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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LITTLE THEORIES

September 24th, 2019

 

Whether we know it or not, we are constantly constructing hypotheses and testing them.  Many of these are under the umbrella of a larger theory, a mental model of some aspect of the world that we have constructed throughout our life.

 

Examine the word a moment.  It’s hypo- plus –thesis.

 

Hypo- means literally under, or below.  It’s easy to grip this prefix when we think about the word hypothermia.  Our temperature is below what it should be.

 

We can think of the word hypothesis in similar terms.

 

Under the umbrella of our model of the world, we construct little theories that need testing.  Most likely, such little theories will not stand the scrutiny of testing, but if they do, then it rises to the level of a theory and becomes a robust part of our mental model.

 

The key is in the testing.  Either it works as a valid way of looking at the world or it doesn’t.  Fantasy and delusion enter the picture when we elevate a hypothesis to the level of theory without testing it, but merely on the validity of a warm fuzzy emotional connection.  This is an easy way to develop a dangerous mindset.  Dangerous not just to one’s self but potentially to other people.  And many beliefs fall into this category.

 

Failing to test beliefs or willfully ignoring the results creates stagnation, and while this might be less of an emotional hassle in the short term, in the long run it is self-defeating for one simple reason:  expanding our accurate understanding of reality increases our agency.

 

When we entertain beliefs that have little or no evidence of being an accurate depiction of reality, we are literally limiting ourselves as though we refuse to believe that there’s a bigger better playground to go to where we can make something happen.


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Podcast Ep. 527: Little Theories

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Tinkered Thinking


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PATTERN MANIPULATION

September 23rd, 2019

Humans are pattern recognition machines.  We’re pretty good at it.  As long as the pattern is short.  For example, the reason that a guitar chord sounds good is because the vibrational frequency of each string matches up in a short enough timeline.  For example, a deep bass string might have a frequency that is exactly twice as long as another string being played.  In this case, the two would sound good together.

 

But let’s say the frequency is 290 times longer than the next string being played.  Meaning that the frequency of each string only intersects when one string has vibrated 290 times.  They match up for an instant and then it’s a bit of a wait till there’s another match up.  There’s a pattern, but it only happens every once in a while.  In this case, the notes wouldn’t sound good together because we can’t readily hear the pattern.  This is why guitar chords sound nice.  Each string has a frequency that matches up in some way – usually as a multiple – to the other string being played.  Their frequencies intersect at regular small intervals.  Think of the beat of a song and how all the other instruments follow the beat in accordance to the same timing.  It’s just like the vibrational frequencies of the strings in a guitar chord, but now it’s across instruments.

 

Listening to a song and feeling a sense of pleasure is the pattern recognition part.

 

But understanding these patterns deeply enough to rearrange them in novel ways that create a new pattern?  That is artistry.  And it extends far beyond music or any of the traditionally defined arts.

 

Patterns exist everywhere, whether we examine growth techniques for a Twitter account or the s-curve adoption cycle of disruption technologies.

 

All such pattern recognition starts as pleasurable novelty. 

 

It’s when we understand these patterns well enough to successfully manipulate them, that is use the patterns by implementing them or cutting and rearranging them in a way that still works that we gain expanded agency in the world.

 

To explore this more fully, we can think of Legos.

 

Each Lego has a predictable pattern of studs, whether it be two or four or whatever number.  Once we understand how these add up and combine by following the instructions, we can then create novel constructions by fitting together the pattern of Lego bricks in accordance to their pattern of studs.

 

This ability to manipulate patterns in novel ways is at the heart of what it means to be resourceful.

 

Being resourceful is not about the resources that one might have.  It’s about the exact opposite.  We need to be resourceful when there are few resources at hand, which calls for a novel way to put things together in order to make up for the lack of resources.  At it’s heart, we are looking to combine elements in a way that no one has ever seen before.  We are looking to create a unique pattern.

 

Our own pattern.

 

And like any creation, whether it be jazz or architecture, if we can create a novel pattern that pays an obvious tribute to those patterns we draw from, it’s likely people will take notice, because, like that guitar chord, that new pattern is a new way for others to experience pleasure.

 


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Podcast Ep. 526: Pattern Manipulation

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Tinkered Thinking


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A LUCILIUS PARABLE: THE MOMENT'S TASK

September 22nd, 2019

 

Lucilius could not wait for his shift to be over.  The next car pulled up to the window and Lucilius reached out for the crumpled grubby money.  He watched his hands make the automatic movements: flipping up the bill tongue, pushing the bill down into the small stack and dragging a quarter up the curved insert.  He reached out through the window and handed the quarter into the proffered palm, for a limp, ‘thanks’.  Lucilius tapped a wide red button and the red light flipped to green and the gate rose.

 

It was like this, hour after hour.  Lucilius watched his hands make their movements, over and over, until finally...

his shift was done.

 

Afterwards he went to a pub by his apartment and sat with a beer.  He paused just a moment before lifting the cold glass to his lips and savored the moment just before relief.  He took a sip of the frothy drink, hearing the tiny static pop of fine bubbles.  Something in him instantly felt as though it relaxed.

 

And then for the rest of the evening, he watched the movement of his hand, grasping the glass and lifting it to his face.  It was like this, over and over, and he drank to fill the time as he waited until it was time to go home.  Soon he could not really concentrate nor remember what his hands were doing, and it wasn’t long until he woke up in his bed and it was time to go back to work.

 

He sat down in the toll booth.  He watched his hand reach for the radio to turn it on, but stopped.  He just watched his hand, motionless in its reach, and thought about the evening before, watching his same hand reach for the glass of beer.  He took his hand back and left the radio off.

 

When the first car came by, his hands again began their automatic exchange, but he stopped them, and watched them for a moment, concentrating on how they felt as one smoothed the bill into the register and the other retrieved the coin.  He handed the change to the driver and looked the person in the face.  The person was in a rush, pinching a phone between their shoulder and the cheek of their face.  Doubtless in a rush to get somewhere else, waiting for the drive to be over.

 

It was the same with the next car and the next.  Each time Lucilius paid closer attention, as though there was something eluding him, something that he could sense and yet not pin down.  Constantly it seemed as though something were both receding away and always present, and as Lucilius paid greater attention it felt as though time were slowing down.  The short time it took to hand back a quarter to a driver seemed as though it were packed with more time that unfolded and expanded as Lucilius paid ever greater attention, and as he did so the vanishing sensation that each moment ended with seemed more pronounced, and in that fleeting sensation Lucilius remembered the relief he felt at the end of a shift, or just before tasting a beer.  And now he could sense it everywhere, with each moment as he paid attention.  It was as though the moment were both fresh and dead.  He focused even more intensely and time seemed to slow even further. 

 

With a quarter in hand he was reaching out to hand it to the newest driver, when his focus, his attention, pierced the moment even more fully and the normal speed of his reach seemed to come to a near full stop.  There was now nothing but a full immersion in the moment, which now gave up everything to the gaze of Lucilius.  Time - for just a moment - stopped, to make space for eternity.


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Podcast Ep. 525: A Lucilius Parable: The Moment's Task

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Tinkered Thinking


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




EXCELLENT ADDICTIONS

September 21st, 2019

The word ‘habit’ on it’s own is fairly neutral, because it can go either way.  We qualify it by talking about a good habit or a bad habit.

 

Some people go so far as to claim that absolutely everything we do and think is a form of habit.  Things don’t look strictly the same every time because the context is a bit different and the collision of different context and same habit creates something that seems novel on the surface. 

 

When it comes to bad habits, we have another term, one that is wholly negative and often compounded by the implications of some chemical.  Extreme bad habits are referred to as addictions.  These pathologies dictate a whole other word because the influence of some chemical is an obvious incentive.

 

What’s interesting is that every repetitive behavior is incentivized by some sort of chemical.  Most are simply produced and consumed by the brain.  The word ‘addiction’ is usually used when some external chemical is added to the mix.  But the same basic dependence is identical in either case.

 

We can all bring to mind the image of someone who is obsessed with exercise and the culture of the gym.  Such people are in some sense addicted to the chemicals their brain produces when they perform the physical feats of their workout.  This addiction ratchets upwards like any addiction and many people have damaged their body by pushing too far, and it’s not hard to point out the chase for some higher concentration of the chemicals produced by the brain.

 

Luckily most people don’t really get to this point and the good habit of working out can become a virtuous cycle that an individual can constantly benefit from.

 

This is like an Excellent Addiction.

 

It’s simply another way of saying good habit.  But in this case the hope is to draw the obvious connection to addiction and declutter the word of it’s dirty connotations.  The value here is to reduce the distance between such good and bad behaviors.  All are functioning by virtue of the same exact mechanics.  Whether such mechanics perpetuate a good behavior or a bad one is often a case of luck.

 

Unless we’ve been lucky enough to have the thought to take such things under our own control.

 


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Podcast Ep. 524: Excellent Addictions

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Tinkered Thinking


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FRACTAL ANXIETY

September 20th, 2019

 

Most all behavior lays the groundwork for that behavior to be repeated.

 

A good example is coffee.  Here’s a simple explanation of how coffee works:

 

When we wake up, our brain immediately starts producing something called Adenosine.  This chemical is primarily responsible for making us feel tired.  Over the course of the day Adenosine levels rise, until it gets to the point that we need to go to sleep, and sleep is the only way to clear the brain of it’s Adenosine levels.  Now enters the elixir of productivity, the addiction of the modern world: coffee.  Beautiful roasted bitter chocolate taste aside, coffee is consumed in large part for the caffeine it has.  Caffeine has a purine structure similar to Adenosine, and because of this, caffeine works as an antagonist to Adenosine by blocking the receptors in the brain that Adenosine would normally use.  It’s by this mechanism that we feel more awake than we actually are.  Here’s the kicker.  Caffeine has a half-life of about 6 hours.  This means that someone who drinks a cup of coffee at 3 pm will still have half the caffeine from that cup of coffee actively blocking adenosine receptors at 9pm, and a quarter of the caffeine will still be active at 3 am!  Caffeine’s long half-life ensures that anyone who drinks coffee even remotely close to the time when they sleep will not be able to flush all of the Adenosine from their brain.  What does this mean?  It means we wake up tired because there’s still some unprocessed Adenosine floating around when the Caffeine finally wears off.  But at this point we have to get on with our next day, so what do we do? 

 

We drink more coffee

 

And the cycle starts again, and we risk compounding the effects by drinking more and more coffee in order to try to wake up, when really what we need is healthy sleep that has been untainted by Caffeine.

 

This Caffeine/Adenosine cycle is a pretty straight forward example of how a solution can actually perpetuate the problem it attempts to solve.

 

In many cases, this is exactly how we deal with anxiety.

 

We often run away from anxiety and retreat to an activity that gives us some little hit of dopamine.  Checking email or scrolling through twitter are excellent examples.  But these activities, once repeated enough times, rob us of the time we have to deal with the underlying cause of anxiety.  Eventually we pull our head out of the digital media hole we’ve been stuck in and the day is over, and the cause of anxiety is still ever present.

 

The solution of escape ultimately adds to the sense of anxiety created by the initial thing we still need to deal with. 

 

The problem compounds as we administer the short-term solution of relief via entertainment.

 

Such a solution isn’t a solution at all –though it might feel like it in the moment- but a further problem.

 

 

The solution is often the same as it is with the problem created by too much coffee.  We must turn around and go backwards on our strategy.  For lethargic days filled with coffee, our best bet it to take a break from coffee, endure a very tired day and get a solid night of sleep.  The same strategy works with social media.  Putting the phone away, or deleting apps, or putting some sort of lock on them for a little while –at least until more pressing matters are dealt with, clears the anxiety.

 

Such compounding problems can only be solved by going to the root of the issue, otherwise each short term solution we implement merely works like fuel, allowing the problem to grow bigger and bigger.


Check out the Tinkered Thinking   Reading List

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Dive in to the Archives

Podcast Ep. 523: Fractal Anxiety

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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.