WHAT IS THIS?
Daily, snackable writings and podcasts to spur changes in thinking.
A blueprint for building a better brain by slow, consistent, daily drops of influence.
The way we think is both our greatest tool - indeed our only tool - and very often it is also our biggest leash. We are only who we think we are. Our opportunities are also limited by who other people think we are. It stands to reason that if we’d like to change who we are, we must start with an effort to change our thinking. Read more here
May 24th, 2019
When the monkey presses the right sequence of buttons, the monkey gets a tasty treat. It would be easy and wrong to label the tasty treat as the reward in this little experiment.
The tasty treat is an ephemeral aspect of the situation, one that is quickly digested and dissolved by it’s nutritional value. The tasty treat is gone almost as fast as it arrived, and yet there is a reward that lingers beyond the nutritional flicker of the tasty treat.
The true reward for the monkey is understanding the cause and effect relationship between the buttons available to push and the hunger the monkey feels. A specific code of behavior stitches them together, allowing a systematic behavior to effectively address the hunger.
The reward is the conceptual theory learned that can be applied again when the issue of hunger arrives.
We can take a different sort of monkey and replace the tasty treat with something a little more subtle: Let’s say the situation is a grown adult in the middle of a tense and difficult conversation with a loved one. The tasty treat that is poised to be grasped at the end of this engagement is a calm resolution instead of a worse situation that balloons to take up more time and exhaust more energy and emotion. The ‘sequence of buttons’ here most likely has something to do with an exercise of patience. If our adult manages to glide through the interaction without letting anger overwhelm their words and behavior, then the tasty treat is a better outcome, one that does not need to be cleaned up.
The real reward here is discovering a method of behavior that doesn’t make life worse. Whereas the tasty treat arguably makes life better, the reward here is not dealing with a life that has been made worse. The reward is not necessarily a net-positive in this case, but one that keeps life a net-even, so to speak.
Though, beyond this net even, there is still the reward of discovering a method and system of behavior that keeps things from getting worse. What superficially seems like a situation that results in no positive or negative ultimately has a positive influence on our life because we preserve the resources and time of our current situation, allowing such time and resources to then be devoted to other puzzles that result in overtly positive outcomes as opposed to spending that time and resource cleaning up from unmitigated disasters.
By adding these systems of behavior together that simultaneously preserve the good we have amounted in life, safeguarding that life from devolving and add to the good of our life, we create compounding virtuous cycles that inevitably allow us to Level-Up.
May 23rd, 2019
Many of the biggest questions that we come across, that we tend to think are the most important, are in all truth, very poor questions.
What is the meaning of life?
That’s perhaps the biggest question we have, and yet, it’s a terrible question; first and foremost because it never leads a person to a definitively better place. Attempting to answer this question is akin to a rut. One can wonder and perseverate in circles forever without ever really gaining any ground.
What to do with life? is similarly a poor question because of how large and ungainly it is.
We can ask what a better question might be?
How can we zoom this question in and carve a more productive version out of it?
We can narrow the time scope for one and ask merely: what shall we do with today?
No matter what the answer ultimately turns out to be for our larger question about life, it is invariably tied to the actions we take now, how those actions are wrapped up in current obligations and how exactly we use our time outside of such obligations to steer in new directions.
Generally, the bigger the question, the more likely the question is a poor one. There’s a simple reason for this: we do best to ask questions that are in direct proportion to our own personal agency. Asking questions about things that we cannot really do anything about is not only paralyzing, but the mismatch is more likely to cause stress that we cannot resolve than it is likely to produce any kind of meaningful result that we can work with.
Its for this relation to personal agency that we do best to refashion questions like whittling knives and trim the fat off questions that are not in accord with our current powers.
Such larger questions are not without their utility, but only if we can bridge a way for our current level of agency to one day increase to the point where such questions are not simply stressors. Questions about time help illustrate this. After answering what we will do with today, we can then ask about the week, and the succeeding weeks, then the month and future months, and slowly, if we are thorough and honest with our answers we begin to bridge the agency of a single life in a single day to much larger frames of time. If our efforts in those succeeding scales of time are directed in ways that increase our personal agency, then the sorts of questions we can handle grow bigger in accordance to that personal agency.
Regardless, however, starting with an honest assessment of where we currently stand is the most important part of all of this. Without working with the only power we have and leveraging it as well as possible, no larger aims are possible.
Such agency boils down to a much simpler question:
What can you do today with what you’ve got now?
May 22nd, 2019
Sometimes things are too tense, too dark, too dreary.
Often things are simply too something. Too, too. As in quadruple O’s.
We’re fiends for feeling. That’s the stuff of life, to feel it, to drink deep of what it’s got to give. We can be pretty mindless about this greedy, scrooging when it comes to what we feel. So mindless in fact that many of us accidentally tap a deep vein of some dark feeling and we are all too willing to stick an oil-company-sized straw down into that pit of despair and slurp that poison into our minds.
Yet it’s from our own minds we tap this infinite well of despair. Our imagination, in this respect is thrown on the hamster-wheel, and put to work, to churn out more dreary landscapes of the mind for our fiendish hunger for feeling to frolic through.
Rarely are our circumstances actually so bad as to equal the magnitude of what we can imagine. This is why scary movies hold back a full look at the monster for so long. Those movies bank on the power of imagination which always comes up with something far more terrifying, and individually tailored for everyone in the audience.
All these feelings are a bit like colors of a painter’s pallet. Mix them all together and you’re bound to get something rather muddy and undifferentiated.
The imagination is a kind of everything machine in the same way a disco ball is. Toss it in any direction and it’ll print out something reminiscent of that direction. Toss it down into a pit of despair and it’ll multiply, magnify and reflect back a million times that pit of despair.
On the other hand, that disco ball down there can be like a Ghostbuster trap. Shine a light of humor down at that discoball and it’ll split a joke a million ways and light up a pit of despair.
Like sunshine on mold, if only we be so bold and disrespect some dark and brooding emotion with a joke, a smile, an incongruous laugh, that emotion can wither pathetic in light of the new situation.
Reach for anything, a fart joke, a penis joke. Who cares when things are bad.
Think of a cancer patient.
Oh, did this just get dark?
Ok, think of a cancer patient who is constantly making fun of their own situation.
Family and friends walk into a hospital room, their eyes welling up with tears, flowers quivering in trembling hands, fears about saying the wrong thing clamping their tongues, and then they are greeted.
“Guys, check out this baller haircut they gave me! I look like Donald Trump being hit with the full force of climate change!”
Let’s say no one laughs.
So cancer patient tries again.
“Aw geez, can’t I even get a pity laugh? I mean I’m actually dying here.”
Funny how we say that when we laugh really hard. “I’m dying!”
Actually that’s what the word ‘hilarious’ is supposed to mean. It’s when something is so funny you die from it.
As long as we don’t actually know the person, of course. Because that would be sad.
But hey, since we’re such fiends for feeling, let’s tack on anything that spikes an emotional response, right?
That’s what we’re all after anyways.
No need to pause and think calmly about things while practicing to maintain a sense of equanimity, right?
That’s for Buddha’s and Jedi’s, and Robert Mueller.
So let’s get back to our cancer patient for a second. The commercial break ends and we see the family and friends leaving the room, smiles and tears being wiped away.
Surely we’re bound to hear something like “So sad, but at least they’re keeping up a good sense of humor about everything.”
Cancer patient will inevitably call out boisterously, realizing how much social freedom their new situation gives them.
“No crying you wimps! And remember when I’m dead, I want to be propped up in the corner of a bar where you’ll all be getting hammered, and you have to do what I say cause I’m dying, like James Bond laughing at the end of Casino Royale while getting nailed in the balls by fate.”
Cancer patient then starts to laugh at their own joke.
“Get it? I’m dying?”
May 21st, 2019
Today on tinkered thinking, we have been drinking
and wandering on down with a mind that is shrinking.
As the cup fills,
we take more swills,
to ensure there is more room to pour.
But what for?
A full house has all it’s cards spoken for
so no one else need come through the door.
But what if we need space for just one more?
A story, an idea, advice filled with lore?
A crammed cranium, oozing at the ears
is bound to be riddled, clogged, and stuck up with fears.
Metaphors like draino, light poisons to shine our mental veneer,
to clear out the clogs and give our minds space to hear,
some new concept, a realization to ring true and clear.
Guzzle and swig in the name of the unknown,
to toast to old ashen ideas, now withered to bone.
Make way for the new
it comes in any hue. . .
Choose your trend,
to ride round the next bend,
our plans are bound for utopia!
And of all the blathering big babies you might turn an ear
Nevermind the babbling voice on the phone, in your pocket, so near.
There’s no telling what dear darlings in your mind such voice might flush clear,
So be a dear and steer clear, not a sheep, black, white, purple, but still loaded with fear.
For it’s me fair friend that preservers to dare,
with perfuse, diffuse, distributed feelings of care,
for you fellow stranger, traveler rough and rare.
I’ll sing till my tongue grows silver and sharp
waging war with a rhetorical harp,
so that when you dear friend
have a thirst to mend,
and again you wander on down to the watering hole
I’ll have waiting for you every day a full bowl
To drink with ears and eyes
from my web of words that tries
to teach you
How to tinker your drinking
so you’ll never drink without thinking
some kool-aide from a scheming spin-king.
So gather round thinkers and listen
Another episode has arisen.
May 20th, 2019
Hunger fades if you don’t feed it.
This simple statement underlines and undermines many of the tendencies, processes, habits, and concepts that are discussed on Tinkered Thinking.
Just for a moment, think about how many areas of life to which this simple statement applies:
Take the most literal area:
For those who have not experimented and experienced the act and practice of fasting, it may seem unbelievable and certainly counter-intuitive that literal hunger – that is, for food – lessens as time goes by without it. As mentioned before on episode 216 of Tinkered Thinking, there was once a one Angus Barbieri, who in the mid 1960’s fasted for 382 days. Remember that little fact the next time you hear yourself say “I’m starving!” and wonder if that hunger you feel is so strong simply because it is fed so much. For those who do have experience with fasting, it becomes a relatively mundane experience to get over the initial hump of hunger into landscapes of being that are far less perturbed by agitations from the organ we fill with food.
We can look at the opposite of this subtopic: generally, those who feed their hunger obediently at every beck and call fall victim to the skewed balance of the hormones ghrelin and leptin that evolution has equipped us with in order to heavily influence our decision-making abilities to take in as many calories as possible. The result in a modern society with an abundant availability of calories via all bready and sugar plumped products is, obesity.
For a person with ample experience fasting it can seem sickly humorous to see an over-weight person near desperation with hunger, exclaiming that they are starving, but a more thoughtful understanding of such circumstances will ultimately reveal that such an overweight person actually is experiencing a disturbingly powerful hunger. One far bigger and more powerful than anything the lean and fasting person feels. The obese person must experience a hunger that must definitely be uncomfortable and intoxicating in the most debilitating way possible. It speaks to the flip of the original statement.
Hunger grows the more it is fed.
But enough of the literal example. The most interesting aspect of this realization comes from the question: does this statement and trend apply beyond the most literal example of hunger for food?
What about something like… curiosity, or learning?
The educational system, as a global endeavor seems to be in a perpetual state of crisis for killing the natural curiosity in children. The kids we give birth to are almost always so enthusiastic, energetic and riled up with wonder, and yet we somehow manage to turn them into adults to our own great disappointment.
Might it be because our systems of “education” don’t really feed natural curiosity, and so when that hunger isn’t fed, it fades away?
The answer seems implicit when we look at the unique cases where an individual has made a living from an obsession with a given topic. Sometimes this can exist within the confines of the educational system, as with some scientists, but it’s perhaps even more evocative when we examine entrepreneurs who decidedly abandon the traditional educational system in favor of a more efficient path of learning led by their obsessive curiosity.
What about other areas of life?
Motivation is another easy one to pin to this principle. Zig Ziglar once remarked excellently, “People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”
This quote speaks directly to the heart of this episode’s M.O. Motivation, like hunger, fades if it is not rejuvenated in some way.
Just like curiosity, our motivation experiences small blips and jumps in accordance to the discoveries we make a la our current problem of investigation. But granted, this problem has to be of sufficient difficulty that is likewise in accordance with the edge of our mental and cognitive powers.
Few things do more to kill motivation than a boring problem.
What about other areas? How might this Rivalnymic principle apply to a place in our lives like relationships, for example.
Relationships are a tricky subject, but even so it’s not hard to see how this simple principle applies.
A relationship that is not fed in accordance to it’s particular needs is bound to whither as people begin to look for fulfillment of such needs in other places, and so the hunger of that particular relationship as defined as the space between some specific set of people…. fades. As physical hunger does. As curiosity will. As motivation often does.
The examples hitherto presented might seem like a giant buzzkill, but the complement to each should be equally apparent. The more we properly feed a relationship, the more likely it is to grow through time. The more we feed curiosity, the more it expands into productive areas, as too with motivation. But returning to physical hunger we reach an impasse where feeding reaches a negative outcome regarding the positive feedback loop we are outlining. Feeding ourselves too much certainly increases our hunger but it seems clear that doing so is ultimately to our own detriment.
What other area of life might be like this?
How about addiction?
Addictions of all types: the more you feed it, the more influence it gains over our behavior. Likewise, the less we feed it with congruent behavior, the less influence it has over a long enough timeline.
[as an aside, it seems that addiction pathways – to speak very generally about the neuroscience here – become ‘hyperdendritic’ when deprived of their primary source of stimulation. To put this in layman’s terms we can think of suffocation. A person can stay underwater calmly for a short amount of time but once fresh oxygen has been absent for a long enough interval, the need for oxygen becomes increasingly pressing, such a person will become very very active and desperate to get that needed air. Neural pathways regarding addiction seem to do something very similar. When deprived of the primary mode of stimulation, such pathways then reach out frantically for stimulation in the same way a drowning person does, but given enough time that pathway will die.]
Regardless, addicts can make full recoveries, but it’s obvious and necessary to note that it is never in the presence of the object of their addiction.
Considering this simple and rudimentary principle, we might apply it to something less obvious like depression.
Do people… feed their depression?
Is depression something we can starve?
Or is it possible that depression is the result of starving other things within ourselves that have faded to points of terrible consequence?
What if, for a moment, we take the answer as being both: depression can both be fed and is the result of not feeding other, more virtuous hungers within our own being.
We may now wonder appropriately: what in our behavior can we change in order to starve the bad things and feed the good things?
This boils down nicely to the tale of two wolves, and the one you feed. There’s the bad wolf that makes life worse and the good wolf that makes life better. Which one you feed determines the quality of tomorrow.
The tale, while moving and relevant to our lives in a vague sort of way, fails to get into the nitty gritty of what it actually takes to make positive changes. The verb feeding has such a positive and pleasurable connotation associated with it. To eat is fun and easy and feels great while it lasts. The flip of the tale, and where it fails is in the notion of fasting, or starving the bad parts of ourselves.
As with most things, we cannot only take into account one face of the coin. The feeding, or eating part. The other side is just as important in order to make productive moves forward. Some things need to be forcefully and painfully starved back down to size, or even out of existence.
Memory is a notable problem here. Many of us simply cannot recall the ecstatic and wide-ranging experience of attention we had as children. That particular hunger has been so completely starved that it’s simply no longer on our radar as a viable mode of being. But our interactions with each other can lead us to conclusions that crack open realizations and revive such modes of being.
Merely coming across an example of an adult who adeptly and fully utilizes the curious attention of their childlike selves shows that it’s possible, and though such a mode might be totally starved within our own selves, we can dare to wonder what can happen if we feed it.