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The Lucilius Parables, Volume I

SONG OF THE MIND

May 6th, 2021

Shine a light through a crystal and it’ll split in a certain way.  Toss a pebble into a lake and the ripples will collide with the natural waves.  Say the right combination of words to someone and the song of the mind will change it’s beat.

 

Generally, though, very few words ruffle the beat of anyone’s mind.  Certainly those who are easily ‘triggered’ or ‘offended’ might seem as though they get ruffled, but that sort of reaction is almost always just part of the song - a chorus if you will.  It’s a song primed to react in a habitual way to a verse with the right sort of content, such things are ‘hooks’ in the exact same way that a pop song might be written.  And if such an idea is offensive, one might pause first to wonder: is this sort of idea a legitimate rock tossed into a placid pond, or is this just more proof in the pudding between a pair of ears comprehending these words.  If such an analogy is offensive, perhaps that’s grist for the mill that proves it.

 

What’s more interesting than the normal fluctuations and vicissitudes of our mind’s song is when something actually disrupts the regular flow of thought.  Most people don’t have a mental song calibrated to receive this kind of influence.  Most are hearing out the rhythm of their own melody, on the lookout only for the notes in their environment that fit into the tune.

 

Think of a new musician.  Getting plopped into a jazz band as a new musician would be a nervous and stressful experience for most newbies.  It requires a fair amount of experience, and most importantly, a desire and receptivity to open one’s self to a new experience that does not have a predetermined outcome.  There must be a curiosity about the unknown for the mind’s song to be disrupted by some arrant combination of words, some idea, some concept.

 

Otherwise, raw experience is far more effective.  Life is constantly ripe with the opportunity to dive into something completely new, and unlike the words that we can easily fail to hear, misinterpret or ignore, the experience of reality can be far less apologetic in the way it bores into our sense of being.  Any experience worth having is going to carry some sort of stress.  And even the one’s that don’t seem worth having, while also stressful, can yield fruit.  This is the difference between post-traumatic stress and the lesser known post-traumatic growth.

 

Regardless of whether it’s an experience, an idea or some words we read on twitter, the opportunity to be effected by such things is a matter of our current outlook: are we willing and receptive? Or are we closed for business?  Closed for change, and closed for the opportunity to experience life in a different - potentially diversified and well-rounded way.

 

 


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Podcast Ep. 1117: Song of the Mind

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Tinkered Thinking


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SEABIRD

May 5th, 2021

 

The mind has a kind of weather.  Drizzle, shower, lightning storms and hurricanes descend upon our mental experience, often in reaction to the trials and changes of life.  For most, the experience is a one-to-one correlation with the weather: if the mental weather is bad, we aren’t well.  But there’s a further question to ask: how do we experience the weather of our own mind?  Are we that weather?  Or is it possible to define ourselves and our experience as separate from the condition of our own mind?  

 

Think of yourself as a ship within your own mind, and contemplate what Joseph Conrad has to say about ships:

“A ship is not a slave.  You must make her easy in a seaway, you must never forget that you owe her the fullest share of your thought, of your skill, or your self-love.  If you remember that obligation, naturally and without effort, as if it were an instinctive feeling of your inner life, she will sail, stay, run for you as long as she is able, or, like a sea-bird going to rest upon the angry waves, she will lay out the heaviest gale that ever made you doubt living long enough to see another sunrise.”

 

How many people treat themselves this way given the changing weather of their own mind?  How few have this gentle touch with their own sense of experience?  How many can rest themselves despite a tumult of angry emotion?

 

This is a skill to be developed and honed, like that of a sailor upon a boat with it’s intricate workings of lines, sheets, rope, sail and rudder.  There is a system to the mind’s maintenance just as there’s a system to a ship’s maintenance and handling in all sorts of situations.  But just as every boat is different, just as every boat has handles differently and even identically built ships have their own idiosyncrasies, every mind is different, and it’s handling is something to be learned, understood, and developed down to an art.

 

But, the current incarnation of culture is only slowly coming to the idea that the mind is something to learn about, and something about which we can train.  For most, experience is at the whim and will of the mind’s weather, and so many are left to be tossed and pummelled and nearly drowned in the deluge of their own thought.

 

 


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Podcast Ep. 1116: Seabird

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Tinkered Thinking


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DOWNSTREAM PURPOSE

May 3rd, 2021

 

We are good with one - to - one correlations, especially when it comes to our actions and the effects they have.  Got to work, get a pay check.  Have a drink, feel good.  Take a pill, relieve the anxiety.  We are remarkably untalented when it comes to second and third order effects of our actions and retooling what we do initially to tweak those results.

 

Maturity and self awareness might be as simple as realizing that there are far more things that we can do on purpose.  No one wakes up exhausted on purpose.  No one feels anxious on purpose, and no one wastes a life doing the same menial job that they hate on purpose.  These effects are all downstream, and it requires a good deal of self-understanding, planning, and even a little bit of cleverness to take action in the name of such late-order effects.

 

What’s first required is simply being able to see relationships among things that expand beyond initial one - to - one correlations.  For example, thinking about the potential hangover when contemplating the idea of having a drink.  For anyone that drinks quite regularly, this is even more difficult because there’s often no longer a hangover to be worried about.  At that point its a matter of understanding from an intellectual standpoint that the entire experience of life might be dampened, and that this has gone on for so long that it’s simply not possible to imagine a higher baseline.  What feels ‘normal’ can be depressingly subversive in the face of any attempt to see connections between what we do, and how we perpetuate the problems in our lives.

 

Drinking coffee is another example that fits into the issue of chronic exhaustion.  While it advertises and often feels like the cure to low energy, a chronic overuse of coffee will actually exasperate the problem.  Coffee and alcohol become easily and smoothly linked up.   The hangover seems easily solved by a deluge of coffee and then later in the day, the anxiety caused by chronic coffee used seems easily solved by just having a drink or two in order to unwind.

 

Vicious cycles chain together and multiply in effect.  Such a habit leads to a lower baseline and an obliviousness to it.  Such exhaustion and stress leave little resource left over for thinking carefully through very large and important aspects of life, like that menial job that is anything but fulfilling.  The downstream effects of our actions become particularly tricky to see and plan for.  And then with enough vicious cycles chained together, life can become a continuous trap that is constantly rolling in a worse direction.

 

Shaking up one’s life, the way moving, or extended travel can, is one of the easiest ways to see things differently.  When our habitual patterns are interrupted and downstream effects change accordingly, that dissonance is easier to notice, analyze and understand.  Otherwise, in order to see such puzzle pieces connected at a distance requires a good deal of intellectual imagination.  It requires ingesting certain pieces of knowledge, imaginatively understanding how they interact, and then creatively construction a hypothesis about how things would be different if certain variables were changed.  But of course, the exhausted imagination is far less equipped to handle this task in a way that has an effect that is emotionally convincing to the point where someone might actually try and change.

 

 


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Podcast Ep. 1114: Downstream Purpose

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Tinkered Thinking


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A LUCILIUS PARABLE: LIFETIME OF ENTERTAINMENT

May 2nd, 2021

 

As the aisle tilted to reveal itself, as Lucilius slowly walked, the horns swelled to a crescendo in concert with the thundering drums.  Lucilius slowed to gaze down the aisle, wondering if his needs were down this way or that.  The soundtrack crashing into his mind through earbuds grasping and twisting his attention in designed ways.  He walked on, and no thought interrupted his experience as he savoured the simple steps and sight in the fluorescent environment of another ordinary grocery store.

 

He knew this was all being recorded, but he never thought of it - by design.  He knew that countless people would feel the weight of his own feet as they each took their steps, see his gaze wonder across the shelves of cooled products.  And when he was done shopping for dinner they would gaze up at the twilight sky with him.  They would marvel at the towering trees he took time to look up at.  They would hear the music he had picked, they would know it all.

 

Lucilius’ extensive practice of meditation had perversely prepared him more than most for the an advanced technological era.  Having emerged from a long seclusion that lasted decades, Lucilius had found a people - a world - totally enmeshed with it’s electronics, and at first Lucilius even had trouble communicating with people in the most basic way, split as they were between so many different portals of attention.  

 

It had been a nervous reintroduction to the world.  He’d taken such hiatus’s before, but this time the world had crossed some sort of inflection point.  Whereas before he could leave the world and come back to much the same, this time, things were radically different.  His previous finances barely carried any value in the new world, with it’s new currencies, and little memory of the old systems.  He found himself sitting in an immaculate and beautiful city park, empty of people, but perfect in Lucilius’s eyes, when he found a stray pair of old glasses and tried them on out of childish boredom more than any deliberate thought.  They revealed an augmented reality, cluttered with ads and art.  He gaped in awe at the overlay on the world all around him. 

And then it was one ad in particular that his attention circled in upon.  

 

“MeTube”

Apparently humanity had given birth to it’s long awaited artificial intelligence, and the consciousness that now organized the world’s ways informed humanity that it had quite a long time before the answers of the universe could be unravelled.  It was just a matter of computation now, and that meant, in the meantime, there was entertainment to be had, to be invented, perfected, and shared among the great family of people while they all waited for the grand computer to calculate.

 

Lucilius didn’t know it at the time, but the global artificial intelligence had noticed Lucilius’ return and endeavoured to wonder whether Lucilius might help his fellow man and woman with his talents, knowing his curiously long past and his abilities.  It had planted the glasses in the park with the express purpose of flashing the ad that Lucilius now found himself waving at in a vain effort to discover more about this ‘MeTube’.

 

In no time at all Lucilius became one of the top creators on ‘MeTube’.  It was a platform where people could experience entire lifetimes, designed - that is, lived first by someone else with a talent for living.  Lucilius’ long practice in the art of attention had formed an unexpected training for this new medium.  With simulation technology, time could be condensed, and Lucilius could live and record several full lifetimes in the course of a single day, though he and everyone else experienced them as centuries.  Other people then rented the entire experience, the entire lifetime, as a form of entertainment, and even, an education.  It unexpectedly functioned as a kind of growth for others to experience these whole lifetimes, like an excellent and life changing movie, but one that expanded for many decades and wrapped around every sense down to the point where a viewer had no recollection of their real person - they experienced life as Lucilius did, his attention becoming their attention, their sense of heat and cold, of pain and pleasure, of comfort and horror, all his own, becoming theirs for a century snuggly fitted into an afternoon.

 

Where the lives of normal people were filled with endless looping anxieties and a total obscuration of surroundings, the recorded lives of Lucilius gave people’s minds a training in the relief of what it mean to simply exist and live.

 

It wasn’t hard for Lucilius.  He was simply himself, in these new situations, these new lives, these simulations.  All his viewers experienced every moment as he did.

 

It was an art of attention for Lucilius that was highlighted by some of life’s simplest details:  Looking back every time after saying good bye to see that friend or lover or colleague walking away.  He always took the time to stop and enjoy some vagrancy of light or movement, crafting the flow and shape of his own attention like a cinematographer.  But more than anything, what attracted people to come back time and again to Lucilius’ channel on MeTube, was the way he dealt with death and sadness.  Where so many knew their own tendency to cramp up, deny and ignore, it was a relief to experience such terrifying things the way Lucilius did.  He was unafraid.  Be it the death of a parent in this life, or the bitter parting with a lover in the next, Lucilius never shied away from what was happening.  He laid himself bare, always, and it was this experience, this complete surrender and vulnerability that people learned from the most.  In an almost obsessive way, people gravitated toward the ‘Lives of Lucilius ‘ (as his channel was called) as a kind of intense training for their own life in the real world.

 

It wasn’t long at all before Lucilius had amassed quite a fortune, and after exploring the new world his human family had created, he was content, and decided to take another hiatus, retiring to a cave, now on a new planet, just to spend some time with himself and meditate for, perhaps, a few more centuries.


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Podcast Ep. 1113: A Lucilius Parable: Lifetime of Entertainment

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Tinkered Thinking


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BENEVOLENT SUBVERSION

May 1st, 2021

 

A statement wears it’s meaning on it’s face, a question, on the other hand, is far more subversive, because, where exactly does the meaning of a question exist?  The question, as a concept and as a tool is a kind of Trojan Horse of communication, slipping past defences, right into the core of another person’s mind where it then takes on it’s true form.

 

The meaning of a question gathers itself from the contents of the mind it enters. The question provokes the mind it enters toward a certain, and often unique expression.  While a certain variety of questions are pretty much answered the same across the board, like: what’s the color of the clear sky?  Other questions evoke exquisite uniqueness.

 

Consider for example the token cocktail party question: what do you do for work?

 

This is an exceptionally boring question.  But it’s useful for understanding the utility and function of questions.  It’s meaning isn’t actually present in it’s form.  The meaning of the question is locked within the mind of the person it’s directed towards.  This is the entire point of a question.  It’s a puzzle designed to retrieve a specific piece of information from another mind.  

 

Pause for a moment to reflect on how crazy that concept is, and the fact that animals either cannot or simply do not form questions.  (Yes, there have been extremely simplistic instances where it seems an animal has asked a question, but there is an important distinction to be made between a request for information and a genuine question where the answer is unknown without further action.)

 

 

Take for further example an unexpected question at a cocktail party.  What if, instead of asking you what you do for a living, someone asked you how you ensure you’re living a fulfilling life?

 

This sort of question would most probably stop most people in their mental tracks with the realization that this is an important perspective that has perhaps never been fully considered before.  And this is startling because it’s such an important question, but one rarely -if ever- asked.

 

Notice further that a question about fulfillment does not necessarily have the same straight forward answer that “what do you do for a living?” has.  People may certainly have a whole variety of answers, and even a single person might answer when a complex web of psychologically relevant aspects of living.

 

The question reveals its most important utility in the way that we bridge and share perspectives.  This is an old concept, known as “Socratic Dialogue”.  Socrates was the teacher and mentor of Plato who apparently recorded his ideas.  The Socratic Dialogue is a way of convincing someone of a certain point of view by leading a person to that point of view with a series of questions.  Socrates would use the material of another person’s mind as the fodder for constructing the path that leads to his own perspective.  Consider how apt the question is for this utility given some previous description here.  It unravels in the mind that hears it and gathers it’s meaning and answer from that imagination.  Using questions artfully and carefully, a person can make a person convince themselves of your own point of view.  

 

This is, of course, a delicate art, more akin to dancing since that’s what you’re doing with another mind when you ask it a question.  There isn’t really any knowing just how another mind will react to a specific question until you ask it and find out.  

 

One way to illicit the power and utility of the question is to think of it literally in a physical space.  Say, for example, you are facing a person, and you can see a portrait of Van Gogh behind them.  

 

Now, given this situation, what is the best way to convince this person that there’s a portrait of Van Gogh behind them?  We can simply make a statement, like: ‘there is a portrait of Van Gogh behind you.’, and if this person finds us trustworthy, then they might believe it.  But again, this requires trust, and good bit of imagination.  

 

We can, instead, ask: what is behind you?  The answer and meaning of the question is not present in the question.  It’s a puzzle that sparks a bit of curiosity and impels the person to turn around.  The answer of course doesn’t rely on trust or imagination.  It’s a direct perspective, and nothing is more convincing.


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Podcast Ep. 1112: Benevolent Subversion

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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.