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The Lucilius Parables, Volume I

INVISIBLE PROBLEMS

June 8th, 2021

 

Put up with something long enough and it becomes normal.  Normal is invisible.  It’s in the countless details that we miss every single day as we go about daily life.  The way sunshine ricochets off a scatter of tree leaves, the gums stuck to the sidewalk edges.  The faceless people on the busses and subways, walking past us, all with expressions we fail to pay any attention.  For the most part this is an important filtering process.  We have to filter out a huge amount of information in order to function.  We just don’t have the time, energy or brain space to deal with every little bit of reality.  But this normalizing of details that perpetuate creates crucial blind spots that can keep people under the thumb of life that is not nearly as good as it could be.

 

Sleep deprivation is a very common one.  It is possible to get used to consistent nights of three to four hours of sleep, despite how unpleasant this makes the days and how detrimental it is to long term health.  We have surprisingly poor memories can quickly forget just how much better daily life is after a solid night’s rest.  The problem becomes invisible because it becomes normal, which makes it harder and harder to address because it ceases to have any obvious pertinence.  

 

Obvious problems we fix.  When someone calls several times a day, leaving voice messages about something we have failed to attend to, the effect can be nerve-wracking.  (As a short aside I once worked with someone who I noticed got a lot of stuff done.  When I commented on the fact, she responded by saying “It’s easy, I just call people several times a day and leave them voice messages until they do what I need.”  There is nothing quite as effective as being obvious. And to couch this in the terminology of a different field: All press is good press.). Obvious - the word - has an etymology that means simply ‘frequently encountered’.  And here, a strange contradiction seems to emerge:  Why isn’t everything normal also obvious?  We encounter the normal everyday so wouldn’t that make all these invisible things obvious?

 

The answer hinges on novelty.  What is obvious in a pressing way has to be new.  Something becomes obvious in the sense that it’s frequently encountered and invisible if it’s encountered with such frequency that it ceases to be novel.  This is the process of becoming inured, and it’s how something as miserable as constant sleep deprivation can go from an awful experience that severely discounts your ability to perform during the day to just a new normal that is totally devoid of an idea that life and one’s performance could be better by a significant order of magnitude.


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Podcast Ep. 1150: Invisible Problems

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DEBUG THE SOUP

June 7th, 2021

In programming there’s a grave mistake that’s quite easy to make.  It happens when the program, instead of having an end, loops back on itself.  This is called an infinite loop and it’ll heat up your CPU faster than a microwave.  In all other parts of programming, debugging takes place through the use of print statements, or logging values to a console.  It’s from these local values that a coder can make sense of where the program is going, and where it needs to go.  But when an infinite loop occurs, any print statements happen like an infinite stutter and the console is quickly backed up with thousands of repeating statements within a second or two, and it doesn’t stop until the environment in which the program is running is killed outright.  This inconvenient detail can make it quite challenging to debug an infinite loop, because often it’s not possible to examine the problem without activating the problem.  The infinite loop is a bit like the universe telling you that what you want can’t be done, and the only reasonable way to react is to rebel.

 

Many efforts result in infinite loop - like outcomes: where our effort seems to have no effect on the reality we are trying to impact.  We change this variable, we rewrite the function, but still the same dead end swirl of “not working”.

 

One way to zero in on the issue of an infinite loops is to start subtracting bits of code.  Taking out chunks eventually results in no infinite loop which signals that the missing chunk is the problem.

 

We can do the same with our efforts in other areas of life.  We try to do so much, putting everything together at the same time, but the melange of variables quickly obscures exactly what is having an effect, if any.  This is the virtue of starting small and trying to make a minimum viable effort have a minimum observable impact.  Once the correlation is strong enough to safely imply causation, then a new dimension can be added to see what the new effect might come about.

 

With an infinite loop, that subtracted chunk of code - which is clearly the culprit - can be whittled down even smaller by subtracting smaller and smaller chunks of the problem until the issue has been narrowed down as much as possible.  Such a problem is not solved by reasoning but by a process of elimination.  

 

Process by elimination is of course a form of reasoning, but it’s a tool we rarely use in view of our efforts.  We almost always reason forward: if I do this, then that will happen.  But our idea of what to do is usually multifaceted with many moving parts and variables.  Rarely do we simplify to a single action for the purpose of achieving a singular result.  We want it all at once, so we try to do it all at once, but the effect is muddled.  But by using a process of elimination, like removing most food types from a diet in order to introduce each one at a time to notice their result, we can see what effect actually correlates to which input.  


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Podcast Ep. 1149: Debug the Soup

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A LUCILIUS PARABLE: MANIFEST EFFORT

June 6th, 2021

The spring light in the garden was perfect for reading as the afternoon approached.  Lucilius flipped a page and readjusted his glasses.  He took a sip of his tea.  All was right.

 

He heard an excited holler from the house and he smiled.  The screen door clapped the announcement of it’s use and a friend staying with Lucilius while he got back on his feet took a chair next to Lucilius.

 

The pause was loaded, and Lucilius let it stretch, knowing the growing anticipation.

 

“Good news?”  Lucilius asked.

 

His friend exhaled deeply, smiling into his hands as he rubbed his hands.  

 

“Yea, real good news.  The issue I thought I was going to run into? Not going to be an issue.  I just can’t believe my luck.  It seems like this whole thing might actually work.”

 

“Well you’ve been working hard at it,” Lucilius commented, happy he could help out a friend while they took a chance - that little risk to beat out a new path and make something happen in the world.

 

“I mean, I’m not just feeling lucky, “ he said, now looking at Lucilius, “It’s like all sorts of odd lucky things are happening.”

 

“They’re only happening because you thought of them happening in the first place.”

 

It was met with a laugh.  “That sounds like some of that wishy washy manifesting stuff.”

 

Lucilius shrugged.  “Well, what exactly do you think that word means?

“It’s just wishful thinking.”

 

“Well,” Lucilius said, “if that’s the definition you’ve got than I’ll have to agree with you, but even handwork towards a goal has to start with just the idea, the fantasy that the goal might actually be possible.  To manifest a wish is to work hard to make it real, but what is hard work without the goal in then first place?”

 

A humble smile met Lucilius’ comment an d Lucilius mirrored it.  “It’s happening my friend, you’re making it happen.”


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Podcast Ep. 1148: A Lucilius Parable: Manifest Effort

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Tinkered Thinking


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ENTREPRENEURIAL SPIRIT

June 5th, 2021

 

Much behavior is for the purpose of avoiding risk.  Go to a good school to get a good job.  Get a good job to have a stable income.  Have a stable income to protect against the risk of poverty.  Keep working to keep the risks at bay.  Such logic rides on the assumption that a person wouldn’t be able to deal with adverse situations, or that such situations would be wholly bad. Adverse situations require creativity to solve, and challenges build character, and yet we try to limit our opportunity for such things as much as possible by smoothing out life with predictable paths.

 

 

It’s a mark of the confident creative to willingly allow the situation of life to sharpen to a pinch that induces a new level of ingenuity to escape.  This is often seen as a negative, to piss away time having fun, travelling and all the other wishy washy activities of youth that are benevolently labelled as “finding yourself.”  For many this lack of seriousness is a set up for later failure.  And for some people this is exactly the case.  After the wanderlust subsides or the resources that fund it subside, many such people get back on track - that predictable track which is primarily purposed for avoiding the risk of adverse situations like poverty.

 

But for some, this situational pinch is seen ahead of time as a kind of motivational tool, one that will and can galvanize the spirit to transform the lessons of creative wandering into a creative upgrade.  This is the entrepreneurial spirit before any thought of business even enters the picture.  

 

The entrepreneurial spirit is rather counter to the predictable path and sees that avenue as a setup for failure, as being stuck in a perpetual loop and cycle of risk aversion as opposed to embracing that risk to experience the real goods of what life has to offer.

 


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Podcast Ep. 1147: Entrepreneurial Spirit

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LOW ODDS, RARE MOVES

June 4th, 2021


If the odds are against you, then you have to do something that is rare, literally. All this means is that something unusual, different and unexpected is more likely to work. Inevitably, this means something counter-intuitive, and a better way to think about that is as something that doesn’t necessarily ‘feel right’.

Take for instance poverty and fasting. Fasting has become trendy in health circles, and for good reason - there are tremendous benefits to fasting. There are short term cognitive benefits and long term benefits for the body and for longevity.

Now think for a moment about the overlap between trendy health circles and poverty? We can’t imagine there’s much overlap at all. Poverty is well correlated with unhealth. Robert Sapolsky details the neurological implications of poverty and how chronic stress creates an interlinked cascade of poor health outcomes. One aspect of chronic stress as induced by poverty is decision making ability. The chronically stressed individual is far less likely to think about the long term and constantly optimize for short term gains. Another ramification of chronic stress is a predilection for unhealthy food, which is unfortunately also a lot cheaper, generally, than healthy food. The idea of fasting and genuinely entertaining it’s potential benefits just doesn’t have a high likelihood of occurring as something worth seriously entertaining for someone who is chronically stressed.

But think about how fasting could impact the mind, body and health of someone who is chronically stressed. As mentioned there are short term cognitive benefits. Fasting can sharpen and deepen one’s ability to focus and in some sense clarify one’s attention. On top of this it saves time and money, both things that are generally stretched to their limit for someone trapped within the maze of poverty. Money could be saved to then buy healthier food which can be purchased less often. All of this is rather counter-intuitive. It just doesn’t feel ‘right’, even though it makes sense. In terms of how it feels, it’s about as uncomfortable as it would seem to be cruel if you told a poor person to take up fasting. But as weird as it seems, it would be a decent suggestion if it wasn’t taken as an insult.

We can examine a slightly more improved situation and still find counter-intuitive benefits. Take for instance someone who isn’t as poor but who is holding steady so to speak. Rent gets paid, there’s plenty to eat, but that’s pretty much it. The work has no chance of social mobility, no promotions, just more of the same work. And now let’s say this person wants to better their life, switch careers with the hope to make more money and do something more fulfilling. What’s a person to do if all time and money is already spent in order to just keep living? One avenue is to realize that the cost of rent is not an absolute. Our newly ambitious individual could move into a van, save all the money that would normally go to rent, or start working part time since costs have suddenly decreased by a huge fraction and devote the extra time to learning new skills for a new career. Again, the odds were against the person who is living pay check to pay check, but that trap of treading water can be short circuited with an unusual rearranging of circumstance. A public parking space is free, even if bylaws make living in one a bit of a questionable and grey area. Again, it doesn’t feel right to give up one’s roof an shelter, but doing so creates a lot more leverage.

 


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Podcast Ep. 1146: Low Odds, Rare Moves

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