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January 18th, 2019

All our actions, plans, goals and thoughts operate with underlying axioms.  An obvious one is perhaps the reliability of gravity.  We hold it as an under lying premise of our time awake and alive that some magical-seeming force is going to keep us close to the earth, perpetually.  Axioms about physical reality, particularly regarding how our own body moves in space in concert with gravity are perhaps the first axioms that we learn considering that crawling and attempts to stand are succeeded before most other milestones of growth that infants achieve. 



However, the process does not stop, and we continue to intuit new axioms as we move forward.  Nothing guarantees that these axioms are correct, and since such axioms can be so simple, we can spend much time, years, decades, even a lifetime without realizing that some of our underlying suppositions about reality are just plain wrong.


As the story species, we experience narratives as far stickier concepts than subtler, more counter-intuitive ideas. Indeed our brains seem almost hardwired to cling to a story, however fatuous, rather than confront new information that causes friction with our underlying axioms. 


When a new piece of information is anything short of a slap in the face, we tend to have a talent for ignoring that piece of information. 


When people do experience a big wake up call, not only is the experience destabilizing, but often such people will reflect on the past and wonder how they could have been so blind to certain things. 


Hindsight is 20/20 as we like to say.  And this phrase gets at the heart of our relationship with our own axioms.


Perhaps we held the axiom that a certain person could be trusted.  Perhaps due to our pesky wish for certainty and an identity we can cling to, we ignore the red flags, the warning signs, the bits of information that seem to contradict our underlying axiom.  Until they either add up, or an event that simply cannot be ignored is in clear and present conflict with our original axiom.


We can look at something even simpler, something harmless, almost ridiculous.  We’ve all seen someone playing a sport who gets a hold of the ball and accidentally runs in the wrong direction.  It’s often funny because the mistake is one of such obvious naiveté.  The player simply got disoriented, or forgot that the teams had switched sides.  The axiom of such a situation could not be simpler.  It’s just two parts representing each team’s side which are identical.  But the mistake is one we can make in all manner of ways in other parts of life.  Picking up the ball and accidentally scoring for the wrong side.


Think for a moment about that player, picking up the ball and running in the wrong direction.  When would be the worst time to reassess the axiom of whose side is whose and when would be the best time.  The answers are obvious.  Reassessing the axiom as soon as possible would be best.  Simply because the longer we run with the wrong axiom, we are amplifying the mistake, creating more of a problem the longer we keep going with the wrong direction.  If we ever get the sense to turn around and double check what is going on, we’ll realize we’ve made more work for ourselves if we wish to achieve our goal.  The error has compounded, all because of an incorrect thought.


Mental errors of such kinds are unavoidable, but we can test them strategically by a combination of being mindful about our priorities in life and developing metrics to determine if any real progress is being made towards the goals we’ve prioritized.  The last missing ingredient is to take action and continually poke reality for feedback. 


The player running in the wrong direction is gleefully misguided, thinking they are far ahead of the pack.  While the pack doesn’t even chase, but watches as a battery of embarrassment charges with each step.  Poking reality in this case would be as simple as looking back to double check awareness of the whole situation.  This is the invaluable benefit of having a Well-Oiled Zoom.   Being able to harness and direct a laser-like focus is an excellent ability, but to focus on the wrong task doesn’t just waste time, it can severely undermine all sorts of other aspects of our hopes and goals.


For this reason, we should perhaps be suspicious of our own deeply held beliefs and axioms.  For the very reason that they are placed more insidiously than anything else and because of this we can be lead far astray.



This episode references Episode 54: The Well-Oiled Zoom, and Episode 32: Rear-View.

Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

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Podcast Ep. 278: Axiomatic Mistake

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