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THE HUMBLE & THE ARROGANT

April 17th, 2021

Arrogant people take pride in themselves. Humble people take pride in other things, like family, friends.

 

The vectors of attention for each are in opposite directions.  The narcissist is focused inwardly, the humble outwardly.  We think of these two categories as definitive and mutually exclusive, but they represent two parts of a single process.

 

Fact is, we all start out quite arrogant and narcissistic, frankly because we are helpless.  No one in their right might would bother a friend or loved one in the tremendous and destabilizing way that an infant does.  That wouldn’t just be rude, that would very quickly be the end of a a relationship.  Just imagine, waking a friend up at odd hours of the night, multiple times a night, by screaming and crying in a particularly irritating way.  Not to mention all the other inconveniences that infants inflict upon parents.  This sort of behavior in an adult would be the absolute pinnacle of arrogance and narcism.  There simply is no such thing as a humble infant.

 

Humility comes later, if someone is lucky and open to the slings and arrows of life.  It’s no surprise that a sheltered life that requires no effort often stokes arrogance and narcism.  Is that because such people genuinely think they are better than others?  Or is it simply due to the fact that no other perspective has been learned to replace it?

 

Certainly there are some psychopaths who are incapable of the sort of humility that we tend to value in people, but a lot of arrogance may simply be a lack of development in the manner that we hope people would make.

 

There is of course some worrisome traps along the way.  The hard lessons of reality can lead to a defeated and jaded perspective on life, as though a person has one foot still stuck in the self-obsessed narcissism of infancy, bummed about their own ineffectiveness as a result of having a taste of the notion that there’s more to life than their own idea of it and the role they thought they had as the only protagonist.  

 

A healthy sense of humility comes when a person realizes that they aren’t alone in this wide dynamic game of life.  This is an insult to the narcism of course, but it also turns out to be a comfort: you aren’t alone, and the loved ones who populate our life become a source of joy and fulfillment that self-importance can never grant.


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Podcast Ep. 1098: The Humble & The Arrogant

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Tinkered Thinking


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OLD LOGIC, NEW BEHAVIOR

April 16th, 2021

 

Society adheres to habits in much the same way that individuals do.  Once in place, they persist, despite new circumstances that call for new behavior.  The logic of the initial behavior or system often becomes outdated with new circumstance.  What created a precedent back then does not account for what is happening now. 

 

Acting anew is often greeted with skepticism, especially if on the surface it seems hypocritical when compared to the older logic which gave to the behavior being replaced.  But that’s the thing, a new situation calls for a new logic derived from a fresh perspective fit with new variables.  We compare today with yesterday without admitting the radical differences that may now be in place.  On an individual level this sort of thing makes sense.  People don’t change too much and they seem to change less and less as they get older.  And people extrapolate their personal logic to the larger topic of society.  (Hence the fact that people tend to grow a bit more conservative as they get older.). These personal trends, regardless of the reason they exist grow in a way that increasingly ignores the present in favor of an idea that mimics the past.  Somehow we seem to think that the good old days can only be recreated literally and not anew in spirit.

 

What’s odd about that sort of nostalgic logic is that on average, everyone’s personal past was equipped with far more flexibility and change.  The good old days are marked by the very thing that people become more resistant to as they age.  

 

This sort of tendency is reflected in bureaucratic settings. Institutions will often hit long periods of stagnancy that have little to no growth because the people in charge of that setting have aged to the point of merely maintaining the status quo.  In many organizations it quite literally requires the retirement of one generation and the promotion of the next in order for some innovative breathing room to inject some life into the institution.  That is until the newly promoted leaders themselves age into complacency.  

 

The mistake lies primarily in the idea that ‘we’ve seen this before.’  There is much about the present that will just about always look like the past and we can lull ourselves into a false sense of familiarity, having faith that old solutions will work just fine for a situation that looks pretty much like the old one.  But even the slightest nuance can radically shift the reality of circumstance.  Entire frameworks of logic can suddenly be as irrelevant as a house of cards in a gale, yet we’re less likely to think so because behaviour, habit and thought have melded into a heuristic reaction.  We act as though on autopilot, on the feeble hope that old programming will work in totally novel terrain.


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Podcast Ep. 1097: Old Logic, New Behavior

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Tinkered Thinking


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MOTHER'S COLD RESOLVE

April 15th, 2021

 

The Permian-Triassic extinction, which took place 252 million years ago and which has the moniker “The Great Dying”, resulted in the total elimination of 90% of Earth’s species.  Geologists don’t really know what happened.  It could have been an asteroid that hit the planet, it could have been a sulphuric cloud cover caused by volcanoes.  But what we can be certain of is that it was due to completely natural factors.

 

Compare this to the times we live in now.  Anxiety abounds about our powers and our continual work to ruin the planet within the ideal vision that we would call ‘natural’.  But, remember exactly what natural means.  Natural resulted in 90% of Earth’s species being snuffed out of existence a few hundred million years ago - that was Mother Nature’s handiwork.  

 

It’s without a doubt that human activity is causing significant alterations to the planet’s atmosphere, biosphere and hydrosphere.  We have given birth to an endless array of chemicals that are having all sorts of third and forth order effects that we can barely keep up with, and our hell bent use of fossil fuels continues to wrap the planet in a warmer sheet of sky.

 

It’s a bit ironic to realize that humans are the result of natural processes.  Mother Nature created us, and anything we do, any of the ways that we alter the planet are ultimately, the result of natural processes.  It actually isn’t too much different than any of the mass extinctions that have occurred before modern history.  Except of course for one small detail.

 

This time, something on the planet is aware of what is going on.  The magnitude of this detail cannot be overstated.  Just ponder for a moment the obliviousness of all animals that came before us when they were facing extinction.  Did any of them have a solid grasp of the larger picture and what was going on?  Doubtful.

 

For the first time in the history of the planet, there is a wide spread consciousness that is anticipating what disaster might arise.  For all our flaws, those flaws also allow for this singular super power.  We can anticipate, plan, and even predict with fairly impressive accuracy.  There aren’t any animals that have 5, 10 and 20 year plans for their life, let alone the trajectory of well being for their entire species.  Animals might be able to make annual migrations, but compared to humans they are pretty much limited to living in the moment.  As much as we humans can cause ourselves misery by failing to really be present in the moment, it’s simply the cost for being able to experience a reality distortion that might actually come true, that is, thinking about a plausible future which we can bring about.

There are a fairly sizeable number of people who are incredibly anxious about our effects on the planet.  And while this is for good reason, it does risk missing the larger picture.  The fact that we have an idea about what we have done, what we are doing and what needs to change in order to correct course is simply an astonishing feat of nature.  And that’s exactly what we are: we are a product of nature.  Mother Nature, if we can anthropomorphize her for just a moment, has been rather cold, patient and endlessly persistent in her drive to create something on this planet that is more than what came before.  She has been absolutely cutthroat in the process.  She has been completely unafraid to kill off all of her children - to wipe the slate clean in order to start over, and she has done this a disturbing number of times.  Simply put, Mother Nature has executed untold trillions of living beings so that we, the human species can have this chance to wiggle our way out of our own bind.  Looking back on the geological record one might even wonder if this is the default litmus test, as though the challenge of potential extinction is the rhythmic test of all species in order to sift for something far smarter, capable and aware than anything that has come before.  The impending disaster that we’ve created isn’t so much a mistake on our part as it is an opportunity, to prove ourselves worthy of this planet’s future.


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Podcast Ep. 1096: Mother's Cold Resolve

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Tinkered Thinking


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RIVALNYM: APATHY & EQUANIMITY

April 14th, 2021

If you are unfamiliar with rivalnyms, they are a particularly juicy class of words that exist between synonyms and antonyms. They often define the exact same thing but with completely opposite emotional valences. 

 

 

A simple example of a rivalnym pair is nervous and excited.  Both describe something about what’s happening with our nerves, but one is positive and one is negative.

 

Another rivalnym pair is Apathy and Equanimity.

If we think about these two words in terms of the behavior they inspire, they are identical.  An apathetic person does nothing.  Someone who is equanimous is also likely to be doing nothing, but the reasons underlying the inaction are, strangely, counter valenced.  The apathetic person does nothing because they either don’t care or don’t think any effort would do anything.  The equanimous person takes no action, not because they don’t care, but because there’s simply no discernible reason to take action.

 

And yet, one of these states is far more desirable than the other.  One in essence describes peace, which can be a hard idea to swallow in a world that could still improve by a great deal and which requires a lot of work in order to make that improvement actually happen.  Apathy, in the same context seems more like a state of being overwhelmed, as if things are so bad that nothing should be done because no improvement is possible.  

 

With this rivalnym pair we approach something eerily close to neutrality while still stretching to each extreme on a different spectrum.  It’s a good example of how our experience at any given time is really poorly captured by a single word, or even a few.  We are constantly traversing many spectrums that may even seem to actually be contradictory.

 

And yet, the core function of language is to reduce experience to these communicable units.  We scrape the universal from the unique in order to find a bridge to other people who can relate by having the same universal aspects present in their own unique experience.

 

As with progress in nearly every field, we reduce and then expand.  With language we reduce the universal to language that can be shared, and then we expand the language to encompass more experience.


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Podcast Ep. 1095: Rivalnym: Apathy & Equanimity

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Tinkered Thinking


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AS GOOD AS THE WORD

April 13th, 2021

It’s a high compliment in any age to say that someone is as good as their word.  Language is the communal hallucination that allows us to distort reality in ways that are congruent across different perspectives, and because of this, it’s a useful distortion.  Realty doesn’t always bear the fruit of our words however, but time always proves whether we at least strive to live up to our own word or not.

 

If you think about language as a separate organism, they way you might think of a computer virus as separate from you computer but which invades your computer and appropriates it for a particular use, we have to admit that language has done quite a good job of infecting the human mind.  Words like ‘virus’ and ‘infect’ are negatively valanced of course, and don’t hint at a possible symbiotic relationship.  Language, whatever it might really, truly be classified as, is certainly one half of a symbiotic relationship.  We keep it alive by using it, and we keep using it because it’s useful.  Now that we’ve made the bond it’s quite a difficult feat to think of a human future somehow divorced from language.  Can you think of what tomorrow would be like without language?  The task is much like asking someone to imagine the sky without the color blue, or clouds, or stars or the darkness of night.  We are intertwined with language to a very very deep degree.

 

 

To be as good as your word is to have your language in line with your behavior.  Your word describes your future actions.  This is a rather extraordinary feat to behold.  It requires not just an accurate model of the future, but also of one’s self, and how that self might act in the future. And then of course the ability to communicate this to another person.  With all told, it’s a quite a miracle that we can coordinate to achieve such grand aims.  Other animals certainly communicate in collaborative ways but we humans seem to have discovered the secret sauce to super charge this ability into a quantum leap.  Just try to realistically think about any other species on the planet putting a space station in orbit with a few of it’s kind aboard.  The idea is laughable at best, and humbling when truly considered.

 

And our quantum leap is achieved purely on rails of language.  Other species may have a little information to pass on, like bees sharing locations, and other animals may have rhythm, beat, and melody, but only humans combine all these elements with a staggering amount of content, and we do it in many forms.  These words can be listened to or read.  They can be emailed, or printed, tweeted or texted.  A song from a whale or a bird can only be heard.  That’s it.  The song can’t be listened to again unless it’s remembered perfectly, and while this is possible, memory is never perfect.  Like genes, memory allows for mutations and shifts.  Language is similar.  Words shift through time, and some might argue a word never means the exact same thing twice.  But nonetheless, our ability to record language in such a variety of ways increases the fidelity of our communal memory.  Language is the first medium that allows us to encode the past and the likewise, potential futures.  No animal has ever had such a tool, and just look how effortlessly we take it for granted.  It’s little wonder that language itself sometimes loops back upon it’s hosts and causes some damage.  But still, we progress, and it’s likely that we will, with the tool of language, discover the form of it’s replacement, whatever that may be.


Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

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Podcast Ep. 1094: As Good As the Word

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Tinkered Thinking


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If you appreciate the work of Tinkered Thinking, please consider lending support. This platform can only continue and flourish with the support of readers and listeners like you.

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Appreciation can be more than a feeling. Toss something in the jar if you find your thinking delightfully tinkered.