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The Tinkered Mind
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March 11th, 2022
It’s a respectable lamentation that Hofstadter’s Law appears to be infallibly on point. The law states: Everything takes longer than you think it will, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law. It’s cute because it’s recursive, but in a kittenish - feline way, in that it’s cute, but deadly in its accuracy.
The saddest part about this Law is that it also means you’ll have less time. If things always take more time than you think they will, then that means less time for other things. This is on top of the fact that success is not guaranteed. It’s possible to spend all your time working on something, without it paying off and being left with far less time than originally anticipated. It can seem like a lose-loose.
Perhaps this is a reason for our innate desire for novelty, and our quick-to-trigger boredom. It ensures that we don’t fall victim to the sunk cost fallacy - spending too much time pursuing something that won’t pan out. It means we’re skittish and quick to jump ship. Usually this facet of people is frowned down upon, but framed with Hofstadter’s Law, it seems to make a lot of sense.
Unfortunately there are a host of things that we can’t jump ship on. It’s not practical to simply stop eating, paying rent, and other bills, and because of this, there’s forced sunk-cost and forced consistency. It’s necessary to continuously work to feed these needs. Youth is the time for jumping around and trying different things, and living completely without commitment. The responsibilities of adulthood slowly encircle and strangle this so-called freedom.
What’s funny is that when the topic of automation pops up, suddenly people wonder what we’ll all do if all the boring menial jobs have been eaten by some robotic or digital form. Strange considering this comes from a species that valorizes youth - and for what reason? Surely the freedom of youth has to be part of it, but when proffered the possibility of that freedom again, somehow it’s perceived as a nervous threat.
It’s a personal suspicion that after a period of adjustment to an automated world, we’d all become stranger far more productive. But of course, such a change won’t happen over night. Some already have called upon the powers of automation to maximize leisure, and it would be worthwhile to see what sort of output such people have if their curiosity remains in tact.
There are those who “never find their way”, who seem perpetually aimless and never seem to stick with anything and never seem to get any meaningful breaks. It’s a worthy thought experiment to wonder what would happen to these people if they simply had a lot more time. What if instead of living barely a century, we had half a dozen or so centuries. Do you think the people who don’t seem to ever get a break or get their act together would ever find their way?
It’s worth wondering about it, if only to realize that the answer would likely be positive. So much of life is spent doing things we don’t want to do so that we can simply stay plugged into the systems of civilization. So few get to have their cake and eat it too, but it is possible - to have desirable, creative work. It seems it’s relegated only to the lucky, but that’s probably because the going is so slow, and rare lucky breaks simply fast track parts of the process for a hallowed few.