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The Lucilius Parables, Volume I

STATE CHANGE FEAR

April 22nd, 2021

 

Any radical departure from habitual living is bound to provoke a little fear.  When that fear, or the experience of it is seen as positive, we call it excitement, and when negative, it’s nervous, stressed or worried.  Our emotional valence isn’t actually as important as is the fact that anticipation of something different simply creates a rise in emotional intensity.

 

We have to wonder, is it the new circumstance that generates this blend of excitement and anxiety, or is there some mechanism in our minds that is trying to ensure that we stay right where we are, doing the same thing day in and day out?  In neuroscience, this mechanism might be called the ‘Default Mode Network’ which is a spread of about 12 brain regions that, among many other things, keep the hamster wheel of the mind spinning just like it did yesterday.    The unnerving anticipation of the future may be a kind of survival cry related to this network, While of course this is just conjecture, why wouldn’t a state of mind fear ‘death’ in the same way all living things do.  Is a state of mind not a living thing?  In some sense, we get to experience a kind of reincarnation while living, all we have to do is change our circumstance.  We experience the anxiety of death in miniature, and when the mind resettles as it reacts anew to a new situation, we become someone slightly different, and in this sense, our body hosts this little reincarnation of the mind.  The description isn’t really meant to be taken literally, but only to prime the discussion for what we might be able to learn from the way people die, and how that can effect everyday life.  We can, for instance compare the bitter and scared person who clings to life with the person who has accepted what will happen and approaches it with curiosity.  The two perspectives don’t just apply to death, they form a fairly accurate depiction of the two main ways that people approach or resist new experiences.

 

The point is: how much worse is a newly imposed circumstance that is less than ideal if we resist and begrudge it the whole way?  As opposed to simply accepting it and moving forward.  Which disposition arms us with a better ability to try and improve things?

 

It even goes the other way: is the vacation better or worse with the days, weeks and months spent eagerly anticipating it before hand?  Or is the time less likely to live up to our amped up expectations because of all this jazzed up anticipation?

 

 

 


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Podcast Ep. 1103: State Change Fear

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Tinkered Thinking


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A BLEND OF OPTIMISM & PESSIMISM

April 21st, 2021

A healthy perspective is one composed of both optimism and pessimism.  But this is putting it crudely.  Each word carries too much of an emotional connotation about someone’s disposition toward life.  It’s often stated that pessimists are more in touch with reality, and yet, it’s the optimists that actually get new things done.  One would imagine that the pessimist, with their superior model of reality would be more adept at making the possible real, but clearly this isn’t the case, and this is at the core of the problem with these two words being too laden with emotional resonance.  Imagine for a moment what it means to be an optimist or a pessimist without the emotional valence that’s associated with it, what would this look like?

 

 

Another way to look at these perspectives is to think about worst case scenarios and best case scenarios.  The optimist aims for the second one, the best case scenario, and of course risks great disappointment when it doesn’t happen.  Although, appropriately enough, a true optimist isn’t likely to be all that fazed by such set backs, which is at the core of optimism’s utility.  The pessimist, on the other hand looks for the worst case scenario, and this is tremendously useful, because if the worst case scenario can be accurately modelled, then measures can be taken to ensure that it doesn’t happen.  A combination of these two specific features is the sweet spot to develop: imagining, understanding and protecting against the worst case scenario in order to free up opportunity to safely aim for the stars.

 

The problem with the emotional association with the words ‘pessimism’ and ‘optimism’ is that in order to combine the best features of both perspectives, one has to let go of any emotional intensity.  Only from a relatively neutral emotional standpoint can a person see both the worst case scenario and a much better potential future.  Emotional intensity on either side of this dichotomy blinds us from the benefits of the other.  It’s not so much how we look at the world, but how we feel while we’re looking.  Emotion infuses and tints all aspects of reality, making even the most beautiful sunny day repugnant to the person unwilling to enjoy it, or the a dreary and wet camping trip a small slice of heaven to the person who is looking for details in experience to enjoy.  While one of these is certainly far more preferable for normal, everyday living, both become a hinder when we try to assess something new about the future, and what we might be able to do with it.  The key is to keep a foot firmly planted on the ground of reality while stepping up into the unknown, imagining a step that we might be able to build. 


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Podcast Ep. 1102: A Blend of Optimism & Pessimism

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Tinkered Thinking


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THE ART OF ATTENTION

April 20th, 2021

 

Imagine for a moment someone looking through your eyes.  Now, putting aside the aspects that could make this an absolute disaster of anxiety production, imagine further that you had a bit of privacy control over this borrowed experience so that the experiment could actually function.  Say for instance it’s turned on only while you are going for a walk.  But in addition to being privy to what you see, the other person hooked into your experience also experiences your attention, your thoughts, and your mood.

 

Again, putting aside the anxiety that this might cause in a lot of people, let’s just imagine for a moment what it would be like to Shepard the experience of someone else via our own.  Would someone else have a pleasant time being you?

 

Would they marvel with you at the color and shimmer of cherry blossoms on the trees that line the street, or would they be bound by your bickering mind, hellbent on obsessing over some extraneous detail of life that has nothing to do with this street and the walk you are currently on?

 

We can imagine - God forbid - getting rated on the quality of attention we have after someone has come along for the ride.  Now before thoughts about being harshly judged come to mind, just imagine what it would be like to score exceptionally.  Imagine someone taking a step into your mind for a few minutes while walking down a street lined with cherry blossoms, and the reaction afterwards is full of compliments, admiration and awe.  

 

This is how you experience life?

 

 Can you teach me?

 

Attention is a bit of an art, and this art is only really addressed in meditation practices, but it’s worth it to wonder if this sort of art might have a wider spectrum of influence than what meditation provides.  

 

Sports, for example are a form of attentional ability that we judge and score.  We are usually more concerned about someone’s physique, how that gives them an advantage, but when people are evenly matched in terms of strength, speed and general ability, it’s not a matter of what’s possible physically, but what’s possible mentally, and specifically that’s in terms of the quality of attention an athlete brings to the table.  

 

We might say the same thing about anything competitive, whether it be video games, or chess.  Pending external physical factors, it’s a competition in the quality of one’s attention.  And even better is when someone triumphs despite some kind of external handicap - that’s the real gold we love to hone into because it harks of something uniquely human that allows an underdog to rise above a circumstance.  The underdog rises because of an art in accordance to attention.

 

Now, realize that at each moment of your life, you are engaged in this art of attention.  You might not be putting any conscious effort into it, but your performance in this realm of art determines everything about your life.  A rich person can be miserable concentrating on the wrong things, and a homeless and impoverished person can experience complete contentment by focusing on the right things.  These things aren’t just possible, they are fairly regular - it’s the ability to craft and mold, nurture and respect one’s attention that creates the separation between the two.  So the question arises: how practiced you in the art of attention?


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Podcast Ep. 1101: The Art of Attention

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Tinkered Thinking


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THE FUTURE OF LANGUAGE

April 19th, 2021

 

Imagine for a moment what it would be like if everyone knew every single word, and everyone was comfortable using the vast array of vocabulary and jargon that is technically available to us.  Would our ability to communicate improve?  The obvious answer seems as though it would be yes, but would the improvement be totally comprehensive?  Would we suddenly be able to communicate absolutely every conceivable and possible aspect of human experience?  No, of course not.

 

Language falls disastrously short of the project to capture and transmit human experience.  And yet it’s all we really have.  It’s fun to imagine if future brain machine interface technologies might enable us to achieve a kind of conceptual and emotional telepathy.  It even stands to reason that language might fall out of use, like the typewriter did to the computer.  If the fidelity of communication is much higher when you can have an identical experience to someone else transmitted to you, would this not be a huge leap beyond language?  When someone tries to describe an experience that felt magical or powerful, what if instead of using those rather loose and worn out words someone could simply give you a taste of that experience, why would we ever use language again.

 

It’s fun to explore some of the further applications, like therapy.  How much good might accrue if we could give each other a sense of different flavors of well being.  Would we simply grow jealous and wish for more like it’s some kind of drug?  Or would the experience itself be transformative?

 

Future possibilities aside, it’s fantastic to behold all that we’ve accomplished with language despite it’s enormous shortcomings and trappings.  While it often functions like an engine of discord in our enormous family, it has also been the glue of our cooperative powers.  The future of language may might turn the writers and poets into a new kind of luddite, but the implications for a new form of communication may have for our cooperative powers is simply endless: there’s just no telling what miracles we might make real if our ability to understand one another makes a quantum leap.


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Podcast Ep. 1100: The Future of Language

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A LUCILIUS PARABLE: NO HOPE

April 18th, 2021

 

Lucilius could almost reach it, his fingers just barely grazing, but it was too far.  He pulled back, wincing at the pain of his pinches shoulder released from the narrow space.  He gazed again down into the abyss where his old ring had rolled off into, and grimaced.

 

Then there was a knock at the door.  Lucilius answered it and found the little boy from next door.

 

“Mom working a double again?”

 

“Yea, you mind if I hand out over here?”

 

“Always a treat,” Lucilius said, he pushed the door wider so the kid could enter, and after he closed the door he rolled his shoulder back a few times to try and ease off the pain.

 

“You ok?” The boy asked.  

 

“Yea, I just pinched my shoulder trying to get something that fell behind a counter in the kitchen. There’s this weird spot where they skimped on the splashboard…”. He trailed off, and shook his head so to make it seem as though it was nothing.

 

“What did you lose?”

 

“A ring.”

 

“Did you get it back.”

 

Lucilius shook his head.

 

“Show me where it fell,” the boy said with a certain confident authority that came with the young pride of someone who had something figured out.  Lucilius showed the boy and he inspected the opening and looked down into the crevice with a quiet, analyzing gaze.  Then the boy seemed to come to a conclusion.  He edged to the lip of the counter and then hopped down.  Briskly he walked out of the kitchen and Lucilius heard his front door open and close.  Lucilius looked down behind the counter again, wondering if maybe he could somehow hook it, but his front door opened again, and this time it clanked oddly several times.  The boy came back into the kitchen wheeling a vacuum along with him.

 

Lucilius chuckled.  “Smart idea, but then we’re going to have to dig through the vacuums to find it.”

 

The boy smiled deviously.  He lifted a foot and pulled his shoe off.  Then with a bit more difficultly he pulled his sock off and put it over the the long attachment of the vacuum so it made like a screen.  Then the boy plugged in the vacuum, jumped up on the counter, stuck the noise frustrated attachment down behind the counter and pulled it back up and pointed it at Lucilius, and there, stuck to the sock screen along with a dime and a few pieces of detritus was his ring.  

 

Lucilius pulled it off and smiled.

 

The boy killed the vacuum and looked up at Lucilius.

 

“I bet you could just almost reach it, right?”

 

“Uh huh…could just about touch it.”

 

“Yea,” the boy said. “I had the same problem the other day, but my arms are a lot shorter.  Not even a hope.  But..” The boy said, growing contemplative,“…not having hope can be a good thing I guess.” He looked at Lucilius again,  “stops you from trying to make something work that just won’t work.  Makes it a lot easier to give up and figure something else out.”

 

 


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Podcast Ep. 1099: A Lucilius Parable: No Hope

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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.