Tension, and the knots we traditionally think of as bad, are necessary in order to move forward. It’s similar to the way that walking or running is really an act of throwing ourselves out of balance by subtly falling forward.

 

Another way to think about it is how knots can be important structurally. For example, on an old sailing ship made of rope wood and sail, knots were fundamental. Knots held the whole thing together, and without the knots, it was just a pile of rope, wood and sail that would go nowhere.

 

Our bodies are similar. There are tensions designed into its structure that allow it to function properly. But we’ve also evolved not to feel tension unless something has gone awry. Perhaps in such a case it should be given a different name, though the semantic malapropism is forgivable because it’s so intuitive - when something is wrong with a muscle it quite literally feels like a knot has been tied inside of it.

 

But a semantic malapropism can garner a meaning that propagates backwards. We can come to think of all knots as bad, which is a pretty big mistake. Knots can be incredibly useful as long as they are thoughtfully placed.

 

It’s perhaps worth stretching the analogy a little further and extending it beyond the body and into the mind. We all have emotional and mental hangups. And a hangup is quite a lot like a knot in the body. It’s useful to wonder: is a mental or emotional hangup a good thing? Perhaps its a short term way of dealing with some event or another unfortunate whim of life. Perhaps it holds things together in a time when otherwise such things would fall apart? And do the knots stay tied longe than they are useful? Are there lingering knots in body and mind that if finally untied are shown they no longer hold anything together?

 


Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

or
Dive in to the Archives

Podcast Ep. 1235: Knots

from
Tinkered Thinking


donating = loving

If you appreciate the work of Tinkered Thinking, please consider lending support. This platform can only continue and flourish with the support of readers and listeners like you.

MONTHLY DONATION
TIP JAR

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