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The Tinkered Mind
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January 20th, 2022
Not too long ago there was a fantastic post on the birdie site that was about someone having a fantastic year. When asked what was different, the short conversation was posted: apparently this person had decided to think of the world and their life as the matrix - as in the movie, or rather, to think of all existence as a simulation and a game.
William James, the father of American psychology did something similar. When he was in his late twenties he had a mental breakdown, depressed that unlike his siblings and his father, he’d yet to find his way in life. This was despite an incredibly varied education replete with incredible experiences. As a kind of ultimatum, he made a deal with himself regarding his depression: he would live one more year believing that he had full control over his destiny, and if nothing changed during the course of that year, then he would give himself the ultimate reprieve and end his life. Lucky for him, and anyone who has read his work, the ultimatum worked, and the mere belief that he might have more of an effect on his life did in fact create the effect he was looking for.
The way we look at our reality is everything. It hampers, hinders or expands our agency in the world. Believing or feeling you are powerless goes a long way to rendering someone powerless and ineffective. Believe the opposite and suddenly the dominoes of reality seem lined up at each or your finger tips, their terminations ginger at the threshold of your goals and dreams.
One of the conclusions of Williams James’ seminal work The Varieties of Religious Experience is that prayer really does seem to work. He makes no claim about how it works, be it divine intervention or some other mechanism, he simply records observations and results.
The Divine aside, this makes sense. The psychology of the praying person is far different from the one who does not pray, regardless of divine status or involvement. We can also say something similar about the person who feels powerless compared to the individual who decides to regard existence as a simulation and a game that can be altered, learned and in some sense: won.
Be it prayer or simulation theory, there are simply more effective ways of regarding and conceptualizing one’s reality. This isn’t a particularly interesting or subtle point. It’s more effective to think of reality as one that has gravity as opposed to one that doesn’t. The subtle and profound change isn’t so much the exact nature of how we conceive of reality, but how we conceive of our relationship to that reality. The reality of the devout and praying person is far different than the reality of someone who believes they exist within a simulation. But the relationship each has with such realities is startlingly similar. Both maintain a sense of agency, a voice that doesn’t go unheard, and most importantly, an infinite and eternal opportunity for changing one’s particular situation in that reality.