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Building a blueprint for a better brain by tinkering with the code.
January 20th, 2021
Ants have incredibly efficient brains. They are tiny and dialled in with exceptional optimization for what an ant needs to do. Any don’t spend time worrying about tomorrow, or fretting over what they should do with their day - they simply don’t have the brain space for that sort of experience. They are, simply, too efficient for that sort of luxury, and worrying and the ability to fret over this and that is a luxury of a larger, more flexible and dynamic brain.
The same inefficiency that allows us to worry about something bad that might happen tomorrow is the same imagination that allows us to craft beautiful stories, songs and new theories about how tings work. Inefficiency, or rather, a lack of hardwired specialization allows us to cognitively wander.
Now certainly, some who wander get lost, and it’s possible to wander into dark territory. The brain can get itself stuck in a vicious cycle of bad thoughts which can create terrible pain. But it’s this freedom to wander in the first place that is the core virtue of our inefficient brains - an inefficient brain that has made tremendous progress, far beyond anything any other species has managed in billions of years.
A luxury to worry certainly turns the perspective on the experience of worry inside out. The realization that the ability to worry is a luxury can also beg an important question: is the luxury well spent if it’s taking the form of worry?
The answer is most certainly not. Worry and anxiety is a signal that we’ve wandered in the wrong direction and that our thoughts, our brain, and our experience of the present is better spent pursuing a different direction. That’s all anxiety is: a signal that the present is being misspent. Switch gears and spend that present on something worthy and difficult and chances are good the mind will allow itself to be consumed - delightfully - in the task. And when finally the mind emerges from a period of focus it lays claim to a jewel - a sense of accomplishment with which the present becomes tinted with relief.
It’s hard to imagine an ant gets to have such a variety of experience. There’s probably not enough room, nor cognitive machinery to craft this mental adventure. It’s too efficient for such fun. That’s perhaps the crowning realization: play is just like worry: it’s a product of our inefficiency. But who wants play to be efficient? Where’s the fun in that?
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