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The Lucilius Parables, Volume I


August 30th, 2019


Are you sure you’ve identified the problem?


Even if we’ve identified a legitimate problem that is part of the situation, it might not be the whole problem, and without uncovering all possible issues, a tangential issue might make the problem we’ve identified pop up again, requiring a solution again. 


This sort of trend is visible everywhere.


Take for instance the perennial challenge of competing with the Jones’.    This is where high-earners see their neighbor get a slightly better car, one more expensive.  So the natural inclination is to out-do the Jones’, the owners of this expensive car and go out and buy an even more expensive car.  Problem solved, right?


Well, as high-earners are often likely to do, given some time, an even better car will eventually appear in the driveway of the Jones’.  Apparently the problem wasn’t solved, but it feels like it can be solved again by shopping around for another pricey model to again out-do the Jones’. 


But this is an unwinnable race because the finish line recedes to infinity.  It’s simply impossible to win because the game expands with each action of play.  This is the worst kind of infinite game because it is being played with finite resources, most notably: time.


Such recurrent problems either require a systematic and automatic solution, or it is evidence of some other root cause is not being addressed.


For example, buying or procuring food is a recurrent problem.  You’ve simply got to eat.  So some amount of work needs to be done to ensure that food can be purchased or harvested.  This, however is not an infinite game in the way that competing with the Jones’ is.  There is a finite amount of food that each person will eat and it’s more than possible to create a system (like a farm) or make enough money to solve that problem completely all the way through to the end of one’s life.


But the problem of competing with the Jones’ cannot be solved in the same way.  In this case it’s a matter of misidentifying the problem, and failing to realize that one’s self is in the sway of a social game that is likely not worth playing. 


Much of social media is based on this exact framework.  Infinite scrolling is a negative infinite game because we are tempted with the lure of something better coming up with the next flick of the thumb.  Of course this never really happens and we are left just wasting time.  The problem isn’t finding something satisfying.  The problem is the act of trying to find something in such a framework.


This is compounded by the all-too-often experience of procrastinating on something important by scrolling through some social media.  The problem might seem like the need to find something interesting, but the problem is misidentified: the real problem is that we have something else we should be doing.


for example: 


If today is the ‘later’ when you said you’d do it,


what should you be doing?

Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

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Podcast Ep. 502: Problems of Mistaken Identity

Tinkered Thinking

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