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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September 19th, 2019


Attending the party means you’re actually there.  It comes from the same root where we get the word attention.


The root is two parts.  The first, the old prefix was once spelled with a ‘d’ instead of a ‘t’, and ‘ad-’ communicates something like ‘towards, or simply to’, the preposition, not the adverb or the number.


The other half the of the word, ‘tend’, has a root in proto-indo European meaning ‘stretch’.  It’s easy to evoke this root meaning when we use the word tend by itself in a sentence, as in:


Things tend to get a little heated every time someone disagrees with Hitchens.


The word ‘tend’ in that sentence speaks of a process of increasing degree.  The situation is stretching towards a full on example of something that is ‘heated’.


With a quick and rudimentary understanding of the historical guts of this word ‘attention’ we can ask whether it makes sense in a modern context.


For example…


When you pay attention to a child deviously tinkering with something in the corner of the room, does the etymology of the word attention make any sense?


We can substitute the etymology in the sentence in order to see.


Our focus stretches across the room towards the child.  So it makes sense, but only with the addition of the word ‘focus’.


Let’s examine another use case.  Say we flip to a news station and the anchor says: The nation’s capital became a source of attention when protestors lit the nation’s flag on fire.


This concept of a source suddenly calls into question the direction of attention.


Where exactly is the source of our attention?  In the case of the news anchor, the source is in the nation’s capital, but if we are suddenly paying attention to events in the capital, does not our focus stretch towards the capital? 




Is it the other way around?  Is our focus captured by sources of attention that stretch out towards us?



It’s further interesting to think about the times when we are so engrossed in some activity or work that we lose track of time and all other thoughts that we might have fall silent.  Think of a great movie, or a great book, or tinkering with some project.  When these instances end, we often feel as though we are waking up and return to ourselves.  The experience is encapsulated by the phrase: to lose yourself in what you are doing.


When our attention is so fully directed, where exactly do we go when we have lost ourselves?  That self that seems to return when the credits begin to roll or the book ends or we finally have to put down the project to answer a phone call. 


Perhaps it’s not that we lose ourselves but rather that we become the object of our attention.  That pesky determiner ‘our’ creates the assumption that attention is something we somehow posses, but what if it’s the other way around, what if it’s attention that posses us?  Strangely enough, we use possessive determiners in exactly the same way in other circumstances.  For example, with work we say my boss, when really the vector of power is in the opposite direction.  The boss commands a degree of power over the employee.  Even more visceral is the way we talk about illness, we say: I have a cold, when really, it’s a virus that has taken up residence in our body.  Or with addiction, people say… my addiction.  In all of these cases it would be more accurate to state things the other way around.  This addiction that has a grip on me, this virus that has infected me, this boss who is directing me to do things.  Through this lens the usage of possessive determiners like ‘our’ seems a bit strange and in some sense inaccurate.


Suddenly the news anchor who is talking about the source of attention being located at the capital seems to make more sense.  There is an event that is stretching out towards everyone and capturing our focus.  The source of attention is not in the person who focuses on a subject, but the source actually is the subject upon which we focus. 


It’s a bit like that infamous quote from Fight Club:  the things you own end up owning you.  This sentiment has been reiterated since the times of Seneca and even the Buddha, but the sentiment is perhaps even more pervasive.


The things you pay attention to are really capturing you through your focus. 


And by this mechanism we are either robbed of our precious resource of time,




we happen to be lucky enough to be captured by the things we love.

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Podcast Ep. 522: Source of Attention

Tinkered Thinking

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September 18th, 2019


Channel surfing isn’t exactly a phrase that makes much sense.  Certainly anyone who’s watched enough TV knows what it means:  flipping through channels somewhat aimlessly in search of something interesting to watch.  If we get overly pedantic, this is similar to what surfing is overall: waiting around on a floating board and occasionally taking interest in a passing wave and using it to go somewhere, then paddling back out to watch for more promising waves as unpromising waves move by.


But when we think of surfing we do not think of all the boring time spent merely floating and waiting.  We think only of the exhilarating thrill that comes with the right wave, catching it and flying along on as it grows to a crisp edge before curling in on itself.


If we take the whole activity of surfing, we can pose a a simple and easy question:


Would it be a good idea to try and catch every single wave that comes our way?


No, the reasons are obvious: the small, weak waves won’t result in much of a ride.  And – more importantly – we’ll miss the opportunity to catch bigger waves because we’ll be busy paddling back out to the right place.



This description of surfing is useful because waves are very much like thoughts in the ocean of consciousness that we experience.


A thought pops up and before we know it, whole minutes have passed before we ‘snap out of it’ and come back to the present moment.


What was I doing?  Oh yea…  is often the following thought.  And it functions very much like the surfer paddling back out to catch another wave.


Here’s the catch where the analogy turns ripe:


With thoughts, we try to surf every thought that comes our way.


At least, this is what happens for the most of the time for people who do not have a meditation practice. 


The analogy extends further when we return to the reason why surfers don’t try to take every wave: they don’t want to miss out on better waves because they’re busy trying to surf a weak small wave.


This same reasoning can be applied to the very thoughts that we have.


The more time we spend entertaining a particular thought or line of thinking, the less opportunity we have to happen across a more productive thought.


This might at first sound a bit odd, but since we have a finite amount of time alive, then there is a finite number of thoughts that we can have and explore.


Just as you only get a certain number of years on this planet, you also only get a certain number of thoughts.


Now, to be sure, that number can be drastically different depending on the mental strategy that we employ.  If we spend years perseverating over negative thoughts, then we are literally having fewer thoughts because we are only riding the wave of these negative thoughts over and over. 


However, with a meditation practice, particularly a practice that orbits the frame work generally described as ‘mindfulness’ or vipassina, we gain the ability to choose what to do with a thought when it pops up.  We gain the ability to stop spending time with a thought by taking a step back, and letting it dissolve in the same way that a surfer lets an unpromising wave pass by. 


Even though this might sound straight-forward and obvious, this is a deceptively subtle concept for those who don’t meditate, because without the trained ability to take that ‘step-back’ from one’s own mind, it’s impossible to notice any difference between riding a wave, and letting it pass by, because both constitute an experience of living.



We can bring back the concept of channel surfing with TV to elucidate the point a little further.  It would be odd to simply turn on the TV and simply watch whatever station it’s on without ever having a thought of changing the channel to see if there’s something better on.  That’s why we channel surf.  But without a mindful ability to pause and observe the nature of our own mind, this is exactly what people do – they simply go along with whatever thought pops up.  The alternative requires training and one of the first tools that becomes available through meditation is the ability to let go of less useful trains of thought.


In the analogy of surfing this ability would be like surfing a small boring wave, realizing it, and then instantly teleporting back to the spot where you have the opportunity to catch a great wave.


In short, you only have as many great thoughts as you make room for.  Inevitably this means letting go of as many useless thoughts as possible as they pop up. And given the fact that much thinking is habitual, it’s crucial to develop this ability because there’s probably a lot of useless thought to slag through before a golden shining thought comes undulating through our conscious experience.


Breaking a habitual thought pattern is ultimately the practice of letting it go, and continually letting it pass by every time it crops up.


This leaves us free to thought surf just like we channel surf, in order to find some better thought that can inspire some better action, that can ultimately lead to a better life.

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Podcast Ep. 521: Thought Surfing

Tinkered Thinking

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September 17th, 2019


This episode is dedicated to @DeeperThrill who inspired the topic on Twitter with this reply:


“You might tinker with it for a while when you’re excited about the idea, but when that excitement wanes, you still want a simple thing that works.”



What does it mean to tinker?


There’s something noncommittal about the word, almost whimsical.  Your boss certainly wouldn’t come into your office and toss you a new project and say “here, tinker with this for a while.”


It’s more like “Get this done for Monday morning.”


“You want me to de-prioritize my current reports until you advise a status upgrade?


You need to make these your primary ‘action items’.” *



Such business lingo encapsulates a perspective that has little room for something as diffuse as tinkering. This is true for one reason:


Do we associate the act of tinkering with a deadline?


Not really, if at all.  Tinkering is an open-ended endeavor, like a question that cannot be readily answered.  For example, take this question:


Will this new business idea make money?


No one can answer that question.  The idea needs to be implemented, and tinkered with in order to see if it can gain some kind of footing in the market.  Juxtaposing this undeniable fact with the business lingo from Fight Club presented earlier evokes a paradoxical flaw in the perspective that pervades much of the business world:


We cannot know what will work until we try, and yet we constantly attempt to create a deadline for success.





So what exactly does it mean to Tinker?


The dictionary defines the verb ‘tinker’ as: an attempt to repair or improve something in a casual or desultory way, often to no useful effect.


Note for a moment how we would phrase the story of repairing something:


Oh, after tinkering with it for a while I figured out what was wrong and I fixed it.


The conclusive verb ‘fixed’ subsumes the liminal verb of tinkering.  As with many aspects of life, our constant desire for certainty trumps the importance of a process which is indeterminate and open-ended.





At it’s heart, and in it’s simplest form,


tinkering is the art of trial and error.




As we delve into a new topic or project, we make little hypotheses about the nature of the subject and we test them.  By testing these hypotheses, we falsify aspects of the emerging mental model that we are forming about the subject. 

Falsifying hypotheses is the only way we update mental models

Any hypothesis-based action that results in a predictable outcome does not update our mental model, it’s simply a use-case of the mental-model that shows some accuracy.  Be sure to note the distinction:


Confirming the accuracy of some aspect of a mental-model does not actually improve it because nothing about the mental-model has to change as a result. It stays the same.


What changes is our feeling towards the mental model.


Tinkering is the process of building a mental-model through trial that results in error.


Zooming out to look at the process, we see a whole bunch of attempts, or hypotheticals tested with trials.  Many of those simply fail, but every once in a while, a hypothesis holds it’s salt and becomes a robust aspect of our mental model.  It’s like sculpting something out of marble.  A lot of useless material needs to be moved to get at the actual part of the stone that will make up the sculpture.



Inevitably, tinkering is a process of whittling away our assumptions about a topic as we gain real-world, hands-on experience.



What this whittling away yields is a lean and useful understanding of a subject.


Tinkering is simply the laborious and time consuming process that yields this rare fruit.



Our preoccupation with certainty and deadlines is completely counter to this process, and it begs a large question of the world and the way many people currently spend their time:


If we were freed, even for some portion of time from the tedium and time-consuming chore of bullshit jobs,


How much more fruitful might we be, tinkering away at the whim and will of curiosity?




This episode references Episode 514: Falsify, Episode 390: Question about the Question, and was influenced by David Graeber’s book Bullshit Jobs. You can purchase the book through the link below.




*from Fight Club


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Podcast Ep. 520: The Meaning of Tinker

Tinkered Thinking

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September 16th, 2019

When there’s tension in the room, nothing is better than a well-timed joke.  Even if you’re all alone.


Perhaps especially when you’re all alone.


When a group of people are suffering under such tension, they are all dying to laugh out of a kind of social awkwardness.  It’s almost as though we’re a little nervous about what everyone else might do under such pressure.   In fact, people are so desperate to laugh that the bar is set pretty low for a laugh.  An excited crowd paradoxically has a pretty low bar.  It seems that no matter what, we’re always willing or wanting to laugh.


When alone, however, there’s none of that worry, rarely such excitement and we’re generally just driving ourselves nuts over something that probably won’t matter too much in the long run.  Alone, we’re prone to building temporary echo chambers that can turn into torture chambers.



Then a friend or loved one enters the picture and gets a sense of what’s going on.


Lighten up, will ya?


Most often, such a prescription merely functions as a fuel to dig ourselves into a deeper pit.  We’re often likely to take it as an insult as opposed to sound advice.


Someone could easily and with great justification pull the same card on this platform.  Hundreds of episodes of wanna-sound-smart-babble.


If it was all really so smart, why so much?  


What? . . . not smart enough to come up with something concise?


Apparently not. 


Perhaps Tinkered Thinking is simply the scenic route to some culminating conclusion that someone smarter has already phrased in language that’s more elegant.


Or perhaps it’s just a babbling scenic route to nowhere.


Perhaps we assume humor is good because it literally makes us feel good.


Certainly that’s the most obvious benefit.  But there’s another.


Taking something too seriously is akin to pouring concrete into our perspective.  Our thinking is rigid, almost forced, with no room to breathe. 


Making fun of the situation, even ourselves is an exercise in a different kind of thinking.


Lightening up is how we get a different perspective.  It’s how we drift up into the sky to get a bird’s eye view on things, to see the larger situation, and a fuller context.


If we can see how ridiculous it is to write and podcast for a faceless void on the internet, or with any work we might undertake, we can then play with it.


And here’s the crucial, overlooked point:  play is the most efficient way to learn.


This might not seem self-evident to a serious adult with responsibilities, but let’s ask the question:


what sort of person has the MOST to learn in life?











And they play in large measure to learn, and this process of learning is fast and enjoyable.


Fairly ironic – funny really - that we systematically grind this superpower out of people with the school system. 



So take a cue from children and lighten up.  We’re all in a pretty ridiculous situation here on this tiny crumb spinning through the universe.  Have fun.  Not because it feels good, but because you’ll move faster, learn more efficiently.


The only requirement is that you can’t take any of it seriously.

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Podcast Ep. 519: Lighten Up

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.


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


September 15th, 2019

Once the final stage of human advancement began, the ability to predict the future with accuracy increased at an exponential rate.  This meant that tomorrow began to have a resolution similar to what we might predict the next second to have, and future years began to have a resolution similar to how we see the next minute.  This trend increased at unfathomable speeds until decades could be predicted like succeeding seconds.  The singularity that humanity had waited for did not so much bring about some kind of expanding glory of human values as much as it did plan the future with exceptional and increasing reliability.  The scourge of chaos that had haunted humanity since the beginning was systematically being scrubbed from the universe.  This, however, did not speed up the great timeline of the universe and as things stood, it was still going to be a very long time until the obvious conclusion arrived.  The future no longer held any promise, only certainty, that one nemesis of chaos that humans had been lusting for since the beginning.   


In short, things got quite boring.


To pass the time artificial intelligences had created vast simulation games for the benefit of humans in order to spice up life with a safe degree of artificial chaos.  These simulations also functioned as a kind of elaborate Monte Carlo simulator which benefited the study and work of the artificial intelligences that were busy organizing the universe.


Once it was painfully clear just how boring the present had become, and how certain it was the future would be, Lucilius decided to take the plunge and try one of the awful simulations that everyone gloated over.  It would only take several minutes of real time to sample a few different realities, and since he had a nostalgic penchant for history, Lucilius decided to try one of the ancestor simulations. 


He walked into the simulator entrance with a sigh, initiating a telecommune with the present OS and transferred the few credits required to sample half a dozen lifetimes.  An array of dreamlike centuries manifested in his mind, the time collapsing into scents, tastes and flutters of light flashing from thousands of recorded positions through which the sun and earth had once passed.


Lucilius, feeling lethargic and not a little bummed about knowing the future so well, haphazardly picked a handful of different lives, barely paying attention to their content.  His mind swam through the selection like the hand of a god whimsically building creatures to populate universes. 


As he selected his credit count ticked away until he was out. 


A body maintenance pod emerged from the simulator’s vault and Lucilius sauntered over to it and leaned back into the comfortable padding.


The OS requested a confirmation for a start sequence and Lucilius sighed one more time, flinging his encrypted pass-thought into the network.


Then everything went dark.


Fourteen years later, Lucilius was slouched over a thick book open on his desk.  The voice of a jaded teacher droned on at the front of the classroom.  Lucilius glanced at the clock, calculating the time left and realized that it had only been two minutes since he’d last looked at the clock.  He couldn’t believe how bored he was and he couldn’t wait for the school day to end.

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Podcast Ep. 518: A Lucilius Parable: Eternity of Entertainment

Tinkered Thinking

donating = loving

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.


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