Daily, snackable writings and podcasts to spur changes in thinking. Why?

If we wish to change the person we find ourselves to be, we must change our thinking.

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PEAK EDUCATION

August 17th, 2019

This episode is dedicated to London, who claims to have reached ‘peak education’.

 

There are a few general areas in which we can strive to be better.  We can seek to be in better physical condition through exercise and nutrition.  We can seek to be wealthier by making more money.  And then we can also – presumably – learn, acquire knowledge and understand.

 

The first, physical fitness, has a limit to it.  We are constrained by the physical body that we have.  Different genetic make ups accord to the sort of physique a person can acquire.  Someone who is 5 foot 2 inches can’t reach 6 feet through any kind of exercise.

 

In this respect, money and education are more alike.  We can always make more money.  There is no limit on this, as evidenced by the fact that the richest person to exist isn’t in the past, but in the present, and these people, along with many others grow richer every day.  The success of the lottery is a great example of this belief.  Imagine for a moment someone who says they’ve reached ‘peak money’ with the aim of meaning that it’s impossible for them to have more money than they have.  This is simply ridiculous.  Anyone could disprove this person by handing them a penny.

 

Education falls into a similar suit.  A fifteen year old, equipped with even the most lackluster education would be like a god if he were suddenly transported to the twelfth century, or even imagine a time before Aristotle and the pre-Socratics, when this fifteen year old - with the ease only afforded by being jaded - could describe the movement and number of the planets, their general composition, the fact that on a microscopic level all things are made of atoms that vaguely resemble the structure of solar systems with negatively charged electrons zipping around a nucleus made of protons and neutrons.  Imagine still further, this jaded fifteen year old before a crowd of befuddled elders listening, noticing someone in the back coughing from sickness, and then describing the nature of germs and how microbes move through air and by touch and enter the body and wreak havoc, and how our immune system which is composed of similar elements formats itself to combat the virus or bacteria.  Not only this, but a fifteen year old would be able to describe what soap is, and even though your average 15 year old doesn’t know how to make soap, chances are good that this fifteen year old could probably figure it out through some experimentation.

 

It took the human species thousands of years to figure these things out.  And if we go beyond the human race, we can say that brains that can presumably think and figure things out the way a crow can use meta-tools to solve a puzzle that contains food, have been around for far longer.  As a bubbling entity itself, it took the planet billions of years to become aware of these concepts.

 

Imagine what kind of status would be bestowed upon this fifteen year old thrown back in time.

 

It’s been theorized that proto-religious leaders who were able to understand and calculate the appearance of rare events like solar and lunar eclipses gained power through this knowledge.  Simply because it was impressive.

 

Everything looks like magic until the underlying mechanics are understood.

 

If you are the only person who understands something, then you look like a magician. 

 

Now if we return to this idea of ‘peak education’.  We can wonder: if a fifteen year old from the year 9,000 were suddenly transported to us today, what kind of divine magician would he appear to be?

 

There is only one avenue through which this can occur.  Physical exercise peaks, and money, while it can yield influence and create mobility, cannot actually make you smarter, even if you try to pay people to make you smarter.  It is only education that accomplishes this.  But a still subtler distinction must be made here.

 

Aside from some research initiatives, everything that one might learn in an educational institution falls into the category of what we already know.

 

Attending a university is – for the most part – a giant request for information we’ve already gathered and integrated.  Most educational programs are at base simply an elaborate vocabulary test, whether that means defining Godel’s Theorem or describing the function and position of the Substantia Nigra within the brain.

 

The cutting edge of education is ultimately self-education.

 

It’s a process of forming novel questions and seeking the answers by manipulating reality until reality shows you how it works in a way that no one has ever seen before.

 

And if you can ask a good question that nobody has ever asked before.  Bonus points.

 

If you can answer it, then fame and fortune may await, for we will all be amazed by something that seems like magic.

 

To you, of course, it’ll seem like an obvious no brainer

 

since,

 

 

you understand.

 

 

This episode relies heavily on ideas explored in Episode 390: Question about the Question.

 


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Podcast Ep. 489: Peak Education

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TOUCH THE SKY

August 16th, 2019

 

Where does the sky start?

 

 

Gazing upwards can give the feeling that the sky is far away, that it’s the place of planes and clouds.  But raise your hand towards the heavens and then looking at your hand, ask: where exactly is it really? 

 

Does it not touch the sky?  Does it not reside in the sky?

 

 

 

The meteorological phenomenon of fog, is just a low flying cloud that touches the ground.

 

If the sky touches the ground then do we not by default touch the sky the moment we walk outside?  We might even reclassify buildings as a strange subterranean landform. 

 

If you entered a cave somewhere on the Himalayan plateau - and no one would argue that you’ve gone subterranean - you’d be at a much higher ‘altitude’ compared to the rest of the planet.

 

All the buildings we’ve build are composed of the earth in some respect.  We’ve simply reorganized, purified and recombined all of these earthly ingredients and joined and stacked them in novel ways.  If you’re indoors, then the ceiling above you is fundamentally part of the earth.  And hence, we are subterranean, even when we are in the penthouse of the tallest skyscraper.

 

But venture outside and you touch the sky.

 

Of course it never feels like this.  Never seems like it.

 

 

And here lies an analogy so ripe it’s practically foul.

 

The phrase ‘touch the sky’ litters the lexicon of rappers, and leadership jargon and the motivation we try to impart to children.

 

The assumption is that we can somehow work hard and rise to touch the sky as though we finally achieve some sort of apotheosis.

 

(As a side note, that iconic dome on top of the United States Capitol building has a painting on the inside of it called ‘The Apotheosis of Washington’ which depicts George Washington becoming a god among angels in the heavenly clouds.)

 

But of course Washington never actually flew up into the sky.  He accomplished everything on the ground.

 

For those who yearn for something better, something greater, that sort of success can feel unfathomably far away, just as the sky seems far away.

 

Without seeing the flaw in the image, the feeling is paradoxical, you can always move a little higher, but at what point do you touch the sky?

 

Realizing that we already touch the sky can collapse the feeling that there is an impassable gulf between us and the things we wish to accomplish.

 

As is so often the case, it’s merely just a matter of getting started.

 

Touching the sky is really a paradox of perspective.


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Podcast Ep. 488: Touch the Sky

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DISTANT LANDS

August 15th, 2019

 

Everyone has destinations in mind that they’d love to visit for the first time.  It’s a new experience and everyone hungers to find out a little more, particularly first hand, being there.

 

Compare this with other experiences that we may or may not have.  Learning some difficult thing for example. 

 

Oh, that’s not for me!

 

But have you tried it?

 

I just know it’s not my thing.

 

 

How can anyone hold on to such hypotheticals with so much certainty without having a full experience to confirm or deny?

 

Let’s say it’s rocket science, computer engineering, or oil painting, or rock climbing.

 

It’s not hard to find a person who would shirk at the mention of trying any if not all of these activities.

 

How different would it be if we were guaranteed to be really good at it the moment we start trying to do one of these activities?

 

Well, in that case, most people would feel differently, and instantly point out the impossibility of this fictional premise.

 

But if we remember all those distant exotic lands that we’d like to visit, we somehow over look the crowded airplane, the crap food, the traffic and panic on the way to the airport, the missed layover, the over booked flight, the reservation that vanishes upon arrival… 

 

Enjoying those distant lands always requires some amount of aggravation to get there.

 

And how is that any different from getting good at something difficult?

 

Learning is – inherently – an uncomfortable and confusing experience.

 

The moment we understand something well enough to demonstrate that knowledge, we are no longer learning in that specific respect.  In order to continue learning, we must move on to new territory that is again, uncomfortable and confusing.

 

The key to starting that process is asking a good question. 

 

One that sets our mind off on a new quest.

 

The episode relates to Episode 390: Question about the Question.


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Podcast Ep. 487: Distant Lands

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GASLIT LIAR

August 14th, 2019

Memory is problematic.  It bends, warps, disappears, and mutates into all sorts of things that we have not necessarily experienced.  This is both opportunity and ultimately the downfall of a person who does not practice honesty. 

 

Insidious people can gaslight other people through lies because those people have inherently imperfect memories that cannot combat another suggested version of reality with perfect fidelity.

 

This questionable memory is the thin edge of the wedge for a gaslighter.  And the only real weapon against such tactics is honesty.  Certainly an honest person is still at risk to the machinations of the gaslighter, but consider the alternative.

 

The one who lies, either casually or intensely now has to try and keep track of two realities: the truth and the one they’ve created.  Compound this with our imperfect memory and suddenly the liar has more potential cause to wonder what is what.  The liar has to compare the potentially fictional attack of a gaslighter against their memory of reality and their memory of what stories they’ve spun up in that reality.

 

There’s simply more ground upon which to doubt one’s self.

 

Reality is difficult enough to keep track of without a fictional version, and this is how an honest person minimizes the risk of being gaslit by some sort of sociopath.

 

Even better, the honest person has the ultimate tool in which to test a gaslighter’s story: that is… reality.  The key here is an emotional one: effective liars convince based on the emotions they display and manipulate in order to sway the course of story that is being created.  If an honest person can pause, and simply recognize this influencing and potentially intoxicating factor, it becomes much easier to ask ‘what is what’ from a dispassionate standpoint.  The story of the gaslighter can then be tested against reality instead of one’s own memory.  We can look up a fact, an event, or talk to other people.  There are many points upon which to ping the story against.

 

This is perhaps a reason why Stockholm Syndrome exists.  Stockholm Syndrome is when someone who has been taken captive ends up with positive feelings for their attacker.  In isolation, the amount of reality a captive is exposed to is severely diminished.  And figuring out what is what depends on far fewer points of contact.  It’s like trying to balance a table on just two legs.  It’s so easy to fall, whereas when we have the full breadth of reality afforded by a free person, there are many more points upon which to test ideas.  Instead of balancing a table on two points, i.e. the memory of the captive and the story spun by the captor, a free person can consult many sources of opinion and information, and then it’s like balancing a table on a dozen legs. 

 

Stockholm Syndrome aside, we can remind ourselves of Richard Feynman’s excellent directive:

 

“The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”

 

If we think about this in the context of lying and honesty, we can ask:

 

Who is more likely to be fooled? 

 

The honest person?

 

or

 

The one who willingly creates and entertains fictions?

 


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Podcast Ep. 486: Gaslit Liar

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




STUBBORN WINNER

August 13th, 2019

As a counterpoint to the previous episode entitled Determined Loser, the stubborn winner is far less well positioned.

 

 

To succeed on the first try is perhaps just as dangerous as believing one is a failure when an effort doesn’t work out.

 

They each have symmetrical downsides.  The winner who stubbornly believes they understand all the factors that contributed to their success is at risk of developing a hubris which can raise the chance of a big misstep.

 

Likewise, the one whose efforts fail is at risk of believing themselves a failure and giving up all hope of trying again.  As opposed to a determined loser who keeps trying despite failure, the one who stops is a perhaps a rigid loser.  The rigid loser is inflexible in the same way the stubborn winner views the mechanics of their success.  The flip of the stubborn winner might be a humble winner.

 

Now, which of these terms is most likely to lead to the other?

 

We have:

 

Determined Loser

Stubborn Winner

Rigid Loser &

Humble Winner

 

A humble winner might fail on their next attempt.  And which category of loser would this most likely land them?  A determined loser of a Rigid loser? 

 

A stubborn winner may also fail on their next attempt.  Are they more likely to become a rigid loser, a sort of bad sport, a bad loser, or a determined loser? 

 

How about from the other side of the fence.

 

Is a determined loser more likely to become a winner of either variety?  Or is the rigid loser more likely?

 

While these are unrefined terms, it’s not hard to see that the determined loser is more likely to come across a ‘win’ than the rigid loser is. 

 

The defining characteristic of the determined loser is the ability to pivot and try something knew.  This requires flexibility which the rigid loser fails to have by definition.

 

The key here is to realize that the words ‘winner’ and ‘loser’ are irrelevant.

 

The real tension is between rigidness and flexibility.

 

For this purpose, we interpret determination to have more flexibility than stubbornness.

And likewise, we see humility as having more flexibility than stubbornness.

 

The structure here is innately rivalnymic.  They are opposing flavors of strategy that are trying to achieve the same thing.

 

(For a thorough treatment of Rivalnyms, check out Episode 293: Rivalnym)

 

Humility and stubbornness are rival approaches towards how we think about future actions that may result in success or failure.

 

From an emotional standpoint, humility equips us with a lower probability that we will experience dejected embarrassment when something doesn’t work out.  The hubris of being stubborn opens us up to embarrassment.  Granted, some people might have a useful tendency of turning such embarrassment into anger, which can galvanize future action, and while this may also lead to success, we must ask: how enjoyable is that whole process?  Sure you might eventually win, but we also eventually die. 

 

There’s little point in the success if you can’t figure out how to achieve some kind of enjoyable peace with the process.

 

What’s the best recipe for that end?

 

Rigid Stubbornness?

 

or

 

Humble determination?

 

  

This episode references Episode 293: Rivalnym and Episode 484: Determined Loser


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Podcast Ep. 485: Stubborn Winner

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