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December 1st, 2020
Freedom has many meanings. For some it’s a freedom from some kind of constraint or pressure. For others it’s a freedom to do something - kind of agency. The two often go hand-in-hand. One constraint often limits an ability. Those with fewer constraints or dependencies often have the freedom to do more. But what exactly is a dependency?
There is the literal use, as in, a dependent, like a child or a sick loved one who needs to be cared for. Such adventures in love and compassion take time, energy and money. If the child grows up or the ill loved one recovers, these dependents graduate to being otherwise. But what about permanent dependencies, like oxygen. It’s certainly non-negotiable whether someone can be dependent on oxygen or not. We need that little molecule to help burn our own energy in order to do anything. Oxygen is a basic input, and needing it isn’t so much a dependency as it is a necessity - perhaps a worthy distinction to lay out.
Sleep is another dependency, though many people try to function as though negotiation on this one has hours and hours of wiggle room.
Strangely, a necessity like sleep often gets short-changed for other dependencies that are not necessities. A penchant to scroll social media, for example. This can easily become a dependency and it’s a well-entrenched one for many people. It apparently degrades sleep quality, if only by being a reason to stay up a little later when the brain could be getting a few more minutes (or hours) in repair mode. The juxtaposition is apt to suss out an important distinction: many dependencies feel like necessities, and our behaviour honors the feeling, not the fact. This is precisely how priorities get out of whack and incentives drive us to self-destructive places.
The difference is a hard one to parse. For example, much if not most of the food eaten is unnecessary, but it certainly feels necessary when the hunger hormone Ghrelin is running high and suddenly we hear ourselves say the words “I’m starving!” Granted, it’s perhaps worth pointing out that quite literally no person in the modern world who says these words is actually starving. Even someone who is relatively lean can go quite a long time without food before it actually becomes a problem. But of course, it never feels like this.
The task of reducing unnecessary dependencies is counter-intuitive and it requires an intellectual faith in the facts of the situation. In order to pull of this trick, it’s a matter of confronting the feelings of the situation, and regulating them. For the unmindful person, this is extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible. And the rampant infection of so many unnecessary dependencies should go to show just how few people have the mindful capacity to observe, parse, and regulate their emotions on such simple subjects like the kind and quantity of food, sleep, and technological engagement. This lack of mindfulness is made even more distinct by the fact that most people know these simple facts about getting more sleep, eating a better selection of food, and cutting down on the zombie-scrolling. We may have the capacity for rationality, but our behavior is often anything but. Our behavior is tipifyied mostly by a reaction to the moment and the current stimuli and state of the body. Any quick reaction simply doesn’t have the time for rationality. There’s simply no time to actively think about whether it’s a good idea to pick up that phone and check social media when there’s a microsecond of distraction from the current task. It just happens because that’s how we feel. The rational decision to do otherwise quite literally requires a few more seconds than we are in the habit of giving such reactions. The difference might seem trivial but it’s essential: it requires a couple of seconds to engage that dialogue with one’s self and ask: do I really want to do that right now?