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The Tinkered Mind
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January 14th, 2019
Thinking is our most powerful tool. But any tool needs a medium through which to function. And if thinking is the tool, then reality is the medium. Through language, visualization and conception, we can imagine all sorts of things that do not exist, and we can make abstract frameworks for the things that we see do exist. But, if thinking is left to it’s own devices, it can generate its own fantasy land where it’s potential usefulness rapidly declines.
Just as the body’s usefulness will decline if not protected by an immune system, so too does our mental health need a kind of immune system through which to introduce rigor and honing. Taking action based on our thinking is exactly this sort of immune system for belief systems, conceptual understandings and thinking in general.
We might think for a moment of the street side prophet who can talk ad infintum based on a conceptual world that they have. Is such a person generally open to conversation and taking in new information? If you’ve ever had enough curiosity to try and engage such a person, you’ve perhaps found the answer is no. Such an individual is far more interested in the attempt to impose their ideas on the outside world. In such a case, there is no longer an even two-way street between the conceptual world and the real world. Such a two-way street is imperative for the health of the conceptual world because it’s through our interaction with the real world that our conceptual world is updated, and from a more robustly constructed mental conception, we can take more efficient action that is more likely to result in our imagined goals.
When we sit in thought on any given plan or idea for too long, we are undermining our mental abilities by expecting far too much from them. It’s a useful rule to take the smallest possible action on any new plan or idea as soon as possible. The feedback from reality (if there is any) is a far more helpful guide about which direction we should think than the hopeless task of trying to imagine all sorts of branching possibilities.
This is why many tech products are introduced without much fine-tuning. While the initial use might be aggravating for many, the feedback from users help the creators pivot the product in the most useful direction. This feedback loop helps get a clunky version one to an incredibly useful version x far more efficiently than wasting time and money trying to guess what will be useful and building something for that imagined world of guessing.
But this feedback loop should apply to all our ideas. If curiosity directs our attention towards some novelty, we do best to take the cue and investigate it’s possibility in reality in stead of simply following curiosity down a rabbit hole into a fantastic, albeit unuseful wonderland. As much as that word ‘wonder’ is handed around like some kind of child superpower, it’s most useful in small quantities punctuated by action in the real world. Wonder can become like a virus in the mind and an idea or plan about what to do can become like an infinite loop. We just get stuck imagining something in the real world instead of actually finding out. Pushing these plans and ideas into the real world is like pushing a compound through the rigors of the immune system. If the plan or idea is useful, then the real world will give us some kind of positive feedback, much like the immune system distributes the constituents of healthy food, whereas the real world will let a bad idea fall flat, much like a virus being steamrolled by the power of the immune system.
The most practical piece here is to watch out for any kind of rumination. When thinking goes beyond imagining a couple different branching possibilities, it’s time to scrap the process of thinking and start translating a plan to test the idea into real action. Only then can an idea truly evolve in the healthiest way possible.