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The Lucilius Parables, Volume I

CANVAS

January 8th, 2021

The sole purpose in life for many seems to be to find that purpose.  This interminable cliche is reincarnated in all sorts of forms, whether it be one’s passion or mission.  The painter seeks something elusive and new through forms on a blank canvas, the writer with words rearranged, the photographer with the uncaptured angle, the coder - a new trick for the machine.  Everyone is trying to find some sort of art in life to get good at, something that somehow both inspires others and is inspiring to do.

 

The recipe for such a thing isn’t actually a secret, nor is it that difficult.  Nearly any task we can do can be elevated to the level of an art if plied with enough consistency and fed enough time.  Visit the canvas for hours every day and the hand is bound to hear the mind’s desires for form and line with more clarity as the days roll away.  Continue for years and years and the admiration of others is nearly guaranteed by dint of compounding interest.  Fascination is the experience tagged with the most envy.  There is nothing more admired and desired than to be so engrossed in some facet of life that nothing else seems to matter.  We engineer the experience falsely with all manner of intoxication and entertainment, often only to be given enough of a taste to realize what we must be missing.  Many are left waiting for what seems to be missing to finally turn up.  In reality, the task or medium doesn’t matter at all.  The experience of fascination is the same no matter the object of passion.  One need simply pick something, nearly anything and get curious in order for the universe to bloom.  Attention is like that divine elixir that when applied consistently to some facet of reality creates a kind of life, as though within each pixel of life resides kaleidoscopic depths to be unlocked by simply looking with patience.

 

This is how opportunity abounds - abundant everywhere, if only we look.  This is how creativity and resourcefulness are the same.  Both aren’t simply a remix, but an expanding resolution of possibility using what already exists.

 

There is however one canvas that is distinct from all the other potential arts and crafts we might pick up and use to explore the wonders of what it means to be alive, and that’s living itself.  The quintessential canvas is the moment: the very stuff of time and experience.  The flimsy analogy is film: that is if our own life were the movie to be made an art.  We might imagine the opportunity of welcoming someone else to experience our whole life as we each do, like a ride, and wonder whether the universe comes alive through our own eyes, or not - always shaded by the congestion of mindless pursuit..

 

 

Be we waking or in dream, each moment is a chance to evoke the beautiful, and often what’s on  offer is far simpler and easier than some task plied at for long years.  It doesn’t take much at all to realize the beauty of a single moment.  In fact, it’s almost certainly a matter of getting much out of the way in order to see it.  

 

Perhaps then, even the most mediocre looking life can be grander than the most sprawling adventure, if adventure is taken without a sense of the art being committed, and the mediocre life simply hides the person who is in fact paying deep attention to the moment.


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Podcast Ep. 999: Canvas

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Tinkered Thinking


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FORCED FASCINATION

January 7th, 2021

 

Our problem isn’t distraction, it’s a lack of fascination.  Distraction is the scapegoat, the pervasive and obvious culprit for our shallow lives.  The logic goes that if there weren’t so many distractions, then I’d finally be ale to sit down and concentrate for once.

 

It’s a bit like saying: if unhealthy food weren’t so cheap and delicious, then maybe everyone’s health would be better.  And this is true.  If a healthy diet were the only option then many people’s bodies would grow healthier rather quickly.  But is the analogy tight enough so as to imply that all absence of distraction would result in deep, meaningful focus?  Probably not: food is a physical necessity, the absence of which creates some very real motivation.  Deep focus, on the other hand, has no clear and present biological motivation underpinning it’s necessity, and so perhaps, deep focus isn’t a necessity.  At least not to physically live.

 

For those who have been rigorously trained away from their own deadened curiosity, an abundance of free time absent of distraction may simply lead to nothing happening - except of course the search for distraction.  Sadly, it seems, this is how many retirements are spent.  How many retirement homes have all their rooms equipped with the sedative distraction of a TV?  How is it that some people stay very active cognitively and physically right up until their last long years of life, and yet others become a crippled shell of themselves?  It’s easy to slough off the difference into the complex field of genetics and be done with it.  But as with most instances when such a cognitive convenience is employed, this relies on an ignorance of genetics in order gloss over any problems in such logic.

 

Many problems, especially those regarding health, have very long antecedents.  The foundation of such problems accrue slowly and surely far before they are detectable.  And of course, once detectable, it’s often dangerously late in the game. 

 

Humans are particularly bad with such problems that pull from long roots tapped back in time.  We’re really good at the quickly arising problem, like a baseball that’s suddenly flying toward our face.  We duck.  But with the problem stretched out over a great span of time, we have enormous trouble seeing the connection between what we do now, and what life will be like way down the road.

 

Such is the eulogy for most curiosity.  By the time many people finally get some time to pursue their own interests by way of retirement functioning as a freedom from uninteresting work, the curiosity of many people is all but a memory.  Curiosity needs to be exercised just like a muscle or it’ll atrophy, just like a muscle.  And for those who already have an impaired curiosity due to the rigorous flogging of mind-numbing institutions like the 7th grade, any exercise of curiosity can feel a bit, forced.

 

This juxtaposes the components of the problem nicely with a question: can curiosity be forced?

 

The natural answer is no, of course not.  But what exactly would this look like if we tried anyway?  Often there’s a list of things we are curious about but which we’re just too lazy to investigate.  An old desire to learn the piano, or investigate machine learning, or what it’d be like to write a novel.  What’s the next step after admitting the existence of such an old and stale list of curiosities?  Getting to work, of course.  And suddenly the requirement of effort feels counter to the spirit of curiosity.  That’s not what it felt like to be a kid.  Curiosity is supposed to be a bit like play, right?  Unfortunately not when curiosity has gone so long without use.  Work is required to reconnect to the powers of childhood.

 

Fascination has to be forced.  This is another uncomfortable idea signalling dissonance between the parts we think we understand.  Long disuse of innate qualities creates a barrier to entry.  If the desire is to become a highly self-motivated curious person, then it’s going to require some work for that to be a natural state of being.  Unless of course a person has had the rare luck and the strange luck of continuing the curiosity of childhood onward without damage from the institutions of society.

 

We tend to associate these things - curiosity, fascination, inspiration, as fleeting, as rare kind of gifts, bestowed from unknown places, even high places, like muses or divine origins.  But fact is they are just like happiness, or peace of mind: they are always available.  They exist as operations of the mind, and if we feel them ever then it means we carry around the machinery for these operations wherever we go.  Meaning further, we can activate this machinery whenever we want, if only we figure out where the controls are.

 

As with many things, the answers are closer than we realize.  They just require a bit of work to see or grasp.  And work - another concept tainted by societal institutions - often feels like something forced, something anathema to our being.  But again, this is an insidious gift of civilization’s modern machinery.  That thing we did as kids, that thing called ‘play’, that was actually work.  It just didn’t feel like it because we weren’t forced.  But now having been forced away from the sort of work we may have been naturally drawn too, it feels a bit forced and a bit like work to get back to those gifts of childhood.


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Podcast Ep. 998: Forced Fascination

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Tinkered Thinking


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SWITCH IT UP

January 6th, 2021

 

Almost nothing is achieved without regularity.  This is the power of habits.  Results compound either linearly or geometrically and fantastically large goals are slowly swallowed by a faith and patience with the machine of consistency.  But what regularity can hide is a more powerful alternative of consistent effort.

 

The quintessential opposite is the bad habit.  Switching it out for a “good” habit has benefits so obvious the point nearly need not be mentioned.  The point here is to see habitual behavior on a gradient from worst to bad to good to better.

 

It’s one thing to have good habits, but what about better habits?  This is a subtle curse of a regularity that has become an automaticity:  Just as it’s difficult to forego a bad habit for a good habit, it’s strangely just as difficult to forego a good habit for an even better one.  We are what we repeatedly do, and so are our preferences.  With enough consistency we grow to automatically favor the good as opposed to the great.

 

This is where randomness and perhaps even a little chaos can be used as an excellent tool.  By switching things up randomly, on purpose we can by chance find new behavior naturally expressing itself given a different sort of circumstance.  As Robert Sapolsky has wisely added to the ancient greek aphorism: “Know thyself, especially in different circumstances.”

We become slightly different people depending on circumstance because circumstance calls upon different aspects of who we are.  Just as perspective is a filter of reality, our behavior is a filter of our possible and potential action, most often evoked by circumstance.

 

It goes to follow that changing our circumstance, especially at random can unearth surprising capabilities hidden within who we are.  And once discovered, the new consistent circumstance can be mindfully designed to continually evoke this better and more powerful behavior.

 

As is often said: moderation in everything.  And if this is to be believed, then it also applies recursively, meaning sometimes we need to moderate our moderation and open the door for something extreme, something chaotic, intense and unexpected.  More often than not this urge just results in a terrible hangover and a lost day regretting half remembered decisions.  But with a little thoughtfulness, an extremely different circumstance can yield a version of ourselves that we currently only admire in vague imaginings. 


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Podcast Ep. 997: Switch It Up

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Tinkered Thinking


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SIMPLE SOLUTION

January 5th, 2021

 

Most solutions are a kind of growth added to an existing system.  No system is perfect and by urge of progress we attempt to improve these systems by adding to them.  This creates complexity which inevitably devolves into noise as our ability to understand becomes overwhelmed.

 

Simplifying a system is often very risky as it grows to become a ball of band-aides, each an attempt to improve but also an interdependent piece of added weight.  Removing any one piece can and often spells out a cascade of malfunction within that system.   This is present almost everywhere, from code for sprawling and complex apps to governments.  The resulting monstrosities render themselves fragile.

 

What such failures highlight is the benefit of agility and flexibility.  Cumbersome systems render these qualities unavailable because the interdependence of components is codependent as opposed to just additive.  The codependence is embedded in the need to add another component because that component is being added as a fix, or a solution to some aspect of the system.  But of course, with each added solution, the system becomes more and more complex, giving rise to unexpected problems, the causes of which are two abstruse to understand and therefore necessitate another patch, and another.

 

This type of growth may in fact be a hallmark of a core problem with the system which has been implemented to try and solve a particular problem.  Systems are put in place to solve for problems that are recurrent so that issues that pop up are solved for with an efficient regularity.  If the system grows through continued use, then it may be fair to guess that the system doesn’t actually solve for the original problem.

 

The simple solution is often just a new system, a simpler one which is more inline with the actual issue at hand to be dealt with.  

 

The natural world has a pretty good way of selecting for good systems.  The bad ones often just get eaten, they become food and fuel for better systems, whether that be an actual predator or the diverse array of micro organisms benefitting from an animal that has collapsed under it’s own weight after discovering a human-made Twinkies factory.

 

This fitness is also evident in the business world.  Large incumbents which seem invincible can, in reality, be quite fragile to small underdogs because they lack the agility and flexibility of a lean organization.  This perspective on simple solutions as simple systems which solve a problem also spell out a recipe for a good business idea.  All innovation and much capital value can be defined as simply a better solution, and the better solution is almost always, simple.


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Podcast Ep. 996: Simple Solution

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Tinkered Thinking


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ANGLES

January 4th, 2021

 

Maintain a discipline of writing everyday about a new topic and the question inevitably occurs: how do you think of so many new ideas?  In a world now now augmented by the digital one, content is king, as they say.  So how is new content created, found, invented?  How does one generate new content?

 

The answer is that new content is actually very rare, and almost never occurs.  So how is content still king?  The answer to that requires refining the claim.  It’s not content that is king, but something about that content.

 

As many authors have pointed out and which has been discussed in previous episodes, most content is a kind of remix, a sort of sampled collage of prior content.  This might sound like just a flimsy disguise for stealing or plagiarism, and perhaps it is, but such a brand would miss the point: something new is occurring, its just not content.

 

A visual demonstration helps.  Imagine a coffee mug, of if there’s one near by, then take a moment to look at it.  Imagine a photograph of what you see.  Now spin the mug 180 degrees and take another snapshot.  Is it going to be the same image?  No, of course not.  Now spin the mug 1 degree and take a photo.  Is it the same?  It’s certainly very similar, but technically, no, it’s a different photo.  Now spin it half a degree back, and repeat.  Oh and now add a filter, or instead make a painting of it, or reverse the colours, or invert it, or flip it upside down or simply look at it while something incredibly impactful in other areas of life settles into your mind.

 

The content is always the same, what makes it different and fresh is a change in perspective.

 

And perspective is just an angle, it’s a filter.  Much of what our brain is doing as we experience reality is just filtering things out so that we can actually make sense of some of it. Content is effective when it enables our perspective to expand beyond it’s own current limitations, when we see the same world anew, from a new angle.

 

Content in the digital world is all about the angle we take.  And everyone has a unique perspective by default!  It’s quite literally not possible for someone else to have the same exact take on the world as another because we can’t inhabit the same exact physical circumstance nor even the same circumstantial perspective - we all, together, have different angles on what’s going on.


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Podcast Ep. 995: Angles

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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.